Should we argue for “general theism”?

 

 

In my experience the presuppositionalist program of setting out to defend specifically Christian theism generally produces scoffing rather than interaction. At the beginning of his debate with Gordon Stein, Greg Bahnsen states his position on this matter. He says, “I want to specify that I’m arguing particularly in favor of Christian theism, and for it as a unit or system of thought and not for anything like theism in general, and there are reasons for that.”

There are at least two senses in which Bahnsen explains he will not be arguing for or defending theism in general. Bahnsen will argue for Christian theism as a unit or system of thought. This is a distinctively presuppositional approach to the “question” of God’s existence over against other approaches which take the existence of God to be a fact not unlike other facts especially in the sense that it may be proven apart from other worldview considerations. Secondly, Bahnsen will argue for and defend Christian theism as opposed to theism in general. This is the clearer sense of what Bahsen is saying and is the topic of this post. Bahnsen goes on to present three reasons for this approach.

The first reason Bahnsen gives is that the “various conceptions of deity found in world religions are in most cases logically incompatible, leaving no unambiguous sense to general theism – whatever that might be.” This is to say that, for example, the conception of Allah is logically incompatible with the conception of the Christian God. Allah does not exist as three persons while the Christian God does. Various conceptions of deities in world religions claim to be the only or the true. There are of course many more examples here. There are almost as many examples as there are world religions. The term “general theism” is a bit like “non-denominational” in the sense that most non-denominational churches have created their own denomination through what they believe and their informal or perhaps formal associations with other churches. (If the analogy is unhelpful or offensive throw it out.) The god of general theism is just one more conception of a non-Christian deity which is ambiguously defined usually in an ad hoc manner at the end of some direct classical proof.

Secondly Bahnsen says, “I have not found the non-Christian religions to be philosophically defensible, each of them being internally incoherent or undermining human reason and experience.” This is a pretty clear statement that leaves little room for comment. General theism, whatever it is, would presumably be included in or composed of this category given what Bahnsen has already said. Bahnsen does not believe that he can defend any of these non-Christian religions and his opponent in this context, atheist Gordon Stein, has little reason to challenge Bahnsen’s findings. One is immediately left wondering why Bahnsen would want or need to defend any of these non-Christian religions anyway, which leads to his third stated reason for approaching this particular area of the debate the way that he does.

Bahnsen explains, “Since I am by the grace of God a Christian, I cannot, from the heart, adequately defend those religious faiths with which I disagree.” He continues, “My commitment is to the Triune God and the Christian world view based on God’s revelation in the Old and New Testaments.” Here Bahnsen presents an ethical reason for abstaining from the defense of non-Christian religions and conceptions of God. To do so is to fail in his commitment to God. It is not insignificant that Bahnsen views his faith as being a result of the grace of God. It is likewise not insignificant that he mentions the Triune God, the Christian worldview, and God’s revelation in the Old and New Testaments. He explicitly states his presuppositions and makes the clear statement, “I am defending Christian theism.”

Disagreeing with Bahnsen’s approach as described here is therefore no small matter if Bahnsen’s reasons for using this approach are not answered satisfactorily. Further, if Bahnsen is correct and what he says is based upon Scripture as he has argued in many other places, then one risks undercutting everything he or she is attempting to argue for or defend in terms of a Christian apologetic.

You may find the debate transcript I am quoting from here: http://www.bellevuechristian.org/faculty/dribera/htdocs/PDFs/Apol_Bahnsen_Stein_Debate_Transcript.pdf

 


26 Comments

Mitchell LeBlanc

What happens if its the case that Bahnsen is incapable of defending the Christian God in the method he outlines. Would he take up a cumulative approach or would Christianity have to be abandoned?

This is similar to the question I was asking Joshua, if someone feels that the Christian worldview necessitates the TAG or presuppositional approach, but that argument or approach fails, to they abandon Christian theism or re-evaluate their methodology? Your thoughts?

RazorsKiss

I just re-read that transcript. Great stuff.

C.L. Bolt

Bahnsen said that if there were no arguments for the existence of God then he would stop believing in God, but then mentioned the alleged problem of proving a universal negative. Since I think he was capable and he did too, we never saw what he would have done.

At this point he is not arguing TAG per se.

As for me; most of my eggs are in one basket as I think you know.

Mitchell LeBlanc

Under such circumstances, would you abandon Christianity altogether or change your methodology? I know all your eggs are in one basket, but can you switch baskets? 😉

Dawson Bethrick

“…the conception of Allah is logically incompatible with the conception of the Christian God. Allah does not exist as three persons while the Christian God does.”

