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DEBATE: Apologetics Methodology Presuppositionalism vs Evidentialism

Discussion in 'Debate with a Calvinist' started by Apologetic_Warrior, Apr 24, 2019.

  1. Apologetic_Warrior

    Apologetic_Warrior Pilgrim

    United States
    *You are in the Debate with a Calvinist Forum*

    Greetings especially to all Semper Reformanda folks

    Brother Mark Kennedy and I have agreed upon a friendly debate on the subject of apologetics, more specifically apologetic methodology. Mark will be making the case for Evidential Apologetics, while I make the case for Presuppositional Apologetics.

    The format will be as follows:

    1. Opening Statements
    2. Three Rounds of Rebuttals
    3. Closing Statements

    We have set no time constraints, this allows time for our responses as we have time, and keep in mind this may continue for some time. If you wish to respond before we are finished, please be brief so as to help us focus efforts on the many issues related to this debate.

    Please pray our faith may be increased and strengthened and for mental clarity as we work through the important issues of this debate and we hope you the readers will be blessed and be strengthened from our discourse.

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  2. Apologetic_Warrior

    Apologetic_Warrior Pilgrim

    United States
    Laying out the groundwork

    Christian apologetics includes both an offense and a defense; this entails both negative and positive aspects. Presuppositionalism tends to be characterized as an offensive approach, however it is also defensive. For example, if a positive argument for the existence of God is given, this is offense/positive, while responses to contrary arguments against the positive may be defensive/negative in nature.

    The role of Epistemology

    Which apologetic method should a Christian defend the faith with, one of the two advocated in this debate , neither, or both? Which method is Biblical, one of these two, neither or both? Are these two methods equal in what they can account for? I hope we will be able to answer these and many more throughout this debate.

    To sort differences between them, presuppositionalism is an epistemological method which is primarily philosophical in nature, and concerned with theological/philosophical justification. Evidentialism is an epistemology which assumes the basic reliability of natural sense perception, and is concerned with justification by physical evidences. These may be presented as scientific, archaeological or historical, and usually learned from secondary sources such as books or videos. An epistemological issue for evidentialists is the philosophy of a fact, or the necessary interpretation involved with facts and the necessary philosophy to interpret reality through the natural senses.

    For the sake of clarity, I am not defending a generic presuppositionalism, nor a generic epistemology, nor a neutral epistemology, I am defending what is called “Revelational Epistemology”, a Scriptural grounds and means for justification of knowing facts in an objective sense, while still maintaining our dependency on God in our interpretation of the God created facts. To be clear, it is my position our knowledge includes both objective and subjective elements. The difference is justification for knowing anything objectively apart from the Christ of Scripture.

    Biblical Presuppositionalism

    I am a Christian, but more specifically, I affirm the Reformed faith, therefore my defense of the faith should be consistent with my faith. I am not a generic “presuppositionalist”, I presuppose the Reformed faith from the start to the end. Reformed believers hold to the doctrine of “Sola Scriptura”, which relates to the source for knowing, the self-attesting Christ of Scripture. The Scriptures are the justification for all true knowledge of the God created facts. In Scripture we read: in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” Colossians 2:3 Christ as the supreme authority of knowledge is our justification for knowledge (in an objective sense) concerning the God created facts (objectively speaking).

    The role of Worldviews

    Throughout the history of apologetics, it is not uncommon for a classical or evidentialist apologist to assume for the sake of the argument a common or neutral ground as a starting point to debate or argue with the non-Christian. I strongly disagree with this approach especially on a formal level for a number of reasons. To assume neutrality is to loose contact with the Christian faith and therefore justification for knowing the facts objectively, it is to assume a position of pure subjectivism, which denies the facts are created by God. One cannot rise to objectivism from pure subjectivism.

    Even when/if the classical or evidentialist apologist begins with a Christian worldview, both approaches, even combined end up falling victim to the deserved title of “god of the gaps” arguments. Let’s suppose that a Christian provides a convincing argument for the existence of God, such that the debate opponent surrenders. The question that follows is “which God?” From here we cannot really get to Jesus Christ, because this involves proving the Scriptures according to Christianity are from God, before we could ever get to arguments for the resurrection of Christ. Try as we might to avoid it, proving the Scriptures are revelation from God, involves circular reasoning.

    We might point to qualities about the Scriptures which demonstrate: popularity, survival, uniqueness, unity-diversity, explanatory power of origins, the central uniformity of primary emphasis, and so on, and while they compose a supportive collaboration of evidences, there is still a logical leap involved from establishing human origin to divine origin.

