DEBATE: Apologetics Methodology Presuppositionalism vs Evidentialism Pt. 3

Hello readers, the following is the third and final (for me, I will explain in a separate post) response from me in this little debate I agreed to. MK = Mark Kennedy = the person I have been debating.

 

Brother Mark! I would briefly like to note how up to post #5 (post #6 appears to be a different story) you have made it difficult for me to disagree (which I can appreciate on one hand). Up to this point, if this were a normal conversation, I would most likely not respond thinking to myself; “we agree more than we disagree, so no big deal”, no need to nitpick. However, a no response here would defeat the purpose of having a debate, so please forgive the nitpicking which follows and if I come across as overly critical. I think precision is important to most Calvinists, perhaps more so than for many others. Please consider this as iron sharpening iron.

 

MK: You brought up two principles, I’m summarizing as ‘presuppositionalism applied to Science’, and the ‘subjectivism of autonomy’. Science is a limited epistemology limited to the study of natural phenomenon, what presuppositions we bring to such experiments, theories and laws of science belongs to a larger epistemology known as metaphysics. Metaphysics isn’t the paranormal and supernatural included into our naturalistic thinking, it’s the study of first principles that transcend all reality.

 

About twenty years ago in a college course titled “Changing Universe” from our primary text “The Five Biggest Ideas of Science” I recall reading briefly on the history of Science, and historically the first Scientists, were Philosophers. And then I think about Philosophers like Aristotle and his work “Categories” and the role and influence of his works on Western Civilization. His work “Categories” is indeed a philosophical work and considered the first written textbook on formal logic.

Science as an epistemology is an incomplete epistemology. Every Scientist has an epistemology and for example must depend on transcendental laws of logic or laws of thought to interpret the phenomenon and conduct scientific procedures.

Science can be defined as:

“A branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged andshowing the operation of general laws” Dictionary.com

Epistemology can be defined as:

“A branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge.” Dictionary.com

One branch of epistemology is the philosophy of Science, and I acknowledge the connections, however as you note, Science is limited to the natural, therefore the epistemology is limited to the natural, but at the same time is dependent upon transcendentals or metaphysics, another branch of philosophy. However there is a problem in all of this, a naturalistic epistemology presupposes autonomy which is at odds with transcendental realities or absolutes. So my contention here is that metaphysics cannot be justified or sustained without dependency on the supernatural.

Additionally, the reason Science is limited to naturalism is due to the Scientific Method, so it is not so much epistemology, as it is dependency on the predictability involved with test results through the five senses. The apologist who emphasizes experience though may point to the conversion testimonies of countless Christians throughout the centuries as evidence of the supernatural. The empirically verifiable differences in persons who experience Spiritual regeneration. Differences in thought and behavior and responses to external phenomenon.

In summary to this section of response, I agree Science and Evidential apologetics are categorically two different fields, and naturalistic Science defined as such indeed is limited, but the naturalistic presuppositions also reveal severe limitations of the evidential apologetic as a primary defense of….faith. We should embrace our Calvinism in every field, without a Revelational (Transcendental) Epistemology, we shall never pass beyond the natural to the supernatural, we shall never interpret the facts of Science as the God created facts in our interpretation of facts.

 

MK: Ubiquitous to reality is that God being self existing and self evident there is a light that shines for every soul that comes into the world, leaving us without excuse (John 1:9; Rom. 1:20). One of the things we presuppose is the existence of God, St. Thomas Aquinas describes five ways of proving God exists, argument from motion, efficient causes, possibility and necessity, gradation of being, and design (The Existence of God can be proved in five ways.). His conclusion to each arguments was that, ‘This all men speak of as God’.

 

Unfortunately the natural theology of St. Thomas Aquinas did not go far enough; if we stop there we have not even proven that the God who exists is the God of Christianity. However even what is called natural theology presupposes the Scriptures, and apologists appealing to natural theology should acknowledge their Christian presuppositions beforehand. The non-Christian will deny they are made in the image of God, and deny the law of God written on their heart, because all men are sinners and men in bondage to sin suppress the truth of God.

