What Presuppositionalists Can Learn From Classical Apologetics

presup 1It is easy to create divisions. Anybody can foster a sectarian state of mind. It is quite natural for people to think that they are members of an elite class. This is particularly prevalent in religious thought. People who believe in certain religious claims are inclined to think that they are special, wiser, or in some way greater than those who do not believe those religious claims. Unfortunately, Christians are often guilty of the sectarian mind. While some divisions are necessary, some are not necessary. The division between presuppositional apologists and classical apologists is wholly unnecessary. One needs only begin to ask what presuppositionalists can learn from classical apologetics.

presup 2It would be prudent to briefly summarize these two positions before proceeding. Classical apologetics looks at the philosophical and scientific evidence and infers the existence of God as a probabilistic conclusion. Presuppositional apologetics suggests that one must presuppose the Christian worldview to make sense of logical reasoning or to make any truth claims at all. When presuppositionalists engage with classical apologists or evidentialists, it is often framed in the context of a debate. Those impious evidentialists are putting God to the test and granting the nonbeliever the authority to stand in judgment over God. As I pointed out in my article Do Classical Apologetics Postulate A Probabilistic God? our arguments are on trial. God is not on trial. Presuppositionalism and classical apologetics have of an overlap than many people do not realize. Many should begin to realize what presuppositionalists can learn from classical apologetics.

Assume God To Make Sense of The Evidence

presup 3Presuppositionalists will often refuse to provide evidence for the existence of God. Appealing to Romans 1:20, they will suggest that everybody already knows that God exists. For that reason, providing evidence for the unbeliever would be something like a fool’s errand. It is a waste of time. They already believe. The duty of the presuppositionalist, then, is to help them to recognize that they already believe. This will often involve the transcendental argument for the existence of God, which suggests that one cannot know anything to be true unless they assume the Christian worldview. So, the presuppositionalist will challenge the unbeliever to name a truth that they know with certainty. If and when the unbeliever fails, the presuppositionalist points out that they do know things with certainty. They are essentially pointing out an epistemological flaw in atheism. They are suggesting that one must abandon atheism to consistently use their reasoning capacity.

presup 4But a similar approach could be taken to classical apologetics. While many classical apologetics are not too fond of the transcendental argument, one could still mount a presuppositional form of evidentialism. One could render a presuppositional interpretation of the contingency argument for the existence of God. The contingency argument points out that the existence of anything contingent requires the existence of God. I mounted this argument in my article Why Does Anything At All Exist? This is perhaps the most potent argument for the existence of God. The presuppositionalist’s mouth is probably watering as they wish that they could use such an argument.

presup 5Well, I think that it is available to them. Arguments such as the contingency argument is what presuppositionalists can learn from classical apologetics. They would just formulate it in a similar way to the Transcendental Argument. If the nonbeliever is to make sense of the universe, they need to presuppose that God exists. Wielding the transcendental argument, you may strip the atheists of their reasoning. But wielding the contingency argument, you strip them of the universe. They need a universe more than they need their reasoning. In fact, you could put a presuppositional bend to many of the arguments from natural theology. You could argue that if you are to make sense of the fine-tuning, consciousness, the historical events surrounding the death of Jesus, or any other fingerprints of design, the unbeliever must presuppose the existence of God. This will substantially contribute to the presuppositional arsenal. That is what presuppositionalists can learn from classical apologetics.

We Already Share Philosophical Arguments

presup 6The moral argument is one of the signature arguments that classical apologists will use when they make their case that God exists. But it is a little different from arguments related to natural theology. Unlike the Kalam Cosmological Argument, the fine-tuning argument, et cetera, the premises in this argument do not draw any support from scientific data. It is a philosophical argument. It calls people to recognize that there are objective moral truths upon which we based our lives. From there, the nonbeliever is asked to consider the ontological foundation for their moral values and duties. Dr. William Lane Craig renders this argument syllogistically, meaning that it has a series of steps concluding in the existence of God. He renders it as follows: 1 – If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist. 2 – Objective moral values and duties do exist. 3 – Therefore, God exists.

