Archive for the ‘ Orqotomeo ’ Category

Confessional Eschatology and Civics

I’m fairly disinterested in the political debates as a rule – and probably just as disinterested in the majority of eschatological debate, as well. However, due to recent circumstances I’m not going to get into, I thought it fitting to outline my position on these two subjects for future reference. Firstly, I want to make it absolutely clear that I consider theonomy and the requisite postmillenial eschatology to be contra-confessional. Secondly, I want to make it absolutely clear that I consider these positions to be an abuse of as well as a hindrance to a truly Covenantal apologetic.

Confessionally, it must be mentioned that the LBCF consistently and frequently mentions the “end of the world” – and treats all things related to the church; her work as well as her offices – as continuing until that time. As such, it must be granted that there is absolutely no provision for a “golden age” kingdom in or of this world prior to the end of it. Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, and the kingdom in which and for which we labor is identical to it. Since this is the case, we labor here as aliens and strangers, with the understanding and expectation that all things in this world will pass away. The same cannot be said for the kingdom of heaven, as this will never pass away. This kingdom, however, is not of this world, does not consist of anything we build or fashion, nor is it anything to which the so-called “dominion mandate” applies. Definitionally, the “dominion mandate” belongs to Christ, as the second Adam – and the kingdom mandate belongs to us, as the members and sum of that kingdom. Ours is not to take dominion over the earth, but to build the kingdom of heaven. Aliens and strangers are not mandated to build an earthly kingdom, but a heavenly one. We could go into more detail should it become necessary, but this will suffice for the purposes I have for this post.

It must also be mentioned that the confession clearly states that the civil, or judicial law is abrogated, along with the ceremonial law. The typical theonomist response is to use the “general equity” clause in the WCF; the LBCF’s parallel clause is much more specific, and impossible to mistake. It clearly states that the judicial laws only have a general equity of moral use, and expired together with the state of that people. Any attempt to go beyond this general moral equity is, however, covered by the next section of the confession, which prescribes our Christian liberty, within proper bounds. Another common response is to split the law into two groups, and not three; this is also explicitly denied by both confessions. They clearly state that there is a tripartite division in the law. Therefore, if you claim to be a confessionalist, you cannot subscribe to the theonomic view. It is prohibited by those same confessions. There is plenty more to say about this subject if it becomes necessary, but I believe this will be sufficient for my purposes.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that the antithesis between autonomy and theonomy is being rejected, by taking this position. It must be clearly understood that what is meant by “theonomy” is somewhat different in these instances. In the case of the presuppositional method advanced by Van Til, what is in reference with “theonomy” is the same as that which is referenced by WCF/LBCF XIX, and which I address in my exposition of Romans 1-2. This is not identical to the schema of “theonomy” advanced by other, primarily Reconstructionist proponents, as outlined above. Van Til, obviously, was not a theonomist in the Reconstructionist sense, nor was he post-millenial. Thus, it can be seen that repudiating these positions on a confessional basis is neither a critique of Van Til, nor a repudiation of his apologetic. In fact, it is far from either! It is an affirmation of his emphasis on a Biblically consistent, systematic, confessional apologetic.

I consider both postmillenialism and theonomy to be foreign to the fabric of confessionally Reformed Baptist theology, and foreign to the framework of the Covenantal apologetic found therein.

For further reading, I suggest the following:

Frame: Penultimate Thoughts on Theonomy
Duncan: The Mosaic Covenant
Duncan: The Westminster Confession of Faith: A Theonomic Document?
Gordon: Critique of Theonomy: A Taxonomy
Waldron: Theonomy, A Reformed Baptist Assessment
Gaffin: Theonomy and Eschatology: Some Reflections On Postmillennialism

As I stated in a previous post:

[W]e must see that only those with adequate preparation should be engaging unbelievers. Apollos had been instructed in the way of the Lord. Paul, of course, had intensive training as a Pharisaical student – but even that did not suffice, did it? He spent 3 years being “taught of God” before he began his ministry – interestingly, roughly the same amount of time the other Apostles spent with Christ. I’m not trying to say we should all go be desert dwellers of some sort – or that we are all called to be seminarians, either. What I am saying, however, is that we cannot neglect an intensive, intentional course of study in the foundations of our faith, if we are to be apologists. This is not negotiable. In order to defend the faith, we must know what we believe, and be unshakably convinced of the truth of what we know before we are involved in ministry of this sort. Apologetics is no ministry for neophytes. The Christian life is likened to warfare, in Ephesians and elsewhere. Front-line troops are experienced, well-trained soldiers. They know precisely where they fit into the ranks, what their duties are, and have undergone systematic training in the art of war. No soldier learns his trade by osmosis. His trade is soldiery. Soldiers are trained; so must we be. This training is primarily not in the assemblage of arguments, philosophical justifications, or evidenciary studies. Those of you who are in the military; where did your training start? It started with the discipline a soldier required. Next, it moved to the care and operation of your equipment. Then, training moves to the proper movements of troops, of which you are a part.[1]

Here’s exactly what I was talking about.

Superficiality is not what we are called to. A large amount of Bahnsen’s lectures is not what we’re called to. I have a great many of Bahnsen’s lectures. So what? Is that the central focus? Having an extensive library of Van Til is not it, either. I have an extensive library of Van Til – but that’s not my prized set of books, as much as I enjoy them, and as much as I have learned from him. My prized (and most-referenced) books are Calvin’s and Gill’s theologies. When I reference Van Til, it’s typically to show that he was, in fact, pointing us to the same aspects of theological study that those men spoke of. The title of this gentleman’s blog is “Apologetics with a Hammer” – might I suggest an instrument with a bit more delicacy is more appropriate to the task? There’s a reason that we do things the way that we do, and with the approach we have in doing so. As a student of military history and strategy, let me say this, in closing. There is a significant difference between charging off alone directly at an enemy stronghold, and doing in the company of a great force, arrayed in precisely the correct configuration to encircle, besiege and successfully assault that structure. When you play “lone ranger” apologetics, when you do so without reference to the Scriptural methodology of spiritual warfare, you are asking for a resounding defeat. In any case, that’s all I have to say about the subject.

  1. [1] So, You Think You’re a Presuppositionalist?

What is propitiation? That was one of the central elements of the Reformation of doctrine, and one of the most problematic issues in the modern Evangelical movement today. It has to do with many, many areas of theology, and we can’t possibly cover them exhaustively in a single blog post. But in a nutshell, what is it? In a nutshell, it is the “turning away of,” “appeasement” or “satisfaction for” the wrath of God due sinners. It is, therefore, intimately bound up to our notion of what the wrath of God actually is. It is bound up with sacrifice, atonement, substitution, holiness, sin, and many, many other subjects – to include the attributes of God, as we’ve already noted. With it having such a central place in our theology, the smallest misstep will have far-reaching consequences throughout.

If we are to talk about the wrath of God, are we to speak of it as something incidental to God, or as an attribute of God? It surely cannot be something incidental to Him. It is something He is said to possess; “My wrath”[1], and it is just as often called the “wrath of God”, or “of the Lord”. It is said to be magnified by the frequent use of modifiers such as “great”. God’s name is great, His power and strength is great, He is great in mercy, lovingkindness, and holiness. All of these likewise belong to God, and are affirmed of Him, then so must Wrath belong to God, and be affirmed of Him. It is one of His attributes.

If, as we have seen, it is an attribute of God, then it must be addressed per Divine Simplicity. Under Divine Simplicity, the wrath of God is omnipotent, immutable, eternal, sovereign, just, a se, infinite and holy.

Further, it must also be noted that it is not the natures of Christ that were our substitute, it was the Person of Christ – namely, the 2nd Person of the Trinity. If we are to say that He was our substitute, we must say that it was the God-man that was our substitute. We must also note the connection with this being the case alongside the nature of the wrath of God. Gill:

Eternity it not of the essence of punishment; and only takes place when the person punished cannot bear the whole at once: and being finite, as sinful man is, cannot make satisfaction to the infinite Majesty of God, injured by sin, the demerit of which is infinite punishment: and as that cannot be bore at once by a finite creature, it is continued ad infinitum; but Christ being an infinite Person, was able to bear the whole at once; and the infinity of his Person, abundantly compensates for the eternity of the punishment.

Let me add a few more notes, here. Gill, above the quote given here, notes

that Christ was ‘put to death in the flesh;’ as the apostle expresses it (1 Pet. 3:18), that is, in the body; that only suffered death; not his soul, that died not; but was commended into the hands of his divine Father: nor his Deity, or divine nature, which was impassible, and not capable of suffering death; and yet the body of Christ suffered death, in union with his divine person; hence the Lord of glory is said to be crucified and God is said to purchase the church with his blood (1 Cor. 2:8; Acts 20:28). And the death of Christ, as the death of other men, lay in the disunion of, or in a dissolution of the union between soul and body; these two were parted for a while; the one was commended to God in heaven; the other was laid in the grave: but hereby he was not reduced to a state of non-existence, as say the Socinians; his soul was with God in paradise; and his body, when taken from the cross, was laid in a sepulchre, and where it saw no corruption.

We cannot say that only one nature of Christ suffered, or we 1) Deny the union of Christ’s natures as expressed in Scripture, and formulated at Chalcedon, or 2) Deny, at least potentially, that Christ was our actual substitute, in His Person; we also cannot say that both natures suffered in the same fashion, however, at risk of 1) Denying the nature of God as immutable, impassible, eternal, and immaterial or 2) Violate the Creature/Creator distinction hypostatically. The Divine nature is immutable, impassible, immaterial, and eternal; hence not subject to the decay and corruption of death. It was, however, that one infinitely Divine Person who suffered the wrath of God. Not both natures alike, but both natures in union, and in concert, according to their nature. What the simply human cannot suffer immediately, the Divine Person, as Gill notes, did. Not equally in both natures, as the natures are not equal. This is a very, very complex subject, and we cannot treat it lightly. We cannot, on the one hand, attribute too much to mystery if it has, in fact, been revealed; but we cannot, on the other hand, speculate on things not revealed, and call them as such, if they are mysteries – so we must toe a very precise line. We must do so carefully, reverently, and studiously, lest we either take too much upon ourselves, or not enough.

It was not merely one nature which took the wrath of God upon Himself; else, we would be throwing out Chalcedon just as easily as Fudge does, if from a different perspective. We must ask ourselves – what was the point of it being the God-man who came if it was only the human nature which was under that wrath? We must also face the theological implications of passages such as “Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.” Only with a full-orbed Christology, a full-orbed Theology Proper, a full-orbed Anthropology and a full-orbed Soteriology can we have a full-orbed Eschatology. The one demands all of the others. A lack of concentration on theology as an organic, cohesive whole spells disaster for our theology, and the apologetic which flows from it.

This outpouring of the Wrath of God against sinners is something which must be addressed if we are to speak of the propitiation for those sinners, or of Christ’s substitution for those sinners. What it was that was suffered is intrinsic to our idea of propitiation. The nature of the God-man is something that cannot be overlooked if we are to deal with his propitiatory sacrifice on the behalf of his people. The nature of substitution, in a precise manner, is also something we cannot pass over. In short, this further shows that a modification of one element of CT has a great, if not catastrophic, effect on the rest of our theology and doctrine, if we see that doctrine as it truly is – an organic whole.

  1. [1] 2Ki 22:17, 2Chr 12:7, Psa 2:12, 6:1, 76:10, 78:38, 102:10, 106:23, Isa 34:2, 48:9, 60:10, 63:3,5,6, Jer 4:4, 7:20, 21:12, Eze 5:13, 6:12, 7:14, Hsa 5:10, 13:11,

For days, the blogs and facebook statuses have been replete with pro and anti Prop 26 messages. What I haven’t seen from the anti side, however, is much of anything that isn’t a Slippery Slope fallacy.

The common refrain is that this proposition will *likely* lead to the banning of abortion, IVF treatments, stem cell research, and human cloning. It will keep women from receiving chemo while pregnant, deny them treatment in case of ectopic pregancies or other life-threatening pregnancy problems, “most” birth control options will be removed, that if a woman’s miscarriage is “suspicious” they will be subject to investigation,in vitro fertilization will almost certainly be regulated and priced out of existence, the State should force a pregnant woman to carry a dying fetus until it miscarries naturally, victims of rape (including the mentally disabled and girls as young as 8 ) should be forced by the State to carry and give birth to their rapists’ babies, that there will be additional thousands of babies brought to term and in foster care. That’s a selection.

The problem with all this being; it’s a fallacious argument. Namely, the Slippery slope fallacy. This fallacy is presented in this form:
Event X has occurred (or will or might occur).
Therefore event Y will inevitably happen.

Unfortunately, there is no argument typically given for *why* this will inevitably happen. More often, the wilder the claim concerning what will occur, the better. For instance, I read on a forum that this means “reproductive rights are being stripped away right before my very eyes.” Followed shortly after by another saying that the passage of this bill will make us “a country that reduces women to incubators.” Such rhetorical silliness is truly amazing, but it gets better. A woman wonders what the “future would hold in a country where abortions & birth control are illegal, and a woman is a second-class citizen compared to the fetus she carries.” One opines that women will be “required to go through inquests when they have miscarriages to determine if they were somehow at fault for “murdering” their fetus.” This is the kicker: “Do you not realize this is the first step to taking away freedom? What’s next? Your freedom to religion? Speech? To vaccinate your kids or not? Its a slippery slope.” That’s a fallacy, folks. There’s no argument for why this is the case. It’s just stating that it is the case. X, therefore y – no intervening premise.

Is there a good reason not to vote for Prop 26? Yes, actually. Because it’s considered by some to be unconstitutional. Does that mean it isn’t right? No. That’s the best argument I have seen on the matter, bar none. However, there are arguments on the other side, as well. It is not a *direct* ballot initiative – it requires legislature review. It was presented to the MS legislature early this year. Hence, the counter-argument goes, the constitution is speaking of direct initiatives. As this was reviewed by the state legislature, it does not fall under that purview. Clear as mud? Good! That will likely be the “best bet” of the folks arguing against this, if it gets adopted – but we’ll see how far they get. That, however, is just my opinion on the matter. I’m also not sure they have any federal appeal in this instance, as it’s an article of a *state* constitution.

