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.

There are a significant number of newly “converted” (to presup, at least) folks that are quite zealous for the defense of the faith. This, I consider good. On the other hand, Scripture warns us against “zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge”, in Rom 10:2. This is especially important for us to consider. All too often, we have a tendency to “jump right in,” whether we are prepared to do so, or not. Zealousness leads us, with inadequate preparation, all too often to imbalance, and from or along with imbalance, to a sub-Biblical defense. Additionally, there is the problem of not knowing what it is you are to be defending! As putative apologists, we must not overestimate our own abilities, knowledge, or proficiency. This isn’t to say that I consider myself to be “perfect” – or that anyone else should, this side of glory; What I am saying is, we must be very watchful that our desire doesn’t outrun our wisdom.

When we have something we desire to do, we often run ahead, to the detriment of our preparation for doing so. Similarly, we often dismiss preparation for either pragmatic or pietistic aims, at the expense of doctrinal orthodoxy. Part of an adequate apologetic is the ability to teach. If you aren’t convinced of that, I would point you to the instances of apologetic encounters in Scripture. If you are defending the faith, there are certain preconditions for doing so. Principally, there is the precondition of knowing what you are defending. Secondarily, there is the precondition of an ability to teach what Christian doctrine is, so that it may be clear to your audience what in fact it is to be defended. Thirdly, it must be clearly said that there is the precondition of grace; and that graciousness is the product of sanctification, not of formal study. None of these aspects can be overlooked or dismissed; and they must not be dismissed, because Scripture clearly commands them of us. In fact, dismissal of these requirements is tantamount to rebellion. To overlook these requirements is a function of ignorance – but the intent of this post is to render you, the apologist, without excuse – and hence, repentant. We cannot afford ignorance in the cause of Christ.

So, let us look at what we are called to do. Those who are called to apologetic ministry must be within, and under the authority of, the local church. They cannot be “lone rangers,” and they cannot be “loose cannons”, or “independents”. If we are of those who believe, we must be within the fellowship, and be in fellowship (Acts 4:32). If we are of those who believe, we must be under the authority of elders (Acts 14:23). Apollos, we know, was a powerful advocate for the cause of Christ. Yet, he was amenable to being instructed by those who were older and wiser than himself. In addition, he was willing to be sent, and not to send himself. It was the brethren that sent him, and encouraged him – and in that fellowshipped sending, he in turn encouraged the elect, and refuted their opponents. (Acts 18)

Next, we 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.

The disciplines required of the apologist are both mental and spiritual. The primary discipline is the systematic study of the Word of God, and the doctrines therein. We must also be as fervent and constant in prayer and the confession of sin as we are fervent and constant in study. We must systematically practice the spiritual disciplines along with the mental disciplines we work to cultivate.

We must also be able to teach. In a Biblical apologetic, we are responding to the anti-Christian from, and with, Christian doctrine. As I have said for some time, it seems to be the case that the vast majority of objections stem from a fundamental ignorance of Christian doctrine. As Christians, we must admit that this is often the fault of those whom we have championed; and those champions themselves are either unable, or unwilling, to defend the Christian faith as a system of doctrine, rather than a philosophical abstraction. The defense of “a god” flies directly in the face of the Scriptural testimony. Keeping the doctrines of Christianity at “arms length” in their putative defense is nothing more than folly, if that is what we are truly defending. We cannot make an arbitrary distinction between what we believe and what we defend. We can do only damage to the doctrines we love by defending an abstraction rather than the reality. If you do not know, love, and cherish the doctrines of Scripture, you are simply fighting for yourself, not the fellowship of Christ. If what you defend is unrecognizable in comparison to the God you claim to know – it is readily apparent, and worse than useless. The knowledge of the Holy is understanding, and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Do not forget it for an instant.