Presuppositionalists make the same argument. But the way that they render it is different. Rather than concluding that God exists, they will assume that God exists and challenge anybody with a rival worldview to make sense of moral values and duties. It is similar to the Transcendental Argument in this way. You will probably note that the presuppositionalists’ moral argument is strikingly similar to the classical apologists’ moral argument. You would be right to think that. It is literally the same argument. It is just worded a little differently. Classical apologists use syllogisms, while presuppositionalists use presuppositions. It is a distinction that could not matter less. In fact, I usually prefer to present it much like a presuppositionalist! If we already share one philosophical argument, why can we not share others? Why not use the Ontological Argument? There is an entire arsenal of scientific and philosophical arguments that could be reformulated quite easily to have a presuppositional bend. That is what presuppositionalists can learn from classical apologetics.

You Do Not Need To Assume Your Conclusion

When discussing the issue of presuppositional apologetics, the issue of circular reasoning often emerges. The presuppositionalist is frequently accused of assuming their conclusion. Of course, this objection is a little misguided, because the presuppositionalist is not using a syllogistic argument. But there is a relevant point hiding somewhere. After all, there is a syllogism in every argument, whether explicit or implicit. The presuppositional syllogism usually involves the assumption of the existence of God and the truth of the biblical data. They will concede this point. Many presuppositionalists will agree that they are guilty of circular reasoning. However, they will suggest that sometimes, circular reasoning is a valid form of argumentation, citing the distinction between vicious and virtuous circular reasoning.

Whether this distinction is valid is irrelevant for our purposes. This distinction creates a stopping point in the argument. The argument is significantly weaker when one must concede that they are engaging in circular reasoning. This is what presuppositionalists can learn from classical apologetics. You could make the same argument without assuming your conclusion, and then the discussion could proceed further. You could make intellectual progress. If you must use the transcendental argument, you could formulate it syllogistically, so that it concludes that God exists. It could look something like this: “1 – If God does not exist, our reasoning faculties would not be functional. 2 – Our reasoning faculties are functional. 3 – Therefore, God exists.” This swiftly avoids the charge of circular reasoning and strengthens the argument. What presuppositionalists can learn from classical apologetics is how to mount the same argument without worrying about being charged with reasoning in a circle.

Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism

Since we have seen that presuppositionalists are keen to use philosophical arguments (such as the moral argument), there should not be any reason that they would be disinclined toward the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN). This argument does not require you to believe in evolution. Rather, it draws philosophical implications from both naturalism and the Theory of Evolution and concludes that if they are both true, one’s cognitive faculties would not be functional. This is because on the Theory of Evolution, the human brain evolved for survival rather than to grasp truth. A man may think that he want to eat because the food tastes good, or sleep with a woman because he likes the way she looks, but the truth is that he wants these things as survival necessities. He does not need to know the truth to survive. For that reason, argues Plantinga, there is no reason to anticipate that our cognitive faculties are functional if both naturalism and evolution are true.

In fact, with natural determinism in mind, everything that one does is just the product of a previous natural cause. One does not reason to his conclusions, but is just genetically programmed to come to them. Human beings are just machines for propagating DNA. Everything that we do, whether pursue a woman or something to eat is the result of genetic programming. Even if we think that we are reasoning to our conclusions, we are really just obeying our survival instincts. In this way, if naturalism were true, one could never reason to it.

This might strike the presuppositionalist as having a few similarities with the Transcendental Argument for God’s existence. It yields a similar conclusion, and it is much more defensible. It does not require obscure and esoteric discussions of epistemology. Further, if you are concerned that it is not technically presuppositional, then you can just reformulate it. A few minor tweaks will leave you with an argument that says that one must assume the existence of God to make sense of one’s cognitive faculties. You could even employ the atheists’ favorite weapon: the Theory of Evolution (and you could do it without conceding that it is true). Although, it is noteworthy that if you make this tweak, you will significantly weaken Plantinga’s argument. But it is still an upgrade from the Transcendental Argument. This is what presuppositionalists can learn from classical apologetics.

If you want to read similar content, see my article Against Presuppositional Apologetics.