Here’s the argument: The State Constitution says that “(5) The initiative process shall not be used: (a) For the proposal, modification or repeal of any portion of the Bill of Rights of this Constitution”
This initiative specifically states that it is amending Article III (the Bill of Rights, in the MS Constitution).
Therefore, the initiative is unconstitutional.

However, there are a couple ways to go, here. The first is that this isn’t a modification, addition, or repeal – but a clarification. The second is that since it was an indirect initiative, and under the supervision of the state legislature, that it doesn’t qualify under that heading. I don’t know how far that one goes, but that’s one response I’ve seen. I’m sure there are others, but there are two quick outlines.

I have yet to see an objection, save the objection of it’s illegality, that is not a slippery slope fallacy. Saying what you *think* will happen in the future is something else altogether than making a logical argument. It’s simply stating your opinion on the matter of it’s eventual result. On the contrary, I can pretty clearly tell you what it does prohibit. 1) Abortion 2) The intentional destruction of any fertilized embryo 3) Human clones being considered “non-persons” in such an eventuality 4) Killing unborn children with the “morning after” pill. This is in terms of how it defines a person; the language used, not my feelings concerning it. This is always a tough thing to do – look at an issue from the standpoint of it’s logical implications, not it’s emotional ones. Logically, murder is of a person. If a person is a fertilized embryo, then destruction of a fertilized embryo is, therefore, murder. Abortion, obviously, is murder – as is the use of the “morning after” pill. These are all issues that have surrounded the pro-life movement for the last couple decades. There should be no surprise from anyone to see the oft-discussed logical implications in other areas besides abortion.

Does this mean we will be faced with some tough choices? Sure, it does. Does it also mean that we’ll have to be ethical in terms of unborn children in a similar fashion to the way that we have to be in the case of adult or infant persons in the case of triage situations? Yes. Is there established law in these cases? Yes, there is. Saying that there isn’t is simply just untrue. Putting an unborn child on a “level playing field” with a child a matter of months older is nothing more than being consistent. What is at issue is establishing, legally, what a person is. Using rhetorical tricks such as were outlined above is, simply, beneath us. Thinking logically about these sorts of issues is what we should be doing, not making emotionally laden accusations without anything more than speculation to go on. It is not “mean”, or “condescending” to point out that an argument is fallacious. In fact, we should welcome such criticism, if it helps us think more clearly about the issue.

Since I am a Christian, let me clearly state my position. I believe that life begins at conception. This is not a slogan, but a Biblically exegeted position, culled and exposited from Scripture. This means that we are making a point of *principle*, and applying those principles to the world around us, as we all do with our principles. In the case of this position, it is exposited from the story of Samson, in Judges 13. His mother was promised a son, after having been barren for many years. She was told that this child would be dedicated to God – a vow called the “Nazarite” vow, discussed previously on this blog. She is told 1) That she *will* conceive. 2) She is told to be careful not to eat anything unclean, or to drink any wine (things forbidden by the vow) – starting now (vs 7). 3) The child is dedicated from when? From the womb. With conception explicitly mentioned, and all things related to this vow were to be put in effect, as of now, in order to ensure there was no violation. If the point at which we are concerned is not conception, then what shall we say it is? There is also the witness of John’s recognition of Christ “from the womb”, and being filled with the Holy Spirit “from the womb.” There is David’s testimony that God knit him together in his mother’s womb(Psa 139), and God’s concern for him there. There is the recognition of a spiritual state, even while in the womb, in Psalm 51. I also note Stott’s words on Psalm 139; “The psalmist surveys his life in four stages: Past, present, future, and before birth, and in all four refers to himself as ‘I.’ He who is writing as a full-grown man has the same personal identity as the fetus in his mother’s womb.”

Not only that, but human life is just as valuable in the womb, as it is outside of it. Shedding of innocent blood is often remarked on, in Scripture. This, incidentally, does not mean “innocent” as in “sinless”, but “innocent” as in “unworthy of being slain.” In Gen 9, we are told that whoever sheds the blood of man, by man will his blood be shed; but this is because man is created in the image of God. The doctrine of the imago dei is far-reaching, and central to why we take the position we do. We know when life is considered to start; and we believe that the image of God is intrinsic to the life of His human creatures. As such, they are the imago dei from the very beginning. In Exodus 21, we are told that even causing a woman to give birth prematurely (even though there is no lasting harm) is worthy of the husband choosing what to fine the guilty party. Directly after, we are told that any harm is to be met with life for life, etc. This is very plain. The unborn child is considered to be human life on equal footing with the adult. Just the potential of harm, in carelessness, is worthy of punishment, because they endangered a child. Proverbs 24:11-12 commands us to deliver the innocents from slaughter. (This verse is often cited in relation to the Holocaust, as well.) Deu 27:25 states that the one who accepts money to kill the innocent is cursed. In Amos 1:13, killing unborn children is cited as a sin. In 2 Sam 4:11, David tells men who killed Ish-bosheth, the son of Saul, in his bed, that that deed was worthy of them being blotted from the earth. How much more, if children in the womb are being killed in the only bed they know?

In the case of rape; are children to be held accountable for the sins of their fathers, contra Deut 24:16? Do they deserve death? In the case of “freedom”, are we allowed to use that a covering for sin, contra 1Pe 2:16? Are we to kill the disabled, rather than care for them, contra Lev 19:14? Third, a woman’s body “belongs” to her no more than a man’s does. We belong to God. Instead of using speculative excuses for why it might not be most convenient for us were we to adopt an equitable law, it would behoove us to submit our convenience to the principles laid out in Scripture. Equity is found in just laws, not in the speculative enumeration of possible abuses or inconveniences we might face as a result. Scripture tells us that conception is when God considers life to begin. We are being given problems, but no solutions for those problems in reply. A fallacy is not excused by convenience. Immorality is likewise not excused by convenience. Even if IVF is made more expensive as they retool their procedures, for example – what is that to you, if it preserves life, and restrains evil? What else is it the government’s principal job to do? Instead of offering your personal nightmare scenarios, offer me an alternative. Further, tell me why the amendment *itself* is wrong – not why the potential consequences are wrong. There is a whole network of fallacies involved in that sort of argumentation. Speculative consequences are not a conclusion for an argument, if you don’t connect premise a to conclusion c. You can’t skip b, and call it a valid argument.

To wrap this up; if you want to offer an argument, offer us a premise b. Offer us a premise b, further, which the conclusion can be shown to follow from. Saying that y will occur if x occurs, without any reason given to think that y will occur is just simply illogical. Also, note that we are talking about something 1) Unprecedented and 2) That hasn’t yet occurred. Saying that we are speaking of “facts” in a case such as this is absurd. There are no facts to be had about the consequences of a future event. You might make an inductive case, but you have to make the case! So, please work on those arguments, boys and girls.

Why Shouldn't Paul Baird Choose Hats?

Paul Baird has given us his opinion in the case of the use of worldviews he does not adhere to.

This is a common complaint ie why argue a worldview that you do not hold ? The answer is the tallest child in the playground argument ie I do not have to be the tallest child in the playground to point out that you are not the tallest child in the playground – I can point out that individual (in this instance it would be a child of equal size).

Paul’s understanding here doesn’t really deal with the problem being brought forward. It may, of course, deal with the problem he thinks is being brought forward, but that is something else altogether. The complaint is in Dustin’s terms, of course, but it may be helpful to put it into the terms that our primary sources use, so that it might be recognizable. I appreciate Dustin’s work of course, but his expression of the problem, to me, seems to be unclear. When we speak of the problem at hand, we are speaking of the ability of a worldview to provide the preconditions of intelligibility. This may be expressed in the context of several different subjects, but chiefly, it must be said that it is only being expressed in terms of entire worldviews. When, for example, we speak of the preconditions for the intelligibility of knowledge, which seems to be the point of contention in the context of Paul’s remarks, we are speaking of epistemology. At this point, we are dealing with the subject of the quote “Choosing Hats” is named after.

Every system of philosophy must tell us whether it thinks true knowledge to be possible. Or if a system of philosophy thinks it impossible for man to have a true knowledge of the whole of reality or even of a part of reality, it must give good reasons for thinking so. From these considerations, it follows that if we develop our reasons for believing that a true knowledge of God and, therefore, also of the world, is possible because actually given in Christ, we have in fact given what goes in philosophy under the name of epistemology. It will then be possible to compare the Christian epistemology with any and with all others. And being thus enabled to compare them all, we are in a position and placed before the responsibility of choosing between them. And this choosing can then, in the nature of the case, no, longer be a matter of artistic preference. We cannot choose epistemologies as we choose hats. Such would be the case if it had been once for all established that the whole thing is but a matter of taste. But that is exactly what has not been established. That is exactly the point in dispute.

As such, it is obvious that this subject needs to be addressed by something more robust than “I do not have to be the tallest child in the playground to point out that you are not the tallest child in the playground.” In fact, it would point to the need for something far stronger than this particular assertion. What are the presuppositional commitments required for the assumption that the examination of epistemological foundations is as simple a matter as the observation of children’s heights? When looking at the subject at the level of presuppositional commitments, we see that it is no such matter at all. You cannot “simply observe” the validity of an epistemological foundation – it must be considered in terms of whether this epistemological foundation can provide the preconditions of intelligibility. Just as it is more than simple observation, it is likewise more than a matter of simple communication to “point out” who the “tallest child” on the playground actually is.

We are dealing with, not observational data collected by the senses, but epistemological foundations. You can’t “just look at” an epistemological foundation without having an epistemological foundation to be looking from. Paul, here, is missing the point in a rather unfortunate way. We are speaking of what makes anything intelligible at all – what must be presupposed in order for the “facts” he wants everyone to consider to be intelligible in the first place. He is making comparisons of that to empiricism, as if it is remotely applicable. It’s rather frustrating to watch Paul beating his head on a brick wall of his own misapprehensions, yet condescendingly dismissing his sore head as the fault of the person on the other side of the wall – on the basis of those same misapprehensions.

When he brings out his “pagan” worldview – he is assuming a commonality in everyone’s assessment of it, of atheism, and of Christianity. If he would care to read through Van Til, or Bahnsen, he would have to address the arguments they make as to why there is no neutrality in those sorts of assessments. What we actually are saying is not what Paul is assuming here. We aren’t assuming that there is some “common ground”, like the playground, where we are all assessing the heights of the respective “children”, or worldviews, in a collegial atmosphere. What we are saying is that the real discussion is over things like 1) Whose playground it is 2) Whether the “children” are children or chimera 3) What “tall” means in the first place 4) How you know what “tall” is supposed to be, anyway. To simply say “well, let’s see what this kid over here says” is to miss the entire point altogether. This is a round-robin affair, Paul. You are not a pagan, Paul. The Pagan child and the Atheist child do not agree with each other, let alone the Christian child. The Pagan and the Atheist agree insofar as their distaste for and disbelief concerning the God of the Christian – but they give wildly variant answers on questions such as “What is this playground?” What is the playground to a pagan? Is it, per Wicca,the manifestation of deity? Is this the same “playground” an atheist has? I can’t see how that is remotely the case. The atheist, as they claim, fails to hold every god-belief. So, for Paul to claim that this “answers” the problem we’re posing requires him to say that he agrees with what the Pagan’s playground is, if he is going to cite the Pagan’s opinion of the matter! Further, and this should be obvious, it necessitates a rather disturbing state of affairs for the atheist – it requires him to state either 1) It is unequivocally not the case that we are on the same playground OR 2) It is unequivocally the case that we are on the same playground, in which case he has to make a positive claim considering WHOSE playground it is. To make an actual positive claim seems to be anathema to an atheist of Paul’s stripe – and it seems that in order to make a claim, he’d also have to make an argument. This mode of operation seems similarly anathema to Paul. It would also require Paul to actually get what we are talking about, which at this point does not seem likely.

Let me reiterate; We are speaking of the nature of playgrounds, tallness, children, and pointing, not about “who is the tallest child on the playground”. We are speaking of the “nature of facts”, not of the “facts themselves”, as if facts are simply “there”, and uninterpreted. When speaking of a worldview, you are speaking of everything the worldview posits – be it metaphysics, epistemology, or physics. What seems sadly absent in Paul’s thinking is the willingness to pay close attention to what we are speaking of. He would rather dismiss it as whatever he thinks it to be, instead of exercising due diligence in understanding it. Since this has been the case up until this point, Paul must decide something for himself. Is he willing to actually look at what we are saying, or will he continue to insist on misrepresenting it? Up until now, he seems to have had serious problems grasping the nature of what he has been presented with. A case in point.

When he brings out Bahnsen’s quote concerning the “self-sufficient knower,” he insists on understanding it as some variant of the cosmological argument. He then proceeds to claim that Paganism fulfills the condition of “self-sufficient knower”. He doesn’t tell us why it does. He just says it does. After redefining what the argument is, for us, he then pronounces that paganism satisfies it! Says who? First, he doesn’t even identify the argument correctly, or it’s proper context. Second, he doesn’t give us any reason to think his worldview fulfills these conditions, or any clear sense of what these conditions are! Let’s examine first what this argument is, and it’s proper context, and then, what is necessary to fulfill that argument’s conditions.

In the cited argument, there is the stipulation that a self-sufficient knower cannot be denied, as the person denying such would, in the nature of the case, be himself a self-sufficient knower. Secondly, it is stipulated that there cannot be a plurality of self-sufficient knowers. You cannot have “two ultimates.” Thirdly, it is stipulated that if the first two are granted as insuperable, then you have three alternatives; solipsistic, skeptical, and revelational epistemology. Paul does not deal with that resultant discussion – and it is very germane to the discussion. It is not germane because it supposedly “develops a cosmological argument” – it is germane because it is an example of an argument from the impossibility of the contrary. In the first case, an argument is given which demonstrates the impossibility of solipsism. In the second case, an argument is given which demonstrates the impossibility of skepticism. Following that, he argues that only a revelational epistemology affirming the God of Scripture – the “self-contained God” Van Til speaks of, satisfies the preconditions for the intelligibility of knowledge. In short, only a self-sufficient knower as God reveals Himself to be can grant us a functional, intelligible epistemology. If Paul would pay more attention to Christianity’s extensive library of theological definition and explanation, and less to his own self-congratulations, he might get somewhere with the conversation, instead of continually demonstrating his need for correction and instruction on what he is claiming to object to.

