DEBATE: Apologetics Methodology Presuppositionalism vs Evidentialism Pt. 2

This is part 2 of a debate, a continuation from the previous post: HERE

Indirect Response to MK

Disclaimers

Although I have owned the title “Reformed presuppositionalist” for this debate it should be noted:

“Van Til personally disliked the term “presuppositional”, as he felt it misrepresented his approach to apologetics, which he felt was focused primarily on the preeminence of the Bible as the ultimate criterion for truth, rather than denying or ignoring evidence. He did, however, accept the label reluctantly, given that it was a useful way of distinguishing between those who deny a neutral basis for apologetics and those who do not.” – Wikipedia

In all of his years as a Professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, Dr. Van Til worked towards a distinctly Reformed and systematic theological/philosophical defense of the faith. Perhaps it is why several years ago Dr. Oliphint a “Van Tillian” authored a book entitled “Covenantal Apologetics”, in which he argued in favor of using the term “Covenantal Apologetics” rather than the more common term “presuppositionalism”. I believe Dr. Van Til would approve. (see his pamphlet “Towards a Reformed Apologetic”)

Circular Reasoning and Axioms

In my opening statement I stated; “Try as we might to avoid it, proving the Scriptures are revelation from God, involves circular reasoning.” This should be no cause for alarm, because there is a difference between circular reasoning and a circular argument. Further nobody can interpret reality without basic presuppositions about reality, and the answer to philosophical question “does God exist?”, however it is answered, will be central and circular to reasoning and connected to other assumptions about reality and impact other big questions of philosophy. To use Clark terminology, the Christian Scriptures are the central axiom to Christianity. To use Plantinga terminology, the Scriptures are properly basic to warranted Christian belief. To use Bahsen terminology, the Christian worldview must be presupposed to justify the necessary preconditions of intelligibility, these include conceptual realities behind: intelligible language, laws of logic, math, and as they apply to the scientific method. To quote Dr. Van Til :

“From this quotation, certain things are clear. Calvin never did start a chain of reasoning about man’s nature and destiny by taking man by himself. He did not start with man as with an ultimate starting point. Calvin did start with a general a priori position. His position is as radically opposed to that of Descartes as it is to that of Hume. Most apologetic writers who have come after Calvin have allowed themselves to be influenced unduly by Cartesian philosophy on this matter. Calvin recognized fully that if man is to have true knowledge of himself he must regard God as original and himself as derivative. He did not place God and man as correlatives next to one another, but he recognized from the outset two levels of existence and two levels of interpretation, on the one hand the divine and eternal, and on the other hand the human or temporal. To him it is perfectly obvious that the endowments that we possess are not of ourselves, but of God. Hence he says that” not a particle of light, or wisdom, or justice, or power, or rectitude, or genuine truth, will anywhere be found, which does not flow from him: and of which he is not the cause … “ – Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology” Chapter 8 Section B

Axioms and Science

So it is my contention that the epistemological defense of the faith begins with presupposing the self-attesting Christ of Scripture as the final authority and the basis, the foundation, as an apologetical framework for all other apologetic methods from reason, facts, experience, and faith.  The facts are not just the facts; the facts do not interpret themselves. In the Scriptures we learn that man was created in the image of God, but this does not mean he was created for independence from God, but rather man was created to be dependent upon God for everything, including knowledge concerning the God created facts. The empirical facts are neither neutral nor independent of the knowledge of their Creator. One way to demonstrate man’s dependency is to consider the Scientific Method. What does the Scientific Method presuppose other than the general reliability of sense perception? The laws of thought or logic are necessary to the processes of observation, measurement, experimentation, formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses. The Scientific Method also presupposes a normal (“natural”) order within the universe necessary to predictability of a hypothesis. So the laws of thought or logic are necessary preconditions governing all scientific thought and procedures.

