What is a presupposition?

Discussion in 'Apologetical Methods' started by Puritan Sailor, Mar 19, 2006.

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  1. MurrayA

    MurrayA Inactive User

    Thanks, but with respect yours is only one voice among a host. There are all too many who do make Presupp'sm a test of orthodoxy.

    Moreover, Frame and others may from one side of their mouth disown the "cult mentality", as you call it, but the strident way they and their ilk speak about the presupp. approach and cry down all others I find such disclaimers give a hollow ring.

    [Edited on 21-3-2006 by MurrayA]
  2. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    I didn't understand most of that last paragraph. Further, your reasoning is itself presuppositional: I can deny--and quote leading presuppositionalists--and yet you still say that "this is what they really mean" without providing any evidence.

    Granted, some do this and it grieves me. But even then, you must still factor into the account others who have distanced themselves from the cult mentality. A failure to do so is unfair scholarship.

    Further, since I have mentioned the leading presuppositonalist living today, John Frame, as denying the cult mentality. And you said that he is guilty of double-speak
    ; could you please provide me where Frame engages in the cult mentality?

    [Edited on 3--21-06 by Draught Horse]
  3. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Puritan Board Doctor

    Oops.... :lol:

    I guess an oily bear would not inspire much unity.... :um:
  4. JohnV

    JohnV Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Dr. Murray:

    Hi. A PhD from down under. Now we are global. Glad you're aBooard.

    You don't have to disown it. I distinquish between a formal and an informal presuppositionalism. As a mere method, it has its uses, as you say. And it has its place too. As a cult following, as Jacob put it, it goes too far. I like the way you said it, though, as a way to clear the ground. But I was using it that way long before I'd heard of Preuppositionalism, as part of the classical Anselmian argument, to hold my fellow classmates to bases they were not that eager to let on to. At that time I didn't even know about Anselm either. That is to say, then, these things seem to be intrinsic to sufficient Biblical certainty to defend one's position of faith with a fair bit of confidence, even against superior intellects.


    I didn't say I didn't believe you. You aren't the only Presuppositionalist. But even so, that's not the point. My point is that I stood before elders, yes elders in my Reformed denomination, and said, "This man is preaching Presuppositionalism!" and they looked at me as if to say, "OK, and your point is...?" I just couldn't believe it. My jaw is still sitting on the table over that, years later; my point is that I've tried to bring up the notion of Biblical necessity several times, and I still get the feeling that very, very few have any inkling of what I'm talking about. I still see that term used as the equivalent of a basic logical syllogism. But that's not it at all. It is much more than that; my point is that I can't take any Presuppositionalist seriously who isn't up in arms, to same degree that I am at the very least, because men are usurping the pulpit to propagate and impose it as if from God.

    It may be that you yourself will not usurp the pulpit, and for that I am very glad. But do you see what Mark Rushdooney did off the pulpit? Do you see his list of principle guiding posts for his movement? Do you see that they are, all of them, adiaphora, and that this is a direct contradiction to his necessary? He has a major doctrinal disagreement with the Reformed faith, and the way to correct that is not through the back door. So the way it is being done severely compromises his movement. Do you see that?

    I do believe you. And I commend you. I could even support your Reconstruction notions. Just drop those adiaphora concepts back to adiaphora status. It will not hurt your agenda on bit, and even enhance it greatly. Try it, you'll see.
  5. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Sure. In the sermons and lessons that I have preached and taught I haven't preached "said views" as doctrines, nor have I mentioned them. To me, as important as they are, I do view them as adiaphora. Now, when a Christian asks me what God's word says about politics, economics, penalogy, that is another story. But I don't view the above three as doctrine. Sorry for the misunderstanding.
  6. Civbert

    Civbert Puritan Board Junior

    I think Van Til is much to blame for this. I've listened to a few of his apologetics presentations where he seems to equate anything short of his system as anti-Christian. He basically said that Gordon Clark's views were dangerous to Christianity. And Van Til was one of the people trying to stop Clark's ordination into the OPC. It wasn't just Van Til's followers - but Van Til himself and his rhetoric that led his followers to equate his views with Christian dogma.
  7. Magma2

    Magma2 Puritan Board Sophomore

    There are also some very concrete reasons for what you both describe above. This is from the offical website of the OPC:

    The Recommended Curriculum for Ministerial Preparation in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church

    II. Apologetics

    1. Introduction to Apologetic Methodology and Practice including (1) the school of Van Tilian presuppositionalism as the most biblically faithful expression of Reformed apologetics, and (2) a survey of positions held by other Reformed apologists.
  8. Civbert

    Civbert Puritan Board Junior

    I found the mp3 where Van Til makes some very interesting statements - basically calling his views true reformed apologetics. You can find it on Sermon Audio. It's Van Til's "Philosophy and Apologetics #01: The New Evangelicalism".


