It’s Worse Than I Thought

Over the past year or so, a colleague of mine has been telling me of his concerns about how Presuppositionalism (or some watered-down version thereof) infuses the thinking of certain popular Young-Earth Creationists if not Young-Earth Creationism in general. Though he himself is an Old-Earth creationist, he came to me with his concerns because, being a Classical Apologist, he knows that I am both a classical apologist and a Young-Earth Creationist. Apparently we are a small group.
Tonight I had the opportunity to visit a local church in my area where Ken Ham was lecturing. Ham was talking about how to defend the Christian faith. I wanted to hear “from the horse’s mouth,” if you will, how one of the main Young-Earth Creationists would characterize the apologetic task. It’s worse than I thought, despite the fact that my colleague had been trying to tell me just how bad it was. 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. (I’m not sure if this is so only because I’m not too familiar with Ham’s arguments here.)
However, I strongly object to how Ham characterizes the task of how the Christian can or ought to defend the faith. I won’t at this juncture comment too much (if at all) as to whether or to what extent Ham’s apologetic approach lines up with the more authoritative and perhaps familiar names associated with Presuppositionalism (all the more because of the fact that there are variations within the Presuppositionalist camp itself (Van Til/Bahnsen vs. Clark vs. Schaeffer vs. Frame, et al.)) I would even be willing to grant that, strictly speaking, Ham’s view does not even warrant the label of ‘Presuppositionalism.’ By whatever name his view should go, I am convinced that his way of defending the faith is bankrupt if not self-refuting. A few comments are in order.
First, Ham claimed that there are only two ways to understand reality, viz., according to God’s word or according to man’s word. But this is fraught with problems. Ham did not clarify for us exactly how one was to understand reality by God’s word. What exactly would this mean? Is not God’s word part of reality? Thus, is he saying that we understand reality (as a whole) by utilizing a part of reality in understanding it? But then, how are we to understand that part of reality that is God’s word in the first place? And if we are able to understand the part of reality that is God’s word without any appeal to another (antecedent) part of reality, then why can we not do that with the other parts of reality? In other words, if we need that part of reality which is God’s word to understand the rest of reality which is not God’s word, then how is it that we are able to understand the part of reality that is God’s word in the first place? Why should the part of reality that is God’s word be understandable by us if the rest of reality that is not God’s word needs another part of reality (viz., God’s word) to understand it? It gets worse.

Second, Ham never even acknowledged the issue of how does one interpret the word of God? From where would one get one’s principles of hermeneutics (i.e., principles of interpretation)? He cannot say that we get these principles from God’s word, because we would need to be able to understand God’s word in order to get the principles. But then, if we are able to understand God’s word in order to get our principles of hermeneutics, then that would mean that we were able to understand God’s word before we got our principles, which would mean that we wouldn’t need the principles after all. This is a contradiction. But if Ham cannot get from God’s word his principles of interpretation that he needs in order to understand God’s word (and there are only two ways to understand reality according to Ham) then he would have to say that he gets his principles of interpretation from man’s word. But of course, this will not do since Ham’s ultimate point is that man’s word is faulty (if not deceptive) and thus wrong when it comes to reality. For him to claim that he gets his principles of interpretation from man’s word while arguing what he does about man’s word would be self-refuting. It boils down to the fact that Ham is either contradictory or self-refuting. But any position that entails contradiction or self-refutation must have one or more false premises. His false premise is that there are only two ways to understand reality, viz., according to God’s word or according to man’s word. It gets worse.

Third, throughout his talk, Ham emphasized that there are only two “starting points.” This was another way of saying that we either understand reality by God’s word or by man’s word. On my drive home, I imagined having a conversation with him. A few minutes into our imaginary discussion (after he perhaps detected some opposition from me) Ham asks me what my “starting point” is. I would then try to give a most outrageous answer (in order to force the issue). Suppose I said my “starting point” was “Everything is equal to four.” Now, no matter how wrong he might regard my “starting point” to be, it remains that my “starting point” would not retroactively be able to negate what was, up to the point when he ask me what my “starting point” was, a meaningful conversation. Despite the fact that I might have the wrong “starting point” (in Ham’s view) we were (and are) able to have adequate communication. This is revealing. In fact, by the time he asked what my “starting point” was, we were both way beyond our “starting points.” We both had already “started” before we began our conversation. The problem is that the imagery of ‘starting points’ is not the way he should be describing the situation. An illustration might help show what I’m getting at. Suppose two people meet each other in the middle of the desert. Both are trying to find their way to the city. What point would it make for one to ask the other “What is your starting point?” The fact is that what is needed is not a discussion about “starting points,” but about the directions to the city. It wouldn’t matter where either of their “starting points” had been as far as how they are to get to the city from where they are now. What I think Ham must be trying to get at is not “starting points” but something like a paradigm. He’s seems to be trying to describe different manners in which one might understand reality. For example, he might be trying to argue that the Christian must have a biblical world view. As a philosopher and a Christian, I can certainly appreciate this. But framing the issue this way can be problematic. He needs to make sure that he doesn’t sound like he’s saying that everyone is using some interpretive template (biblical or otherwise) according to which he “understands” reality. (This is a problem with a lot of contemporary “world view” conversations that are going on in some apologetic circles.) The problem with framing the issue this way is that it amounts of what philosophers call ‘perspectivalism.’ Perspectivialism says that each one has his own perspective on reality (perhaps determined by one’s up-bringing, one’s gender, one’s race, one’s culture—there are lots of options). Such perspectivalism denies that any one perspective is privileged or can claim to be the objective truth. But the Christian should not be merely claiming that we “understand” reality by God’s word while everyone else understands reality by man’s word. Not only is this plagued with the problem I outlined above, but it in itself does not get the discussion where it needs to be when we are trying to defend the faith to the unbeliever. What the Christian should be claiming is that his Christian view of things is the truth. It is the way things are. It is not merely a perspective—Christian or otherwise. Now, I have no doubt that Ham would agree that when Christians make their claims they mean to be understood as making claims about the way things really are. The problem is that, because of the way he has set up the discussion, he has precluded himself from advancing that claim. Instead of trying to defend his faith by claiming that it only is according to God’s word, he should be claiming that the Christian faith is true. 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. Now God is ultimate reality and He is the Creator of all that exists besides Himself. But the advantages of grounding the argument in the real are several. Reality (which includes God and His creation) is that which we come to know in all its multifaceted aspects by means of the faculties of knowing that God as created us with. Further, reality serves as the only source from which one can obtain his principles of interpretation to be able to understand God’s word. Having grounded our hermeneutics in reality, we can further our knowledge by availing ourselves to the truths about reality that God has revealed in the Bible (which could not have otherwise been known). These two categories are what theologians call General Revelation (specifically, truths about God that can be known from creation by means of the faculties of our senses and our reason) and Special Revelation (truths that God as revealed through His prophets, apostles, and His own Son).
Being a Presuppositionalist, Ham denies that there is any neutral ground in the conversation between the Christian and the non-Christian. Since there is no neutral ground (his argument goes), then the position that anyone ends up with is determined by the “starting point” with which that one begins. So the task (Ham would continue) is to get the non-Christian to change his “starting point.” But how is that done? Ham says that we can’t do it. Only God can change one’s “starting point.” To be sure, Ham insists, God can use the “arguments” and “evidence” that Christians marshal to effect such a change. But the change only comes by God. Now, what Christian could quarrel with this? Let me see if I can. Ham here is confusing apologetics with evangelism. No apologist with whom I am familiar would deny that only God can change someone’s heart. But at the same time, no apologist with whom I am familiar would ever claim that it was the task of apologetics in the first place to effect such a change in the unbeliever’s heart. Indeed, you cannot “argue someone into the Kingdom of God.” Ham is confusing understanding with believing; apprehending with receiving. The unbeliever can be made to understand and apprehend the claims of Christianity. Apologetics can serve to demolish skeptical arguments and demonstrate the truths of much of the Christian faith (e.g., the objectivity of truth; truth as correspondence to reality; sound principles of hermeneutics; the existence and attributes of God, the historicity of the Bible) even if it cannot demonstrate the truths of other claims of Christianity that must be taken by faith (e.g., Christ died for our sins, Christ is coming again). But apologetics cannot compel the unbeliever to receive the things of God. It cannot tread where only the Holy Spirit can tread—into the hearts of men. Apologetics is not evangelism. (You can insert you own “horse,” “water,” and “drink” cliché here.)
Thus, it is not an insult to God (nor is it a repeal of the Fall) to say that there is much common (neutral) ground between the believer and the unbeliever. This is the only God-honoring view to hold, for it acknowledges that there is nowhere the unbeliever can hide in all reality where he is not standing on some ground that can be shown to point to its Creator. Sometimes it might take cogent arguments to get the unbeliever to see this. But it is reality and ultimate reality that God is calling everyone to acknowledge and embrace.


