New Horizons

The Works of Cornelius Van Til on CD-ROM

Eric H. Sigward

The unique simplicity of electronic digital recording allows an immense amount of data to fit in a very small space and to be manipulated easily. This may be the historical significance of the CD-ROM edition of Van Til's writings that I have been privileged to prepare: that so much information has been placed on the head of a pin.

How It Was Produced

The project began in 1992, when I asked Dr. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., of Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, about placing the works of John Calvin on CD-ROM. He suggested Van Til, instead, pointing out that Van Til's one hundredth birthday was coming up in 1995. So I set out to produce a Van Til CD-ROM, trusting in some of his own adages: "If you try to make it perfect, you'll never get anything done." And, "The incomprehensibility of God means that man can never know anything exhaustively or perfectly."

It was rumored that when Van Til died in 1987, he gave full copyright control of his works to the den Dulk Foundation, and so I approached Bob den Dulk for permission to copy all of Van Til's writings into digital form—a process called "data capture."

Prior to calling Bob, I did some research into data capture techniques. I found out that data (printed pages) can be scanned as digitized images. This can be done quickly, but the text is not searchable, which I considered essential.

Second, I learned that the texts could be rekeyed at $3.00 to $4.00 per page. This method produces a high degree of accuracy immediately, but you still have to intercede with standardized formats, stylizations, spelling corrections, etc.

Third, text can be captured by a scanner (using "optical character recognition" software), but a fair number of mistakes result, requiring painstaking correction.

I chose the last technique: a mechanical data capture from a scanner, combined with subsequent cleaning of text, typing where necessary (for handwritten material), and editorial revision of formats.

When I approached Bob den Dulk, I thought I could capture all of Van Til's writings for about $20,000. Eventually, the task cost far more and required five years of time and effort. Bob wanted to be sure I could finish the project, once I got started, that the presentation would look good, and that the contents would be free of any hermeneutical slant or bias. I said I would do all three things: finish it, make it look good, and keep it free of interpreters.

Bob suggested I talk with John J. Hughes, editor of Bits and Bytes Review in Whitefish, Montana. John said he was enthusiastic about consulting for the Van Til CD-ROM project. He recommended I call David Rech at the University of Pennsylvania Center for the Computer Analysis of Text and Septuagint Studies (CCAT-SS) in Philadelphia. David said he could scan the texts and produce 99.99 percent accuracy for $0.90 per page. At that rate, I would have Van Til's 15,000 pages captured for $13,500. I did not account, however, for the immense amount of additional editorial work that would be required.

I returned to Bob den Dulk with the good news that John Hughes would help me, and that I had the money to pay David Rech. Then Bob gave me written permission to copy Van Til's works for a CD-ROM.

David Rech had a staff of graduate students and typists to help him. He began to receive texts from me in February 1994 and finished the data capture in April 1996.

John Hughes studied nineteen available search engines, and recommended the one of Logos Research Systems in Oak Harbor, Washington. A search engine is a computer program that presents, sorts, searches, and retrieves text. John felt that Logos could handle all our needs, and so I signed a contract with them.

This complicated David Rech's work, because he would have to format and tag the scanned text so that it would work in the Logos system. A tag is an invisible code next to a word. For instance, titles, chapters, Bible verses, and languages are tagged. Thus, if you wanted a list of Greek words used by Van Til, the program can call them up.

John Hughes also suggested that we include audio on the CD. On his advice, we settled on a technique called digitization and equalization, and hired Rande Hall of Wrangler Studios in Whitefish, Montana. Rande was a neighbor of John Hughes, and therefore John could oversee the process. We also hired Curtis Crenshaw in Tennessee, who went to the Mt. Olive Tape Library in Mt. Olive, Mississippi, and taped or obtained original tapes of Van Til from George Calhoun and shipped the crates to Montana.

In the fall of 1994, Eric D. Bristley announced to me: "I have the bibliography and copies of all the texts of Van Til." His bibliography was virtually complete, and each work was annotated. Van Til sometimes reused material, and his books often went through several editions. Eric's Guide accounts for all of these permutations. With his identification numbers, you can be assured that you are reading one version of a work and not another. We have included his bibliography on the CD-ROM. When you see an ID number or a colored title in the Guide, you can jump either to a bibliographic description within the Guide or out to the Van Til work itself. The bibliography allowed us to finish the CD-ROM with confidence about what we have and do not have.