    P.S. you can compare that with Gordon Clark's "John Frame and Cornelius Van Til"


    [Edited on 3-21-2006 by Civbert]
  9. JohnV

    JohnV Puritan Board Post-Graduate


    with all my heart, friend.
  10. JohnV

    JohnV Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    The question is, "What is a presupposition?" I think we can likely put critiques of Van Til in the "My Credo" posts. I'm just suggesting, because I'm not a moderator.

    But this does relate to the fact that there are some influences at work that skews the idea of what presuppositions are, confusing many people.

    Another influence in the mix is that all evidentialists are categorized as HBC-ers, when in fact evidentialists have been working against HBC-ers even as Van Til was walking around in diapers. One has to read Warfield for what Warfield says, as on example, taking into account his analyses as the analyses of a man, not of the Bible. But you won't find HBC in his apologetics, no matter how hard you look. It is only read into it by others.

    ( HBC stands for Higher Biblical Criticism, which espouses, officially, the method of following reason alone; what one knows by faith is irrelevant, [Plantinga, Two Kinds of Christian Scholarship], which Warfield opposes with all his might. That's what Machen's Christianity and Liberalism is about. )

    So this too colours the concept of what a presupposition is. For some reason some people's presuppositions, right or wrong, go unchallenged and taken for gospel truth. Evidentialists are opposed to HBC, not identified with it. The classical arguments presuppose the opposite of HBC, and it is sheer ignorance that identifies it as the same thing. Evidentialists and Classicalists also have presuppositions that they readily admit and champion.

    At least this evidentialist/classicalist does.
  11. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Classicist/evidentailist JP Moreland also lists a number of presuppositions that are necessary in science, for example. I don't knwo if that would go with what you are talking about.
  12. JohnV

    JohnV Puritan Board Post-Graduate


    I have a few articles of his in my files, and started reading them. But I just didn't get into them. I was really looking for some things by Morris, but couldn't find the ones I was looking for. I can't really help you there, because I don't know enough about him. But it stands to reason, you can't not have some presuppositions. Anselm knew that too.

    Maybe this is what Patrick is wanting to know. Do all people have at least some presuppositions in common, simply on the grounds that we are able to have conversation that is intelligible on a basic level with all men, believer or non-believer? Or is there a strict dichotomy, an inpenetrable, impregnible wall of differentiation between the believer and non-believer? Is it true on one level that they have nothing in common, and true on another level that they have everything in common, and on the whole only have in common the things that the unbeliever will admit to willingly?

    This would include Moreland, then, with his presuppositions necessary for science, and also explain the voluntary presuppositions of scientists who insist that the Builder of the creation must strictly not be taken into account in researching that creation as a prerequisite to 'good science'.
  13. MurrayA

    MurrayA Inactive User

    Sorry not to reply sooner, but I have quite a bit of work to do.

    Thanks for your welcome, and glad to be on board.

    Apologetics is not really my forte, but I take an interest, especially as I do quite a bit of writing (of shortish articles) for a general audience.

    You mentioned the Gordon Clark case in the OPC. I had forgotten that, but when you mentioned it I recalled it, and it was a sad reflection of the way Presupp'sm has become (for some) a de facto test of orthodoxy.

    It strtikes me as strange in a way, because my reading of Clark (and I have read with enjoyment many of his books) would indicate that he is at least a semi-presuppositionalist, just as Francis Schaeffer was in his own way (and Van Til was quite opposed to him too).

    I have dialogued with folks of the Van Til persuasion, and some of them get so upset when anyone who claims to be 'Reformed' (i.e. myself) rejects their approach that they accuse me of being 'unReformed', even guilty of sin! I have had too many along the line trying to convict me of imaginary sins of one sort and another that I treat such accusations with a ho hum.

