Revelational Foundationalism: A Constructive Synthesis of the Epistemologies of Cornelius Van Til and Alvin Plantinga
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SubjectVan Til, Cornelius, 1895-1987
Knowledge, Theory of--Religious aspects--Christianity
Cornelius Van Til and Alvin Plantinga are titans in the arena of Christian philosophy. They both come from Dutch Reformed Calvinist traditions and studied under William Jellema at Calvin College. Yet, their approaches to philosophy are distinct, stemming from their different academic and social contexts. Sadly, they never seriously interacted with one another. Currently, a lacuna of scholarship exists integrating both philosophers together. I propose that a constructive synthesis of certain select philosophical and theological ideas of Plantinga and Van Til, as they are taken together and allowed to critically interact, provides a more robust Christian epistemology than either of them can deliver on their own.While some take Van Til to be an internalist, others still see some externalist criteria in his epistemology. Plantinga is explicitly an externalist. Plantinga’s externalism emphasizes how a person acquires knowledge while Van Til’s approach provides the grounds for all rationality, including the very possibility of externalism. Van Til has a deep biblical understanding of the noetic effects of sin. He explains these effects in such a way as to limit the ability of fallen man to understand anything truly, distinguishing knowledge in terms of epistemological and metaphysical. Plantinga affirms the reality of the noetic effects of sin. However, he accounts for the noetic effects as mostly limited to the subject matter of the knowledge of God. Van Til allows no epistemological common ground between unbeliever and believer while Plantinga believes there is vast agreement between the two depending on the subject matter. Van Til argues that the unbeliever relies on borrowed capital from the Christian worldview in order to reason intelligibly while Plantinga ties epistemic progress to properly functioning cognitive faculties. Van Til’s approach to apologetics centers on transcendental arguments and the necessary preconditions for rationality. Plantinga’s approach shows the self-defeating nature of evolutionary naturalism. Given Van Til’s distinction between metaphysically and epistemologically knowing, his understanding of how presuppositions function within one’s worldview, and Plantinga’s understanding of the necessary conditions for knowledge, general revelation is the foundation for metaphysical warranted true belief, and special revelation is the foundation for epistemological warranted true belief.