Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Brian Bosse’s Quarrel with Presuppositional Apologetics
The Argument Against Objective Certainty
Brian Bosse says that the claim of objective certainty in epistemology is indeed a high claim. I think he is correct. The problem with the term objective certainty is how one defines it. If we define objective certainty as knowledge that cannot be doubted and against which no skepticism legitimate or otherwise can arise, then perhaps such certainty is unattainable. If we define objective certainty as the sort of knowledge that is perfect and could never be mistaken, that is the kind of knowledge that is omniscient, and only one being can be said to possess it. But is that the kind of certainty that presuppositional apologetics claims for itself?
The problem with the criterion for objective certainty is that one almost gets the impression that it serves as the Christian standard for knowledge. The criterion for objective certainty is that of self-contradiction. It can be said that we know something with objective certainty only when the opposite is said to be self-contradiction. If person S knows that P, then it is a logical contradiction to say that S merely takes himself to know that P but P is false. What are the assumptions upon which the criterion for objective certainty rests? What is the ground of objective certainty? The kind of objective certainty we are concerned with at this point is the kind that seeks to defeat the skeptical hypothesis. The skeptical hypothesis holds that beliefs are only justified if they rise to the level of objective certainty. However, SH also states that every candidate for basic or self-justifying belief may be false. If a belief may be false, then it does not meet the standard of objective certainty and therefore, it cannot qualify as knowledge.
Enter Bosse’s argument. Bosse says, “The minimum requirement is a properly applied deductive argument whose premises are all established in a certain manner.” Now, before we move further into the logical milieu of Bosse’s comments on the shortcomings of presuppositionalism, I want to point out that Bosse’s standard for knowledge and God’s standard for knowledge are not exactly singing from the same page. For Bosse, knowledge apparently comes through rational argumentation and logical syllogisms while, according to God, He is the source of all knowledge. All wisdom and knowledge have been deposited in Christ. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, not the destination. Christians know with certainty that no immoral person will enter the kingdom of heaven. All of Israel is to know for certain that God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ. This word means worthy of being believed. I think that is exactly what we are talking about in this case. Descartes does not set the standard for knowledge or justification of beliefs. God sets that standard because He Himself is the standard and source of all knowledge.
Bosse goes on to claim that presuppositionalism holds that things like the laws of logic, uniformity, causation, and such are the necessary preconditions for knowledge. But that is not at all correct. In fact, Bosse could not be more mistaken in this. Presuppositionalism asks the question, what must be true in order for the laws of logic to be true? What must be true in order for uniformity to be the case? The truth of Christian theism, namely, God, is the necessary precondition for rationality, for the intelligibility of human experience, for all human predication. That is the claim of Christian theism when it is all said and done. If the Christian worldview is true, then God must be the actual precondition of all knowledge, all rationality, all experience for that is what Christianity claims. God created the world and all that is in it. Man knows because God has revealed.
Bosse claims that in Presuppositionalism, one worldview is usually pitted against the Christian worldview. However, this is not quite the best representation of presuppositionalism. Presuppositionalism in the stream of Van Til and Bahnsen claims that there are essentially two worldviews: the Christian and the non-Christian. Bosse then claims that the presuppositionalist takes on one competing worldview at a time. Hence, the Christian worldview never establishes that only Christian theism provides the necessary preconditions for rationality. It only serves to show how a particular competitor fails. But this is not the whole story. Greg Bahnsen has responded to this attack and Bosse spends the rest of his paper responding to Bahnsen, and he does so without referring to a single text of Scripture along the way. This is something Bahnsen never did to my knowledge.
Bosse puts words in Bahnsen’s mouth when he says “since the Christian worldview works and all other worldviews fail, then presuppositionalism claims it must be true.” But this is Bosse’s own malformed version of presuppositionalism. This is not the approach the method employs nor is it even close. Now, Bosse points out that Bahnsen simply asserts that the Christian worldview submits to the authority of God while the non-Christian worldview asserts human autonomy. He contends that Bahnsen does not establish this claim, but rather, he merely asserts it. Now, Bosse quotes from Bahnsen’s work, “Van Til’s Apologetic.” And I presume he has a copy. I would also think he has read “Always Ready.” This is why it is more than puzzling to read him saying that Bahnsen does not establish that there are only two choices: submission to God or autonomous assertion. How can there be another choice? Bahnsen spills much ink establishing this fact quoting Scripture after Scripture and showing us that Scripture clearly teaches that humans are either submitting to God or they are asserting their own autonomy. Autonomy is refusal to submit to God. Submission to God is the surrender of autonomy. One cannot be submitting to God and asserting their autonomy, and neither can one assert their own autonomy while submitting to God. Such a statement is preposterous.
Bosse goes on to assert that Bahnsen does not establish his claims, for instance, “Either the living or the true God is a person’s philosophical reference point of final authority, or in some fashion, man…takes over that position and function.” However, anyone familiar with Bahnsen’s work on this critical point is well aware of his argument establishing this point using Scripture repeatedly as his reference point. Not only does Bosse never refer to Scripture, he never provides a critical refutation of Bahnsen’s claim. If it is such a critical issue, and I think it is, and if it is so misguided, it would seem to me that Bosse would have provided some sort of a rebuttal. He provides nothing. It is as if he is content simply to play with formal logic and leave the rest alone. But this is no game.
Bosse then accuses Bahnsen of not demonstrating his key points in an objectively certain manner and therefore, the argument fails. Of course Bosse should be willing to admit that he does not know for sure if he is misunderstanding Bahnsen since he also lacks knowledge of Bahnsen’s argument in an objectively certain manner and could be very wrong about his conclusion. But of course Bosse does not go there. I wonder why.
Bosse thinks that if the apologist could formulate an objectively certain argument, this would put an end to all the disagreement on the question of God’s existence. But this is hardly the case. Romans 1 tells us that the non-Christian is without a defense for their refusal to believe. In other words, it isn’t that they lack objective certainty. The revelation of God in nature is sufficient and perfect. Man’s rejection of God’s existence is not based on a worthy kind of reasoning. It is ethical at its core. Bosse is wrong if he thinks objective certainty would end this quibble. If this were true, it would mean that rejection of God is purely rational. It is far more than that. Rejection of God is based on the wicked sinful heart of man who desires to go his own way, do his own thing, without a hint of surrender to God.