Sunday, May 10, 2020

What is presuppositionalism getting at?

There are different aspects to the evidentialist/presuppositionalist debate. Some of these are tedious and superficial. 

One question is the role of transcendental arguments in Christian apologetics. Do these make a necessary contribution to Christian apologetics? I'd say they do.

Should they be the centerpiece of Christian apologetics? Here I'd demure. I think inductive arguments for the Resurrection, the canon of scripture, the argument from prophecy, the biographical accuracy of the Gospels, and the reliability of the Greek/Hebrew text of Scripture are more directly germane to the Christian faith than most transcendental arguments for God, so in that respect I think inductive arguments should be front and center. 

But to some extent this is a matter of expertise. In the age of modern logic, with modal logic, Bayesian probability theory and other suchlike, formulating philosophically rigorous arguments for Christianity becomes a very technical exercise, and so you have philosophers who specialize on particular kinds of arguments (e.g. Pruss on the contingency argument, Collins on the fine-turning argument, Maydole on ontological arguments). 

That said, presuppositionalism isn't primarily about apologetic methodology or even transcendental arguments. It runs much deeper than that. It's about the nature of God, reality, and God's relation to the world. What kinds of things rely on God for their existence? Is it confined to truths of fact and contingent entities, or does it include necessary truths, abstract objects, and moral realism? Are logic, numbers, and possible worlds independent of God or do they have their grounding in God? A God who's the source of these things is a more fundamental being than a God who is not. A greater being. So this is ultimately about theology. 


  1. As I was planning to ask if there was a reason it seems Reformed individuals seem to approve/use presuppositionalism while non-Reformed don't, and Eli Ayala said he'll be discussing that on the 16th (previous post).

  2. It all goes to what the goal of apologetics is. Are we looking for an irrefutable argument for God's existence, irrefutable proof of God's existence, or something else? I'd say that Presuppositional Apologetics gives us that something else: specifically it focuses our attention on the understanding that we are giving a reason for our hope (ultimately a Gospel proclamation) to a people who largely won't accept it no matter what reason we give

    With this in mind, we can understand the various approaches to Christian apologetics using the triperspectival philosophical categories of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. While all approaches to apologetics have some investment in each of the categories, they tend to have particular focus in one or the other. The classical formulas for the existence of God employ some observation/assumption of God's metaphysical nature. Evidential apologetics assume the form of scientific discovery, at least in the production of statistical likelihoods and observations of the natural world that match some claim in the text of Scripture. As such, evidential apologetics are epistemological. Presuppositional apologetics starts with the understanding from Scripture of the noetic effects of sin and are therefore planted firmly in ethics, although methods like Bahnsen's take this understanding as a pretext for a kind of classical-evidential synthesis (a rigorous deductive syllogism that produces the best explanation that is largely not understandable on a pedestrian level). Frame's approach is better. My favorite iteration of presuppositionalism is what Voddie Baucham calls expository apologetics. (There's a brand called exegetical apologetics put forth by a fellow named Keith Thompson, although I haven't studied him yet so I can't say if it's the same kind of thing.)