The Pagan worldview I’ve put forward satisfies all of Bahsen’s and Dustin’s conditions, furthermore Bahsen’s conditions do not rule out the possibility that such a non-Christian worldview could exist, yet Presuppositional Apologetics is based on the assertion that none could exist because of the impossibility of the contrary (to the Christian worldview).

It becomes easier to discern the parlour trick when it’s set out like this and it does perhaps explain why Sye, and his fellow Presuppositionalists, try so hard to focus the exchanges on the areas of the laws of logic and human perception as well as morality rather than, in Chris Bolts words, begin with the question “Where’s the beef ?”

Dustin lists 12 Questions for Mockgodafarians which I’ll answer from the Pagan worldview. Please remember the tallest in the playground argument throughout this. My answers are in purple.

Paul’s problem is that he keeps thinking he has found a “silver bullet” – when his real problem is that he doesn’t know where the beef is at. When he doesn’t investigate these sources, but instead reads them in such a way as it “says what he wants”, he gets something all out of kilter to what is being said. It isn’t contextual, and it doesn’t bear any relationship to what he thinks it says. It is obvious Paul doesn’t own this book. I do. If he had the book, he could look one page over and see an extensive discussion on the particulars and universals of knowledge. He would see exactly what I was speaking of earlier, in terms of entire worldviews, as a universal system of principles, and not merely “the particulars of his knowledge”. Only in a universal system of principles can be found an adequate interpretation of the particulars of knowledge. It is within the entirety of the Christian worldview – in the systematic exposition of Reformed theology – where he can find what it is we are saying. Reinterpreting our statements through his personal experience has done nothing but lead him astray from where the discussion is. If he persists in doing so, he is going to be left as the only one discussing what he is discussing. This is the case, because it bears no resemblance to what we are saying, nor does it accurately reflect what we believe. If he wants to rectify his problematic interpretation of what is being said, all he need do is begin asking questions, rather than making pronouncements about what the subject is. It’s really that simple. The problem is not that we are somehow “hiding” the argument away – it’s that Paul has shown almost no effort whatsoever toward understanding what the argument is, or what it means. It is not especially difficult, were he willing to put in that effort. I hope he does, and begins to ask, rather than to tell us.

I’m not going to link all of Paul’s posts in this – they’ve been linked ad nauseum from here, already. His blog is Patient and Persistent – I trust our readers are more than capable of finding these comments of his 🙂

There are times when I’m engaged in an exchange with someone and I’m not sure if I’ve understood them correctly. That’s how I felt reading Chris Bolt’s stuff. It turns out that I did understand him correctly.

Note: Paul does not here explain 1) What he understood correctly, or 2) How it is the case that he understood Chris correctly. I don’t think he understood Chris correctly. If he did, he wouldn’t say what he does. I cheat. I ask Chris 😉

Missing Clarity

So, let’s be clear then. The solution to the problem lies in a transcendental proof?

It’s quite unclear which problem Paul is referring to, here. From the quote from Chris that he has cited, there are several we can choose from.

(a) “the alleged problems he (Paul) cites with either APR or my (Chris) dismissal of PR2.”
(b) “the disagreement between Person A and Person B above”
(c) “how their respective revelations ground their abilities to engage in rational discourse.”
(d) “a discussion of how the respective revelations differ from one another.”
(e) “the disagreement between Paul and I, since we both claim to have worldviews which ground our abilities to engage in rational discourse.”

If I were giving Paul the benefit of the doubt, (and providing a healthy dose of speculative translation for our audience) I’d vote for (e), as that obviously makes the most sense in context. However, since Paul is an exceedingly “muddy” writer, with what seems to be a tendency to avoid specific referents for terms such as “that”, “what,” when the context is either extensive, or his referent is vague, this is guesswork, at best. Further, he fails to provide specificity when referring to something using the definite article – such as “the problem,” when there are many problems present. For a writer who (I would imagine) wants to communicate clearly, this tendency toward a lack of clarity is exceedingly unfortunate.

Just for clarity, is that a transcendental proof or a transcendent proof? I wouldn’t want to be pedantic or anything.

We’re speaking of transcendentals. It’s not pedantic to ask for clarification. I sincerely wish that objectors would do so more often. It saves trouble for everyone in the long run. However, nobody was talking about “transcendental proofs” that I saw.

Also, given that, on Paul Jenkins analysis, Chris posts his comments at a ratio of seven to one I think you can understand a request for the edited highlights of this transcendent/transcendental argument.

First, while this might be fascinating societal conversation, is there some sort of relevance to be had by mentioning this?

Second, where was this request made, and what does it have to do with the conversation thus far? Or, perhaps, are you confusing “transcendental proof” with “evaluating the exchange transcendentally”? There is a difference. Feel free to ask. We do teach this, after all 🙂

Is ‘yogic flying’ involved for example? Is it available on the NHS? Does it come it pill form, or, more importantly, is it falsifiable and repeatable?

I have no idea what this is even supposed to be. What does “yogic flying” have to do with the transcendental argument, and since you have, and I quote:

heard the PA argument and a host of other Theistic arguments and none of them interest me enough to divert my attention

Can you tell me how this supposed connection between the two makes any sense whatsoever? Or did you try listening for comprehension? If you don’t, it’s a waste of time.

Missing the Plea

Then, here it comes

This is not the Christian position. Perhaps Paul does not mean to represent the Christian revelation here. I do not know. He is, again, exceedingly unclear.

and that, is the expected special pleading. Hook, line, sinker, fishing rod, keepnet and the meat paste sandwiches to boot.

Can you cite a Reformed Systematic theology, confession, or author that gives this:

by it’s very nature is an internal mental experience

as the definition for “revelation” please? I’m extremely confused as to why you think this is special pleading, to use the terminology of theology in describing… theological terms. If you’re unaware of what the term’s definition is, that’s one thing – but reacting as if we’re “special pleading” when we’re using terms with a long-defined meaning is truly remarkable.

For instance, from the 1689 London Baptist Confession:

I.6. The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word, and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.

For the Christian, “revelation” is the Word of God – the Scriptures. This is nothing new, nor should it be a new phenomena to Paul. Unfortunately, what should be the case, and what is the case in the realm of internet atheism is something else altogether. You see, Paul is equivocating. He is equivocating the *experience* of a direct communication with God with what Christians are committed to – the finished revelation of the Christian Scriptures. For what I can only see as rhetorical points, at the expense of accuracy, he is insisting that what we actually believe, and have confessed, at this point, for over three centuries, is special pleading. Yet, without an argument. This is also sadly typical of internet atheism. It is no wonder that Chris has had to attempt to painstakingly walk Paul through a simple modus ponens – which Paul himself requested.

Missing the Argument

You see, it has been exceedingly difficult to watch the exchange. Paul asks a question, Chris answers, perhaps asks a question in return – Paul responds with mockery, yet does not address Chris’ answers, or questions with any seeming understanding of what is being discussed. At this point, one is left to wonder; is Paul really this obtuse, or is he simply engaging in sophistry in order to make himself look good? Perhaps both? I really cannot see another option. In fact, given Paul’s utter lack of argumentation in favor of whatever position he is attempting, I don’t think it’s even arguable that one or the other is in fact the case. This same pattern has recurred throughout this exchange. From what we have been presented with, Paul is apparently incapable of following even the simplest of arguments, even if they include premises that he specifically agrees with. If, and let’s illustrate, Paul asserts the following:

“I have had a revelation from a non-Christian supernatural transcendental entity that I use to ground my worldview.”

If, in further illustration, he demands the following:

Disprove that revelational epistemology, preferably in less than 1,000,000 words.

Then, naturally, we should expect Paul to be able to follow the response given to him, should we not? Unfortunately, Paul has proven especially unable to comprehend that which was presented to him, which was as follows:

If atheism is true, then PR is false.

Atheism is true.

Therefore, PR is false.

So, for those who are able to grasp a simple modus ponens, let’s break this down.

PR, I gather, stands for “Paul’s Revelation”. If, and this is apparently a big if, Paul actually is an atheist, then he would agree – If atheism is true, then PR is false. He seems to have completely failed to understand the point in question. Here is how it breaks down.

1) Paul is not attempting to say that this “supernatural entity” is a god, and the mere assertion is enough to “counter” our Revelational Epistemology in some way (he doesn’t say, as far as I can tell)
2) Paul is positing this “supernatural entity” as a god, and that mere assertion is enough to “counter” our Revelational Epistemology in some way (he doesn’t say, as far as I can tell)

In the case of 1), I really don’t see how he could mean anything else apart from “a god”, given the use of the negation of “Christian”, as well as “supernatural”. If he wants to make this an argument with any sort of force in regards to RE, it must a) Be parallel to RE, and therefore be a potential defeater. b) If there is some parallel to be had, despite not being revelation from a “deity”, *yet* supernatural, that’s Paul’s case to argue. Simply asserting that there is some vague “defeater” is frightfully poor argumentation. c) I would, simply, ask Paul to provide us with this revelation for examination, since his assertion is that it supplies, in contradistinction to RE, the preconditions of intelligibility. As I commented to him previously, it would be eminently useful for such dialogues if he would do a bit of research on these types of objections prior to offering what is, frankly, an objection we’ve dealt with many times previously, and which he has shown no awareness of in the course of this discussion – from either side. The assumption of novelty due to ignorance is a rather poor starting point for a meaningful discussion. It seems that Paul thinks this objection is either new, or unanswered. Neither is the case.

In the case of 2), Paul is forced into the argument Chris posits. Paul is an atheist. He is not a “non-Christian supernatural entity-ist”. So, Paul is not actually arguing his own position. He is offering a hypothetical he doesn’t even believe to be the case. As such, there is no argumentative force here. Paul agrees with all the premises of Chris’ response to his posited hypothetical, obviously. Paul believes that if atheism is true, then PR is false. Paul believes atheism is true. Paul therefore believes that atheism is true. This argument defeats Paul’s assertion, from within his own worldview. This is an internal critique. Now, Paul cannot do the same thing when addressing our worldview, because we actually believe it to be the case. There cannot be an *internal critique of our position* on the same basis that he is positing here. It is not a parallel, it does not affect our worldview, it is not a defeater, and it is, in all honesty, irrelevant. This is self-defeating. Paul cannot be an atheist and not-atheist at the same time, and in the same way. He cannot be an atheist to this supernatural entity, and believe in the revelation of this supernatural entity. Therefore, 2) fails internally.

I purposely gave Paul two challenges at this point – both in the case of 1), and none in the case of 2), because 2) is self-defeating. In the case of 1), Paul has to provide an argument for one or the other of these positions:

1a) Paul is not attempting to say that this “supernatural entity” is a god, and he must make an argument that this is sufficient to “counter” our Revelational Epistemology in some way, as well as prove that it originates within his OWN worldview.
1b) Paul is not attempting to say that this “supernatural entity” is a god, and must provide the content of PR2 to “counter” our Revelational Epistemology in some way, as well as prove that it originates within his OWN worldview.

Note that these options include Paul making an actual argument, not an assertion. This, I hope, will be instructive both to him, and to our readers. Shotgun assertions are simply that, assertions. The wider the pattern of the shot, the more ground you cover, and the less lead penetration you get. Shotguns are terribly ineffective weapons in the field of logical argumentation. Arguments are what we deal with, not assertions. In order to “make this stick”, Paul will have to come up with a real live argument, all on his own (hopefully after studying the requisite literature on his not-as-novel-as-he-thought attempt).

Further thoughts on 2)

There is a problem with Paul attempting to use 1) at this point, however. The problem is, of course, that he has already committed to 2) as his argument. So, any usage of 1) will be ultimately, inconsistent.

“As a non-Christian Theist I have had a revelation from my ‘God’. It reveals to me some things that I know for certain. This enables me to ‘ground’ my worldview such that I can critique the Christian worldview.”

Paul, at this point, has to resort to 2a) and/or 2b) – so let’s examine those.

2a) Paul is attempting to say that this “supernatural entity” is a god, and he must make an argument that this is sufficient to “counter” our Revelational Epistemology in some way, as well as prove that it originates within his OWN worldview.
2b) Paul is attempting to say that this “supernatural entity” is a god, and must provide the content of PR2 to “counter” our Revelational Epistemology in some way, as well as prove that it originates within his OWN worldview.

So, let’s break it down some more.

Why does Paul have to prove that it originates within his own worldview? Obviously, because he’s trying to say that you could make arguments, if it were true. If this is truly a parallel to CT, it must prove that without it, “one could not prove anything.” Given that he’s asserting that you can make an argument, it’s hardly the case that he can make the argument from his own worldview, atheism, deny the one he is proposing, yet say that that worldview he just denied provides the preconditions for intelligibility. So, let’s examine Paul’s statement in his previous comment:

“I don’t have to actually hold that worldview in order to put it forward as a successful counter to the exclusively Christian PA.”

If he’s going to actually object to our worldview, if he’s going to prove that this “other revelation” is a real defeater, it has to have a defeat for our argument from the impossibility of the contrary, which he claims to have studied, or at least to know. To do that, it must *actually be the case* that this worldview provides the preconditions of intelligibility.

Missing Theology

But let’s step out of his claims for a minute, and deal with what he doesn’t seem to be taking into account at all. In the first place, he is dealing with a revelation that actually exists, has a multi-millenial history, and has more written about it than any other body of writing in the world’s history. It has it’s own, tremendously massive body of literature to accompany it – the accumulated scholarship of the ages, to deal with, and to address. The *basic* tool of the churchman in dealing with this tremendous body of work is the creed, which summarizes very compactly, what it is we believe. At the next level of detail is the confessions and catechisms, whereby we teach and instruct the church in what it is they are to believe. Then, there is the systematic theology, which is probably the most accessible format for someone who wants to learn what it is, precisely, we believe. Instead of availing themselves of these resources, it is all too often the case that the unbeliever will simply do some cursory research, and ignore these invaluable tools. A systematic theology puts all of the theology and doctrine of Christianity into a system – organized, referenced, and cohesively designed. As I wrote in my recent paper for our Journal, “we are defending something very particular, and our opponent must, in order to actually address us, object to something very particular. … In essence, in order to be actually objecting meaningfully, they must object to God, as He reveals Himself in Scripture.” Paul dismissed the Journal, apparently, as a “waste of 30 minutes” recently. If he wants to understand what we are saying, and to interact meaningfully with us, those articles are far more than a thirty minute read, and what they urge on the unbeliever is what they truly must understand in order to be taken seriously on any level.

