Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Cornelius Van Til and presuppositional apologetics

Here’s J.W. Wartick’s take from Always Have a Reason blog.

Excerpt:

Cornelius Van Til pioneered the field of “presuppositional apologetics” primarily through his works Christian Apologetics and The Defense of the Faith. His arguments are easily misunderstood as question begging or viciously circular. Herein, I have presented a brief outline and analysis which reveals that while the presuppositional approach may indeed have some logical faults, the overall system has a certain power to it and can be integrated into a total-apologetic system.

[…]The key to understand here is that Van Til does not accept that there is a neutral reason “out there” by which Christians and non-Christians can arbitrate the truth of Christianity; his point is that there is no neutral ground and that one’s presuppositions will determine one’s end point. Again, he writes, “this [apologetic method] implies a refusal to grant that any area or aspect of reality, any fact or any law of nature or of history, can be correctly interpreted except it be seen in the light of the main doctrines of Christianity” (Christian Apologetics, 124).

However, Van Til takes it even further and argues that one must presuppose the truth of Christianity in order to make sense of reality: ” What is the content of this presupposition, then? It is this: “I take what the Bible says about God and his relation to the universe as unquestionably true on its own authority” (The Defense of the Faith, 253); again, “The Bible is thought of as authoritative on everything of which it speaks. Moreover, it speaks of everything” (Christian Apologetics, 19). Thus, Van Til’s apologetic does not make Christianity the conclusion of an argument; rather, Christianity is the starting presupposition.

The presuppositional approach here cannot be stressed enough. For Van Til, one simply cannot grant to the non-Christian any epistemic point. “We cannot avoid coming to a clear-cut decision with respect to the question as to whose knowledge, man’s or God’s, shall be made the standard of the other. …[O]ne must be determinative and the other subordinate” (The Defense of the Faith 62-63).

What place is had for evidences in Van Til? At some points, he seems to be very skeptical of the use of Christian evidences. In particular, the fact that he argues there is no neutral evaluation grounds between the Christian and non-Christian seems to imply that  there can be no real evaluation of such arguments apart from Christianity. One of Van Til’s most famous illustrations of the use of evidences can be found in The Defense of the Faith pages 332 and following. He uses three persons, Mr. Black (non-Christian), Mr. Grey (Christian non-presuppositionalist), and Mr. White (presuppositional/reformed apologist):

Mr. Grey… says that, of course, the “rational man” has a perfect right to test the credibility of Scripture by logic… by experience… [Mr. Grey then takes Mr. Black a number of places to show him various theistic evidences. Mr. Black responds:] “you first use intellectual argument upon principles that presuppose the justice of my unbelieving position. Then when it it is pointed out to you that such is the case, you turn to witnessing [subjectively].

…At last it dawned upon Mr. White that first to admit that the principles of Mr. Black, the unbeliever, are right and then to seek to win him to the acceptance of the existence of God the Creator… is like first admitting that the United States had historically been a province of the Soviet Union but ought at the same time to be recognized as an independent and all-controlling power… If one reasons for the existence of God and for the truth of Christianity on the assumptions that Mr. Black’s principles of explanation are valid, then one must witness on the same assumption [which makes witnessing wholly subjective.] (p. 332-339)

It can be seen here that even evidences for Van Til must be based within a presupposition. There is no way to look at evidences in the abstract. One can either offer them within the presuppositions of Christianity or outside of Christianity. For Van Til, once one has agreed to offer evidences outside of Christianity, one has granted the presuppositions of the non-believer, and therefore is doomed to fail.

This would include using arguments like the cosmological argument, the fine-tuning argument, arguments from miracles, etc. – including the resurrection. That seems to be Van Til’s view. No evidence allowed – you have to presuppose Christianity is true in order to make sense of the world.

Now, I think we need to make a distinction between using questioning the pre-suppositions of our opponents, as with William Lane’s Craig’s moral argument, Plantinga’s epistemological argument for reason and Menuge’s ontological argument for reason. There are arguments for theism that question the pre-suppositions of an atheist. Certainly, non-theists cannot ground things like morality, free will, consciousness and rationality on atheism. But that’s not what Van Til is saying. He says that an atheist cannot be swayed by evidence unless he first becomes a Christian. I.e. – he is saying that atheist Anthony Flew is lying when he says that evidence caused him to turn to believe in God. On Van Til’s view, that’s impossible.

My view of presuppositional apologetics is that is as a system, it is circular reasoning. It assumes Christianity in order to prove Christianity. But there is an even worse problem with it. It’s not a Biblical way of doing apologetics. It’s man’s way of doing apologetics, not God’s. I think that the best way to understand Van Til’s apologetics is by saying that it really just a sermon disguised as apologetics. The problem is that Van Til’s sermon has no basis in the Bible. Wherever he is getting his view from, it’s not from the Bible. When I look the Bible, I don’t see any Biblical support for the view that pre-suppositional apologetics is the only approved way of defending the faith. Instead, the standard method seems to be evidentialism.

