CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

I received an email from an evangelical named Mark. He had a good question about a Cadre post.
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I have a question for the blogger of The "Begging The Question Fallacy" Fallacy.

Firstly, I would like to say that I’m an evangelical Christian.

My question is this: Christian presupposition apologetics presupposes God and shows that one cannot make sense of the universe without doing so. Why can one not simply presuppose reason, and whatever else he might need to make sense of the universe, without indeed presupposing God? If you ask “what basis do you have for presupposing reason” I will answer, the same basis you have from presupposing God.

How does one get away from this?

Thanks

Mark
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Mark,

I will shorten your question to, "why can one not simply presuppose reason without indeed presupposing God?"

Because you would have attempted to ground your epistemology (theory of knowledge) in epistemology. Your theory of knowledge must be grounded in a metaphysic (view of reality). Simply starting with reason as the basis of knowledge does not offer a sufficient answer for the preconditions that make knowledge possible. How does "reason" connect to reality?

I realize that philosophical materialists do this all the time anyway. They start off assuming reason and move on from there. The flaw in Christian apologetics, according to the Reformed apologists (like Van Til, Clark, Bahnsen, Frame, Pratt etc), is when the Christian apologist gives in and makes the same mistake. If you do this, then man's reason becomes the ultimate authority for truth. You, in essence, start with the presupposition that reason is, was, and always will be ... and the task is to prove that faith in God is reasonable. The Christian apologist then sets about building his case for why faith in God makes sense. The Reformed apologists argue that this is putting reason above God instead of the other way around. It does not properly recognize that the laws of reason are part of the creation. That is the crux of their beef. It is all about where you start.

Let me make a plug here for a free online book called Faith Has Its Reasons by Dr. Boa and Dr. Bowman. Download it and read the following word documents : boa_faith_13.doc, boa_faith_14.doc, boa_faith_15.doc, boa_faith_16.doc. It is well written and captures the main thrust of Reformed Apologetics. I cannot recommend it strongly enough.

17 comments:

Um, not the same Pratt as myself. {g} I'm not a theological presuppositionist, as will soon be apparent (if it wasn’t already).

{{Because you would have attempted to ground your epistemology (theory of knowledge) in epistemology.}}

I think you meant 'ground your metaphysic in epistemology (a theory of knowledge)'. Which incidentally isn't what happens either; the epistemology is still grounded in a metaphysic, but it's an extremely basic one (law of noncon, etc.)

While it's true there's a strong risk of trying to justify the reliability of reason using a presumption of reason's adequate reliability, a careful metaphysician won't do this, recognizing the fallacy involved. (It wouldn’t be strictly invalid, but it would be merely circularly valid.)

This admittedly leaves open a loophole of sorts for the opponent to try to take--I've seen opponents try it myself!--but the loophole is more like a noose. {g} If they deny the presumption of adequate reasoning capability, they shoot any argument of their own out of the sky, including their own rebuttal attempt.

Also, there is an important distinction between the action of reason and the state of knowledge, and again the careful AfR proponent will keep that distinction in mind and not conflate the two.


{{I realize that philosophical materialists do this all the time anyway. They start off assuming reason and move on from there.}}

Yes, and if they kept their presumption without trying to deny it later when that looks to be convenient, they'd be theists pretty quickly. {g}

The problem isn't their starting point. The problem is their sloppy reasoning.

{{If you [start off assuming reason and move on from there], then man's reason becomes the ultimate authority for truth.}}

Actually, Reformed apologists start off assuming the possible adequacy of their own reasoning capabilities, too. Otherwise they wouldn’t be able to make any _argument_ from a presumption of Christian metaphysics! Nor could they draw any conclusions at all from scripture; which, unless they’re sheerly positing the Christian doctrine set from their own invention, is where they usually claim they’re deriving that doctrine set. {s} I suppose God could be telling them the doctrine set directly, and _then_ they’re going to scripture; but aside from the fact that most Reformed apologists don’t claim prophetic status, even that revelation depends on the receiver presuming that his own reason is being possibly accurate at understanding the revelation enough to communicate it along.

