Updated: Oct 22, 2020
This article serves as my preparation for a discussion I had on the 22nd of August 2020 on the Proof of God's existence. You can view the discussion here:
I've spent the past year studying more of the philosophical side of presuppositional apologetics, attempting to do a deep dive into Van Til‘s writings. The discussion and this article serves as a welcome change of place as I'm shifting my focus into applying what I've learned over the past year to a single articulation of a proof for God's existence.
I'm also going to try to keep the discussion as simple as possible so that many of my friends can also be reached by it.
Why do I believe in God?
In this section I would like to simply echo Cornelius Van Til, who I've come to regard quite highly, in his pamphlet, 'Why I believe in God':
In this pamphlet I tried to point out in simple terminology why I believe in the God of the Bible, the God of historic Reformed theology. The God I believe in is the triune God of the Bible. I believe in this God because He Himself has told me in the Bible Who He is, what I am, and what He, in Christ and by the Holy Spirit, has done for me... I was brought up on the Bible as the Word of God. Can I, now that I have been to school, still believe in the God of the Bible? Well, can I still believe in the sun that shone on me when I walked as a boy...? I could believe in nothing else if I did not, as back of everything, believe in this God. Can I see the beams underneath the floor on which I walk? I must assume or presuppose that the beams are underneath. Unless the beams were underneath, I could not walk on the floor...
Van Til, Why I believe in God
Something that I've come to appreciate in my study of presuppositional apologetics is the close (inseparable) connection there exists between the God we're defending when doing apologetics, and the God we're worshipping in our everyday lives. This might seem like a moot point to make, but it's true. Before my eyes were opened to the presuppositional school of thought, my idea of God when doing apologetics was different from the God I was worshipping on Sundays. In apologetics, God was someone out there who we need to reason to and show that He exists. He was someone who we won't ever be 100% sure is actually out there. We might come close to determining whether He exists or not, but we'll never be certain. Contrast this with the triune God I was worshipping. The old Hymn goes like this:
I need Thee every hour In joy or pain Come quickly and abide Or life is vain
I need Thee, O I need Thee Every hour I need Thee O bless me now, my Savior I come to Thee
I was (and I'm still in a much deeper sense) proclaiming to need God every single second of every single day, that apart from Him there is no meaning in life, that in Him I have a blessed assurance in Christ, something that I cannot lose:
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine O what a foretaste of glory divine Heir of salvation, purchase of God Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood
Do you see the disconnect? In apologetics, when approaching the matter of God's existence He was no longer treated as someone whom "I need every hour".. in apologetics I was quite alright trying to reason to God. I didn't need Him to reason, I was doing fine on my own!
This is the point that Van Til made clear for me. The God I worshipped ever since I was a little boy, the God my parents taught me is the one who upholds me, wove me in the darkness and formed me before anyone even knew I existed (Ps 139), Who will never forget me nor forsake me because He has eternally set His love upon me, that is the same God I have the privilege of defending when engaging in apologetics, and it is unthinkable for me to treat Him as a mere hypothesis to be tested like any other fact.
I don’t deny that I was taught to believe in God when I was a child, but I do affirm that since I have grown up I have heard a pretty full statement of the argument against belief in God. And it is after having heard that argument that I am more than ever ready to believe in God.
Van Til, Why I believe in God
It was highlighted quite well for me when a friend prayed in our Bible study that God might give me the strength and insight to argue about His existence in the upcoming discussion. How can we pray that God can give us the strength to demonstrate His probable existence? What does that say about the prayer itself?
This is the wonder of Van Til's (and might I say, Biblical) apologetic. It's not that God is a fact that we can reason to be either true or false, He is the beams that uphold our ability talk about facts to begin with. When we sing with the Christian church that we need God every hour, it applies to all spheres of life. He is the one who created us in His image, reveals knowledge to us, provides us with the gift of life and continues to uphold us at every given moment. To deny the One who gives you life and reason by using the very life and reason He gives you is the height of absurdity. It is for this reason that the Bible says "The fool says in his heart there is no God".
