Presuppositions & Evidences...

Not open for further replies.


Arbitrary Moderation
Pastor King, do you have any particular references at the forefront of your mind?

It's not often that theology and William Shatner intersect, but I certainly appreciate one who can make such a connection!


Puritan Board Junior
Pastor King, do you have any particular references at the forefront of your mind?

Yes, I do. My favorite is the last one below...

Justin Martyr (wrote after 151): Chapter I.—The Self-Evidencing Power of Truth.
The word of truth is free, and carries its own authority, disdaining to fall under any skilful argument, or to endure the logical scrutiny of its hearers. But it would be believed for its own nobility, and for the confidence due to Him who sends it. Now the word of truth is sent from God; wherefore the freedom claimed by the truth is not arrogant. For being sent with authority, it were not fit that it should be required to produce proof of what is said; since neither is there any proof beyond itself, which is God. For every proof is more powerful and trustworthy than that which it proves; since what is disbelieved, until proof is produced, gets credit when such proof is produced, and is recognised as being what it was stated to be. But nothing is either more powerful or more trustworthy than the truth; so that he who requires proof of this is like one who wishes it demonstrated why the things that appear to the senses do appear. For the test of those things which are received through the reason, is sense; but of sense itself there is no test beyond itself. As then we bring those things which reason hunts after, to sense, and by it judge what kind of things they are, whether the things spoken be true or false, and then sit in judgment no longer, giving full credit to its decision; so also we refer all that is said regarding men and the world to the truth, and by it judge whether it be worthless or no. But the utterances of truth we judge by no separate test, giving full credit to itself. And God, the Father of the universe, who is the perfect intelligence, is the truth. And the Word, being His Son, came to us, having put on flesh, revealing both Himself and the Father, giving to us in Himself resurrection from the dead, and eternal life afterwards. And this is Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. He, therefore, is Himself both the faith and the proof of Himself and of all things. Wherefore those who follow Him, and know Him, having faith in Him as their proof, shall rest in Him. But since the adversary does not cease to resist many, and uses many and divers arts to ensnare them, that he may seduce the faithful from their faith, and that he may prevent the faithless from believing, it seems to me necessary that we also, being armed with the invulnerable doctrines of the faith, do battle against him in behalf of the weak. ANF: Vol. I, Fragments of the lost Work of Justin on the Resurrection, Chapter I.

Clement of Alexandria (150 - c. 215): The exercise of faith directly becomes knowledge, reposing on a sure foundation. Knowledge, accordingly, is defined by the sons of the philosophers as a habit, which cannot be overthrown by reason. Is there any other true condition such as this, except piety, of which alone the Word is teacher? I think not. Theophrastus says that sensation is the root of faith. For from it the rudimentary principles extend to the reason that is in us, and the understanding. He who believeth then the divine Scriptures with sure judgment, receives in the voice of God, who bestowed the Scripture, a demonstration that cannot be impugned. Faith, then, is not established by demonstration. “Blessed therefore those who, not having seen, yet have believed.” ANF: Vol. II, The Stromata, Book II, Chapter II.—The Knowledge of God Can Be Attained Only Through Faith.

Clement of Alexandria (150 - c. 215): It will naturally fall after these, after a cursory view of theology, to discuss the opinions handed down respecting prophecy; so that, having demonstrated that the Scriptures which we believe are valid from their omnipotent authority, we shall be able to go over them consecutively, and to show thence to all the heresies one God and Omnipotent Lord to be truly preached by the law and the prophets, and besides by the blessed Gospel. ANF: Vol. II, The Stromata, Book IV, Chapter 1.

