Should Presuppositionalists Be Taken Seriously?

While digging through ancient discussions on the Internet concerning presuppositional apologetics I came across what is posted below. It is written by an “ex-Van Tilian” who is a friend of mine, and though I do not endorse what is said in the post (at least not all of it) it may be of some interest, provide a critical look at this method from another perspective, or provide fodder for future posts. Enjoy.

Allow me to offer a theistic perspective on this issue (of whether presuppositionalists should be taken seriously).

I believe that if they really want to be “taken seriously” by intellectually sophisticated nonbelievers and atheists, presuppositionalists need to get serious themselves and more of their leading voices actually need to earn Ph.Ds (preferably in philosophy). Seriously.

I can literally count on the fingers of ONE hand (and have some to spare!) the Christians who are both presuppositionalists and have gone on to earn a Ph.D in philosophy so as to be better equipped to think on the issues germane to various aspects of presuppositionalism, e.g. “the transcendental argument for the existence of God” (TAG). It would be nice if the day would come where I actually needed the fingers of TWO hands to count the number of said presuppositionalists.

Some presuppositionalists might say that the very nature of presuppositionalism–with its emphasis on the antithesis of biblical Christianity and secularism–precludes a presuppositionalist from going to secular graduate programs and earning such degrees. Perhaps that is correct. And perhaps that (fact about “antithesis”) also explains the fact why even Greg Bahnsen–who managed to finish a secular Ph.D program at USC–never chose to publish defenses of presuppositionalism in secular journals SUBSEQUENT to completing his Ph.D.

I refute that idea thus: Hogwash. Maybe the world is not yet ready for a full-blown defense of the entire Christian worldview using a presuppositional, (Christian-)theistic transcendental argument. But I can’t believe that no academic philosophy journals, especially one with an emphasis in philosophy of religion (e.g. Faith & Philosophy, Philo, Philosophia Christi, Religious Studies), wouldn’t publish a solid, well-written and rigorous presuppositional “internal critique” of some non-Christian worldview.

In an age where similar, quasi-presuppositional arguments like Plantinga’s “evolutionary argument against naturalism” and Reppert’s “argument from reason” (to name but two examples) ARE being taken seriously and getting published in various peer-reviewed philosophy journals, there is no longer a good excuse for why a similar type of thing can’t happen with a more mainline presuppositional argument.

Having made the case for why more presuppositionalists should earn Ph.Ds (in philosophy), let me say this: going through such a program definitely tends to dull one’s presuppositional edge. Especially if one gets trained in a department that is strongly “analytic” in its orientation, one develops the technical skills necessary for properly assessing the presuppositionalist’s TAG itself (as it has been usually formulated since Bahnsen). And–speaking for myself as a former “hardcore vantilian presuppositionalist”–when one turns one’s critical eye on that argument itself, one might end up seeing it for what it is: a loose metaphor (or an illustrative example) posing as a successful theistic transcendental argument, and not the promised argument itself.

In short, what presuppositionalism needs is more rigor and less sloganizing (and navel gazing). Please, let’s actually try to improve upon Bahnsen, not simply to treat him as an end-all-and-be-all of things presuppositional.

[This maybe] came out sounding rather harsh and disparaging against presuppositionalists (and presuppositionalism) of the vantilian stripe. Despite its tone, I was trying to be helpful. I guess I was just wenting my frustration over the fact that there aren’t more presupp’ers who are willing to do for their apologetic view what Christians like WL Craig, JP Moreland, Gary Habermas, etc. are willing to do for classical apologetics.

On a brighter note, the deplorable situation I mentioned in my last post is being addressed by men like Greg Welty and James Anderson. I consider them (along with David Byron, whereever he may be these days) as being the future stars of presuppositionalism who might actually go beyond Bahnsen.

OK, I’m done venting. 🙂


3 Comments

TheApologeticFront

I must say, I agree with much of what was said here. The question is, what are we all going to do about it?

