Archive for the ‘General Presup Issues’ Category

(As some of you know, Michael Butler provided a famous response to the so-called “Fristianity” objection. Unfortunately, many contemporaries seem to gloss over his response, or fail to understand the value of it. I encountered this so-often I decided to “weaponize” his response, so to speak. What follows, then, is my attempt at presenting a “Butlerian” styled response to the Fristianity objection, and flesh out a resulting implication).

“Fristianity” as an objection to presuppositionalism, arose in the late 90’s, although similar objections were being tossed around as far back as the 80’s. Even earlier objections of the same type were addressed by Bahnsen and Van Til from the very outset. For a brief, authoritative, rundown of the development of the objection, see David Byron’s recollections here. For our purposes, the “Fristianity” objection will be thought of as the positing of a hypothetically possible worldview that provides a counter-example to the presuppositionalist’s claim that Christianity is exclusively able to account for the preconditions of intelligibility. Philosopher Sean Choi says this:

“Fristianity has come to mean what it does precisely because in the course of offering a possible defeater to TAG, Fristianity was defined as a possible worldview that includes a quadrinitarian God.  Voila!” ~ pg. 264 “Reasons for Faith: Making a Case for the Christian Faith” edited by Norman Geisler and Chad Meister. (Emphasis, mine).

In the above citation, Choi posits that Fristianity is possible by definition, but that’s the very thing presuppositionalists contest!

Consider the following:

1.  If Christianity is true, then it is exclusive (all non-Christian worldviews are false and fail to account for the preconditions of intelligibility).

2.  Christianity is false.

3.  From 2, then Christianity may not be exclusive.

Conclusion:  The Fristian worldview might account for the preconditions of intelligibility.


As we can see, the conclusion only follows if premise 2 is true.

Fristian arguments must include a negation premise to operate, and this is something no Christian would be willing to grant, unless doing so hypothetically.  But there’s no reason to do so in this situation. Once this is realized, the Fristian must shift his efforts and try to demonstrate that Christianity, even if true, is not exclusive. He must attack premise 1.

Suppose he looks to Scripture and is able to demonstrate (exegetically) that Christianity is not exclusive?  Well, if he can demonstrate that, then the “Fristian” illustration becomes superfluous.  Consider the following:

1.  If Christianity is true, then it is *not* exclusive.

2.  Since Christianity is not exclusive, then some other worldview might provide the preconditions of intelligible experience.

3.  Fristianity is another worldview.

Conclusion:  Fristianity might provide the preconditions of intelligible experience.

If 1 is proven, then hypothetically-possible non-Christian worldviews need no longer be posited as it’s been proven (in principle) that they’re possible. There’d no longer be any need for positing “Fristianity” as a defeater for presuppositionalism. The entire illustration would be superfluous.

Anyway, it’s highly doubtful the “Fristian” advocates will be able to build a strong exegetical case that Christianity is not exclusive.  While it’s beyond the scope of this article to prove (from the text) that Christianity *is* exclusive, a few well-known verses should suffice:

Isaiah 44 – “I am the first and I am the last.  Apart from me, there is no God!”

John 14 – “I am the way the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Acts 4 – “…there is none other name under Heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.”

Galatians 1 – “…if any man preach any other Gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”

There are other relevant passages as well.  It seems the Fristian would have to perform exegetical gymnastics to overcome the traditional understanding that Christianity is exclusively true. On top of direct exegetical arguments, Van Til, building on the doctrine of God’s Aseity, offers a theological argument for the exclusivity of Christianity.

If the traditional understanding of the relevant Scriptural passages holds, and if Van Til’s theological argument for exclusivity holds, then it seems the presuppositionalist is rationally justified in rejecting Fristianity, even if we’re not immediately able to suggest how it fails. This is, after all, the situation we usually find ourselves in as presuppositional apologists. We may not be Islamic scholars, for example, but we know that if Christianity is true, Islam will fail to provide the preconditions of intelligible experience somehow or other. Fristianity is no better off.


Some Reformed apologists who describe themselves as followers of Gordon Clark, suggest a new formula for knowledge (I’m thinking of Jason Peterson, a self-identifying “Clarkian”). The traditional formula for knowledge is the following:

Knowledge = Justified, true, belief.

I’ve seen Peterson suggest (in numerous places although I can’t recall any specifics), that this formula ought to be re-worked so that, instead, we have:

Knowledge = true, belief.

