Thursday, July 07, 2011

Overly Dependent On TAG

I recently pulled up an old article I wrote back in 2008 called On the "Appropriate" Apologetic Method and noticed that there was a comment from Truth Unites…and Divides from 2009 that I wish I had seen back then! But, this being the Internet where old threads are resurrected for no apparent reason all the time, I figured I might as well bring up a two-year-old comment and examine it here.

My original article dealt with a troubling trend I see in many presuppositionalists. Mostly it’s the Clarkian Scripturalists, but VanTillians fall into it too. Namely, many presuppositionalists treat presuppositionalism as an immunization to debate such that the Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God (TAG) substitutes for actually thinking about things. The result is a knee-jerk reaction that “if it ain’t TAG, it’s of the devil.” My point in the previous article was to demonstrate that it was not sinful to use evidential arguments at all, and in fact it was much more useful to use those types of arguments when dealing with the average man-on-the-street than the philosophically intense TAG is.

One particularly important quote (as it relates to my current post) was:

I would point out, however, that the Bible does use evidential arguments from time to time too. For instance, when Scripture says in Psalm 19:1 that the heavens declare the glory of God, David is referring to how God’s glory is manifested in nature. It is evidenced by nature itself. And Paul echoes that in Romans 1 as well, saying that God’s attributes are seen in what has been made.
TUAD quoted from my article in a discussion thread he was on, and then posted the response he received from Ronald Di Giacomo, which began:

How do you know that the Heavens declare the glory of God apart from Scripture?
This is precisely the attitude that the cage-stage presuppositionalists fall into that I was critiquing in my original post. Consider for a moment what the question entails. If it is impossible to know that the heavens declare the glory of God apart from Scripture, then in what way can you say the heavens declare anything? How is it a “declaration” if one needs Scripture in order to know something’s being declared? Or is the assumption that the heavens didn’t declare the glory of God until the Psalmist penned his words? Such a concept seems absurd.

Furthermore, when looked at how Paul uses the concept in Romans 1 we’d see that this question would turn Paul’s argument on its head. Paul argues in verse 18 that the wrath of God is revealed against unbelievers, and gives the reason in verse 19-20: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” If nature was insufficient to demonstrate “what can be known about God” including his invisible attributes like his eternal power and divine nature, then unbelievers would have an excuse not to believe. We do not need Romans 1 or Psalm 19 to be convicted for not believing in God, for creation itself testifies to the existence of God. So how do we know the heavens declare the glory of God apart from Scripture? Because the heavens actually DO declare the glory of God.

Di Giacomo continued:

Accordingly, to defend that premise with any absolute authority other than Scripture is sin. To do anything less is to make something other than God's word your ultimate authority, which is again sin.
First of all, I don’t understand what “authority” has to do with anything here. We’re talking about objective truth, and the only authority objective truth needs is its own truth-value. But this falls prey to a logical problem even if we accept the authority issue. Di Giacomo believes Scripture is authoritative, and Scripture itself declares that creation even apart from Scripture manifests the nature and attributes of God such that men who suppress the truth of God are without excuse. That means that if Di Giacomo is to respect the authority of Scripture, he ought to acknowledge that nature does what Scripture claims nature does. To do otherwise is to deny what Scripture says, which hardly makes God’s word “your ultimate authority” and which, following his logic above, makes it sin.

Di Giacomo then has a couple of statements which do not seem to apply to what I wrote. I could not tell whether he was questioning TUAD or something else entirely. But let me address them anyway. He said:

Philosophically, you have yet to show how it is possible to justify the truth of the premises used in an evidentialist or Thomistic approach.
Of course, I was not defending Thomism in my original article (this is partly why I assume this question is not directed toward me), and as I pointed out even evidential arguments must, if one meets a philosophically savvy opponent, reach the presuppositional level. But Scripture itself allows us to justify evidentalist arguments regarding the invisible attributes of God listed in Romans 1, since Scripture maintains both that these are objective truths and that these truths are knowable even independent of Scripture. This can even be expanded by including the aspects of the law that are written even on the hearts of Gentiles that Paul mentions in Romans 2:15.

Di Giacomo continued:

Moreover, how does one get from an assertion that is not justified from Scripture (such as that the Heavens declare God's glory) to the conclusion of the Ontological Trinity of Scripture?
I assume that he meant that the statement “the Heavens declare God’s glory” is justified from Scripture, since it is Psalm 19:1. But this argument about the Ontological Trinity does not help Di Giacomo either. To use an example I got from Paul Manata (see here), suppose that I held to every Christian presupposition except that I believe God is four persons instead of three. Is TAG sufficient to refute that view? No, because it is hard to see how there would be a logical inconsistency within the worldview that stipulated there was an unstated (by Scripture) fourth person in the Trinity. At best, one could conclude that it’s unfounded to assert there’s a fourth person, but since neither Father, Son, nor Spirit are denied, a “quadune” God is just as logically consistent under TAG as a triune God is.

The reality is that Di Giacomo does not believe in the Trinity because of his presuppositional arguments; rather, he believes Scripture and Scripture says the Trinity exists. Yet the evidentialist also believes in the Trinity because he believes Scripture and Scripture says the Trinity exists! Di Giacomo may argue that he has a better justification to believe the validity of Scripture due to his presuppositional arguments, but even if the evidentialist has erroneous reasons to trust in the validity of Scripture, once he does trust the validity of Scripture he comes to the same beliefs about the Trinity that the presuppositionalist does. So to argue the logical chain used to get to the Trinity is a red herring. One need only be able to argue to the validity of Scripture, something that evidentialists are actually quite good at accomplishing despite handicapping themselves by allowing atheists to dictate the terms of the debate.