When we as apologists engage in the defense of the faith we must be able to both recognize and correct the misconceptions that are foundational to, and undergird the objections raised to that faith. When we hear an objection, we must compare it to what it is we know. We waste an enormous amount of time responding to things that we know are inapplicable, or false. We waste so much energy that could be better used in teaching these objectors what it is they need to know about the God they reject. Objections should be filtered through the matrix of sound doctrine – and responded to as they warrant, not as the unbeliever assumes. We all too often consider the unbeliever’s conception of God to be “plausible”, or “possible” – while in reality, they are objecting to a man of straw. Instead of letting this pass unchallenged, take the opportunity to correct their misapprehensions. This is helpful to your fellow believers, as well! It is quite a redemption of the time (that unbelievers waste for themselves in their ignorance) to grasp that opportunity to teach what it is they should be addressing, and to outline for your fellows (and for other unbelievers) where it is they went wrong in their approach. Granted, we know that unbelievers both applaud and prefer their ignorance – but in responding in such a way, we leave them without an excuse, don’t we?

Lastly, we are to answer with gentleness and reverence. This does not mean that we do not step up boldly to answer; it does, however, mean that we are not to savage our opponent on a personal level, or to respond in kind when we are personally attacked. This does not proscribe a righteous zealousness for the doctrines of God; it does, however, proscribe an unrighteousness zealousness for personal vengeance and returning offense when it is given. It is often the case that unbelievers act like fools. We are to answer a fool according to *their* folly – as it deserves – but NOT to become like them. This is a trap many fall into – myself included. We are to be reverent of God, and mild in our responses.

We must also see that the Lord’s slave must NOT be quarrelsome; must be able to teach; must be patient when wronged; and must gently correct those in opposition. They must not engage in foolish or ignorant speculations – they produce the quarrels warned against.(2 Tim 2) Be mindful of your limits. Be watchful of your temper. Be wise concerning where and when you engage with unbelievers. Be discerning in your responses, and teach whenever and wherever it is appropriate. Be patient when you are attacked, or offended, or wronged. Do not engage in endless quarrels; know when and where to enter, and when and where to leave a discussion.

All of this I have given above is the product of the work of God, friends, not of your own efforts. It is the work of God; sanctifying and preparing you for His own work, not your own. We are bought and paid for – we are not our own possession, but His. Whatever you think you might be, you are either His, or you are your own – and God surely knows His own. You think you’re a presuppositionalist? Let me tell you what a presuppositionalist is.

We are to be those who have a deep, abiding love for the Scriptures, and the God whose revelation they are. We are to have a healthy, humble assessment of where we are in our relationship to God, and a deep understanding of whose we are. We are to immerse ourselves in the doctrines of Scripture; We are to flee speculation, and embrace the certainty Scripture provides us. We are to teach patiently, correct patiently, and learn patiently. We are not to be self-serving, not arrogant, and always mindful of the grace which we ourselves have received. We are to understand that what we have, is ours by the grace of God, and by no other means. We are not to coddle doubt, but to destroy it by the means God has provided. We are to know, to the depths of our soul, that what we defend is that which God has given – and how we are to defend it is also given by that same grace. Does all of this humble you? Does all of this make you feel inadequate? Does it remind you that we are, indeed, bought with a price, and not our won, and must thus work to the benefit of His church? If so, you might be a presuppositionalist – but be wary, lest you fall. We are all warned, and we must heed those warnings.

I’ve mentioned before that Presup is Sola Scriptura in an apologetic context. If you study Ephesians 6, the only weapon we have is Scripture. Hence, that is the only weapon we use. All of defenses are also God-wrought, so we have nothing to fear. Fear not – and stand.

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.

We're Working On It

A response was offered on facebook to my post, and I’ll respond to those comments to follow

That’s… not a very good defense, is it?

You reject me asking for proof because I don’t know how I exist?

There was quite a bit more to it than that, obviously. That is a valid argument, however.

You are right. I do not know for certain that my senses do not deceive me. I do not know if everything I have ever experienced is merely an illusion, or truly life. However, my senses are all I have to go on, and I will not reject them because of uncertainty. I often find that the most foolish of people are also the most certain, and will never make the mistake of claiming infallibility.

Some interesting comments here.

1) The options are presented as “illusion” or “truly life”, which seems to be a false dichotomy.

I’m not sure what relationship this has to my post, as I did not say anything about illusion at all, nor did I intend any relationship to be drawn from this.

2) There is discussion of sensory data deceiving – that was not part of my discussion at all.

