Primary Sources for the Presbyterian Masses

Buswell Reviews Carnell’s Apologetics

In J. Oliver Buswell on 01/07/2011 at 13:06

Next up will be a related series of posts covering Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr.’s further comments on presuppositionalism, with two replies by Dr. Cornelius Van Til and even a word from Francis A. Schaeffer.  The previous exchange between Buswell and Van Til occurred in 1937. This next series of volleys appeared just over a decade later. And of course apologetics at this level isn’t necessarily of interest to everyone, so we’ll intersperse some other articles along the way.

Buswell left Wheaton College in 1940 to become president of the National Bible Institute in New York City. The house organ of the Institute was a publication titled THE BIBLE TODAY, and beginning in May of 1948, an interesting series of articles on apologetics appeared on the pages of this little journal. Buswell himself led the charge with a review of the recent book on apologetics by E.J. Carnell.  Then Francis A. Schaeffer offered his input with “A Review of a Review,” in which he lays out where he stands as over against both Buswell and Van Til. In the next issue of the journal, Buswell reviews Van Til’s latest book, COMMON GRACE, after which all seems quiet for a while. Then in March 1949, Buswell stirs the pot again with “Warfield vs. Presuppositionalism,” a review of the P&R edition of Warfield’s INSPIRATION AND AUTHORITY OF THE BIBLE. Then Van Til offers a lengthy reply in the April issue of THE BIBLE TODAY.  An anonymous reader throws in some humorous poetry in the May issue, and Van Til finishes his reply in the June issue. At that—and ever the gentleman—Buswell gives Van Til the last word and that is the end of the series. 

For your convenience, here is a list of those articles for citation purposes, with links to be embedded as the articles post:

Series Articles :
1. Buswell, J. Oliver, Jr., “The Arguments from Nature to God: Presuppositionalism and Thomas Aquinas—A Book Review with Excursions,” The Bible Today 41.8 (May 1948): 235-248.
2. Schaeffer, Francis A., “A Review of a Review,” The Bible Today 42.1 (October 1948): 7-9.
3. Buswell, J. Oliver, Jr., “The Fountainhead of Presuppositionalism,” The Bible Today 42.2 (November 1948): 41-64.
4. Young, G. Douglas, “Dr. Young’s Letter”, The Bible Today 42.2 (November 1948): 65.
5. Buswell, J. Oliver, Jr., “Warfield vs. Presuppositionalism,” The Bible Today 42.6 (March 1949): 182-192.
6. Van Til, Cornelius, “Presuppositionalism,” The Bible Today 42.7 (April 1949): 218-228.
7. Anonymous, “Presuppositionalism,” The Bible Today 42.8 (May 1949): 261.
8. Van Til, Cornelius, “Presuppositionalism Concluded,” The Bible Today 42.9 (June-September 1949): 278-290.

Of historical interest, too, is Buswell’s early statement in this article that it was Dr. Allan A. MacRae who coined the term “presuppositionism”.  For the moment, and without further input or correction, I’ll assume that “presuppositionism” quickly became the more fluid term “presuppositionalism” (as evidenced even within this article by Buswell), and that credit does effectively go to MacRae for coining the term.  

The Arguments From Nature To God

Presuppositionalism and Thomas Aquinas
A Book Review with Excursions by

An Introduction to Christian Apologetics
By Professor Edward John Carnell.

GOOD intensive workmanship over a surprisingly extensive field, true loyalty to the Bible, and that clarity of expression which will make the book popular and readable, characterize this prize volume; written by a brilliant, devout young man only twenty-eight years of age.

For a clear understanding of presuppositionism, as advocated in our day by a significant group of earnest Bible-believing scholars, Professor Carnell’s Apologetics is doubtless the best work thus far produced. The term “presuppositionism” was given me by my good friend Dr. Allan A. MacRae in a casual conversation some months ago. I caught up the word immediately as an accurate designation for a significant school of thought.

What Is Presuppositionism?

