The Problem With Presuppositionalism, And Why Creationists Should Reject It — A Very Brief Introduction
Presuppositionalism is a common philosophy within Christian apologetics circles that claims that reason, logic, and knowledge are only possible if one first starts with a Biblical Worldview. While there are many great men of Christ who hold to this view in some form, Presuppositionalism has some major problems, both logically and Biblically. One key problem is the lack of clear definitions. Many of the claims made by Presuppositionalism sound pious and intellectual at first, until the actual terms are pressed for their specific meaning.
This is contrary to Classicalism, Evidentialism, and (Randian) Objectivism, which claim that men arrive at knowledge through observation and reason, rather than by starting with a particular worldview.
In this article, I seek to clarify the specific points made by Presuppositionalism by citing one of its most well-respected proponents. I then critique Presuppositionalism as a set of ideas, showing why I do not see it as being supported by either the Bible or observational evidence.
Finally, I argue for a return to an objective epistemology. Regardless of one’s erroneous worldview, a man is morally obligated to seek knowledge. He is morally responsible to understand that 2+2=4, that the grass is green, that a pocket watch requires a designer, and that human life has value. When knowledge and reason are followed to their rational conclusion, the truth of the Christian faith becomes clear.
There are many leaders within Christianity who subscribe to a sort of Presuppositionalism whom I respect very much. Major leaders in the creationist movement such as Ken Ham and Dr. Jason Lisle have had an incredible impact on me. (In fact, Ken Ham played a huge role in me giving my life to Christ, and I think that all Christians should use the resources from Answers in Genesis, the ministry he founded.)
Since creation-based apologetics is my main area of expertise, my target reader for this article is the person who is scientifically educated, like myself, but who may not have a deep understanding of this area of philosophy. I find that creationists commonly hold to a presup-light view of epistemology, but I think that with a better understanding of epistemology, we will greatly improve both our apologetics arguments — and our own lives.
I hope that this article will also be of benefit to Christians in general and will benefit our witness, including those who may currently view themselves as Presuppositionalists.
I want to be very clear here that I am writing this article to critique a set of ideas, not to attack genuine Christians who hold to those sets of ideas. We ought not to be like the Left, which often regards disagreement with someone’s ideas as an attack on a person’s identity.
For a long time, I understood Presuppositionalism to mean that when we look at the evidence in the world; from fossils, DNA, history, etc., it makes sense in light of the Bible. In other words, if the Bible is true, then the evidence in the world makes sense. This is therefore a strong case for the truth of the Bible.
On the other hand, other worldviews, including evolution, may make sense of some of what we see in the world, but the evidence fits far better within a Biblical framework. Just because certain evidence may fit with evolution (such as similarities between human and chimp DNA), this does not mean that it is evidence for evolution. Similarity may be explained by a common ancestor or a common designer. I was also told that evidence must be interpreted within a framework.
There are quite a few problems with the view I just described which I held to for many years, however this description is not what the founders of Presuppositionalism argued for. I think that proper clarity in these matters will go a long way.
In terms of the Presup-light view that I just described, I think that it overemphasizes “worldview glasses” and underemphasizes the objective facts. For example, the claim that human and chimp genomes are 98% similar is simply false (as you can see in the above video). When an Evolutionist makes this claim, the proper response is to point out that this is factually untrue. There are similarities between humans and chimps, which (in very general terms) makes sense whether we have a common Creator or a common ancestor, however the 98% similarity figure is objectively and factually false.
The Need for Definition
One thing I have noticed when people try to defend presuppositionalism against classicalism, evidentialism, or (Randian) Objectivism in terms of epistemology is that most defenders of presuppositionalism aren’t able to give a clear definition of what presuppositionalism is. When asked to define their view, proponents typically might say something to the effect that as Christians we should presuppose the Bible to be true and that all knowledge requires that we presuppose some kind of worldview. Or we might hear that, in order to have any kind of knowledge, we must first presuppose the existence of God.
This leaves us with a problem. In order to argue for or against a particular view, we have to know what that view is, and how it compares with other intellectual views that occupy the same philosophical niche. In other words, in order to determine whether presuppositionalism is true, we first need a set of points that clearly and distinctly define this view, which are coherent enough to be verified or falsified.
One of the common critiques against this view is that, while its points sound pious, they aren’t solidified and defined enough to have this level of coherency. That is why I am seeking in this article to define the essential, unique points of presuppositionalism clearly — so that they can be critiqued and compared with other forms of epistemology.
Presuppositionalism argues that there are certain presuppositions that man must make in order to have knowledge. An important question to ask is: What exactly does presuppositionalism say that we should presuppose?
Are we to presuppose:
A.) God exists
B.) The Triune God of the Bible exists
C.) A biblical worldview, including an acceptance of the creation, the Flood, the Tower of Babel, etc.
D.) All of the above
What exactly are the starting presuppositions that man must hold in order to have knowledge, confidence in the senses, and confidence in one’s own reason?
In the famous debate between Greg Bahnsen and R.C. Sproul, Bahnsen made several claims that I think can be used to infer the unique points of presuppositionalism. (See the video and transcript link below.)
At 1:13:00 (1 hour, 13 minutes) Bahnsen argues that man cannot even have knowledge that the grass is green unless he first presupposes the existence of God.
At 1:39:00 Bahnsen seemingly argues that one must start with the Bible in order to have any belief in a rational universe.
At 1:42:00 Bahnsen argues that “The Word of God is the foundation of all certainty.”
At 1:48:00 Banhsen argues that rationality is not possible without first presupposing the Sovereign Triune God of the Bible.
Based on what I’ve seen from adherents, including Bahnsen, presuppositionalism boils down to one central claim:
Reason and logic are not possible unless one first presupposes a Biblical worldview.
Contrary to classicalism, the truth of the Bible is not a conclusion drawn from reason and evidence but instead is so (internally) obvious that it precedes any of our rational faculties, including logic, reason, and sense perception. The case for the Christian faith can be made, but the Biblical worldview and the Lordship of Jesus Christ must be assumed to be true before the evidence is even examined.
I highly recommend the following summaries from Dr. James White and Dr. R.C. Sproul. The former being a high-profile proponent and the later a well-known critic.
As Dr. James White states: “There can be no neutrality in the universe created by the triune God, hence there can be no pretended place of neutrality where we can stand with the unbeliever outside of the lordship of Christ. Every fact (if it is a fact) is so because Jesus made it what it is. I am called to proclaim Jesus as LORD not merely at the final conclusion of a long line of arguments that are submitted to a rebellious creature for his approval but as the first and central reality that makes all knowledge and wisdom possible.” [Emphasis mine]
White goes on to talk about evidence, explaining that evidence can be presented to the unbeliever, but not “as a basis upon with they are to believe. They already have, according to Romans 1, knowledge of God, but they are suppressing that knowledge.” [Again, emphasis mine.]
Rather than asking if the Christian worldview is supported by the facts, Presuppositionalism says that the Christian worldview must be declared from the outset.
In other words, according to Presuppositionalism, we are not supposed to look at the facts to objectively determine whether the claims of Christianity are true, as Christians have done historically, rather we are to declare that the Biblical worldview is true and then go from there.
The atheist, in this view, is capable of reason, logic, morality, and knowledge, but only because he is borrowing from the Christian worldview. There are other points to this philosophy, many of which sound good on their own. But the aforementioned point (in bold) is the core tenet of presuppositional philosophy and what sets it apart from everything else.
So unless one first presupposes that the Bible is the ultimate authority and that the God of the Bible exists and created the universe, all knowledge is impossible. Bahnsen qualified in his debate with Sproul that this includes even basic knowledge, such as the fact that the grass is green. And all of this sounds very spiritual and very pious.
Of course, such a claim is absurd. Clearly, those who have never seen a Bible, and are not capable of presupposing such things, are nevertheless perfectly capable of knowledge — a point that I will elaborate on in this article.
(Click here for a link to the transcript.)
The Need For Falsifiability
From my training in science, one of the main things I look for in an idea is falsifiability. This means that an idea must be clear and definitive enough so that we know what it is, and so that it can potentially be proven to be wrong.
