Sunday, May 4, 2014

Neutrality Again: Responding to Brian Boose's Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics

As a student of apologetics, and of presuppositional apologetics in particular, I have had the opportunity to study numerous criticisms of the various methods employed in apologetics. From my observation, the most criticized method of all is the presuppositional method. In addition, I have read many presuppositional critiques of alternative approaches over the course of years, I have noticed one glaring difference between these criticisms: the reference point. I have never witnessed, what I call the numerous traditional versions, call on Scripture to refute the presuppositional method. In fact, the only person I have observed using Scripture to criticize presuppositionalism was a presuppositionalist. And that was Clif McManis in his book, Biblical Apologetics (which I highly recommend). In every other instance, it seems that traditional apologetists rely on philosophical methodology rather than biblical exegesis to level their criticisms against presuppositional apologetics. I think this is a very significant phenomenon. In his paper criticizing Van Til and Greg Bahnsen in particular, Brian Boose takes the very same approach. Rather than bore you with a review of his paper, I am going to address the three basic failures that Boose claims for Bahnsen's view, and attempt to respond to each one as a strict adherent of the presuppositional method myself.

Bosse lists three premises in Bahnsen's presuppositional argument that he says are mere assertions and that Bahnsen has not demonstrated them to be the case with epistemic certainty. Of course this raises the issue of criterion. If the Christian surrenders his entire being to the lordship of Christ, then he also surrenders his intellect to Christ. And in Christian thought, our intellect is committed to the epistemic lordship of Christ in all things. So the standard for objective certainty, if we even want to use that term, is nothing less the God's revelation in Scripture, The Word of God itself. Anyone that has bothered to study Van Til and especially Bahnsen should immediately recognize that Bosse's criticism is empty and unwarranted. To demonstrate that, let's take a look at Bosse's first criticism.

The very first premise that Bosse points to is Bahnsen's position on neutrality, even though Bosse does not identify it as such. The premise is simply "We must reason according to God's reasoning or we reason autonomously." The intellect of man is either fully submitted to God or it is not submitted to God at all. Hence, predication is either proceeding in accord with divine rationality or it is proceeding along autonomous lines. Bosse's response is that Bahnsen makes this assertions but he fails to prove it. Now, in this first post we will answer that question "does Bahnsen, in his apologetic, prove that human predication either must be in submission to God or it is autonomous?" In other words, is neutrality in human predication possible? And to answer this question, we will turn to Bahnsen's argument in his book "Always Ready."

Toward the conclusion of Bosse’s paper, he summarizes his core objection to Greg Bahnsen’s presuppositional apologetic, saying, “However, instead of claiming that presuppositional apologetics cannot demonstrate that Christianity is a necessary precondition for knowledge as Hoover argues, this paper merely points out that it has not yet done so. To this Dr. Bahnsen responds, “However, it has never been held (from Kant onward) that a transcendental argument establishes necessity only by the exhaustive elimination of all real and imaginary ways of expressing the alternative (of which there is logically only one: the conclusion‟s negation).”

The thrust of Bahnsen’s argument is that there are two and only two worldviews available to human beings: the worldview anchored in Christ, in God, in the only truth available to man, or it is anchored in the worldview that is the product of Adam. Essentially we can say that the two worldviews in existence today belong to Christ and to Adam respectively. Just as in Christian theism, there are ancillary differences over certain non-essential topics, so too is it the case with those espousing a distinctively Adamic worldview. But the Adamic worldview has one thing that anchors it to Adam: autonomous human reason. The very basic difference between the two worldviews is where they begin, their source of authority. The epistemic lordship of Christ serves as the foundation of all knowledge within the Christian worldview while the epistemic lordship of man serves as the foundation of all knowledge within the Adamic worldview.

Bosse claims that Bahnsen has not demonstrated that Christian theism is a necessary precondition for knowledge. Note that he has not gone so far as to say that it is not, but only that Bahnsen nor presuppositional apologetics have made the case that it is. However, if one spends some time reading Bahnsen, we find that Bosse is either mistaken or simply does not understand Bahnsen’s line of reasoning.

