Dear Justin Edwards

I am going to respond to this comment by Justin Edwards – http://airocross.com/2014/02/07/dear-presuppositionalist/#comment-9130 His words are in italics.

Hi Neil, thanks for the comment. I don’t think the issue is never using evidences, but never using evidences to prove God to an unbeliever, as Romans 1 already affirms their knowledge of Him.

Justin is not clear on what he means by “prove.” He is not clear what he means by “knowledge.” Romans 1 may refer to potential or actual knowledge of God. These qualms I will set aside. Unfortunately, Justin rests his entire case on evidences later on in his comment, citing evidence from textual criticism as reason to deny Islam. I will set this observation aside as well and focus instead on a recurring problem amongst “presuppositionalists.”

Perhaps you have seen this before, but I have found it to be helpful (unsure of author):

Unbeliever: Why can’t some other “god” be the necessary staring point?
Christian: Cause there are no other gods.

Presumably, the Christian has already made a case for God through the so-called “TAG.” Now, the unbeliever asks a perfectly reasonable question pertaining to TAG. That is, why this particular God and not another? Unfortunately, Justin does not offer a valid answer for the unbeliever. He simply assumes there are no other gods. The basis for his assumption is the existence of God. Yet it’s the existence of God that the unbeliever is questioning. So Justin’s response lands him in a vicious circle.

U: How do you know that?
C: Cause God tells us: “For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the
Lord made the Heavens” Psalm 96:5

Here’s the trouble. The Christian is making a case for the existence of God. The Christian says God is “the necessary starting point.” When the unbeliever asks why another god cannot be the necessary starting point, the Christian merely asserts that God says otherwise. However, the existence of God is what is in question. In answering the unbeliever, the Christian assumes the very thing he has set out to “prove,” that is, the existence of God. This is a simple case of begging the question.

U: What about the gods of the other religions.
C: They don’t exist.

Again, Justin is free to assert that the gods of other religions don’t exist, but he has not shown it. He is resting his case on the existence of God, when that is what he is hoping to show. This sort of reasoning is not clever or cute, it’s just bad.

U: But other people believe that other gods exist.
C: I would argue that they don’t, as Scripture teaches us that they are
“suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.”

I wish he would argue! Instead, he continues to make assertions based upon the existence of God which he has yet to prove.

U: Could you demonstrate why Allah or Vishnu couldn’t be the necessary
starting point?
C: Sure, cause God tells us they don’t exist.

Again, this is not a “demonstration” at all. Rather, it is an assertion. It is an assertion without any backing, other than the assumption of the existence of God. It’s fine and dandy to assume and assert the existence of God, of course, but don’t offer mere assumption and assertion in lieu of an argument and then call that apologetics. That’s not helpful to the Christian cause, and it’s certainly not persuasive.

U: But their “holy” books would argue that your God doesn’t exist, how would
you deal with them?
Christian: Which one do you believe?

The way the Christian is about to “deal with them” is by not dealing with them at all.

U: None of them.
C: Then there is no sense arguing about them. We could also sit here and
argue whether or not the moon is made of green cheese, but since neither of
us believe that it would be a waste of time.

Actually, there is plenty of sense arguing about them, but the gung-ho presupper of doom is too naïve to spot why. Let’s take it from the top. The Christian has no doubt offered some claim about God being “the necessary starting point.” Necessary. Now, necessary means no other “starting point” is even possible. When the Christian makes that sort of claim concerning necessity, he bears the burden of proof in refuting all possible contenders. That means actually dealing with other “holy” books. The unbeliever is not being the nitwit here. He is requesting the Christian to make good on his earlier claim. Unfortunately, the Christian has written a check he cannot cash. The unbeliever is politely calling his bluff, and the Christian is dodging the question.

U: Surely you have heard of positing hypotheticals to disprove a claim?
C: Yes, that would make sense in other instances but we are talking about
the necessary starting point to make sense of argumentation, so it would not
make sense argue from a position that you don’t believe.