In brief, one example of an unfalsifiable idea would be “Climate Change.” This is a claim so broad that it can mean just about anything, and becomes nearly impossible to refute. Of course the climate will change, it would be very surprising if it remained static over the course of centuries, but often “Chicken Little” doomsday prophets want to conflate any change in the climate with man-made climate apocalypse.
Something Bad Happened, It Must Be Climate Change
Droughts, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, ice storms… The evidence for Climate Change is all around us! One…
Another example would be abiogenesis, the claim that life can come from non-life. In the time of Darwin, people thought of “simple” life as being simple blobs of protoplasm, but in the century and a half since that time, scientists have learned that “simple” life is actually extremely complex. Despite centuries of studies, (and because of these studies), what we have is overwhelming data showing that life cannot arise from non-life by naturalistic means. Life can only come from life, or from an intelligent designer. Biomolecules simply do not arrange themselves into the ordered complexity required to create even the most “primitive” lifeform. The odds of getting even one specified protein in the history of the universe is functionally impossible.
Despite the evidence, evolutionists hold onto the claim that life somehow arose from non-life. This somehow claim is an unfalsifiable religious claim that is outside of the realm of science.
There is no objective scientific case that life can arise from non-life. All of the facts and evidence objectively point in the opposite direction. The evolutionist may cling to his or her religious belief that life arose from non-life, but he or she ought to be honest enough to acknowledge that this is a blind faith belief that objectively runs counter to the facts, however much he or she may want to believe it.
In order to test whether an idea lines up with Scripture or with facts that we can observe, we first have to clearly define what that idea is. Saying that an idea seeks to give God glory sounds nice, but it doesn’t tell me what a claim is definitively saying.
One of the problems with trying to “pin down presuppositionalism” is that the founding authors were often very vague in what their view actually was, and both proponents and critics point this out about Van Til especially.
Part of my goal with this article is to do that here.
If proponents of Van Til, Bahnsen, and any of the other founders of this philosophy do not like my characterization of their views, then I challenge them to show me quotes from their founders that clarify their views.
I do not want to strawman anyone or misrepresent their views, and I am open to clarification, but understanding is a two-way street. That said, the burden was on men like Bahnsen and Van Til to give a clear enough explanation of their thoughts so that they can be clearly and definitively tested against Scripture and against what we can observe in reality. All I can do is read their words and try my best to honestly understand, I cannot read their minds, nor is it fair to expect me to.
Presuppositionalism’s Starting Points
Presuppositionalism essentially claims that one must start with the Bible before logic and reason are possible. We see this in a number of places.
In his article, “Van Til vs. Christianity,” Cody Libolt juxtaposes a number of quotes from Van Til and Bahnsen with those taken from John Calvin and the Bible. These founding Presuppositionalists claimed that there was no way to prove that God exists except by the indirect method of presupposition. These founders also claimed that the Apostles did not attempt to prove their case by appealing to the facts.
But what does the Bible say about that?
Greg Bahsen: “They did not attempt to prove it by appealing to the facts” (Bahnsen, The Impropriety of Evidentially Arguing for the Resurrection, 1972).
Paul: “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” (Romans 1:20).
Clearly, the Apostle Paul, in Romans 1, appealed to the facts.
The article cites several examples of quotes to the effect that the Apostles did not argue on the basis on the evidence, and then shows Bible quotes to the contrary.
Van Til vs. Christianity
Peter: “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders…
Libolt’s article is very well written, since it directly quotes the founders of the Presuppositional school of thought, and then refutes them by directly quoting the Bible.
To quote Tim Chaffey of Answers in Genesis:
Logic, truth, morality, knowledge, and science all stem from a biblical worldview, and only a biblical worldview. This does not mean that one must believe the Bible in order to believe in these things, but it does mean that the Bible must be true in order for one to use these things.
— Tim Chaffey
The problem with this quote is that it does not properly distinguish between ontology and epistemology, something I will address later on.
Great civilizations accomplished amazing things without believing in God, so why must He exist for logic to be true…
To add another Bahnsen quote from his debate with Sproul:
Secondly, the apologist must have a proper starting point. He must take God’s word as his self evidencing presupposition; thinking God’s thoughts after him, rather than attempting to be neutral in his debate. And viewing God’s word as more sure than his personal experience of the facts.
— Greg Bahnsen
Based on Bahnsen’s quote here, the Bible should be the primary starting point, before the facts are even brought to the table. Based on his other quotes, the Bible should even precede logic and reason in man’s epistemology.
Bahnsen also says the following:
And then finally, the apologist should declare the self-evidencing and authoritative truth of God as the precondition of intelligibility and man’s only way of salvation from all of the effects of sin, be they ignorance or intellectual vanity. Lest the apologist become like the unbeliever, he should not answer him according to his folly but according to God’s word. The unbeliever can be invited to put himself on the Christian position in order to see that it provides the necessary grounds for intelligible experience and factual knowledge, thereby concluding that it alone is reasonable to hold and that it is the very foundation for proving anything whatsoever.
— Greg Bahnsen
(Again, emphasis mine)
Finally, I want to quote Ken Ham, whom I consider to be one of the most important apologists of our time.
Well, the point is because there’s no neutrality, no such thing. Everybody has a religion. Everybody has a worldview. There are only two foundations. Ultimately God’s word or man’s word. If we truly understand what it means to think correctly as Christians, one thing you realize is, wait a minute, our worldview means we have a position on everything. Now, you may not know all the details, but you have a position on everything because we start with the absolute authority of the word of God.
— Ken Ham
(Once again, emphasis mine.)
My purpose with these quotes is to show that, according to Presuppositionalism, one must first presuppose a Biblical Worldview before knowledge and reason are even possible.
If one wants to say that logic is only possible because the God of The Bible created the universe, then fine, we agree. But you can’t “Start” with that as your presupposition, because that’s the question that one is trying to answer in the first place.
As R.C. Sproul said in his debate with Bahnsen, the only One who can start with God is God. Sproul argued that while it sounds nice to start with God, that is simply not possible for mortal man, because he is not God. Man can only “start with” the information that is directly available to him.
During the debate, Sproul and Bahnsen also engaged in the following exchange, which I find to be very helpful.
Sproul: Would you please repeat that last? I didn’t hear whether you said mediate or immediate.
Bahnsen: The knowledge which all men have is immediate.
Sproul: And not mediate?
Bahnsen: And not mediate.
In the above context, the two men were discussing whether the knowledge of God from general revelation comes from observing the world and concluding that God exists (mediate revelation) or whether the knowledge of God is an internal pre-programmed knowledge of God’s existence (immediate). Mediate meaning that the knowledge comes through something (i.e. external evidence), and immediate meaning that it is there (inside man) from the outset.
The Core Claim of Presuppositionalism
During the debate between Bahnsen and Sproul, Bahnsen claimed that the unbeliever is not even capable of knowing that the grass is green without first Presupposing a Biblical Worldview.
It is generally claimed by Presuppositionalists that you can only have logic and reason within the context of the Christian Worldview and that one must first presuppose that the Bible is the Word of God before logic and reason are even possible.
The founding presuppositionalists seem to have been saying that all men, on some level (consciously or otherwise), have a Biblical worldview already preprogrammed into their minds. This means that even the native in the Amazon rainforest who has never seen a Bible nevertheless has a Biblical Worldview, which he chooses to suppress. But he borrows from the knowledge of that suppressed Biblical Worldview so that he can have knowledge that the grass is green.
When the missionary then comes along and tells men and women about Jesus, he is essentially telling them what they already know, but the specific name of the Messiah (and many other details) may be new to them.
Again, that may sound nice and might sound spiritual. But what evidence is there for the claim that all men are preprogrammed with a Biblical Worldview? I would submit that there is none, either Scripturally or based on observational evidence.
During the debate between Sproul and Bahnsen, the following exchange took place.
Sproul: But how do you know that your presupposition is true? Where does your certainty come from? That’s what I keep trying to ask.
Bahnsen: From the impossibility of the contrary.
Bahnsen went on to show that without God, all you have in the universe is a bunch of “leaky buckets,” (presumably a totally irrational universe, assuming you had a universe at all) Sproul then retorts by asking why we can’t all be in “one big leaky bucket.” The takeaway from the presentations given by Sproul and Bahnsen showed that the case for Christianity presented by Sproul was far stronger than Bahnsen’s attempt to refute a universe of “leaky buckets.”
