This is the penultimate installment of this series on presuppositional apologetics. In this post I shall be dealing a little more with the erstwhile atheist “expert” appealed to by FF and company and demonstrating his ignorance. I shall also engage more comments by FF etc., and show how presuppositionalism overturns them.
The Facts of External Existence
What shall I call the individual whose video snippet attacking Jason Lisle and presuppositional apologetics was relied upon by FF? As he poses as someone who has put his finger on “the fundamental flaw” of presuppositional apologetics, I shall dub him “Flaw.”
You will recall that Flaw presented presuppositionalists as mistaking the “distinction between the laws of logic and what these laws refer to.” He then went on to misrepresent Lisle by showing an abbreviated clip of a longer presentation, which it seems he had not watched. On the basis of the abbreviated clip he branded Lisle a liar, as well as slinging some other choice epithets his way, none of which I shall reproduce here. One should note in passing that Flaw assumes a moral ground upon which to stand in order to malign Lisle.
Now, as I showed last time, Lisle in fact does make the very distinction he was supposed not to make. As a matter of fact, this distinction between logic and the objects it describes is so basic that one has to wonder at the effrontery of Flaw in thinking we had missed it (ditto FF and his buddies). But then again, arrogance is blind.
Within his short critique, Flaw quips about “the facts of existence” and “the relationship between those entities.” He speaks about “the fact of identity, [which] depends on the existence of anything at all.”
Now, any reader of Cornelius Van Til will instantly note that the notion of “fact” in unbelieving worldviews is the very thing he trains his guns on. The fundamental difference between the Christian philosophy of fact from the non-Christian view, is that for the Christian the facts are all preinterpreted by God, and are thus part of an integrated whole. When our interpretation of any fact corresponds to God’s interpretation (though not exhaustively), we can claim true knowledge, and that knowledge is connectible to other knowledge.
But in the non-Christian approach to facts, it is not the mind of the infinite God who makes the facts what they are, and connects them up, but rather the minds of finite men. So when the unsaved person comes across a fact, he or she must have another system in which to place it. It will not be God’s system (though it will often of necessity overlap with it), so it must be one of their own making. It is this new system; this alternative worldview, which the presuppositional apologist will go after. Atheism in its guises is one of these systems. Others are represented by the non-Christian religions and cults.
Turning to Flaw’s statements one can easily see that he assumes “the facts of existence” and their necessary connections without giving any basis for his assumption. Remember that the transcendental argument for God’s existence (or TAG) asks the unbeliever to quit using the worldview he says he rejects (the biblical one), and contrive another worldview in which his assertions make any sense. Flaw has to tell us how he knows “the facts of external existence” lie outside of his mind, that is, are actually external, and how he knows they are what he says they are. This is no small feat. In fact, it has eluded the greatest philosophers from Plato to Bertrand Russell. Plato couldn’t prove that his realm of static forms existed, nor could he say how they related to a world of constant change. Russell tried to tie the “facts” to a language of logic and ended up dismissing every vestige of knowledge into the empty void of Hume’s skepticism. Readers who followed my correspondence with “Dormant Dragon” a few years back, or who read my interactions with FF will know that they were both presented with this problem. Dormant Dragon, to her credit, at least admitted she did not possess the philosophical nous to respond. FF simply ignored the point like it was never put to him.
Without the biblical God to assure him that his mind is not inventing reality, and the connections he is assuming, on what basis can the atheist talk about “the facts of [external] existence.”? Can he do it empirically? He runs smack into Hume’s critique of induction and causation. That is, Hume (and Russell) said that we cannot empirically prove cause and effect. Can he do it via logical deduction? Then he must tell us how he knows the objects and class concepts he wishes to make inferences about actually exist beyond his brain. Berkeley, along with many Hindus, say they didn’t exist. Kant said they didn’t exist as we perceive them.
“Of course they exist” is not an answer. We know they do – on the Christian worldview, but FF rejects that worldview! If he cannot prove that anything exists beyond himself, how is he to use the laws of identity or non-contradiction? The world out there may only exist like dreams “exist.”
A Deistic God
“a deistic god can be defined as possessing all the necessary characteristics; after all, that’s what you are doing with Yahweh.”
Then he defines a deistic god this way:
“A deistic god is any god which while responsible for one or more aspects of the natural world, does not directly interact with its creation. That’s it.”
Ooookay. If any more validation needs to be given for my terminating the discussion with FF, this is it. According to FF’s own definition, a deistic god does not have any interaction with its creation. Now aside from the begged question of how one could possibly know whether this god created anything, let’s just focus for a moment on this position. This definition rules out any revelation; verbal or natural; any miracle, any incarnation, any providence, any communicated attributes like love, mercy, justice, wisdom, truth, and logic. But nevermind these incidentals, FF has told us, “a deistic god can be defined as possessing all the necessary characteristics.”!!!
This is the same person who couldn’t get the Trinity right; who thinks Mark’s Gospel says Jesus wasn’t called Jesus till after the crucifixion; thinks Jesus never existed anyway; and who thinks his ridiculous version of presuppositional apologetics correctly represents the real one – even when he is given samples proving his straw man fallacies. All this from a supposedly unbiased position!
I shall not spend long over this one. The God of the Bible, whether you trust Him or not, IS the God of the Bible! If you are going to try to refute Him, you cannot do it by disproving a god who is NOT of the Bible! A god of this variety is, by the way, often aimed at by proponents of evidential apologetics, which assumes neutral common ground with the unbeliever. These are the very things presuppositionalism is dead against, which is why it rejects evidentialism (though not evidences).
Being a “grad student in biology”, and a self-styled “autodidact” in debating theists has nothing to do with whether he is talking nonsense or not. This is the fallacy of appeal to authority. In this case his own. It is a great help in these cases when the autodidact (i.e. he’s self-taught) gets to debate both sides. If he decides the theist needs a well deserved clobbering, he can dish it out with alacrity.
