Is Presuppositionalism Self-Defeating?

Discussion in 'Apologetical Methods' started by Apologist4Him, Jul 5, 2012.

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  1. Apologist4Him

    Apologist4Him Puritan Board Freshman

    Throughout my internet adventures to defend the faith according to the Van Tillian apologetic, one of the common objections I run into is the claim that “presuppositionalism is self-defeating”. The thought that goes into the objection is circular (which is fine so far as it goes), in other words, the claim is that we have to use presuppositions to establish our presuppositions, which does not prove or establish anything. Now there are several problems with this objection. The most glaring to me, is the generic use of the word “presuppositionalism”. This is a generic fallacy because when a Van Tillian uses the term, it is within the context of the Van Tillian apologetic, and not any other kind of presuppositionalism. And yes, there are different types of presuppositionalism, such as the methodology of Gordon Clark, or Clarkian presuppositionalism. Another problem with the objection, is that at the core, every method and worldview is circular, and by necessity. Take the rationalist method for example, how do we prove or validate the use of logic without using logic? It simply is not possible. Another example, take the agnostic worldview, how does the agnostic know that we cannot know? They may not express it, but they do not know, even though the claim one cannot know is a knowledge claim in itself! So as it turns out, the objectors fail to see the circularity of their own methodology and or worldview while pointing the finger. Now that I have provided a negative aspect of the response, I will provide a positive approach.

    Van Tillian presuppositionalism (Van Til never liked the word himself) is not a mere presupposing of (generic) presuppositions. Our presupposition is dependent (rather than autonomous independence) on the knowledge of God, and the revealed knowledge of God in Scripture. Our presuppositions are subordinate under the authority of Jesus Christ. Our defense of the faith begins under the authority of Christ and ends under the authority of Christ. We presuppose not only a god, but the God of Christianity, but not only the God of Christianity in a generic sense, but Christianity according to the Reformed creeds and confessions. Our God centered worldview demands not only God centered interpretation, but God centered epistemology and methodology.

    Finally, in summary, Van Tillian presuppositionalism is not self-defeating, and we should remind our objectors of the circularity of their methodology and or worldview.

    Quotes by Van Til:

    “We hold it to be true that circular reasoning is the only reasoning that is possible to finite man. The method of implication as outlined above is circular reasoning. Or we may call it spiral reasoning. We must go round and round a thing to see more of its dimensions and to know more about it, in general, unless we are larger than that which we are investigating. Unless we are larger than God we cannot reason about Him by any other way, than by a transcendental or circular argument. The refusal to admit the necessity of circular reasoning is itself an evident token of Antitheism. Reasoning in a vicious circle is the only alternative to reasoning in a circle” (MA 24).

    To admit one’s own presuppositions and to point out the presuppositions of others is therefore to maintain that all reasoning is, in the nature of the case, circular reasoning. The starting-point, the method, and the conclusion are always involved in one another” (DOF 118).

    At the outset it ought to be clearly observed that every system of thought necessarily has a certain method of its own. Usually this fact is overlooked. It is taken for granted that everybody begins in the same way with an examination of the facts, and that the differences between systems come only as a result of such investigations. Yet this is not actually the case. It could not actually be the case. In the first place, this could not be the case with a Christian. His fundamental and determining fact is the fact of God’s existence. That is his final conclusion. But that must also be his starting point. If the Christian is right in his final conclusion about God, then he would not even get into touch with any fact unless it were through the medium of God. And since man has, through the fall in Adam, become a sinner, man cannot know and therefore love God except through Christ the Mediator…

    “If all things must be seen ‘in God’ to be seen truly, one could look ever so long elsewhere without ever seeing a fact as it really is. If I must look through a telescope to see a distant star, I cannot first look at the star to see whether there is a telescope through which alone I could see it. If I must look through a microscope to see a germ, I cannot first look at the germ with the naked eye to see if there is a microscope through which alone I can see it. If it were a question of seeing something with the naked eye and seeing the same object more clearly through a telescope or a microscope, the matter would be different. We may see a landscape dimly with the naked eye and then turn to look at it through a telescope and see it more clearly. But such is not the case with the Christian position. According to it, nothing at all can be known truly of any fact unless it be known through and by way of man’s knowledge of God” (SCE 4-5).

    I wrote this short article for my blog: Is Presuppositionalism Self-Defeating? « Presuppositionalism 101 I thought it might serve as an introduction for good discussion here.
  2. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    In which case, arguments are ultimately futile, as there is no common ground. Without common ground, no communication is possible. If all you mean by this is that all metaphysical theories cannot justify themselves on a de jure basis, I might agree with you, but they can be validated or invalidated by an external appeal to things as they are.