Positing hypotheticals would make sense in this instance as well. The reason the Christian offers as to why positing hypotheticals would not make sense in this instance is no reason at all. Yes, we are supposedly talking about “the necessary starting point to make sense of argumentation.” The Christian has asserted (repeatedly) that this starting point is God. It follows that the onus is on the Christian to support his claim. What does not follow is what the Christian is saying here. Take another look at how bad the reasoning process is in the following:

Positing hypotheticals to disprove a claim makes sense in some instances.

In this instance we are talking about the necessary starting point to make sense of argumentation.

Therefore, it does not make sense to posit hypotheticals in this instance.

Huh? Why not? How does that conclusion follow from the premises at all? It doesn’t. Let’s remember that the Christian has stated God is the necessary starting point to make sense of argumentation. The unbeliever has posited hypotheticals (which in this instance are also actuals) in order to see the Christian make good on his claim. Again, the claim in question, the claim to necessity, merits the request to see the refutation of all possible contenders. It does not follow that the unbeliever needs to explicitly hold any one of them. It also does not follow from the fact that the unbeliever does not explicitly hold to any one of them that the unbeliever cannot offer them as counters to the Christian’s extremely strong claim.

U: Ah, you are just saying that because you can’t refute my hypothetical
that Allah is the necessary staring point.
C: Not at all. Just for kicks, I will refute your hypothetical
Premise 1: If atheism is true, no gods exist
Premise 2: Atheism is true.
Conclusion: Therefore no gods exist and you have been refuted.

This sort of red herring is unhelpful to the apologetic endeavor. Let’s remember that the Christian is obligated to refute Islam as the necessary starting point for argumentation, given his claim that God is the necessary starting point for argumentation. The syllogism above merely assumes that atheism is true. No argument is made to that end. Further, as should be obvious, the truth of atheism is inconsistent with the truth of Christianity, and truth is, presumably (at least on some interpretations), a necessary characteristic of a transcendental. The intentions of the Christian are questionable at this point in the dialogue.

U: Um, but you are not an atheist!
C: Um, but you are not a Muslim! Do you see why refuting hypotheticals when
it comes to the justification for knowledge is pointless?

No. In fact, the syllogism above does not even pertain to someone’s adherence to atheism, Islam, etc., but whether or not atheism is true, which is an entirely different matter. The Christian in this hypothetical dialogue is either extremely confused or extremely dishonest. Again, refuting hypotheticals (which, again, are not merely hypotheticals) is necessary to defend the claim to necessity. The unbeliever is not being dishonest here. The same might not be said for the Christian.

If the things Justin wrote about in the main post on which he comments are true, and I suspect they are, then “presuppositionalists” must be equally careful to be loving in the content of their presentations. That means actually arguing their case, rather than making assertion after assertion about it and dismissing every counterpoint raised by the unbeliever. Are these presuppositionalists not out to persuade the unbeliever? (Perhaps not!)

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More on Naïve Presuppositionalism

Apparently I ruffled some feathers with my post on Naïve Presuppositionalism. People wondered whom I was writing about. The answer? No one in particular. But if the shoe fits, then wear it.

When I looked around on the Internet at conversation regarding my post, I found that some people thought I was directing my comments at Sye TenBruggencate, a rising star of sorts in the apologetic world. However, naïve presuppositionalism was around long before TB. At the same time, some evidence (!) of naïve presuppositionalism can be found in TB’s material. For example:

In the video, TB assumes a dichotomy between evidences and presuppositions when he speaks of “evidences versus presuppositions.” This false dichotomy is inherent to naïve presuppositionalism. Not only is the dichotomy philosophically problematic, but it cuts against the testimony of Scripture.

Philosophically, evidences are useless without presuppositions, and presuppositions are useless without evidences. Both evidences and presuppositions are necessary to a robust philosophy, and thus also to a robust apologetic. The characteristic mark of traditional Van Tilian apologetics is not the observation that everyone holds presuppositions in virtue of which evidence is evaluated, as important as that realization may be.