34 comments on “It’s Worse Than I Thought

  1. Excellent critique my friend! The worldview vs. perspectivalism problem is an issue which needs to be made more of.

    (Yes, I did that on purpose.) 🙂

  2. PMR says:

    You have made valid points. Have you tried to contact Ken Ham to set up a discussion with him about improving his delivery?

    • No need. I suspect he’s heard it all before. The debate between the classical approach and the presuppositional approach has been going on for quite some time. And if he hasn’t heard it all before, shame on him for venturing into such an important topic and debate within the Body without being informed.

  3. Melissa says:

    Thank you for this post, Dr. Howe. I have become increasingly frustrated with Ken Ham’s tactics for reasons you have articulated here and because of his misguided (sometimes blatantly false) accusations against ID theory/proponents.

  4. Missy DeLuca says:

    I just read Jason Lisle’s Ultimate Proof of Creation. When pushed to practically put his “don’t answer a fool according to his folly” into practice with real world unbelievers, it doesn’t hold water. There is neutral ground! Thank you for this post.

    • Mike says:

      I have also used Dr. Lisle’s approach with unbelievers, and I have to say it is very powerful. Maybe you don’t understand the method.

      • I, too, have liked what I have heard from Lisle. I take a (simplified) dilation of time view. But I defy anyone to defend the “method” to which you are referring. I would very much like you to summarize it for me and for my readers (if you are willing to let me respond/critique it). In my experience of having studied this debate for some thirty years, the presuppositionalists with whom I am familiar make some or all of the following mistakes: their positions becomes self-refuting; their position becomes incoherent; their position becomes the classical method. In fact, I’ve been amazed at how many times a presuppositionalist will cross over into a classical model of apologetics and not even notice that this is what he is doing. Indeed, it proves to me that such a one does not even understand what the differences are between the two approaches.

  5. Brian Thomas says:

    Thanks Dr Howe – You summarized well some thoughts I’ve harbored for a decade. I forwarded your post to a few YEC friends of mine, too.

  6. Isaac Fleming says:

    Wonderful post! There is serious concern over his approaches in many ways and I think you touched on them in a strong and intellectual manor.

    Thanks so much for addressing the issue!

  7. Fred says:

    One of your students (I’m guessing) forwarded this post to me. Honestly, and with all due respect, it’s poorly argued and reflects the woeful inconsistencies I find troubling with typical classic apologetics and its proponents. I wrote up a rejoinder if anyone is interested:

    • Thanks for the post and link. I encourage everyone to visit your blog and read this (and your other) posts. I have posted a reply to you titled “Intellectual Dissonance.” Please feel free to comment there as well.

  8. Mike says:

    Dr. Howe, I am going to try my best to summarize what I think Dr. Lisle’s method is, that is, the one that has worked for me in the past. Every argument that can be made against the Bible has to either use logic, science, or ethics, but logic, science, and ethics are based on certain preconditions of intelligibility, namely, laws of logic, uniformity of nature, and absolute morality. The Biblical worldview is the only one that provides for these preconditions of intelligibility. So in order for the unbeliever to attack the Biblical worldview he must presuppose the the Biblical worldview. This is self defeating.

    • Mike,
      Thanks for the direct and cogent (and I believe accurate) summary of Dr. Lisle’s method. Let me see if I can be equally direct and cogent in showing you why this method is fraught with problems. I agree that every argument against the Bible has to use logic, science, or ethics. I would add other categories as well but I will stick with your list. You go on to say that logic, science, and ethics are based on certain preconditions of intelligibility, namely, laws of logic, uniformity of nature, and absolute morality. I would go further and say that every argument is based on certain preconditions of intelligibility. But there are several problems with what you say about these preconditions.

      First, you state that the biblical worldview is the only one that provides for these preconditions. One can take your words in several ways. You might mean that the biblical worldview is the only way we are able to know what these preconditions of intelligibility are. This, however, seems to be too weak of an interpretation of your words. If you are trying to advance the Presuppositionalism that (in my view) rightfully goes by that name, then you must be saying something more substantial than merely that the biblical worldview is the only way we can discover what these preconditions are. Such a weak position would not achieve the apologetic goal the method sets for itself. This is so because, one would certainly be able to utilize the preconditions of intelligibility (i.e., one would certainly be able to make an intelligible argument) even if he knew nothing at all about the Bible. Indeed, one would be able to utilize the preconditions of intelligibility even if he knew nothing at all about the preconditions of intelligibility themselves. (One does not have to know what gravity is in order to fall off a cliff.) So, to point out to the critic that these preconditions of intelligibility that made his arguments against the Bible possible were right there in the Bible all along (or to point out to him that these preconditions of intelligibility could only have been known from the Bible), would do nothing to prove to him that the Bible was true in any interesting sense (any more than an atheist textbook on logic, et al. would prove that atheism was true just because the atheist textbook happened to have in it a correct list of certain preconditions of intelligibility).

      It would seem, therefore, that you are making a more substantial point. It would seem that you are trying to get the critic (the one who makes arguments against the Bible) to see that, unless the claims of the Bible are true, he would not even be able to make his case against the Bible. Thus, the more he (intelligibly) argues against the Bible, the more he demonstrates that the Bible is true. As you say: “In order for the unbeliever to attack the Biblical worldview he must presuppose the Biblical worldview. This is self defeating.” If this is the case, then how is one to take your words that the biblical worldview is the only one that “provides for these preconditions.” If the ‘provides for’ here means more than simply ‘informs about,’ then you must mean that the biblical worldview is the precondition of these preconditions. I am not trying conveniently to frame your argument so that I can easily shoot it down. If ‘provides for’ is more than merely ‘informs about’ it must be some sense of “being the basis of” or “being the cause of” or (if you will) “being the precondition of.” But this is incoherent for several reasons. (I will focus on logic here in distinction to science and ethics (which I will visit in due course) for reasons that will become clear.) Were it not for the fact that logic was already antecedently the case before you formulated a biblical worldview, then there would be no difference between a biblical worldview and a non-biblical worldview. (I am not merely saying that one would not be able to know the difference (though this certainly is the case). Instead, I am saying that there would not be a difference.) The only reason it can be the case that the biblical worldview is not same as, for example, the atheist worldview, is that the laws of logic are already antecedently the case before you could even know the biblical worldview or before the biblical worldview could be distinct from the atheist worldview. It is the law of non-contradiction that makes it the case that X is not non-X (in this case, the biblical worldview is not the non-biblical worldview). So, it turns out, you need the laws of logic before you can even disagree with me and before you can even make your position (Presuppositional Apologetics) distinct from my position (Classical Apologetics). Indeed, you need the laws of logic before you can even stipulate what a biblical worldview is (and is not). Thus, it cannot be the case that the biblical worldview is the precondition of the precondition of the laws of logic. It follows then, that the critic is not refuted (at this point) by a biblical worldview. Instead, he will only be refuted by something that is antecedent to that biblical worldview.