    As for methodologies---to call a methodology "circular" is a category mistake. Arguments and systems can be circular, but not methodologies. Give me an example of a circular methodology.

    That's the rationalist philosophy, not the rationalist method. The rationalist method is to use only reason---but use of the rationalist method does not entail that one is a rationalist, merely that one tends to use logic exclusively. It may be that a thinker uses logic exclusively simply because that is his personality, or because it's the method he finds most useful. It does not, however, entail a commitment to rationalist philosophy.
  3. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    That’s what a TA does it seeks to make sense out of things as they are experienced and examine which set of presuppositions accomplishes this.
  4. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    According to whose set of criteria?
  5. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

  6. Apologist4Him

    Apologist4Him Puritan Board Freshman

    There is a common ground, a point of contact, according to our worldview, human beings were created in the image of God. Arguments are ultimately futile, because without the regenerating work of God the Holy Spirit, our arguments, rational or not, with or without empirical evidence, are futile. Even Clarkians acknowledge this, listen to Ronald Nash's free online apologetics course, he gives a great example of this, in a lecture where he talks about a man who believes, is convinced that he is dead, even when taken to the doctor and pricked in the finger, as blood comes out, he exclaims "dead men can bleed!"

    No, apart from the necessary existence of our Triune God of Scripture whom created us in His image with the faculties for communication, communication would not be possible.

    Oh, how so?

    I gave an example of circular methodology where I mentioned using logic to prove logic. I agree with Dr. Van Til, when he say's:

    To admit one’s own presuppositions and to point out the presuppositions of others is therefore to maintain that all reasoning is, in the nature of the case, circular reasoning. The starting-point, the method, and the conclusion are always involved in one another” (DOF118).

    I agree, and I believe there is a time and place for a kind of Christian rationalism we call "classical apologetics". I think you might have misunderstood me on that point, or read something into my thinking which is not there. Dr. Van Til was not opposed to the use of classical apologetics, he was opposed to the use of the rationalism of the method as the means of defending the faith. Quite often Christian apologists mistakenly give up rationality as a "common ground", when it is not, the opponent has to borrow from the Christian worldview, and does to claim rationality, how else can they give an account for it?
  7. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    Granted, but communication also requires common ground.

    Except that logic isn't the sort of thing that needs proving. I would call such a move rather silly.

    All right, then: please show that this is de facto the case---that Christianity is the worldview from which rationality has been "borrowed." Simply because the unbeliever cannot give a nice metaphysical account of rationality in no way entails that the concept of rationality has been borrowed from Christianity, persay, or even that the Christian account is the correct one.

    What you are really doing is arguing by means of a tedious process of elmination, a project that would take millennia to complete (and that's a conservative estimate).
  8. Loopie

    Loopie Puritan Board Freshman

    It is true that we cannot exhaustively go through every possible worldview and deconstruct them. This would mean that the Christian worldview can be proven to be true by a process of elimination. But as a fan of Van Til, I completely agree that the ONLY worldview that is perfectly consistent, and can make true and full sense of the world is the Christian worldview. But even though a person cannot deconstruct every possible worldview in detail, I would say that one does not have to necessarily do so in detail (I believe that all non-Christian worldviews have certain things in common that can be deconstructed en masse).

    Yet when it comes down to it, I honestly believe that as Christians, we should engage in a 'pincer movement' against those with whom we present the gospel. We point out their sin against God, and the futility of their worldview WHILE AT THE SAME TIME giving them a positive presentation of the Christian worldview, focusing on the person of Christ. This is in essence a 'double-whammy' method of apologetics. I have had experiences where I ONLY presented to my atheist friends a positive Christian worldview. The problem was that I never attempted to deconstruct the worldview that they already held. I never addressed the arbitrariness and futility of their own worldview (and they were never inclined to budge). On the other hand, I have had experiences where I ONLY attempted to deconstruct the other person's worldview. In essence all I did was continually show them that they needed to change their worldview. But without offering a positive presentation of the Christian worldview, they just jumped from one worldview to another in an attempt to avoid having to accept the Christian worldview.

    For this reason I do believe that there is a place for traditional apologetics, just like there is a place for Van Til's apologetics. What I found to be the most effective method in apologetics is to deconstruct the atheist's worldview WHILE presenting a positive presentation of the Christian worldview.