Why do I believe in God? Because He set His love upon me. He is the light by which I can see all other facts. He reveals Himself to me in nature and in Scripture leaving me in awe that the almighty incomprehensible Creator of all that is would think of me. He is the Certainty without whom there is no certainty.
The Proof of God's Existence
Now that I've at a high level discussed how I approach the subject of God's existence, allow me to more formally discuss the points I was making. When someone asks about the proof of God's existence, the first thing that we have to realize is that we can't approach the question in the same manner that we'd approach any other factual investigation. Asking about the proof of God's existence is kind of like a fish asking about the existence of water. E.g. If I wanted to know whether my mother bought cookies, I can go look if there are cookies in the pantry. But we can't treat the existence of God in the same way. If we believed that all facts are to be investigated in the same way it is called the "crackers in the pantry fallacy" (see Bahnsen v Stein). But God is not another fact in the universe of facts. He is the Creator that makes all facts what they are. He spoke, "Let there be light".. God knew what light is before it ever existed in space and time. We won't find God in a lab, in nature, in the sky, in space or on some distant planet.
In the second place it should be noted, I don't really think it's necessary to offer a proof of God's existence in the sense that we want to convince someone that God actually exists. According to the Bible, in the Psalms and in the letter to the Romans, everyone already knows that God exists and are without excuse for denying Him. What we rather want to expose is this knowledge of God that everyone already has. Unbelievers are like someone holding a beach ball under the water. We don't need to convince them of the beach ball, we need to pry up their fingers to make obvious the suppression of the beach ball. In the same way, we need not convince people that God exists, we only need to show that they are suppressing their belief in Him.
The proof of God's existence that we bring to Christians and unbelievers can be simply summarised in the following phrase: The proof of God's existence is that without Him you cannot prove anything. And no, we're not merely stating that if God did not exist we wouldn't be here to prove anything, but also that if He did not exist (in the sense that there is no knowledge of God in us), we wouldn't be able to prove anything.
The way we approach the proof of God's existence is similar to how we would approach someone asking us to prove that words exist, or to prove that air exists (i.e. you cannot ask for a proof of words without using words, nor can you prove words exist without using words. You cannot ask for a proof of air without breathing air, nor can you prove air exists without breathing air). The unbeliever denying the existence of God is like someone using words to deny the existence of words.
I feel that the whole of history and civilization would be unintelligible to me if it were not for my belief in God. So true is this, that I propose to argue that unless God is back of everything, you cannot find meaning in anything. I cannot even argue for belief in Him, without already having taken Him for granted. And similarly I contend that you cannot argue against belief in Him unless you also first take Him for granted.
Van Til, Why I believe in God
So, why is it that unless God exists you cannot prove anything (even His non-existence)? Quite simply, because God is the precondition of intelligibility. His revelation to us provides an interpretive context that makes knowledge possible. To obtain knowledge we generally make use of a few things:
Laws of logic
Reliability of memory
Reliability of reasoning
Uniformity of nature
I will discuss how the Christian worldview is absolutely necessary for the above and that to deny God destroys the possibility of knowledge.
Laws of Logic
Claims that the laws of logic are evidently true, on the basis of nothing but their own self-testimony, negate themselves. For, the applicability of logic to the spatio-temporal universe cannot be deduced from logical principles alone. And yet, the meaning of the law of contradiction cannot be conceptualized apart from notions of incompatibility and repulsion that are supplied by a number of contrasting principles and spheres (e.g., space, time, facts, qualities, ideas, languages, cultures, feelings, etc.). For this reason, Van Til contends that one must acknowledge the Triune God Who harmonizes universals and particulars, logic and history, subjects and objects, before he can be justified in believing that any of these pairs overlap at any point.
Bosserman,The Trinity and the Vindication of Christian Paradox pg. 97-98
The laws of logic (or known as the three laws of thought) can be described as follows:
The law of identity
The law of non-contradiction
The law of excluded middle
You can look these up if you'd like, but generally everyone is aware of the laws of logic. The kicker when it comes to the laws of logic is that they are:
Immaterial / Abstract
The Christian worldview can give an account of laws like these whereas non-believing worldviews can't. The very use of the laws of logic therefore already presupposes the Christian worldview. Think about it, God is unchanging, immaterial, universal and transcendent. In the Christian worldview, laws of logic are a reflection of the way God thinks that we as God's creatures ought to mirror to His glory.
