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presuppositionalism

This tag is associated with 11 posts

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.

Source

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

Links

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!

SDG.

——

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.

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Book Review: “Faith Founded on Fact” by John Warwick Montgomery

fff-jwmJohn Warwick Montgomery (hereafter JWM) is about as evidentialist as they come, and Faith Founded on Fact: Essays in Evidential Apologetics is a collection of his essays which shows, through application, his apologetic method from a number of contexts. Here, I will go through the book to highlight main points of the individual essays and the book as a whole. Then, we’ll discuss some of the main theses in the text. Be sure to leave a comment to let me know what you think of JWM’s theses.

Central to JWM’s apologetic methodology is the notion that one need not presuppose the truth of the Bible in order to defend it. For him, one may make the appeal to the skeptic by going to the skeptic and battling their reasoning on their own grounds. He states his thesis succinctly:

Few non-Christians will be impressed by arguments… in which the Christian stacks the deck by first defining ‘rationality’ and ‘internal consistency’ in terms of the content of his own revelational position and then judges all other positions by that self-serving criterion. (xix, cited below)

JWM surveys various attacks on the practice of evidential apologetics and argues that they fail (28ff). Although he deals with various liberal objections to apologetics, the core of his concern is for the objections raised by those who feel as though the evidentialist approach does injustice to faith. In response, he notes that any approach which removes Jesus from historical investigation–from hard evidence capable of being explored by all–reduces Him to a “historical phantasm” and does injustice to the reality of the incarnation (34-35).

The possibility of miracles and the argument of Hume engages in “circular reasoning” for Hume’s argument relies upon “unalterable experience” which is, of course his own experience and that of those who agree with him. Moreover, the definition of miracle has been slanted in such a way as to make it either irrelevant or beyond the realm of evidence by various parties (46ff). A case study of the miracle of the resurrection provides proof that miracles may be examined with an evidentialist mentality, for any who wish to deny the notion must relegate history to a place which may never be accessed through evidence (56ff).

JWM analyzes Muslim apologetics and concludes that it provides a number of lessons for Christian apologetists. Among these is the notion that merely showing the falsity of other religions is not enough for an evidential defense (93-94), the notion that “no religion is deducible from self-evident a prioris…” (97), and mere appeal to “try out” a religion is not enough to establish its credibility (98).

One of JWM’s most famous (or infamous, depending upon your view) essays is “Once Upon an A Priori,” in which he launched a broad-spectrum attack on presuppositional apologetics as a methodology. In this essay, JWM argues that when one suggests there is no neutral epistemic ground between two positions whatsoever–as presuppositional apologists do–“Neither viewpoint can prevail, since by definition all appeal to neutral evidencve is eliminated” (115). Because there are no neutral facts, there can be no appeal to facts to make one’s case; instead, all one is able to do is argue in circles against each other… “appeal to common facts is the only preservative against philosophical solipsism and religious anarchy…” (119). Instead, Christians must, like Paul, “become all things to all” people (122) in order to make the case for Christianity.

The practice of apologetics, for JWM, is intended to break down the barriers to belief. But the evidences are so strong that they obligate belief in Christian theism. However, the work of the Spirit is the work of conversion. The “evidential facts are God’s work, and the sinner’s personal acceptance of them… is entirely the product of the Holy Spirit” (150).

After an essay appealing to Christians to continue to use mass communication to spread the Word, JWM turns to “The Fuzzification of Biblical Inerrancy.” By “fuzzification,” he means (following James Boren), “the presentation of a matter in terms that permit adjustive interpretation” (217). In its application to inerrancy, it means the constant adjustment of inerrancy to make it invulnerable to attack in often ad hoc ways. What one is left with is “inerrancy devoid of meaningful content…” (223). In order to combat this, JWM suggests explicit definitions of terms such that one has a firm grasp upon what is meant by inerrancy, rather than a constant modification of the term and meaning.

There are a few areas of disagreement I would express with JWM’s theses. First, his apparent dismissal of the practice of taking the “falsity of one religion” as proof of another (93-94). He is correct in that the falsity of any given religion does not entail the truth of any other one. However, it seems to be the case that the falsity of any one religion does entail that any which have not been proven false are inherently more probable. Second, I think his reaction against presuppositionalism has led him to reject all of its tenets a bit too vehemently. For example, it seems to me that in his rejection of the notion there can be “no neutral ground” he also seems to jettison the notion that facts are interpreted no matter what the facts are. However, at times it is difficult to distinguish whether he is making a statement in a vaccuum or against a context. In relation to “facts,” he clearly holds the facts are determinative enough to demonstrate Christianity; but he also holds that people will not accept said facts other than through God’s action. Thus, perhaps the gulf between his position and that which he rejects is not so wide.

These disagreements aside, I also have enormous respect for and agreement with much of the content of Faith Founded on Fact. JWM effectively disposed of any apologetic method which inherently ignores the value of evidentialist reasoning, and he did so through not only apologetic but also theological reasons (i.e. it turns Christ into an “historical phantasm”). Moreover, his critique of presuppositional methodology–though at times off base (as noted above), does not entirely miss the mark. In particular, his critique that presuppositionalism voids any kind of objective method for determining facts is troubling for those who have presuppositional tendencies (readers should note that I myself think presuppositionalism has some merit–see my posts on the topic).

Faith Founded on Fact, put simply, is fantastic. In this review, I have only surveyed a small number of the areas I found to be of note throughout the work. JWM is witty and clever as usual, but he also raises an enormous number of points to reflect upon whether one agrees with his views or not. He offers a number of ways to approach apologetics from an evidentialist perspective, while also offering some devastating critiques of those who would allege that evidentialism fails. The book is a must read for anyone interested in apologetics.

