By Nate Labadorf
I’ve thought a fair bit about presuppositional apologetics this last year and have come to some mixed conclusions. At first, I thought it was a poor system because it starts with a viscously circular argument. But, after further reflection, I did find some value in it.
On the plus side, it does force you to examine your presuppositions. This is a fundamental part of any good research project that often gets overlooked. Also, the transcendental argument is decent. This is the argument which basically says that Christianity is true because without it nothing makes sense. I think this argument is the prime value of presuppositionalism. There are a few more like-able things I’m sure, but I don’t think I’ll add more here.
On the other hand, I still consider it a poor system. To me, the greatest weakness outside of its logical flaws is the attitude it engenders in people. It generates a proud, dismissive attitude to both alternative opinions and opponents. I know, I know, it’s not supposed to do that. But the reality is, I have not met very many presuppositionalists who take opposing viewpoints seriously. Why? Because it is built into the system.
The argument presupposes that the Bible is true and that if any other opinion contains truth, it “borrows” from the Biblical worldview (I very much disagree with this). What happens next is a subtle shift. The Biblical worldview is exchanged for one’s assumptions about what they think the Bible means. This, in turn, leads to the false conclusion that what I believe is truth and therefore any disagreements are false. The result is usually an arrogant attitude that dismisses the opposition as ignorant and (frankly) stupid. Just read the rhetoric coming from presuppositional young earth creationists. It often displays both a high degree of arrogance and ignorance. While I myself hold to a young earth viewpoint, I don’t think presuppositionalism has done many favors for the attitudes of many people.
My second disagreement is that presuppositional apologetics isn’t built to defend scripture or the Biblical world view. It’s built to defend the Reformed/Calvinistic worldview. This was the goal from the onset. You can find it clearly stated Van Til, Bahnsen, and others. Since I reject Calvinistic theology, I don’t find much use for a system that is bent on supporting it. My greatest problem with it is that, in answering the problem of evil, it declares that God plans, brings about, and causes evil to happen. I know there is sophisticated logic that I am skipping over. But if God micromanages the universe, this is the necessary conclusion. I’ve known a little pain in my life, and I’ve heard of the worst kinds of pain. I just don’t see the Calvinistic answer as a good one.
Third, presuppositionalism argues that empirical data will be interpreted differently based upon your presuppositions. My basic problem with this is that it often gives a cheap answer to an expensive question. Usually, this argument is used when the Christian doesn’t have a good explanation for his viewpoint. Instead of evaluating and critically looking at the data, we say “well, that’s just the way you see it.”
The problem is that often data simply has one interpretational direction. For example, the data indicating that dinosaurs had feathers is very strong. Many young earth creationists deny this fact because they don’t believe it. The problem is, the data to my understanding is clear: dinosaurs had feathers. It doesn’t matter what your presuppositions are, the truth exists with or without your presuppositions.
Let me put it more simply. You and I could stand on the side of the road waiting to cross. We both observe a bus coming down the road. You presume it’s an illusion, but I don’t. You step out in front of the bus and get pummeled. At some point, the data clearly shows, regardless of your presuppositions, that the bus is indeed real. If you had been an evidentialist like me, you wouldn’t have stepped out in front of the bus. The point is, presuppositions don’t determine truth. Presuppositions fill in the gaps in our evidence until new data slaps us in the face.
In the end, I find much of presuppositionalism to be the arguments generated by confirmation bias rather than a serious engagement with issues. It is helpful to study for the reasons I first stated. But as an apologetic system, I find it weak. I know this post is a little short and (not so) sweet. It’s more or less just a summary of my thoughts. Disagree? Let me know below.