Clement of Alexandria (150 - c. 215): He, then, who of himself believes the Scripture and voice of the Lord, which by the Lord acts to the benefiting of men, is rightly [regarded] faithful. Certainly we use it as a criterion in the discovery of things. What is subjected to criticism is not believed till it is so subjected; so that what needs criticism cannot be a first principle. Therefore, as is reasonable, grasping by faith the indemonstrable first principle, and receiving in abundance, from the first principle itself, demonstrations in reference to the first principle, we are by the voice of the Lord trained up to the knowledge of the truth.
For we may not give our adhesion to men on a bare statement by them, who might equally state the opposite. But if it is not enough merely to state the opinion, but if what is stated must be confirmed, we do not wait for the testimony of men, but we establish the matter that is in question by the voice of the Lord, which is the surest of all demonstrations, or rather is the only demonstration; in which knowledge those who have merely tasted the Scriptures are believers; while those who, having advanced further, and become correct expounders of the truth, are Gnostics. Since also, in what pertains to life, craftsmen are superior to ordinary people, and model what is beyond common notions; so, consequently, we also, giving a complete exhibition of the Scriptures from the Scriptures themselves, from faith persuade by demonstration. ANF: Vol. II, The Stromata, Book VII, Chapter 16.

Arnobius (d. 330): All these charges, then, which might truly be better termed abuse, have been long answered with sufficient fulness and accuracy by men of distinction in this respect, and worthy to have learned the truth; and not one point of any inquiry has been passed over, without being determined in a thousand ways, and on the strongest grounds. We need not, therefore, linger further on this part of the case. For neither is the Christian religion unable to stand though it found no advocates, nor will it be therefore proved true if it found many to agree with it, and gained weight through its adherents. Its own strength is sufficient for it, and it rests on the foundations of its own truth, without losing its power, though there were none to defend it, nay, though all voices assailed and opposed it, and united with common rancor to destroy all faith in it. ANF, Vol. VI, The Seven Books of Arnobius Against the Heathen, Book 3, §1.
Latin text: Neque enim stare sine assertoribus non potest religio christiana? aut eo esse comprobabitur vera, si adstipulatores habuerit plurimos, et auctoritatem ab hominibus sumpserit? Suis illa contenta est viribus, et veritatis propriae fundaminibus nititur: nec spoliatur vi sua, etiamsi nullum habeat vindicem; immo si linguae omnes contrafaciant, contraque nitantur, et ad fidem illius abrogandam consensionis unitae animositate conspirent. Adversus Gentes, Liber Teritius, §1, PL 5:938C-939A.

Lactantius (260-330): For since all error arises either from false religion or from wisdom, in refuting error it is necessary to overthrow both. For inasmuch as it has been handed down to us in the sacred writings that the thoughts of philosophers are foolish, this very thing is to be proved by fact and by arguments, that no one, induced by the honourable name of wisdom, or deceived by the splendour of empty eloquence, may prefer to give credence to human rather than to divine things. Which things, indeed, are related in a concise and simple manner. For it was not befitting that, when God was speaking to man, He should confirm His words by arguments, as though He would not otherwise be regarded with confidence: but, as it was right, He spoke as the mighty Judge of all things, to whom it belongs not to argue, but to pronounce sentence. He Himself, as God, is truth. But we, since we have divine testimony for everything, will assuredly show by how much surer arguments truth may be defended, when even false things are so defended that they are accustomed to appear true. Wherefore there is no reason why we should give so much honour to philosophers as to fear their eloquence. For they might speak well as men of learning; but they could not speak truly, because they had not learned the truth from Him in whose power it was. ANF: Vol. VII, The Divine Institutes, Book III, Chapter I. See also FC, Vol. 49, The Divine Institutes, Book III, Chapter 1 (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University Press, 1963), pp. 165-166.

Athanasius (297-373): The Christian faith carries within itself the discovery of its own authority, and the Holy Scriptures which God has inspired are all-sufficient in themselves, for the evidence of their own truth. For translation, see James H. Thornwell, The Apocryphal Books of the Old Testament Proved to be Corrupt Additions to the Word of God: The Arguments of Romanists from the Infallibility of the Church and the testimony of the Fathers in Behalf of the Apocrypha, Discussed and Refuted (New York: Leavitt, Trow & Company, 1845), p. 44.
Greek text: Αὐτάρκεις μὲν γάρ εἰσιν αἱ ἅγιαι καὶ θεόπνευστοι γραφαὶ πρὸς τὴν τῆς ἀληθείας ἀπαγγελίαν• Contra Gentes, §1, PG 25:4.

