The Problem With Presuppositionalism, And Why Creationists Should Reject It — A Very Brief Introduction

Abstract

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.

Background

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.)

Most Creationists hold to a Presup-light view of apologetics and epistemology but are these claims even biblical, and are they correct? Or is there a better way?

Presup-Light

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.

Human Chimp DNA Similarity — Is it really 98%? — Genesis Apologetics

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.

Presuppositionalism boils down to one central claim: Reason and logic are not possible unless one first presupposes a biblical worldview
Biblical Case for Presuppositional Apologetics in 7 Minutes | Dr. James White
Presuppositional vs Evidential vs Classical Apologetics R C Sproul, PhD
Greg Bahnsen Debates R.C. Sproul (Presuppositional Apologetics vs Classical Apologetics)

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.

Paul Davies, Gap Between Non-Life and Life — In this video Paul Davies argues that life must have arisen from non-life… somehow.
The Problem With The Origin Of Life — Clip from Ben Shapiro’s interview with Dr. Stephen Meyer.

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.

Mike Winger — A Biblical Objection to Presuppositional Apologetics

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.

When one sees a pocket watch, the evidence objectively demands that a watchmaker must exist.

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.

According to Bahnsen, unbelievers cannot even have the knowledge that the grass is green unless they borrow from the Biblical worldview.
Epistemology in the Christian Life, Ministry, and Worldview
Classical Epistemology for Christians — First Personal Discernibility

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.

A Pointed Question

Jacob Brunton asks the pointed but fair question:

What Has Athens to do with Jerusalem?

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.

Presuppositionalists and clasicalists agree that the reason the world is rational and logical is that it was made by the rational and logical God of the Bible.
How to Know If You Are Presuppositionalist or a Classicalist

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.

The sinner will suppress the knowledge of God and His moral Law, even though these are evident to him through the evidence in creation.
One does not have to presuppose the Biblical worldview to recognize the obvious fact that males and females are different.

General Revelation

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.

The Apostle Paul said that, because of the evidence itself, which is clearly seen, men do not have an excuse to reject God.
Even men who did not have a Bible to start with still had access to basic knowledge and to knowledge about God from seeing the creation.

Presuppositional Morality?

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.

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.

An Independent Birth of Science?

In terms of Christianity and the Scientific Revolution, I want to challenge a few claims that I have heard.

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.

Haeckel’s fraudulent drawings on top, actual photos on the bottom.
Is Natural Selection The Same Thing As Evolution? Dr. Georgia Purdom, PhD in molecular genetics — In this video, Dr. Purdom explains that creationists do indeed accept natural selection, but shows how this does not support Darwinian evolution.

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.

A diorama I put together for my documentary.

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.

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.

Jonathan Wells: Zombie Science Keeps Pushing Junk DNA Myth

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.

Caravaggio — The Incredulity of Saint Thomas
The Case for the Resurrection of Christ. Lee Strobel

Be a Berean

How to Present the Gospel in a Secularized Culture with Ken Ham
The Apostle Paul preaching to the gentiles about what can be plainly known about God from the Creation.

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 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 The New Christian Intellectual — Objectivism Book Study (Week 06)

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.

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…”

Conclusion

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.

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G.S. Muse, also known as GreenSlugg on YouTube or simply as “Greg” is a lab technician, youtuber, author, and blogger. His work can be found at GreenSlugg.com

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G.S. Muse

G.S. Muse, also known as GreenSlugg on YouTube or simply as “Greg” is a lab technician, youtuber, author, and blogger. His work can be found at GreenSlugg.com