Sunday, April 28, 2013
Richard Howe’s Concern about YEC and Presuppositionalism
A Presuppositionalist Responds: Part III
This will be my final interaction with Dr. Richard Howe’s outline dealing with his concern that many if not most YEC are turning to presuppositional methodology in how they frame their argument in support of a faithful acceptance of Gen. 1-11. Before I object to how classical apologetics misuses the theistic proofs, I want to make it clear that I am not opposing the use of evidence in Christian apologetics. Evidence and proofs have their place. It is precisely “the place” that classical apologetics gives to evidence and proofs that concerns me. Moreover, the kinds of proofs and evidence that classical apologists use in their defense of Christian theism can be highly problematic. Many, if not most philosophers believe that it is impossible to prove that God exists. What is at issue here is something I eluded to in my second post: criterion. Anytime philosophers talk about “proof,” what they are alluding to is what we call the properties of “proof.” In order to qualify as a proof, the evidence being offered must meet certain criteria. If it fails to meet the criteria, it fails to qualify as proof. A person’s criteria of proof are shaped by their metaphysical and epistemological presuppositions. By now, you can probably discern the trajectory of this discussion. Since the believer and the unbeliever begin the conversation about metaphysics and epistemology with fundamentally opposing presuppositions, it is difficult to imagine how they could ever agree on what passes as criteria for proofs within their respective worldviews. Classical apologetics fails to take this problem seriously in my opinion. It is precisely the serious nature of this problem that presuppositional apologetics confronts from the start.
Christian apologetics or better, biblical apologetics is not merely interested in showing that theism is probably true. Christianity does not simply assert that based on the evidence and proofs it is highly probable that there is a god out there somewhere. But this is exactly what classical apologetics does. In addition, Christianity does not assert that it is highly probable that Jesus is God and that all men should place their faith in Him because we are almost certain He is going to judge the world in the end. It is not enough that apologetics defend the nebulous idea of a god. After all, unbelievers and believers differ remarkably in their understanding of the idea of god or God respectively. Rather, Christianity asserts that the Triune God of Scripture exists, that He is the Creator of all that is, that all knowledge is deposited in Him, and that all creation everywhere at all times must acknowledge Him, adore Him, and humbly submit to His Lordship at all times and in all places. His name is Jesus, and this God became man in order to condemn sin in the flesh and to rescue the perishing by His death, burial, and resurrection. He gives light, life, and hope to all who hear His word. This is the reason for the hope that is in us and it is the only way Christians should give a defense for the hope that is in them.
I closed my last post by arguing that humanity knows God in one sense and that it does not know God in another sense. Why do I make this assertion? It is quite simply the way the Scripture puts it. The Scripture tells us in Romans one that humanity knows God is there. God has made Himself known to them, in them, among them, and around them so that humanity is left without any excuse for failing to acknowledge God as the ultimate Creator and source of all that is. At the same time, 1 Corinthians 1-2, 2 Corinthians 4, Eph. 2, and the gospels inform us that humanity does not know God personally, accurately, rightly, because of the sin nature. Humanity possesses knowledge of God and through its sinful nature, it perverts suppresses, and distorts that knowledge. As unregenerate sinners, man willingly distorts the image of God. Not only is this a natural act of sinful humans, as natural as breathing in fact, it is something that we all do willingly so long as our heart remains darkened by sin. This means that man knows God and is culpable for his sinful behavior, but at the same time, that man in his fallen condition will not know God rightly, truly. This reality has serious implications for the project of Christian apologetics. This being the case, I want to finish my review of Howe’s comments.
In V. A. of his outline, Howe says, “Presuppositionalists maintain that a proper apologetics methodology must be built on the solid Reformed (Calvinist) theological doctrines of the sovereignty of God and the total depravity of the human race.” Howe is surely correct in that presuppositional apologetics insists that our apologetic is based off sound theology as a result of solid biblical exegesis. So far, so good.
