Is Presuppositionalism Self-Defeating?

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

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  1. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    But it is not a metaphysical system. You will not find within it complete accounts of phenomena, nor will you find satisfactory answers to every question. What you will find are all things necessary to life and Godliness.

    There has to be some point of contact between God and man, between creator and creature. There is no analogy without incarnation.

    I'm not talking about making people uncomfortable, but about cornering people. Cornering has to do with the tactic of treating your interlocutor as an opponent rather than saying with God "come, let us reason together." You can never allow yourself to succumb to the temptation to be adversarial in your apologetic. When you try to corner someone, you have allowed yourself to forget that the goal is to win the person, not to score points. Trying to back someone into a corner doesn't work for the simple reason that in any argument (not just apologetic), that is the position where a person is least likely to be convinced.

    Oh dear, then no human has ever had a successful argument.

    By leading you around in circles in your attempt to deconstruct him.

    True, but a system may be apparently consistent in both regards, while still not actually consistent.

    Yes and no. Yes in the sense that he is in an attitude of rebellion. No in the sense that he is not being disingenuous given that he really believes his own view to be the truth. In order to understand him, you must do so on his own terms, not on your assumptions about what he thinks. You have to read him fairly.

    Reductionism is as unhelpful when used by Christian apologists as at any other time.

    Other than their rejection of Christianity, this is debatable.
  2. Loopie

    Loopie Puritan Board Freshman

    How does the Christian worldview not completely account for all phenomena? We believe God as the cause and creator of ALL things. That accounts pretty much for all phenomena. Just because WE don't exhaustively understand it does not at all mean that the Christian worldview cannot account for all phenomena. Also, some people are 'satisfied' by different answers than others. You assume that there is some objective (or absolute) definition of 'satisfactory answers'. Obviously the unbeliever is not going to be satisfied with the argument that God created the heavens and the earth. That has nothing to do with the weakness or insufficiency of the Christian worldview, but the sinfulness and rebellion of the unbeliever.

    Yes the point of contact is that we are made in the image of God. Simple. Again, God still held unbelievers accountable even though they had no special revelation, and no understanding of the incarnation.

    I agree that we should always show love, grace, and mercy in our discussions with the unbeliever. But even Christ declared that the world will HATE us for what we believe and what we say. I mean, when Stephen spoke to the Jews, they gnashed their teeth at him and stoned him. There is a spiritual hostility that is always present, although the unbeliever at times hides it under a facade. I am not at all suggesting that we incite anger on purpose, or attempt to make the unbeliever mad. I agree that we must 'reason together', but we both know that the Christian and non-Christian are 'reasoning' from completely different foundations. We must address those foundations as soon as possible, in order to get to the real issue (in order to figure out just why the unbeliever can never be 'argued' into believing). So when I talk to my atheist friends, I always show them love, and I do not initiate 'hostilities'. Yet I recognize that spiritually they are opposed to God, and opposed to me telling them about God. Being that they are 'rebels' they are indeed enemies of God in a certain sense.

    So you believe that no person can ever be consistent, and that no worldview can ever be consistent? Do you believe that the Christian worldview is fully consistent both internally and externally?

    Well, I have not yet experienced that, but I will let you know when I do. Yet it would just testify to the failure of his own position. He can try to jump from one worldview to another, but all he has done is shown that he has no solid foundation, and it is here that I would present Christ as the ONLY solid rock.

    Ok, this makes no sense whatsoever. So you are saying that a worldview could be perfectly consistent with itself and with the universe we see around us, but STILL be inconsistent? That is an absolute contradiction. Would you please define for me what you mean by consistency then? To be consistent internally and externally is to BE truly consistent. Now it may in fact be the case that something only at first looks to be consistent, but upon further inquiry it fails completely. That is why we should think carefully and critically about things, so as not to be caught up by some shallow argument. I do not believe at all that it is impossible to know for sure whether a worldview is consistent. God gave us a mind for a reason, so let us use it.

