[A]ll men already know God–long before the apologist engages them in conversation–and cannot avoid having such knowledge… People lack neither information nor evidence… [A]ll men know that God exists… In a crucial sense, all men already are “believers”–even “unbelievers” who will not respond properly by openly professing and living obediently in accordance with the knowledge they have of God. (Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, 179-180, emphasis his, cited below).
One crucial point of presuppositional apologetics is that even the unbelieving atheist really does know God. All people have knowledge of God. None can turn from it, none can escape it: everyone knows God. This knowledge is not saving knowledge. Instead, it is knowledge which is suppressed. The knowledge is ignored or even reviled. The quote above from the famed presuppositionalist Greg Bahnsen is just one example. C.L. Bolt, a popularizer of presuppositional apologetics, says similarly:
It is in the things that have been created that God is clearly perceived. This perception is, again, so clear, that people have no excuse. Not only do all of us believe in God, but we know God. (C.L. Bolt, cited below)
What are we to make of this claim? What is the point from the presuppositionalist perspective? The claim is firmly rooted in Paul’s discussion of God’s wrath against evil in Romans 1-2 (see the text at the end of this post). Therefore, it behooves all Christians to reflect upon the notion that God is known to all people. Presuppositional Apologists have done much reflecting on these subjects, and here we shall reflect upon their insights.
What is meant by ‘knowledge of God’?
It is important to outline what exactly it is that this knowledge is supposed to be. Greg Bahnsen notes in Van Til’s Apologetic that the claim is, in part, that “[all people/unbelievers] ‘have evidence’ that justifies the belief that [God] exists” (182).
Note that there is an important distinction within presuppositional thought about what this knowledge of God means. John Frame makes it clear that there is a sense in which the unbeliever knows God and yet another sense in which the unbeliever does not know God (Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God 49, cited below). According to Frame, the unbeliever knows “enough truths about God to be without excuse and may know many more…”; but “unbelievers lack the obedience and friendship with God that is essential to ‘knowledge’ in the fullest biblical sense–the knowledge of the believer” (ibid, 58). Furthermore, the unbeliever, according to Frame, is in a state wherein he fights the truth: the unbeliever denies, ignores, or psychologically represses the truth, among other ways of acknowledging God as the truth (ibid).
Frame also makes clear the reasons why all people know God in at least the limited sense: “God’s covenental presence is with all His works, and therefore it is inescapable… all things are under God’s control, and all knowledge… is a recognition of divine norms for truth. Therefore, in knowing anything, we know God” (18). Frame elaborates: “[B]ecause God is the supremely present one, He is inescapable. God is not shut out by the world… all reality reveals God” (20).
Therefore, this knowledge should be understood as the blatant, obvious awareness of God found in the created order. It is not saving faith or saving knowledge; instead, it is knowledge which holds people culpable for its rejection. All are accountable before God.
The Implications of the Knowledge of God
The Practical Implications of the Knowledge of God
Of primary importance is the notion that there is no true atheism. Instead, atheism can only be a kind of pragmatic or living atheism: a life lived as though there were no God. All people know that God exists. The eminent Calvinist theologian, William Greenough Thayer Shedd writes, “The only form of atheism in the Bible is practical atheism” (Shedd, Dogmatic Theology Kindle location 5766). This means that people can live as though there were no God, but none can genuinely lack knowledge of God. Atheism is a practical reality, but not a genuine reality. The very basis for a denial of God is grounded on truths which can only be true if God exists. Here is where the distinctiveness of the presuppositional approach to apologetics
Van Til notes, “It is… imperative that the Christian apologist be alert to the fact that the average person to whom he must present the Christian religion for acceptance is a quite different sort of being than he himself thinks he is” (The Defense of the Faith, 92). His meaning is directly applicable to the discussion above. Christian apologists must take into account the fact that the Bible clearly states that those who do not believe in God themselves know God already.
Furthermore, this knowledge of God is of utmost importance. Bahnsen writes, “Our knowledge of God is not just like the rest of our knowledge… The knowledge that all men have of God… provides the framework or foundation for any other knowledge they are able to attain. The knowledge of God is the necessary context for learning anything else” (181). As was hinted at above, without God, there is no knowledge. Even the unbeliever relies upon God for any true beliefs he has. Van Til notes, “our meaning… depends upon God” (63).
Apologetics in Practice
For presuppositionalists, this means that apologetics is reasoning with people who already know and use their knowledge of God to ground whatever knowledge they do have and bringing them to an awareness of their double-standards. They reject God in practice, but accept God in their epistemology. Thus, presuppositional apologists use the transcendental argument: an argument which seeks to show that without God, the things which we take for granted (knowledge, logic, creation, etc.) would not exist.
Can evidentialists use the insights of presuppositionalists here as well? It seems they must; for the Bible does clearly state that everyone knows God. However, the way evidentialists may incorporate this insight is by using an evidential approach to bring the unbeliever into an awareness of the knowledge they are rejecting in practice. Thus, a cosmological argument might be offered in order to bring the unbeliever into an awareness that their assumptions about the universe can only be grounded in a creator.
We have seen that presuppositional apologetists makes use of the knowledge of God attested in all people by Romans 1 in order to draw out a broadly presuppositional approach to apologetics. I have also given some insight into how evidentialists might use this approach in their own apologetic. We have seen that the core of this argument is that all people know God. Therefore, there are no true atheists; only practical atheists. All true knowledge must be grounded on the fact of God. There are none with an excuse to offer before God at judgment. God’s existence is clear. The unebeliever knows God.
I end with the Biblical statement on the state of the knowledge of the unbeliever, as written by Paul in Romans 1:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 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.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools…
Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason”
Unbeliever’s suppression of the truth-A brief overview of the notion that unbelievers are suppressing the truth from a presuppositional perspective.
The Presuppositional Apologetic of Cornelius Van Til– I analyze the apologetic approach of Cornelius Van Til, largely recognized as the founder of the presuppositional school of apologetics.
