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Thread: Presuppositional Apologetics

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    Presuppositional Apologetics

    I am a secular humanist, former Christian, and as a Christian I used a presuppositional approach to defending the faith. But I see so many problems with it now. Are there any Christians out there who are currently convinced that this is a good approach? I am looking to challenge and be challenged. It might include arguments like the atheist worldview doesn't have the necessary preconditions for logic, since for all he knows he is just a "brain in a vat". Or another popular one is that atheists don't have the necessary preconditions for morality, since they have no objective standard against which to judge what is right and what is wrong.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Raul View Post
    I am a secular humanist, former Christian, and as a Christian I used a presuppositional approach to defending the faith. But I see so many problems with it now. Are there any Christians out there who are currently convinced that this is a good approach? I am looking to challenge and be challenged. It might include arguments like the atheist worldview doesn't have the necessary preconditions for logic, since for all he knows he is just a "brain in a vat". Or another popular one is that atheists don't have the necessary preconditions for morality, since they have no objective standard against which to judge what is right and what is wrong.
    Well I would agree that a rational Creator is a good precondition for logic and an intelligible universe, whether or not God is a necessary condition is another story. Second, I don't see how the Presuppositionalist can avoid the brain in the vat problem. Descartes got around a possible deception by appealing to God - I'm not sure that works. And as far as ethics go, there are no universal or transcendent moral norms in a godless universe, nor can there be. The universe would be ultimately unjust, moral law would not be authoritative, i.e. if you get away with it in this life, you actually get away with it.
    “The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.” D.H. Lawrence

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    Quote Originally Posted by Raul View Post
    I am a secular humanist, former Christian, and as a Christian I used a presuppositional approach to defending the faith. But I see so many problems with it now. Are there any Christians out there who are currently convinced that this is a good approach? I am looking to challenge and be challenged. It might include arguments like the atheist worldview doesn't have the necessary preconditions for logic, since for all he knows he is just a "brain in a vat". Or another popular one is that atheists don't have the necessary preconditions for morality, since they have no objective standard against which to judge what is right and what is wrong.
    Even though I am not a Van Til presuppositionalist I would very much like to discuss this with you. Especially since you are a former professing Christian who has held such a view or similar view.

    Truth does not change - only one's understanding of what is and what is not true.

    A simple case in point: 1 + 1 = 2. Once that truth is understood it cannot be not understood.

    Well what would you like to do?
    . . . the Gospel of Christ, for it is [the] power of God to salvation to every [one] believing, . . . -- Romans 1:16.

    . . . that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: . . . -- 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4.

    Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: . . . -- 1 John 5:1.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Raul View Post
    I am a secular humanist, former Christian, and as a Christian I used a presuppositional approach to defending the faith. But I see so many problems with it now. Are there any Christians out there who are currently convinced that this is a good approach? I am looking to challenge and be challenged. It might include arguments like the atheist worldview doesn't have the necessary preconditions for logic, since for all he knows he is just a "brain in a vat". Or another popular one is that atheists don't have the necessary preconditions for morality, since they have no objective standard against which to judge what is right and what is wrong.
    Welcome to Tweb, Raul.

    1 Tim 2:5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.

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    "Well I would agree that a rational Creator is a good precondition for logic and an intelligible universe, whether or not God is a necessary condition is another story."

    I agree that the idea of a rational creator would certainly explain why the universe has a certain intelligibility to it. But how do you demonstrate the actual existence of this creator? To posit his existence is one thing, and to demonstrate it is another. It seems like a highly speculative assertion, really no more than an unprovable hypothesis. As an atheist I am content to acknowledge that the universe has a certain order and design to it, while not feeling the need to go beyond what we can know and say that there is some kind of supreme being behind it. How is it that the universe came to possess the uniformity that enables us to do logic? Good question. But let us be careful not to make the same mistake made by humanity countless times throughout history, and attribute something to a god just because we don't understand it. What is certain is that that uniformity is there, and it is reliable. It has proven itself to be a consistent foundation upon which to reason. As an atheist, then, I am completely justified in my use of logic. I don't just assume it. I recognize it as a reliable means of engaging with the world around me.

    "Second, I don't see how the Presuppositionalist can avoid the brain in the vat problem. Descartes got around a possible deception by appealing to God - I'm not sure that works."

    I agree. It is really a bad argument, since the Christian has the same problem. He cannot rule out, for instance, that Yahweh is a brain in a vat.

    "And as far as ethics go, there are no universal or transcendent moral norms in a godless universe, nor can there be. The universe would be ultimately unjust, moral law would not be authoritative, i.e. if you get away with it in this life, you actually get away with it."

