Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987): when was the last time you saw him mentioned in The New York Times? Molly Worthen, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, mentions him in her op-ed “The Evangelical Roots of our Post-Truth Society.” Worthen is correct that Cornelius Van Til’s ideas of Christian worldview are responsible for the current denial of truth and the idea of alternative facts in US politics. Van Til was also the main influence on Francis Schaeffer, who shaped the religious right, as well as on Rousas Rushdoony and his theonomists who seek a kind of Christian jihad.
Dooyeweerd tried hard to promote an alternate viewpoint. He disagreed sharply with Van Til. See the articles in the book “Jerusalem and Athens.” Dooyeweerd rejected Van Til’s view that there is no point of contact between different worldviews; Dooyeweerd insisted on common states of affairs. And Dooyeweerd rejected a presuppostionalist approach to philosophy. What counts is not presuppositional beliefs, but ontical conditions or onticl presupposita that are common to everyone. And Dooyeweerd did not accept a propositional view of biblical revelation; he also was sharply critical of the use of theological ideas as the basis for philosophy, as in Vollenhoven’s philosophy (which follow’s Abraham Kuyper’s idea of religious antithesis; Dooyeweerd said that the antithesis is not between groups of people but an antithesis within the heart of each of us).
The issue is what evidence counts in the critique of science, and what commonalities are accepted as holding true for everyone. It may be, as Dooyeweerd argued, that there is an experience-based Christian worldview. But such a worldview cannot be based on theology or even on biblical exegesis. Both theology and exegesis are sciences, in the sense of theoretical activities, and are themselves subject to critique. It is the presuppositionalist idea of worldview that is a problem, when presuppositions are taken to be theological beliefs.
I recognize that this is going to be a problem for “Christian” colleges that have emphasized the priority of beliefs. But these colleges are part of the problem.
For Dooyeweerd, what is important to worldview is our experience of time and our selfhood that transcends time. Even his ideas of creation, fall and redemption, where he perhaps smuggled in some theological ideas, were interpreted in terms of this temporal/supratemporal philosophical framework. For Dooyeweerd, theology is dependent on philosophy. And Dooyeweerd believed that his philosophical transcendental critique was able to communicate with those who did not share his beliefs, unlike Van Til who said there was no point of contact whatsoever.
Reformational philosophers and evangelicals need to take responsibility for these mistaken ideas and the damage that they have caused to U.S. society. It is time for them to publicly renounce the idea of a distinct Christian worldview in Van Til’s sense of presuppositions based on theological beliefs.