At the level Paul is operating at the moment, he has, as Bahnsen put it, “made himself ignorable”. This is unfortunate, as his ignorance seems to merely feed his pride, and fuel his mockery. Even more unfortunately, his mockery is of something he doesn’t even understand. The modern atheist’s unwillingness to engage in any serious study of his opponent’s position reduces his objections to shadow-boxing. He is not “landing punches” if he cannot even see what he is swinging at. Paul is merely tossing a “Flying Spaghetti Monster Style Counter” out into the room, and acting as if this is some philosophically meaningful action. The FSMSC is a chimera. It has no substance. He isn’t dealing with a “parallel” of Christianity – he’s just making stuff up, and saying “nuh uh!” Not only that, but he just asserts that he doesn’t have to believe it, but it’s still a valid counter! Is this really what we’re supposed to be impressed by?

Paul would also be well-served in the study of Christian theology, and especially theology proper, should he decide to actually engage us in a serious fashion. His fundamental issues with such concepts as “revelation” serve him poorly. He may consider himself “well-read” in the field, but we have seen where he has stated that he “heard” the “PA argument” – and yet he is already asking what it is. All he has to do is do a search for “transcendental argument” on our site, and he’ll get a dozens of results. Shall we google it for you, Paul? Our site teaches the method. If he wants to know what it is – read the site. This is not difficult. We have seen where he has asserted that PA only “gets to a generic supernatural entity,” despite the amazing lack of comprehension that entails, and the appalling lack of argumentation he has provided to support this amazing claim. In fact, despite the specific argumentation we have on the site to the contrary, that isn’t addressed. I’m starting to wonder if Paul is on the outs with google, or with search engines in general.

Missing Hats

We have seen him say:

“The rebuttal is a counter-assertion of a non-Christian revelation that provides the same grounding and certainty for a worldview that can then be used to critique the Christian worlview without falling into the trap of having to accept the Christian god in order to deny the Christian god.

It’s like wearing a different hat.”

We have, therefore, seen his inability to comprehend what is actually meant by the name of our website, and what he has to provide in order to escape the argument it offers.

We have seen him assert:

“I don’t have to actually hold that worldview in order to put it forward as a successful counter to the exclusively Christian PA.”

Yet, we have not seen him prove this.

Missing the Target

Paul is very big on making grandiose assertions. He is very big on telling us what he knows. He is very big on mocking what he shows no evidence of understanding. He is, however, not especially big on making arguments. Arguments, you see, should result in proofs. Assertions apart from arguments do not provide proofs. Paul is very big on asserting what he thinks, and mocking anyone who disagrees – but I have yet to see him demonstrate a single assertion he has offered. I’m not feeling very mocked by someone who doesn’t know what it is he is mocking.

Chris also pleads for a debate – why, when it must be oh so simple to lay out, with brevity, what his transcendent/transcendental proof is ? He said I should ask. Again, I bet it will contain special pleading.

He has. You have to let your mouse do the clicking, Paul. (I googled it for you above. You’re welcome.)

If he feels insulted by my comment about his pomposity then he should reread the relevant paragraph in the style of the Rev Ian Paisley to see my point. I’ll be reading out in the Skepticule podcast recording using my impersonation of the esteemed cleric. 😀

I’m pretty sure it would have to be true, to be insulting. As I’ve read the exchange, the pomposity seems to be coming from your direction, Paul. Please hear me when I say this. You don’t know what you’re talking about. Please learn, before you embarrass yourself further. I would be more than happy to answer your questions, in whatever format you wish – but as it stands, your comments are simply embarrassing, arrogant, ignorant, and pompous. To be taken seriously requires taking the subject seriously. I’ve spent a good few years studying atheism and unbelief, despite the haphazard and inconsistent melange of ideas and contradictory positions most atheists tend to hold. If I can put the work in for y’all, please do yourself a favor and study something that’s actually meant to be studied. Your ignorance does you no favors. Oh, and just to short-circuit a repetitive little silliness from Paul – if you’d bother to write clearly, or study what you’re discussing, we wouldn’t have to spend so much time and electrons 1) Figuring out what in the world you’re saying in comparison to where everyone else is, and 2) correct the multitude of errors you keep pumping out in your (blessedly short) posts. It’s a good thing you have no interest in Presuppositionalism. I shudder to imagine what it would be like if you did. Instead of a “mere” 81 posts on the topic, you’d perhaps be approaching the insatiable obsession of Dawson Bethrick.

A Feminist Examines Presup

The post I’m about to respond to came in on my google alerts today. It was so packed with common objections and misconceptions that I decided to answer.

Evidentialism v. Presuppositionalism
I have noticed a worrying trend among some Christians. It is the turn away from evidentialist apologetics toward presuppositionalist apologetics.

Let’s start our presuppositional examination right here. From the get-go, presup is a “worrying” trend. Second, the author is apparently unaware of the link between Sola Scriptura and Covenantal apologetics. As I have said quite often on this blog, and in our chat channel, Covenantal apologetics is Sola Scriptura in an apologetic context.

Evidentialism holds that belief should rest on evidence.

Presuppositionalism holds that belief rests on presuppositions.

What would have been both accurate and useful would be to explain what we do believe about evidence, and to cite something, anything, from the primary sources concerning what the actual discussion hinges on. Namely, that your presuppositional commitments determine both what is considered to be evidence, and how this evidence is interpreted. This is a common problem with evidentialist and unbelieving critiques. For instance: “Nor can we disagree with [Warfield] when he says that the Christian faith is not a blind faith but is faith based on evidence.” [1] “I see induction and analytical reasoning as part of one process of interpretation. I would therefore engage in historical apologetics. (I do not personally do a great deal of this because my colleagues in the other departments of the Seminary in which I teach are doing it better than I could do it.) Every bit of historical investigation, whether it be in the directly biblical field, archaeology, or in general history, is bound to confirm the truth of the claims of the Christian position. But I would not talk endlessly about facts and more facts without challenging the unbeliever’s philosophy of fact. A really fruitful historical apologetic argues that every fact is and must be such as proves the truth of the Christian position. [2]

Evidentialist apologetics attempts to bring converts by revealing the evidence behind Christianity. Evidentialists say that scientific evidence actually supports Young Earth Creationism, that archeology has proven the truth of the Bible, both new testament and old, and that the evidence for Christ’s historic existence is overwhelming.

I would simply point out that vanishingly few evidentialists argue for YEC at this point in time. Further, they would not argue that it was “proven”, but that there is a greater probability for the truth of the Bible and/or Christ’s historic existence, as a rule. I would humbly submit to you that their “philosophy of fact”, as Van Til would say, has brought them to this point.

Presuppositionalist apologetics attempts to bring coverts by arguing that the only rational, coherent worldview is that which begins by presupposing the divinity of the Bible, the existence of God, and the reality of Christ’s sacrifice. In other words, presuppositionalists say that one must presuppose Christianity, and that trying to convince someone based on evidence is flawed.

We don’t argue for the “divinity” of the Bible. We don’t believe in a quadrinity, a la Fristianity. We don’t argue that the Bible is equal to Christ, as the Word, either. One must presuppose Christianity to be making an intelligible argument, obviously; but it might behoove the author to do a bit more research into what exactly is being said on this point. If the author means “convincing someone based on evidence” as if “evidence” was something everyone agreed upon, as if it was some sort of neutral ground, sure. Obviously, Scripture says that we and world consider each other to be foolish. It’s hardly the case that we should be expected to see eye to eye on what is, or is not, “the facts”. Hence, Van Til’s discussion of “brute fact”, which the author would be well-served to study, in my humble opinion. We don’t “attempt to bring converts” by this method. We, after all, are Reformed. As such, we are divine monergists, not synergists or human monergists, so conversion is quite obviously the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration, according to election. Neither “the facts” nor a transcendental argument will save – God saves, not man. Sure, they won’t hear without a preacher – but as the name “Yeshua” points out, salvation is of the Lord.

Evidentialist apologetics is traditionally associated with evangelicalism and fundamentalism while presuppositionalist apologetics is associated with more reformed traditions. This actually makes a lot of sense given that arminianism emphasizes free will while calvinism emphasizes predestination. It also makes sense given that Cornelius Van Til and Francis Schaeffer, both reformed, are the major luminaries who developed presuppositionalist apologetics. More and more these days this approach is spreading beyond reformed circles and into evangelicalism and fundamentalism in general.

Actually, evidentialism initially comes from Romanism, as has been carried along with the rest of the Romanist doctrine still held to by Arminianism and general Evangelicalism (to include the modern fundamentalist movement). I’d invite the author and her readers to take a gander at classical Thomism, and see what exactly the difference is supposed to be. The Reformation, of course, was a movement to “restore” Christianity. To restore it back to its historical orthodoxy. A walk back through history, and through the development of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, will show the intrinsic link between a practical use of Sola Scriptura and a presuppositional methodology. Van Til’s contribution to “Semper Reformanda” was the Reformation of apologetic methodology to the principle of Sola Scriptura. This understanding is positively vital to understand what is actually being said, and what it comes from. Most objections along these lines are not truly to presuppositional methodology; but to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. To answer these objections, and to accurately make objections in the first place, requires an understanding of this, and the proper relationship to be found there. General evangelicalism is attracted to covenantal apologetics in spite of itself, to be frank. The methodology does not lend itself to an Arminian, Romanist, or Dispensational hermeneutic. There are too many preconditions that are simply missing for it to be consistently and coherently used. As such, there will be a host of problems in execution, principle, understanding, and doctrinal compatibility that kill the method aborning, if you try to adapt it in some way. This is not to say that every group listed above is equally inconsistent, or that every individual is equally inconsistent; however, there is a specific doctrinal basis that it springs from, and without which, it simply does not have the framework in which to operate. Those varying inconsistencies crop up at various and sundry points – but keep in mind, please, that a truly Covenantal apologetic argues on the level of worldviews – and that it argues all of Christianity versus its antithesis; and that part of that expression of Christianity plainly states that there are but two worldviews.

I was raised on evidentialist apologetics (not surprising given that my parents were strong arminians). My parents were fond of telling the story of Josh McDowell, who started out as an atheist attempting to disprove the truth of Christianity and ended up concluding, based on evidence, that Christianity was actually true. I was taught to follow the evidence, and assured that evidence led directly to Christ.

This is actually fairly typical. Note, however, that there is usually a decided de-emphasis on the work of the Spirit in the use and presentation of evidence (not to mention the philosophy of evidence) in this apologetic methodology. Let’s be frank. If the Spirit is mentioned at all, it’s usually in a touchy-feely “invitation” at the end, after God is “proven” by means of “higher probability”. What the Spirit’s work is, as stated in Scripture, is practically never mentioned, and if it is, it bears practically no resemblance to the Scriptural testimony. The emphasis is more likely on the target’s will, and intellect – and practically never on that same person’s moral guilt before the holy God, which both affects and taints everything about that will and intellect. On the contrary, Reformed doctrine requires that the unbeliever be confronted with their sinfulness before God and their inability to reason, will, or act in any righteousness before God whatsoever. This is a confrontation that is just as much evangelical as it is apologetical. They are, after all, two sides of the same coin. The emphasis in evidentialism and evangelical doctrine, rather than on the Triune God’s monergistic work of salvation – in election, atonement, and regeneration – is on the synergistic work of man in reasoning, willing, and acting rightly of themselves, to “meet God” in the middle.

Having been raised on evidentialist apologetics, when I arrived at college and found new evidence I had never heard of as a child, I didn’t simply reject that evidence. Instead, I researched and read and studied and reevaluated my beliefs based on new evidence. I found, for example, that the evidence does not actually indicate that Young Earth Creationism took place (quite the opposite), that archeology has actually contradicted the Bible in many places, and that the Bible actually does contain historical errors and contradictions. This process of reevaluation started a long spiritual journey, and even today I continue to strive to follow evidence, and I work to make sure I take into account any new evidence I encounter.

In other words, having been raised in evidentialism, and the freewheeling doctrinal imprecision of arminian/evangelical churches, the author was never taught to 1) Think Biblically or 2) Think about what “evidence” means, or is predicated on. Since “evidence” is considered to be a neutral ground between believer and unbeliever upon which we have a point of contact, and since she was never taught how to deal with evidences on the level of their presuppositional commitments, she was caught between a rock and a hard place. If you are stuck between fundamentalist evangelicals and fundamentalist secularists, you will be either be grist for the mill, or “bail” in one direction or the other on any given “fact” that is presented. The “fact”, or how it is presented and interpreted, is never really examined. It “just is”, as if it is on the level of the self-existent God. Instead of interpreting “the facts” through Biblical presuppositions, “the facts” are, in reality, being interpreted through secular presuppositions that state that it is flatly impossible that the world could have come into being as the Bible said it did. If we are never taught to “dig beneath” the level of “brute fact”, we are simply fodder for the antithetical worldview, raised against the knowledge of God. “Striving to follow evidence”, then, is mere slavish adherence to secularist presuppositions concerning the nature and meaning of evidence.

The goal of evidentialist apologetics is to convince others of the truth of Christianity by using evidence. It assumes that anyone who honestly looks at the facts will arrive at the truth of Christianity, and that the facts support the truth of Christianity. In the last few years, my parents have been moving toward presuppositionalism. This makes sense, given that the evidentialist approach actually led me away from their beliefs and that Vision Forum is actually openly and proudly presuppositionalist.

