Presuppositionalism and Reason

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sotzo

Puritan Board Sophomore
Have we something to learn from Rome with respect to reason's role in epistemology? I know that is a strange question with which to begin a post, but it's really a "did the baby go out with the bathwater" question. To presuppose God and His Word involves the use of reason (and other elements of natural theology). For example, the presupposition that God exists and His Word is true is often tested to see where it leads one's epistemology. When Bahnsen, et al debate(ed) they are not merely saying "I believe God is and His Word is true and that's the end of it"...rather, they would compare the logical outworkings of such presuppositions compared to atheistic presuppositions or non-Christian theistic presuppositions. Without God there can be no objective foundation for morality, without God there cannot be immaterial laws of logic, etc. This appears to be testing the presuppositions using reason to do so and it certainly appears in line with what Proverbs and other wisdom passages in Scripture teach about where foundational knowledge comes from...that it begins with the knowledge of God, but is tried (using reason) and subsequently known to be wisdom by its benefits.

So, there appears to be a sense in which reason does interact with presuppositions in a way that requires us to respect the former much more than we do in Reformed circles...as Calvin said in Chapter 1 of the Institutes it is hard to know where man's knowledge of himself begins as that beginning relates to his knowledge of God.

Two questions based on the above:

1. If this is the case (and correct me if I'm wrong above), should we be more open to use of reason, even evidentialism, since in practice even our presupps are subject to such testing?

2. When we say we presuppose the Bible and its veracity, should we state more specifically what that means with respect to certain epistemological areas (ie, moral law, teleology, etc) and how such a presupposition creates a different life vs other presuppositions?

-----Added 12/4/2008 at 06:50:17 EST-----

Any thoughts on this one?
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Rome begins with reason working its way towards belief in God, as with most Arminian apologetics; hence I cannot understand the first part of the post.

Reformed thought places a strong emphasis on the use of reason, so the idea that in reformed circles reason is not respected highly is somewhat dubious. Reason is exalted as a servant of God in the reformed system. It is a part of what makes man a reflection of the image of God and a prince over creation, and on that same basis reason cannot be used neutrally but is always accountable to the Creator.

Evidences are part and parcel of the reformed system of apologetics; see Larger Catechism answers 2 and 4. But reformed theology requires a distinctly presuppositional approach in the use of the evidences so as to address the relational estrangement between the natural man and God, and not simply the rational arguments used to justify that estrangement.
 

sotzo

Puritan Board Sophomore
Rome begins with reason working its way towards belief in God, as with most Arminian apologetics; hence I cannot understand the first part of the post.

I probably put too much into one paragraph. I know Rome begins with reason. My point was that perhaps we have something to learn from putting a higher premium on reason. Your point is well taken on reason's place in the Reformed system, though I think there may be a mismatch between its place in Reformed thinking versus how it is placed within an apologetic.


But reformed theology requires a distinctly presuppositional approach in the use of the evidences so as to address the relational estrangement between the natural man and God, and not simply the rational arguments used to justify that estrangement.

That is helpful. Perhaps an example would help further. How would that presuppositional approach look? And how would reason relate to it?
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
That is helpful. Perhaps an example would help further. How would that presuppositional approach look? And how would reason relate to it?

Something after the order of Romans chapter one. There is evidence which provides objective credibility for the Christian faith, and such evidence as no other system of thought is able to rationally provide an account for. But man in his sinful condition is unable to consider the evidence without prejudice because he is naturally averse to serving God but inclined to esteem that which serves his own selfish desires and therefore magnifies what is akin to his own creaturely condition. When this sensualistic idea is consistently carried out by others, a man will condemn it as something immoral, and thereby stands in judgment on his own estrangement from God.
 

Confessor

Puritan Board Senior
How would that presuppositional approach look? And how would reason relate to it?

"Fact X only makes sense if Christianity is true, Given any other starting point this fact is incoherent."

We would use reason throughout the argument -- indeed, I had to use reason to simply state the hypothetical quotation above. However, the argument in itself does not prove Christianity; i.e. Christianity is true, but not because of that argument. The Bible is God's Word because it is God's Word, and we know this through the Holy Spirit. The Bible states that there are no other gods except for the living God of the Bible, and TAG is an elaboration of this.

