Archive for the ‘Apologetic Articles’ Category

Some youtube atheist has made a video called “Five Stupid Things about Presuppositional Apologetics”. (Thanks to my friend Taylor Watkins for bringing this to my attention).

I’ll briefly reply to each:

Reason 1: The truth of its first premise cannot be demonstrated.

He’s wrong to say we don’t argue that God is the *only* possible precondition of intelligibility. We argue this in three ways. 1) It’s taught in Scripture. 2) It’s a necessary deduction from theological truths which are also taught in Scripture. And 3) We demonstrate this by challenging unbelievers to prove it wrong – and none of them can. The best atheist philosophers admit that they cannot account for human intelligibility, even though they might hem and haw about it.  (For example, check out Ernest Sosa’s article on “Epistemic Circularity”.  See also Barry Stroud’s article “Skepticism, Externalism, and the Goal of Epistemology”, where he notes that, even on an externalist model of warrant, he would still have intuitive doubts about his knowledge claims.  Many more examples could be provided).

Reason 2: Its proponents remove themselves from the problem of perception.

We (as presuppers) do NOT “excuse ourselves” from the problem of perception. We point out that the unbeliever cannot solve problems with the philosophy of perception, then we show them how our worldview *can* solve the problems. The author of the vid is ignorant of how Christians justify empirical methods. Additionally, does he seriously raise the “God could be lying” argument? If God *was* willing to lie to us, then the author would be right in suggesting that Christians would be in the same epistemological boat as an unbeliever…but then again, he wouldn’t be critiquing Christianity. He’d be critiquing some non-Christian belief-system that teaches that God is able and willing to lie.  For a definitive “savaging” of the “God might be lying” argument, see my article here.

Reason 3: Its proponents claim to know what everyone else knows.

We *do* know what all humans believe about God because God (a valid and relevant authority) has told us. Additionally – given an atheistic view of philosophy, they have to surmount the philosophical problem of “personal identity”. In other words, they’re not even able to consistently claim that they know their own first-person subjective feelings or mental states. (This lead atheist philosophers like David Hume to posit a “bundle theory” of mind, where a series of unrelated, disjointed experiences seem to be “bundled” together in one mind, and that’s what we call “I” or “me”…but we have no reason to think these experiences are at all related.)  How can they say, with any authority, what they do or don’t know?  None of us has any good reason to believe them when they comment on their own mental states.

Reason 4: It shifts the burden of proof.

We shift the burden of proof?

While the author might be right to suggest that some presuppers (who don’t know the method very well yet) have tried to fallaciously “shift” the burden, in reality, we’re not shifting the burden. We’re suggesting that atheists who make positive claims need to shoulder the burden of proof and explain to us why we ought to accept their claim.

If an atheist says: “Jesus never existed” for example, he’s got the burden of proof, not only to show that Jesus never existed, but to show that he can know anything about history whatsoever. Additionally, how can an atheist even account for a “burden of proof” in the first place?! Did a God tell them about this magical burden? No…the sad fact is, they never meet their own “burden of proof” when making assertions about the burden of proof.  And even if we grant them some arbitrary “hypothetical” model of the burden, they can’t even meet *that* (they’ll never be able to demonstrate, for example, that they have rational justification for talking about history, and thus, their claim that “Jesus never existed” can never fulfill the burden of proof).

Reason 5:  Presuppositionalists prefer confusion and trap-laying over honest argumentation.

It’s true that not all presuppositionalists are equally adept or clear or articulate in their presentation of the method, but this guy can’t even critique the most basic presentations…we can all guess how well he’d do against more sophisticated versions.

A Catholic has launched a typical criticism of Presuppositional apologetic methodology.1

See the article here: “Presuppositionalism: Fideism built on skepticism”.