Links

“How Much Evidence to Justify Religious Conversion?” – John Warwick Montgomery on Conversion– I summarize and analyze an incredible lecture given by John Warwick Montgomery which I had the pleasure of attending at 2012’s Evangelical Theological Society Conference. JWM argues for an evidential view of religious conversion.

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!

Source

John Warwick Montgomery, Faith Founded on Fact: Essays in Evidential Apologetics (Edmonton, AB, Canada: Canadian Institute for Law, Theology, and Public Policy Inc., 2001).

SDG.

——

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.

Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye- An analysis of a lose-lose debate

bnye-kham-debateToday, Ken Ham, a young earth creationist, debated against Bill Nye an agnostic famous for “The Science Guy” program, on the topic: “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s scientific era?” The debate was watched by over 500,000 people and generated a huge amount of interest. Here, I’ll review the debate section by section. Then, I’ll offer some thoughts on the content as well as a concluding summary. If you watched the debate, you may want to just skip down to the Analysis section. The debate may be watched here for a limited time (skip to 13 minutes in to start debate).

Ken Ham Opening

Ham began by noting that many prominent scientists argue that scientists should not debate creationists. He wondered aloud whether that might be because creationism is indeed a viable model and some don’t want that to be shown. He then showed a video of a creationist who was a specialist in science and an inventor, noting that creationism is not mutually exclusive from science.

The three primary points Ham focused on were 1) the definitions of terms; 2) interpretation of the evidence; and 3) the age of the universe is not observational science. Regarding the first, Ham noted that science means knowledge and so evolutionists cannot claim to be doing science. Regarding the second, he argued that both creationists and evolutionists observe the same evidence; they simply interpret that evidence differently. Regarding the third, Ham observed that “We weren’t there” at the beginning of the Earth and so we can’t know through observational science what happened.

Bill Nye Opening

Nye noted that the primary contention of the topic was to see whether the creation model lined up with the evidence. Thus, we must compare Ken Ham’s creation model to the “mainstream” model of science (his word). There are, he contended, major difficulties with Ham’s model, including the fossils found in layers in the Grand Canyon. He noted that there is “not a single place” where fossils of one type cross over with fossils of a different type or era. Yet, on a creation model, one would expect vast amounts of mixing. Thus, the creation model fails to account for the observational evidence.

Nye also noted that there are “billions of people ” who are religious and do not hold to creation science.

Ham Presentation

Ham again emphasized the importance of defining terms. He then presented a few more videos of creationists who are active scientists in various fields. One, a Stuart Burgess [I think I typed that correctly] claimed that he knew many colleagues who expressed interest in creationism but were afraid for their careers.

Non-Christians, Ham alleged, are borrowing from the Christian worldview in order to do science. The reason for this is because their own worldview cannot account for the laws of logic, the uniformity of nature, or the laws of nature. He asked Nye to explain how to account for these aspects of reality without God.

The past cannot be observed directly, he said, and concluded that we can’t be certain that the present is like the past. Thus, we must only deal with the observed facts that we can see now. On this point, the disagreements are over the interpretation of the evidence. That is, there is a set of evidence that both people like Nye and Ham approach. According to Ham, it is their worldviews which color their interpretation of the evidence such that they use the same evidence and get entirely contradictory conclusions.

The diversity of species which is observed is only, Ham argued, difference in “kind.” Thus, it cannot be used as evidence for evolution. The word “evolution” has been “hijacked” and used as evidence for unobservable phenomena extrapolated from that which is observed. The various species demonstrate a “creation orchard” as opposed to an “evolutionary tree.” One may observe different creatures, like dogs, each stemming from an a common origin, but none of these are traceable back to common descent, rather they exhibit discontinuity in the fossil record.

There is a major difference, Ham alleged, between “observational sciences” which looks at the things we can see in repeatable events now and “historical sciences” which extrapolates from the evidence gathered what happened in the past. We can never truly have “knowledge” regarding the historical sciences.

Nye Presentation

Nye began his presentation by noting that the debate took place in Kentucky and “here… we’re standing on layer upon layer upon layer of limestone.” The limestone is made of fossils of creatures which lived entire lives (twenty or more years in many cases) and then died, piled up on top of each other, and formed the limestone underneath much of the state. The amount of time needed for this is much longer than just a few thousand years.

Nye also turned to evidence from ice cores, which would require 170 winter/summer cycles per year for at least a thousand years to generate the current amount of ice built up. In California, there are trees which are extremely ancient, and some trees are even older, possibly as old as 9000 or more years old. Apart from the difficulty of the age of these trees, one must also wonder how they survived a catastrophic flood.

When looking at a place like the Grand Canyon, one never finds lower layer animals mixed with higher level animals. One should expect to find these given a flood. Nye challenged Ham to present just one evidence of the mixing of fossils of different eras together; he said it would be a major blow to the majority sciences.

If the flood explains animal life and its survival, one should observe the migration of animals across the earth in the fossil record; thus a Kangaroo should be found not just in Australia but along the way from wherever the Ark rested. However, these finds are not observed. Finally, the Big Bang has multiple lines of evidence which confirm it as the origin of the universe.

Ham Rebuttal

Ham argued that we can’t observe the age of the Earth. No science can measure it through observational evidence; rather it falls under historical sciences. One should add the genealogies in the Genesis account in order to find the age of the Earth. Whenever a scientist talks about the past, “we’ve got a problem” because they are not speaking from observation: they were not there.

Various radiometric dating methods turn up radically divergent ages for artifacts from the same time period and layer of rocks. The only infallible interpreter of the evidence is God, who provided a record in the Bible.

