For the most part, the writers of Walking Christian hold to the same beliefs on a wide variety of theological, philosophical and political topics. This being said there is always a fun and interesting 5% that we do disagree on and the fun comes in when we feel really passionately about the topics we differ on. This exchange highlights one such topic we have a difference of opinion about. Mr. Gil Sanders, our resident philosopher takes the classical or ‘evidentialist’ approach to apologetics and evangelism whereas I myself find the presuppositionalist or covenantal school of thought to be more useful. This ultimately comes down to a difference in emphasis and you can see this in the topics we write about here on the site. Gil is a top-notch professional level philosopher whereas I focus my efforts on understanding the Bible and its wider context. The following is a friendly, but heated social media exchange we had several months prior to this editing.
My fear is that this writing will be too introductory-level for the apologists and too deep for a regular person. Nevertheless, I thought this highlighted the different perspectives on apologetics and I really want to urge the reader to pay special attention to what we both emphasize in this conversation.
Passing comment I am a true non-conformist. It is true that I favor the presuppositionalist approach to apologetics I ought for the sake of honesty to make this confession right now; I am an Armenian, not a Calvinist. Usually, Calvinism and presuppositionalism have a kind of “smoke and fire” thing going on. It’s an odd combination I know but I am comfortable with the tension. Anyway on to the exchange.
One day Gil posted:
Quick thoughts on presuppositionalism: It’s great as a negative critique of other views, but it’s terrible at offering a *positive* justification for a specifically Trinitarian worldview. In some ways, yes, by critiquing other views you make the Trinitarian view far more plausible, but it does not become de facto true because you refute a naturalist. Why a Trinitarian view rather than a Unitarian or Platonic view? Why the God of the Bible as opposed to the God of the philosophers? Why Christianity as opposed to other monotheistic religions? I just don’t find the presuppositonalist response persuasive. Like I said, it works great against atheists, but if you’re a monotheist (or maybe a deist), it’s almost completely ineffective because unlike atheists they can account for knowledge, contingency, and necessary principles without a specifically Trinitarian worldview. I have heard it said that the Trinitarian view best accounts for multiplicity or even love, but that requires extensive metaphysical argumentation. You can’t just presuppose that it is the best account. But if that’s the case, Scholastics have been making these kinds of metaphysical arguments for centuries already.
Many of Gil’s friends replied in the comments and some did a good job of answering his thoughts and misunderstandings. But being his close friend who holds to the Presup view I saw this post as the personal challenge it was and rather than writing a novel in the comments section I responded at length with these words.
Some not so quick thoughts on evidentialism since Gil Sanders woke up wanting to lose a friend. You messed with the bull now here come the horns buddy and I’m gonna treat you with as much intensity and sarcasm as I gave McCraney. You don’t get off easy because we were once friends.
Evidentialism puts the unbeliever in the place of God. Your position is essential, “I’m gonna make the case for God using this evidence and you get to be the judge and make up your mind if He exists.” This is not, and never will be the approach of the Apostles and Prophets. Rather, these holy ones rested their case on the firm assurance that God had spoken and it is a brute fact that he created the universe and mankind in His image. Romans 1-2 says that we are all aware that there is a creator and we know that we know this and those who deny are suppressing the truth, such people are without an excuse (literally, without an apologetic “anapologētous“). So the evidentialist places the unbeliever in God’s position as judge of the universe and the one who decides the truth, and you really trust someone who is suppressing the truth. They who, a la Plantinga have a cognitive misfiring due to the imago Dei being corroded, you trust those people to make a rational decision? Do you think they can do the right thing?
What even is “reason”? What even is “right”? Gil, you grant them too much. As our (in person) conversation yesterday you’re allowing the unbeliever to assume things that CANNOT exist in the world they believe in. You’re letting them steal from God with this evidentalist junk.
OK now to the point of your main objection, friend. You claim that “why specifically is the trinitarian God necessitated by pressuppostionalism.” OK and Gil you know this so it is insane that you’re even making this objection. William Lane Craig and the other evidentalists are the ones who actually commit this sin. You need to pull that plank out of your eye before you can critique the approach the Apostles used. The case from the cosmological, teleological and ontological argument leads one to the lowest common denominator theism, not to the risen Lord. Go back to William Craig Lane’s first public debate with Frank Zindler, what was the thesis of his opening statement? “I hope to show you that the greater preponderance of the evidences points to the POSSIBILITY THAT a god (lowercase g) exists.” Now that I’ve committed the “you-too” fallacy let me answer your objection.