 

MK: The court in Dover dismissed this argument as absurd and said, just a Thomas Aquinas, was that the designer was clearly and obviously God. For the apologist, especially the Calvinist, it is already presupposed that you are aware of the divine attributes of God and his eternal nature. That’s what I like about Presuppositional Apologetics and what I don’t like, is it need not stop there. That’s a given, an axiom of Christian theism that all men know. We do well to emphasize that point since God has made it clear to them.

 

And it does not stop there, apologists with a Biblical anthropology need to recognize the antithesis between the regenerate man and the man dead in sins and trespasses, the regenerate conscience and the seared conscience, the renewed mind and the carnal mind. We can appeal to what men know all day long, but can it avail when men suppress the truth of what they know?

 

MK: Questions:

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?

Frankly, we can’t, God alone has the power to reach men with the lesser light of revelation in the things that are made, and no one can come to Christ unless the Father draws him (John 6:44).

 

I agree God alone has the power to reach men, but he has chosen to reach men with the greater light of the Gospel of Christ. How can men come to know Christ except by the Scriptures? The things that are made declare the existence of God, but do not declare the Gospel of Christ.

 

MK: What we can do is a due diligence with regards to knowing our own history found in the pages of Scripture. We have a witness there that spans human history, past, present and the very near future. At a minimum we can affirm the tradition authorship and if given to Christian scholarship, learn the intricacies of traditional authorship and the unique preservation of our sacred texts.

 

I love Bibliology and it is of great value to the Christian, however from the perspective of the non-Christian, even if and when they affirm the historicity of Biblical tradition, people, places, and things, the buck stops there and at best they approach the enlightenment of Deism. It is one thing to look at the Bible as literature and another to affirm it is of Divine origin.

 

MK: The epistemology related to the historicity of an event, certainly the epic miracles surrounding the Exodus and the resurrection are formidable tasks, given the high degree of skepticism even in our own seminaries.

 

Formidable is saying it lightly, apart from the miracle of monergistic regeneration in the heart of the non-Christian, they will always exit out the back door in retreat to their most basic presuppositions of their worldview.

 

MK: But time and time again, even in the wildness of the creation/evolution controversy I’ve seen well read, hard core skeptics, silenced by a formal presentation of the facts.

 

Certainly I too believe there is great value in silencing critics and skeptics for the sake of the faithful, for the sake of the layman, and the believer struggling with doubts.

 

MK: Evidential apologetics is indispensable to Christian scholarship, the transcendent principles Presuppositional apologetics are not in conflict with that, but rightfully should be in concert with evidential apologetics and epistemology.

 

Without a transcendental Revelational Epistemology, Evidential apologetics is limited to naturalistic epistemology of the Scientific method, and Supernaturalism is out of question, and likewise justification for metaphysics without supernaturalism is a lost cause. So evidential apologetics without Presuppositional apologetics is an exercise in futility.

 

MK: Adam was created from the dust of the earth, created from the earth for the earth. Even though he was more then that, we all exist on an earthly plane. Is it somehow surprising that men in their natural selves can only see the natural plane? With miracles abounding the children of Israel turned in their hearts back to Egypt, they stoned the prophets and crucified the author of life. How do we bring them to a supernatural worldview? God alone can pierce that darkness and we should have every confidence he can and does.

 

Exactly, God alone by a sovereign supernatural mongeristic work of the Spirit in regeneration.

 

MK: We have a well developed soteriology but I’m not quite sure that anthropology is often revisited in our apologetics.

 

Ahh now you’re approaching the historical problem of traditional apologetics, without a Biblical anthropology, traditional apologetics alone are not sufficient nor thoroughly Biblical to be;

 

“casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

 

SOLI DEO GLORIA!

