I need help understanding something - Presuppositional Apologetics

I consider myself a pretty intelligent person. I'm a computer engineer, I've always been at the top of my class back when I was a student (in the stone age ;) ), and I love learning overall - to this day. I am a firm believer in skepticism and the scientific method, and I have an insatiable thirst for knowledge.

I mention all of this because, well, I'm embarrassed to say I just don't understand the (il)logic of Presuppositional Apologetics.

I just have a monstrous problem understanding how the entire basis of someone's approach and understanding of the world can be based on something that is inherently illogical? How can you form the foundation of your analysis and understanding of - well, of anything and everything - on something that is inherently baseless, illogical, and irrational? A foundation that is utterly void of any evidence that even hints at it's validity?

I know that many of you have a background in philosophy, religious history, etc. - and therefore probably have a better understanding of this than I do. Please help me understand how anyone at all can purport to offer this as a valid argument for basically anything at all, much less Christianity.

Thanks in advance.

Tags: Apologetics, Presuppositional Apologetics, Questions, Rationality

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I don't think presup arguments really convince anyone. It's just a preferred tactic of debate by many apologists because the discussion can be framed via a series of questions that drag the argument out for a long time, thus preventing the humanist from making any of his own points. And if the humanist tries to make his own point, the presup can ask "how do you know that?" The topic raises some confusing philosophical ideas and the confusion on the atheists face, makes him look a little silly so the christian can look smart. It's a tactical approach to discussion and is at it's heart intellectually dishonest.

Though there are more than one presup argument the most common such argument is the Van Till argument. It was coined by a guy named Cornelius Van Till. Look him up and you will find the argument stated.

Here is the problem with it...

The issue revolves around a matter that the person who is arguing it glances over: Evident Gnosis.

We have absolute knowledge of the existence of our experiences. For instance, if a bug landed on your arm, the awareness of that sensation is in itself, a knowledge. Though you know the sensation exists, you do not conclude it exists. No logic is involved. The conscious awareness of a stimuli is in itself, knowledge. I would then argue that this evident gnosis is then used as a basis (along with certain conditioned or neuro innate assertions, which are also not concluded) to form conclusions. While it is the case that the sensations involved in the experience of a bug landing on your arm are not conclusions and while it is the case that the visual stimuli you experienced when you look at the bug was not concluded, the idea that a the stimuli you received represents something "in reality" that the sensation was caused by "the bug" ect, are conclusions. Conclusions are of course, dependant upon the introduction of information, which can alter them. Evident gnosis is not. No new information can cause the sensation of the bug landing on your arm to not exist. No new information can alter that sensation. This is how the things we conclude are ultimately founded upon things we know for absolute certainty.

Now where I would criticize the van till argument is that it seems to contradict itself when it comes to the existence of evident gnosis. If states on one hand that logic is the basis of all knowledge (which I don't agree with), and on the other hand states that god "reveals himself to us in a way so that we can know him for certain," When you ask such a person what those ways are, they are always stated as ways that involve evident gnosis. So that particular argument contradicts itself.

Sorry if I'm totally misunderstanding, but is it that

The conscious awareness of a stimuli is in itself, knowledge.

is the basis of Evident Gnosis? How it is explained, then, that I sense things that are Not  real (whether or not the sensation qualifies as "knowledge")? I can see a bug landing on my arm then, a moment later, apprehend that the sensation was actually caused by air currents and shadows.

Nevermind. I just watched the first few minutes of

Abridged Debate: Matt Dillahunty VS Sye Ten Bruggencate

It's all clear now. :-)

That's a discussion about the TAG argument. It is similar to the Van Till Argument in that it tends to bring up things like the laws of logic, but it's not really the same argument.

Determining what is "real" involves logic. I'm not talking about that when I am talking about evident gnosis.  I am speaking of the experience itself, ambivalent of whether or not it is "real." The experience that you are looking at a computer screen right now absolutely exists. Even if this experience were occurring in the matrix, it would still exist as an experience. Just as the experience of your thoughts and the sensations you receive exist. Figuring out if they are "real" or point to something "in reality" is another matter.

If you had a delusion that the bug landed on your arm, nothing could make that experience not exist.

Think of the matter of the earth revolving around the sun. New information has altered our understanding that the sun does not revolve around the earth, but nothing can alter the physical image we see in the sky. No matter what new thing we learn, nothing can change the reality that a glowing round thing enters the sky on one end and disappears on the other end. The idea that all conclusions can be altered with the addition of new information is true, but not everything you know is concluded. You do not conclude that the glowing round thing moves across the sky.


Presuppositional apologetics (PA’s) start out taking it as a given that their belief in God is valid because the Bible is his word. In epistemological terms this truth is justified by Christian theology. It is the corner stone upon which their world view is formed. To the PA all other views of the world are seen as logically invalid because they are not based on the “knowledge” that God exists.

PA arguments can indeed be logically valid but only as “transcendental” arguments. The Bible is the word of God, so it must be accurate, so Jesus rose from the dead….yada yada yada… This assumption by necessity does not accept that any other belief systems are correct (and we lack humility!!)

Philosophers like Kant talk about the logical possibility that god exists. We can understand the concept of God to a point. But as Dan Dennett says, the concept of God is a concept!! It is still an assumption to say that God exist but the PA has no doubts because in the theology that forms his worldview there is no need for any doubt.

They argue that Atheists cannot be moral because they don’t follow (their) God’s laws. To them all morality stems from Christian teaching.