Further, as Bosserman said, the laws of logic themselves cannot provide a basis for their applicability to the natural world. A practical example of this is the amazing applicability of mathematics (which is basically an application of the laws of logic) to the natural world, however, math in and of itself cannot provide a basis for its applicability in the external world. (there is nothing in the axioms of arithmetic from which their applicability to the external world can be deducted, yet, paraphrasing Bosserman, the meaning of it cannot be conceptualised apart from the external world (e.g. 1 + 1 = 2, conceptualised as a picture of two individual apples). Any other way to try and account for the laws of logic not based on the revelation of God in Scripture is doomed to fail.
Reliability of Memory and Reasoning
When approaching any from of investigation / discussion or everyday event, we do so by relying on our rationality and our memory.
We are creatures of God whose confidence in reason and the stability of reality is only explicable as the product of divine testimony from within and without. As creatures of God we cannot help BUT reason and use our minds to think about reality in an intelligible way. For the Christian, our minds have been designed by the ultimate rational One in order to reflect Him and learn more about Him from both nature and Scripture.
The non-Christian who disregards the Creator-creature distinction does not conceive of himself or herself as a creature of God, but rather tries to regard himself or herself as ultimate (or their own god). In this sense, the unbeliever effectively becomes stuck in their mind (the egocentric predicament) with no guarantee that their reasoning and thoughts actually correspond to anything "out there".
Now, does this mean that the unbeliever cannot reason? Of course not, because the unbeliever is not what he or she in his or her rebellion believe themselves to be. The unbeliever, like us, is still a creature of God even though they would not admit it, and the divine testimony from within them still drives them to behave in a certain rational way. It is by the restraining grace of God that the unbeliever is kept from a total destructive irrationality in their attempt to get away from God.
Uniformity of Nature
It is at this point that we introduce the problem of induction.
It involves the problem of justifying the inductive inference from the observed to the unobserved. It was given its classic formulation by the Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711–76), who noted that all such inferences rely, directly or indirectly, on the rationally unfounded premise that the future will resemble the past.
Put simply, if I drop a ball now, how do I know that if I drop a ball tomorrow that it will still fall to the ground in the same consistent manner? The answer lies in an assumption in the uniformity of nature that unbelievers cannot justify without being arbitrary. If we are not justified in holding to the uniformity of nature, it effectively destroys the entire scientific endeavour! The Christian God has revealed that He Himself is unchanging, orderly and that He has created the universe to reflect part of who He is (see Ps 19.) He has also promised to uphold the universe in a consistent manner, even though He might intervene supernaturally to change the course of history.
It is therefore on the ground of the Christian worldview that we can consistently hold that dead people stay dead, yet also consistently profess the resurrection of the dead, as an example. It is the unbeliever who struggles to account for any belief regarding dead people staying dead or rising or whatever. Keeping the above in mind, it is not peculiar at all when we learn that the rise of scientific investigation arose from Christian nations, and that almost all institutions of higher learning were built by Christians. It is a shame that most of them forgot the very foundation that allowed them to be built in the first place, and we're seeing the fruits of the absurdity that arises when the foundation is thrown away quite clearly on campuses today.
Predication: A proclamation, announcement or preaching. An assertion or affirmation. (logic) The act of making something the subject or predicate of a proposition. (e.g. the apple is red).
It as at this point that we introduce the problem of the one and the many (It took quite some time for me to grasp so feel free to skip this section if you'd like). Van Til's writing is filled with this and how the trinity is absolutely necessary to solve the problem. (You can almost feel how the one and the many finds its solution in the trinity Who is both one and many).
The problem of the one and the many relates to predication and has plagued the entire history of philosophy (for more on the history of philosophy, check out Greg Bahnsen series of lectures on the topic from the Covenant Media Foundation).