    Unfortunately, so many seem to have almost subconsciously bought into the notion that the non-Christian can be brought to faith in Christ through human reasoning and the five senses (alone). All Reformed believers should recognize the necessity for God to intervene through the supernatural act of (monergistic) regeneration, for the non-Christian to be “born again” or “born from above” before the non-Christian will assent or respond positively to the reasons and facts from a faith made alive by God. I hope this past statement is considered as evidence that I am not opposed to the God centered facts or God centered reason.

    So it is my contention that the Romanist Christian worldview, the Romanist methodologies of defending the faith are not sufficient to defend the faith, and never have been. It is also my contention that only a Reformed presuppositionalism is sufficient to defend the faith in a Biblical, God honoring way.

    As a final note, I have purposely left out several important distinctives of the Reformed apologetic from this opening statement to make this brief. These include the Creator-creation distinction, the role of self-deception in apologetics, the impossibility of the contrary, the role of antithesis in apologetics, and the transcendental argument for the existence of God (TAG). I left these out because I expect to get into these as the debate continues.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this, and may God be glorified through our discourse.


    Apologetics (short and detailed definition)

    Apologetics (detailed definition)


    Presuppositional Apologetics (short definition)

    Presuppositional Apologetics (detailed definition)


    Epistemology (short definition)

    Objective (Dictionary.com [6])

    Objectivity (Wikipedia)

    Objectivity (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

    Subjective (Dictionary.com)

    Subjectivity (Wikipedia)

    Justification (Dictionary.com [1])

    Further Reading

    The Old New Reformed Epistemology (Revelational Epistemology) by Dr. Oliphint

    Presuppositionalism and Frame’s Epistemology by Dr. Anderson

    Science, Subjectivity, and Scripture by Dr. Bahnsen

    The Theistic Preconditions of Knowledge by Dr. Anderson

    Van Til and the Trinity: The Centrality of the Christian View of God in the Apologetics of Cornelius Van Til by Colin D. Smith

    Van Til Frequently Encountered Misconceptions by Dr. Anderson

    Redeeming Science: A God Centered Approach (book) by Dr. Poythress
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  3. mark kennedy

    mark kennedy Natura non facit saltum Supporter


    First of all I want to thank AW for agreeing to the debate. He is much better read on Reformed Theology and Calvinism at large and I consider his insights invaluable. That said, my experience with evidencial apologetics has been focused primarily on the subject of origins, the doctrine of creation and the large body of work related to Darwinian evolution. My primary source material has been the vaunted peer review articles, especially Nature magazine. I'm not here to relate my experiences along those line but to defend an evidencial approach to Christian apologetics, I know as the ad hominem approach. In a nutshell it's an attempt to argue from evidence your opponent would never dream of denying as valid.

    Epistemology and the Rules of Evidence:

    Epistemology is essentially, theories of knowledge. The Presuppositional logic of Cornelius Van Till while sound, I believe is limited. I further agree that the noetic effect of sin hampers mans search for the truth since the natural man 'suppresses the truth in unrighteousness' (Rom. 1:18-20). However, I do not consider this an absolution for mans' responsibility regarding truth and examining well established evidential proofs. The resurrection is a prime example, Simon Greenleaf who literally wrote the book on the rules of evidence used in courts for almost 50 years examined the Gospels based on legal rules of evidence. I will attempt to summarize his five rules as briefly as possible as an example of an evidential approach. Dr. Greenleaf summarizes it this way:

    The credit due to the testimony of witnesses depends upon, firstly, their honesty; secondly, their ability; thirdly, their number and the consistency of their testimony; fourthly, the conformity of their testimony with experience; and fifthly, the coincidence of their testimony with collateral circumstances. (Testimony of the Evangelists by Simon Greenleaf 1783-1853)
    This underscores one very important and distinctive feature of the rules of evidence, men are capable of apprehending evidential truth and held accountable for that reason. We are held responsible for a rejection of the gospel and the light of revelation (John 16:8-11; John 3:19; Acts 28:27 Isaiah 6:9,10). How could we be thus convicted of the sin of rejecting the light of revelation if we are incapable of discerning the truth and evidence of the gospel?

    The Greater and Lesser Lights of Revelation:

    While AW and I may have some differences, theology isn't one of them. I have identified as a Calvinist as long as I have known there was such a thing, and embrace the tenants of TUPIP and the 5 Solos wholeheartedly. I've never seen anything in his theological discussions I find objectionable, so on a personal level, I can honestly say I see no serious differences along these lines. This is about an apologetic methodology, but before we start the actual debate I want to clarify what I believe are the two primary means of receiving knowledge in the human mind with regards to the truth of Scripture. There is the natural revelation that all who come into the world are subject to, the divine attributes and eternal nature of God reflected in his created world (Romans 1:10-20) and the witness of conscience (Romans 2:15). Now all are subject to this level of revelation, that is what I call the lesser light of revelation. With regards to the righteousness of God in Christ, this can only be revealed as an act of God's sovereign will (Matt. 16:16-17).

