Is classical apologetics Pelagian at root?

Discussion in 'Apologetical Methods' started by Confessor, May 22, 2009.

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  1. chbrooking

    chbrooking Puritan Board Junior

    The Muslim would not agree with your assessment that he denies reason utterly. And, in fact, he doesn't. By using language or math, the Muslim demonstrates that reason holds. He simply cannot give a reason for reason. His presuppositions are inconsistent with his life and worldview. That is what presuppositional apologetics points out to him.

    But I think you are quite missing the point. We cannot begin with agreement on the existence of 'a God', simply because it is no agreement at all. The term must have content or communication is pointless. This is why all reasoning is circular, good reason being virtuously circular, bad reason being viciously so. How will you move from a shared term 'God' which,, as shared, has nothing of the Christian God in its denotation or connotation, --How will you move from this to the Christian God? You might as well begin with agreement that we both have a holy book. We wouldn't agree that theirs is a holy book at all, so there is no agreement at all.

    We aren't asking the Muslim to tweak his theology. We are asking him for wholesale repentance.
  2. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    It is this premise that leads me to the conclusion that presuppositionalism is fideistic and a cousin of Neo-Orthodoxy. Circular reasoning is (by definition) always fallacious, whether deductive or inductive. If we claim that Christianity is circular reasoning, we have claimed that Christianity is a fallacy.

    A consistent Muslim would. He would maintain that just because the laws of logic apply now does not mean that they will apply in the future.

    He demonstrates that they hold now. He does not demonstrate that they will hold in the future.

    And yet, there is a definition of God that both the Muslim and the Christian will agree to: God is the greatest possible being. If the Muslim denies this, his presuppositions are shown to be inferior to Christianity. If he agrees, then the battle is basically over. This is the brilliance of Anselm's ontological arguments: they can lead only to one being--the God of the Scriptures.

    Indeed--we are showing him that the God he worships isn't the real one, but a perversion of the real one.
  3. Whitefield

    Whitefield Puritan Board Junior

    Could you explain how it is that "the battle is basically over," when the Muslim agrees that Allah is the greatest possible being?
  4. chbrooking

    chbrooking Puritan Board Junior

    All reasoning is necessarily circular. The moment you construct a syllogism, the middle term, which must bridge the major and minor, must be presupposed within each of the latter. In other words, the conclusion is guaranteed by the definition of the terms themselves. If the middle term were not included within the definition of the other terms, there would be no bridge between them and no conclusion could be drawn.

    When I say, "All men are mortal", mortality is assumed in what it means to be man. And likewise, when I say that socrates is a man, I'm assuming both his humanity and mortality, not really demonstrating it. Unless I equivocate on man, the result is guaranteed by the definitions. It is inherently circular.

    In a sense, you are quite right. The problem is that there is no such thing as a consistent Muslim -- nor can there be. A Muslim lives in the Christian God's world, and persists merely at the pleasure and long-suffering of the Christian God. He cannot be consistent in such a world while denying the existence of the Christian God. Were he consistent, he could not know; he could not speak; etc. The moment he speaks, he demonstrates that he actually knows that the laws of logic do not in fact change. And I'm sure he will not grant that his precious Quran may be true today, but not tomorrow. So even within his own self-deception he cannot be consistent.

    I'm reluctant to replicate unbelievers' assault on Christian proofs, especially since I believe the classical proofs are true and cogent within a Christian worldview. But if the unbeliever does not grant the Christian presuppositions, he might argue as Gaskins does:

    1. The creation of the world is the greatest achievement imaginable.

    2. The merit of an achievement is the product of its intrinsic quality, and the ability of its creator.

    3. The greater the handicap of the creator, the more impressive the achievement.

    4. The most formidable handicap for a creator would be non-existence.

    5. Therefore if we suppose that the universe is the product of an existent creator we can conceive a greater being - namely, one who created everything while not existing.

    6. An existing God therefore would not be a being greater than which a greater cannot be conceived because an even more formidable and incredible creator would be a God which did not exist.


    7. God does not exist.

    As I mentioned, I'm reluctant to republish such nonsense, but it is instructive in showing some of the problems with the ontological argument.

    But what is most ironic to me is that you want to reject presuppositionalism on the basis of circularity, but of all the classical proofs, this is the most circular!
  5. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    Here you assume that the syllogism is true. A syllogism by definition is merely valid--it does not follow that it is true.


    God and pointless evil cannot coexist
    Pointless evil exists
    Therefore God does not exist

    Of course, this is countered by saying

    God and pointless evil cannot coexist
    God exists
    Therefore pointless evil does not exist

    Both are logically valid, but the second premise in each may be true or false--one has to compare it to reality to find out. I am not presupposing anything in this except what is stated.

    No it isn't. You are postulating that mortality is part of humanity. You have a proposition that may be either true or false. Your stating it proves nothing unless I agree.

    No, you are postulating it. Again, you have a proposition that may be either true or false. Socrates may not actually be a man--Socrates may be a dog or a cat or an idea. You must specify what is meant by "Socrates".