    In the end though we must keep in mind that no amount of arguments will by themselves convince someone to bend the knee to Christ. Even if a person could deconstruct every possible non-Christian worldview, this would not make the unbeliever WILLING to accept Christ. In their rebellion they would rather hold to arbitrariness, meaninglessness, and futility than to bend the knee to Christ. On the other hand, no matter how much 'evidence' is presented in support of the Christian worldview, this evidence alone is not going to convince the unbeliever to abandon his own worldview in order to bend the knee to Christ. This brings to mind Van Til's dialogue between Mr. White, Mr. Grey, and Mr. Black in his book Defense of the Faith (I recommend that you take a look at that dialogue). Even when presented with the evidence in support of Christ's resurrection, Mr. Black acknowledges that this is a world of chance, and that chance things may happen in this universe that is subject to randomness. In Mr. Black's mind there is nothing to warrant him accepting such a person as his Lord and Savior, since there may yet be another random event where a person rises from the dead.

    Ultimately, salvation is of God, and the work of the Holy Spirit is necessary. Still, this does not mean that we as Christians should not seek to be the best apologists that we can be. This involves knowing HOW to present the Christian worldview in a positive way WHILE AT THE SAME TIME knowing HOW to deconstruct your opponent's worldview. Just my two cents.
  9. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    Let's back up here: first of all, let's stop treating Christianity as if it's just a metaphysical system. As Christians, we should not be interested in creating consistent metaphysical systems but in bringing all ideas under the Lordship of Christ. In God all things hold together---we confess this as truth, but we know it only because it has been revealed. Where there is no revelation, there is no knowledge of God. You cannot meaningfully speak of God without God revealing Himself, without God speaking, without God becoming man. We know God because of the incarnation.*

    The unbeliever, though, refuses to acknowledge this and therefore cannot know God as we do. His problem has nothing to do with his faculties or with any sort of inability to provide metaphysical justifications that will only be judged passe in favour of new philosophical trends. The problem of the unbeliever is that He does not know God---not the way we do. He suppresses his natural knowledge of God and so it is useless both to him and to the apologist.

    How is it that we know the triune God? Because the Son reveals the Father by the Spirit. Revelation takes place: the Inspired Scriptures reveal Christ, and to know Christ is to know the Father. The evidence for this is found in the revelation itself and no appeal to anything outside of that is going to prove it. You can provide evidence for Christian faith, you can bear witness to its truth, but you can no more prove it to the atheist than you can convince a colourblind man that the light is red.

    *This applies as much to the Old Testament saints as to us. Hebrews 11 points out that the promise of Christ was sufficient for knowledge of God prior to the incarnation. The incarnation provided knowledge of God even before it happened.

    The things they have in common are not intellectual problems and therefore cannot be subjected to deconstruction. How does one go about deconstructing an attitude, exactly? Can one subject a posture of rebellion to scrutiny of this kind?
  10. Loopie

    Loopie Puritan Board Freshman

    But you would probably agree that Christianity IS a consistent metaphysical system. Bringing all ideas under the Lordship of Christ will involve presenting a consistent metaphysical system to your opponent, while showing them how their metaphysical system cannot, and does not, stand up to scrutiny.

    We also know God through the created order, through general revelation. The 'sense of the divine' is in EVERY person. God's eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen by all, and so all are without excuse. So even though I agree that we know God because of the incarnation, I would not say that we ONLY know God because of the incarnation. People before the incarnation knew God, and even the unbeliever (in a sense) knows God.

    It is true that he does not know God as we do. But he does indeed know God. You are absolutely right that he suppresses that knowledge of God. Yet the apologist, in proclaiming the gospel, points out to the unbeliever that he is suppressing the truth and in rebellion against God. And even though the unbeliever doesn't see it that way, the apologist is still right in pointing it out.

    I agree that we cannot 'prove' anything to the atheist (because he will not recognize it as proof). But this is where you can drive him into a corner. You get at his presuppositions, what he considers to be 'proof' and how anything could be 'proven' in the first place. He is a creature of God, made in God's image. His rebellious nature is going to lead him to twist God's revelation and interpret it wrongly. In fact, nothing is wrong with appealing to BOTH general revelation and special revelation. The two harmonize with each other. One can indeed appeal to the created order as a testimony to God's power and glory. One can indeed appeal to the moral consciousness of man to show that God is the source of morality. Presenting the gospel properly is going to naturally involve a positive presentation of Christ, and a deconstruction of the opponent's worldview.

    For instance, you can tell the atheist about Jesus, the Trinity, and the resurrection, but the atheist needs to be told WHY he is in need of a savior (because of sin). Yet he does not claim to be in sin, but rather claims to be a good, moral person. At this point you can deconstruct his worldview, and point out that in his system, morality can only logically be relative, arbitrary, and meaningless. He might not admit it, and he might try to avoid it, but you have done your job. The atheist still uses the same laws of logic and nature that we use. Of course, he has no idea why they exist, and how they came to exist, but he still uses them. But seeing as how God is the law-maker behind the laws, there is only one consistent and correct way to interpret and apply them, and that is from the position of one who bends the knee to Christ.

