Episode 011: What is Presuppositional Apologetics?

apologetics Philosophy of Religion podcast

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This episode is an explanation of “presuppositional apologetics,” one of several approaches to defending the Christian faith.

Episode 12 will be about the anti-naturalistic arguments of Alvin Plantinga, and I will argue there that Plantinga and not Van Til should be the one to whom presuppositionalists look.

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{ 19 comments… add one }
  • Philosophickle July 8, 2008, 5:52 am

    Loved it Jack. I’m giving it a shout out over at atheism is dead (I’ll remind them to download it).

  • MichelleMu July 8, 2008, 10:32 am

    Yay! Dopey liked it! Now I don’t have to try to figure out where I went wrong.

  • Glenn July 8, 2008, 9:16 pm

    The average reader isn’t going to realise that “Dopey” is Philosophickle.

    Ah, cliques

  • Philosophickle July 9, 2008, 12:47 am

    Also, the average reader would never ascribe dopey-ness to me.

  • Glenn July 9, 2008, 12:59 am

    And another thing – don’t call me Jack. This is not Theologyweb.

  • Philosophickle July 9, 2008, 4:24 am

    Listen Theo, don’t tell me my bidness devil-woman.

  • Philosophickle July 9, 2008, 5:24 am

    In all seriousness, though, I hope you spend some time explaining how Plantinga’s EAAN is a successor to TAG and why exactly it’s a transcendental argument. Many times I hear “Plantinga is wrong because the sciences have shown that humans are not rational”.

  • Kenny July 9, 2008, 10:06 am

    You hit the nail on the head. Iā€™m looking forward to the Plantinga episode!

  • Glenn July 12, 2008, 3:44 am

    OK, Plantinga is actually going to get two whole episodes, because I’m looking at two of his arguments. 1) The argument from Warrant (that episode is nearly done), and 2) The evolutionary argument from naturalism.

  • Philosophickle July 12, 2008, 4:47 am

    I’ve never been so excited in all my life…

  • Barry of Denver, CO USA July 13, 2008, 11:55 am

    could you clarify what it would take for to account for a premise within a world view? To make your explanation clear, could you explain why the Christian worldview has accounted for the premise the uniformity of nature as an example? The demonstration that God is an only explanation because it is in His nature seems particularly weak and almost without evidence.

    The least offensive, clearest explanation of Presuppositionalism I have heard. Suspect you could still hold a convention of those converted to Christianity by Presuppositionalism in a very small room. The argument seems a bit like calling ‘shotgun’ to ride in the front seat of your buddy’s car (hope that isn’t just a USA phrase).

    Found your site through AtheismIsDead.Blogspot.com. All the best.

    B

  • Glenn July 13, 2008, 2:39 pm

    Hi Barry

    What it means for a worldview to account for something is that a worldview is able to draw on its own resources to explain something;s existence. As a really obvious example, a worldview that denies the existence of bodily organs could not give an account of a person having a heart attack (not, at least, if the incident is referred to as a heart attack).

    Regarding the uniformity of nature, you say “the demonstration that God is an only explanation because it is in His nature seems particularly weak and almost without evidence.” Firstly, it’s not clear what you mean by “without evidence.” The relevant type of evidence here would be evidence that God has a certain type of nature. But I think that your comment about evidence possibly suggests that you don’t see the form of the presuppositional argument. The argument is that something is needed to account for the uniformity of nature, and that a God whose nature was…. (whatever you referred to) …. would account for it, but nothing else would. In other words, the uniformity of nature is here taken as evidence THAT God has a certain nature. Stated differently, only by supposing that such a God exists can we make sense of the uniformity of nature.

    But secondly, it’s not even necessary to make appeals to God’s “nature” here, and I haven’t actually heard/read a presuppositionalist who presents an argument along the lines that you suggest. The argument is far more likely to proceed something like this:

    1) We have an expectation that nature is uniform
    2) The explanation of such uniformity is either natural or supernatural
    3) The explanation is not natural (here is where the theist might make appeals to people like Hume or Russell)
    4) Consequently, the explanation of such uniformity must be supernatural.

