Questioning Presuppositionalism

Editors’ Note: The Bible calls Christians to always be prepared to give an answer to those who ask for the reason of the hope within us (1 Peter 3:15). And so, from the very beginning of church history, Christians have publicly and privately labored to show the reasonableness of our faith against the objections of skeptics.

In the last century, Christians debating the relationship between reason and faith have divided into sometimes warring camps of classical, evidential, and presuppositional apologetics. If you’re wondering how these views relate, then this week’s series of five articles is for you. The Gospel Coalition welcomes apologists and pastors who will define, critique, and defend particular methods commonly used among Christians. But we don’t want to stop at method, as if apologetics were just meant for the lab. We also hope to provide resources to not only firm up your grasp of the debates, but also to put apologetics into practice in preaching and evangelism.


While a philosophy and divinity student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, I organized and moderated a debate between two of my professors—philosopher Stuart Hackett and theologian Carl F. H. Henry. Hackett, a self-proclaimed “rational empiricist,” argued that we can, in principle, evaluate the truth or falsity of worldview claims by certain neutral criteria. Henry, a presuppositionalist, claimed his epistemological starting point is the Bible; we need a sure Word rather than the mere probabilities of theistic arguments.

Presuppositionalism is common in Reformed circles. Cornelius Van Til, called the “fountainhead of presuppositionalism,” argued that one must begin with biblical revelation; otherwise, “logic” and “evidence” will become distorted to accommodate the suppression of truth in unrighteousness. Others like Gordon Clark, Greg Bahnsen, and John Frame have generally followed Van Til’s methodology—although in variegated fashion (which makes a brief assessment of presuppositionalism difficult). For example, Frame asks: “Are we not still forced to say, ‘God exists (presupposition), therefore God exists (conclusion), and isn’t that argument circular?'” He answers, “Yes, in a way.”

Elsewhere he says, “If Scripture is the ultimate justification for all human knowledge, how should we justify our belief in Scripture itself? By Scripture, of course!”

Frame argues that we all have presuppositions, and if we assume that reason can be used to assess worldviews, then we are operating by rationalism, which itself begs the question (i.e., is circular). Since there is no presupposition-free zone, one can legitimately “presuppose” the Christian faith to make sense of reality and engage with alternative worldviews.

As I see it, presuppositionalism has the following strengths: its emphasis on (a) the noetic influence of sin (sin’s effect on the mind); (b) the non-neutrality of worldviews (they are heart-commitments); and (c) the need for the Spirit’s work for faith to take root in one’s heart. I would also disagree with presuppositionalism at certain points.

First, it engages in question-begging—assuming what one wants to prove. It begins with the assumption that God exists, and then concludes that God exists. Such reasoning would get you an “F” in any logic class worthy of the name! [Note: For a broader critique of Frame’s starting points, see Harold A. Netland, “Apologetics, Worldviews, and the Problem of Neutral Criteria,” Trinity Journal 12/1 (Spring 1991): 39-58.]

While we begin our worldview examination from somewhere, universal logical laws like the law of non-contradiction or excluded middle are inescapable for assessing and critiquing worldviews. In his debate with Henry, Hackett said that without some set of “neutral criteria” that are logically prior to consent or commitment to a particular worldview, “there is no way to show that one worldview perspective is more plausible than another” since both parties are “starting from totally different assumptions.” Indeed, the statements of Scripture themselves presuppose the validity of logical laws of non-contradiction and excluded middle; they also appeal to criteria beyond Scripture—the court of appeals of historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection (1 Cor. 15:1-19)—things that were not done in a corner (Acts 26:26).

Second, Christians share common ground with unbelievers, who are likewise made in God’s image, which is not erased by the fall. Someone has said, “A person who believes in total depravity can’t be all that bad!” Yet in some Reformed circles, the doctrine of total depravity seems to leave no trace of the imago Dei. The Scriptures affirm otherwise (Gen. 9:6), and God can and does speak to unbelievers through reason, beauty, moral failure, and the existence of evil. As a cloud of apologetical witnesses can testify, God has used philosophical arguments for his existence, scientific supports for the universe’s beginning (Big Bang) and its fine-tuning, and historical evidences for the resurrection of Jesus to assist people in embracing Christ—just as God uses the preaching of the gospel (Romans 1:16) or the loving character of a Christian community (John 13:35). These are all part of the holistic witness to the reality of God and the gospel, all of which the Spirit of God can use to lead unbelievers to embracing Jesus Christ.

Third, some (not all) presuppostionalists seem inconsistent about natural theology. Philosopher Alvin Plantinga describes the attitude of Reformed theologians toward theistic arguments as ranging from “indifference, through suspicion and hostility, to outright accusations of blasphemy.”

Typically, these presuppositionalists (e.g., Bahnsen) avoid traditional cosmological (causal), teleological (design), and moral arguments, but they enthusiastically endorse the transcendental argument for God (TAG)—the argument to show that God is the inevitable ground for all rational thought. This strikes me as a distinction without a difference: why couldn’t God use TAG just as he uses other natural theological arguments? Furthermore, why the Christian God and not the God of the Qur’an as the ground for rational thought?

Fourth, it is important to distinguish between the confident ground of our knowledge of God and the highly probable public case for the Christian faith. The witness of the Spirit—not a host of intellectual arguments—is what ultimately gives us confident knowledge that we belong to God (Rom. 8:15-16; Gal. 4:6-7; 1 Jn. 2:20), yet this does not exclude the Spirit’s using highly probable or plausible public evidences for God’s existence or for the resurrection of Jesus. Knowledge in one area does not exclude knowledge in another. Having warrant for belief (by the Spirit) is not the same as showing my belief is warranted (using evidence and reason).

Christian philosopher Mortimer Adler exemplifies having a sufficient intellectual knowledge that the Christian faith is true, but he did not yet put his trust in Christ for his salvation. By God’s grace, however, he moved from the conclusion of “a merely philosophical theology to a religious belief in a God that has revealed himself as a loving, just and merciful Creator of the cosmos, a God to be loved, worshiped and prayed to.”

Arguments for God and the Christian faith were important groundwork in Adler’s pilgrimage, opening the door for embracing Christ at a later stage.

These then are my concerns with presuppositionalism. Though it gives us important insights, it falls short at a number of points as a viable apologetical methodology.


Also in the apologetics series:

  • Sarah Flashing

    Hi Paul, thanks so much for your reflections on presuppositional apologetics! I’m eager for all of the articles in this series because I think it’s an important conversation to continue to have among theologians, philosophers and apologists, though sadly it can be divisive.

    I won’t touch on all of the points you made here but I did want to interact with just 2 things.

    1) After studying Van Til, Bahnsen, Frame, et al for a number of years, I’m convinced that we as presuppositionalists are less concerned with “proving” as we are “proclaiming.” Because the manner of evaluating truth differs between the Christian and the non-believer presupps aren’t trying to encourage the nonbeliever to filter Christianity through their grid of understanding nor, as you say, depend on any neutral point of contact. “Proof” for the presuppositionalist consists primarily of showing the insufficiency of a particular worldview and the comprehensiveness of Christianity.

    2)I’m thinking Van Til would likely agree with your point that we share common ground with unbelievers, but only as a descriptive reality, not as a place to construct an argument for the credibility of Christianity. This is something I put into practice teaching ethics at a local community college…finding a place of agreement with my students on moral issues but showing the insufficiency of their worldview to account for their position through a lot of question asking. Usually what they discover is that they’ve smuggled something into their worldview that doesn’t belong…Van Til’s “borrowed capital.” Presupp is particularly helpful in the secular setting in this way and 1) empowers the believers who are present to be unapologetically Christian in their discourse and 2) encourages the unbeliever to rethink their position and rational justification for it. As opportunities are presented, I move from worldview analysis to proclamation. I find presupp very helpful in ethical discourse and while my example is in the classroom, none of my students are aspiring academic philosophers. I’m reaching future nurses, cops and teachers by training them to question all of their basic assumptions about morality, the nature of truth, and what is ultimate.