Look at the very title of the debates that presuppositionalism have as opposed Evidentalists “Does [a] God exist?” Phil Fernandez vs. Eddie Tabash 2009. “Is there a God” Denish D’Souza vs. Christopher Hitchens 2010. Whereas the presuppers, “The Triune God of Scripture Lives.” White vs. Dan Barker 2008 and the one we went to in person, “Does the Triune God of the Bible Exist?” White and Durbin vs. Clark and Ellis. Notice how the folks in my camp are the only ones interested in including the triune nature of God whereas your guys are arguing for a minimalist “kinda abrahamic god” your arguments could and have been used by Jews (Ben Shapiro, Maimonides) and Muslims (Shabir Ali, and the word Kalam is Arabic for a reason. William Lane Craig’s signature argument is ISLAMIC [genetic fallacy]) to prove the existence of Allah and a unitarian god.
The reason we are the only ones who are worried about making the Trinity a key issue and put it right in the title of the challenge is that the Trinity is the ONLY worldview that makes sense of morality and rationality. If we are concerned with grounding objective morality in a “maximally great being” I think we can agree that loving someone and sharing are both objectively good. Well, as Richard Swinburne has demonstrated the only way for God to be love, the only way for him to share His glory is on the trinitarian view. The trinity is necessary for morality. Likewise and admittedly this argument will be underdeveloped but I believe we can agree that to some extent discourse is necessary for rationality. Well if God is “one” in the unitarian sense, then who does God have rational discourse with? To Whom does he reason? The Trinity might be necessary for rationality. (Maybe the proper road to have taken here would have been to say that because in the presupp camp are the only ones that assert the authority of Scripture from the onset of dialogue and since Scripture says “the logos (logic, reason) was with God and the Logos (reason, logic) was God.” in other words the passage that gives us the grounding of rationality also gives us the second person of the Trinity and therefore the Bible itself inextricably links reason to the trinity. I’m open to correction and dialogue on this point.)
Now please let me go a step further than we do in typical debates with unbelievers. I want to make a basic sketch for the case that the trinitarian view is not only necessary for the knowledge of morality, not only necessary for rational knowledge but the trinity is necessary for knowledge itself. This little venture into epistemology will be brief because you know that I’m not the best philosopher among us, my area is ancient history and Biblical studies but let me make this point as eloquently and summarized as I possibly can. As we discussed the other day there is the age-old problem of “the one and the many” this has been a question that has plagued philosophers since the time of the Greeks Parmenides of Elea and Heraclitus of Ephesus. Parmenides was a fan of the many, saying the universe is nothing but diversity separate disconnected elements that have no unifying trait. Heraclitus, on the other hand, believed the universe was fundamentally one and unified by some abstract, ethereal “thing” that gave reason and purpose to all the things (he famously calls this unifying aspect, the logos which along with the Old Testament use of the term ‘Word of God’ form the background for John’s use of the term). The problem of the one and the many describes situations where we have to compare two things that seemingly have nothing in common, example let’s compare the Atlantic Ocean and a sack of potatoes. We most likely find ourselves short on words when thinking this question over. One is a vast body of water and one is a bag of tubers dug up out of the ground what exactly is the unifying element here? Well, that is exactly the problem, because these two things, as different as they are, must have something in common otherwise it would be completely impossible to compare them. At the very least they have limited essence and existence in common. OK so in order for human knowledge to be possible at all we encounter a similar problem when pondering an object like say a tree, we must have knowledge of what a tree is (what unifies them, the oneness) but we have to know exactly what it is about the particular tree in question that separates it from the concept of trees in general (the unique aspects, the manyness). Many have pondered over these odd features of the universe for centuries, the question is, fundamentally, what is the primary in the universe? Is it oneness or manyness and why is it that it seems both are primary at the same time and in the same way. The Christian Trinity solves the problem pretty nicely by saying that oneness and manyness are part of the Universe’s fundamental ontology. God is one being in the many (3) persons and therefore oneness and manyness are both equally primary in reality and this is how we can have knowledge of anything at all. Here is the thing though Gil, there is no evidentialist argument that could make a person come to see this because you have to have the triune God as a brute fact of the universe in order to explain oneness and manyness at all. Do you see what I am trying to say? Knowledge itself is impossible without starting from the trinity so epistemology itself is presupposationalistic.
Gil I’m sorry but your complaining demonstrates that you haven’t done the most basic level of reading in presuppositionalism. If the totality of your study into this topic is just the one debate we went to, a clip or two from the Dividing Line, and maybe a debate with your pastor and myself, then you simply need to do some further reading! Some great scholars have written works on this topic. I suggest starting with the fathers of the movement; the Apostle Paul then Cornelius Van Til and then moving on to some of Van Til’s students such as Greg Bansen to get a better, full-orbed view of this topic.