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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

DEBATE: Apologetics Methodology Presuppositionalism vs Evidentialism Pt. 1

Hello faithful readers and guests, here recently I decided to participate in somewhat of a formal debate with another Calvinist on the subject of Apologetics methodology. I confess to being reluctant (for a number of reasons), I turned him down several times, but he persisted to hint and nudge over a period of months, and so I finally gave in.

Here below is my (rather short) opening statement, with a link to more of the (more detailed) debate on christianforums.com below. So far I have completed the first round, and thinking about the direction I might take for the second. Comments, thoughts, etc. are welcome and appreciated.


 

Brother Mark Kennedy and I have agreed upon a friendly debate on the subject of apologetics, more specifically apologetic methodology. Mark will be making the case for Evidential Apologetics, while I make the case for Presuppositional Apologetics.

The format will be as follows:

1. Opening Statements
2. Three Rounds of Rebuttals
3. Closing Statements

We have set no time constraints, this allows time for our responses as we have time, and keep in mind this may continue for some time. If you wish to respond before we are finished, please be brief so as to help us focus efforts on the many issues related to this debate.

Please pray our faith may be increased and strengthened and for mental clarity as we work through the important issues of this debate and we hope you the readers will be blessed and be strengthened from our discourse.

SOLI DEO GLORIA!

 

Laying out the groundwork

Christian apologetics includes both an offense and a defense; this entails both negative and positive aspects. Presuppositionalism tends to be characterized as an offensive approach, however it is also defensive. For example, if a positive argument for the existence of God is given, this is offense/positive, while responses to contrary arguments against the positive may be defensive/negative in nature.

The role of Epistemology

Which apologetic method should a Christian defend the faith with, one of the two advocated in this debate , neither, or both? Which method is Biblical, one of these two, neither or both? Are these two methods equal in what they can account for? I hope we will be able to answer these and many more throughout this debate.

To sort differences between them, presuppositionalism is an epistemological method which is primarily philosophical in nature, and concerned with theological/philosophical justification. Evidentialism is an epistemology which assumes the basic reliability of natural sense perception, and is concerned with justification by physical evidences. These may be presented as scientific, archaeological or historical, and usually learned from secondary sources such as books or videos. An epistemological issue for evidentialists is the philosophy of a fact, or the necessary interpretation involved with facts and the necessary philosophy to interpret reality through the natural senses.

For the sake of clarity, I am not defending a generic presuppositionalism, nor a generic epistemology, nor a neutral epistemology, I am defending what is called “Revelational Epistemology”, a Scriptural grounds and means for justification of knowing facts in an objective sense, while still maintaining our dependency on God in our interpretation of the God created facts. To be clear, it is my position our knowledge includes both objective and subjective elements. The difference is justification for knowing anything objectively apart from the Christ of Scripture.

Biblical Presuppositionalism

I am a Christian, but more specifically, I affirm the Reformed faith, therefore my defense of the faith should be consistent with my faith. I am not a generic “presuppositionalist”, I presuppose the Reformed faith from the start to the end. Reformed believers hold to the doctrine of “Sola Scriptura”, which relates to the source for knowing, the self-attesting Christ of Scripture. The Scriptures are the justification for all true knowledge of the God created facts. In Scripture we read: in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” Colossians 2:3 Christ as the supreme authority of knowledge is our justification for knowledge (in an objective sense) concerning the God created facts (objectively speaking).

The role of Worldviews

Throughout the history of apologetics, it is not uncommon for a classical or evidentialist apologist to assume for the sake of the argument a common or neutral ground as a starting point to debate or argue with the non-Christian. I strongly disagree with this approach especially on a formal level for a number of reasons. To assume neutrality is to loose contact with the Christian faith and therefore justification for knowing the facts objectively, it is to assume a position of pure subjectivism, which denies the facts are created by God. One cannot rise to objectivism from pure subjectivism.

Even when/if the classical or evidentialist apologist begins with a Christian worldview, both approaches, even combined end up falling victim to the deserved title of “god of the gaps” arguments. Let’s suppose that a Christian provides a convincing argument for the existence of God, such that the debate opponent surrenders. The question that follows is “which God?” From here we cannot really get to Jesus Christ, because this involves proving the Scriptures according to Christianity are from God, before we could ever get to arguments for the resurrection of Christ. Try as we might to avoid it, proving the Scriptures are revelation from God, involves circular reasoning.

