Help In Understanding Presuppositionalism

I received the following email the day after I gave my critique of the Ray Comfort/Kirk Cameron debate against two atheists. I said we needed a presuppositional approach in apologetics and gave a small taste of that method. A brother emailed this message back to me after he read my review:

Good Morning Joel,

I totally agree with your statements and Ed's also. I think it hurt the "...love the Lord thy God with all your mind... (Mark 12:30)" command given as a fourth of the first from the two greatest proclaimed by our Lord Jesus. I just have one request in a question, as a Babe Pressupper, if you can explain further the meaning of this quote from your response?:

"Or as Cornelius Van Til would say, anti-theism presupposes theism. It does this because in order for the unbelievers arguments to even get off the ground (i.e. be justified) they must secretly steal elements of the Christian worldview. The moment the unbeliever opens his or her mouth to oppose Christian theism, they have already presupposed the truth of it, and thus lost the debate. By showing up to the debate, they already lost. How can you defeat that argument!? You can’t because Christianity is true and thus insurmountable."

The bolded portions are the main phrases and/or points I lack further understanding. I would appreciate any information given to allow a greater understanding in light of these doctrines and teachings. Thanks Joel for your boldness in truth with love and dedication unto our faith.

In Christ, who is God,
-A. M.

Here is what I wrote back to him, I hope it can help you also.

Hello my friend,

Sorry it took a while to get back to you, I have had little time and I wanted to give you a reply worth your time. First, let me just encourage you in your studies in presuppositional apologetics. At times it can be a frustrating topic to try to grasp. The first couple of years there was much I did not understand, but I found the key is to just keep plugging away and piece by piece things begin to make sense. And I do not claim to even have the puzzle done still at this point some 8 years later. But maybe I can give you some short cuts that I wish others would have given me.

Dr. Greg Bahnsen told a story of Van Til one time in one of his lectures. Bahnsen asked, what is the shortest way to summarize what presuppositional apologetics does. If someone wakes you up in the middle of the night shaking you by the arms and demands in fury, “Tell me now what presuppositional apologetics is!” Bahnsen said that Van Til would say, “Anti-theism presupposes theism.” What does this mean? How does that work? Let us see.


No one can think or act in a vacuum. Let me illustrate. Most people uncritically assume many things that they ought not. For example, there was a guy at my last church who said that he loved doing college campus evangelism and apologetics. He said that he doesn’t begin by bringing up God or the Bible, the first step he takes with the students is to just try to convince them that moral absolutes exist. He said, from there it is much easier to then bring God in and try to prove that. This is as amazing as it is wrong. I asked him, “But what universe are you standing in when you are showing that moral absolutes exist? What reality are you presupposing?” I said, “if moral absolutes can only exist in a Christian universe, why then don’t you just begin there? Why are you pretending to be neutral and independent from God when you need God to make morality possible?” He agreed with me but said that he would continue doing it his way because it seemed to get results. That’s just humanism and pragmatism. It is disobedient to God’s word.

Another example where we can’t think or act in a vacuum, but where many people including Christians want to do so, is with the topic of science. I am writing an article right now and seeking to answer the question of whether or not we can prove God’s existence using science. The recent Comfort/Cameron debate has prompted me to do this, since my two brothers so confidently promised that they could and would do so. But you can’t prove that God exists using science for a whole host of reasons. One of them is that the believer who tries to do this is guilty of committing the logical fallacy of question begging. Again, I would ask them, in what universe are you allegedly standing while you are using this “science” to prove this God? What reality are you presupposing? You say that you are neutral and objective and unbiased and that you will not appeal to the Bible or the Christian worldview, but then what worldview are you assuming? The answer they would say is that they are going to the unbelievers turf and working from their worldview in order to communicate with them; in order to show them that we are “open minded.” This line of reasoning is actually guilty of begging the question on two issues. First, they are presupposing that “science” can actually function or work in a non-Christian worldview, in that case, materialistic atheism. But science simply cannot work in such a universe. This shows that on the one hand they do not understand what science really is, nor what the unbelieving worldview is, nor their own worldview for that matter. So if science can only function and be justified in a Christian worldview, why not just begin there? Why all this business of trying to hide the Bible, trying to pretend that you are neutral and free from bias, and that you are so smart and self-sufficient enough to figure out the great mysterious of the universe on your own without any help from God and His revelation? But what do we mean when we say that science cannot function on a non-Christian worldview?