Our intellectual framework depends upon relating universals (like animals) and particulars (frog [which is a type of animal]) to succeed. The idea is that predication is putting together universals (animal) and particulars (frog, dog, cat etc.), and knowledge is predication (the frog is an animal). And so, the question arises how it is that reality can be so perfectly interrelated that we can put disparities together (group individuals) and individuate commonalities (distinguish items that fall in a universal category) as we do when we come to possess knowledge. (for a fuller discussion see our article on A Christian Ontology)
Historically secular thought either regards the particulars (eg. frogs, dogs, cats, or better yet, individual living organisms or matter) as ultimate or the universals (animal) as ultimate. But we must then ask, in the first case, how does unity come about as all the particulars effectively differ from each other. In the second case, how does differentiation come about if unity is ultimate? (E.g how do we get different unique horses when the unity of “horseness” is ultimate?) We see therefore that to state "the frog is an animal", or "the apple is fruit" is to assume that there is an unchanging relationship between the many and the one, or the particulars and the universals. We cannot predicate anything intelligibly without this assumption.
Bosserman summarises this as follows, and this point couples in nicely with our points on rationality:
Although it may initially seem impractical, the “one and many” question has vast implications. The epistemological problem regarding whether our sense perceptions correspond to external reality, is ultimately one of how we may be certain that our rational categories (the one) do justice to the spatio-temporal objects (the many) they supposedly represent.
Bosserman, The Trinity and the Vindication of Christian Paradox
So, how does the Christian worldview overcome the issue? Well, God reveals Himself to us in Scripture as the personal one and many. God is one being, existing as three co-eternal, co-equal person, each fully God. Crucial to Van Til’s application of the Trinity to the problem of the One and the Many is his understanding of the relationship between the oneness of God and the threeness of God. According to Van Til, “Unity and plurality are equally ultimate in the Godhead.”
The Trinity solves the problem, not as a theoretical explanation for how universal principles and ideas control matters of fact, but as a personal Authority Who is a perfect harmony of unity and diversity in Himself, and thus uniquely qualified to guide man in developing an analogous harmony in his own life and thought. Apologetically, the Trinitarian perspective carries with it an illuminating diagnosis of sinful thinking as the self-defeating attempt to treat principles found in creation, rather than the Creator, as the ultimate sources of unity and/or diversity in reality.
Bosserman, The Trinity and the Vindication of Christian Paradox
For a great article on the topic, check out VAN TILLIAN TRINITARIAN THEOLOGY: IT’S ORTHODOX STATUS AND APPLICATION TO THE ONE AND THE MANY
This one is quite obvious. Unless God exists, there would be no objective grounds for morality, but I want to put a spin on it: When approaching any factual investigation, we assume that ought to be truthful about our findings. E.g., if someones as the question, "Does God exist?", they expect that I ought to answer truthfully and not lie about.
This makes sense in the Christian worldview as God is not a liar and we need to reflect Him.
Closing thoughts on the proof
Ultimately it comes down the the following: Van Til said that man ought to reason in an analogical way, that is a way that regards God as the ultimate reference point for all truth and knowledge and man as derivative or dependent on Him to know anything. If we are not to regard God as ultimate (i.e. not start with God), we'll be stuck in what is called the egocentric predicament: Each man has his own subjective experience which ultimately leads to skepticism and absurdity (which also proves that God exists, as you cannot logically conclude absurdity, as that would make the conclusion itself absurd, which is absurd).
If God is not presupposed, there would be no knowledge, and this is not surprising considering that Scripture teaches us exactly that:
The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge
Proverbs 1:7, ESV
After all is said and done, we can reduce the worldviews of unbelievers to this absurdity, and they will accept it because they would rather choose absurdity over Christ because they love their sin (I've seen atheists adamantly defend their claims to know absolutely nothing, which of course is a self-defeater).
The proof can thus be summarised as follows:
(1) Every inference and act of predication presupposes the existence of the absolute and personal harmony of unity and diversity, within the Triune God.
(2a) Denials that the Trinity exists are acts of predication.
[(2b) Acceptance that the Trinity exists is an act of predication.]