The author of the essay claims to be a convert from Presbyterianism, not to mention, one with a PhD in philosophy from Saint Lewis University.  With that sort of background, I’m immediately curious why he didn’t interact with the primary presuppositionalist literature (Bahnsen, Frame, Oliphint, Anderson, or even Van Til himself), choosing instead to survey a handful of discussions he’s had with presuppositionalists of unknown pedigree.

While I don’t expect outsiders to know enough about the presuppositionalist community to get a feel for the circle of accepted orthodoxy on the subject, I do expect someone with the author’s background to (at least) interact with some of the relevant material.  To the author’s credit, he doesn’t flaunt his having been a Presbyterian as a proof of expertise on the subject (a good thing since he makes inaccurate claims).2

Instead of correcting all the little misunderstandings, I’d like to highlight three points the author raises, and briefly address them.

1.  Presuppositionalists are Cartesians. 

On a normal day, if someone accuses me of being a Cartesian, I simply shrug it off.  At least they’re not calling me a democrat, right?  There’s worse things I might be accused of.

But what does it mean to say we’re Cartesians?

1. Well, it might mean Van Tillians are disciples of Descartes.  Given all the criticism of Descartes presuppositionalists offer, however, that doesn’t seem likely.  Further, most people who consider the origins of Presuppositionalism trace it back to Kuyper, who was influenced by Kant (if by anyone).3

2. It might mean that, like Descartes, presuppositionalists sometimes use skeptical arguments.  If that’s what is meant, then – guilty as charged.  I’d only note that a large number of contemporary philosophers (e.g. Mackie, Putnam, DeRose, Warfield, Robert Stern, Alston, etc. etc.) would be surprised to find they’re “Cartesians”.  Calling a presuppositionalist “Cartesian” simply because he plays around with skeptical arguments, is needlessly pejorative and a novel way of slicing up the pie, especially since it would require most contemporary epistemologists to be classified as Cartesians.

3. It might mean that, like Descartes, Presuppositionalists appeal to a method of radical doubt as a way to discover some indubitable philosophical foundation from which to build a worldview.  In other words, we might be being accused of “Cartesianism” because we follow the same epistemological method as Descartes.  But anyone who knows about Presuppositionalism knows that we follow a completely different epistemological method – one that might be better called “transcendental” or “revelational”.

4.  What I suspect the author of the article had in mind is that Presuppositionalists are Cartesians, because, like Descartes, we posit God “right away” in our epistemology.  If this is all that’s required to make one a Cartesian, then everyone from Augustine and Anselm to Calvin and the Apostle Paul (*Edit* – and even God Himself, as my friend Cliff Peterson points out. See Genesis 1) are “Cartesians”…so we’re in good company.4

This leads to the second point though:

2.  Presuppers mix up the “order of being” and the “order of knowing”.

From the article:

The error is located in the very first premise, i.e. in the notion that theological assumptions or presuppositions lie behind every claim or position or theory or philosophy. Why do they think that?

Well, no one can offer us a single proposition (or belief, or whatever object they consider as a truth-bearer) that is true acontextually.  Acontextuality is required for “brute” factuality.  For example, consider the following proposition:

“I exist”.

Can this be known without reference to other propositions (ie: outside of a contextual relationship with other propositions)?  Well, we’d have to first know what an “I” is.  We’d have to know something about what it means to “exist”.  And let’s not forget, we have to know something about the relationship between subjects and their predicates.  So, “I exist” is not a proposition that is true in a void, without reference to other true propositions.  It is not a “brute” fact.

The author of the article implies that empirical sense data is free of theological or philosophical presuppositions.  In other words, it is data known “acontextually”.  But let’s consider a sense datum:

“I am being appeared to redly”.

Here, as in the case of “I exist”, we can already see the proposition necessarily includes many other propositions about the nature of an “I”, as well as the relationship between subjects and their predicates.

Even if all we had is an experience of red here, an experience of roundness there, a sensation of temporal sameness over there, as well as the taste of sweetness – it would take a handful of “presuppositions” (I dare say: theological assumptions) to get to the proposition:

“I am now eating an apple.”