V. A. 1. Says, “To assume an intellectual common ground between the believer and unbeliever from
which the believer could launch into a rational argument for God's existence, is defacto to deny the God of Christianity.” Note that Howe does not provide a single source for this statement. This is not what PA asserts. In fact, Van Til writes of the truly biblical view of the point of contact between believers and unbelievers, “It is assured of a point of contact in the fact that every man is made in the image of God and has impressed upon him the law of God.” [Christian Apologetics, 120] Van Til unambiguously affirms that a point of contact not only exists, but that the unbeliever cannot avoid it. Eta Linnemann, in her criticism of higher criticism says it most eloquently, “I know from personal experience that the move from criticism of the Bible to trust in the Bible does not occur through arguments that consider intellectual presuppositions of the Bible critic in such a way that he can accept those arguments.” [Linneman, Biblical Criticism on Trial] Howe is simply wrong to make such characterizations of presuppositional apologetics. He should at least provide an accurate understanding of what PA affirms and what it denies.
In point V. A. 2. Howe writes, “The God of Christianity must be presupposed to exist before there could be any coherent or rational thought in the first place.” This is true in one sense and not true in another. Yes, man lives his life as if God is there and He knows that God is there. But man refuses to acknowledge God as he lives out his life in the here and the now. The presupposition is assumed in the background, not confessed openly. If this is what Howe is saying, he is correct. But if he is saying that PA asserts that unless you willfully acknowledge God’s existence openly, then you are not capable of rational thought, he would be far from accurate. PA affirms that rational thought serves as a modus ponens form of argument for Christian theism. If rational thought is possible, then Christian theism is true. Rational thought is possible. Therefore Christian theism is true. In reality, this argument is true for any Christian who acknowledges God as Creator of all that is. How could it not be?
V. A. 3. “The unbeliever's attempt to argue against the existence of the Christian God already employs epistemological assumptions that can be the case only if the God of Christianity exists.” This is a statement that I will absolutely affirm. Howe is spot on here. How could an unbeliever predicate anything at all, or know anything at all or claim to know anything unless God were the necessary precondition that makes all knowledge possible to begin with? Any assumption about reality is reflects the state of affairs that has obtained is only possible because God made reality as it is.
Howe’s conclusion about presuppositional apologetics, “The truth of the Christian worldview is demonstrated by a transcendental argument in terms of which a rather full-blown Trinitarian Christian theism is the necessary prerequisite for any rational thought at all” Now, let’s analyze this statement. Would human beings exist if Trinitarian Christian theism were not true? The answer is clearly no. And it has to be answered negatively for anyone who claims to hold to Biblical Christianity. The only reason humans exist is because the God of Scripture created us. Now, would humans be able to reason if they did not exist or if God had not created them with the specific capacity for logical thought? Of course not. Therefore, the only reason human beings are capable of rational thought is because the triune God of Scripture exists and because He created us with such capacities from the start.
A final word for what is passed off as being apologetics in contemporary times is in order. What we see out there in the marketplace of Christian ideas, in the seminaries, on the internet, and in the bookstores is not actually apologetics. Christian apologetics, or as Cliff McManus calls it, biblical apologetics does not involve Christians running around the world picking fights and setting up repetitive debates with atheists and other religions in order to prove that Christian theism is true or probably true. Biblical apologetics is responsive in nature. Moreover, the mandate is not to prove that Christian theism is true to an unbelieving world. That is not how Scripture defines biblical apologetics. Apologetics is giving someone an answer for the reason of the hope that is you. If you are giving a gospel proclamation or if someone who thinks your life is a bit curious or unique, and this curiosity leads them to question you, then your response is apologetics. Your goal is to honor God by giving them the gospel, with gentleness and respect, in humility, and of course hoping and praying that God will water what is being planted. That phenomena we see across the world is in large part, the foolish endeavor of men who are more interested in the sound of their own arguments and in how they look and in winning debates than it is the result of a humble desire to honor God by proclaiming His truth and having faith that He will do with it what He has determined.