Professor Carnell illustrates the opposite of presuppositionism in the following words:

If a coin is lost on a plot of grass, obviously one can start here, or there without jeopardizing his chances of finally finding the piece of money, providing, of course, that he has enough time to cover the entire area before he turns away. (p. 123)

He then argues that the case of philosophy is not parallel for two reasons. (1) “A philosopher has but three score years and ten, and thus cannot cover all relevant experience possible.” (2) “. . . when one begins his philosophy apart from the assumption of the existence of a rational God, he has thrown himself into a sea of objectively unrelated facts.” He continues:

Philosophy is like a railway without switches — once a man is committed to a given direction, he is determined in his outcome. Should he change his mind about the wisdom of his course, his only recourse is to go back and start on another track, (p. 123)

When one starts off his philosophy a given way, he is committed to its implications to the bitter end. (p. 133)

Prof. Carnell refers with strong approval to Professor Gordon Clark’s views:

The Christian, therefore, following the bishop of Hippo [Augustine], is careful to point out that “instead of beginning with facts and later discovering Cod, unless a thinker begins with God, he can never end with God, or get the facts either.” (p. 152 f)

The words in quotation marks are quoted, not from Augustine, nor are they of Augustine’s thought, but they are quoted from Professor Clark’s A Christian Philosophy of Education, page 38.

Basic Deficiencies

Carnell shows himself deficient in two matters of vital importance for apologetics in our own generation. (1) He shows little knowledge of contemporaneous empiricism of the type exemplified in the writings of John Dewey (Naturalist) and F. R. Tennant (Theist). Empiricism is defined by Carnell in such a way as to make it identical with psychological sensationalism, the view that there is nothing in the intellect which was not first in the senses.2 (pp. 152 ft) This is not the modern view. Articles on empiricism are constantly found in the Journal of Philosophy and other similar publications. I doubt if any example of empiricism identified with sensationalism can be found in any scholarly periodical in recent years.

(2) Secondly, Prof. Carnell reveals a serious weakness in his lack of familiarity with scientific psychology. He says

. . . the potency-act structure, … is ruled out on a tabula rasa epistemology. Reason can only work with impressions and there is no impression of act or potency. Impressions just are. (p. 135)

No scientific psychologist, since the studies in field theory and Gestalten would think of saying, “There is no impression of act or potency.” Scientific psychology practically everywhere now recognizes that configurations, stresses, acts, potencies, and the like, are very largely the data of impressions.

Starting Point: Nature? or Starting Point: God?

True to his presuppositionism, the author devotes two chapters to the examination of philosophies which begin with Nature, and two chapters to a type of Christian Theism beginning with God as the primary presupposition. Philosophies beginning with nature are here characterized as systems of “empiricism”.

Giving no true evaluation of empiricism as contemporaries in philosophy know it, Carnell confuses the pragmaticism of Peirce, and the pragmatism of James, (p. 50 ff) He does not know that Dewey has abandoned the term pragmatism.

In his chapters on “The Starting Point: Nature,” he ignores Paley and Butler. The former is not listed in his index of proper names, and I found no reference at all to his famous Evidences! Butler is mentioned once in connection with the probability argument (p. 106),.but Carnell does not seem to know that Butler argues from nature to God.

Criticism of the arguments for the existence of God as given by Thomas Aquinas occupy the bulk of the two chapters on empiricism. Hume’s positivism as to physical causality is ascribed to Thomas. Carnell does not know Hume’s view of mental causality, any more than he knows Thomas’ non-sensationalistic mentalistic assumptions.

As to Thomistic empiricism, Carnell also errs. The article on Sensationalism in Baldwin’s Dictionary of Philosophy (written by Professor A. T. Ormond of Princeton University) contains the statement, “The Neo-Platonic and scholastic philosophy universally admits a rational knowledge over and above sensation.”