In this post, I’m not concerned with Jason Peterson specifically, nor am I concerned with getting into what counts as true expressions of “Clarkian” philosophy. Instead, I’d like to look at the above formula, as posed, and note that if we accept it, we’ll be obligating ourselves to a weird anti-realist metaphysic that almost no Christian – certainly not Reformed orthodox – ought to hold.

We’ll take the following belief as a test case:

“There is a book on my coffee table.”

Many who claim to be Clarkians do not want to grant that the above sort of belief also counts as knowledge. Since if it is known, it is known empirically, and since most Clarkians believe knowledge cannot be obtained empirically, the belief must not be knowledge.

Nevertheless, the belief is either true or false. When asked, the Clarkian might respond that we don’t have enough data to determine the truth value of the belief. Namely: we wont be able to figure out if the belief is true or false unless God directly tells us. Lacking this authoritative data, we simply can’t determine the truth value.

Even granting that, however, it seems the belief still has a truth value. It is either true or it is false. Let’s explore what might happen in either case:

If the Clarkian suggests the belief is true, then, given the formula “Knowledge = true belief”, he’ll have to say I know there is a book on my table. But he doesn’t want to say that. It would undermine the strong position he’s taken against empirical methods of acquiring knowledge.

If the Clarkian suggests the belief is false, then he’s saying there actually is *no* book on my coffee table. This is to make a very large metaphysical claim. It’s to say that the world is very different than how it appears to us.

He might try to avoid this dilemma.

He might want to keep the idea that the world is, for the most part, how it seems to be. But, he’ll add, we simply can’t know that it is one way or the other. In this case, he might suggest there is a book on my coffee table, I just can’t know if it is there or not. But that, unfortunately, is a violation of the proposed knowledge formula: “Knowledge = true belief”. If the formula holds, then if it’s true there is a book on the coffee table, and I believe it’s there, then I know it’s there. All that’s required for a belief, proposition, etc., to count as “knowledge” is that it simply be true. Consequently, all cases of accidentally true beliefs (eg: I believe there are two million craters on the moon, and surprise, surprise, scientists discover there actually are two million…), would have to automatically count as knowledge.

Another way the Clarkian might try to rescue a sane metaphysical view is by claiming that while I might know there is a book on the table, I don’t know that I know it until God reveals the true nature of reality to us.

While we Van Tillians have made it very clear people have the psychological ability to know a proposition without knowing they know it (Dr. Bahnsen’s thesis on self-deceit), what’s being suggested by our hypothetical Clarkian isn’t a mere psychological feat. What’s being suggested is that a person can know a proposition and not know the same proposition at the same time and in the same way; and, that doesn’t seem to work.

Best, by far, in my opinion, that if the Clarkian is going to insist on being a Clarkian, he not accept the simplified “Knowledge = true, belief” formula unless he’s also willing to defend radical metaphysical views.

Arguments from Authority

Posted: January 15, 2015 in General Presup Issues

As presuppositionalists, we’re often accused of being … wait for it…

…wait for it some more because it’s an exhausting and played out argument…

“Circular” in our reasoning!

But of course we’re not.

Our theology is self-authenticating!  That doesn’t mean we commit logical fallacies nor are we irrational. As Christians, we make an ultimate appeal to authority, and that’s simply not “circular”.

Consider this excellent illustration:

Suppose we’re in a court room and the defendant swears he’s dead.

The prosecutor brings in an expert witness – a Doctor.

“Doctor, am I dead?” he asks.

“No, of course not. You’re alive!” says the Doctor.

“How about you, doc? Are YOU dead?”

“Of course not! I’m alive!” says the doctor.

Now imagine the defense attorney objecting.

“I OBJECT! The doctor’s authority does not logically extend to self-referential statements! He might have the authority to say if other people are dead, but he can’t say so about himself!”

Such an objection would be overruled. If the doctor really is an authority on who is alive and who is dead, then his statements about himself are as equally valid as his statements about others.  It’s the same way with God.  If God really is an authority on all things, then He’s also an authority on His own status as an authority!

Unbelievers may not like that we have a God who is powerful enough to authorize Himself, but that’s simply the nature of the Christian system.  I wouldn’t like it much either if I were trying to suppress truth with lies.

(The “Federal Vision” controversy is still raging among conservative branches of the Presbyterian church.  Many in the Federal Vision are also Van Tillians and try to rope Van Til into their camp.  Reverend Alan D. Strange has, in my view, presented the most intelligible overview of the controversy, laying out its broader cultural context as well as the important issues involved.  In lecture 1 of his critique of Federal Vision, he discusses the FV proponents’ attempt to use Van Til, suggesting they misunderstand him.