Science does not prove God, God and His creation, the way He has set it up, validates scientific inquiry and makes it possible. Science cannot prove God because apart from the Christian view of reality, scientific methodology could not function. This is because the regularity (or uniformity) of nature is the prerequisite (or precondition) to inductive reasoning, and inductive reasoning is the prerequisite to scientific investigation and practice. Inductive reasoning is when we use past repeated experiences and cast them into the future. We trust that future events will hold stable as they always have in the past. This way we can make predictions and know what to expect. We combine certain chemicals together to make a medication. The combination of chemicals reacts in a certain way (say to lower cholesterol), usually all the time, because the nature of the physical universe stays stable. If nature were not uniform in this way we would have no assurance that these chemicals would continue working in this way. The atheist says that the world is ultimately governed by chance. If chance were the ultimate in the world then they have no assurance that tomorrow will be anything like today. They thus cannot justify induction (which assumes tomorrow will stay the same), and thus if they cannot justify their use of induction in their world, they cannot justify their use of science. Science in a chance universe could not work because there would be no reason to believe that anything will remain the same. So science does not prove God, it can’t for other reasons also, but the existence of our God and His creation make doing science both possible and justified.

Again, what about logic? Bahnsen did a masterful job using this line of thought in his debate against atheist, Gordon Stein. What is necessary for logic or the laws of logic to work? What is logic? Logic is basically reliable patterns of inference. The law of non-contradiction is inescapable. To deny it one would have to use it, to use it one would obviously have to accept it. The laws of logic are universal in nature. They do not just work in North America. Every human must think and build logically or their lives and buildings would be chaos. The laws of logic are absolute, not relative. It matters not what your personal opinion is, if you transgress logic, you necessarily contradict yourself and thus are irrational. The laws of logic are abstract, not physical things we can experience. Thus the laws of logic are universal, absolute, and abstract entities. Can such a thing exist in a materialistic universe were everything is matter governed by chance, and thus relative? No. So the moment the atheist tries to use logic, he is already at that moment denying the worldview he professes is true. The same is true when they try to use science or morality against us. Atheists complain about all the evil in the world. But by what standard are they appealing to in order to determine if something is really truly evil? To complain about evil is to presuppose a moral standard. So the moment the unbeliever opens his mouth to formulate an argument using logic, science, or morality, they must of necessity at that point be (1) denying their own worldview, and (2) secretly stealing elements from ours. The same can be said of human dignity and rights, human freedom, rationality, beauty, justice, and meaning.

Only the Christian view of reality can account for all these things we experience. They are ours. Anti-theism (for it to work) must already presuppose (elements of) theism. The problem is that most people are not epistemologically self-conscious, that is, they are uncritical and unaware of their own basic assumptions about reality, knowledge, and ethics. They want to mix and use Christian epistemology with their metaphysics. It doesn’t work. It is surprising to me, but even my philosopher professors at the university are unaware of how their own presuppositions work. They are not concerned to make sure that their epistemology (theory of knowledge), metaphysic (theory of reality), and ethic are all consistent with one another. When they are all consistent with one another we have a coherent (it all hangs together) worldview; inconsistency is a mark of irrationality.

I hope that this can help in some way. If you have any other questions or need more elucidation on any of this, feel free to email me back.

Your brother,

Joel Hughes

Soli Deo Gloria


Gadfly J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Do not let Morey scare you. This is a tactic he uses with everyone who discovers who he really is. What would he do, sue you ? That would be interesting for all involved.

Papa J said...

I guess this is some really old blog saying 2008, but what I saw on the other page said 11:38 am with no date. Usually that means it’s from today. Now I know Joel said from back in 08 that he would be doing apologetics, so I clicked on it and this one on Presuppositionalism popped up. I have not been to a Bronson Conference in years, but I was just looking for Joel to say I knew nothing about this 'Open Letter to Dr. Bob' until today and believe it or not my last Sunday at FCC was Jan 14, 2007 to say I heard what Dr. Bob said about Clark, but I bugged out after that and did not come back. A year later when I heard that Dr. Bob was leaving CA; I spent the last 8 weeks over @ Calvary Temple and never heard any of this from the last remaining remnant. Then I spent just over a year with a small group of 20 including Jonathan, occasionally seeing John Morey and again none of this ever came up. Today I ran into someone who left in 2007 and he told me about the open letter. Hey Joel get back with Larry Jenkins cprTheology@gmail