Intellectual Dissonance

How Blogs by Writers Who Don’t Understand the Arguments and Reasoning They Have Read in Certain Other Blogs Makes for Irksome Reading for the One Whose Arguments and Reasoning Was Completely Lost on Said Writer – A Rejoinder to Fred Butler’s “Apologetic Dissonance: How Popular Apologetics Causes Me to Grimace and Massage my Forehead Right above My Eyebrow.”

This is my rejoinder to Fred Butler’s blog entry “Apologetic Dissonance” found at In that entry, Mr. Butler has set out what ostensibly is a critique of my earlier blog entry “It’s Worse that I Thought” found at where I analyze a talk by Ken Ham I heard at a church near my home. The reader is encouraged to read my entry because I will allude to that article on several occasions. I also encourage you to read Mr. Butler’s article as well.

First, I would like to thank Mr. Butler for taking the time to comment on what I wrote. While he and I have a number of serious disagreements, I appreciate him engaging in this debate. While some of my tone may seem harsh, I do not intend anything personal against Mr. Butler. The level of my tone stems from the frustration I experience when I read articles such as his. This is so because it is quite frustrating to read an attempt to respond rationally to something I have written, only to find that most of my arguments were completely lost on that responder. Since what I wrote was not lost on most everyone one else that made comments to me (both publicly and privately), I conclude that my “unclear” writing (as Mr. Butler would have it) was not to blame. Even still, perhaps another pass at it will help Mr. Butler grasp exactly what I argued. I have no hope that he will see the bankruptcy of his position (such as it is). I am, however, much more intellectually comfortable with someone who rejects the arguments that I actually do make than I am with someone who strolls along thinking he has rebutted those arguments when he has done no such thing.

I also would like to thank Mr. Butler for his article as will make for very helpful reading in my classes for my students as I teach them the superiority of the Classical approach over against Presuppositionalism.

Before I engage Mr. Butler’s comments directly, let me repeat something that I am confident was quite clear in my original article, but bears emphasizing. My original criticisms of Ken Ham were directed entirely at Ham’s views regarding apologetic methodology. I was not criticizing Ham for his Young Earth views as I, for the most part, share his conclusions. This should make my criticisms all the more relevant since they do not stem from any animus toward YEC (Young Earth Creationism) as such, but rather against a YEC that insists that it requires an apologetic methodology such as Ken Ham’s. I contend that it does not and I present myself as a counter-example to the notion that it does. Thus, Young Earth Creationists are wrong when they contend (or imply or assume) that OEC (Old Earth Creationism) is the inevitable outcome of a Classical Apologetic methodology. It is not.

In order to make the give and take easier to follow, I have included Mr. Butler’s comments as indented text with my response following. I have included only that portion of Mr. Butler’s text to which I have anything to say in response. I have left out other parts of his article such as his quotes from my article or his comments made to introduce certain points. The reader is encouraged to read Mr. Butler’s critique in its entirety.

So. An old-earth creationist (OEC) colleague came to him “concerned” about presuppositional thinking among young-earth creationist (YEC), particular in their presentations for their views. [I wonder if the "colleague" was Norm Geisler, but I digress].

Mr. Butler wonders if the referenced colleague was Norm Geisler. It was not. Norm Geisler is not a colleague of mine if by that he is thinking that Norm Geisler and I are faculty members at the same seminary. We are not. I am, however, privileged to count Norm Geisler as a colleague in a broader sense as one with whom I have been on faculty, with whom I share quite a number of views on philosophical and theological issues, and to whom I owe a great debt of gratitude for how the Lord has used him in my life as an apologist and philosopher. It remains, however, that the views I unpacked in my critique of Ham are my own.

This doesn’t surprise me in the least, because OEC are always hand-wringing about how YEC are eroding reasonableness and “credibility” among evangelical Christians.

This concern is not unfounded. This is especially the case when you have presentations like the one I heard from Ken Ham. As a Young Earth Creationist myself, Mr. Butler should not so easily dismiss my concerns as they cannot be explained away as the mere “hand-wringing” of an Old Earth Creationist. Indeed, since he cannot thus dismiss my concerns, he has to import certain Old Earth Creationists to make his arguments sound relevant. But since I am not an Old Earth Creationist, much of what he tries to argue against me is totally irrelevant. It is a classic straw man fallacy.

What is more (as I hope to make abundantly clear) Mr. Butler confuses the debate between YEC and OEC (about which my article was not concerned) with the debate between Classical Apologetics and Presuppositional Apologetics (about which my article is somewhat concerned, though, even still, it was not an attempt to give a full-blown critique of Presuppositionalism). By way of clarification, the “concern” of my colleague was precisely a concern about how Presuppositionalism (or a poor or “watered down” version thereof) is polluting the otherwise important debate between YEC and OEC. My colleague believes (as I do) that there is no reason why YEC should be hijacked by Presuppositionalism.

But we need to pause a moment and truly take in this cognitive dissonance, because I don’t believe Dr. Howe appreciates how truly painful it is. You see,  Dr. Howe will go on later in his article to complain that Ham’s presentation ultimately denies reality when he writes,  “By ‘true’ here I mean that the claims of the Christian faith correspond to reality. Reality is the only proper “starting point” and the measure of what it means for any claim to be true.”  Okay.  But the “reality” among the bulk of classic apologists is that they believe YEC are a bunch of wackos, akin to the KJV-onlyist crowd. They treat them like the proverbial red-headed step-child. They consider YEC as nothing more than an embarrassment to the Christian faith creating unnecessary stumbling blocks for the unbeliever.

