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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Updates to Van Til PDF’s Section

Hello my peoples, thank you for stopping by this little blog. In honor of the anniversary of Van Til’s birthday this month (3rd) I’ve been working on a few updates. The update I would like to bring to attention here is in the Van Til PDF section. I have added more content to the unpublished manuscript section and changed the fonts in each document from Times New Roman to Siege UI (easier to read) and now there are spaces between paragraphs (easier to follow thoughts). I enjoy reading most anything written by Dr. Van Til. For probably a number of different reasons these manuscripts listed below were never published, and in reading them we should keep this in mind. These insightful documents cover a whole range of topics, from epistemology to theodicy to ethics to the free will debate to Science and facts. Time and again I am blown away by how relevant his writings remain today, and how he could in so few words get to the important issues. It is my hope people will find these valuable to the end of giving God the glory. Grace and peace. – calvinist4life

More updates to come, Soli Deo Gloria!

The following consists of Unpublished Manuscripts:

A Letter to Francis Schaeffer

An Uncertain Sound

Bernard J.F. Lonergan, S.J

Black Theology And Black Power

Boston Personalism

Christianity And Scientific Effort

Evil And Theodicy

God And The Absolute

Reformed Epistemology

The Ten Commandments

The Theology of C.S. Lewis

The Will In Its Theological Relations

Why Westminster Today

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

John Frame / Michael Martin Online Debate over TANG

The John Frame / Michael Martin online debate over TAG / TANG goes back to 1996. The copyright holder is John Frame, and the Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics site hosted the debate (so far as I know or can perceive). For those whom it may concern, this is an effort to remind and preserve these valuable interactions and papers from falling into the abyss of obscurity, I am re-posting, evangelizing them to a broader audience, with the glory of God in mind.

To give readers a quick overview I will quote the layout on the host site:

 

Martin/Frame Online Debate over TANG

  • (Exchange #1)
    • The Transcendental Argument for the Non Existence of God (1996) (Offsite)
      By: Michael Martin
      This is Martin’s article in which attempts to reverse the claims of the transcendental argument given by Reformed apologists. The Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God demonstrates God’s existence by showing that knowledge itself would be impossible if the Christian God did not exist. Martin sees this claim as reversible and provides herein an article to that effect.
    • A Brief Response to Michael Martin’s Transcendental Argument for the Non-Existence of God
      By: John M. Frame
  • (Exchange #2)
    • A Response to John Frame’s Rebuttal of The Transcendental Argument for the Non Existence of God (TANG) (Offsite)
      By: Michael Martin
    • A Second Response to Martin
      By: John M. Frame
  • (Exchange #3)
    • Response to Frame’s Response (Offsite)
      By: Michael Martin
    • A Third Response to Martin 
      By: John M. Frame
  • (Exchange #4)
    • A Third Response to Frame
      By: Michael Martin
    • Frame’s Final Response
      By: John M. Frame
  • (Final Remarks)
    • Martin Closes (Offsite)
      By: Michael Martin
      By mutual agreement, Martin has been given the closing word.

 

People interested in this debate can go to the source here: Michael Martin – John Frame Online Debate over TANG

TAG vs. TANG

TAG vs. TANG

by Michael Butler

From: The August 1996 Penpoint

Online SOURCE

. . . I shall now turn to Dr. Martin’s philosophical attack on the Christian faith. In response to the transcendental argument for God’s existence (TAG) [1], Dr. Martin puts forth what he calls the transcendental argument for the non-existence of God (TANG). [2]

Before responding to the details of his argument, some understanding of TAG is helpful. Basically TAG asserts that only the Christian worldview provides the necessary preconditions for the intelligibility of human experience. That is, only the Christian view of God, creation, providence, revelation, and human nature can make sense of the world in which we live. So, for example, only the Christian worldview can make sense out of morality since it alone provides the necessary presuppositions for making ethical evaluations, namely, an absolute and personal Law Giver who reveals His moral will to mankind. It does not make sense, however, for the atheist/materialist to denounce any action as wrong since, according to his worldview, all that exists is matter in motion. And matter in motion is inherently non-moral. That is, since the world according to the materialist is totally explicable in terms of physical processes, and since physical processes are categorically non-moral, moral considerations have no place in his worldview. Thus for the materialist to say that stealing is morally wrong makes as much sense as saying that the secretion of insulin from the pancreas is morally wrong. [3]

With this thumbnail sketch of TAG in mind, we can now turn to Dr. Martin’s counter-argument, TANG. TANG concludes that, “logic, science and morality presuppose the falsehood of the Christian world view.” Dr. Martin notes that ” If TANG is a sound argument, then obviously TAG is not.” He then adds that even if TANG is a failure this does not mean TAG is successful-both could be unsound. He, of course, is correct on both counts.