In Romans 1, Paul writes that people can learn about God’s existence from the natural world.

Romans 1:18-23:

18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,

19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.

20For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools

23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

And in Acts, Peter appeals to eyewitness testimony for the resurrection, and Jesus’ miracles.

Acts 2:22-24, and 36:

22“Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.

23This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.

24But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

And finally from the same chapter:

36“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

Professor Clay Jones of Biola University makes the case that the use of evidence when preaching the gospel was standard operating procedure in the early church. (H/T Apologetics 315)

Intro:

In 1993 I started working for Simon Greenleaf University (now Trinity Law School) which offered an M.A. in Christian apologetics (Craig Hazen was the director). Much of my job was to promote the school and although I had studied Christian apologetics since my sophomore year in high school, I decided I needed to see whether an apologetic witness had strong Biblical precedence.

It does.

As I poured through the Scripture I found that Jesus and the apostles preached the resurrection of Christ as the sign of the truth of Christianity.

What follows are some of the passages which support the resurrection witness.

Here is my favorite verse from his massive list list of verses in favor of the evidential approach to Christian apologetics:

Mat. 12:39-40: A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Jesus is saying that the resurrection was deliberately given as a sign to unbelievers to convince them. (“The Sign of Jonah” = the resurrection)

So, I see that God uses nature and miracles to persuade, which can be assessed using scientific and historical methods. Can anyone find me a clear statement in the Bible that states that only pre-suppositional arguments should be used? I could be wrong, and I am willing to be proven wrong. I think we should use the Biblical method of apologetics, not the fallen man’s method of apologetics.

UPDATE: Excellent apologetics blog Triablogue has responded to my post.

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39 Responses

  1. Tom says:

    WK,
    How much reading on presuppositionalism have you done? Who have you read besides those who have critiqued it?

    I think you may need to read a bit more to more fully understand it. Here are some links:

    http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/03/11/fides-quaerens-intellectum-what-is-presuppositionalism/

    http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/03/13/answering-objections-to-presuppositionalism/

    http://www.thirdmill.org/files/english/html/pt/PT.h.Frame.Presupp.Apol.1.html

    http://www.thirdmill.org/files/english/html/pt/PT.h.Frame.Presupp.Apol.2.html

    http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2008/08/thinking-biblically-basic-introduction.html

    http://graceinthetriad.blogspot.com/2012/04/presuppositionalism-in-action.html

    The last link has an example of presuppositional apologetics in action. Additionally, have you seen the documentary “Collision” with Doug Wilson and Christopher Hitchens? Wilson also uses presuppositional apologetics in this.

    • SLIMJIM says:

      WinteryKnight,
      I think the discussion here has been great and your interaction wonderful. If more Christians can disagree in a godly matter like what is shown here. That alone leaves me much encouraged. Adding to the wonderful links Tom provided, I would throw this in as well: http://thirdmill.org/newfiles/jim_li/jim_li.vantil.pdf
      I thought I shared that since I see the discussion has ended up focusing a lot on evidence and presuppositions, and thought the article might show how a Presuppositionalist might practically go about applying presuppositionalism when it comes to the role of philosophy of evidence and evidence itself.
      Let me know what you think WK and Tom.

      • If you read the quotes of Van Til in the comments on Triablogue, he is definitely bad, but not as bad as I made him out to be. He is ok with using historical arguments, but apparently not other arguments. He seems to think that people should know the evidence for historical arguments. Still, I find his views disturbing to some degree.

  2. Stan says:

    Just a helpful FYI here. Using Christianity to prove Christianity is not “self-refuting”. It’s circular. Different fallacy.

    Oh, and while I’m certainly not a fan of presuppositional apologetics, you have to admit that God used it. “In the beginning, God …” An assumed presupposition without evidence or argument. :)

  3. G. Kyle Essary says:

    Hey WK,
    Have you read much of what van Til actually said? I think many of his online followers and critics largely misunderstand him.

    Let me share what I think are a few misunderstandings in this post, and hopefully dissuade a few readers from exporting these misunderstandings. But first let me clarify that many who claim to represent VT online are largely ignorant of what he actually said and have just read about TAG online, or through Bahnsen videos…and misunderstand it as well:

    1. VT was not against using evidences. He was against the claim that there is a neutral reasoning or epistemology from which to assess those evidences. There are a series of VT lectures on iTunes where he goes through the history of philosophy that are really interesting. If you get a chance, you might want to listen to them. He had a strong awareness of the arguments and how to use them. He knew and proclaimed the arguments for the resurrection with regularity (even in a few of his works).