    Certainly the Old Testament saints had a concept of the incarnation, but not nearly as clear as what we have been given through the New Testament. But even so, general revelation still makes men culpable. The Gentiles themselves had the law written on their hearts, and were a law to themselves even though they did not have the Hebrew scriptures. They are held accountable.

    Well, first of all you point out to your opponent that they are indeed a slave to sin and rebellious against God. This rebellious 'attitude' LEADS THEM to adopt certain presuppositions in their worldview that are simply wrong. Remember, we as Christians CANNOT CHANGE the attitude (that is in the hands of the Holy Spirit). But we CAN address the logical results of such a rebellious attitude. A rebel against God is not going to interpret the world correctly. They are attempting to interpret the world apart from God, and any attempt to do so will be inconsistent and incorrect. We point to their rebellion, and make known that their false presuppositions, their inconsistent worldview, are a result of their sinful and rebellious attitude. Whether they recognize that as true or not is in God's hands. But again, any correct presentation of the gospel is going to necessarily involve a presentation of Christ and a deconstruction of their worldview. They must be told WHY they are in need of Christ, and WHY their current position is untenable.
  11. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    I think it's consistent, but it's not a metaphysical system. There are certain metaphysical propositions that it contains, but they do not amount to a system or an exhaustive metaphysical theory.

    No, it means presenting the Gospel and squaring metaphysical statements with those metaphysical statements that are found in Scripture. There may be multiple Christian attempts to systematize these statements (such as those of Jonathan Edwards, Thomas Aquinas, George Berkeley, and Gordon Clark) but none of them are authoritative or binding on the believer.

    Without incarnation, the creator/creature distinction is unbridgable, in my view. Before the incarnation, people could know God in anticipation of it (ie: incarnational revelation applies throughout space and time).

    I wouldn't recommend that. It usually ends up looking like a poor witness and is hard to do without intellectual bullying (a la Nietzsche).

    Which is completely subjective. You are no better than he is in this respect. There are certain propositions which no amount of evidence would convince you of.

    And at this point you've lost because (if he knows what he's doing) he'll just tie you up in a semantic maze and you'll never get back to the point. The whole business becomes a sideshow where you waste your energy trying to prove him wrong rather than showing him the wonder and majesty of God and the grace of the Gospel.

    One correct way in no way entails that all other ways are inconsistent with themselves. One can be consistently wrong.
  12. Apologist4Him

    Apologist4Him Puritan Board Freshman

    As I previously mentioned, that common ground is the image of God in mankind.

    No Clarkian would, for the Clarkian logic is the almighty axiom! Here is the situation, logic is a part of the image of God, and analogous of the mind of God, of how God thinks. What seems silly to me is the assumption that logic could be independent of the mind of God! Christ is Lord over all, including reason!

    I think you might be misunderstanding...the method is presuppositionalism, the starting point is the Reformed Faith, rationality is "borrowed" because the Reformed Faith is the only Biblical worldview and as Nash say's "God's worldview", there is no shortage of evidence that mankind uses God given rationality to suppress the knowledge of God (per Rom 1), the consequences of the corruption of man's rationality in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit.

    No, what I am doing is saying that God's worldview is the correct one, and that the Reformed faith represents (analogous of) His worldview, and if you start with the correct worldview, there is no process of elimination, and the defense becomes (negative) one of showing how incorrect worldviews do not hold up on their own presuppositions. Now, if we started with pure reasoning as classical apologists do, then we would be caught up in the the tedious process of elimination which you speak of.
  13. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    Hence why I am not a Clarkian.

    Fine. But you've just lost your audience. You cannot appeal to the unbeliever where he is not. To have any sort of meaningful discussion, every option must be on the table, so to speak. The method here refuses to acknowledge the necessary conditions for a discussion. We end up with Karl Barth saying "belief cannot argue with unbelief. It can only preach to it." Granted, this is a point of view with a long pedigree in the church, but I doubt that most of us here would agree with it.

    But from the perspective of the unbeliever, the only really interesting thing you are doing is a process of elimination. If you simply assume the Christian faith to be true, then you haven't given the unbeliever a reason to think it true. Remember that you are never arguing in a vacuum but always with a particular audience in mind. If general arguments were any sort of convincing proof, then the Ontological Argument would have rid the world of atheism centuries ago.
  14. Apologist4Him

    Apologist4Him Puritan Board Freshman

    Not really, since the intended audience (of the OP) is Christians, and the issue at stake is the primary (not exclusive) method the Christian should employ in defending the faith. So towards the end of a polite discussion, the non-Christian informs us that we're engaging in circular reason...ok and the point is...they TOO must reason in vicious circles! Maybe we should keep them aware of the situation.

