Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Richard Howe’s Concern about YEC and Presuppositionalism

A Presuppositionalist Responds

Dr. Richard G. Howe has raised a number of concerns about YEC proponents adopting a presuppositional approach to their defense of the age of the earth. Dr. Howe is admittedly a YEC proponent himself. However, Dr. Howe is a classical apologist and therefore, it seems that Howe believes that the only sound method for defending the age of the earth is by use of the classical method of Christian apologetics. Dr. Howe has an outline of his concerns in PDF form on his website in which he criticizes presuppositional apologetics in general and Ken Ham in particular for his part in the YEC-presuppositionalism scandal. The purpose of this blog is to interact with Howe’s statements in that document, and to provide an alternative perspective in some cases, and a refutation of them in other cases.

Howe states in I.A.2, “My concern arises largely as a function of my concerns about and objections to Presuppositionalism as such.”

No one should be surprised to hear an SES professor like Richard Howe objecting to presuppositional apologetics. In fact, I would be shocked to hear if Howe were not concerned. Like Howe, I am also concerned about apologetic method. Apologetic method is the product of theology and as such, it goes to the soundness of one’s theological understandings. Since theological understanding is the product of biblical exegesis, and God Himself speaks to us in Scripture, we are talking about what God says. Specifically, when we say that apologetics ought to be carried out in a certain way, we are actually saying that God says that apologetics ought to be carried out in a certain way. And if that method is contrary to what God says, we have every reason to be concerned. Therefore, I do not find any fault in the fact that Howe is concerned about apologetic method per se.

In II.A of his outline, Howe says, “The broader context within which my concerns arise has to do with this question: What is the proper way for Christians to defend the truth of the Christian faith?”

Howe is to be commended for putting it so succinctly. This is indeed the question. Sometimes, believe it or not, we can’t even agree that a “proper” way for apologetics even exists in the first place. Some Christians think that it really doesn’t matter. All that matters is that we are out there doing something. I agree with Howe that there is a proper way for doing Christian apologetics.

“The Classical method, in terms of which the Christian is to marshal arguments and evidence demonstrating that the Christian faith is true.” [Howe: II.B.1] Howe is careful to point out that he is a classical apologist and not an evidentialist. There is a difference between these two schools. Once more, Howe’s clarity helps us understand precisely where he is coming from and what we can expect. In this bullet Howe is laying out the two concerns before us. He states there are two ways to answer the question of “proper method” in Christian apologetics. We can answer it using the classical method or we can answer it using the presuppositional method. Contextually speaking, Howe is only dealing with these two methods because he is a classical apologist and his criticism is directed at presuppositionalism. He is juxtaposing these two methods, and offering us his convictions for why we should adopt the former as opposed to the latter.

“The Presuppositional method, in terms of which the truth of the Christian faith (in its entirety, together with the Bible in its entirety) must be granted to be true before any knowledge or reasoning (even reasoning against the Christian faith) is possible.” [Howe II.B.2] In this case, Howe uses the ambiguous term “granted.” I must confess that I am unclear what Howe means in this statement. If he means that PA argues that apart from Christian theism, no knowledge or reasoning is possible, then he is correct about what PA affirms. However, if Howe means that PA insists that the skeptic confesses, acknowledge, or believes that Christian theism is true in order to know anything, then he is incorrect. PA does not assert that men who do not know God in Christ do not know anything at all, and cannot know anything at all. Common grace would preclude such foolishness. An atheist knows that 2+2=4 the same as a believer. The problem I have with the way Howe states it is that it is easy to mislead someone to believe that this is essentially what PA affirms to be the case. It is a good deterrent for those who are less informed on the subject to stay away from that school of thought. I am not accusing Howe of engaging in manipulative or deception practices. I am accusing him of being unnecessarily vague in an area where he should have been exceptionally clear.

Howe then classifies Christians into two basic schools of how they approach the question of doing apologetics: those who say we should and those who say we should not engage in apologetics. He then classes those who affirm as those who accept human reason and believe in a rational discourse of the gospel and those who deny, as those who reject the legitimacy of human reason in almost all its forms and those who usually just confine their interactions with unbelievers to proclaiming the gospel. This is a very poor way to classify people who might respond negatively to Christians doing apologetics. I would agree that any Christian who says we don’t need to do apologetics is categorically wrong. However, for some reason Howe distinguishes apologetics from proclaiming the gospel. Nowhere does Howe offer any justification for this dichotomy. Howe has no biblical basis for making such a dichotomy as will be demonstrated below. Secondly, Howe poisons the well by implying that all those who are not classical apologists are irrational or don’t believe in the legitimacy of reason. This is a backhanded way of framing the question. Surely Howe knows that men like Van Til and Greg Bahnsen fully recognized the value of human reason.

