Christian Presuppositionalism - A General Response

I'm sure most of our readers are familiar with the style of apologetics known as Christian Presuppositionalism (CPS). In general, it argues against all other worldviews via reductio, or internal critique. One of the favorite sorts of positive arguments that CPS employ are the Transcendental Arguments for God's Existence (TAG) [also see here]. These all run along the same lines (If X, then God):
i) God is a precondition for X
ii) X exists
iii) Therefore, God exists
(X = logic, uniformity of nature, induction, morality, mathematical truths, universals...)
My student freethought group, AAFSA at UF, enjoys a hell of a faculty advisor -- a philosopher who specializes in religion and metaphysics. Prof. D. Gene Witmer (from Rutgers Phil Dept.!) is a pretty well-known guy in the world of physicalism (so far as I can tell from his numerous citations in academic works on the subject), and he teaches a phil of religion course every year, PHI 3700.

I attended a PhilSoc meeting in March where Prof. Witmer discussed the problem of evil, after which I asked him how he would respond to Van Tillian Presuppositionalists (from C. Van Til) on the PoE. He seemed taken aback, and had no idea what in the hell I was talking about. I later came to find out that this is because the CPS ideas are basically absent from awareness in academic circles (at least at secular universities). Following this, we exchanged quite a few emails discussing CPS, and I suppose I piqued his interest into the arguments and methods employed by CPS's.

On Sept. 26, I asked Prof. Witmer if he would talk to our group, and we discussed possible topics a bit before he decided to talk about CPS at our meeting 9. I have now made the abstract of the talk, and the full-text (.pdf) of his presentation available online. Please download and feel free to comment on his arguments and major points. I especially enjoyed his presentation of a "conditional PoE", wherein he argues that either there are moral facts or there aren't, but either way, the PoE shows that God does not exist.

Download the .pdf HERE.

14 comments:

Daniel said...

I would also add one caveat:

Prof. Witmer admits on page one that his study of CPS has been limited, as he is quite new to the subject, so consider this when reading his review of the subject. Of course, I'm not making excuses for him, just reminded readers that he has hardly devoted large amounts of time to a systematic study here.

That said, I think he cuts through the crap quite well.

Dave Armstrong said...

I agree that Christian presuppositionalism is a severely flawed method. I have written about it:

Critique of Presuppositionalist Christian Apologetics (Specifically the Van Tillian Version)
http://ic.net/~erasmus/RAZ42.HTM

Dave Armstrong

Inquisitor said...

I would start the debate with an attempt to determine that logic and reason exist. The theist may think that they come from god, but they have little choice in agreeing that they exist. Once that agreement can be reached, you are free to use logic and reason without having to justify that they may be used.

Aaron Kinney said...

I read this PDF a few days ago via email (Thanks Daniel!) and as with me, the part that stuck me the most was Witmer's handling of the "Conditional PoE" as was mentioned in this blog post.

This is good stuff all around. I also like how he specifically mentions Manata (a chap that Ive tangled with many times in the past) and his tactics as a representation of the Presup movement.

This paper should be pushed around atheistic circles as much as possible. Its a great way for atheists to frame the Presup arguments and the atheist response in their heads, and possibly develop the ideas further.

Anonymous said...

if you accept some of his arguments and strategies then you must reject physicalism.

Which atheist wants to admit that physicalims/materialism is false?

It's been a staple here at DC.

This juts shows you guys grab hold of whatever justifies your unbelief.

I mean, why not post a blog entry admitting to the T-blog guys that you've been wrong about materialism?

Then when you show that humility, we can advance and show you how we destroy Platonism.

I mean, the guy acts like it's our fault for attacking physicalism, logical conventionalism, moral anti-realism, when it's been the atheists who've told us that that was their position.

We attack physicalism and now we get blamed for not attacking Platonism??? That's odd.

Furthermore, if one peruses the relevant literature one would see that Platonims, Aristotelianism, etc., have already been addressed.

On top of that, the author made myriad errors, perhaps if I get the time I'll write a response. Right now I juts want the admission that physicalism is dead... we slaughtered it. No run to Plato to save your faith! Hopefully you can overcome The Third Man Argument...

jim said...

if you accept some of his arguments and strategies then you must reject physicalism.

You didn't read the paper carefully enough, then. He points out that one is not committed to producing a metaphysical explanation of logic (or morality) period.

This is true because he points out that beliefs can be justified even when the phenomenon they are held about (that morality exists, that logic exists) cannot be completely dissected and explained to the satisfaction of all.

Examples? You use a car without knowing many of its functions. You say that matter exists, but you likely can't tell me a damned thing about quarks and tachyons. You probably don't know the difference in baryonic particles and dark matter, but you would accept many of the principles that both describe.

His point is that we reach an infinite regress, or circularity, in our attempt to defend our presuppositions. In the theists' question of how to "account" for those presuppositions, they are violating the definition of a presupposition -- an undefended belief!!! (It can be a justified belief without being a completely dissected one, of course, in the same way you believe in God but can say nothing of substance about God.)

