Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Copan on presuppositionalism

I’m going to comment on some statements that Paul Copan made here:

First, it engages in question-begging---assuming what one wants to prove. It begins with the assumption that God exists, and then concludes that God exists. Such reasoning would get you an "F" in any logic class worthy of the name!

Several problems with this objection:

i) Copan fails to distinguish between a circular argument and a circular epistemology. Between logical circularity and epistemic circularity.

Circularity in a logical syllogism is fallacious. By contrast, philosophers like Roderick Chisholm and William Aston concede the inevitabliity of epistemic circularity. That’s not invalid. Epistemology is broader than logical validity.

ii) It’s not uncommon for people to assume what they intend to prove. And there’s nothing inherently suspect about that. For instance, great scientists like Newton, Einstein, Richard Feynman, and Linus Pauling may intuit the answer before they formally prove the answer. Indeed, there’s a term for that: “physical intuition.”

Great mathematicians like Henri Poincaré, Paul Cohen, Benoit Mandelbrot, Roger Penrose, and Andrew Wiles may discover a solution through a flash of insight, before they get around to formally proving their solution. There’s a term for that too: “mathematical intuition.”

Great chess players such as Capablanca have innate sight-of-the-board. They can size up what to do next at a glance. By the same token, medical diagnosticians are often guided by hunches.

iii) Copan has written many apologetic books and articles. Surely he doesn’t zero out his Christian faith and begin from scratch every time he sits down to write a new book about Christianity. Surely he doesn’t come to each new literary project undecided on the existence of God or the truth of Christianity. No. He begins with what he already believes. That’s a given. He assumes at the outset what he’s going to prove.

When he sits down to write a new book or article on Christianity, I doubt he’s in a state of suspense regarding the outcome. No. His conclusion is a foregone conclusion. If his book winds up defending Christianity, it’s not as if his belief only emerged at the end of the writing process. It’s not as if he had to finish writing the book to find out what he believes. Proving something isn’t necessarily, or even generally, a process of discovery.

Of course a Christian apologist takes the Christian faith for granted when he reasons with an unbeliever. Otherwise he wouldn’t be a Christian apologist.

iv) Now perhaps what Copan means is that while a Christian apologist assumes what he needs to prove at the time he reasons with an unbeliever, his current conviction is the result of prior investigation. He arrived at his Christian position by carefully verifying the claims of Christianity. But if that’s what Copan means, then that exposes the ambiguity of his objection.

v) Finally, Frame has said his methodology is linear rather than circular. Cf. S. Cowan, ed. Five Views On Apologetics (Zondervan 2000), 210.

While we begin our worldview examination from somewhere, universal logical laws like the law of non-contradiction or excluded middle are inescapable for assessing and critiquing worldviews.

Which is fine as far as it goes. But what grounds the laws of logic? What’s the ontology of logic?

You can begin with logic, but you can also go behind logic to construct a transcendental argument for logic. What’s the metaphysical machinery that underwrites logic?

Furthermore, why the Christian God and not the God of the Qur’an as the ground for rational thought?

i) Keep in mind that Islam is a Judeo-Christian heresy. A rip-off. Muhammad’s worth-of-mouth knowledge (often garbled) of the Bible and Christian theology often feeds into the Koran. So Islam illustrates the Van Tilian adage about unbelievers welching on the borrowed capital of Christianity.

ii) It may be that transcendental arguments are insufficiently discriminating to single out Christianity. If so, then you need to deploy different types of arguments to disprove Islam. In that event, transcendental arguments must be supplemented by other kinds of arguments. But that doesn’t obviate the distinctive contribution of transcendental arguments.

1 comment:

  1. I think you are onto something here and I'll ad a couple of other observations:

    1. Even if the argument were circular, which is isn't, it doesn't prove the converse.

    2. If each item of a circular argument were true, then what one has is concurrence. The argument then is not one of deductive proof, but an observation of causation such that a syllogism can be formed describing the relationship. That's not circular, it's descriptive.