Therefore, (3) The Triune God exists
Bosserman, The Trinity and the Vindication of Christian Paradox:
When all is said and done, you can accept the proof or reject the proof, but acceptance or rejection of the proof are acts of predication which presupposes the Triune God of Scripture. It's basically a case of heads the Christian wins, tails the unbeliever loses. The triune God who sustains us at every given moment cannot be escaped, and we cannot hide from him anywhere.
Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night," even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.
Psalm 139:7-12, ESV
Van Til's illustration of the girl slapping her father is appropriate here. He was once riding the train and he saw a girl sitting on her father's lap, slapping him in the face. The only reason she could do so was because of the father's sustaining her at the appropriate height. To deny God's existence already presupposes Him holding you and sustaining you to do so.
Why doesn't everyone profess belief in God?
There is one thing I would like to note before I move on. If the knowledge of God is evident in all men as without God they could not reason, why doesn't everyone believe in God? It's a good question, and requires us to look at the terms that we use. Everyone believes in God, as the knowledge of God is inescapable within us and around is. The difference is that not everyone professes that belief. Some suppresses it in unrighteous and choose to worship the creature rather than the Creator.
The only way to move from suppression to profession of faith in God, is by the supernatural work of regeneration of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men when they hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches us that while we were still sinners (read slapping God in the face [respectfully said] and rebelling against Him) Christ died for us to redeem us back to God.
I wish I can spend more time on this issue, but for the sake of brevity I urge to please follow this link and read up more on what God did to save sinners.
So the argument essentially is that you have to start with the triune God's existence (as revealed in Scripture) to prove God's existence, and that any act of predication (e.g. God exists, God does not exist) presupposes God.
By now you would have seen that all of what I've said comes down to faith in God's revealed word. So now you might ask, how do I know that Scripture is indeed the Word of God?
Well, there are a few ways to go about this. Firstly, we start off by stating clearly that the triune God as revealed in Scripture as the precondition of intelligibility is the presupposition of the Christian system. It is this presupposition that grounds all other knowledge. What we have shown in the preceding sections is that to deny this presupposition is to reduce one's worldview to absurdity. This should be clear enough. Bear with me know, as things become a bit more complex as we move on:
But, of course, there are an infinite amount of different worldview to refute, so by arguing by the impossibility of the contrary (to the Christian worldview) we cannot conclusively show that Christianity is true, it as well can only provide a probability, as we cannot refute an infinite amount of different worldviews. We can get the unbeliever to the point where they starting firing worldviews at us in a machine gun fashion. (e.g. almost always after I've refuted atheism [to its various degrees], the unbeliever shoots back "Oh yeah? What about Islam?", and after refuting Islam he says, "Oh yeah! What about Buddhism?" and so on and so forth).
Do note, however, that if the debate reaches this point where the unbeliever needs to resort to "some worldview out there that might one day contend with the Christian worldview", the debate is effectively over. This is a last resort on the part of the unbeliever. The unbeliever is placing blind faith in some other worldview just to avoid the Christian worldview. Sye usually deflects this type of argument by simply asking to restrict the discussion to worldviews that the two debaters actually hold to. It helps very little to appeal to Islam in order to save your atheism!
So we see that the argument that "some worldview out there that might one day contend with the Christian worldview" is of very little practical value, but yet, it seems a pretty serious challenge still on a theoretical level.
So, how do we know that Christianity is the only true worldview? Ultimately by the authority of the One who reveals it to us (specifically in the Bible). The Bible claims to be the only worldview that can provide the preconditions of intelligibility as part of it's internal claims about reality, and so, since it does provide the preconditions of intelligibility, it's the only worldview that can do so, based on it's internal claims.
It is at this point that we (and many other presuppositionalists before us) run the risk of not taking God's authoritative Word as true by only limiting what is revealed in Scripture as a way to think (conceptual scheme) about that world that doesn't cause us to fall into absurdity. But of course, only by asserting a way to think doesn't prove the ontological reality of the view (e.g. that Christian is true in reality, not just conceptually in our minds). Stated simply, we might be necessitated to THINK in a certain way, it doesn't mean that it's ACTUALLY so.
