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Book Review: “Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma: How Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga Provide a Unified Response” by Kevin Diller

ted-dillerKevin Diller’s Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma: How Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga Provide a Unified Response is a work that seeks to offer a unified approach from Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga to a major difficulty in Christian doctrine: reconciling the necessity of having theological knowledge with the notion that our cognitive capacities are somehow faulty due to sin. But the book is much more than that, for throughout the book Diller gives major, applicable insight into the thought of both Plantinga and Barth.

Diller first goes deeper into the epistemological problem, then analyzes Barth’s view of revelation and his theological epistemology, and wraps up the first part of the book with a deep look at Plantinga’s concept of warrant and how it may impact the question of theological epistemology. He puts forward a consistent interpretation that allows for a unified perspective of Barth’s and Plantinga’s thought. The second part focuses on this unified perspective and puts it forward in analysis of natural theology, human knowledge of God, and Scripture.

Such a brief summary of contents does not do justice to the broad scale of the book, which touches upon many different topics of importance, while always remaining centered on the question of knowledge in theology. Diller has thoughtfully brought forth key aspects of the thoughts of both Barth and Plantinga in such a way as to demand reflection from both philosophers and theologians.

Some of the most interesting insights come from Diller’s integration of Barth’s concept of revelation with Plantinga’s concept of warrant. By focusing on God as self-revealing and self-attesting (Barth), believers are able to maintain warrant in their knowledge of theology (Plantinga).

Another area of profound interest is the way that both Barth and Plantinga approach natural theology–they largely argue that it cannot succeed in its end goal–to demonstrate the existence of God. Barth’s thought reflects this because God will necessarily be hidden from unaided human reason, while Plantinga argues that the arguments of natural theology are part of but do not ground warrant for belief in God. This latter section has much to reflect upon for one who, like me, thinks natural theology can be largely successful.

Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma is a superb, worthwhile read for anyone with interest in the questions of how we may have knowledge within the worldview of Christianity. I highly commend it to my readers.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the book through InterVarsity Press. I was not obligated by the publisher to give any specific type of feedback whatsoever.


Kevin Diller, Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma: How Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga Provide a Unified Response (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014).


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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.


“Is Faith a False Epistemology?”- Debate Review: Tim McGrew vs. Peter Boghossian

question-week2Peter Boghossian, whose recently wrote a book, A Manual for Creating Atheists, recently met with Tim McGrew in a debate on the Unbelievable? radio program. Here, we’ll take a look at the debate and what we might conclude from it. The Unbelievable? show is set up like a moderated dialogue, and Justin Brierly often asks thoughtful questions throughout the dialogue. Unless otherwise noted, anything in quotation marks are the exact words of the speakers.

McGrew Opening

McGrew notes that he went into epistemology and philosophy of science due to his interest in evidence for his faith. He shares his chagrin that there doesn’t seem to be any “trickle down” from academic arguments about the faith into internet debates–though he tongue-in-cheek noted that it is “surprising” that someone on the internet might be wrong. He notes that philosophy of religion has given many different reasons to think that faith is grounded in evidence and good reasons to think Christianity is true.

Boghossian Opening 

Boghossian notes his movement of “street epistemology” is not about evangelizing for atheism but rather a call to people to think more rationally. He says he wanted to write a book which was aimed at the kind of conversations people have on the street. Developed theology, he says, is “purposeful obfuscation” which has no respect for. Brierly asked Boghossian what, in his view, would believers reaction be when challenged on their thinking, to which Boghossian answered that people would be “disabused of… superstitions” and must be more careful with how they use the word “faith.” He sees people leaving their faith as a consequence of reasoning. His book, he says, is a way to equip people to dialogue about faith without being uncivil.

Dialogue Highlights


McGrew states that Boghossian is defining terms in “irregular ways,” particularly the definition of “faith.” He states that he knows of no one outside of Boghossian and those he has encouraged, who defines faith as “pretending to know things you don’t know” (this is the actual definition Boghossian provides for the word “faith”).


The primary definition of “faith” should instead be seen as “belief without evidence.” He says he’s focused on how people use the word faith as opposed to dealing with definitions. He states that this is how “literally billions” of people define faith (belief without evidence). “Pretending to know what you don’t know” is “a very valid” definition of faith, though “belief without evidence” is to be seen as the primary definition.


The vast majority of people do not use faith to mean belief without evidence. Even atheists like “The Good Atheist” are opposed to Boghossian’s definition of faith.


I’m concerned with how “people actually use terms.” When people use the term “faith” they mean there is confidence over and above the value of the evidence. Prominent Christians also use the word “faith” to mean belief without evidence.


Boghossian has already changed his definition of faith by now saying that “faith” means “belief with confidence above that which is allowed by the evidence” (paraphrase). These definitions are not the same as belief without evidence. Well below 1% use faith in that same fashion. There may be different conceptions of what counts as evidence, but this does not mean that people think they are believing without evidence.

Faith should be defined as “trusting, holding to, and acting on what one has good reason to believe is true in the face of  difficulties.” McGrew uses an example of a parachute: one who is going skydiving may be apprehensive about jumping out of a plane despite knowing that the vast majority of people make the ground alive when they go skydiving. One can know all of this evidence, but can still say they have “faith” that their instructor packed the parachute correctly. There is a distinction between hope and faith.


People use faith and hope as synonyms, but they are not. But where “does evidence stop and faith take over?”


Putting it that way prejudices the outcome of the question, because it puts the question in such a way that faith has to “sometimes make up” evidence for action or belief. But when we act, we are not acting on percentages but rather we are acting or trusting in something on the basis of the evidence we have, despite not having complete certainty.


Justin Brierly eventually cut in and moved to refocus the conversation around Boghossian’s claims that faith should be seen as a mental illness, complete with entire institutions devoted to treating faith as a disease and working towards “interventions” to move people away from faith. Brierly was quoting from Boghossian’s book in this section, and he asked Boghossian to expand on this.


It is “very unfair” to say that I target the Christian faith. “I am deeply hostile to all faiths… My attempt isn’t to demean anybody.” Religions should be seen as possible mental illness, and to exclude faith from treatment as a mental illness is hampering science. Faith “hijacks the thinking process… We need to help people through these delusions they have.”


There still seems to be no point of agreement. To define faith in this manner is to “reduce disagreement to derision.” By defining faith as belief without evidence, Boghossian has derided people of faith. Essentially, the definition is propaganda: defining faith as inferior by default and so demeaning those people of faith.


When people have conversations with people of faith, they should not have a one-on-one conversation with name calling. The advocating of putting religion on the DSM (a manual for diagnosing various mental disorders) is not connected with everyday conversation and is so not insulting.


Boghossian’s overall body of work defines faith in a way which is demeaning: “pretending to know what you don’t know.” If this is the strategy, this is like “newspeak” in 1984 by George Orwell.