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67): For he is the best student who does not read his thoughts into the book, but lets it reveal its own; who draws from it its sense, and does not import his own into it, nor force upon its words a meaning which he had determined was the right one before he opened its pages. Since then we are to discourse of the things of God, let us assume that God has full knowledge of Himself, and bow with humble reverence to His words. For He Whom we can only know through His own utterances is the fitting witness concerning Himself. NPNF2: Vol. IX, On the Trinity, Book I, §18.

Nemesius of Emesa: But for us the sufficient demonstration of the soul’s immortality is the teaching of Holy Scripture, which is self-authenticating because inspired of God. William Telfer, ed., The Library of Christian Classics, Vol. IV, Cyril of Jerusalem and Nemesius of Emesa: On the Nature of Man, Chapter 2 Of the Soul (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1955), p. 292. It is believed that Nemesius of Emesa wrote this work sometime between the years 392-400 AD (p. 206).
Greek text: ἡμῖν δὲ ἀρκεῖ, πρὸς ἀπόδειξιν τῆς ἀθανασίας αὐτῆς, ἡ τῶν θεῖων λογῖων διδασκαλία, τὸ πιστὸν ἀθ’ ἐαυτῆς ἔχουσα, διὰ τὸ θεόπνευστος εἶναι• De Natura Hominis, Caput II.18, Migne, PG 40:589.

Salvian the Presbyter (5th century): I need not prove by arguments what God Himself proves by His own words. When we read that God says He perpetually sees the entire earth, we prove thereby that He does see it because He Himself says He sees it. When we read that He rules all things He has created, we prove thereby that He rules, since He testifies that He rules. When we read that He ordains all things by His immediate judgment, it becomes evident by this very fact, since He confirms that He passes judgment. All other statements, said by men, require proofs and witnesses. God’s word is His own witness, because whatever uncorrupted Truth says must be the undefiled testimony to truth. FC, Vol. 3, The Writings of Salvian, The Presbyter, The Governance of God, Book 3.1 (New York: CIMA Publishing Co., Inc., 1947), pp. 68-69.
Latin text: Neque enim necesse est ut argumentis a me probetur quod hoc ipso quia a Deo dicitur comprobatur. Itaque cum legimus dictum a Deo quia aspiciat jugiter omnem terram, hoc ipso probamus quod aspicit quia aspicere se dicit; cum legimus quod regat cuncta quae fecit, hoc ipso approbamus quod regit, quia se regere testatur; cum legimus quod praesenti judicio universa dispenset, hoc ipso est evidens quod judicat quia se judicare confirmat. Alia enim omnia, id est, humana dicta, argumentis ac testibus egent. Dei autem sermo ipse sibi testis est, quia necesse est quidquid incorrupta veritas loquitur, incorruptum sit testimonium veritatis. Sancti Salviani Massiliensis Presbyteri De Gubernatione Dei, Liber Tertius, I, PL 53:1567.



Puritan Board Graduate
I think an illustration might serve better than any argument on my part. I would ask you, when God had created Adam and came to him to command him not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, did Adam first have to ask God who/what/wherefore/etc He was before believing his testimony? Even so we, being regenerated by the Spirit of God, hearing that Word, require no prior demonstration that God is before we accept the testimony as His. His own Word or speaking is testimony enough (WCF 1:5), and concurs with the innate conception of God wherewith man is by nature endowed.

Receiving the word direct from the Lord would constitute proof. We have no such luxury. In other words, Adam had no room for doubt, whereas we, in our weakness, do. The Lord uses rationality as a means of bringing people to faith.

