Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Book Review: "Always Ready" by Greg Bansen part 2

Thus, we should challenge the unbeliever in light of our convictions and, in turn, challenge the unbeliever’s convictions! Here’s another conversation, but this time based on a presuppositional approach.

Mr. Unbeliever: I see no reason to believe that God exists. In order for me to believe, you are going to have to convince me with proof.

Mr. Believer: Well, how about the proof that God has spoken to us through His Word?

Mr. Unbeliever: “Through His Word?” Don’t you have to prove to me that the Bible is God’s Word before making such a statement?

Mr. Believer: How can I “prove” that the Bible is the Word of God? Wouldn’t that mean that I’d have to appeal to something higher than God; something greater than Himself, to “prove” that this is His Word?

Mr. Unbeliever: Of course not, because that would be impossible and logically absurd. And that’s why “proving” that something is “God’s Word” is impossible until we have proven that God exists at all!

Mr. Believer: You seem to have a lot of this figured out. And you speak of things like “logic” and “proof.” Thus, aren’t you asking these questions in light of your naturalistic/materialistic worldview?

Mr. Unbeliever: Of course! How else would I ask these questions? I’ve never been shown any proof that God exists, so I have no option than to ask questions in light of a materialistic/naturalistic worldview.

Mr. Believer: This is interesting, because you are doing exactly what the Bible says you will do. Because your mind is darkened by sin and you suppress the truth in unrighteousness, I fully expect you to act as if you deny the God who created you in his image and is responsible for every breath that you breath. And you are fully demonstrating this through every word that you speak.

Mr. Unbeliever: Ok, so because I have seen no evidence that proves God’s existence, I am now “proving” that I’m both denying and affirming that he exists? Isn’t that like saying I am denying and affirming space aliens because I haven’t yet found any proof for them?

Mr. Believer: Not exactly. But because you mention things like “proof” and “logic,” I would like to know how to account for these things in an atheistic worldview.

Mr. Unbeliever: That’s easy. I ask for “proof” and appeal to “logic” because that’s the only way to know anything.

Mr. Believer: I fully agree that we can “know” things via proof and logic. But that’s because my worldview can account for these things. In other words, because we are made in the image of God, and because we will think our thoughts after him, then “logic” and “proof” make perfect sense. And the reason it makes perfect sense is because I can account for these things. Just like the fact that love is an attribute of God, so is rationality and logic. And because of this and the other things I just mentioned, I am arguing that you are actually “borrowing” from my worldview when you ask for things like “proof.”

Mr. Unbeliever: That’s silly. We can have things like “proof” because we are rational beings. You don’t have to “presuppose” God or do any “borrowing” to know that.

Mr. Believer: Actually, you do. And its interesting that you affirm a “materialistic” worldview, which states that the material world is all there is. Thus, all that’s going on is a bunch of chemical reactions and atoms banging around. And to speak of “immaterial entities” such as the laws of logic, is to go outside the bounds of your worldview.

Mr. Unbeliever: I’m not arguing that “logic” is actually an “immaterial entity,” as you put it. Instead, I’m arguing that “logic” is just a process of the mind, which is all material in nature. The laws of logic are just conceptions that arise through the chemical processes in your brain.

Mr. Believer: I agree that logic is a process of the mind. But are you suggesting that logic only exists when human minds are actually abiding by these laws?

Mr. Unbeliever: Of course. And again, logic is only the process of the mind.

Mr. Believer: This is very interesting. So does this mean that, for example, the law of non-contradiction didn’t exist until someone declared it to be true?

Mr. Unbeliever: I suppose you could say that.

Mr. Believer: How did that person discover it to be so?

Mr. Unbeliever: Well, that’s simple. He looked at the world around him and realized that things can’t both exist and not exist at the same time and the same place.

Mr. Believer: Wait, so he used logic to prove logic?

Mr. Unbeliever: That’s a rather simplistic way of looking at it, but I suppose you could say that.

Mr. Believer: So you use the laws of logic to prove the laws of logic?

Mr. Unbeliever: That’s an absurd question.

Mr. Believer: I would agree. But doesn’t this mean that you are engaging in circular reasoning?

Mr. Unbeliever: To some extent, yes I am. But if we didn’t assume things like the laws of logic, which are self-evident, then we couldn’t even have this conversation! It would be like trying to “prove” that there is such a thing as “proof,” or prove that we exist by appealing to our existence.