Choosing Hats– A fantastic resource for learning about presuppostional apologetics.
C.L. Bolt, “An Informal Introduction to Covenant Apologetics: Part 10 – Unbeliever’s knowledge of God.”
Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1998).
John Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1987).
Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (4th edition, Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2008).
Shedd Dogmatic Theology (3rd edition, Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2003).
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Outstanding, J. W.
Thank you for the very kind word! I appreciate it!
Sorry but I don’t know god,you can say how much I am just in denial but I really don’t know ur god and presupptionalism is nothing more than some terrible sounding grammar confusing phonetics with semantics
I find this claim a bit baffling and off base. I’m not sure you are following the reasoning presented here.
Does the Bible support the view that there are only “professed” or “pragmatic” atheists? Perhaps a scriptural argument can be given since one can be given for almost anything. But there is no doubt that scriptural arguments can be given for the opposite thesis as well. For example, in Psalms 14 and 53 one finds:
“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.'”
Here it is seems clear that the Bible is saying that there are atheists but they are fools. It certainly implies that the fool does not just profess atheism since he says there is no God in his heart. The fool really believes it, he is not suppressing anything. This passage was used by Anselm in his notorious Ontological Argument and Anselm’s reading supports my interpretation. Anselm argued that the fool’s denial of God was not conceivable; that is, it was inconsistent, since a Being such that no greater being can be conceived must exist. Anselm was not saying that the fool was not an atheist. Rather he was saying that atheistic belief is inconsistent.
It is extremely hard for me to understand how you do not see a contradiction in your argument. To whit:
Note that this is exactly what I was arguing. Denial of God is inconsistent. Note again the thesis in this post:
I think perhaps you owe the post a more careful reading.
Moreover, the exegesis you have provided is surface level at best. The very reason it says “the fool” says “there is no God” is because it is impossible to do so consistently. Your quote on Anselm backs this up exactly. Unbelief is an inconsistent worldview. As I noted in the comments: it is a parasitic worldview. There is no consistency.
Note how you introduced this Biblical passage: “there is no doubt that scriptural arguments can be given for the opposite thesis as well.’
What is this supposed to be opposite of? The notion that there are only pragmatic atheists. Did you actually look up the passage? Psalm 14 shows that the phrase is centered around moral denial of God. The reason the “fool” says there is no God is because they are corrupt. That sounds like pragmatic atheism to me. But unfortunately, as many are wont to do when they attempt to justify their own readings of a passage, you choose to focus on only one verse in isolation, and then interpret that through whatever lens you desire.
It seems to me your own comments have done an ample job of proving my point. The atheist is inconsistent because it is impossible for their to be no God, and any knowledge depends upon God. Your own interpretation of Anselm backs up this very notion. You explicitly state: “he was saying that atheistic belief is inconsistent.”
Right, exactly. My point is made. I suppose I should be happy we agree.
oh yes and ive almost forgot, the Quran also says that everyone knows Allah, that we all admitted before we were born Allah not Yahweh was the true god and that we who say otherwise are all in denial…..
Fascinating. Again, this comment pretty much betrays that you don’t really understand presuppositionalism, despite your blithe dismissal of the same.
J.W writed that It is extremely hard for me to understand how you do not see a contradiction in your argument.
This coming from someone who professes disbelief in disbelief.
I can only note once again that every comment you leave is disingenuous. I can’t help but think that this is perhaps intentional. I would not state that I do not believe in “disbelief.” Instead, I would say that I do not believe in genuine or consistent unbelief.
It is very unfortunate that you persist in painting anyone who disagrees with you in the worst possible light and refuse to accurately present their positions.
A typical theist argument (abridged from Matt Slick) goes as follows:
Logical absolutes are transcendent; they are not dependent on time or space
Logical absolutes are conceptual; they have no physical properties.
Concepts are the product of a mind.
Logical absolutes can’t be the product of human minds, which are variable and limited.
Therefore, logical absolutes are the product of God’s mind.
Objections: You may not have noticed, but this argument is no more than a giant play on words. TAG conflates the fact that logical absolutes exist with our ability to recognize that they exist. It’s a bit like confusing the word “cat” with the animal “cat.” The word “cat” may not exist without a mind, but the animal “cat” certainly can. By the same token, the application of logic may require a mind, but logical absolutes are independent of any mind. A cat is still a cat when no one is around.
The same can be said for any abstract idea. Jupiter was still larger than Neptune before anyone understood the concept of size comparison.
There’s no need for an external mind to bring those concepts into being.
Could you please explain what this has to do with the content of the post here? I did not make this argument. Moreover, the argument, as you have outlined it, is obviously fallacious. Perhaps some do make such an argument, but it is a fairly blatant non sequitor. I’m hesitant to say no theist makes such an argument, as there are plenty of people who make terrible arguments on both sides of the fence, but I would be very surprised to see anyone formulate TAG in that fashion.
watch this video all u guys it might be helpful http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hE0TqJNqJEM&list=UUjbUP_iGfwZol96N1dTLVbQ&index=2
I do not usually allow comments with just a video to be posted, but your comment afterwards is helpful. Just as an aside: I vastly prefer comments which make their own argument and rarely watch videos people post. I did watch a bit of this one and I think it is just as confused as many of the comments being left here.
i believe its supposed to show how much flaws there are in the TAG argument presupptionalsim seems to be a one trick pony, and matt slick from CARM made that statement perhaps he changed now, but i am not sure
wat do u mean JW wartick?
I mean that he gets held up on the term “know” and then misinterprets it in multiple ways, among other things.
It is you, J.W. who is confused about using the term ‘know’ to describe the object of your belief – god – and it is you who then attribute without any evidence that atheists share this belief in this nebulous object you purport is real. It’s not, or you would use reality to justify its existence rather than your faith-based beliefs to identify it.
