Monday, July 23, 2007

Presuppositional Apologetics and Evidences

'Brilliance' based on unbelieving presuppositionsI have been thinking about the use of evidence in regards to apologetics a bit lately. After listening to Kim Riddlberger's lectures on the life of Francis Schaeffer the question of evidences has come up to me afresh. I of course would readily identify myself as a presuppositionalist when it comes to apologetic methodology. For any who don't know what in the world it is I am talking about let me fill you in so you will understand my train of thought in regards to evidences.

A presuppositional apologetic is a distinctly Reformed or Calvinistic approach to the defense of the Christian faith. Unlike classical apologetics it holds that there is no "neutral ground" between the believer and unbeliever, there is not a pile of worldview facts that we agree upon at all. To give you a picture say you meet Mr.Unbeliever and he says "Why yes I believe in God, but I don't think we need to believe in Jesus to be saved." Now a classical approach would come alongside Mr.Unbeliever and say: "Well now this is great, we already have so much in common, let me give you some reasons why you should add Jesus to you belief system that is already there."

So basically the classical apologetic sees this person who claims to believe in God but not Christ as being a good deal "right" he or she merely needs to add belief in Jesus to what is already there. Now a presuppositional approach sees this is all wrong, for the simple fact that the presuppositionalist sees the Bible and Christ alone as the revelation of God to man. Also the presuppositionalist sees all truth as God's truth and to deny this God is to cut yourself off from the foundation of truth. With that said the presuppositionalist sees that there are NO NEUTRAL FACTS. All facts are either interpreted through a regenerate eyes or fallen eyes.


With all of that said let us come back to Mr. Unbeliever this time he meets a presuppositionalist, their encounter is a bit different from the one he had with the classical evidentialist, it goes something like this:

Mr unbeliever "So yes I do believe in god but I don' believe I need Jesus."

Presup: "What do you mean by "god"?"

Unb: "god (little g in the presuppositional view) I see as more of a force that is in everything, no need for a saviour because we are all part of god."

The presuppositionalist will say, "Actually the god you are talking about is an idol and you are suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. And if we do assume your worldview that god is only an impersonal force then you have no foundation for ethics, laws of logic, human rationality, human dignity...yet you believe in these things and in doing so really are borrowing from the Christian worldview."

The difference between the evidentialist and the presuppositionalist is tremendous. In the one case the unbelievers fallen idol of "god" is merely absorbed in the other it is toppled over. (Now to be fair to the evidentialists this isn't the best picture but it is just that a picture) Unbelief from the presuppositional perspective is challenged at every corner, even to the point where as Van Til states that when a Christian and an unbeliever both look at a rose they don't see the same thing. The one sees a creation testifying to the glory and majesty of God the other sees a pretty red flower. I agree.

What I like most about presuppositionalism is that it meets the challenges against Christianity head on. Rather then dealing with every bullet the unbeliever fires in challenge of the Christian faith, it slaps the gun out of the unbelievers hands by showing that if you reject the Christian revelation you can not consistently make the challenges (bullets) you are making.

One of my favorites is the charge that "Science has disproved God." (Some Atheist actually has a book out now with that in it's title, I believe it is on the NY Times bestseller list. The worst books usually are.) At anyrate the problem with such a preposterous charge is that really without God there is no foundation for science. Science proceeds upon the assumption that the future laws of nature will be like the past laws of nature, this is fine in the Christian worldview because God upholds and provides the regularities we see in nature.

Without the Christian foundation science's foundation is upon a leap into non-reason. There is no reason apart from God to believe the future will be like the past but we need to assume that in order for the scientific method to proceed at all so we just make an irrational leap (and borrow from the Christian worldview).

This is what Schaeffer called "taking the roof off" basically you are for the sake of argument assuming the unbeliever's presuppositions and showing where they lead. In the above case we assumed like many scientists that there is no God, well when you do that the scientific method is based upon an irrational leap.

So What About Evidences?

This brings me to the actual point of this post. Given the presuppositional method what role do evidences actually play? Now in Riddleberger's lectures on Schaeffer he pointed out that Schaeffer really combined a presuppositional Van Tillian approach with and evidentialist approach. I honestly think there is wisdom here on Schaeffer's part.

One of the things Schaeffer was adamant about in his work at L'abri was that there is no question that is off limits, because if Christianity is the truth it can answer all objections. What Riddleberger pointed out is that at some point you need to answer people's questions, you can't just keep pointing out how without a Christian base their very questions are irrational. That is true I think, however when people ask why we believe certain things like the resurrection we should be able to give sensible answers.