We might point to qualities about the Scriptures which demonstrate: popularity, survival, uniqueness, unity-diversity, explanatory power of origins, the central uniformity of primary emphasis, and so on, and while they compose a supportive collaboration of evidences, there is still a logical leap involved from establishing human origin to divine origin.

Unfortunately, so many seem to have almost subconsciously bought into the notion that the non-Christian can be brought to faith in Christ through human reasoning and the five senses (alone). All Reformed believers should recognize the necessity for God to intervene through the supernatural act of (monergistic) regeneration, for the non-Christian to be “born again” or “born from above” before the non-Christian will assent or respond positively to the reasons and facts from a faith made alive by God. I hope this past statement is considered as evidence that I am not opposed to the God centered facts or God centered reason.

So it is my contention that the Romanist Christian worldview, the Romanist methodologies of defending the faith are not sufficient to defend the faith, and never have been. It is also my contention that only a Reformed presuppositionalism is sufficient to defend the faith in a Biblical, God honoring way.

As a final note, I have purposely left out several important distinctives of the Reformed apologetic from this opening statement to make this brief. These include the Creator-creation distinction, the role of self-deception in apologetics, the impossibility of the contrary, the role of antithesis in apologetics, and the transcendental argument for the existence of God (TAG). I left these out because I expect to get into these as the debate continues.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and may God be glorified through our discourse.

Definitions

Apologetics (short and detailed definition)

Apologetics (detailed definition)

Methodology

Presuppositional Apologetics (short definition)

Presuppositional Apologetics (detailed definition)

Presuppose

Epistemology (short definition)

Objective (Dictionary.com [6])

Objectivity (Wikipedia)

Objectivity (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Subjective (Dictionary.com)

Subjectivity (Wikipedia)

Justification (Dictionary.com [1])

Further Reading

The Old New Reformed Epistemology (Revelational Epistemology) by Dr. Oliphint

Presuppositionalism and Frame’s Epistemology by Dr. Anderson

Science, Subjectivity, and Scripture by Dr. Bahnsen

The Theistic Preconditions of Knowledge by Dr. Anderson

Van Til and the Trinity: The Centrality of the Christian View of God in the Apologetics of Cornelius Van Til by Colin D. Smith

Van Til Frequently Encountered Misconceptions by Dr. Anderson

Redeeming Science: A God Centered Approach (book) by Dr. Poythress

 

TO CONTINUE READING THE DEBATE PLEASE FOLLOW THIS LINK

Presuppositionalism, Authority, and Sola Scriptura

The following came out of a discussion I had on a messageboard concerning evangelicalism, and leads into discussion concerning authority and THE rule of faith.

Whatever happened to the old idea that being an evangelical meant believing in evangelizing the Gospel to the world, believing in and supporting Church missions and local revivals? I hold to the old idea, I believe in a continual evangelizing of the world with the good news of salvation in Christ alone. And this work of evangelizing, should not be equivocated with secular politics [civil governments].

…evangelicalism, does not stand or fall on individuals, it stands as a principal, not effected any more than the preaching of the Gospel by a servant of Christ struggling with sin in their lives. Is the message of the Gospel therefore nullified if the messenger is not living a perpetually blameless life? By no means, God even uses foolish things.

Several posts later the thread starter, a person I will refer to as “Liberal Christian” makes the following comment:

Liberal Christian: “the holy scriptures do not appear to solve the issue between credobaptist and paedobaptist nor that between sacramentalist and their opponents and the difference between continuationist and cessationists is completely irreconcilable from the scriptures. It can’t be the rule of faith maybe a source of teaching but not THE rule of faith otherwise so many rules that oppose one another would not come from interpreting the same source.”

