I received an email the other day from an atheist whose name I am choosing not to reveal (for reasons I will get to shortly). The email read like a late-night infomercial, complete with a reference to a website, youtube channel, and book for sale. In addition, there came a challenge to debate us over the existence of God. My response was to suggest this individual visit us in our chat channel first so that we could get to know each other, before agreeing to a formal debate. This individual took me up on the offer and paid us a visit. I was not present at the time, but a number of CH staff were there and interacted with this person.
After reading through a transcript of the conversation, and subsequently listening to a youtube video where this individual comments on their interaction with us, I decided it was important to respond. The reason it is important it because this person has decided that God does not exist, that apologists are wasting this person’s time (their own words), and that it is fine if you want to believe in God, but don’t try to prove it because it can’t be done. This is a common theme we hear at CH – people telling Christians it is acceptable (to them) if we say we “merely” believe what we believe, but please don’t try to prove it, because then these anti-apologists have to waste their time responding. I guess they feel it is a duty or something. Considering it is our call to obey God rather than man, we must heed his call for all Christians (not just those who are “officially” involved in apologetics) to offer a reason for the hope that is with in them, and that includes countering criticisms against Christianity. Thus the response.
Now, as to my decision to keep this person anonymous. In researching this individual, what I found was a person desperately trying to make money off the growth of Christian apologetics on the web and in print. The person trumpeted their ability to dissect Christianity and all beliefs in gods (which is not a unique claim), but did so in such an over-the-top, commercially-oriented way, that it was obvious to me and the rest of CH what the true motivation of this person was. So on the one hand I am compelled to respond to their complaints against Christianity, but I am also compelled to do whatever I can to ensure I don’t direct traffic to this person’s site or youtube channel. Thus the anonymity. I may change my mind on this later – or I may not. Regardless, here is my response.
This person offered two major complaints against Christianity and the Presuppositional/Covenantal method. First, there is no empirical proof for the existence of God. Second, the Presupp method is circular in that it claims the Bible is true merely because the Bible says it is true. While both of these complaints have been addressed over and over and over again, both on this site and in the work of other Presuppers, I think it is worth addressing them again.
The question of empirical proof.
On the one hand, there is plenty of empirical evidence for the existence of God. It is everywhere. Every single object we see/hear/smell/touch/taste, every single event that happens, every single fact we claim to know … all of them are empirical evidence for the existence of God. Scripture makes it clear that God is the creator and sustainer of all that has been created, and that he has revealed himself to us so clearly through his creation that we have no excuse (no “apologetic”) available to us if we dare claim he does not exist.
But in another sense, there is no empirical evidence for God. What do I mean by this? I mean that we cannot directly see God (the way we see a box of crackers in the pantry), or touch him (the way we touch that box when we pull it out of the pantry), or hear him (the way we hear the crackers shuffle around in their box), or smell him (the way we smell the jam we spread on those crackers), or taste him (the way we taste those crackers once we finally eat them). What am I saying? I am saying God is immaterial – he is spirit. He is not sensed in the same way we sense the material world around us, as he is not a material being.
But wait, you say – God has indeed made himself known in a material way. Didn’t he walk and talk with Adam and Eve? Didn’t he appear in a burning bush? Didn’t he write the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone? Didn’t God appear in a material form in the very person of Jesus? Yes, he certainly did make himself known in a material way – in the past. Although God is spirit, he has shown himself through the material world, in an empirical manner, many, many times. This is recorded in the Bible (as our atheist friend has pointed out). So what’s the problem? Why doesn’t God still do this? Quite simply, because he now speaks to us through his word, the Bible.
It is at this point that many atheists cry foul. After all, if God is able to appear in an empirical manner through the material world in the past, why doesn’t he do it now? Why doesn’t he do it anytime an atheist challenges him to do so? Why doesn’t he just show up so that everyone believes?
It’s pretty simple, actually. The problem is not lack of evidence (recall my first comment about the abundance of empirical evidence for God), the problem is moral in nature. The problem is sin. The same Bible that tells us of all the times God appeared in a “special” way, also tells us that God has revealed himself through his creation to the extent that all mankind does, in fact, know that he exists (even our atheist friend). The same Bible that tells us of the miraculous events that happened at the hand of God tells us that God now speaks to us, in a special way, through his word.
Of course, the atheist will deny they know God exists. They will also deny that the Bible is the word of God. They’re atheists, after all. But yet for some reason they appeal to the Bible as if to say “but look, God has done this in the past, why won’t he do it NOW??”
The problem here for those atheists who take this approach is their inability to level an internal critique. Since we are doing worldview apologetics here (that is what Presuppers do, after all), we set our worldview against the atheist’s for the sake of argument. For the atheist to appeal to one part of the Bible (examples of miracles) for the sake of argument, but be unwilling to appeal to the same Bible for the explanation of why those miracles no longer occur, is to fail to perform an internal critique. To accept miracles (for the sake of argument) but deny the nature of the Bible is to place one foot in the Christian worldview while keeping the other in the atheist’s worldview. That is, it is not to perform an internal critique at all. It is fallacious as worldview apologetics go.
While there is much more to say on this (and much more has already been said), I will leave it to our atheist friend to read what has been written so far.
The question of circularity.
The charge of circularity has to be the most commonly leveled charge, and is also the most commonly addressed complaint. I’ll keep it short, since so much has already been written on this topic.
Yes, the Presupp method relies on circular reasoning. However, it does not rely on circular reasoning which is logically fallacious. Any argument for the truth of one’s basic beliefs/ultimate authority/etc is necessarily, in the nature of the case, circular. Why? Because one must always employ their ultimate – their “transcendental” – while arguing for anything at all, including arguing for one’s transcendental. That is the reason such an argument must proceed indirectly and from the impossibility of the contrary. The only sound way to argue for the truth of one’s ultimate commitment, while employing it, is to show that any denial of that commitment leads to absurdity.
This is where our atheist friend completely misses the boat and assumes that Presuppers make a basic mistake as if they haven’t thought through the implications of “admitting” one’s method is circular.
Our friend claims that Presuppers are circular and that this is effectively the death-blow to their method. Our friend also claims that Presuppers know this. I wonder if our friend finds it a bit odd that Presuppers (even those with graduate degrees in Philosophy) are willing to claim that this method is circular while at the same time claiming it isn’t a problem? Perhaps these Presuppers have studied philosophy a bit longer than our friend, are aware of how the history of Philosophy is rife with discussions about this very topic, and therefore might have a good reason (whether they are right or not) to hold to the position they hold. Perhaps our atheist friend is a bit too hasty to blow off this method due to their lack of understanding of some of the most basic (and difficult) questions of Philosophy.
The correct “transcendental” – whatever it is – must, in the nature of the case, be accepted on authority. One must accept it on faith while employing it. If one could prove it without accepting it, then it would no longer be one’s transcendental. However, one can step into a defunct worldview (as our atheist friend lives in, for instance) for the sake of argument, and show that – in principle – it cannot account for the myriad of things being assumed in order to hold a discussion over God’s existence in the first place. The only way to ultimately “underwrite” those assumptions is to appeal to Christian Theism. As Van Til has said – Anti-Theism Presupposes Theism (Christian Theism, specifically).
I don’t expect our atheist friend to simply accept what we have said. After all, they are a skeptic. However, I encourage our friend to break out of the mold of most skeptics, and start questioning everything, and not just the existence of God. I have found that skeptics generally aren’t skeptical enough, and our friend is no exception.