Now please don’t think I am picking on an isolated instance. This is an exemplar of the sort of thing one encounters from atheists. Some of them will not be so ignorant of Christian Theology (though most will), and some will at least have enough about them to try to listen to the argument you present rather the invent one for you, but well nigh all will simply assume they are looking at the arguments neutrally – even the professional ones like Richard Carrier or Michael Martin. One of these recent antagonists on FB tried to attack Stephen Meyer’s latest book without having read it or its predecessor. When I wouldn’t give his “scientific” arguments the time of day he said it was I was avoiding the evidence! What counts as evidence for an atheist is not always evidence for a Christian. This is because, as I have already said, facts must be interpreted. Under certain interpretations they become evidence, but under other interpretations they are not. Read more »
Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design, by Stephen C. Meyer, New York: Harper Collins, 2013, xii + 498 pages, hdbk.
Stephen Meyer has been a thorn in the side of dogmatic evolutionists for a good while now. He has worked as a geophysicist and has a PhD in the Philosophy of Science from Cambridge. His previous book of nearly 600 pages, Signature in the Cell, dealt with the criteria for determining information, especially in the formation and function of cells. It went into some detail about so-called ‘Shannon Information,’ which is most often the kind pointed out by evolutionists. Shannon calculated the mathematical relationship between information and probability, showing that the amount of information conveyed by an event is inversely related to its probability. The trouble with Shannon’s theory was that it could not distinguish meaningful information from gibberish. The solution to that problem forms another part of the book. Meyer demonstrates that complex specified information has both very high mathematical improbability, while also being goal-centered.
Then Signature included Meyer’s long interactions with the computer simulations of Kuppers, Dawkins, Schneider, Kauffman, Avida, showing that they all presuppose what they are claimed to disprove: the need for an intelligent agent. Additionally, none of them fulfill their promises. The DNA molecule came under investigation throughout Signature, and the vaunted “scientific method” was examined, and it was shown that along with it being a fluid concept, many scientists devoted to it actually utilize intelligent design in their work.
Now comes Darwin’s Doubt. Weighing in at almost 500 pages, it continues the discussion, this time focusing on the so-called Cambrian Explosion, where “representatives of about twenty of the roughly twenty-six total phyla present in the fossil record made their first appearance on earth.” (31).
Like its predecessor, the book makes it a point to interact with contemporary evolutionary thought. Meyer has been careful to be as cutting edge as possible. Here we get his patient explanations of Darwin’s Tree of Life and its modern counterparts. He examines the Burgess Shale Bestiary, where huge deposits of Cambrian fauna are present, and the even more impressive Chengjiang Explosion in China. If Darwin were right about what we ought to find, “diversity would precede disparity, the phyla-level differences in the body plan would emerge after the species-, genus-, family-, order-, and class level differences appeared…The actual pattern in the fossil record, however, contradicts this expectation.” (41).
Meyer’s personal acquaintance with two of the main experts working at Chengjiang, J. Y. Chen and Paul Chien, helps him relate their results compellingly. The dramatic finds of wonderfully preserved Cambrian fossil body-plans have only intensified the “problem” of the Cambrian Explosion. They have no ancestors in the underlying rock! He asks,
“Could there have been an animal form simple enough to serve as a viable ancestor common to all the animal phyla? Perhaps. But positing such a form only deepens the required depth of the divergence point and intensifies the already significant problem of Precambrian – Cambrian discontinuity.” (113).
To put it more simply, the best deposits the fossil record has to offer display a vastly diversified array of animal body plans, which just appear out of nowhere. Speculating about their ancestry drives the evolutionary dating further into the murky past, and forces the matter of the absence of ancestors in the Cambrian rock into sharper focus.
Chapter 6, on “The Animal Tree of Life” exposes the many disagreements among prominent evolutionists about what the phylogenetic “Tree” ought to look like, before examining the actual data of the fossil, the anatomical, and molecular evidence. Meyer concludes, “These three classes of evidence either provide no compelling evidence for Precambrian animal ancestors (in the case of the fossils), or they provide question-begging and conflicting evidence (in the case of genes and anatomy).” (135).
The matter of stasis, which is crystal clear in the fossil record, is also becoming more and more clearly a problem for evolution in the hoped-for field of phylogeny.
After a chapter on punctuated equilibrium, Meyer introduces the matter of the “information explosion” in the Cambrian fossil fauna. Here, just as in his previous book, he again distinguishes Shannon information from complex specified (or targeted) information. This is followed by an important chapter on “Combinatorial Inflation.” To put in layman’s terms, the amount of characters for arrangement increases exponentially the number of possible combinations available. As evolution’s big draw is that it can supposedly blindly ferret out and retain the right combinations to produce a properly functioning gene, minus any goal, the time it would take for that to happen randomly is obviously a key matter. Relying on the most recent work done in the field, Meyer shows that four plus billion years posited by neo-Darwinism, is way too brief for this to even begin to occur.
A chapter on the need for mutations to generate new protein folds relies on the work of Douglas Axe, who tested the probability involved in producing new protein folds after reading Richard Dawkins. The author tells us, “Axe realized that the ability to produce new protein folds represents a sine qua non of macroevolutionary innovation.” (191). After surveying Axe’s experiments, the author observes that Dawkins’ fancy of “Scaling Mount Improbable” incrementally is a non-starter. This is because “there is effectively no gradually sloping back side, since the smallest increment of structural innovation in the history of life – a new protein fold – itself presents a formidable Mount Improbable.” (207).
The ensuing chapter reviews the disingenuous and unsatisfactory responses of evolutionists (e.g. from M. Long, exon shuffling) to these results by Axe. Meyer is nothing if not thorough in describing these positions, and it took some effort from this reviewer not to skip this section.