I argue that atheists ‘know’ no such belief as yours (taken as it is on faith from scripture you claim is true and revelatory to identify this real object you call god) because what you presume to ‘know’ is without any merit external to your faith-based position. This means your god is a puppet term, meaning that it represents only what you want it to represent, no more and no less, different in many yet significantly important ways from what other theists presume is what they determine they ‘know’ about their faith-based belief in this supposed object. By pretending there really is an external object that is equivalently ‘knowable’ to all, you take a shortcut atheists are not willing to take, and you justify it with faith that atheists are unwilling to accept. That is why atheists do not ‘know’ anything about this object you claim to know something about: because your ‘knowledge’ – just like the equivalent knowledge pronounced by those who believe in other gods with believed-in natures and commandments and various aspects contrary to what you believe is true and real – is entirely dependent on your faith. I know I do not share this supposed knowledge, so I know the presuppositional argument is wrong in fact.
Alright, I am done responding after this comment. Readers, feel free to read my post because this comment clearly shows that there is absolutely no attempt to interact with it or even understand it.
Tildeb, you refuse to even attempt to interact with the powerful counter-arguments given to your post. Your attempt to ground knowledge in observation utterly failed, and then you continue to return to this notion that God is made up. All you have done is continue to assert this without so much as a single argument.
Your comment here is little more than psycho-analysis. You continue to claim you’ve made an argument, yet here is what you actually write, quoted word-for-word:
Simply reading this quote is enough to expose the rather absurd nature of calling this an argument. I’ll take little time to analyze this. You say “I argue,” implying that what follows is an actual argument. Let’s look at it in detail. “Atheists ‘know’ no such belief as yours.” I take this as the conclusion, given that it is followed by the word “because.” So let us look at how you support this claim. “What you presume to ‘know’ is without any merit external to your faith-based position.”
Tildeb, this is ridiculous. I use this word strongly because it really is. If your comments continue to be this inane, I will not tolerate them. The reason I use such strong language is because your argument is either an intentional abuse of logic or a badly filtered insult. Let’s just be honest about it. I do not honestly think you are even trying to interact with me, and I refuse to waste time on people who are not even attempting an interaction.
Yes, I know this language is strong. But that is because I really don’t think you are being honest in presenting this as an argument. Let’s look at it just once more to see what your argument is:
“What you presume to ‘know’ is without any merit external to your faith-based position.”
Somehow, this is supposed to provide evidence for the conclusion that my argument is mistaken. Think about what you have written there. Your argument is this: “your belief is without merit.” Great.
Let me make an equally [in]valid argument: “Your argument is without merit.”
This is absurd. Worse, it is clearly not generous. Worse still, I think you know all of this.
I admit that I am fired up as I write this comment, because it has become clear to me you are just on here to waste time. I will not waste my time on you any more unless you choose to interact honestly rather than saying “you’re wrong.” Until then, good day.
You are understandably annoyed at me because I’m pointing out the obvious: knowledge requires something more than belief. This ‘something more’ is what is missing in the presuppositional argument. I explain why this is missing and why this defeats the claim that we know – believer and non believer – about god. In order to argue successfully that atheists and believers know the same ‘thing’, you – not I – have to show that the ‘thing’ is knowable independent of only your belief! I have pointed out that what you offer – what you claim to be knowledge through revelation and scripture – is ENTIRELY dependent on your beliefs that it is true. Reality does not offer us independent confirmation.
Because I do not believe as you do, scripture is simply more claims and the revelations you say you have had are just that many more. That’s the sum total of what you describe as ‘knowledge’. It’s not knowledge, J.W.; it’s belief and its truth value is adjudicated by you alone. The two – knowledge and belief – are not synonymous terms, as much as you would like them to be. Until you can show your beliefs to be knowable beyond their dependency on being believed in, then the claim you make that these beliefs are equally knowable by believer and non believer alike disintegrates into just another empty claim. I’m sorry this bothers you, but confirmation independent of your beliefs is a very handy way – essential, really – of being able to differentiate claims that may be delusion from claims that may be adjudicated by reality. Knowledge about all objects in reality falls only into the later category.
I know I have no knowledge about your god or anyone else’s because I have nothing to work with independently confirmed from and by reality. You ignore this fact that as an honest atheist, I know only what you – not independently confirmed from and by reality – tell me about your beliefs. And you label this admission I make as if it were a bad thing, entirely my fault to be dense, to be difficult, to be a pain. It’s none of these. I admit freely that I know nothing about your god independent of what you tell me is true about it. Your telling me about your beliefs does not alter these claims you make into any kind of independent confirmation I can use, into being something knowable about reality independent of you and me, into a discrete object that has properties, into something about which we can both know. This is what is missing. And its absence renders the presuppositional claim about shared knowledge to be another claim that cannot be independently confirmed. The difference between us is that I recognize this absence to be important. You just find it annoying that I point it out and assume it doesn’t matter. If you want to avoid confusing delusion with reality, then it should matter a very great deal.
It is important to outline what exactly it is that this knowledge (about god) is supposed to be.
Ah, yes. Here comes the wiggle room.
J.W., neither you nor anyone else knows anything whatsoever about this hypothetical object you conveniently call god. You can’t even describe this object, its location, its physical properties, its material effects, its mechanisms of operation for causation, its comprehensible characteristics that exist independent of your belief. Everything you claim about this god depends entirely and wholly and completely on your belief alone. Yet this failure to establish what ‘it’ is that you’re talking about independent of your belief, this thing you call god that has attributes that you claim others (and yourself, of course) know something about, doesn’t even raise an eyebrow for the believer. You just carry on as if the term ‘god’ means anything knowable independent of what your belief infuses into the concept!
