Arne Verster of Apologetics Central and I discussed apologetics (last evening for me, this morning for Arne who lives in South Africa). This article of mine on the failure of classical apologetics was the impetus for our discussion.
At the heart of Christian apologetic methodology is the consideration of ultimate authority. How the authority of Scripture should shape the Christian’s defense of the faith is a matter of bringing every thought captive to obey Christ, (even as the Christian gives an answer for the hope that is in him, with meekness and fear.) How consistently the believer sanctifies the Lord God in his heart will influence his apologetic methodology. (2 Cor. 10:5; 1 Peter 3:15-16)
Classical Apologetics (CA) seeks to establish Theism from nature and unaided reason. If a theistic universe with design, causality and / or morality can be established, then there is a basis for considering evidence for the true and living God who has intervened in history in the Christ event, and in particular through the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. For the classical apologist, a two-step approach is advisable. First, establish theism in general; then, try to prove the resurrection through historical evidence. After all, until one becomes persuaded of the possibility of a Designer, an Unmoved Mover, a Moral Law Giver, or a conception of a “Supremely Perfect” being, he won’t likely be as open to evidence for the resurrection. In other words, before one begins marshaling evidence for God having raised Jesus from the dead, it is advantageous to establish first that there is a god who could possibly have raised Jesus from the dead.
Classical Apologetics denies a biblical contextual reality:
Apologetics ought to be done in the context of the unbeliever’s condition and all other relevant divine revelation. Because the unbeliever’s condition cannot be reliably inferred by the unbeliever’s false claims about himself, the apologist should seek to be informed by the authority of God’s word alone. Apologetic methodology surely must not betray Scripture and if possible, should be inferred from Scripture.
With respect to biblical contextual reality, General Revelation reveals much about God, yet little about man’s spiritual covenantal condition. For instance, apart from a confrontational encounter with Scripture, unregenerate man knows God is all powerful, omniscient, and omnipresent (as well as other perfections). Yet we know those bits of truth about man’s condition from Scripture alone. Scripture reveals to us that all men know not merely a notion of God but the one true and living God, which is why it can be said that all are without excuse. Indeed, man suppresses the truth in unrighteousness, but it is the truth he suppress (and not some false conception of God). In moral and epistemic rebellion, natural man willfully turns the truth he knows into a lie. Without exception, that is man’s response to what he knows by nature as he lives in God’s ordered universe, experiencing God’s goodness and daily provision. Accordingly, any consideration of the viability of a Natural Theology apologetic should be placed in the context of man’s willful suppression of the truth he knows. (Romans 1:18ff)
There is knowledge of God that is properly basic. It is apprehended directly (as opposed to discursively), yet not in a vacuum but always through the mediation of created things in the context of providence. Without reasoning from more fundamental or basic beliefs, the unbeliever apprehends God in conscience through the things that are made. Man’s knowledge of God is mediated through the external world, but it is apprehended immediately by God’s image bearers apart from argumentation or even modest reflection. Therefore, the apostle Paul may say that all men have knowledge of the truth. Not all men can follow the elaborate arguments of another’s Natural Theology, let alone formulate their own theistic proofs, but all men directly apprehend God’s General Revelation of himself. A god who must be proved is not the God of Scripture.
Moral considerations regarding Natural Theology as it relates to Classical Apologetics (CA).
To try to prove God exists in order to get someone to believe God exists is a fool’s errand. It is to go along with the charade of the unbeliever who has said in his heart there is no God. Engaging the folly of unbelief in this way is to become like the fool (as opposed to properly answering the fool). In short, by not applying this one foundational biblical truth that all men know God and are, therefore, without excuse, the employment of CA implies several distinct yet related untruths. (Psalm 14:1; Proverbs 26:4-5)
Before reading on, it’s important to internalize that it is only the unbelieving fool who denies God’s existence. The fool’s profession is a deception. The alleged seeker, inquisitive agnostic, and committed atheist all know God. Accordingly, the Bible instructs us not try to prove what is known but rather expose what is denied! That is an entailment of doing apologetics in a biblical contextual reality.
Seven betrayals of CA:
1. Implicit in the employment of CA is that God has not plainly revealed himself in creation and conscience. After all, why use CA to prove God’s existence unless some do not know through General Revelation that God exists? Accordingly, CA implicitly denies God’s revelation and man’s knowledge of God.
The following betrayals flow from the first:
2. CA implies that unbelief is an intellectual matter, not an ethical one. The unbeliever needs better arguments in order to become intellectually persuaded of what is already known yet suppressed. CA emphasis is on proof and persuasion, and not the biblical mandate to gently expose one’s willful, sinful rebellion that can manifest itself in a denial of God’s existence. CA focuses on a false need for intellectual enlightenment and not a true need for moral repentance.
3. CA implies that all men are not culpable for denying that God has plainly made himself known. After all, the alleged need of the unbeliever is to be enlightened to something he doesn’t already know, which undermines the need to avoid wrath due to rebellion against God who is known a priori.
4. Since CA implies man is not culpable, CA implies God’s injustice, for God would be unjust to punish those who aren’t culpable due to their innate inability to construct theological proofs on their own.
5. By trying to overcome the unbeliever’s alleged agnosticism or atheism with sophisticated proof(s) that presuppose man can actually seek God, CA denies that no one seeks after God. Accordingly, CA implies that an alleged seeker is not in ethical rebellion while he masquerades as intellectually pursuing an honest answer to the question of God’s existence. (Roman 3:11)
6. CA implies that God is not a necessary precondition for the very possibility of the masquerade of seeking God (and denying God). In other words, CA grants the requisite tools of investigation (common notions) are implicitly neutral ground and not strictly common ground that can only be justified if it is first true that God exists.
7. If common ground is neutral ground, then CA implies that there are brute facts that can be interpreted without worldview bias. In other words, CA grants that the facts of nature can exegete themselves without any reference to God as sovereign interpreter.
