Pushing the Antithesis (4)

PTA.jpgDemar, Gary, ed.

Pushing the Antithesis: The Apologetic Methodology of Greg L. Bahnsen

Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2007. Pp. xx + 285. Hardcover. $24.95..

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With thanks to Gary DeMar and Jane Freeman at American Vision for this review copy!

Chapter 7 is dedicated to “Overcoming Metaphysical Bias.” Bahnsen begins by saying that “Though metaphysics is a central component in any worldview, as you look around you will discover that much of the modern world discounts the value of metaphysics and resists metaphysical inquiry.” [p. 111] He notes that “[w]here metaphysics is tolerated today, it is assigned a subordinate position to epistemology.” [p. 113] In other words you first establish your epistemology and then draw your metaphysical conclusions from it; this is known as ‘philosophical methodism.’ The majority of the chapter is then spent enumerating the Christian response. Bahnsen lists 8 (although he says “seven” on p. 116) problems with the anti-metaphysical position.

  1. Epistemological method is not neutral“Every method of reasoning, every system of thought presupposes either the truth or falsity of Christian theism.” [p. 116]
  2. Metaphysics is necessary to epistemology“All worldviews are systems of interlocking presuppositions” [p. 118] so you can’t separate metaphysics from epistemology.
  3. Anti-metaphysical arguments are uncritical — It is naïve to dismiss metaphysics and the irony of it is “the unbeliever who discounts metaphysics does so on the basis of his own hidden metaphysical program.” [p. 120]
  4. Metaphysical presuppositions are necessary to reasoning — Every system of thought needs a staring point. Bahnsen says that you must challenge a person’s basic assumptions and demand they provide you with a standard of evaluation. He lists four responses to the question: ‘How do you know that is the right standard?’ [p. 121-22]
    1. He can admit that his standard of evaluation in his worldview has no justification (thus rendering his position arbitrary and irrational).
    2. He can argue that his standard is established by some standard outside of itself (thus admitting that a new standard becomes more ultimate, thereby destroying his previously determined “ultimate” standard).
    3. He can then keep seeking a more ultimate standard, becoming trapped in an infinite regress argument, thereby rendering his standard unknown or unknowable.
    4. He can point to a truly ultimate, self-verifying standard that explains all else, in that it is the ultimate standard beyond which no appeal can be made, as in the Christian worldview which points to God (Heb. 6:13).
  5. Anti-metaphysical arguments are mistaken“The opponent of metaphysics will not allow inferring from the realm of sense experience anything that lies outside of that realm” [p. 125] yet (1) this contradicts the scientific method itself, (2) “scientists constantly deal with unseen realities”, [p. 125], and (3) this complaint is “irrelevant to biblical metaphysics.”
  6. Anti-metaphysical claims are destructive — (1) They are self-contradictory, (2) presuppositional in nature, (3) destroy the very possibility of science, and (4) they destroy reason.
  7. Anti-metaphysical bias is anti-Christian – This bias precludes the Christian worldview from the outset.
  8. Anti-metaphysical bias is sinfully motivated — As noted in the earlier chapters, and by Paul in Romans 1, “The unbeliever ‘suppresses the truth in unrighteousness’ (Rom. 1:18b) so that they become ‘futile in their speculations’ (Rom. 1:21b).” [p. 128]

Bahnsen takes a sidebar in #4 of the above objections to anti-metaphysics to defend presuppositional apologetics from the charge of circular reasoning or begging the question with four responses:

  1. Presuppositional apologetics is not “special pleading. . . [it’s] simply asking which system makes human experience intelligible.” [p. 123]
  2. “All systems must ultimately involve some circularity in reasoning. . . . This is a transcendental issue. . . [and] the Christian apologetic is not engaged in viciously circular argument, a circular argument on the same plane.” [p. 123-24]
  3. “‘Circularity’ is one’s philosophical system is just another name for ‘consistency’ in outlook throughout one’s system.” [p. 124]
  4. “The unbeliever has no defensible standard whereby he can judge the Christian position.” [p. 124] See the answers to the question asked in #4 above.

In chapter 8 we begin to move into application.  The format breaks from that which the reader has grown accustomed to and begins with the exegetical observations before moving on to the central concerns.  Proverbs 26:4-5 is seen as a text suited to the presuppositional apologetic.  Solomon says: “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.”  Bahnsen explains the import of this passage as meaning that we “should not reason with the unbeliever according to the assumptions of his worldview” [p. 142] but for the sake of argument we may adopt their worldview to show them its inconsistency (or folly).  So the central concern of this chapter is one of procedure or method.

The believer’s argument is not a direct argument that focuses on facts, but rather an indirect argument that focuses on the nature of facts.  “Facts in themselves can’t settle anything because they need a worldview to provide their interpretation.” [p. 147]  This indirect argument is an argument from the “impossibility of the contrary.” In other words, the Christian worldview is the only–not simply the best which implies that there is another valid albeit lesser–worldview which makes human experience intelligible.  The rest of the chapter gives some examples on how to employ this apologetic with appeals to human experience, rationality, empirical scientific investigation, and ethics.  All of these things are a witness to the existence of God and when the unbeliever appeals to them they expose the inconsistency of their worldview.  The truth is that they are borrowing from the Christian worldview without acknowledging it.

To be continued…


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