A Challenge to the Presuppositionalists

Discussion in 'Apologetical Methods' started by no1special18, Feb 16, 2009.

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  1. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    As Christians (actually, as humans), we do not have a rationalistic approach to our worldview. We don't reason towards the truthfulness of Scripture. Scripture is truthful from the outset, and we know that it is not because we've figured it out in some other manner, but because the Holy Spirit Himself has opened our eyes to accept it as a pre-rational authority. Scripture is the ground of all reasoning and not merely the conclusion of metalogical reasoning.

    In fact, the methodology of trying to find out which authority is correct is a flaw which Van Til pointed out in Francis Schaeffer's (I think) apologetic, for doing so presupposes that there is some authority external to the one for which we are searching, and from which we can reason in the first place. If we try to say the Bible is not necessarily true and "neutrally" attempt to find out what is a necessary precondition of intelligibility, then we are assuming that a separate framework is possible from which we can neutrally reason, and that the Bible is not completely necessary.

    So, in other words, because of the Holy Spirit's witness, we do in a sense obtain the presupposition of Scripture out of thin air. We start with it before even reasoning in the first place. We still have a rational account for holding this presupposition, but not for arriving at it, because by definition we must start with it. And if we don't start with our presupposition, then we are trying to lay the groundwork for rationality is a purportedly neutral fashion, which is in fact evidentialism, albeit an uncommon variance of it.

    But, again, this does not establish the Bible's authority, even if all other revelations (e.g. the Qur'an) are disproven. This is true because, in such a case, we are still saying that the Bible is God's Word iff it passes a test for us humans (viz. that we find it to be consistent), and iff it remains rationally appropriate for us humans. If there is some methodology which does not necessarily have Scripture's veracity as its basis, then Scripture cannot be as authoritative as it ought to be -- for in that case whatever methodology was used to arrive at the conclusion "Scripture is true" is in fact more authoritative than Scripture itself.

    Moreover, a nonbeliever could legitimately claim, after being confronted with this argument, that whatever appropriate revelation there was is now gone. Why not the revelation of the Mayans or the Incans? Why not some Eastern religion whose text we have lost in the annals of history? If we establish the necessity of revelation, and even if we establish the Bible as consistent, this still leaves plenty of (rational) safety valves for unbelief.

    I'm not saying it's wrong to argue for the fact that revelation is needed. That is still an awesome argument to use. However, once we establish the necessity of revelation, we should not view this as some "neutral" fact from which we can move to Scripture. Rather, we show how the starting point of Scripture accords with this fact (of the necessity of revelation), and how the unbeliever's starting point adamantly does not.

    In other words, the argument for the necessity of revelation is a "primary interpretation" as I espouse in this thread. I have, however, changed my current terminology to "immutable fact" rather than "primary interpretation," because the former term fits the concept much better than the latter does. The last post in that thread makes note of this modification.
  2. Brian Withnell

    Brian Withnell Puritan Board Junior

    I can tell you are no mathematician. :)

    If you have that a presupposition is what can be proven as a condition of rationality, then what you are left with is rationality is the presupposition and all else is theorem. Not only that, but many rational systems would be excluded as the axioms of the system would not be provable as necessary.

    Presuppositions are statements taken as true without proof. Irrationality can only be charged against a system of presupposition which lead to contradiction. Thus strong geometry (those that have no parallel postulate or one of the alternatives) are rational, but that does not mean that either Euclidean geometry or elliptical geometry are irrational. The Euclidean parallel postulate is not required for rationality (every time I step on an airplane I trust the pilot to have done his navigation via spherical geometry, a subset of elliptical geometry, which contradicts Euclidean geometry at the level of presupposition).

    Presupposition in any field is fairly straight forward ... it is taken as true without proof. That does not mean there cannot be reason for thinking it true. The example of elliptical geometry came out of attempting to prove the parallel postulate from the other Euclidean postulates ... until a model for elliptical geometry in the real world was mapped to the geometry. The real world has no contradictions (thanks to the God who designed it), so discovering model for the real world in elliptical geometry proved it is without contradiction.

    Presuppositions are the foundation we set for a logical system. While as Christians, we know there is a foundation that models the universe appropriately, it is not impossible to have a set of axioms that say nothing of the real world (pure mathematics does it all the time). What is significant in one sense is that we know those that oppose our system of presuppositions cannot do so consistently with their lives. Those that want to borrow morality have to presume a basis for it. Not only that, but they know the truth, because God has made it known to them, and God created them with a conscience that either excuses them or accuses them based on conformity to our foundation (at least when they have not had their conscience seared by long practice of suppression the truth in unrighteousness).

    -----Added 2/25/2009 at 10:05:38 EST-----

    Hmmm.... I'm not sure what you are intending that the axioms which he holds are universal and prescriptive. That the universe is logical (as an inherent trait) does not seem to (at first blush) mean that it must have additional axioms which are universal and prescriptive. In my prior post to Matthew W. I stated that two axiom sets are operative and without contradiction in different geometric spaces. I'm not sure why what you are saying requires some different "universal and prescriptive" when in our day-to-day lives, we can have different logical systems.