A chapter on the Neo-Darwinian math highlights the fact that,
“In sum, calculations performed by both critics [Behe] and defenders [Durrett & Schmidt] of neo-Darwinian evolution now reinforce the same conclusion: if coordinated mutations are necessary to generate new genes and proteins, then the …math itself, as expressed in the principles of population genetics, establishes the implausibility of the neo-Darwinian mechanism.” (249, italics his).
Meyer then discusses “co-option” before focusing on the work of C. Nusslein-Volhard and E. Wieschaus on the origin of body plans, and Eric Davidson on gene regulatory networks or dGRN’s (ch.13). This chapter effectively sinks the standard evolutionary dogma. Davidson is cited as describing dGRN’s in “informational terms.” (268). Meyer adds,
“Engineers have long understood that the more functionally integrated a system is, the more difficult it is to change any part of it without damaging or destroying the system as a whole. Davidson’s work confirms that this principle applies to developing organisms in spades.” (269). Read more »
“And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” – Matt. 6:13
I am going to comment on these two petitions as one, since they form a sort of couplet. The fact of evil is what makes necessary both of these petitions. Temptation is never to do good! This life is a life filled with various temptations. But why would we have to petition a holy God not to lead us into temptation? Surely He would not do such a thing?
I think the proper way to answer that question is to first try to understand that God does indeed lead us. He knows the path that we take. Psalm 139:3 says,
You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
Another passage urges us to pray,
“Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, For I delight in it.” – Psa 119:35
We may ask on the basis of these verses, “why shouldn’t that prayer be enough?”
My answer is that God wants us to ask with a whole heart. An upward look to God in heaven: a heavenly or eternal perspective on this life, gives us the right eyes to see temptation often before it approaches. We cannot avoid temptation down here. But we can fix our eyes on Jesus and plead for God to lead us away from temptation. This highlights the responsibility of the individual to avoid temptation while relying on God to guide us through the minefield of life. “Lead us not into temptation” is the language of reliance.
Daniel Doriani rightly notes that “this petition partially explains why some prayers go unanswered. If a request leads to temptation, God will not grant it.” – Matthew, REC, Vol. 1, 229.
Now we have said this, I hope it becomes clearer how “deliver us from evil” also shows reliance, and that this request assumes what was said about the previous one. We must pray for the Lord to deliver us from evils, even from those that may be yet future. I see no difficulty in “covering” ourselves by faith in God’s providential leading in this manner. This is not to say we can dodge every evil aimed at us in life, but I think we may be confident in asserting that many evils can be avoided by such an exercise of faith in God’s dispensations with us. Faith understands the kind of world it really is. It is the realm of “the Evil One”, as the last clause may be translated. In view of this fact, it is surely wise to seek God’s protection in what the Apostle Paul describes as “this present evil age” in Galatians 1:4.
Thus, when we ask God not to lead us into temptation, we do not do it because, like the pagans of old, we serve a capricious god who might well do just that. It is rather because in praying this prayer, we are declaring that we know what the world is like, and that we sorely need our heavenly Father to guide us and help us every step of the way until we reach His realm of glory.
The “Fundamental Flaw”
It was not until I listened to the preposterous eight minute video that FF linked to that I understood where he got his harebrained perspective on the presuppositional argument from, and why he really thought he’d nailed it to the wall. In that video the pseudo-intellectual tells us that,
The fundamental flaw of TAG [the transcendental argument for God’s existence] “is that proponents of this argument fail to make a distinction between the LAWS of logic and what these laws refer to.”
Then the voice on the video plays a short segment from a presentation by Jason Lisle of AiG where this “flaw” is supposedly in evidence. He goes on to use some scurrilous epithets to describe Dr. Lisle, including calling him a liar.
As it happens I own the complete set of these presentations, so I was able to confirm whether or not this segment fairly represented Lisle’s views on logic. Anyone care to bet on the outcome?
That’s right. The real liar was the atheist name-caller. If he had possessed the entire presentation which Lisle gave he would know that just a couple of minutes after the clip he used to demonstrate that Lisle (and all us presuppositionalists remember) equates logic with the things it speaks of, Lisle says that the laws of logic describe concepts, not the things in themselves – ‘Ultimate Proof of Creation‘, at 45.57 minute mark.
In other words, Lisle teaches precisely what the erstwhile debunker claims he doesn’t understand! We’ll return to this character another time.
Now, perhaps it was because I couldn’t descend to this menial level that I didn’t twig to what, for FF, seemed to be a coup de grace? I guess my saying such things as “Of course concepts are immaterial. They are in and of the mind”, and repeatedly asking him to explain, using his atheism, how these thoughts connect with the world out there, didn’t clue him or his supporters in enough?
In the combox of the second post here I asked him to supply an epistemology by which he knew what he claimed to know. He didn’t give one. I had earlier put to him the following questions:
Why should he [the atheist] trust his senses? How can he know the real world beyond himself? If he is just a part in the inexorable evolutionary machinery of the universe, how can he hold to absolutes, and how does he escape from the clutches of subjectivity?
The very best FF could come up with was this:
“First of all, all of us have to assume the validity of our senses to varying degrees, with the exception of ACTUAL self-attesting truths like the Law of Identity.”
Apart from confusing “self-attesting” (which relates to a verbal & ultimate authority for those who accept it), with “self-evident”, this response assumes the very point under scrutiny. Why is logic self-evident? and why do these laws and concepts access reality? Further, for the law of identity to work one needs to identify something “out there.”
If one turns to a standard text on logic, about the first thing one will be confronted with is examples of propositions. For instance, Copi and Cohen’s Introduction to Logic (11th edition), gives many examples, ALL of which depend upon concepts relating to the outside world. Although FF denies that logic “works” in the extended world, I shall refrain from throwing away the book!
FF wants to teach me that, “All the formulas, symbols, rules, forms, etc. are man made.”