Mr. Believer: So, you are admitting that there are some things that we have to assume to be true?

Mr. Unbeliever: Well yes, when it comes to our starting point, the things which allow us to even have a rational conversation, like this one, then we have to make these kind of assumptions. But we can only make these kind of assumptions with those things which are self-evident; those things which could be labeled our “starting presuppositions.”

Mr. Believer: Great! Then its okay for me to argue with the starting point that God exists, which otherwise, we’d have no basis for rationality and logic. In other words, God exists and the Bible is true because of the impossibility to the contrary. And again, by arguing in a rational manner, you are again borrowing from my worldview and demonstrating that you are made in the image of God; thus, using things that your worldview can’t account for.

I realize that this imaginary conversation is a bit lengthy, and perhaps a different way of arguing than what most would be accustomed to. It would be nice to be able to provide an actual “review” of Bahnsen’s book, but to do so would require almost a full explanation of the presuppositional perspective. Thus, it was my intention to provide a demonstration to show how a presuppositonalist might argue as opposed to an evidentialist if one were to adopt Bahnsen’s approach.

Bahnsen’s book is something that every Christian should get their hands on and digest. He offers a full discussion of the biblical nature of the presuppositionalist position and demonstrates it to such an extent that you will be well equipped to take your encounters in the direction that it needs to go, and to do so in a God-honoring manner.


Brian said...

I have this book sitting around waiting to be read. But so many other books are sitting around waiting to be read also!

How have you found this approach to work on a personal level, i.e., in actual interaction?

I have enjoyed Bahnsen's debate with Stein. His approach seemed effective in that particular debate with a philosophically minded person. However, I wonder how one would use this practically with someone who is not used to talking on that level.

Mike-e said...

Hey Brian, to be honest, I haven't gotten to use this approach all that often, as it is not quite as relevant to the groups that I normally deal with; Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and other religious groups that can offer a consistent presupposition for rationality, logic, etc.

But what few times I have used this approach, I have run into some difficulty. And that's probably due to the fact that I have been using nothing but a evidentialist approach up until recently. Thus, its very difficult to make the transition.

But when I listen to guys like Gene Cook interacting as a laymen with other layment, I see the power of this approach. I'm hoping that someday, i'll be able to implement this approach with the ease that Mr. Cook does. And I think it just comes with practice.

But I will say this. There is no doubt in my mind that the presuppositionalist approach is easier (not saying that makes it more right or wrong), meaning that you don't have to learn massive amounts of complex science, such as the ATP process, details pertaining to the flagellum, or other irreducible complexity arguments in order to be a succesful apologist. Not that these aren't important to learn and know, but I believe that the Christian should start with the premise that The Bible is the Word of God, and without it, we cannot know anything at all.

Still, I have a lot to learn in this area and still find a lot of merit in the evidentialist approach. Perhaps you could say that I am somewhat in the middle?

Brian said...

Thanks for writing back, Mike-e.

I have heard Gene Cook use this argument quite a bit. Also, Matt Slick. They seem to wield it well.

As for being "in the middle" -- interestingly enough, in my recent post over at Apologetics 315, I featured some audio about Francis Schaeffer. He seemed to be one that was hard to classify.

Schaeffer was called too evidentialist by the likes of Van Til (one of his mentors), but too presuppositional by many of the evidentialists. Yet, both sides claimed him to be in their camp, so to speak. It seems that he was able to use both in a complementary fashion.

If you get a chance, those lectures are a good listen. They do cover a lot of presuppositional methodology. Schaeffer's books are also very insightful.

As for myself, I do see the value in being familiar with all these arguments. However, I am not yet convinced that I should "take a side," so to speak. It seems to me that one can honor Christ with these various methods, depending on the person that one is dealing with.

I see Christ Himself using evidences, as well as Paul and the apostles. Of course, they didn't necessarily start "from the ground up" with the evidences either. As Schaeffer has been sometimes called, a verificationalist. Assume the truth of the Bible, and supplement evidences to verify its truth. That sort of thing.

As for learning all the ATP things and DNA details, etc. etc., I don't think I will ever learn all that stuff. But I think that pointing to design in general is a powerful argument, as everyone sees design, whether they like it or not.

I guess the direction I am kind of leaning is that perhaps it is a fallacy to think that it is either evidentialism or presuppositionalism.