Quoting others who make exactly the same mistake as you do – as if their authority magically overcome this little problem that shreds the very heart of the argument you’re trying to support – doesn’t aid you. The fact remains that you – just like these ‘authorities’ have no clue what ‘it’ is you claim to know something about. All you have – just like these ‘authorities’ – is the claim. And just because you believe the claim is true doesn’t make it so. But this is a problem few believers ever truly appreciate… dedicated as you are to believing your belief is true, then claiming such mind-dependent belief is a virtue rather than an error, and then cherry picking whatever bits of flotsam and jetsam appears to support your belief while conveniently ignoring the glaring problem of having nothing you can demonstrate to believe in.
Claiming that non believers ‘know’ the same mind dependent imaginings you believe to be true because you believe it to be true is simply absurd. Non believers believe no such nonsense that you are willing to believe and for much better reasons that are actually knowable if you bothered to understand why believing in belief is a guaranteed method to mistake delusion for reality… with no means to differentiate between them. And that’s why you actually believe that non believers ‘know’ what you ‘know’ about this undefinable notion you call god as if it were a proper noun.
Oh right… of course you moderate. How disappointing.
I’m not sure what is disappointing about looking at every comment. I prefer to filter out bad language and spam.
Goodness… there are so many problems with this comment. I’ll start in the middle:
A simple reading of this post should make it obvious that what I’m doing here is expositing. I am not quoting authorities to support my claims. Instead, I am quoting people in order to show what their argument is. I have difficulty believing you missed this point, but what you have written here makes that apparent.
That’s quite the bald assertion. It is convenient that not a single argument was offered in favor of this specious claim.
Again, this shows a lack of interaction with the content of the post. The claim is at an epistemological level; not necessarily a level of self-awareness. The claim is that in order to have knowledge, there must be a grounds for such knowledge, which is God. Granting that theism is true, this is abundantly obvious. Thus, if theism is true, then all knowledge is ultimately grounded upon God.
I want to make this abundantly clear, because the point was missed so entirely that I apparently need to make it more explicit: This is an argument about presuppositions. So to just hand wave about alleged difficulties about language of God is ridiculous. Moreover, your restatement of my argument is frankly, insulting. You’ve made it clear that no effort was made to even understand the argument here. If you choose to respond, please at least make an effort to understand what the argument is saying.
I am showing why presuppositional apologetics is based on nothing but pure supposition unrelated in any way to the reality we share because there is nothing we can find in reality to describe what this supposition represents. If there were, then the object of this supposition itself – god – could be examined by all, and all could ‘know’ something about it as you claim. But because the notion of god is entirely mind-dependent (and different in your mind than ‘it’ is in the next believers mind,( which can prove to yourself by describing it and seeing if that is what other believers describe!), then the mind of the non believer obviously cannot share any equivalent ‘knowledge’ of it.
The bald “specious” claim you accuse me of making is that I recognize that believers have nothing but supposition to present about all the various notions they call god and its attributes. Calling this observation “specious” does not make it so. But what is “specious” are arguments about claims to ‘know’ what does not exist independent of the mind that believes it does, notions that are identical to pure suppositions unrelated to reality. If you or any other believer had good evidence for god in reality rather than in your mind alone, you’d triumphantly present it! But you can’t do this because you have nothing to present except what exists wholly and solely is in your mind!
This is a problem for you – not me – if you are trying to claim that everyone knows about the same thing. Apologetcs of any kind fails to address this very epistemic problem. That’s why this is a broken epistemology, one that allows its methodology to be valid regardless, one that grants a premise to be the conclusion with no means in reality to test for validity. What is it in reality that you say you know that I know about god? You’ve got nothing adduced from reality to answer this central question. And without answering this question from reality, you’re left only with mind-dependent supposition. Apologetics relies on a methodology that cannot distinguish supposition from knowledge, premise from conclusion, delusion from reality. And such a method – such an epistemic failure – guarantees that your ontology – like claiming that athists and theists know about god is specious.
I’m not sure you are very versed with presuppositional apologetics. For example, you write:
Really? This is merely an assumption. Presuppositionalists–and, dare I say, pretty much all Christian theists–do not think that God is entirely mind dependent. Instead, we have a direct, special revelation of knowledge about God found in the Bible. Your comments in this paragraph are unfounded, and perhaps ignorant.
Your second paragraph is a repetition of the error in the first. Moreover you still have not offered a single argument.
Your third paragraph shows that you still do not understand the post. For example, you write:
Read the post please before trying to critique it. You have not bothered to even attempt to interact with the subtleties of the argument and the explicit distinctions I made herein.
I hope that going forward you will A) Actually attempt to make an argument to support your claims; B) Note that you have not actually interacted with Christian theism [see my comments about the Bible, which is an item you apparently don’t acknowledge to exist]; and C) interact with my argument instead of making it up as you go.
J.W, you write that we have a direct, special revelation of knowledge about God found in the Bible, which is the very claim that defines what is suppositional! You’re trying to have it both ways, meaning that you assume your premise is the conclusion, that the supposition is actually knowledge.
Not so fast.
My point is that this assertion you make on behalf of believers (the ‘we’ you mention who have had this supposed ‘revelation’) cannot possibly be construed as ‘knowledge’ (meaning justified true belief based on adjudication from reality for its veracity without begging the question), so to suggest that atheists can, in any way, have the same equivalent knowledge puts the cart you are asserting about atheists before the horse of revealed knowledge you claim is available to all.
That’s why it’s ludicrous to suggest that all people have equivalent knowledge of what you define as god. We don’t, because your belief is not from what you find in reality but, as you freely admit, derived wholly from what is revealed to you in your mind. Atheists (fortunately, I think) do not come equipped with your mind but their own. Because the mind is the sole source for such ‘revelations’ (which is why you can’t point to anything in reality and say, “There is god”, you have ONLY your confidence from your mind that what you believe is true is actually true. That’s why I say your belief is mind dependent, because that’s how reality adjudicates your belief.