Well, if he means the characters (A, P, S, X, ^, 1, 2, 3, 4, I, II, III, IV, etc.), who doesn’t know that? But I am interested in the realities which the characters represent. And they are not human inventions. Nor could they be. Even if one accepts the ludicrous idea of the macro-evolutionary “Tree of Life”, there were certain numbers of animals around before man could count them. The presence of a human counter is irrelevant to the existence of the logic which differentiates and the numbers which accrue. We invented the symbolic representations. We most certainly did not invent logic and numbers. They are eternal, being aspects of the mind of God.
“I personally believe that existence is eternal” he opined. He admits to being a “metaphysical naturalist” so that all that exists is the natural realm. Yet he believes in immaterial realities like logic. And since he is adamant that we created the laws of logic, he must believe the material realm created the immaterial realm. But wait. He surely does not believe in the eternity of matter? If he doesn’t, yet insists existence is eternal, that only leaves immaterial existence (which he must explain)! See the contradiction?
Moreover, just think about that concept. If we created the laws of logic, it would mean that we were once illogical! If we were illogical in our thinking before we invented logic, how did we stumble upon logic? In the atheist worldview, as I have already said, the rational comes out of the irrational!
I loved this one:
“You are setting up a false dichotomy…True and false is not a true dichotomy. True and not true, that’s the true dichotomy.”
FF wanted me to look at a dictionary to define “unnecessary” (if I remember right). Shall we look up the definition of “untrue”? But why bother? FF himself assumes that “false = untrue” in the very statement he made. This is how the nonsense goes. It is utterly arbitrary. Read more »
“This is What You Believe Whether You Admit It or Not”
The line above is not a quote, but represents an accurate paraphrase of the atheist [FF - who just showed up one day dissing presuppositional apologetics], whom I have been debating on the TELOS Facebook page and here. It is because of this attitude that I have called a halt to the proceedings. It is also the attitude of the individual who FF is relying on to guide him through the VanTillian methodology. Unfortunately for him this “guide” is completely inept and misunderstands presuppositionism as much as FF does.
In the first part of this series I wrote this:
The assertion of PA is not that unbelievers do not know things. It is that they are unable to account for what they know using their unbelieving outlooks. And if they cannot account for the their arguments from within their own outlook, they should give it up and find one that does account for it. And Christian presuppositionalists claim that the only outlook or worldview which accounts for facts, values, logic, justice, beauty, etc. is the Christian worldview of the Bible.
THAT is what we were supposed to be discussing. What the presuppositional argument seeks for is a comparison of philosophies of life. So naturally, PA presses the challenger to articulate their worldview. In philosophical terms, we need their theory of reality (what constitutes the world), their epistemology (how do they know what they claim to know?), and their ethics (what constitutes the good and why?). In the case of Biblical Christianity that information is to be drawn from the Bible: it is what we call Christian Theology.
Without the conversation being centered on that ground the TAG argument cannot really begin. The Christian who is obeying 2 Corinthians 10:5 is not going to surrender his position before the discussion has got off the ground. And we do not expect the non-Christian to capitulate so easily either.
Although it was clear to me immediately that FF did not know whereof he was speaking, I hoped he would come around by paying attention to what I said. He continued to plow a furrow miles away from the right field, so the conversation stopped. From the very outset FF was told he had mischaracterized TAG (the transcendental argument for God’s existence), and was given a true definition and example. But he and one or two others, is convinced that I am using the charge of misrepresentation as a feint to excuse myself from an embarrassing defeat at his hands.
He was quick – very quick – to react the instant he thought he was being misrepresented. But was as slow as a tortoise in correcting himself on the many occasions the boot was on the other foot. If he had paid attention he would have started setting out and discussing his worldview; perhaps with a justification of logic? But he did not. And when, at the close of the discussion, he blithely stated that we “created logic” and that “the laws of logic DON’T work in the extended world”, and that “If we die, the laws of logic die with us”, well, I haven’t got the time to mess around with “reasoning” like that.
Yes, I know. That position on logic alone destroys itself and all rational discourse about the world, but FF doesn’t see it, and I cannot get him to. He remains ignorant both of his own presuppositions, of Christian theology, and the presuppositional argument which he sallied forth to attack. Since this ignorance is irresistible (meaning he will not be corrected) the discussion was called off.
The mentality involved here is, from one angle, hard to fathom. If an atheist who had been teaching his arguments for years at grad level told me I was not understanding him and was caricaturing his reasoning, I would, out of fairness and respect, try harder to reach agreement on what he was saying. For me to arrogantly claim I understood him and had refuted him (in ten minutes no less!), while my opponent was calmly telling me I had completely missed the thrust of his argument, would be the height of pseudo-intellectual hubris. FF plays this part, and so I decided that to proceed with him would be pointless and a waste of everybody’s time.
But the issues raised do provide me with a chance at demonstrating presuppositionalism again. Since FF never really interacted with TAG (despite his conviction otherwise), there is not much in his writing which is very helpful as an attempted rebuttal of it. But I shall be able to utilize it all the same as a foil for PA. I shall also examine some other miscues from other atheists who agreed with him (as well as the ridiculous video clip he depends on). I shall take my time doing this. Perhaps I shall use another four or five posts. This will, I hope, help believers for whom this kind of apologetic is new.
Atheists Are Unbiased – Really!
The default position of nearly every atheist you will come up against will be that they are neutral. They just want the facts. They are patiently waiting to be convinced that Christianity is not a bunch of illogical hokum. That entirely naive stance is the whole basis for their argument against Christianity, and they will try to stick to it like super-glue. It is the thickest stump on their argumentative stool. Knock it away and watch the whole thing fall. Atheists must tenaciously believe in the phantom of neutrality. To change the metaphor, it is the curtain behind which their prejudicial opinions and raw emotions conceal themselves. When you point out to them that no one is without bias they will very often ignore the comment. That is precisely what FF did. He is a naturalist (probably a philosophical materialist, although he never got round to declaring himself). As a naturalist he will only accept naturalistic explanations of things. Supernaturalism is out. Hence, the Christian worldview is out: not (please note) at the end of the discussion, but before we even start! And that’s what being unbiased looks like.
