Falling Down

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!

BK


4 Comments

Mitchell LeBlanc

There are a few things I would like to ask, and I’ll do so in a comment rather than in an article.

1) Do you deem it necessary for the philosophical arguments for God’s existence to provide certainty or merely high probability? (I think I know the answer, but I’d like to be sure)

2) Do you deny that a cumulative case which includes historical arguments for the risen Christ can establish God probabilistically, certainly, or both?

3) Is the key problem not the ability of Evidentialism to establish God with high probably, but rather, certainly?

I ask because if the main objection is that Classical/Evidential apologetics cannot lead to CERTAINTY (in that it is impossible to be wrong) of the Christian God, then I do not think I would disagree. If the claim is that the methods cannot establish or prove (think “beyond a reasonable doubt”) the Christian God then I still disagree.

I wonder if Bolt and I had a miscommunication on the usage of the term ‘proof’. I do still accept that a cumulative set of traditional arguments can prove the existence of God (in that it can establish with the highest probability possible that is not certainty), but I’m inclined to accept that no amount of traditional argument could lead to a definition of proof that includes 100% certainty (we don’t even have this in Science).

Of course, other philosophers may disagree on cumulative cases providing 100% certainty, anyhow, I’d like to see if I’ve misinterpreted either of you in my analyses.

With that said, the TAG seems to provide certainty that the Christian God exists if it is a sound argument, because if it is successful every argument against the conclusion commits the fallacy of the stolen concept. Is this perhaps the distinction you are making?

Now, if it is, it is interesting as to what happens if the TAG cannot be shown to be sound. You cannot rely on the traditional arguments, so is it just the case for the presuppositionalist that if the TAG is defeated, Christianity is defeated?

Also, in my above mention about traditional arguments, exclude the Ontological Argument from an inability to provide certainty as I think that it can, but certainty for the Christian God might take some interesting, controversial premises.

I respect both you and Chris very much as well and I have enjoyed our conversations. I hope to have this definition issue cleared up, cheers!

BK

Mitch said: “1) Do you deem it necessary for the philosophical arguments for God’s existence to provide certainty or merely high probability? (I think I know the answer, but I’d like to be sure)”

I think that if we are to be true to the Bible, then we argue for the certainty of God’s existence, not certainty in the sense of a psychological state of mind (i.e. persuasion), but certainty in the greater sense of the word. Of course, this necessarily leads us to the question of how *that* type of certainty is attainable, which is after all what the TAG is for 🙂

Mitch said: “2) Do you deny that a cumulative case which includes historical arguments for the risen Christ can establish God probabilistically, certainly, or both?”

I think that any case that one makes that does not begin with presupposing the truth of the Bible (i.e. the “Christian worldview”) can never even probabilistically establish the existence of God. Let me restate something I said in the post that this is in response to:

“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.”

I see no possible way to *establish* that God “probably” exists using anything except TAG because of the nature of God.

Mitch said: 3) Is the key problem not the ability of Evidentialism to establish God with high probably, but rather, certainly?

I would say the *key* problem of Evidentialism is that it does not give glory to God for who he is truly is. It implicitly assumes a method that is contrary to the metaphysical reality revealed in the Bible. It assumes were are autonomous in our ability to reason.

Mitch said: “I ask because if the main objection is that Classical/Evidential apologetics cannot lead to CERTAINTY (in that it is impossible to be wrong) of the Christian God, then I do not think I would disagree.

This is perhaps the main *philosophical* objection that Presuppositionalists would have to an Evidential approach. I think the *key* problem is what I just outlined above.

Mitch said: If the claim is that the methods cannot establish or prove (think “beyond a reasonable doubt”) the Christian God then I still disagree.”

Well, again, it seems “beyond a reasonable doubt” implies a method for determining levels of doubt. If we speak of doubt in the psychological sense only, then there, there are lots of ways to *persuade* people God exists, just as there are lots of ways to persuade them that he does not (the Problem of Evil being probably the best example). If we are talking about “proof”, however, then we will need to continue to disagree.

Mitch said: I wonder if Bolt and I had a miscommunication on the usage of the term ‘proof’. I do still accept that a cumulative set of traditional arguments can prove the existence of God (in that it can establish with the highest probability possible that is not certainty), but I’m inclined to accept that no amount of traditional argument could lead to a definition of proof that includes 100% certainty

I definitely think some clarification as to what is entailed by the word “proof” is a good place for you and Chris to begin 🙂

Mitch said: (we don’t even have this in Science).

I separated this from the rest of your remarks because I believe it says a great deal about where you hold science in regards to other methodologies. For instance, you might have said “we don’t even have this in Philosophy” or perhaps “we don’t even have this in Religion”, but you chose science. This is just an observation – nothing more.

Mitch said: Of course, other philosophers may disagree on cumulative cases providing 100% certainty, anyhow, I’d like to see if I’ve misinterpreted either of you in my analyses.

I suspect Chris and I are in 100% agreement as to the key problems of the Evidential approach, and the need for certainty (especially *why* it is needed) when arguing for the God of the Bible. However, he will have to speak for himself in order for us to be … well … certain.

Mitch said: With that said, the TAG seems to provide certainty that the Christian God exists if it is a sound argument, because if it is successful every argument against the conclusion commits the fallacy of the stolen concept. Is this perhaps the distinction you are making?

If the TAG is sound, then it’s conclusion will be certain … necessary, even … because of the *form* of the argument. In practice, the demonstration of the truth of any TA is to show that whether one is arguing for or against a particular premise, one is already assuming that premise.

Mitch said: Now, if it is, it is interesting as to what happens if the TAG cannot be shown to be sound. You cannot rely on the traditional arguments, so is it just the case for the presuppositionalist that if the TAG is defeated, Christianity is defeated?

Lack of proof is not proof of lack. An inability to demonstrate that TAG is sound would not defeat Christianity (if by “defeat” you mean “show to be wrong”), it would simply leave it as unproven.

Hope this helps!

BK

Mitchell LeBlanc

Thanks for the clarifications Brian.

I like the lighter theme of the website as well, much less foreboding! =)

BK

This website is still in search of its visual identity 🙂


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