Mr. Butler is confused here. First, there is no such thing as the “‘reality’ among the bulk of classical apologists.” (Note his scare quotes around the word ‘reality.’) There is only reality. The subtle shift from my comment about reality to his comment about “reality” (with the scare quotes) is why perhaps Mr. Butler has such a difficult time with my article. This confusion distracts the attention of the reader from what I am actually arguing. I am not talking about certain people’s “reality.” There is no such thing as the “‘reality’ among the bulk of classical apologists’ except only in a poetic or qualified sense of ‘reality.’ But since I am not talking about any poetic or qualified sense of reality, Mr. Butler has already gone off the rails of the discussion. Such a tactic (or, if it was not intentional, such confusion) as this is what makes for irksome reading for me. If only my critic would engage the argument that I actually made …! (if you will allow my aposiopesis)

Further, what certain other Classical Apologists might think of YEC is irrelevant to the issue at hand. Since (apparently) Mr. Butler is unable (or unwilling) to engage my argument, he has to divert the discussion onto a straw man. I am a Young Earth Creationist and I certainly do not think that I, myself, am part of the “wackos akin to a KJV-onlyist crowd.” This type bilge is silly (together with his additional emotionally charged rhetoric such as “red-headed step-child”) and frankly is unworthy of even Presuppositionalism. (I will say, however, that this is not the first place I have encountered such pseudo-reasoning from Presuppositionalists. It is only because I know that there are substantial writers and thinkers who are Presuppositionalists that I resist the conclusion that such lack of critical thinking skills is what gives rise to being a Presuppositionalist in the first place.)

That is because, according to the majority of classic apologists, the YEC view of a “literal” Genesis, claiming the earth is under 10,000 years old, believing dinosaurs lived with men, etc, etc., denies fundamental reality. They are teaching “untrue” things, promoting “untrue” things, deceiving the evangelical masses with “untrue” nonsense.  YEC are a stumbling block to evangelism.  If folks believe I am exaggerating, they need to do a search of the Grace to You blog archives between March 22, 2010 to August 4, 2010 when we did an extended series on Genesis, origins, evolution and Biologos, and read the hostile comments that essentially accused YEC of being crazy, snake-handling reality deniers.  A good many of them were from OEC circles who probably share a commitment with Dr. Howe to classic apologetics.  Or what about the Vibrant Dance “ministries” which is more aptly titled, Evangelicals and Atheists Together.  Their whole deal is to debunk YEC as denying “reality.”

Again, Mr. Butler is arguing a straw man. Since he either refuses to or is unable to engage the arguments I made, he has to turn his rant against “the majority of classical apologists” regarding their views of YEC. Some clarification is in order. The reason my colleague originally approached me was precisely because I am both a Young Earth Creationist and a Classical Apologist. So that the Presuppositionalist could not dismiss my critique of Presuppositionalism because he thinks I dismiss YEC, my colleague thought that I was in a strategic position so weigh in on the problems of Presuppositionalism irrespective of the YEC/OEC debate. Alas, this fallacious move is precisely what Mr. Butler has done. Since he cannot openly dismiss my arguments on such basis (since I acknowledge being a Young Earth Creationist in the very blog to which Mr. Butler is responding) he has to drag other Classical Apologists into the discussion. This is a classic straw-man fallacy. Since I do not hold the contempt for YEC that Mr. Butler ascribes to others, his comments are completely irrelevant to the discussion at hand. Mr. Butler is free to criticize anyone he chooses. But let not the reader think that with his current comments, Mr. Butler has said anything important regarding my article in this regard. He has not.

Dr. Howe conveniently ignores the severe academic opposition from the majority of his fellow classic apologists.  The fact that he refuses to acknowledge – to borrow a cliché from recent, current events in evangelicalism – this big elephant in the room, makes the remainder of his article a snort inducing joke, nullifying the credibility of his critique within the first paragraph of his article.

Why in the world would I need to acknowledge any “severe academic opposition”? That has nothing to do with my article, which is to say, that has nothing to do with my criticisms of what Ken Ham had to say that day. Let me try one more time to make it clear to Mr. Butler. The bankruptcy of Ken Ham’s presentation that I heard that day was not in his being a Young Earth Creationist. Rather it was in THE MANNER IN WHICH HAM ARGUED FOR, NOT ONLY HIS YEC, BUT CHRISIANITY IN GENERAL (the latter being his Apologetic methodology). As I said in my article, I probably agree with many of Ken Ham’s conclusions about YEC. Thus, precisely because I grant many of his conclusions, my critique of his apologetic methodology is all the more significant.

I could just stop there, and be done, but let me take a look at his arguments. He centers his critique of Ken Ham’s talk around three major points: First, Dr. Howe writes, “… Ham claimed that there are only two ways to understand reality, viz., according to God’s word or according to man’s word.”  He then goes on to say how Ham’s claim here is “fraught with problems,” and he proceeds to ask a bunch of disjointed questions about God’s Word and reality.  I think he believes he is showing us Ham’s problems when he asks those questions, but I was left scratching my head. Maybe it’s just me.

Frankly, I should not be surprise that Mr. Butler was left “scratching” his head. He suggests that “Maybe it’s just me.” Yes, Mr. Butler. It is you. I regret that you had such difficulty with my arguments. As a professor, I am not distressed by such reactions. I sometimes see it in my students. Frankly, trying to ameliorate such confusion is one of the things that excites me about being a teacher. The problem is that, pending your grasp of what is going on, you proceed to write what presents itself as a legitimate rebuttal (your word) of my argument. What you have written is anything but a rebuttal.

None the less, if I am not mistaken, I understand Ken Ham to be saying that the Bible presents to us two ways men can interact with reality.  Either under the fear of the LORD where the beginning of wisdom can be found, or in the way of the foolish who live their life in opposition to God.  Rather than seeing that as a problematic way to look at reality, I understand it as being quite biblical.  I didn’t hear this particular talk, but I have heard Ken Ham speak enough that I am fairly certain this is probably what he has in mind.