Nye Rebuttal

Rocks are able to slide in such a way as to interpose different dated objects next to each other.

Nye noted that Ham kept saying we “can’t observe the past,” but that is exactly what is done in astronomy: no observation of stars is not observing the past. Indeed, it takes a certain amount of time for the light to get to Earth from these various stars. The notion that lions and the like ate vegetables is, he argued, preposterous. Perhaps, he asserted, the difficulty is with Ham’s interpretation of the biblical text.

Nye then compared the transmission of the text of the Bible to the telephone game.

Ham Counter-Rebuttal

Ham again pressed that natural laws only work within a biblical worldview. There only needed to be about 1000 kinds represented aboard the ark in order to represent all the current species. Bears have sharp teeth yet eat vegetables.

Nye Counter-Rebuttal

Nye asserted that Ham’s view fails to address fundamental questions like the layers of ice. The notion that there were even fewer “kinds” (about 1000) means that the problem for Ham is even greater: the species would have had to evolve at extremely rapid rates, sometimes even several species a day, in order to account for all the differences of species today.

Q+A

I’ll not cover every single question, instead, I wanted to make note of two major things that came up in the Q+A session.

First, Nye’s answer to any question which challenged him on things like where the matter for the Big Bang came from was to assert that it’s a great mystery and we should find out one day. Second, Ham’s response to any question which (even hypothetically) asked him to consider the possibility that he would be wrong was to assert that such a situation was impossible. In other words, he presupposed he was correct and held to the impossibility that he could be wrong.

Analysis

Ken Ham

Ken Ham’s position was based upon his presuppositional apologetic. He continued to press that it is one’s worldview which colors the interpretation of evidence. The facts, he argued, remained the same for either side. It was what they brought to the facts that led to the radically different interpretations.

There is something to be said for this; it is surely true that we do have assumptions we bring to the table when interpreting the evidence. However, apart from the problem that Ham’s presuppositional approach with creationism is unjustified, Ham failed to deal with facts which really do shoot major holes in his theory. For example, it simply is true that, as Nye noted, when we observe the stars or distant galaxies, we are observing the past. Ham was just wrong on this regard. Moreover, other observational evidence (though not directly showing the past) does demonstrate that the Earth cannot be so young as Ham supposes. Furthermore, his hard and fast distinction between historical sciences and observational sciences is more of a rhetorical device than anything.

Ham’s position, I would argue, fails to account for the evidence which Nye raised (along with a number of other difficulties). Moreover, he continued to paint a picture of the Bible which rejects any but his own interpretation. In other words, he presented a false dichotomy: either young earth creationism or compromise with naturalism. However, I did appreciate Ham’s focus on the Gospel message. It was refreshing to have him present a call to belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and savior in front of such a massive audience.

Bill Nye

Nye did an okay job of trying to show that there may be more to the debate than simply creationism-or-bust for Christianity. Indeed, he actually went so far as to say there is “no conflict” between science and faith. Instead, he argued that Ham’s position is the one which generates such a conflict. His rebuttals provided some major reasons to think that Ham’s creationism could not account for the evidence. In particular, the difficulties presented by the proliferation of species after the flood and the fossil record were solid evidences.

However, Nye’s presentations had a couple difficulties. First, he failed to account for polystrate fossils: the very thing he challenged Ham to present. There really are such things as fossils which are found out of sequence (thanks to ElijiahT and SkepticismFirst on Twitter for this). That’s not to say they prove young earth creationism. Far from it. So Nye seems to have been mistaken on this point. Second, he presented the Big Bang theory as though Fred Hoyle somehow came up with the hypothesis, yet Hoyle is well known for denying the Big Bang. Third, the notion that the interpretation, translation, and transmission of the Bible through time is anything like the telephone game is a tiresome and simply mistaken metaphor.

Both

Both men were extremely respectful and I appreciated their candor. Each had several good points; each had some major flaws in their positions. The dialogue as a whole was interesting and helpful.

Conclusion

Readers by now should realize that I have to confess my title is a bit misleading. I was impressed by the tone of both speakers, though I thought they each made major gaffes alongside some decent points. The bottom line is that I find it unfortunate that we were exposed to a false dichotomy: either creationism or naturalism. There is more to the story. As far as “who won” the debate, I would argue that because of this false dichotomy, neither truly won. However, it seemed to me Ham had a more cohesive 30 presentation. That is, his presentation stayed more focused. Nye’s presentation jumped around quite a bit and had less directness to it. So far as “debate tactics” are concerned, one might chalk that up to a win for Ham. However, Nye successfully dismantled Ham’s presentation in the rebuttal periods. Thus, one was left with the impression that Ham’s view was indeed based upon his presupposition of its truth, while Nye was more open to the evidence. Again, I think both are wrong in many areas, but I hope that Nye’s tearing down of Ham’s position will not demonstrate to some that Christianity is false. As Nye noted, it may instead be Ham’s interpretation which is wrong.

There was much more to cover here than I could get to, so please do leave a comment to continue the discussion.

Links

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!

Naturalis Historia– This site is maintained by a biologist who presents a number of serious difficulties for young earth creationism.

Gregg Davidson vs. Andrew Snelling on the Age of the Earth– I attended a debate between an old earth and young earth creationist (the latter from Answers in Genesis like Ken Ham). Check out my overview of the debate as well as my analysis.

Debate Review: Fazale Rana vs. Michael Ruse on “The Origin of Life: Evolution vs. Design”– Theist Fazale Rana debated atheist Michael Ruse on the origin of life. I found this a highly informative and respectful debate.

Reasons to Believe– a science-faith think tank from an old-earth perspective.

