Monday, December 28, 2015

Dawson Bethric and Sensus Divinitatus

I am going to deliver analysis once more concerning an article posted some time ago by Dawson Bethric over at Incinerating Presuppositionalism. The article calls into question the concept of sensus divinitatis. Surprisingly, Bethric authors a blog designed to refute presuppositional apologetics while at the same time admitting near complete unawareness of this basic concept that lies at the heart of a reformed Christian’s epistemology. I find it extraordinary that Bethric has read very much of Van Til, Clark, Bahnsen, Plantinga and Frame without confronting the concept of sensus divinitatis.

Does Romans 1:20 contradict itself?
Before we get into the epistemological components of my analysis, I need to address Bethric’s charge that Romans 1:20 contains a contradiction. Dawson thinks that Paul’s usage of the words aoratos with the word kathoraō create a contradiction. After all, how can one “clearly see” what is invisible? What Bethric does not clearly see himself is what Paul is doing with his use of language. It is something we all do. How often have you asked someone if “they can see the solution to that problem?” How many times have you, after arriving at an understanding of something or intending to communicate to someone that you understand a concept have you used the phrase “I see” to communicate that you understand? Bethric’s objection here is either dishonest or ignorant. I will allow him the courtesy of selecting which it is. Paul is clearly not talking about sensory perception in Romans 1:20. He is referencing what philosopher’s call a priori knowledge. We see this in v. 19 where Paul says, dioti to gnōston tou theou phaneron estin en autois. For that which is known of God is conspicuous, open, manifest, clear, obvious, evident.
Additionally, the Greek word kathoraō is being used in an intellectual sense just in the same manner as I used “see” in the previous paragraph. Louw-Nida includes “to learn about,” BDAG, “also of inward seeing,” and finally, NIDNTTE, “In addition to its usual lit. sense “to see [physically, with one’s own eye],” the vb. is often used of intellectual or spiritual perception (e.g., 1 Sam 12:17) and of what one experiences or suffers.” The lexical data clearly contradicts Bethric’s disingenuous attempt to impose a contradiction in Scripture where one does not exist. At minimum, this places Bethric’s credibility and integrity into serious doubt.

Does Romans 1:19-25 Posit A Priori Knowledge or A Posteriori Knowledge?
To answer this question, we have to pay strict attention to the objects of knowledge Paul discusses in Romans 1:19-21. In v. 19 Paul tells uses the phrase “that which is known about God.” Notice that Paul is assuming that men, all men, possess knowledge of God. This knowledge, moreover, is clear, obvious, conspicuous. Then in v. 20 the object of knowledge shifts to God’s attributes. And we know things about God’s attributes, which are invisible, by looking at creation. We can know that God is very intelligent, very power, and a master designer. We know that God is a caring God by the way nature is put together. Now, we come to v. 21 which clearly brings us back to knowledge of God Himself. “Although they knew God” is the phrase Paul employs. This isn’t knowledge about God, His attributes, etc. This is “knowing God.” They knew God, says Paul. To answer Bethric’s charge, we can safely say that Romans 1 covers not a priori knowledge or a posteriori knowledge, it deals with both. We are born knowing that God exists. We are born knowing that when we behold the universe, we see and understand clearly the invisible attributes of God it communicates.

Can a Self-Deceived Person Know they are Deceived?
“For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” Self-deception is a very dark behavior and made possible only because of the curse. The antithesis is chilling. Man knows God, and he deceives himself into not knowing God at the same time and in the same sense. I am not going to take the time to get into the psychological nuances of self-deception. First, those nuances are beyond the scope of this blog. Second, the sort of self-deception we are talking about is primarily spiritual in nature. The noetic effects of sin are such that man’s cognitive faculties are just as affected by by the fall as his will and emotions. James 1:22 uses the expression paralogizomenoi heautous. Liddell gives us a range on paralogizomenoi as follows: reason falsely, use fallacies, draw a false inference, mislead by fallacious reasoning, disguise, deception, fraud, etc. The use of the reflexive pronoun stresses that all this false reasoning and deception is self-initiated and self-inflicted. The concept of self-deception is not new in Christian circles even if Bethric has never heard of it before now and even if he does not like it very much. Nevertheless, it is also the case that not only do the noetic effects of sin cause man to deceive himself, he is also blinded by the god of this world so that he does not see the light of the gospel. (2 Cor. 4:4) Top to bottom, the unbeliever’s cognitive ability to see the truth and his volition desire for the truth have been radically impeded by his own desire for autonomy and his rebellious attitude toward His Creator.

