Squaring the Circle

I’m taking a break from our discussion of the positive case for Christ this week in order to provide some background for our recent series of articles on Truth in the Trenches.

In the series, The Tragedy of Compromise, I have raised the case that evolution is inconsistent with the Christian worldview, and therefore our opposition to evolution is an ethical necessity. This approach is derived from my own approach to discussing evolution, the same basic type of approach (though there are some distinctions in the precise type of arguments I’m raising) to that used by Ken Ham – an approach known as presuppositional apologetics. To do so I have built on what I call the unified fields theory of Christian apologetics. To explain this approach, we need to discuss the strengths and the weakness of presuppositional apologetics.

Presuppositional Apologetics

Presuppositional apologetics is a method of answering the questions of the Christian faith from the standpoint of comparing a Christian worldview to non-Christian worldviews, most notably naturalism. The arguments basically are brought down to a discussion that Christianity is the only possible way in which life makes sense.

The most well known name in association with presuppositional apologetics is Corneilius Van Til, who dismissed classical and evidential approaches to apologetics on the grounds that they began with the assumption that life could make sense without beginning with the Bible. He therefore made the Bible the ultimate criterion of truth, which of course is consistent with Protestant theology. As a result, Van Til rejected the classical arguments for God, on the grounds that they began with a non-Christian premise that Van Til refused to recognize.

Presuppositionalism’s Strengths
Presuppositional apologetics has several strengths; among them, Van Til and those who followed in his footstep (in the United States, the most prominent Van Tillian is John Frame) note the importance of interpretation in our understanding of facts (one of the more important contentions of some presuppositionalists is that there is no such thing as “bald facts” – this though, I believe is an overstatement. There are bald facts – Grass is green, plants store energy in the form of glucose, 2+2 invariably equals 4, and George Washington did cross the Delaware – these are facts of science, mathematics and history).

Facts are like bricks. Individually, they provide only a certain amount of information. When discussing what these facts mean they must be interpreted. For example, changes in environment might demonstrate changes in the percentages of grey and white pepper moths, demonstrating by interpretation natural selection, but at the end of the day they are still pepper moths and no new color of pepper-moths has actually been discovered. Inferring a theory that all biological life can be explained on the basis of change combined with natural selection is a further interpretation of those facts – an interpretation extrapolated from naturalistic presuppositions. This distinction is the major contention of the recent series entitled The Tragedy of Compromise. While discussions of logical fallacies are important in all areas of apologetics, Van Til comes into his own by his demonstration that there are no unbiased observers. Belief in Christ is no more; nor less a bias than is unbelief – unbelievers are often quick to note the bias of belief, but fail to note this salient fact in their own discussions.

Presuppositionalists also note the noetic effects of sin – that is that the sin nature influences the mind along with the rest of the heart. This again, is a major contribution of presuppositionalists to Christian approaches: in discussing the intellectual defense of the Christian faith it becomes easy to forget the spiritual dimension of Christian thought; the battle is not against flesh and blood, it is not against human ideas, it is against principalities, powers, and the rulers of the darkness of this present world. The human heart encompasses the mind, the emotion and the will, and to separate or segregate the mind from the effects of the imputation of sin has no basis in Christian theology.

Presuppositionalism’s Weakness

Presuppositionalism, however, has one major weakness: because it begins with the assumption that the Bible is the foundation of truth, it becomes an exercise in circular logic – as atheists who are confronted by presuppositionalists are quick to point out (ignoring the fact that naturalism’s arguments are also circular – Van Til’s approach, and his reliance on the moral argument is mirrored by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion though Van Til’s version is better researched; though Dawkins does not raise the bar very high in this respect. Van Til is also less open in its circularity, whereas Dawkins seems less aware that he is begging the question). Van Til’s approach is sometimes described as being a “large” or “wide circle” but a large or wide circle is still, by definition, a circle.

