Val Til, Logic, & the Trinity
It is striking that right away in his book on systematic theology, Professor Cornelius Van Til challenges the validity of the basic law of logic, namely, the Law of Contradiction (also known as the Law of Non-contradiction). This is strange, because the purpose of systematic theology is to have a logical presentation of theological truth. Theology is derived from the Greek words theos (Θεός) and logos (Λόγος), where theos means God and logos is where English derives the word logic. Theology may be thought of as the logic of God. But, if the basic laws of logic were flawed, it would defeat the effort to have a systematic theology.
When the laws of logic are applied as it suits the fancy of the exegete, the exegete’s work become irrational and “autonomous,” not subject to the laws of thought implanted by God within human nature. By doing this, Van Til set himself apart from the revelation of God in nature and scripture. In fact, if we entertain thoughts that violate the Law of Contradiction, we commit sin—an intellectual sin.
The the Law of Contradiction means simply that statements, such as,
Moses lived his early years in the land of Egypt.
Moses did not live his early years in the land of Egypt.
cannot both be true in the same sense.
In a fundamental sense, if a person could not appeal to the Law of Contradiction, then Van Til’s sentences could mean the exact opposite of what he wrote.;
“Christians should therefore never [not ever] appeal to the law of contradiction as something that, as such, determines what can or cannot be true” 1
Ignoring the Law of Contradiction, his claim could also mean,
Christians should therefore ever appeal to the law of contradiction as something that, as such, determines what can or cannot be true.
The truth of all propositional sentences depend upon the universality of the Law of Contradiction. His sentence is self-contradictory, because it instructs the reader that they should never appealed to Law of Contradiction in determining what can or cannot be true. Yet, his sentence must appeal to the Law of Contradiction to be true. If the Law of Contradiction could never be appealed to for his sentence, then the reader could never tell the meaning of his sentence. Does he mean never [not ever] or ever?
The law of contradiction, therefore, as we know it, is but the expression on a created level of the internal coherence of God’s nature. Christians should therefore never appeal to the law of contradiction as something that, as such, determines what can or cannot be true. 2
In the next paragraph, Van Til continues to miss the universal nature of the Law of Contradiction that applies to any statement whether profane or sacred. It is not an optional law that may be applied at the discretion of a thinker or writer.
Christians should employ the law of contradiction, whether positively or negatively, as a means by which to systematize the facts of revelation. Whether these facts are found in the universe at large or in the Scripture. The law of contradiction cannot be thought of as operating anywhere except against the background of the nature of God. Since, therefore, God created this world, it would be impossible that this created world should ever furnish an element of reality on a par with him. The concept of creation as entertained by Christians makes the idealist notion of logic once for all impossible. 3
Matthew 5:37 is a scriptural reference which supports the Law of Contradiction. These verses teach that our words should be “yea” or “nay.” Van Til teaches that our words may be “yea” and “nay;” hence, he denies the Law of Contradiction and the explicit scriptural admonition.
But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. Matt 5:37 (KJV)
When I therefore was thus minded, did I use lightness? or the things that I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, that with me there should be yea yea, and nay nay? But as God is true, our word toward you was not yea and nay. 2 Cor 1:17-18 (KJV)
If the Law of Contradiction were not true, then both of the two following statements would be equally true.
Those who are saved will go to heaven.
Those who are saved will not go to heaven.
P.E. Hughes wisely wrote,
When God speaks His positive does not carry a hidden negative. And so it is also with His chosen Apostle: his word to the Corinthians is not a mixture of yea and nay at the same time, but a faithful yea–sincere, honest, unambiguous. 4
It might be Van Til’s “autonomous” logic that opened the door to his heretical comments on the Holy Trinity. He teaches that God is both one person and three persons.
We do assert that God, that is, the whole Godhead, is one person. We have noted how each attribute is co-extensive with the being of God. We are compelled to maintain this in order to avoid the notion of an uninterpreted being of some sort. . . .
And even within the ontological Trinity we must maintain that God is numerically one. He is one person. 5
His heretical assertion violates scripture, logic, and Christian creedal statements.
Because Cornelius Van Til is sometimes difficult to understand, people interpret his unintelligibility for theological profundity. He muddied the truth with contradictions while claiming to shed light upon divine mysteries. Friedrich Nietzsche observed.
Mystical explanations.—Mystical explanations are considered deep. The truth is that they are not even superficial.6
The Athanasian Creed’s fourth article states,
4. Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance [Essense].
In Deity, there is one undivided Substance—God, while there are three distinct Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The essence or substance refers to a being’s quiddity or ‘whatness.’ Person refers to ‘who‘ For example, all of humanity is of one human substance or essence. By contrast, the individuated human substances are persons, such as John, Mary, Joe, et cetera. In Deity there is unity in substance or essence but a trinity in persons. The orthodox Christian view avoids tri-theism (three different gods), and the ancient Sabellian heresy of a modalism, that is, one person who is revealed in a trinity of modes or personalities. By not making a clear distinction between substance and person, C. Van Til presents a misinterpreted being, not a clarification of uninterpreted being. The Athanasian Creed rejects Van Till’s heretical notion of the personhood of God.
1 Van Til, Cornelius, An Introduction To Systematic Theology, Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Co, Phillipsburg, New Jersey, 1974, p. 11
2 ibid p. 11
3 ibid p. 11-12
4 ibid P.E. Hughes, Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians, in the series: The New International Commentary On the New Testament, Eerdmanns Publishing Co., 1962, p. 35
5 ibid p. 229
6 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Translated by Walter Kaufmann, Edition 1974, Vintage Books, New York, Book 3(126), p. 182.