The first two sentences are a more or less accurate restatement of evidentialism. The second two are more or less well-poisoning concerning presuppositionalism. Let’s notice two things about the former. First, she is talking about persuasion, not proof. As we’ve already mentioned, there’s a doctrinal divide there. Persuasion, in Reformed doctrine, comes only when the regenerate encounter the truths of Scripture, and believe them as it is given them to do so. This is separate from proof, which also has a fundamental divide in view. For the Christian, apart from the Triune God of Scripture, you can’t prove anything. For the non-Christian, proof is determined by their own presuppositional commitments as to what a valid “proof” consists of. Secondly, it is “assumed” that a) anyone who b) honestly looks at c) the facts will arrive at the truth of Christianity, and that those facts support the truth of Christianity. Let’s look at a) for a moment.
First, there is a lack of any sort of Biblical notion of election, or division between sheep or goats, or the effects of sin, or of the necessity for regeneration. This is a doctrinal issue, at base. Let’s look at b). Arminianism, following Romanism, considers men to be able to choose good, to be intellectually honest, or to act in such a way as to properly respond to the truths of God – of themselves. This is vastly different from the historical orthodoxy the Reformation sought to return to, following Scripture, which teaches that men, in and of themselves, are evil, and they do the work of their master, Satan. They are slaves to sin, and unable to break those chains. Only the regeneration of the Spirit can break those chains, given men a new heart and mind, and give them the faith which which they believe the Gospel. This is a fundamental disconnect, and cannot be overemphasized. As for c), we simply point out that God is truly and exhaustively Sovereign. This is also a fundamental disconnect from the insistence on libertarian free will that stems from Romanist/Arminian/Evangelical doctrine. I’d also point out that it differs not a whit from the insistence of the world on their own self-determination in the realm of the intellect, the will, and their own actions. This is also a doctrinal issue. As Reformed believers, we stress, with much insistence, the Biblical testimony to the exhaustive sovereignty of God over all things whatsoever that come to pass. Given this doctrine, all facts are God’s facts. I’ll repeat this; All facts are God’s facts. If all facts are truly God’s facts; if God ordains both ends and means, and every single relationship thereof, in a truly exhaustive fashion, then there is no room for “the facts” as they are presented to us by the Evangelical/Secularist position. All facts are, given what God has revealed to us in His Word, guaranteed to us by His Spirit, and shown to us in ourselves, and in the creation surrounding us, actually evidence for the truth of Christianity. It is not neutral evidence. It is a hostile witness against a rebellious subject.

Presuppositionalism argues that the evidence we experience in the world is simply facts and pieces of data that must be interpreted through an interpretive framework, or worldview, and that the only way to consistently interpret these facts is through the Christian worldview.

The first part is wrong; the second part is right. Here’s why, and it will be expanded below. It ignores that “all facts are God’s facts”, as we just explained. As she will say below, she assumes exactly the opposite of what we believe, and inserts that in our position. It is not the case that “facts and pieces of data” are “simply” that, and merely need to be “interpreted” – it is actually the case that the only framework through which facts are even intelligible is that which is revealed to us by the ordainer and the creator of all that is to be filtered through that framework, and of the framework itself. Facts are not neutral.

In other words, a person looking at facts and evidence will not necessarily be led to Christ; rather, one must start by assuming the truth of the Bible in order to find Christ. You can see the influence of calvinism here. Presuppositionalist apologetics, then, focuses on pointing out inconsistencies of other worldviews and arguing that Christianity is the only coherent worldview, the only way to explain the existence of reason and logic. In fact, presuppositionalism literally goes so far as to argue that evidence-based apologetics – as opposed to apologetics based on contrasting worldviews – is contra-Biblical.

Actually, we go quite a bit farther. The Shepherd finds His sheep – we don’t “find” Him, because we aren’t the One looking. Yes, Calvinism is in view here, but I’m not sure how much the author really has studied Calvinism as a complete system. The point isn’t that we “assume the truth of the Bible to find Christ” – it’s that the Spirit’s regenerative work, and the gift of faith and repentance are the preconditions for our salvation; that the work of Christ in His atoning work for His people propitiates the just wrath of the Father, and that the electing grace of the Father, who draws men to Christ is the precondition for it all. In short, it’s not anywhere near this simplistic presentation. The Spirit grants us faith – and the new heart and mind to accompany it, so we believe and/or trust the Author of Scripture as we ought. The focus of Covenantal apologetics is two-fold, actually, not singular. It “pushes the antithesis” between Christianity and it’s opposite, to show that a) Christianity, as revealed by the Creator of all things, is the sole possible precondition for the intelligibility of all things; and b) that it’s opposite is impossible. It’s a two-step method, not a one-step method. “The first step is to lay out the Christian worldview in terms of which human experience is intelligible and the objection of the unbeliever can be contextually defeated. The second step is to show that within the unbeliever’s worldview, nothing is intelligible – not even objections to the Christian’s viewpoint.”[3]

Presuppositionalists don’t deal with evidence, because they argue that evidence and facts are neutral and can be used to support any worldview, because they are interpreted through that worldview’s lens. In other words, if someone presupposes a world without God, that’s what they’ll see; if someone presupposes a Christian world, that’s what they’ll see; if someone presupposes a Muslim world, that’s what they’ll see; etc. That is why presuppositionalists spend their time not on the evidence but rather on trying to show that their worldview is only rational, coherent worldview in existence, and that every other worldview is internally contradictory. Evidence doesn’t matter; what one chooses to believe is what matters.

This is catastrophically wrong. It is absolutely opposite to what we believe, in fact. First, I categorically deny that evidence and facts are neutral. In fact, I have specifically stated that they are not. On every single point the Christian and non-Christian are fundamentally at odds. There is no point in our respective worldviews where we have any neutral ground whatsoever. If that isn’t clear enough, I’ll spend as much time as it takes to make it clear. This statement is absolutely, unequivocally false. There are two worldviews, and they take antithetical positions on every fact whatsoever. It is the case that facts are not neutral, and can only be intelligible when the Christian worldview is presupposed. It is not the case that facts are neutral and can be interpreted differently, depending on which worldview you happen to hold. Additionally, please take note of the usage of “worldview” here. I have said, several times, that we believe there are two worldviews. We are not saying that there are three, or any higher number. There are two, and only two. There are many practically inconsistent variations of the non-Christian worldview; just as there are inconsistencies in the Christian worldview of many actual (or putative) Christians. Yet, there are only two worldviews. I’ll leave you to research the principle/practice dichotomy Van Til presents.

We don’t spend our time on “trying to show that their worldview is only rational, coherent worldview in existence, and that every other worldview is internally contradictory” because “evidence doesn’t matter”; we spend time proving that the Christian worldview is the only possible worldview by demonstrating that the contrary worldview is impossible – it does not provide the preconditions for intelligibility. We do this because it is actually the case that the non-Christian worldview does not provide those preconditions. Not because “evidence doesn’t matter” – but because evidence is unintelligible unless our worldview is presupposed. The last sentence is the real problem with the author’s view of presuppositionalism. “What one chooses to believe” is predicated on what you presuppose. What you presuppose is directly consonant with whether you are regenerate, or unregenerate. It is that clear cut. Are you a “slave to sin” or are you “Christ’s slave”?

The problem with these people is that you can’t argue with them. They’re going to believe it because they believe it, and nothing else matters. As an example, Answers in Genesis, a Young Earth Creationist group that runs the Creationist Museum in Kentucky and has recently embraced presuppositional apologetics wholeheartedly, is actually completely open about the fact that it simply rejects evidence that contradicts their interpretation of the Biblical account of creation. It’s not about the evidence. It’s about the presupposition. And no matter what you say, you’re not going to change their minds.

“These people” seems to indicate what the author thinks of those who adhere to this method. Instructive, indeed. Far from not being argued with, I can personally attest to the fact that I am argued with constantly by objections from unbelievers as well as putative believers. Once again, the distinction between persuasion and proof is not being addressed. An argument is a proof. Acceptance of it as true is persuasion. It is not that they “can’t argue with these people” – it is that they a) aren’t persuading us and b) are not being persuaded. As we have already stated, this is both accounted for by the Scriptures, and expected. God changes hearts and minds, not us. As to the attempted well-poisoning concerning AiG – I’d like to present this as evidence. If the author would like to share some substantiation of their statement, I’d love to see it. My suspicion is that it is yet another example of a confusion between a) proof and persuasion or b) the author’s misunderstanding of our position concerning evidence. What the author is doing with the continual drumbeat about “evidence” is simply confusing what we actually have to say concerning evidence. It’s not simply about evidence. We have no intention of being that superficial and unreflective concerning the nature of the discussion. What we are doing, however, is addressing the philosophy of evidence along with the evidence itself. If the author would like to show how she has done anything remotely similar in addressing this subject, I’d love to see it. What the author has done is to demonstrate the importance of what we are actually saying; a sort of demonstration concerning the law of unintended consequences. Unless she addresses the philosophy of evidence along with the evidence, she is simply assuming her own position vis a vis her philosophy of evidence, and demanding that others accept it. If others do not kowtow to her wishes, she dismisses them, and says “you can’t argue with these people”. “These people” would beg to differ, and would invite the author to address the philosophy of fact, or evidence, along with the facts and evidence.

Problems with presuppositionalism include:

The logic is circular: you prove something is true by assuming it is true.

Have you read any counters to this incredibly common objection before? I don’t see any discussion about those rebuttals in this post. There are… many… rebuttals. Example.

Presuppositionalism could be used to “prove” any religion, or even atheism.

Please provide an example. This is another common objection, incidentally.

Just because a worldview is coherent doesn’t mean it’s true.

Who ever told you that was our argument? Again, this is a two-step method, not a one-step.

There are many things about the Christian worldview that are arguably not coherent.

This is a great example of uncritical thinking. Do we consider them to be arguable? If not, why are you begging the question in your own favor?

There are other worldviews that also explain the existence of reason and logic.

Please enlighten us 😉

You can’t actually know something is true if you simply discount evidence entirely.

Utterly false description of our position.

Finding truth involves not making presuppositions, but trying to rid yourself of them.

Start with this one, please. We don’t make presuppositions; they are revealed to us. Second, this is really, really bad.

Presuppositionalism holds that everyone starts out with assumptions, and that starting by assuming the Bible is therefore no different than what anyone else is doing. Actually, most people start out with fairly simply assumptions.

No, it doesn’t. Seriously, if you don’t even know what you’re talking about, why are you writing on the subject? That is not even remotely our position. Do you really think the Bible is no different than what anyone else is doing? Do you think any Christian does? If so, why are they Christian, then? If even a fairly liberal type doesn’t even do that, why on earth are you saying Calvinists do, of all people? I can’t believe that you thought this through especially well.

I, as an example, start out by assuming that I can trust my senses and that the world around me is something I can seek to understand. Lest a presuppositionalist argue that these are atheist or materialist assumptions, I would point out that essentially everyone starts out with these assumptions. In fact, I have never met a Christian who didn’t start out with these same assumptions. Assuming that we can trust our senses and learn about the world around us is completely different from assuming the truth and divinity of the Bible or the existence of God.

“Lest” I do or not – those aren’t materialistic assumptions. Materialistic assumptions don’t exist, as assumptions are definitionally immaterial. However, even from another perspective, they don’t belong in materialism (per se) either, because she has no reason whatsoever to trust her senses, or to assume that she should. See, she’s saying next that “we all do it” – but the real question is “what justifies it?” Starting where she starts is purely arbitrary. Second, who says that this is “completely different”? Asserting assertions assertively is not an argument, or even close to one. Plus, she is an atheist. Hence, atheistic assumptions. Is this really that hard?

I have a friend who is a presuppositionalist. I recently asked her what she would do if archaeology directly contradicted a literal reading the Old Testament (it does). She told me that it would not change anything, because she would simply assume that future archaeological finds would clear up the contradiction and line up with the Old Testament. In other words, actual evidence in the here and now does not matter, not one whit. All that matters is her assumption that the Bible is true.

Notice: Facts are once again “brute”. Her philosophy of fact isn’t even examined. Whatever it “is”, is unquestionably. (Don’t look behind that curtain, Dorothy!) I can say to her, in return, “all that matters is your assumption that the facts are true”.

But I have to ask: If you simply assume your beliefs are true and throw out any use of evidence at all, if there is no possible evidence or experience that could disprove your beliefs, how in the world can you actually know they’re true? It would be like me saying that there is an invisible pink unicorn that lives in my room. You can’t touch it or hear it or detect it with any sort of test. You’re not ever going to come to the unicorn’s existence through evidence, and you shouldn’t try to. Rather, you simply have to assume it’s there. But then, if there is no evidence for it and it can’t be disproven, how in the world do I know it’s there in the first place? I don’t: I just assume it. Wha?

This incessant drumbeat on “throwing out evidence” is key to her ideas concerning our methodology. It’s demonstrably false. If she had read any primary source materials concerning our methodology, this would be painfully obvious. Instead, we are treated to one of the most asinine comparisons we’ve ever heard from atheism. As an aside? Using secularist arguments right after you imply your distance from secularism isn’t that great a strategy.

Interestingly, this emphasis on maintaining a persuppositional worldview is is why Vision Forum and others like it see secular colleges and secular sources of knowledge as dangerous. For them, facts and evidence are not neutral, but are interpreted through an assumed worldview. Therefore, a Christian should never study under a non-Christian, because what he will be learning falsehoods, not truth. One can only learn truth by studying under other likeminded Christians. The insularity this produces is overwhelming.

Interestingly, this emphasis on maintaining an objective view is is why Atheists United, American Atheists, Atheists Alliance International and others like it see religious colleges and religious sources of knowledge as dangerous. For them, facts and evidence are not neutral, but are interpreted through an assumed worldview. Therefore, a secularist should never study under a Christian, because what he will be learning falsehoods, not truth. One can only learn truth by studying under other likeminded secularists. The insularity this produces is overwhelming.

  1. [1] Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge, p. 250
  2. [2] Ibid., p. 293, emphasis original
  3. [3] Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic – Readings & Analysis, pg. 268, Note 22.

Yesterday, I did some commenting on a post by Paul Manata entitled “Do All Men Know that God Exists?“.

