f The Wittenberg Door: Challenges to Presuppositional Apologetics

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Commenting on Christendom, culture, history, and other oddities of life from an historic Protestant perspective.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Challenges to Presuppositional Apologetics

The Gospel Coalition has posted a series of articles about apologetic methodology. The three major schools were represented: Classical, Evidential, and Presuppositional. The Aristophrenium provides a handy list and links to each of the respective articles here.

Being of the Van Tilian Presuppositional stripe, one of the articles that piqued my interest was Dr. Paul Copan’s challenge to the Covenantal approach, particularly his charge of question begging. Reason being, this was my main objection when I was still in the Evidential camp. Dr. Oliphant answers this objection and the others Dr. Copan raises in his article titled, Answering Objections to Presuppositionalism. Here’s part of his answer to the question begging charge:

Van Til is not advocating fallacious reasoning here. Though much more needs to be said, a couple of points should be remembered when Van Til wants to affirm circular reasoning:

(1) Circular reasoning is not the same as a circular argument. A circular argument is one in which the conclusion of the argument is also assumed in one or more of the premises. Van Til's notion of circularity is broader, and more inclusive, than a strict argument form. For example, in William Alston, The Reliability of Sense Perception (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993), Alston argues that it is impossible to establish that one has knowledge in a certain area without at the same time presupposing some knowledge in that area. His example is an argument for the reliability of sense perception. Any argument for such reliability presupposes that reliability. And it does so because of the epistemic situation in which human beings exist. Alston is right here, it seems. Not only so, but, to go deeper, the epistemic and metaphysical situation in which human beings exist is one in which the source of and rationale for all that we are and think is, ultimately, in the Triune God of Scripture. Circularity in this sense is inevitable. We will never be outside the context of image of God as we think and live---not in this life or the next.

(2) Van Til's affirmation of circular reasoning should be seen in the context of the point he makes in various places about "indirect" arguments. Any petitio principia is, by definition, a direct argument---containing premises and a conclusion. Van Til's indirect method moves one out of the context of a strict proof or direct argument, and into the context of the rationale for any fact or law assumed to be, or to be true. Thus, circularity is inextricably linked to the transcendental approach, and is not meant to be in reference, strictly speaking, to direct argumentation.

You can read the entire article here.

--The Catechizer



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not sure if you have ever considered it, but I would recommend that you also investigate the "Axiomatic Presuppositionalism" of Gordon Clark (such as Religion, Reason and Revelation). Having reviewed both Clark and Van Til, I see too many problems with Van Til. Personally, I can't follow him without eventually coming to Skepticism. Clark, in my opinion, just has the better apologetic. Of course, any Presuppositional apolgetic is probably better and more biblical than the Classical or Evidential.

I would also argue that the dominant apologetic in "the church" today is Subjectivism. That is, it is the view that Christianity is true because it's true for me, though it may not be true for you.

11:08 AM  
Blogger The Catechizer and The Deacon said...

It’s been years since I compared the two, so I’m foggy as to the details. Obviously, though, I came down on Van Til’s side and am not sure how it would lead to skepticism. It would be a good exercise to go through both again since it’s been so long. Regarding your comments regarding Subjectivism I think you’re spot-on. Unfortunately, Mark Noll’s comments regarding the Evangelical mind (that there isn’t much of it) is also spot-on.

2:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response. My trouble with the Van Til camp is that they don’t see truth as propositional and argue that our knowledge is analogical rather than univocal. An analogy contains similarity, but not equivalence.

To understand an analogy, I have to understand something about both things being compared. Yet, if our knowledge is analogical with God, and if there is no univocal point between us, and God knows everything completely and exhaustively, then we can know nothing. For example, if “David was king of Israel” is an analogy, then of what is it an analogy? To what is it equivalent or comparable? If I can never know the analogy that God possesses, then I can never know how my knowledge is true.

Moreover, if our “truth” is just an analogy of God’s “Truth,” then I just don’t see how a Van Tilian can objectively defend the exclusive and certain truth of Christianity. That is, if we only possess an analogy of God’s truth, then why can’t a Muslim insist he also possess an analogy of God’s truth? And so on.

Clark argues that our knowledge is univocal and truth is propositional. God knows all things exhaustively, and he reveals some of what He knows with us (General and Special). We can be certain that we possess truth because the creator of all truth has told us so.

11:16 AM  
Blogger The Catechizer and The Deacon said...

I understand your concerns with the term “analogical”; it was an unfortunate choice and contributed to the controversy. Van Til isn’t using the word in the way that you and I are used to. He means that the believer “thinks God’s thoughts after Him.” By this he means that we submit ourselves to the epistemic lordship of Christ. This is in contradistinction to the unbeliever who thinks autonomously (univocally).

Van Til explained that thinking God’s thoughts after him is the only way to escape the skepticism caused by autonomous thinking and the only way to be assured of true knowledge:

“The Christian idea of human knowledge as analogical of God’s knowledge is therefore the only position in which man, who cannot control or know anything in the ultimate comprehensive sense of the term, can nevertheless be assured that his knowledge is true.”

“When on the created created level of existence man thinks God’s thoughts after him, that is, when man thinks in self-conscious submission to the voluntary revelation of the self-sufficient God, he has therewith the only possible ground of certainty for his knowledge.”

“Since the human mind is created by God and is therefore in itself naturally revelational of God, the mind may be sure that its system is true and corresponds on a finite scale to the system of God. That is what we mean by saying that it is analogical to God’s system.”

As you can see, Van Til isn’t using “analogy” in the way you feared. As I mentioned earlier, I think that this is more of a problem with the two sides of the Clark/Van Til controversy talking past each other. Dr. John Frame, after thoroughly studying the controversy, had this to say: “The ‘Clark Case’ is a classic example of the hurt that can be done when people dogmatize over difficult theological issues without taking the trouble first to understand one another, to analyze ambiguities in their formulations, and to recognize more than one kind of theological danger to be avoided.”

If you’d like to delve in further to Van Til’s epistemology, I recommend Dr. Greg Bahnsen’s Van Til’s Apologetic, Reading and Analysis: chapter 4, The Epistemological Side of Apologetics, section 4.5, Thinking God’s Thoughts After Him.

7:00 PM  

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