D.A. Carson and Presuppositionalism

Has D.A. Carson given us a sound proof of the existence of God? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

First off, my thanks to the people of Asbury Seminary who when they saw through Ratio Christi that I needed a new computer came to the rescue and today, I am writing this blog on a new computer, making it the first one on this one. I look forward to seeing what all this computer can do.

I now have my speakers hooked up which they hadn’t been so I took some time to watch a video sent to me by Adam Tucker of Ratio Christi who appreciates my work on looking at presuppositionalism. The video is a four minute one by D.A. Carson on if God exists. There will be a link at the bottom.

Let’s start with some positives. First off, we all owe a great debt to Carson for the work that he has done in biblical studies over the years. While I disagree with his presuppositionalism, I do acknowledge the work that he has done for the kingdom that will be a benefit for generations to come.

I also do not question his great desire to see conversion as he calls it take place. Personally, I don’t prefer to speak about conversion but more about discipleship, but I know what Carson means by the term so I will not quibble hairs at this point.

Looking at his video, Carson makes many of the same statements. To begin with, he says that we are assuming that we can know something independently of God. Now as a Christian, I do agree that God is the basis of all knowledge. I have no problem with that idea. What I have a problem with is coming to the unbeliever as if that is something that is already known.

There are a number of philosophers who will say they know many things while being atheists, and I agree with them. They do not find the presuppositional answer convincing and I’d say the reason they don’t is presuppositionalism strikes me as a modern idea based on having absolute certainty only even on such questions as “Do I exist?” or “Is reason valid?” Sorry, but to ask the question of if reason is valid means from the get go are we going to use the first tool we’ve got or not? Will the conversation continue reasonably or unreasonably?

Descartes would be pleased. Others before him would be surprised the question is even asked. This is not to say there’s anything wrong with the question of reason. I do agree that if we are merely the result of a cosmic accident, it would seem odd that we trust our reasoning, but that is only after much argumentation.

For the older philosophers, you could not start with an idea and get a fact, and I agree. This is why I reject the ontological argument. You cannot start with an idea of God and then get to the real God. An idea does not become a fact in that way.

Carson then tells us that to ask the question is to put us in the judgment seat and making God merely the end of a syllogism. This kind of statement is repeated which is saying something for a video only four minutes long. To begin with, as a classical apologist, I find it insulting to say I treat God merely as the end of a syllogism. Once I reach God, I must come to grasp with what it is I have reached rather than just saying “Well that was fun. What’s the next argument?”

Second, we are not in the judgment seat in the sense that our judgment determines if God exists or not, but rather in the sense that we decide if we think the evidence is conclusive enough for us that God exists. Everyone knows that either God exists or not regardless of what we think. God can exist and the world have nothing but atheists. God can not exist and the world be full of nothing but theists.

Carson does ask questions about how someone would explain numerous X’s. As soon as he’s done this, he’s no longer in presuppositional mode as the person is being asked to make a judgment on a kind of evidence. Even the presuppositional argument itself is presented as an evidence.

Carson also says that arguments for God’s existence are not done this way in the Bible with atheists. I can only think of one part in the Bible where atheists could be addressed and that is in Acts 17. Frankly, we also don’t know much about what he said, but from what we have, he does not ask them the basis of their knowledge.

Carson then tells us about how many people will just read the Bible and God will open their eyes. No Christian will deny this. To say this happens is not the same as saying this is the only way a conversion takes place. It can also be done through good argumentation. Also, the early Christians were not converted this way. They could not read the story of Jesus as the gospels weren’t written yet. Even if they had been, few of them could read so they would again have the same problem.

The problem in the end is while the approach can consistently explain the questions that we have, consistency does not equal correspondence. Because there is a solution that works, it does not mean that that is indeed the true solution. The only way we can know is if it corresponds to reality.

In conclusion, I do applaud much that Carson has done, but there are good arguments for God’s existence and the resurrection as well. We need to use them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

D.A. Carson’s talk: http://www.realapologetics.org/blog/2010/07/14/da-carson-and-presuppositional-apologetics/