Misled by a misunderstanding of Gilson, Carnell quotes, “The only road which can lead us to the knowledge of a Creator must be cut through the things of sense.”3Carnell says, “This means that Thomas is closed up to all the difficulties of a tabula rasa epistemology.” Gilson indeed does interpret Thomas as teaching that “all our knowledge originates from sensory intuitions.” (Gilson, 1924 edition, Haeffer and Sons, Cambridge, p. 42) But although Thomas does not teach innate knowledge of God in the sense of fully elaborated conscious knowledge, he does teach that there could be no knowledge at all without “some preceding knowledge of the existence and the essence of God. (Gilson p. 37)

Thomas does not teach, and Gilson does not interpret him as teaching, that there is nothing at all in the mind or intellect except what was formerly in the senses. Gilson says, “All the proofs [of Thomas] assume simultaneously two things: the use of rational principles transcending sense-experience, and a solid foundation, supplied by the sense objects themselves, on which the principles that are to lead us to God can rest.” (Gilson, p. 72)

Carnell takes the words “tabula rasa” (smoothed writing tablet) not in the sense in which Aristotle uses those words,4nor in the sense in which Thomas5 uses them, but in the Lockian sense of extreme psychological sensationalism. He cites (p. 129) three passages from Thomas which are alleged to support the dictum, “There is nothing in the intellect which was not first in the senses.” I do not have the De Veritate, Q. 10, A.6.6 at hand, but the other two references, Summa,I. Q. 84, A.6; Q 85, A.I. teach just the opposite of the sensationalism implied in this dictum. In Questions 84 and 85 of Part I of Summa Theologica Thomas is refuting the argument of the Platonists to the effect that we know through innate knowledge of universals only. Thomas’ argument is that in addition to the knowledge of abstract rational principles which certainly is implanted in our minds, we also learn from sensory experiences.

Prof. Carnell seriously errs in saying

Thomas wavers in this tabula rasa epistemology, however, when’ he confesses that “to know Cod exists in a general and confused way is implanted in us by nature.” [Summa, I.Q. 2, A.I] for, if the knowledge of God is not innate, how then can it be “implanted” in us by nature? (p. 127)

Thomas is a consistent believer in the intellect as containing far more than the mere product of sensations.

The whole matter of “innate ideas” is in sad need of review. As the presuppositionalists use the term, they forget that modern scientific psychology means something very different from what was meant in ancient or medieval philosophy. It is only confusing, to say in modern English that Thomas did not, or that Calvin did, believe in innate ideas. Both Thomas and Calvin denied a fully elaborated conscious concept as inborn in every man. Both believed in a human nature capable of receiving truth by intuition of (looking at) nature.

Carnell (p. 170) quotes Calvin’s Institutes I, 5, 2, as follows:

But since the meanest and most illiterate of mankind, who are furnished with no other assistance than their own eyes, cannot be ignorant of the excellence of the Divine skill, exhibiting itself in that endless, yet regular variety of the innumerable celestial host, — it is evident, that the Lord abundantly manifests his wisdom to every individual on earth.

But this is not innate knowledge, it is perhaps intuition. It sounds very much like a combination of the cosmological and teleological arguments!

In commenting on the Institutes I, 5, 5, Warfield7 says,

. . . the passage is distinctly an employment of the so-called physico-teleological proof for the existence of Cod, and advises us that Calvin held that argument sound and would certainly employ it whenever it became his business to develop the argument for the existence of God.
The proof for the existence of God on which we perceive Calvin thus to rely had been traditional in the Church from its first ages. It was precisely upon these two lines of argument that the earliest fathers rested.

Are Thomas’ Arguments Deductive ?

In discussing Thomas’ arguments for the existence of God, Carnell fails to recognize that Thomas uses these arguments as inductive probability reasonings, helpful to men who already have some knowledge of God. He concludes his presentation of each of his five arguments with a reasonable induction to a conclusion far short of deity, such as “first mover”, “original cause”, “necessary being”, etc. Then, without the slightest pretence of complete “demonstration” in the deductive sense, Thomas concludes, “and this everyone understands to be God.” “. . . to which everyone gives the name God.” “This all men speak of as God.” etc.