The Christian should expect this, although it takes very little effort to see where his bias lies. As for me, I owned up to my Christian bias right off the bat. The transcendental argument (TAG) requires the believer to do just that, and it is only honest to do it. I am not neutral. Before I became a Christian I thought I was – but I was not. I was anti-Christian! I refused to accept the Bible as God’s Word without even reading it and considering its worldview. Also, I had my own ideas about what “faith” was (something like believing in what you know isn’t true), and I wasn’t going to allow a person of faith to correct me. Now, long after I recommended he peruse my Statement of Faith so he would know what I believed, FF blurted out on Facebook that he had no respect for anyone who had a Statement of Faith. He thought a Christian having such a thing was “intellectually dishonest!” In his book declaring what one believes is intellectually dishonest. Ummm….??? Right.
If Atheism is True, How Does One Explain the Existence of Logic, etc?
The atheist wants to start with reason. BUT – only if he can keep it’s use within his own atheistic worldview! He must set the rules of the game. He is unbiased you see! Now, the Christian certainly wants to reason too. But will he reason from an atheistic position? How preposterous! No, he will reason from a Christian position. That is his bias. The atheist must be intellectually honest enough to admit that he too has a bias. As I pointed out before, being biased in the direction of the truth is a good thing. But the question now arises, which bias – that of the atheist (in this case) or the Christian – leads to the truth?
For that question to be answered, we must explore the foundational set of presuppositions which lead us to argue the way we do. We must explore and critique each others worldviews. The atheist can ask me how I account for logic and its comportment with the world beyond ourselves (i.e. in analysis of things in the world or with discussions with other people)? I will ask him the same question, and we will see which one makes sense of experience and which one doesn’t. Read more »
“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
This petition, especially when coupled with the addendum in v. 14-15 (“if you do not forgive others the Lord will not forgive you”) has caused concern for some of God’s people. Let me say first that this passage is not concerned with forgiveness of sins and justification on the basis of the cross and resurrection. Certainly, that is not how the disciples would have understood Jesus.
Rather, what is in view here is our unfettered approach to God. How can we think of asking God to forgive us our debts and our sins (Luke 11:4) if we hypocritically refuse to forgive the debts and sins of others against us? Just as unconfessed sin stops our prayers from being effective, so an unforgiving heart will damage our fellowship with our Father, and hence our prayer life.
This petition requires us to look within ourselves for any traces of hypocrisy in our dealings with our fellow man. How many of God’s children harbor secret enmities, prejudices, envies and bitterness toward others? In some sense they must be to us as we would be to God.
Thus, as Andrew Murray says,
“In each prayer to the Father I must be able to say that I know of no one whom I do not heartily love.” (With Christ in the School of Prayer, 30.)
A prayer life that fails to include thorough self-examination is always going to be deficient. Although no man can know himself so well as to exclude all suspicion of his heart-motive, yet he must search his memory for sins still unconfessed and people yet unforgiven.
Craig Blomberg says it thus:
“Our pleas for continued forgiveness as believers, requesting the restoration of fellowship with God following the altercation sin produces, is predicated on our having forgiven those who have sinned against us.” (Matthew, NAC, 120.)
Christians are not to bear grudges. Prayer that trusts that God sees and cares will always be able to forgive the wrongs of others.
FF has responded to my first post in the combox of that post. Here I shall examine his remarks and add some new thoughts of my own. Unfortunately, he has not yet picked up the argument I made, neither has he relented from adopting his own position as normative. Now, I freely admit that if his outlook was normative I would not be arguing as I am. But neither would I be arguing at all, since, at least as far as I can see, all reasoning would be illusory; composed of the deterministic forces of matter and motion. I would have to agree with Sam Harris that there is no such thing as free agency. I believe what I do because that is the way my synapses are firing. FF believes the way he does for the same reason. There seems to be nothing but a futile finger-pointing available to us. Neither his Atheism nor my Christian Theism relate to anything outside our respective brain activity. That FF is debating shows that he believes free agency (here defined as ‘the ability to formulate judgments which transcend the laws of physics and chemistry, which may connect to the extended world, and for which we are responsible’), is not illusory but meaningful. Again, worldviews are at issue here.
Thank you for your response. I want to apologize for the wait. My schedule allows for limited time for this kind of interaction. Still, here is my reaction to your extended comment. I hope I shall be able to clear away some of the rubble which appears to be in the way of your seeing and evaluating my argument properly.
“No” to Natural Theology and Common Use of Reason
I want to begin by agreeing with you about the classical arguments for God’s existence: the ontological, cosmological (Kalam or otherwise), and teleological arguments. These all rest on a notion of what is called “natural theology,” which assumes a kind of neutral buffer-zone where Christians and non-Christians can meet to discuss their differences. Such a point of view is thoroughly unbiblical, as well as unsatisfying. I argue here that a Christian ought not to use natural theology. You are right that employing such “proofs” for God cannot end up with the Triune God of the Bible. One cannot use non-biblical philosophies to argue for the Biblical Worldview. It is for this reason I do not use them!
This admission effectively dismantles your whole comment (though you may not see it). This is because your response assumes I am in agreement with your use of reason, which is what I deny. On the contrary I hold that you are using a gift of God in rebellion to God. It is that denial and its basis which must be engaged. You still seem to assume you are on neutral territory. I tried to deal with that notion last time. You are assuming your worldview is able to account for the logic you are using. I contend both that neutrality is impossible, which is why I have admitted my own bias, but that you cannot justify logic in the first place, nevermind using it the way you do. You will understand at least from this that, if I am right, I have, in effect, issued you a call to repentance. In saying this I want you to know that I only stand where I do by grace, not by anything in me.