In sum, CA relates to an endeavor that aims to prove a false god who has not effectively revealed himself to at least some invincibly ignorant creatures. Again, a god who must be proved is not the God of Scripture.
Aside from denying the biblical contextual reality in which apologetics should be conducted, theistic proofs as they’ve been traditionally formulated have been, I believe, an embarrassment to the church. For instance, how does the cosmological argument disprove a first cause of simultaneous multiplicity, or the teleological argument rule out multiple designers ? In other words, how do such arguments avoid a fallacy of quantification, or avoid a natural theology of the gods? How do we deduce from natural experience of natural causes a single supernatural first cause? How can inductive inferences from mechanistic design to a designer be read back into the universe without committing a fallacy of composition? In other words, why can’t the universe be akin to an inexplicable organism and not to a humanly devised mechanism? Why must a first cause or supposed designer of the universe still exist? Even allowing for an A-theory of time, why can’t the universe logically precede time? In other words, even if time began, why can’t energy or matter exist without time, rendering moot all time based arguments against eternal energy / matter?
Yet even if all these shortcomings (and the ones I’ve not mentioned for brevity sake) were adequately overcome, CA would still entail (a) implicit denial of natural man’s sinful suppression of his knowledge of God along with (b) impugnment of God’s righteous judgement against man’s moral rebellion. The problem with CA is theological, not merely philosophical.
CA follows Eve’s modus operandi:
Unbelievers require a “neutral” investigation into the claims of Christianity. Unbelievers employ autonomous reasoning (i.e., reasoning from a mindset that does not acknowledge God’s epistemic Lordship over the possibility of human reason itself), without which unbelievers cannot judge whether the Bible should be deemed reliable for its claims let alone authoritative over all of life. For the unbeliever, apart from judging the Bible from a throne of autonomy, the Bible and all it claims cannot be assessed as true. The problem with such a philosophical and religious posture, which admittedly touches upon a concept that is difficult for both unbelievers and many believers to grasp, is that if the Bible must first be validated by the unbeliever as authoritative, then it cannot be intrinsically authoritative. Yet if the Bible is authoritative by virtue of its divine origin, then no such human validation is permissible (or even possible when one is in submission to God’s word!).*
While the unbeliever remains a judge of God’s word – the unbeliever remains his own self-proclaimed authority; God’s word is positively rejected as long as the unbeliever seeks to determine its origin. With hat in hand, God remains in the dock awaiting the unbeliever’s favor.
What is built into the unbeliever’s make-up is something from which the unbeliever cannot extricate himself. That is, there is an ethically driven intellectual bias, a deep-seated antithesis that rejects the authority of God’s voice in Scripture (and in nature). If God’s word is authoritative, then it may not be judged. It must be obeyed for what it truly is, God’s word. But like Eve who placed God’s word on the same level of Satan’s and then rose above both to judge what is true, so is the posture of the unbeliever. He sits in the place of God, presiding over the authority of Scripture. CA not only caters to the unbeliever’s quest for autonomy, the classical apologist shares in the mission! He has become like the fool, which is the very thing the Proverb warns against.
The unbeliever presupposes at the outset of his pursuit of God that the requisite tools of rational investigation (e.g. logic, inference, memory etc.) and the context in which they function (e.g. reality and providence) are not God dependent. In other words, the unbeliever’s bias is that any mind-world correspondence is perfectly intelligible apart from any reference point other than the finite human mind itself. Little if no consideration is given to the question of why the subject and object of knowledge should correspond, or how there can be a fruitful connection between the knower and the mind-independent external world that can be known. By the nature of the case, the unbeliever imagines that if God exists, he must be discovered through autonomous reason that is capable of functioning apart from God. In doing so, the unbeliever not only rejects a God who must make reason possible – he is not even seeking such a God at all! The unbeliever is seeking a god who does not make knowledge possible and has not plainly revealed himself in creation, providence and grace. The unbeliever is seeking an idol of his own making and CA aids in the pursuit.
Hope is on the way:
There is an apologetic that is true to biblical contextual reality, but it looks quite different from CA. It’s my experience that an appreciation for the sheer profundity of a distinctly presuppositional approach to apologetics directly corresponds to a diminishing view of CA. Until the Christian apologist recognizes the biblical infidelity of an apologetic methodology that wrongly diagnoses man as needing cleverly devised proofs to satisfy “neutral” yet “honest” intellectual-pursuit of God’s existence, it is not likely he will see the biblical faithfulness of an apologetic approach that works within the biblical confines God’s revelation. Far from partisan apologetics, this is a matter of Christian obedience. The extent of the fall as it relates to what mankind lost when our first parents plunged humanity into a state of total depravity must be seen through non-Thomistic, Calvinistic lenses if we hope to apprehend a biblically informed apologetic. (Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:3-18; 1 Corinthians 2:14)
But before getting into a distinctly presuppositional approach to apologetics, first a few words about Evidentialism, which is the short-relief closer for the ace of CA. (It is October, after all! ⚾️) Translation, Evidentialism completes CA.
Induction, the basis for all scientific inference, presupposes the uniformity of nature, which is to say it operates under the expectation that the future will be like past. From a Christian perspective, it is ordinary providence that explains how the scientific method is possible. Therefore, to argue for the miracle of the resurrection according to natural evidence and human experience is “foolish” (Proverbs 26:4). Resurrection is a phenomenon that contemplates an exchange of ordinary providence for the miraculous, which pertains to God working without, above, or against ordinary providence (WCF 5.3).
The resurrection of Christ from the dead is contra-uniform. It does not comport with human experience. Our experience is that people die and are not raised three days later. Also, we have all met plenty of liars and those deceived into embracing false beliefs (even dying for false beliefs!) but nobody living has ever observed a single resurrection of the body. Given the uniformity of nature coupled with personal experience without remainder, a more probable explanation for the empty tomb is a hoax put on by liars rather than a miracle put on by God. (The same reasoning applies even more to the virgin birth I would think.) To ask the unbeliever to seek a supernatural explanation for events that can comport with natural explanations is to not recognize that nobody is presuppositionally neutral.