      I should note here (for this is a point that is easily lost in this conversation) that, for the Presuppositionalist to maintain that God (which is Bahnsen’s way of stating it; which I take to be the same as your ‘biblical worldview’) is the precondition of intelligibility, the Presuppisitionalist is not making merely a metaphysical (or, in Bahnsen’s terms, an ontological) point. For to say that God is the metaphysical (or ontological) precondition of intelligibility is not to say anything that distinguishes Presuppositionalism from Classical Apologetics. Instead, Bahnsen insists that he (or Van Tillian Presuppositionalism) is making an epistemological point. This clarification is explicit in Bahnsen’s debate with R. C. Sproul. It was a point of clarification necessitated by the fact that Sproul himself misunderstood what Bahnsen was arguing. Now, if other Presuppositionalists want to depart from Bahnsen here, I welcome their disagreement with him. Further, if they do so, I would like to know whether they disagree because they think Bahnsen is misunderstanding Van Til or because they think that both Van Til and Bahnsen are wrong. If it is the former, I would very much like to read their exegesis of Van Til in defending their interpretation of him. If it is the latter, then my part is accomplished, for I was all along only trying to show how it was the Van Tillian Presuppositionalism is wrong. For the record, I would say that Bahnsen is certainly wrong in his claim that God (or a biblical worldview) is the epistemological precondition of intelligibility. (I realize that this was not your terminology.) I do not want to venture here too far from my main critique in defending this point. Let it suffice to say this. Bahnsen claims that, unless the Bible (or a biblical worldview) is true, one would not even be able to make his argument against the Bible. This seems to be your position as well. But this is to make a metaphysical point not an epistemological one. This is so because to say that something is true is to say something about reality (and not merely to say something about our knowledge of reality). To put it another way, Bahnsen is confusing two things. He is confusing, on the one hand, God being the epistemological precondition of intelligibility and, on the other hand, God being the ontological precondition of epistemology (or, if you will, God being the ontological precondition of the intelligibility of the epistemology). (I should like to thank my brother Dr. Tom Howe for helping me to see this subtle but profound point.) The former is false. The latter is Classical Apologetics.

      Second, it follows from your comments that the laws of logic are a precondition of logic. Since logic just is the laws of logic, then it follows that the laws of logic are a precondition of the laws of logic. Do you not see the incoherency here? How could the laws of logic be a PREcondition of the laws of logic. This would mean that the laws of logic have to come before the laws of logic logic (in whatever sense you mean PRE, whether temporally, metaphysically, epistemologically, or (gasp!) logically). This is incoherent. X (in this case, logic) cannot be before X. In order for X to be before X, X would have to be the case when X is not the case, which is a contradiction. Something has gone terribly wrong here.

      What, then are we to make of things? For surely logic is never not there (if you will allow the double negative). How can we account for it? The critic might, at this point, want to accuse you of the fallacy of circular reasoning. He might say this because not only would any argument against the Bible need these preconditions, but every argument for the Bible would need them as well. Thus (the critic would continue), for one to use a biblical worldview to establish the preconditions of intelligibility which alone make arguments possible (both for and against the Bible) is to argue in a circle. Indeed, Bahnsen celebrates such circularity, insisting that everyone is ultimately circular. I plead not-guilty. I reject the charge. We need not (indeed, ought not) commit such a fallacy. There is “a more excellent way.”

      Now, you might respond that I am being unfair. You might say that I have mischaracterized the method. Perhaps you are not claiming that the biblical worldview is the precondition of the laws of logic which are, in turn, the precondition of intelligibility of the arguments against (and for) the Bible. Instead, perhaps you (or the method) are saying that the truths that comprise the biblical worldview just are the truths that the critic of the Bible has to use in order to make (what he thinks is) his case against the Bible. So, perhaps you are not saying one is the precondition for the other. Instead, your words ‘provides for’ are just a way of saying that what the critic needs to make his case against the Bible are only there because the Bible is true. His position is, as you put it, “self defeating.” Very well then. The question before us now is: Exactly how do we show that this is the case? What are these truths that comprise a biblical worldview that are necessary for even the case against the Bible? You suggested at least three, to wit, laws of logic, uniformity of nature, and absolute morality.

      I should like to make some comments about the notion of a “biblical worldview” and then unpack some notions surrounding these three truths. In order to do so, let me pull my cards away from my chest and state very directly the upshot of my own position (without, at this point, many details or a full defense) so as to be able to appeal to it in the following paragraphs. It is not the biblical worldview to which the Christian apologist must appeal to make his case for the truth of the Christian faith. Rather, it is reality. Reality serves as the context against which the notion of truth derives its meaning (A true proposition is a proposition that corresponds to reality.) and the only repository from which we can get what we need to understand even the Bible itself (as I hope to prove very soon). To be sure, God and the Bible are elements of reality. God is real. The Bible is real. But they are not the only things that are real. All of God’s creation is real. Even if one wanted to maintain (as I certainly would) that there are critical differences between God and His creation, the fact remains that there is nothing more fundamental than reality.

      Now, how is reality known? Sticking to my promise of not many details, I would suggest to you that our ability to know elements of reality runs a scale from “straight forward” to “labor intensive” to “with great difficulty if not impossible.” Any normal human being (Christian or not) can know much about his surroundings (trees, clouds, people) in a straight forward manner. It does not take any special skills to know quite a bit about reality. However, when it comes to the deeper things of the sensible world, such knowledge comes with great labor and difficulty. One only need to consult a textbook on medicine or on quantum physics to see this. So, to say that one would need special training for such knowledge is not an indictment on knowledge generally considered. But what about deeper theological and philosophical matters? I would submit to you that there are aspects of both God and His creation that require training and skills to negotiate. I am thinking here of the attributes of God or principles of metaphysics. With this in mind, let me move on to some comments.
      First, exactly what is a “biblical worldview?” Do you think that it is a worldview composed of all of the truths of the Bible? Van Til and Bahnsen seem to think that the Bible in its entirety must be presupposed. Van Til says, “Kuyper’s contention is that the Christian must take his place directly upon the presupposition of the truth of the Christian religion as it is presented in Scripture. … Unless the ‘reason of man’ and the facts of the universe be taken as they are taken in terms of the infallible revelation of God given to man in the Bible, human experience runs into the ground. It is to this basic approach of Kuyper … that appeal is made in this work.” [Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge (n.c., Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1975), 20] Bahnsen says, “Resting upon the authority of the living God rather than that of independent human reasoning, the apologist must presuppose the truth of Scripture and lay siege to all apostate presuppositions. This must be his method because the Word of God in the Bible has a unique epistemological status for the Christian: it requires no corroboration and carries its own evidence inherently or self-attestingly.” [Greg L. Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended (Joel McDurmon, ed.) (Power Springs, GA: American Vision Press, 2008), 4] Elsewhere Bahnsen says, “The apologist must presuppose the truth of God’s word from start to finish in his apologetic witness.” [Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 1998), 2, emphasis in original]

      Taking our truths from the Bible, does your biblical worldview maintain that God has bodily parts? If not, why not? The Bible certainly says that He does. He has back parts (Ex. 33:23), heart (Gen. 6:6; 8:21), fingers and hands (Ps. 8:3-6; Heb. 1:10), mouth (Num. 12:8), lips and tongue (Isa. 30:27), feet (Ex. 24:10), eyes and eyelids (Ps. 11:4; 33:18), ears (Ps. 18:6), and other bodily parts. God walked (actually, more like walked back and forth, Gen. 3:8). He can smell (Gen. 8:21) and He can hear (Gen. 21:17). How can God walk, smell, and hear without legs, a nose, and ears? Now, will not everyone judge that such descriptions are metaphors and anthropomorphisms? Certainly not. Finis Jennings Dake in his Dake Annotated Reference Bible argues that these are literal descriptions of God (albeit in a spiritual body and not physical one). I challenge you, then, to tell me how you would answer Dake? It will not do to merely point to other Scriptures to build the case that God is Spirit and not a man. Such appeals will not work for two reasons. The conflicting accounts will only serve the critic in his argument that the Bible contradicts itself. Further, if we try to reconcile the passages by claiming that some are figures of speech, the task then becomes showing which are the figures of speech and which are not. At one level, the job is one for hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is the study of the principles of biblical interpretation. It is in hermeneutics that we encounter such things as metaphors, anthropomorphisms, and other figures of speech (and other phenomena of language). But how is hermeneutics able to do this job? From where do we get our principles of biblical interpretation? We cannot get our principles of interpretation from the Bible itself. This is so because we would have to be able to understand our Bible in order to get those principles. But if we can understanding the Bible, then we already have the correct principles of interpretation.

