A Weakness of Christian Apologetics?

Discussion in 'Apologetical Methods' started by CatechumenPatrick, Dec 21, 2009.

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  1. Zenas

    Zenas Snow Miser

    Which is one of the many defficiencies in the evidentialist approach to apologetics. I measure the worth of an apologetic approach by its efficacy, not its difficulty. As has been pointed out though, Bahnsen, a presuppositionalist, was well versed in philosophy and I surmise could navigate his way through an evidentialist approach. Employing pressupositionalism though eliminated the need.

    Regarding your above assertion that presenting a pristine argument for one's position will only serve to engage in polemics, as the other person needs to be dissuaded from their position before accepting yours, you again highlight a defficiency of the evidentialist approach. My assertion regarding dysjunction holds true logically and that's all I ever asserted it did. If people were logical, rational, and persuaded by reason, not by the work of the Spirit, then there would be no atheists. The Bible itself explains in very brief detail that no one has a reason to deny God's existence because things exist. That is enough. Secular science has spent the last 150 years trying to find an alternative explaination for existence so as to defeat this very simple fact. Why are there atheists though if its so logically apparent? Because men's hearts and minds are darkened. They will deny the light of day because they hate it, no matter how apparent it may be. This fact bears no relation to simple fact that, logically speaking, if it is true that theism is true, then atheism is, by logical function, false. The assertion that to engage in this sort of argument is to engage in polemics only highlights the problems in the evidentialist approach.

    Well, for one, I disgaree with the OP. For two, I certainly have the right to an opinion, as suprising as you may find it.
     
  2. MMasztal

    MMasztal Puritan Board Sophomore

    I'm too irritated by your opening straw man post to respond to each and every point you made.

    But I will address your criticism of Bahnsen and Wilson. Your comments only reveal that you lack an awareness of Bahnsen's works. Visit Covenant Media Foundation and peruse the offerings there. Covenant Media Foundation - CD Sets I think you might find something to satisfy your need for more substantial scholarship.

    And your criticism of Wilson and others for not addressing "moral realism (reductionistic or Cornell realism), sensibility theories, nonnaturalism(s), intuitionism(s), expressivisms and projectivist quasi-realism, anti-realist constructivism" in either debate or his books. What kind of world do you live in? How many people would understand this stuff? How many books on "projectivist quasi-realism" (whatever kind of fabrication that is) do you think a publisher would sell? That's what academic journals are for- to publish stuff that maybe a few dozen people might read. How many issues of The Westminster Theological Journal have you read which allow you to opine that the Reformed scholars have not done enough to address atheistic arguments?

    "I feel like almost all Christian apologists write solely for the laity at a less than undergraduate level (e.g., Clark!), all the while expecting those arguments to cut-ice among actual atheist scholars or intellectuals." Exactly, it doesn't take a PhD to knock down the atheists' house of cards. We don't have to address each and every rabbit trails they hop on.

    You also give Hitchens too much credit. He and the other three horseman (Dennett, Harris and Dawkins) are more style than substance (which unfortunately matters these days) and their arguments aren't too strong.
    :soapbox:
     
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2009
  3. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    No, just as you don't have to know a lot about cars to know when the car is broken. But in order to do so effectively (e.g. fix the car), you have to know your opponent's position.

    What did all the great apologists of the past, Tertullian, Justin Martyr, Augustine, Anselm, Schaeffer, and the like have in common? They were all educated in the philosophy and thought of their day. Did some of them dismiss it? Yes, but they did so because they knew it so well (and in certain cases were overly harsh).

    *reminds self to finish the critique of the Bahnsen-Stein debate*

    Presuppositionalism tends toward an overly complex method of apologetics that will leave the layman scratching his head. I still maintain that the TAG is just the ontological argument in reverse.

    However, the bottom line of all this is that there are good Christian apologists and philosophers out there--you just haven't heard of them. For starters, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, Richard Swineburn (retired), among others. Part of the problem with being on the PB is that you get a lot of the debate within Christendom on apologetic methods and precious little of the actual work being done in philosophical apologetics and philosophy of religion.
     