John Calvin (in book 1 of the Institutes) was right.  Before we know anything, we must first know God.  If Descartes agrees, then so much the better for him.

3.  Presuppositions then the Bible?  Or the Bible, then Presuppositions?

Their confusion about empriicism leads these Classicists to a common question (raised by Dr. Howe in his discussion with Oliphint, also raised by Adam Tucker in the essay already cited, etc.):

If presuppositionalists can’t know anything at all without their presuppositions, and if they claim to get their presuppositions from Scripture, then how can they know Scripture?  Don’t they first have to rely on their sense perceptions in order to mine their presuppositions out of Scripture to begin with?

In response (and building on the great Dr. Bahnsen), we presuppers offer the following illustration:

We can breathe, long before knowing how lungs work, right?

It would be a mistake for someone to suggest we must have proper anatomical theory before being able to breathe.

In more philosophical jargon – Presuppers are “externalists” in our theory of justification.  The world simply is how we Calvinists believe it to be; it has to be in order for us to even argue for it in the first place.  We trust our sense perceptions, even before reading the Bible and discovering why we’re justified in trusting them.

Many people are justified in trusting their sense perceptions, without realizing they’re justified.  Some people try to make up sinful philosophical narratives to try justifying them (without success).

That’s why we need to be presuppositionalists instead of classicists; the former challenges the fallen presumptions of tooth-gnashing intellects, the latter coddles their fallen presumptions.  If anyone is a “Fideist” it’s those who have blind faith in the reliability of their sense perceptions!


1. I say “typical” because his line of reasoning is not new by any means. First, Van Tillians (since the dawn of Van Tillianism) have been wrongfully accused of fideism. In response, we typically highlight that fideism is loosely understood as belief without argument, and since we provide transcendental arguments, it’s simply incorrect to call us fideists. That this charge keeps circulating (without, as in this Roman Catholic’s case, even considering the wealth of responses to the charge) is deplorable. Consider Dr. Bahnsen’s contrasting of Van Til with actual fideists:

“Consequently it is not at all surprising that Van Til has been unfailing in his opposition to fideism, apologetic mysticism, and the notion that belief cannot argue with unbelief. He is highly critical of those who saw no way of harmonizing the facts of the Christian religion with the “constitution and course of nature. They gave up the idea of a philosophical apologetics entirely, This FIDIESTIC attitude comes to expression frequently in the statement of the experiential proof of the truth of Christianity. People will say that they know that they are saved and that Christianity is true no matter what the philosophical or scientific evidence for or against it may be… But in thus seeking to withdraw from all intellectual argument, such fideists have virtually admitted the validity of the argument against Christianity. They will have to believe in their hearts what they have virtually allowed to be intellectually indefensible.” Source.


Secondly, the charge that Van Tillians get our philosophical order mixed up is an argument that often crops up among Classical apologists. Adam Tucker (of Ratio Christi) argues similarly in his critique of Presuppositionalism. In a further exchange with me on Facebook, he reiterated his accusation that we get the knowing mixed up with the being. Much of what I say in this article will also apply to his criticisms. 

2. For example, he says:

“Presuppositionalists are typically highly suspicious of philosophy. See, for example, here. But true philosophy does not undermine the gospel, because truth cannot contradict truth.”

He links to an article by James Jordan – a presuppositionalist, sure, but certainly not a leader or innovator of presuppositional methodology. Further – Jordan isn’t suspicious of philosophy (as philosophy), rather, he follows Van Til, Bahnsen, and the others, in suggesting that it’s non-CHRISTIAN philosophy which needs to be critiqued. Dr. Bahnsen has preached entire sermons on this topic alone.  I’ve never heard a presuppositionalist suggest a different attitude towards philosophy. As a matter of fact, if anything, we’re usually accused of being TOO philosophical! (See Chris Bolt’s characterization of the presuppositionalist community). It’s simply false to say we are “typically” highly suspicious of philosophy.

