William Lane Craig’s Inconsistent Objections to Presuppositional Argument

I recently wrote that two of the most popular objections to TAG are in fact inconsistent with one another. The objections are that TAG is circular and that TAG is unstated. These two assertions are far too readily accepted as some kind of meaningful objections. Moreover, they are inconsistent with one another.

Today curiosity got the best of me and I began to wonder if anyone in Five Views On Apologetics might have made the error of trying to use not one or the other of the objections in question, but both of them at the same time. It has been many years now since I read the book, but I still recall quite clearly William Lane Craig’s false assertion that Van Til “was not a philosopher” (p.235). Jamin Hubner recently explained how really uninformed that statement was in this video:

 

 

If Dr. Craig is capable of making a mistake like the one above then perhaps he is also capable of affirming the two aforementioned objections simultaneously. If he did not do it, then he came very close:

As commonly understood, presuppositionalism is guilty of a logical howler: it commits the informal fallacy of petitio principii, or begging the question, for it advocates presupposing the truth of Christian theism in order to prove Christian theism…A Christian theist himself will deny that question-begging arguments prove anything…But at the heart of presuppositionalism lies an argument, often not clearly understood or articulated, which is very powerful. This is an epistemological transcendental argument…Unfortunately, Frame fails to develop for us such an argument…Unfortunately the insight [that Christian presuppositions are the only way to think] is not developed. (p.232-233)

Craig objects to presuppositionalism because it is circular. He also objects that Frame has not stated his alleged argument. It appears as though his objections are that TAG is circular and that TAG is unstated, yet these objections appear to be inconsistent with each other. To be fair it appears that Craig is differentiating between presuppositionalism and TAG. He would be correct to do so, but there is a problem with this interpretation.

The problem is that it is difficult to understand what exactly Craig is referring to as being “guilty of a logical howler”. It makes little sense to think that Craig is referring to presuppositionalism itself as being fallacious since presuppositionalism is not an argument. Rather, Craig’s complaint is that presuppositionalism “advocates presupposing the truth of Christian theism in order to prove Christian theism.” Craig is correct in stating this and he is correct in stating that the way that presuppositionalism advocates “proving” Christian theism is through transcendental argument. Thus a second reading still leads to the conclusion that Craig’s objections are that TAG is circular and that TAG is unstated. These two assertions are far too readily accepted as some kind of meaningful objections. Moreover, they are inconsistent with one another.

Craig has even greater worries. For example, his opinion that “presupposing the truth of Christian theism in order to prove Christian theism” is somehow objectionable not only makes me cringe (or as Craig would say – “squeamish”), but makes little sense. Is Craig really saying that he is presuppositionally neutral in his argumentation? If so, then he is arguing against the claims of the very worldview he is seeking to establish as true! If not, then what exactly is Craig really saying? Further, how does Craig respond to the skeptical arguments which have been leveled against particular premises of his arguments for centuries? In light of such skeptical worries Craig begs the question if he proceeds to argue upon the basis of the very assumptions which have been called into question! Finally, Craig actually goes on to defend the use of transcendental arguments as they appear in the work of Alvin Plantinga.


21 Comments

danielj

I don’t think I’m going to waste my time reading any of Craig’s work.

Nocterro

Why is Craig’s work a waste of time?

I find it rather enlightening, for the most part.

danielj

It might not be for you.

I’ve decided, in light of what has been written here, that it will be for me.

Jeff Downs

Thanks for posting this.

Nocterro, what is enlightening about this from Craig, except that he doesn’t know what he is talking about?

Nocterro

To clarify, I was not referring specifically to Craig’s view of presuppositionalism – I have actually never read “Five Views on Apologetics”.

I was making a more general statement. Craig’s formulation of the Kalam Cosmological Argument in the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, for example, is very interesting; and I would say very much worth reading.

Mitchell LeBlanc

One can grant that Van Til was a philosopher, but they need not grant that he was a competent philosopher ;).

danielj

Isn’t competency part of the definition?

Pierre-Simon Laplace

Bill Craig wrote, “As commonly understood, presuppositionalism is guilty of a logical howler: it commits the informal fallacy of petitio principii, or begging the question, for it advocates presupposing the truth of Christian theism in order to prove Christian theism…”

The operative phrase here is “for it advocates presupposing…[CT] in order to prove…[CT]” We can put this in terms of a proposition:

Operative Proposition: (1) For any cognizer C, if C is to argue that CT is true, C must (deontic must) do so only when presupposing that CT is the case.