    At this point in the argument, the theist may explain that the existence of not just any deity would account for the uniformity of nature. The deity in question would need to be such that he/she/it is not so capricious as to continually play tricks on people with natural evidence. He would need to be such that his will is compatible with people engaging in science (for example). He would need to be such that he is (as a general rule at least) content that people suffer the consequences of their actions in the natural world – and probably a whole list of other things.

    As far as the presuppositional convention goes, I don’t know about that, but then, my concern here is not really evangelistic but merely explanatory. Thanks for listening! šŸ™‚

  • Barry of Denver, CO USA July 14, 2008, 1:38 am

    Thank you for your answer. The argument seems underdeveloped, but I recognize you are explaining rather than necessarily promoting. Your explanation does make me wonder if this isn’t just the philosopical equivalent of the biological god of the gaps.

    All the best to you.

    B

  • Glenn July 15, 2008, 8:01 pm

    The only way to think that this might be a God of the gaps argument is to think that premise 3) above is false “The explanation is not natural (here is where the theist might make appeals to people like Hume or Russell)”

    Here’s why I think that this isn’t like the God of the gaps argument. An argument that deserves the “God of the gaps” label runs like this:

    1) Science (or philosophy, or anything really), although it is the kind of thing that produces answers to questions like X, has, as yet, failed to produce an answer to question X.

    2) For any question Q, whenever an enterprise that answers questions like Q currently lacks an answer for Q, then Q should be answered by reference to God.

    3) Therefore we should answer question X with reference to God.

    The type of transcendental argument unpacked in this episode is not at all like this. Instead, if we phrase it in such a way as to compare it to this God of the gaps argument, it (as far as I can tell) would go more like this:

    1) Naturalism is actually incompatible in principle with any satisfactory answer to problem X.

    2) For any problem P where naturalism is incompatible in principle with any satisfactory answer to P, if P has an answer at all, then it must be a supernatural answer.

    3) Consequently, problem X must, if it has a solution at all, have a theological explanation.

    The crucial difference is that “God of the gaps” arguments argue from the current failure of science to provide answers to scientific questions. This transcendental argument does not. It argues from what it claims is an impossibility in principle for naturalism to provide certain answers, leaving supernaturalism as the only alternative.

  • Brian July 20, 2008, 4:34 am

    How can I get the previous podcasts? I just discovered #12. I am really after the Annihilationism series.

  • Brian July 20, 2008, 4:43 am

    Okay, i am a dunce. just figured it out. I rike filosofee!!!

    Good stuff, Glenn. Thanks.

  • Tim Spong July 29, 2008, 10:18 pm

    Great Job on this podcast, it is the best one so far IMO and they seem to be getting better and better. I will be promoting this one as a kind of apologetics 201 primer whenever I see the opportunity.

  • Glenn February 8, 2011, 6:38 pm

    I just spotted someone on the internet who, upon hearing this episode, says:

    “To posit that the reason that they failed to prosper in the same way as post Enlightenment Europe is because they were non-Christian is quite frankly naive.”

    (From Paul Baird’s comment here)

    The writer of this comment makes it clear in context that I do in fact post this strange claim in this episode. I have to confess, this one made me scratch my head. Nowhere in any of the podcasts on presuppositional apologetics have I implied that post enlightenment nations outside of Europe failed to prosper because they weren’t Christian.

    Why I did say is that there were presupposition that enlightenment thinkers did make that others did not, and those presuppositions enabled great progress to be made, that those presuppositions are found within Christianity, and the worldviews of other nations did not share those presuppositions. Could a worldview that is not Christian share those presuppositions?

    Yes. Did I say otherwise? No.

    Sorry Paul, you’ll need to have another swing if you’re looking for a solid criticism.

  • Roy July 14, 2011, 10:51 pm

    G’day Glenn

    You probably heard the debate between Sye & Paul on Unbelievable? … what’s your take on arguing for God’s existence is sin? Sye based this on Romans 1, saying we need to repent before our reason operates properly; and that God is the judge and we shouldn’t test God.

    Thanks
    Roy

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