There are two basic ways to respond to this. One is to simply attempt to refute TANG. [4] The problem with this route is that even if successful the soundness of TAG is still unknown. The other approach is to defend the soundness of TAG and in so doing, show the unsoundness of TANG-if TAG is sound TANG is not. In what follows I will try to do some of both. I will show that not only is TANG unsound, but that TAG is sound.

Logic

Dr. Martin begins with logic. I quote the heart of his argument. “(1). . . if something . . . is dependent on God, it is not necessary-it is contingent on God. (2) And if principles of logic are contingent on God, they are not logically necessary. Moreover, (3) if principles of logic are contingent on God, God could change them. (4) Thus, God could make the law of non-contradiction false.” [5] Let’s take each contention in turn.

Is (1) true? Is it true that if something is dependent upon God (i.e. ontologically dependent) it is not necessary? Dr. Martin assures us that it is, but fails to give any argument for this general principle. Perhaps he thinks it is definitional. If this is so then we may grant him the point. Note, however, that all he would be asserting is that if logic is dependent on God, then it is not independent of God (‘not independent’ is used as a synonym for ‘not necessary’). But this is a mere truism, much like the statement, “water is water.” While true, it is completely uninteresting.

In (2) Dr. Martin contends that if the principles of logic are contingent (read: dependent) on God they are not logically necessary. How does this follow from (1) though? It follows only if Dr. Martin means ‘not logically necessary’ by ‘contingent.’ But if this is the case then we have to go back to (1) and reinterpret it to mean “if something is dependent on God it is not logically necessary.’ And this surely is not definitional. Where then is the proof for it? How does it follow that because something is ontologically dependent upon God that it is not logically necessary? As it stands it is a mere assertion; an assertion that merely contradicts the Christian claim that all things, logic included, are dependent upon God, and yet logic is logically necessary.

Thus Dr. Martin’s move from (1) to (2) trades on the ambiguity of the word ‘contingent.’ In equivocating on the two senses of the word he erroneously moves from the statement “the principles of logic are contingent on God” to the statement “the principles of logic are not logically necessary.”

Turning to (3) and (4), it is clear that Dr. Martin means these to be a reductio ad absurdum. But note that (3) is not true at all. Just because the principles of logic are ontologically dependent upon God does not mean that God could change them. According to Christian theology, there are some things that God cannot do. God, for instance, cannot deny Himself (2 Tim. 2:13) or lie (Titus 1:2). In saying this nothing is taken away from God’s omnipotence. The doctrine of omnipotence does not teach that God can do anything, but that God can do anything that is in accordance with His nature. Since God is essentially rational and rationality presupposes the principles of logic, it would go against His nature to change the principles of logic. Hence God cannot change them and hence God cannot make the law of non-contradiction false. [6]

Since (3) is not true then obviously (4) is not either. And since (4)is false, Dr. Martin’s reductio fails. Logic does not presuppose the falsehood of the Christian worldview. But as Dr. Martin reminds us, even if logic does not presuppose the falsehood of Christianity this does not mean it presupposes the truth of Christianity. Perhaps logic comports with both Christian and non-Christian worldviews.

Let us now turn the tables on Dr. Martin and make a defense of TAG. Recall that the contention of TAG is that principles of logic presuppose the Christian worldview. How on an atheist worldview can the laws of logic be justified? Given a world that is constituted solely of material substances (I assume that Dr. Martin is a materialistic atheist) how does the atheist account for non-material logical laws? They certainly are not reducible to matter since if they were, they would not be laws-laws are not something that can be physically examined. Moreover, since the principles of logic are universal in nature they are not reducible to any particular physical object or objects. But if they are not reducible matter what are they?

It does no good to say they are mental abstractions since neither abstractions nor minds are possible within an atheist worldview. Nor can they be conventional since if they were they could be changed. And if they can be changed then absurdities follow-the statement that Bill Clinton is President of the United States could be both true and false.

Finally, because the principles of logic are abstract and universal, they cannot be experienced to be true. Thus such things as the law of non-contradiction are just highly confirmed inductions. Not only are there some laws of logic that are too complex to be observed, but this view would make logic contingent because there is always the possibility of a future observation disconfirming that law. But if logic is contingent then, as Dr. Martin has pointed out, absurdities become possible. To borrow his example, New Zealand could be both south of China and not south of China. [7]

Thus the atheistic worldview does not comport with the principles of logic. If atheists were consistent with their worldview, they would give up on logic and rationality altogether. But since they do behave rationally (at least some of the time) this shows that they are borrowing capital from another worldview.

That the Christian worldview can account for the principles of logic is readily demonstrable. Christianity allows for abstract and universal laws. Abstract because the Christian worldview teaches that more things exist than material objects. Thus it makes sense for there to be abstractions. Moreover, the universality of logic is possible because it is grounded in the character of God. God is by nature logical. And this all-powerful, all-knowing God orders all things in accordance with them.