If Mr. Butler thinks he can help Ham out here, I welcome his attempt. To the degree that he qualifies Ham’s argument, it is possible that to the same degree I would have less of a problem with it. It remains, however, that Ken Ham did not say what Mr. Butler understood him to be saying (although it may be that Ham meant what Mr. Butler takes him to mean; in which case Ham did not say what he meant.) If it was necessary for the hearer to be privy to other Ken Ham talks in order to discern that Ham actually meant something different from what he said, then Ham was doing a disservice to his listeners that day. My critique was with what Ham said. What he said was as I have it in my article, viz., that there are only two ways of understanding reality. If he meant that there are only two ways “men can interact with reality,” then that might deserve comments other than the ones I made. I would agree with Mr. Butler that, since the Bible is true, there are only two ways for men to interact with reality: either with or opposed to God. In context, this presents an excluded middle and is, thus, necessarily true.

His second point criticizes Ken Ham for not establishing the principles of hermeneutics one needs to interpret the Bible.  Dr. Howe writes that we can’t get them from the Bible, because one would need to understand God’s Word first to discover them.  He goes on to try and demonstrate how this is a contradiction on Ham’s part, but it wasn’t entirely clear.

Not quite. My criticism was not that Ham did not “establish” the principles of hermeneutics. Instead, my criticism was that Ham never even acknowledged the issue of how does one interpret the Word of God. He never told his audience where one gets one’s principles of hermeneutics or even hinted that he knew there were such things as principles of hermeneutics or that he knew that there was even a discipline of hermeneutics. This was a serious omission since, for Ham, understanding everything else hinges on what the Word of God says and means. But if Ham cannot even tell us definitively how one can understand what the Word of God means, how can anyone hope to understand anything at all (in Ham’s estimation)? I regret that my argument was not clear to Mr. Butler. I will leave it to others to decide whether this was because of my unclear writing or because of Mr. Butler’s unclear thinking.

Again, I can’t speak for Ham, but one does not have to look for principles of biblical interpretation, especially in the damnable foolishness of Greek philosophers that was warmed over in Aquinas’s theology, the favorite of most classic apologists.

Mr. Butler again engages in inflammatory rhetoric. If enough negative emotions are inflamed in the reader, perhaps the reader will be moved to accept Mr. Butler’s point without Mr. Butler actually make a real rebuttal to my argument. This is another example of pseudo-reasoning. I never argued that we must “look for” the principles of hermeneutics in the “damnable foolishness of Greek philosophers.” Instead, I said “Further, reality serves as the only source from which one can obtain his principles of interpretation to be able to understand God’s word.” If something is true, it does not make it false because it was said by some “damnable” foolish Greek. As for Thomas Aquinas, I only wish that he were the favorite of most Classical Apologists. Strictly speaking, probably many (if not most) Classical Apologists, while signing on to the project of Natural Theology (in the so-called tradition of Thomas Aquinas), could not tell you what are the philosophical distinctives of Thomas Aquinas (e.g., the essence/existence distinction and his view of the primacy of esse). I would argue (though I did not argue it in my article nor am I arguing it here) that their apologetics would be all the better with a more thorough knowledge and embracing of the philosophy of Aquinas.

When God created man, He made him with the ability to communicate and understand.  Obviously a good deal of what it means to understand and communicate is intrinsic with the way all men think.

Oops! It appears now that Mr. Butler wants to engage in some philosophizing of his own. Why should anyone believe that this is “obvious” if, indeed, it is obvious? Does he mean here that it is obvious to observation or exegesis? If the former, then the problem here for Mr. Butler is that he is beginning to engage in the very philosophizing for which he condemns those “damnable” foolish Greeks (and by extension certain Medievalists like Aquinas). Why does Mr. Butler so vehemently attack me for the same procedure (i.e., trying to reason from what is obvious to observation)? Why does he criticize me when he thinks that I hold to certain truths that were obvious to those “damnable” foolish Greeks? Granted, we might disagree with what we conclude about what is obvious. But his tone throughout has been calling into question the legitimacy of Classical Apologetics philosophizing about such matters. It appears to me that, when the philosophizing agrees with his own position, Mr. Butler’s is ready to engage in such philosophizing .

If Mr. Butler does not mean that it is obvious to observation (and there are only two ways to understanding reality according to him and Ken Ham) then he can only mean that it is obvious to exegesis (i.e., that it is obvious from the Word of God). In this case, I defy him to give me the biblical references to such things being “intrinsic with the way all men think.”

If one teaches the Bible, you don’t need to have a course on “hermeneutics” first in order to teach it.  Because all men created in God’s image retain the ability to communicate, all one needs to do is read and explain Genesis 1 and they know what it means.  There is only a need to teach “hermeneutics” first if you are an OEC who is trying to explain away the plain meaning of the historical narrative so as to accommodate deep time, evolutionary views of origins.

Such a naïve position on Bible teaching explains why there is so much shallow (and sometimes heretical) teaching going on in the name of the Bible. Does Mr. Butler think it is always that easy (even if sometimes it is easy)? I wonder what he would say to Finis Jennings Dake who argued, “God has a personal spirit body (Dan. 7:9-14; 10:5-19); shape (Jn. 5:37); form (Phil. 2:5-7); image and likeness of a man (Gen. 1:26; 9:6; Ezek. 1:26-28; 1 Cor. 11:7; Jas. 3:9). He has bodily parts such as, back parts (Ex. 33:23), heart (Gen. 6:6; 8:21), hands and fingers (Ps. 8:3-6; Heb. 1:10; Rev. 5:1-7), mouth (Num. 12:8), lips and tongue (Isa. 30:27), feet (Ezek. 1:27; Ex. 24:10), eyes (Ps. 11:4; 18:24; 33:18), ears (Ps. 18:6), hair, head, face, arms (Dan. 7:9-14; 10:5-19; Rev. 5:1-7; 22:4-6), and other bodily parts.” [Finis Jennings Dake, The Dake Annotated Reference Bible (Lawrenceville, GA: Dake Bible Sales, 1991), NT, p. 97] Is Mr. Butler willing to grant that it is “obvious” that God has such bodily parts as Dake says? Cannot Mr. Butler see the need for a careful distinction between what the Bible says and what the Bible means? Such a distinction cannot be thoroughly sustained without proper hermeneutics.