    Anyway, thanks for a stimulating read!

    • Luke Vasicek

      Hey Sarah! I agree wholeheartedly that prsuppi’sm has many strengths; Thanks for reminding me of that and showing how they apply.

  • RazorsKiss

    It always amazes me how people use the same old objections seemingly without ever bothering to examine what the framers of the method actually said.

    Truly amazing. Post forthcoming.


      It is amazing–you wonder if they even realized that Presuppositionalists have tackled the issues of question begging and “common ground.” Not to mention the misrepresentation!

  • G. Kyle Essary

    Let me begin by first stating that I’m thankful for Dr. Copan’s works. Many of them are on my shelves, and many have been handed out to friends with questions. He is a blessing to the church. Unfortunately, this article seems to argue against strawmen on a number of occasions, which I hope to point out. I don’t think that Dr. Copan would intend to do such a thing, so I’m going to assume it’s from ignorance of the position in question and hope that this will help clarify his points for future critiques. I will make four points in response to his four points aimed at clarification of the position.

    1. I agree with Dr. Copan that Presuppositionalism assumes the Christian worldview, but I do not agree that it assumes what it is trying to prove. One of the major points of Presuppositionalism is that Christians do not need to prove their position, but only to demonstrate the absurdity of resting our worldview on any other foundation than the revelation of the Christian God.. The Christian worldview makes clear that all men have a sensus divinitatis, or innate knowledge of God, and repress this knowledge through sin. Therefore, from the perspective of Scripture, even the atheist knows God exists, but either actively or passively represses this knowledge due to the cognitive effects of sin. This knowledge comes from God’s revelation to all men, and all men will be held accountable for their response to it.

    Presuppositionalism takes the postmodern critique on epistemology seriously, because they realize that no position is neutral. We cannot pretend that logic, evidence, etc. are neutral, for we know that our worldview affects how we interpret the data. Furthermore, we have personal knowledge that goes beyond our rational knowledge…sort of what Polanyi was getting at in his work. We always know more than we can say or explain. Whenever an atheist assumes an autonomous epistemology, that is not a “neutral” position, but an epistemology that stands in rebellion to the Christian God who claims authority over their knowledge. In the same way, a Christian who assumes an autonomous epistemology falls into the same sin whether intentionally or not.

    2. Reformed theologians and philosophers agree! There is common ground (and common grace), but the unbeliever denies it. Just as we assume Christianity to make sense of reality, so too does the nonbeliever whether they acknowledge God for it or not. They assume rationality, the consistency of nature, the principle of induction and many other things that make little or no sense outside of the Christian worldview. Apparently Dr. Copan was not given Dr. Edgar’s post before he wrote his response, because it says this very thing throughout.

    3. You may want to see the work of John Frame in this regard. Presuppositionalism does not deny the validity of those arguments (some Reformed philosophers, like some secular philosophers and non-Reformed Christians philosophers have rejected certain arguments), but we do not think they alone are sufficient to save. The unbeliever will deny the facts because the Spirit has not opened their hearts to see the truth of the gospel. As such, we see those arguments as being true, but they may only be obvious within a Christian worldview and may be rejected for moral reasons or the cognitive effect of sin on the unbelievers rationality.

    Though he is now an apostate, Michael Sudduth’s work on this topic is helpful for those interested. Furthermore, the Reformed Scholastics had much to say on these topics. See Turrentin for instance.

    4. I once debated an atheist online. We spent days and days and pages upon pages of message board space arguing the resurrection. Ultimately, he said, “You know what? You are probably right. The evidence seems to indicate that Jesus rose from the dead, and one day science will tell us how he did it.”

    Reformed theologians would not argue that the Spirit can use an assortment of means to bring people to faith in Christ. A good and Godly family; a conversation at a coffee shop; an experience in the mountains; a lecture on probabilistic arguments. The question is not so much what God may use, but what type of public arguments most show submission to the Lordship of Christ in all areas, including our epistemology.

    Thanks for an interesting article Dr. Copan, and I hope this brief comment helps clarify the Presuppositionalist position.

    • Canbuhay

      I’m wondering what you mean by “The question is not so much what God may use, but what type of public arguments most show submission to the Lordship of Christ in all areas, including our epistemology.” – In what way do arguments show submission or not show submission? I’m new to this debate and I’m just wondering how our epistemology can be submissive or not?

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  • Ken Hamrick

    A short and simple observation: the existence of God and the veracity of Scripture are not conclusions but revelations of the Holy Spirit to individuals. True faith is never the act of believing what cannot be known with certainty, but rather, true faith is knowing with certainty what cannot be proven to others.

  • taco


    “Suppose the fallibilist succeeds in showing that fallibilism withstands serious criticism or withstands it better than rival theories, and concludes that we are justified in adopting it. This is to show that fallibilism is reasonably believed by fallibilist standards. It is to argue in a circle.

    I know of no convincing answer to this objection. At this level of abstraction circular reasoning is difficult to avoid. Nor are the alternatives to it any more palatable…there will come a point when we either argue in a circle (show that belief in S is reasonable by standards S* and that belief in S* is reasonable by standard S) or invoke some standard which is not reasonable by any standard. The only real alternatives in the matter are circular reasonings or irrationalism about your theory of rationality. I prefer the former – just.”

    Alan Musgrave, Common Sense, Science, and Scepticism, 294-295 (emphasis mine) – Dr. Musgrave is not a presuppositoinalist nor a christian. Yet Dr. Musgrave understands that when one levels the “question begging” objection at this (epistemic) level one should be aware that they are cutting with a two edged sword and they will eviscerate their own position with it.

    2. Not sure how this is an objection to Covenantal Apologetics as the point of contact is the very Knowledge of God that all men have (Romans 1.)Van Til spilled much ink on this so I’m not sure how this is an objection if you have read him. If you are not sure where Van til wrote on this there is a chapter in Van Til’s introductory book Christian Apologetics with the title “The Point of Contact.”

    3. I’m not sure how this is an objection either. One man’s inconsistency is not another man’s downfall.

    4. Where, in any of their work, does Van Til, Bahnsen, or Oliphint say that it is by “a host of intellectual arguments—is what ultimately gives us confident knowledge that we belong to God”?

    I recommend RazorsKiss’s post in response to this post:

  • steve hays
  • steve hays
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  • Chris

    Seriously? “We all have presuppositions” and, “the doctrine of total depravity seems to leave no trace of the imago Dei.” That’s his takeaway from Van Til? How did this get posted? Does TGC think this is informed, constructive writing?

    “Aristotle knew how to use logic. He came to the conclusion that God is not the Creator of man, knows nothing, is not a person. His conclusion was consistent with his premise. His logic was involved in his metaphysics as his metaphysics was involved in his logic…

    It is generally agreed that a consistently Christian conception of reality is quite different from all other conceptions of reality. It is not so generally accepted that this distinctly Christian conception of reality implies a distinctly Christian conception of scientific methodology. Many Christian scholars seem to take for granted that if we are to reason intelligently with non-Christians we must have a common or neutral methodology.

    But are not one’s conception of reality and one’s conception of methodology involved in one another? We cannot help but think they are.” – Van Til, DOF 293-294

  • Adam Omelianchuk

    Question for the presuppositionalist: what is the nature of the circularity being deployed? I understand that you say it is innocent, but the only kind I know of rule-circularity. The vicious kind is premise-circularity. Here is how David Papineau puts it:

    “An argument is premise-circular if its conclusion is contained among its premises. An argument is rule-circular if it reaches the conclusion that a certain rule of inference is reliable by using that self-same rule of inference.”