Finally, David Rech said, "We're tired." I was tired, too, and so was one of my financial supporters. It was time to stop before we undid ourselves. Then I excluded what looked like inferior minutiae, included everything that had been published previously and was on hand, and called a halt to the scanning.

What the CD Contains

Logos Bible Software displays items on their Library Browser, an unfolding display of books and their contents. Starting at the top of the Browser, you will see the King James Version of the Bible—Van Til's customary Bible. The Logos program will jump from Bible references in his writings to the correct places in the KJV and back again, as you like. The Bible is fully searchable and you can find words or phrases as you use the search tools in the program. Next on the Browser are the Westminster standards: the Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. They are searchable, too.

Then you come to The Works of Cornelius Van Til, 1895-1987. Here you are presented with my introduction and acknowledgments, followed by Eric Bristley's Guide to the Writings of Cornelius Van Til, 1895-1987. To access Van Til's literature, you can either jump directly from the lists on the Library Browser or jump from the Guide to the item desired.

After the Guide, Van Til's writings are reproduced by category: 30 books, 11 pamphlets, 22 manuscripts, 111 articles in English, 25 articles in Dutch, 75 reviews, 6 photos, and 74 audio selections (52 hours).

In total, the CD contains 274 literary items and 74 audio selections. We did not include unpublished materials that would not scan well and were of little value. Also, some recordings were not included because the quality was too poor to hear well. The data now exists in a clearer, neater, and more accessible form than ever before.

Logos customarily loads a disk with products that can be subsequently unlocked for a low price. On this disk Logos added Calvin's Institutes (the Beveridge translation), for which jumps are already set in the Works.

Finally, at the end of the Browser is the Logos Users' Guide. It also comes with the CD as a printed manual.

How to Use It

The Logos Bible Software system was designed to publish just about anything. It will do just about anything you can imagine and more. To learn about the Logos system, consult the Users' Guide that comes with the software, or see the excellent review by Ed Hoffman in April's Christian Computing Magazine.

When you open the program, on the left you will see the Library Browser—a column of titles listing all the works in the collection. You can select whatever you want and open it into the window on the right, called a work space. The Library Browser is also a living table of contents. It will show you the chapters and subchapters of any work and allow you to open directly to them. You can have an unlimited number of windows open in the work area, each displaying a different book, article, or section for comparison. You can read a work, search it, annotate it, or copy it with functions found on the toolbar.

With Logos you can quickly search through the whole of the Works for occurrences of any word or phrase. I am at the stage where I do topic searches and word searches off of the toolbar icons. I also do concordance and phrase searches. After doing a search query, I like to display the context of the passages in a parallel column.

You can automatically transfer text into your word processor. For example, you can type in "Proverbs 22:17-29," and the text will appear in your word processor file. You can also copy and export text in a variety of formats. I do not yet have a full grasp of all that the program can do, but I have mentioned some of the functions that I use and enjoy.

Another area I like very much is the Audio Library. You can take whole courses on tape there by clicking on the desired audio lecture. It seems to be a great enhancement to have Van Til recorded in a live medium like audio. Several schools have asked me about the Works, because they thought Van Til's audio lectures on the philosophers would be useful for their students.

This resource is essentially a searchable multimedia Van Til library that fits in your pocket. It will prove very useful for students, teachers, scholars, and pastors.

If you would like to purchase The Works of Cornelius Van Til, 1895-1987 on CD-ROM, you should know that Logos will support the CD-ROM with a 30-day money-back guarantee and lifetime technical support. System requirements: IBM-compatible 486-33, Windows 3.1 or higher (Windows 95 for audio), 15 MB hard drive, 4 MB RAM. The list price is $250, but you can receive substantial discounts from the following distributors:

Mr. Sigward is a member of Franklin Square (N.Y.) OPC. Reprinted from New Horizons, July 1997.

Return to Formatted Page