Dake is clearly (to me) heretical here. No doubt Dake would claim that it is he who is taking the “obvious” meaning of the text. The Bible “clearly” says what Dake has it saying. But I would argue (as I suspect Mr. Butler would as well) that Dake has misinterpreted the Bible. How, then, are we to adjudicate this dispute? While I agree with Mr. Butler that much of the time the meaning of the Bible is plain, this will not help us with deeper philosophical and theological issues such as the nature and attributes of God Himself. The Bible says that the attributes of God are clearly seen “from the things that are made” (Rom. 1:20). I can tell that when Jesus calls himself a plant (“I am the true vine.” John 15:1a) he is speaking metaphorically. I know this because I know that Jesus is a human being [and I must hasten to add I know that Jesus is God too, lest Mr. Butler accuse me of denying the deity of Christ. But this truth is irrelevant to the point I am making here.] and that a human being has a different nature than a plant. I know this, by the way, because I know reality as it is created by God. I know this quite apart from reading it in the Bible. In fact, it is only because I know this FROM REALITY that I am able to judge that this is metaphor in the Bible.

However, when it comes to the nature of God Himself, I cannot “observe” Him the way I can observe human beings and plants. Thus, either I have to admit that the Bible gives conflicting claims about God (He has bodily parts, as Dake would have the Bible saying, yet He is spirit and is not a man as John 4:24 and Num. 23:19 say.) or some of these descriptions are metaphor, anthropomorphisms, or other literary devices. How, then, is such a determination made? It cannot be made by further appeal to the Bible, for this is the very thing the meaning of which is in dispute. Reasoning from the nature of sensible objects (i.e., objects that present themselves to the senses) to the necessary metaphysical makeup of such objects leads us to conclude that there is an eternal, self-existent, infinite, personal Being who possesses all the perfections of existence without limit. This all men know to be God. One may ask, “How does such reasoning proceed?” I invite you to the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas.

As for Mr. Butler’s comment “all one needs to do is read and explain Genesis 1 and they know what it means,” I do wonder whether Mr. Butler is a heliocentrist or geocentrist. He might be surprised to see the specifics of how that debate raged in the 16th century, especially between Galileo, Cardinal Bellarmine, Paolo Antonio Foscarini, and others. While I am an unabashed heliocentrist, I would like to think that an exposure to the discussion of geo- vs. heliocentrism would temper the sarcasm and overly dogmatic tone of Mr. Butler regarding this discussion of YEC vs. OEC. (See, Richard J. Backwell, Galileo, Bellarmine, and the Bible (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991). I can only hope.

In his third point, Dr. Howe is critical of Ham’s use of the phrase, “starting points.”  The idea of “starting points” in Ham’s lecture means, “does a person start with God’s Word or with man’s ‘word.'”  I take it that what Ham means is where the person places his authority.  So contrary to Dr. Howe, there is necessary relevance in discussing the concept of “starting points.”  He seems to thinks this is naive and problematic because it leads to perspectivism, as I will explain in a moment.

I will not rehearse my original argument here. Let it suffice to say that both “starting points”–God’s Word or man’s word–are constituents of reality. Reality is where everyone starts. To frame it the way Ken Ham (and Mr. Butler) does is incoherent. As I tried to argue, such reasoning is self-refutting. Why this is the case is apparently lost on Mr. Butler. If he is interesting in some suggested readings, I will be happy to point him to them.

He may think a discussion about starting points doesn’t matter when giving directions to the city, but if person “A” knows for a fact the correct way is north, but person “B” insists it is south, and his GPS locator is broken, and person “A” has some relevant information about the terrain that person “B” does not, then yes, a discussion of “starting points” is important.

I can only smile when I read Mr. Butler’s response here. In other words, if you change the illustration from what I have, then you will come to a different conclusion than what I did! My point (which was apparently lost on Mr. Butler) was that framing the discussion in terms of “starting points” is useless. It does not serve the point Ken Ham needs to make. As I argued, what the Christian is saying is the Christianity is TRUE. It makes no difference from where one started in trying to find his way somewhere. What matters is where he is and how to get to where he needs to go. My quarrel was with the illustration in the first place. But Ham is confined to his illustration because he has already committed himself to the bankrupt position of there being only two ways of understanding reality. Since that original framing of the matter is wrong (and, thus, useless) such illustrations that stem from the framing are likewise wrong and useless.

At any rate, Dr. Howe claims Ham is encouraging “perspectivism,” a philosophy that is sort of a subjective way of looking at truth that originated with Friedrich Nietzsche. This of course is a bad thing, insists Dr. Howe, because if we all can’t agree as to what is truthful, who is to say what is truthful and not truthful.  We as Christians, he argues, should be claiming (and I am taking that he means with “certainty”) that the Christian view of things is the truth. “It is the way things are. It is not merely a perspective-Christian or otherwise,” he writes.

Actually, Nietzsche’s perspectivalism was anticipated millennia before in Plato’s Theaetetus. (See my “Is Knowledge Perception? An Examination of Plato’s Theaetetus 151d-186e” at  Mr. Butler is right in that I do regard perspectivalism as a “bad thing.” But he is wrong as to my reasons. It is not a matter of “if we all can’t agree” then “who is to say?” We could all agree and still be wrong. Further, how we know what is true is a different question than what we mean by the term ‘true.’ As for the “with ‘certainty,'” comment I am not sure what Mr. Butler hopes to gain by adding that qualification. I have met many people in my life who are “certain” and wrong.

But two glaring problems reveal themselves with his response that only increases the volume of the dissonance. First, the Bible is clear in such places like Roman 1:18ff., that lost men intentionally suppress the “truth.” They spin it so as to have an excuse to deny the implications of it.  I am fairly certain that is Ham’s point.  Thus, if a man’s “starting point” is to interpret truth according to a strict naturalistic materialism, it is important to point this out, for that “starting point” factors heavily into how you engage the individual about the “truth.”