Other Reviews of the Debate

Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye post-debate analysis– The GeoChristian has a brief overview of the debate with a focus on what each got right or wrong.

Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye: The Aftermath– Luke Nix over at Faithful Thinkers has another thoughtful review. His post focuses much more on the topic of the debate as opposed to a broad overview. Highly recommended.

Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye: The Debate of the Decade?- Interested in what led up to this debate? Check out my previous post on the topic in which I urged Christians to write on this debate and also traced, briefly, the controversy leading up to this debate.

The image used in this post is was retrieved at Christianity Today and I believe it’s origin is with Answers in Genesis. I use it under fair use to critique the views. I make no claims to owning the rights to the image, and I believe the image, as well as “The Creation Museum” are copyright of Answers in Genesis.

SDG.

——

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 8/2/13

snowl-owl-post-arpingstoneAfter a brief hiatus, “Really Recommended Posts” are back. This go-round I have found for your reading/viewing pleasure a debate on sola scriptura, Buddhism, fear, the Shroud of Turin, and presuppositional apologetics. As always, let me know what you liked/didn’t like! Send me your own recommendations!

Is the Bible the only infallible rule of faith? Tim Staples vs. James White (Video)- A (lengthy) debate between a Roman Catholic and a Calvinist regarding the rule of faith. Should we hold to sola scriptura, or do we need the Magisterium in order to preserve teaching? The debate is really worth listening to.

A Comparison of the Ethical teachings and Impact of Jesus and Buddha– A brief insight into comparative religions between Buddhism and Christianity. What of truth in other religions? I found this a very interesting post.

Fiction and Fear– A really excellent post over at Hieropraxis which notes the importance of an element of fear in fiction. The post ties this back to the relevance of the Christian teaching of Christ’s redeeming work.

Shroud of Turin Blog– I am not convinced that the Shroud of Turin is authentic. However, I do find some of the work being done regarding its authenticity is very interesting. This blog has a constant string of posts related to various evidences in favor of the Shroud’s authenticity. I recommend it for those interested in reading on the topic, with the caveat of my own (hopeful) skepticism.

What is pre-suppositionalism? What is presuppositional apologetics?– Over at Wintery Knight, this interesting post turned up with a critique of presuppositionalism as an epistemology (largely based on this post at The Messianic Drew). I found it interesting, though I do not fully agree with all the critiques leveled therein. For balance, I would also direct readers to Janitorial Musings for a counter-argument to the first major contention against presuppositionalism- Presuppositionalism and Circularity. I think readers should read all the posts involved for a more complete picture. Judge for yourselves what to think of the presuppositional “worldview” (to use Drew’s term–I would lean towards saying “epistemology” instead).

Inerrancy and Presuppositional Apologetics: A different approach to defending the Bible

question-week2Scripture is inerrant because the personal word of God cannot be anything other than true. -John Frame (The Doctrine of the Word of God, 176 cited below)

One of the most difficult issues facing evangelical Christian apologists is the doctrine of inerrancy. I’m not trying to suggest the doctrine is itself problematic. Indeed, I have defended the doctrine in writing on more than one occasion. Instead, I am saying that defending this doctrine in an apologetics-related discussion is difficult. Here, I will explore one way that I think should be used more frequently when discussing the doctrine.

What is the problem?

There are any number of attacks on inerrancy and Biblical authority, generally speaking. Very often, when I discuss the Bible with others in a discussion over worldviews, I find that the challenge which is most frequently leveled against the notion of inerrancy is a series of alleged contradictions. The second most common objection is some sort of textual criticism which allegedly shows that the Bible could not be without error in its autographs. A third common argument against inerrancy is to quote specific verses and express utter incredulity at their contents.

Of course, it doesn’t help that the definition of inerrancy is often misunderstood. For simplicity’s sake, I will here operate under the definition that “The Bible, in all it teaches, is without error.” I have already written on some misconceptions about the definition of inerrancy, and readers looking for more clarification may wish to read that post.

How do we address the problem?

Most frequently, the way I have seen apologists engage with these challenges is through a series of arguments. First, they’ll argue for the general reliability of the Bible by pointing out the numerous places in which it lines up with archaeological or historical information we have. Second, they’ll argue that these historical reports given in the Bible cannot be divorced from the miraculous content contained therein. Given the accuracy with which these writers reported historical events, what basis is there to deny the miraculous events they also report?

Other apologists may establish inerrancy by rebutting arguments which are leveled against the doctrine. That is, if one puts forth an argument against inerrancy by pointing out alleged contradictions, these apologists seek to rebut those contradictions. Thus, once every single alleged error has been addressed, this approach concludes the Bible is inerrant.

Now, I’m not suggesting that either of these methods are wrong. Instead, I’m saying there is another way to approach the defense of the Bible.

A Presuppositional Defense of Inerrancy

Suppose God exists. Suppose further that this God which exists is indeed the God of classical Christian theism. Now, supposing that this is the case, what basis is there for arguing that the Bible is full of errors? For, given that the God of Christianity exists, it seems to be fairly obvious that such a God is not only capable of but would have the motivation to preserve His Word as reported in the Bible.

Or, consider the first step-by-step argument for inerrancy given in the section above, where one would present archaeological, philosophical, historical, etc. evidence point-by-point to make a case for miracles. Could it not be the case that the only reason for rejecting the miraculous reports as wholly inaccurate fictions while simultaneously acknowledging the careful historical accuracy of the authors is simply due to a worldview which cannot allow for the miraculous at the outset?

What’s the Point?

At this point one might be thinking, So what? Who cares? 