In this post, he offers a couple possible responses he would consider Van Tillians to potentially offer, tells us he’s an “attenuated” Van Tillian (which is unsurprising, at best); we interacted in the comments for a bit, (complete with his typical ad hominem) and he returns today with a bit of screed, venting about Van Tillians. His problem, apparently, seems to be my “certainty”. Far be it from me to point out that he acts anything but uncertain, but I’m forced to wonder why he finds certainty to be so problematic.

First, I’m wondering if his “attentuation” of Van Til includes this:

“Man does not need to know exhaustively in order to know truly and certainly. When on the created level of existence man thinks God’s thoughts after him, that is, when man thinks in self-conscious submission to the voluntary revelation of the self-sufficient God, he has therewith the only possible ground of certainty for knowledge for his knowledge.” [1]

If he’d like to assert that this is only talking about an epistemologically certain basis, and not about our knowledge, I’d just like to point out that Van Til says “As God has self-contained being and all other being has created or derivative being, so also God has self-contained and man has derivative knowledge. In contrast with this all forms of non-Christian epistemology speak first of knowledge in general and introduce the distinction between human and divine knowledge afterwards.”[2]

Further; “…this can be maintained only if the very idea of authority as orthodox Christianity conceives of it on the basis of the Creator-creature distinction has first been discarded. If this distinction is maintained there can be no such dialectical relationship between the hidden and the revealed character of God. In that case God cannot, to be sure, ever reveal himself exhaustively. The mind of man is finite and knows only by thinking God’s thoughts after him. But what it knows it then knows truly. It has at its disposal the revelation of God. This revelation does not hide God while it reveals him; it reveals him truly, though not exhaustively.”[3] Van Til doesn’t dodge the question – he hits it head on. Only Scripture provides necessity, perspicuity, sufficiency, and authority.

So, let’s examine his recent offering, along with his initial one, and see whether it’s accurate and applicable; or whether it is “attenuated” as much as his “VanTillianism” is. Given I’m responding, essentially, to two posts + comments, this post won’t be attentuated 😉

Usually, these discussion don’t get anywhere. As Razor Kiss himself said, he’s “certain” he’s right.

Usually, discussions with these nuevo-Vantillians don’t get anywhere. As Paul himself said about me; I’m an “ostensible” “hard-core Van Tillian”, “it doesn’t take much for [me] to be ‘certain’ about matters”, “this discussion will probably be pointless” – after all, I’m “simply not prepared to have the discussion,” “perhaps… in belief-preservation mode,” “totally unresponsive,” I “want to see (presuppositionalism) chained to the basement,” “never bothered to understand” his post, mockingly claims I’m “Dr. Razor Kiss” (misspelling my name, yet again, as he does in the title of his latest post…), “right-wing Van Tillian”, “par for the Van Tillian course” – of course – and after all, I’m just a “Van Tillian epologoist.” But hey – I’m probably just “overreacting”, in my “knee-jerk response.” Not to mention, apparently, I “now admit [I] totally overreacted.” Small world. Here I thought we weren’t to be certain. Far be it from me to point out inconsistency… besides, after all, I can’t be “lecturing” on the history of epistemology when you, of course, can do it instead directly after – can I? But I digress. (Cue muttering about pots, kettles.)

This puts a damper on any positive discussion to be had. In fact, it’s pretty much means-end irrational for me to respond to someone with this attitude.

Yeah. Yet you do. Better make certain that your lack of certainty is kept unsullied that attitude of certainty. Just take potshots instead.

Van Tillian epologists…

I see what you mean. You do write for Triablogue, after all. What would you call that title, incidentally? Attenuated VanTillian epologist?

…make debates hard because they are certain they are right

I would have to agree. Debates with folks who are certain they’re wrong, or uncertain they are right or wrong would be fairly quick affairs.

…they are certain that no one could argue with them unless they presupposed the Van Tillians were right

Well, you know what Bahnsen said. Learn to dodge bullets, or learn to take away the gun. But really, Paul, we both know this is a strawman in the context you intend it. I’m sure you get a lot of rhetorical mileage out of it, but it’s really just dancing down the yellow brick road with you, singing showtunes.

…and they are certain that all who disagree with them are bent on defending and protecting the sinful attitude of intellectual autonomy, so interlocutors are viewed as motivated to argue by love of sin

I think you’ve watched *WAY* too much Red Beetle. As in, so much that you need an intervention. Of course, hes Clarkian – but you haven’t bothered to be accurate so far – why start now? I mean, really Paul. Any Van Tillian worth his salt will go directly to the passages Van Til writes about that express the fact that what is in view is inconsistency, not necessarily “love of” sin. For all I know, it could be ignorance. I’m really not interested anymore by now, as it seems we have to wade through insults by the gallon to get a response from you. Be that as it may, I’m far less interested in your autobiographical depiction of “Van Tillians” than I am with giving an accurate picture of what Van Til actually says. Hence, you know, Van Tillian. Whether or not your impression of Van Tillians is the case, what on earth does that have to do with the principles of the matter? If it is the case, they are guilty of obscurantist arrogance, or as VT calls it, being worse than their principles. It is still autobiographical in nature, and has nothing to do with the merits of the system.

Not only that, Van Tillian epologists

Sure, Paul. Tell you what, I’ll just call you “the attentuated VanTillian epologist” from now on, just to be consistent.

…claim that Van Til’s position was exclusivist and utterly unique

Well, it was exclusivist. Unique? Not so much. He doesn’t argue that, I don’t argue that. Unique as in putting it all together systematically? Only partially. Wouldn’t want to bore his little eyeballs with a lot of text, though. We Van Tillian Epologists (as opposed to Attenuated Van Tillian Epologists) have to keep our reputation for brevity.

…such that any “non-Christian” position cannot be attribute to Van Til’s view.

The best I can say for this is that it’s unintentionally correct.

Thus they argue that TAG is not a deductive argument, it’s an utterly unique argument.

Yes, that’s totally crazy – given both Van Til AND Bahnsen say the same. Just madness! Let’s not bother with logic needing a transcendental foundation, or anything. Let’s just assert assertions assertively until the rhetoric sticks, shall we?

They argue that man is not a dualism, he’s an utterly unique thing

Yes, let’s just simplify it down monumentally to utterly ignore the context of any such claims, not bother to cite where this is supposedly coming from. Let’s just make a naked assertion, and not bother to examine anything about it. Good idea. Let’s.

…they argue that Van Til wasn’t foundationalist, coherentist, internalist, or externalist, he was some utterly unique thing.

The Attentuated Van Tillian Epologist makes the assertions that Van Til was (“apparently”, so as not to be considered one of those certain people, for land’s sake!) an internalist, and let’s just not consider historical conceptions, or even Van Til’s own position. Tension is such an equalizer – and so is lack of source material. Inconvenience is such a bother, after all, and it’s so much more convenient to make bare assertions, or second-hand claims.

Thus Van Til transcends all distinctions, which, while making for a bear of a time to try and understand his view, also conveniently isolates him from any criticism!

Or, maybe, just maybe the Attentuated Van Tillian Epologist isn’t extending the same courtesy in this case that he extends to Plantinga with his (more or less) novel conception of warrant. Oh, and doesn’t bother to cite or respond to Van Til. But let’s not sweat the little things. We shouldn’t be certain about this, after all. Attentuate the differences.

As for the argument in his initial post, what he presents is fairly straightforward; if rather biased, anachronistic, and not particularly compelling.

[1] The two positions to take on justification or warrant are, broadly, either internalist or externalist.

But [1] “as it stands, is vague. Almost all sides could agree with [1] as stated, though they would also disagree with each other as to what [1] means.”

Does that about size it up? I thought so. Don’t get certain about your position, though. I wouldn’t want to have to get ends/means irrational to respond.

But seriously, your consistency and/or precision here aside – why are you saying that it’s an either/or proposition here, even “broadly”? You seem to be saying that this is a dilemma – but it’s only a dilemma if there is not an alternative to your presentation of “internalism/externalism” as the sole options. My response indicated that I don’t accept that to be the case. Further, I said that this would be anachronistic if applied to Van Til, given that he generally predates that debate. Your response of today smacks of sensationalism. Are you really trying to suggest that because modern philosophers apply their own categories to ancient philosophers that their categories are de facto the only available options by which other philosophers can be categorized? Really?

For instance, you say:

“Apparently Van Til held to an “analogical epistemology.” Which means he wasn’t an internalist? How, exactly?

For much the same reason a Thomist isn’t an Arminian. Hold on, chaining presup to the basement. brb.

Okay, that’s taken care of. Moving on.

Another one is that Van Til was on the scene before Gettier and was part of an older school of epistemology. And this means he wasn’t an internalist, how, exactly? Many have noted that the likes of Plato, Descartes, & co. were internalists, and if Van Til was pre-Gettier, then they were (if I’ve done my math right).

Okay, let me say this really slowly, so your “defensive” doesn’t kick in all at once. You did do your math right, by the by. Just giving you some feedback. I’m listening over here. Just because some folks categorize the old school blokes by some modern schema doesn’t make it so. Getting that? For instance, just because I call Pelagius an Arminian doesn’t make him an Arminian. He’s still a Pelagian, in the context of his own statements concerning his doctrine. They differ from those of Arminianism, and have unique features not accounted for by Arminianism. In short, it’s not Arminianism. I don’t care how many cage stage “Attentuated Arminians” say so – it’s just not the case. Further – saying that it is the case, just more loudly and more frequently, does not demonstrate your assertion either. Arguments from “apparently” don’t cut the mustard. General vague citations don’t cut the mustard either. Ignoring the context of the things I cite doesn’t cut the mustard either.

For instance, Sudduth.

“Hence, it is possible that while Van Til’s meta-epistemology is logically consistent with Plantinga’s (indeed both may be versions of modest foundationalism), an incompatibility emerges at the substantive level. For instance, was Van Til an internalist or an externalist? Did he think that knowledge required the satisfaction of a deontological constraint or not? (Or can we say how he *would* come down on these questions if informed about them?).

Note the context. Was Van Til – Did he think – can we say how heif informed – what is Sudduth saying, my Attenuated Van Tillian Epologist friend?

“I suspect that part of the problem in sorting all this out is that Van Til was writing before the widespread popularity of the justified true belief account of knowledge (and post-Gettier variations thereof). 19th and early 20th century theories of knowledge tend toward what Alston has called the *intuitive conception* of knowledge, roughly, that knowledge is either a direct presentation of an object to consciousness and whatever we can deduce from such presentations. This is clearly foundationalist in nature, but such theories do not restrict their attention to propositional knowledge, but also include knowledge by acquintance. Hence, we’re dealing here with a different sort of animal than the staple of most contemporary analytic philosophers.”

Now, as fond as I believe you are of analytic philosophy, I think that you didn’t read this section with sufficient care. You’re saying Sudduth says, merely, that presup has flexible views. You then cited precisely what I did above – and come to an entirely different conclusion than I do. I wonder why this is, my Attenuated Van Trillian Epologist friend? Sudduth doesn’t say he is either one – mentions foundationalism in passing, but brings out that Van Til wasn’t informed about either one. I don’t care what you are arbitrarily calling him, or who else calls who else what – because it makes about as much sense as any other anachronistic category you try to shoehorn a Gill or Turretin into. It’s all hypothetical, using modern terms shoehorned onto historical categories. I’m sorry, but the point is simply that Van Til is being *considered* – by whoever’s categories, not his own – as vaguely internalist or externalist – which are categories foreign to his context. He *isn’t*, in fact. It would be just as feasible to ask whether Athanasius took Owen’s view on double jeopardy – and just as useless. Or as useless as mapping the precisions of modern epistemology onto Paul in Romans 1, maybe? Oh, yeah. On the contrary, Van Til goes to great pains to be extremely systematic in his method of how we are to govern philosophy by theology – including epistemology. Whether you consider this to be persuasive – or even true – or not really isn’t anything more than autobiographical, given your conception of certainty – is it?

Now, to respond to your “popularist” argument: Dude, who are you kidding about popular. Are you seriously trying to tell me that “Van Tillianism” is “popular” out there? You don’t specify anyone in particular. You don’t even state “their” supposed claim. You call it “Van Tillianism”. I’m about as run-of-the-mill a VTer as there is. There’s nothing special about me. Your argument doesn’t apply to me. I can’t even think of who it would apply to. You don’t tell us. Its just tossed out there, with no definition as to what you’re talking about, re: Van Tillianism. Later, you try to clarify this, but I can’t exactly be faulted for objecting on the grounds of… Van Til… can I? Apparently, this is the case for you. So, it’s the “popular kids” your argument applies to? Wouldn’t you be one of the popular kids? You, Hays, Frame? Anderson? Don’t most of them agree with you already? It’s not like the airwaves are burning up with Van Til in the first place. However, you’re trying to turn a long-standing doctrine (which you admit is supported by a good many commentators, incidentally; and we could go back and forth- on their basis – on what is meant by the knowledge of God a long time) upside down on the grounds of your preferred philosophical movement’s terms. Van Til and Bahnsen do, in fact, argue for their presented conception of the knowledge of God – and you don’t deal very much with it. The most significant problem for this, however, is that you tell us on one hand not to press modern epistemology onto Romans 1; but on the other hand, make an argument from modern epistemological terms there is some dilemma involved in the conception Van Til presents. You, as an “Attentuated Van Tillian” do precisely what you tell Van Tillians not to do, for precisely the reasons you say not to do them.

Another objection by RK is that it’d be anachronistic to ask whether Van Til held to JTB or was internalist or externalist. He makes the claim that these things are 30 or 40 years old! I’ll just let that simmer.

So, are you saying Sudduth is wrong as I quoted above, or not? 😉 I’ll just let that simmer.

Anyway, it’s not anachronistic.

Yes it is. Same way it’s anachronistic to call John Gill a fundamentalist.

Sure, older epistemologists had other concerns and didn’t situate matters the way analytics would…

Oh, so I’m right. Thanks for admitting it, finally.

This. Is. The. Point. Speculating is all you’re doing, and it’s actually anachronistic to apply terms backwards like you, and apparently your favorite philosophers are doing. Please examine the point I’m making about anachronistic theology, and the parallel it has with this. I actually have an article planned on Van Til’s epistemology, so you’ll just have to wait on it – but it’s NOT like it’s that hard to quote the dude, given how much he wrote on the subject. Seriously. At least try? A little? Show how he is, or is not an internalist. Maybe you’re all into the uncertainty thing, but those of us who would like a yes to be yes or a no to be no are still waiting. Is it the case, or is it not the case that Van Til IS an internalist? If so, please offer an argument.