    I agree that there are no transcendent moral laws in an atheistic universe. But I don't think it matters. It just means that morality is a social construct. We have many social constructs that work perfectly fine for a well-ordered society. In the U.S., we drive on the right side of the road. This is not some kind of transcendent moral law, and yet it is binding, and there are penalties for not obeying it. If someone got pulled over for driving on the wrong side of the road, it wouldn't make sense to respond to the police officer that it doesn't matter because, after all, they drive on the left side in the U.K., and driving on the right side is completely arbitrary. There are definitely differences between traffic laws and the more serious moral questions, but my point is just that something being a social construct does not preclude it being binding upon people. You have to understand how social constructs work. Within the construct, laws take on a kind of objectivity. Not objective in the transcendent sense, but in the sense that, within the framework, they are the law of the land and people are required to obey them. The place this issue needs to start, though, is by answering the question, "What is the nature of morality?". Is it objective or subjective, and what evidence do you have to back up your answer? I think it is fairly easy for me to demonstrate that morality is subjective. And I don't think theists can actually demonstrate that morality is objective. Most moral arguments for God assume objective morality, while not really demonstrating it. But once I demonstrate that it is subjective, the next logical thing for us to do is work out how we live together in a world where sometimes different views of morality clash. We would also need to determine what values we want to serve as the foundation for our morality, things like a value for human life, liberty, etc. This is actually not that hard, since human nature has a pro-social bent to it, evolved from our primate ancestors. So we tend to prefer happiness to suffering, order to chaos, liberty to bondage, etc. Once we nail that down, we have an objective standard to determine what moral laws are most consistent with those values, and are most conducive to them. Notice that this also means that although morality is fundamentally subjective, since the values we hold can technically be whatever we want, it is not merely subjective. Because once we cross that subjective threshold of determining what we value, from there is is largely an objective thing of figuring out what behaviors best line up with those values.
    Last edited by Raul; 10-14-2016 at 02:37 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by 37818 View Post
    Even though I am not a Van Til presuppositionalist I would very much like to discuss this with you. Especially since you are a former professing Christian who has held such a view or similar view.

    Truth does not change - only one's understanding of what is and what is not true.

    A simple case in point: 1 + 1 = 2. Once that truth is understood it cannot be not understood.

    Well what would you like to do?
    I agree that truth does not change. It was my experience as a Christian that actually gave me such a passion for truth. Ironically, it was this same love for truth that also led me out of Christianity. See my response to Seer above for what might be some good points of discussion concerning presuppositional arguments.

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    tWebber seer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Raul View Post
    I agree that the idea of a rational creator would certainly explain why the universe has a certain intelligibility to it. But how do you demonstrate the actual existence of this creator? To posit his existence is one thing, and to demonstrate it is another. It seems like a highly speculative assertion, really no more than an unprovable hypothesis. As an atheist I am content to acknowledge that the universe has a certain order and design to it, while not feeling the need to go beyond what we can know and say that there is some kind of supreme being behind it. How is it that the universe came to possess the uniformity that enables us to do logic? Good question. But let us be careful not to make the same mistake made by humanity countless times throughout history, and attribute something to a god just because we don't understand it. What is certain is that that uniformity is there, and it is reliable. It has proven itself to be a consistent foundation upon which to reason. As an atheist, then, I am completely justified in my use of logic. I don't just assume it. I recognize it as a reliable means of engaging with the world around me.
    Well we have an intelligible, finely tuned, life permitting universe where life actually shows up. The way I look at it we have two choices to explain this; non-rational, non-intending forces of nature, or a rational, intending Being. And for the life of me I don't see why the non-rational option is more plausible. And with Presuppositional Apologetics you don't demonstrate God, you take that as your primary assumption and work from there. I thought you would have known that.

    "Second, I don't see how the Presuppositionalist can avoid the brain in the vat problem. Descartes got around a possible deception by appealing to God - I'm not sure that works."

    I agree. It is really a bad argument, since the Christian has the same problem. He cannot rule out, for instance, that Yahweh is a brain in a vat.
    Except, as Descartes made clear you can not logically or empirically demonstrate that what goes on in your mind actually corresponds to reality. You have to take that by faith. All of us, including you.


    Most moral arguments for God assume objective morality, while not really demonstrating it. But once I demonstrate that it is subjective, the next logical thing for us to do is work out how we live together in a world where sometimes different views of morality clash. We would also need to determine what values we want to serve as the foundation for our morality, things like a value for human life, liberty, etc. This is actually not that hard, since human nature has a pro-social bent to it, evolved from our primate ancestors. So we tend to prefer happiness to suffering, order to chaos, liberty to bondage, etc. Once we nail that down, we have an objective standard to determine what moral laws are most consistent with those values, and are most conducive to them. Notice that this also means that although morality is fundamentally subjective, since the values we hold can technically be whatever we want, it is not merely subjective. Because once we cross that subjective threshold of determining what we value, from there is is largely an objective thing of figuring out what behaviors best line up with those values.