3. See Muether’s excellent biography of Van Til. He spends the first few chapters laying out the historical pedigree of Van Til’s thought, explaining, in part, the theological milieu out of which Kuyper developed his “worldview” thinking.

4. It’s not my intent to get into a historical debate about how to interpret the work of these men.  Scripture’s teaching is all that matters at the end of the day. Still, for a defense of the Apostle Paul’s presuppositionalism, see this article for the relevant footnotes.

From time to time, those opposed to the Presuppositional apologetic method will offer (as attempted defeaters) secular transcendental arguments which, if successful, will (supposedly) overcome skeptical challenges offered by the Van Tillian.And by extension, it would be demonstrated that the Christian worldview is no longer the necessary precondition of knowledge; this other argument would suffice in its place.

In their seminary course on Transcendental Arguments, both Dr. Bahnsen and Michael Butler comment on this sort of thing and what our attitude towards secular TA’s should be:

Michael Butler:  We see that contemporary transcendental arguments are fundamentally different in nature from Cornelius Van Til’s “worldview” transcendental argument.  They’re two different birds all together.  Formally they share some aspects; they both try to show transcendentals.  And even in the way they go about doing it, there’s some analogy (reductio ad absurdum).  But their scope is different and the manner in which they are argued is different as well.  Van Til argues that worldviews are the only way in which transcendental arguments work.  Contemporary proponents say that only particular transcendental arguments are the things we can use.  ~ @ 16:30 of lecture 11.

He continues later:

I want to say [to these secular TA proponents] “big deal”.  You’ve shown we need the concept of causation.  Ok.  I can agree with that.  We could disagree about the particulars of (say) P.F. Strawson’s arguments, and say “well, he didn’t really do a good job.”  But even if he had a good argument, big deal.  What is the worldview in which you can account for causation?  Ok, we need causation, but what is the worldview in which causation can be accounted for?  We need a transcendental argument for these transcendentals.  What worldview makes all these types of particular transcendentals coherent?  How does our belief in the necessity of the external world or the continued existence of non-observed objects…how do you tie these things together?  Is there just one, one, one, here and there’s no connection?….They don’t consider what the necessary preconditions are for arguing  transcendentally; so they come into it with certain assumptions and are never able to justify them or tie their transcendentals together. ~ 17:30

Then Dr. Bahnsen (in the back of the class) chimes in with the following:

Even if you have a micro transcendental argument for one little element of our thinking, that’s just a stone in a bottomless ocean falling through the water.  Who cares?  You’ve got to be able to tie these together.  You need to have logic and an external world and a mind connected to the external world… a worldview that is transcendentally necessary which makes these smaller transcendental arguments worthwhile…What Mike is telling you is that even if you have causation, if you don’t have a mind in touch with reality that can think causally, then you can’t give an account of how we’re successful in thinking anyway. So we have Van Til here saying, it’s a rock in a bottomless ocean. Yeah it’s a rock, but without a hard place, you have no place to put it!   ~ @ 19:53

While, admittedly, this line of thought doesn’t address any specific secular transcendental argument, it lays out the approach Presuppositionalists should have towards those offering them as defeaters of the methodology.  We agree that various preconditions (causation, other minds, the ubiquity of mostly-true beliefs, etc.) are necessary concepts for intelligible human experience, but unless the TAG-skeptic can offer us an entire worldview in which these preconditions are accounted for, he really hasn’t touched Presuppositionalism.

It’s our job as presuppositionalists to criticize what’s being offered in terms of its global scope to see if, in the end, it has a coherent place in light of the rest of the TAG-skeptic’s belief system.