We do not come to know the Savior lives by examining evidence according to alleged neutral posture, for the facts do not demand the conclusion that Christ has risen. So, at the very least, Christians should not argue from evidence to resurrection lest we deceive by implying that we know Christ lives because of evidence upon which our belief does not fundamentally rest.
When well-meaning Christians remove the extraordinary claim of the resurrection from its revealed soteriological context, the resurrection is anything but credible. Yet, the resurrection is perfectly sensible within the context of things we know by nature and are awakened to by the Holy Spirit working in conjunction with Scripture. Namely, God’s wrath abides upon all men and God is merciful and loving. In the context of man’s plight and God’s character, the preaching of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ can be apprehended as not just credible, but the very wisdom of God. Our full persuasion of the resurrection unto knowledge of the truth is gospel centric. The good news of John 3:16 is intelligible only in the context of the bad news of verses like Romans 1:18-20 and Romans 3:10-20. The former presupposes the latter.
A place for evidence:
Evidence indeed corroborates the resurrection and is useful for the believer within a Christian context of divine love, satisfaction, propitiation, expiation, and reconciliation. Notwithstanding, evidence in the context of man’s natural experience and unaided reason will always and without fail rule out the Christian interpretation of the resurrection evidence. Indeed, it should! There is no presuppositional neutrality by which to interpret the evidence.
For instance, we read in Scripture that a man named Saul who once opposed both Christ and his church became the chief apologist for the Christian faith. The way in which one will interpret the transformation of Saul to Paul will be consistent with one’s pre-commitment(s), which are worldview dependent. Christians take the fanaticism of the apostle as corroborating what they already believe to be true about the resurrection, whereas naturalists will find an explanation for the apostle’s transformation and empty tomb outside the Christian resurrection interpretation. (Even if a naturalist were to subscribe to the resurrection, he’d hold out for the eventuality of a natural explanation as long as he remains a naturalist!) Similarly, the way in which one interprets Joseph Smith’s claims will be according to one’s pre-commitment(s). If one has a pre-commitment to a closed canon, then the claims of Smith’s Mormonism will be deemed false without further evaluation.
Of course, the tomb is empty, for Christ has risen. Of course, the apostle Paul preached the resurrection of Christ with all his heart, soul and strength, for Christ has risen. Of course, the Mormon religion is a cult, for Jesus is the eternal Son of God and the canon is closed. Do we come to know these things by evaluating supposed brute-particulars in an alleged neutral fashion, or are our beliefs already marshaled according to our pre-commitment to God’s special revelation of his love for otherwise condemned sinners? Do the “facts” speak for themselves or has God’s word already exegeted the facts for us in the context of law and gospel?
The only way one ever will savingly embrace Christ’s resurrection is if the Holy Spirit gives increase to the work of the cross as explicated in the context of God’s loving solution to man’s dire dilemma.
The combined error of CA plus Evidentialism (0 + 0 = 0):
Whereas CA errs by denying the biblical contextual reality of God’s revelation and man’s innate knowledge of God, Evidentialism errs by trying to prove a miracle through a process of natural inferences drawn from historical facts. By denying man knows God and that the resurrection is only reasonable in the context of Scripture’s testimony of man’s condition and God’s love for sinners, CA combined with Evidentialism argues for general theism and a mere chance that Christ rose from the grave. Yet even if there is a God and Jesus did rise from the dead, what would be the significance? Well, any significance would have to come from God’s word, which the classical apologist unfortunately establishes as less authoritative than autonomous reasoning.
Apologetics walled in by biblical precepts:
Our apologetic is two-step. We answer the fool according to his espoused presuppositions and in another sense, not according to his espoused presuppositions. For argument’s sake we begin with the presuppositions of unbelief and proceed to expose the stripe of unbelief that is before us according to its arbitrariness and inconsistency. Then, for argument’s sake, we ask the unbeliever to assume the Christian worldview, to see whether it makes sense of human experience. Indeed, we argue for the God of Scripture from the impossibility of the contrary! Equally important, we are to do so in gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15), and never contentiously to win an argument.
The fool must be answered according to his folly of professed unbelief in God’s existence, lest the apologist aids him in appearing wise in his own conceit (Psalm 14:1; Proverbs 26:5). The goal in answering the fool this way is not so that he might believe God exists, for he already knows God exists. The goal is that by showing the foolishness of unbelief the unbeliever will be (a) undressed before the world as the fool he truly is and (b) given no occasion to be wise in his own eyes (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). No credibility may be given to the unbeliever’s agnostic claims and vain presuppositions lest we join him in his foolishness (Proverbs 26:4). Not only must the unbeliever’s foolishness be exposed on its own terms (according to the presuppositions of unbelief); the unbeliever is also not to be answered according to his folly. He is to be answered according to biblical presuppositions. Accordingly, we need an apologetic that shows intelligible experience is impossible without God as revealed in Scripture. This is not a foolish effort to try to prove God exists to those who already know God exists, but to expose unbelief in a way that affords no rational rejoinder. The “proof” is indirect, not direct. It’s force is in rendering every utterance of the unbeliever inconsistent with and contradictory to axioms of unbelief yet intelligible only if the God of Scripture exists. In other words, we demonstrate that any necessary precondition for rejecting God presupposes God.
Given the antithesis between God and man and a desire to honor biblical contextual reality, we turn to Presuppositionalism and transcendental arguments for the existence of God (TAG):
Transcendental arguments (TAs) are deductive arguments in that if the premises are true and the form is valid, then the conclusion must be necessarily true. Furthermore, TAs pertain to preconditions for the possibility of the existence of some basic or common experience. That is, TAs put forth necessary precondition(s) without which a generally accepted experience is unintelligible. Finally, another distinguishing feature of TAs is that preconditions for such basic or common experiences are not learned by experience. The preconditions pertain to what can be known only apart from experience.