Granted this is what Rom. 1:18ff say, but what does that have to do with anything? Even if this is Ham’s point, it has absolutely nothing to do with rescuing his bankrupt position. What I see coming is how the Presuppositionalist desires collapsing apologetics into evangelism. This is wrong philosophically, biblically, and practically. But since my original article was not a full-blown critique of Presuppositionalism (but instead, Ken Ham’s “watered down” version thereof), I shall forego the opportunity to engage in such a critique here.

Mr. Butler observes that “if man’s ‘starting point” is to interpret truth according to a strict naturalistic materialism” then “it is important to point this out.” Precisely! Welcome to Classical Apologetics! The very engagement of the unbeliever at the level of such philosophical paradigms is EXACTLY what Classical Apologetics is so good at. I am reminded here of those Presuppositionalists I have read who, after having castigated (what they perceive to be) Classical Apologetics and extolling the virtues of Presuppositionalism, go on to actually do apologetics in the vein of the classical model. (See, for example, Grover Gunn, “A Comparison of Apologetic Methods” at It is what William Lane Craig observed to be a confusion of a transcendental argument with a demonstatio quia argument. (See Craig’s critique of John Frame in Steven B. Cowan, Five Views on Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000), 233)

Next, when Dr. Howe writes, “What the Christian should be claiming is that his Christian view of things is the truth,” in the context of his critique of a YEC, is he then saying that YEC is the “Christian view of things” and thus “is the truth?”

Yes, I would say that YEC is the truth. That is why I am a Young Earth Creationist. Here is another indication that Mr. Butler either did not read my article in its entirety or did not understand what he read. My comments about my believing YEC are quire unambiguous, to wit, “[My colleague] knows that I am both a classical apologist and a Young-Earth Creationist. … I probably am not far from Ham’s views on many things. I might push the age of the Earth a little further back than he does. But I hold to a literal reading of Gen. 1-11, which would include maintaining a literal Adam and Eve, the Fall of the human race in Adam’s sin, the corruption and cursing of the cosmos as a result of this Fall, a universal, global catastrophic flood in Noah’s time (together with the Ark and the animals just as Genesis says), and the tower of Babel and the confusion of languages. I might even agree with some of Ham’s arguments for some of these particular points.” This is what I said in my article. How Mr. Butler can be uncertain as to whether I would say that YEC is the truth is beyond me. My contention is that the bankrupt reasoning of the likes of Ken Ham (in the issues I specifically address in my article) does nothing to commend or defend YEC as true–even to many believers.

I would certainly agree with him, but what do his fellow classic apologists like Hugh Ross, Ken Samples, Greg Koukl, and even Norman Geisler say to that claim of his?

I cannot speak to what Hugh Ross or Ken Samples might think of my claim, as I have never engaged them about my views. Greg Koukl and Norman Geisler are both friends of mine. Though I cannot remember specifically discussing these issues with them either, I am confident that they would concur with my critique of Ken Ham (again, dealing specifically with the issues I addressed in my article regarding Ham’s apologetic methodology). Mr. Butler confuses the apologetic methodology of Ken Ham with YEC as such. I beg to differ. Being a Young Earth Creationist myself, I can assure him that not all Young Earth Creationists lack such ability to reason in these specific matters. In other words, my quarrel with Ham IS NOT necessarily his conclusions regarding the things surrounding a young Earth position. Rather, my quarrel with him is how he characterizes apologetics as a whole. It is not true that in order to defend YEC, one must be a Presuppositionalist. Further, it is not true that if one is a Classical Apologist, one must be an OEC. Mr. Butler is apparently unable to distinguish these issues.

Again, they think all YEC are hopeless reality denying simpletons, who teach a flannel-board view of the Bible.

I will leave it to these other Classical Apologists to defend any notion as to whether they think that all Young Earth Creationists “are hopeless reality denying simpletons.” I do not think they regard me as such. But that may be because I do not put forth such self-refutting arguments as Ken Ham did in the talk that I heard. (Again, at the risk of seeming redundant, but to increase the likelihood that Mr. Butler will not miss my point: I am not talking about YEC. Rather, I am talking about Ken Ham’s arguments for how Christianity is to be defended. I am talking about Ken Ham’s (watered down) Presuppositionalism. That was the subject of his talk. I made this clear in my article, but I am beginning to suspect that Mr. Butler only read parts of it.)

Further, for the sake of clarification, I repeatedly use the expression ‘watered down’ when referring to Ham’s argument because I know that there are Presuppositionalists who are quite sophisticated (in the good sense of the term) in their explaining and defending Presuppositionalism. Though I still reject their Presuppositionalism, it is not without respect for their integrity and intellects.

In their mind, the “evidence” is overwhelming that the earth is billions of years old, the flood of Noah never happened on a global scale, dinosaurs died out 65-mya, etc.

As to whether the “evidence” is overwhelming to these other Classical Apologists, I suspect that if they make such a pronouncement, they do so only by deferring to whom they take to be the expert scientists. Not being a scientist myself, if I find myself disagreeing with the experts (as I do regarding evolution as well), I am not in a position of either refereeing or engaging the scientific debate except as a secondary source. (This, perhaps, might be a place where I would welcome Ken Ham’s contribution. I cannot say for sure since I am not familiar with the specifics of his science.)

Why then don’t these men share Dr. Howe’s “perspective” in these matters of truth?  They all believe evidence, or what is considered a 67 book of the Bible found in nature, trumps the historical reading of Genesis and so has to be re-interpreted. How exactly would I engage them to show them they are wrong?

Mr. Butler will have to ask them why they do not share my perspective. Might it be that the likes of Ken Ham have so polluted the conversation that other Christians are running as far away as they can from what they perceive to YEC? If this is so, it is unfortunate. Perhaps the time has come for YEC to be liberated from the bankruptcy of Presuppositionalism. This certainly was the concern of my colleague. He is worried about how much the Presuppositionalism of Young Earth Creationists like Ham is damaging what otherwise might be a viable option. In other words, the biblical case for YEC might be shown to be stronger if it can get out from under the clutter for what passes as apologetics in some circles. These are only speculations on my part.