Biblically, evidences are the very basis upon which people hold their presuppositions about God, and their presuppositions about God inform their understanding of those evidences. For example, in Psalm 19, the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork. And in Romans 1, God is known because He is perceived in the things have have been made. Of course, such overwhelming evidence does not lead the ungodly to honor God as God, but if the sky and creation are not evidence, then I do not know what is.

TB’s courtroom analogy is not as helpful as it initially seems to be. I understand that analogies are not perfect, but the inference TB attempts to illustrate through his analogy does not follow. While someone does provide evidence to the judge and jury in a court case, the evidence is also being presented to the person who is on trial. If we are to hold a fair trial, it only makes sense that the person who is being judged should be present to hear the charges, evidence, and judgment brought against him. The person on trial has the evidence presented to him the same as the judge and jury have the evidence presented to them.

It does not follow from what has been said above that the one presenting the evidence is saying that the person on trial is really the judge. Likewise, it does not follow from the fact that an apologist presents evidence to an unbeliever that the apologist is saying the unbeliever is God. After all, God presents irrefutable evidence to the unbeliever. Is God saying the unbeliever is God? Of course not!

God knows the unbeliever is a judge, though the unbeliever is not the Judge.

Misguided Tribalism in Apologetic Methodology

Much has been made of the categorization of apologetic methodologies. But perhaps apologetic methodologies need not be so sharply separated from one another. Perhaps such separation between apologetic methodologies is actually more confusing than constructive and more harmful than helpful. More importantly, perhaps there is not enough difference between apologetic methodologies to be able to maintain the distinctions between the supposed schools of apologetic methodology.

The aforementioned thought came to fuller expression in the words of Paul Helm. During a class break, Helm was answering questions some of his students had regarding his own take on apologetic methodology in terms of schools. Helm was taken aback by the fact that such a discussion should even exist, much less that he should be questioned about it.

Questions about apologetic methodology readily lend themselves to a misguided tribalism. By pointing out this observation I do not intend to dismiss questions of apologetic methodology completely. Unfortunately, pagan philosophers with pseudo-Christian methodologies will always plague the realm of Christian apologetics. But disputes between apologetic schools are of a different sort than disputes with obviously unbelieving approaches to apologetics.

Suffice it to say that I have a difficult time discerning the radical differences between various ‘schools’ of apologetic methodology. For example, the easiest illustration of a supposed difference in apologetic methodology is between ‘presuppositionalism’ and ‘evidentialism.’ So you get a guy like Sye TenBruggencate, a self-proclaimed presuppositionalist, who clearly believes that presenting evidence to unbelievers is not just a waste of time, but actually sinful. But doesn’t he present evidence when he makes arguments to the unbeliever regarding logic and certainty and the like? Isn’t he working off of agreed upon premises just like the evidentialist? Isn’t he setting forth his arguments to the unbeliever only to have the unbeliever stand as judge over whether or not the conclusions to those arguments should be accepted?

Or take Greg Bahnsen as another example. Bahnsen is considered a presuppositionalist par excellence. And yet, Bahnsen differs from TenBruggencate in that he clearly does present evidence to the unbeliever. And why not? After all, Bahnsen also offers arguments regarding logic, using shared premises, and expecting the unbeliever to stand as judge over the conclusions to those arguments. Bahnsen was also clear that natural theological arguments need not be rejected, if they are formulated as to be consistent with Christian theology. What Thomist wouldn’t agree?

Much more can be said, but I will save it for another time.

Three Unthinking Presuppositionalist Responses

Recently I was reminded of at least three unthinking and sometimes even cult-like responses generally offered by so-called presuppositional apologists when their perceived method becomes the subject of criticism.

1. Hagiography – Defending the likes of Cornelius Van Til, Greg Bahnsen, and others to the death while dismissing any potentially valid critiques against their method(s) from Scripture or philosophy.

2. Enlightenment – Presuming an opponent or critic of their method(s) is ignorant of said method(s) because he or she ‘has not read Van Til or Bahnsen’ instead of dealing with the challenge brought against the method(s).