    I would never presume to argue that we can overwhelm the skeptic with evidencial, or presuppositional arguments for that matter. My contention is that the human mind is perfectly capable of understanding the evidence and are obliged to present those arguments as Christian apologists. It is not our responsibility if a person rejects the truth once confronted with it, to be brutally honest here, we all do to some degree. I contend that evidential apologetics equipped with the tools of science and reason, both mental and physical, make our witness stronger and worthy of consideration to the sincere seeker of truth.

    Again, thank you @Apologetic_Warrior for agreeing to this debate. I'm very excited to participate in this discussion and looking forward to the exchange. Feel free to proceed as you see fit.

    May the truth prevail!

    Grace and peace,
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  4. Apologetic_Warrior

    Apologetic_Warrior Pilgrim

    United States
    Indirect Response to MK (Direct response in the following post due to character limitations)


    Although I have owned the title “Reformed presuppositionalist” for this debate it should be noted:

    “Van Til personally disliked the term "presuppositional", as he felt it misrepresented his approach to apologetics, which he felt was focused primarily on the preeminence of the Bible as the ultimate criterion for truth, rather than denying or ignoring evidence. He did, however, accept the label reluctantly, given that it was a useful way of distinguishing between those who deny a neutral basis for apologetics and those who do not.” – Wikipedia

    In all of his years as a Professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, Dr. Van Til worked towards a distinctly Reformed and systematic theological/philosophical defense of the faith. Perhaps it is why several years ago Dr. Oliphint a “Van Tillian” authored a book entitled “Covenantal Apologetics”, in which he argued in favor of using the term “Covenantal Apologetics” rather than the more common term “presuppositionalism”. I believe Dr. Van Til would approve. (see his pamphlet “Towards a Reformed Apologetic”)

    Circular Reasoning and Axioms

    In my opening statement I stated; “Try as we might to avoid it, proving the Scriptures are revelation from God, involves circular reasoning.” This should be no cause for alarm, because there is a difference between circular reasoning and a circular argument. Further nobody can interpret reality without basic presuppositions about reality, and the answer to philosophical question “does God exist?”, however it is answered, will be central and circular to reasoning and connected to other assumptions about reality and impact other big questions of philosophy. To use Clark terminology, the Christian Scriptures are the central axiom to Christianity. To use Plantinga terminology, the Scriptures are properly basic to warranted Christian belief. To use Bahsen terminology, the Christian worldview must be presupposed to justify the necessary preconditions of intelligibility, these include conceptual realities behind: intelligible language, laws of logic, math, and as they apply to the scientific method. To quote Dr. Van Til :

    “From this quotation, certain things are clear. Calvin never did start a chain of reasoning about man’s nature and destiny by taking man by himself. He did not start with man as with an ultimate starting point. Calvin did start with a general a priori position. His position is as radically opposed to that of Descartes as it is to that of Hume. Most apologetic writers who have come after Calvin have allowed themselves to be influenced unduly by Cartesian philosophy on this matter. Calvin recognized fully that if man is to have true knowledge of himself he must regard God as original and himself as derivative. He did not place God and man as correlatives next to one another, but he recognized from the outset two levels of existence and two levels of interpretation, on the one hand the divine and eternal, and on the other hand the human or temporal. To him it is perfectly obvious that the endowments that we possess are not of ourselves, but of God. Hence he says that” not a particle of light, or wisdom, or justice, or power, or rectitude, or genuine truth, will anywhere be found, which does not flow from him: and of which he is not the cause … “ – Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology” Chapter 8 Section B

    Axioms and Science

    So it is my contention that the epistemological defense of the faith begins with presupposing the self-attesting Christ of Scripture as the final authority and the basis, the foundation, as an apologetical framework for all other apologetic methods from reason, facts, experience, and faith. The facts are not just the facts; the facts do not interpret themselves. In the Scriptures we learn that man was created in the image of God, but this does not mean he was created for independence from God, but rather man was created to be dependent upon God for everything, including knowledge concerning the God created facts. The empirical facts are neither neutral nor independent of the knowledge of their Creator. One way to demonstrate man’s dependency is to consider the Scientific Method. What does the Scientific Method presuppose other than the general reliability of sense perception? The laws of thought or logic are necessary to the processes of observation, measurement, experimentation, formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses. The Scientific Method also presupposes a normal (“natural”) order within the universe necessary to predictability of a hypothesis. So the laws of thought or logic are necessary preconditions governing all scientific thought and procedures.