Also, out of curiosity, how did Dr. Howe come to his conclusions about the age of the earth?  What made him a YEC?  The Bible or the evidence?

To satisfy his curiosity, I will tell Mr. Butler that my views of YEC derive primarily from the Bible (as do my views contra evolution). I do not see how one can square OEC with a straightforward reading of the biblical text. I cannot see where billions of years can fit into the narrative. I do know that some have tried and are quite comfortable with doing so. (Some are at my seminary, though most at SES are Young Earth Creationists.) If there is any hermeneutical model out there that seamlessly weaves OEC into the biblical text, I have yet to see one that does so to my satisfaction. What else can I do? I consider the views and arguments of others with whom I disagree. I come to a settled (and sometimes not so settled) position and hope that I do not vomit all over those with whom I disagree, even if my disagreement is strong.

If he says the Bible, how exactly does he escape his own criticisms he is leveling at Ken Ham?

This comment serves as another example that Mr. Butler did not understand my arguments. It is revealing that he cannot tell the difference between what I argued against Ken Ham (which was largely philosophical) and particular scientific (empirical) or exegetical disputes. What I said against Ham’s views absolutely does not impact the dispute between YEC and OEC vis-à-vis these matters. Mr. Butler is again failing to distinguish the dispute over apologetic methodology (which is what I was criticizing Ken Ham about) with the dispute of a given set of purported scientific (or empirical) evidence regarding the age of the Earth. It does a disservice to YEC to hamstring it with Presuppositionalism.

If he says “the evidence,” then what evidence?  Everyone has the same evidence.  Is he saying then, that his evaluation of the evidence brought him to recognize the Bible is actually correct? Or was it the other way around?

Since it was not so much the evidence (I take Mr. Butler to mean the scientific or empirical evidence), then this point is moot. But it might surprise Mr. Butler to know that taking the position that “evidence” can be misunderstood (or misinterpreted) by someone because of his faulty philosophical assumptions is squarely within the Classical Apologetics approach. Perhaps some Presuppositionalists mistakenly think that if one can rightfully insert the word ‘presupposition’ into the description of someone’s apologetic methodology, it is thereby Presuppositionalism. This is not so.

Regarding “everyone has the same evidence,” again, I would be very much interested in how Mr. Butler regards the geo- vs. heliocentrism discussion of the 16th century. Does he now take the scientific evidence to inform him of what the Bible means when it talks about a moving Sun and a stationary Earth? Would he have been one of those geocentrists (and there are some still around, e.g., Robert Sungenis) who railed against those “damnable” helocentrists?

It certainly isn’t my intention to be rude.  I imagine Dr. Howe is a fine fellow. However, as I have attempted to argue in my last couple of posts addressing apologetic methodology, I want my methodology to be anchored in Scripture, consistent throughout the whole of what I believe as a Christian, and not accompanied by a lot of unnecessary, worldly baggage, like Greek philosophy.

I appreciate Mr. Butler not wanting to be rude. I, too, wish not to be rude. Further, I can imagine that Mr. Butler is a fine fellow. In fact, if we ever get to meet face to face, lunch is on me. Having said that, I must remark that wanting one’s methodology to be “anchored in Scripture,” while pious sounding, is naïve. The cults make similar claims. Now I am not equating Mr. Butler’s view with any cult. My point is that such simplistic formulations do nothing to adjudicate these matters. I, too, what my methodology to be so anchored. Where does that leave us? Bellermine wanted his geocentrism anchored as well. So did Galileo want his heliocentricism. We have to move beyond clichés. I see that Mr. Butler has apparently attempted to do just this in his accompanying blogs (only some of which I have read so far). But he can put his mind to rest whether my view has any “worldly baggage.” I have no more “worldly baggage” than my secular Jewish physician has when he treats my medical condition. (That “damnable” Hippocratic oath!) You know what they say about “all truth.” As John Calvin observed, “But if the Lord has been pleased to assist us by the works and ministry of the ungodly in physics, dialectics, mathematics, and other similar sciences, let us avail ourselves of it, lest, by neglecting the gifts of God spontaneously offered to us, we be justly punished for our sloth.” [John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge, 2.2.16, vo. 1, pp. 236-237] If Mr.Butler is worried about my “worldly baggage” I would like to encourage him to shed the bankrupt baggage of Presuppositionalism. It not only is bad philosophy, it is bad theology as well.

17 comments on “Intellectual Dissonance

  1. Fred says:

    Thanks Dr. Howe for the rubber hose beat down.

    You write,
    While some of my tone may seem harsh, I do not intend anything personal against Mr. Butler.

    I don’t take anything personal. It’s the nature of the blog game. It’s apparent that what I wrote stirred you up, and for that I am happy. Maybe I’ll get a mention in your class as to how NOT to do apologetics and someone will look up my name and I’ll gain another reader.

    Now. In order to keep this brief, because I am sure I speak for both of us when I say I am busy with other things, I’ll skip responding to the long winded complaints that I am a philosophical rube because I have a failure to grasp arguments and I just burn strawmen and whatnot. I’ll leave that to the judgment of others. Rather, let me focus on some particulars.

    You write,
    I was not criticizing Ham for his Young Earth views as I, for the most part, share his conclusions.

    Toward the end, you explain why you are a YEC. That’s good. However, your “reason” for being a YEC does not sync with your apologetic principles. You say I will tell Mr. Butler that my views of YEC derive primarily from the Bible (as do my views contra evolution). I do not see how one can square OEC with a straightforward reading of the biblical text. I cannot see where billions of years can fit into the narrative.

    Okay. I would agree with you. I am a YEC NOT because what the evidence tells me, but what the Scripture says. However, your methodology insists I go through a complicated philosophical gauntlet in order to even appeal to the Bible as the source of my authority for believing this. Why is that necessary? Is the Bible true in what it proclaims about earth’s history or not?

