Is Presuppositionalism Self Defeating?


Throughout my internet adventures to defend the faith according to the Van Tillian apologetic, one of the common objections I run into is the claim that “presuppositionalism is self-defeating”. The thought that goes into the objection is circular (which is fine so far as it goes), in other words, the claim is that we have to use presuppositions to establish our presuppositions, which does not prove or establish anything. Now there are several problems with this objection. The most glaring to me, is the generic use of the word “presuppositionalism”. This is a generic fallacy because when a Van Tillian uses the term, it is within the context of the Van Tillian apologetic, and not any other kind of presuppositionalism. And yes, there are different types of presuppositionalism, such as the methodology of Gordon Clark, or Clarkian presuppositionalism. Another problem with the objection, is that at the core, every method and worldview is circular, and by necessity. Take the rationalist method for example, how do we prove or validate the use of logic without using logic? It simply is not possible. Another example, take the agnostic worldview, how does the agnostic know that we cannot know? They may not express it, but they do not know, even though the claim one cannot know is a knowledge claim in itself!   So as it turns out, the objectors fail to see the circularity of their own methodology and or worldview while pointing the finger. Now that I have provided a negative aspect of the response, I will provide a positive approach.

Van Tillian presuppositionalism (Van Til never liked the word himself) is not a mere presupposing of (generic) presuppositions. Our presupposition is dependent (rather than autonomous independence) on the knowledge of God, and the revealed knowledge of God in Scripture. Our presuppositions are subordinate under the authority of Jesus Christ. Our defense of the faith begins under the authority of Christ and ends under the authority of Christ. We presuppose not only a god, but the God of Christianity, but not only the God of Christianity in a generic sense, but Christianity according to the Reformed creeds and confessions. Our God centered worldview demands not only God centered interpretation, but God centered epistemology and methodology.

To say that presuppositionalism is self-defeating, is to say the method of presupposing is self-defeating (or circular), but as I have shown, other methods are as circular and or self-defeating. Neither the self-authenticating Scriptures nor the self-disclosure of Christ are self-defeating, and they attest to the validity and necessity of the method of “presuppositionalism” for fallen mankind.  Finally I would like to encourage the reader to remind our objectors of the circularity of their methodology and or worldview, because every worldview at the center has an ultimate authority, which is assumed.

Quotes by Van Til:

“We hold it to be true that circular reasoning is the only reasoning that is possible to finite man. The method of implication as outlined above is circular reasoning. Or we may call it spiral reasoning. We must go round and round a thing to see more of its dimensions and to know more about it, in general, unless we are larger than that which we are investigating. Unless we are larger than God we cannot reason about Him by any other way, than by a transcendental or circular argument. The refusal to admit the necessity of circular reasoning is itself an evident token of Antitheism. Reasoning in a vicious circle is the only alternative to reasoning in a circle” (MA 24).

To admit one’s own presuppositions and to point out the presuppositions of others is therefore to maintain that all reasoning is, in the nature of the case, circular reasoning. The starting-point, the method, and the conclusion are always involved in one another” (DOF 118).

At the outset it ought to be clearly observed that every system of thought necessarily has a certain method of its own. Usually this fact is overlooked. It is taken for granted that everybody begins in the same way with an examination of the facts, and that the differences between systems come only as a result of such investigations. Yet this is not actually the case. It could not actually be the case. In the first place, this could not be the case with a Christian. His fundamental and determining fact is the fact of God’s existence. That is his final conclusion. But that must also be his starting point. If the Christian is right in his final conclusion about God, then he would not even get into touch with any fact unless it were through the medium of God. And since man has, through the fall in Adam, become a sinner, man cannot know and therefore love God except through Christ the Mediator…

“If all things must be seen ‘in God’ to be seen truly, one could look ever so long elsewhere without ever seeing a fact as it really is. If I must look through a telescope to see a distant star, I cannot first look at the star to see whether there is a telescope through which alone I could see it. If I must look through a microscope to see a germ, I cannot first look at the germ with the naked eye to see if there is a microscope through which alone I can see it. If it were a question of seeing something with the naked eye and seeing the same object more clearly through a telescope or a microscope, the matter would be different. We may see a landscape dimly with the naked eye and then turn to look at it through a telescope and see it more clearly. But such is not the case with the Christian position. According to it, nothing at all can be known truly of any fact unless it be known through and by way of man’s knowledge of God” (SCE 4-5).

For more thought, I used this short article of mine to start a discussion here:


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