Even Romans 1, which advocates of this view like to cite, does not claim that men are preprogrammed with knowledge of a Biblical Worldview. Rather it says that God has made Himself obvious from the evidence in creation — evidence which men detect with their senses. Men know that God exists and that He is good because they use their eyes and ears to observe nature and they use their minds to rationally think.
Romans 1:18-20 (NASB)
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the…
A man who is unfamiliar with the Biblical Worldview may observe that we live in a logical and rational universe, and from that evidence conclude that there must be a logical and rational God behind it. He may know nothing about the Trinity or the specifics of God’s nature, but he will know that there is a God, and he will know something about who that God is.
Notice that the claim “God exists” is not the same as having any kind of proper Biblical Worldview. One could potentially know that God exists without the specific knowledge of the worldview described in Genesis or the rest of the Bible. (That’s part of why Christians talk about General Revelation and Special Revelation.)
Also, the knowledge that God exists based on the evidence in creation is not the same thing as presuppositionalism. This is the position that classicalists and evidentialists held long before Van Til and Bahnsen came along. The famous Watchmaker argument from Paley did a good job summarizing the classicalist and evidentialist views: Men know that there is a watchmaker when they see a pocket watch with all of its intricacies. They may not have any pre-existing knowledge of a watchmaker, but based on the physical evidence, they necessarily come to the conclusion that a watchmaker must exist.
In the aforementioned Sproul/Bahnsen debate, there was a lot of back-and-forth about how men “know” that God exists per Romans 1. Bahnsen argued that the knowledge of God is immediate, meaning that men *just know* internally and automatically that God exists. Sproul argued that, according to historic Christian philosophy (including that of Calvin), the knowledge of God is mediate, it comes from observing nature and the world and concluding by our rational faculties that God must exist.
In my short story, The Caves of Mars, I argue that even if one were to find something like a pocket watch on another planet, they would know that some intelligence (human or otherwise) must have created it, even if they have no pre-existing knowledge of said watchmaker. The same reasoning must apply when we see evidence of intelligent engineering within biological systems, including design within a living cell.
The Caves of Mars (Eden's Revenge Book 0)
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The burden of proof is on the presuppositionalist to show that men come into the world already preprogrammed with a Biblical Worldview before they can even obtain knowledge through their senses. The burden is on them to prove their core claim, not on me to disprove it.
Notice: Their core claim is not the same as saying that God’s existence is obvious from the evidence in creation (Romans 1) — these are two separate claims entirely.
God’s existence is obvious from seeing the evidence in creation. does not equal Men come into the world preprogrammed with a Biblical Worldview, and without this preprogrammed Biblical Worldview, knowledge is impossible.
The above are not actual quotes, but paraphrases to compare Romans 1 with presuppositionalism. The difference is obvious. I will get into more detail on all of this as I go and attempt to show a better view of epistemology.
Apologetics or Epistemology?
This core claim about how men obtain knowledge means that presuppositionalism is not ultimately an apologetic method, as some mistakenly claim. Rather, presuppositionalism is, firstly, a theory of epistemology, and unless one is willing to evaluate the different schools of thought with regard to epistemology, one should not be an ardent defender of one view over another.
Obviously, not all of those who call themselves “presuppositionalists” would be so absurd as to claim that even basic knowledge is impossible without first presupposing a Biblical worldview. But this was the core claim put forth by the authors of this philosophy, and the core claim which set their ideas apart. The extent to which one deviates from this claim is the extent to which one is no longer talking about presuppositionalism.
If we are to examine a philosophy, we have to know what the founders of that philosophy said it was and what its tenets are, and we need to know this clearly. Otherwise, a philosophy becomes a mess of Jello where any man can interpret that philosophy in any which way he wants, and it loses all definition. “A” is no longer “A” at that point, but a mess on the floor only fit to be mopped up and discarded.
One could imagine the absurdity of a “Darwinist” who does not believe in Evolution or a “Marxist” who rejects Socialism. People can hold to whatever set of ideas they want, but they should not call their ideas “presuppositionalism” if they do not agree with the founding, core principles of that view. Sadly, the founders of this philosophy were very unclear in many of their points, leading to these kinds of misunderstandings.
From what I’ve seen of my fellow creationists, most hold to a presup-light view (much like what I described earlier) in which they mix together different ideas from different theories of epistemology without really understanding what is being mixed together. And since most of us are better trained in science than philosophy, is this really any surprise? (Until very recently, this was me, and I am still learning.)
Cody Libolt and Jacob Brunton did two videos on the topic of epistemology a couple of years back, and they were instrumental in both the way I think about apologetics and in how I approach science professionally. (See below.)
On a personal note, Jacob also took the time to answer my “Matrix” question. In my case, I was not concerned with whether the world is real (as opposed to being in a Matrix), rather my main concern was whether or not I could trust my own mind, senses, and reason. Perhaps I was caught in a loop of confirmation bias in terms of the Christian Faith. After all, if we are all starting with a worldview, and our own biases, then how can I trust my own mind? If we all have our own Presuppositions, then how do I know that I am seeing the world clearly?
Jacob put that and more to rest.
I asked him how we know we aren’t just all living in the Matrix. Part of his answer to me was to ask: What evidence do you have for the Matrix?
This was immensely helpful.
When I talk to those who strongly advocate for presuppositionalism, they usually tell me that unless I first Presuppose the Bible to be True, I can’t even know that the world exists or that my own mind exists. In other words, unless I first Presuppose the Truth of the Bible and Christianity, I could be living in the Matrix.
But if all reason and logic rest on arbitrary presuppositions, then how do I know that I am not just caught in a vicious loop of confirmation bias? Jacob Brunton and Cody Libolt answer that and more in these videos and show how we can have an objective approach to epistemology without having to rest on arbitrary assumptions, and how we can know that the Bible is true without having to arbitrarily presuppose it.
Presuppositions VS Axioms
Let’s compare the presuppositionalist view to an axiomatic view of epistemology. According to many schools of philosophy, such as classicalism and (Randian) Objectivism, a proper epistemology starts with certain essential premises that are so obviously true that they cannot be false.
“I think therefore I am.” This was put forth by Rene Descartes, and shows that the fact that I have thoughts proves that I have a mind and that my mind exists. (This was a concept explored in the Matrix franchise.)
“2+2=4” This is a basic truth so obvious that man is without excuse to reject it. While even mathematicians can make errors in higher level math, the reality of the most fundamental basics is so obvious that any rational adult is morally responsible to recognize this objective reality.
“A is A” Ayn Rand elaborates on this principle (which goes back to Aristotle). Each thing that exists has certain properties at any given moment, and not others.
I would like to also add that there are moral axioms, such as the fact that man ought to seek the ultimate truth. There is some form of truth out there, and man has an obvious moral obligation to seek to learn what that truth is. He does not know from the start what that ultimate truth is, so he cannot start from the ultimate truth, but he can use his rational faculties to seek that which is true.
Man does not have to start with the correct worldview in order to recognize the obvious truth of the aforementioned axioms. These are things that are so obviously true that one would have to jump off of a philosophical cliff into insanity to deny them.
If a rational mind begins with these basic axioms and follows the evidence presented in creation to its logical conclusion, it will lead them to God as the Creator and Sustainer. And if one follows logic and the facts of history, it will lead to the Resurrection, and show God as Savior.
The materialist may play their own presuppositional game by saying that God is not allowed in science or history, but this is an obvious case of arbitrary philosophical bias. It’s a classic case of begging-the-question and circular reasoning. They dismiss the possibility of God before the evidence is even brought to the table. The proper answer to this question-begging is not to say that one must start with the conclusion that Christianity is true, but instead to point out the error and point to objective facts, reason, and philosophy.
The presuppositionalist will often point to man’s fallen nature at this point. They will point out that fallen man wants to reject God, and that his mind is darkened. Of course, how declaring that a skeptic must just accept the Bible without evidence (as Bahnsen clearly did) solves that, I am not sure.
My response to fellow Christians is that any level of reason that we have is given to us by God’s common grace. Our job is to help Wisdom set her table and to invite men to dine with us, not to force men to eat.
A Pointed Question
Jacob Brunton asks the pointed but fair question:
Can anyone find me a presuppositionalist who knows what epistemology even is?