Is Christian Theism a Product of the Imagination?
If we grant Bethric’s method for claiming that all theism is simply a product of human imagination, it is easy to see how we might slide down that slope directly into solipsism. Solipsism is the view that the only thing I can know is my own internal world. And if we move in that direction, Bethric’s own Objectivism must also bow the knee. We could play this game into an infinite regress where Bethric claims our belief that God exists is in our imagination and we respond by saying it is only in Bethric’s imagination that our beliefs are in our imagination. Back and forth we could go into an infinite quibble. There are far too many facts supporting Christianity for it to be chalked up to the imagination, facts that are anchored in history and archeology. To claim that Christianity is merely the product of human imagination is little more than philosophical rhetoric, a claim without an argument. Bethric has paid attention to Ayn Rand’s use of rhetoric. He employs it frequently when he doesn’t have an argument, thinking it will compensate for his lack of analysis. So, the claim that Christianity is a product of the imagination is empty rhetoric and should be promptly dismissed.

Is the Sensus Divinitatis a Christian Rescuing Device?
I once said to Bethric that he did not understand Presuppositionalism because he did not understand biblical Christianity and therefore, he should refrain from criticizing what he does not understand. Here, Bethric has proven my point. If you do not understand the principle in the sensus divinitatis, then you do not understand Christianity. Bethric does not understand the principle in the sensus divinitatis. Therefore, Bethric does not understand Christianity. Moreover, if you do not understand Christianity, you do not understand presuppositionalism. Bethric does not understand Christianity. Therefore, Bethric does not understand presuppositionalism.
/ ~A

John Calvin writes, “There is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity. This we take to be beyond controversy. To prevent anyone from taking refuge in the pretense of ignorance, God himself has implanted in all men a certain understanding of his divine majesty.” [Institutes] This is the classic statement of the reformed doctrine that affirms that the knowledge of God is implanted in the conscience of all men. Calvin is simply restating what Paul stated in Romans 1 and 2. All men know their Creator.

It seems to me that Bethric is here insisting that we establish our epistemology, a distinctly Christian epistemology, upon a non-Christian concept of the universe. Bethric’s complaint against the sensus divinitatis comes down to the fact that it is not a principle that fits within his system. Van Til points this out when he writes, “They forget that a Christian conception of God demands a Christian conception of the universe.” And surely a Christian conception of God demands a Christian conception of man, and of how human predication is possible in the first place. If Bethric is going to demonstrate that the Christian concept of the sensus divinitatis is unreasonable, he will have to provide an argument as to why he thinks so. To refer to how apologists have used it in exchanges with him, as he does, is not an argument against the concept. To attempt to classify the sensus divinitatis as one more natural human faculty for knowing will not do. Once again, Bethric shows his ignorance of biblical Christianity in general and reformed theology in particular. Yet, he is supposed to be a trusted and reliable resource to help people “incinerate” presuppositional apologetics. To compare physical perception with spiritual perception simply will not do. Christianity is a supernatural belief system. It holds to a two-level view of reality. Bethric continues to want to force Christian claims into his view of the world and then offer criticism of those views. What Bethric must do is begin with Christianity’s views and show how, on its own beliefs, it is a contradictory system. So far, Bethric hasn’t even attempted to do this from what I can see.

Is Natural Revelation Sufficient for Culpability?
Bethric criticizes the apostle Paul’s statement, eis to einai autous anapologētous. The Greek word anapologētous essentially means without an apologetic, without a defense. In other words, Paul is saying that the unbeliever has no defense, no excuse, no warrant for their refusal to submit to God. Bethric then walks us through his criteria for what is necessary in order for people in this category to be deemed culpable on such a level. Bethric continues his appeal to empirical criteria, to properly functioning faculties, etc. Everything must be working just right in order for this to be the case. But Bethric’s argument fails on a number of fronts. Suppose I am driving along in the desert. Support I am out in a sports car in the middle of nowhere and I decide to take her up to 100 mph. What happens when the officer pulls me over and I claim that there were no stop signs along the way telling me the speed limit and therefore, I am not responsible and should not get a citation? How many examples like this could we multiply one upon the other? All men know, for some strange reason, that they could be better. They know, morally speaking even, that they have committed sin, wrong if you prefer. We come back to Romans 2:14-16, “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.”

The real problem with Bethric’s claim is that he invokes what he thinks are his own absolutes. Bethric prefers his own moral standards, his own autonomous reason, his own rules for evidence, justification, and argumentation. But Christian Scripture resists such finite irrationalism. In the same way we see that 2+2 = 4, we see that creation = God.

In summary, Romans 1:20 contains no contradictions; our knowledge of God is a priori, but also a posteriori and all men are without excuse in their suppression of this knowledge of God and to be clear, all men, including Bethric do suppress it. Christian theism is not a product of the imagination unless one wants to end up in solipsism. The sensus divinitatis is not a rescuing device for Christian theism and anyone making such absurd claims only indicate their lack of integrity or their complete ignorance of Christianity. Finally, God has provided all men everywhere with knowledge of Himself so that they are culpable for their unbelief. Their rejection of God is unjustified and without warrant.