The difference is that in public lectures, one should not do this. Instead, we should have “interventions” with people. People who have faith are “not well.” Apologetics is confirmation bias and is damaging.


Boghossian seriously misunderstands the role of apologetics, which is the pursuit of whether a conviction holds up under scrutiny. It is no more necessary to make a detailed scholarly study of every faith before coming to a settled belief that only one is true than to have to read every biography of every person who was alive at the time Lincoln was shot to conclude that John Wilkes Booth shot him. To say otherwise is to “pretend” that one can’t have good evidence unless one concludes one doesn’t have good evidence for other things. We don’t have to rule out all alternatives to a theory, rather, one just has to have good evidence to hold that which they do.


It should be fairly clear that Boghossian’s attitude towards people of faith is not one that is friendly, as he apparently claims. When someone says that people of faith need to have “interventions” and be studied as mentally ill, that hardly is a way to respect them. Moreover, he then advocated a kind of split-personality: when someone is one-on-one, they should not bring up the notion that the person of faith is mentally ill because that would be insulting, but apparently it’s not insulting when someone writes a book saying that very thing.

Clearly the biggest issue in this debate was that of the definition of faith. Here it should be seen that once again, Boghossian’s view did not hold up. He ended up actually changing his definition in the course of the conversation, when pressed, to belief beyond the evidence. But he still claimed that “billions of people” use the term “faith” to mean “belief without evidence.” I would simply ask Boghossian: what is your evidence for that claim? Has he talked to billions of people to discover this? Where is his data to back up this claim? It seems to me that Boghossian’s definition of faith is based upon his “pretending to know something he doesn’t know”–namely, that this is how people of faith define faith.

Polemical use of the term aside, I strongly suspect that Boghossian truly does not have evidence for his use of that term faith as backed by “billions.” Moreover, I wonder whether Boghossian defines faith in that way simply because he rejects the evidence for, say, Christianity, and has gone from his own view that there is no evidence for Christianity to saying that Christians must be having faith as “belief without evidence.” But of course disagreeing with someone else’s assessment of the evidence does not entail that the religious “other” believes they are believing without evidence.

McGrew did a fantastic job of continually orienting the discussion around the topic at hand: epistemology. Boghossian’s continued appeal to certainty or the alleged need to explore every faith to know if one is true was thoroughly shredded. As McGrew pointed out, Boghossian could hardly hold a single belief if one truly had to reject every other possibility in order to hold to one as true. Boghossian’s epistemology, it seems, is the faulty one.


Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

“Peter Boghossian, Atheist Tactician”- A brief look at the e-book by Tom Gilson– Tom Gilson has challenged Boghossian on a number of points, including his view of the meaning of “faith,” in his e-book “Peter Boghossian, Atheist Tactician.” It is well worth the read, and this review provides a summary of the major points.

Check out Tom Gilson’s live blog of the debate.



The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Doubts about Evidentialism? C. Stephen Evans and a fideistic problem for evidentialists

GoulburnStSaviour'sCathedralI’ve been reading through a few books related to apologetic methodology and epistemology of late. Most recently, I have finished Faith Beyond Reason: A Kierkegaardian Account by C. Stephen Evans. One thing that struck me in the book was a brief discussion of a possible difficulty with evidentialism as an apologetic methodology. Evidentialism is, essentially, the notion that apologetics should be based upon evidences to convince unbelievers of the truth of Christianity.* Evans himself did not direct a specific attack against the method, but some of his work could be perceived as a critique of the method. Specifically, he discussed Kierkegaard’s rejection of evidentialism:

[Kierkegaard] wants to argue that if you want something like an eternal happiness more than anything else, then it may be reasonable to commit yourself wholeheartedly to something that promises to help you obtain it, even if the chances of obtaining what you seek are not high because the objective probability that eternal happiness is truly to be gained in this way is not high either. (Evans, 108, cited below)

The thrust of this point is that one may, perhaps, rationally commit to a belief when the risk/reward is at a certain level. It’s a little similar to Pascal’s Wager, but Evans has more in mind than this: “[I]f your desire for this good is high enough… then even a very low probability would be sufficient to motivate belief” (ibid). The argument is therefore more subtle than a simple risk/reward scenario.** Instead, Evans’ point (or at least his exegetical point regarding Kierkegaard) is that one’s own desires play into commitment to beliefs, and that this is not itself an irrational thing.

Yet this point may seem a bit devastating to evidentialists. After all, evidentialists would generally hold that one should not believe without sufficient evidence, and that theistic arguments are strong enough to convince others to believe. If, however, one may grant that it may be reasonable to hold to beliefs even if there is a very low probability on the basis of one’s desire for a certain end, then it seems that evidentialism may itself be a faulty grasping for rationalistic certainty.

Within Kierkegaard’s own context, he was certainly reacting against rationalism. But evidentialism is not reducible to stark rationalism. Rather, it is a method not only of apologetics but also of epistemic investigation, depending upon one’s usage. Perhaps the evidentialist may acknowledge that one may rationally commit to a position–say, theistic belief–based upon one’s desire for that great good, but that does not preclude evidences for that belief. More importantly, the evidentialist may introduce the concept of a defeater–a belief which may serve to disprove or make another belief more improbable. Once one has been presented with defeaters, one may not rationally cling to one’s belief simply because one desires the truth of it; instead, one must either defeat the defeaters themselves or have sufficient evidence to hold to the belief in spite of possible evidence against it.

It therefore seems to me that arguments like Kierkegaard’s point does not do much to discredit evidentialism. Rather, it merely provides a possibility for people to hold beliefs in the absence of evidence either way. Once one has evidence against one’s belief, however, one should–at risk of epistemic suicide–either ground one’s belief or show that the evidence against that belief is not firmly grounded. Evans seems to acknowledge this as well, for he noted the value of evidence despite the possibility for “properly basic” belief.

Of course the question of whether one “should” think one way or another is itself highly contentious. I’ll leave that debate for another post or, even better, the comments.

*Yes, I do realize I’ve vastly oversimplified here. That’s the nature of writing shortish blog posts! For what I consider the best discussion of different apologetic methodologies, check out Faith Has Its Reasons by Boa and Bowman.

**I also acknowledge that Pascal’s Wager is more complex than a simple risk/reward scenario.


C. Stephen Evans, Faith Beyond Reason: A Kierkegaardian Account (Reason & Religion) (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998).


Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!



The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 1/31/14- “Frozen,” French and American Atheists, world religions, and more!

postAnother week, another round of great reading served up for you, dear readers. I’m writing this in the midst of getting 4-6 inches of snow (it’s already at 3, and not showing signs of slowing…), so I can’t help but feel a little bit like throwing in a Christmas movie today and sipping some cocoa. Oh well! It also made me think of the movie “Frozen.” The topics this week are Disney’s “Frozen,” the conversion story of a French atheist, “Street Epistemology,” the sign of Jonah and world religions, something we can learn from atheists in the “Bible Belt,” and evangelicalism and liturgy.