Restatement of TAG
The argument I have given you is a transcendental argument. One which inquires after the necessary conditions for something to be what it is. You said on FB that this presuppositional argument (or TAG) was “plainly fallacious.” But you have not really touched upon it in your response. This argument is that unless the God of the Bible is presupposed we are not able to make sense of anything in our experience. On the positive side, once we do accept the God who has revealed Himself supremely in the Lord Jesus Christ, we have the foundation necessary for a coherent philosophy of life. For this reason you will see that it would be nonsensical of me to have the same starting point as you: for my whole assertion is that your starting point actually cannot “start.”
Now, even calling TAG “fallacious” implies that you stand outside of a worldview whose claim is that your use of logic cannot be justified from within your atheistic philosophy. I realize, of course, that you wholly reject this assertion (if you didn’t you would be a Christian ), but that is the position I am arguing for. All you have to do is to rebut the argument by supplying the preconditions for the intelligibility of logic (or justice, science, order, and the rest) from your naturalistic worldview. The TAG argument of Van Til and others is that the proof of the Christian position is that unless you presuppose it you cannot make sense of anything. That is, to use Van Til’s phrasing, the truth of the Christian worldview is established by what he called “the impossibility of the contrary.” He stated,
“Christianity alone does not crucify reason itself…the best, the only, the absolutely certain proof of the truth of Christianity is that unless its truth is presupposed there is no proof of anything.” – quoted in Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready, 61.
Certainly there is more to say than that, and Van Til’s books are not easy reading, but that is the assertion. What he means here is not just challenging the unbeliever to make sense of the world, but positively making sense of it via the biblical revelation. That amounts to “certain proof.” By contrast, from what you say, your philosophy of life floats on a Sea of Skepticism. You would make sense of miracles only when you believe a worldview which explains them. And what I say about miracles, holds true for rationality itself.
So far, the only thing I can make out is that you believe logic is eternal and absolute on the one hand, and that humans “created it” (by which I think you mean “identified & categorized it”) on the other.
The presuppositional apologetic stands upon a revelatory theory of knowledge. Giving some instances (which I am not here pulling out as proofs per se): if we are really created in God’s rational image, in distinction to the animals, we would expect to be rationalizing and theorizing agents, able to express ourselves verbally, mathematically, pictorially, and architecturally in the world out there. The filling out of this sort of thing is the job of Theology, which I try to do through TELOS. But what would you put in place of these instances? Read more »
I have recently been posting a series of basic studies for Christian parents at the TELOS site entitled Apologetics and Your Children. The posts are meant to encourage believers to take the matter of Truth seriously, and to use Apologetics as a framework in which to fit their evangelism and education of their kids.
A few weeks ago on the Telos Ministries Facebook page an atheist whom I shall call FF showed up with a challenge to the presuppositional apologetics (PA) I employ. This apologetic method uses a transcendental critique of opposing positions; what Cornelius Van Til referred to as non-Christian philosophies of life. Van Til wrote:
A truly transcendental argument takes any fact of experience which it wishes to investigate, and tries to determine what the presuppositions of such a fact must be, in order to make it what it is…
It is the firm conviction of every epistemologically self-conscious Christian that no human being can utter a single syllable, whether in negation or in affirmation, unless it were for God’s existence. Thus the transcendental argument seeks to discover what sort of foundations the house of human knowledge must have, in order to be what it is. – A Survey of Christian Epistemology, 10, 11.
Thus, Van Til’s presuppositional apologetic is an all-or-nothing approach. As he says on the next page:
It thus appears that we must take the Bible, its conception of sin, its conception of Christ, and its conception of God and all that is involved in these concepts together, or take none of them. So also it makes very little difference whether we begin with the notion of an absolute God or with the notion of an absolute Bible. The one is derived from the other. They are together involved in the Christian view of life. Hence we defend all or we defend none. – Ibid, 12
I belabor the point because PA is so often misrepresented and hence its thrust is bypassed. As we shall see, FF has not grasped the argument. (As I argue against him I want to be respectful of him as a person. I want FF to be saved by Christ and turn from his nihilistic point of view. I am not in this to just win an argument. Any seeming disrespect is certainly not intentional).
The assertion of PA is not that unbelievers do not know things. It is that they are unable to account for what they know using their unbelieving outlooks. And if they cannot account for the their arguments from within their own outlook, they should give it up and find one that does account for it. And Christian presuppositionalists claim that the only outlook or worldview which accounts for facts, values, logic, justice, beauty, etc. is the Christian worldview of the Bible.
Neutrality – Really?
The premise of neutrality is that a person believes that they have adopted a view of the world (metaphysics), and a view of how to know the world (epistemology), which is normative, and that any diversions from that “normative perspective” are wrong because they disagree with that perspective. The only outlook which does not need to give an account of itself is (conveniently) their own – because they are, of course, neutral.
Quite apart from the Christian perspective which I am coming from, such a view is quite obviously question-begging – as the history of philosophy abundantly proves. Atheists are not immune from bias, as any cursory reading of their work shows. The fact that most of them still hold to a form of logical positivism and hitch it up to philosophical naturalism seems more apparent to their detractors oftentimes than it does to them. How often, e.g. do we hear atheist evolutionists say they do not consider any other definition of science than naturalism “good science”? It does not matter to these people that the founders of science did not hold such a definition, and would therefore not be considered scientists if these people were right. The patent absurdity of saying Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Boyle, Pascal, Kelvin, Faraday, Maxwell etc. were not scientists because they were supernaturalists ought to silence such men. What is their real problem? It is clear enough. They hate God. So they define science their way (eliminating the luminaries above in the process) and then they can control the field. But science should not be defined by a philosophical agenda. Science should simply be a search for the Truth in the world amenable to scientific inquiry. That ought to be the definition. Just how the truth is to be known will depend on a person’s worldview. For the founders of modern science, the fact that God created the universe and gave us the ability to discover things in it gave them the intellectual mandate to do science (i.e. explore the world and discover truth). But naturalists discount this view. We must demand of them then that they give an adequate account of the possibility of science and the amenability of truth. We must ask them to give us the foundational tenets of their worldview. This is given merely to illustrate the naivete of believing one is neutral. No one is neutral.
