WCF, LBC, and TAG

A friend pointed me toward this post by Brandon Adams. From what I can tell Brandon is influenced a good bit by Gordon H. Clark and argues in his post that Van Tillian presuppositionalism and specifically TAG is inconsistent with the WCF and LBC. While I am not one to excitedly engage in the Van Til versus Clark debate there are a few areas where I believe Brandon is simply mistaken about Van Til and Bahnsen’s method. One of the reasons I do not tend to engage in arguments against Clarkianism is that I am rather unfamiliar with the position. (Another reason is that I do not wish to attempt to debate TurretinFan any time in the near future.) While there is a large amount of Brandon’s post that I will be the first to shout “amen” to there is not much by way of interaction with the position Van Til and Bahnsen actually held. In fact there are no quotes from either Van Til or Bahnsen in the entire post. Below are some points to consider when reading Brandon’s post.
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There are many things which are both presupposed and proven. The existence of God is one of them.

One does not “start” with the transcendental argument but the conceptual scheme which is proven through the transcendental argument. Since the conceptual scheme proven through transcendental argumentation is transcendentally necessary it must be used even in talking about the conceptual scheme. Thus TAG is not offered apart from the Christian worldview.

There are such things as proofs which are presuppositional. See for example  http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/index.php?itemid=3892 and http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/index.php?itemid=3894.

TAG is also a presuppositional proof. However, it is not a “rational proof…as opposed to an empirical proof.” The traditional analytic/synthetic categories of philosophy are inconsistent with Van Tillian presuppositionalism.

TAG cannot be “argued without ever opening your Bible” as it relies upon the content of the Christian worldview.

TAG is not an instance of petition principii. Broad epistemological circularity is not the same thing as vicious logical circularity.

TAG is not fallacious because it “proves the absurdity of the contrary, but it needs to prove the absurdity of the contradictory.” Where the Christian worldview is p, the “contrary” of p is ~p. If ~p reduces to an absurdity then p must be true. Clarkians unfortunately have a tendency to equivocate on what Van Til and Bahnsen etc. meant by the use of “contrary,” but the confusion is certainly understandable. I have touched on this subject here.

The quote that is provided from John Frame is not relevant to the point that Brandon is making. Frame’s contention is that TAG is virtually the same thing as the traditional argument(s) for the existence of God; however this is a fairly contentious subject within the Van Tillian variety of presuppositional apologetics. While TAG is in some senses like the traditional arguments for the existence of God it is not the same as traditional arguments. Van Til, Bahnsen, and Butler have argued this extensively and it would take more time and effort than I have available to me at the moment to get into the topic further.

The claim that people who believe Van Til’s presuppositionalism is the “methodology of the Westminster Confession…aren’t aware that other people besides Van Til developed presuppositional apologetics in the 20th century (namely Gordon Clark)” is, well, dubious. Most Van Tillians are aware of Clark if for no other reason than the somewhat embarrassing controversy involving Van Til and Clark.

Van Til and Bahnsen were quite clear that the Bible should be believed based upon its own authority. At the same time believing the Bible because we cannot make sense of the world without it does not appear to preclude believing the Bible based upon its own authority. In fact the Bible itself teaches that one cannot make sense of the world without it.


4 Comments

Brandon Adams

“There are many things which are both presupposed and proven.”

This, I suppose, is the heart of the issue. Your statement is contradictory. A presupposition cannot be proven, period. It can be disproven, but by definition it cannot be proven. Merriam Webster offers the following as definitions for presupposition:
1 : to suppose beforehand
2 : to require as an antecedent in logic or fact
It should be quite obvious from the meaning of the word “presupposition” that a presupposition is chosen beforehand, not as a conclusion. It is not proven.

I appreciate the fact that you read my post and took the time to respond, but I don’t really see anything but assertions here.

Since you said you are not familiar with the in-depth argumentation behind my post, I encourage you to read the links I provided. Have a good day.

C.L. Bolt

The assertions I have provided are corrections to the false assertions you made concerning Van Til and Bahnsen’s method of apologetics. If you are going to make the arguments you have against TAG you will need to provide support from Van Til and Bahnsen. You are misrepresenting their method.

I did not state that I am unfamiliar with the “in-depth argumentation” behind your post. I wrote, “One of the reasons I do not tend to engage in arguments against Clarkianism is that I am rather unfamiliar with the position.” Arguing against Clarkianism and correcting the errors in your post regarding Van Til and Bahnsen are two different things.

My statement that there are many things which are both presupposed and proven is not contradictory. The support you attempt to provide for your assertion is problematic as follows:

Given the definition you provided – “to suppose beforehand” – there are any number of presuppositions which may be proven. For example, I spoke to my wife today. Before accepting this one must “suppose beforehand” that my wife exists. But I can prove that my wife exists. The example provided also fits the second definition. Therefore the definitions do not lend support to your assertion, and your assertion is shown to be false by virtue of the example.

Take presupposition p. Negate p and you have ~p. Assume it is not the case that ~p. Consider:

1. p v ~p
2. ~(~p)
3. Therefore, p

There’s another example of how a presupposition might be proven. I am sure there are many others. Of course much of this will come down to what we mean by “presupposition”. There are those presuppositions which must be proven transcendentally.

Bahnsen addresses some of these issues in the debate you link to. You claim to have read and listened to Van Til and Bahnsen. I am very interested in seeing your support for the assertions you have made regarding their work that I have taken issue with. Perhaps you can write another post in response to my concerns as your comment here will not do. Thanks!

Jonathan Hunter

What is the distinction between Clarkian and van Tillian presuppositionalism?

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