The proof will be their ability to define presuppositional epistemology in contradistinction to other epistemologies & in contradistinction to metaphysics & soteriology.
For context, Brunton is trying to find someone with the opposing view to his own who can engage in a fruitful and rational dialogue. A few years back he did a debate entitled “What Has Athens To Do With Jerusalem” in which he debated the role of Philosophy in the Christian life. Like a boxer in a ring, he engages forcefully in his debates, without ever attacking the personhood of the individual. But in his debates, he is clearly far more prepared than his opponents, so it is obviously not a fair fight.
And for those living in the Twenty-First Century, keep in mind that previous generations understood that two gentlemen could box — intellectually or physically, and this was regarded as a good and proper thing for civilized Christian men to do (hence the Sproul-Bahnsen debate). The idea that we have to walk on eggshells all the time lest we offend someone would have been regarded as sin pretty much universally before our time. (I discuss this in my upcoming novel, Broken Mirror, How will we be remembered?)
Many might take offense at Brunton’s challenge, but he is right: If a Christian is unable to demonstrate a rudimentary understanding of the vocabulary and terms within a field of knowledge, he is not yet ready to debate the topic.
Also, if I may add, as Christians we should not be attaching any particular “ism” to our identity other than that which is proper to attach to one’s identity, especially if we do not understand that “ism” well enough to explain what it is and how it compares and differs to other sets of ideas in the same category.
Not attaching ideas to our identity frees us to judge these ideas more rationally and objectively, without taking personal offense at their critique. Hence I take issue with rashly calling oneself a “presuppositionalist” or a “classicalist” as opposed to simply saying “This idea seems to have a lot of merit to it.” (This is also my critique of “Calvinists” and “Arminians” who define their religious identity based on a mere man, rather than on the work of Christ alone.)
This approach keeps ideas in the realm of ideas and allows their critique or even insult to be the critique or insult of ideas. It minimizes personal investment or offense.
The Beginning of Knowledge
To keep this article as simple as possible, this idea that we have to assume the existence of God, (with a reasonably complete and proper understanding of the nature of God) before any other true knowledge is accessible to us not only flies in the face of what we can readily observe, but also clashes with the Bible.
The Bible itself teaches that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of Wisdom (“fear” in this context means respect and reverence), but it does not teach that a proper understanding of Theology and the Triune God of Scripture is the beginning of knowledge. Notice that these are two very different claims.
(I will go into Proverbs 1:7 shortly.)
If a man were to wake up on a beach on a deserted island with no memory of who he was, but with his rational faculties intact, he would be able to understand that two plus two equals four. And he would be morally obligated to recognize this.
One might want to challenge me on this, but when we look both at Scripture and at what we can observe through reality, this becomes quite obvious.
A child in First Grade learns the basic operations such as 2+2=4 and understands that they are true long before he goes to seminary to gain a proper understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity, Scriptural infallibility, and the Atonement of the Cross.
Sure, he learns some things about God on a basic level at home, but even kids who are in a culture that has not been reached by Christianity are capable of understanding these basic mathematical concepts.
One might object: But the reason the world is rational and logical is that it was made by the rational and logical God of the Bible. And I agree. But there is a difference between the order of being and the order of knowing. And here the presuppositionalist makes a categorical error.
I might learn about the Civil War because I read about it in a book. But in this case, the order of being and the order of knowing is reversed. The order of being is that (1) the Civil War happened, (2) men wrote the events down, and (3) I learned about them from the books that were written. But when I learn about the Civil War, I sit in the 21st Century, (3) reading words about the Civil War that (2) were written after (1) the Civil War happened.
Read that again.
So in the case of my Civil War example, the two are reversed. The order of being is not the same as the order of knowing for a finite temporal human being.
Let’s apply this to Natural Theology. The world was created in a certain way because of God’s nature. But as Romans 1 explains, a man looks at the nature of creation, and from that, He learns about the nature of God. God’s nature existed before the creation, but man sees the creation and learns about God’s nature. Again, we see that the two orders are not the same.
And this General Revelation is possible, according to Romans 1, despite the fact that the Bible teaches that the world is fallen and corrupted.
A Potential Counterargument
In bringing this argument forward, I was challenged by a presuppositionalist by the fact that Proverbs 1:7 says “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Of course, classicalists and presuppositionalists both agree that evil men suppress the truth — this is not a point of contention between the two views. The two “camps” disagree on how suppression takes place, but they agree that it does take place.
But what about the part about “knowledge”? doesn’t that prove the case for presuppositionalism?
Proverbs 1:7 and Proverbs 9:10 both make references to the fear of the LORD being the beginning of something. In one verse, the following word is generally translated as “wisdom,” while in the other verse the translation is “knowledge.” But when I looked up the word for wisdom and the word for knowledge both referred to a moral knowledge or a sort of wisdom.
Neither of the two Hebrew words are apparently referring to observational knowledge such as the color of the grass or the fact that wood can be used to feed a fire. And neither seems to be referring to basic operational knowledge such as the fact that 2+2=4. Even wicked men who do not fear the LORD are capable of figuring that out.
Of course, the fact that a fool hates knowledge and wisdom in this context may explain why a wicked person would want to suppress knowledge and wisdom, including basic knowledge. Many love academic knowledge and pseudo-wisdom but will suppress even basic mathematics to support Socialism or whatever the destructive cause-of-the-day happens to be.
Consider one other case. In the 21st Century, we are witnessing an unprecedented phenomenon. People are denying the existence of biological sex and claiming that gender is merely a social construct. But male and female are clear, objective biological categories. We even see college professors denying the basic facts of biology in favor of a perverse ideal.
Despite their perverse worldview and sinful motives, they do have access to this knowledge. It is plain, right before their eyes. Ben Shapiro asks, “Have you met a man or a woman?” (paraphrase). Just because they have an aberrant worldview does not mean that this knowledge is not available to them. One does not have to presuppose the Biblical worldview, including the clear teaching of a historical Adam and Eve, to recognize the fact that males and females are different.
Even though they have the wrong worldview, knowledge is still accessible to them. Bahnsen may argue that they are suppressing an internal knowledge of the Biblical worldview, but I argue that the evidence for such a claim is lacking. (More on that later on.)
The unbeliever may have erroneous beliefs about why males and females are different or where males and females came from. A non-Christian may believe that men and women evolved from an ape-like ancestor, or that men and women were created by Zeus, or that men and women are descended from ancient aliens from a distant planet. In other words, they may be very wrong in their beliefs and their worldview, but the fact that males and females are different is plain to all.
Evil men will suppress what is obvious before their eyes, but that does not mean that an erroneous worldview in and of itself prevents them from having knowledge.
The claim that people can, and sometimes do, suppress knowledge is different from the claim that a tribe in a forest must first presuppose a Biblical worldview before they can have knowledge that the grass is green. Clearly, many tribes have done quite well for themselves despite having erroneous and unbiblical worldviews.
Also, when we read Proverbs 1 in context, we are reading a passage about wise behavior. Epistemology in the sense of how one knows he can trust his senses or trust basic logic is not the context of the passage.
1 The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel:
2 To know wisdom and instruction,
To discern the sayings of understanding,
3 To receive instruction in wise behavior,
Righteousness, justice and equity;
4 To give prudence to the naive,
To the youth knowledge and discretion,
5 A wise man will hear and increase in learning,
And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel,
6 To understand a proverb and a figure,
The words of the wise and their riddles.
7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
Fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs 1:1–7 NASB
Here, knowledge refers to a form of wisdom, not knowledge of the fact that the grass is green or that 2+2=4. Not to mention the fact that the “Fear of the LORD” does not necessarily mean that one has a proper Biblical worldview. A lot of people know God is there, even if they do not know His name.
What about the man who has never heard the gospel, and thus cannot have a proper Biblical worldview? Can he have knowledge?
Christians and Skeptics alike often ask the question about the man in Africa. This is a hypothetical man living in the remotest inner regions of the continent who never gets a chance in his life to hear the gospel. This “what if” man raises a lot of disturbing questions for a lot of people, and rightly so.
But, like the school children and like the Amnesia Island man, this Africa man is capable of understanding quite a lot, despite never having read the Bible.