      What this shows is that our principles of hermeneutics must come from reality. Sound hermeneutics is up to the task only in as much as it is grounded in sound metaphysics (philosophy) which, in my estimation, is the classical realism of Thomas Aquinas. Thomistic metaphysics can show why it is the case that God has to have a certain nature. It does this by a careful analysis of the nature of reality. (The details of such a demonstration is reserved for my philosophy course, or, better, any number of books I could recommend.) So, it is manifest that a “biblical worldview” can do nothing to give one the very principles one would need to have in order to understand the Bible to be able to glean from it a biblical worldview.
      What can be said about the specific preconditions you mentioned (laws of logic, uniformity of nature, and absolute morality)? I trust that what I argued above about logic has shown that the laws of logic cannot themselves be intelligibly derived from the Bible. This is so because we would already have to have the laws of logic in place in order to even know what was and what was not a Bible. If you ask, where does one find these laws and how does one acquire them, my answer is that the laws of logic are the essence of reality itself. They are in fact more than laws that govern intelligibility but are principles of being itself. They stem from the very nature of God who is Ultimate Reality.

      No doubt at this point you are exclaiming that this is the very point you were making in the first place. In fact, it is not. To argue that the laws of logic are principles of being (of which God is the Ultimate and Infinite example) is not to advance a biblical worldview, if by ‘biblical worldview’ you mean that we make this demonstration from the Bible itself. Instead, we make this demonstration from reality, the skillful attention to which we call ‘philosophy’ (again, the most fruitful, rigorous, and robust (and, if I may, the most truthful) example of which is Thomistic philosophy, otherwise known at Classical or Moderate Realism).

      What about the uniformity of nature and absolute morality? I segregated these two from logic because the relationship between them and their respective arguments is a different relationship than that of logic to its argument. To put it simply, to argue that absolute morality (to take it for my example) is a necessary precondition for one to make a moral argument against the Bible is to make a demonstratio quia argument not a Presuppositional argument. I take exception with your characterization that absolute morality is a precondition of intelligibility. It is not. One does not need absolute morality for him to be intelligible in the same way that one would need logic for him to be intelligible. I realize that this is, strictly speaking, not what you meant. I take you to mean, not that one would need absolute morality in order for him to be intelligible, but rather, that one would need absolute morality in order for him to build a moral argument against the Bible. This certainly seems to me to be true (although, in certain circumstances, I would opt of the phrase ‘objective morality’ instead of ‘absolute morality’). But all this amounts to something quite different than the whole “preconditions of intelligibility” discussion. It has to do, instead, with the demonstratio quia argument.
      A demonstratio quia argument is an argument from effects to cause (or to ground). As an argument strategy, how morality relates to the arguments about morality is different than how logic relates to the arguments about logic. You cannot formulate an argument for or against logic without using logic. This is a true example of something being transcendentally necessary (a favored expression by some Presuppositionalists). But one does not need morality in order to formulate an argument for or against morality. To argue from the experience or convictions of morality to the God who alone accounts for that morality is to make an argument from effects (our experience of morality) to the cause or grounding (God). What you should notice here (and this is perhaps my most important point) is that to make such an argument is to do Classical Apologetics! What most Presuppositionalists with whom I am familiar seem never to be able to understand, is that such argumentation is the very essence of the Classical Apologetics model. It is quite frustrating to read Presuppositionalists advance a standard Classical Apologetics argument when they think they are trying to show how Presuppositionalism is the only viable (or true, or biblical, or Godly, or whatever) method a Christian should use. They do not even see that the very arguments they end up advancing (in some cases) are exactly what doing the Classical Apologetics method is all about. They do not even see that they are being Classical Apologists when they do their apologetics! A similar analysis can be made (mutatis mutandis) about the uniformity of nature.

      So, we have come full circle. In my previous response to you I said that in my experience of having studied this debate for some thirty years, the Presuppositionalists with whom I am familiar make some or all of the following mistakes: their positions becomes self-refuting; their position becomes incoherent; their position becomes the classical method. I hope that what I have said has begun to convince you of this.

      • Mike says:

        Dr. Howe,
        Thankyou for your prompt and thorough response. First, I would just like to say that I was not trying to advance a full-blown Presuppositionalism, but just the Transcendental Argument (TA). It seems to me, at least at first blush, that these ideas can be separated, but I could be wrong. You were correct when you said that I meant more than just that one could find the preconditions of intelligibility in the Bible. The point I was trying to make was that the Biblical God must exist in order for there to be laws of logic, uniformity of nature, and absolute or objective morality.

        I agree with your point that logic must be antecedently true in order to discover the preconditions of intelligibility from the Bible, but the point I was making was that the Biblical God must exist in order for logic to exist, so that one could search the Bible for said truths. Also, I just wanted to note that my use of the term “logic” in my summary was meant to mean “reasoning”. So what I should have said was that in order to reason, there must be laws of logic. I appologize for the confusion.

        Your point concerning the distinction between God being the epistemological precondition of intelligibility, and God being the ontological precondition of epistemology is very interesting. The point of confusion for me is that it seems that if the ontological point is sound, then a Biblical epistemology follows. This is because everyone has to have and ultimate standard. Proofs cannot regress forever into the past without hitting a ground for two reasons: 1. We can’t know an infinite number of things, and 2. an argument that never ends is incomplete, and an incomplete argument doesn’t prove anything. If you don’t know that your ultimate standard is true, then you don’t know anything, because knowledge is justified, true belief. If the Bible is not our ultimate standard, then what is? You might respond by saying that reality is the ultimate standard, but the question I’m asking is what standard does one use to determine what reality is?

        I am a little confused by your statement that objective morality is not a precondition of intelligibility. In order for one to do science, one would have to presuppose that nature acted in a uniform fashion. One would also have to use the laws of logic to analyze the data, and one would then have to honestly report the honest conclusions, that he got from his honest experiments and honest analysis. It seems like oblective morals like honesty would be a necessary precondition.

        Concerning your point about the moral part of the argument not being Presuppositional, this does not seem to be a point against the argument. Couldn’t it still be a good argument? No doubt you are yelling at the monitor right now, exclaiming that I am not arguing like a Presuppositionalist, but rather like a Classical Apologist. Fine with me. It just seems like some of the points that people like Dr. Lisle make are quite good. It very well may be the case that I am confused. If so, I welcome your input and correction.

      • Mike,
        I appreciate your comments. Here are a few of my own in response to them, though not necessarily in the order in which you made them. Thanks for your clarification that you were not trying to advance a full-blown Presuppositionalism. I was not sure whether you were, but took the occasion of your comments to continue on this blog site my critique of it. I suspect it might seem to you and to others that I am quite sensitive about this discussion (perhaps in some people’s opinion, too much so). There are several reasons why I think that this matter of apologetic methodology is so very important. Apologists on both sides (and those in the middle or who espouse other methodologies) see the importance of defending the faith and advancing the cause of Christ. I certainly do. I hope no one takes the directness and forcefulness of my critique as an indication that I impugn the motives or the integrity of those with whom I so deeply disagree. It remains, however, that very important things are at stake. I appreciate the position of those Presuppositionalists who insist that, whatever the apologetic method should be, it needs to be grounded in sound theology that is God honoring, biblically faithful, and in accordance with sound reasoning (properly so called). I suspect that there are few, if any, apologists that seek to develop their apologetic methodologies as deliberately and self-consciously as Presuppositionalists. Perhaps the appeal of (and, no doubt in the Presuppositionalists’ view, an indictment upon) other methodologies is that they do not seem to be so strictly tethered to a theological paradigm. Van Til has poured out not a little ink in showing how he regards his Presuppositionalism to be the consistent out-working of Reformed theology. More than once did he refer to his Princeton predecessors (who were, for our purposes, classical apologists, though they were not Thomists) as inconsistent Calvinists. I personally do not believe that the classical method is incompatible with Reformed theology and I offer John Gerstner and R. C. Sproul (if not Benjamin Warfield) as shinning counter-examples to those who insist that it is.

