The Necessity of External Consistency in Apologetics

Discussion in 'Apologetical Methods' started by Confessor, Feb 13, 2009.

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  1. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    I wrote this a while ago and thought I would post it here.

    In pondering the reliability of presuppositional apologetics, I was on the brink of providing a fusion of evidentialism and presuppositionalism. This would have turned out to be a bad thing indeed, given the fact that I had many objections against the former and had formulated seemingly insurmountable arguments against it. I thought I was therefore in a quagmire – I learned the need of evidential apologetics, but I had previously denied the validity of them. But this was all mistaken; I had made a false dichotomy of what each school of apologetics discusses.

    I had basically thought that presuppositionalism dealt with the internal consistency of a worldview and evidentialism with the external consistency. This is due to the fact that apologists such as Cornelius Van Til denied any kind of evidences (such as the traditional theistic proofs, facts supporting Christ’s resurrection, etc.) as proving God’s existence, because first, this would not prove the authority of God, but rather the authority of evidences; and second, man in his depraved state would always interpret things according to his presupposition – e.g. even evidence for Christ’s bodily resurrection would rationally be determined a naturally caused event according to naturalistic presuppositions.

    In my thinking on the subject, I was led to two huge questions: (1) Can internal consistency alone “prove” a presupposition? (2) Is everything interpreted or otherwise distorted by our presupposition?
    Regarding the former, this would appear to be insufficient. Take the following example: if you were to show that the implications of another person’s presupposition were logically inconsistent, the other person could simply disaffirm the laws of logic stemming from his axiom. And what about the fact that this is incontrovertibly contrary to experience? He could not possibly believe that laws of logic are not in effect, much less could he live like that. But if you were only allowed to argue for internal consistency, you could not make any sort of objection against him. He would have a coherent (though paradoxically incoherent) case for his worldview, since he denied logic as the “glue” for his coherence. And the same goes with the undefeatable axiom “Nothing exists,” which simply cannot be disproven internally. If internal consistency were the only criterion for “proving” a presupposition, then Christianity would be one among many. Clearly external consistency to some types of truths must exist, which leads us to our next question.

    As with the previous example, it would have been entirely fine to point out that the unbeliever’s worldview is incompatible with the laws of logic and should be consequently discarded. The laws of logic, by God’s grace, cannot be tossed out. They are within man necessarily. But what about Van Til’s claim that everything is distorted by the natural man? This is clearly evident in such examples as explaining away Christ’s resurrection to natural causes and “chance.” Interestingly enough, the story of Christ’s resurrection caused me to consider external consistency in apologetics in the first place. I wandered about the scenario, What if I saw the disciples steal the body (not through a videotape or anything, but with my own two eyes, an obviously hypothetical situation)? It would be improper for me to explain this away by denying sense perception or some similar absurd solution, since that would mark an inconsistency within my worldview, as sense perception is affirmed elsewhere. Thus I deduced that, in determining worldviews’ consistency, undeniable external evidences are just as much within the discussion as presuppositional corollaries. That is, just as I test for consistency throughout the implications of my presupposition, so also I must test consistency with undeniable facts of existence.

    But how do I determine which facts of existence are undeniable? It cannot only be those which can be axiomatic in themselves (logic, uniformity of nature, sense perception, etc.), as the example of witnessing the theft of Christ’s body would imply. But to go the other direction, it cannot be every witnessed event, as the naturalist’s rejection of the resurrection would imply. There must be a middle ground.

    I believe I have found it, and the answer is what I term to be primary interpretations. Primary interpretations are interpretations which have not yet gone through the filter of our presuppositions and therefore cannot yet be distorted by our depravity. As one example, unbelievers cannot deny that laws of logic exist (in practice, at least), though they may make a secondary interpretation and believe that laws of logic are self-existing, naturalistic entities. In the primary interpretation, we have a small amount of common ground (metaphysical rather than epistemological, in Van Til’s terms) with which to test external consistency, but we do not allow the unbelievers’ presuppositions to wreak havoc with the data. Although the unbeliever naturally sees all facts through his yellow glasses, there is a point at which God’s grace restrains him from distorting some facts, and it is those points which we attack.