The discussion was related to the justification we have, or do not have, for our knowledge, existence, predication, thinking, or what have you. Sensory data, of course, is interpreted, but I am talking about topics *below* and *foundational to* all discussions of sensory data interpretation. Thus, I’m not sure what this has to do with the subject.

3) There was no discussion of senses being rejected, and nothing concerning “uncertainty” as being the reason for this.

There is no discussion of uncertainty or rejection of the senses in view, so once again, I’m not sure why he is discussing it.

4) The claim is made that “certain” people are the most “foolish”.

By what standard of “foolish” is this asserted? The standard of the world’s wisdom, or of God’s wisdom? If it is from the viewpoint of the world, isn’t that the subject under dispute?

5) The author claims that he never claims infallibility.

I’m glad, as I do not do so either.

However, I have made no philosophical claims of existence. I have merely rejected your spiritual claim of existence, being no reasonably acceptable evidence has been brought forth.

By using the word “I”, one is, in fact, making a philosophical statement of existence. What I am questioning is the justification for doing so. By “merely” rejecting something, you are providing your own replacement for the thing rejected – which is what I am challenging. As the initial assertor, the burden of proof lies with him. My challenge is to his basis for even making the claim “Only a fool believes something without proof. To simplify that for you: only a fool relies on faith.”

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” — Carl Sagan

By what standards, respectively for:
a) Extraordinary
b) Require
c) Evidence

What epistemic obligation exists to obey this assertions? What duty do I have to accept the above as true? What standard of “extraordinary” is being used, and is it being assumed that I am somehow obliged to accept Sagan’s worldview, and thereby agree? By what standard of “require” am I obliged to accede to his demands? Is he asserting that there is a universal epistemic duty I am beholden to, exemplified by this statement? Which standard of “evidence” applies to what am I being told to provide, and by what standard is it considered such? Shouldn’t we deal with 1) Our disparate claims to epistemic justification 2) Our contradictory worldviews, in which evidence is likely to have different connotation, and 3) Whether or not the worldview asking for evidence has any claim over another person to begin with?

“What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence” — Christopher Hitchens

Once again – by whose standard? I don’t consider Hitchens’ statement to be accurate, let alone binding. Whose standard of evidence are we using? How do we know there is none?

And no, the Bible is not acceptable evidence, just as the Koran is not, nor the Vedas.

So, you insist, a priori, that I agree with you, in order to disagree with you? You do understand that I have directly asserted that the Scripture is my epistemological justification, do you not? Is this clear to you? I said, quite clearly, that the only possible precondition for knowledge, or anything else, for that matter, is the Triune God of Scripture. Yet, you have a priori rejected my claim, while ignoring the argument made on it’s behalf. Further, you have insisted that I abandon my own epistemological basis to even discuss something with you. On the contrary, I have addressed your epistemological basis, and offered an argument to show that self is an insufficient basis for your epistemology. I offered an argument, which demands an answer, not a dismissal. Yet, apparently, you can assert, without evidence – but I can’t dismiss it without evidence? It seems to me that you are the one arguing contrary to Hitchens’ maxim. Further, *by what standard* is the Bible unacceptable evidence? Says you? Well, by your standard (and this is an internal critique here) I can just as easily say “says me, the Bible is sufficient”, and that is an equally valid claim – by your own standard. Now, back to my worldview, I gave several reasons why the Scripture is sufficient. Please deal with those.

My response in the comment thread:

But you are? Your self is? Any particular person is sufficient personal awesomesauce to impose his subjective opinion of anything whatsoever on anyone whatsoever, and his personal opinion is such as is sufficient for being believed? You don’t have a claim to induction, either, as per Hume, so your sense experience is not reliable – which is why I included it. I “merely” reject all of your subjective non-claims, because they are made by a non-being, by your own non-standards. There is no such thing as evidence, there is no such thing as acceptable, as we are disparate beings, with no objective standard to conform our opinions to. There is no ordinary, and there is no extraordinary. There is no grounds by which to reject, or to affirm. You cannot claim infallibility, or fallibility, because everything is subjective.

There are no brute facts. Facts are interpreted a priori, and your interpretative ability, by your own (subjective) standard, is what is being called into question.