    Axioms and Epistemology

    The word “invention” invokes other related words like “new” and “original”. Now consider the omniscience of God, and ask yourself; “has man ever had an original thought?” Has man ever achieved a one up on God in the marketplace of ideas? I should hope not! Taking into account the Creator – creation distinction and man created in the image of God, it is important to consider differences between the knowledge of God and the knowledge of man. The language Dr. Van Til used to describe the relationship of man’s knowledge to the knowledge of God, is analogical. One could probably write a small book noting differences between the knowledge of God and the knowledge of man, the primary message would be that the extent to which man can know is not identical, nor the scope, therefore not exact. For what we can and do know that is true, is because man was created in the image of God, and because it is so, the knowledge of man is analogical to his Creator. To put it another way, man’s knowledge is analogical to the original. To quote Dr. Van Til:

    “All of this may again be expressed from another point of view by saying that human knowledge is analogical of divine knowledge. We cannot avoid coming to a clear-cut decision with respect to the question as to whose knowledge, man’s or God’s, shall be made the standard of the other. The one must be original and the other analogical of the original. The one must be determinative and the other subordinate. Roman Catholic theology seeks to serve two masters here. It too speaks of created being and human knowledge as being analogical of divine being and divine knowledge but it does not really take this seriously. In its philosophy and apologetics Romanism reasons as though man can, by himself, determine the nature and possibility of knowledge without reference to God. On the other hand it refers to mysteries as being above the understanding of man. But as Protestants we should definitely choose to make God the original in the knowledge situation.

    The first thing to note in the question of our knowledge of God is that it must be true or objective. That this is so is once more involved in our God-concept. God knows himself analytically and completely and therefore must know all things beyond him analytically and completely. God certainly must have true knowledge of us and of the universe in general. Our existence and our meaning, our denotation and our connotation are derived from God. We are already fully interpreted before we come into existence. God knows us before and behind; he knows the thoughts of our hearts. We could not have existence and meaning apart from the existence and meaning of God.” The Defense of the Faith, Part One, Section 3-3 Man’s Knowledge of God

    Skipping over a portion of context from the same sub-section, Dr. Van Til goes on to write:

    “Important as it is to insist that our knowledge of God must be true, because God is what he is, it is equally important to insist that our knowledge of God is not and cannot be comprehensive. We are God’s creatures. We cannot know God comprehensively now nor can we hope to know God comprehensively hereafter. We may know much more in the future than we know now. Especially when we come to heaven will we know more than we know now, but we will not know comprehensively.

    We are therefore like God so that our knowledge is true and we are unlike God and therefore our knowledge can never be comprehensive. When we say that God is a mystery for us we do not mean that our knowledge of him is not true as far as it goes.” – The Defense of the Faith, Part One, Section 3-3 Man’s Knowledge of God

    The Christian Evidentialist is a Closet Christian Presuppositionalist

    In support of the above heading, I offer the following from the book “Faith Has Its Reasons” by Kenneth Boa and Robert Bowman:

    “Evidentialist apologetics has been widely criticized from a number of perspectives. We will consider here some of the most common and important criticisms identifying potential weaknesses in or challenges to the evidentialist approach.18


    The principal objection to evidentialism from a classical apologetics perspective is that it attempts to make a case for the theistic worldview on the basis of facts. According to both classical apologists and most Reformed apologists, this will not work; one must first have a worldview before one can interpret the facts in the world. As Geisler puts it, “facts and events have ultimate meaning only within and by virtue of the context of the world view in which they are conceived.”19 Geisler explains that

    evidence gains its meaning only by its immediate and overall context; and evidence as such cannot, without begging the question, be used to establish the overall context by which it obtains its very meaning as evidence. . . . it is a vicious circle to argue that a given fact (say, the resuscitation of Christ’s body) is evidence of a certain truth claim (say, Christ’s claim to be God), unless it can be established that the event comes in the context of a theistic universe.20

    Geisler adds that meaning is not inherent in historical facts and events; meaning demands an interpretive context that is distinct from the facts and events.21 Apologists from other perspectives agree that evidentialists tacitly assume the validity of the theistic worldview from the beginning.22 LINK [email protected]


    18 Several articles explicating and defending Montgomery’s apologetic appeared in the Global Journal of Classical Theology 3, 1 (March 2002): Ross Clifford, “Justification of the Legal Apologetic of John Warwick Montgomery: An Apologetic for All Seasons”; Gary Habermas, “Greg Bahnsen, John Warwick Montgomery, and Evidential Apologetics”; Craig Hazen, “‘Ever Hearing but Never Understanding’: A Response to Mark Hutchins’s Critique of John Warwick Montgomery’s Historical Apologetics”; and Boyd Pehrson, “How Not to Critique Legal Apologetics: A Lesson from a Skeptic’s Internet Web Page Objections.” These articles were accessed online at: http://www.trinitysem.edu/journal/toc_v3n1.html

    19 Geisler, Christian Apologetics, 95.
    20 Ibid., 95, emphasis deleted.
    21 Ibid., 96.
    22 Reid, “Subjectivity or Objectivity,” in Jerusalem and Athens, edited by Geehan, 409; cf. Hanna, Crucial Questions, 100; Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, 6 vols. (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1976-1983), 1:231.



