Presuppositionalism

“Presuppositionalism is a school of Christian apologetics that believes the Christian faith is the only basis for rational thought. It presupposes that the Bible is divine revelation and attempts to expose flaws in other worldviews.” – Wikipedia

Presuppositional apologetic quotes

“Once the biblical defense has been given it is necessary to expose the fact that the non-Christian rejects the Christian evidence because of his commitment to independence. Every thought contrary to Christianity which the unbeliever has results from his desire to set himself up as the independent judge of truth. We live in a day when many non-Christians think they are neutral and objective. So, their basic commitment must be exposed. This can be done by a series of questions. If the Christian wishes to show the non-Christian that he has committed himself to independence he may simply assert that it is the case and then ask, “Why do you believe that?” or “How do you know that?” again and again until the point becomes obvious. The unbeliever thinks and believes as he does because he has determined it to be correct independently. For instance, the unbeliever may argue that the Christian God does not exist. When asked “Why?” he may say, ‘You have shown me no convincing evidence.” When asked why he thinks the evidence is unconvincing, he will have to admit that the evidence does not meet with his independent criterion of truth. When asked why he accepts his criterion of truth he can be shown that it is the result of his own independent decision to look at things without submission to the Bible and to God.

By exposing the commitment of the unbeliever, the Christian reveals the truth that all men have either chosen for Christ or against Him. The line of division is clearly drawn and the door is opened for demonstrating the hopelessness of the non-Christian way of thinking.” – Richard L. Pratt Jr. from “Every Thought Captive”

“All the scheming, craftiness, and efforts of unbelievers turn against themselves as the judgment of God is revealed to them. This inherent futility is shown to the non-Christian by the believer as he points to the internal inconsistencies within the unbelieving system of thought. In this capacity the apologist becomes a messenger of judgment revealing to his opponent the hopelessness and futility of his rejection of Christ.” – Richard L. Pratt Jr. from “Every Thought Captive”

“Only the Christian worldview provides the necessary preconditions for the intelligibility of human experience. That is, only the Christian view of God, creation, providence, revelation, and human nature can make sense of the world in which we live. So, for example, only the Christian worldview can make sense out of morality since it alone provides the necessary presuppositions for making ethical evaluations, namely, an absolute and personal Law Giver who reveals His moral will to mankind. It does not make sense, however, for the atheist/materialist to denounce any action as wrong since, according to his worldview, all that exists is matter in motion. And matter in motion is inherently non-moral. That is, since the world according to the materialist is totally explicable in terms of physical processes, and since physical processes are categorically non-moral, moral considerations have no place in his worldview. Thus for the materialist to say that stealing is morally wrong makes as much sense as saying that the secretion of insulin from the pancreas is morally wrong. [This is not to say, however, that atheists never act morally. Atheists feed their children, give money to charity and often make good neighbors. But atheists cannot give a justification for their actions. In the words of Cornelius Van Til, they are living on “borrowed capital” from the Christian worldview. Thus, they profess one thing, but their actions belie this profession].” – Michael Butler

In defending the Christian faith, the most important question before us is “What sort of defense will best glorify our God (cf. 1 Cor. 10:31)?” God forbid that in seeking to defend the faith before others we should in that very act compromise it. The so-called “presuppositional” school of apologetics is concerned above all with answering this question. Among all the sources of divine revelation (including nature, history, human beings in God’s image), Scripture plays a central role. Indeed, though the point cannot be argued in detail here, my view is that Scripture is the supremely authoritative, inerrant Word of God, the divinely authored, written constitution of the church of Jesus Christ. Scripture is therefore the foundational authority for all of human life including apologetics. As the ultimate authority, the very Word of God, it provides the foundational justifications for all our reasoning, without itself being subject to prior justification. – John Frame

“When you say there’s too much evil in this world you assume there’s good. When you assume there’s good, you assume there’s such a thing as a moral law on the basis of which to differentiate between good and evil. But if you assume a moral law, you must posit a moral Law Giver, but that’s Who you’re trying to disprove and not prove. Because if there’s no moral Law Giver, there’s no moral law. If there’s no moral law, there’s no good. If there’s no good, there’s no evil. What is your question?” – Ravi Zacharias