Either way, it seems to me that he does not reach Paul’s attitude:

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. (Philippians 1:15-18)
Di Giacomo concluded his comment thus:

What you're not grasping is that although men know God by nature, any appeal to that truth is not an apologetic nor justifiable apart from Scripture. That premise must be justified somehow, mustn't it?
I have to admit that I’m hard-pressed to understand how an appeal to truth is not an apologetic, especially when it’s a truth the apostle Paul used in his own defense of the Gospel. Furthermore, I would like to see Di Giacomo demonstrate from Scripture his claim that all premises must be justified from Scripture.


  1. "To use an example I got from Paul Manata (see here), suppose that I held to every Christian presupposition except that I believe God is four persons instead of three."

    Which I got from guys like Welty, Choi, Byron, and Anderson. But seeds can also be seen in guys like J.W. Montgomery and David Hoover.

  2. Whoa and wow!

    I didn't expect to get referenced in a blog post when I pulled up the Triablogue page today!

    Ron DiGiacomo is a good solid Christian brother. He's just, no other way to put it, hard core about TAG.

    When I go back to the old thread of his, "A Sound Proof for God's Existence" and re-read:

    "Evidentialism fails and is an immoral apologetic."


    "I'm certainly not the ONLY apologist who finds evidentialism and Thomistic apologetics immoral. Bahnsen said so much. Notwithstanding, his or my say-so doesn't make it so.

    Evidentialism denies Christianity because as an apologetic it presupposes that (a) all man needs is more evidence; (b) man can interpet the evidence aright apart from Scripture; (c) man, unaided by Scripture, can have a philosophy of fact that is intelligible and (d), and worst of all, it implies at best that Jesus *might* live."

    Then I wish Ron would dial it down some.

  3. "But Scripture itself allows us to justify evidentalist arguments regarding the invisible attributes of God listed in Romans 1, since Scripture maintains both that these are objective truths and that these truths are knowable even independent of Scripture."

    Good point, Peter.

    My attempted approach to dampen down Ron's ardent fervor for TAG was to suggest that Apostle Paul did *NOT* use TAG arguments in his address at Mars Hill. And that Apostle Paul used evidentialist arguments instead.

    But Ron did not go down that line of refutation with me.

  4. Peter,

    well, this is an interesting post.


    I would approach this article this way, relying upon some verses; these:

    Mar 13:10 And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations.


    Act 20:32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.


    Rev 2:26 The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations,
    Rev 2:27 and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father.

    It is a thought provoking premise that one can know God without first having heard or read Scripture since the Work of Christ that we do first comes by hearing the Word of God.

    What seems apparent to me from the citation from Mark's Gospel above, is, God intends on the "work" of Christ to end up at the doorstep of every nation.

    I was struck the other day with a thought because of a television report I was watching where photos were shown as a part of the report of a discovery of an, as yet, unknown tribe of people in the Amazon jungle near the borders of Brazil and, I think, either, Peru or Bolivia?

    I immediately thought about what I saw. In the published photos I saw dark skinned men with black hair naked looking up and throwing spears at the plane flying over their village. I also saw what seemed to be a very clean, orderly village with varying size structures. That put the idea within me that these people had some sort of governmental structure innate within their isolated society constituting a form of a small nation, hence making Mark's script apropos.

    Hopefully Missionaries will get to work to reach this group with the Gospel?

    Also, as I think of the premise laid out in this post, I consider what the Apostle wrote as an admonition to the Ephesian Elders at that prearranged conference. Paul commends these people to God and to the Word of His Grace.

    It seems to me to imply we can know God by knowing Him directly without any aid of His Written Word?

    Finally, as of late, I have been struck by those words of revelation shown to John, especially those words at Revelation 2:26, which seems to make a distinction between "my" works and "Works" I am given to hold onto until I, too, pass from this life into the Life with God when I, too, pass from this life.

    To borrow from TUAD, Ron maybe does need to tone it down a notch or two? Or not??

  5. Heh, I've had run-ins with Ron my own self. There is no arguing with people like this. It's best to just leave them to their own devices. I dunno if this is too mean, but he reminds me of the John Loftus of Christians.

  6. Just FYI, I wasn't intending to make this into a Bash Ron Di Giacomo thread. I'm sure that TUAD is right when he says: "Ron DiGiacomo is a good solid Christian brother." And since his comments are two years old and I haven't had any interaction with him personally, he may have changed his views by now.

    My point was only to address the claims, which are by no means isolated to Di Giacomo (even if he still holds them), that Sola TAGists hold.

  7. he reminds me of the John Loftus of Christians.

    That seems a bit harsh. I'm not sure you've sufficiently plumbed the depths of Loftus' irrationality.

  8. "That seems a bit harsh. I'm not sure you've sufficiently plumbed the depths of Loftus' irrationality."

    It is harsh; Loftus is an irrational buffoon, Ron D. is just an Italian. Take it from me, people usually confuse these two: "He's a jerk" with "He's an Italian." The difference is that the latter always comes attached with these designators: "good cook," "tough debater," and "black belt ball buster;" the former need not—though it does for about 56% of Irish jerks.

  9. But back to DiGiacomo,

    So according to DiGiacomo's paradigm- does this excuse the man blind from birth? Since creation isn't actually seen to be believed?