Thursday, April 25, 2013
Richard Howe’s Concern about YEC and Presuppositionalism (Part II of III)
A Presuppositionalist Responds: Part II of III
In part one of this post, I addressed Dr. Howe’s misunderstanding of what presuppositional apologetics (PA) actual claims about common ground versus neutral ground between the believer and the unbeliever. In addition, I discussed Howe’s failure to take seriously the epistemic consequences of the fall. Rather than deal with the problems, he dresses it up in Calvinism and then knocks it over as if that approach makes for good argumentation. It does not. In addition, I chided Howe’s repeated use of emotive language and his tactic of poisoning the well, not to mention his fallacy of bifurcation. In this post, I will focus more specifically on the apologetic methods at issue and provide a more detailed biblical/theological analysis of the theological and philosophical commitments and consequences of both.
Howe states that classical apologetics is characterized by 1) defending that reality is knowable; 2) logic applies to reality; 3) morally fallen human beings have some capacity to cognitively understand certain claims of the Christian faith. Howe says that once the foundation for rational interaction is in place, arguments are given for God’s existence. Finally, once we prove that God exists, and that miracles are possible, we are ready to provide specific arguments for the truth of the Christian faith. According to Howe and many others in the field of Christian apologetics, this is how the art is to be carried on in reality.
There is a devastating problem in Howe’s very first proposition, that Christians must defend the idea that reality is knowable. Halverson remarks, “I would observe, in conclusion, that there is no need to develop a constructive argument in support of direct realism.” [Halverson, A Concise Introduction to Philosophy, 133] He believes this common-sense notion of reality is where we all begin, and that we are only moved from that position through bad argumentation. Halverson thinks, “we have only to refute arguments that led to its abandonment in the first place.” Howe’s position fails to acknowledge two very basic issues at play. Frist, it is impossible to completely separate how we know from how things are. This is because ‘how we know’ is itself a metaphysical property at bottom. We know ‘this way’ because this is ‘how things are.’ In other words, our theory of knowledge is the unavoidable product of our theory of reality. The attempt to divorce epistemology from metaphysics is illegitimate folly. As Bahnsen put it, “One’s view of knowledge is itself necessarily conditioned by his understanding of what constitutes ultimate reality (his view of man, the world, and God). [Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics]
To begin, I want to examine Howe’s first premise, which is his contention that Christians apologetics must begin with the defense that “reality is knowable.” The apostle Paul tells us in Romans 1:19 “because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.” Based on this text, man does not need to have anyone prove to him that reality exists and is knowable. If God has made it evident to them, why must we repeat the work God has already done? In fact, according to Paul, God has already given all men sufficient proof not only about reality, but about the specific kind of reality that exists and He has even provided man with sufficient knowledge and understanding that these facts so as to render all willful ignorance inexcusable. The work that Howe says needs to be done has already been done. God has taken care of this Himself. Paul says, “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him or given Him thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” (Rom. 1:21) Evidently, according to Paul, man knows God is there. He does not require any more proof than that which God has already provided. When we agree to give men more proof than that which God has already provided, we agree with ungodly men that the proof they possess is inadequate. This is a serious breach of Christian fidelity because if God has plainly said His proof is sufficient, who are we to agree with fallen men that it is not?
In addition to those points already made, I would like to say a thing or two about knowledge. A Christian theory of knowledge is antithetical to any and all unbelieving theories of knowledge. For the believer, all knowledge is revelational. For the unbeliever, such an assertion is preposterous. Neither side can compromise on the matter. We already established that believers and unbelievers begin with fundamentally opposite theories of reality and now we must recognize that we also begin with radically antithetical theories of knowledge. Without getting into the technical details of ways of knowing and types of statements, it is important to comment on the basic difference between Christian and non-Christian justification for knowledge. The unbeliever will demand rational argumentation or empirical proof as standards by which all knowledge is to be tested. Unless a certain claim to knowledge passes the unbelievers standards, they will reject it. For the Christian, the situation is really quite different. Since all knowledge claims are justified by revelation, either natural or special, the Christian’s standards for what qualifies, as true knowledge is notably different and even contradictory at many points with that of the non-Christian. Since both the Christian and the non-Christian enter the conversation with commitments that are the product of their worldviews and since one’s worldview can only change from the outside, it is impossible to reach agreement on these very fundamental issues so that the conversation can get going. PA argues for a different approach. If one pays attention to most debates in the area of Christian apologetics, many of them fail to move away from these very issues. If there is no God, then reality is not what Christians say it is and knowledge is not revelational. The non-Christian will insist that we prove the latter without proving the former. Classical apologetics contends that we can show true reality and knowledge apart from God and then move to God. Cornelius Van Til writes, “One of the greatest and, surely, always the first victory the enemy boasts is the victory of breaking the morale of the believer. If he can make a Christian believe that no supernatural redemptive revelation is necessary for man because his mind is normal and needs only the mutual check of fellowman to guide it on its flight, then he has accomplished much.” [Van Til, Reformed Epistemology]
Classical apologetics is either ignorant of the problem of criterion or it simply ignores the problem altogether. Roberick M. Chisholm confesses “The problem of the criterion” seems to me to be one of the most important and one of the most difficult of all the problems of philosophy. I am tempted to say that one has not begun to philosophize until one has faced this problem and has recognized how unappealing, in the end, each of the possible solutions is....” [Chisholm, The Problem of Criterion] The problem of criterion was put well in Montaigne’s Essays. In order to know if things are really as they appear to be, we must have a procedure for distinguishing between appearances that are true from appearances that are false. The procedure cannot work unless we already know which appearances are true and which appearances are false. Hence, we are caught in a circle.