    -----Added 2/25/2009 at 10:19:09 EST-----

    I would respectfully disagree. Moving from antecedent to consequence is causality, not logic. I see no reason for either to be validated in order to exist. If they just are, there is no need for validation ... of course if you are talking about there needs to be a way of mapping the axiom set to a model of the universe (model validation) then either mapping or not mapping is irrelevant to the logic of the model. There are mathematical models for which no map has been found and for which none are sought. Validation from the standpoint of proving non-contradiction is not required for logic, though it would be required that presuppositions that are contradictory be labeled illogical. People examine them for years upon years without finding a model or a contradiction. Are they logical? From the standpoint of being based on a set of axioms, undefined and defined terms, and built upon them -- yes, they are logical. Are those systems validated? A pure mathematician would only care in as much as if they were, they might move on to some other system that is still within abstraction.
  3. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Then the "causality" is a rational observation. Again, this is not something inherent in the universe, but something mind abstractly works with.
  4. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    How do you know that it is the Holy Spirit who opened your eyes to Scripture and not some other spirit? There must be marks whereby this can be ascertained to be genuine. The marks are not the cause for the belief but are a consequence to be expected if this is a true work of the Holy Spirit. One is not at liberty to say, The Holy Spirit told me so, and leave it at that; the Bible requires us to "prove all things."
  5. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    No, I'm saying that the axiom of logic, i.e., "the laws of logic are true," contains the characteristics of logic, and these characteristics are universality and prescriptiveness. It would make absolutely no sense for an atheist to say he believes in the laws of logic but not in their universality or their prescriptiveness. They are objective, not conventional. Thus, he must show whether or not his presupposition is consistent with these characteristics that he is obliged to accept contained in the axiom.

    Also, just so I can learn some more stuff pertaining to axioms, what specifically are the axioms of different types of geometry? What propositions are they?

    -----Added 2/25/2009 at 10:39:48 EST-----

    This is the thinking that denies presuppositionalism in the first place. "You can't do that; you must prove it by some other means." No, I simply do not have to appeal to a higher authority to validate any work of God. You may ask how I know it is a work of God, but the answer is that I simply know it. If I had to make it accord with a higher authority, then God would not retain any authority. His witness is infallible, and I don't have to "prove" its infallibility; that is an absurd concept.

    The best feeling I can explain which can objectify the subjectivity of the experience is this one: imagine you are in an argument with someone, and at some point (maybe after you've heard a point he just made), you are completely assured that you are correct -- you know you are correct -- but this assurance occurs before you actually formulate your argument. Of course, as the argument pans out, you formulate your argument and end up beating the other guy down, meaning that you had some legitimate knowledge prior to an actual rational undergirding for it. There did end up being a correct rational basis, but nonetheless you had correct knowledge before even thinking of this basis. It is likewise with Christians and the Holy Spirit and the obvious witness of Scripture.

    While this may sound unfair, please recognize that I am still willing to demonstrate the consistency of my worldview and offer a full apologetic, but I am not doing this as if I expect to find any sort of flaw in mine, because I already have a completely true and convincing knowledge that such an occasion would be impossible. In fact, it would be illogical for me to expect any type of possible flaw in the first place, but I still am completely willing to demonstrate this flawlessness. Thus, certainty of the faith and fairness in apologetical argumentation are still balanced, and this is done by none other than God Himself, the Holy Spirit.

    Actually, to appeal to the work of God as proof would be objectively sound, but it would lack any persuasive ability. Apologetics consists of this persuasion.

    This, by the way, is why not every Christian who can think through the most intricate philosophical implications of belief is still epistemically justified in his or her belief in God, and why every person on Earth is epistemically obliged to believe in God. From the outset, everyone's sensus divinitatus makes God-belief obligatory. Submission to God is demanded prior to any reasoning, even reasoning to find out what our authority should be, which was (partially) the sin of Eve.
  6. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    You are answering a figment. I have distinguished between evidentialism which proves and a presuppositional approach which confirms faith. If you cannot show how your Christianity confirms your presuppostional belief in the authority of Scripture then you are asking me to disbelieve the Bible when it tells me to discern teachings by their fruits.
  7. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    It appears that this previous paragraph of mine answers your request.

    "While this may sound unfair, please recognize that I am still willing to demonstrate the consistency of my worldview and offer a full apologetic, but I am not doing this as if I expect to find any sort of flaw in mine, because I already have a completely true and convincing knowledge that such an occasion would be impossible. In fact, it would be illogical for me to expect any type of possible flaw in the first place, but I still am completely willing to demonstrate this flawlessness. Thus, certainty of the faith and fairness in apologetical argumentation are still balanced, and this is done by none other than God Himself, the Holy Spirit."