Howe then provides two answers to the question of proper apologetic method. On the one hand, is it proper to use a rational defense and evidence, or, on the other hand, is it proper to do apologetics through a proclamation of Scripture alone. The truth is that Howe is engaging in the fallacy of bifurcation. He unnecessarily reduces our options to two and one of the two is really an extreme of the second. By associating reason with classical apologetics, Howe uses an enthymeme to say that every other method is unreasonable. This begs the question of the place of reason in other methods, and specifically in presuppositional apologetics. It is not a question of reason, but rather a question of unaided human reason to be precise. It is a question of autonomous human reason, apart from God. It is a question of the noetic effects of sin. Howe ignores this entirely in how he frames out his argument. In addition, Howe continues to separate gospel proclamation from apologetics without attempt at justification for this procedure. This is more than a little puzzling.

How then states his specific concern in III.A&B: My specific and main concern is that the illegitimate method of Presuppositional Apologetics has hijacked Young Earth Creationism. By this I mean that an overwhelming majority of those Christian apologists who are defending Young Earth Creationism are doing so by means of the Presuppositional Apologetic methodology.” First of all, I am disappointed that Howe uses emotive terms such as ‘illegitimate’ and ‘hijacked.’ These serve to elicit an emotional response. On the one hand, they distract the logical thinker with emotions so that his thinking is impacted. On the other hand, they are a great tactic with less informed audiences in a culture where critical thinking is an endangered human behavior. Perhaps YEC has been forced into a PA approach because of its allegiance to Scripture and logic. A high view of Scripture and a desire for consistency could be the culprit for why YEC are becoming more and more PA in their apologetic method. Howe does nothing to address this possibility. He ignores it entirely. It seems to me that Howe might be better served to ask the question ‘why’ in this case. Why are YEC moving in a presuppositional trajectory? What is driving this phenomenon? One does not have to look far to see that a high view of Scripture coupled with a sound hermeneutic, in addition to the principle of the analogy of faith could easily move a person to PA. Why is that difficult to understand? Howe leaves this component of the discussion entirely unaddressed.

“As a Young Earth creationist, I regret that this model of creation is being done a disservice by being tethered as much as it is to an illegitimate apologetic methodology.” [Howe III.D] I am befuddled why any Christian scholar in a conservative evangelical seminary would object to a position that simply insists that all men are obligated to believe what the Word of God affirms regarding the origin of creation on the basis of the fact that it is the Word of God. What other basis could we discover that is better than the one God breathed out to us in Scripture? Classical apologists live under the delusion that we can improve the strength of our arguments with extra-biblical evidence. While such evidence may be edifying, it does nothing to increase our faith or the strength of our argument. The only way to increase the strength of an argument is to provide superior evidence or more witnesses of the same quality. Extra-biblical evidence does neither. Extra-biblical evidence is inferior to biblical evidence. Extra-biblical witnesses are always less credible than biblical ones. Does this mean that extra-biblical evidence has no value whatsoever? It does not. It simply looks at such evidence with the right perspective and understands its place in the grand scheme of things. Howe’s to reference to PA as illegitimate is simply an over the top emotive tactic that is easily recognizable and confutable.