We’re rational animals; when being rational (sometimes we’re irrational, too), we always start from where we are and then go forward upon the data we find. If in doing so we discover, one way or another, (evaluation of claimed revelation or metaphysical analysis or whatever), that God is the ultimate authority for truth, then by tautology it means we aren’t. {s}

Or, putting it more colorfully:

{{You, in essence, start with the presupposition that reason is, was, and always will be}}

After which the reasonable man discovers pretty quickly that whatever this Reason (or Logos) might be, it ain’t him. {g} Soon after which, if he follows this line of reasoning out, he’s now at supernaturalistic theism instead of (perhaps) only naturalistic theism. (God exists, and not-God exists; and the not-God entity, i.e. himself, is clearly dependent on something other than himself for his existence, ultimately on the sentient Independent Fact of reality--which doesn’t seem to be Nature.)

It’s a further question whether the man will agree and seek to cooperate with God; at _that_ point, if he doesn’t, he will be trying to put himself above God instead of the other way around. But the reasonable man, so long as he _is_ in fact following the Logos Whom he has discovered is the Light of men, will quickly conclude that this would be an ethical breech against God.

JRP

Opps--breach, not breech. (I think...)

Thanks Jason.

Have you read Boa and Bowman’s four chapters on this topic? If not, I recommend it. Your criticisms and the rejoinders to your criticisms are covered in there. I direct the interested reader to go get this free material and interact with it.

What I really like about the rest of the book is that it juxtaposes all of the major apologetic approaches and discusses strengths and weaknesses of each approach. It is a worthy read for anyone who really gets into apologetics.

DT,

Yes, I am familiar (from long experience) with Reformation presuppositionalism. No, I had not read B&B’s specific text, but nothing in the four (long) chapters you referenced was any news to me about its characteristics and methodologies.

Also, my criticisms of the methodology, and my complaints about how the kind of methodology Mike is talking about are misrepesented by proponents of the Ref-presup methodology, were not covered in any of those four chapters (13-16); much less were rejoinders (per se) made there to my criticisms and complaints. In effect, then, I have already ‘interacted’ with it above, though very briefly (and admittedly incompletely.)

The Reformed presuppositionalist position _is_ reported at very admirable length and accuracy (I think), in those chapters, including minor variations; but only miniscule interaction seems to be present with critiques and complaints about the methodology. Nothing specifically was answered _in rejoinder to_ the material in my comment. The closest thing to even mentioning one of my critiques, so far as I found, appears to be the report of Diehl’s analysis of a particular argument of Van Til’s, on pages 13-14 of chp 15 (with maybe Craig’s response to Frame’s essay presenting a presup approach. Frame’s reply might be tentatively considered to be a rejoinder of some sort, perhaps, but the result as presented looks ambiguous.)

In fairness, I will add that I would have been surprised (in hindsight) to see that kind of interaction in the chapters as given; B&B are reporting the positive position and character of the apologetic method, and how its proponents apply it in various ways, as part of a larger report and classification. (The project seems similar to an expanded version of Nieburh's _Christ and Culture_, in that regard.) Even though the material runs close to 70 pages of closely-formatted Word-doc, that kind of rejoinder to criticism and complaints isn’t something I should have been expecting--it isn’t that kind of presentation.

If B&B are presenting a synthesis of approaches, or even merely a juxtaposed comparison, in their latter chapters (which you seem to be saying is the case), then that would be where I would (now) more likely expect to see crits and complaints about what the proponents of the positions are doing, and possibly some reported rejoinders from the proponents then, too.

But I've plowed through enough small font this afternoon, looking for the rejoinders you said were there, and I'm hungry; so that'll have to wait until later. {g} I'm certainly curious about what they're doing in the rest of the book, though, fwiw.

JRP

Sorry, that should've been Mark, not Mike. {g} 70ish pages of well-formatted-but-small-font text will do that do me...

I'll look over the final chapters this weekend, probably, with an expectation that criticisms similar to what I brought up will be mentioned there with rejoinders (since you report rejoinders are in the book somewhere.)

In case I wasn't complimentary enough, I want to reiterate again that the four chapters I read _are_ an admirably full exposition of the position (including its history) and how its proponents apply it to various cases. I certainly would recommend those four chapters to anyone who is interested in reading such a thing.