Professor Carnell, however, even though in his chapter on “Verification” gives one of the best of discussions of inductive reasoning and probability argument, rejects Thomas Aquinas’ arguments in toto, because his method is unable “to provide immutable truth.” (p. 126)

Professor Carnell has no warrant whatever for the following statement:

Let us be careful to point out that Thomas is referring to deductive demonstration, not probable induction, in his proof for God. “We can demonstrate the existence of God from His effects.” Summa, 1, Q. 2, A.2.
This means that the proof must bear the same compulsion as a mathematical equation or a case of the syllogism, (p. 127, note 9)

The mere use of the word “demonstrate” is not sufficient support for Carnell’s view of Thomas. Thomas has just explained, in the article referred to, that there are. two kinds of demonstration, (1), demonstration from that which is prior in the nature of things, and (2), demonstration from that which is prior in our experience, but which is the sum of the effects. Nothing could be clearer than Thomas’ own disclaiming of “deductive demonstration.” He says that the argument from the effect to the cause demonstrates the existence of God only “insofar as it is not self-evident to us,” and that “we can demonstrate the existence of God from His effects; though from them we cannot know God perfectly as He is in His essence.”

Apology for Excursions

What is a book review for? Not just for sales promotion, though I hope many of the readers of The Bible Today may buy this book and profit by its numerous excellencies. A book review gives an opportunity for an editor to discuss important issues against a background of important divergent opinions. The following section and its restatement of Thomas’ arguments contains material which I have been intending to put into shape for some time. Now that Prof. Carnell has so well stated the presuppositionist case against these arguments—not only against Thomas’ statement of them, but against the cosmological and teleological arguments as such—I think I am performing a greater service in presenting my view as over against another’s, than if I had presented it separately. The reader is urged by all means to see what Prof. Carnell has to say in his chapters VII and VIII. Then of course read Thomas too. See his Summa Theologica Part I Question II, but remember that Thomas lived from about 1225 to about 1274.

The Value of Thomas’ Arguments

The reader of this review may have gained the impression that I am defending the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. Far from it! Indeed I do admire Thomas as a great medieval Christian standing out against a dark background. Living as he did through the second and third quarters of the thirteenth century, we should regard him as one of the saints who kept Christianity alive during the Dark Ages. Thomas had certain weaknesses, however, chief of which was that he lived and died before John Calvin, and hence never read Calvin’s Institutes!

If I might enumerate several important criticisms of Thomas’ philosophy, I should suggest the following. (1) Thomas introduced into Christian theology the pagan Aristotelian conception of God as the unmoved mover, the static absolute, in whom there is no potential. This conception is utterly contrary to the Scriptures. The God of the Bible is characterized by dynamic, not static, immutability. His changelessness is the self-consistency of His activity. His absoluteness includes His perfectly self-consistent relatedness to all things. In Him is all the potential of all future events, else the fulfillment of prophecy were an illusion.

(2) Thomas’ basic approach to the cosmological argument (His first three arguments, — from motion, from cause, and from contingency,— are but forms of the cosmological argument.) fails to anticipate the criticism of Kant. If we begin the cosmological argument on Thomas’ assumption, — that there must be a necessary being since something now is, and something does not come from nothing, — we are left without an answer when Kant defines a “necessary being” as a being, the denial of which involves a logical contradiction. We can indeed deny all beings and think of just nothing at all, without contradicting ourselves in the thought itself. Abstract logic does not cause, or prove, existence. Kant confused necessity Notwendigkeil with eternity Ewigkeit. It would be better to say, “If anything now exists, then something must be eternal, leaving out the question of necessary being as unnecessary baggage. God 15, has been and will be from all eternity to all eternity.

(3) Thomas’ approach to the cosmological argument fails to anticipate the vagaries of modern emergentism. When Thomas assumes that “from nothing nothing comes/’ the emergentist replies, “Not so!” Many modern emergentists, having banished miracle from their thinking, introduce miracles at any and every turn. Having denied the one true
God, they reintroduce animism or virtual polytheism!

I suggest as a proper approach to the cosmological argument the proposition: “If anything does now exist, then either something must be eternal, or something not eternal must have come from nothing.” The argument should then proceed to show that it is more reasonable to believe that something is eternal; and that among the many hypotheses of eternal existence, the God of the Bible is the most reasonable, the most probable eternal being.