  4. CatechumenPatrick

    CatechumenPatrick Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you for responding, and for your honest comments.
    My point was not that apologists should be criticized for not refuting every single theory or rejoinder non-Christians make that opposes the Christian worldview, nor that we ought to refrain from making strong arguments against non-Christian worldviews. My point is that we should not act like the non-Christian has no answer to Christian arguments (answers that often convince them), and we should not expect material written for lay-people to be adequate counterarguments to non-Christian scholarship at its best.
    Again with my example of the Arminian professor of theology: as great a book Chosen by God is, for example, it is not an appropriate response to, say, a scholarly work against Reformed theology or exegesis by the Arminian professor employing arguments that only some lay-people could grasp due to their esoteric complexity. In sum, then, my argument is that we spend too much time padding and praising the conclusions of our arguments, and too little time in research to support the premises of those arguments. And yes, if we want to adequately back-up our strong arguments that claim, say, that all non-Christian attempts to justify moral truths fail or presuppose the Christian worldview, then we or someone else should be doing the hard work to figure out the problems with (and grains of truths in) all, or the main, esoteric "fabrications" non-Christians devise.

    Finally, you wrote, “It doesn't take a PhD to knock down the atheists' house of cards. We don't have to address each and every rabbit trails they hop on. You also give Hitchens too much credit. He and the other three horseman (Dennett, Harris and Dawkins) are more style than substance (which unfortunately matters these days) and their arguments aren't too strong.” Well some of the body (of the church) is called to destroy those lofty arguments raised up against the knowledge of God, as Paul said. I agree fully that the popular New Atheists usually use bad arguments, but other atheists have much better arguments. Not everyone who disagrees with us is “more style than substances.” Our arguments, after all, are not infallible, only the Word of God is.
     
  5. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    I'm not sure exactly what you're saying here. In what regard exactly is presuppositionalism superior to evidentialism?

    Nearly the entirety of presuppositionalism is polemical.

    Moreover, it is one thing to speak of a non-inferential awareness of God's existence, which is often what the Bible speaks of when it talks about the undeniable witness of God in creation, and it is another thing to speak of an inferential chain that yields the truth of Christianity or theism at the end. You are advocating the latter in your syllogism, in which case you cannot appeal to the non-inferential knowledge as a premise which unbelievers are obliged to accept in apologetic discourse.

    Lastly, it is not as if evidentialists are obliged to reject this non-inferential awareness or knowledge of God in unregenerates.
     
  6. MMasztal

    MMasztal Puritan Board Sophomore

    The main problem for evidentialism is that evidence needs to be interpreted. Two people can look at the same object or situation and come to different conclusions based in their presuppositions. Evidence has no self-attesting truth.
     
  7. Zenas

    Zenas Snow Miser

    For a reason. It's a waste of time trying to logically prove something to a heart and mind that will abandon logic in order to protect its own beliefs. It's much more advantageous to illustrate that those closely held beliefs acre actually the beliefs of the system they purport to reject, yet actually hold, so as to show them the futility of their rejection.

    Moreover, I don't find the purpose of apologetics to be the conversion of the unbeliever-that's the purpose of evangelism. Rather, I agree with Calvin that the purpose of apologetics is to shut the mouth of the unbeliever.
     
  8. MMasztal

    MMasztal Puritan Board Sophomore

    1. We don't and we don't.

    2. Whoever said Chosen by God was a scholarly work and was suitable for use in a debate with an atheistic scholar?

    3. I propose this has been accomplished on numerous occasions. There is no atheistic bogeyman we need to worry about.

    4. Agreed.

    -----Added 12/23/2009 at 02:17:36 EST-----

    :ditto: and :amen:
     
  9. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    The fact that people have presuppositions which guide their interpretations to some extent or another does not imply presuppositionalism. Much more can be said on this topic, but I will leave it at that.

    There is nothing peculiarly presuppositionalist about this approach. Classical and presuppositional apologists alike hold that offering reasons for belief does not ultimately cause the unbeliever to believe (the Holy Spirit does). Both of them also find it effective to show where unbelievers are inconsistent with their own systems (and therefore borrowing from elsewhere).

    Moreover, the reason that presuppositionalists engage in polemics is precisely because they want to offer Christianity as a positive answer. Therefore you shouldn't say too sweepingly that "it's a waste of time trying to logically prove something to a heart and mind that will abandon logic," unless you want to undercut the foundations of presuppositionalism (viz. utilizing "the impossibility of the contrary"). Van Til often claimed that his apologetic offered "certain proof" for God's existence.