…but JTB goes back to Plato…

Really? Oh, you mean modern dudes SAY it does, not that it actually was used by Plato.

…and many, many ancient philosophers have been described with such contemporary terms as “internalist,” “externalist,” “infallibilist,” etc.

That’s nice. I’ll just describe, say, Gill as “Christian Reconstructionist”. Therefore, a modern has described some old dude as something. It seems to be the case, therefore, that Gill is a Christian Reconstructionist.

Let’s just make sure we’re not too certain about that. (brb again – rechaining presup to the basement)

Seriously, now. He’s not an “internalist” for the same reason Gill isn’t a “Christian Reconstructionist”, that’s why. Or a Van Tillian. Or a Fundamentalist. Even, if you prefer, an Attentuated Van Tillian – whatever. The terms just don’t apply. He has his own context, his own body of writing which is quite capable of defining what he is all by it’s ‘ittle ‘onesome.

So his claim is simply confusing, and it doesn’t help that he argues for it by saying to go read books on epistemology and the SEP. This simply reveals he hasn’t read those things.

No, that’s most certainly (make sure you fleeeeee) not the case. Actually, buddy – pal – it reveals that you’re making incredibly surface-level objections to a system with quite a bit in print on the subject of epistemology – and you dealt with exactly none of it. To top it off, you’re using analytic terminology to describe someone who is not only a non-analytic philosopher, but who pretty much rejects any non-Christian meaning of any terminology such as that. For instance:

“Men in general do not use or even know our theological terms. But to the extent that they are educated, they have had some training in secular philosophy. They have a no-Christian familiarity with the categories of God, man, and the universe. If we are to speak to them to win them, it is necessary to speak their language…[4]

Interestingly,VT’s footnote on that page says “When they used the term logos, must they be thought of as followers of Philo’s non-Christian thought because they used that term?” Hopefully, the relevance should be apparent, given our Attenuated Van Tillian Epologist’s shock, dismay, and mass confusion at the very idea that Van Til, horror of horrors, may actually consider himself (or, even, his followers, the dreaded right wing Van Tillians! gasp!) as other than within the typical categories of secular philosophy. That this is along with every other Christian, in principle, seems to not cross his plate, but we’ll pass over that for now, and continue.

“…we need to use the language of the philosophers. But most philosophers have no been Christians. At any rate philosophical language has to a great extent been formed under non-Christian influence. Is it not likely then that we shall, if we use the language of the philosophers, also import into the Christian scheme of things the problems of philosophy as these have been formulated by non-Christian people? … The answer is that we shall be obliged, to a large extent to use the language of the philosophers or we shall have no point of contact with them. But we shall have to be on guard to put Christian content into this language that we borrow.”[5]

[2] If one is an internalist about justification or warrant, then one sets the bar of knowledge too high such that not all men could have knowledge of God because not all men have access to the adequacy of the justifying grounds of the belief under question.

Okay, great. Alternatively, we could use Van Til’s own conception of knowledge. You don’t give it, and incidentally, I don’t care what Bahnsen uses or thinks VT uses. What does Van Til say? He’s wrote a big honkin lot on it – didn’t he?

[3] If one is an externalist about justification or warrant, then the “no conscious believed defeater” constraint means that not all men have knowledge of God because some believe that belief in God is defeated for them, and one cannot know what they believe to be defeated.

Or, we reject the analytic terminology. So, where’s the argument, and when do you deal with Van Tillianism, instead of various “attenuations” like yours? In all seriousness – when you use the guy’s name, you have to, have to, have to deal with the guy. If you’re “attentuating”, by the nature of the case, you’re definitionally “other” by virtue of the attenuation. I’m really not concerned with what you define Van Tillianism as, because you’ve already demonstrated that it’s in your interest to “keep the tent big” so that it fits you. For whatever reason, you want the “status” of “Van Tillian” – but you define it both to exclude yourself in one sense, but include yourself in another. By leaving it vague, you leave yourself room to wiggle.

[4] Therefore, either one sets the bar of knowledge too high such that all men do not know that God exists, or the no conscious believed defeater constraint is such that all men do not know that God exists.

Or, you just reject the artificial analytic constructions, and wait for the argument against Van Tillianism.

[5] Therefore, not all men know that God exist.

He cites several sources as support: First, James Anderson:

One evident weakness of Van Til’s epistemological arguments is that he nowhere supplies an analysis of knowledge or displays much awareness of distinctions now commonplace in contemporary epistemology: foundationalism versus coherentism, justification versus warrant, overriding defeaters versus undercutting defeaters, and so on. Van Til should not be judged too harshly for this, since such epistemological niceties were not brought to prominence until near the end of his career.[6]

Second, the NBCD constraint. He says he takes it to be the case that I say yadda yadda. He doesn’t say how he knows, just that he does. Very well. In the section he cites, I’m responding to Dominic Tennant, who says “Then how does he resolve the issue of defeaters for knowledge in unbelievers?”

The response to follow is that you don’t give them more weight than they deserve. That what is really the problem is not, as Paul and DBT state, that they “believe” there is a defeater – but that they are deceiving themselves that they believe this. So, yes, I do tell them they are lying – because the Bible says that they are lying. They 1) Suppress the truth and 2) Exchange it for a lie. Bahnsen’s paper speaks of “the unbeliever’s suppressed belief about God,” and quotes VT who says “It is against the content of faith as belief in God that man has become an unbeliever.” Further, he tells us “what is essential in self-deception is that people hold a false belief.”

So, yes, they are, in fact, lying. To God, to themselves, and to me. You can “take this to be radical in the extreme” all you want – but that’s autobiographical. “Not even claims of self-deception go this far, for they allow that people believe the propositions they are self-deceived about.” I’m sorry, what is it you call deception again? Is this really problematic? If so, why would “deception” being called “lying” be somehow an issue? cf: “When self-deception is intentional, then, I propose that it is a self-covering intention.” So, why aren’t they lying? What are they exchange it for? A bowl of truth and goodness? Jacob, apparently, was telling his father the truth about who he was when he went in for that birthright, by golly. Is that it? Seriously?

But RK is committed to claiming that unbelievers don’t even believe that God’s existence has been defeated for them.

Quote me. Oh, yeah, that’s right. You’re wrong. They believe it – and LIE. Because it is a self-deceptive belief. A false belief. They know God – they suppress that knowledge – and exchange it for a lie – and say they are unbelievers.

Lastly, he later says he can call the unbeliever a liar because revelation has told RK that the unbeliever actually knows God at all times. Really now? Isn’t that precisely what we’re debating? I assume the infallibility of the Bible too, and I don’t think the exegesis gives us that conclusion. Of course, any Christian worth his salt would say that IF the Bible did reveal that all men had propositional knowledge of the God that exists, and this knowledge was diachronic, and so held at all times (sleeping?), and so indefeasible, then we’d agree all men have it and that it could never be defeasible. But this is what we’re debating, and so this is an egregious beg of the question. I thought we were supposed to build our philosophy and apologetics as much as we can from exegesis, not the other way around!

I’m sorry, when did I say that there were many “possible” interpretations of this passage? I don’t recall doing so. I don’t recall saying, or implying, that any supposed philosophical position was the reason for my exegesis, either. In any case, as you seem to be the one with the certainty issue here, might I direct you to my confession – which unlike the WCF, actually specifically says that the Scripture provides certainty. “The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience.” As, of course, it is the case that it does so – whatever your lack of certainty uncertainly provides you, in this case – I know that this is the case. I am certain that this is true. It’s not my problem that you aren’t certain of the text’s meaning. That seems to be, as far as I can tell, your problem. I further know, for certain, that the Spirit guides us into all truth. Whether or not you’re certain of this is, again, not my problem.

He goes on with an extended diatribe mocking what I’m supposedly saying, in various technical terms (which I didn’t use), he says that he has provided “exegetical” grounds for rebutting my claim that all men know God. Where? A list of people who disagree? His claim that there is “textual ambiguity”? That commentators disagree? Where does he actually deal with the text itself, other than casting doubts on some other position? I did a lot more dealing with the text itself than he does.

“RK made much of the claim that we needed to have common ground with the unbeliever, and so why isn’t the fact of the imago dei coupled with their warranted true beliefs enough for this? We can preserve common ground, and we can avoid the problematic implications of the austere Van Tillian reading of the apostle Paul. Doesn’t this view have all or most of the benefits of what Van Til was after? This seems more sensible, especially given the philosophical arguments as well as the troublesome issues of exegeting the text in such a specific way? The strong position of RK is underdetermined by the text, and Van Tillians would do well to realize that many of their bold and ambitious claims are actually undetermined by revelation and are also subject to philosophical problems. ”

What does Paul mean here by “imago dei”, since, given he “attentuates” his Van Tillianism? If he was a Van Tillian, I’d have a tons of references for what he’d be saying, but since, as he has shown, he really means “drop part of this Van Tillian stuff” by “attentuate” – this not only might, but necessarily, affects how he’s dealing with the rest of the “facts” he encounters. So, since he doesn’t elaborate, I don’t know.

It’s funny – the vaaaaast majority of his argument is directly philosophical. He barely touches on theology at all, let alone exegete the text he’s dealing with. The problem, Paul, is that only one of us is really laying his cards out on the table. I’m well aware that you have an axe to grind. You’ve been sharpening it for us in public for several years now. Neither one of us is neutral, here. So acting like you’re just shocked about these crazy right-wingers just doesn’t play. The only reason you’re getting a response like this, Mr. Manata, is because you responded to me the way you did. I intentionally tried to be respectful, but all I got was a backhanded apology, with a few more shots thrown in. Not exactly what I was looking to receive, but sadly, not unexpected, given your track record. Not the content – which is fairly typical of the folks “moving away” from Van Til – but the attitude. Good gravy, dude, I’ve had far nicer responses from atheists! If you’re good and insistent on thinking everything I say is going to be filtered through the canon of analytic philosophy, it just ain’t gonna happen. I’m not a philosopher by training, nor do I claim to be. However, I do think you need to really, really take a step back and think about the sort of claims you make about philosophical topics. I don’t see any reason to be as bombastic as you have been about internalism, et al. It’s fairly obvious that only by importing modern terminology back into a foreign context can you call Van Til an “internalist” – since that debate took place later on. If that’s all you have to do the superior act with, spare us all the trouble of lecturing – especially given that you, good sir, are the one who made the claim that he was an internalist.

Really, folks, the issue I’m having with his post(s) is simple. As much as he tries to spin it away from the subject, the issue is actually very simple. Is man’s knowledge of God the basis for all other knowledge, or not? Given his position, I don’t think that this is the case. If they can have warranted true belief withouta priori knowledge that God exists, we’ve given the field away. Their knowledge that God exists (if they get there) is based on reason, not on revelation. Those who claim God doesn’t exist, by what he has told us, do not know God exists. They are morally culpable for believing this, however, falsely – but they cannot be said to know God exists, as they do not believe God exists. This is what I find problematic, and insurmountable, in this schema. To quote: “It is the knowledge that the unbeliever would have, absent any unreasonable defeaters.” Okay, and since the point is being made that they do not believe God exists, it has just been denied, per their schema, that they know God exists. While this is part of what makes it inexcusable – this denial or suppression of the truth – does this not strike us as entirely unreasonable to actually assert that the unbeliever does not know, however unreasonably, that God exists? Further, is it not problematic to bring in such a concept as “would have known” when such is not in view? Maybe it’s just pushing my possibility buttons – but I highly doubt it. Recall that at the beginning of the initial post, the statement is made that “Almost all sides could agree with UKT as stated” – UKT being defined as “All men have knowledge of God.” Does it seem clear to anyone that what is really meant by this is “all men would have, in the absence of unreasonable defeaters, known that God exists”? I don’t think the conclusion begin offered agrees with UKT, as stated. In fact, it denies it, at least in some cases. All men do not have knowledge of God on this view – but merely in the absence of unreasonable defeaters. Since, obviously, and as even Paul admits this, any defeater for this would be unreasonable, we have limited the scope of those who have knowledge down by a sizable amount.

So, as we can see – this position is far from strong, and doesn’t even meet the UTK thesis. It eschews certainty – at least in Mr. Manata’s conception of it – and as far as I can tell, leaves the unbeliever’s basis for knowledge out in the weeds somewhere. Just basically, having said all this? He’s demonstrated exactly why VT is saying we present things as a unit. Where this has brought him is to telling someone in his comments that we should offer a cumulative case apologetic – albeit including TAs of various sorts, if not TAG.

As I said in my initial comment – the issues he’s having are theological – and those theological issues are affecting him everywhere else. Whether it’s because he let his philosophy overrule his theology at some point, or if his conception on some point of theology wasn’t sufficiently robust, I don’t know. It would take even more time, and more e-ink history than he’s spilled on his current blog incarnation. Just in case anyone was wondering – no, I’m not upset. Snarky? Yes. A tad annoyed at how much ad hom he’s willing to dish? Yes. Upset, not really. This little exchange has been waiting in the wings for a while, because he comes up in (at least my) conversation in “right-wing” Van Tillian circles. In fact, I probably upset a couple apple carts by getting into this discussion at all – but it was an excellent opportunity to pick his brain a bit.

.

  1. [1] Christian Apologetics, 77
  2. [2] Ibid., 32
  3. [3] Defense of the Faith, 4th Ed, 151
  4. [4] DotF, 45
  5. [5] Ibid., 46
  6. [6] If Knowledge, then God, Anderson, www.proginosko.com/docs/IfKnowledgeThenGod.pdf

Necessary Trancendental Arguments?

P1) There are no brute facts
P2) We are asserting that only by the Triune God of Scripture can we know anything properly
P3) The only argument which does not assume neutrality is a transcendental argument
C) If we are arguing any fact with an unbeliever, we must argue transcendentally – from the Impossibility of the Contrary, due to the nature of our respective presuppositions
C1) On any fact where the opponent’s view of facts does not accord with the Christian Scripture, our argument must be from the Impossibility of the Contrary

Discuss 🙂

Apologetics and the Arminian

The purpose of this post is to address a response to the above presentation, wherein presuppositional apologetics seems to be misunderstood by the author. The author’s response can be found here, but I will address most of the post, if not all, in the following article.