    2. VT wasn’t trying to “prove” Christianity. He was trying to defend it against attacks from within and without the church. As a Reformed theologian, he saw salvation as the complete act of God in a sinners heart in response to the proclamation of the gospel. God may use friends, evidence, sermons, reading, nature or whatever else, but ultimately it is the work of the Holy Spirit that draws and gives the gift of faith to the person. Therefore, he saw evangelism much the same as the rest of us, but his particular contribution to apologetics was more defense oriented.

    Let me try to explain the heart of what he is saying (both in the quote above and elsewhere in his works).

    Whenever you and I look at a blade of grass, we see something very different than Buddhist friends, Atheist friends, etc. We see a clear evidence for the nature of God in the beauty, design, complexity, etc. of the blade of grass. They don’t. To put it into Plantingan language, their cognitive faculties are not properly functioning (don’t forget that while there are some differences, AP and VT both studied under Jellemma and are very close in perspective). But why not? According to both VT and AP, it’s because of the cognitive affects of sin on their minds. Their “hearts have become darkened” and their “thinking has become futile.” We can try to work against those presuppositions that are blinding them from seeing the beauty, design, etc. but ultimately the reasons they are rejecting such a view are core epistemological beliefs. Their understanding of reality is totally different than ours. Dawkins looks like it and says it just gives the false “appearance of design.”

    So how can we proceed? We both see the same evidences, but in a radically different perspective. I look at the human genome and see a complex and rather obvious evidence of design. They look at it and see a bulk of “junk” with a few remaining functional sections that have led to a flawed appearance of design.

    This is where VT enters the discussion. He argues that instead of stepping into their perspective at this point and arguing via, “no, you see, this actually isn’t junk but might have some higher purpose,” won’t win the person to Christ. Ultimately, the core presupposition that leads to such a belief will still leave them blind in other areas even if we are correct on that point.

    What he argues is first and foremost that their position is not neutral. They have to understand that they have core presuppositions that are shaping their view, and it is at that point that the antithesis between their core beliefs and reality needs to be pressed. We need to press the discrepancies between their core beliefs and how they are reasoning and experiencing reality. The goal at this point is to show them how their worldview cannot support the very things they are claiming about reality. This is not different from AP’s EAAN. His argument is that their worldview (Naturalism and Evolution) cannot produce true knowledge and undercuts their entire worldview. They have to borrow beliefs from our worldview in order to instantiate their own. Thus, they need order and a standard for truth production before things can even get off the ground. Therefore, they have no epistemological basis for their attacks against Christianity.

    VT would use the illustration of a child who has to crawl into his father’s lap in order to slap him in the face. She can’t hit him without first sitting in his lap. They can’t argue against the rationality of Christianity without first assuming certain aspects of Christianity (that their worldview can’t support) are true.

    He isn’t arguing against using evidence, but instead arguing that unbelievers have core presuppositions that are blinding them from seeing their folly. Therefore, instead of assuming their worldview to argue against them (acting as though their worldview is a neutral ground for argument), we should instead show how they are, at their core, assuming the truth of Christian beliefs in order to argue against it.

    I hope that helps in understanding his perspective better. You might look into John Frame’s “Apologetics to the Glory of God,” that has long discussions on the use of evidences in VT. Blessings in Christ.

  4. G. Kyle Essary says:

    To illustrate the points I made above, I once had an online argument with an atheist back in the days of message boards. I spent pages and pages arguing for the resurrection from all sorts of facts. At the end of the debate, he said, “It appears from all the evidence presented that the most rational decision is that Jesus rose bodily from the dead, and hopefully science will one day explain how he did it.”

    The core presupposition was so strong that even though I had argued persuasively that “Jesus rose from the dead,” I was nowhere closer to showing that “Jesus died for our sins.” Does that help any in understanding why VT holds his position?

    • I think it’s good to do what you did. Give him the evidence, and then point out his presuppositions that block going where the evidence leads, and ask him to justify them. I think that people understand when their presuppositions (e.g. naturalism) lead them to absurdities (e.g. they think that the universe is eternal in spite of what science has shown, because they are committed to naturalism). I think that when you present evidence, it is a powerful way of shedding light on presuppositions. What I reject is the rejection of the use of evidence.

      • Mark says:

        “What I reject is the rejection of the use of evidence.”

        Kyle points out, and anyone who has read Van Til or Bahnsen knows this, that they do not reject evidence. What they do say is this: To allow that there is a POSSIBILITY that they (the atheist) could be accurately reasoning and judging the evidence, whether God exists or not, is to lose the game in the first move. You should make them work through the REALLY tough question of why they profess one thing (chance/chaos/amorality at bottom) but presuppose another in their everyday life (uniformity of nature/reliability of senses and reason/objective morality). This is the assured win; the evidence is the slo-mo reply of the touchdown from another angle.