    I agree with this. But certainly, you agree that apologetics should be accompanied by evangelism, correct? The reason we shut the mouth of the unbeliever is so we can offer Christ as his only hope.
     
  10. MMasztal

    MMasztal Puritan Board Sophomore

    Absolutely! I like to use the phrase "tearing down their house of cards leaving them nowhere to live". At that point you present the Gospel as a new home, figuratively, of course.
     
  11. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    I'm no expert on these matters, and I must admit considerable surprise that questions and assertions so seemingly patent have generated such controversy; I can understand, however, that many apologists are more interested in strengthening Christians than anything else. And most Christians, like most people of any kind, are not coming into contact with philosophy on anything but the most basic of levels. So it's a question of supply and demand, in that regard: if the laity need some basic arguments, then a clear, simple argument or two should work. (Of course, I sometimes think that apologetics are taught like bad martial arts courses: "when your opponent comes at you with a knife at an exactly 73 degree angle, you respond by...." Whereas in real life they'll have a bicycle chain or a taser. So sometimes Christians are given an unintelligible argument that requires you to first manoeuvre an unbeliever into scepticism and then destroy him, and requires years to deploy because first you have to teach him what he is supposed to be asserting so you can refute him.) Of course, it's also disheartening because work on specifically Christian themes outside of a historical context (like what Richard Muller does) is often seen as de facto unscholarly, and the unbelievers feel no compulsion to read our stuff (though we often feel compelled to read theirs). So that part of the problem is that there's no infrastructure to deliver, and no market to support, the kind of Christian intellectual inquiry you're looking at. Amateurs can, of course, produce work of the first water, but it stands to reason that they produce it in smaller amounts than people who are able to live by such productions.
     
  12. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    One of my main concerns with presuppositionalism as a philosophical/apologetic position is that its logical conclusion is Karl Barth's statement that "Belief cannot argue with unbelief: it can only preach to it."

    I also see a tendency among presuppositionalist philosophers (and Gordon Clark, for all his brilliance, is the classic example of this) to take Reformed ideas and construct weird and wonderful logical systems of epistemology and metaphysics that are beautiful and wonderful--and absolutely useless, with no connection to reality, much less to the heart issues that lie at the center of unbelieving objections.

    With all this in mind, may I propose a threefold approach:

    Presuppositional: Challenging the assumptions of the unbeliever and showing the weaknesses in his system--I would be most cautious here.

    Evidential/Philosophical: Arguments and evidences for the Christian faith as well as answering intellectual questions.

    Existential: This part may be the most important and consists of showing how the love and power of the Gospel fills the "God-shaped vacuum" better than everything else that the unbeliever has been distracting himself with and using to suppress the truth. In addition, this part includes caring for the person and meeting his needs, both physical and spiritual, and being the hands and feet of the Body of Christ to him.

    These may be applied in any order, or omitted (well, ok, not the last one) as the case warrants.
     
  13. unlearnedlearner

    unlearnedlearner Puritan Board Freshman

    One, I don't believe that is the case with Van Til. Wouldn't Van Til say you can argue/reason with an unbeliever, because they bear the image of God live in God's world? Obviously, only the Holy Spirit can quicken, but that doesn't negate debating, etc. After all, Paul "reasoned"...

    Two, from my reading of a good chunk of Clark, I don't think his system is that beautiful.

    Three, if you have not, then I think you would enjoy the writings of John Frame, as he lays forth a tri-fold method of sorts.

     
  14. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    Oh I agree he wouldn't say that--from my understanding Van Til didn't like the logical conclusions of a purely presuppositional epistemology and tried to bring in just enough common sense to avoid them and be more or less biblically consistent. I'm still looking into Van Til's apologetic, so I could be wrong here.

    I should also note that I don't believe that my arguments can change hearts, merely bash heads. Of course the Holy Spirit does the work of heart-changing.

    Beauty here is used loosely to mean tight and logically consistent with lots of nice tight definitions. It's what all philosophers would like their systems to be: geometric. The fact that it has no correspondence to reality and lacks any warmth doesn't mean that it isn't beautiful--merely that it isn't practical.

    I was told by a friend this morning that I need to be reading some Frame, actually.
     
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2009
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