    What do you mean by 'fairly'? His own terms are terms of rebellion. I am not going to join him in his rebellion in order to show him that his rebellion is wrong. Of course he really believes his own view to be true, but he still does not reason rightly. We can attempt to show him the error of his reasoning, which is a result of his rebellious attitude. He will ALWAYS use his mind, will, and emotions to sustain and justify his rebellion. Now if he was actually correct in his worldview, then it would be more consistent internally and externally than the Christian worldview. But being that the unbeliever has BOTH a wrong attitude and wrong presuppositions (the result of his wrong attitude), his worldview is not going to be internally and externally consistent. Only a worldview founded upon the Triune God of Scripture will be consistent (because it is TRUE).

    In the end, if we join the rebel by having a discussion 'on his own terms', we are essentially affirming the truth of his own presuppositions. Yet those presuppositions sustain and justify his rebellion. We must deal with those assumptions (and with his attitude) if we wish to get anywhere in the discussion. Otherwise, he truly can lead us around in circles as he pleases.
  3. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    I did not say "account for" I said "account of." Accounting for simply means that you have an ultimate explanation. Accounting for means that you have a specific "why" and "how" for each particular phenomenon. Thus we say "God did it" as an ultimate explanation, but on questions like "what is the relationship between parts and wholes" there is no one "Christian" answer. There is a world of difference between plain sufficiency and exhaustiveness.

    Understanding has nothing to do with it: the fact of the incarnation is all that is necessary.

    Fair enough. But we must not purposefully use inflammatory tactics like arguing people into corners.

    Only Jesus.

    Yes. The problem is that none of us actually has a fully Christian worldview because we're still sinners.

    No. I am saying that a worldview could be apparently consistent (ie: you can't find the problem) but actually inconsistent (ie: there is, in fact, a problem).

    Not at all. He leads you in an constant circle so that you never actually get to the point.

    Case in point. Until you admit that the unbeliever has legitimate concerns and until you understand them and the appeal of his position because of them, you will never understand it and you will never really address it. He is made in the image of God and therefore has legitimate and rightful concerns. Until you understand where the unbeliever is right, you will never be able to address where he is wrong.

    All right: so on whose terms willl you deal with those assumptions? What "objective" (as if there was such a thing) standard will you use that he would agree to?
  4. JohnGill

    JohnGill Puritan Board Senior

    Two word refutation

    If the interlocutor is lost, then he is our opponent as are all lost people to Christians and vice versa. We are at war after all. We do not say to the lost, "Come now, and let us reason together." That is a misapplication of the verse. That verse is dealing with God talking to a remnant who were afraid to come unto him because they believed their sin unpardonable before the Judge of all flesh. The lost are no remnant of God. They are our enemies and we are taught in scripture how to love our enemies in very specific ways. Part of that is through apologetics and evangelism.

    Yes we are to corner our opponents. We are to leave them with nothing to turn to and no point of escape. We are to leave them utterly destitute and no hope in their vanity. We are to leave them without refuge in their sinful thinking. For us to do so is sin. The goal is not to win the person. You are confusing apologetics with evangelism. The goal in apologetics is to leave the unbeliever with nowhere to hide and show that without Christ he is destitute, not just spiritually, but intellectually, morally, politically, etc. After you have accomplished this task then you present the Gospel of Christ to him. We are to do this with the attitude commanded in 1 Peter 3:15 & 16, "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear. Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ." No one is disputing that we must guard against the flesh during the apologetic encounter, but your constant implication that in cornering our opponent we will be in more danger of slipping into the flesh reveals your own biases and does not constitute an argument. You have still not presented any real arguments, but constantly put forth your opinions and how you feel, which is immaterial to the discussion. Provide a real argument. Show from scripture where Van Tillian apologetics is wrong. There are a multitude of resources showing that it is Biblical and consistent with what the Bible teaches. You may disagree, fine. But actually provide something Biblical to base your disagreement on. Offering your experiences and feelings will not be enough. When you do so you are refuted with two words, "I disagree."
  5. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    In the sense that he opposes God. Not in the sense that he is a debate opponent, that is, a competitor, one to score points off of.

