Presuppositional Apologetics

[This post originally was a Comment by James Hayes under a different thread. We have made it a regular Post due to the significance of the topic.]

I have been in discussions with someone who seems to be using ‘Presuppositional apologetics’ The term ‘‘preconditions of intelligibility’ is used frequently. The arguments come across to me as postulates without proof and seem to be using circular reasoning. This is not an area that I have studied. I would appreciate some information on the pros & cons of ‘Presuppositional apologetics’

10 comments to Presuppositional Apologetics

  • James Hayes

    I have been in discussions with someone who seems to be using ‘Presuppositional apologetics’ The term ‘‘preconditions of intelligibility’ is used frequently. The arguments come across to me as postulates without proof and seem to be using circular reasoning. This is not an area that I have studied. I would appreciate some information on the pros & cons of ‘Presuppositional apologetics’

  • Richard Blinne

    James Hayes :I have been in discussions with someone who seems to be using ‘Presuppositional apologetics’ The term ‘‘preconditions of intelligibility’ is used frequently. The arguments come across to me as postulates without proof and seem to be using circular reasoning. This is not an area that I have studied. I would appreciate some information on the pros & cons of ‘Presuppositional apologetics’

    Presuppositionalism posits that it’s necessary to presuppose God in order to make sense of the World, that is to think itself. This is not much different than what Ian Hutchinson said in PSCF when desribing the “faith” of a scientist. Namely, all scientists regardless of their relgious faith or lack thereof believe that the Universe is ordered and intelligible. The secular scientist presupposes the same thing as the Christian one with the exception that the Christian one presupposes the reason why the Universe is ordered and intelligible.

    Here is revealed, by its contrast with postmodernism, one of the shared fundamental principles of science and the Christian faith. Both believe that there is universal truth. Science says the world is this way, and it is this way there, then, and for that other person, just as it is here, now, and for me. That is a foundational principle of science, the universality of the laws of nature. Christianity very much shares this perspective. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” says the writer of the letter to the Hebrews (13:8). Jesus says, “I am the way the truth and the life.” St. Paul insists on the objective factual nature of the resurrection when he says:

    I delivered to you as of first importance…that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,
    that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time … Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles (1 Cor. 15:3–13).

    These are not seen as local, personal truths. They are universal and in a sense objective. It should be no surprise that science and Christianity share these principles, because a Christian theological outlook often inspired scientists to think about the world in the way that they did. — Ian Hutchinson, PSCF Volume 59, Number 2, June 2007, pp. 99-100

    The circular reasoning of presuppositionalism is admitted by them but they counter that it is unavoidable not only because of the finitude of humans but also the noetic influence of sin. There is an equivalent weakness in evidentialism, namely evidentialism posits necessary axioms such as the law of non contradiction. Neither system can get away from their respective weaknesses where both try to minimize either their circular assumptions and/or axioms.

  • Terry M. Gray

    Authors, such as Francis Schaeffer, John Frame, Cornelius Van Til, Nicholas Wolterstorff, and Alvin Plantinga, would be a place to turn. In their modern form these all derive largely from the neo-Calvinism of Abraham Kuyper. Many would argue that they are rooted in Calvin, Augustine, and the Apostle Paul. Frame’s Apologetics to the Glory of God is a good place to start from a more theological perspective–and Frame is usually fair to his evidentialist opponents. Wolterstorff’s Reason Within the Bounds of Religion is a good place to start from a more philosophical perspective.

    Here is an on-line introduction by John Frame:

    Part 1
    Part 2

    And here is a recently written summary and review of Wolterstorff’s book.

  • Richard Blinne

    Terry M. Gray :Frame’s Apologetics to the Glory of God is a good place to start from a more theological perspective–and Frame is usually fair to his evidentialist opponents.

    Speaking as an evidentialist, we could do quite well to emulate John Frame’s irenic temperament. I, too, would recommend this book.

  • James Hayes

    Thanks so much, This will get me started. I have read much of Schaeffer’s work, but had no poblems with him. My first reaction to Frame is that he comes across as much less dogmatic than the person who I am struggling to communicate with. This individual essentially claims that no one without a Biblical worldview has any basis for logic.