This does not mean we need to compromise sola scriptura and say after long arguments Christianity is probably true like the evidentialist. However, we should be able to give reasons for what we believe and answer people's questions. This will require some degree of evidences.

I think the difference and what we want to avoid is how the classical and Arminian approaches use evidences, the only conclusion that can be reached in that method of apologetics is not one of certainty that demands the unbeliever to submit or keep rebelling to the truth. All that can be said in the classical approach is that Christianity after looking at the evidences is "probably" true.

That seems a tad dishonoring to the Triune God. To lean on a Van Tillian illustration, I wouldn't dare say to my wife when she asked if I loved her "I probably do." How much more when we are giving a defense of the faith given to us by God Almighty.

That said what I am at the moment trying to work out is a synthesis of presuppositionalism and evidences to answer people's questions. This seems rather sensible to me. To sum up: the type of evidentialism I would reject is the kind that takes neutral ground with the unbeliever and gives evidences in a vacuum. This is where the believer stops being a believer for the sake of argument and says things like "ok IF God exists...Let's pretend God exists...God is the most likely explanation for X" etc.

Apologetics can't be done in a vacuum like that, chiefly for the reason that I don't think it is honoring to God. Not only that it compromises sola scriptura. On the flip side a presuppositional Reformed approach doesn't do apologetics in a vacuum but on the basis of the God who is there and His revelation to man, these are the presuppositions without which all reasoning becomes self contradictory and relativisitic. However, I don't know if that is all we should say. I am inclined to think that the use of evidences is perfectly sound within the framework of the presuppositions we already have.

In other words, we can use evidences as a tool in answering questions, however we must be clear that they are not the foundation the house of Christian theism rests upon, they are more or less aesthetics that are there to attract the unbeliever. Well that is where I am right now on this, I hope it was understandable and helpful to my presuppositionalist freinds.





5 comments:

Ben Osborne said...

Hey Bob, I like that Hulk graphic. :)

Regarding your claim that it's disrespectful to God to prove that Christianity is only probably true, are you saying that presuppositional apologetics offers absolute proof that's beyond doubt? I'm not saying I disagree (yet :), I'd just like clarification.

I don't know if Van Til's "wife" analogy is a fair one. What if your wife asked if you believe that she exists? If my wife asked me, I would say that I'm 99.99999999999% sure that she exists, but I suppose that it's possible that I'm a brain in a vat and I'm being manipulated to think that. But that tiny bit of doubt has no practical implications and doesn’t in an way lessen my love or devotion to her. That doesn't seem dishonoring to me!

Bob said...

Hey Ben good to hear from you, I actually wrote a response already but it got deleated by accident...so here goes again (Good game last night by the way, you were really sticking it to those guys). You asked:

"Regarding your claim that it's disrespectful to God to prove that Christianity is only probably true, are you saying that presuppositional apologetics offers absolute proof that's beyond doubt? I'm not saying I disagree (yet :), I'd just like clarification."

Yes, I would say that a presuppositional approach arrives at certainty of the Christian worldview. It is in essence an indirect proof, what we say is suppose not A (where A is Christian theism) well then you end up with all these self contradictions, therefore not not A. That is it in logical syllogism.

"I don't know if Van Til's "wife" analogy is a fair one. What if your wife asked if you believe that she exists? If my wife asked me, I would say that I'm 99.99999999999% sure that she exists, but I suppose that it's possible that I'm a brain in a vat and I'm being manipulated to think that. But that tiny bit of doubt has no practical implications and doesn’t in an way lessen my love or devotion to her. That doesn't seem dishonoring to me!"

Why would there be any doubt that your wife exists? I think the only way you could possibly doubt that is if you have a different starting point then that God is there. Descartes approached the issue of existence through human reason autonomous from God, he in a way represents the epidemy of an evidential approach. His starting point was man's intellect, what Van Til and presuppositionalists say is that the starting point is God and His word. If we start there we have a basis for knowledge of the existence of the world around us and other persons namely because we live in the world God has made.

Kind of a different way of coming at these issues huh? We don't start our thinking in a vacuum and string proofs to build upon until we have this house called "Christianity" we start with God and His word. It is the unbeliever who rejects God and His word and has chosen to be autonomous that has the philosophical problems. Why should we join him in an autonomous starting point in our philosophy?