    You seem to have missed the point of apologetics, then. The goal of apologetics is to present Christ winsomely, reasonably, and well---to give reasons for the hope within us, and to show the unbeliever that there are reasons why he should believe. Cornering the unbeliever does little to advance this. Apologetics must always be evangelical and evangelism must always be apologetic.

    If the goal is specifically to anger the interlocutor, then by all means argue him into a corner so that his rational faculties are clouded by emotion. If, however, you wish to present the truth winsomely and well, this is probably not the best method.

    I haven't seen them, then. I've seen a bunch of verses interpreted under the assumption of Van Tillian apologetics, but I see no need to adopt its language or the methods of suspicion that accompany it on that basis.

    Certainly it constitutes an argument: I am arguing that the methods employed are unhelpful and decrease the apologist's understanding of the unbeliever's intellectual position. To understand someone's position you have to, in some sense, get inside it and put yourself in their shoes. You have to stop analyzing. You cannot answer a position adequately until you do this.

    My disagreement is based in the fact that the passages in question do not provide evidence at all for Van Til's suggested methods. I don't recall the hermaneutic of suspicion being employed at all in Scripture, while I see quite a lot of the common sense method employed (Jesus' argument from miracles, ridicule of idol worship, etc).
  6. JohnGill

    JohnGill Puritan Board Senior

    1.) No one here has implied such. To imply otherwise is bearing false witness.
    2.) Again, you confuse apologetics with evangelism. The two are not the same.
    3.) No one here has stated that is to be the goal. Will the lost become angered, yes and so what? The lost are always angered when confronted with their self-delusion. You may not like the method, but that does not make the method wrong or less best. Once again, your opinion on the matter is immaterial.
    4.) Others have seen them. Disagree, fine. Provide Biblical support for your views. You have yet to do this and until you do, your comments about Van Tillian apologetics are just your opinions. Big whoop.
    5.) Until you can justify from scripture the use of such language as, "methods of suspicion that accompany it", you should refrain as you come dangerously close to breaking the 9th commandment.
    6.) The bolded underlined is not an argument. It is your opinion and therefore simply refuted with, "I disagree" or "You're wrong." Call it an argument all you wish, but to do so does a disservice to the word.
    7.) Once again you provide nothing but your biases and prejudices against Van Tillian apologetics as if they offered something of substance. They do not. Each one of your posts is little more than, "I think it's wrong or mean or contentious, etc. and therefore my opinion makes it so and we shouldn't use it." You haven't provided anything of substance in any of your posts. And so, once again, I refute your most current post and all your postings on this subject with just two words, "You're wrong." Because until you provide an actual argument, that is all that is needed.
  7. Unoriginalname

    Unoriginalname Puritan Board Junior

    I think this post sums up the central failure of Van Tillianism. It demands to be proven wrong when it never bothers to prove itself right. If I am unconvinced of something it is not helpful to say that unless I can prove it wrong I have no reason to disagree. If I disagree your duty is to prove yourself right. I have followed this thread for weeks and the only defense of van tillianism from scripture has in my opinion just been general proof texts on being ready. I have not seen in those texts a usage of a TAG or anything that resembles this counter intuitive way of arguing. If you are trying to prove that this apologetic is the correct one is your duty to prove it, not anyone else's job to disprove it. I am going to bail out because I think Philip does a much better job explaining the same concerns I have.
  8. JohnGill

    JohnGill Puritan Board Senior

    Based on the bolded sentence I must conclude that you have never studied the writings, videos, audios, etc. produced by Van Tillians and therefore no nothing of the subject, or you have done the research and are therefore deliberately misrepresenting Van Tillians. Van Tillians have produced a wealth of information demonstrating from scripture why they believe that their version of apologetics is Biblical. You may disagree with their conclusions and their understanding of the scriptures, but then it is your burden and Philip's to provide a Biblical refutation. Provide a real argument from scripture interacting with the Van Tillian material demonstrating that it is unbiblical. Philip hasn't done anything close to this. Claiming VT is wrong simply because he doesn't like it, doesn't make it wrong. Nothing Philip has provided has done anything to invalidate VT. As to you claiming it's my duty to prove it, I don't have to reiterate all the arguments from scripture in favor of Van Tillian apologetics. There are books, videos, audios, etc. that do that quite well. But these are arguments from scripture and NOT mere opinion. You may disagree with the conclusions of such arguments, but do more than claim VT is wrong simply because you don't like it. For in the end, Philip's and your position is little more than, "It's wrong, because I don't like it." That's not an argument.
  9. Unoriginalname