There’s some question about what precisely is meant by “presupposing” in Van Til’s god-aweful work. His followers seem to take him to be assuming a semantic account of presupposing, akin to what one sees in the work of Strawson/ (sharpened by) van Fraassen. On this view, a presupposing relation (and everyone thinks its a relation) obtains between propositions (strictly). Thus, what I will go on to say will be applicable to those who understand the relation semantically, for the semantic view of Strawson and van Fraassen, p presupposes q just in case, it’s true that q must be true in order for p to have a truth value at all. On this view of the presupposing relation, Craig is exactly right to lodge the complaints he does. Since on this view, presupposing is a relation between propositions. When one argues for CT and does so by presupposing CT, the relation of presupposing holds between propositions which affirm the truth of CT. As I’ll explain below, this means that presuppositionalism is committed to proffering logically circular arguments.

Take presuppositionalism to be a substantive (ignore the fact that it is recondite) philosophical thesis. Insofar as it’s a thesis about multifarious issues it can be plausibly understood as a large conjunction of simple propositions. Given that the truth-conditions of a conjunction (in classical sentential logic) is such that the conjunction is itself true just in case the conjuncts are all true, it follows that in order to consistently affirm the conjunction one would have to also affirm each respective conjunct. Craig’s point is that there is one conjunct which affirms the operative proposition above (1). Insofar as one is committed to the substantive thesis that is presuppositionalism you are committed to the operative proposition above (1).

It follows from the aforementioned paragraph that any argument proffered in such a way that the logical form of that argument was consistent with (1) above, that argument will be logically circular. That is to say, one of the premises of the argument will either be logically equivalent to the conclusion, or one of the premises will be such that its truth entails the truth of the conclusion [it follows from L(p -> q) that (p iff q)].

Logically circular arguments exhibit logical forms which are not truth-preserving, precisely because a logically circular argument can be proferred for any imagined thesis.

Ranger

Hey guys,
I thought I might make you aware of a discussion that’s taking place on Nick Norelli’s blog (a biblical studies blog). He brought up how he is becoming more and more influenced by the presuppositional method and some commenters have raised some good questions in response. Since this seems to be one of the hubs of those in the know about these questions, I thought I might give a request that you all bring some clarity.

Here’s the link: http://rdtwot.wordpress.com/2010/05/21/a-confession/

Pierre-Simon Laplace

Oh, and Van Til was NOT a Philosopher.

I’m fairly sure that none of Van Til’s 300+ publications appear in any academic (peer reviewed) philosophy journals.

Neither does he have any publications in any main line academic (peer reviewed) philosophy publishing presses.

Neither is any of his work reviewed in any of the main line academic (peer reviewed) philosophy journals.

He does not possess any graduate degrees in Philosophy, from an accredited institution, nor does he have any professional academic presentations at peer reviewed Philosophy conferences (whether nationally or internationally).

Interestingly enough, the same things we’ve said about Van Til apply to James White (though we could also say that White has no relevant work in the field of Theology either).

————-
In terms of main-line Philosophy Journals I’m thinking of the following: http://www.philosophylists.info/Journals.html

A complete list of Van Til’s work is listed here: http://www.logos.com/products/details/3993

Was Van Til A Philosopher? | Choosing Hats

[…] response to a recent post on this site, our good friend Mitch from Urban Philosophy made the following comment: One can grant […]

C.L. Bolt

Laplace,

It appears that you have argued that Strawson and van Fraassen, both of whom I believe you would call philosophers, are guilty of a “logical howler” and commit the “informal fallacy of petitio principii, or begging the question.” Would this be a correct assessment of what you have written here? I am also curious about whether or not this argument and/or its conclusions would extend to philosophers like Grayling or to arguments like Plantingian TAs.