    The question still remains, though, How can we discern which of the non-axiomatic beliefs can be deemed “undeniable”? What facts are on par with a personal witness of the disciples’ stealing Christ’s body? Thus far, the best answer I can give is that with such empirical data, the substance of the primary interpretation largely depends upon the data available. That is, I cannot give a hard and fast principle – much less an exhaustive list – of non-axiomatic data available. It depends largely on what exactly each person sees, which is hard to define, seeing as I do not know the future or other people’s minds.

    The one perceived exception to the “primary interpretation” rule is that the interpretation of texts seems to be safeguarded from depravity for the most part. That is, while some people may still sinfully interpret a text, all it takes is a more comprehensive exegesis (as opposed to a presuppositional worldview shift) to correct them. I am not sure how that currently fits into my apologetical theory of primary interpretations, but for whatever reason it nonetheless can be categorized under that. I will have to study more about the philosophy of language and its theological implications.

    Lastly, the significance of external consistency still does not permit for an autonomous view where one can collect all the undeniable truths (non-theistic axiomatic beliefs and primary interpretations) and subsequently decide which worldview is most fitting, i.e. a cumulative case apologetic. That view still leads to the destruction of knowledge. Christianity in the apologetical dispute must be presented as the precursor to argumentation itself: this is what our marvelous presuppositional apologists have taught us, and it is the most biblical method. Let us continue our endeavor in this way.
  2. steven-nemes

    steven-nemes Puritan Board Sophomore

    How would you know when you are not looking at something through your presuppositional glasses? I was wondering myself recently whether it is even possible to make an observation outside of your own presuppositions.
  3. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    It's hard to clarify an exact definition on it, but it tends to be easier once we look at specific examples.
  4. steven-nemes

    steven-nemes Puritan Board Sophomore

    Give me an example.
  5. PresbyDane

    PresbyDane Puritanboard Doctor

  6. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    The existence of the laws of logic.

    Several people's witnessing evolution over billions of years (impossible, I know, but hypothetical).
  7. steven-nemes

    steven-nemes Puritan Board Sophomore

    How are these examples of someone making an observation that is free of presuppositional bias? How do you know you are not biased by your own presuppositions (namely the one that people have these things called "presuppositions" by which they analyze the external world about them) when considering these things?
  8. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    I never said people can observe these facts outside of their presuppositions.

    Rather, such examples are necessarily present in every worldview and therefore every presupposition must account for them.
  9. steven-nemes

    steven-nemes Puritan Board Sophomore

    Okay I misunderstood you.

    You said something of "primary interpretations" in your first post.

    I asked whether such a thing was even possible.
  10. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    You're right, I defined that poorly. What I should have said is that such entities cannot possibly be distorted by our presuppositions despite their having gone through them, by God's grace. There is no such thing as something which exists, or rather which we perceive, apart from our presuppositions.

    Thanks for the correction.
  11. steven-nemes

    steven-nemes Puritan Board Sophomore

    Why should a person believe, however, that there are such things as primary interpretations? Where is there scriptural support for that? Furthermore, how can you know that other people are operating according to their presuppositions?
  12. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    It's pretty intuitive concept that doesn't need to be explicitly laid out in Scripture, such as elements and circumstances in the RPW. The ultimate criterion for discerning which beliefs are primary interpretations and which aren't is whether or not such propositions necessarily must be present in any given worldview. For instance, by God's grace, no one can actually disbelieve in logic. It is truly impossible to deny it (in practice, that is). Thus, the existence of logic is a primary interpretation. The source of this can be interpreted differently and is therefore a secondary/tertiary/quaternary/etc. interpretation.

    Furthermore, if you can think of a better name than "primary interpretation" for the entity I'm describing, please don't hesitate to say so. "Interpretation" implies something that is necessarily secondary, so I'm trying to think of a better name for it.

    EDIT -- I now prefer to call them "immutable facts," since such facts by definition cannot be altered from their essence. For instance, the nature of the laws of logic, as they are universal and prescriptive, cannot be denied in any worldview without simultaneously being affirmed.

    Such immutable facts, then, are entities from which we construct TAGs. They are the "links" to other worldviews which God in His grace has forbidden to be distorted by depravity.
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2009
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