Sunday, June 2, 2013

Begging the Question: The Self-Vindicating Nature of Ultimate Authority

Christian apologetics can be a highly complex field. In fact, if you read some apologists you might be tempted to think that the only way you can become a good apologist is to know the most infinitesimal details of every secular philosophy known to man. Or worse, you should be intimately acquainted with every religion that man has been able to conjure up. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The command to provide a reasonable answer to anyone who asks you to do so has been given to all believers. Hence, all believers are capable of obeying it; even those of us with the busiest of work schedules.

Now, while one may not need to know all the various nuances of philosophy, theology, and logic in order to engage in apologetics, that does not mean it is prudent to ignore these subjects. To strike the balance and, to avoid the sin of intellectual idolatry as well as that of intellectual sloth, is indeed a very difficult task to accomplish. But to strive for that very thing is, in my opinion, a respectable and worthy attempt to honor God. One way we can honor God in our lives is in sound thinking. Modern American/Western peoples, and perhaps it is more widespread than that, have become inept in the art and skill of critical thinking. Yet, God made humans rational creatures. While we must resist the urge to make logic an idol, becoming rationalists, we must also avoid the opposite extreme of dispensing with the mind altogether or placing such low importance on it that we become less critical than the typical baboon down at the zoo. Sad, though it may be, I fear many humans would be over-matched in a game of wits with these beasts.

The purpose of this post is to respond to the objection that Christians engage in the fallacy of "begging the question" when they appeal to God to demonstrate that God exists. I intend to demonstrate how such an assertion, while at face value seems reasonable enough, actually misses the mark by making a category error in its application of this particular fallacy.

"The fallacy of begging the question, a.k.a. Petitio Principii, is committed when, instead of offering proof for its conclusion, an argument simply reasserts that conclusion." In other words, this fallacy assumes the truth of what it must prove. Do Christians, and does presuppositional apologetics in particular, commit the fallacy of begging the question?

To begin with, this is an appeal to final authority. All appeals to final authority are circular in nature, otherwise, they would not be appeals to final authority. The Christian begins with God and reasons to God interpreting the evidence and facts as God requires. This evidence, the natural revelation without and within, along with special revelation in Scripture leads one to God. One does end up where one began. On the flip side, the unbeliever reasons that knowledge can be true based on autonomous reason or scientific evidence. He proceeds to interpret reality in accordance with the rules of logic and science and concludes that human reason is the ultimate source of knowledge. Hi argument ends where it began, with unaided human reason.

Second, presuppositional apologetics does not really beg the question, at least not in the way that many think. Presuppositional apologetics utilizes TAG to demonstrate the truth of Christian theism. TAG stands for the transcendental argument for God. This method argues that if God did not exist, rational thought would not be possible. But rational thought is possible. Therefore, God exists. In other words, presuppositional apologetics argues from the impossibility of the contrary. God is the necessary precondition for the intelligibility of science, logic, and ethics. Apart from God, the uniformity of nature, the laws of logic, and human morality would be unintelligible. Only the Christian worldview can account for and make sense of science, logic, and morality. That is hardly begging the question.

When science is asked to justify its criteria for genuine knowledge, the collapse is noticeable. Empiricism contends that all knowledge comes through the senses. We should begin with skepticism, evaluate the claims, test them in the lab and only accept those propositions that meet the criteria for justified true belief: knowledge. However, when empiricism is subjected to its own criteria, it fails to pass the test because the statement, "All knowledge comes through the senses" is a proposition that makes a claim to knowledge and that does not itself come through the senses. Induction, at the end of the day, cannot account for uniformity. It has no predictive power. Hume's critique of this method was devastating. In addition, one ends up with trying to provide proof ad infinitum. This method can be applied to any worldview or comprehensive perspective about the world that is non-Christian in nature. Upon reflection, there are only two worldviews: Christian and Non-Christian. Every iteration of unbelieving perspectives comes under the overarching category of Non-Christian worldview. And each one of them fails to provide for an intelligible account of science, logic, and morality. They reduce to absurdity.

For those who think that beginning with God to show that God exists is guilty of begging the question, there is an alternative: intellectual absurdity.

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