“As a Classical apologist, I desire to show Young Earth creationists that the Presuppositional method not only does not serve to convince the detractors that Young Earth Creationism is true, but it scandalizes Christians in what constitutes sound apologetics in the first place.” [Howe III.E] Perhaps this is Howe’s greatest error, not to mention, the greatest error of many if not most classical apologists. Howe is worried that PA will not convince detractors that YEC is true. PA is not formulated with the goal of convincing unbelievers of the truth claims of Christ theism, to include a young earth. PA is formulated with the sole purpose of humble submission and obedience to God’s prescribed method for doing apologetics. PA asks the question how Christians ‘ought’ to go about giving a defensive proclamation of the gospel, which is what apologetics, and then seeks the Scripture in order to come up with an answer. PA recognizes that epistemic stalemate is inevitable but for grace. PA seeks to help Christians faithfully think God’s thoughts after Him without compromise. It takes the doctrine of depravity seriously. PA acknowledges that God is sovereign, even over His Church. For this reason, PA can thunder the gospel defensively without attempting to meet the ungodly standards of men in order to convince them that Christian theism is true. We are not called to win debates or persuade men of the truthfulness of Christian theism or the age of the earth. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. And He accomplishes His work in human hearts through the foolishness of preaching, not sophisticated rational argumentation, and historical evidence. Howe says that PA scandalizes YEC. I have news for Howe, the gospel of the cross is foolishness to the philosopher, and it is a scandal to the religious. Still, even though I make these statements, I cannot help but wonder how any conservative scholar could maneuver himself into such a position where he is concerned with a method that takes God’s word at face value.

Finally, to close out part one of this response, Howe says, “This is not to say that every aspect of the Young Earth Creationism case is undermined by its Presuppositionalism. My concern is how the overall debate between Young Earth Creationist and Old Earth Creationists is framed by these Young Earth creationists in the wrong way.” [Howe III.F] How is it framed? PA argues that a plain reading of Gen. 1-11 indicates that God created world in six literal days around 6,000-7,000 years ago. If Scripture is God’s word, and God’s communication is relatively simple, then I must take God’s word to mean precisely what it says here. The truth is that this approach is offensive to others in academia. It makes us look non-critical, unscientific, and even anti-intellectual. In short, it makes us look silly. Therefore, we must come up with a different way to frame it so that we don’t look quite so silly. We must be able to maintain some semblance of academic respect among unbelieving liberal scholars if we are to have any hope of persuading them of the truth of Christian theism. No, we do not! But for grace, we would all perish. God saves His elect in His time, on His own terms and we can be sure of the fidelity of our God in this area. Part two will follow in a few days. That response will contain all the biblical references refuting, or at least calling into question Dr. Howe’s argument for classical apologetics and his misguided concern over the relationship between PA and YEC.


  1. Kindly have a deeper study of 2Peter3:1-7. Here, Apostle Peter talked about the cleansings of the earth. Particularly in 2Peter3:5 "For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago,(paused)In Genesis1:1 it says that the heavens was created "in the beginning"(and also the earth)Logically, if the heavens was exited long ago, the earth must also had been existed long ago.What about the continuation of 2Peter3:5b "and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God" Did God created the earth again after a long time of existence like the heavens? There is a difference between the verb "create" in Genesis1:1 and the verb "form" in 2Peter3:5

    Apostle Peter could be saying that the earth had undergone cleansing by ice, then by water and this the same earth is stored up for fire.

    Then, Genesis1:2 is describing (possibly?) the condition of the earth when it is covered with ice. "The earth was without form and void and darkness was upon the face of the earth" --'darkness' means no light (no heat generation) So it must be very very cold.(ice in every place)

    Genesis1:3 (is not a creation, it could be a restoration) Apostle Peter said, the earth was formed by the WORD of God. "Let there be light" When light was restored, heat was generated.

    Genesis1:6 "let it separate the waters from the waters.."The heat generated when the light was restored started to melt the ice into water. Gen1:9 ..let the water gather together and let the dry land appear.."

    In Genesis1:14, the 24/7 Day/Night cycle restored. Hence, the water cycle and right atmosphere were also restored, in preparation for life to be restored again.

    In Genesis1:28 Adam and Eve were instructed to be fruitful and multiply and REPLENISH the earth.(KJV is the only translation that use the word REPLENISH, meaning to refill. It means that there was life before but it was been wiped out)

  2. This is pure conjecture and speculation on your part. There is so much wrong with how you are handling the text that I simply don't have the time to address it all. The subject of Peter's comments is not the cleansing of the earth, but rather the return of Christ and coming judgment. Replenish? I want you to note there is no such word in English as plenish. If you want to know what that word means, find it in Hebrew and look it up in a good Hebrew lexicon. BDB would be a good place to start.

  3. Dr. Lisle begins, ‘Do we really allow the Bilbe to mean what it says?” But he does not. The text is clear, here: http://textsincontext.wordpress.com/2012/05/03/in-the-beginning/

  4. Exegetically speaking, there is no good reason not to take the creation account as anything other than six literal days. This is exactly how the Ancient Hebrew would have understood it. There is no reason to think otherwise.