Autonomously reasoning to the rationality of presuppositionalism

Discussion in 'Apologetical Methods' started by Hilasmos, Dec 12, 2011.

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  1. Hilasmos

    Hilasmos Puritan Board Freshman

    I have been slowly studying the presuppositional approach for a few years, find merit in it, and generally think through issues the best I can in this way. However, one issue keeps nagging in my mind which I am wondering how to sort out.

    A problem with the classical/evidential approach is that it ultimately appeals to man's autonomous reasoning etc. (among other things). However, by reasonining with someone that they cannot reason without God, are you not appealing to their autonomous reasoning to understand their inability to account for reasoning without God. That is, still, at the base level there is an appeal for them to see the logic of the logic of presuppositionalism.

    Not sure if that makes sense, any suggestions?
  2. InSlaveryToChrist

    InSlaveryToChrist Puritan Board Junior

    The only proper way to reason with someone that they cannot reason without God is to appeal to the fact that all men presuppose the existence of God (whether they admit it or not) in order to account for their a priori knowledge that contradictions are wrong, or that all things must be in a logical relationship with each other. So, this is actually an appeal to their conscience. The atheistic worldview cannot account for the presupposition of rationality, so they must presuppose the existence of God. In other words, there is no reason to think anyone would insist on rationality, unless they presuppose the existence of God -- which all men do.
  3. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    There is a difference between using reason and the epistemological foundations for reasoning. The unbeleiver attempts to base reasoning on someother foundation than being made in God's image. They refuse to aknowledge that while at the same time using it.
  4. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    This is similar to the point that the transcendental arguments are themselves presenting the unbeliever with a form of evidence, and thus presuppositional apologetics is a form of evidential apologetics. Maybe someone can comment on this.
  5. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    I am inclined to say that an equivocation is taking place here. In "reasoning with someone," "reasoning" means the presentation of arguments; in "cannot reason without God," "reason" means the use of the faculty of reason. On the basis of this equivocation I would say there is nothing genuinely contradictory which needs explanation.

    It is not a form of "evidence" in the technical sense of that term as it is used to describe "evidential" apologetics. No "proof" is being offered for the existence of God but a clarification of the conditions necessary for establishing "proof" of any kind. One might think of a court of law, in which testimony, evidence, and arguments are presented to establish a case, but it makes not the slightest difference in the world if the court has no authority to justify or condemn. Evidential apologetics works on the level of presenting testimony, evidence, and arguments, whereas presuppositional apologetics works on the level of what constitutes the authority of the court.
  6. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    It is an indirect argument for the existance of God. In the traditional "proofs" God's existance is directly being argued for. In a transcendental argument you are indirectly arguing for his existance. Evidences are useful but have inherent limitations they only prove so much. I can give you all sorts of evidences that the bible is accurate to the original documents but that only proves that bible is accurate to the original documents, nothing more.

    Transcendental arguments can be applied to anything. They argue for the neccessary preconditions for anything that we experience to make sense at all. We all use science and assume everyday but what is neccessary in for science to be as it is? We would say God obviously.
  7. BobVigneault

    BobVigneault Bawberator

    James gave a great concise definition of the transcendental argument. Let me put it more in laymen terms. The transcendental argument asks the question, "What must be true for something else to exist?" We do not appeal for someone to reason the existence of God, we proclaim God and inform the person that he has already assumed God whether he realizes it or not. Logic, as an essential property of God must also be assumed. Hence, you don't really have to appeal to the opponents reason, you simply let him know that as soon as he agreed to debate... he lost the debate.

    He's lost because he assumes logic and that necessitates the mind of God. He's lost because he assumes that one argument can be BETTER than another. How can that be? How can we have a basis for BETTER or GOOD or BAD in a naturalist universe - the universe doesn't care. He's also lost because he scheduled to debate and therefore assumes the uniformity of time. In a random universe there is no basis for uniformity which is the fundamental principle of science.