James White recently argued for presuppositional apologetics and against evidential apologetics. (link) He starts out with an analysis of Colossians 1:16-18, and Colossians 2:2-9, which focus on the Lordship of Christ. James White points out that the gospel is a radical claim, which unbelievers reject.

If you watched the above video (or heard the show), you’d note that Dr. White makes a specific point of not using either term until he’s made his argument. Why does he do so? To demonstrate that presuppositionalism is directly exegeted from the text of Scripture. That’s a minor note, so I’ll move on.

What caught my attention was James White’s denial that unbelievers can have ‘true knowledge’

It’s a rather open thing that Dr. White is a presuppositionalist. I’m confused as to why this would be noteworthy.

“If Jesus is who we claim He was, then He is the standard in all of human knowledge. You may be familiar with the term epistemology – the study of knowledge – how we know what we know. For so many Christians today, philosophy, history, science, epistemology, it’s all over in that realm, and Jesus is over here. That is not Biblical Christianity. Full orbed Biblical Christianity recognizes the absolute Lordship of Christ in every aspect of our lives because Christ is Lord in all of the universe and over everything because he created everything. In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. That is an amazing statement – and if you’re going to defend the faith, you have to defend the whole faith, the Biblical faith – not a cut down, watered down, simplified, minimalized, just a few facts faith – try to trick someone into accepting a skeleton of Christianity, and once you get ’em in, hope you can try to convince them of the rest of it over time. That is a certain form of apologetics, but it’s not a Biblical form of apologetics.”

Also note this, this, this, this – we could go on. Just recently, he went through the Price debate, outlining his presuppositional methodology in engaging Dr. Price.

As to the denial that unbelievers can have “true knowledge” – this is merely Biblical. Pro 1:7 – “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” – If you don’t have the beginning, how can you have the result? Pro 2:6 – “For the LORD gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” – Do unbelievers have true wisdom? From whence do they hear it? Isa 47:10 – “”You felt secure in your wickedness and said, ‘No one sees me,’ Your wisdom and your knowledge, they have deluded you; For you have said in your heart, ‘I am, and there is no one besides me.'” Can “I think, therefore I am” be harmonized with this? Phil. 1:9 – “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment” “Real knowledge” is ‘epignosis’ – a precise, correct knowledge. What does that imply? There there is a false knowledge, correct? Not to mention Col 2, which Dr. White discussed, in detail. If all treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ – how does an unbeliever find them? Note also this verse – Col 3:10. “and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him” – also uses epignosis. Remember who Paul is writing to. Gnostics, who claim to possess a secret knowledge. What is Paul’s response? ALL knowledge is *Christ’s.* Note also this verse: I Timothy 6:20 – “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge” There is a true and false knowledge. So, when unbelievers “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” are they knowing correctly? Are they not suppressing “true knowledge” – in favor of “knowledge so-called”?

and his objection to the approach of starting from common ground between believers and unbelievers to show the reasonableness of believing in the God of the Bible and other Christian doctrines.

Honestly? There’s a very simple answer to this. The only common ground you have is God’s ground. The image of God in you both. “What partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” We are to act, and *think* differently from the world. If your philosophy is indistinguishable from the world, and doesn’t have at it’s heart the Scriptures of the Triune God… you’re in trouble. Big trouble.

We don’t make the Gospel “more palatable” to sinners – it’s *supposed* to be offense and foolishness to unbelievers. So is our apologetic – because we are defending *the Gospel*. It should be offensive to them, strike at the heart of their unlawful thinking, undercut the fortresses they erect against the knowledge of God, and tear them down – how? “in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left.”

God makes *foolish* the wisdom of the world. His word is His voice, speaking to men – and we are to speak it boldly on His behalf. We have *no other message*, folks. If you don’t argue FROM Scripture, FROM the God who IS there, you gave up the field to start with – and you did NOT, having done all, stand. If you pretend that we’re all neutral, and we just have to present the right evidence to convince them… you’ve already failed. Unbelievers *are not reasonable*. They *suppress* the truth in unrighteousness. They have become futile in their speculations.

Since this is so, and since they *do not think as a Christian does*, they WILL reject any evidence they deem to be unsuitable – by their OWN standard. We have a different standard, and we must argue by HIS standard, not ours.

There is no neutral ground. The picture in Eph. 6 is of a soldier holding the line *he was assigned to hold*. You do NOT advance to no-man’s land and parlay. You hold the line. You don’t advance without orders, and you don’t retreat. Advancing to “common ground” is simply to isolate yourself, and invite defeat in detail. When you are in line, you are covered by the shield of the man to your right, and cover the man to your left. You *stand*. “Common ground” is only defection or an invitation to surround you.

Presuppostionalism, as I understand it, has two distinct schools of thought; the Gordon Clark camp and the Cornelius Van Til camp. Clarinan (sic) presuppositionalism is not my cup of tea, but it’s fairly innocuous. My main complaint against Clark’s presuppositionalism is that he presupposes the truth of sola scripture,

Well, here’s the deal. The author doesn’t seem to understand the nature of Clarkian “presuppositionalism”, nor it’s actual differences from Van Tillian. Allow me to quote from a book I’ve quoted a good bit from recently.

“With all due respect for these three men, (inserted: Clark, Schaeffer, Carnell) their sincerity, Christian commitment, and hard work, we must press on to see why their apologetical systems are not fully satisfactory. Although many fine points of presuppositional character can be found scattered throughout their writings, we regretfully note that their positions as a whole are inconsistent with these points. This inconsistency might might make it appear that criticisms offered below could be rebutted by retreating to the better parts of the writer under scrutiny; however, after trying to harmonize the conflicting assertions and to read them in a sympathetic spirit, I am simply unable to reconcile the major differences or eliminate the tension among them.”
~Dr. Greg Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended, Part 2, Introduction, pg 135

In this recent post, wherein I quote from a nearby section of the same book, we see that Clark does not, in fact, “presuppose sola scriptura” – how can he, when he doesn’t even presuppose the Word of God AS the Word of God? This is the fundamental, bedrock principle OF presuppositional apologetics. Here is another example, in case one doesn’t convince my readers. Directly following a discussion of Clark’s comments on statements from R.G. Collingwood, Bahnsen states “In all this Clark has not made the truth of Scripture an absolute and necessary presupposition, a genuine transcendental of meaningfulness for all science, history, etc. Indeed, by contrast, one could easily be led to believe that logic per se is his transcendental rather than Scripture. Instead of the attempt to be independent of God’s Word, ‘the denial of the law of non-contradiction, or even the failure to establish it as a universal truth, was the downfall of secular philosophy.'” (Quoting Clark, The Axiom of Revelation, 64) (pg 144, PA: S&D)

Bahnsen continues in the next section, entitled “Possibility vs. Necessity.”

“God should be taken by the Christian as the source and standard of all material, as well as logical possibility; He is the one who determines all things (even the operation of the human mind and its limits). But for Clark the possibilities of human imagination and the bare possibilities dictated by formal logic have precedence to God (at least in Clark’s writings). God too seems to be drawn into an environment of ‘possibility’ (i.e., made subject to the conditions thereof); of course, then, this must also be the case for God’s Word. Instead of demanding that Barth, for example, must recognize the subordination of all thinking to God’s Word because it is our absolute, transcendental presupposition that makes intelligibility, thinking, evaluating, and meaning possible, Clark wants Barth, in considering such a subordination, not to “bluntly rule out this possibility.”

A more skeptical view of the amount of truth obtainable by experimentation, with the help of operationalism, might bring the idea of subordinationism back again within the limits of possibility. The Scripture is a better source than experimentation is for the norms of ethics and politics; perhaps there is some way to bring physics and zoology under this authority. (Clark, Karl Barth’s Theological Method, 68)

Because Clark, thus, does not take the truth of God’s Word as an absolutely essential presupposition to which all thought must (not merely possibly) be subordinated, it is not surprising that he should write, “From a logical standpoint it is equal whether one’s assumptions are philosophical or theological, Christian or not.” (Clark, Religion, Reason, and Revelation, 8) This is not the case! Cristianity and unbelief are not on an equal footing, for unbelief has no fotting whatsoever. And even logical possibility cannot be a common background to Christian and pagan systems of thought, for Christianity alone makes logic possible. With this quote, whatever absolute character Clark’s presupposition of God’s Word may have had is completely dissolved.” (PA:S&D, 145-146)

Bahnsen, as you may know, was the “heir apparent” to Van Til. He is the definitive exegete of, and successor to, Van Til. As you can see, it is the Van Tillian school that believes that Scripture Alone is presupposed. This may not be considered ideal by the author to which we are responding, but this is certainly the case. Clark, like most modern day apologists, has conceded the absolute truth of the Word of God to a “possibility” – we do not, and cannot.

whereas I think the evidence for the truth of scripture and problems of other sources (Pope’s, Councils, the Koran…) is very strong.

Let me just ask a single, simple question. By what standard? This is the real topic of any debate with anyone. What is your standard? To a Romanist, it is the magesterium, which mediates Scripture by it’s authority. For a Muslim, it is the Quran, which likewise mediates Scripture by it’s authority. For Clark, it is logic that mediates the truth of Scripture. As Bahnsen says shortly thereafter, “By not viewing the truth of Scripture as a presupposition that is absolutely necessary, Clark reduces the status of the Bible to a hypothesis.”

While everyone has some presuppositions, I generally try to minimize what I presuppose and if something can be demonstrated, there’s no need to presuppose it. On the other hand, Van Til’s version of presuppositionalism is marked with antinomy and skepticism.

I agree that everyone presupposes something – I would like to know what the author would define as “some”, however. I likewise minimize what I presuppose – to what God has revealed in His Word! I would also like to know how, precisely, Van Tillian presuppositionalism is “marked by antinomy and skepticism”. I would agree that we Van Tillians are highly skeptical of any “falsely called knowledge” that results from any thinking not in accordance with the Word of God. If that’s what he means, I’m happy to plead “guilty”.

While James White didn’t declare himself to be in either Gordon Clark’s or Van Til’s camp, and generally didn’t get into much detail about presuppositionalism, but his denial that unbelievers can have ‘true knowledge’ and his objection to common ground between believers and unbelievers seems to show more influence from Van Til than Clark, since Van Til famously denied the same things.

I know for a fact that Dr. White is Van Tillian in method, just so you know. Note that neither Van Til nor Bahnsen denied common ground *completely* – but common ground as *popularly conceived.* Our common ground is in the fact that all men are created in the image of God – and it is to that Imago Dei that we appeal, as Paul did in Acts 17. As to knowledge, remember that we don’t deny that unbelievers can have *any* knowledge – they can know the truth, but they *suppress* it, and believe, instead, a lie. However, even when you believe something that is objectively true – but for subjective reasons – you do not believe the *truth*, as it is, for the reasons you *should* believe it – and therefore do not truly know it. There’s more to it, including another post where he responds to a page James Anderson linked him, but that’ll do for now.

I have a couple more issues I’d like to address. In the comments of the above post, A.M. Mallett says the following:

…it is my opinion that presuppositional apologetics is the leaven that fuels the advancement of Calvinism’s carnal flavor. It’s premise is founded on the ability to dissuade the merits of other belief systems rather than relying on the scriptural evidences of God’s power and truth. The LORD did not instruct us to go out and argue against the merits and beliefs of other systems. He tells us instead “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” (Isa 55:11 AV). He tells us again “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” (1Co 1:18-21 AV)
I do not believe presuppositionalism has any ground in scripture.

First off, the presuppositions of the comment’s author are abundantly clear. “Calvinism’s carnal flavor”. I’d like to hear how, exactly, his man-centered system of theology has a basis to critique a system with “Sola Deo Gloria” at it’s heart. His caricature of presuppositionalism is also manifest. While the author may, as he states, have this opinion – it is an eminently foolish opinion to hold. First, he seems to be saying that all we do is tear down the systems of others. While this is incorrect; we are arguing FROM Scripture, and positively arguing the intrinsic truth of the Scripture in response to our opponents as well, it is also incorrect to say tearing down the idolatrous systems of others is NOT commanded in Scripture. How would he explain 2 Cor 10:3-5, if this is the case? Further, note the verses he quotes. How DOES God destroy the foolish wisdom of the world? Through the defense of the faith by His people. Just as God uses means to spread the Gospel, so He uses means to destroy the wisdom of the world. Notice it is His WORD that does not return void. Since our task is to destroy the world’s wisdom by the use of the Scriptures, is that not the very essence of not returning void? I also note that the passage he quotes actually militates against his desire to use evidences as neutral facts. *Anything we say that is grounded in the Word* is foolishness to unbelievers. Unless you are conformed to this world, the world *will* scoff at it. If you are conformed, they may very well accept it – but have you not read 1 Cor 1:17? “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.” NOT in cleverness of speech, my friend. If your apologetic is not consistent with the Gospel, it is no apologetic. As for it having “no ground in Scripture” – I suggest you take a gander at Acts 17, Romans, Colossians, Ephesians, and Galatians. Also see Jesus’ words to the Saducees; “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God.” What is Paul’s answer to the Athenians? “What you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you”. You don’t know – so I’m going to tell you. Then, he tells them – right out of the Scripture. So, let me repeat – you, sir, are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, nor the power of God.

One more thing to add – recently Christopher Weaver left a comment on this post where he stated the following: “the nonbasic source of knowledge that is scripture”. I’d just like to point out that Scripture, to a presuppositionalist, is THE basis of knowledge, period. This is the fundamental problem with non-Scriptural apologetics, as a rule. They don’t believe Sola Scriptura applies to all of life – just in compartmentalized areas. I bring this up because I left a comment to his initial objection (which boils down to “there can be a counter-factual to the counter-factual which you already denied, so you’re wrong” (aka: I assume counter-factuals)). When you assume what Scripture denies, you also denied Sola Scriptura (not that I have any evidence to believe that he holds to that position in any meaningful fashion in the first place).

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