“He who wishes to philosophize by using Aristotle without danger to his soul must first become thoroughly foolish in Christ.” – Martin Luther (29th Thesis, 1518 Heidelberg Disputation)
Disclaimer: Ben Woodring made me promise to be nice in this post.
On the most recent episode of the newly named Wittenberg Project podcast featuring Caleb Keith from 1517 Legacy and Thinking Fellows, the presuppositional apologetic method is described as making arguments from a presupposition that the Bible is the inerrant word of God.
Of course, presupposing inerrancy in one’s argumentation is not unique to presuppositional apologetic methodology. In fact, anyone who believes in the doctrine of inerrancy, regardless of how they came to believe that doctrine, argues while holding that presupposition. And so, so far, so good.
Caleb goes on to say that presuppositionalism uses a form of circular reasoning which generally, when talking about philosophical categories, is a fallacy. The response from presuppositionalists, he says, is for them to explain that everybody uses circular reasoning, but that presuppositionalism’s circle is the “greatest” circle. For my part, I think Caleb is right to point out that circular reasoning is logically fallacious, and right to note that everybody is epistemologically circular, which is to say that everyone starts somewhere because everyone, other than God, is finite. I take it for granted that Caleb, as a Christian, strives to begin with God in all his thoughts, just as the presuppositionalist would, or so I suppose, or presuppose, I suppose.
Obviously, pointing out that circular reasoning is fallacious, that epistemological circularity is not, and that everyone is epistemologically circular is not much of an apologetic argument. Here again, Caleb and I are in strong agreement with one another, and presuppositionalists would do well to listen to Caleb’s call for more persuasive argumentation on the part of presuppositionalists who think they have made their entire case by pointing at the phenomenon of universal epistemological circularity. That’s just not a very strong argument for much of anything pertaining to the Christian faith, and Caleb mourns the fact that this type of ‘argument’ has made its way into Lutheranism due to lack of education in apologetics and because, as the host Lex Lutheran points out, it’s very easy to say! Of course, there’s a little more to it than that, and Caleb says as much when he explains that presuppositionalists use the weaknesses of other presuppositions against themselves. The goal, he says, is to “poke holes” in the “bottom of their ship” until they “sink,” then “replace” those faulty presuppositions with presuppositions about the Bible. Although Caleb does not use the term, presuppositionalists call this portion of their argument the ‘transcendental critique.’ Again, so far, so good.
Lex asks why, if an unbeliever needs more evidence, the presuppositionalist cannot just go into it? He emphasizes that evidentialists go straight to Jesus, but that one rarely sees a presuppositionalist dip into the claims of Christ. In my opinion, this is true, a great point, and even one I have made before. A little later on, Lex notes that he is able to make an argument for Jesus without knowing another’s worldview, and without having to go into anything regarding the unbeliever’s worldview in an effort to set up for presuppositional argumentation. He rightly claims that a whole case for Christianity can be made without having to even ask the unbeliever what his or her worldview is. This, too, is something presuppositionalists should have no qualms about, since this holistic positive presentation of the Christian worldview including its evidences and how they fit together is what the presuppositionalist literature traditionally refers to as the ‘first step’ of a ‘two step’ approach to apologetics.
However, Caleb claims that presuppositionalists do not use a positive argument (and typically do not respond well to the accusation that they do not use a positive argument). But I’m not angry. I AM NOT ANGRY. Caleb goes on to explain that the only positive evidence presuppositionalists use is what can be found within the Scriptures, whereas evidentialists will look outside of the Scriptures for evidence of their claims. Here, I do momentarily need to part ways with Caleb, as this charge simply is not true. STOPLOOKINGATMEIAMNOTANGRY!!!
Presuppositionalists do utilize evidences that are found outside of Scripture. For example, see Greg Bahnsen’s debate with George Stein in which Bahnsen appeals to what he calls ‘laws of logic.’ These abstract objects are extra-biblical, philosophical evidences. In fact, I find little difference between much of Bahnsen’s presentation during that debate and an argument evidentialists like J. P. Moreland have used. (I know some readers will categorize Moreland as a ‘classical’ apologist, but I am trying to be fair to Caleb and Lex’s categories.) Other examples of presuppositionalists touching on all sorts of topics and evidences not explicitly addressed in Scripture are abundant in the literature and debates of presuppositionalists.
Thus far, I see no real difference between what Lex and Caleb consider acceptable apologetic methodology and what a presuppositionalist would consider acceptable. Still, following something closer to what I have heard many presuppositionalists say, Caleb insists that presuppositionalists and evidentialists cannot work together. Caleb goes back to methodological differences between presuppositional and evidentialist apologetics. Presuppositionalists, he says, argue via presupposition, whereas evidentialists go the opposite direction and question everyone’s presuppositions about Christ, the Christian’s and the atheist’s alike. I can hear the presuppositionalists grinding their teeth. If I am not mistaken, I think Caleb could too. And so he mentions that in questioning the presuppositions of the Christian and the atheist alike, the evidentialist is not relying on something besides Scripture, and is not looking outside of Scripture to verify the faith. Rather, the evidentialist is looking to “tear down” someone else’s thoughts. But that, it seems to me, is exactly the same thing the presuppositionalist is doing in the transcendental critique mentioned earlier.
And so I made it through this whole post without breaking my promise to Ben that I would be nice.
Grace, and be sure to check out Lex Lutheran’s new podcast!
For further reading on these same topics:
Lutherans smell funny.