    Analogy, analogical reasoning: (1) (Aquinas) Thinking in language that is neither literally true (univocal), nor unrelated to the subject matter (equivocal), but which bears a genuine resemblance to that subject-matter. (2) (Van Til) Thinking in subjection to God’s revelation and therefore thinking God’s thoughts after him. Source




    Further Reading

    Faith Has Its Reasons (free book) by Kenneth Boa & Robert Bowman

    Examples of PA applied to:

    Logic: A God Centered Approach (free book) by Dr. Vern Poythress

    Redeeming Mathematics: A God Centered Approach (free book) by Dr. Vern Poythress

    Redeeming Sociology: A God Centered Approach (free book) by Dr. Vern Poythress

    PA applied in the field of Bibliology on the issue of Canon:

    Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books by Dr. Michael J. Kruger
  5. Apologetic_Warrior

    Apologetic_Warrior Pilgrim

    United States
    Direct Response to MK

    Correct me if I am wrong, but to me this reads like presuppositionalism applied to Science. This is done by assuming the other persons view for the sake of the argument, and then demonstrating the irrationality of their view on their own terms.

    I hope my indirect responses address this belief, I hope when we are done you will conclude Calvinistic presuppositionalism is: “the basis, the foundation, as an apologetical framework for all other apologetic methods from reason, facts, experience, and faith.” (See Axioms and Science heading)

    Absolutely and I do not see where Van Tillian apologists have conflated the doctrine of total depravity or radical depravity to an absolution for man’s responsibility regarding truth. It is just the opposite; the aim is to show that despite their suppression of the truth of God, they borrow from the Christian worldview as image bearers of God, to account for truths. The problem is in non-Christian purposely taking the position the facts can be known autonomously, apart from the Creator of the facts. So as Christian apologists it is on us to remind them of their responsibility, that is remind them that facts do not interpret themselves, and the subjectivism of autonomy cannot establish objective truth in a “factual” sense. So the anti-theist suppresses theism while at the same time borrowing from theism, and this is the height of self-deception. For all of the truth the non-Christian knows, they are analogically thinking God’s thoughts after him, we should remind them when we defend the faith…even with facts.

    How are we bringing the non-Christian to confrontation with the Gospel if we’re only holding them accountable in a Romans 1:18-20 way? The responsibility is in believing or rejecting the Gospel, not the facts of Science. The non-Christian is capable of apprehending or understanding with their mind practically any and all truth the Christian can, minus spiritual discernment or those truths which are spiritually discerned. That’s not even the issue, it is their rejection of spiritual truth which is the issue. Suppression of truth amounts to knowing the truth and rejecting it. So it is not a matter of apprehension, you will receive no argument from me concerning the capability of non-Christians to learn the same knowledge, to grasp the same doctrines. I even believe as a whole, Churches are full of apostates with a great deal of knowledge, not that they believe it, but have a mental ascension, without spiritual conversion, and this too is self-deception.

    I suppose my question here is, apart from the Gospel, how will you bring the naturalist to supernaturalism? I see this is a major issue, in the same way I see arguing for the resurrection from internal evidences. The non-believer does not ascent to or acknowledge Supernatural revelation as Supernatural revelation. This gets back to worldviews and basic assumptions about the nature of reality.

    In closing a couple of quotes, first from Dr. Bahnsen;

    “The Christian faith should not be defended one isolated belief after another isolated belief-as though a block house were being built up, one block at a time. Instead, the whole system should be presented and defended as a unit. Its epistemology should be defined in terms of its metaphysics and ethics (including anthropology and soteriology), and it’s metaphysics and ethics (including anthropology and soteriology) should be defended in terms of its epistemology.” – Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis

    And from Dr. Van Til:

    “Historical apologetics is absolutely necessary and indispensable to point out that Christ arose from the grave, etc. But as long as historical apologetics works on a supposedly neutral basis, it defeats its own purpose. For in that case it virtually grants the validity of the meta- physical assumptions of the unbeliever. So in this case a pragmatist may accept the resurrection of Christ as a fact without accepting the conclusion that Christ is the Son of God. And on his assumptions he is not illogical in doing so. On the contrary, if his basic metaphysical assumption to the effect that all reality is subject to chance is right, he is only consistent if he refuses to conclude from the fact of Christ’s resurrection that he is divine in the orthodox sense of the term. Now, though he is wrong in his metaphysical assumption, and though, rightly interpreted, the resurrection of Christ assuredly proves the divinity of Christ, we must attack the unbeliever in his philosophy of fact, as well as on the question of the actuality of the facts themselves. For on his own metaphysical assumptions, the resurrection of Christ would not prove his divinity at all.

