Presuppositionalism Q&A

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

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  1. Brian Bosse

    Brian Bosse "The Brain"

    Hello Clark and Ben,

    There is a difference between proving the claim "The Christian worldview is necessary for rational inquiry" and what TAG actually does. In practice, TAG takes a particular precondition regarding rational inquiry (for instance: induction), shows how the competing worldview (for instance: atheism) fails to account for this, and shows how Christianity is successful at accounting for it. Based on this, the Christian draws some conclusions. However, the conclusion that Christianity is necessary is not a necessary consequence of this. Rather, the apologetic is inductive in nature - it is falls short of certainty and ends up in the realm of probablilities.

    Historically, TAG propponents have highly criticized those apologetic methods that provide "mere probability". In the end, this is all that TAG, itself, provides. (Yes, I know Bahnsen is rolling over in his grave.) Now, I do not hesitate to assert to the unbeliver that Christianity is necessary. In fact, I use TAG to support this claim. I just do not make the claim that TAG proves my assertion with certainty. Here is the main point: The following propositions are not the same...

    (1) The Chrisitain worldview is necessary for rational inquiry.
    (2) I can prove in an objective certain manner that the Christian worldview is necessary for rational inquiry.

    The truth of proposition (1) is grounded in the Christian God, and I have no problem trumpeting this from the house tops. It is not dependent on whether or not I have a proof for it. However, the truth of proposition (2) is dependent on the one making the claim. The apologist loses nothing by affirming (1) and denying (2). In fact, the apologist is not telling a truth when he asserts (2).


    Last edited: Jun 25, 2009
  2. chbrooking

    chbrooking Puritan Board Junior

    I don't think you and I disagree. The difference is, I don't believe that anything can be proven in the manner in which you are suggesting. That is, when you say that it cannot be proven "in an objective certain manner", I would agree, if by "objective certain manner" you mean "on a non-Christian epistemological foundation." I wouldn't try to do so. That would undermine the very foundation from which I speak.
  3. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior


    No, all that I would have to prove is that every worldview the unbeliever offers is not rational. In that case he has no choice to but to accept Christianity. If he attempts to hold out, he must hold out on the basis of some presupposition, and if the only one left to him is Christianity, then Christianity he must affirm. (If you'll look earlier at Clark's and my exchange, I was discussing the importance of not making claims about any worldviews other than those the unbeliever has to offer himself.)

    It doesn't require autonomy to "step inside the shoes" of another worldview and draw out its implications, so that'd be possible. That being said, it'd be rare and impressive.



    Do you mean any part in the Bible? That still would seem to be a problem. Take, for instance, "Jesus existed." Most secularists and all Muslims affirm His existence on earth.

    You have to do something to limit the category if you want a single part of the system to imply the truth of the whole system.



    I totally agree with this. Remember my distinction before between infallible assurance and rational certainty? We can know Christianity is true without any doubt, but we can't how it without any doubt. Hence we cannot prove that God is objectively necessary against all humanly conceivable options; but we can show that the unbeliever has no choice but to accept Him.



    That is an excellent summation. My problem was in refusing to claim what I knew the unbeliever could ask to prove, even though we know the truth of that claim by the Holy Spirit.

    But I still don't know if "Christianity is necessary for rational inquiry" really means what we think it means. If we have to use the Christian notion of necessity and possibility, then that seems to be nothing more than a tautology, in which case we're revealing no new information to the unbeliever.

    Or are we? :think:
  4. chbrooking

    chbrooking Puritan Board Junior

    Why would we be willing to say, in house, that Christianity is necessary for rational inquiry, but not be willing to say that to the non-Christian?

    I fear that we've committed his fallacy by radically dividing ontology from epistemology. The fact of the matter is, the non-believer lives in the believer's world. Why can we not use language that belongs to the world the non-believer lives in? I'm not going to compromise the absolute certainty of Christian theism, simply because he wants to reason as if God didn't exist. Either Christianity is certain or it isn't. I believe it is. I believe having this discussion would not be possible if it weren't. So, I have no problem saying that Christianity is a necessary foundation for rational inquiry. I'm not going to then agree to a non-Christian interpretation of that statement and try to structure autonomous propositions to autonomously prove it. But that doesn't change the fact that what I said is true.

    Why should we say this in house, but not to the non-believer? Seems disingenuous.