  14. JohnV

    JohnV Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Dr. Murray:

    I am not that familiar with the Van Til Clark debate itself, not enough to start telling others about the ins and outs of it, but I am witness to some of the same things you mention: the emphasis on the necessity of Presuppositionalism, and nothing else. So I've sat in on three consecutive lectures by one eminent Doctor in the field, and he ran evidentialism and classicalism right down to the ground, without ever interacting with one detail of either of them. He was actually criticizing Higher Biblical Criticism's techniques, I now know, as if these were the same thing. I knew that this man had definitely NOT done his homework back then, but now I know more about what homework he did not care to do.

    To all:

    But all that aside, there is something to presuppositions. The abuse of them to gain power over others is, of course, sinful. But to know what the person to whom you're talking to is talking about, I think, is necessary so you can actually speak to his need, the vacuum he is wanting to fill in his understanding.

    That was Dr. Schaeffer's method. He was not a Presuppositionalist, and he was not a controversialist. He would not discuss his method with Dr. Van Til, but just shake his hand and walk away. But he was also quite free in agreeing to and using the Ontological Argument, which is not that different than a sanitized Presuppositional argument. But his approach was to be unafraid to meet the person on his own turf, to listen to him with care, to analyze his presuppositions, and then to let the Bible give answers. He never pointed to himself, for he never left behind him any philosophical methodology, or advanced teaching for others to follow up on, or any great mark in the field of academics; he strictly pointed to the fact that the Bible has answers, leaving himself as only a messenger of that news.

    I don't agree with everything Dr. Schaeffer said, but those differences have no bearing whatsoever on what he taught me, and the example I take from him. Even before I read any of his work I was already meeting the atheists and Positivists on their own ground, and was greatly confident of the evidences being on the side of God's revelation in every respect.

    Presuppositionalism has never impressed me because of the cheats that are employed quite freely, and without conscience sometimes. But I am sternly opposed to it being pasted over Christianity as a prerequisite for honest and faithful theology. I think the results of the arguments bear that out. Especially some Clarkian arguments, claiming epistemological certainty, cannot even identify a tree as a tree, so how can they tell me anything certain about epistemology? But what I've noticed is that, though there was a distinction made between Van Tillian and Dooyweerdian presuppositionalism, they both ended in the same place eventually. That makes me think that there was something of a unitary nature behind them both.

    That leads me to think that it was Enlightenment philosophy employed in the area of epistemology; sort of a higher critical epistemological methodology, if you will. If you look at the basic tenets of, for example, Higher Biblical Criticism, though Van Til originally wanted to steer strictly clear of these, yet this was where many have later ended up, only instead of the subject area being history and science, it was epistemology, or philosophy in general. In other words, for many God does not act into the continuum of cause and effect in the area of how one knows that he knows. Scripture is cited as the epistemological source, but too many times in alienation to the presence of Christ Himself in them. Some have reduced Scripture to nothing more than propositions, the truths of which are their basis for understanding, so they claim. This does not reflect the Reformed confession of the doctrine of Scripture, for you will find Christ Himself at the centre of it in every article of faith, and that He Himself acts into its revelation to men through His Spirit.

    The nub of this post is that understanding presuppositions has great value, but one must be as ready, and more so, to know and critique and confess his own presuppositions, and that this must precede addressing others' presuppositions. One does not need to be sinless, but one must present Christ's answers, not his own, and not let his own motives or ego take control. This, as I believe, is a proper presuppositionalism. And it is an arm, a department, of a proper evidentialism.

    Evidentialism is also in need of some serious critical analysis. But it is so hard to do with all the noise that Presuppositionalists are raising in the churches, as if their methodology is the orthodox mark to meet first of all. Too many do not really know what evidentialism is, because they believe those who have misrepresented it, and because there are so many semi-enlightenment evidentialists out there. I mean, the Ontological Argument, which is a necessary presupposition to every apologetic methodolgy, is sometimes deliberately negated. But in one form or another, everyone knows the impossibility of God as a being existing only in the intellect; it is in every formal apologetic that man has ever presented.