From a Christian perspective of course, atheists are anti-theists (“Theist” here denoting a Christian-trinitarian theist). They have already decided that God does not exist; not because they have proved He doesn’t – but because they would prefer it if He didn’t. Now FF is a case in point. He thinks he is purely objective, and using that objectivity he ignores Christian scholarship and reads his atheists. By so doing he issues challenges to Christians, even though he misrepresents what they believe, gets their apologetic argument wrong, and asserts things about the naming of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark which he is unable to prove. He claims the presuppositional argument is “just plain fallacious” but when asked to describe it, comes up with this:
“Easiest example is the TAG argument. Taken to it’s bare minimum, it essentially goes as follows:
‘Reality/existence has a fundamental nature, therefore God exists.”
Does that sound anything remotely like Van Til’s argument above? I certainly wouldn’t want to be lumbered with defending that, so I shall have to disappoint FF and use the proper argument. That argument is that the Christian-biblical God must be presupposed for us to give a rational account of facts.
I know this may sound strange to some readers, but it must be remembered that God is the Creator and He has stamped the marks of His existence in His world, and has given to us a verbal revelation to instruct us in our interpretation of it.
Quite obviously, this claim will not be accepted by those who remain outside of Christ, and I do not expect FF to accept it. But when atheists like him are pressed to give a reason for their use of logic, values, science, and the like from their own unbelieving world and life philosophy, they cannot. They simply evade these most basic of questions. But again, if a person can’t account for the facts of reality he employs from his espoused worldview, he must be asked to change to a worldview which can account for them. That worldview, I have asserted, is the Christian one. In fact, the Christian worldview even accounts for why unbelievers prefer incoherent worldviews rather than bowing their knees to Christ.
FF says I am biased and he is right. I am a Christian who believes the Bible, and who has been saved by God’s grace through faith in the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I have a bias, and I am prepared to defend it. Being biased in the direction of the truth is both right and rational. FF rejects my bias. I only wish he would recognize his own and stop treating it as normative. If it is normative then his “unbiased” position will land us all in the soup sooner rather than later!
Two examples: If I have a bias towards by wife as a special woman apart from all other women, that is a good bias (although I do realize some like R. Dawkins will not necessarily agree). If I was biased against the Nazi extermination of Jews, gypsies and handicapped, I would think most would believe my bias was both right and rational – and a bias the other way irrational and evil. In the same way my bias for the God of Scripture is, I believe, both proper and rational. FF of course, is free to disagree. But it would be very naive of him to keep asserting his lack of all bias. Indeed he has already shown a bias in favor of atheistic authors and against Christian ones. Atheistic bias is always quick to show itself.
I would, therefore, prefer it if we could compare biases instead of pretending one of us doesn’t have any to compare.
The Charges – so far
Not only does FF charge the TAG argument (i.e. the transcendental argument for the existence of God) of presuppositonal apologetics (PA) as being “just plain fallacious”, he declares,
I will not, however, budge on my stance regarding the absolutely nonsensical idea of God somehow existing outside of existence. That has absolutely no meaning, it is completely incoherent and self-refuting, and thus I am fully justified in discarding it. If God exists it is necessarily part of reality, not apart from reality. Things that aren’t part of reality by definition do not exist.
He appears not to see that he is assuming his view of existence to be true without argument or proof. From his reading of atheist critics he gets this:
“the Mark story and say that Jesus isn’t really a member of the ‘Godhead’, but rather was ‘adopted’ by God after his death…Jesus never even got the name ‘Jesus’ until after his death according to the gospel of Mark”
He is yet to substantiate this claim from Mark.
Of the doctrine of the Trinity we get:
Either way, it makes little difference. I have been debating Christians for a while now † and not once have I ever heard a coherent description of the so-called ‘trinity’. I’ll point out that it is incoherent to speak of one being being three beings, only for them to then back-peddle and say that it isn’t that one being equals three beings, but rather that one being equals three persons, failing to realize that the word ‘person’ and the word ‘being’ are essentially synonyms.”
Because he assumes his own position to be normative from the get-go, I am stuck with the charge of reifying nature! Reification is the fallacy of ascribing living/divine properties to the natural world. Of course, no Christian believes any such nonsense. FF is dismissing the Creator – creature distinction (that God is both within and without the universe which He created and upholds), without even considering it. Read more »
In this last post I intend to do three things. First, I will be drawing the conclusion that there are two very different ideas and hence definitions of “progressive revelation” (PR), and both operative words mean something very different both separately and together, depending on who is using them. Thus, there is no really agreed upon definition of this term within Evangelicalism (or, indeed, biblical studies generally). Second, I want to quickly address the straw man issue (I’ll call it Objection 2). This is in case someone says that I have misrepresented the position of covenant theologians. I have not, and I shall furnish a couple more examples to prove it. Finally, in line with my call for plain speech and good communication, I want to close by asking which position on progressive revelation really is what one would be led to think it is.
Two Conflicting Ideas: And the Importance of Recognizing Fuzzy Definitions
The definition of progressive revelation which I have been commending in this article is as follow.
“Progressive Revelation is the view that supplemental disclosures about a particular subject are built upon and traceable back to an original grounding revelation. The combined witness to the subject must evidence enough commonality so as to present a comprehensible picture of the subject which can be cross-checked and verified against every instance of the progression.”