I will do another review of Bethric's site, but as you can see, Bethric's objections to Christianity are not very creative, and they certainly are not unique. Why he calls his blog incinerating presuppositionalism seems more like a tactic or strategy to attract traffic. There is nothing there as far as I can tell that stands out as interesting in terms of posing unique challenges to the presuppositional method to defending the faith.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Did Greg Bahnsen Have An Argument?

We come now to the very last paragraph in his opening statement, and now it appears he's trying to get back on track to meeting the first of his confessional burdens. He makes the conclusion of his argument very clear: "The transcendental proof for God's existence is that without Him, it is impossible to prove anything." Now, this is an assertion which needs a defense. It's certainly not self-evidently true, and Bahnsen does not give us any reason why we should accept this claim as opposed to the claim that "without Geusha, it is impossible to prove anything." Does Bahnsen present an argument for his claim? No. Immediately he turns the spotlight back onto "the atheist world-view," claiming that it "is irrational and cannot consistently provide the preconditions of intelligible experience, science, logic or morality." So, not only does Bahnsen not present an argument for his conclusion, he manages to lay another burden on his wagon. It's getting pretty heavy 'bout now. Has Bahnsen proven that his god exists? Not yet. Has Bahnsen proven that "the atheist world-view cannot account for our debate tonight"? No, not yet. He hasn't even presented an argument yet. He's simply asserted the very position he's called to prove, and he's added some more claims to his proof deficit. It seems that Bahnsen doesn't offer a proof here. Rather, we should call this the "Transcendental Poof of the existence of God," for it seems that Bahnsen presumes to have the power to say "poof!" and voilá, “God exists.” That is, Bahnsen's god exists because he wants his god to exist. Where's the argument?

It seems, in the case of his debate with Gordon Stein, Bahnsen fails to present an argument, just as Nick has indicated.

Dawson Bethric

These are the words of Dawson Bethric over at Incinerating Presuppositionalism. Dawson is interacting with Greg Bahnsen’s debate with Gordon Stein. Dawson labels this post, the meat of which you see above in a manner that leads one to believe this is his answer to Bahnsen’s TAG. TAG stands for transcendental argument for God. The idea is that TAG successfully refutes, not each and every other worldview as they come along opposing Christianity, but instead, TAG refutes the non-Christian approach before it can even get started. The argument is takes the form of a disjunction of a contradictory. A v ~A, ~~A, therefore A. Either Christian theism or not Christian theism, not not Christian theism, therefore, Christian theism. Now, the opponent will object and claim that the argument should not be construed as a disjunctive of a contradiction. Hence, the approach to TAG employs a false dilemma. [See Mike Butler’s paper on The Transcendental Argument for God’s Existence] What the opponent then must do is show that there are other alternatives available, other paths we can take. But for the Christian, it is either Christ or not Christ. It isn’t either Christ or Baal, or Mohammed, or etc. This is the power of the TAG. It takes the exclusive claims of Christian theism seriously and applies them not only to philosophy but also employs them in reason and in apologetics. It is this that Dawson and every other critic of presuppositionalism must deal with.

Dawson conveniently ignores this argument structure, opting rather to criticize other forms of argumentation employed by presuppositionalism. For example, here Dawson thinks he has something when he mockingly changes modus ponens to Geusha. Bahnsen employs Modus Ponens and Modus Tollens to argue for God. The argument would be framed thus:

Human predication --> God
Human predication
/ God
Human predication --> God
/ ~Human predication

But there is perhaps a better way to frame the argument. After all, A presupposes B is not the same as A implies B.

Human predication presuppose God
/ Human predication * ~Human predication

This latter argument form demonstrates that in order for any truth value to be assigned to human predication or no human predication, God must be presupposed. The transcendental argument is saying that if there is no God, there is no truth value where human predication is concerned. All this is simply to point out that there is a difference in traditional arguments which trade on implication and transcendental arguments which trade on presupposition. Collect is helpful in summary: "However, if God's existence is a necessary condition for the both the truth or falsity of causality, then denying God's existence while results in a failure to predicate anything at all." [Don Collett: Van Til and Presuppositionalism Revisited. See also Strawson, An Introduction to Logical Theory]

Now, Dawson claims that Bahnsen has not made an argument. It is hard to imagine that anyone could listen to the Bahnsen-Stein debate or read Greg Bahnsen and conclude that he has not made an argument. Perhaps Dawson has picked up on Ayn Rand’s method of choosing not to actually engage with opposing views but rather to employ emotion-filled rhetoric in an attempt to counter his detractors. When you read Dawson, ask yourself if he is really dealing with the issues or if it sounds like he is talking to others, making short flashy statements designed to impress the less informed. I am not saying this is the case, but I am saying it is worthy analysis.