Lastly, the fact that we use reason is because reason exists in our Christian framework as a tool given to us from God. It is not a starting point.
 

sotzo

Puritan Board Sophomore
How would that presuppositional approach look? And how would reason relate to it?

"Fact X only makes sense if Christianity is true, Given any other starting point this fact is incoherent."

We would use reason throughout the argument -- indeed, I had to use reason to simply state the hypothetical quotation above. However, the argument in itself does not prove Christianity; i.e. Christianity is true, but not because of that argument. The Bible is God's Word because it is God's Word, and we know this through the Holy Spirit. The Bible states that there are no other gods except for the living God of the Bible, and TAG is an elaboration of this.

Lastly, the fact that we use reason is because reason exists in our Christian framework as a tool given to us from God. It is not a starting point.

But what exactly is the starting point? If the Bible, then simply stating such does no good without reasoning from the Bible to how "Fact X only makes sense if Christianity is true, Given any other starting point this fact is incoherent". And if simply stating such doesn't do anything without the reasoning (doesn't demonstrate anything to the person you are communicating with), then I don't see how reasoning is not in a very real way bound up with the value of the presupposition. In other words,, the 2 seem inextricably linked.
 

Confessor

Puritan Board Senior
And if simply stating such doesn't do anything without the reasoning (doesn't demonstrate anything to the person you are communicating with), then I don't see how reasoning is not in a very real way bound up with the value of the presupposition. In other words,, the 2 seem inextricably linked.

First of all, you have to remember that people would be condemned by God regardless of the veracity or consistency of our defense of the faith. In other words, a person's failure to present an argument for the truthfulness of Christianity does not preclude them from being right in following the Holy Spirit. In this sense, reason is not needed for the unbeliever's presupposition to be wrong. The presupposition is wrong at the outset because it is not in submission to God.

As a result, apologetics does not itself condemn the unbeliever. It merely elaborates on a point already established -- that the unbeliever is hopelessly lost. We know that we are correct through the witness of the Holy Spirit, but we further evince that point (in a confirmatory sense) that the unbeliever needs Christ by showing him that his reasoning is also lost.

Presup never stresses that we should not use reason, only that we should treat it as a tool and not a judge.


I guess a quick way of saying all that above is that TAG (or any apologetical argument) does not prove Christianity itself; it can only elaborate on the proof we have already obtained, i.e. the witness of the Holy Spirit.
 

plep

Puritan Board Freshman
Presuppositionalism doesn't deminish the use of reason. It just posits that reason presupposes God. To just begin by assuming that reason just exists (as many athiests do) assumes too much. To me, this is one of the great things about presuppositionalism--how does the athiest account for their ability to count (and reason)? As you and I know, they can't.
 

Craig

Puritan Board Senior
How would that presuppositional approach look? And how would reason relate to it?

"Fact X only makes sense if Christianity is true, Given any other starting point this fact is incoherent."

We would use reason throughout the argument -- indeed, I had to use reason to simply state the hypothetical quotation above. However, the argument in itself does not prove Christianity; i.e. Christianity is true, but not because of that argument. The Bible is God's Word because it is God's Word, and we know this through the Holy Spirit. The Bible states that there are no other gods except for the living God of the Bible, and TAG is an elaboration of this.

Lastly, the fact that we use reason is because reason exists in our Christian framework as a tool given to us from God. It is not a starting point.

But what exactly is the starting point? If the Bible, then simply stating such does no good without reasoning from the Bible to how "Fact X only makes sense if Christianity is true, Given any other starting point this fact is incoherent". And if simply stating such doesn't do anything without the reasoning (doesn't demonstrate anything to the person you are communicating with), then I don't see how reasoning is not in a very real way bound up with the value of the presupposition. In other words,, the 2 seem inextricably linked.

Ultimately, the starting point is God. That *must* be the case. We use reason as we argue...as mentioned by armourbearer, reason is a servant of God. It is not an independent standard functioning separately from Him. If Reason were independent, God would then become dependent...the principle of reason would be autonomous and determinitive of God making it god, and God would no longer be God.

The above would be an example of showing the inconsistency of a Christian arguing as if reason were autonomous...I could show this believer that he betrays his own faith with his chosen method of argument. We do the same with those who consciously oppose God as well.

In our conversations, is this where we begin? Not usually because this is cutting to the chase. It will start somewhere else, but it will always go to the land of metaphysics since we all argue from un-argued assumptions.
 
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