        Be that as it may, I will leave that intramural theological debate to them. My concern arises primarily out of the philosophical soundness of a given methodology. This is not to say that I lack a concomitant theological concern. It is just that even some of the theological dimensions of this debate presuppose critical philosophical issues. It would be naïve to think that one could directly settle the questions of apologetic methodology by an appeal to (what he thinks is) a straightforward reading of the biblical text. My earlier example from Finis Jennings Dake sought to show this. I regard Bahnsen’s comment from my last entry (“Resting upon the authority of the living God rather than that of independent human reasoning, the apologist must presuppose the truth of Scripture and lay siege to all apostate presuppositions. This must be his method because the Word of God in the Bible has a unique epistemological status for the Christian: it requires no corroboration and carries its own evidence inherently or self-attestingly.” [Greg L. Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended (Joel McDurmon, ed.) (Power Springs, GA: American Vision Press, 2008), 4]) to be very wrong. Bahnsen begins with a fallacy. To frame the discussion as if it is a choice between “the authority of the living God” and “independent human reasoning” is (while admittedly attractive to some Christians) a false dilemma. His statement also contains what Brooke Noel Moore and Richard Parker call “slanters.” [Brooke Noel Moore and Richard Parker, Critical Thinking: Evaluating Claims and Arguments in Everyday Life (Mountain View: Mayfield Publishing, 1989), 116-145] It is a false dilemma to pose a choice between two options with the (either implicit or explicit) claim that these are the only choices available when they are not. Taking (from the context) that, by the phrase ‘the authority of the living God’, he means the Bible, it would seem that Bahnsen wants his readers to think that if they appeal to certain extra-biblical sources (like some philosophy, for example) then there is something illicit (if not downright immoral) in doing so. Coupled with the fact that philosophy can be just another installment of fallen man’s thinking, it is no wonder that some recoil in horror by a sustained, careful train of critical, philosophical reasoning. One need only read the other comments on this blog (like, for example, those from Fred Butler) to see what I mean. To be sure, philosophy can go astray and be anti-God. No doubt, there are certain extra-biblical sources that deceive. I concur that we need to “lay siege to all apostate presuppositions.” What, then, could my quarrel with the Presuppositionalists be? My quarrel is quite simply that what they offer is bad reasoning stemming from positions that are just not true. If we all going to be God honoring in our methodologies, certainly thinking soundly and truthfully is required. (Mt. 22:37; Phil. 4:8). Last (of my reasons for taking this debate so seriously), I would submit that the legacy of Van Til has actually made very little impact (relatively speaking) on the unbelieving world. Without wanting to sound like a pragmatist, all other things being equal, any apologetic methodology that fails to actually convince the unbeliever that the claims of Christ (or, if you will, a biblical worldview) are true is a waste of time. (I realize that, taking these last two sentences in a certain way, they might not seem fair. After all, many unbelievers remain unconvinced by the best that Classical Apologetics has to offer. By my apparent standard, Classical Apologetics is a waste of time. What I meant by my parenthetical ‘relatively speaking’ and the qualification ‘all things being equal’ is that, relative to the impact that the classical model has had and is having, Presuppositionalism is a failure.) I am not alone in saying that Bahnsen’s debates with (for example) Gordon Stein and George Smith did very little to demonstrate the truthfulness of a full-orbed Christian worldview. In saying this, I am not the one that is setting the bar too high. It is Bahnsen himself that insisted that apologetics must deliver the whole package or it has failed. Ironically, I thought that in certain instances, Bahnsen’s exchanges with both of these atheists were good examples of the classical model with respect to the narrow point about logic. I think he deftly showed the bankruptcy of materialism in accounting for logic. However, his arguments were classical to the core. The fact that Presuppositionalists (or even, apparently, Bahnsen himself) cannot see this, frankly, astounds me.

        Returning to a more direct response to you, let me state clearly that I maintain the TA is very much a viable argument strategy (when formulated correctly) and is quite consistent with Classical Apologetics. To the sure, some might think that the TA and Presuppositionalism are co-extensive. It would seem to be that the Presuppositionalist is making a very big mistake in this. Bahnsen thinks that his TA will yield full-blown Christian theism. He thinks that his version of the TA will show that the entire Bible is the necessary precondition for intelligibility. Indeed, one of his refrains in this discussion is that one problem (among many) with the classical model is that it yields only a bare theism and not the God of Christianity. (Listen, for example, to Bahnsen’s debate with R. C. Sproul.) I defy anyone to show me where, in any of his writings or debates, or in any of the writing of Van Til (much of which I have in my own library and resources), Bahnsen or Van Til actually show this to be the case. I have pointed out repeatedly to my students that much of what I have seen written by the supreme Presuppositionalists (and I mean that phrase in the best sense) is a polemic about Presuppositionalism itself. Taking a line (and modifying it for my purposes) from a favorite philosopher of mine (Etienne Gilson) I sometimes have said (in a fit of facetiousness but still trying to make a serious point) “Classical apologists defend Christianity. Presuppositional apologists defend Presuppositionalism.” (If you ever see that on a tee shirt, remember that you read it here first!)

        So, while I celebrate a good TA, it does not and cannot do what the Presuppositionalist claims it does and insists any viable apologetic methodology must do to be the right methodology. I submit to you that my earlier (and elsewhere) arguments about logic are exactly what a TA can do. Logic is transcendentally necessary in that, no argument against logic can avoid using logic. However, things are different regarding morality. I will pick this up below in my illustration about Einstein.

        You comment, “The Biblical God must exist in order for there to be laws of logic, uniformity of nature, and absolute or objective morality.” I agree. The problem is in how one shows this. The Presuppositionalists claim that, unless the biblical God is presupposed, argument (or demonstration) itself is not possible. To state it another way, the Presuppositionalists claim that the biblical God is the (epistemological) precondition for intelligibility. It cannot be (according to them) some sort of bare or generic theism. But think about it. What distinguishes the biblical God from a more generic (though still robust notion of) God? I would suggest that truths like God being a Trinity, that God is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, that God sent His Son to die for our sins, and more. But how in the world are these preconditions for intelligibility? I certainly believe that the God of the philosopher (like Aquinas) is the biblical God. But showing that this is the case is not achieved by asserting that He has to be presupposed for there to be intelligibility at all. While both the Presuppositionalist and the Classical Apologist agree that God is the metaphysical (or ontological) precondition for intelligibility (since, if God did not exist, nothing would exist) the debate is whether God is the epistemological precondition. No Presuppositionalist that I have read (certainly not Van Til or Bahnsen) has ever shown that this is true.

        You say, “The point of confusion for me is that it seems that if the ontological point is sound, then a Biblical epistemology follows.” I am not sure what you mean by a biblical epistemology. If you mean that the Bible is our ultimate standard (epistemologically) then I disagree (for reasons that I explore below). If you mean that we can work out a sound epistemology grounded in a proper metaphysic (or, in non-philosophical terms, we can adequately deal with the questions of knowledge by establishing a proper view of the nature of reality), then I would say “Exactly!” This is precisely what Classical Apologetics does! Classical Apologetics focuses on (among other things) making the case for the metaphysics of the matter. Whether this is done transcendentally (by showing something to be preconditions for intelligibility, like logic) or through other philosophical arguments (like the demonstratio quia), it is still classical and not presuppositional (in the formal sense of the term). Perhaps you and I are not that far apart. My whole contention throughout these blog entries and responses on this subject has been that Presuppositionalism is not the right apologetic methodology. When it makes a good argument, it does so by becoming the classical model (as is the case when Bahnsen argued for the transcendental necessity of logic and the inability of Stein’s materialism to account it). When it advances its own argument faithful to the presuppositional method (as they define it), it becomes unsound or incoherent. What makes this such a volatile conversation (at times) is that all the while, the Presuppositionalists are exclaiming how dishonoring to God and unbiblical people like me are being with our Classical Apologetics. According to Ken Ham, I am among those “in the church who compromise God’s Holy Word with man’s fallible religion of millions of years.” What is so ironic about his characterization is that (as I have said in other entries) I probably agree with much of what he concludes about the age of the earth, the global flood, and the literal 24-hour days of Genesis 1. Charity demands that I dismiss his character assassination on the grounds that he does not know what he is talking about. (I wonder if it has ever happened before that Ken Ham did not know what he was talking about.) Nowhere do I espouse “millions of years.” (Presumably, he has in mind the debate over the age of the earth.) What is worse, since I almost certainly agree with Ham’s conclusions, his assessment that I am compromising God’s Holy Word can only (consistently, unless, again, I dismiss his comment altogether) be referring to my objections to his apologetic methodology. It follows from this that Ken Ham is likening his Presuppositionalism (actually, a very poor version thereof) with the Word of God. This strikes me as outrageous. You be the judge. Now, if someone responds that it was not his apologetic methodology he was defending, but instead the conclusions (the age of the earth, the global flood, and the literal 24-hour days of Genesis 1) then, since I grant these conclusions, it was egregiously irresponsible that he (wrongly) accused me of compromising God’s Word (since I do not, by his own criterion). He should have looked into the matter a little more carefully to discover that my criticisms of him had nothing to do with his conclusions (for the most part). I am not suggesting that he should have contacted me personally. All he had to do was to consider the context since I stated very clearly in the very article I wrote (which was this main blog entry) what my views were in this matter. Perhaps I am wasting my time in trying to reason with such people.