    In addition to showing that Christ actually arose from the grave and that the facts recorded in the Scripture are as they are recorded as being, insofar as this can be ascertained by historical research, we must show that the philosophy of fact as held to by Christian the- ism is the only philosophy that can account for the facts. And these two things must be done in conjunction with one another. Historical apologetics becomes genuinely fruitful only if it is conjoined with philosophical apologetics. And the two together will have to begin with Scripture, and argue that unless what Scripture says about itself and all things else of which it speaks is true, nothing is true. Unless God as an absolutely self-conscious person exists, no facts have any meaning. This holds not only for the resurrection of Christ, but for any other fact as well.” -Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology, 242-243​

    Thank you brother MK for persistently encouraging this debate despite my expressed reluctance on several occasions. I honestly do not know of another person here on CF as interested in PA as you, and for this I am grateful. Overall I have primarily encountered opposition here on CF from Christians regarding PA, and usually in a disrespectful tone, and so when your own “side” rails against PA, it does tend to make it difficult and discouraging to even offer a few PA crumbs. To me, you like a rare jewel my friend, an irregularity where respectful disagreement is welcome.

  6. mark kennedy

    mark kennedy Natura non facit saltum Supporter

    Well as usual you have given me a lot to unpack here, I think your argument comes down to two propositional truths, two critical questions and two incisive quotes. I'm delighted to have the opportunity to engage those points as we move forward:


    You brought up two principles, I'm summarizing as 'presuppositionalism applied to Science', and the 'subjectivism of autonomy'. Science is a limited epistemology limited to the study of natural phenomenon, what presuppositions we bring to such experiments, theories and laws of science belongs to a larger epistemology known as metaphysics. Metaphysics isn't the paranormal and supernatural included into our naturalistic thinking, it's the study of first principles that transcend all reality. Ubiquitous to reality is that God being self existing and self evident there is a light that shines for every soul that comes into the world, leaving us without excuse (John 1:9; Rom. 1:20). One of the things we presuppose is the existence of God, St. Thomas Aquinas describes five ways of proving God exists, argument from motion, efficient causes, possibility and necessity, gradation of being, and design (The Existence of God can be proved in five ways.). His conclusion to each arguments was that, 'This all men speak of as God'.

    During the culture wars one of the main areas of contention was teaching creationism in the public schools. Ultimately rejected by the Supreme Court simply for being religious in nature. When creationism was finally out for good, Intelligent Design arrived on the scene never invoking the name of God as the designer. The court in Dover dismissed this argument as absurd and said, just a Thomas Aquinas, was that the designer was clearly and obviously God. For the apologist, especially the Calvinist, it is already presupposed that you are aware of the divine attributes of God and his eternal nature. That's what I like about Presuppositional Apologetics and what I don't like, is it need not stop there. That's a given, an axiom of Christian theism that all men know. We do well to emphasize that point since God has made it clear to them.

    Frankly, we can't, God alone has the power to reach men with the lesser light of revelation in the things that are made, and no one can come to Christ unless the Father draws him (John 6:44). What we can do is a due diligence with regards to knowing our own history found in the pages of Scripture. We have a witness there that spans human history, past, present and the very near future. At a minimum we can affirm the tradition authorship and if given to Christian scholarship, learn the intricacies of traditional authorship and the unique preservation of our sacred texts. The epistemology related to the historicity of an event, certainly the epic miracles surrounding the Exodus and the resurrection are formidable tasks, given the high degree of skepticism even in our own seminaries. But time and time again, even in the wildness of the creation/evolution controversy I've seen well read, hard core skeptics, silenced by a formal presentation of the facts. Evidential apologetics is indispensable to Christian scholarship, the transcendent principles Presuppositional apologetics are not in conflict with that, but rightfully should be in concert with evidential apologetics and epistemology.