  • James Hayes

    I appreciate your comments. The position as you stated:”Presuppositionalism posits that it’s necessary to presuppose God in order to make sense of the World, that is to think itself. This is not much different than what Ian Hutchinson said in PSCF when desribing the “faith” of a scientist.” is Ok.
    I am a Christian with a Biblical worldview who also finds the results of modern science convincing. However, the person giving me difficulty keeps treating me as an unbeliever. I want to study Presuppositionalism more, but it may be that this person is just overly dogmatic. I am about to abandon discussion because no effective dialog seems possible.

  • Terry M. Gray

    I may post something longer about this topic in general, but I’m guessing you’re experiencing someone who’s been influenced by the more extreme end of the presuppositionalist camp. Names here would be Rousas J. Rushdoony, Greg Bahnson, Gary North. Some young-earth creationists would follow this line of thought as well. Whether Frame or Bahnson turns out to be inheritor of the Cornelius Van Til mantle remains to be seen.

    I think the issue results from the degree that you emphasize one or the other of aspects of Kuyper’s thought–namely, common grace vs. antithesis. Common grace is the idea that God grants to even unbelievers the ability to discover, to know, to use truth after a fashion in this world. The fundamental denial of its source is what prevents it from being true Truth. Antithesis is the perspective that says there are really only two perspectives: God’s perspective and that which opposed to God. Augustine’s City of God/City of Man idea.

    One way that Cornelius Van Til brought these two ideas together is that while the unbeliever may know something of the truth (by God’s grace), his/her response is idolatry because he/she does not recognize God as its source. The unbeliever will stand before God in the judgment guilty because of the misuse of the common grace shown him/her.

    The rub comes when it comes to scientific (in the broad sense, not just natural sciences) theorizing. Can one build a discipline on foundations known to be contrary to Biblical truth. In the big picture in the natural sciences, I think it’s possible to go back to common foundations, e.g. lawful behavior of the universe. Both Christians and Atheistic Naturalists accept this necessary condition for doing science, but they accept it for different reasons. Thus, beyond that starting point, they can make common cause. Because the Christians root this belief in God’s creative and providential work, they are open to miracles, acknowledging God’s freedom to act irregularly. Naturalists, on the other hand, say that lawful behavior is just the way the universe is.

  • William Hamilton

    For a look at another approach to apologetics, see “Classical Apologetics” by R. C. Sproul, John Gerstner and Arthur Lindsley. It’s been sitting on my shelf, unread, for a number of years, so I can’t comment on its quality, but Sproul and Gerstner are generally worth reading. While some folks will tell you that presuppositional apologetics is THE reformed approach to apologetics, Sproul and Gerstner are about as reformed as one gets. I haven’t read anything by Lindsley, so can’t comment.

  • Richard Blinne

    John Gerstner was Theologian-in-Residence at the church I attended in Wichita KS in the 80s. I find the book good but then again I’m biased. :-) Gerstner once related a story to me about Karl Barth and Cornelius van Til. He said the former called the latter the German for “man eater”. Apparently, CvT was a force to be reckoned with.

    When it comes to having presuppositionalism being applied to worldviews the Frame v. Bahnson approach is critical. The former looks for Common Grace and thus what we have in common with respect to worldviews while the latter looks for the antithesis. This shows up in areas such as science and the environment. Just because New Agers are heavily involved with environmentalism doesn’t mean we cannot find common cause with them in stewardship of Creation. The latter is skeptical if not downright cynical that anything can be accomplished in common with them.

  • James Hayes

    The comments have been very valuable to better understand presuppositionalism .
    -Thnks.
    I just read Book by Stackhouse -Humble Apologetics that has- helped me on a Christian approach to apologetics.

    http://www.christianbook.com/Christian/Books/product?item_no=307178
    “In Humble Apologetics John G. Stackhouse (Evangelical Ecclesiology: Reality or Illusion?) brings his wide experience as a historian, philosopher, journalist, and theologian to these important questions and offers surprising – and reassuring – answers. Stackhouse begins by acknowledging the real impediments to Christian testimony in North America today and to other faiths in modern societies around the world. He shows how pluralism, postmodernism, skepticism, and a host of other factors create a cultural milieu resistant to the Christian message. And he shows how the arrogance or dogmatism of apologists themselves can alienate rather than attract potential converts. Indeed, Stackhouse argues that the crucial experience of conversion cannot be compelled; all the apologist can do is lead another to the point where an actual encounter with Jesus can take place. Finally, he shows how displaying an attitude of humility, instead of merely trying to win religious arguments, will help believers offer their neighbors the gift of Christ’s love.”

 

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