He is capable, and (morally) responsible, to understand that 2+2=4. And he is capable and responsible to understand much more than that. He ought to recognize that his life has value and that his family’s life has value, and recognize that he ought to seek knowledge to enrich and preserve these lives and for his own edification.
Interestingly enough, this is the premise of the science fiction novel Project Hail Mary. The main character in this incredible novel wakes up on a starship, rational faculties intact, but cannot even remember his own name. Yet he knows from the outset that he must seek knowledge.
Project Hail Mary
Check out this great listen on Audible.com. Winner of the 2022 Audie Awards Audiobook of the Year. Number-One Audible…
In Romans 1, we read that God has made it plain that He exists, but we also read that He has made a lot about His nature and moral standards obvious to all men. He has done this through the things that have been made in creation so that men are without excuse (Romans 1:20, 32). The atheist and the amoralist are without excuse if they reject that which God has made plain and evident through reason and creation.
Romans 1 clearly contradicts presuppositionalism, because it shows that one does not have to first assume the Bible to be true before one is capable of knowledge and reason. After all, these pagans that Paul described did not have the Bible. Most did not even have the Old Testament. Yet God still held them accountable for knowledge about morality and about Himself and His nature. He said that, because of the evidence itself, which they can clearly see in creation, they do not have an excuse.
Defenders of Presuppositionalism may claim that I am misrepresenting their view here, however that is not the intent. I am taking Bahnsen’s words at face value. As previously mentioned, Bahnsen himself said, that knowledge is not possible unless one first presupposes the Biblical Worldview. This of course begs the question of how one obtains a Biblical Worldview in the first place. (And what this internally-revealed worldview specifically entails.)
Some may take issue with my summary, and claim that I am misrepresenting Bahnsen, however the burden is, at some point, on Van Til and Bahnsen to clearly define their position so that it can be verified or falsified. Scripture says to “test all things” but how can claims be tested unless they are clearly defined? By quoting Bahnsen, and by listening several times to his debate with Sproul, I’d argue that I’ve done my due diligence, however, if someone disagrees, then let him bring forth clearly articulated quotes to show what Bahnsen’s position actually was. (Given the literature that both men wrote during their lifetimes, asking for clear definitions on their primary thesis should not be seen as an unreasonable request.)
I’ve heard it argued by other presuppositionalists that the unbeliever must borrow from the Biblical Worldview in order to use reason and logic and to have knowledge at all. But where is the evidence for this claim? Where is the evidence that everyone on Earth has the innate knowledge of the Trinity, which they borrow from to gain basic knowledge (e.g 2+2=4) which they then suppress?
What I see in Romans 1 is men suppressing the knowledge that naturally follows from observing the creation, not an internal innate knowledge.
Often presuppositionalists try to use this passage to defend their position but notice that Romans 1 is generally talking about cultures that have never seen the Scriptures. In fact, some of the Bible had not yet been written when Romans 1 was penned. So these people were unable to “start with the Bible” in their thinking because they did not know what the Bible was, and yet God still held them as being morally responsible for knowledge about Him and about His moral standards.
Romans 1 to a large extent answers the question of the man who does not have the Scriptures. It refutes presuppositionalism’s claim that man has to “start with the Bible” in order to truly have even basic knowledge.
A famous apologist recently criticized Jacob Brunton’s claims about General Revelation. This apologist claimed that all that can be known about God from General Revelation is that God exists and He is worthy to be praised. All that Brunton had to do to decisively refute this claim was quote Romans 1. Only time will tell if this man will admit his error.
Note that this apologist is also in contradiction to Bahnsen, who claimed that men must presuppose a Biblical Worldview, including the Trinity.
Bible Gateway passage: Romans 1 — New American Standard Bible
The Gospel Exalted — Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which…
It has often been argued by Christians and atheist philosophers alike that, in an atheistic nihilistic universe, there would be no standard of right and wrong. Historically, this view has lead to incredible atrocities, especially in Darwinian regimes such as Nazi Germany and the communist dictatorships.
But the Nazi officer had all of the evidence he needed to understand that this was not the universe he was living in. God made Himself obvious to this man. And He made the evil nature of murder obvious. Human life has value, and senseless destruction of value is evil. Someone could talk about presupposing a particular worldview all day, but we have all of the evidence we need from creation itself to understand that the Nazi worldview is wrong.
The Nazi regime and all those who supported their atrocities were without excuse. If a worldview claims that which is obviously false from the evidence, then it is proper to reject such a worldview.
The History of Science
Mainstream historians reject the commonly held rhetoric of the “Warfare Hypothesis” — the idea that science and religion, particularly science and Christianity have historically been at war with one another.
As one historian said:
“Furthermore, and contrary to popular belief, the Church never supported the idea that the earth is flat, never banned human dissection, never banned the zero, and certainly never burnt anyone at the stake for scientific ideas.”
-Cambridge historian of science, Dr. James Hannam
Historians of science now recognize that a Christian worldview helped make modern science possible. Christians understood the world to have been created and upheld by a God who was rational, consistent, and logical, and thus they expected a rational, logical universe that would be undergirded by laws that were consistent and knowable.
This view was opposed to pagan worldviews which might believe that trickster gods buried fossils, or that the operations of nature would shift arbitrarily with the whims of the gods. The view also contradicted much of Islamic Theology, despite postmodern-revisionist politically-correct claims to the contrary.
Christians in medieval Europe set out to understand God’s world. Their work eventually resulted in the Scientific Revolution.
One might claim that these facts are evidence that the Christian worldview is true (and I would agree). And at first glance, this might seem to corroborate presuppositionalism. But I think of the words of an Objectivist philosopher who is no friend of Christianity. In his book, The Logical Leap, author David Harriman recounts a story of when he took classes on the Philosophy of Science in university:
The professors would stand up in front of the class and say that the scientist has no more claim to knowledge than the witch doctor. Harriman’s response in his mind (if I may paraphrase) was that it is not the witch doctor who is creating airplanes, skyscrapers, or new drugs to effectively treat cancer. The people who do that are the modern-day scientists and engineers who are using their understanding of physics and biology to create these modern miracles, not the witch doctors in the forest.
Here, Harriman rejects the Postmodern nonsense of these mystic professors.
As a Christian, and as someone with a career in science, I appreciate this sentiment. Regardless of one’s worldview, one can rightly recognize that Ivory Soap floats in water. This is an experiment that we can repeat time and time again. We are without excuse if we reject the clear evidence before our own eyes.
In the same way that the physicist is vindicated by the airplane or by landing robots on the surface of Mars, the rational expectations of Christian philosophy are vindicated in every instance that nature shows itself logical and rational.
Jay Richards on How the Warfare Thesis Ignores the Roots of Science
On this episode of ID the Future from the vault, CSC Director of Communications Rob Crowther interviews CSC Senior…
Before I go on, I want to say a few more words about Christianity and the success of the Scientific Revolution, and I want to be careful not to overstate my case.
Christians in the time between the First Century and the modern era did an incredible amount of good for the world in terms of science, education, and medicine. It was Christians who invented hospitals to heal the sick and invented universities out of their love for learning. And as I previously mentioned, it was Christians working in the context of a Christian philosophy who developed what we consider to be modern science. Physicist and historian of science Dr. James Hannam goes into this topic in more detail in his book The Genesis of Science.
The idea that the Christian era in Europe was a time of darkness, ignorance and superstition could not be further from the truth. Most of the early scientists were themselves either devout Christians or at least nominal Christians in their respective beliefs, and the Catholic Church (with whatever other faults they had) supported and funded scientific research with a high degree of intellectual freedom. The stereotype of a “dark ages” when scientists were persecuted by religious zealots simply is not accurate. But a full analysis of this history is more than what I can do here.
The Galileo Affair: History or Heroic Hagiography?
Originally published in Journal of Creation 14, no 1 (April 2000): 91–100. Fifteen theses are advanced, with supporting…
What we saw in Europe with the Scientific Revolution was a fortunate convergence of factors. Christians at this time avidly read the philosophers who lived before the Christian era. They had high respect for men like Plato and Aristotle. This development is not surprising, since even the New Testament has highly respectful references to Plato and other ancient philosophers. Christian thinkers were then able to build on the work of their intellectual forerunners, developing a system of logic and philosophy that later became the foundation for a Natural Philosophy. (At that time, science was called “Natural Philosophy.”)
