Presuppositional Atheism?

Discussion in 'Apologetical Methods' started by Philip, Jun 14, 2009.

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  1. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    I was thinking the other day on the subject of presuppositional epistemology and was trying to figure out why it was that I dislike this epistemology when I realized that, if applied to any other philosophy or religion, it could be apologetic for that system.

    Example for debate: Russell is an atheist who holds to a presuppositional epistemology. His first principles are a) God does not exist b) No one can reason properly unless they assume, either explicitly or implicitly, that God does not exist c) all who believe that God exists are inconsistent with their presuppositions in their lives: if they really were consistent, they would know nothing.

    Can any of the presuppositionalists here see a way around this dilemma? My impression of a debate between such an atheist and a presuppositional Christian is that the two sides would argue inconclusively and end by talking past one another.
  2. cih1355

    cih1355 Puritan Board Junior

    How would the atheist prove that no one can reason properly unless they deny God's existence?
  3. Whitefield

    Whitefield Puritan Board Junior

    Have you listened to the Bahnsen/Stein debate?
  4. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    Philip, presuppositionalism is not asserting that the opponent has a worldview problem; it is showing that he does. If Russell said such things to me I would ask him to back it up.

    I'm guessing that the reason you think it is comprised mainly of assertions is because we don't bring out the actual argument when we are discussing pure methodology.

    By the way, every atheist is a presuppositional atheist, especially the new atheist movement. They all assume their starting point of autonomy is "default" and "neutral."
  5. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member


    As has been noted above, the issue is not whether Russell can make a presuppositional claim but whether or not he actually then consistently applies those presuppositions in all the things he claims to know.

    Russell, in his assertion, has utilized a logical formulation. A necessary first step, for Russell's argument to get off the ground would be to establish a basis for logic given the above presuppositions. What accounts for the universality of his assertion? Why is it true for me?
  6. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    But he, being a good presuppositionalist, would also ask you to back your worldview up. You can point out his fallacies, but he can also point out yours (we're all fallible here). His argument might run along the lines of the fact that truths such as the laws of logic, mathematics, etc are necessarily true and therefore do not necessarily presuppose God and therefore, since God is not necessary, He does not exist (I still think a form of the ontological argument is enough to diffuse this one).

    Unfortunately, because of the fall, they are right. We all do start out reasoning autonomously because we start out totally depraved.

    Only Bahnsen's opening remarks so far. He failed to fulfill his burden of proof adequately (at least for my debate mind). He didn't give himself enough time to lay forth the TAG except as an unsupported outline.

    His outline of presuppositionalism was so Thomist that I was surprised (he cited his opponent for conveniently ignoring evidence that didn't suit him).
  7. Whitefield

    Whitefield Puritan Board Junior

    How can you give this analysis when you say you have only listened to his opening remarks???
  8. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    1. That I'm fallible does not entail that I'm wrong or that I can't back up my worldview! Furthermore, presuppositionalism isn't some blind, broad, generic process of, "Hey, unbeliever, give an account for knowledge...Go!" No, the Reformed apologist points out specific parts in the unbeliever's worldview that do not make sense given his presupposition.

    2. The fact that logic is necessary does not help the atheist in defending himself. He must show how necessary laws of logic -- which are universal, prescriptive, and immaterial -- mesh with his belief that man is the highest form of rationality in the universe. He must show how universal, prescriptive, immaterial laws can exist "inherent to" non-rational matter.

    You're equivocating on "default." Of course TD is default in the sense that we're born into sin; it is not default in the sense that it is correct or proper. I was dealing with the latter.
  9. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    In a formal debate, the opening remarks are supposed to give a complete account of the affirmative position, including a satisfactory fulfillment of the burden of proof. If I was judging it as a debate, I would have called for the negative automatically on that alone (plus, you are never supposed to refute your opponent before he speaks--ad hominemfallacy of poisoning the well). If he cannot establish whether God exists at least somewhat satisfactorily, then his case is lost. Talking about presuppositional methodology does not answer the question, but is a distraction from the real question and therefore should have been avoided.

    I actually am not surprised that Bahnsen didn't know this (I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt here) as formal debate is inherently classical in its application. That is, pointing out opponents' flaws does nothing unless one can prove one's own position to the satisfaction of the audience. The first priority is always to prove oneself right. Proving one's opponent wrong is always secondary. Bahnsen got this backwards in this case (I can't speak for other debates). At the end of the speech, he left the existence of God resting on an unsupported argument (no evidence for the TAG).