Disney’s “Frozen” might be the most Christian movie lately– I found this article on the movie “Frozen” to be quite insightful and interesting. I highly recommend the movie as well as this article.

How God turns a French  atheist into a Christian theologian– I found this conversion story simply fascinating for how God works in people’s lives. The insights from this theologian are profound, and they speak volumes for the importance of a reasoned faith.

A Look at the New “Street Epistemology” Movement– Eric Chabot analyzes the “Street Epistemology” movement forged by Peter Boghossian for creating atheists. Chabot’s approach is fairly unique in that he explores the movement through means of certitude and doubt–a primary weapon for Boghossian.

Bible Belt Bubble Burst? Wisdom from an atheist friend– The importance of a reasoned faith is shared eloquently here through reflection on a conversation with an atheist friend in the “Bible Belt” of the United States. Highly relevant.

The Sign of Jonah– Winfried Corduan is a major scholar of world religions. In this blog post, he offers up a video of how world religions are impacting the United States alongside a commentary on the “Sign of Jonah” which Jesus says will be given to his contemporaries.

Evangelical conservatives vs. Liturgical conservatives– Is it true that one can be either evangelical or liturgical? Is there such a thing as a perfect blend and harmony of evangelical conservatism and liturgy? Look no further than Lutheranism. Check out this post with some interesting insights.

The Epistemic Argument Against Abortion

demolitionEpistemology is the study of knowing. That is, it is the study of how we know something is true. Here, I will offer an argument against abortion which concerns the question: what do we know about the unborn?

An Analogy*

Suppose you are a demolition expert. You’re sitting outside a building you are to blow and you are about to hit the button. The area has been declared clear and so you have flipped the cover of the button up and you’re about to blow the building. Suddenly, someone cries out–a little red tricycle has been discovered outside the building. Fortunately, however, the people who spotted the tricycle tell you there is only a 20% chance that the child made his or her way inside the building. The equipment being used is expensive and your company is paying more Shrugging while thinking “Time is money,” you go ahead and press the button, blowing up the building. After all, you’re 80% sure there is no one inside.

…Wait a second. That’s horrible! Shouldn’t you check and be sure that there is no one inside the building? After all, that person’s life is worth so much more than the extra money your company will have to spend as the child is searched for.

The question then must be asked: what percent is low enough for you to press the button? Suppose you were 90% sure the child was not inside the building, would you pull the button then, confident that you gave your best effort? How about 95%? 98%? It seems to me the only morally permissible situation would be certainty. The building has been swept entirely from top to bottom and cordoned off, you are positive no one is inside. Then, you may press the button without moral culpability: you are certain you are not killing anyone whether directly or indirectly.

*I should note this example is from Kevin A. Lewis. I modified the scenario slightly.

The Argument Stated and Defended

The argument is actually very simple:

1) If it is possible that the unborn is a human person, we should not kill the unborn.

2) It is possible that the unborn is a human person.

3) Therefore, we should not kill the unborn.

Premise one seems obviously true to me. In order to deny premise one, the advocate for abortion must claim that we may destroy “fetuses” even if it is possible that they are human persons. That is, the pro-choice position must hold that it is permissible to blow the building at 80%; or perhaps even at 98%. Given a similar situation: the doctor with the tools for abortion goes and destroys the fetus with the possibility that, like the red tricycle sitting outside the building, they may not know whether they are killing a child; instead, they go forward with the procedure, even though they may be murdering a baby.

Note that what I’m claiming here is a very small claim: it may be even a .5% chance that the fetus is a baby (of course, I am convinced that from conception, we have a human being, but for the sake of argument I will grant even .01% chance), but then the doctor, like the demolition expert, goes ahead and “blows the building” anyway.

Premise 2 also seems to be obviously true. In order to show me that it is wrong, the pro-choice party must make an argument towards the claim that the unborn is not a human person. Why must they try to prove a universal negative? Well, my claim is very broad: It is possible the unborn is a human person. I have argued towards this end multiple times, and would be willing to engage someone on those points. But the bottom line is, even if my arguments fail, I still think that it is possible the unborn is a human person. I just need reasonable doubt here, not epistemic certainty. Unfortunately for those who are pro-choice, their position must yield epistemic certainty, but it cannot.

The conclusion follows from the premises via modus ponens. Thus, the argument succeeds.


We can never be sure about anything

Perhaps the most thoughtful answer a pro-choice advocate might make for this argument is that we can never be sure of anything. After all, we cannot be certain that when we drive somewhere, a child might run in front of our car and get hit and killed. Indeed, in the case of a demolition expert, one could always have a helicopter drop a small child onto the building at the last second, or a child could tunnel underneath and get in, etc.

My response to this argument is fairly straightforward. In abortion, we are intentionally going in and killing the fetus (or dismantling it; however you want to put it). The analogy with driving simply doesn’t work. In order for it to be even close to accurate, the driver isn’t driving safely. Instead, it would be like driving drunk along a sidewalk in Chicago. You shouldn’t do it.

The problem with the ‘certainty’ objection is that while it is true we cannot be 100% of just about anything, it is also true that there are some steps we should take in order to give ourselves epistemic certainty. That is, there is a line between saying something is broadly logically possible and saying that it actually reduces one’s epistemic certainty of a proposition. Certainly, it is possible for a helicopter to parachute a child onto the building in the seconds before it explodes, but does that reduce one’s epistemic certainty pertaining to the situation? I do not think so.

You’re A Man

Unfortunately, I run into this argument far more often than one might think. It should be pretty obvious that this argument is completely fallacious. Whatever my gender happens to be, I am capable of reasoning.

Sometimes, the argument is put forth as “get out of my womb” or something similar. Well again, if the unborn is a human being, then I am attempting to protect a distinct human being. Thus, this objection not only begs the question, but it is also insulting. It is nothing more than a rhetorical device.

We can never be certain that the fetus is not a human being

A response like this basically grants my argument. As I have argued, if this is the case abortions should be impermissible. We shouldn’t just bank on uncertainty to gamble with lives. Of course, I am not going to merely appeal to uncertainty, I have positively argued that the unborn are human beings. Period.


Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason.”

Be sure to check out my other posts in which I argue for the pro-life position. Particularly relevant to the present discussion are “From conception, a human” and “The issue at the heart of the abortion debate.”

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons Chixoy.



The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Unbeliever Knows God: Presuppositional Apologetics and Atheism

100_1270-2-2[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.

galaxy-5-2What 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.

df-van-tilThe 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).