Well, to answer this head on: my point is that one’s overall worldview is almost certainly going to determine how one views inerrancy. The point may seem obvious, but I think it is worth making very explicit. If we already hold to a Christian worldview broadly, then alleged contradictions in the Bible seem to be much less likely–after all, God, who cannot lie (Numbers 23:19), has given us this text as His Word. Here it is worth affirming again what John Frame said above: the Bible is inerrant because it is of God, who is true.

Thus, if one is to get just one takeaway from this entire post, my hope would be that it is this: ultimately the issue of Biblical inerrancy does not stand or fall on whether can rebut or explain individual alleged errors in the Bible–it stands or falls on one’s worldview. 

One final objection may be noted: Some Christians do not believe in inerrancy, so it seems to go beyond an issue of worldview after all. Well yes, that is true. I’m not saying a defense of inerrancy is utterly reducible down to whether or not one is a Christian or not–as I said, I think evidential arguments are very powerful in their own right. I am saying that inerrancy is impossible given the prior probabilities assigned by non-Christian worldviews and altogether plausible (not certain) given Christian worldview assumptions. 

A Positive Case for Inerrancy

Too often, defense of inerrancy take the via negativa–it proceeds simply by refuting objections to the doctrine. Here, my goal is to present, in brief, a positive argument for inerrancy. The argument I am proposing here looks something like this (and I admit readily that I have left out a number of steps):

1) Granting that a personal God exists, it seems likely that such a deity would want to interact with sentient beings
2) such a deity would be capable of communicating with creation
3) such a deity would be capable of preserving that communication without error

Therefore, given the desire and capability of giving a communication to people without error, it becomes vastly more plausible, if not altogether certain, that the Bible is inerrant. Of course, if God does not exist–if we deny that there is a person deity–then it seems altogether impossible that an inerrant text could be produced on anything, let alone a faith system.

I  consider this a positive argument because it proceeds from principles which can be established (or denied) as opposed to a simple assertion. It is not a matter of just presupposing inerrancy and challenging anyone who would take it on; instead it is a matter of arguing that God exists, desires communication with His people, and has brought about this communication without error.  Although each premise needs to be expanded and defended on its on right, I ultimately think that each is true or at least more plausible than its denial. Christians who deny inerrancy must, I think, interact with an argument similar to this one. Their denial of inerrancy seems to entail a denial of one of these premises. I would contend that such a denial would be inconsistent within the Christian worldview.

Note that this argument turns on the issue of whether or not God exists. That is, for this argument to be carried, one must first turn to the question of whether God exists. I would note this is intentional: I do think that inerrancy is ultimately an issue which will be dependent upon and perhaps even derivative of one’s view of God.

Other Books

One counter-argument which inevitably comes up in conversations about an argument like this is that of “other books.” That is, could not the Mormon and the Muslim (among others) also make a similar case.

The short answer: Yes, they could.

Here is where I would turn to the evidence for each individual book. Granting a common ground that these claimed revelations–the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Qu’ran, etc.–are each purported to be inerrant and that their inerrancy is more probable on a theistic view, which best matches reality? In other words, I would turn here to investigate the claims found within each book in order to see if they match with what we can discern from the world.

The argument I am making here is not intended to be a one step argument for Christian theism. Instead, it is an argument about the possibility of an inerrant work.

iw-poythressAppendix 1: Poythress and Inerrancy

Vern Poythress provides an example of how this approach works. In his work, Inerrancy and Worldview (my review of this work can be found here), he continually focuses on how worldviews color one’s approach to challenges presented against inerrancy such as historical criticism, certain sociological theories, and philosophy of language. One example can be found in his discussion of historical criticism:

The difference between the two interpretations of the principle [of criticism] goes back to a difference in worldview. Does God govern the universe, including its history, or do impersonal laws govern it? If we assume the latter, it should not be surprising that the resulting principle undermines the Bible… It undermines the Bible because it assumes at the beginning that the God of the Bible does not exist. (Poythress,  Inerrancy and Worldview , 53, cited below)

Yet it is important to see that my approach here is different from that of Poythress. His approach seems to be largely negative. That is, he utilizes presuppositionalism in order to counter various challenges to the Bible. When a challenge is brought up to inerrancy, he argues that it of course stems from an issue of worldview. Although this is similar to my approach, Poythress never makes a positive argument for inerrancy, which I consider to be a vital part of the overall defense of the doctrine.

Appendix 2: Standard Presuppositionalism and Inerrancy

I would like to note that I am not attempting to claim that my defense of inerrancy here is the standard presuppositional approach. The standard presuppositional approach is much simpler: the apologist simply assumes the absolute truth and authority of God’s word as the starting point for all knowledge.

It should not surprise readers that, given this approach, most (if not all) presuppositionalists embrace the via negativa for defense of inerrancy. That is, the standard presuppositional defense of the Bible usually is reducible to merely pointing out how the attacks on Scripture stem largely from one’s worldview, not from the facts.

Thus, one of the foremost presuppositional apologists to have lived, Greg Bahnsen, writes:

[I]f the believer and unbeliever have different starting points [that is, different presuppositions from which all authority comes for the realm of knowledge] how can apologetic debate ever be resolved? [In answer to this,] the Christian carries his argument beyond “the facts…” to the level of self-evidencing presuppositions–the ultimate assumptions which select and interpret the facts. (Bahnsen, Always Ready, 72 cited below).

It should be clear that this standard presuppositional defense is therefore very different from what I have offered here. The standard presuppositional defense simply reduces the debate to “starting points” and attempts to show contradictions in other “starting points” in method, exposition, or the like. My defense has noted the vast importance of worldviews in a denial of inerrancy, but has also offered a positive defense of inerrancy. Yes, this defense turns on whether God exists, but that can hardly be seen as a defect or circularity in the argument.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason.” I often ask questions for readers and give links related to interests on this site.