        You comment that “everyone has to have and ultimate standard” and ask, “If the Bible is not our ultimate standard, then what is?” I submit to you that framing our epistemological concerns in terms of an “ultimate standard” is wrongheaded. Suppose you saw a dog in your front yard. What sense would it make to ask what your ultimate standard was as to how you knew the truth of the claim that there was a dog in your front yard? You know that there is a dog in your front yard because you can see it. As such, reality just is your “ultimate standard” (to use that terminology). The problem with trying to make the Bible the ultimate standard is that there are things we need in understanding the Bible that we could not possibly have gotten from the Bible. I already (in my earlier response to you) argued that we cannot get the laws of logic from the Bible (though they are certainly there in the Bible). We would already have to know that X is not non-X before we would even be able to pick out a Bible from among the other objects in our world. So, where are the laws of logic? They are, in fact, the principles of being itself. They are in reality. Additionally, we cannot get our principles of hermeneutics from the Bible. We need those principles even to understand the Bible in the first place. So, where do we get them? We get them from reality. Further, we could not possibly have gotten our principles of grammar from the Bible. We (or someone) would have to know how to read in order to know from the Bible what the Bible says. So, with these, how is it that the Bible is the ultimate standard? What would it even mean to say that the Bible is the ultimate standard for me knowing that there is a dog in my front yard? Again, this way of framing our epistemological concerns is wrongheaded. This is where philosophical realism has so much to offer. For those interested in delving deeper into the philosophy of such things, I believe that there is a much better way to rationally deal with these questions.

        Now, you go on to ask (having anticipated that I might say some of what I just said) “You might respond by saying that reality is the ultimate standard, but the question I’m asking is what standard does one use to determine what reality is?” I take your question to be “what standard does one use to discover what reality is?” since “to determine” something is to make it what it is, whereas “to discover” something is to come to know what it already is. If I am reading your question correctly here, then let me proceed. The answer is that it depends on what in reality you are seeking to discover. As my earlier illustration shows, I do not need the Bible in order to know many things about the sensible (i.e., physical) world. By virtue of the faculties I possess (regardless of where or how those faculties came about), I can see, hear, taste, touch, and smell my environment. But even within that environment, there are various aspects of objects that require various aspects of my knowing faculties. Some questions are mathematical. Thus, any “ultimate standard” for something mathematical will be different from, for example, trying to discover some truth about history. Some things are philosophical. From my sensory experience, I learn some things that are non-physical (but no less true) aspects of reality. I understand universals (like circularity), natures or essences (e.g., I understand the difference between a dog and a human.), logical truths, moral truths, and much more. Note that I know all these things without any formal training in philosophy. A child can know such things. Indeed, even the lost pagan can know such things. The value and strength of the classical model (especially as it is solidly based on philosophical realism) is that it is able to take people from where they actually live (in the real world of people, dogs, trees, etc.) and show them how these things point to their Creator. It would be futile (and potentially disastrous) to try to convince the lost man that he does not know any of these things unless and until he presupposes the Bible. This is manifestly false but is precisely what Van Til argues when he says, “Often enough we [who believe in God] have talked with you [who do not believe in God] about facts and sound reasons as though we agreed with you on what these really are. In our arguments for the existence of God, we have frequently assumed that you and we together have an area of knowledge on which we agree. But we really do not grant that you see any fact in any dimension of life truly. We really think you have colored glasses on your nose when you talk about chickens and cows, as well as when you talk about the life hereafter.” [Cornelius Van Til, Why I Believe in God (Philadelphia: Westminster Theological Seminary, n.d.)¸ 9, emphasis added] This, to me, seems manifestly false.

        No doubt the Presuppositionalist will exclaim that showing the lost man that his beliefs about his world would not be true if the claims of the Bible were not so, is exactly what Presuppositionalism is all about. The Presuppositionalist would argue that it is only because the claims of the Bible are what they are, that the lost man can even know what he thinks he knows. He would say that the Bible (or a biblical worldview) is the preconditions of the intelligibility of such things. Regarding most things we experience in the world, I believe the Presuppositionalists is is wrong here. Why is it that the lost man needs to presuppose (concerning the division of the gatekeepers regarding the temple) that there were “at Parbar westward, four at the causeway, and two at Parbar.” (1 Chron. 26:18) It will not do for the Presuppositionalist to say that this particular verse is not necessary to presuppose, for this violates his principle that the whole Bible is the precondition of intelligibility. Now I realize that such a claim is not what you are making. But my point remains that it does not make sense to claim that the Bible is our ultimate standard.

        Even still, I realize that your point is that it is the truths that the Bible points to (and is comprised of) that serve as these preconditions (like the laws of logic, uniformity of nature, and moral absolutes). The question (I have said it before.) is: How does the apologist go about showing that this is the case? The answer (I have said it before as well.) is that some arguments are TA, some arguments are a demonstratio quia, and more. My contention is that the best renderings of these arguments are found in the best books by classical apologists. They are not to be found (with the exception of a few good TA arguments about logic) in the best books by presuppositional apologists. (Granted, I have not read every book by every Presuppositionalist. But I am convinced that every argument that a Presuppositionalist gives ends up become either incoherent or a good classical argument.) They also are not to be found in anything I know of from Ken Ham. (Please do not let me be misunderstood here. I am not saying that there is nothing good in anything from Ken Ham. It may very well be that some of his scientific arguments are stellar. Further, it may very well be that Ken Ham does a Herculean job of ferreting out the presuppositions of the secular scientists. I celebrate this if it is so. Remember that my original blog entry (about which you made your initial comments) was about Ken Ham’s talk I heard on apologetic methodology.)

        Regarding your comments about how the uniformity of nature, laws of logic and objective morals are necessary conditions for science: I agree. But there are two things to distinguish here. There is a difference between X being the necessary condition for science and Y being the necessary condition for the intelligibility of science. How logic is a precondition for every argument is different from how honesty is a precondition for actual science. While honesty is certainly desired, it does not follow that, if Einstein was dishonest, all of his scientific formulations are false (or incoherent). His dishonesty might be a reason for us to distrust his claims. But his dishonesty does not prove his claims are false. This is not the way it is with logic. Without logic, Einstein’s formulations would not only be incoherent, there would be no difference between that which was Einstein’s formulations and that which was not Einstein’s formations. I do not think what I am trying to say is very far from what you are saying. Certainly, it is sometimes the case that the secular scientist poses findings and theories that are incompatible with his own view of reality. Apologetics seeks to try to show him, not that his finding are in fact false or incoherent, but that, if his view of reality were true, his findings would be false or incoherent. I completely get this and celebrate this style of argumentation. No one does it better than a good classical apologist. Such argumentation is precisely what classical apologetics trains people to do. But Ken Ham (at least in the talk I heard him give) explicitly repudiates such sound reasoning and (in my case) characterizes those who do engage in such reasoning as “compromising God’s Holy Word.” (By the way, my criticism of Ham should not necessarily be extended to Jason Lisle. I do not know his views about apologetic methodology.) While I might be able to excuse Ham’s comment because he mistakenly thought I was an Old Earth Creationist, Fred Butler’s comments and characterization are completely in light of my explicit claim to hold to Young Earth Creationism. (Even still, in Fred Butler’s case, he seems to be convinced that my methodology can only (consistently) yield an Old Earth Creationism. He was puzzled as to how I would answer the Old Earth Creationism arguments from my fellow classical apologists. While I do not think I am finished responding to him in this blog, I wonder if the best thing I can do is to give him a bibliography and hope that he would read some of the selections from it. I actually think I would enjoy sitting down and discussing these things with him over a lunch (and with you too, for that matter)).