The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Young Earth Creationism and Presuppositionalism: An Analysis

Young Earth Creationism stands or falls based upon the specific use of presuppositionalism as an epistemological groundwork. Here, I will challenge the very core of the young earth paradigm: I will charge that it is an invalid presuppositionalist approach to viewing science and theology.

Young Earth Creationism (YEC will be used hereafter for “young earth creationism,” “young earth creationist”  and other forms of those words as needed), is, of course, the position that the Genesis account of the creation of the universe took place over the course of  seven literal 24-hour days about 6-12,000 years ago. I have extensively explored various aspects of young earth creationism and other positions, and my posts can be found under the “Origins Debate” page.

Presuppositionalism is a type of apologetics (defense of the faith) which relies upon presupposing the truth of the Christian worldview in order to defend it. I have analyzed presuppositional apologetics a number of times. For an introduction into this position, check out “The Presuppositional Apologetic of Cornelius Van Til.”

Epistemology is the study of how we come to know things. Essentially, it asks questions like “How do we know that we know?”

Before proceeding, it is worth noting that many debates between YECs and people who believe in an ‘old earth’ perspective turn on the YEC use of presuppositionalism. A common theme for mocking YECs is to say they just refuse to hear evidence or shout over evidence, yet it seems that this is an unfair portrayal. As we evaluate the young earth position, it will become clear that the YEC perspective operates from within a presuppositional framework that explains much of the way YECs reason. It will also become clear, however, that the YEC use of this framework is invalid.

Thus, it is my contention that YEC is directly dependent upon a presuppositional approach to how we know things. For support of this contention, I note the fact that many YECs see this connection themselves. For example, Answers in Genesis has a number of posts on the topic, including a post outlining the meaning of and need for presuppositional apologetics. Or again, Nathaniel Jeanson of ICR presented a presuppositional case for YEC (analyzed by the Geochristian). However, this is not the only evidence. YECs tend to argue exclusively within a presuppositional framework.

Consider this argument:

The Bible clearly states that the earth was made in seven days. There is no room to interpret the text in any way other than as a literal week of creation.

Such an argument is extremely typical within the YEC community. However, it is also clearly a presuppositionalist approach to the question of the age of the earth. YECs will argue that science must be interpreted in such away as to line up with the creation account. A common theme is that “The data is the same, it is the interpretations of that data that differ,” another notion is that people are rejecting the “plain and obvious meaning of the text” when they offer an old earth interpretation. Such a position is often united with the notion that only by using “man’s fallible ideas” can one come up with a date of millions or billions of years.

The thought process goes in this order: we presuppose the truth of the Bible => the Bible teaches that the earth is 6-12,000 years old => all scientific evidence for the age of the earth must line up with the truth of the Bible. The Bible is the infallible word of God, and so it cannot be in error. Because, according to the YEC paradigm, the only possible interpretation for the Biblical account of creation is the young earth perspective, it therefore becomes clear that all science and truth must line up with YEC.

We are thus left with two possible ways to challenge YEC. Evidence simply is not the problem. Any evidence, if the YEC use of presuppositionalism is valid, simply must line up with YEC. Thus, to challenge YEC, one must confront directly its presuppositions. First, one can challenge the position by attacking the premise that the YEC paradigm is the only possible interpretation of the Genesis creation account. Second, one can challenge the position by directly attacking the presuppositional epistemological groundwork that the arguments are built upon. Rather than focus upon the first challenge, we will here explore whether or not the YECs have validly made use of the presuppositional approach.

Assuming a Young Earth

It is important to note that the way the YEC argument works is to begin by simply assuming the truth of young earth creationism. I know this may sound radical, but it plays out time and again when discussing the various positions on the age of the earth. The young earth paradigm brokers no alternatives; only the young earth perspective is even possibly correct. How is it that YECs are so confident in their approach?

Simply put, the confidence is gained from the very way that they defend the young earth. YEC is not defended based upon evidence. It is not as though scientists are examining the earth and coming to the conclusion that the earth was formed only some thousands of years ago. Indeed, several prominent YECs assert that the very notion of finding the age of the earth from investigation of the geologic past is impossible or hampered by sin and fallible ideas. For just one example, Whitcomb and Morris, in their highly influential work, The Genesis Flood, write:

[I]f He [God] did this [created a universe full-grown], there would be no way by which any of His creatures could deduce the age or manner of Creation by study of the laws of maintenance of His Creation. (238, emphasis theirs, cited below)

Such a notion persists throughout much YEC literature. In principle, the only way to conclude a young earth is to abandon supposed “uniformintarianism” (hold that the processes in place today continue at the same rate they did in the past–see an evaluation of one YEC’s use of this notion here) and view all of the history of the earth through the lens of God’s word. Now, whether or not it is valid to assume that the Genesis text is a scientific account, the argument here should be fairly clear. Namely, the young earth position is assumed. It is not something demonstrated by science, but rather a given before any scientific investigation takes place. Similarly, the position is assumed to be true before any exegesis has occurred. All scientific evidence and any exegetical hints at a different position are subsumed into the YEC position because it is assumed from the outset as correct. Because YEC is correct, all evidence must line up with it.

Some may object by arguing that frequently YECs offer evidence for their position. They may cite various catastrophic theories or flood geology as alternative explanations of Earth’s geologic past. However, even the authors of books like these (such as Whitcomb and Morris, or Walter Brown in his In the Beginning) admit that the key is to presuppose Scripture, which is of course, on their view, to presuppose a young earth.

The Validity of the Young Earth Assumption

It is clear that YEC turns upon presupposing its truth. YEC is assumed to be true, and all alternative views are simply wrong by default. Unfortunately, this is an abuse of presuppositional apologetics.

It is important to contrast the specifically YEC use of presuppositionalism with the wider use of presuppositional apologetics. Presuppositional apologetics in general is the method of engaging entire worldviews by granting their core assumptions and lining them up against reality in a competition of best explanation. The YEC use of presuppostionalism is to defend a single contention–a young earth–against all comers. There are very significant disanalogies here. What the YEC has done is use presuppositionalism not to enter into the square of debate over whole worldviews, but rather to insulate their interpretation against any possible counter-evidence.

There is a distinct difference between the use of presuppositional apologetics, and the use of YEC in presuppositionalism. The latter tends to simply reject outright any challenge as either against the “clear word of God” or as “assuming uniformitarianism.”  By placing their own view beyond the realm of rational inquiry, they have undermined their own potential to know that it is true.

The Faulty Grounds of the YEC Presuppositionalist

The foregoing evaluation leads us to the greatest difficulty facing the YEC approach: a faulty epistemology. Unfortunately, the way that the defense of YEC has been shown to work introduces a paradigm of knowledge which is impossible to sustain. Essentially, the YEC must assume what they think they know. Such an assumption seems to be viciously circular. The YEC must reason thus: “The Bible teaches a young earth=> The Bible is True=> the earth is young.” When presented with counter evidence, rather than engaging with the evidence, the YEC generally falls back to this same argument and reinterprets the evidence. That is where the whole system breaks down: the YEC has not made the right use of presuppositionalism, which allows for entire worldviews to be falsified. Instead, the YEC has misused presuppostionalism to put a young earth interpretation beyond falsification.