    As I argued in my initial post, your “reason” for being a YEC is contradicted by a good many of the popular classic pundits who run in your circles. You seem to think their dissent is irrelevant to your arguments against Ken Ham. However, they begin, or dare I say “start” on the same apologetic methodological page you do when they argue against YEC. You both cannot be right. Either the Bible has something meaningful to proclaim about the history of the earth as the Bible lays out, against how deep time proponents (both secular evolutionists and OEC) argue the “evidence” proclaims about the history of the earth.

    Moving along,
    My criticism was not that Ham did not “establish” the principles of hermeneutics … I never argued that we must “look for” the principles of hermeneutics in the “damnable foolishness of Greek philosophers.”
    Okay. So what criteria do we appeal to so as to “establish” those hermeneutical principles? I appeal to what is revealed in Scripture: that men were created with the ability to communicate meaningfully with God and each other. You seem to think I am engaged with some sort of “oopsie daisy philosophizing” when I say that. The difference, however, is that I engage in my “philosophizing” based upon revelation, not my autonomy inducing that notion from a line of reasoning derived from a number of external sources.

    As for Mr. Butler’s comment “all one needs to do is read and explain Genesis 1 and they know what it means,” I do wonder whether Mr. Butler is a heliocentrist or geocentrist. He might be surprised to see the specifics of how that debate raged in the 16th century, especially between Galileo, Cardinal Bellarmine, Paolo Antonio Foscarini, and others.

    Really? I am stunned you would even raise this as a legitimate argument against my position. This is the kind of stuff I read from internet atheists. As I understand the debate, it wasn’t genuine science against the Bible, but genuine science against the Aristotelian cosmology of the Catholic academics. Nothing is Scripture excludes the heliocentric model of the solar system.

    In regards to perspectivism, you write, It is not a matter of “if we all can’t agree” then “who is to say?” We could all agree and still be wrong.

    In other words, it is a matter of your “authority” informing your “starting point” as you note about your OEC friends and their favored scientific authorities. If your authority is the Word of God telling us the genuine history of the earth, how exactly is that perspectivism, if we can call it that, a bad thing?

    Then lastly,
    Mr. Butler observes that “if man’s ‘starting point” is to interpret truth according to a strict naturalistic materialism” then “it is important to point this out.” Precisely! Welcome to Classical Apologetics! The very engagement of the unbeliever at the level of such philosophical paradigms is EXACTLY what Classical Apologetics is so good at.

    Hardly. Where we go after we point that out to the naturalist separate into two paths. Whereas many of the classic apologists will want to grant the materialist some autonomous ability to reason for himself and appeal to this so-called “neutral” ground, I going to tell the guy his “starting point” principles of naturalism are radically inconsistent with his practice in day to day life because he is in rebellion to what he knows already about his Creator.

    • Jordan says:

      “Nothing is Scripture excludes the heliocentric model of the solar system.”

      So a straightforward reading of the text tells us that heliocentrism is true? Isn’t this genuine science you speak of “autonomous” human reasoning?

      • Fred Butler says:

        So a straightforward reading of the text tells us that heliocentrism is true? Isn’t this genuine science you speak of “autonomous” human reasoning?

        The Bible doesn’t provide us with the specifics of such a model. What the scriptures do tells is that God has made the earth the center of His redemptive activity. This is merely a way of expressing the sphere of God’s activity. Additionally, the writers of scripture speak with phenomenological language to describe the sun rising, the sun setting. It’s the same way the Weather Channel describes the sun in relation to the earth when it provides us the daily sunrise and sunset times. None of these descriptions are meant to describe the physical dynamics of the solar system.

        Genesis 1-11, however, is historical narrative. Just like Genesis 12-50 and just like the Gospels and the book of Acts. IT does mean to provide us a working history of how and when God created.

      • Again, Fred, you’re not reading carefully. I never said that a straightforward reading of the biblical text yields heliocentricism. Instead, I said that a straightforward reading of the biblical text [in my estimation] yields YEC. YEC and heliocentricism are not co-extensive. In fact, the very point I was making was the opposite. I only believe heliocentricism (together with the concomitant points about the motion of the Earth relative to the Sun and the Sun being still relative to the Earth) because of the science (or my trust of the scientists) and NOT a straightforward reading of the biblical text. This was precisely what I trying to get you to see. Sometimes we hold an interpretation of the Bible based upon a straightforward reading of the biblical text. Sometimes, the meaning of the biblical text takes greater effort to come a settled opinion about. The Bible CLEARLY says that the Sun stood still (Joshua 10:12ff; cf. Hab. 3:11). If the Sun stood still, then it must be the case that it was moving. Indeed, this is what virtually every Christian thought up to that time who weighed in on the matter and whose views we know of today. However, almost no one now believes other than that it is the Earth that is moving (relative to the Sun) and the Sun is still (relative to the Earth). Generally, we now regard the statements of Joshua 10:12ff to be phenomenological language (akin to the weatherman saying that the Sun set, though, technically, he knows that it is the Earth that is rotating and not, strictly speaking, the Sun that is setting). The point is that it was the science that changed most Christians, understanding of the meaning of those passages. None of this entails the ridiculous conclusion that I cannot understand anything that the Bible says until I have consulted some scientist. When Jesus said He was a door, I knew that He did not mean that He had a knob and swung on hinges. I knew this because I know that Jesus was not insane, and further, that, as a human being, Jesus had a different nature than a door. I knew this from reality. So, while much (if not most) of reality is within my grasp as an adult, rational, human being, I have to admit that there might be some aspects of reality the true understanding of which might escape my prima facie observation. These are not always easy matters to wrestle with. As a Young Earth Creationist, I’m only trying to urge certain of my fellow Young Earth Creationists to ditch the obnoxious and dogmatic attitudes that say that if someone else doesn’t see Genesis the way they see Genesis, then it’s only because that someone else doesn’t care as much about the Word of God as they do. This is patently offensive, spiritually as well as intellectually.