Axioms and Epistemology

The word “invention” invokes other related words like “new” and “original”. Now consider the omniscience of God, and ask yourself; “has man ever had an original thought?” Has man ever achieved a one up on God in the marketplace of ideas? I should hope not! Taking into account the Creator – creation distinction and man created in the image of God, it is important to consider differences between the knowledge of God and the knowledge of man. The language Dr. Van Til used to describe the relationship of man’s knowledge to the knowledge of God, is analogical. One could probably write a small book noting differences between the knowledge of God and the knowledge of man, the primary message would be that the extent to which man can know is not identical, nor the scope, therefore not exact. For what we can and do know that is true, is because man was created in the image of God, and because it is so, the knowledge of man is analogical to his Creator.  To put it another way, man’s knowledge is analogical to the original. To quote Dr. Van Til:

“All of this may again be expressed from another point of view by saying that human knowledge is analogical of divine knowledge. 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. The one must be original and the other analogical of the original. The one must be determinative and the other subordinate. Roman Catholic theology seeks to serve two masters here. It too speaks of created being and human knowledge as being analogical of divine being and divine knowledge but it does not really take this seriously. In its philosophy and apologetics Romanism reasons as though man can, by himself, determine the nature and possibility of knowledge without reference to God. On the other hand it refers to mysteries as being above the understanding of man. But as Protestants we should definitely choose to make God the original in the knowledge situation.

The first thing to note in the question of our knowledge of God is that it must be true or objective. That this is so is once more involved in our God-concept. God knows himself analytically and completely and therefore must know all things beyond him analytically and completely. God certainly must have true knowledge of us and of the universe in general. Our existence and our meaning, our denotation and our connotation are derived from God. We are already fully interpreted before we come into existence. God knows us before and behind; he knows the thoughts of our hearts. We could not have existence and meaning apart from the existence and meaning of God.” The Defense of the Faith, Part One, Section 3-3 Man’s Knowledge of God

Skipping over a portion of context from the same sub-section, Dr. Van Til goes on to write:

“Important as it is to insist that our knowledge of God must be true, because God is what he is, it is equally important to insist that our knowledge of God is not and cannot be comprehensive. We are God’s creatures. We cannot know God comprehensively now nor can we hope to know God comprehensively hereafter. We may know much more in the future than we know now. Especially when we come to heaven will we know more than we know now, but we will not know comprehensively.

We are therefore like God so that our knowledge is true and we are unlike God and therefore our knowledge can never be comprehensive. When we say that God is a mystery for us we do not mean that our knowledge of him is not true as far as it goes.” – The Defense of the Faith, Part One, Section 3-3 Man’s Knowledge of God

 

The Christian Evidentialist is a Closet Christian Presuppositionalist

In support of the above heading, I offer the following from the book “Faith Has Its Reasons” by Kenneth Boa and Robert Bowman:

“Evidentialist apologetics has been widely criticized from a number of perspectives. We will consider here some of the most common and important criticisms identifying potential weaknesses in or challenges to the evidentialist approach.18

ASSUMES THE THEISTIC WORLDVIEW

The principal objection to evidentialism from a classical apologetics perspective is that it attempts to make a case for the theistic worldview on the basis of facts. According to both classical apologists and most Reformed apologists, this will not work; one must first have a worldview before one can interpret the facts in the world. As Geisler puts it, “facts and events have ultimate meaning only within and by virtue of the context of the world view in which they are conceived.”19 Geisler explains that

evidence gains its meaning only by its immediate and overall context; and evidence as such cannot, without begging the question, be used to establish the overall context by which it obtains its very meaning as evidence. . . . it is a vicious circle to argue that a given fact (say, the resuscitation of Christ’s body) is evidence of a certain truth claim (say, Christ’s claim to be God), unless it can be established that the event comes in the context of a theistic universe.20

Geisler adds that meaning is not inherent in historical facts and events; meaning demands an interpretive context that is distinct from the facts and events.21 Apologists from other perspectives agree that evidentialists tacitly assume the validity of the theistic worldview from the beginning.” 22   LINK admin@bible.org

 

Direct Response to MK

 

MK: My experience with evidential apologetics has been focused primarily on the subject of origins, the doctrine of creation and the large body of work related to Darwinian evolution. My primary source material has been the vaunted peer review articles, especially Nature magazine. In a nutshell [the ad hominem approach] is an attempt to argue from evidence your opponent would never dream of denying as valid.