    There you have it, the Christian theist is the only one who can give a basis for and justify morality and ethics, for science (uniformity) and logic.
  8. Hilasmos

    Hilasmos Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you, and I agree, but this is the very premise which lead to my question. We don't appeal to someone to reason to God, we appeal to their reason to reason that they cannot reason. I guess the issue for me is whether this leaves the person finally still resting in their reason.
  9. BobVigneault

    BobVigneault Bawberator

    You're thinking too hard Will. Logic is a tool, a God given tool, and image of God tool. We assume first that there is a world external to our mind. We also assume that there are other minds. We may now reason that there is a transcendent mind and we assume that the God of the Bible is that transcendent mind and he reveals himself in his Word. We follow his revealed will to proclaim the Gospel to others and we believe that His Spirit will quicken the mind, the soul of the hearer. It is not our responsibility to determine if we are appealing to the hearers will, it is our duty to proclaim the Gospel and the apostolic message. There is no need to get bogged down in the mechanics of logic. We proclaim the Gospel and God adjusts the cognitive elements in the hearer.
  10. Douglas P.

    Douglas P. Puritan Board Freshman

    Can you support this claim, that logic is an essential property of God, from Scripture?
  11. BobVigneault

    BobVigneault Bawberator

    Yes. Hebrews 6:17,18 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.

    God cannot lie, for him to do so would violate the law of non-contradiction. Is God subject to the law of non-contradiction? No. Logical thought is to think God's thoughts after him. Logic, truth must be an essential property of God because of the impossible of the contrary.

  12. Theogenes

    Theogenes Puritan Board Junior

  13. InSlaveryToChrist

    InSlaveryToChrist Puritan Board Junior

    would you define logic as truth? Also, what is your definition of truth?
  14. BobVigneault

    BobVigneault Bawberator

    Truth would be the property of propositions that relates to the way things are or what is, reality. Logic gives us the laws we use to measure whether a truth statement is true or false. Both logic and truth are dependent on the transcendency of God.
  15. Hilasmos

    Hilasmos Puritan Board Freshman

    Sorry for the late response...but maybe, maybe not. What I am talking about has to do with the fundamental accusation against non-VT approaches. If that is thinking too hard, then the accusation is moot and we shouldn't care if we take classical or presuppositional approaches (or, most likely, I am just confused in how I am presenting my point).

    I was recently listening to a Bahnsen lecture on VT and his criticism of Warfield's apologetic. The accusation is that to rely on the conclusion of human reason that "systematic theology" is authoritative results in a schizophrenia. That is, we make Christ the final authority only after we have authorized Him to be such by our reasoning. Bahnsen then drew the natural conclusions that

    1. Who would the final authority actually be if you took this approach? Human Reason
    2. In principle, then, every teaching of Christ must pass the test of acceptability of our reason
    3. This type of apologetic hands the "tool" to a Christian to later reject the Christianity they now accept

    Anyways, whether we argue inductively/deductively, or indirectly by means of a transcendental, I don't yet "see" how a similar accusation could not be leveled against it. Let's say I talk to an unbeliever, it goes like this:

    Theist: God exists because of the impossibility of the contrary.

    Atheist: What do you mean by the impossibility of the contrary?

    Theist: Without the Christian triune God there would be no preconditions for intelligibility, we couldn't even be having this conversation...(long dialogue on what this means)

    Atheist: I "see" your point, and I also "see" that my current worldview does not provide these preconditions of intelligibility. I have been assuming the existence of God all along in all of my reasoning processes. I will now stop suppressing the truth.

    From a strictly human perspective, I am failing to see why I couldn't accuse this of something similar to the schizophrenia noted above. Either way, our presentation has to "make sense" first (at least a logical priority, and from the human perspective) before someone can submit to it as rational. Nobody submits to the authority of Christ, unless it is blind unconscious faith, without it making sense first...and therefore, both classical and presuppositional approaches are conclusions of reason.

    If the presuppositional approach didn't result in submitting to the authority of Christ from a conclusion of reason, then the unbeliever first believed for no reason, which is irrational. If man submits to the authority of Christ as the result of human reason, then the Bahnsen criticism seems, in some fashion, to apply to the presup approach as well.