Okay, there are again a number of points to take issue with here. First, your argument was based upon the notion that all people do is independently (note that you said: ” the notion of god is entirely mind-dependent”) come up with a notion of God. This is false. You need to support your statement, but you refuse to.
Next, you continue to completely misunderstand the argument, as revealed in your second to last paragraph. You are badly misconstruing the argument I have put forth. Please re-read it and either offer a comment about the actual argument, or don’t. I don’t see any reason to interact with the argument you are making.
Finally, you wrote: “it’s ludicrous to suggest that all people have equivalent knowledge.” Ugh. I do not claim that. But you insist I am. Alas, I guess people will have to trust me to say what my argument is. It is not that all people have equivalent knowledge of God. It is instead the claim that on some level all knowledge is parasitic upon God and in that sense there is knowledge of God. More concretely, the argument is that the existence of God is plain in the things which have been made. It may be denied, but it is there nonetheless. Your arguments remain off base. Please, if you choose to continue to interact, actually interact with my argument.
I’m going to start a new thread here because I also want to respond to Chris’ accusation.
J.W., you want me to address your argument (I was addressing the assertion from the post that all men – including atheists – already know god, which is an abuse of the language because a) there is no consensus on any coherent definition of the term ‘god’ that we are supposed to know about, and b) we cannot ‘know’ anything about an object that has no evidence independent of the mind conceiving it through personal revelation), so I’ll take this shortcut and reiterate what you have written in your comment, namely, that the argument is that the existence of God is plain in the things which have been made.
To get around the criticism that this ‘god’ is entirely mind-dependent, you are attempting to adduce your notion of this hypothetical object you call ‘god’ by it’s hypothetical effects, and presume to suggest that we can therefore ‘know’ of this object because of all the things made by it.
Okay. To do this successfully requires you to provide evidence independent of your mind that connects something we can know was made by this – and not any other – object. This is hardly a supposition that stands on its own merit. And this is where my response addresses Chris’ assertion that we have a ‘natural’ knowledge of what he conveniently calls the ‘creator’ (which implies a creation attributable to god). But the problem here is that there is no evidence external to the mind that demonstrates this. The closest we can come is what we call a pseudo-answer… one that will make the claim and then insist that faith maintains it rather than reality. All too often it is this form of creationism that contains no means to allow reality to adjudicate it. When reality is allowed to adjudicate these claims, lo and behold we find all specific effects can also be demonstrated to be attributed to other ‘natural’ processes… and usually with compelling evidence that defines the better ones from the poorer ones. But before we assume any equivalency in such claims, we have to look at a specific claim that supposedly links a specific effect to a specific cause. This also must include an explanation that shows how the two are linked, a means by which we can ‘know’ how the effect relates to the cause. This means we need a mechanism that exists independent of the mind that asserts that the rain is caused by dance. Without this key piece, then anything can be interpreted to be the cause by anything, and this serves no one any purpose if they seek knowledge, meaning justified true belief.
I am unaware of any such claim that can withstand the rigor of honest adjudication by reality rather than the interpretation of a creation-ist (and I hyphenate that word intentionally to show it to be a necessary component required to interpret evidence in order to produce the creationist account. This is what we call a pseudo-answer… and explanation that is dependent on the mind that accepts it but does not translate into knowledge that works for everyone everywhere all the time.
So, again, the claim that all men know about god is not supported either by a) demonstrating how this knowledge is independently achieved from the mind that accepts some ‘revelation’ that it is so, or b) demonstrating how this ‘knowledge’ is justified to be anything more than an accepted faith-based belief. Atheists, who by definition do not believe in gods or a god, have no means available to them from reality to show that they possess equivalent knowledge.
Now Chris would have us think that this means atheists reject any possibility of gods or a god. This is red herring and easily shown to be as false an accusation for atheists as it is for theists: Chris does not refute Muk Muk of the volcano because he refuses to accept the possibility of this god’s existence. Like all of us for all gods and other claims bereft of compelling evidence from reality, he has no good reason to think it does exist. There is no intentional suppression by Chris to refute belief in Muk Muk any more than there is an intentional suppression by atheists to deny the god he does believe in.
This was a great response, JW. Clear, concise, and revealing of tildeb’s modus operandi.
Anyway, I like how you examined the phrase “knowledge of God”. If I might add: I think there is a sense in rational human minds that there is “some Being” far superior to us who is somehow, someway involved in the Universe. That comes after a week of face-to-face interactions with a hard-core atheist and a hard-core agnostic, both friends and co-workers of mine. The agnostic was vehement in her view, saying (paraphrased) “I believe there’s something ‘out there’. But I don’t think we don’t know what it is, so we should just stop there.” The atheist agreed, saying he thinks there’s something “bigger than us”, but he doesn’t see any evidence for a god. Incidentally, I posed the question to the agnostic that her position seemed to be internally inconsistent. That is, if we can’t know anything about something, how can one know enough to say that you can’t know anything about it? To the atheist friend, I simply repeated the question I often ask him and I pose to tildeb and any atheist who might be reading this: “What would count as evidence of God’s existence?”
One last thing: I think Frank Turek gives us an interesting bit to consider (something which has come more and more to the forefront of my attention in my interactions with people): We can’t overlook the behavior and lifestyle of people when it comes to this question. He does this by asking them, “If Christianity were true, would you be a Christian?” If the answer is “no”, he points out that it’s not a problem of evidence or logic then. It may be that people gather for themselves information and theories to sustain their atheism or agnosticism, which, in the end, enables them to suppress or disregard the evidence that they do know exists.
Certainly everyone knows something or other, but is that God? It might just be the wind in the trees.
The believer might say, “What magnificent trees! Only God could do that.” But evolution theory destroys this point.
The believer might say, “You can’t see or know anything without your God-given mind and soul.” But again, we have modern neurology and theory of mind. It’s not as well established as evolution, but scientific progress is inexorable.