    An example of rule-circularity is arguing for the reliability of deductive inference via deduction:

    [1] If deductive inference is not reliable, then contradictions can be true.
    [2] Contradictions cannot be true.
    [3] Therefore, deductive inference is reliable.

    I am thinking the presuppositionalist is thinking along these lines when one says “If Scripture is the ultimate justification for all human knowledge, then we should justify our belief in Scripture by Scripture” (a paraphrase of Frame).” The problem is, though, appeal to scripture isn’t a rule of inference. It’s an epistemological method that seems to reduce to a variation of positivism–call it biblical positivism: “For any x, one has ultimate justification for x if and only if x is verifiable in Scripture.”

    So what kind of circularity are we talking about here? I can appreciate how Frame’s conditional might work, because if it is true, then it isn’t circular. But why believe in it in the first place?

    • James Anderson

      Adam asks:

      “So what kind of circularity are we talking about here?”

      Simple: transcendental circularity.

      For more explanation, see my blog post in response to Copan (linked below as a pingback).

      • Adam Omelianchuk

        Thanks James! It’s good to interact with you finally. I’ll read your post, hopefully sooner rather than later.

  • Jack Brooks

    Presuppositionalism’s Achilles heel is that the presuppositionalist is morally and intellectually obligated to prove that his presuppositions are true. But the moment you do that, then you are no longer presupposing them. It’s like the Founder’s phrase about human equality, “self-evident” — if it was so self-evident, why did so few governments believe it? But the truth is that human equality isn’t self-evident — it’s a precept that needs defending — and Reformed presuppositions aren’t self-evident.

    The idea that Reformed presuppositions are self-verifying is a false one. That approach immediately degenerates into mysticism, often connected with a Hellenic rather than Biblical view of God. God is no more above logic than He is above love or righteousness. Having lstened to 12 hours of Bahnsen on this subject, all I came away with was how muchy of it was driven by catch-phrases, and how riddled with fallacies it was.

    • J.R.


    • Dan MacDonald

      I don’t know which Bahnsen tapes you listened to, but I do have a question. If God exists, what evidence should ultimately be conclusive to His creation that he exists? His own evidence, given in His revelation, or their own reason as they interact with the world they see, under the influence of sin? This is the dilemma presuppositionalists have faced squarely, but I am not sure evidentialists have. If reason is the ultimate way we know God – reason as it interacts with empirical evidence – then the combination of reason and evidence are more compelling evidence to us than God’s own statements that He exists. That means that we are valuing reason above God’s own statements about Himself. And on what basis do we choose to say ‘reason + evidence > God’s own revealed statements of fact.’ ? Because it is reasonable to value reason above God’s statements? Because it is more acceptable in the culture? But then ‘we choose reason because we find it reasonable to do so’ becomes the warrant for choosing to prove God by reason – and that, too is circular.

      You simply cannot avoid circularity once you think it through and push your own premises to their logical philosophical conclusions. That is the truth presuppositionalism recognizes. And accepts.

      • Ben Marquez

        Great reply Dan!

  • David Rineer

    Under the second point the author says, “As a cloud of apologetical witnesses can testify, God has used philosophical arguments for his existence, scientific supports for the universe’s beginning (Big Bang)and its fine-tuning, and historical evidences for the resurrection of Jesus to assist people in embracing Christ—just as God uses the preaching of the gospel (Romans 1:16) or the loving character of a Christian community (John 13:35). These are all part of the holistic witness to the reality of God and the gospel, all of which the Spirit of God can use to lead unbelievers to embracing Jesus Christ.”

    I’m confused as to this part of the statement, “As a cloud of apologetical witnesses can testify, God has used…scientific supports for the universe’s beginning (Big Bang)and its fine-tuning”

    It may just be me, but I hope TGC and/or its contributers are not in anyway promoting evolutionary thought concerning the creation of the world.
    I take this to mean that the citation of “Big Bang” is favorable in the author’s perspective. If I am miss-reading this part of the discussion perhaps someone could explain to me the thought process in a different way.

    If in fact the author is promoting that God’s Creation account in Genesis 1 contains room for “the big bang” then I have serious reservations about this author. Honestly, he is much smarter than me, much more educated and has probably been a Bible-believing, born again Christian longer than me. But as to the simple truth of the Bible there must be no doubt. Whether presuppositional or not, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ’s work of Redemption you must be a believer in Jesus Christ’s work of Creation (John 1)

    Again, if I simply miss-read this part of his post please forgive me, but I would love some clarification on that point before I can seriously read and interact with the rest of the post.

    If not for the Word of God, the Bible, I would have not known my Savior… that being said I believe that my only presupposition is the Word of God, there is no other foundation it gives us all we need. (2 Peter 2:13)

  • Paul

    Dr. Copan, surely you don’t have time to read all the lengthy objections, here’s something brief to consider:

    Ad 1. No formalized presuppositional apologetic argument I am aware of has its conclusion restated as a premise. In fact, there is no such thing as “the” presuppositional argument; rather, it’s a family of arguments. Here’s one, find the introductory logical fallacy:

    Ad 2. Presuppositionalism neither entails an erasing of the imago dei, or the impropriety of evidential or natural arguments.

    Ad 3. Here, you stragly shift from presuppositionalISM to presuppositionalISTS. Presuppositionalism is consistent with natural theology, see e.g., Michael Sudduth’s book on the matter. (Moreover, Bahsnen didn’t deny those arguments you mention, but said they should be reformulated; right or wrong, your claim did not take this into account and so is misleading.)

    Ad. 4. I agree. But again, this isn’t something entailed by presuppositionalism per se, but is a problem I think some presuppositionalists suffer from. Of course, the same could be said of some evidentialISTS and some classicalISTS, etc. No apologetic school is immune from proponents who claim more for their arguments than can/should be claimed for them.

    • Nate

      I know it’s been a while, but I was reading through these comments today and it struck me that you refer to this article “Lord of Noncontradiction”–as presuppositionalist. In my view, it is most certainly NOT presuppositionalist, and by no means Van Tillian. That piece of argumentation is pure natural theology. I’ve posted a response (, but it’s simple enough: the authors state explicity that the god they prove is not necessarily the Christian (one, true) God, not necessarily unipersonal at all; in fact, the god they prove is plainly cannot be the (one, true) Christian God. So it ‘proves’ false gods, by implication (unless, as CVT argues for, this and all the historic proofs are employed within a presuppositional framework, presupposing Christian truth).

  • Tim Graves

    @David Rineer:

    Paul Copan is one of those deluded individuals who believes in evolution. It is no mistake that he has found ’cause’ to place his delusions among the public sphere known as TGC.

    Why he was permitted to so, however, remains quite beyond the scope of my logic or research.

    • Chance

      Unless Dr. Copan has changed his position, he is not an evolutionist. Don’t assume that from his reference to the Big Bang. He is an IDer, Old Earther. TGC doesn’t have issue with this.

    • Paul Copan

      Chance is correct. I am not an evolutionist, David.

      • David Rineer

        Tim, Chance, Mr. Copan – thanks for your replies.

        Tim, I’m still not sure I understand all he believes either but I hope this forum can bring some light to that.

        Chance – thanks for the defining of Mr. Copan’s beliefs.

        Mr. Copan – my email is and I would love to know what you believe as far as Intelligent Design and as well as your basis for Old Earth Creationism – if those things are not what you hold too, a brief email pertaining to what these guys have said would be great.

        I appreciate the time you took to write this article, but would love some clarification.

        Stating what I think of Evolution/Intelligent Design/Old Earth/New Earth/ etc. would take a while but simply stated: I am a firm believer God’s literal 6 day creation account found at the beginning of the Bible, followed by the rest of Genesis and the Bible which states a pretty clear timeline of events and history (including Matthew and Luke’s genealogies) all the way to the end of the Old Testament. Secular history fills in some details but does not take away from the truth claims (historical timeline claims) of the Bible.