In analytic form a transcendental argument may look as follows, [where P is a common experience and Q is a necessary precondition for P, which can be appealed to on an a priori basis (and not according to a posteriori inference)].
Prove Q exists by way of modus tollens:
1. ~Q (Assume the opposite of what we are trying to prove: Assume Q does not exist.)
2. If ~Q –> ~P (If Q does not exist, then P does not exist since Q is a precondition for P)
3. ~~P (It is false that P does not exist – i.e. P does exist.) (Contradiction)
4. ~~Q (It is false that Q does not exist.) (Modus Tollens 2, 3 and 4)
5. Q (Q exists.) (Law of negation)
In other words, for P to exist, Q must also exist since Q is a necessary precondition for P. Since P exists, then so must Q.
Applying the construct to the God of Scripture’s existence:
1. God does not exist
2. If God does not exist, then causality does not exist since God is a precondition for causality
3. It is false that causality does not exist – i.e., causality does exist (Contradiction)
4. It is false that God does not exist. (Modus Tollens 2, 3 and 4)
5. God exists. (Law of negation)
The analytic form of the argument is common and is most often used for non-transcendental arguments. Because TAs are concerned with preconditions for intelligible experience and how reality is, TAs have a unique quality about them both in what is purported as a shared experience among humans as well as the profundity of the transcendental itself. They’re not so trivial as to pertain to arguments such as, if the Eagles did not win Super Bowl LII on Sunday February 4, 2018, there would not have been 700,000 Eagle Fans celebrating an Eagles Super Bowl LII win on Thursday, February 8, 2018 on Broad Street in Philadelphia. There were 700,000 fans celebrating… victory… Therefore, the Eagles won Super Bowl LII.
Although celebration of victory presupposes victory, the Eagles Superbowl experience is not universally shared. Moreover, the argument would rely upon appeals to inferences gained by experience, such as we know from observation that sports fans typically celebrate victories, not losses, and we can witness victory celebrations following victories. Therefore, the form of an argument alone does not make a transcendental argument. Aside from being deductive arguments dealing with preconditions for shared and typically uncontroversial experiences, TAs also incorporate a (transcendental) premise that can be known only a priori. (The Eagles argument fails to be a TA on two out of three counts.)
Similarly, a necessary precondition for death is life but life is not a transcendental relative to death. Death presupposes life is an a posteriori consideration. One’s knowledge that death presupposes life can be appealed to according to empirical observation.
A brief comment about traditional theistic proofs in the context of TAG:
Aside from the fallacious formulations of the traditional arguments for God’s existence (as they have been traditionally formulated), they are not transcendental-oriented. They don’t aim to demonstrate that God is transcendentally necessary for the possibility of, for instance, causality or design. That God is a transcendent first cause does not imply that God is a necessary precondition for the intelligibility of causation. We also might want to address that the unbeliever’s implicit claim on the intelligibility of causation does not comport with his worldview presuppositions (e.g. all that exists is chance acting upon matter over time). Because the unbeliever will not acknowledge a common creator and sustainer of men and things, he works on borrowed capital when operating as if the rational thoughts of the human mind should have any correspondence to the way in which the mind-independent world rationally behaves.
TAG from causality:
Causality presupposes God says more than causality is a sufficient condition for God and that God is a necessary condition for causality. Causality presupposes God implies that God makes causality possible. Since the possibility of causality exists, then so must God. (To argue either way, for or against God, even presupposes God!)
TAG under delivers?:
Some Christians and all professing Atheists will say that TAG does not achieve its goal because not every worldview can be refuted by a single argument. Such a claim demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the scope of transcendental arguments in general and TAG in particular. To deny the success of any particular TAG that is properly formulated is to reject logic and / or biblical truths. It’s also an indicator that one might be confusing proof with persuasion.
The transcendental premise:
As I’ve constructed this particular transcendental argument, the second premise bears all the weight of the argument. So, what about the controversial claim that God is a necessary precondition for causality? We can ultimately defend our knowledge of the premise by appealing to the absolute authority of Scripture. Of course, the unbeliever rejects that authority; nonetheless that the unbeliever is dysfunctional in this way does not mean that an appeal to Scripture is fallacious to justify one’s knowledge of the premise. It is critical at this juncture for the Christian to distinguish for the unbeliever (a) the source of his justification for his knowledge that God makes causality possible, which comes from the Holy Spirit’s work of illumination through the self-authenticating Scriptures, from (b) the proof that God makes causality possible. How we know x is not an argument for x.
Given the unbeliever’s suppression of the truth of Scripture, the presuppositional apologist defends the transcendental premise by performing internal critiques of opposing worldviews, showing that (a) they cannot account for causality etc., while also showing (b) Christianity not only can but, also, that to argue against Christianity presupposes conditions for rationality that are only possible within a Christian revelatory worldview. It would be a mistake, however, to think that such one by one refutations imply that the conclusion of TAG (God exists) and the justification for the transcendental premise rests upon inductive inference. By repeatedly refuting opposing philosophical ideologies the Christian apologist merely acknowledges that the unbeliever refuses to bend the knee to the self-attesting word of God. Since unbelievers will not accept the truth claims of the Bible, the only thing the Christian can do before God and onlookers is refute unworthy and hypothetical competitors, but that hardly implies that a formulation of any given TAG is an inductive argument, or that the transcendental premise within such an argument is inferred only after having successfully refuted a statistically sufficient number of opposing worldviews.
(A common error in apologetics is to confuse proof with persuasion. A brief discussion can be found here.)