To which I respond:

So the argument is that because Scripture does not appear to the solve the baptism issue, therefore Scripture cannot be THE rule of faith? Therefore we must either choose a tradition as THE rule, or THE “God told me” rule? Nah man. Without Scripture as THE rule, everything is reduced to “he said she said” subjectivism, and subjectivism is no ladder to objective knowledge.

Liberal Christian response: “Your reasoning is eccentric at best. I say that scripture is not THE rule of faith and you conclude that therefore I have asserted that one of “tradition” or “god told me” is THE rule of faith. Absolute absurdity on your part.”

To which I respond:

Absurd that I did not frame it with every possible variation or option? Now that’s absurd considering what I was responding to. So tell me what you think THE rule of faith is, nvm you’ll likely say Scripture + tradition, which is absurd. To elevate tradition on the same level as Scripture, just begs the question, which tradition, and how do you come to such conclusion?

Liberal Christian response: “The absurdity is that you respond to a statement negating one proposed source of absolute authority as if it were a statement affirming a single alternative as the one source of absolute authority. That’s where the eccentricity of your reasoning lies. But to make the matter clear I am saying that scripture is an authority and that other things are also authorities.”

To which I respond:

Without the primary rule of faith, there are no secondary authorities.

Let’s rewind this a bit, you said; “It [The Holy Scriptures] can’t be the rule of faith maybe a source of teaching but not THE rule of faith otherwise so many rules that oppose one another would not come from interpreting the same source.”

The Holy Scriptures are objective meaning they exist outside of our own existence, that is to say they are independent of our existence. In them God reveals Himself in objective visible and audible manners and manifestations. God the Holy Spirt, gives objectivism to knowledge in interpreting Scripture. God Himself is the source of absolute authority and in His wisdom has chosen the only means to justify obtaining objective knowledge of anything, which is through the Holy Scriptures and illumination of the Holy Spirit.

The absurdity come in when making statements like; “It [The Holy Scriptures] can’t be the rule of faith maybe a source of teaching but not THE rule of faith otherwise so many rules that oppose one another would not come from interpreting the same source.” because you totally undermine any authority given to secondary authorities! Without the absolute authority of Scripture, man has no foundation for knowledge no axiom or basis for knowledge claims, no rule by means of measure for the person who claims “God told me”.

Liberal Christian response: “Why? I have two parents not just one and both are authorities – or were authorities when I was a child – so is the law in my society an authority and school teachers, university professors, pastors, friends, foes, the background culture, scripture, natural laws, and many other things. None is primary and even if one (or several) were primary that would argue against your claim that scripture is THE authority.”

To which I respond:

Equivocation fallacy and failure to make distinctions of hierarchy. As if all of those listed were competing for Ultimate authority. What a hoot!

Liberal Christian response: “I use careful reasoning, scripture, natural laws, experience, and dozens of other things. Fortunately when testing truth claims in religion there is time to hear, reflect, and pray before deciding a matter and even after deciding it is still possible to come back and reconsider the matter.”

To which I respond:

God performed a supernatural work in my heart called regeneration, the new birth, otherwise I would be lost in secular autonomous methodology.

Liberal Christian response:  You do know that the quote above really does come down to “god told me so”, don’t you?

To which I respond:

I know that apart from monergistic regeneration, a heart of stone cannot become flesh.

Liberal Christian response: “Isn’t Objectivism the name of Ayn Rand’s philosophy? Are you sure that the Holy Spirit gave that to anybody? Perhaps you meant to say “God the Holy Spirit gives objectivity to” now exactly what does “knowledge in interpreting Scripture” mean? My guess is that “knowledge” was superfluous in that phrase. So you’re saying that “God the Holy Spirt gives objectivity to a person’s interpretation of Scripture.”? But you can’t mean that since it just means “god told me so”. So what exactly did that sentence mean to you when you wrote it because it doesn’t support objectivity in interpreting scripture.”