“If there is no God, then all that exists is time and chance acting on matter. If this is true then the difference between your thoughts and mine correspond to the difference between shaking up a bottle of Mountain Dew and a bottle of Dr. Pepper. You simply fizz atheistically and I fizz theistically. This means that you do not hold to atheism because it is true, but rather because of a series of chemical reactions… Morality, tragedy, and sorrow are equally evanescent. They are all empty sensations created by the chemical reactions of the brain, in turn created by too much pizza the night before. If there is no God, then all abstractions are chemical epiphenomena, like swamp gas over fetid water. This means that we have no reason for assigning truth and falsity to the chemical fizz we call reasoning or right and wrong to the irrational reaction we call morality. If no God, mankind is a set of bi-pedal carbon units of mostly water. And nothing else.” – Douglas Wilson

“God built into the creation a variety of cultural spheres, such as the family, economics, politics, art, and intellectual inquiry. Each of these spheres has its own proper “business” and needs its own unique pattern of authority. When we confuse spheres, by violating the proper boundaries of church and state, for instance, or reducing the academic life to a business enterprise, we transgress the patterns that God has set.” – Abraham Kuyper

“God is thus the principle of definition, of law, and of all things. He is the premise of all thinking, and the necessary presupposition for every sphere of thought. It is blasphemy therefore to attempt to “prove” God; God is the necessary presupposition of all proof. To ground any sphere of thought, life, or action, or any sphere of being, on anything other than the triune God is thus blasphemy. Education without God as its premise, law which does not presuppose God and rest on His law, a civil order which does not derive all authority from God, or a family whose foundation is not God’s word, is blasphemous.” – R. J. Rushdoony

“If one does not make human knowledge wholly dependent upon the original self-knowledge and consequent revelation of God to man, then man will have to seek knowledge within himself as the final reference point. Then he will have to seek an exhaustive understanding of reality. He will have to hold that if he cannot attain to such an exhaustive understanding of reality he has no true knowledge of anything at all. Either man must then know everything or he knows nothing. This is the dilemma that confronts every form of non-Christian epistemology.” – Cornelius Van Til

The transcendental proof for God’s existence stated:

“1. God is a necessary precondition for logic and morality (because these are immaterial, yet real universals).

2. People depend upon logic and morality, showing that they depend upon the universal, immaterial, and abstract realities, which could not exist in a materialist universe but presupposes (presumes) the existence of an immaterial and absolute God.

3. Therefore, God exists. If He didn’t, we could not rely upon logic, reason, morality, and other absolute universals (which are required and assumed to live in this universe, let alone to debate), and could not exist in a materialist universe where there are no absolute standards or an absolute Lawgiver.

The transcendental proof for God’s existence is that without Him it is impossible to prove anything. The atheist world view is irrational and cannot consistently provide the preconditions of intelligible experience, science, logic, or morality.” – Greg Bahnsen

From this principle, the presuppositional argument for God’s existence and its implications stated, and atheism challenged:

“The Bible contains the Christian’s starting principles or presuppositions. God speaks to us in the Scriptures (special revelation) with human language utilizing logically structured sentences in which He tells us the difference between right and wrong. The Christian worldview has the necessary preconditions to talk intelligently and give justification for the use of logic, science, and morality. Consequently, the strength of the Christian worldview is seen by the impossibility of the contrary. The impossibility of the contrary can be asserted because as of this day, no non-Christian anywhere has shown how their worldview can account for the use of science, logic, and intelligently talk about ethics. Begging the question is the typical response by the atheist to their worldview’s failure and this begging the question is a logical fallacy. We are not saying the atheist does not use logic or talk about right and wrong. We are saying the atheist cannot account for these things within his system.

Note: Begging the question is a fallacy of assumption because it directly presumes the conclusion, which is the question in the first place. For example, “Killing people is wrong, (premise) so the death penalty is wrong.” Begging the question is known as circular reasoning because the conclusion is seen at the beginning and the end of the argument, it creates an unending circle, never achieving anything of substance. The atheist system assumes it can account for logic and ethics without ever providing substantiation. One must accept the premise to be true for the claim to be true.

Why the atheist cannot find God:

The Christian says if an individual starts with a non-Christian syllogism or presupposition, the individual will never arrive at a Christian conclusion. As Clark noted above, every system or belief has a starting point. Starting with a non-Christian premise reminds us of “…of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them” (Romans 1:18-19). The atheist in his suppression of the truth refuses to start with the testimony of Scripture or natural revelation, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Psalms 19:1). All non-believing presuppositions ultimately lead to complete skepticism or the philosophy of no-nothing-ism.

