Dawson’s (Mis)Understanding of TAs

This post is in response to a series of back and forth comments between Dawson Bethrick and myself in the post Missing the Basics below:

BK wrote: “If you are truly uninitiated enough about Presuppositionalism as a method to think it is exclusively used in arguments for the existence of God, then I suggest you go back and do some more reading on the subject.”



Dawson wrote: I never stated that presuppositionalism “is exclusively used in arguments for the existence of God.” I am quite aware of presuppositionalism’s intended aims, its devices, its gimmicks.

The fact that you referenced RK’s comment that his argument was not for the existence of God made it clear enough what you were implying; thus my response. If you are going to be disingenuous about something as trivial as this, what else are you willing to be dishonest about? Perhaps the fact that a TA uses no gimmicks to achieve its aims?

BK wrote: “I was present for the debate between RK and ML, and know exactly what RK successfully argued for… He… argued for the resolution at hand – that the Triune God of the Scriptures is the basis for knowledge.”

Dawson wrote: I have examined the transcript of the debate quite closely. I could not find an actual argument for the claim that the Christian god is the basis of knowledge. I saw this position asserted quite frequently, and RK apparently felt the need to build it into his view through what he called “axioms.” But I did not see an argument. If you did, could you reproduce it? What are the premises? I’d love to examine it.

You know, I guess it doesn’t surprise me that you didn’t recognize RK’s use of a TA anymore than you recognized it when Bahnsen explicitly used it against Stein (as you so clearly demonstrate in your post titled “Bahsen’s Proof”.)

Are you familiar with the form of a Transcendental Argument, regardless of what a person is attempting to prove by using it? You certainly pay lip service to the fact that it is indirect rather than direct, but apparently don’t account for that fact while evaluating either RK’s or Bahnsen’s TA.

I have read part I of your critique of RK, and have oh so much to say about it, but plan on dedicating a separate post (or series of posts) when I get the time to do so.

BK wrote: “RK’s appeal to scripture is expected (necessary, even) as a Christian Presuppositionalist, and you should know this”



Dawson wrote: Of course I know this. This is why I pointed out that presuppositionalists have no alternative to arguing in a circle when their theistic premises are questioned.

And yet you miss the oh-so-obvious reason why. Nobody is denying Christians reason in a circle (just as anyone who is arguing for their ultimates must do) when they appeal to scripture. [At least Christian Presuppositianlists are honest enough to admit what they are doing]. What is the alternative? I agree with Van Til who would prefer reasoning in a circle to not reasoning at all.

Those who are familiar with TAs understand that the question of reasoning about one’s ultimate commitments is essentially no different in form than reasoning about one’s own existence. The reason TAG is stated indirectly is to avoid the fallacy of simply appealing to God in order to prove the existence of God. Rather, TAs about the existence of God use the phrase “the impossibility of the contrary” to elucidate the fact that that since a denial of the existence of God leads to logical absurdities, an affirmation of his existence is therefore logically necessary.

Some (like yourself) may prefer to label that as fallacious in nature, but doing so demonstrates a lack of understanding of the only way to argue for one’s ultimate commitments.

Perhaps I will put together something that addresses this problem in more detail.

BK


3 Comments

Bahnsen Burner

Brian,

I’m not sure why this is so important to you. As I indicated in my original comment, not only does RK not provide an argument for his god’s existence, he does not – from what I can see – provide any argument for the position he’s defending. That was what I was trying to say in response to your claim that his argument is “presuppositional.” If there’s no argument, then there’s no argument to call “presuppositional.” If the way I responded implied that I think presuppositionalism is used exclusively for proving the existence of a god, you have my apologies – I did not mean to imply this.

Now I will note that your blog post implies (at least on my reading) that presuppositionalism and transcendental arguments are one and the same. That is not my understanding. Presuppositionalism is typically described as an approach to apologetics which includes the use of a transcendental argument, without equating its transcendental argument as such with presuppositionalism proper. Keith Devens describes presuppositionalism as follows:

<< Presuppositionalism has a three-fold approach. First, It argues that neutrality is a myth — no one is neutral towards their ultimate presuppositions, since they're the framework within which you view everything else. Second, it highlights the presuppositional conflict of worldviews, which points out that when two people disagree on fundamental issues, their disagreement is not merely a disagreement about facts, but how they look at and interpret the facts. So, no amount of new information alone can convince someone that their worldview is wrong. In Kuhn's terms, you need a paradigm shift to be able to change worldviews. Third, the "transcendental argument" attempts to prove that Christianity is the only workable worldview. >>

Devens identifies three distinct aspects of presuppositionalism, only one of which is a TA.

Similarly, in his description of presuppositionalism in Cowan’s Five Views of Apologetics, John Frame identifies eight distinguishing elements, the fourth of which stipulates reliance on a TA (cf. pp. 219-223).