    Now, despite my inability to organize that issue in my head, I still adhere to the superiority of the presup approach since I think it is more complete and God honoring from start to finish. And, if that is the only difference, then I guess I am thinking too hard.
  16. BobVigneault

    BobVigneault Bawberator

    Will, I was a bit tongue and cheek when I said "you're thinking too hard". I am humbled by your systematic train of thought. I tend to be more colloquial and devotional in my treatment of topics which makes me a great teacher for the newbie but when it comes to the technical aspects I have trouble keeping the terms straight.

    When I am 'making my appeal', every thing I say has the purpose of bringing the conversation to a place where I can proclaim the Gospel. I will dismiss the hearers argument quickly by using the transcendental argument and then proclaim the Gospel. In other words, my appeal is not to the autonomous logic of the unbeliever, but to the Holy Spirit and that moment where God will quicken the unbeliever and he will be granted repentance.

    I don't believe in autonomous logic. The unbeliever is not free in his logic but instead uses a logic that is veiled by sin (Romans 1). Using natural revelation, God has given each of us enough understanding to know that we are condemned so I will appeal to the unbelievers logic on that point and take into consideration the noetic effects of sin.

    The unbeliever is going to try and use evidence and say "let's look at the evidence and see where it leads us". I am going to use logic to demonstrate that 'evidence' does not lead and that all evidence must be interpreted. He will understand this. Once he sees that our perception of objective knowledge is actually subjective (dependent on our worldview) then I will work the conversation toward a proclamation of the Gospel.
  17. Hilasmos

    Hilasmos Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you for the thoughts and feedback Bob.
  18. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Senior

    I have not read all the above but just wanted to remind the OPer that the classic presuppositionalist claim is that all autonomy/neutrality is pretended. The problem with the evidentialist is that he makes an appeal to the reason of the unbeliever as if the unbeliever were autonomous in his reasoning. The unbeliever claims to be. But we know, in fact, that all reasoning is done either in covenant obedience or disobedience and the unbeliever's problem is that his unbelief/disobedience renders him a fool, ultimately, though he may be, proximately, brilliant.

    The unbeliever does not reason autonomously. This is the mistake of both him and the evidentialist. He reasons rebelliously. To be a consistent presuppositionalist, we tell the unbeliever this and that he can reason rightly only by the regenerating work of the Spirit. We tell him that this is God's world and that he cannot reason without Him. We don't ask him to use his reason to see this so much as we tell him the truth to which he is called and to which he must accede, which we understand can only be done by the grace of God through the Holy Spirit.

    We don't invite the believer to sit as God's judge. We tell the unbeliever that God is his judge and that he should yield to Him. Part of what he needs to see is that without God, he cannot reason, affirm love, morality, etc. In other words, God is the indispensible precondition of the intelligibility of reason, the laws of logic, science, morality, etc. But we are not putting this before him for him to judge. We are declaring the truth for him to accept. And we, again, know that only those in whom the Spirit works will receive/accept the truth/Truth which/who alone saves.

    If he were autonomous, he could not even hear our appeal. Because he is not, we can tell him that he is not and call him to repent for the pretense that He is. As a part of it, we can tell him that if there were no God, nothing would make sense and because that statement makes sense, it is self-refuting. We are still not asking him to put God in the dock but reminding him that he is in the dock before God.

  19. Hilasmos

    Hilasmos Puritan Board Freshman

    The truth he is to accept, should it be accepted in a reasoned or unreasoned way?
  20. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Senior

    We are, ontologically, reasoning creatures. We cannot not reason. We may reason wrongly, rebelliously, poorly, and so forth, but we cannot escape reasoning.

    Fallen, unregenerate man, especially when it comes to ultimate questions, misuses his reason. But that does not mean that we do not call upon him rightly to use his reason, understanding all the while that he never will unless the Spirit enables him to. We are not asking him to engage in autonomous reason. We are asking him to repent and to think God's thoughts after him. We are calling upon him to trust the Lord.