He further points out that if one is demanded of it, they can point to a parallel of the Christian's own internal view -- Platonism. In this view, the universals are abstract and timeless. This is his way of placating someone who won't shut up in demanded a course in metaphysics. Of course, he also goes on to point out the sorriness in the theists' own "account" of logic and morality, in their attempt to "ground them" in "God's nature", which does nothing to explain or make sense of them at all.

I find it funny you want a philosophical problem solved (the third man argument) when you aren't being presented with anything at all. It's the nature of you presups to demand an "account" of every damn thing, because in your nonsensical views, your own "account" of "God" is an answer in itself.

Somehow, even though "absolute and universal" cannot be made coherent in any fashion by you, and you avoid veridical statements entirely, you think that you are completely logical by demanding answers to every ancient problem in philosophy. You don't seem to think. No one here is arguing Platonism, and neither was he. Go re-read the paper.

At any rate, you seem a bit angry. It seems to have hit a nerve.

Go to church, pray a little, calm down, and then go think over the paper a bit more.

jim bob, the brother of jesus said...

Physicalism is dead? Jeez, you ought to let Witmer and the entire philosophy departments of every academy in the world know. They must have missed something you in your brilliance caught.

Before you go forward, note that in using physicalism to attempt to explain the metaphysics of logic, via realism, conceptualism, and nominalism, these are not exhaustive, as they can be combined into "conceptual natural realism" and "conceptual intensional realism". See sections 6-8, pp.139-146 of Logic and Ontology, by Nino B. Cocchiarella.

Now, I would say that you would have an awful tough job to show me how "conceptual natural realism" fails to "account for" logic in a way that is consistent with physicalism, but apparently, you possess a flaming intellect. Therefore, please, please, please, read those pages and "tear it to shreds", just as you did physicalism generally. [muffles laughter]

It is available for free here.

Anonymous said...

well then Platonism isn't at your disposal, now is it.

At any rate, the presuppositionalist isn't asking you to "explain" every little iota of logic and how it relates to such and such.

So if that's his case, then it's pretty much worthless as it attacks a straw man.

anyway, I'll be sure to use that approach when yu ask me about God and theological questions: "I don't need to know everything about it, do you know everything about matter?"

So, thanks for the fodder

P.S. Daniel Morgan told Calvin Dude that he *is* a Platonist w/respects to logic, erog, Danny has left physicalism.

Paul Manata said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

why did the author quote Paul Copan? Copan's not a presuppositionalist.

the queen of england said...

Paul Manata said:

great, so you don't have to account for logic.

justification doesn't require a complete and airtight metaphysical account, or else you're up the creek, as well as everyone else living on planet earth

Well, I don't have to account for God or his nature then.

I'm sorry, did you ever? Has anyone?

The author is like a drowing man who wants to pull others down with him.

More like a guy telling people on the shore, "Wait to jump in after that presup who's drowning, as he's thrashing wildly and will take you down with him; let him sink, then go in after him..."

ren said...

Daniel Morgan told Calvin Dude that he *is* a Platonist w/respects to logic, erog, Danny has left physicalism.

WOW! I guess that means physicalism is crumbling! Danny is the smartest and wisest of all the philosophers! If he can't hold his ground, we'd all better jump ship, 'fore we all get drowned!

Nice logic, dude.

King of France said...

ren, that wasn't the point, dude. the point was that my response was that my first response mentioned resorting to Platonism; I drew inferences from this.

I was then told that resorting to Platonism was not what was going on here.

I pointed out that it was, because Morgan did.

My point was that the guy's *strategy* causes one to deny physicalism. SO, if a bobe head takes his idea to a debate with me, and first tries to hold to physicalism, but then uses his "resort to Platonism" (as a fallaback), then I'll point out that he's denying his physicalism.

It was all pretty obvious, dude.

Queen,

I've never said that "justification requires a compelte airtight account." Quote where I have *ever* said that. So, you're arguing against the wrong guy here.

I do like that this is the approach this guy is telling you to take, because in a formal debate if someone tried this out: "I don't need to give a "airtight metaphysical justification," I'll eat you for dinner.

For example, I don't think a physicalist can give ANY account, let alone a "completely airtight one." Put differently, I hold that the basis tenants of physicalism do not allow the metaphysical EXISTENCE of "laws of logic," and, to the extent that ythey do allow for logic, they destroy its law-like character.

So, get on board with the arguments. Sheesh, who ever asked you to give a "complete airtight metaphysical justification?"

WShy don't you try to study up on who you're debating rather than take the word of a guy who ADMITS he hasn't even really study presuppositionalism.

That paper was totally irresponsible of him. Now he's sending you guys out to look like ignorant hacks.

At any rate, it's good for me. I'll just allow this new "argument" and "strategy" to go unchecked until someone uses it in either a formal or informal debate, then I'll simply embarrass him.

Daniel said...

Paul/Anonymous (why don't you just sign in as you? we all know you by your style and spelling issues),

Daniel Morgan told Calvin Dude that he *is* a Platonist w/respects to logic, erog, Danny has left physicalism.

Not true. See here, scroll all the way to the bottom three paragraphs.