Additionally, Strange alludes to Calvin Beisner, a Clarkian who takes jabs at Van Til while opposing the Federal Vision.  I’ve taken the liberty to transcribe some relevant portions of Dr. Strange’s lecture, but the entire series is worth a listen – A.D.)

@ 1:02:00

FV advocates claim to be following Cornelius Van Til in their anti-systematizing biases.  Most, if not all of the proponents of Federal Vision would claim either to be followers of the apologetic methodology of Van Til, or would otherwise not see themselves as contradicting him.  The Federal Vision does, in fact, misrepresent Van Til at several points, and it’s a mistake to assume that Federal Vision’s misguided approach with respect to Scripture and the Confessions is properly Van Tillian.  It’s not Van Tillian simply to charge that classical federalists read the Scriptures through a theological grid (as if anyone could read the Scriptures without a theological grid).

Van Til believed that the word should make that grid and he believed that the Reformed faith had allowed the word to do just that and had faithfully reflected that in the Reformed Confessions.

@ 1:03:10

I have a footnote here that’s also taking to task Calvin Beisner because he’s a Clarkian.  And Beisner, who is an anti-FV man, looks at this and says “Ok.  I disagree with you FV friends.  You’re good friends of mine.  I disagree with you…but I understand where it comes from!  It comes from Cornelius Van Til.  That’s where it comes from, and that’s why you’re wrong!”  And the voice of Gordon Clark is heard in the land.

Well, no.  I don’t think so.  He basically takes them at their word that they’re properly representing Van Til then uses that as an opportunity to give a little smash there.  Van Til’s genius involved, not only his refusal to reject Revelation in favor of an enlightenment concept of reason, but also in a refusal to give way to irrationalism.

In his defense of the Synod of Dort, for instance, one can see that Van Til’s with the Reformers in refusing to give way either to Hyper Calvinism or to Arminianism by sticking with God’s teaching in His word.  There are those who would reduce Van Til to “mere” perspectivalism.  Notice that word.  “mere” perspectivalism.  And thus make him sound more like Ludwig Wittgenstein, Paul Ricour, Richard Rorty, and Thomas Kuhn, simply because Van Til and any number of post structuralists, deconstructionists, and a host of postmodern linguistic types all believed that we have a worldview through which we interpret all that we encounter.  There are a lot of people who believe that.

Van Til is not anti-systematic.  And the (Federal Visionists) who think they have him in their side on this, are misguided.

While no Presuppositionalist should downplay the importance of Sye Ten Bruggencate’s work, his overly-general style has resulted in atheists suggesting presuppositionalism is little more than trite word games and disingenuous talking-points.  Of course, this reaction is likely due to their attempts to suppress God’s truth with lies (as per Romans 1) and cannot be attributed to Sye.

Nevertheless – I’m constantly asked to provide a formal statement of the “Transcendental Argument for God’s Existence”.1

While there is no one single formulation of the TAG (as both James Anderson and John Frame have noted)2 we should be able to provide a formal “outline” anyway; even if we’re not interested in catering to atheists, it’s always a good idea to have a clear understanding of what we’re attempting with our talking-points.

The Reformed Apologist has provided the best (as far as I’m concerned) formal statement.3 I’ve poured over it trying to detect any formal deficiencies in its structure but have not, as of yet, found any.  I’m re-posting the argument here for the convenience of my readers:


Prove A:The Christian God exists.

Step 1 ~A: (Assume the opposite of what we are trying to prove): The Christian God does not exist.

Step 2 (~A–> B): If God does not exist, then there is no intelligible experience since God is the precondition of intelligibility

Step 3 (~B): There is intelligible experience (Contradiction!)

Step 4 (~ ~A): It is not the case that God does not exist (Modus Tollens on 2 and 3)

Step 5 (A): –> God does exist (Law of negation.)


Step 2 is immediately controversial and will likely see the most sustained criticism.  I strongly recommend reading the Reformed Apologist’s interaction with it (linked to above).

1. I get this request almost daily from unbelievers across various venues. It’s a common challenge.

2. See James Anderson’s comments on “TAG” being a group of arguments:  

3. Additionally, Brian Bosse provides the same reconstruction in his article meant to refute the Transcendental Argument. “Van Tillian Presuppositional Apologetics – A Critique Concerning Certainty”. I’m not clear on who first formulated the argument this way or if both Bosse and the Reformed Apologist came up with it separately.