    Unless I agree to the terms of the debate, you cannot debate with me. I must share your presuppositions, or your debating is futile. If non-Christians did not incorporate God's truth into their systems of thought, there would be no debate.

    Sure there is: he's called a suicide bomber. The terrorists on 9-11 were consistent with their beliefs, just as Nietzche, in his insanity, was consistent with his beliefs. I wish I saw more Calvinists who were as consistent.

    Fact is, he can because he is made in the image of God. His belief system allows for that.

    No--he simply demonstrates that they are true at this moment. He cannot be certain that they will be true in five minutes. A stable universe is a presupposition.

    He can argue it, but the argument postulates things that will not be granted.

    I do not grant this. By not granting his first premise, the argument cannot continue. The difference between this and the premise "God is the greatest possible being" is this: one is an assertion, while the other is a definition. The creation of the world is not, by definition, the greatest imaginable achievement, while God is, by definition, the greatest possible being. Once the definition of God is conceded, the debate is over, just as, when total depravity has been conceded, the debate over predestination is over.

    I also should mention that the argument falls under Kant's assertion that existence is not a property, but a fact.

    Anselm's first ontological argument falls under this, but his second stands because it does not concern itself with existence as a property, but with mode of existence: is God necessarily existent, contingently existent, or impossibly existent?

    The question is answered when contingent and impossible existence are shown to be inferior to necessary existence. Once we see that God is necessarily existent, it must be concluded that he exists.

    You addressed the more common ontological argument, not the modal ontological argument.

    Because then Allah (which is just "God" in Arabic) cannot be the being described in the Koran. Only the being described in the Bible could be the greatest possible being.
  6. Whitefield

    Whitefield Puritan Board Junior

    Where in the ontological argument is the type of God proved (e.g., triune and gracious) with whom we can compare the God described in Scripture?
  7. chbrooking

    chbrooking Puritan Board Junior

    My dear friend,
    You are responding without considering that to which you respond.

    My statement had nothing whatsoever to do with soundness--only validity. But you have not carefully considered what I was saying. The moment you use a term, you have grouped under one head things that have common characteristics. Leaving the platypus aside, "mammals" bear live young, have hair, feed their young with milk, etc. I'm no zoologist, but I think these are characteristics of the group called mammals. My point is that the term contains the characteristics of the group. One of those characteristics must be the middle term of any valid syllogism, whose distribution is equal to the distribution of its use in the conclusion. If you think carefully about this, you will see that a circle is involved -- necessarily!

    The term Socrates is not some blank space to which anything may be attributed. The term itself signifies its universal characteristics (see mammals above).

    This last sentence is quite true, but the non-Christian does not acknowledge its truth. The presuppositional approach is intent on demonstrating the truth of this last sentence.

    You are equivocating on the word "consistent".

    Yes, but only inconsistently so. He cannot be consistent with his rejection of the Christian God and then borrow those things (such as predication) that depend upon the very Christian God he rejects. He does, of course. But in so doing he is suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. He's playing a deadly game of pretend. Our job is to unmask him.

    My dear brother, I'm afraid you are so close and yet so far away. An unbeliever has no basis for his assumption that the universe is stable. That stability, as you rightly point out, is presupposed. But that presupposition is only consistent within the Christian worldview. By adopting a different worldview, he is forced to inconsistency. He lives as though the Christian God exists (because He does), but he CLAIMS that the Christian God does not exist. He lives as though he knows the universe is stable. He drives home at the end of the day expecting his house to still be there. AND YET his own worldview does not allow for him to have this confidence.

    This is true, but it is true on the level of presuppositions. Now you are sounding as though you know there is no epistemological common ground from which to argue for the existence of God. There is ontological common ground. We both live in the Christian God's world, and we both bear His image. But as soon as the non-believer, be he Muslim or atheist or Hindu or Jew or whatever,--denies the Christian God, he removes his own ability to justify any belief or predication. I would be a fool to share that ground in my argument for the Christian God. The Christian God is excluded by the non-negotiable presuppositions of his epistemolgical starting point.

    Incidentally, though, what will you do if he does not grant S5 of modal logic, which is necessary for Plantinga's argument?
  8. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    You are assuming that it is a categorical syllogism.

    Unless all parties to the debate are in some agreement as to the nature of "Socrates" then it is just blank space.

    As is classical apologetics. The difference is how we get there.

    If to be consistent is to live in complete accordance with one's espoused beliefs, then no one except Christ was really consistent. If it is to live in general accordance with one's beliefs, then there are plenty of non-Christians who are consistent.

    How does predication depend on God?

    I was under the impression that presuppositions, by definition, have no basis, but are merely assumed.

    Not necessarily--it just means that the atheist is assuming common ground that isn't there. It's his assumption, not mine. His burden of proof. He must prove to me that the creation of the world is the greatest possible achievement. I would say that the creation of two such worlds would be an even greater achievement.

    I don't use common ground unless it is common. I still contend that believers and unbelievers do share presuppositions.

    I'm not using Plantinga's argument: I'm using Anselm's second argument (the one Kant did not refute). God is not possibly necessary--God is necessary. God cannot be the GPB and not be necessarily existent.