In fact, by your own standard – there is no such thing as a fool, because there is no such thing as truth.

His reply:

And we may very well be constructs in the Matrix. However, I generally do not find this to be a reliably found solution. Not having a “claim to induction” does not make my senses unreliable.

Perhaps I should clarify here – I said “sense experience” above – and what I was referring to was the concept that sense experience is contributory to knowledge. The problem of induction is that we have no justification for our expectation that the future will be like the past. Since this is so, we have no justification for assuming that what we experience via the senses is actually a means to acquire knowledge.

There are facts. Facts are what happened. If a blue fish is blue, it is blue. It *probably* reflects electromagnetic wavelengths with around a 450 nm wavelength, if you want to get technical.

Now, how people interpret these facts is where things can go wrong. We could just assume we ARE in fact in the Matrix, and go about our lives. We could just assume we are in the blue fishes mind in the last example, and we are imagining ourselves look at the blue fish.

We could also realize that this isn’t anything we have brought up at all. For some reason, he seems to want to go back to “the Matrix”, or some similarly absurd counter example, when in fact the objection is related to epistemology, not sense-reliability. We are not talking about the relationship of sense to illusion, or sense to deception. We are talking about the relationship of sense to knowledge. Since induction is unjustified in the unbelieving worldview, there is no justification for *using* it – and it is irrational to do that which is unjustified. Not only that, but there is no relationship that *can* be made between past and future!

These aren’t useful speculations, though. These have no evidence (Such as being able to see the blue fish, to weigh it, to make various measurements of it. These are useful abilities, which often make very good evidence for things).

But, no. Don’t twist what I say into something you want it to be. I’m sure you can take whatever you want and make it sound foolish, but doing that doesn’t actually make the original idea foolish.

The problem is, all of the things listed above *have no justification from your own worldview*. That is why I brought it up. You cannot assume a constant system of measurement. You cannot assume that things remain uniform. You cannot assume “use” is something that has tenacity for day to day. All of these things – and basically all of human thinking whatsoever – are utterly destroyed by the lack of a justified induction.

My response in the comments:

Or, the fact that your worldview can’t account for induction, deduction, or even the slightest portion of your everyday experience means that your worldview is what is at issue. Note: I’m not saying induction has no explanation – I’m saying *you* don’t have one. I’m not saying existence has no explanation – I’m saying *you* don’t have one. An argument from silence does not give the preconditions of intelligibility. What you have offered is not an explanation, but seems very much to be wishful thinking, while I, on the other hand, gave a thumbnail sketch of my epistemological basis for all of the above. If your worldview can’t account for that which you say gives you knowledge, what good is it?

I found his next set of comments very illustrative. They are posted to follow.

And now you’ve shown that you don’t actually understand my position. Great job.

No, I do not have an answer. To quote Dawkins, “We’re working on it.”

So, here we are given the quintessential unbelieving answer for this problem: “I don’t know, but we will!” I’m sorry, but isn’t this a bit more of a problem than that, as we’ve already illustrated? I’ve coined this as “the argument from optimism” previously, and it seems so very apropos. The unbelieving worldview has no answer for what knowledge is, how induction is justified, how immaterials such as concepts exist, the source and nature of logical laws, the relation between facts, how the one and the many problem is solved, the mind-body relationship, not to mention the dilemma posed by a subjectivist observer claiming to know objective truths. “We’re working on it”? Well, it’s been 3 or 4 centuries. Let us know how it’s working for you, skeptics.

You are taking an argument from ignorance.
…”Because we don’t know something, it had to be *this thing I want to believe*.”

You have no real evidence. You just seem to have taken a liking to one of the many, many religious texts there have been in history that claims to know.

I’d like to know what, in this long string of assertions, is factual. I’d also like to know what in this string would accord with even his definition of evidence. They are naked assertions, inconvenienced by any real relationship to my position.

I will gladly take my “I don’t know yet.” I will gladly try and figure out how it happened. I will come up with theories on what has happened, and I will test them. I will improve, them, change them when new evidence comes along. I will make them the best I can.