    Adam was created from the dust of the earth, created from the earth for the earth. Even though he was more then that, we all exist on an earthly plane. Is it somehow surprising that men in their natural selves can only see the natural plane? With miracles abounding the children of Israel turned in their hearts back to Egypt, they stoned the prophets and crucified the author of life. How do we bring them to a supernatural worldview? God alone can pierce that darkness and we should have every confidence he can and does. Our responsibility to bear witness to the work of God in our lives, your a Calvinist, do you consider God's grace to be anything other then a miracle. Jesus preached, the kingdom of God is at hand, it is in reach, but violent men take it by force. I think the key to reaching people with the gospel is to first of all have some compassion, because apart from a miracle you could never have known the power of the gospel and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. We tell them in all sincerity, without hypocrisy, that the same power that raised Christ from the dead is available by faith. We do that by appealing to the witness of redemptive history, not fearing the ire of modern academics and science. Putting our confidence in the gospel has never been a popularity contest but a matter of conviction.

    I love these quotes:

    That is so very true, but philosophy when you are into it means defining one's terms. I think this could readily give itself to defining our unique epistemology and defending the historicity of Scripture formally. I think it must.

    I like his optimism, I think theology exists as almost pure metaphysics and profoundly moral in it's orientation. We have a well developed soteriology but I'm not quite sure that anthropology is often revisited in our apologetics. I think it's time we reconsidered retreating into our bastions and towers of Theological premises, I think we should appeal to an evidencial line of apologetics that preserves the classic and reformed apologetics of our forebears while accessing the voluminous information being generated through the sciences.

    I want to develop the details involved evidential apologetics a little bit more. Feel free to respond to the post as you see fit AW. But I think I should take the next positive argument since certain things need more clarity.

    May the truth prevail.

    Grace and peace,
  7. mark kennedy

    mark kennedy Natura non facit saltum Supporter

    I think we have hit an impasse in the debate because a presuppositional and evidencial approach to apologetics could be understood as two parts of the same thing. Van Till and presuppositional logic has always reminded me of Immanuel Kant's transcendental approach. Kant divided human reason into two parts, one if (lit. "from the earlier"), the other was a posteriori ( lit. "from the later"). What I would like to focus on here is the latter, or the a posteriori. From my earliest days as a Christian I had wondered with so many statements of fact that were detail specific in Scripture, wouldn't you expect the evidence to be very compelling for the student of Scripture. What I found is that the actual evidence is pretty much hidden because the secular mind seems free to move timelines to suit their concepts. Darwinian gradualism is notorious for this, for example, they give the human brain some 5 million years to develop from it's ape ancestry. What you find when looking at the actual fossil evidence is that the human brain would have had to double over night 2 million years ago. The genetic basis for such an expansion is completely unknown, when confronted with these facts the Darwinian falls silent.

    The attacks on the Christian faith, I've noticed, always go after essential doctrine. This invariably includes specific events, the creation and the resurrection being two of the most important because they are most transcendental. To use a more theological word, they are hermetical principles that transcend all of Holy Scripture. My approach has come to be, extraneous evidence while available, is clearly secondary to the Scriptures as evidence. So if it's easy for the skeptic, generally of the humanistic persuasion, to move the authorship of the New Testament to the right, the evidence disappears effortlessly. The same with the creation account, if we abandon the unbroken timeline from creation to Christ the creation account falls into an allegorical category of highly imaginative poetry, when it was written as an historical narrative.

    I think presuppositional logic has failed us as Christian apologists. Starting with arguments for God's existence, which all men know. Don't get me wrong, Van Till wrote and elegant and profoundly Calvinist view of apologetics (The Defense of the Faith). What he never provided was specifics, this made it awkward to try to include presuppositional logic into formal apologetics when I was trying to do so. Wilbur Smith is Therefore Stand wrote a brilliant defense of he resurrection, some exquisite quotes in that book. But early on he abandons the account of creation when even a passing remark here and there with regards to it being essential doctrine would have sufficed.

    I'm never likely to abandon presuppositional apologetics, but at times I have honestly felt abandoned by it. We know the humanist, the atheistic materialist, the Darwinian have their presuppositional logic and will not yield our core convictions regarding God working in time and space. What concerns me is that they are managing to play fast and loose with facts, manipulating the narrative and sending the discussion into circles because we as apologists tend to neglect the specifics.

    When we stand on the gospel, we need not stand tall, but we have to stand up and hold our ground. That can mean getting our hands dirty working out the details but ultimately, an evidencial approach will at least put the emphasis on facts. From there we can talk about what the actual evidence is and isolate the presuppositional logic of our critics. I just think the facts used in evidence have to include essential doctrine, which always includes actual events in redemptive history, specifically creation and the resurrection and their are others.

    At this point I'll let AW respond as he sees fit and take it from there.