RC

Chris,

Lately, I have been causing a little uproar at the “bahnsenburner” blog
http://bahnsenburner.blogspot.com/ Which I know you are aware of. I have skimmed through some of your exchanges with the internet atheist apologist Dawson Bethrick. No pun intended. Recently, he has suggested that I post on his blog only when I am ready to present an argument. This is after about 3 weeks of me answering hundreds of questions and objections. I have written about some of my encounters with them on my blog. Here is the link http://paulsapologetic.blogspot.com/

Chris how would you define presuppositional apologetics?

I have Dr.bahnsen’s book “always ready” and some of his lectures on DVD.
I also have most of his debates that he did refuting atheism.

Honestly, I think it comes down to this, as it says, in Romans 3:4 “May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, “THAT YOU MAY BE JUSTIFIED IN YOUR WORDS, AND PREVAIL WHEN YOU ARE JUDGED.”

It amazes me that in light of Romans 1 some would still attempt to give evidence to the unbeliever
He doesn’t need any evidence because he already knows God exists. I am currently listening to James white vs Dan barker. I think Dr.White said it best We come with presuppositions we don’t start with them. In other words, and this is the way I understood it, We come with God and leave with God. Some, will make the charge that this is circular reasoning as RC Sproul did when debating Dr. bahnsen. Well, Dr. bahnsen said some circles are unavoidable but not all circles are vicious. I can get you the qoutes if you want.

I am trying to understand your friend’s frustration maybe you can help me.

One last thing Our Lord never had a problem using scripture to stop the mouth of the unbelievers and neither did Paul.

They clearly understood that it takes the work of the holy spirit to get the unbeliever to come to the knowledge of the truth, which is Jesus, our lord and savior.

Jesus performed many miracles and people still didn’t believe.
So, we can give the unbeliever evidence till we are blue in the face
If the holy spirit doesn’t open their eyes our work will be in vain.

That is, I believe, the essence of presuppositional apologetics.
Giving the word of god, specifically, the Gospel.

Also, Showing the fool that while he thinks he is arguing against God , he unknowlingy, is actually arguing for him as he manifest the image of God he was created in and continually has to borrow from God to know anything.

Here is a qoute from Dr. bahnsen that I believe makes this more clear:

“Imagine a person who comes in here tonight and argues ‘no air exists’ but continues to breathe air while he argues. Now intellectually, atheists continue to breathe – they continue to use reason and draw scientific conclusions [which assumes an orderly universe], to make moral judgments [which assumes absolute values] – but the atheistic view of things would in theory make such ‘breathing’ impossible. They are breathing God’s air all the time they are arguing against him.”
— Greg L. Bahnsen

I am open to correction and will be more than happy to hear any criticism.

RC,
Blessings

Frank Acevedo

Thank you for this post and for your blog as a whole.

I am currently working on an MA in Apologetics at Liberty University and needless to say as an adherent to Van Til’s thesis, this expierience has challenged me more than I expected as I have had to put my money where my mouth is so to speak.

In my personal interaction with folks from both sides of the apologetic camps (reformed and non-reformed), I’ve noticed a common theme that this post illuminates.

The common theme is that of apologetics being a philosophical matter rather than being a theological matter.

The discussion almost always focuses on TAG as if Van Til’s thesis was primarily a focus on methodology.

It wasn’t until I read Oliphint’s work on covenant apologetics that all of Van Til’s works came into focus. I must admit that Van Til’s writings were difficult for me in my early encounters and I had to reread his work at various junctures. However, it was not until Oliphint emphasized Van Til’s work as first and foremost a theological commitment that I had my light bulb “duh” moment even though I had read it in Van Til’s work again and again.

I say all of that to say, until folks understand that Van Til’s work in not original, but is the advancement of the theology of God and man as taught in the scriptures, established through the faithful church councils, and summarized in the reformed confessions, presuppositional apologetics will only be seen as a method among many methods for defending Christian Theism.


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