Why Argue Presuppositionally?

Posted: August 9, 2014 in General Presup Issues
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Debates about God and Christian theology get complex. This is all the more reason for the lay-apologist to utilize presuppositional apologetics.

While debating atheists last night, I heard an attempted internal critique of Christian theology. One atheist argued that if God was immutable as most Christian theologians believe (meaning, if God is eternally unchanging) then it would be impossible for Him to have created anything.

This is undesirable for the Christian because it (supposedly) puts us on the horns of a dilemma; either we must give up the doctrine of Immutability, or we could do (as the atheist wants) and admit that “creation” has existed eternally (thus vindicating his materialist worldview, which requires the material universe, in some state or other, to be eternally existent).

The non-presuppositionalist would try to answer this theological argument head on. They’ll turn to Google and find the latest and greatest philosophy of religion and rigorously seek out complex philosophical quips that might allow them to reconcile immutability with creation.

Whatever they find, they will ultimately get bogged down in a difficult philosophical debate and the atheist will imply that Christianity is indefensible.

As presuppositionalists however, we aren’t kind enough to allow the atheist this luxury.

Instead, we end the debate by offering presuppositional arguments:

“We’ll gladly discuss this with you”, we say, “but before we do, the two of us must first come to some sort of agreement on which conceptual scheme we’ll be presupposing in order to have the conversation to begin with.”

In other words, the only way to even have a discussion about Christian theology is if we first grant the truth of Christian theology (even if only hypothetically, for the sake of argument)!

In this way, the Atheists, who wish to utilize logical argumentation, must either accept Christianity at the outset (for the sake of having the discussion) or give a non-Christian account of “logical argumentation”.  In either case, before we take their criticisms seriously, they must provide us a rational reason to do so.

Think about it this way:  the atheist is making the following claim…

“immutability is inconsistent with creation”.

Before we take this claim seriously, we must first assume the legitimacy of logical laws.  If logical laws were not legitimate (if they say nothing true about the world), then why would it matter if “x” is inconsistent with “y”?  It wouldn’t).

The atheist assumes the Christian will naively grant him the authority to make use of such things (as logic) in order to make his criticism.  But outside the context of a Christian conceptual scheme, I’m not sure how we would be justified in utilizing things like laws of logic to begin with.  In fact, that’s exactly the claim of the Presuppositionalist:  without Christianity, you can’t even reason (1).

This is the superior argumentative method; not only does it honor God (because we never forsake Him during the debate), it doesn’t give the atheists the opportunity to lob complex philosophical questions at us, one after the other. If we let them do that to us, they will, eventually, throw something at us we’re not ready (off the top of our heads) to refute, and they strut around as if they defeated Christianity.

Arguing presuppositionally, however, ends their debate before it even begins.


(1):  To illustrate this, imagine the following scenario:

Suppose you are arguing with a man who believes that the universe is completely illogical.  He believes every one of his experiences are capricious, spontaneous, uncaused, and irrational.

Imagine then, if this man tried to offer logical arguments for some claim or other.

We would be well within our rights to say:  “pardon me sir, but given the truth of your worldview, you wouldn’t be able to make logical arguments, as you believe logic is impossible”.

In order for him to even have an argument, he would have to give up the truth of his worldview, and accept a worldview which makes sense out of things like “argumentation” to begin with.

In the same way, Christian presuppositionalists demand that the atheist, before using logic, prove that he has a worldview capable of allowing for things like logic to begin with.

This is only reasonable.  If we are to take an assertion seriously, it must be justified.

  1. Presuppositionalism relies on claims without evidence to support them. One need only watch Sye Ten Bruggencate’s opening argument against Matt Dillahunty to see how silly it is. If you want to convince atheists that you’re right, don’t argue presuppositionally. If you just want to frusterate people so that you don’t have to have an honest debate, go right ahead and keep using it.


  2. Aaron says:

    Presuppositionalism relies on claims without evidence to support them.

    This is a claim without good evidence supporting it …

    One need only watch Sye Ten Bruggencate’s opening argument against Matt Dillahunty to see how silly it is.

    Considering most of Sye’s opening consisted of Dillahunty’s own words, I can agree. The content was “silly”. Sye’s savage criticisms of Dillahunty however, were not. They were devastating. It’s no wonder Dillahunty left the debate in a huff claiming he’d “never debate Sye again.”

    If you want to convince atheists that you’re right, don’t argue presuppositionally.

    For someone presuming to lecture us about Presuppositional apologetic methodology, you seem uneducated about the theological mechanisms driving it. As Calvinists, we don’t presume to “convince” anyone – that’s the Holy Spirit’s job. By the way, Sye mentioned this (a few times) in the Dillahunty debate (during the q’n’a if I recall). Guess you missed that part?

    If you just want to frusterate people so that you don’t have to have an honest debate, go right ahead and keep using it.

    Admittedly, atheists get frustrated when their pat talking-points are systematically deconstructed, but that doesn’t mean the methodology is “dishonest”. Besides, before we can evaluate what is and isn’t “honest”, we must first determine what sort of situation we’re in metaphysically and decide on a series of other relevant factors (ie: will we be realists or anti-realists about values, what is the ontological status of propositions, do other minds exist, etc. etc. etc.).

    Thanks for being the first ever commenter on Van Tillian Fire …next time try commenting on the actual article, eh?


  3. Josh Illian says:

    Why again must the non-presuppositionalist grant the presuppositionalist that logic is only available to the Christian position? Could it not be argued that logic — the assertions of propositional truth claims exist in a properly basic manner?


    • Aaron says:

      Hi Josh. Thanks for reading my blog and being one of the first ever commenters.

      When we talk about “properly basic” beliefs, we’re usually operating on an “externalist” epistemological model where the states of affairs that warrant a belief (b) lie outside the cognitive process of the subject (in all but trivial ways).

      As such, we’re stuck having to evaluate the metaphysical environment being proposed. Consider the illustration in the article (in footnote 1) about the man who believes our metaphysical environment is capricious, with no causation of events and therefore, no logic. I hope you can see that even if he arbitrarily asserts that “logic is properly basic”, this belief would be in stark contradiction with the rest of his worldview. He either has to give up his crazy metaphysical view (about a capricious universe) or give up his view that logic is properly basic.

      All atheists I know of are in a similar situation.

      Even if they hold to an externalist epistemology and claim belief in logic is “properly basic”, their metaphysics make this an impossibility. They either must give up their metaphysics (which they have strong emotional ties to), or they have to give up logic (which they cannot do without reducing themselves to absurdity).

      Why do atheist metaphysical schemes not allow for “logic” to be “properly basic”? Well, there are many critiques we might offer here. The arguments can get quite complex. Further, since there are various different Atheist metaphysical programs, we’ll have to end up critiquing each separately. But, in general, Van Til was fond of pointing out the problem of the ‘one and the many’. Simply put – the atheist is in the situation of having to both affirm that the universe is static and unchanging (allowing for logical laws), while at the same time, constantly changing (allowing for time and motion). Other presuppositionalists have argued more in-depth (like the recent Anderson / Welty article: The Lord of Non-Contradiction).

      If you’re interested in an analytical treatment of “logic” from a Van Tillian perspective (a polemic demonstrating why Logic presupposes God), I’d strongly recommend Anderson / Welty’s article.

      Thanks again for the comment, and I hope I’ve scratched where you’re itching.


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