(4) In his first argument, Thomas’ statement that an eternal series of motions is inconceivable, is not well founded. Rather his argument on motion should be cast into the following form: “If motion does now exist then either motion must have been eternally actual or potential, or motion must have arisen from nothing. Among the various
hypotheses it is most probable that the God of the Bible existed eternally as the potential originator of motion.”

(5) Thomas’ argument on the uncaused cause contains a similar fallacy, the assumption that an infinite chain of causes is impossible. Rather the argument should proceed as in the argument from motion: “If there now does exist a chain of causality, then either it is itself eternal as a chain, or it originated in an eternal potential cause, or it.
originated from nothing.” The God of the Bible is then shown to be the most probable eternal potential cause.

(6) I should criticize Thomas’ argument from contingency in a manner similar to my criticism of his other arguments mentioned above. There is no ground for saying that an infinite chain of contingent beings could not have existed. I suggest that here, as above, emergentism be shown to be improbable, and the eternal existence of the God of the Bible shown to be most probable.

(7) I cannot see any value to Thomas’ argument from degrees of perfection. It seems to me to be wholly fallacious. It suggests, however, an induction from the fact of valuation to a perfect standard of value, similar to my inductive statement of “the moral argument” in my book What is God. How did the idea of value, the fact of valuation, come to be if there is no true norm? Each historical view of the norm is self-contradictory without Theism, but each of the norms set forth in great historical systems of ethical philosophy proves to be a true subordinate norm, if “the kingdom of God and His righteousness” is taken as the supreme norm.

(8) Thomas’ statement of the teleological argument, his fifth argument for the existence of God, seems to me essentially sound, but extremely meager. I should criticize it for not including an outline of the Biblical answer to the problem of evil.

The fallacy of atheistic attacks on the Christian view of evil usually centers in the false identification of the terms “ought not to be”, and “ought not to be permitted.” Paul, in his great theodice in the ninth chapter of Romans, gives the Christian view of evil in two stages (1) God is to us as the potter is to the clay; He must be trusted, (verses 14-21) (2) God permits evil, He “endured with much longsuffering” the sin of Pharaoh, in order to reveal his name, his power, his wrath, his ability, and his glory, in saving his people, (verses 22-24) Carnell, like many deficient Calvinist’s of the presuppositionist school, is quite blind to Paul’s second point, God’s permission. Distinguishing God’s permissive decrees, as Paul does, is of course not in the least contradictory to the Scriptural doctrine of the sovereignty of God. This distinction is extremely valuable in dealing with Naturalists who are more or less committed to the “progressive education” program. Certainly the Scriptural doctrine of the sovereignty of God forbids the elimination of compulsion, which some advocates of progressive education would like to eliminate. But on the other hand, the Scriptural doctrine of God’s permissive decrees does leave room for a recognition of the fact that some things, for good and sufficient reasons, ought to be permitted, even though they ought not to be. Thus the “liberty,” falsely so called, of atheism is replaced by the true liberty which is within the sovereignty of God.

Without this distinction, Prof. Carnell seems helpless in the face of the fact of moral evil in the world. He starts out to argue that for empiricism “one can draw no distinction between good and bad, perfect and imperfect,” (p. 137) but on the following page he abandons this position for a worse one:

Conscientiousness in empiricism indicates that life is a mixed affair: partly good and partly bad. Shall we then reason from this to an absolutely good God? It is difficult to see how this follows. The presence of evil is indisputable, (p. 138)

He concludes his rejection of the teleological argument as presented by Thomas Aquinas with the words:

Is it not evident that when we reason after the pattern of the relation between the artist and his work, the poorer the work the less perfection we attribute to him? A chip on the statue or a flaw on the canvas makes the artist inferior. Is not God, then, less than all perfect? One can think of an endless number of ways to improve the universe, ranging from the removal of mosquitoes and ants at picnics to the placing of two hearts in man, one to pump blood while the other is being repaired. In short, the-universe evinces too much evil in it to bear the weight of the teleological argument [!] (p. 139)

In his two chapters on. “The Problem of Evil” he does sometimes suggest the distinguishing of God’s permissive providence, as in the words, “willfully permitting the entrance of evil . . to fulfill those purposes which were elected in His own counsels,” (p. 284) but he gives no weight to this consideration. I do not find that he anywhere
quotes Romans 9:22-24, (God “endured” Pharaoh) though he quotes in full Romans 9:14-21 (p. 304), and refers elsewhere to these verses on the potter and the clay.