Other factors played into Christian Europe’s development. Due to geography and an openness to ideas, people in Europe adopted Indo-Arabic numerals, which originated in India. These were far superior to Roman numerals when it came to mathematics. Also, the fact that they used a system of phonetic letters as opposed to a complex system of hieroglyphs enabled the printing press to become a viable method of disseminating knowledge.
These and other factors meant that Christian Europe had unusually fertile ground from which the Scientific Revolution could grow.
An Independent Birth of Science?
In terms of Christianity and the Scientific Revolution, I want to challenge a few claims that I have heard.
During the What Has Athens To Do With Jerusalem debate, Jerry Wing claimed that a non-Christian can have no claim to truth and that everything that a non-Christian says is ultimately not true.
Brunton then asked if this means we should throw out everything that a microbiologist says, simply because he is not a Christian. Brunton soon after pushed the point further, asking: If a non-Christian claims that 2+2=4, does it become false? His opponent replied that when the non-Christian says 2+2=4, he might be saying something that is technically true, but he is doing so in arrogance.
Clearly, Brunton’s opponent was refuted in his original claim, and to his great credit, he seemed humble enough to rethink his positions while on stage. The non-Christian is clearly capable of knowledge, even if he fails to recognize who God is.
In terms of the Scientific Revolution, I have heard the claim that science is not possible apart from the Christian worldview — that Christianity forms the basis for reason, logic, and science. It is claimed that when the atheist or the unbeliever does a scientific experiment, he is borrowing from the Christian worldview in expecting the universe to be logical and rational.
In a limited sense, I agree that science ultimately borrows from Christian philosophy. But I think Christians need to be careful not to overstate the case here.
If one had a world-simulator allowing them to replay history with different scenarios, could Modern Science arise in a country that had never seen a Bible? It quite possibly could.
Picture a country with a philosophy that still held the world to be rational, and which had a love of learning. Perhaps in their religion, they held to some form of Judaism, Deism, or an offshoot of Islam … or perhaps they were simply a people who knew from General Revelation that God exists, and who generally followed what He has made obvious to all men, despite never having been reached by a missionary. Perhaps this is a country that God has blessed with soft hearts for Him, for themselves, and for their fellow man. Perhaps this is a country that axiomatically values truthfulness and honesty, despite never seeing God’s command not to lie in Scripture.
Given the right factors in terms of culture and philosophy, such a country may independently give rise to its own Scientific Revolution, despite never having access to the Scriptures.
The unbeliever is capable of knowledge, even if he does not first presuppose the Bible to be true. This is evident by the accomplishments of empires that have existed across the world and throughout the centuries.
We ought to return to being like the Apostle Paul who argued from the creation that God exists, and who recognized the value that the philosophers of the Pre-Christian era had to offer.
Worldview Glasses and Over-generosity
A lot is made by Christian apologists about “worldview glasses” and how the idea applies to topics such as creation vs. evolution.
There isn’t a lot that I can say about this topic, except that I overall agree with this assessment. Men often do interpret parts of their observations in light of their total worldview. But I disagree with any notion that this means that men cannot be objective, or that they cannot see facts or morality.
Consider the case of Piltdown Man or Haeckel’s Embryos. These were two frauds presented to support Darwin’s Theory of Evolution to both the public and the scientific community.
In the case of Piltdown Man, it ought to have been obvious to all that this was a hoax. After all, the file marks should have been noticed by the world’s greatest anthropologists of the time, instead of decades after the fact.
The same goes for Haeckel’s Embryos, a series of fraudulent drawings that were used to indoctrinate hundreds of millions of school children, including myself, into the idea that Evolution is supported by science. When one looks at Haeckel’s drawings and compares them to the actual embryos they are supposed to represent, it is objectively clear that the two do not match, especially to those trained in embryology. Even if one has tinted “worldview glasses,” it is plain to honest person that this is a fraud.
In the case of Evolution, a lot of the arguments and evidences undergirding the (so-called) theory are objectively misleading or are just plain false.
The old saying comes to mind: “You are entitled to your own opinions, you are not entitled to your own facts.” (More on that later in this article.)
Consider also the straw man claim that creationists deny that species change and deny natural selection (along with mutation). This claim was made in my evolutionary biology textbook in college. Yet it was originally a creationist by the name of Edward Blyth who first proposed the idea of natural selection, not Charles Darwin.
The debate has always been about what kinds of change are possible, and to what degree living organisms can change, i.e., What are the limits to biological change? When evolutionists tell students that creationists do not believe that species change, they are committing an objective logical fallacy (the straw man). In many cases, they are simply lying, since even a cursory glance at the creationist literature would have shown them otherwise.
The evolutionist can have his worldview, but what he is saying about the creationist position is objectively false. And since he ought to recognize the axiomatic necessity of seeking that which is true and that which is good, he is obligated to recognize despite whatever other biases he might have, that lying like this is wrong.
Like the man who wakes up on a starship, the evolutionist knows that he has the moral obligation to seek that which is true. By lying about his intellectual opponents, he stands against that axiomatic moral principle. He may not like that we live in a moral universe, but the fact that we do is plainly obvious to him, and he cannot presuppose the plain evidence away with the magic wand of his “worldview.” Nor should we allow him to do so without calling him out on his objective fallacies.
Also, it was recently pointed out to me that worldviews are highly complex levels of thought. Worldviews are constructed from those things that we learn throughout our lives that we take to be true. Like a complex multidimensional puzzle, what we perceive to be true is put together to build our worldview.
As a young person’s mind develops, what he perceives to be facts about reality build his integrated view of the world, rather than the other way around. Of course, his perception of reality will later be colored by this total concept of the world, but the perceived facts for a developing mind come first.
It is one thing to talk about worldview glasses, but in the case of Evolutionists, this assessment is overly generous. The claims made in high school, college, and graduate biology courses are filled with objective cases of fraud and logical fallacies, and these ought to be called out. Worldview glasses do not excuse such fraud.
Building a Positive Case
After these fallacies are called out, we should continue to argue the case for creation using evidence that is plain to everyone along with airtight logic, holding the skeptic to a tight leash. Contrary to many of the claims that I have seen, the skeptic is fully capable of the knowledge that the grass is green, despite whatever worldview errors he may hold, honestly or otherwise.
If we are talking to the skeptic about the fossil record, we ought to show how the fossil record overwhelmingly supports the global flood and repudiates Darwin’s predictions — which it clearly does. We ought not to waste time trying to claim that the skeptic has no way to have knowledge that trilobite fossils are real. Because he does. We should leave aside such fallacious esoteric arguments and instead focus on the evidence plainly at hand.
This is why I am working on a documentary entitled Deluge, Scientific Evidence for Noah’s Flood in which I make the case that the global flood really happened using observational data and objective inferences. If you are interested in learning more, you can sign up for my newsletter though the homepage of my website.
For those who are reading this article and hearing this for the first time, there is a growing movement of scientists who reject evolution, including biologists and paleontologists. If you would like to know more, I suggest checking out Discovery.org, AnswersinGenesis.org, ICR.org, Creation.com, and several others, including my website GreenSlugg.com
Beware of Claims of Monopoly
Often, presuppositionalists see presentations on the hypothetico-deductive approach to scientific argument or examples of the argumentum-ad-absurdum and think that presuppositionalism has a monopoly on such ideas — or even that they are one and the same. Many Christians do not realize that the traditional (or classical) approach to epistemology and apologetics addressed and incorporated these ideas long before presuppositionalism ever existed.
This is a point that I can only briefly touch on here. But, suffice it to say, pointing out flaws in evolutionary assumptions or showing that such assumptions lead to absurdity is not the same thing as presuppositionalism. If anything, it shows that a person has to have an objective standard of what reason and logic are before he can assess the claims of a worldview for logical validity.
Beware of Logical Fallacies
Worldview glasses are all well and good and need to be addressed. But worldview glasses do not excuse intentional fraud or logically irrational arguments. The man on the starship cannot be excused for defrauding himself into thinking he is on a cruise ship.