What’s a girl to do?:
It has been said that although TAG is a powerful apologetic it under delivers because of the inductive aspect of defending step-2, the transcendental premise. Accordingly, it’s been offered that we can inductively infer that God probably exists. Because of this perceived limitation, some Christian logicians and philosophers have said that TAG only proves a high probability of God’s existence. That a Christians logician would say this is mildly astonishing given that any Christian should affirm the truth of step-2, and any Christian logician recognizes the proof as not just valid but sound. When Christian philosophers offer a similar observation that TAG cannot get beyond the limitations of inductive inference, I have to wonder why it hasn’t occurred to them that God makes inductive inference and probability possible. What makes inductive inference possible is not a conceptual scheme that contemplates the possibility of God’s existence, but rather God’s ontological existence. We don’t infer the probability of God’s existence from induction if God stands behind induction and probability!
God or ~God:
Lastly, we don’t have to refute an “infinite number“ of “explanations” for the intelligibility of causality. Either God is necessary for the intelligibility of causality or not. Those are the only two possibilities given a refutation of the common feature of a non-revelational epistemology. It’s not a matter of God vs Naturalism, Idealism, Atheism, Platonism or any number of X-isms. It’s not a matter of a, b, c…. It’s a matter of a or ~a. God or ~God reduces to ~autonomy or autonomy, where autonomy always reduces to philosophical skepticism. As Greg Bahnsen used to quip, the proof of God’s existence is that without him one couldn’t prove anything! Either God exists or there is no possibility of knowledge and we are consigned to philosophical skepticism. Yet to argue for skepticism (as some have) presupposes non-skepticism, truth and God. Similarly, the assertion that p “it is possible that an undiscovered fact or worldview may be the necessary precondition for intelligible experience” presupposes the intelligibility of actual possibility, which further presupposes God’s existence.
Revelation and demonstrable refutations:
The believer cannot get out from under the fact that he has an infallible word on the subject. Nor should he be embarrassed by the Bible, as if we may not disclose how we know what we know. There can be no meaning if autonomous presuppositions are true; we know that through Scripture, though we demonstrate it by arguing for the internal inconsistencies of any proffered worldview, even showing that their contradictions presuppose God!
We don’t dodge the would-be competitors to God as the unifying source of otherwise brute particulars, the solution to the One And The Many. Bring them on and let’s see if they can make sense of reality, knowledge and ethical absolutes. Let’s compare worldviews to see who can make sense of men and things. As variations of the one non-Christian worldview are refuted one by one, let’s not mistake those refutations as the basis for our knowledge of God’s existence. Rather, let’s recognize those refutations for what they are – a display of what we already know apart from those refutations, that only God (and not autonomous reasoning) can make sense of God’s world.
Exposing the unbeliever’s belief in God according to a biblical contextual reality versus trying to prove god to unbelievers posing as seekers, agnostics and atheists.
In closing, a biblical approach to apologetics does not entail proving God exists in a manner that confers legitimacy upon agnosticism, atheism, sincere seekers etc., let alone does it approve of fastening a dreamy possibility of the resurrection to a vague concept of God or multiple first Causes or Designers that might not still exist. Nor does our apologetic entail a naïveté that is consistent with furnishing a series of uninterpreted particulars that demand an evidentialist verdict of resurrection. Those sorts of apologetic approaches have been shown to betray many biblical truths while fallaciously demanding a verdict that exceeds the scope of the premises. Whereas we have a more sure word of prophecy. (2 Peter 1:19)
No, a biblical approach to apologetics does not try to prove what rebels already know, but rather by reasoning transcendentally our aim is to expose what rebels defiantly deny. By the grace of God, the presuppositional apologist will expose the folly of unbelief by powerfully demonstrating in reductio ad absurdum fashion that even the mere possibility of rejecting God’s existence presupposes God’s existence! A biblical approach to apologetics affords no place for rational rejoinder, unlike medieval Roman Catholic and Arminian approaches to defending the faith, which engage on supposed neutral ground as opposed to common ground that belongs to the Lord.
* Doxastic voluntarism versus God subduing the heart:
It is not as though in conversion the unbeliever chooses to believe God’s word and then by way of reason decides for himself to submit to what he himself has decided to be authoritative. Rather, in biblical conversion God subdues the sinner’s will, causing him to believe and to receive God’s word aright, as intrinsically authoritative. (Then from a recreated posture of belief and submission, the believer can choose to submit to the authority of what Scripture has to say.) Since we don’t choose to accept truth, the converted sinner doesn’t choose to believe and receive God’s word as being authoritative. Instead, by the grace of God the sinner’s rejection of the voice of God is overcome whereby he finally receives it for what it really is, the authoritative Word of God.
As noted above, the unbeliever cannot free himself from his bondage and rebellious stance against God and his word. He is not neutral toward God. He is at enmity with his Maker. And although the apologist needn’t necessarily inform the unbeliever of this rebellion, it is nonetheless something of which the apologist should be aware lest his apologetic methodology suffers.
If God is the being that Scripture claims, then man’s knowledge must correspond to God’s knowledge if there is to be any human knowledge at all. Not only must man’s knowledge correspond with God’s knowledge, Scripture also informs that God makes human knowledge possible. Human knowledge obtains when God enables us to think his thoughts after him on a creaturely level.
Yet when the believer engages the unbeliever on the question of God’s existence, the unbeliever cannot rid himself of his moral rejection of God as a necessary precondition for the very possibility of knowledge. In his professed desire to be objective in his pursuit of the possibility (or actual existence) of some greater truth, he prejudicially dismisses God as the one who makes intellectual pursuit possible! Because of the fall, the unbeliever is anything but neutral in his approach to the question of God’s existence.
It’s never pleasurable to read (i) caricatures, (ii) misunderstandings, (iii) reckless treatment of opposing views and (iv) badly formulated arguments – especially by other Christians. It is pleasurable, however, given such grave misfortune, to read precise interaction with such positions.