    I'm not saying apologetics should consist of our telling unbelievers to look inside themselves, and look inside themselves further, and they just haven't heard the right Spirit, etc. Although that may be true, that is not apologetics. But it doesn't follow that I can't legitimately recognize that as the cause of my own belief and let the unbeliever know what I believe about the Holy Spirit.
  8. Brian Withnell

    Brian Withnell Puritan Board Junior

    Boy are we going to get an :offtopic: on this one. :lol:

    The axiom (postulate in geometry) that is different is the parallel postulate. In Euclidean space, it states:

    It is directly contradicted by the spherical postulate which states there can be no parallel lines. (The technical language for it I have not looked up in a while, so I'm not willing to put it into a quote box.) Spherical geometry is geometry on a sphere (one model) in which lines are "great circles" of the sphere. Every great circle on a sphere intersects every other great circle at two points ... and is the shortest distance between those two points (which is why it is used in aviation).

    If you used Euclidean geometry to plot courses for airplanes and used the shortest distance, you would crash the airplane into the ground trying to use the shortest distance between two point (a line).

    I think I see your point on the laws of logic, but there are precious few laws for logic: identity, non-contradiction, excluded middle, commutativity, associativity and the distributive law; and those laws of logic are rather bare in what they state.

    What I see though (dimly, I'm not the mathematician I once was) is that logic is ruled by convention. I've taken a course on mathematical modeling and in it, an entire section was devoted to Boolean Algebras (note the plural) and logic in general. The laws I stated above are those of a Boolean Algebra. That does not mean there are not other logic systems (I know there are) in which some of these "laws" are non-existent. It doesn't mean the systems are not logical, but that they operate differently than what we are used to operating. For that matter, most people operate on an emotional level not a logical level.

    -----Added 2/25/2009 at 11:23:34 EST-----

    The only fruit that the Bible states must be shown is that it conforms to the Bible. So the Bible is its own confirmation. WCF:

    There is no outward proof that confirms the Word of God to us -- if there were, we just unseated God and put the thing which confirms the word into the place of God (judging the Word by an external standard). The Bible is Canon; it is the standard by which all else is judged.

    While I might look at the arguments of someone that does not accept the Bible as canon, I do not believe their axioms are those upon which the universe is founded. Seeing the system allows me to push it to the limit that the person does not believe (most people do not hold that the universe is meaningless regardless of where they start).
  9. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    Doesn't the fact that spherical lines are on spheres make a huge difference? In that case, the propositions would not correspond, because they're not referring to parallel lines in the same sense, and logical contradictions have to include propositions that are identical in that regard. For instance, f I said I have a cat "A" but I do not have a cat "B," I would not be referring to the same cat and therefore there would be no contradiction in stating the possession of one and the lack of possession of the other. Likewise, if I say that all non-spherical lines have exactly one parallel line, yet all spherical lines have exactly zero, then I am not referring to the same subject and therefore there is no contradiction.

    Or perhaps I still know too little about geometric axioms.

    I think "concise" might be a better word than "bare," seeing as the laws, though small, are the ground of all thought.

    I've never heard of different systems of logic abandoning any of the aforementioned foundational laws. Maybe I'll have something to learn in my logic class next quarter. :)

    Regarding people who usually think emotionally, it doesn't follow that they still don't use logic or that they do not have to provide an account for it.

    Lastly, thanks for posting the WCF quotation.
  10. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    This is a contradiction. That which conforms to the Bible is not in the Bible. There must a particularisation which applies the biblical principle to the real world. This particularisation -- like works in relation to justification -- is a fruit and evidence that the principle which produces it is true.
  11. Brian Withnell

    Brian Withnell Puritan Board Junior

    Contradiction is that something is both A and not A at the same time in the same relationship.

    The Bible completely and perfectly conforms to itself and has to (nothing can be different from what it is, so anything will conform to itself).

    John says that those that listen to "us", the writers of the scriptures, is from God, and those that do not are not from God. The test of Godliness is the scriptures.

    This is no different than what Paul says in Romans 9:
    In this, Paul says that man cannot complain about God choosing, God is God and the authority begins with him. His word needs no evidence or proof; his word is the axiom upon which everything else is built and is the standard by which all else is measured.

    I'm wondering if we are talking past each other here.

    What I'm saying is the Bible is the standard by which any fruit would have to be judged ... it is beyond proof (or even showing of evidence like works in justification) because it is what measures all else.

    Back when a meter was the length between two marks on a particular platinum/iridium bar (instead of how far light travels in a vacuum in a *really* small, specific amount of time) the bar was the standard. You didn't measure the bar to find out how far it was off ... it was the definition of a meter. When it was compared to anything else, the other thing was what was being measured. The same is true for the Bible. It measures everything placed against it, not the other way around.
  12. DonP

    DonP Puritan Board Junior

  13. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    This is true in itself, and this is what is meant by calling the self-authenticating revelation of God in the Bible the starting point for the Christian. But what are you going to do when somebody asks you where the Bible can be found? Your idealism isn't going to work so well in the real world when you are forced to particularise your starting point. Somewhere or another you will have to give an account of your "Bible," and when you do it won't be the Bible which proves itself to be the "Bible."
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