    Grace and peace,
  8. Apologetic_Warrior

    Apologetic_Warrior Pilgrim

    United States
    Brother Mark! I would briefly like to note how up to post #6 (post #7 appears to be a different story) you have made it difficult for me to disagree (which I can appreciate on one hand). Up to this point, if this were a normal conversation, I would most likely not respond thinking to myself; “we agree more than we disagree, so no big deal”, no need to nitpick. However, a no response here would defeat the purpose of having a debate, so please forgive the nitpicking which follows and if I come across as overly critical. I think precision is important to most Calvinists, perhaps more so than for many others. Please consider this as iron sharpening iron.

    About twenty years ago in a college course titled “Changing Universe” from our primary text “The Five Biggest Ideas of Science” I recall reading briefly on the history of Science, and historically the first Scientists, were Philosophers. And then I think about Philosophers like Aristotle and his work “Categories” and the role and influence of his works on Western Civilization. His work “Categories” is indeed a philosophical work and considered the first written textbook on formal logic.

    Science as an epistemology is an incomplete epistemology. Every Scientist has an epistemology and for example must depend on transcendental laws of logic or laws of thought to interpret the phenomenon and conduct scientific procedures.

    Science can be defined as:

    “A branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged andshowing the operation of general laws” Dictionary.com

    Epistemology can be defined as:

    “A branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge.” Dictionary.com

    One branch of epistemology is the philosophy of Science, and I acknowledge the connections, however as you note, Science is limited to the natural, therefore the epistemology is limited to the natural, but at the same time is dependent upon transcendentals or metaphysics, another branch of philosophy. However there is a problem in all of this, a naturalistic epistemology presupposes autonomy which is at odds with transcendental realities or absolutes. So my contention here is that metaphysics cannot be justified or sustained without dependency on the supernatural.

    Additionally, the reason Science is limited to naturalism is due to the Scientific Method, so it is not so much epistemology, as it is dependency on the predictability involved with test results through the five senses. The apologist who emphasizes experience though may point to the conversion testimonies of countless Christians throughout the centuries as evidence of the supernatural. The empirically verifiable differences in persons who experience Spiritual regeneration. Differences in thought and behavior and responses to external phenomenon.

    In summary to this section of response, I agree Science and Evidential apologetics are categorically two different fields, and naturalistic Science defined as such indeed is limited, but the naturalistic presuppositions also reveal severe limitations of the evidential apologetic as a primary defense of….faith. We should embrace our Calvinism in every field, without a Revelational (Transcendental) Epistemology, we shall never pass beyond the natural to the supernatural, we shall never interpret the facts of Science as the God created facts in our interpretation of facts.

    Unfortunately the natural theology of St. Thomas Aquinas did not go far enough; if we stop there we have not even proven that the God who exists is the God of Christianity. However even what is called natural theology presupposes the Scriptures, and apologists appealing to natural theology should acknowledge their Christian presuppositions beforehand. The non-Christian will deny they are made in the image of God, and deny the law of God written on their heart, because all men are sinners and men in bondage to sin suppress the truth of God.

    And it does not stop there, apologists with a Biblical anthropology need to recognize the antithesis between the regenerate man and the man dead in sins and trespasses, the regenerate conscience and the seared conscience, the renewed mind and the carnal mind. We can appeal to what men know all day long, but can it avail when men suppress the truth of what they know?

    I agree God alone has the power to reach men, but he has chosen to reach men with the greater light of the Gospel of Christ. How can men come to know Christ except by the Scriptures? The things that are made declare the existence of God, but do not declare the Gospel of Christ.

    I love Bibliology and it is of great value to the Christian, however from the perspective of the non-Christian, even if and when they affirm the historicity of Biblical tradition, people, places, and things, the buck stops there and at best they approach the enlightenment of Deism. It is one thing to look at the Bible as literature and another to affirm it is of Divine origin.

    Formidable is saying it lightly, apart from the miracle of monergistic regeneration in the heart of the non-Christian, they will always exit out the back door in retreat to their most basic presuppositions (axioms) of their worldview.

    Certainly I too believe there is great value in silencing critics and skeptics for the sake of the faithful, for the sake of the layman, and the believer struggling with doubts.

    Without a transcendental Revelational epistemology, Evidential apologetics is limited to naturalistic epistemology of the Scientific method, and Supernaturalism is out of question, and likewise justification for metaphysics without supernaturalism is a lost cause. So evidential apologetics without Presuppositional apologetics is an exercise in futility.

    Exactly, God alone by a sovereign supernatural monergistic work of the Spirit in regeneration.
    Ahh now you’re approaching the historical problem of traditional apologetics, without a Biblical anthropology, traditional apologetics alone are not sufficient nor thoroughly Biblical to be;

    “casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)​


    Response to #7 will be forthcoming
    Last edited: May 5, 2019