Plantinga & Presuppositionalism, Part 1
The following is from an email exchange I had with a highly respected friend and thinker. We were discussing the relationship between the religious epistemology of Alvin Plantinga and the presuppositionalism of Cornelius Van Til. I’ll break it up into smaller parts, because the original emails were quite long.
Warning: You’re joining the conversation mid-stream. Overall though, I think you’ll be able to follow what’s being said:
Part 1: Introductory Matters
Dear, _____. Thanks for replying so quickly.
Regarding a comment I had previously made you said,
Remember that Plantinga is an analytic philosopher and in this tradition every conclusion has to be established by very good arguments.
Of course I’m in full agreement with you on this one. I would not go as for as the evidentialists, but I do say that we need to have good reasons for believing the things that we do. [Many evidentialists believe without good reasons we should cease holding a given belief] Now, you say this to set up your next point, which is,
In analytic philosophy you cannot simply make the assertion, ‘the very fact that we reason, presupposes the God of the Bible,’ you have to actually present a good argument that would show that the conclusion is true.
Here is where I felt the need to reply. My comments were never intended to say something like “the very fact that we reason, presupposes the God of the Bible.” Of course, I believe that this is a true statement, but it’s not what I would offer as “evidence.” Without qualifying the statement- though we as Christian may believe it to be true- this would sound like sheer fideism. This would almost be as bad as an argument , “The Bible is the word of God because the Bible says it’s the word of God” (a vicious circle to be sure!).
I believe that the presuppostionalist’s transcendental argument (TAG) is very clear and indeed a “good argument.” For instance, the transcendental argument doesn’t simply assert “the very fact that we reason presupposes the God of the Bible.” (Well, it does say that. The goal of the argument is to demonstrate this point. But the claim isn’t the argument itself). The framework for the argument is as follows:
As creatures of God we have a built-in knowledge of our Creator. In light of the Fall, the Bible states that we suppress that truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). Though many people act of though they believe God doesn’t exist, their everyday actions actually prove they do. For instance, the infinite person God of Scripture is the only logical and coherent ground for laws of thoughts, the uniformity of nature (the very heart and soul and the scientific method.), dignity for humanity, love, and moral absolutes. As our actions assume such beliefs, we can be said to know them.
Though I could go into this further, I can’t due to time constraints. Needless to say, all other worldviews cannot consistently make sense of the above mentioned conditions for meaning and purpose. No other worldview or epistemology (though of course, one’s epistemology will largely be determined by one’s metaphysic and vice-versa) can provide us will the necessary preconditions of intelligibility. Many, if not all, objections to the Christian metaphysic will involve question-begging, double standards, arbitrariness, and inconsistencies in argumentation. And, depending of one’s worldview we would have to apply the TAG a bit differently. Ultimately, as Dr. Bahnsen used to say, we argue for the truth of the Christian worldview from the impossibility of the contrary.
More to come…