I despise labels. Mostly because I rarely delve into the depths of the labels enough to truly know whether one is adequately matches my own views, and my views are very rarely as well formed as others who would claim certain labels. Yet, I do tend to have strong views on certain things. Apologetics is one of them. As with most of my articles, this is not very thoroughly researched or scripted. It does not represent any exhaustive treatment on the subject. Rather it is merely my two cents, so to speak.
Most Christians, particularly the ones in or near the Reformed camp, are Presuppositionalists, including my new friend and kindred spirit CJay Engel from The Reformed Libertarian. Presuppositionalism essentially states that without presupposing the Christian God, there is no way of knowing anything. The Presuppositionalist aims to demonstrate that all other systems of thought, be they atheism or another religion, are self-contradictory. This is known as the Transcendental argument for the existence of God, and was famously put to use by Greg Bahnsen in his debate against Gordon Stein.
The argument essentially goes like this.
- If there is no God, knowledge is not possible.
- Knowledge is possible
- Therefore a god exists.
Many will recognize this as being the philosophy of Cornelius Van Til, a paragon of Christian Apologetics. Unfortunately, it leaves me scratching my head. For I wonder why nobody else can seem to recognize this for what it is: a massive begging of the question. The first premise is never proven. It is merely stated with nothing compelling its acceptance. It somewhat troubles me.
What I mean is this. The Transcendental Argument begins by pointing out that the laws of logic and nature have a source. This much is indeed true. It also demonstrates that the common explanations given for them are unsatisfactory. However, it then makes an enormous leap of logic from the proof that there must be “something” out there to a proof that this something must be of some specific form or nature. It submits its own explanation for the problem without giving any proof or reason why it is better than any other imagined scenario. To the opponent in our hypothetical debate (and to the audience of the culture at large), we seem merely to be grasping at straws. The fact that we derive this belief from a book means nothing to them, particularly when they believe they have discredited such book.
Attempting to reason with scientists this way fails to understand the scientific mind. You see scientists have no requirement to know why their sense work or why the laws of logic work. They need only to know that they do. And since we cannot and do not deny that they do, we have no grounds to argue against this point. So then the scientist falls back on his very reasonable rule of thumb to never believe anything that cannot be supported with evidence. Reasonable people operate this way on everything, but when it comes to matters of faith, we seem to expect them to step out of it, which is why we are seen as believing a fairy tale.
Don’t get me wrong, I think Presuppositionalism has a place. It is very useful, as I’ve said, for pointing out that there is a transcendent foundation for truth. Where it becomes strained, however, is where we begin to think that by doing so, we have proven our specific conception of what that foundation is. This is similar to the Intelligent Design issue. ID is not Creationism, though it is a step in that direction. ID is agnostic about who the designer is, and so proving ID is not a proof for Genesis 1. Famously, a group once proposed the Flying Spaghetti monster as the designer. If the Flying Spaghetti Monster can be the Intelligent Designer, then maybe it can be the source of the rules of logic and the foundation for truth? Why must it be the Christian God?
Presuppositionalists will fall on a “taking all challengers” mode where they will attempt to reason any other world view into a circle. This has two problems. First, it, again, fails to understand the scientific mind in that just because we don’t have the answer yet, doesn’t mean that one imagined possibility must therefore be the answer. In other words, just because all of the options we can come up with can be reasoned into a circle doesn’t mean that we just haven’t figured out the right one yet. Second, if you really think about it, the Presuppositional argument (or Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God) is also an argument in a circle. For it is, as I said, a begging of the question. So this approach gets us nowhere.
So I suppose I share more in common with the Evidentialists, which I believe to be far more Scriptural, anyway. I see two key passages in Scripture that deal with Evidence. Psalm 19 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God…” and Romans 1:19-20 says, “what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” I think this clearly teaches us that the evidence is there! What of presuppositions, then? We don’t need them to believe in God. We merely need to look to the heavens and behold his Glory!
What role do presuppositions play in apologetics, then? Romans 1:18ff says, “For the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth […] For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” In his fallen state, sinful man has presupposed that God doesn’t exist. This is both a result and a furtherance of his depravity. “The fool,” according to Psalm 14:1, “says in his heart, ‘There is no God'”
So again, presuppositional apologetics can be good for helping the unbeliever recognize the ways in which his own presuppositions have determined his interpretation of the evidence. If he is willing to part with his presuppositions, he will see clearly to see the truth. Ultimately it should not require a presupposition of God to conclude him from the evidence of God’s creation. Therefore, the goal of apologetics should first and foremost be to allow the evidence to speak for itself.
There are three challenges which must be overcome in this task. Only one of these challenges is within our ability to influence. It is the one I already mentioned: The unbeliever holds presuppositions which steer him to incorrect conclusions. We can help him to recognize these and attempt to persuade him to set them aside. The other two challenges, however, are not within our ability to control.
The second challenge is that the enemy is working against us. 2 Corinthians 4:4 says, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” The solution for this is the illumination of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 4:6)
The third challenge is that even if we can prove the existence of God, that is not the same thing as regeneration. Saving faith comes not from logical proof or apologetic discourse. It comes from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.
So ultimately I break from both the Presuppositionalists and the Evidentialists because I believe they both have the wrong goal in mind. Both attempt to prove the existence of God, and so to somehow prove that the opponent should be Christian. However, I don’t find this calling in Scripture. Instead I see the call to proclaim the Gospel faithfully and allow the Holy Spirit to do his work. Discussing presuppositions and evidence can be useful tools in this box, but the most powerful is the Word of God itself, which is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword,” and will not “return […] void.”. As Spurgeon said, “let the lion out of the cage!”