The objection will be made that everyone has core beliefs that must be assumed without evidence. Although such an assertion is itself hotly debated, I think it is possible to sidestep such a difficult discussion. Instead, one can note that even if one grants that core beliefs are necessarily assumed, the burden of proof is squarely placed upon the YEC to show how holding to a young earth is necessary for knowledge. Why is this the case? The simplest explanation is that if one assumes the epistemology needed for presuppositionalism is correct, then one has essentially a framework that involves the assumption of core beliefs that are necessary to allow for any knowledge. Thus, for example, the existence of God might be argued as necessary for knowledge (a la Alvin Plantinga, Cornelius Van Til, Greg Bahnsen, and the like) because without God to make us rational, there is no basis for thinking that our beliefs have any actual relationship to reality. Whether or not this is the case, it seems that a young earth is not one of these core beliefs.

Thus, we have finally come to the ultimate failing of the presuppositional defense of YEC: it abuses its epistemological framework to the point of breaking. The YEC has utilized an epistemological approach that allows for core beliefs to be assumed, but has done so in such a way that essentially any belief could be assumed with equal validity. An old earth creationist or theistic evoloutionist could equally argue that their position is based upon a core belief that must be assumed, in which case YEC is undermined. In turn, they could assume their reading of Scripture and make all others wrong by default.

Presuppositionalism must walk a fine line to determine which presuppositions are genuinely those which must be assumed for knowledge. When challenged, the presuppositionalist must make arguments to show that the presuppositions are indeed necessary for knowledge. Unless and until a YEC makes a case that by abandoning the notion of a young earth, one necessarily undermines all knowledge–a case which I must admit seems impossible–the YEC use of presuppositionalism is undermined. Rather than making a valid use of that apologetic approach, YECs have undermined its very principles, and have thus eliminated their own possibility of knowledge. They have relativized all truth by introducing as “first principles” things which are not necessary for knowledge.

A Final Defense

The YEC may object, saying that they have indeed established that YEC is necessary for knowledge. After all, if one denies YEC, which is the clear teaching of Scripture, one has denied God’s word, which is the basis for the entire presuppositional approach.

Setting aside a critique of presuppositionalism as the notion that one must assume the entirety of Scripture to have any knowledge, I would respond by simply noting that this argument does nothing to rebut my charge. I have argued that believing the notion that the earth is merely thousands of years old is not necessary for knowledge. The burden of proof rests squarely on the YEC to show how it is. By merely asserting that denying YEC undermines all of Scripture, one has begged the question. They have engaged in a presuppositional defense of something for which it has been charged that such an approach is epistemologically impossible. In order to defend it, one cannot simply assume that the other side is wrong, one must show how they are wrong.

Objective Knowledge

We have seen that YEC misuses presuppositionalism. A final point worth noting is that the YEC approach to apologetics actually undermines the possibility of objective knowledge. For, as we have noted, the YEC simply assumes their interpretation of the text without argument and then evaluates all science and theology through that lens. However, the YEC offers no reason for rejecting the notion that others could do exactly the same thing with their interpreatations of the text. The YEC has essentially made all truth relative. Anyone can simply assume their position is correct without argument, and then reinterpret all counter-evidence based on that approach. It therefore becomes clear that the YEC use of presuppositionalism must be rejected.

Unfortunately for YECs, the young earth position itself stands upon the bedrock of its faulty use of presuppositionalism. It remains to be seen whether it can adapt itself for a solid evidential base.

A Way Forward in the Age of the Earth Dialogue

It has become clear that YEC is based upon a faulty use of presuppositionalism and that its use of the presuppositional approach undermines the very possibility of objective knowledge.

How, then, can one proceed? It seems that the best way to proceed is to simply throw off the bindings of the misuse of presuppositionalism (taking note that presuppositionalism in general is not necessarily invalid if used properly–see discussion here) and engage in an honest debate over the evidence for either position. Rather than throwing out rote accusations at the other side (“You’re denying Scripture”; “That’s just because you’re assuming ‘uniformitarianism'”; etc, etc), let us engage in dialogue on the evidence at hand. Let’s look at the text in its cultural and linguistic context. Let’s examine the geological evidence of the earth and see where the evidence leads us. Let us not cut off the discussion before it has even begun by simply assuming we’re right and the others are wrong. We are called to always have a reason (1 Peter 3:15). By abandoning the necessity of reasoning when it comes to an issue such as young earth creationism, YECs have undermined the very possibility of a consistent apologetic.


I examine a number of common young earth creationist arguments. Also check out my extensive writings on the origins debate.

Naturalis Historia is a phenomenal site which largely focuses upon investigating claims about a young earth. Some great starting places would be the series on the amount of salt in the oceans (Part 1 here) or some of the thoughts on baraminology.

Geocreationism is another site that examines evidence for the age of the earth with a theological approach. I highly recommend it.

Finally, the GeoChristian offers a number of critiques of the young earth theological and scientific perspectives.


John Whitcomb and Henry Morris, The Genesis Flood 50th Anniversary Edition (P&R Publishing, 2011).

The last image is from NASA. The other images were personal photographs and protected by the copyright on this site.



The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“Is Faith in God Reasonable?” Brief Debate Review: Alex Rosenberg vs. William Lane Craig

creation-of-adam-detailRecently, the atheist Alex Rosenberg debated the theist William Lane Craig. The meat started to happen in the rebuttals, so I will focus on those. For a full review, check out Wintery Knight’s excellent summary.

Craig’s First Rebuttal

Craig pointed out the extreme implausibility of the naturalistic worldview in contrast to theism. He outlined several ways in which naturalism fails as an explanation of reality and cited Rosenberg’s work several times throughout this discussion. He argued that mental states have an “aboutness” which naturalism cannot explain.Then, he pointed out the profound difficulty naturalism has with locating truth and meaning within the worldview. He asserted that libertarian free will and purpose are incompatible with naturalism. Finally, the concept of the “self” and the first-person awareness  cannot be explained by naturalism.

Rosenberg’s First Rebuttal

Alex Rosenberg: He focused on this question quite a bit in his rebuttal: “How is it possible for one chunk of manner to be ‘about’ some other piece of matter?” Yet after saying that this, he asserted that this debate over naturalism has nothing to do with the topic of the debate: “Is Faith in God Reasonable?”