        Thanks again for your time, even in reading this.

    • J.R.

      More presuppositionalists have become BioLogos proponents than have classical apologists.

      • steve hays

        Care to name names?

        • JR

          Bruce Waltke, Peter Enns, John Walton, John (Jack) Collins, Tim Keller

          • steve hays

            That fails to support your initial claim:

            i) What specific evidence do you have that those men are presuppositionalists?

            ii) What specific evidence do you have that they outnumber classical apologistic BioLogos proponents?

            • J.R.

              1) Their own writings.
              All of the above have had articles published on the BioLogos website and in their publications.

              2) Their own writings outnumber classical apologists who support evolution.

            • steve hays

              i) You haven’t documented from their writings that they are presuppositionalists.

              ii) And you haven’t begun to show that more presuppositionalists support evolution than classical apologists.

              All you’ve done is to make assertions minus the supporting evidence. You are either unable or unwilling to argue in good faith.

            • J.R.

              steve, there are no classical apologetics who are conservative Christians writing for BioLogos. That is enough evidence right there. If you are not familiar with the theologians aforementioned, then the burden is on you to do the research. They are reformed and trained presuppositionalists in the school of VanTil, which you will find out if you do your homework. Sorry, I don’t have time to research it for you.
              This thread is pretty much done, it seems.

          • steve hays


            “steve, there are no classical apologetics who are conservative Christians writing for BioLogos. That is enough evidence right there. If you are not familiar with the theologians aforementioned, then the burden is on you to do the research. They are reformed and trained presuppositionalists in the school of VanTil, which you will find out if you do your homework.”

            If you’d done your own homework you wouldn’t suggest that Bruce Waltke and John Walton trained under presuppositionalists. And what makes you think Walton is a Calvinist?

            Moreover, it’s a complete non sequitur to say that someone who studied at particular seminary ipso facto shares the apologetic philosophy of that seminary. For instance, Gerstner studied at WTS under Van Til, but was one of Van Til’s opponent.

            “Sorry, I don’t have time to research it for you.”

            Which is your backdoor admission that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

  • Andrew Smith

    Wow… what a cursory dismissal. Has the author read Christian Apologetcs, The Defense of the Faith, of A Survey of Christian Epistempology? This critique does not even scratch the surface of the debate. Each of his issues have been addressed at length in Van Til’s works, which begs the question – ‘how can you critique presuppositionalism without reading Van Til’? Pulling a couple haphazard quotes out of Frame’s books does not do it for me…


      The scary thing is that scholarship involves interacting with primary sources…

      • J.R.

        and history.

  • RazorsKiss

    It doesn’t seem like it, Andrew. If he had, he wouldn’t make the amazing statements concerning the image of God that he does. It boggles my imagination that he would publicly show his ignorance in such a fashion, but that’s his prerogative.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Is it appropriate to gauge the effectiveness of an apologetics method by how many folks become genuine Christians as a result of it being used?

    If it’s an appropriate measure, which method of apologetics-evangelism has gained the greater number of adherents since the 1980’s? Evidential apologetics or Presuppositional apologetics?


    Or altar calls (I raised my hands)? (runs for cover and hides)

    • AStev

      It might gauge the effectiveness of the method, but that still doesn’t answer whether a method is appropriate, or shows proper deference to God. As I understand the presup crowd, they maintain that their position honors God by recognizing his place of authority, rather than putting the unbeliever in a position of authority, judging for themselves whether or not God exists.

    • J.R.

      How about before the 1980’s?

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  • Joshua

    Oi. I forgot how silly presuppositional apologetics are.

  • Andrew Smith

    Josh – read Van Til before deciding.

    • Joshua

      I have, and I understand him. I have friends who are very, very, Van-Tillian, so I’m well aware of the various aspects of his thought. I have come to an informed conclusion regarding this issue. I consider the thought of Van Til and presuppositional apologetics to be silly and incoherent.

      • Dustin

        Van Til seems to make a lot of sense for our contemporary cultural context. I agree that his work takes the post-modern critique of epistemology seriously. Therefore, your rejection of his thought might be more of a cultural statement (or a presuppositional statement) rather than a logical one.

        For me, Van Til is the contexualization of Christian apologetics for a deconstructive-frenzy context.

        • Joshua

          Or it could be like I said…that I consider Van Til to be silly and incoherent :)

          • Chris Julien

            I don’t see how you could disparage presuppositional apologetics…Beginning with an evidential or rational proof assumes the rationality of man, which cannot be proven…it’s a presupposition. It’s a statement of faith.

            The goal of the presuppositionalist is to show two things: how belief in God makes sense of the world, and how the unbelievers view of the world actually collapses in on itself and cannot support the weight of its own beliefs.

            How is that silly or incoherent?

            • Joshua

              Because I don’t think that this:

              ‘the unbelievers view of the world actually collapses in on itself and cannot support the weight of its own beliefs.’

              Is necessarily true :)

            • Chris Julien

              Well then yes, that would lead you to believe that it’s silly :p

              Well, I don’t think we can really talk about this too much more in-depth via comments on a blog, haha, but is it possible for you to briefly explain why you think that is the case? Why do you think that an unbelievers worldview can support itself and be consistent, etc.? How does it not collapse?

              In short, I’d say talking about things such as beauty, the emotions of love and joy, and pointing out idols in the unbelievers life can be pretty effective in exposing the flaws in non-Christian thought. And part of presuppositionalism is also this: it’s not only showing that their worldview collapses, but also (and maybe more importantly) showing that they don’t actually live in the manner that they think or say they do. Their beliefs aren’t consistent, and neither is their life.

              For example, a person may think we are products of evolution and that God did not create us, we are not in the image of God, we are just animals, and that the emotion of love is just a byproduct of the process of evolution so that we procreate. If I were talking to this person, I would seek to show how they don’t actually believe that because of how they search for love in their life, how they feel when they have emotions of joy and love, and what the implications of that would be for marriages, etc. And of course, this is a fairly rudimentary example because presuppositionalism, maybe more than the other positions, is very contextual and changes/fluctuates based on who you’re talking to and what their views are…so don’t tear apart the example just because it’s a bad one :p I just wanted to give a quick example.

              God bless.

            • J.R.

              “assumes the rationality of man”
              Well, actually, rational proof assumes the rationality of God, which is also projected upon his image bearers. Therefore, man is without excuse, even though he works hard to suppress this knowledge. The apologist’s job is to point out what every man already knows, even if he continues to deny it.

  • Eric Miller

    This is an area where we cannot legislate which method must be used and thereof we should extend grace. In my own experience, I greatly prefer evidentialism and see it as the premier apologetical method.

  • steve hays
  • John Carpenter

    Isn’t there a place, especially when debating with atheists, for saying (to put it too simplistically): “My circular reasoning is better than your circular reasoning”?. I mean, if we can show the world its presuppositions (and atheists love to deny they have any) and then show the comparative worth of Christian ones, then that seems like it could be positive approach.

  • Joshua

    See, the thing is that things like beauty and emotions like love and joy are adequately accounted for in other systems – it seems to me that trying to show that as some kind of ace-in-the-hole for Christianity is just not effective, because I don’t think it’s true. It becomes an ‘X of the gaps’ kind of argument.

    • John Carpenter

      It seems to me that in a purely atheistic materialism, “love” and “joy” are reduced to chemical reactions in the brain and aren’t really noble expressions at all. (And love and joy aren’t, by the way, simply “emotions”.) So, I don’t see that they are adequately accounted for. Rather they are trivialized and so humanity is reduced to nothing but a chemical machine produced by chance over long enough time. One’s presuppositions do matter.