From what I have written in support of this definition several things come out:
1. Revelation is, for the most part, unambiguous clear communication or it is not good communication
2. The progressive revealing must be amenable to tracking so as to ensure it is cohesive and non-contradictory.
3. The idea of progressive revelation, then, also carries the notion of expectancy, based on the content of what God revealed.
Corollaries to this include (based upon the alternative use):
4. If what is declared to be the fulfillment of PR is not at all what one would be led to expect by what came before, then the revelation was not clear (at least until the very last), because the progress did not lead up to what was supposed. A kind of bait and switch was involved all along.
5. This contradicts cases of PR which can be shown to exhibit clarity and coherence from start to finish (like prophecies of Messiah. or God’s triunity).
6. The problem appears to enter in when the text is not driving some versions of PR, but rather is being used in the service of a more domineering theological perspective.
In light of these observations, we must conclude that versions of Progressive Revelation which allow, and even necessitate, unforeseeable “twists” at the end of the “progress”, make PR (especially in the OT) uncertain and unreliable, and render the whole concept practically meaningless. This is so since where the true meaning cannot be known till the “fulfillment” is declared, no gradual revealing has really occurred.
Hence, those who admit ambiguity into their idea of PR should define their terms better so as not to mislead people. And as I have had cause to show before, a theology which permits such equivocation also promotes equivocation in those who must defend it. How often has this writer had to point out to some brother that their theological arguments are riddled with ambiguous use of terms (e.g. “land”, “Israel”, “temple”, “throne”, “promise”, “love”, etc.). Surely, this is not the result of the biblical revelation itself, but of imposing human ideas on that revelation?
Since the Fall our default position has been to reason independently of God and His revelation. We, like Eve, want to assess the rationality of God’s words. If what He says seems reasonable to us, we will accept it. If it seems unreasonable, we will alter it. This is what happened with the disciples in John 21:21-23. Jesus stated to Peter concerning John, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!”
But then what happened? The disciples allowed their reason a magisterial role in interpretation, and they came up with this:
Therefore this saying went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die (v.23a).
These were spiritual men, yet they still put reason above the words of Jesus and they came up with the wrong interpretation. To drive home this point the evangelist writes,
…yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?” (v23b & c).
It is this problem which I believe is evident in the ambiguity of terms and definitions one meets with in some presentations of PR. Moreover, if covenant theology is to be believed, even after Jesus taught, “of things concerning the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3), the PR up till then seems to have deceived Jesus’ own disciples. Their question, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (1:6) was wholly mistaken according to Calvin, Goldsworthy, Beale and many others. Yet many of these men admit that previous revelation had encouraged this very expectation.
Progressive Revelation Opposing Itself – and Objection 2
Here one can expect to hear, “But we do not believe Progressive Revelation is equivocal”. Often the argument is that just as redemption is historically conditioned, so revelation is historically conditioned. Hence, revelation is incremental and thus progressive. There is an underlying issue which cannot be gone into here. This is the matter of understanding Scripture as (rather than including), a history of redemption, and interpreting it in those terms. Usually tied to this is the notion of theological covenants, and the belief that the NT reinterprets the OT. Read more »
This is a transcript of a lecture taken from the course on “The Doctrine of Man and Sin” at Telos Biblical Institute
Problems with Creationism’s view of God creating new souls in individual bodies:
1. What about sin?
· If God is creating new souls in each individual body then how does that soul become sinful? Or are we back to the old Platonic view that the body is sinful and that somehow by contact with the material body, the soul becomes sinful?
That gets us back into Greek philosophy. Actually this seems to be what some creationists at least say! They say that because the flesh, the body, is polluted, and they believe that the Greek term sarx means ‘the human flesh’ in some contexts, that just by contact with the sinful body the soul becomes sinful.
Now, quite how that happens I have yet to discover. How does immaterial sin pollute a material body? How does sin get from the material body to the immaterial soul? Needless to say, most creationists don’t go there. But what is left to them? The only other solution left to them is the view that God must create sinful souls within each of us (because we’re sinners aren’t we?).
Certainly, we are sinners from the womb according to Psalm 51:5. If that is the case, how does each individual person become a sinner? In creationism God has to create the sinner, and that is not a very palatable doctrine. There are reasons that many creationists hold to it, but the fact of the matter is that would be enough for most people to have nothing to do with the doctrine. The remedy appears to be even worse than the cure!
2. What about our relationship to Adam?
· Is the only relationship that we bear to Adam a physical-biological relationship? Do we derive only our bodies from Adam, but not our souls? If that is the case, then what is the connection between Adam’s immaterial nature and personality (which sinned and fell), and our personality? Or we might ask the question this way: what is the connection between the image of God in Adam and the image of God in ourselves?
The answer soul-creationists give is that there is no actual connection at all. Any connection is made in the same way that there is a connection in a car plant where you are making the same kind of car, but none of the cars are really related to each other, they just look the same because they are made the same. Our relationship to one another and to our first parents would be similar; we’re just another type of the model “human being,” but we’re not really connected to Adam other than materially. Spiritually, soul-creationism teaches there is no realistic tie to Adam. This plays into the federal idea. Enter Romans 5:
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned. – Romans 5:12
All Bible believers hold that when Adam sinned we all sinned. We’re all part of that transgression, but does that necessitate that we are also participants in Adam’s guilt? That is a question for another day, but it does overlap somewhat with the present topic. One must ask how we are guilty if we did not actually (personally) participate in Adam’s sin? Remember, according to creationism, we did not participate in Adam’s sin because our souls were not created until some time after we were conceived. As we shall see, with the third option; “Traducianism,” just as our physical makeup comes from our first parents, so our soulish makeup comes from our first parents. And because that is passed down to us, so is the sin nature within that soulish makeup. In creationism however, one can’t have that. In creationism you just have the propagation of the body, not the propagation of the soul. So, how on earth are we considered guilty of Adam’s transgression? Read more »