One wonderful thing about James’s work is his points of disagreement are always precisely articulated. (My prayer is that people will engage and if warranted change their views. I’ve never known James to bite or gloat.)
This post by Steve, formally at Triablogue, resurfaced recently. I’ll interact with three excerpts that were in the spirit of Steve’s eclectic approach to apologetics, which included at least mild affinity to Evidentialism.
One thing that’s often lost sight of in debates over the Bible is that testimony is prima facie evidential in its own right unless we have reason to doubt it. You don’t need corroborative evidence before testimony can have evidential value.
It is true that one needn’t always have direct corroborating evidence in order to be justified in believing the testimony of a witness. For instance, if a man claims he saw three children board a yellow bus at 8:00 am on a Monday morning in October, I’d be perfectly justified in believing the witness without any direct evidence regarding his trustworthiness. That’s because, as a general rule, people don’t typically lie about common occurrences. So, although I might not know anything about the witness (directly), I do know something about what is normative, and it’s that which indirectly informs me of whether I may rationally believe a stranger’s testimony. The normativity in view pertains not merely to occurrences (school buses picking up children), but also about human nature as it relates to the reliability of innocuous claims.
To take things one step further, it would be irrational to disregard evidential value in such cases. It’s not merely that I shouldn’t disbelieve and try to remain agnostic about such claims. Rather, I should positively believe those sorts of claims. (I’m not giving a nod toward doxastic voluntarism.)
So, there is indirect evidence that pertains not to what is directly perceived about witnesses but rather to what is normative, which in turn informs us (along with other presuppositions) of whether a testimony is credible. That should become more plain once we consider an extraordinary claim.
Unless we have evidence that the witness is a chronic liar, or unless we have evidence that the witness was motivated to lie in this particular case, it’s irrational to discount testimonial evidence.
Really? Let’s continue with our first witness example. If the witness later claimed that the bus turned into a magic dragon and transported the children to a school made of clouds in the sky as they sang a familiar song by a less familiar trio, would it be “irrational to discount [that] testimonial evidence”? In other words, need I have “evidence that the witness is a chronic liar, or…was motivated to lie” in order to reject such testimony for its incredibility? Of course not. I have indirect evidence as it relates to life experiences. I have a worldview that filters out bogus testimony.
In that misogynistic culture, women were regarded as second-rate eyewitnesses. If the Gospels are pious fiction, why would the narrators invent inferior witnesses rather than more culturally credible witnesses?
That argument gets a bit of traction around Easter. One rejoinder is the narrators weren’t clever enough to recognize that they were inventing inferior witnesses. Another is that the narrators were extremely clever and did recognize that they were inventing inferior witnesses! After calculating the risk of using seemingly inferior witnesses, the narrators concluded that there is significant persuasive force in using such witnesses. The logic being that since inferior witnesses would not likely be invented intentionally, people would naturally conclude the witnesses were not invented and, therefore, are all the more credible. (I’m sure I must have seen such a tactic on a Columbo episode.)
Claims about flying school buses and raising the dead will always be sifted through one’s network of presuppositions (i.e. one’s worldview).
Our confidence in the Resurrection is not based in part upon directly knowing the eye-witnesses were not liars or there being no reason to doubt their testimony. Nor is it based in part upon a notion that makes inferior witnesses superior witnesses. Our confidence is tied to presuppositions that pertain to what we deem authoritative and possible, which in the case of Scripture relates to being awakened by grace to certain things we know by nature yet otherwise would continue to suppress in unrighteousness. Read on…
When well-meaning Christians remove the extraordinary claim of the resurrection from its soteriological context, the evidence for the resurrection is anything but credible. Yet, the resurrection is perfectly sensible within the context of things we know by nature and are awakened to by the Holy Spirit working in conjunction with Scripture. Namely, God’s wrath abides upon all men and God is merciful and loving. In the context of man’s plight and God’s character, the preaching of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ can be apprehended as not just credible, but the very wisdom of God. Our full persuasion of the resurrection unto knowledge of the truth is gospel-centric. The good news of John 3:16 is reasonable only in the context of the bad news of Romans 1:18-20 and Romans 3:10-20. The former presupposes the latter.
Lastly, the usefulness of evidence is a matter of inductive inference. As isolated observations and testimonies are synthesized, we arrive at general principles. Since inferences consist of making generalizations based upon specific observations, the principle of induction isn’t terribly useful in trying to draw rational inferences about the miraculous. In other words, induction presupposes uniformity but at the heart of the Resurrection is suspended uniformity.
Of course, there is an apologetic that is aimed to unearth the preconditions for the possibility of induction, but that’s not the point of this blog entry. 😉
Matthew Barrett and Steven Duby set out to defend Natural Theology, but in the final analysis they discuss Natural Revelation as it relates to Natural Knowledge. As early as @5:55 Steven Duby slides into a discussion on the Natural Knowledge of God gained through Natural Revelation (even as it relates to the “pressure” that restrains men in conscience). There is a bit of sliding back and forth between terms (Natural Revelation and Natural Theology) that carries throughout the episode; yet it is merely maintained that all men know God through revelation of himself in nature. Surprisingly, the discussion never touches upon the question of whether man in his fallen and unaided reasoning can construct a Natural Theology of God, let alone a true one, and how such a theology might be defended.
Notwithstanding, it’s a fine introductory presentation of the realty, usefulness and limits of Natural Revelation and Natural Knowledge. I thoroughly enjoyed it! (Seemed like swell guys too!) I dare say Cornelius Van Til, even in his most sanguine moments, would have been delighted by this brief presentation. That said, I’m not prepared to jump on the Natural Theology bandwagon quite yet based upon those delights. Moreover, I’m not quite sure who the target audience was as it relates to persuading people to embrace such an expression of Natural Theology. Certainly not the Reformed, for what was offered was plain vanilla and uncontroversial in the Augustinian tradition with respect to Natural Knowledge through Natural Revelation. Perhaps they targeted some extreme fundamentalists who are opposed to learning anything from unbelieving thinkers? Not sure. Anyway, the discussion was most enjoyable, though Thomists and Arminians might be a bit disappointed because Natural Theology was never explored!