3. Semantics – Taking advantage of the often vague and ambiguous language of Van Til and Bahnsen in order to posture and prolong a discussion that is not going favorably for the presuppositionalist.

Mathis is Mistaken

David Mathis is a bit off in his criticism of those criticizing the firing of Phil Robertson from the Duck Dynasty show. Mathis believes A&E is profiting from the controversy. They are getting free advertising. So we should not talk about it.

Even if his suspicions were true, what difference do they make to the ethics of addressing this controversy?

None.

So much for that argument.

Referring to Duck Dynasty, Mathis mentions that “this show is scripted.” He piously opines, “this is not the reality worth fighting for.” Okay? What does the show being scripted have to do with sticking up for the biblical and historical view of Christian ethics pertaining to homosexuality? I will answer that question for him. Nothing. It has nothing to do with the issue.

Mathis goes on to write, “The network never owed us this show, never owed us how many times they haven’t censored the name of Jesus from Phil’s end-of-episode prayers, and never deserved that we get this upset and in the meantime litter the Internet with their name and boost their profile.” And who is saying that the network ever owed us any of these things? Mathis is like way off in left field here. He is also obsessed with how much A&E might be making off this controversy, which, as I noted above, is irrelevant to the opinion of Mathis that Christians should just shut up and take it when a high profile celebrity gets fired for simply stating the biblical and historical view of Christian ethics pertaining to homosexuality.

Mathis wisely writes, “Wisdom isn’t picking a fight whenever we can, but picking the right fight.” He unwisely fails to follow his own advice, picking a fight with those whom he thinks are picking a fight when really the fight was brought to us. Where’s the wisdom in that? Mathis is simply begging the question in favor of his view that defending the biblical and historical view of Christian ethics pertaining to homosexuality is unwise by piously quoting passages of Scripture that fail to establish his point.

Frankly, I am not even sure that Mathis understands what has actually taken place. He insists, over and over again, that this is not the time to speak up in defense of the biblical and historical view of Christian ethics pertaining to homosexuality. But he continues to frame the discussion in terms of the silliness of a show and the profit of a television network. He makes a comment about how the Great Commission is not about television programs. Thanks. Totally helpful. But not really. And it has nothing to do with defending the biblical and historical view of Christian ethics pertaining to homosexuality.

Note, by the way, his arrogance in stating that the show is marginalizing Christians as “backwater.” Perhaps Mathis has been with Desiring God for too long. Perhaps he has lost touch with reality. I happen to know at least one local congregation who would have his head for implying something so offensive about believers in the South. It’s not that I am defending Phil Robertson as a Christian. Rather, I am pointing out just how unloving the comment Mathis has made might come across to those who are undeniably Christians and happen to live in the South.

Mathis misses the point entirely. He should have taken his own advice and not spoken to the controversy. We really did not need him breaking his silence to tell other Christians to shut up.

TAG is the Pits!

One popular objection to the so-called ‘Transcendental Argument for God,’ or ‘TAG,’ is that it does not amount to anything more than a generic theistic proof (if it amounts to anything at all). A number of ‘naïve presuppositionalists’ have stumbled over this apparent difficulty. Their extra-biblical rationalistic bent does not help. But they are far from being alone in failing to mount a satisfying response to the objection in question.

One helpful attempt at responding to the objection is an unashamed affirmation of revelational epistemology. ‘God said it, I believe it, and that settles it’ works quite well with this brand of apologetics. It works quite well, that is, until one presses a bit more on the specifics of the program. Imagine the thoroughgoing biblical apologist in an apologetic exchange insisting that the Valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits. The unbeliever is confused by the seemingly random statement, to say the least. The confusion is not a result of having been soundly refuted. Rather, the confusion results from having just heard a Christian apologist tell him, several times, that the Valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits.

Why is it so important that the apologist point out that the Valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits? Because the fact that the Valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits is a precondition of intelligibility. You see, the apologist and the unbeliever were talking about logic, science and morality right before we joined them. The unbeliever asked the apologist how Christian theism provides the preconditions for intelligibility and the apologist responded that the Valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits.