Howe’s second premise that we must show unbelievers that logic applies to reality is somewhat ambiguous. How does one show that logic applies to reality? Do unbelievers reject the idea that logic applies to reality? Moreover, this also begs the question of the kind of reality that exists. The unbeliever’s metaphysical commitments are far different from the Christian’s metaphysic. For the Christian, God is ultimate reality. For the Christian, “For by Him all things were created…all things have been created through Him and for Him…and in Him all things hold together.” (Col. 1:16-17) Christians begin with this reality. Anything that contradicts this reality, Christians are obligated to reject. For the unbeliever, reality is explained in a variety of ways, all of which reduce to irrationalism sooner or later. It is not morally neutral to pretend that we can know something about reality apart from God. We must insist on responding to the unbeliever’s challenge without pretending anything in our system of belief is false or unproven. Nowhere do the authors of Scripture ever set out to do what Howe says is fundamental to champion the faith. In addition, everywhere we see apologetics at work in the NT, primarily in Acts we see a tenacious and relentless refusal to give up any ground on the starting point of Scripture. Logic does apply to reality, but only to true reality. And that reality is God’s reality and logic applies to it because all sound use of logic is a reformed logic. Only those who think God’s thoughts after Him can reason properly, faithfully, redemptively. I would say that we must show the unbeliever that redemptive logic applies to a distinctively redemptive metaphysic.
Howe argues that unregenerate men can accurately know true reality. He says that unregenerate men can know certain truth claims of the Christian faith. He implies that men can apply logic to reality correctly apart from God. Is this an accurate description of the current state of affairs? To answer this question, I want to turn your attention to Scripture:
· Rom. 1:19-20 says that men plainly know things about God because God made it evident to them. This knowledge is clear and understood and therefore all men are without excuse.
· Rom. 1:21 says that even though men know God, they have become vain in their speculations.
· Rom. 1:25 says that men have willingly exchanged the truth they have about God for a lie.
· Rom. 1:26 says that men’s willing exchange of truth for a lie has resulted in God giving men over to perverted and unnatural lusts, including homosexual perversion.
· Rom. 8:7 informs us that the whole person of unregenerate men is hostile toward God; that the whole person of unregenerate men is not willing to submit to God’s law; and finally, that the whole person of unregenerate men is not even able to submit to God’s law.
· Rom. 8:8 tells us that unregenerate men are not capable of pleasing God. In other words, they cannot do anything that is pleasing to God, or better stated, their actions are in no way aimed at pleasing God in any way.
· I Cor. 2:14 tells us that unregenerate men do not accept the things of the Spirit of God, that they consider these things foolishness, and that they cannot understand them because they require spiritual evaluation and analysis. This evaluation can only be carried out in cooperation with the abiding presence of the Spirit of God.
· I Cor. 1:18 explains that the preaching of the cross is foolishness to the unregenerate.
· I Cor. 1:20 unequivocally affirms that unregenerate men do not come to God as a result of human reason or logic.
· I Cor. 1:23 asserts that the gospel is foolishness to unregenerate Gentiles and it is a scandal to unregenerate Jews.
· I Cor. 1:27 says that God deliberately chose foolish things of this world to confound the intellectual elite of the unregenerate so as to shame them.
· I Cor. 1:29 says that God chose this method in order to remove human boasting.
· I Cor. 1:30 says that are all in Christ, not by rational argumentation and evidence, but by God’s work alone.
· II Cor. 4:4 says that the god of this world has blinded the eyes of men from the light of the gospel. Men reject God, not because of a lack of evidence, proof, good argumentation, or information. They have all they need according to Scripture. They reject God because of their current state of spiritual death. They hate God knowingly and willingly even if they deny it with the mouth.
· Eph. 2:1 describes man as dead in trespasses and sin. He is not sick, maimed, or partially obstructed from receiving the truth. He is dead.
· Rom. 3:10-18 says that all of humanity is totally depraved, unrighteous, and that none of them seek God or are doing anything good. The situation is spiritually horrific.
While it was my goal to limit my comments to a couple of posts, as you might guess by now, it will take a least one more post to complete my interaction with Howe’s outline. My final post will interact briefly with the failure of the theistic proofs before moving on to interacting with Howe’s comments regarding presuppositional apologetics.