I want to turn now to an argument against TAG that Dawson makes elsewhere. And that argument is that TAG commits the fallacy of Petitio Principii, or Begging the Question. In his interaction with another presuppositionalist, Dawson makes the following criticism: “If on the one hand knowledge and logic presuppose the existence of the Christian god, then Premise 1A and Premise 2B contain elements which assume the truth of their respective Conclusions A and B (the existence of the Christian god, or the truth of Christian theism, which assumes the existence of the Christian god), and thus the two models of TAG which Chris has presented are by definition circular.”

Is Dawson’s criticism correct? Does the argument structure assume God in order to prove God? It is one thing for the presuppositionalist to presuppose God as he goes about arguing for God's existence, and quite another for his argument to be structured in that way. The difference is that the former is known as a pragmatic presupposition while the latter is known as a semantic presupposition. There is a clear distinction between the two. [See presupposition in The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy] What TAG does is begin with human experience, in this instance, human predication, and from human experience it argues that God is the necessary precondition for the experience of human predication and in order to prove this to be the case, it shows that the contradiction of this view is impossible. What is being argued is that S' is a condition of the truth or falsity of S. This means that to show S false one must presuppose S' and to show that S is true, one must presuppose S'.

Now, Bahnsen would call it the impossibility of the contrary, but by contrary he means contradictory. Additionally, that this is an argument is, as Mike Butler puts it, beyond debate. Whether it is a good argument is a different matter. To answer Dawson’s charge of circularity, however, is not too difficult. As Craig admits, there is more to it than that. TAG is an epistemological transcendental argument. Characterizing it as having vicious circularity or begging the question simply means that one does not truly understand what TAG is doing.
I will structure the argument above a little differently:
If God did not exist, human predication would not be possible.
Human predication is possible.
Therefore, God exists.

What Dawson has done is confused a presupposition of an argument with a premise of an argument. This is just a different way of saying what I have already said about Dawson. Rather than criticizing the argument, he has drifted outside the argument to criticize the presupposition that lies outside the argument. One has to wonder if Dawson thinks that all arguments are free from presuppositions in back of them. If that is the case, then it is hard to imagine any argument surviving the accusation of circularity. And that seems to be something that Dawson has missed entirely. In fact, one does not have to look very far to recognize that Dawson bring his own presuppositions that serve to inform his own argumentation. Funny how that Tiger that has been let out of its cage is entirely indifferent toward the one that let him out. He will tare the man with the key apart just as quickly as he will the one that jeers his captivity. Dawson ends up being mauled by his own Tiger. And if that is not the case, then we are both faced with a toothless, classless pussycat.

In fact, I would say that Dawson Bethric's grasp of what Van Til was doing and Bahnsen after him, by employing a transcendental argument for is terribly confused. As Collet rightly points out in his excellent paper, Van Til and Transcendental Argument Revisited, Van Til was concerned to make sure that Christians employ the sort of apologetic argument that preserves the logically primitive and absolute character of God's existence. This can only be done by starting with the premise that God's existence is the necessary precondition for argument itself. That's right, God's existence is the necessary precondition for argumentation itself. What this means is that the concept of God should function as a logically primitive proposition rather than a logically derived one.

What Dawson never seems to deal with is the "man behind the curtain" of Presuppositional Apologetics. What does that mean? It means that Dawson does not interact much, if at all, with the doctrines of divine aseity and transcendence. If he did, perhaps he could connect those dots. What Dawson, and many, many others fail to understand is that one cannot truly understand Presuppositional Apologetics unless they understand why it exists and what it seeks to accomplish. Van Til's apologetic is designed to protect reformed doctrine and more precisely God's self-contained, independent, and transcendent nature. If this doctrine is correct, and surely it is, then no axiom can be more ultimate than God's existence. Hence, traditional approaches unwittingly argue for God's existence as a logically derivative status, elevating other principles to an unacceptable primitive status inconsistent with basic Christian doctrine.

Once again, Don Collett is helpful: "Indeed, one may go further and raise the question whether finite creatures can begin any argument without making assumptions of some sort or other. The real question is not whether initial assumptions can be avoided, but whether subsequent argument confirms their soundness."

We are just getting started in our review of Dawson Bethric’s blog “Incinerating Presuppositionalism.” I anticipate a few more posts over the next month or two. I am disappointed to find that Bethric's arguments so far have proven to be better rhetoric than they are arguments.

For an excellent response to the criticism of circularity, see James Anderson’s post here.