JRP

Hats off to you Jason for reading the chapters. I'll go back and poke around and find where I thought they addressed your concerns about logic. If I am mistaken and FHIR doesn't address it directly, then I'll pull Pratt or Van Til off the shelf and dig it out of there. You deserve that much.

FWIW, I don't like to invest time debating other Christians about apologetics. I would rather engage non-Christian thought in the marketplace of ideas than take on fellow Christians and debate whose apologetic approach is more sound.

That said, you are obviously hungry for this and have raised good points. I think BK is interested as well. Perhaps the three of us will benefit.

Have a great weekend!

to boil your answer down to a statement, it seems that one cannot presuppose reason, because doing so is not sufficient. It does not tie into reality and knowledge. All i have is reason without knowledge.

Fair enough, however, what prevents someone from presupposing whatever it is he/she needs to make this world intelligble. For example, i can presuppose reason, i can presuppose that my senses are mostly accurate, that time exists, the nature is uniform (it has laws) and whatever else it is i need.

How is this not the same as presupposing the God of the bible?

Mark

{{FWIW, I don't like to invest time debating other Christians about apologetics. I would rather engage non-Christian thought in the marketplace of ideas than take on fellow Christians and debate whose apologetic approach is more sound.}}

I certainly sympathize with that. And yet... {looking at the topic of the original post}{which to me looks like an investment of time debating another evangelical Christian about soundness of respective apologetic approaches}

Mark,

I think it is less a question of what a person _can_ presuppose, and more of a question of what everyone _is_ presupposing whenever anyone does any argument at all. Much of the thrust of Reformation apologetics (and strongly represented in the chapters DT reffed), is that there is not any and _cannot be_ any common ground between a believer and an unbeliever that is relevant to theological beliefs (at least; though it looks to me like the principle could be easily carried into absurdity if applied as far as its scope would seem to allow). This challenges the whole notion of evangelism at all, on our part; certainly it totally divorces (in any logically coherent fashion) any role of 'apologetics' per se in evangelism.

On the other hand, common presumptions being made by anyone for any argument would, by tautology, allow for recognition of common ground for discussion and communication, thus for evangelism--and if indeed the belief to be evangelized about is superior in quality, then it ought to be possible to bring this out in the consequent discussion. The Logos enlightens _everyone_ who is coming into the world, according to GosJohn. There ought to be common ground for discussion on religious matters as a comparison for belief, I think; and the presupposition that a proponent may possibly reason accurately to a conclusion, looks to me to be the golden presumption to begin building communication across beliefs--if both parties will agree to take the common bridge. (If not, then by tautology there cannot even be any argument; thus not even any apologetics worthy of the term, aside from merely making sheer ungrounded assertions at each other in a competition of worldviews.)

JRP

Mark,

Romans 1 tells us that everyone knows of God's existence ... the problem is not a lack of knowledge, the problem is one of suppressing the knowledge we already have. So I don't think the Bible leaves room for the possibility that man is born without any knowledge or presupposition of God at all.

re: "All i have is reason without knowledge."

I think a better way to state it is all you have is an assertion of reason with no basis or conditions for reason to be valid. That is just like asserting objective morality exists without stating the basis for objective morality or why it exists.

The answer to your question is, nothing prevents someone from stating baseless assumptions. One could state that they assume life is all a dream to try to make life more intelligible, for instance.

That said, we have the right to challenge each other's stated assumptions. What I usually find is that when I challenge an assumption, it reveals a person's authority in life.

Let me ask you this, what should be the Christian's authority? Reason? Or Revelation?

A second question I would like to ask, why are you interested in asking about presuppositions? What circumstances are prompting this inquiry?

Blessings.

DT,

{{Romans 1 tells us that everyone knows of God's existence ...}}

Leaving aside the contextual observation that Paul was talking about a certain type of religious pagan, not about atheists: I agree that God is communicating with everyone to at least some minimal degree that the person can recognize as being crucially important, even if not strictly recognize that God is communicating thereby. (I could adduce Romans 2 along this line, for example, since you mentioned the Romans epistle. This was in fact why I mentioned John 1, earlier.) Furthermore I agree that trying to go against even this minimal light the person has, is a sin, regardless of whether the person recognizes the source of the light or knows anything doctrinally about it. I’ll be covering this presently, across numerous entries, coming up in the Eth&t3rdPers series, not-incidentally. (Though it’ll be another entry or two before I get to the topic.)