The glaring flaw with PA is that it only works when it is taken for granted that the Bible is the word of God. They see no obligation to prove the existence of their God. All theological arguments stem from the assumption that their God is real. This is a good time to quote Thomas Paine view of theology:

The study of theology, as it stands in the Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authority; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and it admits of no conclusion.

I have written this quickly under time constraints so it may not be as clearly argued as it sounded in my head!!

@ Reg, You did a fine job of explaining that the cornerstone of the apologist argument is without any basis in fact.

I find the courage, intellectual honesty and the logic set forth in Paine's "Age of Reason" so brilliant in the way that it devastates religion as nothing more than an elaborate con that I am amazed that we are here today still dealing with virtually the same bullshit. Religion is like dealing with some sort of bad Zombie movie where we freethinkers simply can't overcome the hordes of walking dead.

I have actually heard Apologist attempt to hi-jack the great Enlightenment philosopher Hume as being in support of Christianity as factual truth. Amazing given that Hume completely flanked the Apologist argument by simply pointing out that the Bible is comprised of "miracles" which are things outside the laws of nature. Walking on water, instant cures for blindness, leprosy and rising from the dead are things that fall outside nature. Then we are asked to accept as real the miracle on the basis of accounts that are from people who were several generations removed from the source.

And why are Hume and Paine wrong? Why because an omnipotent invisible God directed the scribes to write his unerring words down in the Bible. And honestly that is their proof.

...the Bible is comprised of "miracles" which are things outside the laws of nature. Walking on water, instant cures for blindness, leprosy and rising from the dead are things that fall outside nature. Then we are asked to accept as real the miracle on the basis of accounts that are from people who were several generations removed from the source.

Biblical "miracles" as described were demonstrations of power meant to show the world that Jesus was God himself. As such, even if the accounts were those of direct witnesses, magic tricks like walking on water and making bread, performed in front of relatively small audiences, seem rather mundane for God's infinite power.

If God meant to impress, why not perform a world-class miracle that would be witnessed and recorded by all the cultures of the entire world? Why not do something that cannot be explained except as a suspension of the laws of nature?

Split the moon into four pieces and make a giant smiley face with "Bong Hitz 4 Jesus" emblazoned on the front. Have it orbit the world for a couple of years, then fuse the moon back together. Every civilization in the world would have witnesses, writings and drawings of the same event. Astronomers would find the cracks of where the moon had once been split apart.

But no.

"Pick a card," said God. "Any card."

You bring up an important point. I often wonder why God makes people go through hours and years of trying to understand what the Bible says at it relates to life, morality or just about anything. Why not just build the whole thing into our brain as default?

Why such a crappy, dull and inconsistent stories. And why doesn't he just strike every atheist one of us dead as soon as we come to the conclusion he does not exist. Now, that would be impressive. Well, no worry there is no such thing as God. 

In some fields of philosophy for many reasons it is okay to take certain premises as a given without needing to prove it. This is to avoid getting bogged down into language games, endless pedantic debates etc. or premises which almost everyone accepts anyways. This is only the case in fields of philosophy such as the philosophy of art, specific fields of ethics and philosophical anthropology where the chief aim isn't to prove what is truth/true but to make connections between things, find meaning in things or speculate on unexplored topics. However in certain branches of philosophy such as metaphysics (what is) and many cases in ontology (what a specific something is) one cannot take their original premises for granted. That is because these aim at what is truth and/or concrete examples of what is true. It is bananas to think that you can arrive at truth by starting with a premise which is a given truth (without justifying it or proving it). Presuppositional theology is this kind of metaphysics where truth is arrived at from a premise which is not proven. Philosophers of science are expected to demonstrate scientific realism before they continue in their metaphysical investigations, neuro-philosophers have to give a theory of the mind before treading the debate on free will. They wouldn't be published if they didn't. Why universities still fund work in presuppositional theology is beyond me. It's utter bananas. The same applies to post-modern philosophers though that's another discussion.

Sye Ten I believe was relying on the Biblical passage Romans 1

19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; 21 for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.

Although I personally agree with scripture, I don't think that this scripture speaks to say that everyone secretly accepts the existence of God. I think that this scripture speaks to say that the evidence is so intensely clear in the things that God has made, that everyone ought to believe in the existence of God, but that those who don't believe have had their senseless minds darkened by their own sin. Sin leads to disbelief, and an honest disbelief if may be, though foolish. 

One of Scripture's own arguments for the existence of God is in Romans 1: Creation demands a Creator.


Belle, I used to love my sin, until I learned just how evil it really is. Once I stood down wind of myself, I realized how much and how unjustly I hated God. Of course I think for myself, but if I rely solely on my own thoughts, thoughts which are naturally inclined toward sin, and I turn away from God's Word, I start to do very stupid things! I'm not blindly following, I'm killing my old self because I know that I was a spiteful, arrogant, know-it-all, selfish, lying, dishonorable fool! I never wanted to own up to my mistakes, I secretly harbored hatred for people, holding them to a standard that I couldn't keep myself, I got unreasonably angry at the people around me because I did not want to accept that I was guilty! I was a sloth, wanting only to sit back, waste the time that God had given me, and enjoy all that I was taking for granted as much as I could and at the expense of anyone who got in my way! BUT BY THE GRACE OF GOD I HAVE BEEN CRUCIFIED with Christ, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me, and gave himself up for me; and I have been raised with him to walk in newness of life! 




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