    Unoriginalname Puritan Board Junior

    Should I make a list of everything I have read of VT or should I just counter and say for someone who likes accusing people of ninth commandment violations you do it alot.
    I have seen their arguments and I find them unconvincing. I do not see Paul or Jesus or Moses employing a TAG ever in scripture and I do not feel like any verse ever directly discusses one. Furthermore my point was not to deal with every VTillian argument possible but to say that whenever I found a verse used to support it on this thread it was not proven that the verse in question proved VT's method.
    The best argument for that still has to be the silliness of the TAG itself. If I am a marxist and you prove marxism is wrong you still haven't proven every other possible philosophy is wrong. Claiming to be able to deconstruct every possible philosophy would take a life time.
    It really seems like your argument is that Philip is wrong because you don't like it.
  10. Unoriginalname

    Unoriginalname Puritan Board Junior

    Should I make a list of everything I have read of VT or should I just counter and say for someone who likes accusing people of ninth commandment violations you do it alot.
    I have seen their arguments and I find them unconvincing. I do not see Paul or Jesus or Moses employing a TAG ever in scripture and I do not feel like any verse ever directly discusses one. Furthermore my point was not to deal with every VTillian argument possible but to say that whenever I found a verse used to support it on this thread it was not proven that the verse in question proved VT's method.
    The best argument for that still has to be the silliness of the TAG itself. If I am a marxist and you prove marxism is wrong you still haven't proven every other possible philosophy is wrong. Claiming to be able to deconstruct every possible philosophy would take a life time.
    It really seems like your argument is that Philip is wrong because you don't like it.
  11. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    If the unbeliever is not a debate opponent, then cornering him is not an acceptable tactic.

    Yet you cannot and should not do one without the other.

    They should be confronted with what God says, not with an inflammatory method. Let them be angered by God, not by you. We must not intentionally cause anger but be gracious and courteous in our methods.

    I don't recall Van Til's method being in Scripture. A hermaneutic of suspicion is, in fact, what the method constitutes. You begin your approach to an author or position under the assumption that there is a driving agenda behind it. Thus, if you are a Marxist, you assume that everything is economic. A Freudian assumes that everything is subconsciously sexual. A Nietzschean assumes that everything is a power-grab. I do not see how the Van Tillian assumption that everything is rebellion does not constitute a hermaneutic of suspicion as well.

    What would you accept as an actual argument? A reading of your previous statements using a hermaneutic of suspicion? (I won't do that, by the way, because I'd end up violating the 9th commandment). The trouble here is that you are (appropriately enough) assuming Van Tillianism and thus any verse or argument I brought to the table would be read accordingly.

    I haven't yet outlined a clear view, therefore there is little to provide positive support for. My approach is generally pre-modern, as are the Scriptures, the Reformers, and the Church Fathers, but that's about as specific as I've gotten, at this point.

    You haven't understood my argument then. My argument is that the methods employed decrease understanding by employing a herameutic of suspicion and treat the whole exercise like a debate round. The goal is to convince, not to impress, not to anger. It is very possible that anger will be the reaction no matter what our method, but it should not be our goal. Our goal is to present Christ winsomely and well.

    At any rate, this discussion seems to have run its course (though thankfully Godwin's Law has yet to be invoked). So I'll bow out for good.
  12. Hilasmos

    Hilasmos Puritan Board Freshman


  13. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Senior

    Much could be said here, but I'll say just three things:

    1. Apologetics and evangelism are of a piece: the latter is the proclamation of the faith and the former is its defense. Both are to be biblical, not evangelism only (with apologetics simply being philosophy). There is a distinction between apologetics and philosophy, though apologetics may use philosophy in the service of theology and the defense of the faith.