    I'll stick with the impossibility of the contrary. If they want to prove me wrong? Fine. Let them give it a shot.
  5. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    I think Brian solved this. We don't have to keep it "in house"; we just have to make sure we don't claim to be able to prove objective certainty. We know it by the Spirit but we can't show it via discursive argument. We can show that any worldview the unbeliever offers will crumble.

    Well, if you want to say, "I'll take position X and it can't be disproved," then you're committing the fallacy of ignorance. In the realm of apologetics, you can't offer the witness of the Spirit as a rational argument, so you shouldn't claim the impossibility of the contrary as if you can prove it. You have to make the claim that you are willing to prove slightly lower, namely that any worldview the unbeliever will offer will be destroyed.
  6. cih1355

    cih1355 Puritan Board Junior

    Could someone explain why atheism cannot account for the laws of logic?
  7. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    It's not really a matter of being unable to "account for" them. Rather, it is contradictory for atheists to believe that the universe is basically open and contingent ("anything can happen") and also that it is rationally structured by universal, immaterial laws of logic.
  8. cih1355

    cih1355 Puritan Board Junior

    In the book, Faith Has Its Reasons, there is a fictitious conversation between a presuppositionalist and some unbelievers. The following link has the chapter that contains that conversation:
  9. chbrooking

    chbrooking Puritan Board Junior

    You are saying the same thing in different words.

    You hold me to a standard of proof that, not only don't I accept, were I to accept it, it would disprove my position. I don't mind saying "impossibility of the contrary", since the contrary would involve a view of possibility that won't stand up to scrutiny. I don't mind saying "impossibility of the contrary" -- even if you regard it as tautologous, since the non-believer is actually going to function in accord with the world he actually lives in--not the one he purports to live in. When he tries to demand a proof based on autonomy, I will refuse. When he says that I'm being illogical, we'll pursue that. But you and I are running in circles. We agree on methodology. I'm not so interested in this formulation dispute -- particularly when there are people with matters of substance to attend to.
  10. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    Sounds good to me, Clark.
  11. Brian Bosse

    Brian Bosse "The Brain"

    Hello Gents,

    For the most part, this thread has been profitible for me. I think we all have found some common ground, and it blesses me that this happened. With that said, I want to throw two things out that will probably open a can of worms. Even though they are related to all that we have been discussing, they may deserve seperate threads in and of themselves (probably in the philosophy section). If you think they do, then let me know and I will start a new thread. Here we go...


    (1) The criticisms regarding human autonomous reasoning as framed at various points in this thread apply to everyone - even those who say they have a theonomic worldview. As such, too sharp a distinction has been drawn.

    I believe in the distinction between worldviews that assert "Man is the measure of all things" and those that assert "We must submit our rationality to God's revelation." However, I think there is some confusion as to what this really means.


    (2) In terms of the revelation that God has chosen to give mankind, we cannot eliminate the possibility that God is a quadrinity.

    Now, I do not believe that God is a quadrinity. I believe Scripture clearly has revealed to us that God is a Trinity. Yet, our understanding of this is fallible. I think there is a parrallel to Judiasm's view of God. Even though one can reasonably argue that the revelation of the OT taken by itself asserted a unity, it did not do so in an absolute sense. The idea is that mankind cannot eliminate the possibility that God in His infinite wisdom has chosen not to reveal the fourth person of the Quadrinity.

    OK, please do not skewer me. I just throw these ideas out to see if anyone is interested in discussing them. Both (1) and (2) relate to what was discussed in this thread.


  12. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior


    Do you still want me to address (1)? I thought I answered that adequately in our email exchange.

    Regarding (2), I have been looking through a relevant thread, and I agree that we cannot have philosophical certainty on...anything, which includes the Trinity. But this is distinct from an infallible assurance, as Rev. Winzer put it. I'm still unsettled on the issue.

    Nonetheless, I can say that if it is true, it would be a distinctly Christian quadrinity. It would not be a separate worldview at all.

    -----Added 6/25/2009 at 03:51:13 EST-----

    May I add that in that thread Davidius makes a good post:

    The point some have been making is that the explanation begs the question. I don't see how the claim that the Holy Spirit guides true believers into the truth proves anything. It simply leaves the matter open to assertion. Clark and Robbins specifically pointed this out when critiquing Lewis' "Mere Christianity." In order to know the true believers, you have to know whether Consubstantialism or Subordinationism is true. To know which is right, you have to know which group the Holy Spirit led. It's a giant circle. If it makes plain sense to some, I wish it made as much plain sense to me, but that doesn't mean I'm being purposefully ignorant or maliciously contrary.​

    To this I would reply that the Trinity is derived from Scripture and therefore true (it's not based on the authority of the interpreter). We have reason to believe the Bible is true self-evidently, on its own authority. Therefore the Trinity follows linearly from the Bible. The fact that the Trinity has existed for two millennia provides probabilistic evidence for its veracity as well.