The believer says, “The very basis for a denial of God is grounded on truths which can only be true if God exists.” You’re assuming what you’re trying to prove. What is that great thing that exists out there? You call it God, but why should we accept your story? It could be anything.
I think that you’ve missed the point of this argument. I’m also not sure what you mean by several of your statements. For example, you wrote ” It might just be the wind in the trees.” I’m not exactly sure what this is supposed to mean.
Another example is your commentary on my statement about truths about God. You write, “You’re assuming what you’re trying to prove. What is that great thing that exists out there? You call it God, but why should we accept your story? It could be anything.”
Well yes, that is exactly the point of the argument. The argument is from a presuppositional standpoint. That is, if we presuppose that God exists, then what should we expect with the universe. I think that one thing we should expect is that every truth is ultimately grounded in God.
I too am an avid Van Tillian proponent. We have our work cut out for us but we also have a culture returning to more of an Acts 17 general content. Jesus all the while becomes yet more transfixing.
I did a series of posts about this recently in which I called the knowledge ‘innate’ based off the ‘sensus deitatis’ that Calvin discussed and I think Van Til certainly subscribed to. I think your pragmatic atheism makes sense in this but it’s helpful to still understand that the atheist has truly convinced himself that there is no God. They have so suppressed, or held down, the natural knowledge of the Creator that they have convinced themselves that it’s normal, but in reality it is against the natural order. I also think that this makes the most sense as Paul goes on in the passage to demonstrate that they have basically been given over to what is clearly the unnatural thing to do, like the worship of creation instead of Creator and homosexuality.
This talk of ‘knowledge’ about god reminds me of Jean Baptiste Lamarck’s keen insight:
All knowledge that is not the real product of observation, or of consequences deduced from observation, is entirely groundless and illusory.
Any suppositions based on groundless and illusory claims are equivalently empty of knowledge… but filled to the brim with assertion. This describes faith-based beliefs accurately (and not just of religious kind but amply shown in such areas as alternative an complimentary medicine, superstitious beliefs, anti-vaccination supporters, conspiracy junkies, and so on). Asserting that atheists first have knowledge of god that they then later reject asserts – without demonstrable justification – the existence of this agency to begin with… an assertion that is neither the real product of observation nor a consequence deduced from observation but based on accepting a faith-based beginning supposition. This assertion about atheist’s knowledge of god and rejection of it is exactly backwards; it is the theist who first believes and then seeks justification. Unsurprisingly, this is the only way justification is found; we call it confirmation bias. And theism is riddled with it.
The object of agency in this case is an a priori faith-based belief unavailable to those who first require good reasons adjudicated by reality to justify their beliefs. These folk are called skeptics. Because of this approach by skeptics (called atheists by theists) regarding the gaining of knowledge about reality, there is no a priori rejection involved when it comes to faith-based claims; there is simply no confirmation adjudicated by reality to support any compelling reasons to believe the claim in this agency is justifiably true. And all of us – theists and non theists – rely on exactly this method in all other areas of life that requires knowledge.
The special exemption from allowing reality to adjudicate our beliefs about it comes strictly from the faith-based belief camp alone, and only in regards to these faith-based beliefs. No one turns to revelation if that person wants to find missing keys, for example; looking for them is the normative approach. It is the faith-based believer who switches to this ‘special’ epistemology that demonstrably doesn’t work to produce knowledge in any other circumstance (chanting in an incense-laden room lit by candles and seeking divine intervention on behalf of gaining knowledge about the location of those keys has yet to be shown to be a productive way of achieving the goal). It is the skeptic who remains consistent in allowing reality to adjudicate all knowledge claims about it – including extraordinary claims about gods or a god. It is the faith-based believer who intentionally rejects this trustworthy method that produces real and applicable knowledge when it comes to applying it to his or her faith-based beliefs.
The reasonable person might assume that this should be a clue about the knowledge value either asserted or accrued from faith-based beliefs…
tildeb, your responses make me think of you as a somewhat more disingenuous, online, modern-day Celsus… only one less informed of the claims he objects. These elementary arguments — that faith is groundless and illusory; that completely unbiased skeptics exist — have been dealt with by many over the centuries. For example, your desire to promote your atheistic “skepticism” (I don’t think your a skeptic; a skeptic has to ask questions [which you don’t] and be prepared to change in accord with the answers) as superior made me think of the claims of a Greek philisopher from about 1800 years ago named Celsus, recorded for posterity’s benefit by Origen:
“And [Celsus] asserts that certain persons who do not wish either to give or receive a reason for their belief, keep repeating, ‘Do not examine, but believe!’ and, ‘Your faith will save you!’ And he alleges that such also say, ‘The wisdom of this life is bad, but that foolishness is a good thing!'” (Origen Contra Celsus, 1.9)
You, like the arrogant Celsus before, claim to be well acquainted with the things to which you object. But unlike Celsus, you don’t make distinctions between the faiths (plural) that you reject. As I’ve pointed out to you before in our previous interactions on my blog, you lump every faith and religious claim into the same bag. I think this deliberate inability to distinguish religious claims showcases how disingenuous you are. Again, this reminds me of Origen’s interaction with an arrogant Celsus broadcasting his ignorance by claiming to know well all the claims he objects to, saying:
“In the next place, when Celsus says in express words, ‘If they would answer me, not as if I were asking for information, for I am acquainted with all their opinions, but because I take an equal interest in them all, it would be well. And if they will not, but will keep reiterating, as they generally do, ‘Do not investigate,’ etc., they must, he continues, explain to me at least of what nature these things are of which they speak, and whence they are derived,’ etc. Now, with regard to his statement that he ‘is acquainted with all our doctrines,’ we have to say that this is a boastful and daring assertion; for if he had read the prophets in particular, which are full of acknowledged difficulties, and of declarations that are obscure to the multitude, and if he had perused the parables of the Gospels, and the other writings of the law and of the Jewish history, and the utterances of the apostles, and had read them candidly, with a desire to enter into their meaning, he would not have expressed himself with such boldness, nor said that he ‘was acquainted with all their doctrines.’ Even we ourselves, who have devoted much study to these writings, would not say that ‘we were acquainted with everything,’ for we have a regard for truth. Not one of us will assert, ‘I know all the doctrines of Epicurus,’ or will be confident that he knows all those of Plato, in the knowledge of the fact that so many differences of opinion exist among the expositors of these systems. For who is so daring as to say that he knows all the opinions of the Stoics or of the Peripatetics? Unless, indeed, it should be the case that he has heard this boast, ‘I know them all,’ from some ignorant and senseless individuals, who do not perceive their own ignorance, and should thus imagine, from having had such persons as his teachers, that he was acquainted with them all.” (Origen Contra Celsus, 1.11)
In summary, tildeb, you haven’t shown any hint of genuine skepticism. Your comments indicate that you consider yourself well acquainted with all forms of theism and religious claims. Sadly, the content of your messages shows little to no skepticism (you don’t ask any questions, aside from rhetorical ones) and a great deficiency in knowledge of religion in general and Christianity in particular. Furthermore, I couldn’t help but think that only a person so completely unfamiliar or intentionally self-deception (I don’t know which) would be so bold as to say — to a Christian apologist no less! — that their claims about God are not based on observation or evidence, when the central claim of Christianity — that the Son of God, Jesus, came, died, and was resurrected 2,000 years ago — is an appeal to history and actual historical events.