      • Joshua

        Well, it’s not atheistic – nor is it materialistic – it simply (as I believe) recognizes that in the physical world, physical processes provide adequate accounts for things like emotions. Emotions are chemical reactions, obviously – and things like longing, desire, you know, all those things, are produced by physical processes. This obviously doesn’t take away at all from my Christian belief – since I believe in God, Jesus and the whole shebang. Obviously I’m not materialist – I just think that the physical world can be explained in terms of the physical without having to invoke the supernatural :)

        • steve hays

          That misses the point. Even if we grant the dubious assumption that you can account for emotions on a physicalist basis, that fails to account for the significance we attach to emotions (like love). Why we ought to value some emotions (like love).

          • Joshua

            Even that’s not that good of an argument – I shy away from any ‘X cannot be explained via physical processes, therefore, supernatural’ in general. Obviously, o a physicalist viewpoint, it’s easy to account for how we attach values to emotions as products of evolution – also, matieralism means that everything is either material or a property of material – so there’s no problem accounting for anything like that on that viewpoint :) Not that I agree with it, as I think that physicalism has a number of large problems :)

            • steve hays

              Once again you miss the point. Even if (arguendo) evolution can explain why we attach significance to emotions like love, that fails to explain why we *ought* to attach such significance to emotions like love. Fails to explain the *normative* value of love. Is love objectively good? Or is that just something we project onto love? Something natural selection tricked us into believing?

            • steve hays


              “Even that’s not that good of an argument – I shy away from any ‘X cannot be explained via physical processes, therefore, supernatural’ in general.”

              And why do you shy away from that?

            • Theology Samurai

              I don’t think you understand Van Til or presuppositonalism as well as you think you do. Your’re throwing around a lot of assertions, but you need to do the heavy lifting of actually providing an argument.

              Until then, you’re just blathering. You say Van Til’s arguments are silly and incoherent? Wow, that’s profound. Now show us how they are so. Otherwise, I can just counter with “I think Joshua’s arguments are silly and incoherent.”

              Which I do, by the way…

            • John Carpenter

              The materialism can account for the existence of what we Christians call “love” or “joy”, etc. But it doesn’t “adequately” account for them. In fact, it destroys their reality as they are not fundamentally emotions or chemical reactions at all. That’s not to deny that we as physical beings have a physical component and that chemical reactions in the brain are not real. But they do not come close to explaining “love” — which in the Bible (most commonly) is “hesed” (steadfast love), a quality of God who has not chemical reactions He is subject to. The supreme example of love is self-sacrifice (namely the cross) which makes no sense from a purely materialistic view of the universe.

            • Jonathan

              The materialist can account for it, but he cannot hold to that conclusion consistently.

              Once the materialist realizes that the significance and value he attaches to love and things of that nature are merely by-products of evolution, he should logically strive to free himself from the tyranny of this deceiving and meaningless mecanism, not continue to subject himself to it for no rational reason. Yet, this is exactly what he chooses to do – this is a serious cognitive dissonance.

              It seems to me that the logical conclusion of this ought to be instant suicide, all other alternatives would be pure delusion. The materialist must either ignore the fact that he is deceived by a mindless process or delude himself into living without rational justification.

              This is not a “X of the gaps” kind of argument, you simply keep missing the point.

  • R. Martin Snyder

    Both Clark and Van Til were Presuppositionalist.

    There are disagreements on both sides. And they are strong. Presup doesn’t put away evidence as some think on either side. It is useful in the hands of the Holy Spirit. Truth is truth. Even Jesus said…

    Joh_13:19 Now I tell you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am he.
    Joh_14:29 And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe.

    No one is denying this. But it is all relative because of Romans chapter 1 and the truth that God defines and set the perimeters. We all know. It is innate.

    When debating evil and what God allows, even a very heathenistic friend acknowledged that Christ subjected himself.

    Please read this to get a better understanding.

  • Jack Brooks

    ‎”An excellent plumber is infinitely more admirable than an incompetent philosopher. The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity, and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity, will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.” — John W. Gardner

  • Jack Brooks

    It should be fatal to presuppositionalism that the Bible doesn’t teach presuppositionalism. The system was Van Til trying to synthesize Christianity with Dutch Idealism.

    • Kyle

      “It should be fatal to presuppositionalism that the Bible doesn’t teach presuppositionalism…” Huh, seemed to be the fundamental presupposition of Scripture is “God is” followed by “He speaks” (Genesis 1).

      • Truth Unites… and Divides

        Kyle, that was a seriously good response to Jack Brooks.

        So serious that I laughed out loud.

      • Jack Brooks

        That isn’t presuppositionalism, but you know that. You went for a cheap laugh.

        • J.R.

          I agree. And here is another thought: Presups presuppose the Bible (God’s Word), yet the Bible relies on its own presupposition, which is “God Is”. And the argument for “God Is” is only made through a classical/logical argument.

    • John Carpenter

      I’m not sure the Bible teaches any specific kind of apologetic method but it does, by example (Acts 17), endorse apologetics. But since, as Kyle noted above, scripture begins with — not a proof of God’s existence — the presupposition that God exists, then that’s one way to go. Everyone has presuppositions. Christians should be conscious of theirs. A value of presuppositional apologetics can be getting unbelievers to be honest about theirs. But atheists will fight that tooth and nail, refusing to give up their presupposed “neutrality”.

      • Jess Toler

        I don’t think Scripture makes an argument for the existnce of God, though some of the leading figures do. Maybe that is what you meant and I am reading too much into your post? I think that the Catholic compilers of the Gosples/Epistles were codexing written refernces to an historical figure and his followers so that they wouldn’t be forgotten, and not making an argument at all. Scripture itself isn’t an apologetic effort, but a source of history, liturgy, etc.

  • Pingback: Presuppers Contra Copan | Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth()

  • Ryan

    If we start with Logic/Reason we still run into the same problem of circularity.

    • J.R.

      presuppositional relies on logic and reason, but refuses to admit it. all argument relies on the use of the human faculty of reason.

  • Joshua

    ‘I don’t think you understand Van Til or presuppositonalism as well as you think you do. Your’re throwing around a lot of assertions, but you need to do the heavy lifting of actually providing an argument.

    Until then, you’re just blathering. You say Van Til’s arguments are silly and incoherent? Wow, that’s profound. Now show us how they are so. Otherwise, I can just counter with “I think Joshua’s arguments are silly and incoherent.”

    Which I do, by the way…’

    I’m not going to give an argument, mostly because I don’t feel like going into something I don’t care about too much, but partly because I’ve had lots of arguments about this in the past and don’t feel like having another one – but thankfully, I’m not really trying to convince anyone that I’m right, I’m only saying that I find Van Ti’ls thought silly and incoherent :) Which, of course, you are well within your rights to say about what my arguments – which, of course, are not arguments, just my assertions :)

    ‘And why do you shy away from that?’

    Because any ‘X of the gaps’ arguments are weak :)

    ‘The supreme example of love is self-sacrifice (namely the cross) which makes no sense from a purely materialistic view of the universe.’

    I’m aware of a number of non-theistic Buddhists who stress absolute self-sacrifice in this world – obviously not of the typical Buddhist school (I believe they’re of some of the higher Tibetan schools, but don’t quote me on that).

    Again, I’m certainly not a materialist – I just think there are much better arguments than arguing from love, etc :)

    • Theology Samurai


      In other words, you’re wasting our time. Thanks for the “heads up”

  • C.L. Bolt

    Such poor research would get Paul Copan an “F” in any apologetics class worthy of the name! I am glad this is not representative of the wider body of his work.

    “[T]he doctrine of total depravity seems to leave no trace of the imago Dei.” Why is this even on TGC?

  • RazorsKiss

    To show Calvinists how badly evidentialism represents itself theologically? That’s all I can guess. If so, it’s working.