However, the claims of the Bible doesn't provide us with a mere conceptual framework that autonomous man uses to make sense of his world, rather, what God reveals to us in Scripture is that “He made the mind and the objects that the mind knows. Therefore, our conceptual scheme is automatically in touch/automatically corresponds with the objects of experience on this presupposition.” So taking God's Word as true, we've overcome the egocentric predicament as we aren't autonomous human beings thinking thoughts that may or may not correspond to reality. We are images bearers, creatures made by God for in part this very purpose! Much more can be said on this point, but for the sake of brevity I'll leave it be.
I also want to make it very clear that my argument for the Bible as the Word of God is not, as some have accused us (including, sadly, RC Sproul), that "The Bible is the Word of God because it says it is the Word of God". That I would agree is fallaciously circular. Nevertheless, I do reason in a circle because the proof I used above is based on the authority of God speaking in the Scripture. The authority of God speaking in Scripture dictates the method that I use. And I use the method of argumentation to prove ultimately the authority of God speaking in the Scripture. So there is in a broad sense a circle, but another way of describing it is to say that this system of thought is internally consistent with itself. And all systems of thought has got to be internally consistent with themselves.
I am a Christian, why should I set out to answer questions about life in a non-Christian way?
Van Til contends that one must acknowledge the Triune God Who harmonizes universals and particulars, logic and history, subjects and objects, before he can be justified in believing that any of these pairs overlap at any point. For the same reason, God’s Self-testimony in Scripture must be accepted on the basis of His unparalleled authority alone (Heb 6:13; Mark 1:22), since the rest of reality cannot even bear a consistent witness to itself apart from His illumination.
Bosserman, The Trinity and the Vindication of Christian Paradox, pg. 98
Remember the way God reveals Himself to us in Scripture:
For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself
Hebrews 6:13, ESV
God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”
Exodus 3:14, ESV
Is the above circular? Imagine if someone asks me who I am and I say, "I am who I am"... that doesn't tell them much, but in the case of God, it tells us almost everything. He is unchanging, eternal, independent of creation etc. Self-confirmation is the unique prerogative of, and is indeed something quite different for, the Triune God than it can be for anything else.
Having said the above, we must not refrain from also pointing out that at every foundational level of reasoning, all reasoning is circular. How does the unbeliever know his reasoning is valid without using his reasoning? How do we prove the laws of logic without using the laws of logic? How do we know our memory works without using our memory? Is the circularity the same for the above factors than it is for God? Of course not. The difference is that the revelation of God in the Bible is the non-fallacious necessary circle that makes all other reasoning possible.
Together with the above we can add the following lines of evidence to the Bible as the Word of God as defined by the confessions:
The Holy Spirit / Christ's Sheep Hear His Voice and the Testimony of Scripture
In the opening of this article we've already discussed above that everyone has the knowledge of God because God reveals it to them (and in them). When reading Scripture, we recognise God's voice as we know Him. Think about someone you know calling your name from far away. You know it's them because you know their voice. John Calvin (one of the reformers) says we immediately recognize the voice of our Father in the Scriptures. There is an immediate recognition of the voice of the Father in the Scriptures. He says, it’s just like the way a baby can tell the difference between something that’s sour and something that’s sweet. A baby doesn’t reason about that; a baby recognizes it immediately. And Calvin says, that’s the way it is with our recognition of the Bible is the word of God.
We receive all these books and these only as holy and canonical, for the regulating, founding, and establishing of our faith. And we believe without a doubt all things contained in them— not so much because the church receives and approves them as such but above all because the Holy Spirit testifies in our hearts that they are from God, and also because they prove themselves to be from God. For even the blind themselves are able to see that the things predicted in them do happen.
Belgic Confession, Article 5: The Authority of Scripture
Bosserman expands beautifully on the above by writing:
God’s Word in Scripture is not self-confirming in the simple sense that it is followed by the addendum “and this word is trustworthy” (although this appears on occasion—Matt 5:18; John 3:11; Rev 21:5; etc.). Instead, it is self-confirming as a light which so illuminates every other aspect of creation that they respond with their own unique testimonies to God’s nature and existence (Ps 36:9). Thus, it is better to speak of the proof for God as an instance of “spiral” reasoning, which begins with God’s self-testimony, turns in His light to evaluate other aspects of reality, and finally returns with an ever more refined and confirmed vision of God.
