Van Tillian Presuppositional Apologetics One Last Time

I've taken an afternoon and read some things about Van Tillian apologetics. I will waste no more time on it. It's stupid and incoherent to me, and that's all I can say. How intelligent people can actually believe this stuff, much less defend it, is simply beyond me. All they would have to do is to step back from their own arguments and they would see them as ridiculous and not worthy of the energy to type them into the computer.

Take for instance, Van Tillian presuppositionalist John Frame, who wrote: "But are we not still forced to say, 'God exists (presupposition), therefore God exists (conclusion),' and isn't that argument clearly circular? Yes, in a way. But that is unavoidable for any system, any worldview. One cannot argue for an ultimate standard by appealing to a different standard. That would be inconsistent." Five Views on Apologetics, ed., Steven B. Coven [(Zondervan, 2000), p. 217].

William Lane Craig: "Presuppositionalism commits the informal fallacy of begging the question, for it advocates presupposing the truth of Christian theism in order to prove Christian theism. It is difficult to imagine how anyone could with a straight face think to show theism to be true by reasoning, 'God exists, therefore God exists.' A Christian theist himself will deny that question-begging arguments prove anything." Five Views on Apologetics (p. 233).

Gary R. Habermas: "Van Tillians seem to have a notion that all presuppositions except the most circular ones are on the same level. Since no one can be neutral, we must all begin with some sort of prior notions. Given such a stance, they can basically begin with the truth of Christian theism in at least some form. But somehow Frame proceeds from here to Scripture, as if this entire body of truth is justified by the need for a starting point."

"Here Frame commits the informal logical fallacy of false analogy. He argues that rationalists must accept reason as an ultimate starting point, just as empiricists assume sense experience, and so on. So the Christian may begin with Scripture as a legitimate starting point. But these are not analogous bases. While the rationalist uses reason and the empiricist uses sense experience as tools from which to construct their systems, Frame assumes both the tool of special revelation and the system of Scripture, from which he develops his Christian theism. In other words, he assumes the reality of God's existence, his personal interaction with humans, plus a specific product: Scripture. Does Frame not realize that, in the name of everyone needing a presupposition, he has imported an entire worldview when others have only asked for tools?"

"But these presuppositions are not all created equal! Frame allows rationalists and empiricists their methodological hook, while he demands the hook, line, and sinker for Christianity!" Five Views on Apologetics (p. 242).

Four other comments from me:
1) There is no reason why the existence of logic and reason demand that Christian theism is true when the Jew, the Muslim, or the Deist could make the same kind of argument. Jumping to Christian theism is a non sequitur. Hence there is no reason for presuppositionally preferring Christian theism to these other faiths, especially since a true "internal critique" is impossible (from the presuppositionalist's perspective). Even if a particular faith is found to be internally consistent, we still may ask if it corresponds to reality, if that is even possible.

2) To assert that God is the basis of logic is to fall within the same trap of the Euthyphro dilemma with regard to moral truth. Is something reasonable merely because God proclaims it so, or does God proclaim something reasonable because it is?

3) If God does not exist, then logic and reason may have no ultimate foundation, much like morals do not have an ultimate foundation. The way we reason may be nothing more than a Wittgenstein language game. Maybe reason has merely shown itself trustworthy by pragmatic verification based in the anthropic principle evidenced in the universe--it just works. Of course, it may be that reason doesn't work as well as the presuppositionalist proclaims. While the law of non-contradiction corresponds to reality, once we apply that law to a specific case in the empirical world, opponents will still disagree whether or not it applies. Oriental philosophers may reject logic outright as maya because it's based on a world-view they reject, due to their own presuppositional approach. [How presuppositional apologetics can make a dent in Oriental beliefs is a puzzle to me]

4) Chance cannot be rationally explained. If this universe took place by chance, then the fact that reason cannot figure it all out is exactly what we would expect. We would not be able to ultimately justify our use of reason, and so all we would have left from which to justify ultimacies of any kind are presuppositions. But the problem with presuppositions is that they can sometimes be viciously circular, disallowing any true internal critique. Hence if this universe took place by chance, then the fact that we have over 25,000 different religious sects in the world is just what we should expect to find. Why? Because reason is impotent to help decide between ultimacies here--each sect must presuppose what it must prove, and each one is thereby incommensurable with the others.