Another defect in Carnell’s handling of the problem of evil, a defect common to the presuppositionalists is his failure to give sufficient emphasis to the distinction between the absolute necessity and immutability of the holy character of God, and the sovereign will of God which expresses his character. The reader is left with the impression that the standards of holiness are the products of God’s will rather than the derivatives of God’s nature. God must be holy. He has found a way whereby He may be gracious, whereby He may be both “just and the justifier of the one who believes in Jesus.” (Romans 3:26) If Carnell had presented these two distinctions,—the distinction between the immutable character of God and His sovereign will, and the distinction between what ought not to be, and what ought not to be permitted,—he would not have been so helpless in the presence of empiricism. There are plenty of facts open to the common knowledge of men to show that a holy and merciful God, having rightly permitted
freedom to do what ought not to be done, is working out. His own most perfect redemptive program.

Thomas’ presentation of the teleological argument is indeed meager, but Prof. Carnell should not have capitulated to those who attack it through the problem of evil.

Prof. Carnell’s zeal against the teleological argument leads him to undertake a reinterpretation of Romans 1:20 (pp. 149 and 169f). In this passage the Apostle Paul states in clear unequivocal terms that the invisible attributes of God, His eternal power and deity, are known even to wicked men by means of the things which God has made, the created world. This is distorted to mean that “knowing God (by innate knowledge which Paul teaches) we are reminded of Him in His work”! The words in parentheses in this quotation are Carnell’s.

With regard to such an act of violence in exegesis, it should be pointed out that if Paul had wished to express the idea of reminding, there were several well known Greek words which he could have used. He employed none of them. What he said was, “. . . since the creation of the world, being known by the things that are made.”

Where does Paul teach “innate knowledge” of God? Paul does indeed indicate that the law of God is written in men’s hearts and consciences (Romans 2:15), and this is said to be “by nature”, (verse 14) But where does Paul teach that men have innate, or by nature (as distinct from experience and revelation) an idea of God Himself. Surely the presuppositionists ought to be able to give us one or two references for this, the cornerstone of their philosophy.

Presuppositionalism : Distinctions
Work of the Holy Spirit

The distinction between presuppositionalism and the philosophy of traditional Christian evidences is not by any means that the one recognizes the power of the Holy Spirit more than the other. It is agreed that arguments, inductive and deductive, are never sufficient to work the work of regeneration. One may be intellectually convinced that Christianity is true and yet may reject Jesus Christ. Nothing but the specific work of the Holy Spirit in conviction and regeneration can be regarded as the efficient cause of individual salvation. The distinction between the two schools is that the one denies, and the other recognizes, that the Holy Spirit uses inductive evidence and arguments from probability as instruments in the practice of evangelization and conviction, these arguments being transitive to the minds of unbelievers.

Denying Theism

The philosophy of the Christian evidences which I am advocating does not differ from presuppositionalism in that I am ever willing to admit or assume anything whatsoever contrary to Christian theism, except in the well known logical form of an admission “for the sake of the argument.”

For example, I meet a bewildered traveler in the Pennsylvania Station. He tells me that he is bound for Philadelphia, but I see him starting down the stairway for a train which is bound for Boston. What do I do? The presuppositionalists rather generally accuse those who adhere to the traditional philosophy of evidence of saying to the bewildered traveler, “I will go with you down those stairs; I will carry your baggage, I will get on the train and help you to a seat; I will even go with you to Boston, on the presupposition that the train is going to Philadelphia; and all of this just in order to get you to Philadelphia.” How ridiculous! I have read many pages of presuppositionalists’ philosophy in which the bound-for-Boston-to-get-to-Philadelphia view is assigned to traditional evidentialists.