To which I respond:

You’re ripping the word out of context, it’s obvious, I defined what I meant by “objective” and used the term “objectivism” in the same context. How ridiculous is your attempt to tie my use of the word into something that I have no part of. Use a dictionary next time, preferably a philosophical one. In secular philosophy it can actually be traced back to Plato, however my use of the term has absolutely nothing to do with Plato or Ayn Rand or the anything of the sort, only the basic philosophical concept which I provided. But I really did not need to explain any of this did I? Yeah I get what you’re attempting, when all else fails, try to discredit…

Liberal Christian response: “I suspect this will fall on deaf ears but here is a definition of objectivism from a philosophical dictionary – as you requested.
(philosophy)

  1. the meta-ethical doctrine that there are certain moral truths that are independent of the attitudes of any individuals
  2. the philosophical doctrine that reality is objective, and that sense data correspond with it”

To which I respond:

So with the 2nd definition the next step is to look up objective. Have you never come across the phrase “objective truth”, as opposed to “relative”? Yes you have, and I’m onto your game.

Liberal Christian response: “Game? I am enjoying myself reading your posts. It is more a matter of entertainment than playing a game.

Wikipedia has this introductory material on Objectivism.

Objectivism is a philosophical system developed by Russian-American writer Ayn Rand (1905–1982). Rand first expressed Objectivism in her fiction, most notably The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957), and later in non-fiction essays and books. Leonard Peikoff, a professional philosopher and Rand’s designated intellectual heir, later gave it a more formal structure. Peikoff characterizes Objectivism as a “closed system” that is not subject to change.

Objectivism’s central tenets are that reality exists independently of consciousness, that human beings have direct contact with reality through sense perception, that one can attain objective knowledge from perception through the process of concept formation and inductive logic, that the proper moral purpose of one’s life is the pursuit of one’s own happiness (rational self-interest), that the only social system consistent with this morality is one that displays full respect for individual rights embodied in laissez-faire capitalism, and that the role of art in human life is to transform humans’ metaphysical ideas by selective reproduction of reality into a physical form—a work of art—that one can comprehend and to which one can respond emotionally.

Academic philosophers have mostly ignored or rejected Rand’s philosophy. Nonetheless, Objectivism has been a significant influence among libertarians and American conservatives. The Objectivist movement, which Rand founded, attempts to spread her ideas to the public and in academic settings.​

It really doesn’t look like anything that God the Holy Spirit gave to anybody. It does look more like something that might come from Satan. But most likely it came from Ayn Rand’s mind.”

To which I respond:

By your [subjective] reasoning Aristotle invented the laws of logic…but there is a massive problem with that line of thinking.

Liberal Christian response: “I see, so unless I adopt Cornelius Van Til’s notion of presuppositionalism I cannot have any knowledge of anything at all, right …
I do know that presuppositionalism is absurd.”

To which I respond:

You assume that there is original knowledge, as though all knowledge does not originate with God. Nobody in the history of mankind has truly had an original thought, it is only because mankind is made in the image of God, that he has the ability to reason, to make inductions. Though Van Til popularized and gave technical formulation to, he had many influences which led to the revolution in Christian apologetics. It is the only consistently Biblical defense of the faith in opposition to all forms of non-Christian worldviews. I would never say a Christian cannot have knowledge of anything, I would say a Christian can definitely be inconisist with his Christianity, and even non-Christians know, but not without borrowing capital from the Christian worldview, that is they are not consistent with their own worldview, specifically with their ultimate source of authority. For example, for the humanist, their ultimate source of authority is man, which is nearly the definition of autonomy, and the foundation of subjectivism.

Liberal Christian response: “It wasn’t a revolution in apologetics so much as a Calvinisation of the apologetic approach of some Reformed/Presbyterian Christians. The approach isn’t very wide spread outside Reformed/Presbyterian circles and even then the Reformed are more enthusiastic about Kuyperian apologetics than they are about Val Til’s approach.”

To which I respond:

Kuyperian apologetics? Umm…yeah…not so much. Kuyper had more to do with the development of thinking in terms of worldviews, along with James Orr. One of Van Til’s greatest influences was a man by the name of Geerhardus Vos. More enthusiastic? I guess you’re not familiar with Van Til’s more famous students.