24 comments:

Zachary Moore said...

Here's what Dusman, an administrator over at Gene Cook's forum had to say about the Presuppositional argument in the thread about your appearance on the show:

1. For X to be the case, Y has to be the case.
2. X is the case.
3. Therefore, Y is the case.

Read that first premise to yourself slowly a few times, and you'll see why this argument is so fallacious.

Vytautas said...

Is the argument invalid? For an argument to be invalid the premises must be true and the conclusion false. So if Y is the case is false, which is the conclusion, then the consequent Y has to be the case is false. I interpret the first premise as a conditional because it can easily fit that statement. For the first premise to be true the antecedent must be false. If the antecedent were true, then the first premise would be false. If the antecedent is false, then the second premise is false. If one of the premises is false, then it is impossible for the argument to be invalid. Is the argument fallacious? If the argument is fallacious, then it must commit an informal fallacy. Formal fallacies deal with if an argument is invalid. And it was shown that the argument is valid using sentential logic.

John W. Loftus said...

vytautas, thanks for the attempted lesson in logic, but I didn't need it because I teach college logic classes. Your description is muddled. And I remain unconvinced.

But as I had argued, how about begging the question?

Anonymous said...

"How intelligent people can actually believe this stuff, much less defend it, is simply beyond me."

Wow, you've actually admitted that there's somethings you just don't understand! Do you know that two people can look at the same painting and each have a differant interpretation of it? Even I, can understand this. Maybe you need to keep searching for an understanding of this phenomenon. Try looking in other places.

John W. Loftus said...

This is not merely looking at a painting, from my perspective.

But to use your analogy, if it is a painting we're looking at, then the presuppositionalist would be arguing that only his interpretation is right because he presupposes that it's right. And this is what I object to as a thinking person. No one, when asked why they think their interpretation of the painting is correct, would respond by saying, "because it is."

That kind of thinking applied anywhere else is quite simply and utterly laughable.

Anonymous said...

"But to use your analogy, if it is a painting we're looking at, then the presuppositionalist would be arguing that only his interpretation is right because he presupposes that it's right. And this is what I object to as a thinking person. No one, when asked why they think their interpretation of the painting is correct, would respond by saying, "because it is.""

Ah yes, but what about the one who made the painting? Is either interpretation by the viewers the real impression that the artist intended. Don't pretend that the painting does not have a purpose of it's own.

John W. Loftus said...

But that's where the painting analogy breaks down. The painter doesn't do any communicating to the viewers except through the painting. Christians cannot claim that their interpretation of the painting is the very one the painter intended, precisely because the painter is not around to ask, and some question whether there ever was a painter.

Presuppositionalists just presuppose their interpretation is correct. Pantheists, atheists, Deists, Jews and Muslims can and do the same thing and you will find yourself at an impasse.

And to make the distinction Paul does between "common ground" and "neutral ground" solves nothing. This is a distinction that isn't a helpful distinction. It says nothing about what we're really debating. I might as well say that the universe exists, so there is common ground. But the fact that we interpret it differently is the precise point. Do we have any common ground to discuss our differences...or not? Presuppositionalists would have to answer that we do not have this kind of common ground.

Paul Manata said...

"if it is a painting we're looking at, then the presuppositionalist would be arguing that only his interpretation is right because he presupposes that it's right."

John, your ignorance continues to astound me. I'm currently writting a response to your unstudied opinions on presuppositionalism, but I saw this and just had to say something.

1) Quote ONE presuppositionalist who says that his interpretation is right simply *because* he presupposes it.

2) I do not say this and have never heard one presuppositionalist say it.

3) Is it the mark of scholarship to misrepresent others and set up straw men?

Anonymous said...

"But that's where the painting analogy breaks down. The painter doesn't do any communicating to the viewers except through the painting. Christians cannot claim that their interpretation of the painting is the very one the painter intended,"

Why not? Are you saying that the painter purposely hides what he is portraying? This may be true with some painters, but not all.

I bring you back to what you said in your post,

"How intelligent people can actually believe this stuff, much less defend it, is simply beyond me."

You are assuming that there is not the possibility that one religion may be correct! What if one is? Then would not the artist be revealed? Once again you assume that you are correct in your presupposition (disbelief), while others are wrong in theirs. Isn't that hypocracy?