Pierre-Simon Laplace

Chris Bolt: “It appears that you have argued that Strawson and van Fraassen, both of whom I believe you would call philosophers, are guilty of a ‘logical howler’ and commit the ‘informal fallacy[’] of petitio principii, or begging the question.”
Give attention to my post again:
“His followers seem to take him to be assuming a semantic account of presupposing…On this view, a presupposing relation….obtains between propositions (strictly)…for the semantic view…p presupposes q just in case, it’s true that q must be true in order for p to have a truth value at all…Craig is exactly right to lodge the complaints he does…Since on this view, presupposing is a relation between propositions. WHEN ONE ARGUES FOR CT AND DOES SO BY PRESUPPOSING CT, THE RELATION OF PRESUPPOSING HOLDS BETWEEN PROPOSITION WHICH AFFIRM THE TRUTH OF CT…this means THAT PRESUPPOSITIONALISM is committed to proffering logically circular arguments” [emphasis mine in this post]
I’m suggesting that arguments which affirm in their conclusions CT, but have as one or more of their premises a proposition that is logically equivalent to CT, are logically-circular arguments [1]. If you argue for CT by presupposing CT, and you think of the presupposing relation as a semantic relation, then one is by consequence arguing for CT by appropriating CT as a premise in one’s argument. That is logically circular.
Now is Van Til committed to the claim that one should argue for CT by presupposing CT? Yes. He’s emphatic about this. In his book “Christian Apologetics” he says that the Christian is to ARGUE BY PRESUPPOSITION [2].
Elsewhere in the same book he states that the only means by which one can show that the Christian God exists is by proving that the Christian God exists indirectly via presupposition:
“In fact it then appears that the argument for the Scripture as the infallible revelation of God is, to all intents and purposes, the same as the argument for the existence of God. Protestants are required by the most basic principles of their system to vindicate the existence of no other God than the one who has spoken in the Scripture. But THIS GOD CANNOT BE PROVED TO EXIST BY ANY OTHER METHOD THAN THE INDIRECT ONE OF PRESUPPOSITION.” [3]
He MUST be committed to arguing for CT by presupposing CT PRECISELY BECAUSE for him [i.e., Van Til], “WITHOUT THE PRESUPPOSITION OF THE TRUTH OF CHRISTIAN THEISM NO FACT can be distinguished from any other fact” [4].
So it’s clear, that Van Til wants to argue for CT by presupposing CT since, that’s how the Christian is to argue (by presupposition), arguing by presupposing CT is the only way to show [though indirectly] that the Christian God exists, and no fact can be distinguished from any other fact APART FROM PRESUPPOSING THE TRUTH OF CHRISTIAN THEISM. So, Van Til is committed to presupposing CT in arguing that CT is the case.
Now does P.F. Strawson or Bas C. van Fraassen argue or recommend that one argue for the truth of some proposition or conclusion by presupposing that that conclusion or proposition is the case? NO! [5] All they do is provide one with the truth conditions for the presupposing relation. All they are interested in (in their work) is providing a semantic account of the presupposing relation. That’s it. Never once do they recommend arguing for some particular proposition b presupposing that that proposition is the case. They merely say WHAT IT MEANS TO PRESUPPOSE something, they do not tell you to argue for a conclusion by PRESUPPOSING THAT CONCLUSION. So Chris Bolt, like Van Til is confused. I’m willing to bet that Bolt hasn’t even read Strawson’s logic textbook, nor has he read van Fraassen on the issue. If he did, he’d know the following:
(1) van Fraassen denies the principle of bivalence (or what presups like to call the law of bivalence). HE DOES THIS PRECISELY BECAUSE HE THINKS THAT THE PRESUPPOSITION RELATION IS A TRIVIAL RELATION IF BIVALENCE HOLDS FOR ALL PROPOSITIONS. WOW! DO you know what this means? It means that van Fraassen has to embrace NON-CLASSICAL LOGICAL SYSTEMS. This is because non-contradiction deductively follows from bivalence, that is to say, (p)(p v ~p) deductively entails (p)~(~p & p) (by de Morgan). So are you willing to embrace non-classical logical systems? Are you willing to give up the (as presups like to put it) “law of non-contradiction” for all propositions? mutatis mutandis for bivalence? I doubt it [6].
(2) Did you know that Strawson (without van Fraassen’s work in view) thinks of the presupposing relation in such a way that it depends upon logical entailment?
(3) Did you know Strawson thinks of the presupposing relation as follows:
P presupposes Q if and only if Q is true provided P is true or P is false.
^ Did you know this entails that Q is a tautology? But you don’t think CT is tautologically true…right?

———————–
[1] This just is what philosophers usually mean by “logically-circular arguments”. See Michael Bergmann, Justification without Awareness (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006), 181.
[2] Cornelius Van Til, Christian Apologetics (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1976), 61.
[3] Ibid., 68.
[4] Ibid., 73. Emphasis mine.
[5] Bas C. van Fraassen, “Presupposition, Implication, and Self-Reference,” in Journal of Philosophy 65:5 (1968): 136-152; P.F. Strawson Introduction to Logical Theory (London: Methuen Press, 1952).
[6] If you are see Hartry Field, Saving Truth from Paradox (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008) for criticisms.

Pierre-Simon Laplace

Chris Bolt: “It appears that you have argued that Strawson and van Fraassen, both of whom I believe you would call philosophers, are guilty of a ‘logical howler’ and commit the ‘informal fallacy[’] of petitio principii, or begging the question.”