  • Stephen

    This is a *profoundly* disappointing “analysis” or presuppositionalism and Van Tillian thought. Even a cursory reading of Anderson’s Van Til FEM would have prevented a number of errors.

    I see the old canard that presup is “circular reasoning” is back…although how a philosopher of Dr. Copan’s caliber could fail to distinguish between logical and epistemic circularity is beyond me. The other objections either misrepresent presupp or could easily be applied to other schools of (non)Christian thought as well; they’re hardly limited to one particular school of apologetic methodology. He’s fishing for reasons to justify his position.

    I only hope that the response that this will provoke from the presup community generates enough light to cut through this…FOG. There’s really no other word for it.

  • Joshua

    I wouldn’t mind seeing a somewhat detailed response from someone who holds to presuppositionalism to this article.

    • J.R.

      Joshua, don’t give in to the groupthink.
      Classical apologetics is called classical for a reason. Read and listen to Sproul and others, not the neo-Calvinists. (In most cases, the institutional memory for Neo-Cals doesn’t precede VanTil.)

      • steve hays
        • J.R.

          More spam, really??? Groupthink.

          • steve hays

            It’s no more spam or groupthink than you referencing a book by Sproul et al.

            • J.R.

              Wrong. Because I actually engage and write something, then refer someone to another resource, if they want more info. That is not spam. Simply posting link after link to your own website – that’s spam.

          • steve hays

            No, what you actually do is indulge in special pleading. You concoct ad hoc distinctions.

  • RazorsKiss

    Other than the 5 already posted and linked here?

    • Joshua

      Yes – I’d be interested in seeing one of the commentators here offer a quick rebuttal-sketch in response to this article. You know, so it can be interacted with here.

      • RazorsKiss

        As far as I know, interaction occurs at every site which has offered a rebuttal thus far. Hence the handy-dandy trackback feature, and everyone’s respective comment sections :)

        • Joshua

          True enough – I just didn’t want to become involved in more arguments on multiple websites…I guess they call that laziness :P

          • Stephen

            Start with James Anderson’s response at Analogical Thoughts (and reviewing the Van Til FEM might be good while we’re on the subject of Dr. Anderson).

            Beyond that, you really have an embarrassment of riches: RK posted over at Choosing Hats, and he does a good job of (briefly) showing how Dr. Copan was unfair to the original source material. Steve Hays at Triablogue has a few posts as well that do a good job of exploding his first two objections (the last two are pretty much just dodges). I’m sure there will be more to come.

          • RazorsKiss

            I really was trying to be brief, Stephen. You know me – it’s usually textual overkill to the nth. For once, I finished a post in under 5000 words…

            • Joshua

              That was a good critique – I’m not (as you may or may not have guessed) a presuppositionalist in the slightest, but Copan effectively didn’t land a single blow, and your post confirmed that.

            • RazorsKiss

              I appreciate the feedback :)

    • taco

      You mean read something? NEVER!

  • Branton Burleson

    There is so much wrong with this critique of presuppositionalism that I’m not sure this author has ever actually read a primary source of presuppositionalism but only secondary sources or other critiques. This is a Norman Geisler “Chosen But Free” type of writing. I know this sounds harsh, but it is not worthy of The Gospel Coalition’s website.


    I hope this is helpful–a post that has a list of some of the Presuppositionalist’s response to our brother Dr. Copan:
    God bless all of you.

  • Pingback: Answering Objections to Presuppositionalism – The Gospel Coalition Blog()

  • Danny

    Copan and Doug Wilson should debate the topic….WL Craig can “moderate”.

    • MarieP

      Oooh…that would be really cool!

  • Bryan

    For those who believe in “evidentialism” From my studies of the “natural man” in Divine scripture, From what I see “He’s NOT morally neutral”

    Rom 8:7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.
    Rom 8:8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
    Col_1:21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 1Co 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. …

    It’s not evidence for Christianity that converts people. Its God who grants repentance. 2Tim 2:25

    • Jack Brooks

      1. Non sequitur. Man being dead in his sins doesn’t disprove evidentialism or prove presuppositionalism. It’s irrelevant.

      2. Fallacy of the false dilemma. It isn’t encessary to choose between “evidence for Christianity” converting people, and “God granting repentance” converting people.

      3. Contrary to the evidence. the Bible teaches evidentialism, and doesn’t teach presuppositionalism. Any appeal to fulfilled OT prophecies as proof of Jesus’ Messiahship is evidentialism. Presuppositionalism is nothing but Dutch Idealism forced onto Scripture.

      • Fred

        Jack Brooks writes,
        3. Contrary to the evidence. the Bible teaches evidentialism, and doesn’t teach presuppositionalism. Any appeal to fulfilled OT prophecies as proof of Jesus’ Messiahship is evidentialism.

        And where exactly are those prophecies found, Jack? Oh. The Scripture. BTW, I responded to last year regarding some things you wrote:

    • J.R.

      Bryan, I think it is important to remember there is a distinction between evangelism and apologetics. Of course, I prefer the work of evangelism over apologetics; however, sometimes apologetics become necessary in the work of evangelism. The end result of course not simply to win an argument, but if someone asks me about the Davinci Code (not as much lately) or about why good people suffer or whether believing in God contradicts science and evolution, I want to be prepared to give them real answers (and most of the time, I’m using classical arguments — based on history, evidence, ethics, and logic — to give those answers).

      If someone knows I’m a Christian and they’re asking me these types of questions, it is simply not helpful to slam dunk them into the ground based on their faulty presuppositions and inconsistent worldview.

      Usually, they’ve asked me because they really want a thoughtful, logical, meaningful answer.

      And at the end of the day, what I want the most is for them to hear the Gospel message. This only comes from special revelation in the Word of God. But that is evangelism, not apologetics.

      My .02 cents

      • Lou G.

        Great point, JR. It’s kind of sad to see so many attacks on another believer’s valid viewpoints. Even though I have a high regard for VanTill, I can’t say that much about his followers.

  • steve hays
  • steve hays
  • steve hays
  • steve hays
  • steve hays
    • J.R.

      What’s with all the spam??

      • Stephen

        That’s not spam, Steve (not me, different guy, albeit I wish I had his training and brain!) often posts articles without much (or any) introduction.

        If you look at those articles, you’ll find that the first three are by John Frame, and the last two are by James Anderson. Both of those men have serious theological/philosophical credentials, and the content of those links argues against Dr. Copan’s conclusions re: presup.

        The last article is actually the Van Til FEM I referenced earlier in the meta.

        • J.R.

          Well, I’ve already read all i really care to in this life from John Frame and Greg Bahnsen. If Steve has something to say about the topic, he should say it here and engage with ppl. Otherwise, it’s all spam to me.

  • steve hays

    Why do you call it spam? It supplies basic background info on the nature of presuppositionalism. If you bothered to read the linked materials, you’d see the relevance.

    • J.R.

      Steve, anyone can copy and paste links. Honestly, if you want to engage people (isn’t that what apologists are supposed to do????), then start by doing it here first. Ya know?
      Did you read my post at March 14, 2012 at 11:32 AM? I’d be interested in your thoughts.

      • Jimmy Li

        Have you been reading the comments at all or just trolling? Steve Hays has been posting links to his own blog post critiquing Copan.

        • JR

          Jimmy, Like I said, engage, don’t spam. Trolls don’t engage.

          • steve hays

            My blog posts directly engage Paul Copan’s post.

            • Jimmy Li

              Did JR engage your post Steve? Just curious.

            • steve hays

              Jimmy Li

              “Did JR engage your post Steve? Just curious.”

              No. He just *talks* about engagement rather than doing what he urges others to do.

            • J.R.

              Steve, you haven’t engaged. I would have gladly engaged with you if you did more than post links. However, you never did.

              Grace and peace. Bye.