In my own field of molecular biology, most of the human genome was once dismissed as “junk DNA.” The “fact” that most of the genome had no function was regarded as strong evidence for evolution. But what was the logic behind this? The logic was basically that, since we did not know what those portions of our DNA did, they must be useless junk. Like illiterate children dismissing a Library of Alexandria because they did not know how to read the language, vocal proponents of evolution declared the genome to be mostly “junk.”
We now know that such a claim was wrong. We are learning more and more about how to read the layers of language that are written into our genome. We now understand that much of that “junk” has structural and regulatory purposes and is used for a wide variety of tasks. (To be fair, we do not fully understand the genome, but we are finding new functions as science progresses.)
The fallacy here was an “argument from ignorance” — a well-established logical fallacy. The core problem was not one of different worldviews in and of itself, but one of incompetence in terms of basic logic. Just because humans did not know what these regions of the genome did, does not mean that they were useless “junk.”
Evolutionary “worldview glasses” do not excuse such incompetence, and biologists should have learned their lesson after the fiasco with the appendix and other putative “vestigial organs.” These were once dismissed as well, but all of the formerly “vestigial” organs in the human body are now known to have functions, thanks to better (i.e. actual) research.
Appendix Isn't Useless
"Creationists will have a field day with this one," writes one blogger on the news. Bingo. Actually, that's a bit of an…
On a side note: Even if various human organs had lost their functions, this would not conclusively demonstrate evolution. It might mean that these organs had lost their function since the time of creation. And it would not demonstrate that Darwinian mechanisms could produce anything new.
On the question of “vestigial organs,” the difference of worldview was not the main problem. There was a failure to use basic logic. Creationists are right to call out Darwinian apologists on these errors, without making “worldview” excuses on their behalf.
As much as I would love to cover secularist ad hoc ideas such as the Oort Cloud and other topics, these are beyond the scope of this article. But suffice to say, ad hoc ideas do not become objectively valid science just because someone has a secular worldview.
Good science ought to be comprehensible to any rational observer of the data, given the right understanding of the topic. The same goes for good logic and good epistemology.
Epistemology and The Resurrection
Without writing a seminary thesis, I want to point out a few things about epistemology and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. When one reads the New Testament, one never sees any notion that we ought to believe in the Resurrection by first presupposing that what the disciples said in their letters was true. Far from it.
In fact, one of the earliest scenes after the Resurrection was the Apostle Thomas saying he would not believe until he had personally touched the risen Christ.
24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.
25 So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
26 After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
27 Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.”
28 Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”
30 Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;
31 but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.
Thomas did not believe on the grounds that he first presupposed the Christian worldview. He did not even believe because of first presupposing the Old Testament and the prophecies of the Resurrection. In fact, he and the other apostles failed to understand that the Messiah was to be crucified and rise from the dead.
Thomas believed because of the physical evidence before him, contrary to everything he expected to be true.
In the same way, the other apostles and hundreds of eyewitnesses believed because of what they personally saw.
“For we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
Later, people were called to believe not because of an arbitrary assumption, but because of eyewitness testimony.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.
7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
(1 Corinthians 15:3–11)
Notice that Paul says “in accordance with the Scriptures” — but he does not ask anyone to believe arbitrarily. He appeals to the fact that Jesus’ death, burial, and Resurrection were prophesied and that eyewitnesses can attest to the fulfillment of the prophecy. No arbitrary or circular epistemology is called for.
In our time, a lot has been written on the historical evidence for the Resurrection. Historians who study the New Testament widely agree that Jesus died on the cross, that He was buried, that the body went missing, and that hundreds of people believed that they personally saw the physically resurrected Jesus. These eyewitnesses were so changed by this experience that they were willing to be tortured and killed for what they believed they had seen with their own eyes.
People may come to believe in Jesus for any number of reasons in our time. Reasons may include the changed life in friends or relatives who become Christians, or God personally touching them so that they surrender to Him. And that is good.
I would challenge anyone to find anywhere in the Bible that says that we are supposed to “presuppose” the truth of Scripture in giving a reasoned defense. No, our intention should be to present a rational defense to honest people who might have serious doubts and also to tear down the false arguments that would lead people into wrong thinking away from the truth.
For those who say we should “just believe,” I would also challenge them to find any passage in the Bible suggesting that faith is not based on reason.
A changed heart and reasons to believe are two different aspects of salvation; neither competes with the other. We should all be able to agree that no one comes to God unless his heart is first softened by the Holy Spirit. We cannot argue a dead man into coming back to life. Even if a dead man wanted to, he cannot do it apart from a miracle.
Ken Ham draws an illustration for why we are, nevertheless, called to give a reasoned, logical defense of the faith. When Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb, He first told men to roll away the burial stone from the entrance. He then called Lazarus and Lazarus walked out. God calling us to give an apologetic is not so that we can argue a dead man back to life — far from it. No well-studied Christian apologist that I know of believes that you can argue a spiritually dead man into faith. What apologetics is, is us obeying God’s command to give a reasoned defense and thus to roll away the stone.
Be a Berean
10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue.
11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.
12 Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.
In Acts 17 Paul goes to the Jews in various parts of the Roman Empire, reasoning from the Scriptures that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah.
Notice that they were never asked to presuppose that Paul’s words really were the Word of God, Instead, following the Old Testament commands, they tested his words against Scripture to confirm that these things were true. The Book of Acts commends them for doing so. This is a model that we ought to follow today.
Later in Acts 17, Paul goes to the pagans in Athens and argues for God from nature and from reason. From the obvious evidence of General Revelation, he shows who God is and he shows the foolishness of idols. Then, explaining the gospel, Paul goes on to close his presentation by saying, “and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” What we see here is not Paul demanding that the pagans presuppose his religion, but a logical, rational presentation showing the evidence for the Christian faith from nature and from the Resurrection.
Ken Ham tongue-in-cheek refers to this message to the pagans as the first Answers in Genesis presentation.
Some Christians compare Paul’s presentation from creation to that of Peter on the Day of Pentecost and accuse Paul of being wrong for arguing this way, while Peter went straight to the Resurrection. After all, Peter saw 3,000 converts, while only a few were interested in Paul’s message afterward. But this is the fallacy of comparing apples to oranges. Notice that Peter was talking to Jews who already had the Old Testament and knowledge of sin, prophecy, sacrifice, and the proper history of the world. In other words, they already had a Biblical worldview. But the pagans to whom Paul spoke did not have familiarity with such things. Also, Peter’s audience consisted of people who had seen many of Jesus’ miracles and had seen the crucifixion (Acts 2:22–23). It was a living, eyewitness memory for them (and the events were fresh). The pagans Paul spoke to in Athens? Not so much.
In Paul’s presentation, the pagans in Athens seem to have been transfixed by his points about creation and General Revelation, and they only lost interest when he began teaching about the Resurrection. But a few of the Athenians wanted to hear more. Perhaps the reason Paul had some who wanted to hear was that he had explained the context of the gospel, rather than expecting unbelieving gentiles to understand the gospel without context.
I have heard people argue that Acts 17 makes a case for only preaching about the Resurrection of Jesus and not bothering with other aspects of apologetics, especially creation, and General Revelation. But their argument has no case when we read the relevant passages from Scripture. (Not to mention the small difference of the miracle at Pentecost.)
Japan and The Need for Worldview Building
As a quick example for why we should preach like Paul, Japan has historically been known as “The Missionary's Graveyard.” This is not due to physical persecution, but due to the fact that missionaries can spend many, many years in Japan, and only reach a few converts. But a sister ministry to Answers in Genesis is changing that. They are preaching the gospel in Japan by arguing from creation and explaining the gospel starting in Genesis. (Even though AiG speakers would generally consider themselves to be presuppositionalists, much of their approach is the evidentialist approach and runs counter to that of Bahnsen and Van Til, whether or not they are aware of it.)
The people of Japan generally do not have a biblical worldview, yet they build incredible cities and create incredible new technologies that bless the world. They also create a culture that people all over the world enjoy in the form of cartoons, movies, food, and music. (I am personally a fan of sushi and Pokémon.)
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But as I said, the Japanese people (historically) do not have a biblical worldview. Their language does not even have a word for “God” as we would know, so translators have to explain who “God” is. They also have very different ideas about “sin” and other concepts.
Christian missionaries in Japan are now learning to present the message of the cross starting in Genesis. They are learning to give reasons for their faith.