The Presuppositional Apologetic of Cornelius Van Til– I explore the presuppositional method of apologetics through a case study of the man who may fairly be called its founder, Cornelius Van Til.

Debate Review: Greg Bahnsen vs. Gordon Stein– I review a debate between a prominent presuppositional apologist, the late Greg Bahnsen, and a leading atheist, Gordon Stein. It is worth reading/listening to because the debate really brings out the distinctiveness of the presuppositional apologetic.

Sources

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

John Frame The Doctrine of the Word of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2010).

Vern Sheridan Poythress, Inerrancy and Worldview (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012).

SDG.

——

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.

If a Good God Exists: Presuppositional Apologetics and the problem of evil

It is clear that all things are ordered according to the perfect will of the Lord. If the Lord’s reasons for some state of affairs are inscrutable, does that mean that they are unjust? (Augustine, City of God Book V, Chapter 2).

The problem of evil is the most pervasive argument used against Christianity. It also causes the most doubts among Christians. I know I can attest to crying out to God over the untold atrocities which continue to happen. Yet very often, I think, we are asking the wrong question. Here, I’ll explore the ways the problem of evil is presented. Then, I’ll offer what I think is a unique answer: the presuppositional response to the problem of evil. Finally, we’ll evaluate this response.

Two Ways to Present the Problem of Evil

The problem of evil is posed in a number of ways, but here I’ll outline two varieties.

The Classical/Logical Problem of Evil

God is said to be all powerful and all good, yet evil exists. Thus, it seems that either God does not want to prevent evil (in which case God is not all good) or God is incapable of preventing evil (and is thus not all powerful).

The Evidential Problem of Evil

Evil on its own may not prove that God does not exist (the logical/classical problem of evil), but it seems that surely the amount of evil should be less than what we observe. Surely, God is capable of reducing the amount of suffering by just one less child being beaten, or by one less tsunami killing hundreds. The very pervasiveness of evil makes it clear that no good God exists.

The Presuppositional Response to the Problem of Evil

One of the insights that we can gain from presuppositional apologetics is that it forces us to look at our preconceived notions about reality and how the impact our answers to questions and even the questions we choose to ask. The way that the problems of evil are outlined provides a prime example for how presuppositional approach to apologetics provides unique answers.

The presuppositional answer to these problems of evil is simple: If a good God exists, then these are not problems at all.

Of course, this seems overly simplified, and it is. But what the presuppositionalist is emphasizing is that the only way to make the two problems above make sense is to come from a kind of neutral or negative starting presupposition. The only way to say to construct the dilemma in the classical/logical problem of evil is to assume that there is not an all-powerful and all-good God to begin with. For, if an omnibenevolent, omnipotent being exists, then to say that God does not want to prevent evil seems false; while to say that God is incapable of preventing evil is also false. Thus, there would have to be a third option: perhaps God reasons for allowing evil are inscrutable; perhaps the free will defense succeeds; etc. Only if one assumes that there is no God can one make sense of the logical problem of evil to begin with.

The evidential problem of evil suffers an even worse conundrum given its presuppositions. For it once more assumes that God should do more to prevent evil, and so because God does not do more, God must not exist or must not care about evil. But who is to say that God should do more to prevent evil? Who is in a position to judge the overall evil in the world and say that there should be less? Furthermore, even assuming it were possible for there to be less evil, who knows the whole breadth of possible purposes God might have to allow for suffering and evil? The presuppositionalist agrees with the words of God in Job:

Who has a claim against me that I must pay?
Everything under heaven belongs to me. Job 41:11

The answer must come with humility: no one has such a claim. There is none who can claim that God owes them one thing. Yet this is not all an appeal to God’s sovereignty. Instead, it is an appeal to God’s goodness.

The late Greg Bahnsen, a defender of presuppositional apologetics, presents the presuppositional approach to the problem of evil in his work, Always Ready:

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. Accordingly, when the Christian observes evil events or things in the world, he can and should retain consistency with his presupposition about God’s goodness by now inferring that God has a morally good reason for the evil that exists. (171-172)

Thus, the strength that one assigns to the problem of evil ultimately depends quite a bit upon one’s presuppositions. If you believe you have good reason for thinking that God exists, then the problem of evil seems much less powerful than if you believe there is no good reason for thinking God exists.

Yeah… and?

Okay, so what’s the point? It may be that what we bring to the table does indeed alter our view of the problem of evil. Does that mean we are at a complete impasse? I think that this is where evidences come in, even on the presuppositional view. If all we have are presuppositions, then we are indeed stuck. But we must look at evidences to see whose presuppositions match reality. And, what we have done by centering the discussion of the problem of evil around presuppositions is to set it to the side. Surely the atheist would not suggest the Christian must abandon their presuppositions? It seems like a more rational perspective to look at the evidences. The presuppositionalist holds that when it comes to evil, it is really just a matter of presuppositions. If a Good God exists, we can trust God.

Links

The Presuppositional Apologetic of Cornelius Van Til– I explore the presuppositional method of apologetics through a case study of the man who may fairly be called its founder, Cornelius Van Til.

Debate Review: Greg Bahnsen vs. Gordon Stein– I review a debate between a prominent presuppositional apologist, the late Greg Bahnsen, and a leading atheist, Gordon Stein. It is worth reading/listening to because the debate really brings out the distinctiveness of the presuppositional apologetic.

I have explored this type of argument about the problem of evil before. See my post, What if? The “Job Answer” to the problem of evil.

I review Greg Bahnsen’s Always Ready.

Image credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Las_Conchas_Fire.jpg

SDG.