    Where is the unbeliever at? To what extent has man fallen? Do we not believe the whole man is fallen, his heart, mind, body, and soul? How can we have meaningful discussion, when we are as it were, giving positive proofs in the way of rational arguments, empirical evidences and such in a tomb, to those without ears to hear, or eyes to see? Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ denounced the cities where he performed most of his miracles because they did not believe, even when the miraculous evidence was before their very eyes! We can argue with unbelief, if for no other reason than to “shut the mouths of the lions”. There are other reasons to defend the faith than conversion, but ultimately we have to depend on the foolishness of preaching, that is the power of God to salvation, not probability arguments.

    From the perspective of the unbeliever, all we're (any Christian) doing in presupposing the truth of Christianity is question begging, but here is the rub, their worldview also stands on their basic assumptions concerning the basic questions of philosophy. This is where rather than going on the defense, we can play some offense! If they had their way, we would keep the burden of proof and thus be on the defense ad infintum. The way I see it, the task of defending the faith, has both a negative and positive, a defense and an offense.

    The Van Tillian apologetic is not a mere assumption, and includes positive proof, like TAG for example. Can you imagine the impact of providing intellectual arguments in a tomb? The foolishness of God is wiser than the wisest of men.
  15. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    Indeed we do and it is to such men that we speak.

    We give the same proofs that Jesus gave His hearers.

    Shutting the mouths of the lions is God's job, not ours.

    Andrew, let me make this abundantly clear: if you, in the end, are using a circular argument, then you have not actually addressed the position of your listener. He has no reason, on the basis of your argument, to accept your position, because he has to accept your position to accept your argument, and he doesn't. Your task as an apologist is to give the unbeliever a reason to believe.

    The trouble is that once you do this, you are by default on his ground and he can lead you in so many circles.

    Really? I'm not convinced of it.

    Speaking of impossible burdens of proof . . .

    None, given that there is no audience to begin with. Corpses are not persons.

    Sorry, but this is no excuse for circular reasoning. I, for one, do not believe that all reasoning is circular. If all reasoning were circular, communication would never happen. Given the reality that communication happens, not all reasoning is circular. The first rule of any argument is that you communicate with your audience and reach them where they are. You cannot talk past your audience.
  16. Apologist4Him

    Apologist4Him Puritan Board Freshman

    What’s that? Healing the lame, the sick, raising the dead, walking on water? Those are the works of God, not ours.

    I did not say it was ours. Even so, God in His infinite wisdom chooses to accomplish His will, even through His people, not that we can boast, as God leaves us no room to boast, but in Christ.

    There is a difference between using a circular argument, and circular reasoning from the most basic presuppositions that make a worldview. Why must the task be only positive? Should we not remove obstacles and stumbling blocks? Sometimes the best defense is a good offense!

    Not really, being that there is also a defensive side to Apologetics

    I’m not surprised, better Van Tillians than me have tried to convince you.

    How is it impossible, when the argument is for the impossibility of the contrary?

    So the person dead in sins and trespasses, is not dead? Or perhaps you twisted the whole meaning of what was meant. Of course corpses are not persons, but the Bible tells us that non-Christians are spiritually dead. What they need is not a little help with intellectual problems, but a resurrection of Spirit which only God can do…which is to say they need to be born again. I believe the best approach is a warm meal and a gospel hearing, even at that, there is no guarantee they are one of the elect, even though the call is general.
  17. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    Exactly. If they won't believe the works of God which we bear witness to, then what will they believe?

    Because the means are wrong. I'm not going to resort to the tactics of Nietzsche, Freud, and Marx in arguing for Christianity. Somehow I can't find that in Scripture.

    Simply because it requires deconstructing every possible permutation of unbelief. You end up taking on the unbeliever's burden of proof and showing that there is no gold in China. The impossibility of the contrary can be proven one of two ways: directly (via something to the effect of an ontological argument, or a demonstration that the direct propositional negation is self-contradictory) or indirectly (via examining every possible alternative exhaustively to show how they do not meet the necessary criteria---which also have to be demonstrated).

