The Effectiveness of Presuppositional Apologetics (Part 2)

May 22, 2015

The development of presuppositional apologetics was without a doubt a milestone in Christian philosophy. But the heady power of the method led some to jump to the conclusion that it outmoded evidential arguments altogether. That conclusion may be a bit premature.

Previous Post: The Effectiveness of Presuppositional Apologetics (Part 1)

The Apologist’s Tactical Nuke

Presuppositional apologetics is devastating against an atheistic worldview. Many secular philosophers have tried to find a way to justify the principles logic and morality, but none of their attempts have held up under scrutiny. Logic and morality can only be justified if they are founded in the existence of a rational, righteous, powerful God.

At the same time, the very concept of presuppositions is foreign to a lot of people. If you ask them to justify their belief in logic, you’ll be met with a blank stare and a “Huh?” As tempting as it may be, don’t go for the deceptively easy “win” of confusion. Talking them into a corner isn’t the same thing as convincing them they’re wrong.

Most people are smart enough to grasp it if you slow down and explain it carefully. Some will still reject it, but no one can be convinced by an argument they don’t understand.

Someone once called presuppositional apologetics “the apologist’s tactical nuke.” That’s very true - it’s a powerful weapon, but if you aren’t careful, you risk civilian casualties.

Evidence Demands a Verdict

Some apologists have gone a step further and said that presuppositional apologetics is the only Biblical way to defend Christianity. They point to Romans 1, where Paul writes that all men already know the truth of God’s existence, but suppress it:

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
(Romans 1:19-20)

The Bible, they argue, never tries to persuade by offering evidence for God’s existence. It assumes it to be true, since all men know it on some level, and proceeds from that foundation to command men to repent.

Image courtesy of SalFalko

For these apologists, denying or questioning God’s existence is willful ignorance, not a question worthy of debate. To ask for evidence that God exists is to put Him on trial, with man in the judge’s seat. To sit in judgment over God in such a way is, in their minds, a form of blasphemy.

I know these people are well-meaning, but I think they miss the fact that God himself condescends to offer us evidence for the truth of His Word and of His power.

Throughout the Old Testament, His prophets were to be identified by the miracles they wrought and the prophecies that came true - evidence that they were speaking on His behalf. When He appeared to Job, he pointed at His creation as evidence of His power and character.

God is the Almighty Judge, and cannot be judged by any man. Yet he does give us evidence - not so that we can evaluate Him, but so that we can know Him. This, I think, is the balance these apologists are missing.

Okay, So God Exists

I said above that presuppositional apologetics is a really powerful argument for God’s existence. If it works so well, why do we even need evidence?

It’s clearly effective at proving that God exists. It can even be argued that rationality requires the existence of a trinitarian God like we see in the Bible.

But do you see that little word “like” right there?

That’s the problem.

Presuppositional apologetics can get you close to the God of Scripture. You can nail down a few specific character qualities - powerful, rational, moral, eternal, etc. - that are required to form the basis of a sensible worldview. But eventually, you have to answer a question:

Is this God, who is the foundation for reason, actually the God of the Bible or just one that looks similar?

This is where evidence fills in the details. Now that we’ve established a God who created the universe, we can begin to consider questions like the historicity of the Resurrection, flood geology, miracles, and so on. The testimony of Scripture can be tied to reality at thousands of points in dozens of different fields.

Presuppositional apologetics provides us with the necessary foundation to consider evidence through the correct set of lenses.

Evidential apologetics provides the grounding in reality that we connect with on a baser level.

We need both for a well-reasoned and convincing defense of Christianity in the increasingly secular world that we face today.