As John Gerstner has said, "No one will ever be converted by apologetics, but neither will anyone be converted without it." Knowledge precedes faith.


Arbitrary Moderation
Phillip, I would pose two questions to you:

1.) Why do you say we have room to doubt, but not Adam? Isn't it the same God speaking to us? What is defective in our "more sure word" of prophecy?

2.) Yes, we can say that "rationality" is used to bring men to faith, but only in a very qualified sense (e.g., the gospel is set forth in terms of reasonable discourse, among others). But in the sense that you seem to be intimating, reason has primacy over faith, and the believer is exerting some sort of ethical authority over God: "I hold it to be reasonable that God is and that God can communicate with me; therefore I can believe this word to be from him." Thus, if your logical reasoning is ever shaken, so must your faith in God's word fall. If, however, the whole substance of our faith is grounded upon the authority of God, then it rests on a foundation which cannot be moved. How do you avoid this?


Puritan Board Graduate
1) Adam had a direct word from God--no room for doubt who was speaking. Adam was, I am assuming here, speaking directly, verbally, with God. We do not have that luxury, seeing in a mirror dimly.

2) Maybe I should ask you this question: why do you believe that the 66 books of the Bible are the inerrant and inspired word of the living God? What warrant do you have for believing that? Unwarranted belief is blind faith. What reason do you have for the hope that is within you?

I believe the Bible because it matches up with who God is. I have faith because I know that God is there. If I'm wrong, I lose nothing. If I'm right, then I gain God Himself. I don't, though, have a faith that is ungrounded--such would be the wishy-washy "faith in faith" that is the postmodern fruit of existential thought.


Puritan Board Freshman
“As John Gerstner has said, ‘No one will ever be converted by apologetics, but neither will anyone be converted without it.’ Knowledge precedes faith.”


Elect infants dying in infancy are regenerate and united to Christ. Since all those who are regenerate and united to Christ are justified by grace through the instrumental cause of faith, we may safely conclude that at least in the case of forgiven infants, faith need not follow knowledge and certainly need not follow an apologetic, even a good one.

To deny that infants can receive the gift of faith is to consign all who die in infancy to hell, or else deny that regeneration necessitates immediate faith. Maybe we ought to begin rethinking faith and distinguishing it from belief. It should be expected that with the conversion of those with mature minds that faith is always accompanied by believing Bible truth, in particular believing in Christ as he is offered in the gospel. Accordingly, it is most proper to equate faith and belief in practical discourse. Notwithstanding, we may distinguish faith and belief in theological discourse – for “it is by this faith a Christian believes what is true.” Saving faith is not always being exercised in belief, such as in the case of infants and adults who are sleeping, or in a coma. Accordingly, lest we can lose our faith, we must distinguish belief from faith. Saving faith exits even when dormant, not being exercised in belief. Accordingly, faith is a propensity to believe the word of Christ, which is why we can speak of the seed of faith being implanted in infants prior to their understanding. And although that faith in infants must be nurtured unto being exercised in the reliance upon Christ, when that occurs saving faith is not being granted for the first time but rather a new belief is being received through faith. Again, it is by this faith the Christian believes the truth. We must distinguish between the principle acts of faith and faith itself. In the like manner, by the grace of repentance sinners upon the apprehension of the gospel exercise the grace of repentance in grieving sin and turning to God. Yet it is also most proper to speak of repentance as turning, just as we may speak of faith as belief, since the evangelical graces and the results that proceed from them are inexorably tied together throughout the saint’s life, and most acutely in the conversion of adults. (All that to say, faith can occur apart from comprehension and analyses.)

"Adam had a direct word from God--no room for doubt who was speaking."

Certainly there was “room for doubt” - Adam fell! The question is not whether there is “room for doubt” but rather whether it is available for us to attain “full assurance” through Christ, or as the Confession puts elsewhere an “infallible assurance of faith founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation.” What is my reason for not believing God’s word? Hasn’t God said?