He then turned to a discussion of the problem of evil. “If God is omnibenevolent, omniscience, and omnipotent, then the suffering of animals and humans needs desperately to be explained… Nobody has yet to offer a satisfactory explanation… Dr. Craig needs to tell us how [God] had to have the holocaust!”

He also argued that different religious books are false, so there is no reason to trust the New Testament.

Rosenberg said if Craig could provide an explanation for this, then he would become a Christian.

Craig 2nd Rebuttal

Craig immediately exclaimed his excitement over Rosenberg’s possibility of becoming a Christian, arguing that the logical problem of evil, which Rosenberg seemed to be using, has been largely abandoned due to its immense problems. In order to make this argument, the atheist assumes that if God is all powerful than he can create any world he wants, but this is not necessarily true. It is logically impossible for God to make someone freely do something. The atheist would have to prove that there is a world with as much free good in this world but without as much free evil. It seems this premise is impossible to prove. Thus, the logical problem of evil has largely been dropped.

Craig pointed out the fact that Rosenberg was simply mistaken about the importance of metaphysical naturalism. If metaphysical naturalism is false, then it seems clear that theism is that much more plausible.

Craig also once again pointed out that discrediting things like the Book of Mormon or the Qur’an does nothing to undermine the truth of the New Testament documents.

Rosenberg Final Rebuttal

Rosenberg continued to attack Craig as well as the format of the debate. He asserted that Craig was merely repeating himself. Then he commented that the format of a debate does not work to discuss questions like those at hand. One honestly is forced to wonder why Rosenberg chose to engage in the debate, if such were his opinions. Rosenberg attacked Craig’s arguments for “giving philosophy a bad name” and said he would be “embarrassed” to outline Craig’s defense of his arguments.

He did get into some actual comments on the arguments, however. He argued that some things can come into being from “nothing at all,” specifically alpha particles.

Finally, he got to the problem of evil. Here I continued to be confused over whether Rosenberg was sure which variety of the problem of evil he was presenting. He continued to utilize the evidential problem of evil as though it were the same as the logical problem of evil. He was confusing his arguments, mixing necessity with contingency. There is little to comment on here, because it was so confused.

Regarding the New Testament, Rosenberg essentially argued that we cannot know how corrupt the New Testament is.

Craig Closing

Craig turned once more to Rosenberg’s construction of the problem of evil. He pointed out that Rosenberg was mistaken about free will as well as the nature of the God’s creation. He pointed out that the holocaust was not necessary. Instead, he noted that the onus is upon Rosenberg to show that God could have actualized a world with as much good as there is in this world while simultaneously showing there would be less evil, which is of course beyond the ken of the atheist (or the theist).

Craig pointed out that we can confirm that New Testament sources we have go back to within 5 years of the actual events. Furthermore, Rosenberg was mistaken in saying that the New Testament documents were written in Aramaic. They were written in Greek.

Rosenberg Closing

Rosenberg used his closing to present an “obvious” argument for atheism. He argued that science has no need of the God hypothesis and that there is no basis “to invoke God for explanatory or any other purpose” in science. Thus, science has no reason to accept the existence of God. I find it interesting that he chose to save this argument for the point when he couldn’t be rebutted on the argument. Perhaps that is due to the extreme weakness of the argument. Only be equating science with knowledge could this argument have any relevance. This is not to mention that he is mistaken on this, but to show that he is mistaken would take us too far afield. Interested readers can view the links at the end of this post.

Rosenberg closed with “advice from an atheist.” His advice was to tell theists to not demand that their faith be reasonable. He continued with a discussion saying that theists should say “I believe because it is absurd.” He essentially asserted that theists cannot be reasonable. Honestly, this was just an insult. I admit I was not surprised by this comment by the end of the debate, as Rosenberg’s general strategy had seemed to be to denigrate, rather than interact with, theism.


I was honestly stunned by Rosenberg’s assertion that substance dualism or a debate over naturalism had nothing to do with faith in God. It seems quite obvious that such things are indeed germane to the discussion.   If substance dualism is true, then theism has a much better account than non-theistic worldviews. If naturalism is false, the plausibility of theism increases greatly.

In the Q+A following the debate, someone asked Rosenberg why they should believe anything he said in the debate if he himself doesn’t believe in true. Rosenberg basically answered by saying that he’s just rearranging the brain in a way to meet truth… but of course he already denied that we can know what truth is. It’s just a certain way of orienting the matter in one’s brain! Ridiculous. I’m sorry, but it is ridiculous.

Regarding the debate itself, there were a number of non-scientific ways that people voted on the results of the debate. A formal panel awarded Craig the victory 4-2. The local (Purdue) voting on the debate 303-1390 Craig won. Online vote favored Craig 734-59. In other words, Craig crushed Rosenberg. I agree wholeheartedly. Let me know your thoughts. Comment below!

One awesome line from the debate came from Craig: “The purpose of life is not happiness. The purpose of life is knowledge of God.”

An awesome tweet: “Rosenberg apparently knows not only what God could have done but what would have been best for us for all eternity.” @ThnkngChristian


Wintery Knight provided a simply fantastic summary of the debate.

Glenn Andrew Peoples has a post on quantum events in relation to the cosmological argument which is very relevant to this debate.

Shoulders of Giants?- Philosophy and Science in Context, or, “Lawrence Krauss Jumps off!”– I write on the relationship of science to philosophy as well as Christianity.

Science: “Thanks Christianity!”– Does Christianity say anything about science?

Book Review: “Always Ready” by Greg Bahnsen – Presuppositional Apologetics

Greg Bahnsen is well-known within the community of presuppositional apologetics (with good reason–see his debate with prominent atheist Gordon Stein). But what is presuppositional apologetics? How is it distinctive from other approaches to defending the faith? Bahnsen seeks to answer those questions (and more) in his work, Always Ready, which offers an introduction to the realm of presuppositional apologetics.

In section one, Bahnsen introduces one of the most important aspects of the presuppositional approach: the focus upon the impossibility of epistemic neutral ground. Often, in debates over the verifiability of the faith, the believer is encouraged to set aside their neutrality. Bahnsen argues forcefully that to do so is not just to give up a great weapon in the defense of the faith; it actually damages one’s defense irreparably (3ff). Because of the impossibility of neutral ground, Bahnsen urges apologists to begin not with any supposed neutral ground, but rather with “fear of the Lord” (5). What does he mean by this? Simply put, “the Christian presupposes the truthful word o f God as his standard of truth and direction” (19, emphasis his). The Bible, in other words, is the epistemological starting point for the presuppositional apologist. Rather than starting with a defense of the Bible, the apologist is to start with the Bible as given.