    2. Both apologetics and evangelism, in the most proper sense, involve proclamation and not persuasion. Yes, we are to be winsome, to listen to the other, and to deal humbly with all. So it looks, when we are rightly being all things to all men, as if we are persuading, but that is the job of the Holy Spirit, who alone can enable men to see (I Cor. 2).

    3. The contention that Van Til's approach is akin to that of Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche (with respect to a hermenuetics of suspicion) is a red herring. The mere perspectivalism of these men (in which they reduce all reality to the economic, sexual, or power aspects and then absolutize those aspects and make them the lens through which they view everything) cannot compare to the multi-perspectivalism of a Van Tilian approach which seeks to hold all in balance. We know that the unbeliever knows the truth (externally and internally--Romans1 and 2) and that we have ontological common ground--we're both in God's image in God's world--but that in rebellion against Him whom they will not have to rule over them (no matters how many guards testify to the resurrection), they reject and refuse the truth they know. This is not a hermeneutics of suspicion based on an false worldview, but a biblical recognition of man's depraved condition. We are to engage with love, kindness, and humility: to tell the truth that the unbeliever knows but suppresses. This does create a crisis within them that the balm of the gospel cures. Yes, there will be cognitive dissonance but we are not being unfair with the unbeliever. Bill Edgar is a great example of one who is sauviter in modo as well as fortiter in re. Yes, the Van Tilian approach has been badly used and abused by those who do not go about their task humbly. It may even invite such an approach, so we need to hear those who complain of such and redouble our efforts to speak the truth in love.

    Last edited: Jul 17, 2012
  14. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    Ok, one more thing here:

    But let's also treat his stated goals, motives, and concerns as his real ones. Let's assume that he really means what he says and take his words at face value. If we do not do this then, I submit, we are engaging in precisely a hermaneutic of suspicion because we aren't treating the positions of others in the way that we expect our own to be treated.

    This is what I wish more Van Tillians would emphasize. It's the thing I most appreciate about Frame's approach. We need to acknowledge the real complexity and diversity of motive that is present in all, both believer and unbeliever and the very real strengths present in anyone's thought. The unbeliever is made in the image of God, and thus we are required to extend the principle of charity to him, even if he fails to reciprocate. I understand that we all fail to extend charity, but we should acknowledge that any sort of reductionism---even a reductionism to rebellion---is inherently uncharitable.
  15. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Senior


    It's not that the unbeliever does not want what he says he wants: peace, security, prosperity, acceptance, control, and so forth. It's that he is, by virtue of his sinful unregenerate nature, an idolator and that he pursues these things above all, instead of the living and true God. Unbelievers have many goals and concerns (their motives are always selfish outside of Christ) that may have many good consequences. The problem is that they pursue these things instead of the God who made them and in doing so they turn these things into idols to which they give their lives. Believers, too, have to fight against this every day of our lives.

    None of what I just said in that paragraph, however, is distinctly Van Tilian. It's simply Reformed (and even evangelical, in the classic sense). Rebellion does characterize everything that the unbeliever does, but that too is a broad Calvinist confession: we always act either in covenantal obedience or disobedience. At its best, as John Muether shows nicely in his fine work on Van Til, CVT strove simply to be a consistent Calvinist (not only soterically but epistemically). So rebellion does characterize the unbeliever, but, even then, the unbeliever cannot be reduced to his rebellion. He is in the image of God, made to worship God, somehow perverting that worship. We need to show him or her that the pursuit of acceptance, e.g., is vain outside of Christ and that we have it only in Him, in whom we are accepted (in the Beloved). I agree fully, Philip, with your last paragraph.