What do we do to try to get such a bewildered passenger on the right track? First, we tell him the simple fact that the train is not bound for Philadelphia but for Boston. If he shakes his head and continues, we point to the sign over the gate. If he still pushes down the stairway, we may even follow him a few steps and show him that the train is headed eastward and not westward. If he still replies, “I am sure this train will get me to Philadelphia,” we may patiently persist: “Assuming for the sake of the argument that you are right, it would logically follow that the station management puts a Boston sign on the gate for a Philadelphia train, and that a train headed eastward out of the Pennsylvania station is bound for Philadelphia. It would then have to follow that Philadelphia is wrongly located on all the maps in common circulation.” Thus by showing the bewildered man the implications and consequences of his false assumptions, in terms of matters of fact which are common ground for us both, he may be convinced of his error and induced to switch over, baggage and all, to the proper gateway and the proper track.

When a careful analysis is made, presuppositionalism is logically contradictory. Take for example the sentences quoted above from page 123.

Philosophy is like a railway without switches — once a man is committed to a given direction, he is determined in his outcome. Should he change his mind about the wisdom of his course, his only recourse is to go back and start on another track.

It is admitted that the metaphorical language here is striking. For the processes of the unregenerate mind, however, the metaphor is perfectly meaningless. What could the words “go back and start on another track” mean in this time-world of intellectual experience. Whatever mistakes one has made are an ontological part of his past life. Recognizing that the atonement of Christ blots out the guilt of sin, the fact remains that Saul of Tarsus was a conscientious persecutor of the Church before he met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. Saul of Tarsus had been on the wrong track. His presuppositions had been those of his own self-righteousness,—anti-Christian, and therefore, anti-theistic. (I Jn. 2:23) He did not go back to any starting point; he did not go back at all. His past was still his past. The position which he occupied on the Damascus road became the position from which he began his Christian life. He had falsely thought he was doing right and serving the true God. In the moment when he discovered that Jesus of Nazareth was the Lord of glory, he was translated “out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son.” What better metaphor to express the metastasis (Col. 1:13) from the realm of the power of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son, than to say that he was switched over onto an entirely different track.

It simply is not true to say that a man whose presuppositions are anti-theistic cannot be shown his mistakes and then and there have his course changed.

The past false presuppositions of the converted man are thenceforth a part of his Christian testimony, for “God maketh the wrath of man to praise Him.” It is for this reason that “every scribe who is instructed into the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who draws out of his treasury things new and old.” (Matt. 13:52)

Greater Practical Value

Presuppositionalism is not to be distinguished from the traditional view of evidences by the mere fact of the great value of beginning with the assumption of the God of the Bible. When Professor Carnell says, as quoted above, that we have only three score years and ten and that we do not have time to search everywhere, he is quite right.
In Carnell’s illustration, we might be perfectly sure that the friend has lost the coin in the grass near the sidewalk because we might have heard the coin drop on the pavement. If we are right and if we can persuade him to accept our presupposition much time will be saved. However, if our friend is convinced in his own mind that he lost the
coin in the grass near the rosebushes thirty feet from the sidewalk, and if he will not search near where we know the coin to be, we may properly assist him by helping him hunt for it, showing that his presuppositions are wrong.

Wherever we find that a man believes a part of the system of doctrine taught in the Scriptures, we thank God for what he does believe and seek to show him that this part of the truth is in contradiction to the rest of his system, and to the denial of the full truth of Christianity.

Encouraging Features

I am much encouraged by the fact that this book of Professor Carnell’s in several important ways breaks away from such previous writing of the presuppositionalists as have come to my attention. Professor Carnell gives an excellent chapter on the nature of inductive probability arguments. The reader is urged to study carefully chapter V. Even when Carnell gets over into the presuppositionalists view and catches himself inadvertently using the phrase “a workable hypothesis in the light of evidence” (p. 164), he adds a footnote “Let us remember that we are not attempting a demonstration of God’s existence; we are simply pointing out the presence of data which make the hypothesis of God’s existence coherent.”