What is being suppressed, though, need not be anything so specific as ‘knowledge that God per se exists’, much less the full range of Christian doctrine. I say this, not for purposes of exoneration, but knowing full well that this widens the scope of the sin against the light; something I do not exclude myself from either. In the final analysis any sin is a sin against the light, including the sins I myself still commit on occasion. I am in the same boat as any other sinner--which come to think of it is also one of Paul’s points in the first half of the Romans epistle (though I think he draws more hope from that than most other theologians would agree with. {g})

{{I think a better way to state it is all you have is an assertion of reason with no basis or conditions for reason to be valid.}}

True; no assertion of itself can be considered valid--or invalid either. Assertions per se are not logical reasoning, though they can be rational actions (properly speaking I would affirm that any assertion is a rational action and without rational action there can be no assertioning being made); and conclusions can be treated as assertions.

Which is different from discovering that I am necessarily making the assertion anyway, no matter what argument I attempt to make. The zero point is where I am standing--but I might discover that (as I put it in my novel, incidentally) a point does not even exist without the sheer gracious postulation of something more real than the point is.

If it comes to assertions with no basis or conditions for making the assertion, though, it seems to me that the Reformed presuppositionalists are trying to have it both ways. This is amply reflected in those four chapters, too: full Christian doctrine is proposed as the starting point for all reasoning, in an avowedly groundless fashion, _and_ this doctrine set is supposed to have been derived from the authoritative witness of Scripture. I can grant the latter without much problem, but then I have to deny the former, after which I am left looking for another presumption being put into play initially by the presup-apologist. (Van Til famously tries to get out of this by appealing to ‘glorious circularity’, as I recall.)

{{That said, we have the right to challenge each other's stated assumptions.}}

Not that I deny this, but if the methodology for doing so boils down to raw assertioning at each other, especially with an overt denial that there can be any possible common ground on the topic, then I consider the ‘challenging’ to be useless, aside from maybe assauging my own ego or sense of safety. Such a process cannot lead to truth, and sooner or later tends to involve denying that it is even possible to arrive at truth. Once we’re at that point, I’d just as soon go play Warhammer 40K. {g}

{{Let me ask you this, what should be the Christian's authority?}}

For what it’s worth, I myself answer: God, Who acts to give me my reasoning ability in various fashions, and expects me to use it responsibly as a little authority myself--a little author who should learn to love the Big Author. {s} Who Himself, as an Author, Authoritatively reveals by acting, too.

But this presupposes a person _already_ accepts significantly large chunks of Christian doctrine to be true. It totally avoids the grounds for so accepting. And unless we’re talking about mere brainwashing, where some person forces another person to think a certain way, then that arrival at belief is going to be done by the person using that person’s reasoning ability. Otherwise, we're only talking about puppets, not about real boys and girls (nor even about puppets who have been brought to life but aren't boys and girls in their granted nature just yet.)

JRP

From what i understand philosophers like Van Til argue for the existence of God by showing that unless God is presupposed life is untelligible. It is this argument that i'm interested in exploring.

Why can i not presuppose things other than God that make life intelligible (such as reason, time, etc.)?

Thanks

Mark

{{From what i understand philosophers like Van Til argue for the existence of God by showing that unless God is presupposed life is untelligible. It is this argument that i'm interested in exploring.}}

For what it's worth, so long as the methodology is kept to a system-check of a proposed hypothesis, or even expanded into a system-check duel (so to speak), I don't really have any problem with the method. I have a problem with the extreme lengths its proponents have often tried to take the method to, however (including VT). A system-check, or even a system-check duel, doesn't provide the kind of surety the hyper-proponents are after; and those four chapters are fairly clear that the project was designed from its inception to be a sure-fire no-remotest-risk-of-defeat-at-all way of 'saving' the faith in the (perceived) ruins of natural theology in the 19th century. In order to do this, the method has to be transmuted into a deductive argument (also explicitly illustrated in those four chapters, btw); but the only way to completely ensure a deductive argument arrives at the ideology one wants to protect, is to build that ideology in from the outset as a premise and then make a circular argument.

Technically it's a valid and even deductively valid thing to do, but... {shrug} It's also functionally indistiguishable from sheerly asserting the premise and just stopping there.