  16. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    Wonderfully put sir. I would only humbly add that traditionally a hermeneutic of suspicion has been used to avoid dealing with the substance of an argument. So a Marxist might refuse to deal with any evidences or arguments being used by me as just being “bourgeois”. We Vantillians can avoid this by working into our methods the latest developments by Vantillians beyond just Bahnsen and Frame, although they are good too. Also we need to mine recent work in Analytical philosophy that has worked out exactly how a transcendental argument is different from a direct/implication one (modus whatever, there are many) and how it logically functions. This will help us to bridge the gap in appearing a certain way and being a certain way.

    Also Rich has pointed out time and again that we need to understand the theological environment in which Van Til developed his thought, the archetypal/ectypal distinction (I am grateful to him for insisting on this point, it helped me get Van Til better than I did before). If we ground ourselves in the theological foundation that Van Til did, and I take this to be Rich’s intention in posting this thought before (if I have gotten you wrong Rich than please correct me), than we cannot be taken captive by any ungodly philosophy out there for we have a solid rock to stand on, our theology.

    As Professor Strange wonderfully pointed out that philosophy is to be brought into service of our theology. This could be either to do philosophy from a biblical perspective or to develop an apologetic that puts our theology first. I am a Vantillian first off because I believe it to be the most biblical approach out there but second because it is adaptable to any situation and philosophy. We can take any philosophy out there and transcendentally critique it to show that it is inconsistent with itself and reality; but also we can show from any scrap of creation why it “proves” Christianity, al be it the complexity of such a proof is beyond here.

    Finally I would like to say that our brothers and sisters in Christ who use a different method of apologetic from us are still “reformed” in their theology. I have always benefited from my interaction with those reformed brothers and sisters who disagree with me. I would rather stand shoulder to shoulder with someone who used a different method from me in defending the faith than to stand alone.
  17. Loopie

    Loopie Puritan Board Freshman

    I think that both Professor Strange and James have summed up the situation nicely. I truly do love and respect all of my brothers who use different apologetic methods. Even if we have long discussions on our differences, what matters is that we still all hold to the same faith. Certainly there have been misrepresentations on both sides, and we should always seek to avoid these things, while at the same time trying to understand what each side is trying to say. Professor Strange makes an excellent point when he says that Van Til simply wanted to be a consistent Calvinist. Though Van Til may not have articulated himself as clearly as we would like, or may have said a few things differently then we would have said them, I think it should be the goal of everyone to be consistently 'reformed'.
  18. Apologist4Him

    Apologist4Him Puritan Board Freshman

    God does not present positive arguments for His existence in Scripture. There is no burden of proof on God to prove Himself right, nor can there be, He is the proof and the standard by which we could even judge anything as “right”. In the same manner, Van Tillians begin with on the authority of the Trinity and end on the authority of the Trinity.

    If we start with the notion of proving oneself right, we also start with the burden of proof? Why should the burden of proof be on the Christian from the start? Do we give up our Theonomous authority to meet the autonomous authority on their ground?

    We would have to assume that Van Tillians reject positive arguments to assume “it never bothers to prove itself right.” But that is certainly not the case! Dr. Van Til did not reject positive arguments, and although TAG is usually framed in “impossibility of the contrary” terms, it contains positive elements. TAG is proven right because the Christian worldview is the right starting point. The classical arguments are valid within the Christian worldview, and they can help strengthen the faith of a Christian, however outside of the Christian worldview, they do not prove what they intend to prove from the outset.

    It takes at least two opposing views for a disagreement. Why is it one’s duty over the other? On what authority will the disagreement be settled?

    The original aim of the thread was not to defend the Scripturalness of Van Tillianism, but to address an objection based on circular reasoning. Be that as it may, the Van Tillian apologetic is as theological as it is philosophical as it is Biblical. I have yet to find one non-Calvinist using the Van Tillian apologetic, and the primary reason is because it depends on Biblical Reformed theology. All other methods compromise the doctrine of total depravity, or do not take it into consideration, and the order of salvation. All other methods give man more credit than he deserves, and man deserves none, Soli Deo Gloria!
  19. rbcbob

    rbcbob Puritan Board Graduate

    There is so much in this thread that is lacking in Christian grace that it would be impossible to address it all.
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