    I am merely pointing out that the Biblical analogy is misapplied here. We are not arguing with corpses, but with human beings made in the image of God. And as such we ought to appeal to that image.
  18. Apologist4Him

    Apologist4Him Puritan Board Freshman

    None of the classical arguments etc. are in Scripture either. To associate the Van Tillian apologetic, with "tactics of Nietzsche, Freud, and Marx in arguing for Christianity.", ESPECIALLY as a Reformed believer is insane. Sorry Philip, but as far as I am concerned, discussion with you is over.
  19. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    A hermaneutic of suspicion is a hermaneutic of suspicion no matter who uses it. Maybe you've found a way to use it in a charitable and loving fashion, but I haven't. It's a simple tactic: you assume that a work is coloured by X. Y, or Z motive or agenda and then proceed to critique the whole. For Marx, it's economic control. For Nietzsche, it's power. I don't see how reading the unbeliever's whole motive as rebellion is much different. While it is certainly true that the unbeliever is in rebellion, to read his whole thought process as such is, I think, rather uncharitable and proves less than helpful. Every time I've tried this tactic, I ended up with less understanding of the author I was reading. You do not understand any person's thought until you understand their legitimate concerns.
  20. JohnGill

    JohnGill Puritan Board Senior


    He's made such charges before in other threads and has yet to provide any substantial proof. Even if we were to assume what he asserts as true, it would be meaningless. Just because Nietzsche, Freud, and Marx used a technique does not mean that technique cannot be used. It's a classic form of the ad hominem:

    Person A makes claim X
    Person B makes an attack on person A
    Therefore A's claim X is false

    If he wishes to invalidate Van Til because he erroneously believes he used the tactics of those three, then we can just as easily invalidate his entire argument since it is accepted that Aristotle was the first to codify logic as we know it. Therefore we shouldn't use Aristotle's tactics of logic because the means are wrong. Or we could argue that we should not use the tactics of Algebra since it originated in ancient Egypt & Babylon. We shouldn't use Arabic numerals either, or anything that was first proposed by an unbeliever because according to his argument, if it was proposed by an unbeliever, then the means are wrong. Which of course invalidates the idea of class concepts thereby making language and communication impossible. Or to put it another way, Philip refutes himself with such posts and therefore no response is necessary.

    Last edited: Jul 6, 2012
  21. Apologist4Him

    Apologist4Him Puritan Board Freshman

    Brother Chris, thank you for your wonderful well thought out timely response. Reading it brought something to my remembrance. Philip’s argument hinges on the assumption that man can have an original thought. Since God is omniscient, how is it man could surprise God with an original thought? How often we (including me) all fail to give God credit where it’s due, how we fall short of His glory. All knowledge is dependent upon the knowledge of God, whether revealed in Scripture or outside of Scripture. That said, Holy Scripture is our ultimate authority, the breath of God, the standard and measure the judge of all other knowledge outside of the Revelations from God. Aristotle may have been the first to codify logic as we know it, but we know he did not create the rules, laws of logic, he merely discovered (analogically) knowledge which God allowed to be made known and first put into writing, and that by the common grace of God.
  22. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    Correct, except that we do criticize the methods of these three, not just their conclusions. I don't suppose you like being told that all of your motive for arguing for the existence of God is either wish-fulfillment or a desire to dominate others. Your argument would be that the method here is inherently flawed.

    I'm not arguing that these methods are wrong because they originated with Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud (I find many useful ideas in these thinkers, after all), but that the methods they used are unhelpful and are just as unhelpful when used by a Christian as any other time. I really do think this style of argumentation to be in bad taste, uncharitable, and as leading to minuderstanding and therefore to less skillful critiques. Karl Barth, for instance, claimed that he could not see himself in Van Til's critique of his work. Now I have plenty of places where I can critique Barth, but I always try to do so sympathetically. My job as a critic is to save Barth from himself. When I write such critiques, I try to do so in such a way that would actually hit home by appealing to the things that the writer himself is trying to accomplish.
  23. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    No, simply that he is capable of creative thought.

    I'm not aware that God discovers anything so I'm puzzled as to how Aristotle's discoveries could be analogical.

    Please don't misunderstand me: I have every sympathy with Van Til's reaction against evidentialism and desire to bring apologetics back to Scripture. His work contains many insights from which I have derived profit. Rightly interpreted, he is useful and helpful (though not in a systematic way). However, his methods of critique leave much to be desired and are, sad to say, easily used to bully. I was once given the advice never to back an opponent in an argument into a corner but always to give them an out because yes, you may have won the argument logically, but you've just lost the person because you've made them defensive. No one really listens when they are being defensive because they are too busy trying to score points. Once you've backed someone into a corner like that, you are no longer attacking their position, but their ego, and once you attack someone's ego in so blatant a manner, you've lost them.
  24. Apologist4Him

    Apologist4Him Puritan Board Freshman

    Ah, the discovery of the laws of logic occurred through creative thought...the inventions of men...without origin in the mind of God.

    I did not say nor suggest that God discovers anything, to quote Dr. Van Til concering analogical knowledge:

    "For this reason, Christians must also believe intwo levels of knowledge, the level of God’s knowledge which is absolutelycomprehensive and self-contained, and the level of man’s knowledge which is notcomprehensive but is derivative and re-interpretative. Hence we say that asChristians we believe that man’s knowledge is analogical of God’sknowledge."