Some possibly related reservations as they relate to apologetics:
Natural Revelation (or General Revelation) indeed teaches us much about God. Without Scripture unregenerate man knows God is all powerful, omniscient, and omnipresent (and other perfections too).
Romans 1 teaches that natural man actually knows God. And not just that all men know God, but that they know the one true and living God, which is why it can be said that all are without excuse. Indeed, men suppress the truth in unrighteousness, but it is the truth they suppress (and not false conceptions of God). In moral and epistemic rebellion, natural man turns the truth he knows into a lie. Without exception, that is universally man’s response to what he knows by nature as he lives in God’s ordered universe. Accordingly, any treatment of the viability of Natural Theology should be placed in that context – man’s twisting and suppression of the truth.
In a defense of Natural Theology it might’ve been interesting to have heard what sort of catholic creed might be formulated by an unconverted fallen race, and how naturally devised theological distinctives, even if it were possible not to fashion them according to minds at enmity with God, could be epistemically justified. After all, even the converted need special revelation to justify the possibility of acquiring knowledge through general revelation. So, aside from the natural distortion of natural revelation, there’s also the justification of knowledge that warrants consideration.
Some further context before addressing some apologetic considerations:
There is knowledge of God that is properly basic. It is apprehended directly (as opposed to discursively), yet not in a vacuum but always through the mediation of created things in the context of providence. Without reasoning from more fundamental or basic beliefs, the unbeliever actually apprehends God in conscience through the things that are made. Man’s knowledge of God is mediated through the external world, but it is apprehended immediately by God’s image bearers apart from argumentation or modest reflection. (It’s not discursive.) This is why Paul can say that all men have this knowledge of the truth. Not all men can follow the argumentation of someone else’s Natural Theology, let alone are capable of formulating their own, but all men directly apprehend God’s Natural Revelation of himself.
Moral considerations regarding Natural Theology as it relates to Classical Apologetics (CA).
To try to prove God exists in order to get someone to believe God exists is to go along with the charade of the fool who has said in his heart there is no God. Engaging the folly of unbelief in this way is to become like the fool (as opposed to properly answering the fool). In short, by not affirming this one foundational apologetic truth that all men know God and are, therefore, without excuse, the employment of CA easily can imply several distinct yet related untruths (by what it omits, if not assumes) in methodological practice.
Before reading on, it’s important to understand that it is only the fool who has said in his heart there is no God. So, naturally, let’s not become like her.
1. It’s seemingly implicit in the employment of CA that God has not plainly revealed himself in creation and conscience through which man knows God exists. After all, why use CA to prove God’s existence unless all aren’t certain God exists?
Many additional untruths are seemingly made implicit by those who don’t recognize and submit to this one truth, that man already knows God.
2. CA would seem to imply that such unbelief is an intellectual matter, not an ethical one. It too easily suggests one needs better arguments in order to become intellectually persuaded of what is already known yet suppressed. The apologetic emphasis is on proof and persuasion, and not the need to gently expose one’s willful, sinful rebellion that manifests itself in a denial of the truth. It focuses on a supposed need for intellectual enlightenment and not an actual need for moral repentance (from denying the God who has made himself known).
3. CA too easily implies that all men are not culpable for denying that God has plainly made himself known. After all, the implicit need of the unbeliever would seem to be intellectual persuasion, not a need to avoid wrath due to rebellion against God who is known a priori.
4. If CA implies man is not culpable, then CA implies God’s injustice, for God would be unjust for punishing those who aren’t culpable.
5. By trying to overcome the unbeliever’s alleged agnosticism or atheism, CA seems to deny that no one seeks after God. Accordingly, CA easily implies that an alleged seeker is not in ethical rebellion while she masquerades in an intellectual pursuit of the answer to whether God exists.
6. CA would seem to imply that God is not a necessary precondition for the possibility of seeking God (and denying God). In other words, CA grants the requisite tools of investigation (common notions) are implicitly neutral ground and not merely common ground that can only be justified if it is first true that God exists.
7. If it’s implied that common ground is neutral ground, then CA implies that there are brute facts that can be interpreted without worldview bias. In other words, it grants that the facts of nature can exegete themselves without any reference to God as sovereign interpreter.
A fun interview with Eli Ayala including an audience “stump the chump” Q&A. Very impromptu to say the least.
I should warn you, I was exhausted and somewhat delirious when interviewed. I probably should not have stepped-in at the last minute, though Eli is too kind to say no to! Truth be told, I was experiencing severe side-effects from a covid vaccine and was having a difficult time staying awake let alone concentrating. 😔
This is a wonderful interview. I highly recommend it.
James Anderson offers a concise synopses of the problem of induction.
I recall as a child being struck by the fact that if a monkey were placed at a typewriter, the chimp would eventually type the works of Shakespeare given enough time.
Soon after becoming a believer it occurred to me that if the unbeliever were consistent with his worldview, which entails pure randomness, he would concede that up until the present moment he had been living in a random slice of time, not unlike that in which a monkey might type the works of Shakespeare. Yet he’d have no rational basis for assuming the future would be like the seemingly ordered past. Salt dissolving in water everyday, just like yesterday, would be as likely as Bonzo typing great literature given the assumptions of unbelief. Little did I know then, I was dealing with the age old problem of induction. (A problem for a non-Revelational epistemology and naturalistic metaphysic.)
But as any astute parlour game aficionado realizes, probability has no memory, (an insight I learned as a young boy from my father as I pondered discrete events). So, if black were to come up on the roulette wheel twenty times in a row, the odds of black coming up a 21st time would still be 50% (if there weren’t two green slots of 0 and 00 on the wheel, and assuming no other anomalies, like the wheel was rigged etc.). We oughtn’t think red is overdue or black is running a hot streak. Given the uniformity of nature, we may expect red and black to occur equally over time and with equal probability at each consecutive spin.