          • steve hays


            “Steve, you haven’t engaged.”

            You aren’t the topic of the post. Sorry to puncture your balloon. Rather, Paul Copan’s (mis-)understanding of presuppositionalism is the topic of the post. I engaged his contentions. You offered no counterarguments.

            “I would have gladly engaged with you if you did more than post links. However, you never did.”

            False dichotomy. The modality of the engagement (links) is irrelevant to whether or not Copan’s contentions were engaged.

            • Jimmy Li


  • taco

    Dr. James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries addresses this post here:

  • Adam

    I am concerned about this constant accusation of circularity on the part of those who seek to criticize Van Til and the disciples of Van Til such as Bahnsen, and, even to a lesser extent, Frame and Schaeffer. The problem is that what we are dealing with is something that cannot be avoided. For example, to those who criticize presuppositional apologetics for circularity, I would simply ask you how you would argue that we should be logical. There are only two ways that one could argue for this-in a logical way and an illogical way. If you argue in an illogical way, then you refute the premise that we should be logical. If you argue in a logical way, then you engage in the very same question begging that you accuse the followers of Van Til of engaging in!

    My goal here is not to take away evidentialists’ commitment to the laws of logic, but simply to point out that the kind of circularity we are talking about simply cannot be avoided. Consider the rationalist who says, “If it is true, it must be rational.” Someone then says, “I wish to challenge that!” The rationalist then replies, “Do you want to use true statements or false statements to challenge that?” To which the challenger replies, “I wish to use true statements.” The rationalist then replies, “Well, then, if it is true, it must be rational.”

    The problem is that this situation exists for the believer and for the unbeliever. The unbeliever must accept certain things as true foundationally from the beginning, such as reason, the validity of sense perception, and ultimately, the autonomy of his own mind, that are crucial to his worldview. Rather than putting himself and his own reason at the center, the Christian puts God and his revelation at the center. We seek to think God’s thoughts after him at the very heart of our reasoning.

    Now, the question many have asked is, “How then do you argue? If each side has their presuppositions and ultimate commitments, then how do we get out of the impasse?” I think the answer is that we argue transcendentally, that is, we seek to show the impossibility of the contrary. The main problem with those who rely upon their own minds as autonomous from God is that they are finite. Hence, how do you deal with the problem of reasoning in terms of larger context [in which case, you would have to eventually know everything] or reasoning in terms of analysis [in which case, you get to the smallest building block of reality, and then have no way to explain it]. This pretty much does away with all religions that have finite gods, since the same problem exists for the finite gods. It also destroys religions that have mere impersonal forces, since impersonal things can’t know anything. It also very clearly destroys those who try to rely upon their autonomous, finite minds as the foundation. Hence, all you are left with are those religions that base themselves, at least in some sense, on the Bible-Judaism, Islam, Christianity and the cults, and, in that sense, all we are left with is a theological discussion.

    The point is that we show that, only by presupposing the Christian worldview, can anyone make sense out of reality and knowledge. For the Christian, it is very easy in that, foundationally, he submits himself to God and his word. Because God is infinite, he is able to understand all elements of reality in ways that our finite, limited human mind cannot. He then tells us what we need to know about the world and reality in his revelation. It is by submitting foundationally to the word of God that a Christian actually has the strongest foundation for knowledge and reason.

    Hence, the real question here is Lordship. When I am arguing with an unbeliever, I simply cannot argue in such a way that I remove Christ and his Lordship from my thinking. That is the problem with using arguments that simply argue for theism without arguing for Christianity. Unless one assumes that this God is the Triune God of scripture, how could one ever say that one’s mind is in submission to Christ when the arguments you are using prove only that there is some vague concept of “God?” If Christ is truly Lord, then he must be Lord over all of our thinking, including the thinking about God and his existence.

    Finally, I am at a loss to figure out how evidentialist apologetics do not lead to liberalism. For example, one could accept that there is a God, but that the Bible is wrong about homosexuality and abortion. One could accept that there is a God, but say that the Darwinian account of the origin of man is true, and the Biblical account of the creation of man is wrong. One could say that the Biblical definition of “social justice” is wrong, and that Karl Marx and his followers were right about social justice. As long as the mind of the unbeliever is allowed to remain the ultimate standard, autonomous from God, he will be able to accept what he wants and reject what he wants on the basis of his ultimate standard-his own finite, fallible mind. Unless our ultimate goal is repentance from their alleged autonomy from God, I am concerned that we will get more and more Antony Flew’s: men who come to believe in God, but never repent of their right to stand in judgment over him.

    • J.R.

      I disagree with this statement: “If you argue in a logical way, then you engage in the very same question begging that you accuse the followers of Van Til of engaging in!”

      Arguing presupposes logic.
      The word dialogue literally means by/of/through/across logic in Greek.

      If you cannot presuppose logic, then technically (by definition) dialogue or debate does not exist.

      • Adam


        The word dialogue literally means by/of/through/across logic in Greek.

        “Dialogue” does not mean “across logic” in Greek. You are taking the Greek roots and dividing them up. That is fallacious semantics. The word “nice” literally means “ignorant” in Latin. Therefore, should we say that being “nice” presupposes ignorance?

        Even worse than that, it is fallacious etymology. It is far more likely that the word dialogue comes from δια and λογος than δια and λογικη. Hence, etymologically, it would be more like “through a word” rather than “through logic.”

        Finally, what you have said is simply contrary to human experience. Are all dialogues rational? What about dialogues where one party becomes angry? When people are angry and emotional, they are rarely rational. Yet, does that mean that dialogue is not taking place? Not only that, but there are dialogues where people are simply being funny and playful; does that mean that dialogue doesn’t exist? Also, there are dialogues in which one party engages in a logical fallacy. Does that mean that a dialogue hasn’t taken place, because the one party wasn’t logical?

        Arguing presupposes logic…
        If you cannot presuppose logic, then technically (by definition) dialogue or debate does not exist.

        I realize this wasn’t the context of your argument, but what I would want you to understand is that it is exactly this kind of argument that we are using as presuppositionalists. The unbeliever, according to Romans 1:18-21, knows God exists, but is suppressing that knowledge. What we are trying to show is, without that knowledge that the Triune God of Scripture exists, we could never have things like science, logic, or anything else. Hence, if the unbeliever does not presuppose the God of the Bible, he must give up the laws of logic as well. He must give up Science, and he must give up his sense perception.

        I remember hearing Greg Bahnsen talk about his strategy in his debate with Dr. Gordon Stein. He said that it was very simple. What he sought to prove is that the laws of logic presuppose the Christian God. However, in order to make sense of debate, you have to have the laws of logic. Hence, by coming to the debate, Dr. Stein has lost the debate.

        The point is that the very same kind of reasoning you used to disagree with me is the very same kind of reasoning we use to debate with the unbeliever. Hence, if you are using it, why would you say that it is fallacious?

        • JR

          Okay. So, we have a common ground. That is good.
          However, don’t miss the idea that I’m not arguing FOR logic in order to send you packing. I’m arguing for the necessity of logic SO THAT we CAN have that dialogue. The non-believer must agree to using logic, otherwise there is no warrant for a dialogue and I wouldn’t debate him. I actually want the other person to use his or her reason and logic, SO THAT we discover together in our dialogue that God exists.

          In other words, MY presupposition is that Logic proves God, therefore, I use logic and prove God. On the other hand, Bahnsen seems to say that God presupposes logic, therefore, if you use logic, that proves that God exists. That is circular and no matter how much the presuppositionalist is impressed by the argument, it just doesn’t convince the other person – IMO.

          BTW- I’m not saying that I wouldn’t use presuppostionalism at some point in a dialogue, simply that I don’t rely on it as a total argument.