Bahnsen realizes that this point is the one which will likely be most contentious for those who oppose the presuppositionalist approach and thus he turns to a defense of the use of the Bible as an epistemological foundation. He argues that “God’s word has… absolute epistemic authority and it is the necessary presupposition of all knowledge which man possesses” (29). One argument against this presupposition is that it is dogmatic. The argument is made that one cannot simply presuppose their own position to take on all comers. Against this, Bahnsen argues that the presuppositional approach is in fact dogmatic because any approach is dogmatic. On a Christian perspective, knowledge without God’s Word is impossible. Therefore, a Christian cannot set that aside as though one could become “neutral”; in doing so, one has in fact rejected the Christian worldview (31, 7-9, 34, 36). Others may object that this seems to make any knowledge of non-Christians impossible. Again, Bahnsen corrects such a view, arguing that unbelievers “cannot but have them [knowledge of God as a presupposition for knowledge] as a creature made as God’s image and living in God’s created world” (38). In other words, he holds that the unbeliever unwittingly holds to Christian presuppositions in order to have any kind of knowledge. In principle, the unbeliever can have no knowledge; in practice, by borrowing from the Christian worldview, unbelievers have knowledge (ibid). Bahnsen does present several more arguments in favor of the presuppostional perspective, including an examination of the Christian perspective of the knowledge of unbelievers and the rebellion of those without God.

Part of the distinctiveness of the presuppositional approach is that rather than approaching the defense of the faith as a cumulative case, it presents Christianity as a worldview to line up against other worldviews in conflict. The importance of this is emphasized by Bahnsen.”The Christian,” he argues, “can never be satisfied to defend [the faith]… by merely stringing together isolated evidences…. [which] will be evaluated… by the unbeliver’s tacit assumptions; his general world-and-life view will provide the context in which the evidential claim is understood and weighted. What one presupposes as to possibility will even determine how he rates ‘probability'” (67). Thus, if one offers an argument for the existence of God, that argument will be evaluated by the unbeliever within their own assumptions. According to Bahnsen, only by destroying those assumptions–only by pitting whole worldviews side-by-side and showing how they rate on coherence with reality–can one adequately do apologetics. Bahnsen then turns to an evaluation of the conditions necessary for successful apologetics (81-106). Largely, this includes God’s soverein control over all things and fleeing from sin.

Perhaps the most illuminating portion of Always Ready is its presentation of various apologetic issues and the way that presuppositional apologetics provides answers to these arguments. For example, regarding the problem of evil, the presuppositionalist approach rests upon its usefulness as a paradigm of “worldviews in conflict.” Rather than trying to provide varied theodicies, the presuppositionalist argues, as does Bahnsen, “If the Christian presupposes that God is perfectly and completely good… then he is committed to evaluating everything within his experience in light of that presupposition” (171, emphasis his). Thus, on a presuppositional approach, the premise that “God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists” is a given (172). For every evil, on the Christian worldview, God has a morally sufficient reason. Only by assuming that Christianity is false can one argue that the problem of evil is truly a problem. Thus, Bahnsen reevaluates the  problem of evil as a psychological problem rather than a logical problem. It is a problem of trusting in God that God has good reasons for allowing evil (173).

Challenges to miracles are also assessed in light of presuppositionalism. At the core of the presuppositianalist response is again the centralization of the conflict of worldviews. Only by assuming that miracles do not occur can one exclude them a priori from investigation. Thus, the unbeliever has begged the question and their argument is undermined (225). Bahnsen answers a number of other arguments from a presuppositional perspective, including challenges from the possibility of metaphysics, religious language, faith, and the like.

The work ends with an extended investigation of Paul’s apologetic approach in Acts 17. Bahnsen argues that Paul’s approach was thoroughly presuppositional and that it acts as a model for the presuppositional approach to apologetics.

The strengths of Always Ready are immediately apparent. Bahnsen provides a thorough look at presuppositional apologetics which presents not just the outline of the approach but also several case studies in order to help people put it into practice. The distinctiveness of presuppositional apologetics shines throughout the book

There are a few flaws in the work, however. First, as is often the case, the presuppositionalism presented in this work is thoroughly Calvinistic. Simply being Calvinistic is not a flaw, but the way that Calvinism is presented by many defenders of presuppositionalism (Bahnsen, Van Til, Frame, and the like) is  essentially as the one true faith. It is Calvinism or it isn’t Christianity. Frankly, that’s a huge problem. Setting that aside, the weakest point of the work is also its most important one: namely, the presupposition of the Bible as necessary for apologetics. There are a great many who are extremely skeptical of this approach. First, there is the charge of circularity, which presuppositionalists actually accept. Their response is that all worldviews are ultimately circular.The debate remains largely unsettled, but as for this reviewer, it is hard to accept that the entire Bible is a necessary presupposition for the defense of the faith. Finally, the dim view of individual evidences as useful for defense of the faith remains a problem within the presuppositional approach.

That said,  even if one rejects the possibility of presupposing the Christian worldview wholesale, one can still utilize the presuppositional approach in their apologetic. By focusing squarely upon defense of the faith as a clash of worldviews, Bahnsen has highlighted the extreme usefulness of pointing out how presuppositions can color one’s outlook on the interpretation of evidences and the investigation of other positions. Although readers may not be ready to embrace the whole of presuppositionalism, after reading Always Ready, they may be ready to integrate a number of presuppositional approaches into their apologetic.


Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready (Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 1996).



The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Argument from Religious Experience: Some thoughts on method and usefulness

The argument from religious experience (hereafter referred to as “argument from RE”) has seen a resurgence in scholarly work. Keith Yandell, Richard Swinburne, Jerome Gellman, Kai-man Kwan, Caroline Franks-Davis, Paul Moser, and others have contributed to the current discussion about the topic.

One thing which has disappointed me on more than one occasion is the dismissive attitude that some Christian apologists show towards the argument from religious experience.

What reasons are there for apologists to adopt such a stance? Well it seems possible that some of them simply haven’t studied the argument enough to consider its plausibility. I admit that before interacting with the argument, I was skeptical of the possibility for its having any value. But I want to suggest another possibility: apologists tend to favor arguments which can be presented and defended in a debate format or which are useful in short conversations with others. I’m not suggesting this as an attack on my fellow Christians, merely as an observation. And this is not a bad thing; it is indeed greatly useful to have arguments which can be presented quickly and defended easily when one is trying to present a case for Christianity to others.

The problem is the argument from RE requires a great deal of epistemological background in order to get to the meat of it. The authors listed above each develop a robust epistemology to go with their argument. This seems to put a limit on the usefulness of the argument; if it must be conjoined with a broad discussion of epistemology, then how can one present it in such a way that those who aren’t professional philosophers (or at least interested in the topic) can understand? It is to this question I hope to present an answer.