From Circle to Spiral
In a sense, presuppositionalists accept the viability of the circular argument, though no one else does. So how does one use a presuppositional argument without making a circular argument? The nature of Christian thought in its development is a spiral. A spiral, when viewed from the top, may easily appear to be a circle, but once viewed in three dimensions the distinctions are obvious. The solution to breaking the circle of presuppositionalism is the re-admittance of another line of argumentation: the evidentialist approach.

Evidentialists begin with the Resurrection of Christ as a point of historical verification of the Christian faith. This is the approach I prefer, it’s the approach I am putting forward in the positive case for Christ. In a sense, this is fitting, as the early preaching of the Christian Church centered on the death, burial and the Resurrection of Christ. If presuppositionalism is based in Christian theology, Christian theology begins with the faith of the eyewitnesses. 1 Corinthians 15 establishes the Resurrection as a point where the Christian faith can be corroborated historically. Paul’s preaching of the cross, after all, was not from the New Testament as a series of inspired documents – they were not yet written when he began his ministry. Paul’s preaching was based on the comparison of eyewitness accounts (including his own) juxtaposed to the Old Testament. If the Bible is inspired and inerrant, then it is also historically accurate. The first statement (the Bible is inspired) is a statement of faith; the second (the Bible is historically accurate) is a logically previous to inspiration, and is demonstrable.

My own use of presuppositionalist arguments is predicated on the following:

1. The positive case for Christ demonstrates that there are a few basic facts as related to Christian origins. These are that Jesus of Nazareth died by crucifixion, and was buried; that later eyewitnesses claimed to have seen Him alive after His crucifixion. These include those who were inclined to accept His as messiah before the crucifixion and those who were disinclined to accept Him as messiah (including Paul and James), and that the lives of these eyewitnesses were changed by their encounters; that the tomb where Jesus’s body was laid was later found to be empty. While naturalistic suggestions have been raised to explain these events, they all fail in explaining all of the facts, with the exception of the hypothesis of the Resurrection.
2. If Christ is then resurrected from the dead, such an event demands explanation. The New Testament Epistles develop the point of Christ’s death as a new covenant between man and God, in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy; this is the only viable theory explaining why the Resurrection occurred.
3. In examining these facts, I accept as true the Christian religion by reasonable, and rational faith.
4. In accepting the Christian faith, I also accept Christian theological presuppositions. I move from discussing the historical reliability of the Biblical texts to their inspiration, their authority for the faith and practice of the Christian Church, and their inerrancy (I am not, therefore, arguing that Christianity is true because the Bible is inspired. I believe the Bible is inspired because I accept Christianity). I accept also what the Bible says about human nature, Christ’s person etc.
5. In accepting the Christian faith’s presuppositions, I must either reject presuppositions that contradict the Christian faith or reject the law of non-contradiction. Because the law of non-contradiction is true of reality in all other places I examine, I reject presuppositions that contradict the Christian faith.
6. On the basis of points 4 and 5 I can therefore begin making presuppositionalist arguments and philosophical arguments that are supportive of the Christian faith. If the Christian faith is true, I should be able to demonstrate how it is logically consistent with reality.

If we break the presuppositionalist circle into a spiral, then when we are accused of circular arguments we simply move down the spiral – funneling the argument back to evidentialism. If in discussing evolution, we make a presuppositionalist argument, and we are questioned on the point, we then move back down the spiral toward the logical evidence on which our presuppositions are ultimately founded. In the case of Creationism, for example:

1. I accept Creationism because it logically coincides with my theology, whereas evolution, because it is based on a premise that contradicts those I accept, is not compatible with the Christian faith.
2. I accept my theology because I have previously accepted the Christian faith.
3. I continue to accept the Christian faith because it is the only viable means of explaining the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
4. I accept the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as the only rational means of explaining the underlying facts.

1 thought on “Squaring the Circle

  1. Pingback: Truth in the Trenches

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