1. See this article for example, where the author alludes to a transcendental argument by Donald Davidson as a way to avoid Sye Ten Bruggencate’s apologetic: http://absoluteirony.wordpress.com/2014/05/06/how-to-justify-your-reasoning-using-your-reasoning/

loki

Atheists sometimes offer the ‘trickster god” argument:

“Oh, you believe the Bible is God’s word, eh?  What if God is a trickster and revealed to you a bunch of lies?  You wouldn’t be able to know anything at all about Him then.  How do you know God isn’t a trickster and isn’t just lying to you about everything?”

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My response, in popular presuppositionalist jargon:  those using the trickster god argument are trying to critique the Christian worldview from outside the Christian worldview, and as such, their argument will always be formally invalid and arbitrary (or, in its strongest form, it requires impossible exegesis).

To show this, I’ve taken the liberty of re-stating the “Trickster God” argument so we can clearly see how it’s *formally* invalid.  That is:  the form of the argument itself, is wrong.  It’s structured so that the conclusion does not follow from the premises (a non-sequitur).

1.  If Christianity is true, God is not a trickster.

2.  Assume Christianity is false.

3.  From 2, then God might be a trickster after all.

4.  If God might be a trickster, then we can’t know anything about Him.

Conclusion:  We can’t know anything about God

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If premise 2 is arbitrarily assumed then the entire argument is formally invalid.  Just because an atheist has arbitrarily assumed Christianity is false, doesn’t mean the conclusion necessarily follows.  The conclusion of this argument would *only* follow from the supplied premises if premise 2 is changed from an arbitrary assumption to a statement of fact.  If this change is allowed, then the argument is no longer fallacious.  So we would have the following:

1.  If Christianity is true, God is not a trickster.

2.  Christianity is false.

3.  From 2, then God might be a trickster after all.

4.  If God might be a trickster, then we can’t know anything about Him.

Conclusion:  We can’t know anything about God.

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There are a few problems with this new formulation however.

First, if premise 2 can be proven, then the entire “Trickster God” argument becomes superfluous.  The argument is being used as a way to show an epistemological weakness in the Christian position.  But if the atheist can prove the truth of premise 2 at the outset (namely:  Prove that Christianity is false to begin with), then why use the Trickster God argument at all?  Whatever argument used to prove the truth of premise 2 would, itself, be all that’s necessary for refuting the Christian.

Second – proving the truth of premise 2 requires the atheist to step outside accepted atheistic comfort zones and make positive claims about the non-existence of God.  So any atheist willing to try a “trickster god” argument must give up so-called “weak atheism” and / or “agnosticism”.  Once they abandon these “safe” positions, they’re faced with the monumental task of trying to disprove Christianity.

Third – if the atheist is unwilling to prove premise 2 is true they’ll have to revert to the first formulation of the argument and arbitrarily assume Christianity is false.  But, as we’ve seen, that makes the entire argument formally invalid.  If this is what the atheist is trying to do then the entire ‘trickster god’ argument turns out to be nothing more than an arbitrary assertion that Christianity is false…and that’s not interesting.

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So as usually formulated, the trickster god argument reduces to a simplistic assertion that Christianity is false (and thus, isn’t worth our time).

Smarter atheists see that this sort of critique requires them to “step inside” the Christian worldview.  They’ll try to re-formulate the trickster god argument in such a way that it relies on Christian assumptions and yet still proves that God is able to lie.  So we get something like the following:

1. If Christianity were true, then God is a trickster.

2.  If God is a trickster, then we can’t know anything about Him.

Conclusion:  If Christianity is true, we can’t know anything about God.

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Be careful here because while it may not seem like it at first, the atheist is actually smuggling in another arbitrary negation premise.  Consider:

1.  If Karl Barth or Schleiermacher’s view of Christianity were true, then God is a trickster.

2.  If God is a trickster, then we can’t know anything about Him.

Conclusion: If Barth or Schleiermacher’s view of Christianity is true, no one can know anything about God.