"Adam was, I am assuming here, speaking directly, verbally, with God. We do not have that luxury, seeing in a mirror dimly."

Did God say that an audible encounter is the only means by which we may know with "full assurance of faith"? Did Luke have such an encounter?

"I believe the Bible because it matches up with who God is."

So we are to measure God’s word against some other standard that informs us of God? At the very least, how does the resurrection match up with what you know about God apart from Scripture? I assure you that if you are in Christ, you begin with God's revelation of Himself in order to know God, and you do not judge the Scriptures' testimony of God in that way, according to some supposed autonomy. :think:

"If I'm wrong, I lose nothing. If I'm right, then I gain God Himself."

Pascal’s Wager on a Reformed message board? I know it was popular for a time by Arminian apologists on college campuses, but I think we can do better. :)

Grace and peace Mr. Pugh.

Last edited:


Puritan Board Graduate
Adam didn't doubt--he knew full well what he was doing and whose word he was crossing. He didn't trust it--that's the difference. One can have knowledge without faith--Satan has knowledge.

As for elect infants--I suppose it's possible that there are elect infants, but we really don't know either way.

Oh, I'm sure that the Biblical writers had full assurance--but do we? My point is that the Scriptures derive their authority from God and that one cannot believe the Scriptures unless he first know that God is and that He has spoken.

As for Pascal, having read the wager, his idea was not that betting is a rational reason for belief, but that because of this argument, we ought to seek reasons to believe.



Puritan Board Freshman
"Adam didn't doubt--he knew full well what he was doing and whose word he was crossing."


The original question was whether there was “room for doubt”, which the fall proves there was. Adam was created posse peccare, posse non peccare. As for Adam knowing “full well what he was doing and whose word he was crossing”, well of course he did. Don’t you? That’s the material point. That you moved the target got you nowhere except maybe deeper into a hole. I'd love nothing more than to help you come out of it...

"One can have knowledge without faith--Satan has knowledge."

Yes, but I don't see how that is germane to this discussion.

As for elect infants--I suppose it's possible that there are elect infants, but we really don't know either way.

We most certainly do know that there have been elect infants. I was one, weren’t you? Certainly you don’t think that men become elected in Christ in adulthood? The divine lottery occurred in eternity and all who are elect pass through infancy as such (elect). I might suggest that you think a bit harder about soteriology before spending so much time trying to formulate an epistemology. The quality of your Calvinism will directly impact your epistemology and apologetic.

Oh, I'm sure that the Biblical writers had full assurance--but do we?

I can only speak for myself and what is available to all Christians. Saint John tells us that we can know we have eternal life. I don’t only believe him; I know he is correct because my belief is justified by God himself, by Word and Spirit. The apparent problem you are having two-fold. One is, you are under the delusion that the pursuit of knowledge is possible given the presuppositions of an autonomous world. I am not saying that would-be autonomous men don’t know things; they do. Their error is that they think that there can be knowledge apart from God’s creation and preservation, which is revealed to all men. Secondly, you fail to accept the witness of God working with His word as authoritative enough to give us full assurance of faith. At the very least, doesn't God enable us "to draw near to God with a sincere heart with full assurance of faith?"

My point is that the Scriptures derive their authority from God and that one cannot believe the Scriptures unless he first know that God is and that He has spoken.

This is true but that has never been a bone of contention. After all, we all (obviously) agree that “he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek him.”

The point you have tried to make is that “faith is always grounded in reason”. What you fail to grasp is that not all knowledge is discursive. You wrote elsewhere: “I cannot know God personally unless I first know intellectually that there is a God to be known personally.” That reduces to: God cannot save someone unless that someone knows God “intellectually”. By intellectually, given what you have said elsewhere I take you to mean according to reason as opposed to non-discursive knowledge. So, when I put all these fragmented thoughts together I come up with something like this: “I cannot believe the gospel unless I first reason myself to belief in God.”

Please take this in the spirit it is intended, which is not unkind I trust. I’m rather reluctant to perform an internal critique of this thesis because it’s my experience that after a poorly articulated thesis is reduced to absurdity, the proponent of the thesis does not (or is unwilling to) recognize that his position has just been refuted. The reason being, the thesis is imprecisely stated because it is not well thought out. Accordingly, when it is presented in the best possible light, that light either blinds the person with embarrassment to the point of not wanting to own the thesis, or else the person simply doesn’t recognize what he was trying to say in the first place. Brother, I'd really like to help you see things diffently, but something tells me that you are so sure of yourself and have so much invested in what you have proported that there is not much hope that you are going to be influenced away from the ideas of Ligonier anytime soon. I only wish that others might have gotten to you sooner!

I'll be away tomorrow but I trust that others can deal with your assertions.

Best wishes my brother,



Puritan Board Graduate
My point with Adam is that he was willfully disbelieving--which is a separate issue from doubt. Doubt is an effect of the fall and is merely human. The cry of every Christian ever has been "Lord I believe. Help my unbelief." Doubt is passive, whereas disbelief is active.

As for elect infants, you caught me in a technicality. I think you know that what I meant is that we do not really know whether there are people who, though they die in infancy, are nonetheless elect.

My point here is that a) our faith is not ungrounded b) we cannot have a personal knowledge of God unless we have some reason to affirm the proposition "God exists". The reason may not be propositional, but nonetheless, it must exist. I cannot believe the Gospel unless I have good reason to believe--and such reasons, both intellectual and experiential, do exist.

I'm not presupposing autonomy here, either, primarily because I don't recognize the Van Tillian distinction. To affirm Van Tillianism is, to my mind, to say ultimately that our faith is based in a fallacy--and that I will not do.

Brian Withnell

Puritan Board Junior
I have a question about presuppositions...

Do we pre-suppose (believe) something to be true apriori or are our presuppositions based on some sort of external evidence(s)?

In other words, do we believe in (presuppose) the existence of God based on evidence (His Word, or historical evidence, or natural revelation, or His Spirit drawing us to Himself) or do we believe in (presuppose) His existence as apriori -- apart from external evidences?

This question isn't necessarily limited to God's existence; we could ask similar questions about presupposing our own existence or the world's existence.


I'm going to add a mathematician's :2cents: here ... everything that is based in any form of logic is based in presuppositions. If there is any rational system that has any conclusions "for good and sound reason" then it has a basis in axioms. So I would say that we always have presuppositions (axioms) upon which we make reasoned conclusions (theorems) based on those presuppositions.:worms:


Puritan Board Doctor
Romans 1:19 "For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made." So this would be general revelation from which we contrive natural theology (as Sproul would say). I don't see how our knowledge of God could be a priori. Without seeing His creation which includes ourselves (thus experiencing it which would be a posteriori) we would be oblivious to God. God states that His invisible attributes, eternal power, and divine nature are seen in nature. To see nature (general revelation) is to experience it and to conceive an idea about general revelation (natural theology). I don't believe that Romans 1 is saying that we have an inborn or innate revelation of God apart from what He has demonstrated through His creation which includes mankind. One would have to be oblivious to their surroundings including themselves and only a brain-dead person could be so oblivious. Am I missing something here?


Puritan Board Sophomore
One thing Van Til always stressed was that you can never separate the facts(evidence) from the interpretation (rational apriori). So the facts lead by themselves without applying human rationality mean and therefore prove nothing without apriori rationality giving them meaning.


Puritan Board Freshman
Thanks for all the comments.
Something that I learned from studying history is that facts (of history) don't come with their own interpretation tags --they don't speak for themselves.

But, when it comes to creation (biblically speaking), do those facts "speak for themselves" in testifying to God's existence?

Or do we still need to presuppose the existence of God (from a Vantillian point of view)?
Not open for further replies.