Wow, you definitely didn’t withhold any punches here
First, I think it’s just not true that classical apologetics puts man on a pedestal as if it puts God at the mercy of man’s judgment. Rather, it is man that must subject their thoughts to His thoughts. We do that by destroying every high minded argument that raises itself against the knowledge of God using natural revelation. Your objection to natural theology is like objecting to science, “You are making man the judge and arbiter of truth!” when this isn’t the case. The function of science is to *discover* truth, not to determine it. Water is H20 regardless of what anyone says. The same holds true for all the arguments given by classical apologists. It is man that must submit to God’s truth that is already known by them in some way… That is the function of classical arguments. I’ll respond more later after I workout.
Part 2: I don’t let them steal anything. They can’t make sense of existence, causation, teleology, contingency, or even reason itself without God (c.f. Victor Reppert’s argument from reason). Many classical apologists have made use of these arguments to challenge atheists. We don’t need to assume Christianity’s true, we can prove that it is true from the very fact that things exist at all. Now we don’t start with a Trinitarian view right away, but we conclude with it. Once we prove monotheism, that eradicates thousands of religions as being *the* true religion. After this, we investigate the moral law and find ourselves to be universally corrupt. Any religion that denies this is false. We know this from the law that was placed in our hearts. We also discover that God is Being Itself (I AM) via philosophy, so any religion that is true is going to not only be consistent with natural revelation, it is going to go beyond it at times given our limited knowledge. We see that Christianity is exactly consistent with this, and we see that God has thereby proven Himself over and over by His works and prophecies throughout Scripture. We know the resurrection and the empty tomb are true beyond a reasonable doubt, so we can know that the Trinity is true beyond a reasonable doubt as well because the resurrection vindicates the claims of Jesus. We’re not happy just leaving it at a generic God. We are aiming at proving a Trinitarian God. That’s always the goal. I do like the “One and the Many” argument. I also find arguments on the basis of reason or love that there must be a Triune being rather appealing. But when you do that, you’re engaging in metaphysics. You’re not just presupposing your view, you are proving it from reason and that’s exactly what classical apologists have been doing. You appeal to Richard Swinburne and he himself is an evidentialist, thus showing that evidentialism is not opposed to critiquing other views from the ground up like presuppositionists do. So really, I think we agree more than you think.
MY OWN REBUTTAL
We do agree more than i think. Here Is the thing, your starting point is, what have the scholars said and my starting point is what did God say? Do you think Jesus would quote Plato or Philo? Not so bro he quoted God and I quote God. I follow the God of Abraham, God of Issac, and God of Jesus Christ. Not of the philosophers and scholars.
The first third of your response is a waste of words. Why are you explaining the evidentialist approach to me? Gil I was one of you. I know your approach is to narrow down “there is no god” to “there might be a little g god” and then finally to “there is a big G God”. The very problem is this gap is way too large to jump without a lot of supplemental material. What God do your arguments prove? You dishonor God when you accidentally lead people to faith in Allah.
We live in a busy and distracted world, you have little time with any given person in an exchange and starting from a place of authority seems far better to me. Starting with, “God exists and you have sinned and you know it” cuts out the fat and gets to the core with the precious moments that anyone is willing to give to you. Do you think the Apostles met Pagans and the Jews half-way? No, they honored God by setting apart Christ as Lord in their heart and putting his authority and revelation at the center of their proclamation. You can’t meet them half-way because there is no middle ground. Gil, I know that God is the I am (elf-existent) from the Scripture. What do you mean we find this in philosophy? See again the problem is your worldview and your theology is shaped primarily by what the philosophers say. Not the Scripture. Go read James again, you dishonor God when you cast your lot with earthly wisdom. I don’t care that you think the Ressurection and trinity are true beyond a reasonable doubt. I know they are true because God has said so. And I know the Scripture is true because it knows me, my heart and this human condition better than I ever could. I don’t need your supplemental beyond reasonable doubt arguments because I don’t have doubts. I believe what God said in revelation and I know His revelation because I cannot know (anything) without Christianity. I don’t care if your goal is proving the trinitarian God because I know most people you evangelize to are not attending weekly theology lectures and will most likely not be going along the ride to get to your final goal. You likely have one chance to dialogue with most strangers. I don’t care what your defense of God is because God doesn’t need us to defend Him. His existence is obvious by the world he has created and the law in our hearts and all I need to do is talk to an unbeliever for 10 minutes before they start contradicting naturalism and subjectivism. There is no such thing as a consistent Naturalistic Atheist or Moral Subjectivist. They all inadvertently steal from the Bible to make their beliefs make sense.
“You appealed to Swinburn, therefore, evidentialism” is akin to me saying, you quote the Bible therefore presuppositionalism.
We will have to agree to disagree that I’m doing metaphysics because I think I’m just doing Biblical exegesis
Gil Had no further responses after this.
So what do you all think? Who carried this debate better? Did you learn anything about either the Evidantalist or Presuppositionalist perspectives?