        You’re missing out on a powerful apologetic, Wintery. Love the site and your work, all the same. Keep it up.

        • Yes, I see the value of questioning presuppositions, and I do, but I think that people can and do overturn presuppositions when the evidence is heavy enough. No naturalist likes to be told that they think the universe popped into being uncaused out of nothing by the power of nothing. Yet that is what the uniformity of nature/reliability of senses tells them.

          In short, I think that the evidence makes their presuppositions look stupid, and that’s what we should use evidence for. We shouldn’t say that you can presuppose naturalism and that this is a fine framework in which to interpret evidence like the Big Bang. The Big Bang destroys the pre-suppositions. Anyone who clings to the pre-supposition in the teeth of the scientific evidence (I am fine with uniformitarianism and reliability of the senses) will look like a fool. Or, to use a Biblical phrase, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Rom 1:20). A non-Christian can pre-suppose whatever they want, but if the evidence is good, anyone open-minded will see that the pre-supposition is overturned by the evidence.

          Also, throwing Christianity in the face of an unbeliever is, I think, making it harder for them to convert. Instead of leading with Christianese, as Van Til does, we should lead with science and history and logic, and then point out how the person’s pre-suppositions prevent them from accepting the most rational explanations for the things that we can see.

          • Mark says:

            Yes, I understand what you’re saying, and there is much that I agree with. In fact, much of the argument in this thread may be a slight confusion between logical priority and chronological priority. Van Til was always pressing those sneaky, logically prior (or even pre-rational) assumptions that were being made on either side.

            Take the Big Bang example you mentioned. An atheist could, and many have, come up with elaborate ways of reading this evidence to fit the direction their will is pulling them (it is very much a part of Van Til’s technique to keep front-and-center the moral failings of man and their affect upon reason and will). They can simply draw a different frame around the facts – the philosophy, the metaphysics, is always the soup that the ‘raw facts’ swim in and receive their identity or location from.

            However, if we look at this soup (which, as you rightly point out, they will change when the facts don’t match) and show that ANY other soup, no matter which one they turn to, will not and cannot work, and that only the theistic worldview can account for ALL of our daily experiences, actions, reasonings, moral judgments, loves, fears, hopes….then, and only then, will they have nowhere else to turn but silence or self-deception or rage.

            Then you’re really holding up the mirror to show how twisted and ugly the atheist worldview is – gently, compassionately, but without concession. You may or may not have changed their heart (God’s choice), but you will have protected those teetering believers or curious non-believers listening in, by (figuratively speaking) closing your interlocutor’s mouth. This way he does not get the free pass to muddy the waters with a discussion bogged down in the minutae of recent natural science.

            With, say, natural scientific evidence, it’s always provisional and there is the fear that the next discovery may make your faith wobble. Same with historical evidence. Van Til’s argument persuaded me (once a very liberal, skeptical, Christian-in-name-only) that there was certainty about the ‘strong wine’ version of the faith. That it was God or Nothing.

            Thanks for your response. Good thread.

          • Then you’re really holding up the mirror to show how twisted and ugly the atheist worldview is – gently, compassionately, but without concession. You may or may not have changed their heart (God’s choice), but you will have protected those teetering believers or curious non-believers listening in, by (figuratively speaking) closing your interlocutor’s mouth. This way he does not get the free pass to muddy the waters with a discussion bogged down in the minutae of recent natural science.

            That’s it precisely. It’s not my job to convince people, that’s the work of the Holy Spirit. I think that open-mined people benefit from hearing evidence presented and presuppositions questioned.

  5. J.W. Wartick says:

    I think I am a bit less critical of the presuppositional approach than you (though I imagine the average presuppositionalist would be extremely critical of my own approach). I did, however, appreciate your discussion here.

    I read a book which argued that Van Til was less anti-evidence as some have said, but that book seemed to still make the case that his overall system cannot use evidence as it seems to be used in some passages in Scripture.

    You wrote, “He says that an atheist cannot be swayed by evidence unless he first becomes a Christian. I.e. – he is saying that atheist Anthony Flew is lying when he says that evidence caused him to turn to believe in God. On Van Til’s view, that’s impossible.”

    I’m not sure this would follow from Van Til’s view. I think what he would say is that Flew was still operating within the wrong presuppositions because he didn’t fully embrace Christianity before he died [?]. Flew, Van Til would say, knew God existed but suppressed that knowledge. He [Flew] became inconsistent with his own presuppositions by accepting some of the evidences, which themselves showed Flew that his own worldview was bankrupt. Van Til does say that the evidences have power and are correct; but only within a certain worldview.

    Have you yourself read some Van Til? I think that his discussion of evidences in “The Defense of the Faith” does leave some room for the use of evidences. But again, these all must be understood within one’s point of view.

