A section of the ongoing discussion between Chris the evil Presuppositionlist (inside joke, sorry) and Mitch over at Urban Philosophy caught my attention today. It is a section that discusses the concept of “common ground” between believer and unbeliever by using the analogy of gravity. Here is the entirety of what Mitch stated caught my attention:
The common ground of reality affect both the believer and the non-believer, and this is a common ground from which dialogue may begin. Knowledge of gravity is not required for the effects of gravity. We do not see babies flying because they do not understand physics! The point is that reality is something that effects us all, God-fearing or not. The notion of whether or not one can “account” for gravity should be illuminated through sound, reasoned, argument. It is not difficult to see the move an atheist who experiences the effects of gravity may move towards establishing the existence of God. Perhaps it is the case that gravity exists and that gravity is a natural law and that the best explanation for the natural law of gravity is an intelligent designer. If the non-believer will accept such “natural” theological propositions, they have establish a creator of the Universe, the first step in what could be a cumulative case for Christian theism. I do not think such a move is warranted, but it is not impossible to work from common ground to belief in the Christian God as the presuppositionalist so states.
There is much here that Mitch and I would agree on, but the appropriateness of knowing gravity as an analogy to knowing God is not one of those things. Let’s look at his comments one at a time.
The common ground of reality affect both the believer and the non-believer, and this is a common ground from which dialogue may begin.
That both believer and non-believer live in God’s world, and are affected by this reality does not necessarily entail that this common ground is where one should start. In fact, using the term “common ground” in this way totally misses the point that the Presuppositionalist is making. It isn’t that there is no common ground in the sense of a shared reality that both believer and non-believer can experience together and discuss, it is that there is no common ground in the sense of where the believer and non-believer start in their reasoning process – specifically, the presuppositions they employ.
Knowledge of gravity is not required for the effects of gravity.
This is a bad analogy, at least from the standpoint of what the Presuppositionalist is claiming scripture says. Mitch is treating the “fact” of gravity here as any other fact which is completely acceptable when talking about gravity, but is entirely not acceptable when talking about God. Why is this? It is because of the nature of God. Bahnsen addresses the fallacy of approaching the question of God’s existence in the same way we question the existence of other facts in the opening of his debate with Stein. He terms it the “Crackers in the Pantry Fallacy” to approach the question of God’s existence in the same way one approaches the question of whether there are crackers sitting in the pantry. After all, one of the primary issues in this debate is the consequences on our reasoning process that ultimately arise from God’s own nature and providential plan.
We do not see babies flying because they do not understand physics!
Ironically, this comment is very much like Gordon Stein’s response to Greg Bahnsen in their post-debate discourse when Bahnsen challenged Stein to give an account for “counting”. Stein responded “but I *do* balance my checkbook”, which missed the entire point Bahnsen was making. Presuppositionalists do not disagree that non-believers can, in fact, balance their checkbook (or that gravity impacts everyone the same way). Rather, the issue is being able to give an account for the fact that such things are being done – not in the sense of having to provide the mechanics involved, but rather what would have to be the case (what are the preconditions) that would have to be in place in order to make such a thing sensible?
The notion of whether or not one can “account” for gravity should be illuminated through sound, reasoned, argument.
I think Mitch knows we all agree that sound, reasoned argumentation is what we are all looking for. The heart of the debate between the Presuppositionalist and the Evidentialist (or those playing the evidentialist advocate), however, is just what type of argument is reasonable when arguing for the God of the Bible. Van Til makes a very telling statement when he says “the only argument for an absolute God that holds any water is a Transcendental argument”. He’s not simply trying to bolster his particular method of apologetics; he has a real, cogent argument that he shares (beyond the scope of this post, unfortunately) that demonstrates this to be the case.
If one does not take into account the nature of what is being argued for – all of it – then one will likely take the wrong approach at arguing for it. If one does not consider the claims that scripture make about who God is, who man is, and why s/he is here, then there is a very good chance that the methodology employed will be entirely inappropriate.
It is not difficult to see the move an atheist who experiences the effects of gravity may move towards establishing the existence of God.
The problem here is really quite simple. The Bible claims that man is not self-sufficient (i.e. autonomous) in his reasoning process. It claims that man’s starting point must be God in order to arrive at true knowledge (meaning an assertion that is justifiable down to and including its foundations). It is logically impossible to start with (even implicitly) someone other than God as your highest authority in reasoning and rationally arrive at the conclusion that God must be your highest authority for reasoning. If you arrive at such a conclusion by virtue of an authority other than God, then your conclusion that God *must* be one’s authority is contradicted by the method you employed. In short, the method refutes the (purported) conclusion.
So yes, is it difficult to see an atheist move “towards establishing establishing the existence of God” if by towards you imply that there is any hope they will get there while employing the presuppositions that they do. Actually, scratch that. It isn’t that it is difficult, it just isn’t logically possible.
Perhaps it is the case that gravity exists and that gravity is a natural law and that the best explanation for the natural law of gravity is an intelligent designer.
But we, as Presuppositionalists, aren’t arguing merely for an intelligent designer. Christianity is systematic – we don’t argue for it bit by bit. The implication here is that one can argue bit by bit from an autonomous position antithetical to the Christian God and come to a conclusion that is directly contradictory to their starting position. So what if the best argument for gravity is an intelligent designer? How is the non-believer going to determine what constitutes “best” in the first place? Best according to what standard? Their own subjective standard, or the objective standard of God? And to appeal to logic or reason here as the standard (which may or may not be the chosen response to this point) would be to equivocate on what is meant by the word “standard”.
If the non-believer will accept such “natural” theological propositions, they have establish a creator of the Universe, the first step in what could be a cumulative case for Christian theism.
“Could” speaks of a possible outcome, an outcome which I have shown above to be logically impossible. One cannot employ a method of reasoning that arrives at a conclusion which denies that method, while faithfully making use of that method throughout. Either the conclusion is truly never arrived at (that is, it does not logically follow), or the individual in question wasn’t using the method they thought they were.
I do not think such a move is warranted
That’s because it isn’t. There is no warrant to move from a creator of the Universe to the Christian God while simultaneously employing a reasoning process antithetical to the conclusion one is purportedly looking to arrive at.
but it is not impossible to work from common ground to belief in the Christian God as the presuppositionalist so states.
And I disagree and have provided my reasons above.
All in all I have to say I am thrilled that this interaction is taking place. I respect Mitch very much and look forward with great excitement to the upcoming debate between himself and Chris!