Background Information

Formulations of the Argument

There are two primary ways the argument from RE can be formulated (Caroline Franks Davis suggests a number of ways the argument can presented in The Evidential Force of Religious Experience, 67-92). The first is the personal argument; the second is the public argument. Now I have seen very few versions of the former in the literature. The personal argument is essentially an argument from RE which centers not on trying to demonstrate the existence of God to others, but rather upon justifying one’s own belief that such an experience is genuine. In other words, the personal argument from RE focuses upon defending one’s own conviction that a religious experience is veridical.

Paul Moser, in his work The Evidence for God, suggests one possible way to formulate this argument [he does not refer to it in the same terminology as I use here]:

1. Necessarily, if a human person is offered and receives the transformative gift, then this is the result of the authoritative power of… God

2. I have been offered, and have willingly received, the transformative gift.

3. Therefore, God exists (200, cited below).

This argument is one example of what I would call the personal argument from RE. It focuses on one’s own experience and uses that to justify one’s belief in God. [It seems Moser could be arguing for this as a public argument as well, but a discussion of this would take us too far afield.]

A public argument from RE is generally formulated to establish the belief in God (or at least a transcendent reality), just as other theistic arguments are intended. It will best function as part of a “cumulative case” for the existence of God. One example of an argument of this sort can be found in Jerome Gellman, Experience of God and the Rationality of Theistic Belief:

If a person, S, has an experience, E, in which it seems (phenomenally) to be of a particular object, O… then everything else being equal, the best explanation of S’s having E is that S has experienced O… rather than something else or nothing at all (46, cited below).

Readers familiar with the literature on RE will note the similarities between this and Richard Swinburne’s principle of credulity. The basic  idea is that if someone has an experience, then they are justified in believing they had that experience, provided they have no (epistemic) defeaters for that experience.

Brief Epistemological Inquiry

I’ve already noted the intricate ties the argument from RE has with epistemology, and a quick introduction to the argument would be remiss without at least noting this in more explicit detail. The core of establishing the argument from RE is to undermine methodological/metaphysical naturalism. Thus, a robust defense of the argument from RE will feature building up a case for an epistemological stance in which theistic explanations are not ruled out a priori.

A second step in this epistemological background is to establish a set of criteria with which one can judge and evaluate individual religious experiences. Caroline Franks Davis’ study (cited below) is a particularly amazing look into this tactic; she explores a number of possible defeaters and criteria for investigating REs. These range any where from hallucinogenic drugs to the multiplicity of religious experience.

The Force of the Evidence

One concern I had when I was exploring the argument from RE is that it would not have very much force. Upon investigating the topic, however, I can’t help but think the force of the argument is quite strong. Swinburne seems correct when he writes, “[T]he overwhelming testimony of so many millions of people to occasional experience of God must… be taken as tipping the balance of evidence decisively in favour of the existence of God” (Swinburne, Is There a God?, 120, cited below). The important thing to remember is that an overwhelming number of people from all stations of life and cultures have had experiences that they deem to be “spiritual” or hinting at “transcendence.” Denying universally all of these experiences as genuine would seem to require an enormous amount of counter-evidence.

A Suggested Version for Quick Discussion

So what to do with this background knowledge? It seems to me it is possible to at least sketch out a version of the argument from RE for a brief discussion, with a defense. Further reading is provided below.

The Argument Stated

1. Generally, when someone has an experience of something, they are within their rational limits to believe the experience is genuine.

2. Across all socio-historical contexts, people have had experiences of a transcendent realm.

3. Therefore, it is rational to believe there is a transcendent realm.

The argument made more explicit

The reason I suggest this as the way to use the argument from RE in a brief discussion is because it can more easily form part of a cumulative case and requires less epistemological work to justify it. The first premise is, in general, a principle of rationality. While there are many who have attacked Swinburne’s principle of credulity, it does seem that we generally affirm it. If I experience x, then, provided I have no reasons to think otherwise, I should believe that x exists/was real/etc.

The second premise is the result of numerous studies, some of which are cited in the works cited below. To deny this nearly universal experience is simply to deny empirical evidence. People like William James have observed this transcultural experience of the transcendent for hundreds of years.

Thus, it seems that we are justified in being open to the existence of things beyond the mundane, everyday objects we observe in the physical reality. If people from all times and places have had experiences of things beyond this everyday existence, then it does not seem irrational to remain at least open to the possibility of such things existing.

The conclusion may come as something of a letdown for some theists. But I would like to reiterate that this is a version of the argument intended for use in a brief conversation. There are versions of the argument in the cited literature below which defend theism specifically and engage in synthesis of these experiences into the theistic fold. What I’m trying to do here is make the argument part of the apologist’s arsenal. If we can use the argument merely to open one up to the reality of the transcendent, then perhaps they will be more open other theistic arguments. As part of a cumulative case, one can’t help but shudder under the overwhelming weight of millions of experiences.


The argument from religious experience has enjoyed a resurgence in scholarly popularity. A number of books from publishers like Oxford University Press, Cornell, and Continuum have reopened the argument to the scholarly world. It is high time that Christian apologists put in the work needed to utilize these arguments in everyday, accessible apologetics. The argument formulated above is just one way to do this, and Christians would do well to explore the argument further. The experience of God is something not to be taken lightly; Christians throughout our history have had such experiences and been moved into intimate relationships with God. We should celebrate these experiences, while also realizing their evidential value.

Further Reading and Works Cited

The following books are all ones I have read on the topic but do not present a comprehensive look at literature on the subject.

Caroline Franks Davis, The Evidential Force of Religious Experience (New York, NY: Oxford, 1989). One of the best books on the topic, Franks Davis provides what I would see as a nearly comprehensive look at the epistemic defeaters to consider with the argument from RE.

Jerome Gellman, Experience of God and the Rationality of Theistic Belief (Ithaca, NY: Cornell, 1997). Gellman provides a robust defense of the principle of credulity.

Paul Moser, The Evidence for God (New York: NY, Cambridge, 2010). This work is not so much about the argument from RE as it is an argument showing that any evidence for God is going to be necessarily relational. I highly recommend it.

Richard Swinburne, Is There a God?(New York, NY: Oxford, 2010). This is an introductory work to Swinburne’s theistic arguments. It has a chapter on the argument from RE that provides an excellent, easy-to-read look at the issues surrounding the argument. I reviewed this book here.

There are a number of other fantastic books on the topic as well. Swinburne’s The Existence of God has a chapter that remains a classic for the defense of the argument from RE.

William Alston’s Perceiving God is perhaps one of the best examples of a robust epistemology built up around RE and realism.

Keith Yandell’s The Epistemology of Religious Experience is a extremely technical look at many of the issues, and I found it particularly useful regarding the notion of “ineffability” in RE.

Kai-man Kwan’s Rainbow of Experiences, Critical Trust, and God is a very recent look at the argument which again features a large amount of epistemological development.

Nelson Pike provides a unique look at the phenomenology of RE and a synthesis of theistic and monistic experiences in his work Mystic Union.



The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.


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