"precisely because the painter is not around to ask, and some question whether there ever was a painter."

How could there be a painting if there is no painter? Also the painter may not be as disconected as you think. Maybe you need to step into the gallery (put aside your disbelief) for a change.

John W. Loftus said...

The painting was an analogy, and all analogies leave something to be desired. I was making an analogous statement. I was asserting that this is what the presuppositionalist argument boils down to.

I wasn't quoting any presuppositionalist. They may disagree all they want to. I am saying this is what it boils down to.

So please spare me the pejorative jibes. First try to understand what someone is doing.

I look forward to your response. But again, spare me the pejorative jibes. Or would you also say Dr. Craig and Dr. Habermas are ignorant of presuppositionalism too?

Maybe you just think that someone is ignorant of presuppositionalism if they don't accept it? Because, in your mind anyway, if someone truly understood it then they would accept it. Surely you don't think this, do you? Because if you do, then I think you have stepped outside of presuppositionalism.

Paul Manata said...

"if it is a painting we're looking at, then the presuppositionalist would be arguing that only his interpretation is right because he presupposes that it's right."

John, your ignorance continues to astound me. I'm currently writting a response to your unstudied opinions on presuppositionalism, but I saw this and just had to say something.

1) Quote ONE presuppositionalist who says that his interpretation is right simply *because* he presupposes it.

2) I do not say this and have never heard one presuppositionalist say it.

3) Is it the mark of scholarship to misrepresent others and set up straw men?

Frank Walton said...

John, your assessment is nearly as bad as Dawson Bethrick's! Dude, you gotta do more homework. Charging presuppositionalism of circular reasoning or begging the question is one of hte oldest and useless arguments against it. You're way behind the game, my friend.

John W. Loftus said...

So please spare me the pejorative jibes. First try to understand what someone is doing.

I look forward to your response. But again, spare me the pejorative jibes. Or would you also say Dr. Craig and Dr. Habermas are ignorant of presuppositionalism too?

Maybe you just think that someone is ignorant of presuppositionalism if they don't accept it? Because, in your mind anyway, if someone truly understood it then they would accept it. Surely you don't think this, do you? Because if you do, then I think you have stepped outside of presuppositionalism.

Paul Manata said...

John,

You began the jibes. Anyway, ignorant is not a pejorative jobe, it's a statement of fact, i.e., you are *un-informed* about presuppositionalism.

Anyway, your mentioning of Craig and Habermas (which I will address and yes, they are very ignorant of it.) had *NOTHING* to do with what I asked you, John.

You see, you, John, not Craig or Habermas, but J. W. Loftus, of debunking Chritsianity, that guy, you were the one who said,

"the presuppositionalist would be arguing that only his interpretation is right because he presupposes that it's right."

Anyway, quote me ONE published presuppositionalist who says that our interpretation is right because we presuppose that it is.

I mean, you teach logic, right? Remember, you're the logic teacher? You told my Christian brother not to give you remedial lessons because you teach it at night, remember. So, check out your word, "because." You're saying that the *cause* of the truth of the Christian worldview is the cognitive state of, say, John Frame?! Do you seriously think John Frame would say this? I mean, I know you think he's a dumb Christian, but are you asking your readers to believe that Dr. Frame (who mastered in philosophy at Yale) thinks that his psychological condition causes the truth of the Christian worldview???

Anyway, stay tuned for my response. Just remember that I told you not to write about this stuff until you had studied it? You should have heeded me.

Frank Walton said...

Hi John,

John: So please spare me the pejorative jibes. First try to understand what someone is doing.

Frank: Ditto. You obviously don't understand presuppositionalism all that well.

John: I look forward to your response. But again, spare me the pejorative jibes. Or would you also say Dr. Craig and Dr. Habermas are ignorant of presuppositionalism too?

Frank: Yes, they are ignorant of presuppositionalism.

John: Maybe you just think that someone is ignorant of presuppositionalism if they don't accept it?

Frank: No, I don't.

John: Because, in your mind anyway, if someone truly understood it then they would accept it.

Frank: They might.

John: Surely you don't think this, do you? Because if you do, then I think you have stepped outside of presuppositionalism.