As for "God probably exists" being dishonoring, I don't think I can just say "You MUST feel this way!" I am fine if people want to speak of proofs for God and arrive at Christianity is probably the truth all worldviews weighed, there are plenty of men who love God who do it that way and they have not intention of dishonoring Him. I just personally don't feel at all comfortable telling my Lord He "probably" is the way the truth and the life.

Ben Osborne said...

Bob, sorry that you had to write your reply twice. That's always a pain.

I don't know if I was sticking it to Club 400, but I definitely feel a lot better about how I played last night than I feel after a lot of games. I remember you having a couple of good hits yourself.

Thanks for the clarification about presuppositionalism. I'm still wrestling with these ideas.

Would you say that someone would have to presuppose the entire Christian worldview (or at least all of its major tenets) in order to not arrive at an internally-contradictory worldview? What if someone presupposed a creator who is rational, loving, holy, omniscient, etc., but did not presuppose the Trinity or Christ's death and resurrection? Couldn't they claim to still have in internally-consistent worldview with a basis for rationality and morality?

When you say that we can either choose God and his Word or autonomous reason as a starting point, the former definitely sounds better and more spiritual. However, aren't you appealing to reason when you say that we should choose that starting point so that we have a basis for knowledge of the world and other people?

Finally, I'd like to stress again that an iota of doubt doesn't diminish commitment or love. When I leave work today it's possible that I'll die in a car accident. I will probably get home just fine, however I'm not going to "probably drive home." I'm just going to drive home.

TheChristianAlert.org said...

Interesting discussion here.

For everyday apologetics, I would say that saying "well - let's supposed God exists" works well.

Otherwise we lose credibility in the discussion as "too fundamentalist".

In a formal debate, I could see taking Schaeffer's stand that "there is no question that is off limits, because if Christianity is the truth it can answer all objections."

Bob said...

Hey Ben sorry for taking so long to write back, you asked:

"Would you say that someone would have to presuppose the entire Christian worldview (or at least all of its major tenets) in order to not arrive at an internally-contradictory worldview? What if someone presupposed a creator who is rational, loving, holy, omniscient, etc., but did not presuppose the Trinity or Christ's death and resurrection? Couldn't they claim to still have in internally-consistent worldview with a basis for rationality and morality?"

Well, I think that is tricky because there is a potential or "hyposthetical" worldview that is internally consistent that is different from Christian theism. That's what Chris was saying yesterday. However, I think a couple things need to be said. The main thing needed to arrive at absolutes is an objective standard. We have that in the revelation of God in the Bible. Now of course the Muslims would use the Qu'ran as their revelatory book and from there we can do an internal critique and show how the Qu'ran is clearly a forgery and man made. Likewise with the book of Mormon.

But you are on to something and I think it is at least a hypothetical problem for the presuppositional approach in that there hypothetically could be another worldview that is internally consistent yet is not Christianity and is in fact not true.

I am still working through all of this stuff myself, that's why I like to throw these things out here on the blog and have people give a critical examination. I have only been a presuppositionalist for about a year now.

As for what you raise here:
"When you say that we can either choose God and his Word or autonomous reason as a starting point, the former definitely sounds better and more spiritual. However, aren't you appealing to reason when you say that we should choose that starting point so that we have a basis for knowledge of the world and other people?"

You are right, it is circular. I say reason's foundation is soley in the Christian worldview, but I can only see that through reason given to me by God.

The difference is that man apart from being born again proceeds to use reason and laws of logic without any rational base, they are just sort of there, conventions some say. Man apart from God also has to begin with a circularity in his reason. However, this is a self refuting circularity because it is based on man as a particular (finite).

In other words because man begins with himself as autonomous and begins to reason from himself, he has no standard higher than himself to govern his thoughts by. Laws of logic are just man made conventions and as such they can not in fact be universally applicable to all men and their reasoning processes. Thus when you start without Christian theism you end in absurdity because no one lives like Modus Ponens is limited in it's application. I would also add that is because you simply can not live like Modus Ponens is a mere convention because we live in the world God has made.

Oh hey Edgar,
Just to clarify Schaeffer's position of answering all questions was practiced at L'abri where random people would show up and stay for a while and hear the Christian message and ask their questions. So it wasn't in formal debate but in a very personal setting that Schaeffer did his apologetic. The thing is that in that context depending on the person and the question asked Schaeffer could give either a presuppositionalist answer or an evidentialist answer.

Right now I see myself as a presuppositionalist and am just working through some of the problems and uses of evidence with what I think to be otherwise the best apologetic method there is.