    I think that the presuppositional approach has significant power. It does not have as much as some of its supporters think it does, but when utilized along with an evidential/classical approach I think it can be extremely powerful. Let me know what you think.

    • I think that the presuppositional approach has significant power. It does not have as much as some of its supporters think it does, but when utilized along with an evidential/classical approach I think it can be extremely powerful. Let me know what you think.

      We agree!

      Here’s what I wrote at Triablogue:

      I do think that it is important to address presuppositions like naturalism when discussing science and history, with naturalists like Peter Atkins and John Dominic Crossan. It’s important to get them to admit they are evaluating the evidence with these presuppositions in place. I think it’s good, but I think that it is also good having addressed that to go ahead and present the evidence which should cause them to question their presuppositions. So I guess I would say that my view is that evidence can cause people to overturn presuppositions, and that it is important to address presuppositions when presenting evidence. What I oppose is not presenting any evidence at all. I like presuppositional arguments in combination with evidence, but not presuppositionalism that excludes the use of evidence like miracles.

  6. SLIMJIM says:

    Hey WK,
    I’ve been wondering after all these years, where does Van Til actually deny the use of evidence in Christian apologetics? I’m just curious because I hear people say this so often. I think he might be against a certain form of Evidentalism but not against Christian evidences per se. I do think there is a distinction to be made between the two. Anyways, I appreciate much of what you have done in contributing to Internet apologetics.

  7. “My view of presuppositional apologetics is that is as a system, it is circular reasoning. It assumes Christianity in order to prove Christianity.”

    To be fair, I think many presuppositionalists would typically adopt the line, “The proof of Christianity is that, if Christianity were false, it would be impossible to prove anything.” I actually think that claim is too strong; I’d prefer to run with, “The proof of theism is that, if theism were false, it would be impossible to prove anything.”

    “When I look the Bible, I don’t see any Biblical support for the view that pre-suppositional apologetics is the only approved way of defending the faith. Instead, the standard method seems to be evidentialism.”

    Take Acts 17.26–28, a section of Paul’s Areopagus speech:

    “And he [God] made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way towards him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’”

    Note Paul’s point there: God has created people to seek and find him; he’s not far off; people can only live and move and have their being because God exists; and even the pagan philosophers and poets already recognise this.

    (That said, while I’ve come to prefer the presuppositional approach, I don’t think “presuppositional apologetics is the only approved way of defending the faith.”)

  8. TMD says:

    What if Van Til is wrong? I think a form of Pascal’s Wager can be applied against Van Til’s position on this basis. If he is right, then nothing we say can make a relevant difference in someone’s beliefs regarding theological matters. Therefore, the evidentialist and presuppositionalist are in the same boat. Neither is more effective in arguing someone into salvation. Therefore, it does not really matter which one you use.

    If Van Til is wrong, however, then we are cheating ourselves out of a more effective apologetic. Perhaps unbelievers are willing to change their minds if the evidence is good enough. If that this the case, then we are losing people we could have saved because of our faulty apologetic methodology.

    You might be able to advance anecdotal evidence that people will not be convinced to believe the Christian position on the basis of evidence. I can provide exactly the same anecdotal evidence that people are not open to change their political and economic views for exactly the same reason.

    • I wrote this at Triablogue, TMD:

      I do think that it is important to address presuppositions like naturalism when discussing science and history, with naturalists like Peter Atkins and John Dominic Crossan. It’s important to get them to admit they are evaluating the evidence with these presuppositions in place. I think it’s good, but I think that it is also good having addressed that to go ahead and present the evidence which should cause them to question their presuppositions. So I guess I would say that my view is that evidence can cause people to overturn presuppositions, and that it is important to address presuppositions when presenting evidence. What I oppose is not presenting any evidence at all. I like presuppositional arguments in combination with evidence, but not presuppositionalism that excludes the use of evidence like miracles.

  9. Here’s yet another long form rebuttal of me:

    http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2012/07/wintery-knight-on-van-til.html

    From Triablogue!

  10. TMD says:

    I agree with John Loftus on presuppositional apologetics. “One simply cannot presuppose the truths of disputable historical events prior to investigating whether or not those events actually took place and keep a straight face.”

    As long as we have common ground with unbelievers, we can use that common ground to conduct evidentialist apologetics. The existence or non-existence of neutral facts is irrelevant.

    • Tom says:

      TMD,
      I’m just curious: what presuppositionalists have you actually read? I can see that you have read critics of presuppositionalists but it doesn’t seem you’ve given a fair reading to actual presuppositionalists. Am I correct in that assessment?

    • J.W. Wartick says:

      I think this is the main failing of presuppositional apologetics: it presupposes too broadly. Instead, I think, it should argue more narrowly that one can presuppose certain epistemological functions in order to argue from there. In other words, Plantinga’s notion of warrant/proper function can be seen as a type of presuppositional argument that doesn’t fall victim to the most obvious objections.