        Last, you ask whether the moral part of the argument could still be a good argument despite my insistence that it is not Presuppositional. My answer is: absolutely. In fact, that is a running theme through all my rants. When Presuppositionalists cease acting like Presuppositionalists and start giving good Classical Apologetics arguments (as I have heard them do), then I celebrate this and wish that it would happen more often. One big problem I have is this. At the same time that these Presuppositionalist are either being incoherent (when they are giving their standard Presuppositionalist arguments) or are being formidable (when they begin to give what is in reality the Classical Apologetics arguments) they are at the same time proclaiming to the world that they alone are utilizing the only God-honoring, biblically sound apologetic methodology, viz., Presuppositionalism. They are not. As such, my comments were not as relevant to you directly. Rather, I took the occasion of your comments to continue my arguments against them.

        Thanks for the interaction. Please feel free to weigh in anytime.

  9. Gary Ryan says:

    Hmm, I am not sure why we are pitching battles here exactly. Evil is lurking all about literally in the guises of war and murder and rape and a host of other predatory acts. Why not pitch the battle there, where the not-even-thinly-veiled forces of hell rage against men and women and children. That struggle I would gladly fight with you. Peace and godspeed, brother.

    • Mike says:

      Gary, I have to come to Dr. Howe’s defense here a little bit. I appreciate your concern about the evils you mentioned, but I think you are making some errors in your reasoning. Strictly speaking, evil cannot lurk, because evil is a concept, not a living being. Also, evil is not in a guise, but rather, it is obvious to anyone with a sense of moral clarity (you also contradict yourself in the very next sentence when you say that evil is, “not-so-thinly-veiled”). I also think you are commiting the Bifrication Fallacy. The fact is, Dr. Howe can do both things. He can battle against people who have faulty ideas concerning the things you mentioned (war, murder, rape, etc.), and he can also help people like me understand the differences between various philosophical views. The reason I think you should support Dr. Howe and the forum that he has here is because he is equipping believers to better impact the culture, which will in turn, help them be even more effective in battling against, “the forces of hell [that] rage against men and women and children”. I hope you fight with us. Grace and peace to you, in Christ.

      • gary ryan says:

        Dear Mike, I have been a follower, fan, friend (though far away) of Dr Howe for 30 years since the time we were both graduate students in philosophy at Ole Miss. He was even then the more stringent logician, and I see you have followed him. My interest always was in poetics, Aristotle and Wittgenstein. They were my spirit-guides, not Aquinas or the other Scholastics.

        I am interested in what can be said, what can be communicated with words and language and poetry albeit loosely defined. Poets are like musicians bending notes. There is feeling and thought in bent notes. Bach knew this, the Delta Blues singers knew this, the Woodstock crowd knew this too.

        Socrates did not know this so much. He was so good at telling folk they did not know what the heck they were talking about when they bloody well knew they did know what they were talking about. What is friendship, he might ask. The person in question tries an answer, to which Socrates might say, let me show you 5, 6, 7, 10 ways that you do not really know what friendship is. Then a DIALOGUE would ensue.

        I am thankful for those dialogues. I do not think however that we should pattern our own conversations or even our own ‘friendly’ debates after them. They are indeed models of one way to talk about things. They are not the models for the best way to do this, and they certainly are not representative of the way that we normally talk or communicate or argue.

        To truly enjoy a movie one must flip a switch inside her/his head, and at least for the duration set stringent logic aside. You can watch a movie without doing this, but the movie’s rewards will elude you like the ether.

        Having said all this, please reread what I wrote trying to really hear what I seemed to mean, what I probably was really trying to say. There is nothing mysterious in what I said, I used simple language to make a simple point.

        Your mentioning that ‘he can do both’ I readily concede, and am fully aware of. Please reread the rest of what I wrote again and tell me then if you still disagree.

        Peace, godspeed.

    • Gary, would that we were sitting in the dorm room at Ole Miss again having this discussion. I have such fond memories of those days! In answer to your query, let me offer this analogy. Suppose a physician encountered an alchemist who was teaching pseudo-medicine that not only was ineffective in treating real sickness, but might even be dangerous to health and life. Out of concern for proper medical procedure, the physician writes a blog warning his readers against such faulty pseudo-medical practices. The blog elicits a number of comments—some favorable, some critical, and some inquisitive. Now, suppose further, that a concerned reader comments on the propriety of such a “battle.” After all (the concerned reader wonders) are not there instances of real people all around with real sickness that need healing. Why not instead direct such energies toward those “literal” evils? The answer, of course, is that there is much at stake in the meta-medical debate about medical procedures. It is only because there are legitimate medical procedures in the first place, that anyone (short of God’s healing miracles) gets the help they may need. So the debate is not merely abstract. To the degree that the alchemist can succeed in convincing others that his ways are the way medicine should be practiced, to that degree more people will be put in danger of not receiving the proper medical attention they need. Likewise, the more Christians buy in to a bankrupt apologetic methodology (i.e., a bankrupt methodology of defending the truth of the Christian faith), the less successful they will be in being able actually to defend the faith. We need to defend the faith for three reasons. God commands us to (1 Pet. 3:15). If we love the lost, they need the reasons to know that Christianity is true. If we love our weaker brethren, they sometimes might need their own faith bolstered (Acts 18:27-28). Not to take anything away from the real concerns and needs you mentioned in your comments, when it comes to defending the faith, there is much at stake in this debate about apologetic methodology.

  10. Mike says:


    The fact that you even responded to my post undermines your original argument. Why on earth are you “pitching” this “battle”? Why aren’t you out fighting rape and murder? It seems that you actually don’t believe what you originally wrote. But if you do, I have a question for you. Why is it okay for you to battle against things other than obvious evil, but it’s not okay for other people to do so?

    Also, the fact that you have known Dr. Howe for a long time does not make your argument a good one, so this is irrelevant. I also object to your description of logic as “stringent”. This appears to be a question begging epithet meant to subtly insult or denegrate your opponent’s position. I appreciate the fact that you have an interest in poetics, but I hope you understand that your interests are irrelevant to the soundness of your argument.

    I also am concerned with what can be said and communicated, which is why I believe that statements that a person makes should be coherent, and arguments made should be sound and cogent. As to what Bach, the Delta Blues singers, and the Woodstock crowd knew, again, is utterly irrelevant to whether or not the argument you made was a good one.

    You criticize Socrates for telling people that they don’t know what they are talking about, but in making this very statement you are implying that Socrates doesn’t know what he’s talking about. So, why is it okay for you to tell people they don’t know what they are talking about, but it’s not okay for Socrates?

    You say that you are thankful for Socrates’s Dialogs, and then you say that they are not models for the best way to communicate. The implication is that you think the best approach to communication is to not believe that there is a best approach to communication. This is incoherent.

    Concerning your comments about movies, movies are not arguments. In fact, movies (though they may have an underlying rhetorical message) do not make claims, nor do they support claims with clear, accurate, relevent, and sufficient evidence. Therefore, again, your point is irrelevent.

    I have reread your comments, and I agree; there is nothing mysterious about them. The problem with your comments is that they are illogical. So, you seem to have set up a straw-man, which is, unfortunately, another fallacy in your reasoning.

    Finally, you say that you are aware that Dr. Howe can do both things mentioned in my post (fight evil, and help clarify philosophical views). Then why did you commit the bifrication fallacy in the first place? If you knew better, you should have done better.

    Grace and peace.

    • gary ryan says:

      Mike, let me please say I hope you do not aspire to be a missionary. For that I think your message and method would be all wrong. But of course that is surely also irrelevant.

      I see no good coming from further exchange. I leave you to your devices. Please give my kindest regards to your professor.

  11. Mike says:


    I am saddened that you would make remarks that seem so hostile. I would like to point out that your ad hominem argument is in fact irrelevent.

    Also, I have no devices. Your statement commits the fallacy of complex statement. You should have said,”If you have devices, then I will leave you to them.” Remember, it the one using poor argumentation that is using a poor method, not someone who is trying to be rational.