However, the unbeliever can have no such expectation if true to his espoused presuppositions. The unbeliever should no sooner bet on the future results of past science (e.g. a streak of seemingly consistent pattern of salt dissolving in water) than on the pure randomness of non-science, if he were consistent. Bonzo’s uncontrolled predictability is as dependable as the scientific method.
An amusing illustration of interpreting evidence in light of precommitment has to do with a deluded man who thinks he is dead. The doctor tries to persuade the man he is not dead by getting the man to reason according to some other
proposition the dead man also believes, such as: dead men don’t bleed. Therefore, if when pricked with a needle by the doctor blood comes out of the deluded patient, the patient should abandon his belief that he is dead; or so is the doctor’s hope.
We might comprise a simple syllogism that the patient would readily embrace.
1. Dead men won’t bleed when pricked
2. I am a dead man
3. I won’t bleed when pricked
Naturally, when pricked the man bled. Perhaps naively, the doctor thought that after seeing the falsity of 3 his patient would abandon his commitment to 2. Of course he doesn’t. His precommitment to 2, being dead, is too strong. As the illustration typically goes, the patient adjusts his less consequential belief, in this case the major premise. Rather than admit he’s not dead, he is only willing to say, “I guess dead men do bleed.”
Although the illustration serves its purpose, things are often much worse in real life. Fortunately or unfortunately (depending upon one’s perspective) people don’t readily adjust their beliefs like that. A person who is committed to 2 would not likely forgo 1 that quickly. He needs 1 to help convince him of 2. Sadly, people can cultivate denial without having to modify previous beliefs. With enough practice, people can become quite skilled in denial as it relates to commitment to false beliefs, especially when the beliefs strike at how one defines himself or herself.
As we saw, instead of being persuaded by blood from a pinprick, the person who is committed to being dead may feel the need to maintain his commitment to 1 too. If so, he will not adjust his reasoning as it relates to his major premise according to the evidence of blood. In other words, he will not deny his major premise and concede that dead men do bleed. Rather, he may “rationally” try to maintain 1 as he goes deeper into denial but in another direction. He can manipulate the evidence that is against him rather than adjust 1 according to his undeniable blood. From this posture he can dismiss the evidence in one of two ways. He can believe that it is blood, but not his blood, or else he can believe that red fluid came from his corpse but that it’s not blood at all!
We sadly see this sort of thing all to often in many areas of life. So to speak, there are people who don’t acknowledge and assent to the evidence of their own blood. They don’t adjust their thinking to allow for the reality of their own blood (e.g. “I guess dead men do bleed” or more hopefully, “I’m not dead!”) but instead they assent to the evidence, then manipulate and deny the force of the evidence itself. Both entail denial. One denies that dead men don’t bleed. The other denies either (a) blood or (b) that the blood is his blood.
We see this with theological beliefs as well. Let’s take Roman Catholicism and its adherents as our example but we could just as easily look at beliefs held by certain Protestants and their inconsistent practices.
Roman Catholicism stands or falls upon her claim of being the true church. If one RC doctrine can be shown to be false, Rome falls along with it. Again with a simple syllogism, like above, the goal is to expose the falsity of 3, which in turn undermines 1 or 2.
1. The true church is infallible
2. Rome is the true church
3. Rome is infallible
If 3 is false, then 1 or 2 can be true but not both.
Yet if Roman Catholicism stands or falls upon her two claims of 1 and 2, then the falsity of 3 is sufficient to falsify her claim upon 2 but not the stand-alone proposition entailed by 1 (or even 2).
Like we did with the dead men won’t bleed syllogism, the theological physician might try to show a doctrinal error within Rome (thereby refuting 3) in the hope of getting her friend to abandon her position on Rome (particularly 2). But when confronted with doctrinal error within Rome rarely will a RC say, “I guess the true church is fallible.” Like the patient, they typically dig in deeper.
In the face of even obvious error that exposes Rome’s infallibility claims as false, RCs typically deny something of the doctrinal propositional error under consideration rather than the lynchpin of 2. In other words, RCs deny their doctrinal error (some RC doctrine, p) as in fact RC error. They typically do this one of two ways. Either (a) the proffered error is regarded by the RC as the Protestant’s misinterpretation of Rome’s position; consequently the doctrinal proposition is false but not Rome because she doesn’t affirm it. Or else we see (b), the RC will claim that the doctrinal error is not error at all. An example might be useful. Rome errs by teaching p* justification is by at least some element of works. A RC who has been heavily influenced by evangelicals may deny Rome has erred on justification; instead she will assert that Protestants have erred in their understanding of Rome’s position on justification. Such RCs deny the truth of p*. They want their cake and to eat it too. Whereas a more devout RC, one who remains uninfluenced by evangelicals, will also deny Rome has erred, but instead she will assert that justification indeed does entail meritorious works. She affirms p* and (unlike the other RC) denies that p* is error. Both type RCs maintain 1-3. They differ in that they either deny the relevance of the evidence against Rome or else deny the direct falsifying impact of the evidence. They either deny the proposition reflects Rome’s teaching or else deny the proposition is false. They deflect and deny or else deny head-on.
Full circle, rather than conceding dead men bleed, we can be left with other forms of denial – “that’s not my blood” or “it’s my red bodily fluid but it’s not blood.”
If we substitute blood for false doctrine…
The first RC scenario is analogous to, p* is doctrine, it’s just not Rome’s doctrine. The second RC scenario is analogous to, p* is Rome’s doctrine, it’s just not false doctrine.
Whereas beliefs have consequences, false commitments held tenaciously over time (often for self-preservation) can lead to devastating results. Beliefs spill over to all of life, especially core beliefs (or presuppositions).