Alright, your comments seem to essentially illustrate the exact point I am trying to make here. For example, you write “Any suppositions based on groundless and illusory claims are equivalently empty of knowledge… but filled to the brim with assertion.”
Exactly. That is the point of this post. Atheism is entirely a groundless and illusory claim. The only way for the atheist to get any sort of knowledge is to parasitically siphon it from theistic premises, whether consciously or not. That is the point of this post, and it has yet to be addressed. All you have done is assume that Christian theism is false. Great! I am unconvinced by the lack of argument. Each one of your comments is a series of baseless assertions, which you have yet to even attempt to support. You claim that god is entirely mind-dependent, but fail to even attempt a defense of this assertion. The burden of proof is upon you, for you have made the argument. You say “the notion of god is entirely mind-dependent” and then expect me to defend against this baseless accusation. Why should I? I still see no argument whatsoever.
I can only conclude that your point, as I have said already, illustrates exactly my argument. You claim to have knowledge, but refuse to even attempt to back it up.
Let’s revisit what atheism means: non belief in gods or a god. Non belief. Now let’s look at your statement Atheism is entirely a groundless and illusory claim. Now let;’s substitute the meaning and see what we have: Non belief in gods or a god is entirely a groundless and illusory claim.
To recapitulate: you are stating that non belief is a claim.
Let’s expand this to your own non belief in a few examples and restate your argument: your non belief in invisible pink elephants is a groundless and illusory claim, your non belief in garden pixies is a groundless and illusory claim, your non belief in Muk Muk of the Volcano is a groundless and illusory claim.
Do you see the problem here?
You are trying to argue that non belief is the claim in need of defense, in need of evidence from reality. But this is impossible: you cannot adduce evidence from non belief, which is a negative response to a positive claim. You do not believe in invisible pink elephants because you have no grounds, no evidence adduced from reality to do so. You cannot produce grounds for the negative claim; you can (and must, if you want to be taken seriously) only produce grounds for the positive claim. Any positive claims lacking these grounds can be accurately described as groundless, meaning there is no positive evidence to support the positive claim made in its name. The burden of proof rest squarely on those who make positive claims, who make claims based on grounds available for common examination.
When you state that god is this and god is thus, then you – not I – are making a positive claim. Retreating behind the faith wall does not overcome or compensate for the lack of positive evidence to support it. Non belief in the face of faith claims rather than reality’s evidence is fully justified. Switching the burden of proof to those who will not agree to believe by matters of faith when evidence from reality is lacking adds not one titch or tad of grounds to the positive claim based on faith. When you go even further with this error of assigning the burden of proof and make the positive claim that people who have no grounds to hold a faith-based belief actually share the faith-based belief but then reject it for some other reasons, then you have compounded your errors. You have not accepted the reality of invisible pink elephants first only to reject it later, any more than atheists have accepted the reality of your god first only to reject it later for other reasons.
Non belief – atheism – is not a positive claim. It’s not a supposition. It is the same default position theists maintain for all positive claims they find groundless and illusory. Any claims that suggest knowledge can be extracted from such belief requires evidence. And this nails the theistic coffin shut in its inability (meaning faith-based belief’s ability) to produce one jot or tittle of demonstrable and/or applicable knowledge. That’s not my doing; that’s the reality of the scope and breadth and depth of knowledge produced by faith-based belief: nothing.
The supposition that atheists have knowledge about your god is wrong.
Lamarck was clearly not so keen. To write that “All knowledge that is not the real product of observation, or of consequences deduced from observation, is entirely groundless and illusory.”
Really? Did he deduce, from observation, that ‘all knowledge’ not from observation is entirely illusory? How absurd. You go on, supposing to agree with him, writing “Any suppositions based on groundless and illusory claims are equivalently empty of knowledge…”
But how do you know this? From observation? Your very denunciation of ‘groundless and illusory claims’ is, in and of itself, a groundless and illusory claim. You continue “but filled to the brim with assertion.” which, itself, is nothing more than assertion. Indeed, your entire post is nothing more than groundless and illusory assertions.
Well, Chris, I didn’t write the post. You’ll have to take that up with J.W. But I did write the comments that I know you’re referring to.
Go back and reread Lamark’s quote. Now compare and contrast it with your comprehension of it. Notice the difference? “Real product” is the key.
