Archive for the Romanism Category

Presuppositionalism dismissed

Posted in Objections to Presuppositonalism, Resequitur, Romanism on January 19, 2011 by Justin

Recently, a friend of mine has been conversing with a lady who is on her way across the Tiber River, and it seems as though she has already set her sights back to Rome. In noticing that this friend of mine is a Presuppositionalist in the tradition of Van Til (which is also my position) she posted a link to an interview done with a student of Bahnsen, who converted to Romanism.

That particular article will not be the focus of this post, instead I saw a comment under this same link that caught my attention. It was from another Romish friend of her’s. This is what he wrote

My problem with the presuppositional style of argument is not that it’s totally invalid. In fact it certainly can be valid. However, in my experience, the primary goal of those who used it was to merely dismiss their opponents argument without ever dealing with the merits of the argument. In other words, they attacked any perceived imperfection in the presentation of the argument, rather than dealing with the substance. For every correction offered in the presentation, a whole new set of questions was raised which results in reductio ad infinitum. To me, this style of argument very often risks, and in my experience nearly always does, cross the line into a dishonest form of argument, or put another way, discussing in bad faith. For example, if a scholar were to examine the arguments of an historic figure, such as Augustine, and used the presuppositional method, he would never actually deal with the arguments and thought of the historic figure because he would be trying to eliminate them before even considering them. Any scholar who did such a thing would be laughed out of his profession. Modern controversialists who use this style often end up only demonstrating their inability or unwillingness to deal with the substance of the argument. Then the discussion becomes bogged down in semantics rather than substance.
Now, I’m not sure if it was his intention to provide argumentation against what he dislikes  about presuppositionalism, because there were certainly none provided. For example he says the following:
However, in my experience, the primary goal of those who used it was to merely dismiss their opponents argument without ever dealing with the merits of the argument.
This objection causes me to wonder which presuppositionalist this person has been reading. It certainly cannot be the presuppositonalism (and what is the most consistently Reformed apologetic) of the Late Dr. Cornelius Van Til, or one of his most loyal students Dr. Greg Bahnsen.
Dr. Bahnsen describes Van Til’s presuppositionalism in the following quote:

In the words of 1 Peter 3:15, the personal prerequisite for offering a reasoned defense of the Christian faith is this: “set apart Christ as Lord in your hearts.” Christ must be the ultimate authority over our philosophy, our reasoning, and our argumentation — not just at the end, but at the beginning, of the apologetical endeavor.

If we are to “cast down reasonings and every high thing exalted against the knowledge of God,” said Paul, then we must “bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5.) An ultimate commitment to Christ covers the entire range of human activity, including every aspect of intellectual endeavor. To reason in a way which does not recognize this is to transgress the first and great commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with… all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). In light of this, our thoughts about apologetic method should be controlled by the word of Jesus Christ, not merely our apologetic conclusions.

Very simply, if the apologist is to rid himself of profane audacity, his faith in the greatness of divine wisdom must be championed by means of a procedure which itself honors the same wisdom. After all, in Christ “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are deposited” (Colossians 2:3), no exception being made for the knowledge by which the Christian defends the knowledge of Christ. This means the apologist must presuppose the truth of God’s word from start to finish in his apologetic witness. A “presupposition” is an elementary assumption in one’s reasoning or in the process by which opinions are formed. As used here, a “presupposition” refers not to just any assumption in an argument, but to a personal commitment which is at the most basic level of one’s network of beliefs. Presuppositions form a wide-ranging, foundational perspective (or starting point) in terms of which everything else is interpreted and evaluated. As such, presuppositions have the greatest authority in one’s thinking, being treated as your least negotiable belief and being granted the highest immunity to revision. (1)

To summarize the above quote:

1) Christ must be the ultimate authority over our philosophy, our reasoning, and our argumentation — not just at the end, but at the beginning, of the apologetical endeavor.

2) Our thoughts about apologetic method should be controlled by the word of Jesus Christ, not merely our apologetic conclusions.

3) The apologist must presuppose the truth of God’s word from start to finish in his apologetic witness

This adequately describes the goal of the Reformed and Biblical apologetic, which should be consistently presuppositional. As Bahnsen defines in the above quote. This being the case let’s take another look at what our objector stated.

Modern controversialists who use this style often end up only demonstrating their inability or unwillingness to deal with the substance of the argument. Then the discussion becomes bogged down in semantics rather than substance.

What I find immediately interesting in what he says (and you can look at the full post above) is that he provides no examples of where a presuppositionalist argues like he is asserting. Rather, he is like the pot calling the kettle black, especially in what he says at the end:

Then the discussion becomes bogged down in semantics rather than substance.

Has there been any substance to his argument above? The only thing I saw  come close to it was the following quote here:
For example, if a scholar were to examine the arguments of an historic figure, such as Augustine, and used the presuppositional method, he would never actually deal with the arguments and thought of the historic figure because he would be trying to eliminate them before even considering them.
This is a very bold claim. Because even Bahnsen, in his debate with George Smith, defines our apologetic method as “Augustinian”, due to Augustine’s realization that to reason properly, one must start with faith in Christ  in Whom “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are deposited” (Col. 2:3)  , which is not from ourselves, but  a gift from God (Eph 2:8).
I will contend that this person falls into the same category of errors made by objectors to presuppositionalism, due to the lack of homework done on their side.

(1) Dr. Greg Bahnsen Penpoint Vol. VI:1 (January, 1995) © Covenant Media Foundation, 800/553-3938

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