      • G. Kyle Essary says:

        In reality, I think this is what presuppositionalists do in practice (Plantinga included). The unbeliever assaults the reliability of the Bible, and instead of arguing from that standpoint, they argue what epistemological basis they have for knowing truth/falsity, rationality/irrationality, etc.

        Honestly, most presuppers that I know will start their discussions with atheists in particular by jumping into some version of the EAAN or AoR, which both undercut the core presuppositions of the unbeliever and attack their ability to make rational arguments apart from theistic beliefs.

        • G. Kyle Essary says:

          I think one of the core areas of disagreement is between what presuppers and evidentially claim the unbeliever knows apart from special revelation in their createdness, and of course what they do with that knowledge. Is their createdness sufficient to allow them to reason toward God, or has the fall so corrupted their cognitive faculties that they will only and always suppress that knowledge? What does Scripture say?

          • J.W. Wartick says:

            Right! I think this is perhaps the most important area of discussion: what is the unbeliever capable of knowing? I just finished Bahnsen’s work, “Presuppositional apologetics” and he is very insistent that we presuppose the whole of Scripture and not grant any ground aside from that.

            However, in practice it seems that it would be possible on his approach to utilize the “borrowed capital” the unbeliever has epistemologically. and then use an evidentialist approach. of course, then there is little to distinguish an evidential from a presuppositional apologetic.

          • G. Kyle Essary says:

            Exactly. I don’t think that Frame would disagree with that either. Show that they have no ground to stand on, and then show what the evidence looks like standing on a proper grounding.

  11. G. Kyle Essary says:

    TMD,
    I don’t know your worldview, but from a Christian perspective old Lofty’s quote is incorrect. None of us are assessing the evidence from outside a theological perspective. We all bring our worldview to bear on the data, and it shapes how we see things. It even shapes how we reason.

    You either take every thought captive to Christ in your argumentation and reasoning or you do not. In your defense of the faith, you either set apart Christ as Lord, or you do not. These bear on how you assess evidence. To paraphrase Kuyper, there is not one inch of creation that Christ does not claim as his own. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and we cannot pretend that he is not when making arguments. We cannot “suppress the truth” along with unbelievers in order to appeal to their line of reasoning. To do so would be unfaithful to Christ. The reality of Christ’s authority bears upon every fact of existence. Believers and unbelievers do not see even a blade of grass from the same perspective. We two different ontologies. Christians see it as created by the Triune God, and unbelievers do not.

    Thus, Loftus’s quote is clearly incorrect from a Christian perspective:

    Christianity believes that God reveals things to his people such that they can know them for certain. This is basic Christian theology. Whereas, you can make evidentialist arguments for the reliability of Scripture, they are insufficient for faith. The “Spirit of God only, bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in our hearts, is able fully to persuade us that the Bible is the Word of God.” (Westminster Larger Catechism).

    As Christians, most of us knew God’s word to be true long before we had any knowledge of arguments in its favor. We knew it to be true by the witness of the Holy Spirit. Thus, whenever we assessed the evidence, we did so through the lens of faith which enabled us to see how it confirms the truths that we already knew.

    What common ground you believe that we have with unbelievers? To quote Paul, “what communion does light have with darkness?” (2nd Corinthians 6:14). What effect did the fall have on our cognitive faculties? These questions are essential to our apologetics. If we are not showing Christ to be Lord in our argumentation, if we even put “God in the dock” to quote C.S. Lewis, then how can we ask others to submit to Him as Lord?

    • TMD says:

      The common ground we have with unbelievers is quite large. We believe George Washington was the first President of the United States. We believe that water is made of hydrogen and oxygen. We believe that 1+1=2. We believe that the education system in the United States could be better, that bananas are not the atheist’s worst nightmare, that playing a shooter with a keyboard and mouse is different than playing it with a video game controller, etc.

      WHY we believe such things, or what justification we have for believing such things is absolutely irrelevant to this discussion. The fact that we both believe these things can be used as common ground to construct an argument. We need not begin our argumentation with premises that the other side does not take to be true. That is called begging the question, and it is a logical fallacy.

      • G. Kyle Essary says:

        This is simply incorrect. You neither believe the same things, nor believe them in the same way. Let’s take my favorite of your examples; the difference between playing a shooter with a keyboard and mouse versus a controller.

        Of course, on one level we have radically different beliefs about the nature of the keyboard and mouse. Christians see it as made of matter sustained by Christ, created by humans evidencing the image of God through their creative processes, etc. But even in the different between the two styles of playing, making an argument that a keyboard is preferable requires the use of induction, which unbelieving worldviews cannot account for. It requires uniformity of experience between you and the person you are attempting to convince. It requires the world to be intelligible, rational and so on and so forth. Understanding the different in the experience presupposes a ton of prior beliefs that are not neutral.