Bosserman, The Trinity and the Vindication of Christian Paradox, pg. 98
But we have to start with ourselves (i.e we cannot have knowledge of God from the outset)
You can view this section as more of a appendix than anything else. My only hope here is to clarify what is meant by "starting with ourselves" or what is generally called the "order of being" or the "order of knowing".
When someone raises to objection, it is usually assumed that we are advocating that we somehow transcend our own consciousness and start somewhere else, but this is far from it. What is meant when we say that we "start with God" is that we give God's guidance and reality the highest priority in illuminating truths.
It is sometimes said that man can do no other but know semi-autonomously as the knowledge of God comes after the knowledge we have of ourselves - we cannot start outside our own flesh and mind. This line of reasoning completely ignores the fact of man being created in the image of God with the knowledge of God implanted IN them.
Van Til writes:
The cosmos-consciousness, the self consciousness, and the God-consciousness would naturally be simultaneous... Man would at once with the first beginning of his mental activity see the true state of affairs as to the relation of God to the universe as something that was known to him in order afterwards to ascertain whether or not God exists. He would know that God is the Creator of the universe as soon as he knew anything about the universe itself.
Van Til, Introduction to Systematic Theology
If we begin the course of spiral reasoning at any point in the finite universe, as we must because that is the proximate starting point of all reasoning, we can call the method of implication into the truth of God a transcendental method. That is, we must seek to determine what presuppositions are necessary to any object of knowledge in order that it may be intelligible to us. It is not as though we already know some facts and laws to begin with, irrespective of the existence of God, in order then to reason from such a beginning to further conclusions. It is certainly true that if God has any significance for any object of knowledge at all, the relation of God to that object of knowledge must be taken into consideration from the outset. It is this fact that the transcendental method seeks to recognize.
Van Til, Introduction to Systematic Theology
Hence, we can take our proximate starting point as any fact in the universe, and we will be able to show how that unless God is taken into account from the beginning (ultimate / logical starting point) there would be no knowledge at all. One of the reasons we can trust that our proximate starting point isn't blinding or ultimate is because we give weight to God's light as the most important light of all the lights we might encounter.
This should not be controversial. God does indeed reveal to us in Scripture that He reveals Himself to us, in us. The knowledge of God is inescapable.
John Calvin also makes the point near that start of his Institutes:
But, though the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves be intimately connected, the proper order of instruction requires us first to treat of the former, and then to proceed to the discussion of the latter
It is my sincere hope that in reaching the end of my meanderings you have a better grasp of the concepts discussed. I hope that you better understand now Van Til's sentiment when he wrote what we quoted in the introduction: "Can I, now that I have been to school, still believe in the God of the Bible? Well, can I still believe in the sun that shone on me when I walked as a boy...? I could believe in nothing else if I did not, as back of everything, believe in this God. Can I see the beams underneath the floor on which I walk? I must assume or presuppose that the beams are underneath. Unless the beams were underneath, I could not walk on the floor..." Don't be fooled. You cannot hide from God. You'll have to face Him in this life or the next. If you don't repent of your sin against Him and accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in this life, you'll deal with God's justice in the next. I pray that you'll heed the warnings before it is too late. "I shall not convert you at the end of my argument. I think the argument is sound. I hold that belief in God is not merely as reasonable as other belief, or even a little or infinitely more probably true than other belief; I hold rather that unless you believe in God you can logically believe in nothing else. But since I believe in such a God, a God who has conditioned you as well as me, I know that you can to your own satisfaction, by the help of the biologists, the psychologists, the logicians, and the Bible critics reduce everything I have said this afternoon and evening to the circular meanderings of a hopeless authoritarian. Well, my meanderings have, to be sure, been circular; they have made everything turn on God. So now I shall leave you with Him, and with His mercy." - Van Til, Why I Believe in God