Presuppositional Apologetics: An Introduction (3)

3. The Structure of Reality.

It cannot be both ways. Reality is either what the Bible says it is, or it is not. If it is not, then Christianity is not only mistaken on one or two particulars, it is totally false.

Christianity has a certain view of the world as the creation of the Triune God. All the scientific laws discovered by men were discovered because, consciously or not, men thought God’s thoughts after Him. As Bahnsen explained,

“The bold defense of the faith offered by Van Til’s presuppositionalism is that the unbeliever’s worldview fails to provide an adequate or workable theory of knowledge in terms of which the non-Christian can intellectually challenge the truth of Christianity. His presuppositions preclude the unbeliever from making claims to know anything intelligible or meaningful.”

3a. Creation Versus Chance.

In drawing a distinction between the Biblical doctrine of creation and the evolutionary view of chance, we are not concerning ourselves with a study of origins as such. We believe that Creation Science is an important ingredient of Christian knowledge. Our present concern, however, is with the logical implications of the two views. The Bible teaches that God created all things. Modern humanistic science professes to know that Chaos brought about our ordered Cosmos. So what we are interested in is the explanatory power of the two systems. Where do the so-called natural laws come from? Is human freedom (however one may define it) possible in an evolutionary universe? Whence Good and Evil? the law of contradiction?, history?, etc. Creation and chance put forth very different explanations of these questions. In principle, they come up against each other in every area of life.

As we have seen, Scripture portrays the natural man as in rebellion to the God whom he knows exists and has created him. This rebellion is so deep-seated that people will go to great lengths in order to suppress the knowledge of creature-hood they have. The world did not get here accidentally; it was planned and made. When men try to make sense of this world without reference to God, they are sinning. This is a simple application of the doctrine of General Revelation. “There is no area of impersonal relationships where the face of God the Creator and Judge does not confront man.” Therefore, Christians should not view the world in the same way that, for example, secularists look at “nature”. We see the same sunset as the unbeliever, but he or she looks at it with the eyes of a philosophical materialist (or Hindu pantheist or Muslim Unitarian). They convince themselves that the sunset is merely the diffusion of light-rays through a lowering angle as the Sun “goes down.” The believer, on the other hand, sees the hand of God in the world. It is unmistakable. God is the One who has designed the sunset. Moreover, He has given us the eyes and the aesthetic sensitivity to see and appreciate such things as sunsets. In short, we see the same things but we interpret them differently.

3b. The Creator/creature Distinction.

Because of man’s finiteness and spiritual deadness (Eph. 2:1) it is not surprising that he seeks to comprehend everything in terms of the same essence, placing God and creation on the same level. Any conception of “God” will be thought of as belonging within this single sphere of existence. This would mean that God and the creation are related by being composed of the same “stuff.” Herman Bavinck reminds us that the Christian doctrine teaches that “the world is not a part of or emanation from the being of God. It has a being or existence of its own, one that is different and distinct from the essence of God.” The creation depends upon God for its existence, but it was not created out of God. It was created ex nihilo – out of nothing. Christians who would defend his faith against an array of unbelievers must keep this distinction between God and creation at the forefront of their thinking. It will constantly confront them. Bavinck wrote,

“From the very first moment, true religion distinguishes itself from all other religions by the fact that it construes the relation between God and the world, including man, as that between the Creator and his creature. The idea of an existence apart and independently from God occurs nowhere in Scripture. God is the sole, unique, and absolute cause of all that exists.”

So, for example, when a Christian thinks about the knowledge of God he is not to think of it as a mere magnification of his own knowledge. Any knowledge we may possess is wholly derived from, and, therefore, dependent upon, God as its Source. But God’s knowledge is essential to His nature – being what it is by virtue of the fact that God is all-knowing. As creatures we know bits of information, but we do not know anything comprehensively or exhaustively, and we can only relate any fact to another fact when considering them in relation to their Originator. But God knows everything intuitively by knowing Himself absolutely. God does not derive knowledge (or power or goodness, etc.) from anything beyond Himself. His creatures, on the other hand, know in a limited way by discovering the information that God has already put into the world, and which He has previously defined and interpreted. The creature, then, is dependent upon the independent Creator for its knowledge, its power, and so on. This is what gives rise to true worship.

“Christians strive to see everything in light of creation’s dependence on God while the non-Christian tries to deny creation’s dependence…[E]very person who has not trusted in Christ…fails to account for the Creator-creature distinction and somehow puts God and His creation in mutual dependence on each other and ascribes to creation a degree of independence. With all the diversity of opinion among non-Christians, this is one uniting factor: the Creator-creature distinction is denied.”

This fundamental truth, as Richard Pratt reminds us above, must inform us in all our encounters with unbelievers (cf. Rom.1:25).