——

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.

“How Much Evidence to Justify Religious Conversion?” – John Warwick Montgomery on Conversion

religious-symbolsI had the opportunity to hear John Warwick Montgomery speak at the Evangelical Theological/Philosophical Conference in 2012. He was one of the most engaging speakers I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. Here, we’ll look at his presentation alongside the journal article that he discussed. The topic was “How Much Evidence to Justify Religious Conversion?”*

Conversion and Evidence

Montgomery began by discussing the possibility of a position which had so much evidence that it becomes difficult to not believe it. Despite this, people do not hold that position. The reason, he argued, is because reasons other than evidence play into one’s conversion. Moreover, we live in a pluralistic age, which means that there are a vast array of options available to people looking for a worldview. This pluralism necessitates a drop in conversion rates because there are more worldviews presenting their evidence to each individual. Thus, it is important to look into the issue of the burden of proof alongside the issue of the standard of proof.

Burden and Standard of Proof

Here, Montgomery turned to his experience in law to explore the notion. Simply put, the burden of proof can also be seen as the burden of persuasion . Montgomery noted that the prosecutor does not always carry the burden of proof because the defendant often provides a positive defense, and so has their own burden of proof. For example, if someone says “I could not have done x because I was doing y at the same time at location z” then they have made a positive claim which itself requires a burden of proof. Or, as Montgomery put it, “The person who wants to make a case has the burden of proof.”

But it is important to note that the burden of proof is not the same thing as a standard of proof. When people object to Christianity based upon a supposed lack of proof, they are not addressing the burden of proof but rather the standard. Montgomery acknowledged that Christianity must assume the burden of proof but makes several points related to the standard of proof.

First, proof “depends on probability–not on absolute certainty or on mere possibility” (Montgomery, 452, cited below). He appealed to the “Federal Rules of Evidence” to make this clear. The key is to note that probability ,not absolute certainty, is at stake. Why? Epistemologically speaking, absolute certainty can only be set out in formal logic or mathematics. It is unjustifiable to require absolute certainty for every fact. “Where matters of fact are concerned–as in legal disputes, but also in the religious assertions of historic Christianity–claims can be vindicated only by way of evidential probability” (Ibid).

Second, and more importantly for the current discussion, there are differing standards of proof. The legal system is again a model for this notion. In criminal trials, there is a higher standard of proof than for civil matters. The criminal standard is beyond reasonable doubt, while the civil standard is “preponderence of evidence.” Montgomery argued that religious conversion should be seen as bearing a standard of proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” (453).

Third, competing religious claims must each assume their own burden of proof. They cannot simply say “prove my religious claim false.” One must meet the standard of proof in order to have legitimate entry into the competition between worldviews.

Extraordinary Claims Need Extraordinary Evidence?

Often, the claim is made that religious claims, because they are extraordinary, need extraordinary evidence. I have written on this exact topic at length elsewhere, but here will focus on Montgomery’s argument. He argued “The notion that the ‘subject matter’ should be allowed to cause a relaxation or an augmentation of the standard of proof is a very dangerous idea…. No one would rationally agree to a sliding evidence scale dependent on the monetary sum involved [in a crime]–nor should such a scale be created… The application to religious arguments based on the factuality of historical events should be obvious. Of course, the resurrection of Christ is of immensely more significance than Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon, but the standards required to show that the one occurred are no different from those employed in establishing the other” (Ibid, 455-456).

The notion that the import of a claim makes a sliding scale of evidence is made to be absurd because historical events have more importance across cultures and so would, on such a view, be radically different in their acceptable standards of proof.

The Existential Factor

Finally, Montgomery focused on the existential side of conversion. Here, he offered what he admitted as a somewhat crude argument which was derived from Pascal’s wager. Assuming that the standard of proof is met for a religious system, one still must deal with the existential factors of conversion. Thus, Montgomery argued, one’s commitment to a truth claim should be weighed by the benefits divided by the entrance requirements: C=B/E.

Because the entrance requirements for Christianity are extremely low, and its benefits infinite, one should, assuming the standard of proof has been met, be highly committed to Christianity. Montgomery noted that some may argue the entrance requirements are very high (i.e. setting aside adulterous relationships). Against this, Montgomery argued that the benefits vastly outweigh the finite bliss one feels by such sinful actions.

eps-cc

Applications

The subtlety of Montgomery’s argument should not be missed. It has application in a number of areas. First, Montgomery is as thoroughgoing an evidentialist as they come. His argument about the standard of proof being probabilistic is unlikely to gain much credence among those who favor a presuppositional approach to apologetics.

Yet it seems to me that Montgomery’s argument in this regard is correct. We must take into account the evidence when we are looking at various religious claims, and also acknowledge the existential factors which play into conversion.

Montgomery’s argument does much to clarify the issue for apologists in general. Our task is to clear barriers and present convincing evidence to those who argue that Christianity has not met the standard of proof. But our task does not end with that; we must also present the existential challenge of Christianity to those who believe the standard of proof has been met. This includes the preaching of the Gospel.

Montgomery was also careful not to discount the Holy Spirit in religious conversion. He made it clear that he was speaking to the notion of conversion in the abstract. People must be renewed by the Holy Spirit; yet that renewal may come through evidence and standard of proof.

It seems to me that Montgomery’s arguments were insightful and sound. He presented an excellent way to look at religious claims and evaluate them in light of evidence, while also taking existential factors into account.

Links

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

Montgomery’s use of evidence in law to look at religious truth claims reminds me very much of J. Warner Wallace’s Cold Case Christianity. Check out my review of that fantastic book.

Extraordinary Claims need… what, exactly?– I argue that the claim that religious claims need extraordinary evidence is mistaken.