    If you press your objection, it would also apply to the preaching of the gospel. How can we call upon unregenerate sinners to repent and believe, since they can only do so by the Spirit? We preach the gospel, and reason (Van Tilian presuppositionalists do not see apologetics as pre-evangelism) with unbelievers, all with a view to repentance and faith. I have no interest in convincing someone of a philosophical position. The fact is that only conversion will enable the unbeliever truly to see the point.

    So, think of it this way, when I call upon an unbeliever to repent and believe, am I granting his autonomy (or conceding to Arminianism or full Pelagianism)? No, both when I seek to get him to reason and when I preach the gospel it is in a context in which I am making it clear that no man comes unto Him unless the Father who sent Him draws him. This approach to apologetics is simply consistent Calvinism, recognizing that we are to be Calvinists not only soterically but also epistemically. So I do apologetics and preach in a way that recognizes that man is not autonomous and God is sovereign. And yet, man is responsible. Man is responsible to reason rightly and to repent and believe. That he lacks the ability to do so does not negate his responsibility. This is what keeps us in prayer, asking the Lord to open hearts and change lives.

  21. Hilasmos

    Hilasmos Puritan Board Freshman

    I am not replying just to argue or strain out gnats, I am fine with just letting it go after this. However, I have not yet received a reply that demonstrates it understands the point I am getting at; I feel like the issue at hand has been talked around, but not at; this is not a truth claim on my part, but just what I perceive.

    This is not distinguishing between what you are calling the unbeliever to believe and the manner in which, intellectually or rationally, he is going to get there and how that relates to the isolated issue at hand. My question does not pertain to the content of what you are calling him to or your intentions behind it (as Warfield could have the same content in the end).

    In your previous post you mentioned that no reasoning is really autonomous, only pretended, and that is granted. However, the calvinistic presup or classical apologist could affirm the same thing. So that really isn't the issue. The issue, as I am reading it, has to do with self-conscious autonomy. In our apologetic methodology we do not want to encourage self-conscious autonomy, the classical approach blatantly fails in this area. It encourages the unbeliever to engage in self-conscious autonomy until it feels rationally satisfied, and finally, submit to the Lordship of Christ (if they are a Calvinistic). The presup approach, from the outset, works against this (to its credit), but the question is does it escape all criticisms of encouraging self-conscious autonomy.

    Let's work with a Bahnsen quote...

    When the unbeliever does, as Bahnsen suggests, "an internal examination" of the competing world views, what reasoning mode will this self-consciously be done in? You agreed in your post above that we cannot escape the reasoning process. Now, I know we are calling him to abandon notions of self-conscious autonomy from the outset (rightly so), but the content of that message cannot but be analyzed autonomously in its most primitive foundational analysis.

    P1: An unbeliever cannot "not" reason outside of a self-conscious autonomy while in an unbelieving state
    P2: Presuppositional apologetics calls unbelievers to do an examination of the inner logics of competing world views (see Bahnsen quote)
    C (P3): presuppositional apologetics encourages unbelievers to reason within a self-consciously autonomous framework

    (Or, they do not call unbelievers to reason at all; and, the fact that from beginning to end the message is "you are not autonomous" doesn't mean the unbeliever somehow reasons, self-consciously, other than autonomously until this is submitted to. So the message is theologically pure, but my question is whether if that's the only difference.)​

    P4: Bahnsen criticizes the Warfield apologetic because it is schizophrenic: it asks unbelievers to use self-conscious autonomy to reason themselves out of autonomy into a self-conscious theonomy
    P5: Bahnsen could also apply the same criticism to the presuppositional approach. For...