I will gladly let you, when you justify the things that allow you to make conclusions, or prove anything, about anything. Since that is what is being questioned, and we are being told “I don’t know” concerning, on what basis are we to do anything save ask, yet again, whether we are to be given any basis for what you claim to have no answer to justify, but irrationally claim to be utilizing?

You will take your book. You will claim it to be infallible. You will never change your ideas, even in the face of contradicting evidence. You will sink like a stone.

I’ve yet to see the standard by which (whatever it is) is claimed to be evidence, let alone why we should accept it.

*Note: The “I” and “You” are merely representative of our different arguments, not each other*


To reiterate, I’m fine with “We’re working on it.” Your thumbnail sketch hold no bearing without evidence.

Your “evidence” is both meaningless and irrational, holding the worldview you do, until demonstrated otherwise. I’d be fine with an answer, instead of “pie in the sky, by and by”. As Greg Bahnsen used to say – “that is the problem with you atheists, you live too much by faith.” I think it applies here. Ironic.

My answer in the comment section:

Evidence by what standard of evidence? Saying “we don’t know, but we know you’re wrong” is… more than bit contradictory? If you have no basis for sense experience’s reliability or intelligibility, how can you then use that to critique… anything?

If you don’t have a basis for induction, why should I give the results of it any validity to critique my worldview? Further, if you don’t have a basis on which to assert that your interpretation of data results in incontrovertible “facts” – why should I accept your assertions? Even further, if you can’t explain the existence of concepts such as the laws of logic, by your own standard, why should I grant you the valid use of them, and not assert that you are borrowing from my worldview to use them, and as such, are using them wrongly?

His reply:

Look, I’ll believe you when you prove it. I didn’t say, “I don’t know, but I know you’re wrong.” I said, “I don’t know, figure it out and show me how.”

That is the sense of our entire conversation. “I don’t need to know that I’m rational to say you’re a fool”. On the contrary, I say you do.

Look at it this way. We’re driving in a truck. We’re both thinking, “I wonder how this truck works?” You provide a “thumbnail sketch” of how you think it works, and I decide that I want to look inside of it before I decide. I have no reason to believe you until I know you are right. I don’t currently know; this doesn’t make you right, and it doesn’t make my curiosity wrong.

See, being right is not a conditional on whether or not you check. If I give the right answer, I’m right whether or not you check. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong whether or not you check. However, once again, only within my worldview, not yours, because your worldview doesn’t provide the preconditions for that conversation to be intelligible, despite the fact that you’re having it. Therefore, having said precondition, whose worldview are you borrowing from, to object to it? As Van Til says, “Antitheism presupposes theism” – and this is the reason he said that.

And yes, I can still think you’re foolish for being pleased with your own answer, even though you don’t rightly know.

By what standard? That’s what inquiring minds needs to know.

My reply in the comments:

I’m making a specific argument here. The proof I am offering is that without the Triune God of Scripture you can’t prove anything. Proof via the impossibility of the contrary. Thus far, your argument has given precisely that. “We’re working on it” singularly fails to impress me as factual, especially coming from Dawkins, who is otherwise so impressed with factuality. His problem, and yours, is that most folks fail to study the epistemology of science, and have failed to do so for an inordinate amount of time. If scientists were still natural philosophers, as they used to be called, perhaps they would pay more attention to the foundations of their claims.

When the emperor has no clothes, I’m going to point it out. Induction – trusting the future to be like the past, has *no basis in your worldview*. Deduction – causal relationships of one to another – has no basis in your worldview. Therefore, sense experience is intrinsically unreliable, and unaccounted for. Until it is, you can’t begin to critique another worldview, let alone advance your own.

His reply:

You see, the only thing I’m assuming is that my senses are accurate. You are assuming that your book is accurate as well. I can very easily write a novel that claims proof of existence. It’s not very hard to do.

So, you are claiming the accuracy of your senses are your epistemological justification? How would that work, as an argument, using the senses, interpreted by the mind, as the justification for being able to think? “My senses are accurate, so I can think”? If you’re talking about empiricism, I think you’re confused as to the level I’m arguing on. This is prior to, and precedes any talk of *what* we consider knowledge.

As to the “write a book to prove existence” – I’m making a serious argument. Please be good enough to offer something substantive, rather than sophmoric. Thanks.

