Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Impossibility of the Contrary

We must point out to them that univocal reasoning itself leads to self-contradiction, not only from a theistic point of view, but from a non-theistic point of view as well. It is this that we ought to mean when we say that we must meet our enemy on their own ground. It is this that we ought to mean when we say that we reason from the impossibility of the contrary. The contrary is impossible only if it is self-contradictory when operating on the basis of its own assumptions.[1]

I realize that philosophy students will argue that just because Christian theism rules out other views, that does not mean that Christian theism is vindicated. After all, two contrary propositions may both be false. Moreover, others are ready to inform us that the proposition God exists is in fact not an analytic statement and therefore predicate logic would show that two contraries can both be false, and hence proving the impossibility of the contrary essentials proves nothing. In addition, others will unwittingly take up Kant's position that existence is not a property and argue along these lines. But I think all this rambling is philosophical poppycock. It is the product of an undue influence of pagan philosophy on a subject that rightly belongs to biblical theology. Moreover, I do not think that Christians are under an ethical obligation to answer the philosopher in a way that meets with the philosopher's approval. In other words, we need not unduly concern ourselves with the fact that philosophers and skeptics insist on a philosophical approach to our answer. Our concern is with God's imperative in such matters, not the respect of pagan philosophers. That being said, I would like to provide a different sort of defense for how Presuppositional Apologetics employs the transcendental argument.

First, I wish to talk about what the argument is not claiming. Presuppositional apologetics is not claiming that the reason we believe Christian theism is true is because of the impossibility of the contrary. Logic is not the basis for faith. The basis for our faith is the divine revelation given in Scripture. We place our faith in Christ, in God, on the basis of the authority of His word as the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to know and understand it.

Second, PA is not using logic to demonstrate the existence of God. The argument is using God to demonstrate why logic is even possible. Transcendental arguments take on (roughly) the following form: For x to be the case, y must be the case because y is the necessary precondition of x; since x is the case, y must be the case.[2] For logic to be the case, God must exist because God is the necessary precondition of logic. Since logic is the case, God must be the case. We can apply this to the whole of human experience and state it this way: in order for there to be intelligibility of human experience, God must exist since God is the necessary precondition of all human experience. Human experience is intelligible; therefore God must be the case. In other words, the only plausible explanation for the phenomenon of laws of logic is Christian theism.

What the transcendental argument asks of the non-Christian worldview is that it provide a rational basis for its understanding of human experience. What must be true in order for the non-Christian worldview's claims that human experience is intelligible apart from Christian theism? The transcendental argument in Presuppositional apologetics uses a reductio ad absurdum to demonstrate that the non-Christian worldview reduces to self-contradiction. It eventually becomes rationally indefensible.

The solution to this problem is not located in philosophy. Repeatedly, for some reason, Christian apologists think that it is. As a matter of fact, it is not. The solution to this problem is revealed in Scripture, believe it or not. Now, I realize to those intellectuals concerned with academic respectability and for the rest that simply relish the idea of being smarter than the rest of us, my suggestion likely rings hollow, naïve, and far too simplistic to be of any value. In answer to that line of reasoning my response is even simpler: I don't care. All I care about is providing a truthful answer using a method that honors God. If that method happens to be simple, and not wrought with one philosophical complexity after another, then so be it, or maybe, even better!

Romans one and the indefensible position of the non-Christian worldview.

ναπολόγητος is a fascinating word used by Paul in Romans 1:20 to describe the status of the arguments among those that either reject the existence of God or corrupt God's existence as revealed in Scripture. The lexical sense of the word means inexcusable. In essence the word is the negation of another Greek word πολογίαν, which we know basically means to "defend oneself" according to BDAG. Essentially, Paul is claiming that all men have been given such clear understanding and knowledge of God's existence that they are without any excuse not to embrace that truth. When Christian apologists encounter non-Christians, the whole point is that the Christian provides an answer or defense of his faith to the non-Christian while the non-Christian is supposedly providing rational argumentation or a defense for why he rejects Christian theism. That is the general thrust of what is taking place in these exchanges be they one on one, or on the street corner, in the tavern over a beer, at lunch, or in a formal debate.

Paul's approach was to begin with God and then proceed to argue that there is not even evidence to support the conclusion that God does not exist, or more precisely, the God revealed in Scripture does not exist. Paul says that the non-Christian worldview, in whatever shape of form it may take is so weak that it is without a defense, without an apologetic if you will. When the presuppositionalist says that Christian theism is true because of the impossibility of the contrary, it is exactly this that he should mean. God says it is impossible to defend any concept of God that is not distinctly based on His revelation, or the absolute reality of His existence as it is. No man has ever lived that could ever defend the proposition "God does not exist" or "the God revealed in Scripture does not exist." It is impossible to provide an adequate defense for such statement.

Biblical faith and epistemic certainty.

I will forego a discussion of the various concepts of certainty in preference for a biblical view of faith and how a proper understanding of the biblical concept of faith leads to certainty. Moreover, if you are more impressed with the philosophically complex arguments of epistemic and psychological certainty than you are with biblical certainty, I would encourage you to examine your heart and schedule a meeting with your pastor.

Hebrews 11:1 tells us, "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not see." Thus, it is best to take the clause in 11:1 to have an objective sense with the meaning “faith gives substance to what is hoped for,” and not a subjective sense that faith is the assurance that what is hoped for will come to pass (although this latter perspective is certainly true).[3] To understand faith in the objective sense is critical to how we might answer the question of certainty. Allen continues, As Lane pointed out, “faith” is objective because it bestows upon the objects of hope a present reality, enabling the believer to enjoy now the “full certainty of future realization.” Faith is the objective grounds upon which subjective confidence may be based. Such faith springs from a personal encounter with God. This kind of faith enables one to venture into the future “supported only by the word of God.”[4]

The Hebrew word 'āman is no less significant. The Theological Workbook of the Old Testament defines it in the following way: to confirm, support, uphold in the Qal, but in the Hiphal, it means to be certain, to believe in. This very important concept in biblical doctrine gives clear evidence of the biblical meaning of “faith” in contradistinction to the many popular concepts of the term. At the heart of the meaning of the root is the idea of certainty[5] In the Hiphil (causative), it basically means “to cause to be certain, sure” or “to be certain about,” “to be assured.” In this sense the word in the Hiphil conjugation is the biblical word for “to believe” and shows that biblical faith is an assurance, a certainty, in contrast with modern concepts of faith as something possible, hopefully true, but not certain.[6] This is quite contrary to the modern view of faith.


To claim that Christian theism is true because of the impossibility of the contrary is to claim that only Christian theism provides the necessary preconditions for the intelligibility of human experience. One by one, the metaphysic, epistemology, and ethic of every attempt to explain human experience outside of Christian theism reduces to absurdity. What you end up with is philosophers claim things like "stones have a level of perception," and every ethical system ever constructed apart from Christian theism reduces to subjectivist views or are radically arbitrary. We end up with brilliant minds claiming that we can't really know anything about reality and constructing the most convoluted arguments you could imagine to prove it. If that isn't a howler, nothing is.

"The unfolding of Your words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple." Ps. 119:130

[1] Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Phillipsburg, NJ, 1969).
[2] See Michael Butler's article "The Transcendental Argument for God's Existence."
[3] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 543.
[4] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 543.
[5] Jack B. Scott, “116 אָמַן,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 51.
[6] Jack B. Scott, “116 אָמַן,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 51.

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