Presuppositional Apologetics

by Matt Slick

Online Source

This form of Christian apologetics deals with presuppositions.1 A Christian presuppositionalist presupposes God’s existence and argues from that perspective to show the validity of Christian theism.2 This position also presupposes the truth of the Christian Scriptures and relies on the validity and power of the gospel to change lives (Rom. 1:16). From the scriptures, we see that the unbeliever is sinful in his mind (Rom. 1:18-32) and unable to understand spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14).  This means that no matter how convincing the evidence or good the logic, an unbeliever cannot come to the faith because his fallen nature will distort how he perceives the truth.  The only thing that can ultimately change him is regeneration.  To this end, the presuppositionalist seeks to change a person’s presuppositions to be in conformity with biblical revelation.

I have found that a person’s presuppositions are extremely important when discussing God and the validity of Christianity.  I always ask diagnostic questions to find out where a person is philosophically and presuppositionally, so I might better discuss Christianity.  This is a very important point to focus on because one’s presuppositions will govern how one interprets facts.  Please consider the following dialogue as a realistic example of how this works.

Allen:  I am an atheist and evolutionist.  Prove to me there is a God.
Paul:   I do not think I can do that because of your presuppositions.
Allen:  Why not?
Paul:  Because your presuppositions will not allow you to examine without bias the evidence that I present to you for God’s existence.
Allen: That is because there is no evidence for God’s existence.
Paul:  See?  There you go.  You just confirmed what I was stating.
Allen:  How so?
Paul:  Your presupposition is that there is no God; therefore, no matter what I might present to you to show His existence, you must interpret it in a manner consistent with your presupposition: namely, that there is no God.  If I were to have a video tape of God coming down from heaven, you’d say it was a special effect.  If I had a thousand eye-witnesses saying they saw Him, you’d say it was mass-hysteria.  If I had Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in the New Testament, you’d say they were forged, dated incorrectly, or not real prophecies.  So, I cannot prove anything to you since your presupposition won’t allow it.  It is limited.
Allen: It is not limited.
Paul:  Yes, it is.  Your presupposition cannot allow you to rightly determine God’s existence from evidence– providing that there were factual proofs of His existence.  Don’t you see?  If I DID have incontrovertible proof, your presupposition would force you to interpret the facts consistently with your presupposition; and you would not be able to see the proof.
Allen:  I see your point, but I am open to being persuaded if you can.
Paul:  Then, I must ask you, what kind of evidence would you accept that would prove God’s existence?  I must see what your presuppositions are and work either with them or against them.

Presuppositional apologetics differs from Classical apologetics “in that presuppositional apologetics rejects the validity of traditional proofs for the existence of God.”3 A pure presuppositionalist tackles the worldview of a person and seeks to change the very foundation of how a person perceives facts.

Adherents to this position have been Cornelius Van Til, Abraham Kuyper, Greg Bahnsen, John Frame, etc.

This article is also available in: Español, 中文

  • 1. A presupposition is an assumption that is taken for granted.
  • 2. Theism is the belief that God exists and is involved in the world.
  • 3. Geisler, Baker’s Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, page 607.


Categories: Apologetics, Atheism

34 replies

  1. mat is just showing us the he knows what he is doing is disingenuous and dishonest.
    after telling us straight out that PA has presup’s of both god’s existence and the bibles accuracy and truthfulness, instead of being honest with allen about HIS presuppositions…

    1assumes and asserts that allen has presups that allen hasn’t even had time to demonstrate
    2attacks him as unable to debate honestly because of them
    3he’s proud enough of what he’s doing in this manipulation to admit it openly on his article, but not in the conversation with allen.

    if you find this kind of tactic acceptable and worthy of emulation, I guess that’s your decision, but even from a Christian standpoint… it’s not honest and I find it reprehensible. stop listening to matt slick for advice on how to debate generally and debate with atheists specifically.
    -mike
    -mike

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  2. Although I do not reject classical apologetics as completely invalid, I hold to certain presuppositions concerning the state of nonbelievers/atheists stated in the article and could add a couple more passages to the list. Those presuppositions inform how I discuss the issues. The dialogue between Paul and Allen demonstrates how the presupposition that God doesn’t exist impacts the discussion. I think we’ve seen the same thing in these blogs. Atheists deny the existence of God and want evidences they will deny all day long. The Christian presupposes the existence of God and of course that’s stupid because God doesn’t exist. They will ask for evidences and deny them when they are presented, because it’s stupid to believe God doesn’t exist. I believe that both approaches have their place in the discussion, but I also believe the only reason the atheist will turn from his denial of God to the God he really knows exists is because God first opens a heart to hear and ears to listen.