    • The presup method asks unbelievers to examine worldviews
    • This examination has a "purpose" to it or no "purpose to it"
    o If it has no purpose, then the presup method is meaningless
    o If it has a purpose: the purpose is to reason to the coherency of adopting a said worldview
    • This seen coherency would be derived from a framework of self-conscious autonomy
    • This coherency will result in repentance or suppression
    o If the Spirit regenerates, repentance
    o If the Spirit does not regenerate, further suppression of truth​
    • The Calvinistic classical approach has this same purpose ​

    In your previous posts you seemingly are diverting the conclusion of the above syllogism (or the logic I had been pressing) with concepts that we do not call unbelievers to judge the truth, but accept the truth. However, that proves to be a distinction without a difference since you do not want it accepted in an un-judged way (or, an unreasoned way). And since an unbeliever can only reason as an unbeliever before they submit themselves to truth, all conclusions must first flow out of this self-conscious autonomy. Or, you do not engage the unbeliever in the reasoning process...however, as I draw from Bahnsen and his reading of VT, that is not what presup is supposed to do.

    So, if this is not correct, is either P1 or P2 incorrect. If P1 is wrong, you are in a logical contradiction that one can self-consciously reason as a believer before they self-consciously reason as a believer; if P2 is wrong, what does the Bahnsen quote mean?
  22. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Senior


    I have not failed to understand your original post or what you write above. The quandry that you have put yourself in is quite clear to me (I agree with much of what my fellows have written above, especially the attempt of Rev. Winzer to reason with you).

    Your quandry means not only that we cannot engage in apologetics with the unconverted but preach the gospel to the unconverted. You note that an unbeliever can only reason as an unbeliever before he submits himself to the truth. I agree. But it is in our pressing the truth apologetically and in gospel preaching that the Lord is often pleased to open the eyes to see and receive our argument. But we don't refrain from preaching to them because they have not yet evidenced such an opening. We preach (and I do not see apologetics--nor does Greg Bahnsen--as materially distinct from preaching) and in so doing tell our subject that he is not a fit judge of what is preached as an unbeliever but must yield to its truth. Yes, he must do so as he uses right reason, which he lacks in unbelief and which only the Spirit can give him.

    Another point frequently made by Bahnsen is that we engage in proof not persuasion. The two-pronged approach--defending the faith from within the faith and the internal critique of unbelief--constitute proof, demonstrating the impossibility of the contrary, establishing that without the Ontological Trinity and the Self-Attesting Christ of Scripture all is rendered nonsense and that with Him all is established. All of this is being presented to a creature who, though fallen, retains the broader marks of being created in imago dei (personality, spirituality, rationality, morality, authority, creativity--PE Hughes), a creature who either will continue to suppress the truth in unrighteousness (and we call him on this) or not.

    Logic, used abstractly, magisterially, not ministerially, will land you where you are, not only in the quandry that you propose, but in a host of other cases, including the attempts to comprehend the incomprehensible. We must yield to revelation: the Bible tells us both that man is utterly dependent and never autonomous (though he pretends in his rebellion as if he is) and that the gospel is to be preached to all men, indiscriminately, even though many hearts are closed and will remain closed. I guess what I am saying is that your quandry, if you continue to maintain it, is a quandry with much of the Bible, far greater than "how can we make an apologetic appeal without affirming the pretended autonomy of unbelieving man?"

  23. Hilasmos

    Hilasmos Puritan Board Freshman

    Okay, we agree then, that is all I was arguing for. I am speaking about the order of knowing not the order of causation of knowing.
  24. heymike

    heymike Puritan Board Freshman

    If I understand this, it is as if the presupposionalist is like the Calvanist that tells an unbeliever that they cannot believe the gospel unless God regenerates them.
  25. Hilasmos

    Hilasmos Puritan Board Freshman

    I think it ends up being a little more nuanced then that (although the above is true) because a regenerate Christian can still function in a consciously autonomous way. The point I was trying to express above, as it turns out, is very similar to what Gerstner/Sproul make in their book on apologetics when arguing against presuppositionalism.

    The solution is not to deny that man "starts with himself" in knowing; as my chain of arguments above were trying to demonstrate that it is impossible to do. The simple answer is to say, yes they do, and that's okay, because that is not what presuppositionalists mean by "autonomy" when they condemn autonomous reasoning. Therefore, Sproul equivocates on the definition of autonomy; and, my "delimma" above was a result of naturally doing the same thing.