Science

Dr. Martin asserts that science and Christianity are incompatible. He argues that since science presupposes the uniformity of nature and since Christian theology teaches that God can and does perform miracles (which Dr. Martin defines as violations of the uniformity of nature) science is inconsistent with Christianity. But why is this so? Even granting his definition of a miracle, why does it follow that science becomes impossible if there is no absolute uniformity of nature? Dr. Martin does not tell us.

I would guess that he would contend that scientists would have an insurmountable epistemological problem. Scientists would never know whether to fix the cause of an event to natural laws or to divine intervention. But this is not true. How does it follow that there is no way to distinguish between a miracle and a event that is in accordance to natural laws?

Dr. Martin’s definition of miracles, moreover, is somewhat defective. Christian theology teaches that God providentially is in charge of all events. All events are under his direct control. There are thus no impersonal natural laws.

Under Dr. Martin’s definition, all events are miraculous. The Christian view of miracles is that they are events God causes to come about in a different way from His regular pattern for directing events. Thus when humans die they usually stay dead. But in the case of Jesus, God raised Him up. In doing so God did not violate a natural law, but rather departed from His regular pattern of action.

Dr. Martin then states, “science assumes that insofar as an event has an explanation at all, it has a scientific explanation-one that does not presuppose God.” All Dr. Martin is telling us here is his view of science. But this begs the whole question. Of course atheistic scientists assume this, but Christian scientists do not. This does nothing to advance Dr. Martin’s argument that miracles are incompatible with science.

Dr. Martin begs the question regarding miracles. As Dr. Bahnsen has written: unbelievers “often think that they are treating the miracle-claims of the Bible as independent evidence that the Christian worldview is irrationally unacceptable. Their reasoning is something like this: we already know miracles do not occur (‘How could anybody believe…’), and since Christianity claims that such impossible things did occur (e.g., virgin birth, resurrection), we can draw the conclusion that Christianity must be false. But that conclusion is not so much “drawn” as it is taken for granted from the very outset. The denial of the very posibility of miracles is not a piece of evidence for rejecting the Christian worldview, but simply a specific manifestation of that very rejection.

Only if the Christian worldview happens to be false could the possibility of miracles be cogently precluded. According to Scripture’s account, God is the transcendent and almighty Creator of heaven and earth. Everything owes its very existence and character to His creative power and definition (Gen. 1; Neh. 9:6; Col. 1:16-17). He makes things the way they are and determines that they function as they do. ‘His understanding is infinite’ (Ps. 147:5). Moreover, God sovereignly governs every event that transpires, determining what, when, where, and how anything takes place-from the movement of the planets to the decrees of kings to the very hairs of our heads (Eph. 1:11). According to the Bible, He is omnipotent and in total control of the universe. Isaiah 40 celebrates in famous phraseology the creation, delineating, directing, providence, and power of Jehovah (vv. 12, 22-28). He has the freedom and control over the created order that the potter has over the clay (Rom. 9:21). As the Psalmist affirms, ‘Our God is in the heavens; He has done whatsoever He pleased’ (115:3).” [8]

It is on the atheist’s worldview that there is no basis to assume the uniformity of nature. The philosopher David Hume has taught us that to say the future will be like the past is to beg the question. [9] Since the uniformity of nature is an unjustified assumption on the atheist’s worldview, he has no basis upon which to engage in scientific activities. [10]

That the uniformity of nature is compatible with the Christian worldview is easily proven (remember that this unity is not an absolute one). God, who is providentially in control of all events, has revealed to us that we can count on regularities in the natural world. The Bible teaches that God providentially causes the harvest to come in due season, for example. Because of this regularity, we can be assured that scientific endeavors will be fruitful. Thus, far from presupposing the falsity of Christianity, science would be impossible without the truth of the Christian worldview.

Ethics

Dr. Martin last turns to morality. He contends that “objective morality” is incompatible with Christian theology since morality is dependent upon the will of God. And since God can will whatever he wishes (he could will that killing other people for pleasure is good), morality is arbitrary.

This contention only has teeth to those theologians who hold a voluntaristic view of God. [11] But this is not what the Bible teaches. Scripture teaches that God cannot deny Himself (2 Tim. 2:13) and that He is immutable. Thus God cannot call good evil nor evil good. Dr. Martin will then press the issue by saying that it is arbitrary to say that God’s immutable character is good. This is to completely miss the point. Because God is absolute and personal His character defines good. The notion that there could be an impersonal ethical standard is absurd. Ethics are necessarily personal. Thus they must either be grounded in an absolute and personal God or grounded in non-absolute persons. The latter is what atheism teaches. But this leads to ethical relativism. Without an absolute person, which non-absolute person should we listen to? There is no non-arbitrary way of deciding. Thus to say that it is arbitrary to ground goodness in the character of God is simply to disagree with the Christian worldview.