    "As man’s existence is dependent upon an act ofvoluntary creation on the part of God, so man’s knowledge depends upon an actof voluntary revelation of God to man. Even the voluntary creation of man isalready a revelation of God to man. Thus every bit of knowledge on the part ofman is derivative and reinterpretative. This is what we mean by saying thatman’s knowledge is analogical.

    Romanism also speaks of human knowledge as being analogical. But Rome does not make the sharp distinction we have made between God as the original being and man as created being. It introduces this distinction after it has made many assertions about being in general. It follows that in the Romanist view human knowledge is not always and everywhere dependent upon a prior original act of God. In fact on the Romanist view human knowledge is never wholly derivative and reinterpretative. Rome therefore cannot really claim to think of human knowledge as analogical to God’s knowledge." - Cornelius Van Til An Introduction to Systematic Theology” Chapter2: A-2 Human Knowledge Analogical

    Bullying seems to be the heart of your protest against the Van Tillian method. So much could be said on this, perhaps an entire book. I have witnessed bullying from all sides, far too often throughout my life, I've been on the receiving end (especially growing up) of it. I do believe that bullying has more to do with people's personalities, their psychological makeup, how they were raised, and experiences than anything, some people are more likely to bully than others, it is a sinful behavior that really has nothing to do with apologetic methods. It's is just as, if not easier to bully with Christian rationalism, throwing technical words at the average person and acting high and lofty because we know something that someone else does not. One thing they probably do not teach in seminaries and institutes of higher learning, is that the temptation to puff up with pride increases with the acquirement of knowledge. I would imagine the temptation is even greater for professors. If any professor ever had the right to puff up with pride and bully, it would be Van Til. To date, every person I have talked to whom actually knew or met Dr. Van Til, speak of him as being meek and humble, they speak of him as a "grandfather" like figure. In at least one of his lectures I've listened to, he talks of being raised on a farm, and jokes about his accent, and wearing wooden shoes. I imagine there were times throughout his life when he (like the rest of us do) gave into the flesh, but that is not what defined him. Finally, what Van Til did for me, was to help provide a sure solid foundation to stand up to bullies. Where I used to get shaken up, disturbed, struggle with intellectual doubts, be intimidated, etc. by non-believers arguments against the faith, I have a steadfast quiet confidence and assurance. I can see where confidence and assurance could be mistaken for bullying, but they are not one and the same.

    You have a point, and I agree with the advice you received in general, let's be fair. If you listen to Dr. Greg Bahnsen, over and over repeatedly when he quotes 1 Peter 3:15 "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;" He puts a good deal of emphasis on the context of defending the faith, stressing the need to sanctify the Lord God in your hearts and to do it with meekness and fear. I believe there is such a thing as humble boldness and using it to chip away at pride.
  25. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    Did I say that?

    What kind of analogy are we making, though? What properties do God's knowledge and ours share in common and where does the analogy break down? Or is the word "analogy" not being used in a linguistic sense (in which case it is being used analogically)?

    My protest is multilayered:

    1) It focuses on the negative.
    2) It focuses on the deconstruction of ideas and the winning of arguments, not the winning of souls.
    3) It sets impossible burdens of proof on the apologist.
    4) It uses methods that I find to be in bad taste when used against me, therefore I wouldn't use them on anyone else. Further, such deconstruction techniques never result in a real critique, but always in a straw man because they refuse to engage authors on their own terms. As I have said before, I used to use these techniques, and it always resulted in less understanding, not more.

    But I believe Peter is talking about meekness and fear in the speaker, not trying to instill it in the listener. Chipping away at pride is something to be done very carefully and not, I submit, in the context of intellectual discussion when the defences are rather high.

    At this point, I should bow out, given that I'll be offline till tomorrow evening.
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2012
  26. Loopie

    Loopie Puritan Board Freshman

    Well, we use the term 'systematic theology' in the sense that it IS a system. I agree that scripture contains metaphysical propositions, but in doing systematic theology you are organizing God's revelation into a 'system'.

    They are authoritative and binding on the believe if they are the Word of God. I honestly believe that God has presented enough information for us to formulate a systematic theology that is indeed a metaphysical system.

    But you still have the problem of the Gentiles KNOWING God. Again, you must take into account Romans 1. Before the time of Christ the Gentiles did not have an 'anticipation' of the incarnation (at least, scripture does not say that they did). They knew of God from CREATION around them, and the law that was on their hearts. I am not sure what you mean when you say that God needed to 'bridge' the creator/creature distinction. It will always be there. Even Christ in the flesh was creator, not creature. So I think you need to clarify what you mean.

