Problems With Authority in Classical and Evidentialist Apologetics

To the extent that attempts are made in order to distinguish between the “evidentialist” and “classical” schools of apologetics, in an effort to salvage the “classical” method, these distinctions nevertheless fail to dodge the criticisms leveled at evidentialism by Van Tilian presuppositionalists. It shouldn’t strike us as very coincidental that the problem presuppositionalists have with the classical/evidentialist methods primarily concerns the presuppositions of these methods. Furthermore, that practitioners of either the classical or evidentialist methods borrow aspects from presuppositionalism (which I would argue is inevitable as long as the practitioner is at least to some extent devoted to sola scriptura) does not entail an overlap between the methods themselves. What it does entail is inconsistency between principle and practice in the practitioner himself. And once again, as an aside, “using evidence” is not the same as “evidentialism” as a method, and so it isn’t inconsistent for a presuppositionalist to use evidence, so long as he is presenting it with definite biblical presuppositions in mind.

Probability theory and probabilistic logic are used to address the problem of uncertainty. In other words, the use of probabilistic reasoning presupposes a level of “uncertainty.” For many things in the world, we can and must use probabilistic reasoning, because we simply do not (and cannot) know many things for certain. For instance, we cannot know for certain that crackers exist behind a closed pantry door. We can surmise, given past experience (maybe we saw them there before the door closed), that it is likely they are still there. But, while our senses are reliable, they are not infallible. While our understanding of logic and science is generally uniform, we are not always conscious of the consistency with which we utilize those things. And so, there is a pervasive, implicit “likely” attached to every claim of truth or knowledge that we make, with notable exceptions. The only way to know anything for certain, then, is to know *everything* for certain at every point in time, infallibly. Or, take the word of One who does. The Bible and everything it contains can be known for absolutely certain as it is unequivocally the very Word of God of the Universe. For instance, we can know for certain that Jesus died on the Cross. To put the Bible aside and opt for some probabilistic standard is to reject the very authority of the Word of God. The existence of God should not be granted the same level of uncertainty that the existence of crackers in the pantry has. Indeed, we shouldn’t impose a level of uncertainty upon the existence of God at all because knowledge of God is qualitatively different from knowledge of physical (or more precisely, created) objects. To argue probabilistically for the existence of God is to say God’s own Word is not sufficient for knowledge of God.

To say, “There is a high probability that God exists,” is to say, “There exists at least some probability that God does not exist.” It puts a question onto that which Romas 1 says is unquestionable. Can this possibly be considered anything other than sinful? At this point I see no alternative.

As Joshua Whipps has skillfully articulated, the foundations of the evidentialist and classical apologetic methods as such rely on a Romanist conception of Natural Theology in contradistinction to the Reformed conception of the same. Both apologetic methods assume man’s autonomy in some sense, over against the sufficiency of Scripture. While the evidentialist method relies on the presentation of individual evidences (and “cumulative case” relies on the cumulation of these individual evidences), the classical method, while not using evidences individually, nevertheless refer to perhaps metaphysical concepts which are then offered as being “evident” or “self-evident.” However, with both “evidences” and “things that are evident or self-evident,” these methods still appeal to unbelieving man’s own standard of “common sense,” as it were, without taking into account the fatal disfiguring of man’s “sense” due to the effects of sin.

The heavens indeed declare the glory of God such that it is impossible for sinful man to deny God’s existence and glory without sacrificing all possible accounting for anything the man claims to know. But man’s divinely ingrained awareness of creation’s glory must be paired with no less than an authoritative proclamation of the Creator who set the heavens in place. But due to sinful suppression of this awareness, man is therefore disqualified from being an arbiter of truth. Though Calvinist classical apologists like R. C. Sproul certainly would deny that they consider man’s autonomous reasoning to be valid and sufficient in itself (something Calvinism clearly denies), when he and others like him offer a “self-evident” idea to an unbeliever, they are appealing to the same unbelieving standard of mere probability without recognizing the sinfulness of that standard.  Otherwise, why should they expect any other answer from the unbeliever than “I disagree”? The evidentialist/classical apologist has inadvertently subverted God’s authority in granting the unbeliever that right because he has not established the proper Standard of Truth. The difference between classical apologetics and evidential apologetics is a mere practical difference. The same problem that exists with evidentialism is the same problem that exists with classicalism: A problem with Authority. Probability applies only where Uncertainty exists. For unbelievers, that’s everywhere. For us, it shouldn’t be.