        Now, you and the unbeliever may both hold that a proposition is true, but you are holding its truthfulness in a different way due to your presuppositions. In fact, presuppositionalists nowhere deny that unbelievers truly know things or know true things. The denial is that they know them apart from their theology. Presuppositionalists want to press the antithesis between what they know to be true about God and his world (because God has revealed it to all men) and how they live or what they say they believe. There is a tension between what they say about reality, and the truth of reality and this antithesis must be pressed.

        What do you see as the role of the Holy Spirit in salvation? Do you hold that the Spirit must open a believers heart to understand the things of God? I have no doubt that people can come to believe in a god via reason…Anthony Flew is an example…but Flew didn’t believe in God, he believed that in the existence of a god, and Christians would call that god an idol. His rationalistic god couldn’t save, couldn’t speak, didn’t reveal Himself to humanity, etc.

        • TMD says:

          If I affirm a proposition P
          and the unbeliever affirms the proposition P
          then we have a common belief, P.
          That’s called common ground.

          Anything beyond this is a red herring.

          Whether there are any neutral facts is irrelevant.
          Whether induction requires belief in God is irrelevant.
          Whether we hold truthfulness in different ways is irrelevant.
          Whether we agree on why the controller and mouse are here is irrelevant.
          Whether one is superior to the other is irrelevant.
          Whether we agree on what they are composed of is irrelevant.
          Whether this belief conflicts with other beliefs either of us hold is irrelevant.
          Whether we experience the keyboard and mouse in the same way is irrelevant.
          How we justify a belief is irrelevant.

          In fact, I have mentioned before that “As long as we have common ground with unbelievers, we can use that common ground to conduct evidentialist apologetics. The existence or non-existence of neutral facts is irrelevant.”

          You then fire back with: “Understanding the different in the experience presupposes a ton of prior beliefs that are not neutral.”

          WHAT DID I JUST GET DONE SAYING??? This is why I hate Internet discussions. I word an argument carefully enough to avoid various stock objections, and still receive those same stock objections anyway, because nobody seems to listen.

      • G. Kyle Essary says:

        As a side note, that’s not what it means to beg the question. It doesn’t mean we “begin our argumentation with premises that the other side does not take to be true.”

        It simply means smuggling the conclusion into one of the premises of my argument. Let me give an example; God is a faithful God, because God cannot be unfaithful. There is no need for the “because,” because I’m saying the same thing. My conclusion is in my premise.

        You can see some good examples here to get a better understanding: http://www.fallacyfiles.org/begquest.html

        • TMD says:

          You are confusing begging the question with circular reasoning. The fallacy of petitio principii, or “begging the question”, is committed when a proposition which requires proof is assumed without proof.

          Circular reasoning, on the other hand, is when the only valid reason for believing one of the premises is that you already believe the conclusion.

  12. TMD says:

    Kyle, the historical event of Jesus’ resurrection is just as essential to the Christian worldview as the existence of the triune God. Do you honestly think that you have to believe in this resurrection in order to know anything? If not, then presuppositionalism fails.

    • Mark says:

      The problem, TMD, is that a smart atheist will say “Sure, maybe a man rose from the dead. Weird things happen every day. Now tell me how that proves your God?”. Next, you’ll be bogged down in a debate over sources, accumulated legends – and still you will have left COMPLETELY UNTOUCHED, the foundations of his skepticism. With his presuppositions, the idea that the resurrection happened at all, let alone the leap to its proving the existence of the God of the Bible, is so completely contrary to his broader worldview, that stepping into his worldview in order to debate will only convince him all the more that he is quite correct and that the theist is on very flimsy ground.

      The reason I stress that you will have left his foundations untouched is because, frankly, this is where he is weakest and can be brought face-to-face with the utter absurdity of the naturalist presuppositions. It is at that point that someone previously convinced of a naturalist, secularist worldview MIGHT start to see that the resurrection is not so crazy at all, if indeed theism MUST be true to make ANY SENSE of any part of human experience.

      Where you argue that we do have common ground with the non-believer, you are quite right in one way, but wrong with regard to the presuppositionalist’s contention. The presuppositional debater will say “Yes, they do accept laws of logic, mathematics etc., but this is revealing given that their PROFESSED PRESUPPOSITIONS do not give a ground for such trust, given their view of what a human is, what the brain is, its place in a universe of matter in motion. Hence, their professed presupp’s are not in line with their day-to-day behavior. They reveal that they are, in fact, deceiving themselves and SUPPRESSING the truth that they, on some level, know full well”.

      • TMD says:

        Mark, your whole post is beside the point.

        1. Presuppositional apologetics requires presupposing the Christian worldview, contending that apart from it, you cannot prove anything.

