Last week a few of us from CH spent some time visiting The Confessional Outhouse, a blog run by one who calls himself RubeRad. Rube asked for input on his assertion that “Christianity is falsifiable”, after appealing to I Cor. 15:14. Some great discussion ensued, and during the course of that discussion a number of tangents were launched, one of which started with the following statement by a contributor named “Michael Mann”:
In terms of any logical transcendental argument, they could get no further then generic theism i.e, a powerful Creator and Designer is a necessary presupposition of intelligibility
Michael was speaking about what VanTil and Bahnsen were able to accomplish, as set over against what they were claiming to have accomplished. I challenged Michael’s assertion as follows:
I’m curious how Bahnsen and VanTil could ever arrive at a conclusion they were never arguing for in the first place.
Rube chimed in his two cents with the following reply:
Because it’s a stop on the way. How did you get to Philadelphia when you started in Baltimore and were heading for Boston?
Now I’ll admit, it does seem a bit intuitive that one can have the goal of demonstrating that the God of the Bible exists, and yet come up short, merely demonstrating that there is some god out there who is a powerful creator and designer. After all, a cumulative argument would attempt to do just this – first prove that there is some being out there who transcends the universe, then show that said being is actually responsible for creating the universe, and is (obviously) powerful enough to do so, that it is the source of morality, etc. But what is intuitive is sometimes not the truth, which is the very reason I asked the question I did.
The assertion that Michael made implies that he feels VanTil and Bahnsen were making just such a cumulative argument (whether purposely or not) – one that builds up a block at a time, attempting to finally arrive at the God of the Bible. But you can’t. To assume that you can is to imply that neutrality is possible and (worse yet) that the God of the Bible is not necessary to consistent reasoning at the outset of one’s argument.
There are some observations worth noting here.
1. Neither VanTil nor Bahnsen argued in this manner.
To the best of my knowledge, neither VanTil nor Bahnsen ever argued as is implied by Michael’s statement. In fact, they were both vehemently opposed to any “blockhouse” type of argumentation, instead stating that one must argue for Christianity as an entire unit. Bahnsen was quick to qualify that you can obviously only talk about one thing at a time, but that the method of argumentation was not to take each of these “blocks” being argued for and stack them, one on top of another, in order to achieve CT (Christian Theism). CT is not the kind of thing you can argue for in such a manner, for the same reason it isn’t falsifiable – it is a (The) transcendental.
One point of confusion in this area is that Bahnsen tended to argue the same “big three” areas – induction, morality and logic. Many took this to mean that all three areas were a necessary part of the argument, and that the argument was incomplete unless he showed God was required for all three. On the contrary, Bahnsen’s argument was that it takes only a single area to successfully argue for CT. These were not “blocks” that he was stacking up to get to CT. Rather, each was an “illustration” of the same thing, and any single one was sufficient as CT is necessary to make any of them (or anything else) intelligible.
2. As they never argued in this manner, they never could have accomplished what Michael claims they accomplished.
Since VanTil and Bahnsen never argued in a blockhouse manner, they could never have arrived at a conclusion that was built from just a few of the blocks of CT – the god who is a “powerful creator and designer”. Despite the fact that they may have spoken about one thing at a time, their argument – if sound at all – could have only ever concluded with the God of CT – with all of his attributes intact – and not something less. Their method of argumentation precluded them from arriving at some intermediary form of the God of the Bible, for it was an argument that always presupposed the entire Christian worldview, and therefore made the existence of any other form of god impossible right from the outset.
3. Even if they had argued in this manner, they never could have accomplished what Michael claims they accomplished.
Let’s suppose that VanTil or Bahnsen actually did argue in a blockhouse manner. Let’s suppose that despite their constant vocal opposition to this method of reasoning, that they actually fell prey to doing it from time to time. It is possible, after all, and I’m not asserting here that they absolutely never did such a thing as I am not privy to every single argument they ever made (as far as I know). What if they had argued in this manner? Isn’t it then possible they could have arrived at a god who is merely a “creator and designer”?
No, it is not. As the God of the Bible is presented – in the Bible – as the very foundation of reasoning, science, morality, etc – he cannot be the conclusion of an argument that does not begin with him – all of him. If VanTil or Bahnsen were arguing cumulatively, then their method of argumentation for the God of the Bible was flawed at the outset, as is any argument that does not (at least implicitly) begin with him.
4. In other words, you can’t get there from here.
Bahnsen calls for Christians to be “epistemologically self-conscious”, both of their own epistemology as well as that of their debate/discussion partner. What this does not mean is that we evaluate our epistemology (and entire worldview for that matter), say to ourselves “ok, I’m all set”, and then immediately leave that worldview at the door as we proceed to argue. We must constantly be casting our arguments in light of the foundation that CT provides, ensuring that whatever assertions we make are consistent with that foundation.
CT begins with God as our ultimate authority in reasoning. That means when we start to argue, we are already committed to his existence. As God is the necessary precondition of intelligibility, any argument whatsoever must begin with the presupposition of his existence (and more specifically the truth of CT). But just as important, any argument must continue with that same presupposition firmly in place.
If you must start with CT, and you must continue with it, it is not logically possible to arrive at the conclusion that some God other than the God of CT exists, such as a god of Generic Theism. Just as important to note is that one cannot arrive “part way either”, which is what Michael essentially asserted VanTil and Bahnsen did. If CT must be presupposed in order to make any argument intelligible, then that includes whatever argument Michael thinks VanTil and Bahnsen were putting forth. But if VanTil and Bahnsen were actually arguing an a purportedly autonomous manner, and one block at a time, then their argument would be inconsistent with the presupposed foundation of CT, meaning they could not consistently arrive at “Generic Theism”. Of course, if they were arguing from some foundation other than CT, they could not consistently get to Generic Theism, or anything else for that matter.
The only option VanTil and Bahnsen (and us for that matter) have available to them to make a consistent, intelligible argument, is to argue from CT, which necessarily entails they can only ever arrive at CT, and nothing short of it.