It is the atheist’s worldview that cannot account for ethics. As I stated above, material processes are non-moral in nature. It makes no sense to say that the orbit of the moon is morally commendable or reprehensible and neither does it make sense to say that human actions are commendable or reprehensible since humans are merely material.

Dr. Bahnsen writes:

“What philosophy of value or morality can the unbeliever offer which will render it meaningful to condemn some atrocity as objectively evil? The moral indignation which is expressed by unbelievers when they encounter the wicked things which transpire in this world does not comport with the theories of ethics which unbelievers espouse, theories which prove to be arbitrary or subjective or merely utilitarian or relativistic in character. In the unbeliever’s worldview, there is no good reason for saying that anything is evil in nature, but only by personal choice or feeling.” [12]

Atheists often contend that we derive ethical norms from the way people typically behave. Even assuming people typically behave in a good manner (a big assumption indeed), this gets the atheist nowhere. Asserting that because the world is this way, it ought to be this way is fallacious. Just because I am presently using Word 6.0 to write this paper does not mean that I ought to be using Word 6.0.

The atheist has no way out. If he wishes to uphold morality he must give up his atheism. If he wants to keep his atheism he must give up on morality. So for an atheist to accuse a Christian of bad behavior, he must presuppose the Christian worldview. But since he claims not to presuppose the truth of Christianity he should be consistent and not be concerned over moral matters.

Conclusion

Since TANG fails in all three areas its failure is total. Logic, science, and morality do not presuppose the non-existence of God. Indeed the very opposite is true. In order to make sense of any of these subjects, we must presuppose the God of the Bible. Hence by the very logic that Dr. Martin uses to try to refute Christianity, he must presuppose the truth of Christianity. And this is precisely why Dr. Martin and his two atheist colleagues may be branded fools. Though they know the God of the Bible, they suppress this knowledge and in so doing deceive themselves. [13] Thus professing to be wise they have become fools for they have exchanged the truth of God for a lie and have worshipped and served created things rather than their Creator, who is forever praised (Rom.1).


 

FOOTNOTES

[1] For a detailed discussion of transcendental arguments in general and TAG in particular, see Dr. Bahnsen’s and my tape series, “Transcendental Arguments: Nuclear Strength Apologetics.” Available from CMF: Catalog #ASV7-10 tapes-$55.

[2] Found in the Autumn 1996 issue of The New Zealand Rationalist & Humanist and on the “Internet Infidel” Internet web site: [http://freethought.tamu.edu/infidels].

[3] This is not to say, however, that atheists never act morally. Atheists feed their children, give money to charity and often make good neighbors. But atheists cannot give a justification for their actions. In the words of Cornelius Van Til, they are living on “borrowed capital” from the Christian worldview. Thus they profess one thing, but their actions belie this profession.

[4] This is the approach that Professor John Frame has taken in his exchanges with Dr. Martin. These exchanges can be found on the Internet under the Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics home page: [http://www.reformed.org/apologetics/martin_TAG.html]

[5] Parenthetical numerals are mine.

[6] Note the absurdity of [4] which asserts that God can make the law of non-contradiction false. Since for something to be false it must be not true, which assumes there is a distinction between falsity and truth. This distinction is precisely what the law of non-contradiction implies. Thus to say the law of non-contradiction is false is to presuppose the truth of the law of non-contradiction.

[7] The view that logic is based upon observation is thoroughly refuted by Gottlob Frege in The Foundations of Arithmetic (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1980).

[8] Greg L. Bahnsen, “The Problem of Miracles: Part 1,” Biblical Worldview, Vol. IX:7 (July 1993).

[9] Hume’s discussion of this problem (often called the traditional problem of induction) is found in his An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, section IV.

[10] For elaboration of this point see Dr. Bahnsen’s debate with Mr. Tabash. CMF catalog #AST2-2 tapes-$17.

[11] Voluntarism is the view that God’s will is His primary attribute. Accordingly, God can will whatever He wants and can even change His mind. Thus God can one day assert the goodness of preserving life and the next assert the goodness of murder. The medieval theologians Duns Scotus and William Occam were advocates of this view.

[12] Greg L. Bahnsen, “Does the Unbeliever Take Evil Seriously? The Problem of Evil: Part 2” Biblical Worldview, Vol. VII:12 (Dec. 1991).

[13] For an analytical discussion of this psychological phenomenon see Greg L. Bahnsen, “The Apologetical Implications of Self-Deception,” available from CMF: Catalog #ASD4-2 tapes-$10.