        2. Historical events like the kingship of David, the existence of ancient Israel, the governorship of Pilate, etc., are as much a part of the Christian worldview as its theological truths.

        3. Therefore, if the contentions of presuppositionalists are correct, then apart from belief in the kingship of David and the governorship of Pilate, you cannot prove anything.

        4. But such a contention is absolutely crackpot insane.

        Presuppositionalists like Greg Bahnsen can bring a lot of good research to the table, but his overall method is simply flawed in that regard.

        The minute you have to bring evidences for any part of the Christian worldview, such as the reliability of the biblical text, you are no longer engaging in presuppositionalism. The minute you simply presuppose falsifiable historical claims prior to investigation is the minute you quit doing serious apologetics.

        At that point, you might as well just throw Chick tracts at people while shouting “Jesus loves you.” It’s about equally reasonable.

        • Mark says:

          Just to be clear: I have great respect for evidential apologetics and I consider them extremely important. Bahnsen and Van Til said the same thing – I have tapes of them saying those very words to their classes. The two methods are not at war, but one is certainly more foundational than the other. Philosophy is surely foundational, no?

          What I was trying to say was this: What is more fundamentally challenging and potentially life-changing to a materialist atheist – showing him that ‘most scholars’ agree that A, B and C event happened, or showing him that his view of the universe and himself leaves him without any ground for reason (which he must use to make his assertions with the conviction that they may be true), for morality (which he must use every time he judges that we ought not to believe Christianity, but ought to believe his worldview), for the uniformity of nature (which he must place his trust in every second of every day)? It is mind-boggling to me that Christians who want to present the case for theism get so riled about this. It should be celebrated. If you don’t like Van Til, check out C. S. Lewis doing it in Miracles. Or Victor Reppert’s book.

          The kingship of David is certainly part of the Christian story, but to try and put it on a par with the fact of God’s existence shows a monstrous misunderstanding of the presuppositional method. The kingship of David could have been otherwise. It is a part of the story that God could have written differently. But to argue as if the unbeliever MAY be able to trust his reason, whether God exists or not, is just as crazy as to argue about the ethics of abortion with an atheist without asking how they ground their morality. That argument is used repeatedly on this site by evidentialists, and yet when the argument from reason comes up, people get upset. Why? It’s as simple as ‘No God, no morality’. No God, no reason, no logic, no certainty that any part of our experience is in any way accurate.

          As for the horror of circularity – how do you prove the accuracy of reason without presupposing it? And mathematics? I remember Bill Craig using that example of things that must be presupposed (among others) on Peter Atkins.

          As a side note on whether the method is in scripture. Does the Bible not ALWAYS presuppose God’s existence? Bahnsen wrote an entire chapter in ‘Always Ready’ about Paul’s use of presuppositional method at Mars Hill. That’s surely pertinent, even if you disagree with him.

    • G. Kyle Essary says:

      There is a big difference in believing that the historical event of Jesus’s resurrection happened, and believing in it for salvation. There is a big difference between believing that Jesus died, and believing that Jesus died for our sins.

      I told a story above about whenever I was persuaded by evidentialist apologetics and reasoned a person online into believing that the resurrection happened. They happily believed it, and thought that someday science might explain how it happened. Pinchas Lapide believed that the resurrection happened in history, and continued being a faithful Jew apart from believing in Jesus. Knowledge of the resurrection saves nobody.

      Believing that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and rose for our justification requires the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. This is why evidentialist apologetics fails. It relies on the fallen reason of humanity, and humans in their suppression of the truth will do anything to disbelieve apart from the Holy Spirit’s work in their heart. Thus, you can give them all the evidence that the world has to offer, but they will only turn away from it or believe ridiculous things about it in order to deny the truth. That’s why Paul at Athens appealed not to the evidence for God’s existence, but to the reality that they already knew God and were denying him through their spiritual worship of created things. If given the opportunity, our hearts will always turn to idols.

      • Just to be clear, Pinchas Lapide things that the resurrection happened as a historical fact and that belief in it is sufficient for salvation for all non-Jews.

        Anyway, I will ONLY be approving comments that are are on the topic of the post, which is that there is no CLEAR evidence that pre-suppositionalism is the primary approach used by people in the Bible. I think that Christians need to root their approach to evangelism in the example of Jesus, as well as the other evangelists, and that approach is universally evidential. There is no attempt at pre-suppositional apologetics in the Bible, that is fallen man’s attempt to construct a man-made approach to apologetics that is in opposition to what the Bible teaches.

  13. Sinned Nellum says:

    It has always seemed to me that Jesus was a pre-suppositionalist. He used circular reason. He believed He was sent by the Father. He pre-supposed the sin in everyones life. John Frame in the Doctrine of God and in other writings, shows that circular reasoning is unavoidable in any system.

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