Of course, then one must ask, where is the evidence for the presuppositionalist’s claims? If all human beings come into the world preprogrammed with a biblical worldview (general revelation is immediate and not mediate), then why is the gospel so lost on cultures that do not already have a biblical worldview? Why is it so necessary to explain the biblical worldview to people who obviously have knowledge about so much?
I am reminded of Asimov’s science fiction books about robots. In his fictional universe, robots come into the world preprogrammed with the “three laws.” These define the core of robot ethics. The presuppositionalist would seem to argue that in the same way, human beings come preprogrammed with a biblical worldview, otherwise, we could not have basic reason or knowledge in the first place. We could not even know that the grass is green. When challenged to give evidence for this claim, presuppostionalists will point to Scripture, but with a careful reading of the text, their case does not stand up to scrutiny. (As we’ve seen throughout this article.) Nor does it stand up to scrutiny when compared to observational reality.
If men like Bahnsen and Van Til wanted to make such wild claims, the onus was on them to prove that such claims are true, not on everybody else to presuppose their presuppositionalism and just take their word for it.
Bottom line: Where is the proof that men come into the world preprogrammed with the Biblical worldview?
The Green Grass
I once asked two of my cousins when talking to them about the Christian faith if we could at least agree on the basics — if we could at least agree that the grass is green. My one cousin responded by asking “Who’s to say the grass is green? Who’s to say that it isn’t … purple!?”
For anyone who is wondering, there was nothing wrong with my cousin’s eyes. She was making a bad attempt to be lofty and philosophical, but all who were present could clearly see that the grass is what we call “green.”
She could see it, and so could I. It was not that she had the wrong worldview: it was that she wanted to reject God, and so she closed her eyes as to why I became a Christian.
There is a saying in Spanish: “You cover the Sun with your finger.” This refers to someone who chooses to ignore the obvious. That is what my cousin was doing.
She was perfectly capable of logic and reason. She just chose to ignore the evidence and evade reason by engaging in pseudo-philosophy. Her unregenerate spirit and unwillingness to reason should not be confused with a natural inability to reason rightly (Matthew 16:1–4).
My cousin has a militant secular worldview, however I would argue that the main problem is not the fact that she is wearing colored worldview glasses, rather the main problem is that she chooses to close her eyes to the evidence itself. Obviously, I use the term “main problem” here loosely, because her real main problem is her unregenerate heart. She needs prayer so that she can come to know Christ, along with most of my other family members.
Debate Like Men
I also want to address something else. Cody Libolt and Jacob Brunton often attack presuppositionalism. This is something that I often see other Christians take personally. The response is often to attack Cody and Jacob on a personal level. This shows the danger of attaching a set of ideas to one’s own identity.
As someone with training in science, I have learned not to attach an idea to my personhood. The high school idea of “my hypothesis” was nowhere to be found in my undergraduate education. Claims were instead compared to data to infer what the data indicated with no investment of one’s emotional identity into a predefined outcome.
My chemistry professors did not run around identifying themselves as “Atomists” or “Quantum-blobs-of-jello-ists.” Scientific models did not become our sports teams. Atoms and Jello-blobs were no one’s mascot, and strong critiques were not regarded as personal attacks. This is something severely lacking in Christian circles. (Sadly, scientists often fail to live up to this ideal as well.)
One can think whatever they like about Cody Libolt, Jacob Brunton, or myself, or anyone else. Like them, or dislike them. But, please, evaluate their actual arguments.
This touches on a major problem within the body of Christ here in 21st Century America.
A Bad Memory, And A Learning Experience
When I was studying at a two-year college, I had people in a Christian club accuse me of being too abrasive because I would not couch my words in postmodern, relativistic, sugary terms. If I said, “The Bible teaches that there was no death before sin,” I was scolded by the minister and told that I should qualify my statements with, “In my opinion the Bible says…” or, “I feel…”
But I refused. No one else was held to such a standard. Toward the end of my time in that ministry, people who I thought were my friends held a “disciplinary meeting” in which I had to answer for the fact that “anonymous complaints” had been made about me. I was not told who made these complaints or what the complaints were (for the most part), just that anonymous complaints had been made.
Anyone who has read the Bible ought to see the problem here. In the Bible, the accused is always given the presumption of innocence. Even secular students from outside the group who saw the level of postmodern feelings-ism in this Christian ministry were appalled by how bad it was.
I share part of this story to contrast with men from previous generations. Men like Isaac Newton and C.S. Lewis had enough masculinity that they could engage in intense debates with good friends. Men would attack one another’s arguments with logic and high language and then would insult one another personally just for the heck of it.
In fact, this is part of why I love watching Steven Crowder’s show. The men on the show banter back and forth, and everyone laughs. That is how men ought to be.
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How have Christian men become so effeminate that they cannot do the same today? We ought not to be so easily offended that we never take the time to intellectually battle in the realm of ideas. God help us, and may God forgive us for what we’ve done. No wonder so many young men are starved for masculine input within the Church. Masculinity has been ostracized and excommunicated.
Men (and godly women): You should go and engage on these topics. You should care about rational debate. Be willing to spar with one another and be willing to offend (if appropriate) and take a little bit of insult.
Also, men, be willing to engage in banter with one another. It will give you a thicker skin and a stronger spine. Being softer than Jello with your close Christian brothers is not “Christlikeness.” If you ever watch young boys or men in the military, they tend to be rough with one another in their affection, both physically and verbally.
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You were meant to be like Adam, a powerful creature who takes dominion over the world and over the beasts, not like little offended pets that women keep in their purses. Even tiny dogs are brave enough to bark once in a while. They might bounce while they bark, but at least they are willing to protect their master from foes and banter with friends — which is more than I can say for most men today.
How much more pathetic are we when we constantly walk on eggshells out of fear of offending somebody?
This article is only meant to be a very brief introduction to this topic, but there are a few points that readers should take away.
A proper understanding of epistemology is important for Christians. If one has not taken the time to understand how presuppositionalism compares to other views of epistemology, one should not be championing this view (or any other).
A man might claim that knowledge is impossible without first having a biblical worldview, but both Romans 1 and reason (i.e. common sense) refute this idea. Also, one must ask what is meant by “A biblical worldview” in this context.
Presuppositionalism clearly does not line up with Scripture or with common sense. It is commendable that men want to elevate Scripture, but we should not elevate the fallacy of circular reasoning, of begging the question, nor any notion of blind faith. None of these things are biblical or rational.
As Christian men, we ought to be willing to spar a little and engage with whether or not ideas are valid, not whether or not some claim hurt our feelings. It’s time we learned to think and act like men again. And part of that will require good debate.
In terms of presuppositionalism, I think that the ideas were well-intended and were intended to serve God, but clearly, they are not true, since they do not line up with Scripture nor with what we can objectively observe in reality. Presup is not the Bible.
Both Romans 1 and our eyes show that even those who do not know Christ are capable of knowledge. The evidence from creation leaves them without excuse to not know that God is real and that He has a moral standard.
Furthermore, the evidence of eyewitness history shows that the man named Jesus of Nazareth died and rose from the dead. In the time of the Apostles, no one was ever asked to believe in this arbitrarily. The case for Christianity was always one based on objective fact. While presuppositions and worldviews clearly need to be dealt with, the core claims of presuppositional-ism are without merit.
My goal in writing this article is not to attack people who hold this view. My goal is to assess a set of claims and see how they line up with reality. My two core values in life have always been to seek that which is True and that which is good.
There are a lot of excellent apologists out there who hold to presuppositionalism, but I argue that they give too much credit to their intellectual opponents in the secular world. And I think that the epistemology being put forth by For the New Christian Intellectual will only serve to make the arguments of apologists that much stronger, especially those of us within the creationist movement.
Finally, going forward I think that Christians should build objective arguments for why we beleive what we believe. While it is true that we will have to address worldview biases, we can address these biases in a factual, logical and rational way. The case for creation, the Flood, and the Resurrection can be built on the facts of science and history, using sound philosophy, including objectivive epistemology and logic.
Here are some suggested resources:
Defending Your Faith by R. C. Sproul — Audiobook
Crash Course In Philosophy — R.C. Sproul (Defending Your Faith)
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