    Frame, dealing with this issue, shows that Van Til distinguishes between man as a proximate starting point and God as the ultimate starting point. It is not autonomous reasoning to start with yourself, proximately, by means of the psychological faculty of reasoning (it is impossible not to, and Sproul refers to this as autonomous reasoning). However, the issue in whether one is "autonmously" reasoning or not is based on what standard or criteria of truth one appeals to while engaging their faculty of reasoning.

    In conclusion, my thread title of "autonomously reasoning to the rationality of presuppositionalism" is a delimma only if autonomy = starting with yourself (as defined above as "proximate"). At least that is how I have sorted it out in my mind.
  26. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    I have found that to understand autonomy better examples serve better than abstract statments. Lets say that an atheist tells you that they do not believe in God because of the problem of evil. I mean why would a loving God allow such to take place if they are powerful enough to stop it? What this question is really about is what is a good reason for God to permit evil? You see autonomy is not about "starting with yourself" it is about making your self god. This question for instances assumes, or presuposses, that unless we can know and understand God's reason for allowing evil than it doesn't make sense at all.

    Human beings are basically putting God on trial and invoking the almighty god of reason to deny that he exists. But why does God owe us any explinations at all? Why must he answer to us on any subject whatsoever? He doesn't. That is autonomy, assuming that we are god instead of him. It is not accepting our own limitaions, along with reason's, as creatures. God owes us nothing and we owe him everything, not the other way around. Sproul and the other authors of Classical Apologetics simply misunderstand Van Til.

    They view VT's argument as a direct argument where our starting premise is "God exists" and then they correctly deduce from there how impossible it is to get to where VT said to go, the truth of christianity. VT's point was much more subtle than that. He simply pointed us to the truth that christian theism is true no matter what. Hence the impossibility of the contrary, that is it is impossible fo any worldview other than christianity to be true period. So it is more about presupossing christian theism rather than simply that God exists.

    ---------- Post added at 11:25 AM ---------- Previous post was at 11:20 AM ----------

    Well it is more that the unbeleiver is using the image of God to try to misinterpet creation as something other than creation while resisting the common grace of God. They have no reason whatsoever to deny the truth of christianity but are attempting to anyway. The irony that Van Til pointed to was that it is because christianity is true that the unbeleiver can do anything whatsover, including their own rebellion. Now proving these things logically is more complicated but it is ironic never the less.
  27. Hilasmos

    Hilasmos Puritan Board Freshman

    Agreed James.

    Here is a follow up question to this distinction. I have read, that ultimately, you could reduce the worldview options down to Christian and non-Christian; or stated otherwise, autonomous and non-autonomous. I think Bahnsen wrote this in some article or lecture. Regardless, if you agree with this, what do you do with a presuppositional Muslim etc.? Would they still fall under the formal class of "autonomous" even though they appeal to a standard outside of themselves -- even if it be the wrong standard?

    I have some general thoughts as to why they would still be autonomous, but they have not proven completely satisfying yet. Not sure if that makes sense or not.
  28. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    Lets look at it this way there is the true worldview, christian, and everyother false view, unbeleiving (Atheist, Buddhist, Agnostic, Muslim, etc...). The benchmark for a worldview is explaining reality as we experience it. It is not worldview verse worldview, it is worldview verses reality. If creation is creation can anyother worldview truthfully explain it other than christianity?
  29. Hilasmos

    Hilasmos Puritan Board Freshman

    No. But I don't follow its correlation to whether a presuppositional muslim would fall under a formal definition of autonomous. Take an empiricist that says truth is based on sense perception. He has set himself his own standard for how he will determine what is and is not true. That is blatantly autonomous. but, now what do I say to a muslim that says that his revelation from Alla is the standard by which he determines if anything is true etc.

    ---------- Post added at 12:04 PM ---------- Previous post was at 12:02 PM ----------

    My thought, of course, is that because his god is false he has still set his own "standard" by choosing to follow a false God. Just wondering if that is the only answer there is.
  30. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    Well than your thought is correct. A god of our own design is no different than us being god.
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