Can you prove it? What undeniable proof– outside of the bible– do you have? Wouldn’t, if it were true, it have so much more evidence? Just the fact that it is a religion’s holy book doesn’t make it valid. Islam has a holy book. Muslims claim that Allah is their reason for existence in the same way you claim your God is.

1) Prove it – by what standard? I don’t assume we have the same standard of proof, and you shouldn’t either. We espouse antithetical worldviews – and as such, will necessarily have different standards. How is your standard of proof – which I’ve already argued you don’t have, in any intelligible sense – applicable to me? This is what I mean when I tell people they are making unargued assertions. Is it clear, by now, that you are asking me to provide that which I’ve already demonstrated you can’t even process, by your own worldview? When I make the case that you *cannot prove anything at all apart from the Triune God of Scripture* – that doesn’t mean you say “so prove it by my standards!” That means *give me a standard at all, and then we’ll talk*. If even induction is unjustified, you have no schema by which proof *can* be considered, let alone considered valid.

2) Undeniable? By what standard? Mine or yours?

3) Outside the Bible? Didn’t I already say that outside of the Biblical worldview, you can’t prove anything? Weren’t you paying attention when I said that? I wasn’t saying it rhetorically – that’s why it came accompanied by an argument. Since the unbelieving worldview cannot justify knowledge, or proof, and the Christian worldview can, the only proofs offered are those *from* the Christian worldview. So I’m not very well going to argue as an unbeliever.

4) Sure, there’s evidence. In fact, every fact whatsoever is evidence for the God of Scripture. But by whose standard? This is an argument that attacks *whether* you can know anything – so asking me to give you stuff you can know *by that impossible standard* isn’t very helpful. I don’t think you’ve grasped the nature of the argument. I’m saying that only BY my standard CAN you know anything – and your claims to the contrary are self-deceptive assertions with no basis in reality.

5) Muslims do not argue as I do. How do I know? Because I debate Muslims, as well. They have no counterpart to this argument whatsoever.

Which one am I to believe? Ooh, I know!

The one that is predominant in the region I was born in!

Well, that may be true for you. I’m from Arizona, not from the Bible Belt. I didn’t grow up Reformed, I didn’t grow up with the same faith I’m in now. I didn’t grow up with this conception, although I did grow up in a Christian home, although not a Christian myself. I had an extended bout with unbelief when I was near your age, and I was saved out of it. The consistent Christian doctrinal standard I espouse was “predominant” in the 17th and 18th centuries – in England. That’s about it. What I believe is the sole provenance of my adherence to Scripture, and the consistent application of it. So, it’s hardly an unthinking and unreasoned position I am holding. It’s not something I just “adopted” one day – but something it took me years of study to come to. Forgive me, but it seems rather brash to assume so many things about someone you don’t know very well. There is a sense in which nominative Christianity is “prevalent” in the United States – the problem is, those who actually believe what the Bible says, as I do, are a significant minority of those claiming the name of Christian. You can count out Roman Catholics (I’m a Protestant in the historic sense – Calvinistic and Reformed) you can count out Unitarians, you can count out Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Eastern Orthodoxy, and the greater part of the mainline denominations, as they do not hold to anything resembling historic Christianity. I’ve taught Church History, and it rather obvious that such is the case.

So, don’t assume. I’m not from around here, so you really don’t have that information accessible.

So, to sum up – my objection to your objection – is that without epistemic justification, you can’t *make* your objection. Since this is the case, by the impossibility of the contrary (ie: since it’s therefore impossible for the contrary to be true) your initial objection fails. To put it technically – for any x – any claim whatseover – y (The Christian Worldview, explicated within the Scripture) is the precondition for it’s intelligibility. Since ~y is demonstrated to be impossible, y is true, via the impossibility of the contrary, for any x.

Plus, on a side note, you’ve shown yourself to be far more reliant on faith, and with a less worthy object, than you could possibly assert I am. I at least have faith in an absolute. You have faith in a maybe someday – but we’re working on it. May I venture to say that atheism teaches us to be satisfied – not with an answer, but with a blind faith that there will be one someday?