    Anyways, this is a long post. But this is part of what I believe. There is a lot more to it, but this part is in relation to the value of the presupposition.
  15. Civbert

    Civbert Puritan Board Junior

    As does Clark. One of the key differences between Clark's and Van Til's presuppositionalism is Clark welcomed the challenge to his presuppositions. He never claimed or tried to prove his axiom (Scripture is the Word of God), he took it on faith. He just said everyone has presuppositions (axioms) that define their worldview which are used to justify what they think they know. Clark never set his system as orthodoxy, he said his epistemology was complementary to orthodoxy. It's possible he was wrong since he is merely a man.

    I'm not really sure what the Van Til presuppositions are. I've heard the *premise* that "only the Christian worldview provides the preconditions necessary for intelligibility" - but what those "preconditions" are, and why they are necessary and not just sufficient is rarely explained. And I'm assuming those "preconditions" are the presuppositions for Van Til. They have to be or they would not justify the premise. I don't think the premise itself can be the presupposition, since it begs the question that Christianity alone is the worldview that account of intelligibility. By default, all other worldview must be false. By default, only the Vantillian system is orthodoxy. All other worldviews are defeats preemptively. It can not be questioned or debated. You can just claim that other worldviews are "borrowing" capital from Christianity. Again, begging the question. Maybe Christianity is borrowing from Islam.

    On the other hand Clark's presupposition is the axiom: Scripture is the Word of God. He never claimed to prove it with a deductive argument. It is an assumed stating point for justifying knowledge. We either believe it or not. And belief itself is not volitional. We might have good reasons for believing the axiom - Clark wrote an excellent book defending the inerrancy of Scripture (God's Hammer). But he never said that proves his worldview is necessarily true. (And assuming the Christian worldview, we know that our belief in the truths of Scripture are part of the faith God gives us.)

    It is not irrational because there are many good reasons to believe the Scripture, but is it impossible to prove the Scripture are true in Clark's presuppositionalism because it is the axiom of is epistemological system - all knowledge is justified from the axiom - so there is not epistemic a-priori knowledge to prove the axiom from. All worldviews have presuppositions, and these are always open to honest debate. They define knowledge and all of our conclusions.

    Ontologically, God is the first principle of Christianity, but that does not make for a useful epistemic proposition to justify knowledge with. God's revelation in Scripture gives us what we need for a rational starting point of our epistemology.

    Clark's presupposition is clear. Scripture.

    BTW. So there is no confusion - I'm not using proof in the sense of giving good reasons, I'm using it in the sense of a deductive argument from a-priori truths. Truths that are not justified by presuming the conclusion. Worldviews can not be proven because they are defined by axioms which must be assumed.
  16. JohnV

    JohnV Puritan Board Post-Graduate


    I will discuss this with you, but on the grounds that the person of Christ and of the Spirit is acknowledged as the Scripture's proposition, as the axiom itself.

    If I understand Van Til's '32 syllabus, Clark's notion was, in part, one of the things that he rejected. Though I think he adopted Dooyweerd's definition of neutrality and autonomy, yet he was not altogether wrong in arguing against the notion that man has an intellectual basis in any degree free from God's created norm. I seem to detect in his argument there that every man works in the epistemological creation of God's hand, and that there is no other, though he does not explicitly say so. But then, Warfield's main apologetic thesis also included the self-attesting Christ of Scripture, though he did not explicitly say it in those exact terms.

    The point I am making here is that Van Til at least denied that the theist and non-theist meet on some neutral ground where there is neither God nor no-God. There is no such place! On that score I agree with his notion of neutrality.

    If Clark, on the other hand, even suggests that the person of Christ is missing from the epistemological equation, then he literally is out to lunch. I did read a few of his books, and I did not particularly find that to be the case. So no problem there, right?

    Yet the point of Scripture remains that of the message of salvation, and that we can have certainty of the promises in Christ's work on the cross. That assumes, then, that what we may know of Christ, what has been revealed to us, is absolutely the truth. It is treasure in heaven, that is not subject to any erosion of any kind. That is, it is not subject to being eroded by the philosophies of man either. As a Christian, I own that certainty through the Scriptures.

    When I engage unbelievers, I am, in essence, engaging liars, misrepresenters, and captives of sin. Though I go to the ends of the earth, lo, Christ is there. And I can present to them truth without ever needing to justify my own epistemological basis. The gospel does not hinge on that. It hinges on the Spirit acting supernaturally on the heart and intellect, of myself as much as the unbeliever. I am no less a sinner than the one that I am engaging. The difference is the person of Christ and of the Spirit, and that I have been given the gift of submitting to Him.