Liberal Christian response: “At least you believe that God did what you say. May others also believe something similar. But it is very subjective isn’t it? It’s all about what you experienced. That is pretty much the exact opposite of objectivity.”

To which I respond:

The Holy Spirit is not subjective, and He works to remove hearts of stone and form hearts of flesh. Further you seem to forget a couple of things. Christianity is a revealed religion, God revealed Himself, God attested to Himself, authenticated Himself. The whole reasoning your way to God bit is not found in Scripture. Which is not to say that God has never said to His people “come let us reason”, as a matter of fact, logic is accounted for in the being of God. My experience with the laws of logic tell me they are objective, Aristotle thought as much, but he usually gets credit for being first to put them into writing.

Liberal Christian response: “Perhaps Aristotle did invent the laws of logic. They seem to fit many observations in nature but they do not always exactly fit. They may be little more than a not altogether accurate summary of observed natural things.”

To which I respond:

With that admission, there’s not much left to discuss. I may as well be typing lajovneowanveoeuoyen slieuyeoruresnoyehyhiosh soeuseuoeureouroennodiu.

 

1 Cor 1:20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?

Apologies for the format and layout of the conversation, it may be slightly out of order. I hope it might have some value to someone, maybe someone struggling with the authority issue.

The Notion that the Bible is just A Priori Truth.

From time to time I enjoy posting on internet messageboards, and recently I got involved in a rather long discussion with a couple of people. One of them a friendly Lutheran. Deep into the discussion I share a thought with him concerning..

“the development of presuppositionalism … is based on a doctrine shared by Lutherans, Calvinistic Anglicans, Calvinistic Baptists, Calvinistic Episcopalians, Calvinistic Methodists, and Presbyterians. It is based on the implications of the doctrines of original sin and “total depravity”.

In a response to another person, the friendly Lutheran responds..

My faith as an Evangelical Lutheran begins with the person of Jesus Christ as revelation.

and

We never begin with this notion that the Bible is just a priori truth.

Which sparked the following response from me…

“From what is the Gospel of Christ known and preached that God uses to create a new clean heart? We have to begin with the Lordship of Christ, and this is known how?

As much as I appreciate the classical arguments, from reason, evidences, history, and science, for their ways of building up and strengthening believers and demonstrating to the world that Christianity is rational, evidences support Christianity, and so on, none of them leaves the non-Christian without excuse, none of them demonstrate that the God that exists is the God of Christianity. If there is even the smallest most remote back door, the non-Christian is outie like yesterday’s news. The method used by Van Til recognizes that the problem is not lack of reasoning, lack of evidences, lack of history, or lack of science, the problem is in the heart of man, all of the reasoning, evidence, history, and science in the world will never convert a man to Christianity, God and God alone can turn a heart of stone into a heart of flesh.”

An Update

Hey all, I have not forgotten about this blog. Life away from computers has kept me busy. While at the computer,  I have been working on other projects, like modules for theWord Bible Software. All of the works I have uploaded are in the public domain. With the exception of the Confessions, the original source for the modules is logos. These are especially dedicated those in Christ suffering financially (something I can relate to). So far I have uploaded:

The Works of David Clarkson (3 Vol) (Puritan) 1.0

The Works of John Howe (Puritan) 1.0

Confessions of the Reformed Faith 1.0

The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks (6 Vol) (Puritan) 1.0

The Works of Archibald Alexander (20 vol) 1.0

History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century (5 vol) 1.0

The Life and Times of John Calvin (2 Vols) 1.0

The John Calvin Biography Collection I. (6 Vols) 1.0

And more on the way, including Calvin’s Institutes later tonight. I have many other works to share (if I have the time and motivation), and may see what I can do about getting a portion of Van Til’s works into a module for theWord. I believe it is possible to convert these into e-Sword modules (though I have not attempted to), and of course can be copied from within theWord and converted to other formats.