4. The Impossibility of the Contrary.

We have seen that presuppositionalism challenges the non-Christian to give sound reasons for any assertion he wants to make about the world. It ought to be clear enough by now that without God telling us the truth about our environment and ourselves, and without the faith to embrace God’s revelation, our understanding of reality will be awry.

The Bible places Christian epistemology squarely within the province of Divine revelation. We think this ought to be clear to anyone who studies their Bible (e.g. Gen. 1-3; Prov. 28:26 with 4:23; Psa. 36:9; 97:4; Rom. 11:36; Eph. 4:17-18; Col. 2:3). But this very thing is denied by “Reformed epistemologists” like Kelly James Clark. Clark writes, “I am dubious, however, about finding any ultimate or coercive support for epistemology in Scripture…The very idea of a biblical epistemology seems to me as misguided as the idea of a biblical meteorology.” – Steven B. Cowan, General Editor, Five Views on Apologetics, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000), 256. Since he can’t find a Biblical epistemology anywhere, presumably Clark teaches a secular theory of knowledge to his students. Indeed, he must expect that Christians adopt a secular epistemology. How this squares with 2 Corinthians 10:5 we are scarcely able to say. While their contributions to apologetics are welcome, it does sometimes appear that this group is better versed in philosophy than in Scripture.

4a. Borrowing From God.

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” This is more than a theological tenet. It is a statement about what is here and the reason it is here. Taking God out of the equation leaves a person, be he scientist or philosopher or farmer or banker, in an epistemological quandary. The only way for an unbeliever to extract themselves from this quandary is for them to illicitly utilize ideas from the Christian-theistic worldview – the very worldview they attempt to deny. Robert Knudsen comments, “In regard to this transcendental orientation, one may remember Van Til’s illustration about the unbeliever’s use of borrowed capital. The unbeliever uses the good gifts of God, which are spread abroad in the creation and on which he depends in his thought and life, without giving God the glory. He is able to do what he does because he is using borrowed capital.” (Knudsen defines a transcendental argument this way: “A transcendental argument moves from what is to the conditions underlying its possibility”). No non-Christian can say anything true about the world unless they borrow certain foundational elements from the Biblical worldview. Frame puts it this way: “Indeed, there is a sense in which all of the unbeliever’s thinking is Christian. Christian presuppositions are the only way to think. The alternative is not thought, but meaninglessness.”

This type of argument states that unless the Christian worldview is first presupposed – however covertly – one cannot give adequate grounds for saying anything about anything. Bahnsen sums up this distinctive approach in this way:

“We can examine a worldview and ask whether its portrayal of nature, man, knowledge, etc., provide an outlook in terms of which logic, science and ethics can make sense. It does not comport with the practices of natural science to believe that all events are random and unpredictable, for instance. It does not comport with the demand for honesty in scientific research, if no moral principle expresses anything but a personal preference or feeling. Moreover, if there are internal contradictions in a person’s worldview, it does not provide the preconditions for making sense out of man’s experience. For instance, if one’s political dogmas respect the dignity of men to make their choices, while one’s psychological theories reject the free will of men, then there is an internal defect in that person’s worldview.

It is the Christian’s contention that all non-Christian worldviews are beset with internal contradictions, as well as with beliefs which do not render logic, science or ethics intelligible. On the other hand, the Christian worldview (taken from God’s self-revelation in Scripture) demands our intellectual commitment because it does provide the preconditions of intelligibility for man’s reasoning, experience, and dignity.”

Summary.

Presuppositional apologetics sees its task as part and parcel of the larger enterprise of Systematic Theology. If one is a Christian one should never speak as if Christianity is only probably true (unless, of course, one thinks the Gospel one has believed is only probably true!). It is the only ground of truth, and non-Christian systems have to surreptitiously “borrow” from the Christian worldview in order to say anything meaningful. In the words of “the father of presuppositionalism”:

“Why seek truth where only a lie is to be found? Can the non-Christian tell us, and therefore the Christ Himself what the facts are and how they are related to each other, in what way they cohere, while yet excluding creation and providence? If he can, and if he can tell us truly, then the Christian story simply is not true!”

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3 comments

  1. Hey Paul,

    Haven’t been in contact since you were in Michigan last summer. I have been a little busy. We are now in Ohio where I have accepted the pastorate of a small church, Garden City Christian Union Church in Lima. I was reading your articles on Presuppositional Apologetics and thought I would send you a line. Just received Bahnsen’s latest “Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended” which came from notes found after his death. Very good and concise. A very worthwhile read and good primer on the subject. I hope that all is well. You, your family and ministry are still in my prayers.

  2. Hi Kevin,

    Nice to hear from you. Did you sell your house?

    I have read Bahnsen’s new book and was very impressed, particularly the critiques of Clark, Carnell & Schaeffer.
    I shall be reviewing the book here before long.

    May God bless you as you shepherd his flock in Lima. Keep in touch brother!

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