Then again, many presuppositionalists tend to blur this distinction, such as when Michael Butler refers to what he calls “the presuppositional argument” (see The Pulling Down of Strongholds) , which he says involves as “a two-step method.”

I know that on at least one occasion, a presuppositionalist has scolded me for implying that presuppositionalism and TAG are the same (when in fact I did not).

(continued…)

Bahnsen Burner

Part II

You wrote: “You know, I guess it doesn’t surprise me that you didn’t recognize RK’s use of a TA anymore than you recognized it when Bahnsen explicitly used it against Stein (as you so clearly demonstrate in your post titled ‘Bahsen’s Proof’.)”

First of all, it’s Bahnsen’s Poof, not Bahnsen’s “Proof.” Since I didn’t find any argument in Bahnsen’s opening statement, it would be a misnomer to call what he presents a “proof.” I see it more as a “poof” – as in, “Poof! God exists!”

Also, you say that I have failed to recognize an argument that, according to what you seem to be saying, is plainly there, both in the case of RK’s debate with Mitch LeBlanc, as well as in the case of Bahnsen’s debate with Dr. Stein. As I explained to Chris Bolt in my two-part comment on 2 Sept., TAs are considered to be a type of deductive argument. That’s not coming from me; I’m just the messenger here. I cited presuppositional theorist David Byron who states this and goes on to say that a transcendental argument is:

<< distinguished from other deductive arguments by its modality and its particular subject matter. >>

He also states that

<< a transcendental argument may be expressed in the form of Modus Ponens.>>

(Both quotations come from Byron’s 28 Aug. 1998 post to The Van Til list, msg. #00374.)

I also quoted Michael Butler who writes (in The Standard Bearer, p. 79):

<< Transcendental arguments typically have the following form: For x (some aspect of human experience) to be the case, y must also be the case since y is the precondition of x. Since x is the case, y is the case. >>

This essentially takes the following form:

Premise 1: If X, then Y.
Premise 2: X.
Conclusion: Therefore, Y.

which looks like standard modus ponens to me.

Of course, even in the case of Butler’s formulation, if the goal of the argument is to establish the existence of “God,” and yet its existence is assumed in one of its premises, then the argument is fallaciously circular, flat and simple.

In the case of Bahnsen’s debate with Stein, my understanding is that Bahnsen’s side of the resolution was that the Christian god exists. I found nowhere in his opening statement where Bahnsen put forward an argument which takes the above form and leads to the conclusion “therefore God exists.” Certainly not in any non-question-begging manner anyway.

Similarly, in RK’s debate with LeBlanc, RK’s task was, presumably, to present an argument which concludes something along the lines of “therefore, the Triune God of the Scriptures is the basis of knowledge.” I found no such argument in RK’s opening statement, or elsewhere in his statements for that matter.

If I have missed something in either Bahnsen’s or RK’s statements, perhaps you could restate the argument, in the format given above, using only quotations from either arguer to assemble the argument he allegedly made.

(continued…)

Bahnsen Burner

Part III

You wrote: “Nobody is denying Christians reason in a circle (just as anyone who is arguing for their ultimates must do) when they appeal to scripture. [At least Christian Presuppositianlists are honest enough to admit what they are doing]. What is the alternative? I agree with Van Til who would prefer reasoning in a circle to not reasoning at all.”

Van Til was operating on a false dichotomy, namely one that is necessitated by the fact that he does not have an objective starting point. Since his “starting point” could not in any way be axiomatic (I explain why on my blog), he thinks its alleged truth can be established by means of argument (hence his claim to have one for what he calls his “ultimate presupposition”). If his starting point were in fact objective, he wouldn’t need an argument to establish its truth, nor would he need to explain away the uncomfortable position he finds himself in.

You ask, “what’s the alternative?” Objectivism provides the alternative, specifically a rational alternative. Why? Because it begins with an objective starting point (as opposed to something that is merely imaginary). I indicated the proper criteria for one’s axioms in a previous comment to you; one of them was that it must be objective. My starting point is the axiom of existence. You’ll nowhere find me trying to prove that existence exists. True, many detractors of Objectivism seem not to understand what this is saying (most likely because they’re trying to interpret it according to their own worldview’s presuppositions), so there are times when I explain what this means. But do I assemble proofs for the truth of the axiom of existence? Of course not. Why? Because it is genuinely axiomatic: it’s truth is objective, perceptually self-evident, conceptually irreducible, undeniably true, and universal. Van Til’s starting point meets none of these criteria, not even by a stretch. That’s essentially why he still thinks he needs to argue for its alleged truth. He says it’s for other reasons that he does this, but that wouldn’t be the first time that a Christian is concealing something.

You write: “The reason TAG is stated indirectly is to avoid the fallacy of simply appealing to God in order to prove the existence of God.”

I found this to be probably the most interesting statement in your blog. You are saying here that it is fallacious to appeal to God in order to prove the existence of God. Did you mean to say this?

Regards,
Dawson


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