    Which will only lead the unbeliever to make his position stronger. I debated for years, and can tell you that my position changed after every debate. Also, the atheist can claim that just because he's fallible doesn't make his worldview wrong.

    First, I would argue that logic is descriptive, not prescriptive. Second, that logic is not immaterial, but does not exist, being simply the way that concepts relate to one another.

    Atheist: Logic is not about making sense, but about relating words/ideas. Only man has logical capabilities because only man is capable of language. Therefore, given the uniqueness of man, man must be the highest rationality.

    Within his worldview, he is impervious--one has to appeal to something outside his worldview to prove him wrong and to prove Christianity right.

    Default never means correct: it always means the starting point. Default settings on my computer are rarely correct. The "default" suit that I bought has to be tailored to fit my frame. One is forced to reason alongside the nonbeliever because the nonbeliever has no reason to accept your presuppositions from his position.
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2009
  10. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    When dealing with transcendental argumentation, there's no possible way to only prove God positively, i.e. without disproving the opponent.

    The whole point of TAG is that the apologist can destroy whatever worldview the unbeliever tries to hold so that he is left only with Christianity. This of course leaves Christianity "unproven" in the sense that it's not proved by some other standard, but when it comes to worldviews that is impossible anyway. The apologist is to give the unregenerate no rational choice but to accept Christianity; that is the purpose of any TAG.
  11. Whitefield

    Whitefield Puritan Board Junior

    Well, when you reach the level of Bahnsen's scholarship and ability to debate in the most hostile environments, I will consider your criticism of his abilities.
  12. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    Point granted: I don't question his abilities, just his performance (I have rarely won a formal debate).

    Right, but one has to prove God before disproving the opponent.

    It's quite possible, actually, to prove that God exists, because God is an absolute. If it is possible that God exists, then He necessarily exists. If it is possible that God does not exist, the God does not exist. If one can find even one piece of evidence that supports the thesis "God exists", then the debate is over.

    And by the way, the only way to disprove atheism is to prove God's existence.
  13. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    ...did you read what I wrote?

    In that case, you would be proving only a very generic conception of God that provides no help in "proving" Biblical authority. The God of the Bible cannot be proven on a separate basis. He is the basis that allows proof in the first place.

    -----Added 6/14/2009 at 10:11:11 EST-----

    Philip, I am firmly convinced at this point that all of your objections to presuppositionalism are arising from a misunderstanding of it. I'll make a new thread entitled "Presuppositional Q&A," and you can present your objections/questions in there, to which I'll respond.
  14. chbrooking

    chbrooking Puritan Board Junior

    I, too, think you are misunderstanding presuppositional apologetics.
    Given that the biblical God does exist, it is necessarily the case that any worldview that denies His existence will be at odds with itself and/or at odds with reality. That is, it will be internally inconsistent or unliveable, or both. Since we know that the biblical God does exist, and that the Bible is true, we see our job as simply demonstrating where the unbeliever is at odds with reality. As you noted in the other thread, the Bible assumes belief in God. It does more than that. It tells us, in fact, that everyone knows God. Since we know that the unbeliever is suppressing the truth that he knows, we do not need to prove God's existence to him -- and we certainly cannot do so by adopting his frame of reference (autonomous reasoning). But then, I think you misunderstand autonomous reasoning, too. As it is God's world, and as we are fallen, only He can be trusted with its interpretation. We, because we are at war with God -- we would rather know nothing than submit to him (apart from effectual calling through the Spirit) -- will invariably interpret reality so as to deny the existence of the biblical God. We may arrive at some false deity -- a god made in our image, or at least palatable to sinful man. But we will never arrive at a biblical view of God. Indeed, as Paul tells us, we cannot.

    So, since we know the truth, we argue for the truth by showing that, apart from our worldview, nothing can be made sense of. We have to argue this way because only our view of reality fits the facts. In some ways, the TAG is like judo. We're using the unbeliever's force against him. Anything he does or says proves God's existence, since it cannot be accounted for under any other worldview. Once we have shown that his foundation cannot be used to explain his very own knowledge and actions, we invite him to see how the Christian worldview DOES account for these things.

    We aren't simply asserting a presuppositional argument in the abstract. We are saying that we have to argue this way because a) only the Bible accounts for things as they really are, and b) any other approach condones autonomous reasoning, which is to say, mental warfare against God.
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