Presuppositionalism vs. Paul Copan’s Traditional Apologetics

Felipe Diez III takes Paul Copan’s article critiquing presuppositionalism to task. This is a defense of presuppositional thinking and apologetics, especially as it relates to its Clarkian version.

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3 Responses to Presuppositionalism vs. Paul Copan’s Traditional Apologetics

  1. We are supposed to give an answer to for the reason of the hope in us, but it doesn’t require that we give a non-circular one. After all, such a thing is not even possible. That’s precisely the point of Van Tillian presuppositionalism.

    I would use the term “ontology” when speaking of being-questions/the Being-question, since it is more consistently used in a uniform manner in philosophy. “Metaphysics” has often been used in a tendentious manner and is used by many philosophers in idiosyncratic ways.

    I would suggest that Calvin himself is the fountainhead of presuppositionalism, rather than either Kuyper or Van Til, as great as they are and as instrumental they were in systematizing a properly biblical epistemology.

    “The knowledge of God with which we are natively endowed is therefore more than a bare conviction that God is: it involves, more or less explicated, some understanding of what God is. Such a knowledge of God can never be otiose and inert; but must produce an effect in human souls, in the way of thinking, feeling, willing. In other words, our native endowment is not merely a sensus deitatis, but also a semen religionis (I. iii. 1, 2; iv. 1, 4; v. 1). For what we call religion is just the reaction of the human soul to what it perceives God to be. Calvin is, therefore, just as insistent that religion is universal as that the knowledge of God is universal. “The seeds of religion,” he insists, “are sown in every heart ” (I. iv. 1; cf. v. 1); men are propense to religion (I. iii. 2, med.); and always and everywhere frame to themselves a religion, consonant with their conceptions of God.”

    This is Warfield on Calvin’s epistemology. Keep in mind that Van Til’s epistemology is ultimately a synthesis of Warfield and Kuyper.

    I don’t think evidentialists would necessarily have a problem with circular reasoning in some respects. Their concern seems to be largely dialogical. Is there some sort of neutral court of appeal to which believers and unbelievers can ultimately appeal? That self-evident reliance upon sense-perception or logic or any other epistemological modality is circular or unquestioned is not a problem for the evidentialist or the classical apologist. The problem for the evidentialist and the classical apologist is not so much that circular reasoning is being used, but that they see our approach as amounting to a functional refusal to argue. This is why Sproul accuses presuppositionalists of basically adhering to some sort of irrationalist fideism.

    The question is: is it something which unbelievers can agree is a neutral court of appeal and can or does this court of appeal decide in favor of Christianity?

    It is precisely the point of presuppositionalism to deny there is such a thing, not because there is no objective truth, but because desire is antecedent to the intellect. Historically, one of the most important modern philosophers to have articulated this in philosophically systematic form (keeping in mind that Calvin had already make this point) is Dooyeweerd, who influenced Van Til greatly. To presuppose a neutral court of appeal is to presuppose the priority of intellect to the will, which is preposterous and unbiblical. Humans necessarily and spontaneously suppress the truth in righteousness voluntarily (that is, willfully) and the will is in need of sovereign regeneration before it can submit to God’s truth. This is precisely why Arminians tend to be classical apologists and evidentialists and Calvinists tend to be presuppositionalists. Arminians believe that if we can just provide utterly overwhelming evidence, the unbeliever will see the light on a purely rational basis and decide to submit to Christ. But this is not how the will and the intellect are related.

    “For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.”(Rom. 8:5-8)

    Here is a point from an article I wrote on the relation of Kant’s doctrine of the transcendental illusion to presuppositionalism:


    “argues that traditional arguments for the existence of God can, on the basis of pure reason, just as easily go one way or the other. For example, it is just as easy to argue according to pure reason that the universe must have had a beginning as it is to argue that it must be eternal. We must, therefore, Kant argues, set aside knowledge in order to make way for faith(concerning things like the the existence of the soul, the world, God, etc.).”

    Kant’s perspective here is related to his doctrine of the transcendental illusion. According to this doctrine of Kant, human reason has an

    “ineradicable tendency to seek a unification of all theoretical principles into a final, comprehensive and absolute totality. Human reason seeks to move from an apprehension of a series of conditioned phenomena in space and time to the affirmation of a ground for such series that is represented as unconditioned, i.e., as independent of space and time. Human reason seeks to know what lies beyond the range of that to which Kant gives the technical term “experience” — i.e., our apprehension of objects as they are interrelated to one another in a spatio-temporal framework of causal laws. He considers any movement to claim knowledge outside the limits of experience to be problematic. It lies beyond the powers of human reason to bring us to any knowledge of an unconditioned ground for the framework within which we apprehend objects in their spatio-temporal relations.

    This tendency to go beyond the limits of experience culminates in the representation of ideas of the soul, the world, and God as the final outcome of the efforts of reason to affirm what is absolutely unconditioned. Kant argues that it is mistaken to take these ideas as “constitutive” — i.e., as standing for objects that lie within the scope of our human powers of theoretical cognition. He thus denies that there can be any theoretically adequate basis for the arguments that the metaphysics of Leibniz and of Wolff put forward as theoretical proofs of the existence of God, for the independent subsistence and immortality of the human soul, and for the causal dependence of the world on an absolutely necessary first cause. Despite this denial of the adequacy of such theoretical proofs, Kant nonetheless takes the ideas of God, the soul, and the world to have a valid philosophical use as “regulative,” i.e., for guiding the direction of inquiry to be all the more encompassing in scope(Grier, 2012).”

    Thus, for Kant, his antinomies function as an

    “exhibition of the “conflict” into which reason inevitably falls (and in which it will remain) so long as it fails to adopt his own transcendental distinction between appearances and things in themselves. The historical debacle of reason’s conflict with itself provides Kant with a dramatic exhibition of the vacillation of reason between two alternatives, neither of which it can accept (or dismiss) without dissatisfaction. Left unresolved, this conflict is disastrous in that it leads to the “euthanasia of pure reason” (A407/B434)(Grier, 2012).”

  2. I think appeal to John 1:9 for a Christian epistemology does much more harm than good because it is patently obvious that John 1:9 is not teaching anything about epistemology:

    There are so many passages in the New Testament that clearly have direct relevance to epistemology that it is puzzling to me that Clarkians are so infatuated with such a weak argument.

  3. Pingback: Weekly Roundup: Everything Else That We Didn’t Get Around To Posting | The Confessing Baptist

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