Give attention to my post again:

“His followers seem to take him to be assuming a semantic account of presupposing…On this view, a presupposing relation….obtains between propositions (strictly)…for the semantic view…p presupposes q just in case, it’s true that q must be true in order for p to have a truth value at all…Craig is exactly right to lodge the complaints he does…Since on this view, presupposing is a relation between propositions. WHEN ONE ARGUES FOR CT AND DOES SO BY PRESUPPOSING CT, THE RELATION OF PRESUPPOSING HOLDS BETWEEN PROPOSITION WHICH AFFIRM THE TRUTH OF CT…this means THAT PRESUPPOSITIONALISM is committed to proffering logically circular arguments” [emphasis mine in this post]

I’m suggesting that arguments which affirm in their conclusions CT, but have as one or more of their premises a proposition that is logically equivalent to CT, are logically-circular arguments [1]. If you argue for CT by presupposing CT, and you think of the presupposing relation as a semantic relation, then one is by consequence arguing for CT by appropriating CT as a premise in one’s argument. That is logically circular.

Now is Van Til committed to the claim that one should argue for CT by presupposing CT? Yes. He’s emphatic about this. In his book “Christian Apologetics” he says that the Christian is to ARGUE BY PRESUPPOSITION [2].

Elsewhere in the same book he states that the only means by which one can show that the Christian God exists is by proving that the Christian God exists indirectly via presupposition:

“In fact it then appears that the argument for the Scripture as the infallible revelation of God is, to all intents and purposes, the same as the argument for the existence of God. Protestants are required by the most basic principles of their system to vindicate the existence of no other God than the one who has spoken in the Scripture. But THIS GOD CANNOT BE PROVED TO EXIST BY ANY OTHER METHOD THAN THE INDIRECT ONE OF PRESUPPOSITION.” [3]
He MUST be committed to arguing for CT by presupposing CT PRECISELY BECAUSE for him [i.e., Van Til], “WITHOUT THE PRESUPPOSITION OF THE TRUTH OF CHRISTIAN THEISM NO FACT can be distinguished from any other fact” [4].

So it’s clear, that Van Til wants to argue for CT by presupposing CT since, that’s how the Christian is to argue (by presupposition), arguing by presupposing CT is the only way to show [though indirectly] that the Christian God exists, and no fact can be distinguished from any other fact APART FROM PRESUPPOSING THE TRUTH OF CHRISTIAN THEISM. So, Van Til is committed to presupposing CT in arguing that CT is the case.

Now does P.F. Strawson or Bas C. van Fraassen argue or recommend that one argue for the truth of some proposition or conclusion by presupposing that that conclusion or proposition is the case? NO! [5] All they do is provide one with the truth conditions for the presupposing relation. All they are interested in (in their work) is providing a semantic account of the presupposing relation. That’s it. Never once do they recommend arguing for some particular proposition b presupposing that that proposition is the case. They merely say WHAT IT MEANS TO PRESUPPOSE something, they do not tell you to argue for a conclusion by PRESUPPOSING THAT CONCLUSION. So Chris Bolt, like Van Til is confused. I’m willing to bet that Bolt hasn’t even read Strawson’s logic textbook, nor has he read van Fraassen on the issue. If he did, he’d know the following:

(1) van Fraassen denies the principle of bivalence (or what presups like to call the law of bivalence). HE DOES THIS PRECISELY BECAUSE HE THINKS THAT THE PRESUPPOSITION RELATION IS A TRIVIAL RELATION IF BIVALENCE HOLDS FOR ALL PROPOSITIONS. WOW! DO you know what this means? It means that van Fraassen has to embrace NON-CLASSICAL LOGICAL SYSTEMS. This is because non-contradiction deductively follows from bivalence, that is to say, (p)(p v ~p) deductively entails (p)~(~p & p) (by de Morgan). So are you willing to embrace non-classical logical systems? Are you willing to give up the (as presups like to put it) “law of non-contradiction” for all propositions? mutatis mutandis for bivalence? I doubt it [6].

(2) Did you know that Strawson (without van Fraassen’s work in view) thinks of the presupposing relation in such a way that it depends upon logical entailment?

(3) Did you know Strawson thinks of the presupposing relation as follows:

“P presupposes Q if and only if Q is true provided P is true or P is false.”

^ Did you know this entails that Q is a tautology? But you don’t think CT is tautologically true…right?