Any questions and comments are welcome, as I understand there may be nuances needing made.


7 Comments

Dave

It seems to me that an effort to prove Christianity “from the impossibility of the contrary” depends upon at least some things being self-evident. For example, a key premise in Van Til’s TAG is that a world without a self-sufficient God, that is, one in which time and chance are ultimate, is a world in which rationality is impossible. Ergo, atheism is self-defeating. Now, I don’t think Van Til would say that we could or should attempt to rigorously deduce that premise from the Bible; rather, we know the truth of that premise by reflecting on what knowledge is and what its foundations must be. So, in a way, it is self-evident. Indeed, if our only justification for that premise were that it is deducible from the biblical axiom (in a Clarkian fashion), Van Tillianism truly would be fideistic.

RazorsKiss

It seems to me that an effort to prove Christianity “from the impossibility of the contrary” depends upon at least some things being self-evident. For example, a key premise in Van Til’s TAG is that a world without a self-sufficient God, that is, one in which time and chance are ultimate, is a world in which rationality is impossible. Ergo, atheism is self-defeating.

Whether it seems that way or not – the real question seems to be, by what standard would it be “self-evident” – and what is meant by that statement in the first place? Obviously, I don’t think we’d consider anything to be self-evident in the typical sense of the term – recall the discussion VT often has about “brute facts”. They aren’t self-interpreting – which is essentially what “self-evident” means – that it might be known sans proof, or understood immediately in some fashion. However, about which facts can we say this is truly the case? For example, when you run a TA, you’re dealing with CT and ~CT – do we at any point assume a commonality between the two worldviews – a point of contact – at any point other than the imago dei? You seem to be using “self-evident” in a way that doesn’t jive with what we are actually doing.

Now, I don’t think Van Til would say that we could or should attempt to rigorously deduce that premise from the Bible; rather, we know the truth of that premise by reflecting on what knowledge is and what its foundations must be. So, in a way, it is self-evident.

I think the problem is stemming from “in a way” – in which way? If we’re going to argue the above, we’d obviously be using Biblical principles (such as the nature of unbelieving thought) and applying them to modern instances of unbelief, in a fashion which Scripture outlines – but the language you’re using doesn’t seem to be what we’d argue, that I can see.

Indeed, if our only justification for that premise were that it is deducible from the biblical axiom (in a Clarkian fashion), Van Tillianism truly would be fideistic.

I don’t know if it’s the case that this is a valid objection (although it seems to be vague in many ways), or that it’s properly applicable to Clarkianism – nor would we consider anything Biblical “axiomatic”, I don’t think. If I might ask, Dave, what prompted you to make these comments? What sort of background are you coming from?

Dave

Razorskiss (I think you are Joshua Whipps, but I’m not sure),

Admittedly, my comments were not as clear as they could have been. Let me try to clarify.

James Anderson gives TAG in a deductive form as follows:

1. If God did not exist, rational thought would not be possible.
2. Rational thought is possible.
3. Therefore, God exists.

Found here: http://www.proginosko.com/2012/03/does-presuppositionalism-engage-in-question-begging/.

The form of the argument is valid. So, what justification do we have for believing the premises? For example, how do we know that, if God does not exist, rational thought is impossible?

To use more specific examples, how do we know that the laws of logic cannot be material? How do we know that a purely contingent universe is incompatible with human knowledge and science?

I think it may be said that these things are self-evident, in one sense: by reflecting on the nature of knowledge and teasing out its implications, we discover that it requires certain metaphysical preconditions. On this basis, we are able to identify when a worldview does not provide the preconditions of intelligibility. Is this “autonomous” reasoning? I think some Van Tillians might say it is, but then, they would seem to be undercutting their own apologetic method.

BTW, I am broadly sympathetic to Van Til – my comments should not be taken as criticisms of presuppositionalism from a traditional apologetic perspective.

RazorsKiss

It seems to me that you might actually be asking the questions addressed in this post, and the discussion linked to in this post. I’m starting to think that this might need an FAQ entry – but I’m fairly sure that what you’re asking is actually covered in the above discussions.

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