Saturday, December 15, 2007

Non-Presuppositionalist Nods towards Presuppositionalism

Many (both non-Christian and Christian) thinkers have claimed that no one takes the basic ideas of presuppositionalism seriously, or presuppositionalism qua apologetic methodology, seriously.

Some have commented that presuppositionalism's invocations of circular argumentation is not respectable, and thus constitute a reason to reject presuppositionalism. Here are two comments by non-presuppositionalists. One is an atheist, the other a Christian.

"Circularity: A sequence of reasoning is circular if one of the premises depends on, or is even equivalent to, the conclusion. Circularity is not always fallacious, but can be a defect in an argument where the conclusion is doubtful and the premises are supposed to be a less doubtful basis for proving the conclusion." (Douglas Walton, Oxford Companion To Philosophy, p. 135.)

"This argument has a certain appeal, and I must grant that it has a valid point. The point is that any explicit justification of my belief that God is good will be circular. But that point can be happily conceded. Circularity need not be vicious, and the kind of circularity involved here is not in any way peculiar to my position. Indeed, any theory that posits objective values will face the same problem, which is essentially a sceptical one. Some sceptical challenges are fair and others are not, and we will clarify the distinction by the use of a couple of examples." (Steve Lovell, Lewis and the Euthyphro Dilemma, SOURCE.)

Another objection is that no non-presuppositionalist apologist respects the argumentation presuppositionalists employ. Presuppositionalism is excluded as a contender in contemporary apologetic literature, it is claimed.

A new apologetic book, Reason for the Hope Within, is endorsed by many of the "big names" in Christian apologetics. In an article of Postmodernism, non-presuppositionalist Michael J. Murray states in a footnote that that he has,

"to add here that this is where many Christians just misunderstand what is valuable in so-called postmodern philosophy. Almost without exception evangelical theologians who accept the deliverances of postmodernism do so because they confuse two points. They think that being a relativist about best-ness of theoretical explanations commits one to relativism about truth. But this is just mistaken. So, there is a lesson to be learned from postmodernism, but it is not the lesson they think. Let me add further that it is at junctures like this that we can see just where so-called 'presuppositionalists' have apologetics right. That is, it is right that both Christian and unbeliever have certain presuppositions in place when they engage each other intellectually. And it is right that there is no way to decisively argue unbelievers out of their unbelief because of these very presuppositions. In this way, one might think, the insights of Cornelius Van Til are quite useful for apologetics, and what he has to say already embodies anything useful postmodernism has to teach us. It is unfortunate, however, just how poorly contemporary defenders of presuppositionalism do in making its insights clear. In part, the trouble is that they themselves are just not clear about which of the insights are valuable and which are not." (Murray, Reason for the Hope, p.17, n.3.)

Now, I agree with much of what he says in his last two sentences. I would add that there is a lot of talent that is already here, and/or coming down the pike, that should serve to fill that gap. My point is a simple one, though. It's not a full claim to vindication, but I think I have pointed out that at least one concern regarding presuppositionalist thought - circular argumentation at the ultimate level - is respected by those outside the camp. And, another concern regarding the apparent shunning presuppositionalists receive in the contemporary, non-presuppositionalist apologetic literature has been shown to be without merit as well.


  1. Student Center Intellectual12/16/2007 7:53 AM

    Having discovered the work of John Robbins over at the Trinity Foundation, and beginning a study of Gordon Clark, I realize that you guys have only been telling half the story of the presuppositionalist method.

    More later.

  2. 7:57 AM

    Here's a link,

  3. As if we didn't know about Clark. Do a search of the archives.

  4. Student, check out the many discussions over at puritanboard. Paul, as well as many others, have discussed Clark a number of times.

  5. Student,

    Please deduce that we have only been telling half (not .4 or .6, but .5) of the story from propositions contained in the Bible. If you can't, then start your own blog and put your unjustified opinions over there.

  6. "the work of John Robbins"


  7. The presuppositional method seems to be the most Biblical approach to apologetics.

    I've been using it quite a lot lately and i've discovered something, the "new" atheism is hard to pin down.

    When asking them to account for justification of the a priori categories for example they might go to such extremes as saying that logic is merely a function of language. Or even that language does not refer to fact etc.

    If one wants to do apologetics these days, it seems to be necessary not only to know the methodology, but also to be quite well versed in modern analytic philosophy.

  8. Marston Choice's book totally dismantles this approach. There's no way anyone could overcome his argument.

  9. I read both Marston Choice's books. You're right that he shows the absurdity of the approach in both epistemology and apologetics. I'd put Tina Weinss' works in the same category.

  10. Sam, Tony, you care to elaborate on that "marston choice" author? I tried to Amazon and Google the guy and right now I am getting nothing. Is he like a Snuffleupagus or something?


  11. The books we were talking about are availble presently only in mongraph form. I think they are about $130 each, so I obviously don't own one. I'm not at school, so I don't have one handy. However, it's obvious that they will end up being combined into a book, give the quality and nature of the material.

  12. "Tony: The books we were talking about..."

    Tony, read Fred's question again. He wasn't asking you to elaborate on the books.

    Tony: "However, it's obvious that they will end up being combined into a book, give[n] the quality and nature of the material."

    It's not obvious to me. Perhaps you or Sam could give us the gist of the "quality and nature of the material" you've both praised here? Maybe a rough outline?

  13. More over, while you prepare us a rough outline of the argument present in these stellar books us poor bumpkins have not had the privilege of reading, tell us about the author as well. Any online info?


  14. "Marston Choice's book totally dismantles this approach. There's no way anyone could overcome his argument."

    Of course everyone thinks that their argument is irrefutatble...until it has been refuted.

    "You're right that he shows the absurdity of the approach in both epistemology and apologetics."

    Oh boy. Like I haven't heard that one before.

  15. SS: "Of course everyone thinks that their argument is irrefutatble...until it has been refuted."

    No, not "of course," and not "everyone." Take presuppositionalists for example. Their "argument" (if you could even call it that) has been refuted on numerous occasions. But they still continue to think that their argument is irrefutable. It's even been shown that some presuppositionalist "arguments" aren't really even arguments in the first place. They champion what can rightfully be called the "transcendental non-argument for God," or TNAG. And it is with this that they try to TNAG non-believers, who just end up laughing.

  16. Hello. I just thought you might like to read this article:
    "A Christian Answer to the Euthyphro Dilemma" (link).