    However, dealing with philosophical certainty, I have a few things to say, but they are contingent on whether the Bible teaches (1) that God is no more than three persons or (2) that God is at least three persons. I would heavily lean towards the former, but I honestly don't know enough to say that.

    If (1) is true, then we have as much certainty that God cannot be a quadrinity as that our senses are reliable. This does mean there is a possibility we are wrong, but it is kind of a worthless possibility.

    If (2) is true, then we have less certainty, but we still can know with good certainty that we ought to think of God as triune.
  13. Brian Bosse

    Brian Bosse "The Brain"

    Hello Ben,

    I will respond to your email. I think some people's conception of human autonomy is problematic. As such, it might be helpful to discuss this point and make everything very explicit.

    As far as the other thread went, Rev. Wizner is wrong. I see in Scripture where it speaks of the Holy Spirit leading us into all truth, but yet we do not enjoy unity of doctrine. Sure, we may enjoy essential unity, but this does not amount to the claim that "it is impossible for the Trinity to be false." I doubt you will find this kind of appeal being made at Nicea. If you notice from the thread, I spent time defining in clear terms my assertions, in return I was questioned as to whether or not I was even a Christian. The reponse was personal when instead it should have been dealing with my arguments.

    I agree that if it (quadrinity) were true, then it would be THE Christian worldview. But I disagree with you that it would not be a seperate worldview. Either God is a trinity or He is not. He cannot be both.

  14. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior


    Looking through that thread, I don't think people were questioning your Christianity as much as trying to draw implications from the fact that you actually were a Christian. When Rev. Winzer asked if you were, he immediately preceded it with "Dear brother," implying that he viewed you as a fellow Christian.

    Also, the quadrinitarian worldview would definitely be a different worldview; perhaps I should have said it would not be a non-Christian worldview (it wouldn't stand as an "opponent" to the presuppositionalist). That's what I meant by "a separate worldview"; I was unclear.
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2009
  15. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    Part of my personal trouble here is that I always insist on being more or less consistent with any presuppositions (defined broadly here) that I have, which is why I am always critical of a system where I see a logical conclusion that I know is wrong. The problem that I am seeing with presupp is precisely theonomy. If theonomy (as you have defined it--ie, no epistemological common ground) is true philosophically, then it is true politically, because I would then have to reject all natural law theory as autonomous. I have serious doubts about this and feel much more comfortable not adopting presuppositions that lead in a direction where the logical conclusion is false.

    Yes, I do mean that. Christianity is grounded in history, after all. That's the thing with the Bible: you can't take one part as true and leave the rest. It leaves no middle ground.

    No, I really don't. A premise that I have come to accept is that no worldview can possibly be true unless it claims absolute exclusivity. I maintain that even Islam does not do this, since it never really claims knowledge of Allah.

    Atheism comes close, in its assertion of a universal negative, but ends up being (practically) agnosticism, where it simply asks to be proven wrong. Atheism does claim exclusivity in theory, while in practice it never does, instead falling back on claiming that theism has a burden of proof (granted, it does, but taken together, the arguments for theism present more than adequate proof--provided that the atheist is really listening, which he usually isn't). Plus, there's always Plantinga's evolutionary proof for God's existence (essentially proving that the theory of evolution assumes God's existence in practical terms).

    Again, I'm trying to avoid some errors here. I've already stated some of my issues with theonomy. I also can't help but think that there's a path from presuppositionalism through fideism to straight-out neo-orthodoxy. I'm not saying it's a necessary path, I just have to do research on Van Til. Specifically, I'm hoping to determine how far he followed Kuyper and how much influence from Kant there is.

    Part of it also is that I tend more toward analytic philosophy (Gordon Clark, Thomas Reid, etc) than continental philosophy (Kuyper, Van Til, Kant, Barth, etc). A presuppositional position on my part would tend to lean more toward Clark than Van Til for that reason alone (though I have clear disagreement with Clark--I think that God has non-rational aspects).