Van Til: “That which appears contradictory to man because of his finitude is not really contradictory to God” (The Defense of the Faith, 4th ed., p. 229; quoted in The Portable Presuppositionalist, p. 212)

Regards,
Dawson

RazorsKiss

*Wonders where Dawson is standing to say that those two points are contradictory*.

hrmm 🙂

BK

*golf clap*

Dawson Bethrick

RK: “*Wonders where Dawson is standing to say that those two points are contradictory*.”

I could be standing in my house, or out on the street. What difference does it make? In fact, did I say any two points are contradictory?

If you’re wondering where I stand *philosophically*, that seems odd to me. I’d think that by now you’d have a good idea on this.

Regards,
Dawson

RazorsKiss

With your feet planted firmly in mid-air, dude 🙂

Dawson Bethrick

I’m sure you’d like everyone to think that, RK. But the primacy of existence is not cognitively equivalent to “feet planted firmly in mid-air.”

By the way, RK, do you ever *argue* for your position?

Regards,
Dawson

RazorsKiss

Nope, I leave it to you guys to argue yourself out of a position, and thus prove the impossibility of the contrary. It saves time.

🙂

Besides, interaction with you is like being on the receiving end of a never-ceasing torrent of verbiage, signifying nothing. I mean, do you ever really pay attention to context? Just stick to your 15,000 word blog posts that no one reads, and we’ll all be fine 🙂

I’m not really interested in arguing with Randroids.

Mitchell LeBlanc

It’s a wonder that discussions with BK and Bolt are civil, productive and generally enjoyable, whereas discussions with RK seem more and more like discussions with a child. If you’re not going to respond directly to questions that are asked of you, one wonders why you even comment at all with your deflective sarcasm.

As Mama once said, “… If you don’t have anything nice to say…”

Dawson Bethrick

RK, I’m curious why you commented in response to me in the first place, if you’re truly uninterested in dialoguing with me? What was your point?

Regards,
Dawson

C.L. Bolt

In case anyone was wondering…

The sentence from Van Til is only partially quoted in TPP and favorably so in a section of quotes concerning the limits of logic.

The sentence in its entirety and original context pertains to paradox and/or mystery in finite understanding of God’s relations to the world. Van Til does not mean to say that there are no actual contradictions and he does not mean to say that we cannot know them.

James Anderson has written more extensively about the controversial Van Tillian doctrine of paradox in his book.

SteveJ

“…the conception of Allah is logically incompatible with the conception of the Christian God. Allah does not exist as three persons while the Christian God does.”

If God can exist in three persons simultaneously and still be one, why can’t He be both the Christian God and Allah at the same time? Of course, there are logical difficulties associated with this, but maybe it’s something that just transcends our logic. Maybe it’s just a mystery.

C.L. Bolt

“If God can exist in three persons simultaneously and still be one”

God exists in three persons simultaneously but God is not one person.

“why can’t He be both the Christian God and Allah at the same time?”

Because as already mentioned, this is contradictory.

Dawson Bethrick

Chris Bolt: “God is not one person.”

Apparently this depends on who is asked:

“For Van Til, God is not simply a unity of persons; he is a person.” – John Frame, Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought, p. 65.

“We do assert that God, that is, the whole Godhead, is one person.” – Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology, p. 229.

C.L. Bolt

Whether God is one person or three persons does not depend upon who is asked. If read in context, there is nothing I have stated which contradicts what Van Til wrote in the passage quoted since he is using the term in different senses in that passage. I am not bound to agree with everything Van Til ever wrote or said anyway. No one has in these comments offered an actual objection to the content of the original post; just Red Herrings.

Dawson Bethrick

Chris: “Whether God is one person or three persons does not depend upon who is asked.”

Above, when you had your turn, you stated explicitly that “God is not one person.” Notice the negation here.

When we consult Van Til, we learn that “the whole Godhead, is one person.” Notice Van Til’s emphatic affirmation here.

So, it does seem that it depends who’s asked.

Chris: “If read in context, there is nothing I have stated which contradicts what Van Til wrote in the passage quoted since he is using the term in different senses in that passage.”

What context did you include in your statement that I’ve missed?

Also, what are the different senses which Van Til had in mind in that passage? Can you clarify them?

Meanwhile, going back to SteveJ’s question, if there are different senses in which “God” is both three and one, why can’t he be both the Christian god and Allah at the same time? The contradiction here could be said to be merely “apparent,” as Van Til himself was fond of saying.

Chris: “I am not bound to agree with everything Van Til ever wrote or said anyway.”

