Welcome everyone to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. I’ve finished up our study of the Watchtower booklet of “Should You Believe In The Trinity?” so now, I’m going to look at some other topics for the time being before the next big project. One topic I want to look at is the recent usage of presuppositional apologetics.
This was featured recently on Justin Brierley’s incredible program Unbelievable. The debate was between Christian Sye Tenbruggencate and atheist Paul Baird. This was round two of the debate. Now I do think round one that had been recorded last year went to Sye, but this time, I give the win to Paul and I wish now to critique some points from Sye’s presentation. Tomorrow, I could spend the blog answering an objection of Paul’s to Christianity presented on the show.
I have been in interaction with Sye and I have not been impressed by what I have seen. Sye had said on the air that other approaches to apologetics that did not presuppose God’s existence or start with Scripture were sinful. As an apologist using those other methods, I strongly disagree. I find that when the apostles dialogued in the book of Acts with unbelievers, they started with what their opponents knew and accepted as authoritative. If I am a non-Christian, I have no reason to accept Sye’s presuppositions. He needs to argue from the presuppositions of my worldview to convince me.
That having been said, I’m not ready to throw out the window what would be called the argument from reason. I do think there is something to the idea that if we find that our reason is the result of an accident, that there could be some reason to distrust it. We all seem to have this belief that our minds can interact with the world and tell us things about it and this is something fascinating worth studying.
If someone thinks they can use such an argument to demonstrate the existence of God, I say more power to them. It is not one I would use so there do not need to be any responses telling me why I should not accept the argument. I would accept a different form based on Aquinas’s fourth way, but it is not the presuppositional argument.
Looking at the debate, Paul did state to Sye that he was willing to grant theism so can Sye get him to specifically Christian theism? Much of the show was devoted to that and the hope was never delivered. Sye would say a nonsense sentence in response like “Pizza three music lamp green.” Well I’m sure at that that every Muslim out there was ready to repent and come to Jesus.
The argument from reason, like any other theistic argument, cannot get you to the Christian God. They do not rule out the Christian God either. They can get you to theism. This is a criticism many of the new atheists make of theistic arguments and sadly, many strongly Calvinistic Christians do. I have heard some say they dismiss the Five Ways for instance because those don’t get you to the Christian God specifically. Aquinas would say they were never supposed to. This is not to criticize Calvinism however. Someone can be a Calvinist and agree entirely with what I’m saying.
What Sye’s charge is is that people use logic and reason without a basis for the validity of logic and reason and they need God for that. Okay. Let’s suppose I grant that. Christianity is not the only system that can justify logic and reason in that case. Judaism can. Islam can. Deism can. Some cults could make such a claim. Aristotle himself would have had a basis for his logic and reason as well.
Sye’s response would be “But you don’t need a generic god! You need the true God!” I agree in a sense. Only the true God could account for reality. However, Sye’s argument is that it is inconsistent to trust logic without a basis for it. If that’s the case, any of the theistic systems win on the question of consistency. However, while something must not be consistent to be true, it’s being consistent does not mean that it is true. I believe the Bible has no contradictions, but that does not mean that if it had no contradictions it would be ipso facto true. If the Harry Potter series has no contradictions, that does not make it historical.
There has also been the case that man cannot know anything about God apart from the revelation of Scripture. I find it interesting that it seems Romans 1:20 is a verse that is used to defend this position when in fact, I think that it argues just the opposite position. Let’s look at the verse:
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
The Apostle Paul is arguing in Romans 1 that God is angry with the Gentiles for how they’ve lived. In Romans 2 however, he argues that the Jews are just as guilty. However, their condemnation is in some ways worse because they have the Scriptures and they still do not live as they ought. Thus, it is implicit in Romans 1 that these are people without the Scripture but only have general revelation.
These people are without excuse. Why? Because they do know there is a call to their lives. After all, Romans 2 makes it clear that the testimony of the law is written on their hearts. They know right and wrong as general revelation. (Another point for the new atheists to learn. You do not need the Bible to know right from wrong and the Bible is not the moral standard) Still, the gentiles are doing what is wrong.
Thus, they are without excuse. They know enough about the true God to know that he could not be contained by idols and such representations, but they do it anyway. Now does this mean this knowledge of the true God is salvific? Not necessarily. There is the question of those who’ve never heard of course and there is debate on that, but just having a right concept of God insofar as it goes is not enough to bring about salvation.
In fact, that’s what we have in other religions. Muslims and Jews both have some right beliefs about God. The arguments for natural theology can be used by the Muslims and Jews just as well as by the Christians. Of course, when it comes to special revelation, this is where they differ. Sye’s argument would say you need a being who is omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, immutable, etc. Well Jews and Muslims believe in that kind of God. “But that’s not the true God!” This is where we come to the main point.
There is not a single philosophical argument that can be used to prove Christianity. That does not mean philosophy is useless of course. Philosophy can defend the Trinity once Scripture establishes it. Philosophy can support the belief systems of Christianity. Philosophy can guide our thinking so we think rightly when studying the Scriptures. However, you cannot use just thinking and get to the point of saying “God revealed Himself in Jesus through Jesus’s death and resurrection and I need to believe on Him for eternal life.”
Philosophy can get you to God, but it will not get you to the cross. The cross and the empty tomb are events that take place in space and time and thus, they need the backing of arguments based on space and time. That is, they need history. You need to demonstrate historically that Jesus rose from the dead. Even if you could philosophically disprove other systems, it would not historically demonstrate Christianity, which is a historic faith resting on historical events.
Thus, I consider the argument as used for theism, one that is workable, but to say it works only for Christian theism, I deem it a failure in that sense. Let us not make the mistake of thinking what would not want to be thought, that with our reason alone we can reach a saving knowledge of God. We cannot. We need him to reach down to us and we need to use history to understand how he did so.