A real product of knowledge can be applied. A real product of knowledge is consistent for everybody everywhere all the time. It can be tested. It can also be adduced but undergo the same rigorous and honest method arbitrated by reality to determine whether or not it is a real product that works. Faith-based belief is not by any stretch of the imagination an equivalent a product of knowledge.
That’s why it has its own category!
Faith-based belief is exempt from this requirement of what is a ‘real’ product and allowed to skip the requirement to produce that which can be applied. That’s why it’s called faith. You make the typical mistake to conflate faith with knowledge if you agree with J.W. but drop – by special pleading because it’s faith – any requirement to demonstrate real knowledge.
This is why theists try to sell us on the notion that faith-based belief produces knowledge of a different kind without showing us how this different kind of knowledge produces anything knowable. That’s why it’s a shell game! A faith claim, in the mind of a theist who agrees with it, becomes a statement of knowledge by fiat! That’s why the epistemology is broken.
Faith-based belief produces zero equivalent knowledge because it no knowledge. It informs no ‘different kind’ of technology, no ‘different kind’ of application, no ‘different kind’ of therapy that works for everyone everywhere all the time. Apparently, faith-based belief produces only the kind of knowledge that is, by fair comparison, unknowable… stuff about a god that supposedly exists outside of space-time but intervenes in it, with a nature and purpose and preference and intention and motive that is supposedly so knowable by revelation and testimony that even the christian version is divided into more than 30,000 sects. This shows beyond reasonable doubt that what this ‘different kind’ of knowledge has produced is not applicable to everyone everywhere all the time but fractures people into sectarian camps relative to the faith accepted to be true (determined largely by the geography of where one is born, let us remember) in direct conflict with each other.
What you believe about Jesus, for example, might grace your way into a christian’s heaven but will damn you to a muslim’s hell. Both ‘different kinds’ of antithetical knowledge produced by the exercise of faith through revelation (funny how the revelation is almost always the local geographical version, n’est pas?) and scripture produce incompatible products. This really should be a pretty strong clue to even the most devout about the quality of ‘knowledge’ – equivalent to nothing we should even call knowledge – produced by faith-based belief. And that’s why Lamarck’s quote is quite appropriate when the claim being made is that atheists hold but then later reject ‘knowledge’ of god;.there ain’t no such wee beastie as knowledge of the unknowable.
I was writing in response to you, Tildeb. Your ramble doesn’t make any sense. You don’t seem to understand that you are utilizing the very thing you are denouncing. You write “A real product of knowledge can be applied.”
But how do you know this from observation?
“A real product of knowledge is consistent for everybody”
But how do you know this from observation? Have you observed everybody? If not, how are you deducing the consequences from observation? And if so, how do you know that the very knowledge obtained via observation is correct?
Are you now omnipresent? How do you know this from observation?
“all the time.”
Are you now eternal? How do you know this from observation?
“It can be tested.”
But how do you know this from observation? Even if you can explain how you know anything from observation, how do you know your observation can be trusted to be correct? How can your worldview account for the reliability of your observation?
Chris, the root word for knowledge is not certainty; it is ‘to recognize’. We recognize what works consistently and reliably well and call this repeatable observation ‘knowledge’. We test this all the time but do so by seeing not what we believe to be the case but by willingly to allow reality to adjudicate what we hypothesize is a causal effect. That’s why explanatory knowledge is always tentative but trusted all the same. The knowledge of aerodynamics, for example, is tested every time you get on a plane and it is verified when the plane takes off and becomes stable even while airborne. By this observable, practically adjudicated by reality, we find that the explanation seems to work all the time for everybody everywhere who can reasonably apply the same explanation given the same physical situation and achieve equivalent results.
Now, of course you can argue philosophically that we have no means to know (in the absolute sense of certainty) that we weren’t created moments ago as part of an earthworm’s dream, But you don’t live that way and you don’t export your trust in the world that way; you raise this pedantic response only as a desperate defense to rationalize why you can dismiss legitimate criticisms about empowering faith to be falsely equivalent to knowledge… knowledge in the narrower and common parlance sense, in the sense of recognizing what explanations work consistently and reliably well for everyone everywhere all the time and calling them ‘knowledge’.
I sincerely doubt you do anything other than find your keys the same way I do; by looking (or asking someone if they have seen the keys). You do not divine their location with burnt offerings nor pray for revelation from the spirit world you ‘know’ all about but later rejected out of some sense of spite. The argument is absurd. You have no trouble recognizing reality’s arbitration of where your keys actually are but it is you who make a special exemption away from this methodology that you ‘know’ works reliably and consistently well for you and everyone you know everywhere you and they may be, whether yesterday or today or, you can safely predict, tomorrow. Arguing that this presumption makes no sense is belied by you right here, right now. It is simply an argument out of convenience that even you do not believe nor utilize…. except when it comes to pretending your willingness to believe without allowing reality to play an arbitrating role is somehow able to produce knowledge when the only place you apply it is regarding beliefs that cannot be equivalently known.
That is another important clue…
LOL. I guess with your worldview you can just redefine things to fit whatever purpose you need, right? Since you don’t really know anything then I can just dismiss everything else you say and there’s no reason to even have this discussion. The definition I’m using is from the Greek episteme which does not mean ‘to recognize.’
You could, but I don’t and am not, although you seem to be.
You know my intent? How do you know this from observation?
No, I don’t. I’m asking how you can know anything by observation and how your worldview accounts for the reliability of observation. This isn’t simply pedantic – it’s at the very root of everything. Our methodologies about practical matters like finding keys will likely be the same but is irrelevant to the fact that you operate based on irrational presuppositions. That is, unless you can defend your claim that all knowledge must come from observation, but it doesn’t even appear that you’ve attempted to do so.
Wartick: I had the displeasure of reading all these replies. It is rare that I see so many cases of missing the point (or better yet proving your point while trying to argue against it). Good job being patient with this bunch, I am not sure why they keep either being irrelevant or agreeing with you, while at the same time not realising it. Liked the article.