Bahnsen spends a great deal of time on the issue of neutrality in the first section of “Always Ready.” In so doing, he points us to Scripture itself, which establishes the fact that the Adamic worldview is a worldview engulfed in ignorance, blindness, and darkness. 2 Cor. 4:4, Paul describes those holding to the Adamic worldview as having minds that are blind. The Greek word τυφλόω (tuphloō) means to cause someone not to be able to understand. Paul describes the unbeliever as walking in the futility of their mind. The Greek word ματαιότης (mataiotēs) means to be useless, empty, or futile. The Scriptures are replete with the righteous versus unrighteous worldview setting one over against, not the many, but the other. Prov. 1:7 informs us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning to knowledge, not the end of it after one has examined all the evidence using autonomous human reason. “Attempting to be neutral in one’s intellectual endeavors (whether research, argumentation, reasoning, or teaching) is tantamount to striving to erase the antithesis between the Christian and the unbeliever.”[1]

Paul, in Romans one provides a clear indication that men have adopted the Adamic worldview rather than Christ’s, even though the Adamic worldview may lead to an assortment of deities and religions or beliefs along the way, they are still rooted in the sin of rebellion against God. They are rooted in the illegitimate aim of human autonomy, which has its origin in Adam. All men who do not hold to Christ hold to Adam and to Adam’s philosophy of autonomy. Adam corrupts the image of God, suppresses the truth of God, exchanging it for a lie.

While human philosophy would have us believe that there are thousands upon thousands of worldviews, biblical theology takes a much different perspective. A worldview is a complete picture of reality. A worldview is an attempt to provide an adequate understanding of the facts of reality that seem to confront us each and every day. Halverson tells us that a worldview asks, “What are the foundational truths about reality in relation to which everything else that we can know needs to be understood?”[2] While genuine biblical theology begins with God and a complete submission to His revelation in this endeavor, pagan philosophy begins with man as the measure of all things. There is no third option available as if we could proceed upon neutral ground. The claim that neutrality is possible is to deny the basic Christian teaching on the doctrine of sin and its consequences upon the human race. Such a denial is tantamount to a denial of Christian theism itself, properly understood.

If it can be established that all human knowledge has its source in God, which is the claim of Christian theism, then it must follow that Christian theism is the necessary precondition for human knowledge. Christian theism holds that such is the case and based on the teachings of Scripture, it is not in keeping with Christian theism to deny this claim. Rather than turn to philosophers since Descartes or Kant to answer this question, we must always return to Scripture. After all, our method for demonstrating that something is objectively certain is quite different from pagan philosophy. We turn to the only possible source for objective certainty in knowledge: Christ.

According to Bosse, the way that Bahnsen should have demonstrated this and the way that all other presuppositionalists would have to demonstrate this would be to show that all comers to the worldview game would have to be examined and disproven in order for Christian theism to stand as the necessary precondition for knowledge.

Bosse is incorrect because his appeal is not to Scripture. I have noticed that every critique I read against presuppositional apologetics is a critique that is proffered not from Scripture, but rather, they seem to be wholly philosophical in nature. You can draw your own conclusions as to why that might be the case. Christian apologists do not need pagan philosophy or human logic in order to establish the objective certainty of the Christian worldview. Objective certainty of the truthfulness of the Christian worldview is established already, in the history of redemption, through the pages of the Holy Scripture, by the work of the Holy Spirit on the unregenerate human heart. Christian theism will never be established as objectively certain using pagan philosophy. Moreover, it will never be established in the hearts and minds of unbelievers. The criteria within the Adamic worldview and that which is within the Christian worldview are hopelessly hostile and violently opposed to one another. There is a great gulf fixed between the two so that the only way one can accept the other is to cross over the great impasse. Unbelievers are unable and unwilling to cross over. Only the activity of God the Holy Spirit can make the necessary change.

Bosse is incorrect because he does not seem to understand how presuppositionalism employs the transcendental argument. Every supposed worldview presupposes that experience can be accounted for along autonomous lines. The non-Christian worldviews share the common feature that experience can be made sense of independently of God and his revelatory word.[3] How can this be possible if Christian theism is actually true? Perhaps the problem could be that Bosse understands presuppositional apologetics to be presenting Christianity as a conceptual scheme. This would be incorrect as well. Christian theism is not simply the best scheme in the minds of men to provide the necessary preconditions for knowledge and human experience. Such a scheme is or human origin, the product of human rationality. Christian theism has as its foundation an absolute personal God who has created all things including man. [Butler]

Once again, if human experience is intelligible, then God exists. God does not exist. Therefore human experience is unintelligible. But in order to even formulate this argument, one has to assume it is intelligible which amounts to its denial. Therefore, God exists. The Christian apologist must thunder at every turn, “in the beginning God!” and “thus says the Lord of heaven and earth, repent and believe the gospel!”

[1] Bahnsen, Greg. Always Ready (Nacogdoches, TX: CMP, 2002) 7.
[2] Halverson, William H. A Concise Introduction to Philosophy (New York, NY: Random House, 1981) 413.
[3] Butler, Mike. [Butler] will designate comments coming from Butler’s article on the Transcendental Argument for God’s Existence.

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