Plantinga on Van Til: Unbelievers can’t know anything?!

Posted: August 30, 2014 in Reformed Epistemology
Tags: , , ,

From Dr. Bahnsen:

Alvin Plantinga is a brilliant philosopher.  He may not always do it the way I would do it, but no one can doubt he’s got a mind God’s given him, ok?  He’s a smart man.  Well read.

When I first met Alvin Plantinga I was still an undergraduate student of philosophy and he had come to my college to present some lectures and I had an opportunity for a few minutes, during a break, to talk to him.  I brought up the name “Van Til” to get some kind of idea … “where are you coming from about this? What value do you see in it?”  And Plantinga … (he didn’t wave his hand – he was very polite and everything) but he basically said that since Van Til’s apologetic requires me to think that unbelievers can’t know about the digestive tract of a lion, then I just don’t see that this is realistic or practical at all.

I said – well, what makes you think that about Van TIl?  He says, well, Van Til says the unbeliever can’t know anything.  And we know that unbelievers know things. 

Well, that’s sad isn’t it?

Now I’m not giving you a chump illustration here; I’m giving you a pretty smart guy.  Well he hasn’t read Van Til or bothered to understand it.  Van Til doesn’t say unbelievers don’t know things; he says they *couldn’t* know things if their worldview were true.  ~ 20 min. in to lecture 16 of the seminar on Transcendental Arguments

  1. SLIMJIM says:

    Wow very insightful quote from Bahnsen’s own interaction with Alvin Plantinga


  2. Had Plantinga read Van Til he would have agreed on this point. After all, doesn’t his EAAN essentially argue a similar point?

    But we can’t really blame them for not understanding Van Til as I have a hard time getting it too, which is why Bahnsen had to write that beast of an analysis!

    Great blog, btw. Been looking for more Reformed apologists blogs and found yours thanks to CH.


    • Aaron Dale says:

      Unfortunately, the bulk of Presuppositionalist material is laden with theological jargon that most philosophers find uninteresting. It’s up to Presuppositional apologists to translate Van Til’s insights into the language of contemporary philosophy so we might have a viable impact.

      And thanks for the kind words about my blog. I hope you visit often.

      Are you a presuppositionalist as well? If so, and if you don’t mind, I could link to you. I hope my link-list will act as a good resource for those new to Presuppositionalism and who are lost in the web community, looking for friends.


      • I agree! Or they just think that these epistemological issues were solved long ago with Hume and Kant.

        Aside from hating the label, yes, I am a presupper somewhere in the neighborhood of Frame and some Plantinga. My blog is primarily dealing with JW’s, but I have some existence of God stuff there too. But I argue everything from a Reformed and Covenantal framework, as opposed to most who deal with “cults.”

        I added you to my feed, so I will certainly be around!


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