I have written about numerous other talks at the EPS Conference on an array of topics. Check them out:

Gregg Davidson vs. Andrew Snelling on the Age of the Earth– I write about a debate I attended on the age of the earth.

Caring for Creation: A dialogue among evangelicals– I discuss a lecture and panel discussion on caring for the environment.

Genetics and Bioethics: Enhancement or Therapy?– Here, I outline a fascinating talk I attended about gene enhancement and gene therapy.

You can read my overview of every single talk I attended: My Trip to the Evangelical Philosophical/Theological Society Conference 2012.

Sources

*Unless otherwise noted, the information herein was discussed in John Warwick Montgomery’s EPS 2012 Conference talk entitled “How Much Evidence to Justify Religious Conversion? Some Thoughts on Burden and Standard of Proof vis-a-vis Christian Commitment”

John Warwick Montgomery, “How Much Evidence to Justify Religious Conversion?” in Philosophia Christi 13, #1 2011, 449-460.

SDG.

——

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.

Links

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.

Sources

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.

SDG.

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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.

Really Recommended Posts 2/8/13

postI could do these every day and still not catch up to the amount of fantastic posts out there. This week’s Really Recommended Posts feature “Love Wins,” natural evil, apologetics methodology, Tolkien, and more! As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts (and recommendations!).

Love Wins Critique– Rob Bell’s book on hell (or lack thereof?) caused quite a stir when it came out, and it continues to be discussed widely. Check out this excellent multi-part critique of the book. You can access all 5 parts here.

Why Would God Allow Natural Disasters? – One of the hardest parts of the problem of evil is the difficulty of “natural evils.” Check out this insightful response to the problem.

Is the Cold Case Still Valid? – One of the debates within Christianity is about apologetics methodology. Should we be evidentialists or presuppositionalists or something else (spoiler: I don’t think we need to be either/or)?  This post discusses a critique of Cold-Case Christianity from an apologetic methodology standpoint. The book is phenomenal and I recommend it highly (see my review). See also J. Warner Wallace’s own response to the objection.

John Lennox vs. Richard Dawkins– A great video in which Lennox discusses science and Christianity, set against beautiful backdrops and quotes from the Bible. It also features some other excellent Christian thinkers. It’s worth the watch.

Loyal dog continues to attend mass at church where owner’s funeral was held– Just a heart-wrenching story about a loyal dog. Not apologetics related, really, but I enjoyed it.

Tolkien’s essay, “On Fairy Stories” continues to have massive influence today. Read it here online (or obtain the PDF file to read later). I found this post through another excellent list of links which is well worth checking out.

Next Challenge, Please! Dealing with Doubt

You’ve heard it before, and you will hear it again.

Sensational Find: Jesus’ Body Found in Ossuary

The Passover Plot: Jesus’ Disciples’ Conspiracy to Form New Religion

100 Bible Errors

Was Jesus Married?

The headlines could be multiplied. We are confronted on a daily basis by challenges to the Christian faith. A simple search on Google turns up thousands upon thousands of results of anti-theists and proponents of other religions with sites to challenge Christianity. Radical claims in archaeology supposedly undermine Biblical truths. You name it.

It can be easy to be swept up in a fire-fighting mentality. As you run into one challenge, you find a quick-and-easy fix for it and then jump to the next one. You want to make sure that you believe the right thing; you want to know that you’re right.

How can a Christian deal with doubt?

In his article, “How Should We Treat New Challenges to the Christian Faith?” in  The Apologetics Study Bible,  Gary Habermas makes five points Christians should follow when dealing with doubts.

1) Divorce our emotions from the challenge- Rather than spending emotional energy constantly doubting due to every new challenge, realize that the Bible has “successfully withstood innumerable attacks over the centuries.”

2) Assume the Bible is true- Habermas urges this presuppositional approach for Christians. Rather than assuming the Bible is guilty until proven innocent, it should be treated with the same historical standard as other texts, and be given a chance to stand on its own before being subjected to hyper-criticism.

3) Carefully analyze each critical allegation against the Bible- Instead of jumping from challenge to challenge with only a superficial understanding, dig into each challenge individually. One thing I always told my students when I taught apologetics classes was that if you run into a question or doubt, I can guarantee someone smarter than me has already written on it. Look into the rich intellectual past of Christianity. Become familiar with the arguments. It will be enlightening and faith-strengthening.

4) Get help from Christian Scholars- Okay I jumped the gun on this one a bit! Do this! Christian brothers and sisters, we have extraordinary access to nearly limitless resources online and in person to deal with doubts. Take advantage of this. Don’t fall into blind faith or dogmatic skepticism; instead, seek to understand.

5) Be patient! Instant answers aren’t always going to happen. Search the Scriptures; follow the above steps; trust in God. I’ve found that dealing with doubt can be a rewarding experience as you pursue a question into the ground. Your faith will be stronger for the experience.

What about archaeological finds? Well again, there’s something to be said for a cautious skepticism about sensational finds. Reasons to Believe has an excellent article on the topic: “Avoiding Crackpot Archaeology”. In it, Krista Bontrager provides a 6-step process for analyzing these sensational claims. I’ll let you read the article for the full details, but here it is in summary: 1) Check the research; 2) check the credentials of the one making the claim; 3) Check for verification; 4) Was it published/where?; 5) What are other scholars saying?; 6) Caution: Is it too good (or bad?) to be true?

Christian brothers and sisters, we owe it to ourselves to pursue the truth. Jesus is the truth. When dealing with doubt, do not forget you’re not alone. All truth is God’s truth, and the pursuit of truth will not leave you ungrounded. Thank God.

SDG.

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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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