Frank: If so, then you still don't understand presuppositionalism. So, how did you misunderstand Van Til's apologetic? I'll leave that for you to figure out. Either way, your assessment was awfully bad.

Frank

John W. Loftus said...

Manta,
Anyway, your mentioning of Craig and Habermas (which I will address and yes, they are very ignorant of it.) had *NOTHING* to do with what I asked you, John.

Walton,
Frank: Yes, they are ignorant of presuppositionalism.

Hmmm. It sure is looking to me that I'm in good company. If Craig and Habermas and I all misunderstand presuppositionalism, then who actually understands it but still disagrees with it?

It sure looks to me like you believe that if we truly understood it, then we'd believe it. For the record, say this isn't so.

From an outsider's perspective, it is silly--absolutely silly.

Just try debating a Muslim who could claim the same thing, but Allah takes the place of the Holy Spirit....

You'd say, like I do, that this is silly--absolutely silly.

Paul Manata said...

John still waiting....

I'll repost it in case you missed it the two other times:

You see, you, John, not Craig or Habermas, but J. W. Loftus, of debunking Chritsianity, that guy, you were the one who said,

"the presuppositionalist would be arguing that only his interpretation is right because he presupposes that it's right."

Anyway, quote me ONE published presuppositionalist who says that our interpretation is right because we presuppose that it is.

I mean, you teach logic, right? Remember, you're the logic teacher? You told my Christian brother not to give you remedial lessons because you teach it at night, remember. So, check out your word, "because." You're saying that the *cause* of the truth of the Christian worldview is the cognitive state of, say, John Frame?! Do you seriously think John Frame would say this? I mean, I know you think he's a dumb Christian, but are you asking your readers to believe that Dr. Frame (who mastered in philosophy at Yale) thinks that his psychological condition causes the truth of the Christian worldview???

John W. Loftus said...

Paul, in case you missed it, I had already responded with these words:

The painting was an analogy, and all analogies leave something to be desired. I was making an analogous statement. I was asserting that this is what the presuppositionalist argument boils down to.

I wasn't quoting any presuppositionalist. They may disagree all they want to. I am saying this is what it boils down to.

So please spare me the pejorative jibes. First try to understand what someone is doing.


No more repeating yourself.

Paul Manata said...

no more repeating for Paul and no more asserting for John.

John, show how the argument "boils down" to your ridiculous statement. Show it. Show how the argument boils down to saying that a cognitive state is the cause of the truth of Christianity. Okay, I'll trust that you'll stop playing dodge ball and actually try and interact in a substantive way.

John W. Loftus said...

Paul Manta:

Show how the argument boils down to saying that a cognitive state is the cause of the truth of Christianity.

It's just interesting to me how that, given your view of reason, you should seek to reason me into the kingdom of heaven. And as far as I know I never stated what it is that you wish for me to defend.

Paul Manata said...

It's funny watching the atheist squirm. Anyway, it's funny, given your view of reason, that you'd try to "debunk" me into the atheist kingdom.

Also, what is my view of "reason?" What is "reason?" I've asked you to define this several times now and you just refuse to do so.

Who says I'm trying to reason you into the kingdom? I didn't think so.

Oh yeah, can you show that *ANY* presuppositionalist says that a cognitive state is the CAUSE of the truth of Christian theism?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Loftus,

If you met someone and they said they didn't believe in the Law of non-contradiction. What would be your response? How would you convince them that their view is incorrect?

David said...

"You cannot guarantee the accuracy of observation by observation. If you wish to demonstrate the reliability of observation, you have to have something prior to observation; but there is never anything prior to your first principle. Now I think that takes care of it. " - Gordon Clark

John W. Loftus said...

David, Paul Kurtz responds: “All other positions face a quandary similar to that hurled at the scientific humanist—though compounded. It is unfair to burden the scientific humanist with the ‘riddle of induction,’ for there is a ‘riddle of intuition’ or a ‘riddle of subjectivism’ or a ‘riddle’ for any other method. The intuitionist, mystic, or subjectivist can only justify his position by assuming his method to do so, thus committing a petito principi (begging the question). The burden of proof rests with these alternative positions….If all positions involve some question begging and are on the same ground in this regard, we may ask: ‘Which is the least self-defeating?’’”