Of course, I don’t think you are, either. But then again, I’m not one who would buy into the notion of divine revelation and guidance by the sensus divinitatus.

Regards,
Dawson

C.L. Bolt

“So, it does seem that it depends who’s asked.”

The number of persons in God is what it is apart from what Van Til or I have said about it.

“What context did you include in your statement that I’ve missed?”

The context of Van Til’s statement, not mine.

“Also, what are the different senses which Van Til had in mind in that passage? Can you clarify them?”

If you understood this to be referring to the passage in Van Til, then why did you act as though I was referring to the context of my own statements in your previous question?

“Meanwhile, going back to SteveJ’s question, if there are different senses in which ‘God’ is both three and one, why can’t he be both the Christian god and Allah at the same time? The contradiction here could be said to be merely ‘apparent,’ as Van Til himself was fond of saying.”

I already addressed this.

Dawson Bethrick

I wrote: “So, it does seem that it depends who’s asked.”

Chris: “The number of persons in God is what it is apart from what Van Til or I have said about it.”

You have not established this, especially within a context consistent with Christian theism. Indeed, it seems to vary from believer to believer, and sometimes from occasion to occasion on the part of the same believer. And if the Christian god is in fact imaginary, then how many persons it consists of does ultimately depend on how the believer imagines it.

I asked: “What context did you include in your statement that I’ve missed?”

Chris: “The context of Van Til’s statement, not mine.”

Van Til’s statement conflicts with yours, as I pointed out. You stated “God is not one person.” By contrast, Van Til tells us that “the whole Godhead, is one person.” Specifically, what context did you have in mind when you stated, “If read in context, there is nothing I have stated which contradicts what Van Til wrote in the passage quoted since he is using the term in different senses in that passage”?

Let me quote John Frame here:

“How, then, do we relate the ‘one person’ to the ‘three persons’? Van Til asserts that ‘this is a mystery that is beyond our comprehension’. Indeed!” (Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought, p. 68; quoting Van Til, Introduction to Systematic Theology, p. 230).

To resolve the explicit conflict here, it is suggested that the meaning of the word “person” is different when “God” is said to be “one person” from when it is said to be “three persons.” But when it comes to specifics, what do we get? Here’s Frame again:

“How is the word person used in different senses or respects? Obviously, there is some difference between the sense of ‘person’ applied to the oneness of God and the sense applied to the three members of the Trinity. Van Til would agree, for example, with the creedal statements that the Father is the begetter, the Son is begotten, and the Spirit is the one who proceeds; the whole Godhead is neither begetter, begotten, nor proceeder. But neither Van Til nor I would claim to be able to state, precisely and exhaustively, the difference between God’s essence and the individual persons of the Godhead.” (Op. cit., p. 69)

So it is said that there are two senses to the word “person” involved here, but no one seems capable of telling us what they are.

I asked: “Also, what are the different senses which Van Til had in mind in that passage? Can you clarify them?”

Chris replied: “If you understood this to be referring to the passage in Van Til, then why did you act as though I was referring to the context of my own statements in your previous question?”

I asked because you sated “since he is using the term in different senses in that passage.” You seem aware of the position that there are two senses here. I was hoping to learn something that neither Van Til nor Frame seem able to explain. If you don’t know, just say so. There’s no reason to evade here, Chris.

Regards,
Dawson

C.L. Bolt

If God is three persons and if He exists then He does so independently of what anyone says about it. Van Til agrees with me that God exists in three persons and His statement that ‘the whole Godhead is one person’ does not conflict with my statement since he is using the word in a different sense but even if there was a discrepancy it would not matter since I am not bound to agree with Van Til. This is the last time I am stating these things because I am pretty confident that other readers have gotten it by now whether you have or not and I am likewise confident that others are able to see that your comments have nothing to do with the original post. There is no need to project your evasion onto me.

Dawson Bethrick

Chris: “If God is three persons and if He exists then He does so independently of what anyone says about it.”

This is very close to what you affirmed in your previous comment. How do you establish it in a manner that is consistent with Christian theism? Specifically, how do you establish it in a manner that is consistent with the metaphysical implications of Christian theism?

Any answer here?

Remember, no borrowing from Objectivism!

Chris: “Van Til agrees with me that God exists in three persons and His statement that ‘the whole Godhead is one person’ does not conflict with my statement since he is using the word in a different sense but even if there was a discrepancy it would not matter since I am not bound to agree with Van Til.”

I will ask again: What are the two different senses of ‘person’ in play here?

Regards,
Dawson

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