But, we clearly see now that premise 1 is a disguised negation of all of those forms of conservative Evangelicalism which teach that God cannot be a trickster.  So the person trying to re-formulate the trickster god argument has, again, smuggled in an arbitrary negation premise (in this case: a negation of conservative Evangelicalism), making the entire argument formally invalid.  The argument he’s making really looks like this:

1.  If Conservative Evangelical Christianity were true, then God is not a trickster.

2.  Assume Conservative Evangelical Christianity is false.

3.  From 2, then God might be a trickster.

4.  If God might be a trickster, then we can’t know anything about Him.

Conclusion:  We can’t know anything about God.

Thus, he’s right back to where he started – a formally invalid argument.

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There seems to be one move left that might save the trickster god proponent.  He might try accepting our view (ie: stepping into our worldview to critique our worldview), by trying to demonstrate that Conservative Evangelical Christianity implies that God either is, or might be, a trickster.

The argument usually looks something like this (and for this argument, when the word “Christian” is used, it entails Conservative, Evangelical Christianity):

1. If Christianity were true, then the Bible is divinely authoritative.

2.  The Bible teaches that God repeatedly deceives His creation (in epistemically-relevant ways)

3.  If God deceives (ie: if He is a trickster), then we can’t know anything about Him.

Conclusion:  If Christianity were true, then we couldn’t know anything about God.

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With this formulation, the tricker god proponent has successfully “stepped into” the Christian worldview, and is trying to critique us on our own terms.

Christians are going to immediately attack premise 2 and it’s at this point the unbeliever is at a severe disadvantage.  You see, for hundreds, (if not two thousand) years, Christian scholars have been slaving away in monasteries, seminaries, Bible colleges, and in Sunday night Bible studies, just working on understanding and interpreting verses of this sort.

The person offering the trickster god argument has taken a naive and malicious understanding of Scripture so he can use it in the worst possible light to browbeat Christians.  But Christians, after a quick and easy Google search, have immediate access to hundreds of articles scrutinizing all the relevant passages (that talk about God sending lying spirits and the like), and harmonizing them with other verses in Scripture (like the ones that teach God cannot lie).

While I have serious disagreements with John Piper, I keep his article “Does God Lie?” on hand for easy access.  Piper goes through the relevant passages and argues for the traditional Christian interpretation of them.  Piper’s article is just one of many.

In short, the person using the trickster god argument has to prove that his malicious (and naive) interpretation of the relevant passages, is more authoritative than the conclusions of 2000 years worth of Christian scholars.

Good luck with that …

Additionally – while God does allow the occasional lying spirit to deceive unfortunate sinners, this lying doesn’t seem to be any different from normal lying, dishonesty, and deception found in every-day life.  That some demons lie doesn’t pose any more of a problem for Christianity than the fact that some people lie.  And if the trickster-god proponent wants to push this argument, he’ll have to provide some criteria by which we can distinguish between truth and deception.  He’ll be hard-pressed to find an account that excludes God’s “lying Spirits”.  On the Christian view, these spirits are simply unable to deceive us in epistemically-relevant ways.  (And while God, being omnipotent, certainly has the power to deceive us in epistemically relevant ways, He’s unwilling to do so.  If He were willing, then the trickster-god proponent would have an argument – but then again, he’d no longer be critiquing the *Christian* worldview).

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To conclude…

The so-called ‘trickster god’ argument either reduces to a mere statement that Christianity is false, or, at best, it can be formulated in such a way that the person using the argument is stuck having to try to prove the Bible teaches that God can lie to His people in epistemologically relevant ways (which requires the person to disprove mountains of Christian scholarship in favor of a malicious and naive reading of the text).

In light of all this, I don’t see how the ‘trickster god’ argument is useful or worthwhile at all…

(In addition to what I’ve provided here, also check out Jason Peter’s article over at “Answers for Hope”:  How Do We Know God Isn’t Lying to Us? )