Glorious Circles?

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. We’ve lately been looking into the topic of presuppositionalism. Tonight, I’d like to look at the idea of circular reasoning. I think that those of us who are classical and evidentialists do rightly charge the presuppositional camp with circular reasoning. The problem I see however is that the presuppositional camp freely admits this.

Don’t believe it? Consider what Greg Bahnsen says in “Van Til’s Apologetic” on page 518. In stating the way that he answers the charge of circular reasoning, Bahnsen says:

Our answer to this is briefly that we prefer to reason in a circle to not reasoning at all.

He later states on the same page that:

Reasoning in a vicious circle is the only alternative to reasoning in a circle as discussed above…

John Frame says on page 305 of “Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of his Thought” that:

Such circularity is unavoidable, and it exists on both sides of the debate.

Indeed, presuppositionalists seem to revel in the circularity. For instance, on the Unbelievable broadcast, through Premier Christian Radio, Sye Tenbruggencate in round 2 of a debate with Paul Baird was told that his reasoning was circular to which he answered, “What’s wrong with that?”

Only everything.

To begin with, circular reasoning does not cease to be circular reasoning just because it’s about God and fallacies do not cease to become fallacies ever just because the subject matter one is thinking about is God. A fallacy is a fallacy is a fallacy. God is not glorified when we misuse our logic in his service.

Second, it does no good to say that the argument is not viciously circular. This is a distinction without a difference. In other places, a presuppositionalist would be very quick to point out when an unbeliever was engaging in circular reasoning, and they should rightfully do so. The problem is that the rules seem to change for them. I have long deplored how atheists can often make Christians have to prove every claim they have but when it comes to some theories like a multiverse, all of a sudden we don’t have to have proof for that. All sides should agree on the ground rules for debate and follow accordingly, and those ground rules are the proper use of reasoning first off.

Now it could be said that we are circular in assuming reason. The reply to this is to say that we do no such thing. Reason is what we have to start with. To assume it would be to take it for granted. However, if I am told that I should question reason at the start and see if it’s a valid starting point, how am I to do that? Do I do see reasonably or unreasonably? If I am told to go to Scripture first, am I to conclude that that is what I should do reasonably or unreasonably?

If we said “Begin with revelation” then we have to ask “Which one?” Should I begin with the Hindu or the Buddhist or the Christian or the Muslim or the Mormon revelation? (I do realize that in pantheistic faiths and some Eastern thought that the idea of revelation is a problem, but for now let us approach each faith as if we were uninformed.) If we believe God’s Word can stand any test, then we should not hesitate to bring any test to it and we should not believe that we have to assume it in order to see its truth.

We conclude then that any system that engages in circular reasoning is faulty and to be avoided. This does get us into epistemological issues and I plan to address those more next time.