    I also have no professor, but if I did, I am quite confident said professor would be very unimpressed with your passive-aggressive attitude. It seems that you may feel attacked, for that I am sorry, but just for the record, I was attacking your views, not you.

    If you would like to respond to this post, I will give you the last word, and not reply.

    Grace and peace.

  12. John Lofton says:

    “In other words, if we need that part of reality which is God’s word to understand the rest of reality which is not God’s word, then how is it that we are able to understand the part of reality that is God’s word in the first place?”

    Is this a serious question? I Corinthians 2:12-16 answers this question: “12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.

    13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

    14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

    15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.

    16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? but we have the mind of Christ.”

    Those who can understand God’s Word (believers) do so because God has given them the gift of faith and then His Truths are “spiritually discerned” by those believers.

    John Lofton, Editor,
    Recovering Republican
    Active Facebook Wall

    • John,
      Thanks so much for the comment. Please forgive my lateness in responding. Frankly, I almost completely ignore my own blog site except for the occasional flurry of activity. Yes, my question is quite serious. With all due respect, the fact that you seem to miss the import of the question perhaps explains why you thought it might not be. I’m asking you how you can understand the written Word. You (seemingly) answer by quoting a verse of Scripture! But how do you know that this verse means what you take it to mean? How can you even know that this verse (as opposed, for example, to Lev. 13:40, my “life verse”!) is relevant to the current discussion? Can’t you see that there must be something that enables you to understand Scripture that is itself ANTECEDENT to Scripture itself? It does no good to try to quote Scripture to somehow ground or explain how you can understand Scripture. This is because, the only way you could know which Scripture to quote is because YOU ALREADY HAVE UNDERSTOOD ITS MEANING. But if you already understand its meaning, then the verse itself cannot be that which enables you to understand its meaning. This is self-refuting. My answer is that we can (cognitively) understand Scripture based on principles that themselves are part of reality itself. To be sure, reality is what it is because God is who He is and the creation is what God has created it to be. So God is not being “short changed” here. I’m only trying to get my readers to see that reality is that back behind which it is impossible to get. There is nothing antecedent to reality from which we can assail reality itself. Ken Ham thinks that somehow it is illicit to bring “outside” (i.e., outside the Scriptures) information to help us understand what the Scriptures mean. I assert that it is impossible NOT to do this (as my reference to Joshua 10 proves). I suspect (though, admittedly, I have not heard him say) that even Ken Ham does not hold that the Sun moves as Bellarmine et al. argued. Virtually every Christian (with a few notable exceptions) has acceded to Copernicus’ view here (despite the otherwise cogent argument that Bellarmine advanced about what the text “clearly” said). I invite your rejoinder.

  13. Dr. Howe – I look forward to hearing this presentation in person at the SES Apologetics Conference! I recently submitted a blog somewhat related to this issue. I was actually going to discuss the presuppositional approach Ken Ham takes, but in God’s providence I didn’t have room for it and I wouldn’t have given it near as good a treatment as you did here.

    Let me know what you think about my post. Again, I look forward to meeting you in person.

  14. Also considering your insight into the Licona/inerrancy issue, I’m wondering what you think of my stance on this. Thanks again!

  15. Rich Davis says:

    So appreciate this post. Very helpful to see the connection between YEC and presuppositionalism spelled out so clearly. The underlying epistemology reminds me of Derrida’s axiom: ‘Everything is an interpretation’. Strange bed fellows indeed.

    • John Lofton says:

      “The underlying epistemology reminds me of Derrida’s axiom: ‘Everything is an interpretation’. Strange bed fellows indeed.”

      Hmmmmm…..including Derrida’s axiom? If so, then what does it mean?

      John Lofton, Recovering Republican
      Active Facebook Wall

  16. Dr. Howe: I am a presuppositionalist. I appreciate what you’ve said more than you could know. Your clarification of the classical vs presup methods are so exacting and easy to understand, it helps me greatly. Now, you get to find out what I really am. I absolutely consider logic, laws of identity, non contradiction etc as the ‘common ground’ between the believer and unbeliever. When I use the epistemic knife to require my unbelieving interlocutor to justify his use of logic, I do so when he cannot validate its origin from nature that to me is part of Presupp method. I seek to demonstrate in various ways that God is the foundation of all reality, what God has said is, is. There is no other reasonable source for the transcendent, nor can nature provide those parts of knowledge that arise from the abstraction of logic or math etc.

    It is my method to use biblical theology as the basis for truth in reality. There is no other sacred writing that addresses ‘truth in reality’ as the scriptures do. So I appeal to them, first because God has declared them authoritative and secondly because I know what the unbeliever does not know, that being of course the God of scripture and the revelation of truth from that scripture. I appeal to God as the ontological source of reality and God’s word as the source of epistemological truth for the true knowledge of God. I do not say that the bible is the epistemic source for computer repair. I dont want to be ridiculous about ‘knowledge’ and relegate all knowledge to the scriptures. But I do claim that man has ‘designed intelligence’ that has been created to know God and because of that ‘designed intelligence’ our common ground lay in logic, reasoning ability, math, the 5 senses and laws of identity, non-contradiction or L.E.M.

    Now, I personally don’t give a hoot about any battle where the presuppositionalist have declared Classical apologetic methodology to be a compromise or un-biblical. To me, I don’t get it and frankly its counter productive to honestly presenting apologetic answers. I happily will use what I consider to be classical methodology because the person I’m speaking to is far more important than adherence to a methodology.

    I’ve read a great deal of Van Til, Bahnsen and others on various websites; I like the commitment to biblical authority that presuppositionalist have.

    What I have seen is Classical apologists that depend heavily upon the authority of human philosophers or facts about things that do not find their epistemic source from the scripture. Now, that being said, What I mean is, the classical apologist wants to depend upon his sharp philosophy to lend the greatest credibility to support the necessity of his position or the weight of his position. I dislike going that route because it sets the precedent for that unbeliever to find ultimate answers for scriptures outside of scriptures. I hope I am explaining this coherently, When the voice of the theologian needs to be heard the philosopher is still rattling on. When the scriptures need explanation on ‘common ground’ issues the Theologian cant seem to get out of the way. He demands belief when he hasn’t laid the groundwork. The presuppositonalist wants desperately to speak the same language so-to-speak and come from the same perspective. But the Classical thinks that some evidences-presented ‘mean the same to the unbeliever as the Christian’. This is where Presuppositonalism seems to want to poke through and invite the unbeliever into an arena where the Christian helps with interpreting evidences with the unbeliever if the unbeliever will agree that he must step outside his naturalistic box and admit to the transcendental.

    I hope that you will take the time to reply it would mean a great deal to me and would be highly appreciated. I recognize your time is limited.

    If I have everything mucked up and skewed, well, it wouldn’t be the first time.

    I do ask that you evaluate what I am saying and offer some feedback if you care to do so.

    Lastly I’m not interested in Ken Ham’s presuppositonal stew, I have my own and I hope you can see some validity to it.

  17. TMD says:

    Just to add to the points you have made, remember the career of Machen.

    In 1923, J. Gresham Machen wrote Christianity and Liberalism, a book which demonstrated that the doctrines of theological liberalism and other forms of “progressive” theology are completely incompatible with historical Christianity. The book was never refuted, and yet had almost zero impact on the spread of theological liberalism. It was not until World War I, when the evidence contradicted the predictions of theological liberalism that the movement collapsed.

    Lead with evidence if you want to convince the public.

  18. […] of Truth?  It’s a circular argument.  You end up in what Richard G Howe describes as “Perspectivalism“, which basically ignores that there are other views or interpretations coming into play in […]

  19. […] Understanding this is key to the rest of his books.  Personally, I’m skeptical about it, because it requires an assumption of being totally correct in itself in order to work, and can promote a viewpoint that makes it hard to argue on an evidential level about whether Christianity is logically and evidentially viable.  In fact, I find that it too often ends up in what Richard Howe describes as perspectivalism. […]

  20. […] couple of years ago, Dr. Richard Howe, who teaches at Southern Evangelical Seminary, wrote on his blog about how he was troubled after having attended an apologetic lecture given by Ken Ham of Answers […]

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