My faith rests in the absolute, triune, revelatory, unchanging, eternal, sovereign, omnipotent, good, just, infinite, transcendent, and perfect God – in whom we all live, move, and have our being. Contrasted with “we’re working on it”? I know where I place my trust.

Ephesians 3:14-21 – For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; [and] that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him [be] the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

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).

A Hypothetical Apologetic?

In taking Scripture as an absolute presupposition and standard for thought, the Christian apologist ought to maintain that there are no possibilities outside of what God is and decrees to be. It is never possible for God to be other than the type of being He is portrayed to be in His self-revelation. Because he does not presuppose the certain truth of the Bible at the very start of his apologetic (de facto and in principium) Clark (a self-professed Calvinist) is willing to reduce the whole system of Christian truth revealed by God therein to a possible accident!

“Strange accidents do indeed occur, and no proof is forthcoming that the Bible is not such an accident. Unlikely, perhaps, but still possible” (“How may I know the Bible is Inspired?”, Can I Trust My Bible?, 24 Gordon Clark)

Because Clark has this illegitimate notion of possibility in his apologetical system, a notion which lies behind even his beliefs about God and God’s Word, it is inevitable that he should cease to be a genuine presuppositionalist. By not viewing the the truth of Scripture as a presupposition that that is absolutely necessary, Clark reduces the status of the Bible to a hypothesis. The truth of Scripture is not taken to be the case at the outset, so that only later are a man’s thoughts to submit to it. The Christian alternative is one of many possibilities to be explored and evaluated.

~Greg Bahnsen (Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended; ch 4, pg 146)

This is from Bahnsen’s critique of Gordon’s Clark’s putatively presuppositional apologetic. Note that he takes Clark’s ultimacy of possibility over God to be a capitulation. This is instructive.

Comprehensive Apologetics

Since neutrality is unattainable for either the unbeliever or believer, and since they have conflicting ultimate standards for judging claims to knowledge, the task of apologetics will ultimately be carried on at a presuppositional level. Contrasting worldviews are being debated. Each worldview has its presuppositions about reality, knowledge, and ethics; these mutually influence and support each other. There are no facts or uses of reason which are available outside of the interpretive system of basic commitments or assumptions which appeals to them; the presuppositions used by Christian and non-Christian determine what they will accept as factual and reasonable, and their respective presuppositions about fact and logic will determine what they say about reality. Thus there can be no direct proof offered for the truth of either perspective; direct appeals to fact and reason are emptied of argumentative strength by the opponent’s presuppositions (with which he understands and accepts facts and logic in a different light altogether). The argument between believer and unbeliever must then be indirect, admitting the impossibility of a neutral approach to reasoning and facts which allegedly outside of an interpretive system. The argument must pit the unbeliever’s system of thought as a unit over and against the believer’s system of thought as a unit. Their overall perspectives will have to contend with each other, rather than debating isolated points in a piecemeal fashion.

When the Christian sets forth his outlook he will stress the kind of God to whom he is committed, the nature of the world in relation to God, and the nature of man as God’s creature.

~Greg Bahnsen (Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended; ch 1, pgs 15-16)

Bahnsen and Bare Possibility

Historically, when David Hume and Immanuel Kant exposed the invalidity of the theistic proofs, apologists generally balked at returning to revelation as the basis for their certainty of God’s existence. They elected, rather, to maintain status in the the blinded eyes of the “worldly wise” by attempting to prove Christianity’s credibility by means of arguments that hopefully pointed toward the probability of God’s existence and Scripture’s truth. They settled for a mere presumption (plus pragmatic assurance) in favor of a few salvaged items (i.e., “fundamentals”) from the Christian system. Refusing to presuppose the sovereign God revealed in the Bible as the source of all material or logical possibility, and hence failing effectively to challenge or internally criticize the very feasibility of knowledge, logic, factuality, interpretation, or predication as based on the boasted autonomy of “free-thinkers”, apologists found their defenses razed by those who (likewise) postulated that bare possibility was a principle more ultimate than God. … By appealing to probability, apologists saw Christianity relegated to the museum of of mere religious hypotheses (i.e.. “possibilities”) rather than embraced as the actual truth of God.

~Greg Bahnsen (Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended; ch 1, pg 5)

Enough said. Don’t you think?

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