    It was a figure of speech Philip. You put them into a corner logically (you can also do so 'emotionally'). Presenting the gospel is not bullying, but if you aren't making the person 'uncomfortable' in some sense, you are doing it wrong. When I was called to repentance, and to confess my sin before Christ, I was not really comfortable in that moment. Proclaiming Christ involves making people uncomfortable, not because you are being mean, but because they need to be made aware that they are under the wrath of God. Being under God's wrath should make someone uncomfortable. This does not mean that you are 'bullying' someone.

    I agree that it is subjective. But if he is not consistent in his application of logic and reason, you can call him out on it. He considers one standard to be 'sufficient' for one thing, but uses another standard for Christianity. As Dr. James White would put it: "inconsistency is the sign of a failed argument".

    Didn't I just say multiple times that you do BOTH. You deconstruct his worldview WHILE presenting the majesty of God and the grace of the gospel. If you fail to address his worldview, he won't care about the grace of the gospel (why does he need grace?). He won't care about the majesty of God (why is the Bible correct, and not the Quran?). You assume that he will just tie me up in a semantic maze. I would like you to show me how he would do that (because he can't without abandoning his own worldview, resulting in him being INCONSISTENT).

    Yes, one can be consistently wrong, but again, any system must be consistent INTERNALLY and EXTERNALLY. God's general revelation harmonizes with his special revelation (they don't contradict each other). So a system must not only be internally consistent, it must be consistent with the universe around us (it must be able to account for all that we see in creation). You made the point clear yourself when you said that a system can be consistently wrong (because you are assuming that you are able to judge its 'wrongness' or 'rightness' with external evidence, something which I agree is vital).
  27. Loopie

    Loopie Puritan Board Freshman

    So you honestly believe that an unbeliever can use reason and logic from a non-rebellious attitude? As a rebel, his will, emotions, and mind are ALL enslaved to sin. Even the sweet buddhist who lives down the street is in rebellion against God, and uses reason and logic to promote, justify, and sustain his rebellion.
  28. Apologist4Him

    Apologist4Him Puritan Board Freshman

    Exactly, one only needs to pick up a copy of works like classical apologist Norman's Geisler's "Christian Apologetics" to see that 1.) non-Van Tillians spend just as much time refuting and rebutting (with the negative aspect of apologetics) and 2.) it is not necessary to deconstruct every possible worldview, as you mention all non-Christian worldviews have certain things in common, and what we're concerned with are not every detail of a worldview, but the basic assumptions that make the worldview.

    In the years 2002-2004 I posted at CARM (Christian Apologetics Research Ministry). I was an Arminian, had been my entire life and didn't know it until those years. At CARM I spent countless hours debating agnostics, atheists, pantheists and the like as a classical apologist, even before I learned about different methods or approaches and such. I defended the faith there using the classical apologetic method. In defending the faith there I operated on the assumption of "neutral ground", and they always had room to wiggle out. I presented positive proofs, I tried to remove every stumbling block, using any and every argument, not to mention the arguments of others using either the same method, or evidentialist methodology. And to the best of my knowledge, not even one non-Christian ever budged on their position. After embracing the Five Points of Calvinism (2004 or 2005), and I had done further studying and research etc. I started posting at Theologyweb for awhile, and after posting there for awhile, I decided to debate a particular atheist on TAG. As it turned out, after I had posted a couple of times in the debate, I decided to bow out and discontinue the debate, mainly because I needed to learn and research more and did not have time to gather my thoughts from the material. Anyway, I stopped posting at Theologyweb after a year or two. I later found out the guy I had decided to debate, much to my surprise converted to Christianity. I have no clue as to what influenced him the most, but in all those years of online discussion and debating, he is the only convert I know of.

    Many mistaking believe that Dr. Van Til was against traditional apologetics, but he was not. Years ago I gathered some quotes from his writings as proof in addition to the quotes from Richard Pratt's article: COMMON MISUNDERSTANDINGS OF VAN TIL'S APOLOGETIC (see misconception #7)
  29. Ajf777

    Ajf777 Puritan Board Freshman

    Very,Very good stuff here.Ive been studying Van tillian apologetics lately and I love it.Ive used it in online discussions and forums.I think it works very well because the unbeliever has no answer to it and they have never had to think about accounting for logic ect.With that said,I don't agree with Van Tillians that say that classical apologetics is sin or dis honoring to God.I think both methods can be very successful & to combine them into a Francis Schaefer type of hybrid is the best method yet.
  30. Ajf777

    Ajf777 Puritan Board Freshman

    Great thread all the way around.Im New to this board(I just signed up today) & I'm very interested,but new to apologetics.I have been thinking about which method would be the right method to employ in my discussions with unbelievers.I think all those involved here have made great points and really this is the discussion I've been looking for to compare and contrast methods.God-bless!
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