 

Correct me if I am wrong, but to me this reads like presuppositionalism applied to Science. This is done by assuming the other persons view for the sake of the argument, and then demonstrating the irrationality of their view on their own terms.

 

MK: Epistemology is essentially, theories of knowledge. The Presuppositional logic of Cornelius Van Till while sound, I believe is limited.

 

I hope my indirect responses address this belief, I hope you will conclude Calvinistic presuppositionalism is: “the basis, the foundation, as an apologetical framework for all other apologetic methods from reason, facts, experience, and faith.” (See Axioms and Science heading)

 

MK: I further agree that the noetic effect of sin hampers mans search for the truth since the natural man ‘suppresses the truth in unrighteousness’ (Rom. 1:18-20). However, I do not consider this an absolution for mans’ responsibility regarding truth and examining well established evidential proofs.

 

Absolutely and I do not see where Van Tillian apologists have conflated the doctrine of total depravity or radical depravity to an absolution for man’s responsibility regarding truth. It is just the opposite; the aim is to show that despite their suppression of the truth of God, they borrow from the Christian worldview as image bearers of God, to account for truths. The problem is in non-Christian purposely taking the position the facts can be known autonomously, apart from the Creator of the facts. So as Christian apologists it is on us to remind them of their responsibility, that is remind them that facts do not interpret themselves, and the subjectivism of autonomy cannot establish objective truth in a “factual” sense. So the anti-theist suppresses theism while at the same time borrowing from theism, and this is the height of self-deception.  For all of the truth the non-Christian knows, they are analogically thinking God’s thoughts after him, we should remind them when we defend the faith…even with facts.

 

MK: This underscores one very important and distinctive feature of the rules of evidence, men are capable of apprehending evidential truth and held accountable for that reason. We are held responsible for a rejection of the gospel and the light of revelation (John 16:8-11; John 3:19; Acts 28:27 Isaiah 6:9,10). How could we be thus convicted of the sin of rejecting the light of revelation if we are incapable of discerning the truth and evidence of the gospel?

 

How are we bringing the non-Christian to confrontation with the Gospel if we’re only holding them accountable in a Romans 1:18-20 way? The responsibility is in believing or rejecting the Gospel, not the facts of Science. The non-Christian is capable of apprehending or understanding with their mind practically any and all truth the Christian can, minus spiritual discernment or those truths which are spiritually discerned.  That’s not even the issue, it is their rejection of spiritual truth which is the issue. Suppression of truth amounts to knowing the truth and rejecting it. So it is not a matter of apprehension, you will receive no argument from me concerning the capability of non-Christians to learn the same knowledge, to grasp the same doctrines. I even believe as a whole, Churches are full of apostates with a great deal of knowledge, not that they believe it, but have a mental ascension, without spiritual conversion, and this too is self-deception.

 

MK: I want to clarify what I believe are the two primary means of receiving knowledge in the human mind with regards to the truth of Scripture. There is the natural revelation that all who come into the world are subject to, the divine attributes and eternal nature of God reflected in his created world (Romans 1:10-20) and the witness of conscience (Romans 2:15). Now all are subject to this level of revelation, that is what I call the lesser light of revelation. With regards to the righteousness of God in Christ, this can only be revealed as an act of God’s sovereign will (Matt. 16:16-17).

 

I suppose my question here is, apart from the Gospel, how will you bring the naturalist to supernaturalism? I see this is a major issue, in the same way I see arguing for the resurrection from internal evidences. The non-believer does not ascent to or acknowledge Supernatural revelation as Supernatural revelation. This gets back to worldviews and basic assumptions about the nature of reality.

 

MK: I contend that evidential apologetics equipped with the tools of science and reason, both mental and physical, make our witness stronger and worthy of consideration to the sincere seeker of truth.