    As for quadrinity, Brian, your argument is starting to sound somewhat like my argument that God has a feminine aspect (note: I do not think I am heretical in saying this: woman was created in God's image. I would say that in His relation to us, God is most definitely masculine. For the feminine to exist, it must have its source in God, though--it's a separate issue, though, so I won't go into details).
  16. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    I apologize, but this seems nothing else than an appeal to undesirable consequences. You are not positing a conclusion that is false (in which case you'd be using a reductio ad absurdum), but rather one that you dislike (e.g. belief that homosexuals ought to be executed).

    I say this unless you actually have an argument against Theonomy, in which case we can discuss that elsewhere. But for now, it's certainly far from a given that Theonomy is outright false. (By the way, I capitalize "Theonomy" to help distinguish it from epistemological theonomy.)

    What do you make of the proposition "Jesus existed"? Muslims believe that too. There are many things in the Bible that could be true without implying the complete truthfulness of it.
  17. AThornquist

    AThornquist Puritan Board Doctor

    Presuppositionalism Q&A? Sweet.

    Here's my Q: If there were two or three books I should read to have a basic grasp of presuppositionalism, what would they be? I was going to study the topic at a later time but a pastor has asked me to be a part of an Ethics class he teaches at a local JC (class starts this next semester in about a month and a half). He says it will be primarily a debate class and, as the conservative Christian, I will be vastly opposed. I can dig it, but I need to be preparing.

    Thank you :)
  18. chbrooking

    chbrooking Puritan Board Junior


    Yes, please discuss theonomy elsewhere. Ben and I agree on presuppositional apologetics, but disagree on theonomy. They are two discrete topics. Going there will certainly derail the thread.

    Also, you missed Ben's point about "Jesus existed". You seemed to define an absolute system as a system in which any one part's truth implies the whole system's truth. :scratch: Ben's point was that, since there are non-Christian systems that affirm that Jesus existed, would their whole system, then, be true? That's what it sounded like you were saying. And that's why Ben brought in the Jesus existed thing.

    -----Added 6/26/2009 at 01:20:06 EST-----

    My opinion would be, in this order,

    Pratt's Every Thought Captive (because it was written for 8th graders, I think, it's a pretty good overview that avoids a lot of prerequisites in terms of philosophical training).

    Then, Van Til's Why I Believe in God (a small pamphlet, but very good)

    Then, and here's where you'll really get an advanced study, Bahnsen's big book on Van Til (can't remember title)

    That said, I actually got my initial grasp of Van Til from a few Bahnsen tapes. He was teaching apologetics to a bunch of laymen in upstate New York. He was sick when they were recorded, so the quality is awful. I don't think they are commercially available. I found them in the basement of WTS' (East) library. That's what gave me the "aha" moment.

    The three I suggested are all quite different. I don't think you'll fully get it from Pratt. Van Til's pamphlet will let you see it in action. Having read Pratt, it will probably make sense to you. But when you get into Bahnsen, be prepared to read pages two or three times -- and there are a LOT of pages. Keep some ice handy for your brain.


  19. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    Well, if you want a good presuppositionalist critique of secularist ethics, I heartily recommend Bahnsen's Theonomy in Christian Ethics. You don't even have to accept Theonomy to benefit from the chapter that critiques secularist ethics. I believe the chapter is "The Failure of Autonomy" or something similar.

    If you want a good primer for presuppositionalism in general, I would recommend Always Ready by Bahnsen. I have not read the book but I have heard good things. Personally I love Van Til's Apologetic by Bahnsen, but that is significantly longer. I think you can easily tackle Always Ready in a month and a half. And of course you can always return to this thread if you have questions. :)

    And Clark's recommendations are good as well. (His third rec is in fact Van Til's Apologetic in case there might be confusion on that.)
  20. chbrooking

    chbrooking Puritan Board Junior

    Thanks, Ben. I was just in it yesterday, but couldn't remember the title.
  21. Brian Withnell

    Brian Withnell Puritan Board Junior

    Hmmm. I'd like to add my :2cents: and :stirpot: a little.

    What I think of in terms of presupposition apologetics is that it is using the inconsistency of the unbeliever's life with his stated presuppositions to show that from a practical viewpoint, he denies his own thesis.

    What I think of from a classical apologetic approach is attempting to argue the unbeliever into believing based on some common ground.

    The presupposition apologist would say that there isn't any logical common ground that will make any difference ... the full set of presuppositions of the unbeliever include "there is no god" and he will reject any argument that contradicts that presupposition.

    The classical apologist would believe that the unbeliever has enough common logical ground to be convinced of the truth of Biblical Christianity if the argument is properly applied.