————————–
[1] This just is what philosophers usually mean by “logically-circular arguments”. See Michael Bergmann, Justification without Awareness (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006), 181.
[2] Cornelius Van Til, Christian Apologetics (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1976), 61.
[3] Ibid., 68.
[4] Ibid., 73. Emphasis mine.
[5] Bas C. van Fraassen, “Presupposition, Implication, and Self-Reference,” in Journal of Philosophy 65:5 (1968): 136-152; P.F. Strawson Introduction to Logical Theory (London: Methuen Press, 1952).
[6] If you are see Hartry Field, Saving Truth from Paradox (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008) for criticisms.

C.L. Bolt

I asked, “It appears that you have argued that Strawson and van Fraassen, both of whom I believe you would call philosophers, are guilty of a ‘logical howler’ and commit the ‘informal fallacy of petitio principii, or begging the question.’ Would this be a correct assessment of what you have written here?”

You answered, “Now does P.F. Strawson or Bas C. van Fraassen argue or recommend that one argue for the truth of some proposition or conclusion by presupposing that that conclusion or proposition is the case? NO! [5] All they do is provide one with the truth conditions for the presupposing relation. All they are interested in (in their work) is providing a semantic account of the presupposing relation. That’s it. Never once do they recommend arguing for some particular proposition b presupposing that that proposition is the case. They merely say WHAT IT MEANS TO PRESUPPOSE something, they do not tell you to argue for a conclusion by PRESUPPOSING THAT CONCLUSION.”

Thank you for providing your answer (in the negative) and clarifying what you meant. Unfortunately it appears that Frame fails to develop for us such an argument as the one you have presented and argued against. The difficulty here is with charging an unstated argument with circularity. It seems to me that objecting that an argument is unstated is incompatible with the objection that the same argument is circular. Would you agree?

Perhaps we can clarify some more concerning your objections that the conclusion of a transcendental argument already presupposes the transcendental. Is it not the case that if a conceptual scheme is transcendentally necessary then one must necessarily use it even while talking about it? Would you disagree with the proposition that the existence of God is a precondition of knowledge itself? For all of the time that I have spent with those who are not theists I have not been able to escape that the non-theist who thinks that he or she is warranted in his or her non-belief is actually presupposing the existence of God even in his or her very denial of God. Naturally then, when I attempt to argue for the existence of God, I presuppose God’s existence. I would not think that this is objectionable, as though I am guilty of some type of vicious circularity applicable to arguments. It seems rather an inherent characteristic of the transcendental argument. Would you disagree?

Pierre-Simon Laplace

So you are a very confused guy.

Why don’t we debate these matters further over Urban Philosophy’s ventrilo? Then we can see where the real problems lie.

NOTE: Not only do presups never publish anything in philosophy journals, present and such……but they shrink away from attempts to get to the bottom of the issues.

I’m done on this website.

C.L. Bolt

So, you are a very confusing guy.

Why don’t we debate these matters right here on Choosing Hats? Then we can see where the real problems lie.

NOTE: While Laplace does have two articles that have nothing to do with presuppositionalism published in philosophy journals which he loves to boast about, he shrinks away from attempts to get to the bottom of the issues.

I’ll be right here on this website.

C.L. Bolt

By the way, this – “Not only do presups never publish anything in philosophy journals, present and such……but they shrink away from attempts to get to the bottom of the issues.” – is a hasty generalization.

Russell

In regards to begging the question, Craig set the terms, and C.L. Bolt fell right into the trap. Frame can be quoted (I’m not sure which work) as defining presuppositionalism in this way:

“a belief that takes precedence over another and therefore serves as a criterion for another. An ultimate presupposition is a belief over which no other takes precedence.”

This is not a circular argument, this is outside the realm of argument. It is a statement of epistemology, not logical fallacy.

Laplace, you’re also falling into the trap. Define terms and things make more sense.

C.L. Bolt

I’m a bit confused about what “trap” I allegedly fell into and what you have said that really differs much from what I said, but this is an old post.

Theophilus

Your comments in the last paragraph on the inconsistencies in Dr. Craig’s apologetic method are to the point. As far as his charge against presuppositionalism here are my observations:

When Craig says presuppositionalism is guilty of a “logical howler” to what logic is he appealing? If he is presupposing logic as constituted in man by God then he is presupposing Christian theism and is guilty of the same “logical howler” in his indictment. If he isn’t, then he is presupposing “neutral” (same as atheistic) logic — either way Craig’s assertion is incoherent. Of course we know this because presuppositionalism is consistently Christian. On the other hand, Craig’s “classical” / evidentialist apologetic is blatantly anti-theistic — as Van Til repeatedly illustrated in his writings.


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