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    • Hi Dan –

      I’ve asked this of a few people, but I’d be interested in your take (and anyone else who has a thought). I acknowledge the Christian view that atheists have hardened their hearts against God. There are a few places in the Bible where it says that it is actually God who is the one hardening people’s hearts. However, even if I agreed that I am responsible for my own hardened heart, Ezekiel 11:19 speaks of God removing a heart of stone and replacing it with a heart of flesh. If God has every capability of doing this (and does indeed do this in at least some cases, according to Ezekiel), then can it really be said that I am at fault?

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      • Excellent question, Jon! Here’s my take on it. I believe there are two things to consider in the hardening of hearts. The first is that because of Adam’s sin, we are born with hard hearts. The second is, as you have observed what might be called a ‘judicial hardening’ that God does for whatever reason he has for doing so. Pharaoh in the exodus account is a good example of this dual hardening.

        The big question seems to be if we can be held responsible for hard hearts we inherited from Adam. The Biblical answer is yes. Romans 5:12 tells us that, through Adam, sin entered the world and so death was passed on to all men because all have sinned.

        There’s a saying that anyone who wakes up in Heaven has only God to thank and anyone who wakes up in Hell has only himself to blame. I believe that.

        There’s a fuller explanation at:

        http://www.gotquestions.org/inherit-sin.html

        Liked by 1 person

        • I know the Bible says that sin was inherited through Adam; however, I’m not sure that a hardened heart can be lumped in with that too. Paul spoke of wanting to do right but still doing wrong. This, to me, would seem like he still had sin (as was his nature) but did not have his heart hardened against it.

          Let’s assume that this was a part of Original Sin, though. If this is the case, then everyone starts out with the same hardened heart. However, there are some people that (for whatever reason God deems) have the extra burden of a God-imposed hardened heart. It would seem, therefore, that these people are at least somewhat less responsible for their hearts. Would this mean that God would need to impose different judgments against these people (or perhaps viewed as different levels of grace)? If not, can this really be considered just?

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          • Our hard hearts are a result of the fall just as is all other forms of sin. I think you assessment of Paul valid. As believers we have new natures, encased in still sinful flesh. I don’t think anyone is ‘less’ responsible for their hard heart, but that a heart can become so callous and hardened that God gives certain people over to their sin, as described in Romans 1. Does that make sense?

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            • Somewhat. Personally, I would think that we couldn’t be held responsible for something that supposedly happened thousands of years ago. However, I have heard Christians liken that to alcoholism–it may be a nature that you were born with, but that doesn’t mean you are not responsible for the way it manifests. I think that raises some problems with the notion of a perfect creator and a perfect judge, but I understand the principle of the argument.

              However, the problem is exacerbated in some people according to what you referred to as a “judicial hardening” (they have the hard heart of their nature plus the extra hardening from God). In this case it seems that they would have even less control over it. ie. since God is involved, they couldn’t change if they wanted to. God may turn them over to that hardened heart, but it would almost seem that they never had a chance.

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              • I believe that is an accurate description of judicial hardening, or being given over. However, that individual would have no desire to repent (change) because it is God who grants repentance unto salvation (2 Tim 2:25)

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  3. Part of an article at Answers in Genesis offers this explanation:

    “The battle is not over evidence but over philosophical starting points: presuppositions. As Christians, we should never put away our axiom—the Bible—when discussing truth with others. This would be like a soldier going into battle without any armor or weapons. Asking a Christian to abandon the Bible for the sake of discussion is like asking an atheist to prove there is no God by using only the Bible. You would be asking the atheist to give up his axiom.

    The prophets and the apostles never tried to prove God’s existence. They started by assuming God’s existence, and they always reasoned from Scripture (Acts 17:2, 17; 18:4, 19). By using the Word of God, we are actually pitting the unbeliever against God and not our own fallible thinking.”

    Source: https://answersingenesis.org/presuppositions/what-is-presuppositional-apologetics/

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  4. This is not only the approach I use, but also crucial. If you don’t understand your opponent’s worldview correctly you are going to be endlessly frustrated with why they just don’t get it. Once you understand their presuppositions they bring into the conversation you can at least process the way their mind is thinking about the information you are providing and perhaps anticipate their next questions or concerns.

    For example: one who has presuppositions of naturalism and uniformitarianism in nature will see the Colorado Rive cutting the Grand Canyon slowly and assume these natural processes have been cutting the canyon for millions of years. One who has presuppositions of supernaturalism and catastrophism of nature will see the same river and canyon but understand that a rapid catastrophic event such as Noah’s flood could produce the same landscape we see there. Two different people seeing the same evidence but coming to two wildly different conclusions. Both conclusions are drawn directly from their presuppositions NOT the evidence.

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