Initial Thoughts on the Virtues of External Critique

Internal Critique

Internal critique is the method whereby a particular position is examined upon the basis of its own presuppositions. Presuppositions are the most basic tenets of a particular position or worldview. Assuming an internal critique is positively successful, the position in question will espouse tenets fully consistent with its presuppositions. Insofar as the critique is negatively successful, the position in question is found wanting due to inconsistencies, arbitrariness, contradictions, and the like.

External Critique

Rather than examining a position upon the basis of its own presuppositions, external critique examines said position in virtue of the presuppositions or derivative tenets of another position or worldview external to the original position in question. An external critique is positively successful insofar as the two positions in question allow for syncretism. A negatively  successful external critique finds the initial position to be in error because it does not comport with whatever other position is used as the basis for critique.

Negative External Critique

By honoring Christ as Lord and taking every thought captive, the consistent Christian is always engaging in external critique, whether he or she gives explicit expression to said critique in an apologetic encounter or not. There are positions that the Christian may encounter and reject merely because the Christian worldview does not allow for them to be true. In such cases the Christian may not have an internal critique readily available, but rationally rejects the position upon the basis of the frank acceptance of the Christian faith.

When an apologist gives expression to a negative external critique he or she proclaims the utter folly of unbelieving thought from within the confines of the Christian worldview. This can be every bit as persuasive as internal critique. It is very similar to preaching, and may involve reasoned presentation of the consistency inherent to Christianity, though it need not use argument in the aforementioned intellectual, rationalistic sense.

Every successful internal critique depends upon external critique. Any position which is rendered unlivable, incoherent, arbitrary, absurd, and the like provides no inherent basis upon which it may be recognized as such. Even the aforementioned categories utilized in internal critique are contingent upon the position that takes them to be necessary features of internal critique. Internal critique is thereby established, rather than rendered obsolete, due to its usefulness as a means of expressing the truth of the Christian faith.

Objections to the validity of external critique as it may be understood within the Christian worldview themselves stem from inconsistent dependence upon external critique. The transcendental challenge is thus deep indeed, penetrating every position down to its presuppositions, and bringing them into play at every level of the game.


8 Comments

PDS

Hello,

I am not sure I understand how the follow statements can be reconciled:

“Internal critique is the method whereby a particular position is examined upon the basis of its own presuppositions. ”

and “Every successful internal critique depends upon external critique.”

If an internal critique depends on an external critique then, in my view, it no longer has the characteristics of an internal critique.

Regards,

PDS

C.L. Bolt

Yes. Another contributor has already pointed out that this is either not exactly right at worst or very poorly worded at best. Something like what Don Collett wrote is what I had in mind:

In a reductio, a position is refuted by deducing a contradiction from its premises. In Van Til’s transcendental argument from predication, the possibility of assigning a truth value–and thus by extension the very possibility of generating a contradiction–fails to obtain unless God’s existence is already true (i.e., truly refers). In other words, Van Til’s transcendental argument from predication makes a stronger claim than the claim generated by the reductio. The latter generates a contradiction from the non-Christian position, while Van Til’s transcendental argument from predication makes the more radical claim that contradiction itself is impossible apart from the truth of God’s existence.

(Don Collett, Van Til and Transcendental Argument Revisited, 31)

Van Til and Bahnsen have made similar claims, but not using the language of “external critique.” Perhaps there was good reason for that!

C.L. Bolt

“If an internal critique depends on an external critique then, in my view, it no longer has the characteristics of an internal critique.”

I am not sure how this follows. In an internal critique the presuppositions of another position are adopted for the sake of argument. Meanwhile the possibility of argument itself stems from an external source which is the Christian worldview. (Again, “critique” might not fit here, though I suspect it does in some way, hence “Initial Thoughts.”) The unbeliever always operates off of “borrowed capital.” To put it another way, the Christian worldview encompasses, the non-Christian worldview. And it is from there that I am drawing to draw a connection back to external critique.

C.L. Bolt

ignore the comma splice*

“drawing” should be “trying”*

Ew.

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PDS

I might be that other contributor (Aaron past on my comments). My comments here were essentially intended to be the same. To be upfront, I am more aligned to Plantinga’s epistemology rather then Van Til or Bahnsen, but I am a follower of this blog and have an interest in apologetic method.

My original assertion, in my comment, would need to be stated with more precision; I think it holds in at least one case (see below) and probably more generally. If the possibility of contradiction can not be part of the internal critique and must be borrowed from the Christian position then I think we haven’t done an internal critique; or, in other words, the presuppositions of the position we are critiquing have not been fully adopted.

Suppose for instance the postion we are critiquing believes that only their postion allows for “the possibility of assigning a truth value”. This position at least cannot be internally critiqued. This seems to be a clear case, unless I am mistaken.

C.L. Bolt

Well of course the presuppositions of the position I am critiquing have not been fully adopted. I would be a fool to do that!

Everything in the other position is borrowed from the Christian worldview, from the possibility of contradiction to the possibility of assigning a truth value.

RazorsKiss

No, I don’t think that you’re that other contributor as 1) You don’t write for this blog and 2) As I was the one he was referring to 🙂


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