Furthermore, because of this ultimate skepticism, the atheist cannot live consistently with the result of where his worldview takes him. That is why many atheists still talk about morality, science, and logic. They are inconsistent. From their starting premise, nothing can be proven. As stated, a materialistic worldview or atheism cannot justify or account for science, logic, or morality, since matter is silent! A rock cannot tell the atheist the difference between right and wrong. Likewise, the moon, which is a big rock, cannot tell the difference between what is right, and what is wrong. Atheistic materialism has nothing to say about science, logic, and ethics reliably. The matter making up the universe is silent. God is not silent. Closing this paragraph with a quote by William Provine, Charles A. Alexander Professor of Biological Sciences at Cornell University, “There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning to life, and no free will for humans, either.” “No ultimate foundation for ethics, no meaning to life,” says Provine. With assertions like this, the intellectual bankruptcy of atheism is exposed.

Atheists refuse to acknowledge how their system works:

Atheists generally refuse to acknowledge that they have presuppositions and that presuppositions govern interpretations of the world. In short, the Christian’s presupposition is God’s revelation in the Bible is our authority and standard of interpretation. The atheist’s presupposition is the man himself is the authority and standard of interpretation. This clash or antithesis of worldviews happened in the beginning, Genesis 3:5, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” The consequence of Adam’s disobedience is that Adam’s descendants in their rebellion will seek to be the interpreters of reality and reject God’s interpretation. Now that the fallen race of man is acting like God, he appeals to his authority in his attempt to answer the demands of speaking intelligently about science, morality, and logic. It is the authority of the infinite versus the authority of the finite. The atheist may not like this conclusion; until he comes up with epistemological solutions, he should remain silent like a rock. 

Pressing the antithesis:

In addition to numerous philosophical problems regarding atheists and other non-Christian interpretations of the world, it should be clear that matter or material has nothing to say within the framework of non-believing philosophy. What could it say? Within this framework, material or matter is ultimately an accident and therefore meaningless. In addition to this problem, all men have a priori commitments, which are at work and from which truth or falsity is deduced. The question is not do men have a priori commitments, but what are they? The non-believer has suppressed and substituted God’s revealed truth for his interpretation of the world. When dealing with ethics in particular atheism cannot speak intelligently. The atheist has to borrow from and assume Christian definitions when talking about evil and good. To quote Nietzsche: “When one gives up Christian belief one thereby deprives oneself of the right to Christian morality. For the latter is not self-evident… Christianity is a system.” When rejecting the Christian system, “Everything is permitted” – Friedrich Nietzsche. According to Nietzsche, if “everything is permitted,” good and evil are meaningless terms. Nietzsche was a consistent atheist.

In essence, the atheist has erected a closed system. His system is closed to God. He does not allow God to speak. Since the atheist rejects the Creator, he has nothing within his closed system that he allows to speak with moral certainty. As long as fallen man excludes God from his system, he cannot know anything with certainty. The atheist thought has no basis for absolutes. An atheist has plenty of arbitrary social conventions. If there are no absolutes, there can be no meaning attached to anything since everything could be said to be true and not true at the same time, which is unacceptable irrational nonsense. As noted earlier by Aldous Huxley: “It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one’s life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than ‘try to be a little kinder.’” An example of a failed atheistic attempt at determining morality for society is pragmatic majoritarianism, i.e., the majority makes right. This system does not work out so well for the minorities, like the Jews in Nazi Germany.

Unanswerable questions for the atheist:

John Locke is known as the originator of the epistemological theory known as empiricism, which postulates the mind at birth is a blank tablet (tabula rasa) and then assimilates knowledge through sensations. This theory could be called the “blank mind theory” of knowledge. The details of how this theory works out with the mind receiving, interpreting, and retaining these sensations are lacking, to say the least.

For example, can atheistic empiricism provide a basis for certainty? It cannot. For example, empiricism historically argues that knowledge comes through sensations in the following order: (a) sensations, (b) perceptions, (c) memory images, (d) and the development of abstract ideas. In this system of interpretation, perceptions are inferences from sensations. How does the atheistic empiricist know valid from invalid inferences?