There is definite progress in Carnell’s chapter XII, entitled “The Problem of Common Ground.” In this chapter the author sometimes gives away the entire case of presuppositionalism. Then again he takes it all back, and reverts to the hopeless case of a divided world in which Christian and non-Christian have no common ground. On the one hand we find such statements as

If … the scientist in the laboratory can succeed in operating within an impersonal, non-metaphysical realm of being,’ be he Christian or non-Christian, the question of logical starting point is so far irrelevant to the arrangement … As long as I keep to myself my ultimate level of meaning, and as long as my opponent keeps to himself his ultimate level of meaning, we can hold our scientific meanings fully in common. The proof for this is that it happens every day. (Page 216)
. . . Person to person, Christian and non-Christian can enjoy common ground on every level of truth save that of the metaphysical. (Page 217)

On the other hand Carnell sometimes flatly contradicts the common ground which he elsewhere admits.

The reach of metaphysics is absolute: it overshadows every level of meaning. … so penetrating is the metaphysical level of meaning that it succeeds in reflecting back upon the lower level also. (Page 215)
But it may be questioned whether a man
can elect not to talk about ultimates in the laboratory. Is not one’s metaphysics implied in his every predication as well as his every act? When the non-Christian speaks of water, certainly he means water that is not related to the Christian world view. (Page 216)
System to system … Christianity and Paganism have absolutely no common ground whatever on any level, for, when a world view is seen as a whole, it necessarily evinces metaphysics, a metaphysics which governs every level of meaning. (Page 217)


All in all Prof. Carnell’s book abounds in excellent helpful passages and useful, practical materials for Christian apologetics. It should certainly be on the assigned reading list of every theological seminary course in Apologetics and Systematics. In the hands of a teacher of experience capable of supplementing certain weaknesses, this work will be a valuable and interesting textbook for college courses in Christian philosophy.


1Eerdmans, 1949. 379 pages. $3.50.

2This sensationalistic definition of empiricism is rigidly adhered to throughout the discussion of evidence from nature. With strange inadvertence, Prof. Carnell uses empiricism in an entirely different sense on page 298. Even here he does not show knowledge of modern empiricism.

3 p. 126. Quoted from Gilson, The Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, page 64.

4 On the Soul, Book III, Chapter Four; see also Book II, Chapter Four.

5Summa Theologica IQ 84 Art. 3.

6 I do find in De Veritate Q.x.a.l. the following contrary teaching:

. . . The intellect acquires knowledge of things only, by measuring them, as it were, against its own primitive elements. . . . Thus, mind, considered as containing the image of God, denotes a faculty and not the essence of the soul, or if it denotes the soul itself, this happens only in so far as that, faculty issues from the soul. (Thomas Aquinas’ Selected Writings. Everyman’s Library, Pages 180f.) The Random House edition of Basic Writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, Anton C. Fegis, editor, two volumes of over 1100 pages each, does not contain the treatise De Veritate; but question 16 of the Summa Theologica entitled “On Truth” is entirely contrary to the sensationalism which Carnell ascribes to Thomas.

7Calvin and Calvinism, Oxford University Press, 1931, page 147.

Series Articles :
1. Buswell, J. Oliver, Jr., “The Arguments from Nature to God: Presuppositionalism and Thomas Aquinas—A Book Review with Excursions,” The Bible Today 41.8 (May 1948): 235-248.
2. Schaeffer, Francis A., “A Review of a Review,” The Bible Today 42.1 (October 1948): 7-9.
3. Buswell, J. Oliver, Jr., “The Fountainhead of Presuppositionalism,” The Bible Today 42.2 (November 1948): 41-64.
4. Young, G. Douglas, “Dr. Young’s Letter”, The Bible Today 42.2 (November 1948): 65.
5. Buswell, J. Oliver, Jr., “Warfield vs. Presuppositionalism,” The Bible Today 42.6 (March 1949): 182-192.
6. Van Til, Cornelius, “Presuppositionalism,” The Bible Today 42.7 (April 1949): 218-228.
7. Anonymous, “Presuppositionalism,” The Bible Today 42.8 (May 1949): 261.
8. Van Til, Cornelius, “Presuppositionalism Concluded,” The Bible Today 42.9 (June-September 1949): 278-290.

%d bloggers like this: