The end of classical apologetics?

Discussion in 'Apologetical Methods' started by jwright82, Feb 26, 2012.

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  1. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    Scientism of the kind that Dawkins espouses is indeed in its death throes. Yes, it's prevalent in the hard sciences, but about nowhere else. Even in analytic philosophy, scientistic thinking is seen as something of an embarrassment.

    Here's my concern: in theory, I see how a transcendental argument could work. However, the claim it makes will always come across as arrogance for this reason: the claim made is such that the burden of proof required to establish it would take several lifetimes. The impossibility of the contrary may be established either by a direct argument from logical necessity, or an indirect argument from a) logical coherence (and consistency with reality), which always ends up being an argument from lack of unanswerable objections b) deconstruction of all other possible worldviews.

    In theory, the contrary is impossible, but one is forced, as a creature with limits on time, energy, and reasoning abilities, to find arguments that are less cumbersome. If you can prove that Christianity is, indeed, the only possible academically-respectable view, then do so. But if you're going to make this claim in the academy, then a demonstration is necessary.

    My problem with it is that it's a burden of proof that is impossible to actually fulfill. It's a claim so strong as to be not demonstrable.

    The other problem, of course, is that this isn't how anyone comes to faith. People come to faith because the Holy Spirit illumines their hearts, reveals Christ, and regenerates them---that's the epistemic basis for our knowledge of God. A transcendental argument wouldn't convince me out of any position, only to nuance it---and that would only be if I admitted that such an argument was both interesting (difficult) and necessary (more difficult).
  2. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Senior

    My point, Philip, was not to argue the TA as such with you (I referred to literature on that and it's been done elsewhere) but to make the points about Plantinga, who, with his followers, are no apologists, in my estimation. And he, in a number of places, willingly puts his theology in the service of his philosophy. That is quite backwards. As you acknowledged, our philosophy should be in the service of our theology. The category we are in here, after all, is not philosophy as such but apologetical methods.

    And, Philip, the scientism of Dawkins and company has little respectability among philosophers. Rightly so and happily granted. But you really need to get out a bit more. It's alive and well in biology and the other "hard" sciences. Your wishing it dead (and I heartily join you in that) does not make it so. Have you seen the stats on this in scientific journals? Within a certain segment of the scientific community it is stronger than ever. Naturalism, as a fundamental dogma, enjoys revisionary immunity among its partisans--what's the alternative for them? No, I think some form of naturalism or scientism, even without philosophical respectability (have you not noticed that they freely disdain philosophy and philosophers?), will be around for some time.

  3. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    Hawking famously said, a year or two ago, "Philosophy is dead" :p
  4. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Senior

    Exactly, Richard. Hawking's sentiment in Grand Design, that you here cited, is legion among scientists and leading ones at that. That philosphers scoff at that (and I join them as a theologian and historian) does not mean that this is not a popular sentiment among scientists. Hawking and Dawkins sell a lot more books than philosophers like Plantinga. Their naturalism is absurd but this does not mean that it is not influential. Rumors of the death of modernism/scientism/naturalism are, I fear, like Twain once said of his own, greatly exaggerated.

  5. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    In the "hard" sciences, yes. The problem is that the rest of the academy has seen through the charade. I guess when I talk about scientism, I'm thinking the philosophy where science dominated the academy and was seen as the paradigm for all other disciplines: logical positivism was an extreme form of this. Yes, scientists still wish that they had this position, but it's no longer a given.

    True. However, I would argue that apologetics is the philosophical defence of theology. When we are debating method, the categories we use are philosophical. Plantinga is guilty of this in some places, but (for example) in Warranted Christian Belief, all he is really doing is presenting a Christian model of belief that is unashamedly theological.
  6. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Senior


    Here's where we differ: I do not believe that apologetics is the philosophical defence of theology. I believe that apologetics is the biblical defense of the faith. It's of a piece with evangelism. We preach the gospel. We call for faith and repentance. If objections are raised, we engage in apologetics, a biblical defense of the faith involving a two-fold approach: the internal critique of unbelief and the contextualizing and answering of the objections with the Christian worldview. Yes, in that task we may use philosophy, particularly in the internal critique and as we engage unbelief. Indeed, we delight to put philosophy in the service of theology. But our task is biblical and theological chiefly.

    Apologetics is part of the prolegomena to our theology, but it is no more, properly speaking, philosophy, than is our doctrine of revelation, which is also part of our prolegomena. It may appear to be "philosophy" more than anything in any other part of our theology but this is simply because of the nature of the objections that come our way and the unbelief that we are called upon to answer. Apologetics is part of the theological enterprise and, properly and consistently done, does not depart from the Bible as its true source any more than the doctrine of the Word or the doctrine of Christ does. All of these loci dragoon philosophy into their service as you know but are part of the theological enterprise, properly speaking, and not part of the philosophical enterprise (as that is a part of the arts and humanities, which together with the sciences, comprise our liberal arts curriculum).

  7. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    I would say that the doctrine of the Trinity has priority over our doctrine of revelation.

    I wouldn't say that apologetics is the prolegomena to theology: it is the place where philosophy and theology meet. Certain objections to the faith are philosophical in nature and thus the philosophical defence of the faith is called for. On the other hand, other objections are existential and pastoral, which is where theological and pastoral answers to objections may be called for. But arguments are not a presentation of the Gospel, nor are they necessary for theology. In my current work in philosophy, I'm providing a framework for theories of doctrine, but I don't pretend that it is necessary to have a theory of doctrine in order to do theology.
  8. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Senior


    I realize that you have not studied in a theological seminary. It is simply the case that the theological curriculum is laid out in this fashion: prolegomena, theology, anthropology, Christology, Pneumatology (or soteriology), ecclesiology, and eschatology. This is the order in which the loci are treated in the theological encyclopedia. Prolegomena, or theological foundation, includes apologetics and doctrine of the Word (or revelation). This is not exceptionable or even debatable. It's the order of treatment of the encyclopedia within institutions that teach classical Reformed theology. This, by the way, is only the order for the theological, or doctrinal, division, classically considered the third division in the overall seminary curriculum, following the biblical and ecclesiastical divisions, and preceding the ministerial division.

    This is what I mean in the first instance when noting that apologetics is prolegomena. The doctrine of the Trinity is a part of theology, or as it is often called, theology proper, doctrine of God. I am not sure what you mean by "the doctrine of the Trinity has priority over our doctrine of revelation" but what I meant by revelation as prolegomena is that the doctrine of the Word precedes in order of treatment the doctrine of God. Very simple. I am not talking about some sort of theological privileging only the basic order in which the theological encyclopedia receives its treatment. This is true of the standard theologies (look at Hodge's--appealing to a CSRer!) and of the theological curriculum.

  9. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Senior

    As I've said, Philip, I agree that philosophy may have as much play in apologetics as anywhere in the theological encyclopedia. Two things to observe here: that does not mean, however, that apologetics does not remain, as do all the theological loci, rooted and grounded in the Word; it also does not mean that philosophy does not have play throughout the other theological loci. Though philosophical theology is not easy to define, certainly it is in play in the development of the doctrine of the Trinity, in defining the hypostatic union, and so forth. It is in play, as we've agreed, as the handmaiden of theology. Other disciplines are in play in the development of the loci as well, but, again, the root and ground iof it all is God's Word.

    It is simply not the case that when we do Christology, for example, we are being purely biblical, but when we are doing apologetics we are being mostly, if not entirely, philosophical. I am not saying that there is no place for philosophy in the theological disciplines. Not at all. I am only saying that all is subordinated to, and dependent on, the Holy Scripture. And we don't stop that dependence when we come to apologetics.

    I agree, in fact, with the rest of the quoted paragraph after the first sentence. There are different sorts of objections to the faith and they are dealt with accordingly, some more philosophically, some more pastorally, all from God's Word. In fact, every department of the theological curriculum is to have and do its own apologetic. In biblical studies, for example, refutation of higher critical approaches occurs; in church history (as part of ecclesiastical studies), we refute a cyclical, say, or a Marxist view of history; in ministerial studies, we engage varieties of contextualization. These are a few illustrations. Apologetics, in other words, is both a distinct discipline, serving together with doctrine of the Word (or revelation) as part of theological foundation(s), prolegomena to the rest of the theological loci, and also as a defensive stance taken in every other department of theological study (the biblical, ecclesiastical, and ministerial). Philosophy (and the other liberal arts as appropriate) are employed all along the way, subordinated to the Word of God.

    But no part of the theological loci, including apologetics, is something other than fundamentally theological.

  10. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    What if the burden of proof is more this. Western philosophy has been plagued by certian fundamental problems. They can be predictably present in all attempts thus far to solve the logical questions of Philosophy. I have not always stressed this historical element as well as I should have in our previous discussions, so my bad for any uneccessary misunderstanding. Like any good disease (unbeleiving philosophy) this one has syptoms (the various schools of philosophy) that are all part the reason why unbeleiver's cannot solve in a complete or ultimate sense the fundamental problems of Philosophy (with a capital "P").

    Van Til and people like Dooyeweerd have pointed out that the ultimate reason why they cannot acomplish what they wish to acomplish is because they are resting their attempts on ungodly presuppositions. If that is in fact their root problem than the TA works because it rests its presuppositions on biblical presuppositions. Therefore it cannot be guilty of the same destructive errors of unbeleiving thought. Of course this discription of the two opposing wordlviews, beleiving and unbeleiving, is in an ideal sense. Both worldviews will be a mixture of truth and error in the actual individuals espousing them but in their presuppositions they are different.

    By way of an analogy it is like mankind is on one side of a lake that they know they must get across. But there are no bridges or anything. So unbeleiver's try to drive over in cars. They insist, and this is a very crude analogy so bear with me, that there must be some car that will do and they with unaided reason will discover it. So on through the years they try many different makes and models only to end in futility. They then conclude that no one can ever get over there. This is where Van Til says "why don't we just get into the boat that the harbor master sent over to pick us up" (that would be divine revelation).

    I agree to a degree here. That is why I would employ the previous mentioned critical-historical interpratation of western thought. This same critique was leveled by postmodernism only to conclude in irrationality. Van Til says that they are just two sides of the same coin.

    If you can point out the fundamental flaws of all western thought and than demonstrated that christian theism does not posses these flaws wouldn't that be demonstration?

    Isn't this a problem with all schools of thought?
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2012
  11. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    Oh dear. If differing philosophical schools are a symptom of unbelieving philosophy, then clearly most philosophers who claim the name of Jesus are only faking Christian thinking really. I don't think we should attribute this merely to unbelief: many philosophers who are true (and non-autonomous) believers end up with conclusions that I disagree with. I will never agree with Edwards and Berkeley on the existential state of matter; I'm not sure that I agree with Johannes Duns Scotus on universals; I certainly don't agree with Augustine's epistemology of Divine occasionalism.

    No, just different errors.

    Even if you could (and the logical category of "all" is a tall order), you'd still have eastern thought, pantheism, Islam, etc. And even then, there would be the possibility of constructing something completely new. No, it wouldn't be a demonstration.
  12. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    And this is for Van Til when christians adopt autonomous philosophies, they accommodate to unbeleiving philosophies. Note that I think that Frame is on to something here when he says that perhaps Van Til is not at his strongest here. I mean how much adoption of philosophy is too much? Who can say? We can say it after the fact though, so that is In my humble opinion where he is stronger.

    Or just different examples of one underlying error. Remember two things that anyone who reads Van Til must keep in mind:

    1. He made a dinstinction between ideal considerations of worldviews. In an ideal sense the beleiver and unbeleiver are diametrically opposed to one another. In actual everyday experience we are an "awkward mixture" of true and false beleifs, but our underlying presuppositions are either beleif or unbeleif. Either we are in Adam or in Christ. I also think that you are on to something when you describe presuppositions as "tacit knowledge". You are right to emphasize the "noncognative" aspect of a presupposition. Of course we would both agree that there is a cognative aspect to them that can be expressed in language. But they are more than that.

    2. He was in many ways "continental" in his thinking. His greatest theological influence was the continental thinker Bavink, well worth the study by the way (I only have that book Our Reasonable Faith by him, it is a compilation edited by someone who I can't remember the name of). But he viewed history in the staple continental way since Hegel. Derrida and the rest of them all took the same method of analyzing the history of thought the same way without excepting Hegel's dinstinctive ideas. So he viewed movements in an organic way. So although unbeleiving thought has many "bumps" (or philosophers) along the way it is still one road that can be analyzed as a whole. This is, I'll admit, "strange" to analytical philosophy but perhaps it is time the two different "streams" to cross.

    Well two things here:

    1. CA has not faired well in this department either. Someone states a version of the traditional arguments and then someone comes along and criticizes it and someone has to reformulate it and on and on and on

    2. We are finite, we cannot have a totality of knowledge. That being true we will always have "new" challanges to the faith. You are right to bring up eastern thought but as I've read Van Til's insights work there as well
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2012
  13. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    But that's the trouble: Edwards and Berkeley, for instance, are specifically addressing unbelieving philosophy when they envision their metaphysic of anti-materialism.

    It's less my analytical nature than the fact that reading C.S. Lewis on historicism has made me suspicious of attempts to try and get above history and see the patterns apart from what God has revealed specifically in Scripture. If God says that these are the fundamental errors in all of western philosophy, that's one thing. If Van Til says it, I'm going to be very suspicious. There's always a multiplicity of factors and the mistakes aren't always the same.
  14. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    But for them philosophy dictated their faith. Don't mistake their error for an error in Van Til's method. Just because a christian does philosophy doesn't guarentee that they are right. Allowing philosophy to tell us what we should believe about the bible is backwards.

    Thats fine. If you feel that there is a philosophy out there that does not fall under this scheme than name it. If you want me to provide examples I will. I still don't understand how we can say that a being made in the image of God can interpret creation in a way that is consistantly atheistic for instance.
  15. Loopie

    Loopie Puritan Board Freshman

    You bring up an excellent point. I mean, wouldn't it be awkward to suggest that a person can be theoretically perfectly consistent and theoretically have true knowledge of all of creation without making any reference to God? If God is indeed a necessary being (for the existence of creation), then wouldn't he be a necessary being for the knowledge of that creation? That is, wouldn't we have to know him in order to have a theoretically perfectly consistent worldview and a theoretically true knowledge of all of creation?
  16. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    Yeah how can creation be interpreted correctly as anything other than creation. You raise a good point.
  17. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    Actually, it was the other way around. They argued against a material world outside the mind of God because they saw that as a Biblical alternative to empiricism.

    Because he's fallen and suppressing the truth, perhaps? Coherence doesn't equal truth.

    Yes---ontologically. However, the unbeliever won't admit this and will find ways around it. His cognitive faculties are ontologically derived from his being created, but he doesn't see that and refuses to see it.

    No. Knowledge of the world does not automatically equal knowledge of God. What you've done here is conflated belief-forming processes with personal knowledge with ontology. Unbelievers know stuff even though they don't know God---not in the way that believers do.

    As for consistency, that's just a matter of logical analysis.

    You're conflating things again: we are talking warranted true beliefs about particular things, not a grand schema. As I said, I'm not terribly interested in creating them.
  18. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    I still would say that despite their intentions they are wrong, I have read Edwards' early philosophical writings. He got into hot water with reformed folk not because of his theology so much as his philosophical theology.

    But corespondence to creation is always corespondence to creation.

    I mean the point is can any comprehensize theory of reality better make sense of things than the christian narrative?

    Well you are assuming a creation that is other than creation. The existance of God is irellevant to creation, the almighty is of no consequence logically speaking. I know that you fully believe that creation is creation so please don't misunderstand me. I think that you are moving this way despite your intentions.

    Yes but considering the manifold problems in common realism why can't a "grand schema" be appropriate?
  19. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    What problems did you have in mind?

    Fair enough. My point though is that just because you are reasoning in subjection to Scripture (as Edwards was) doesn't mean you're right.

    Well I'm not sure I can dispute this one.

    Depends on who is defining "better."

    How, exactly? All that I am claiming is this: if an unbeliever arrives at true conclusion X by means of his God-given faculties, then despite the fact that he is denying the creation is creation, he is still correct about X, is still warranted in his belief that X, and still knows X. If autonomy is defined as you seem to be defining it, then it impossible and thus it makes no sense to accuse anyone of it. If, on the other hand, it is an attitude of rebellion and resistance toward God, then one may be autonomous and still be correct about some things.

    The unbeliever refuses to see the forest for the trees, but that doesn't mean that he is ignorant of trees.
  20. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Matthew 16:3, "O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?" Unbelievers clearly know the truth about things that are created. They function as rationally responsible and accountable beings. It is their ability to act rationally in relation to the things of this world which makes them all the more culpable when they refuse to act rationally in relation to the Creator of the world. Does an unbeliever have ultimate epistemic justification for what he relies upon as a truth claim? No; but that does not negate the fact that he makes valid truth claims. It is his very claim to truth which makes his unrighteousness inexcusable. Romans 1:18.
  21. Loopie

    Loopie Puritan Board Freshman

    But we would agree that sin has corrupted even the rational mind of man. Rationality and reason are not untouched by sin. And Philip, even if the unbeliever concluded X correctly, he still 'knew' God (and suppressed this knowledge) before he even perceived X.

    Romans 1:19 (NASB)
    19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.

    Romans 1:21 (NASB)
    21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

    It would seem that the natural man, from the moment he was made had a knowledge of his creator within him. I would argue that the very first thing any person 'knows' is that God exists (but they suppress this knowledge). That is why an innate knowledge of God is prior to any knowledge of the universe around us. Whether or not the unbeliever has TRUE knowledge of the universe is certainly a different discussion, but I do not think an argument can be made that there is no knowledge of God innate to all people.
  22. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    But whatever does this have to do with whether or not the unbeliever knows X? See my comments on the other thread.
  23. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    This is moving towards a form of hyper-rationalism and idealism which reformed theology has traditionally rejected. I don't mean to say you are there but it is something I would be wary of. In Romans 1, Calvin's Institutes, and the Westminster documents there is a strong connection between what is innate (the microcosm, man) and what is perceived in the world of creation and providence (the macrocosm). Natural knowledge is never regarded as a product of what is innate. The implanted knowledge of God is the mere seed of religion; it is not religion itself. In order to "know God" reformed theologians emphasise the importance of the external works of God and the process of discursive thought. This is a part of being a creature.
  24. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    Naturally---otherwise arguments from creation wouldn't be possible.
  25. Loopie

    Loopie Puritan Board Freshman

    Rev Winzer,

    I certainly would not claim that the innate knowledge of God that I spoke about was a mental knowledge, or a rational/conscious knowledge. I agree completely with what you said. I use the term know and knowledge because that is what I see in Romans 1. They KNEW God, and the KNOWLEDGE of God was evident within them. I would not call this 'head knowledge' or anything like that. It is spiritual in nature, but it is still knowledge in some way (just suppressed). So doesn't this innate seed of religion exist prior to any other forms or types of knowledge in man?
  26. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Certainly ability to reason exists before reason itself. And the ability to reason is a certain form of knowledge, which is what is usually designated "innate." But, as you qualified (which I take to be the only safe qualification to make in this context), it is not knowledge in the rational sense. While it is confined to being pre-rational it cannot become hyper-rational. But however it is described, (1) it only functions in accord with the cognitive and perceptive processes, and (2) is only discerned by those processes. If we stick with the "seed" terminology we are safe. A seed is not a plant; it is the potential of a plant; other factors are necessary to produce the plant out of it.
  27. Loopie

    Loopie Puritan Board Freshman

    I completely agree with you, but it would still be accurate to use the term 'know' or 'knowledge' as Romans 1 uses it, right? I only meant to show that a type of knowledge of God, a seed of religion, existed from the beginning which the man suppresses. I mean, this is how one would be sinful even in the womb right? He is in rebellion against a God that he 'knows' in some sense of the word from the moment the man is created, right? I hope I am clarifying my position a bit better.
  28. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Yes, good point; but it only applies to ultimate epistemic justification; once you qualify that it is pre-rational this "innate knowledge" has no capacity to nullify the rational process but is simply the pre-condition of it. So for actual facts, what is reasoned may be justified even if there is no ultimate justification.
  29. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    Basically that common notions equals majority rules. If the majority of people in a society feel that people of a certian race should not be allowed to eat at the same table as another race doesn't make it right just because everyone agrees on it. Read Locke's first section on his (and I may confuse his title for Hume's, for some reason I always do that) An Essay Concerning Human Understanding on innate ideas. His criticisms work well here.

    Your right that we as beleivers can and do make mistakes. It is not full proof in practice.

    I would say that means not only do we consistantly interpret reality but we have a liveable worldview that gives us meaning and hope.

    Yes and Van Til would say that he came to that conclusion in spite of his denial.

    Correct. The antithesis is not absolute in practice due to God's restraining common grace.

    I agree.
  30. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    Sorry, Locke is just confused. He never gives a definition of "idea" and operates under the assumption that the mind is a tabula rasa---an assumption that is completely unwarranted and rather discredited. This is one of the main points that Reid makes against empiricism: the idea that people are born without predispositions and that certain cognitive faculties have privilege to judge the others.

    No---but reason is certainly capable to point this out. However, if you come to certain conclusions by "reason" (say, that inductive reasoning can't be trusted at all) then you have to start wondering where you went wrong in your reasoning, because you know that induction is necessary for life.
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