Can atheistic rationalism (reason alone) provide answers to big questions of life? Does the atheist have the necessary preconditions to interpret reality? The Christian says God is a necessary precondition for interpretation. The atheist says no. From a Christian worldview, it can be explained why life has a purpose. Can the atheist explain why life is purposeful? To remember an earlier quote: “There is no splendor, no vastness, anywhere, only triviality for a moment, and then nothing” – Bertrand Russell. This assertion by Russell is an example of a bankrupt worldview. Dostoevsky countered this idea of Russell by saying: “I don’t understand how, up to now, an atheist could know there is no God and not kill himself at once” – Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Pressing the antithesis further: 

We can ask the atheist, what is the origin of laws of logic? Are the laws of logic interpreted in the same way universally? If not, why not? The laws of logic within the framework of non-belief are nothing more than a philosophical construct, which ends up collapsing into irrationality and inconsistency. Thus, the atheistic rational man has no rationale for his rationalism. The assertion that God is not silent is the solution to obtaining knowledge. God has spoken through the Scriptures to all of mankind. As Christians, we have a foundation for knowledge; it is revelational. God-given revelation is objective. Atheists reject this revelation; they suppress the truth that God has revealed to them through creation (Romans 1:18). God has spoken in the Scriptures, God’s special revelation to all men concerning what is required of him, and thus, we have a rationale for ethics. To repeat two quotes from David Silverman, “There is no objective moral standard. We are responsible for our own actions….” In addition, “The hard answer is it is a matter of opinion.” David Silverman is an American secular advocate who served as president of American Atheists. According to Silverman, we are left with opinions. Different opinions are not solutions.

Again, we can ask the atheist and all non-Christians, what standard for interpretation is being used; identify your worldview and its basis for predication. Predication is attaching a predicate to a subject; hence, making an assertion. Van Til says, “Only the Christian worldview makes predication possible.” The atheist needs to demonstrate how his worldview can accomplish this.

For the atheist, there is ultimately only irrationalism:

Thus, the atheistic man has only matter, unintelligible or debatable explanations for sensations (sense perception), or his finite, fallible reason. An unclear debatable sensation is one reason for the bankruptcy of atheistic, materialistic humanism. The Christian has a rational basis for knowledge; it is the Biblical revelation. The Christian allows God to speak through creation and Scripture. The non-Christian will not allow room for the God of the Bible to speak in their system. As said, their system is closed to God’s revelation. The atheist insists on being the ultimate interpreter of reality, God is excluded. The Christian system is not closed like the atheist’s system. The Bible tells us about general and special revelation and man’s requirement to submit to a God-given interpretation of all things. It is because we have God’s revelation that an intelligent conversation on these matters can be carried on. How can a finite man who does not even know how many atoms are in an orange speak intelligently when asserting, absolutely and omnisciently, there is no God? These same people talk about the universe coming into existence from a big bang out of nothing. Was there a spark before the explosion of nothing? How did this spark happen? How does nothing explode? A big explosion sounds like the primitive view of spontaneous generation. Spontaneous generation is illogical nonsense. In contrast to the atheist’s hypothetical speculation, the Christian has a God-given rational case for knowledge.   

Philosophically, atheism vacillates between two positions of knowing and not knowing. These two opposite poles of allegiance constitute a never-ending dilemma, thus revealing the futility of non-Christian epistemology. Despite this, the atheist presses on irrationally. To illustrate, for example, some atheists claim absolutely that there are no absolutes, a self-refuting contradiction. The philosophy of non-belief contradicts itself when it claims not to know (uncertainty, agnosticism) and to know (certainty, atheism). Both atheism and agnosticism are two sides of the same coin. Thus, the non-believer is left with contradictory uncertainty and certainty, which are manifestations of his epistemological inability to derive meaningful intelligibility from an ultimate irrational meaningless universe.

The Christian Solution to knowledge:

As Christians, we have a coherent theory of knowledge. God has spoken. God speaking through revelation is certain: God speaks to us in the Scriptures with human language utilizing logically structured sentences in which He tells us the difference between right and wrong. Language has the same meaning for God and man. Because of this, presuppositionalists argue that Christianity is true because of the impossibility of the contrary. The atheist position of the contrary has never been articulated successfully. See the great debate between Greg Bahnsen and Gordon Stein at Davis University in California in 1985.* Atheistic epistemology has different theories, but no universal certainty and cannot escape skepticism better explained as no-nothing-ism. The non-Christian philosophers will argue on and on, never reaching an agreement.” – Jack Kettler

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com

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