  2. Peter says:

    To cut to the chase.

    The fundamental problem with Classical Apologetics is that it is self-refuting; it is has built in itself a defeater and that defeater is man.

    Man is part of the created universe but only God is both in and outside it.

    For man to receive the truth he must get it directly from God, and God must work personally with him for him to understand it.

    The truth is the word of God and the Worker is the Holy Spirit.

    Classical apologetics is self-refuting because it claims that man, a part of the fallen, created universe, can reason himself to God and achieve eternal salvation.

    Man is defeated by himself as fallen, sinful, and limited as a created being within the created universe. There is enough information revealed in the created universe to see that God is and to see the nature of God, but he does not because his sinful nature defeats him. There is enough information revealed in the created universe for man to be guilty of non-belief, and man rejects it anyway.

    Man rejects truth because his perspective is not only not neutral, but it is evil.

    The only solution is direct intervention by the Savior and His Spirit.

    Only God (being outside and inside the universe) is objective. Only God is good.

    • D.D. Edwards says:

      Classical Apologetics is self-refuting? Is that what you said? Wow.
      It is the case that Presuppositionalist uses the Kantian transcendental argument, a bizarre brand of spiritualized, circular reasoning (that means your improperly hidden in your argument).

      In fact, you Presuppusitionalists do not deny you are using a circular argument (although some of you may not know it). Rather, you believe it elevates you “above the argument.”

      Lastly and maybe most importantly is your acute misunderstanding and aversion to anything that smacks of Thomism, though you don’t understand it. It leaves you denying the tenets of logic and first principles in exchange for a convoluted Kantian philosophy that always bubbles just under the surface of a failed theology and apologetic;Presuppositionalism.

      • Fred says:

        D.D. Edwards writes,
        In fact, you Presuppusitionalists do not deny you are using a circular argument (although some of you may not know it).

        You mean like the circular argument that unquestioningly presupposes that the Thomist view of Greek philosophy in order to understand what is “natural?”

        Lastly and maybe most importantly is your acute misunderstanding and aversion to anything that smacks of Thomism, though you don’t understand it.

        What’s there to understand? I have the same concerns about it as Norman Geisler wrote in his book on Aquinas. After spending 176 pages praising the virtues of Aquinas and attempting to answer all his critics, he basically refutes his own book on one page where he writes that Aquinas was a Catholic who believed some seriously heretical doctrines which in turn led to a sub-biblical theology. Whereas Geisler, and I guess you all here, merely see such matters as a non-essential curiosity that can be divorced from Aquinas’s over all teaching, I happen to see them having a profound impact upon how I person views God, man, and God’s Word. You know, the doctrines that distinguishes Christianity from paganism.

      • Adam says:

        Fred, you said, “You mean like the circular argument that unquestioningly presupposes that the Thomist view of Greek philosophy in order to understand what is “natural?””

        What are you talking about?

  3. Daniel Lacaria says:

    Slam dunk, Dr. Howe, slam dunk. It is interesting that under the instruction of the Howe’s and Geisler I moved from thinking as a presuppositionalist to a classicist, even against my will at times, due to the correspondence with reality that the latter view provided (and due to gracious, powerful, effective teaching of truth from those men). Tom’ Howe’s book on philosophical hermeneutics was a great eye opener.

    While I appreciate the ministry of GTY, Butler did not refute you in article or comment. He was wrong. But I guess this type of argumentation on philosophy’s usefulness is as old as Justin Martyr and Tertullian . . . one of them was right and one of them was wrong on this issue.

    And I just finished an excellent biography on Calvin by Bruce Gordon. A great way to wrap up the article by showing the connection to the Reformation leader concerning employ of some truths that are discovered and developed by the heathen.

  4. Peter says:

    Too bad Thomist/Classical apologetics isn’t Reformed.

  5. John says:

    Sorry, I see no reason to replace the Roman Magisterium with the Philosophy dept. Magisterium.I find God’s revelation of himself through scripture sufficient. But then I’m just one of those poor simple souls who believes in in Sola Scriptura, not scripture plus whatever. I realize it’s unsophisticated, but there it is.

    • Eric Gustafson says:

      Then you must disagree with Martin Luther. When he was told he must recant for going against the teachings of the Catholic Church he said, “unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.” Luther knew that reason is necessary to interpret Scripture.

      Why is it that Luther thought “reason” was necessary? Did he not find “God’s revelation of himself through scripture” sufficient?”

    • Adam says:

      John, with all due respect, that idea of Sola Scriptura is not only unsophisticated (whatever you mean by that), but it’s also impossible. It must first be the case that Sola Scriptura is not the same as non-Sola Scriptura and that “God exists” is not the same as “God does not exist,” etc., etc. The laws of logic of one of the many things that must be in place first before Sola Scriptura even makes any sense.

  6. Mike says:

    Dr. Howe, can you explain how a classical apologist can defend YEC without resorting to a presuppositional method? I am a YEC, but also a classical apologist. For example, how would you answer the radiometric dating arguments without pointing out the starting assumptions (presuppositions), like 1. The initial conditions, 2. The constancy of rates, and 3. The assumption that there has been no contamination.

    • Thanks for the question. I think there is a (common, if not understandable) confusion here. To challenge, for example, a scientific argument by challenging the presuppositions of that argument IS NOT the same as the Presuppositional method. While Ken Ham might be doing exactly this at times, when/if he does, that IS NOT my quarrel with him. Presuppositionalism is not merely a critique of your opponents’ presuppositions. So, in the case of radiometric dating, the issue is more than merely the fact of what those presuppositions are. I would be concerned with how one discovers those presuppositions and how one can know whether such presuppositions are true or false. It is with these latter issues (how to discover the presuppositions and how can one know whether they are true or false) that Ham’s approach shows its bankruptcy. Thus, never fear, as a classical apologist, that you are somehow abandoning the good fight merely because you are challenging a scientist’s presuppositions. Such critique can be some of the best that the clasical model has to offer the apologetics world.

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