Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Transcendental theism

I see that Dr. Reppert has drawn attention to a thread which I myself did not pay much attention to since I jumped into this debate at a later point. In the combox, Jeff Lowder says, among other things, the following:

“I'd like to emphasize that my current opinion of presuppositionalism as an idea is in no way related to my opinion of presuppositionalists as people. Yes, you're correct that both Sean and Steve are presuppositionalists. The fact that I think the "there are no atheists" idea is silly doesn't mean I don't respect Sean and Steve; on the contrary, I have great respect for them and I have always enjoyed and profited from reading what they have to say, which is why I link to their blogs. (By analogy, I wouldn't be surprised if Sean or Steve thought that atheism is silly and absurd. And if they did, I wouldn't personalize the issue and take it as a personal attack on me.)”

Since I’ve been classified as a presuppositionalist, and since the public debate is broadening as Triablogue is now interacting with other Christian bloggers like Dr. Reppert as well as non-Christian bloggers from the Secular Outpost and its affiliates, I should take the occasion to clarify my own commitments.

1.I’m a Calvinist because I’m a Biblicist, and I believe that Calvinism captures the teaching of Scripture.

Because I’m a Calvinist, Reformed theology prescribes the theological content of what I defend as an apologist, as well as proscribing certain apologetic options at variance with Reformed theology.

2.I differ with Van Til in the following respects:

i) I don’t agree with him on the incomprehensibility of God. I don’t share his commitment to a quasi-Kantian dialectical epistemology.

ii) I’m not as hostile to natural theology as Van Til was. But it’s hard to generalize. For it all depends on what sort of epistemology is informing your natural theology.

Since I believe in the unity of truth, I don’t believe that there’s any necessary starting-point or necessary order in doing apologetics.

iii) By the same token, I don’t have any principled objection to the traditional theistic proofs, or contemporary versions thereof.

iv) And by the same token, I don’t regard transcendental reasoning as the only proper method of argumentation.

3.I differ from “traditional” apologetics in the following respects:

i) I regard faith as a mode of knowledge, and not defeasible opinion. Hence, I don’t regard the Christian faith as some sort of falsifiable hypothesis.

On a personal note, I’ve been a Christian for 30 years. In all that time I’ve never doubted the Bible.

ii) By the same token, I don’t regard unbelief as innocent.

iii) I don’t object to common ground. However, we must be prepared to challenge evasive or arbitrary rules of evidence.

Our methodology should be adapted to the object of knowledge. The subject-matter dictates the method, not vice versa.

iv) Since I believe in the unity of truth, I don’t believe that we can rightly compartmentalize the field of knowledge into sacred and profane domains, and then argue with the unbeliever on neutral ground.

v) As an indirect realist, I don’t have much use for scientific arguments one way or the other.

vi) By the same token, I’m much more sceptical about the scope of sense knowledge than the average Christian apologist.

a) To the degree that I regard the senses as a source of knowledge, I view sensory information as a carrier-wave for abstract propositions.

b) I regard the phenomenal world as a divine cryptogram. Hence, if I were mounting a teleological argument, I’d argue for God as the cosmic cryptographer.

vii) Divine revelation is central to my epistemology. For me, there is no distinction between religious epistemology and general epistemology. Revelation is the savior of sense knowledge.

Turning to Jeff’s statements:

1.Jeff is an exceptionally careful and cautious writer. He is never one to go out on a limb with rash, ill-considered, ill-informed pronouncements.

2.I do not regard infidelity, whether in the form of atheism or idolatry, as silly. There are, of course, a number of silly unbelievers with silly arguments.

But, by that same token, there are a number of silly believers with silly arguments.

To me, infidelity is like a bombed out cathedral. It’s a magnificent reminder and tragic ruin of what man was meant to be.

The unbeliever is an arsonist who sets his own house on fire.

3.I do regard atheism as monumentally absurd. At the same time, I understand how an unbeliever might regard the Bible as absurd.

It all depends on your personal experience and frame of reference. A sophisticated and self-conscious unbeliever such as W. V. Quine will embark on a radically reductive program to justify his unbelief. In that respect, an unbeliever is never more absurd than at his most astute.

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