    A couple of things, first the law of God would still exist even if we did not know it, or got it wrong, just as the color red would still exist even if we were all born color blind. So our subjectivity does not effect the argument either way. Second, I agree that once you have a moral goal there are objectively better ways to reach said goals. But it is the goal that is subjective. Greed, dominance, control are also just as natural to our and our primate ancestors as the things that you mentioned. And the only thing that matters, in the end, is who dominates. If the Hutu slaughter the Tutsi and take their property and take full control of the country then they win, and it is perfectly natural.
    Last edited by seer; 10-14-2016 at 12:57 PM.
    “The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.” D.H. Lawrence

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    . . . how do you demonstrate the actual existence of this creator?
    The question has built in presuppositions. An actual existence. A creation.

    How is it that the universe came to possess the uniformity that enables us to do logic? Good question.
    It being a presupposition that the preceived universe possesses a uniformity. And logic is presumed.

    We must start with some kind of presuppositions. A problem we might face would be false presupposition. Presuming something that is not true. The concept of truth is a preupposition. As is our use of logic. And there is the presupposition we mean the same things by the language we are using.
    . . . the Gospel of Christ, for it is [the] power of God to salvation to every [one] believing, . . . -- Romans 1:16.

    . . . that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: . . . -- 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4.

    Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: . . . -- 1 John 5:1.

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    Quote Originally Posted by seer View Post
    Well we have an intelligible, finely tuned, life permitting universe where life actually shows up. The way I look at it we have two choices to explain this; non-rational, non-intending forces of nature, or a rational, intending Being. And for the life of me I don't see why the non-rational option is more plausible. And with Presuppositional Apologetics you don't demonstrate God, you take that as your primary assumption and work from there. I thought you would have known that.
    Why don't you see the non-rational, naturalistic option as more plausible, given that as we peer deeper and deeper into the universe we find more and more that it is actually governed by natural forces? We have yet to discover evidence of any type of Being or beings. So I am trying to work with what we know, while I think that you are making a jump in logic by saying that there is some kind of Being behind it all. That may be the case, but if it is I do not think based on what we know now that we can make that claim, at least not with any degree of certainty. There is also the fact that what we do know about natural forces is that they can produce an incredible degree of complexity and seeming design, which is why we should hesitate to attribute things to God just because we don't understand them.

    And you are correct that Presuppositional Apologetics does not demonstrate God. They simply assume God, which is the problem, because I don't think that God is a valid assumption. Sure, I assume certain things, like logic. Except I don't actually just assume it. I first make the observation that without logic you cannot actually know anything, and that logic has proven itself again and again as a reliable method of knowing the world, and only then do I accept it as an assumption. But the idea of God is far from demonstrating this kind of reliability.



    Quote Originally Posted by seer View Post
    Except, as Descartes made clear you can not logically or empirically demonstrate that what goes on in your mind actually corresponds to reality. You have to take that by faith. All of us, including you.

    Actually, we can demonstrate that what goes on in our mind actually does or doesn't correspond with reality, which is why we recognize things like schizophrenia and hallucinations and delusions. So we do actually distinguish between an illusion of the mind and reality. By referring to Descartes, are you referring to the "brain in a vat" scenario? If so, I agree that this is a limitation to human knowledge and not something we can rule out, but I don't think it matters, because actually there is an infinity of possibilities that we can imagine (like the possibility that we are brains in vats) which for various reasons cannot be ruled out. But because their probability based on what we know is so low, we don't allow their mere possibility to factor into our thinking. We have no positive reason to believe that we are brains in vats, and therefore we are justified in not allowing it to undermine our entire ability to know anything. It is, essentially, a non-issue. To whatever degree it is an issue, it is an issue for theist and atheist alike, and therefore there is really no point in using it in apologetics.