    Defeating the atheist's scheme has already been done long before I was ever born. That in itself does not stop the atheist from clinging to it. But I don't have to defeat his scheme as if it is a new frontier in the field of apologetics. It simply isn't so. Instead, I can use the methodologies to try to understand the person, and to address the real person, the one he even hides from himself, and pray that the Spirit will work in his heart. Whether He does or not is not my business; my business was to witness the work of the Spirit in my heart in a manner that reaches out to others, to be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in me, with a gentle and respectful spirit, having a clear conscience. My business is to love him enough to care for his soul.

    I have a very good reason for believing the Scriptures. The Spirit witnesses the truth of them to me. I can't do it without Him.

    [Edited on 3-23-2006 by JohnV]
  17. Civbert

    Civbert Puritan Board Junior

    Let me try to clarify something here. The Triune God is a first principle for the Scripturalist, but that is an ontological/metaphysical axiom. That is not the epistemological axiom. From John Robbins Introduction to Gordon Clark - Part I

      1. So while I can agree with you on the axiom, I want to be clear that that is a matter of metaphysics, not epistemology. It is also metaphysically true that Jesus, throughout Scripture, is equated with the Word. The Scriptures often does not differentiate on a metaphysical level between God's Word and Jesus Christ. In Scripture "we have the mind of Christ" (2Co 2:16).
  18. Civbert

    Civbert Puritan Board Junior

    Missing is a rather loose term. Jesus is withing the epistemological equation, Jesus is the Word.

    Van Til was speaking I think on a metaphysical level - which is an area that can not be dealt with epistemologically. It's tautologically true that there is no place that can have both God and non-God, but this is an ontological issue. It doesn't help us deal with epistemological issues. On a epistemological level, the believer and the non-believe have much in common. We both may reason logically.

    Even from within the Scripturalist and Christian worldview this is true. Man was created in God's image - a being in the spiritual image of God, in that like God, we can think logically. This allows us to communicate to each other, and with God through His revelation. When we think true thoughts, we are thinking God's thoughts. And we can tell when we are thinking God's thoughts when we get them from Scripture, which is God's thought's revealed to man. Ergo the Scripturalist epistemology.

    But the non-believer will not accept this axiom. He can still reason and think, and by chance he can think true thoughts, and in that sense he can have knowledge. But without the correct epistemology, his knowledge is not really justified. He still has common thoughts with the believer and God, but his axioms may lead to conflict with these thoughts, or lead him to mistaken false thoughts for knowledge. But where his epistemology leads to common beliefs, and it may, then the non-believer and the believer have that knowledge in common.

    The idea that the believer and the non-believer can have no common knowledge makes it impossible for believers to communicate with non-believers. And it's a reject of the fact that all men are created in God's image. We are all just a little below the angels, even the atheist. :)
  19. Civbert

    Civbert Puritan Board Junior

  20. JohnV

    JohnV Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    I must insist, though. In Christ there is no distinction between the epistemological and the metaphysical, since He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. I will not banter over words.

    [Edited on 3-24-2006 by JohnV]
  21. Civbert

    Civbert Puritan Board Junior

    That is a metaphor. Jesus is not literally the "way, truth, and life". "Way, truth and life" are not in the same category as the literal Son of God. Jesus is literally a person. He was literally born to a virgin. But he is not literally the bread and wine. He is literally our Savior.

    That's why I think it's import to differentiate between metaphysical and epistemological positions. When you start using metaphors as if they were literal statements, everything gets confused. Metaphisical and epistemological positions should be clear so that we don't give excuses for irrational thinking. God is not irrational, and we have no excuse for making Him appear irrational.

    [Edited on 3-24-2006 by Civbert]
  22. JohnV

    JohnV Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    And that is why we are talking apples and oranges here. We are talking about two entirely different subjects which have no relation to each other. For me, God is one, including the person of Jesus; in whom it is not one thing to be epistemologically original, and another to be metaphysically original, as if He could be and not know, or as if He could know and not be. God is a simple God, in which these things are not confused, but yet one. We are defending two different Gods.
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