 

In closing a couple of quotes, first from Dr. Bahnsen;

“The Christian faith should not be defended one isolated belief after another isolated belief-as though a block house were being built up, one block at a time. Instead, the whole system should be presented and defended as a unit. Its epistemology should be defined in terms of its metaphysics and ethics (including anthropology and soteriology), and it’s metaphysics and ethics (including anthropology and soteriology) should be defended in terms of its epistemology.” – Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis

And from Dr. Van Til:

“Historical apologetics is absolutely necessary and indispensable to point out that Christ arose from the grave, etc. But as long as historical apologetics works on a supposedly neutral basis, it defeats its own purpose. For in that case it virtually grants the validity of the meta- physical assumptions of the unbeliever. So in this case a pragmatist may accept the resurrection of Christ as a fact without accepting the conclusion that Christ is the Son of God. And on his assumptions he is not illogical in doing so. On the contrary, if his basic metaphysical assumption to the effect that all reality is subject to chance is right, he is only consistent if he refuses to conclude from the fact of Christ’s resurrection that he is divine in the orthodox sense of the term. Now, though he is wrong in his metaphysical assumption, and though, rightly interpreted, the resurrection of Christ assuredly proves the divinity of Christ, we must attack the unbeliever in his philosophy of fact, as well as on the question of the actuality of the facts themselves. For on his own metaphysical assumptions, the resurrection of Christ would not prove his divinity at all.

In addition to showing that Christ actually arose from the grave and that the facts recorded in the Scripture are as they are recorded as being, insofar as this can be ascertained by historical research, we must show that the philosophy of fact as held to by Christian the- ism is the only philosophy that can account for the facts. And these two things must be done in conjunction with one another. Historical apologetics becomes genuinely fruitful only if it is conjoined with philosophical apologetics. And the two together will have to begin with Scripture, and argue that unless what Scripture says about itself and all things else of which it speaks is true, nothing is true. Unless God as an absolutely self-conscious person exists, no facts have any meaning. This holds not only for the resurrection of Christ, but for any other fact as well.” -Cornelius Van Til,  An Introduction to Systematic Theology, 242-243

Thank you brother MK for persistently encouraging this debate despite my expressed reluctance on several occasions. I honestly do not know of another person here on CF as interested in PA as you, and for this I am grateful. Overall I have primarily encountered opposition here on CF from Christians regarding PA, and usually in a disrespectful tone, and so when your own “side” rails against PA, it does tend to make it difficult and discouraging to even offer a few PA crumbs. To me, you like a rare jewel my friend, an irregularity where respectful disagreement is welcome.

SOLI DEO GLORIA!

 

Notes

18 Several articles explicating and defending Montgomery’s apologetic appeared in the Global Journal of Classical Theology 3, 1 (March 2002): Ross Clifford, “Justification of the Legal Apologetic of John Warwick Montgomery: An Apologetic for All Seasons”; Gary Habermas, “Greg Bahnsen, John Warwick Montgomery, and Evidential Apologetics”; Craig Hazen, “‘Ever Hearing but Never Understanding’: A Response to Mark Hutchins’s Critique of John Warwick Montgomery’s Historical Apologetics”; and Boyd Pehrson, “How Not to Critique Legal Apologetics: A Lesson from a Skeptic’s Internet Web Page Objections.” These articles were accessed online at < http://www.trinitysem.edu/journal/toc_v3n1.html >.

19 Geisler, Christian Apologetics, 95.

20 Ibid., 95, emphasis deleted.

21 Ibid., 96.

22 Reid, “Subjectivity or Objectivity,” in Jerusalem and Athens, edited by Geehan, 409; cf. Hanna, Crucial Questions, 100; Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, 6 vols. (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1976-1983), 1:231.

 

Definitions

Axiom

Analogy, analogical reasoning: (1) (Aquinas) Thinking in language that is neither literally true (univocal), nor unrelated to the subject matter (equivocal), but which bears a genuine resemblance to that subject-matter. (2) (Van Til) Thinking in subjection to God’s revelation and therefore thinking God’s thoughts after him. Source

Empirical

Naturalism

Supernaturalism

Further Reading

Faith Has Its Reasons (free book) by Kenneth Boa & Robert Bowman

Examples of PA applied to:

Logic: A God Centered Approach (free book) by Dr. Vern Poythress

Redeeming Mathematics: A God Centered Approach (free book) by Dr. Vern Poythress

Redeeming Sociology: A God Centered Approach (free book) by Dr. Vern Poythress

PA applied in the field of Bibliology on the issue of Canon:

Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books by Dr. Michael  J. Kruger

 

The full ongoing debate can be read at Christian Forums

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