    Quote Originally Posted by seer View Post
    A couple of things, first the law of God would still exist even if we did not know it, or got it wrong, just as the color red would still exist even if we were all born color blind. So our subjectivity does not effect the argument either way. Second, I agree that once you have a moral goal there are objectively better ways to reach said goals. But it is the goal that is subjective. Greed, dominance, control are also just as natural to our and our primate ancestors as the things that you mentioned. And the only thing that matters, in the end, is who dominates. If the Hutu slaughter the Tutsi and take their property and take full control of the country then they win, and it is perfectly natural.
    Right, the goal is subjective because morality is subjective. You are looking for an objective standard, but in doing so you are misunderstanding the nature of morality. It is demonstrably not objective. You are also right in this world of subjective morality that sometimes it comes down to warfare, even though we try to come up with more peaceful ways of resolving conflict. But that is even the case with the biblical story, since Yahweh, at the end of time, engages in domination by going to war with the ungodly in order to enforce his standard of morality. And in the Old Testament Israel was ordered by God to go to war in order to forcibly bring in the Kingdom of God. So either way, you have a world where sometimes warfare is required. But the fact remains that morality is demonstrably subjective. You may not like it, and I would even agree that life would be so much simpler if moral laws were more like mathematical laws--objective, unalterable facts embedded in the fabric of the universe. But that is not the case, unless you can demonstrate otherwise.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Raul View Post
    Why don't you see the non-rational, naturalistic option as more plausible, given that as we peer deeper and deeper into the universe we find more and more that it is actually governed by natural forces? We have yet to discover evidence of any type of Being or beings. So I am trying to work with what we know, while I think that you are making a jump in logic by saying that there is some kind of Being behind it all. That may be the case, but if it is I do not think based on what we know now that we can make that claim, at least not with any degree of certainty. There is also the fact that what we do know about natural forces is that they can produce an incredible degree of complexity and seeming design, which is why we should hesitate to attribute things to God just because we don't understand them.
    But you are begging the question, the universe and its "natural" law is the thing that needs to be explained. And what we know is that intelligence can and does create order and specificity. I have no good reason to believe that the unaided forces of nature could create the kind of cosmos we live in and enjoy. Never mind the fact that in my view we have consciousness producing consciousness (like for like), in your view we have the non-conscious producing its opposite - consciousness (like for unlike). Again, I just don't see why your position is more plausible.

    And you are correct that Presuppositional Apologetics does not demonstrate God. They simply assume God, which is the problem, because I don't think that God is a valid assumption. Sure, I assume certain things, like logic. Except I don't actually just assume it. I first make the observation that without logic you cannot actually know anything, and that logic has proven itself again and again as a reliable method of knowing the world, and only then do I accept it as an assumption. But the idea of God is far from demonstrating this kind of reliability.
    And what makes more sense? A logical Mind behind a rational universe or the a~logical forces of nature?

    Actually, we can demonstrate that what goes on in our mind actually does or doesn't correspond with reality, which is why we recognize things like schizophrenia and hallucinations and delusions. So we do actually distinguish between an illusion of the mind and reality. By referring to Descartes, are you referring to the "brain in a vat" scenario? If so, I agree that this is a limitation to human knowledge and not something we can rule out, but I don't think it matters, because actually there is an infinity of possibilities that we can imagine (like the possibility that we are brains in vats) which for various reasons cannot be ruled out. But because their probability based on what we know is so low, we don't allow their mere possibility to factor into our thinking. We have no positive reason to believe that we are brains in vats, and therefore we are justified in not allowing it to undermine our entire ability to know anything. It is, essentially, a non-issue. To whatever degree it is an issue, it is an issue for theist and atheist alike, and therefore there is really no point in using it in apologetics.
    No, it is not a non-issue, the point is that you can not demonstrate, again logically or empirically, that what goes on in your mind actually corresponds to reality (your above appeal to delusions and such do not bear on the question). Which means at the very fundamental level of knowledge, knowledge of the world, you need to begin with an assumption, a presupposition. So it is a double standard for you to chide the theist for doing what you are already doing.


    Right, the goal is subjective because morality is subjective. You are looking for an objective standard, but in doing so you are misunderstanding the nature of morality. It is demonstrably not objective. You are also right in this world of subjective morality that sometimes it comes down to warfare, even though we try to come up with more peaceful ways of resolving conflict. But that is even the case with the biblical story, since Yahweh, at the end of time, engages in domination by going to war with the ungodly in order to enforce his standard of morality. And in the Old Testament Israel was ordered by God to go to war in order to forcibly bring in the Kingdom of God. So either way, you have a world where sometimes warfare is required. But the fact remains that morality is demonstrably subjective. You may not like it, and I would even agree that life would be so much simpler if moral laws were more like mathematical laws--objective, unalterable facts embedded in the fabric of the universe. But that is not the case, unless you can demonstrate otherwise.
    In one sense you are correct, even the law of God would be subjective to him. Yet it still would be objective to humankind. And objective does not mean absolute. The difference again is this, you live in an unjust universe, I live in a just universe. You live in a amoral universe, I live in a moral universe. Concepts like love, justice, goodness kindness, mercy, etc... are universal and eternal. In your universe there is no governing moral authority, in mine there is. In my universe what the Hutus did to the Tutsi was a violation of these universal moral norms and therefore their acts well be judged at the bar of God. In your world, it is just animals being animals.
    “The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.” D.H. Lawrence

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