    I would argue that propositions of other sorts (triune, gracious, omnipotent, omniscient, etc) follow logically from the first proposition of the ontological argument: God is the greatest possible being (GPB). I would argue that this truth is the first principle of Christian theology.
  9. Whitefield

    Whitefield Puritan Board Junior

    I would like to see the ontological proofs for why the GPB has three persons instead of two or four (or better yet why the GPB wouldn't have an infinite number of persons in the one GPB). But I won't hold my breath for that ontological proof.
  10. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    That's the argument for the trinity that I am still working on (and may not exist). I would suggest that three is the perfect number, but I have little basis for the postulation.

    I also do think that apologetics has its limits. Most of the elect are brought to faith by other means.
  11. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    I hate the whole quote-a-snippet-and-post-a-brief-response format of posts, because they take so long and rarely get to the point, so I’m just going to outline a few main points I’ve gathered.

    1. You said…
    Assuming that you mean no set of presuppositions forms its own, completely isolated worldview (because I would argue that the one set of presuppositions not disconnected from reality is the Christian set), I would present this brief argument to counter your claim: A Christian believes every fact is created by the Triune God ex nihilo. No one else does. Therefore they will have a different view of things regarding all facts without exception in the universe.

    2. As Clark pointed out, Islam is a system of epistemological despair. (If nothing else, realize that presuppositionalists don’t believe it is, so for now you cannot say there is an obvious inconsistency in the presuppositionalist camp.) You responded to Clark’s point by noting that they do not believe in “reason,” and therefore there is no inconsistency (because consistency presupposes the law of contradiction). But, if this is true, it is an outrageous excuse for Islam. All Muslims believe in the law of contradiction (in practice, at the very least). Therefore they have an inconsistent worldview.

    3. In the thread, “The Necessity of External Consistency in Apologetics,” if you had read the replies (which I should’ve suggested to you), you would have seen a clarification of the inconsistencies in the OP and a correction of terms. First, change “primary interpretation” to “immutable fact,” since I think the former is a horrendous term to use for the concept, as evidenced by your (non-culpable) misunderstanding of it. I would define an immutable fact as “a proposition which cannot be sinfully distorted by unbelieving presuppositions” (therefore it is immutable because it passes through the interpretive “filter” of the philosopher but it does not change, by God’s grace). An example of this would be that the laws of morality exist (it would be off-topic to argue whether or not it is permissible to say that laws of logic “exist” as you denounced earlier.)

    4. You said…
    Then why do you allow it in the beginning of his reasoning? Philip, it makes no sense at all to concede autonomous presuppositions in order to prove theonomous ones. You cannot prove the Bible is absolutely authoritative if you try to establish its authority by some other method.

    5. The ontological argument in all its forms is rejected by presuppositionalists mostly because its conclusion “a being than which none greater can be conceived” is so absurdly malleable and contingent on anyone’s presuppositions that it proves almost nothing. All self-respecting unbelievers would say that a sovereign God who knows your thoughts and punishes all your sin is most definitely not the greatest conceivable being. While the ontological argument might have some use if used presuppositionally, it is absolutely worthless when used in the classical approach.

    6. Philip, have you read anything by Bahnsen or Van TIl regarding that presuppositionalism is circular? You seemed to be responding for the first time on the subject when you said that it must be fallacious because circularity is always fallacious.

    7. You keep saying things to which I keep wanting to say, “EXACTLY – that’s exactly what presuppositionalists believe.” As a result, I fear you may completely misunderstand what presuppositionalism is. This is not meant to offend; a very large number of people see it as fideistic from first glance and defend that view to the death without fully understanding the system. Thus, I ask you to please ask questions about it rather than assert what you think is true about it.
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2009
  12. Prufrock

    Prufrock Arbitrary Moderation

    Excuse my chiming in here; there just seem to be some excesses in certain statements.

    e.g., The preaching of the gospel. Be cautious here; apologetics is not designed to be the cause of faith -- rather, it is a defense and explanation of the faith. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

    Also, be careful lest you adopt too high a view of reason and use it to prove/demonstrate/argue those things which are above the scope of reason.
  13. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    I need to back out of the debate at this point, not because I am convinced (there's a lot I want to say), but because I need to do more research. Eventually I do need to update, expand, and revise my long critique of presuppositionalism and my alternative method.

    But, before I do:

    In fact, the beauty of the argument is that it isn't dependent on anyone's presuppositions. The idea of God as greatest conceivable being (e.g. the Greatest Possible Being) actually anticipates the presuppositions by saying that it's not the greatest being you can conceive but the greatest that anyone can conceive. Even God cannot conceive a being greater than Himself.

    Amen brother.

    I well understand the limits of reason. I can't pretend that I will ever understand the paradox of the trinity. Reason can only point one to faith--it cannot take one all the way.
  14. chbrooking

    chbrooking Puritan Board Junior

    Ain't that the truth. I rather like Chris Coldwell's approach. He tends to put his comments at the top, and let the quote follow, which is helpful, since it is easy on the eyes, yet allows you to see the context if you need to.

    But when a lengthy post gets broken up and responded to little point by little point -- especially when the points aren't really dealt with adequately, it creates a domino effect.
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