We rarely, if ever, have seen Christian apologists assert that the Valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits in response to a question about how Christian theism provides the preconditions of intelligibility. We might see the Christian apologist quote Exodus 3.14 with respect to logic, or Genesis 8.22 with respect to science, or Mark 10.18 with respect to morality. But Genesis 14.10 is strangely absent from typical apologetic presentations and responses. Why is that?

Because the particular details of Scripture are set aside in most presentations of TAG. Apparently they are unimportant and irrelevant to the preconditions of intelligibility. The apologist is not functioning in accord with a revelational epistemology at all. Rather, the apologist is functioning in accord with a derivative set of supposed preconditions of intelligibility. The implication is that the preconditions of intelligibility – the preconditions for logic, science, and morality – are found within the Christian worldview. That is, within the Christian worldview we find a subset of preconditions of intelligibility. These preconditions are expressed in something like the three verses cited in the paragraph above. Now, it seems the apologist is merely appealing to a Christianized framework of sorts to account for logic, science and morality. But establishing a Christianized framework is far from establishing the Christian worldview as a whole. A mere subset of Christian beliefs is not the same as the entirety of the Christian worldview. Not only do most non-Christian theistic worldviews share the Christianized framework the apologist sets forth, but even non-theistic positions might attempt to ape the set of preconditions in question. So, we are back to the same problem stated in the introduction of this post. How does the Christian apologist prove Christian theism in particular through TAG?

Tell me, what is the necessary connection between logic and the Valley of Siddim that was full of bitumen pits? And if the connection is so important, then why are Christian apologists so frequently forgetting to mention that fact in their presentation of TAG, along with so many other seemingly irrelevant, though crucially important particulars of the biblical text?

Naïve Presuppositionalism

Naïve presuppositionalism is that brand of apologetic methodology which emphasizes – as the characteristic mark of traditional Van Tilian apologetics – the observation that everyone holds presuppositions in virtue of which evidence is evaluated. Through implicit abstract philosophical disregard for revelational epistemology, naïve presuppositionalists reject the use of evidence in apologetic practice, and often in apologetic principle, summarizing their argumentative approach in terms of the so-called ‘Transcendental Argument for God,’ or ‘TAG.’ Consistent with the aforementioned view, TAG is thought of as an a priori argument providing absolute epistemological certainty. This notion of epistemological certainty parallels that of rationalistic philosophy of the Enlightenment Era. The naïve presuppositionalist elevates ‘certainty,’ in the aforementioned sense, to the forefront of apologetic interaction.

The elevation of certainty to the forefront of apologetic exchanges can take many forms. However, naïve presuppositionalists generally assume epistemological certainty a prerequisite or necessary condition of knowledge, and posit actual certainty given a Christian worldview. Thus, the Christian is actually certain, and hence possesses knowledge, whereas the unbeliever is uncertain. The attempt to demonstrate such claims often degenerates into the naïve presuppositionalist leveling a series of skeptical questions at his or her opponent ad nauseam.

In actual practice, naïve presuppositionalism can be difficult to distinguish from other types of presuppositionalism. A particularly troubling aspect of this method is the rhetorical affirmation of biblical fidelity, the rhetorical rejection of worldly philosophy, and the repeated dogmatic assertions that something has actually been demonstrated or accomplished through the use of this method. Unfortunately, such rhetoric runs counter to the unstated theoretical elements of naïve presuppositionalism, which implicitly dismiss the need to prove anything like epistemological certainty through biblical exegesis, implicitly embrace worldly theories of certainty, and tend to anger the apologetic adversary, rather than closing the mouth or answering any questions or challenges.

In recent years, presuppositional apologetics have grown in popularity. Unfortunately, the growing popularity of any theological theory means the growing popularity of imposters. While some may view this article as nothing more than an honorable attempt to split ignorable hairs, perhaps defining and differentiating between naïve presuppositionalism and its more biblically and philosophically informed counterparts may serve as the beginning of a helpful corrective for newcomers to the presuppositional apologetic world.