The system-check duel, which can be a fair-enough thing in itself, thus devolves into a mere challenging of assumptions by competitive assertioning. _That's_ what I reject.

JRP

Mark,

For a treasure trove of thought on the transcendental argument, check out : http://www.vantil.info/bysubject.html


Now, I think you may not be using presupposition the way that Van Til did.

According to John Frame, Van Til used presupposition to mean:

1) a belief that precedes other beliefs; (2) a belief that governs
other beliefs; (3) ultimate presupposition: the belief that governs all other
beliefs, or the most fundamental commitment of the heart.

So, given that definition, what presupposition would support a starting point of reason in a universe without the existence of the triune God?

[[Now, I think you may not be using presupposition the way that Van Til did.

According to John Frame, Van Til used presupposition to mean:

1) a belief that precedes other beliefs; (2) a belief that governs
other beliefs; (3) ultimate presupposition: the belief that governs all other
beliefs, or the most fundamental commitment of the heart.]]

I'm not sure which of these it would fit under but I would say it would go under number 3.

[[So, given that definition, what presupposition would support a starting point of reason in a universe without the existence of the triune God?]]

I have no pressupposition that would support a starting point of reason. The validity of Reason is itself the ultimate starting point. Van Til argues that scripture is the ultimate starting point. Why can't one argue that Reason along with whatever else he needs to make life intelligle is his starting point. What's to say that scripture is a better starting poing?

There are only two starting points available to you. a) God b) not God.

The materialist has chosen b) as the state of things.

So ... the ultimate presupposition of reality is matter in motion.

How does matter in motion form the basis for rationality and reason? How does it form the basis for time?

Forget starting point a) ... remember, we are taking the materialist's presupposition seriously. All you have is matter in motion ... explain how that is a basis for reason? Explain how that is a basis for the law of uniformity? Or the laws of thought? Or the basis for beauty? Or the basis for good? Or the basis for personality? Or any of the things the materialist wants you to assume.

Continue to point this out. Continue to try to take his worldview and its fundamental commitments about reality seriously and see if they are livable.

If they are not livable, then he must be borrowing capital from your worldview to make his case. This needs to be pointed out.

{{There are only two starting points available to you. a) God b) not God.

The materialist has chosen b) as the state of things.}}

I think I missed a jump somewhere. I thought you were complaining earlier that the materialist was starting his argument with the presumption that he could possibly reason accurately to a conclusion. {checking title of the OP again}{which wasn't "Is It Valid To Start With Non-Rational Behavior Not Being Engaged In By The Thinker Himself?" or anything like that}

I certainly agree that if the materialist really was starting with 'non-rational matter in motion' as his presumption for doing any argument, then he'd be in serious trouble very quickly--but I don't think any materialist is really doing this, any more than I think any religious presuppositionalist is really starting with God (much less the totality of Christian doctrine, which is what VT and others are claiming to start with) as their presumption for doing any argument.

On the other hand, if the materialist is starting with Reason (one way or another)--which incidentally seemed to be what you were complaining about earlier--and then tries to make this square with a conclusion (or even secondary assumption) about atheism being true (naturalistic or otherwise), then I think he's going to run into exactly the problems you mentioned, too. And I don't think he's going to be able to get past this except by fudging.

JRP

re: "I thought you were complaining earlier that the materialist was starting his argument with the presumption that he could possibly reason accurately to a conclusion."

I was complaining that he can't use reason as his starting point because it is not available to him to do so ... his actual starting point is matter in motion (i.e. option b) ) ... starting with reason is cheating (actually, it is stealing from your WV and mine )

The materialist can use logic because the triune God exists, created and sustains the universe we live in, and created you, me and the materialist in his image ... and rationality is part of the imago dei ... so yes, the materialist can use logic and make arguments on that basis.

re: "On the other hand, if the materialist is starting with Reason (one way or another)--which incidentally seemed to be what you were complaining about earlier--and then tries to make this square with a conclusion (or even secondary assumption) about atheism being true (naturalistic or otherwise), then I think he's going to run into exactly the problems you mentioned, too. And I don't think he's going to be able to get past this except by fudging."

Fudging ... or more accurately, stealing from someone else's worldview ;-)

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