          And PS, the best, direct Greek translation of “dialogue” that I’ve read is from Dr.D.A. Carson, meaning, by or through the capacity of orderly thought or procedure”. According to Carson and most NT theologians, logos and logic are directly and inextricably linked. It is dishonest and unscholarly to unlink them.

          • Adam


            Okay. So, we have a common ground. That is good.
            However, don’t miss the idea that I’m not arguing FOR logic in order to send you packing. I’m arguing for the necessity of logic SO THAT we CAN have that dialogue. The non-believer must agree to using logic, otherwise there is no warrant for a dialogue and I wouldn’t debate him. I actually want the other person to use his or her reason and logic, SO THAT we discover together in our dialogue that God exists.

            In other words, MY presupposition is that Logic proves God, therefore, I use logic and prove God. On the other hand, Bahnsen seems to say that God presupposes logic, therefore, if you use logic, that proves that God exists. That is circular and no matter how much the presuppositionalist is impressed by the argument, it just doesn’t convince the other person – IMO.

            No, actually what Bahnsen said is that the laws of logic presuppose the existence of God. If the Triune God of scripture does not exist, neither do the laws of logic. Thus, the unbeliever must explain how he can use the laws of logic when he denies the existence of the Christian God.

            Secondly, you are arguing that the very existence of dialogue proves the existence of logic, since dialogue is not possible without the laws of logic. Just replace “dialogue” with “God,” and you have our argument. Hence, are you arguing in a circle when you argue that you cannot have dialogue without the laws of logic? If not, why do you accuse us of the very same thing?

            Finally, I am concerned about your confusion of proof and persuasion. A doctor might have proof that a person has cancer, but that doesn’t mean that the person has to accept it. There might be ample proof that a loved one is dead, but that doesn’t mean that the surviving loved one will accept it. Yes, we want to convince people, but we have to remember that it is up the the Holy Spirit to open the heart. Just because someone doesn’t accept it doesn’t mean that it is not a good argument.

            Finally, would you be willing to provide that entire quotation from Carson with citation? Would you also be willing to provide quotations from all of these other NT scholars? I am not saying that they don’t exist, but what I am saying is that their quotations are conspicuous by their absence. Secondly, I am under no obligation to agree with Carson or anyone else for that matter, especially if they are engaging in etymological fallacies. You simply don’t define English words by their etymological roots. As I said, it would result in the absurd notion that being nice presupposes that the person is ignorant! Mere quotations of scholars proves nothing. The question is whether their arguments are correct. Even if you have properly handled these quotations in context, you would then have to address my arguments, not just quote people.

            • J.R.

              “Hence, are you arguing in a circle when you argue that you cannot have dialogue without the laws of logic? If not, why do you accuse us of the very same thing?”

              No, actually, it seems you have missed my point. And perhaps I was not clear enough either.
              There is no argument without logic.
              The act of debating, by definition, requires logic otherwise there IS NO debate.

              You and Bahnsen want to say that God must be presupposed in order to have a debate.

              And your linguistic semantics are very postmodern.

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  • Carrie

    It would seem that some folks are suggesting presuppositionalism is monolithic, when it is not.

    One can argue from presuppositions without being a biblical presuppositionalist. But really none of that matters.

    What I take exception to, is some of the snarky remarks here made to and about Paul Copan.

    While I may disagree with him on this, he is one of the kindest, godliest and most scholarly men I have ever known. He doesn’t deserve such nasty remarks hurled his way. What’s worse is, it is being done by people claiming Christ.


    • Jimmy Li

      Any commentator and comment (quote) in particular? Carrie, I find some of the comments that you describe to be more accurate of some who are disparaging against Van Til here.

  • steve hays

    I, for one, haven’t made any nasty or snarky remarks to or about Dr. Copan.

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  • J. K. Jones

    I noted this on Edgar’s post earlier.

    I am interested in examples of covenental apologetics’ engagement with aethism and other religions. I am especially interested in how convenental / presup. apologetics contends for the Christian God against other forms of theism.

    Anyone have some examples?

    • taco

      Debates by Greg Bahnsen, James White, C. L. Bolt, Brian Knapp, and Joshua Whipps. I’m sure there are others but these are the ones that come to mind right now. There is also work at the Choosing Hats website if you search there. I know RazorsKiss at the cited website has done some work on Islam and Mormonism in specific.

      Google will get you to the relevant material as it is spread out among different websites.

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  • Jess Toler

    I think what apologists like Copan are saying, which seems to fly over the head of the Reformed folks is that no presuppositions are really ncessary in leadiing one from ‘realism/materialism’ to ‘idealism/supernaturalism’. Even with no presuppositions, a persons thinking can rationally be guided from atheism to Christian Theism.

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  • Mark Borok

    1) The non-believer does not (or should not) argue from the presupposition of God’s non-existence, but from the presupposition of the material world’s existence and the validity of the laws underpinning it. This is a shared presupposition with the believer, and that is as it should be, since arguments should start with agreed-upon facts.
    2) If God’s existence and nature were self-evident, as St. Paul claims and presuppositionalists repeat, we would expect to find these beliefs in many, if not all cultures. It beggars belief that something so supposedly obvious would have eluded everyone except for a handful of people in one part of the world for millennia.
    3) If logic depended for its validity on the existence of God or anything else, it would not be objectively true. Objective truth is axiomatic. It describes reality, which encompasses everything including God (assuming He exists). If God is not a subset of “things that are within reality”, then you are claiming that He is not real. If He is real, He may be discerned by the rules of logic, just like anything else that has the quality of being “real”.

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  • dmack

    Another case of “Aprobogetics” falling short of a fully Biblical apologetic. Mr. Copan’s philosophy seems to be overruling his ethics here as he presents the same old straw man. Disappointing.

    Perhaps if the first part of 1 Peter 3:15 were remembered as often as the second part, this type of nonsense could be avoided.

  • Brandon

    As Copan mentioned, it’s hard to paint with broad strokes when talking about Van Til, Clark, Frame, Bahnsen. For example, Clark would answer (and has answered) Copan’s objections differently than Van Til would. In brief:

    1) “Christianity is often repudiated on the ground that it is circular: The Bible is authoritative because the Bible authoritatively says so. But this objection applies no more to Christianity than to any philosophic system or even geometry. Every system of organized propositions depends of necessity on some indemonstrable premises, and every system must make an attempt to explain how these primary premises come to be accepted.” -Clark, “God’s Hammer”

    (According to Clark, showing that the Bible says God exists, or that the Bible is true, while starting with Scripture as your axiom, does not prove the axiom is true. Axioms are not proven, they are assumed as a starting point. Showing what the Bible teaches in these areas simply demonstrates an internal consistency in the axiom.)

    2) “though the Gospel be hidden from the lost, the passage (2 Cor 4:3-6) does not state that the lost are completely ignorant and know nothing at all… An unregenerate man can know some true propositions and can sometimes reason correctly.” – Clark, “God’s Hammer” (He made those statements in direct argumentation against Van Til, just to give you a sense of the difficulty of lumping them together)

    3) Clark rejects TAG and agrees with Copan’s objections

    4) The point of debate is that empiricism cannot show that any belief is warranted and rationalism cannot arrive at the God of the Bible. Copan references people’s interpretation of their experiences as justification for his apologetic methodology, but couldn’t a Southern Baptist Arminian likewise appeal to his experience of walking down an aisle and saying the Sinner’s Prayer as an argument for that practice? The same answer is true in both cases: God saved them in spite of their experiences, not because of them. And just because walking down an aisle and saying a Sinner’s Prayer may have opened the door for someone to be genuinely saved does not mean it is therefore a model to follow.

  • Wayne DeVito

    I hope there will be some interaction with some pressupotionalists because honestly there are several missunderstandings of the apologetic in this article. k Scott Oliphint would be a great guy to get on, he’s the professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Philly

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