    I might be wrong on that, but I'm sure someone would point it out if I am.

    My take: no individual will be convinced by argument into the Kingdom of God by either method, but God will by the power of the Holy Spirit, use both methods to call to himself those that he chose from before the foundation of the world to himself. He will also use proclaimation of the Word, without apology, to convict the elect of sin, convince them of the need for Christ, and cause them to be regenerated by his Holy Spirit so they embrace Christ and live. By the same token, he will use all these things to condemn more thoroughly the reprobate for not only suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, but trampling underfoot the grace of the the Lord Jesus, and counting the blood of Christ as an unholy thing.

    The reprobate do not reject God for lack of knowledge. The reprobate reject God for lack of ability to accept him, and the blackness of their sin. It is a moral issue, not an issue of knowledge.
  22. AThornquist

    AThornquist Puritan Board Doctor

    Well then for now I am all set! Thanks, guys! $70 spent at WTS Books and I got just about all you suggested and another book I wanted as well. That Van Til's Apologetic looks like it is going to be a beast though.
  23. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    To hear that someone thought enough of my (and Clark's) advice to immediately spend that kinda cash brightens my day. Unfortunately it is nearing 3 AM here in Ohio so my day will not last much longer. :)
  24. Brian Withnell

    Brian Withnell Puritan Board Junior

    Light-weight! :lol:

    I will have to go to bed sometime tonight, but for now ... fun!
  25. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    You're not, as long as when you said, "the full set of presuppositions of the unbeliever include 'there is no god' and he will reject any argument that contradicts that presupposition," you meant of course that the unbeliever is behaving perfectly consistently with his presupposition. (And I'm pretty sure you do mean that.)

    You're absolutely right. This fact, combined with the fact that most people who are so-called "intellectually opposed" to the Gospel are in fact more morally opposed than others, has led me to regard apologetics much less as a means to evangelism than as a way to strengthen present believers' faith and to protect the Church from intellectual enemies.

    Please note that this does not mean that I wouldn't use kindness (the best I can) in offering my apologetic in hopes of bringing unbelievers to repentance. Nor does it mean that I don't attempt to bring unbelievers to repentance via apologetics. I am merely stating my goals for it in light of the circumstances.

    (By the way, when I mention my attempt to bring unbelievers to repentance via apologetics, I mean my attempt to be one of God's appointed second causes in bringing someone to repentance. I obviously do nothing of myself throughout the entire process.)
  26. Brian Withnell

    Brian Withnell Puritan Board Junior

    Changed the color to red in the part I have a question about. I would think that the reprobate live inconsistently with their presupposition that there is no God ... they borrow from the Christian world-view any time they even mention right and wrong, good and bad, or complain about someone giving them a raw deal. Yes?
  27. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    I have biblical reasons for disliking it, but this isn't the thread, methinks. There's some intuitive knowledge at play here as well--in addition to directions that I have seen most theonomists (with the notable exception of Bahnsen) moving in.

    No. For the simple reason that they are not absolute systems. Islam, Judaism, etc leave an out. Judaism, as practiced today, no longer claims exclusivity in any form whatsoever. As for Islam, they end up claiming to know nothing. They both fail to pass my litmus test for an absolute system.
  28. chbrooking

    chbrooking Puritan Board Junior

    With all due respect, Philip, I don't really find that you have questions that you would like a presuppositionalist to answer (see original post). You seem to just want to vent against (a shallow and erroneous view of) PA. As a general rule, you completely ignore the substance of our posts in your replies. Maybe you should start your own thread, like "Classical Apologetics Q&A".
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2009
  29. The Calvin Knight

    The Calvin Knight Puritan Board Freshman

    Bahnsen's "Pushing the Antithesis" is also quite good (Bahnsen didn't actually write it I believe, I'm pretty sure it was based off a series of lectures he did). It gives a good overview of the presuppositional approach and you don't need much knowledge of philosophy to understand it (he does a fairly good job of defining and explaining the philosophical terms that are used). Bahnsen also has a series of lectures on youtube that may be helpful.
    YouTube - gregbahnsen's Channel
    Here is also a cite that has a bunch of articles written by and about Van Til on a number of topics:
    Otherwise the books mentioned above by Clark and Ben are must reads.
  30. chbrooking

    chbrooking Puritan Board Junior

    Yes. They borrow from the Christian worldview (which they know deep down is true) whenever they do or say ANYTHING.

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