Despite what he might think, Jim Gardner has a long way to go before he understands presuppositional apologetics. Although I think he is making important strides in grappling with what is being argued, it is clearly evident that he is nowhere near to finding the source of that curious odor under his bed.[ref]Jim Gardner, “I think Jim is getting closer to becoming a Christian,” How Good Is That? [blog] (2011, October 30).[/ref] While I certainly appreciate the kind words he had to say about me and our recent conversation, I have to expose a fundamental confusion he apparently struggles under.
Gardner admits that he does not understand how I can draw an inference from what science explains about nature to not only the existence of God but also that the proof of his existence is contained in Scripture.[ref]Gardner, para. 4.[/ref] I can explain that for him very succinctly:
Despite how clearly I had said it, for some reason it has not yet sunk in. As I had said in that conversation, so will I state very clearly again: the truth of God and his word is a presupposition we reason from, not a conclusion we reason to. Gardner simply must accept what is being argued if he wants to interact with it rationally and honestly. When he describes his opponent’s position in a way that is unrecognizable to his opponent, that is a clear indication that he has not understood the position; and he is not going to understand the position until he is prepared to accept what his opponent is so clearly stating, which is again:
- The truth of God and his word is a presupposition we reason from, not a conclusion we reason to.
All attempts by Gardner and Alex Botten to treat that as if it is a conclusion instead of a presupposition are doomed as straw man failures, insofar as they are arguing against a position that is different from or weaker than the one their opponent actually holds. A person cannot be expected to defend a position they do not hold. What more can one do beyond what I have done here, which is, after digesting Gardner’s 2,000-word post, to simply respond with a two-word rebuttal.
Gardner demonstrates how poorly he understands presuppositional apologetics when he says things like, “Presuppositional apologetics … [says] that everything which stems from God—including Christianity and the Bible—is a statement about the real world but not a statement about God.”[ref]Ibid., para. 8.[/ref] Presuppositionalism is Reformed theology applied to the enterprise of apologetics, and one of the most often cited passages of Scripture in that enterprise is Romans 1:18–21:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness, because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened.
In case Gardner has missed it, verse 20 directly contradicts his statement—as does a host of other passages (e.g., Psa 19:1–3). In Reformed theology there are two sources of revelation: general revelation (nature) and special revelation (Scripture); it all speaks to the nature and character of God. One must bear in mind, however, that Scripture is ultimate and authoritative, such that general revelation is subordinate to special revelation. As it says in the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (1.1),[ref]Andrew Kerkham, 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, 2nd edition (2001).[/ref]
The Holy Scriptures are the only sufficient, certain and infallible rule for saving knowledge, faith, and obedience. Although the light of nature and the works of creation and providence give such clear testimony to the goodness, wisdom and power of God that they leave people without excuse, yet they are not sufficient to give the knowledge of God and his will that is necessary for salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord to reveal himself at various times and in different ways, and to declare his will to his church. To ensure the preservation and propagation of the truth, and to establish and support the church against human corruption, the malice of Satan, and the world, he committed his complete revelation to writing. The Holy Scriptures are therefore absolutely indispensable, for God’s former ways of revealing his will to his people have now ceased.
But how poorly he understands presuppositional apologetics is made all the more clear when he portrayed it as being some kind of cosmological argument. He seems to think the argument goes something like this: the universe cannot come from nothing so it must have come from Something, and atheists willfully deny that the nature and character of that Something constitutes proof of God; moreover, atheists are unable to account for their own existence without implicitly acknowledging that Something (which is somehow God).[ref]Gardner, op cit., para. 11.[/ref] I have a one-word response to that:
I have no idea where Gardner got this from. Neither Sye nor Dustin have ever argued anything even remotely similar to this, nor can anything like that be found in the writings of Cornelius Van Til, Greg Bahnsen, Gordon Clark, Michael Butler, Vincent Cheung, John Frame, K. Scott Oliphint and so forth—all of them presuppositionalists of one camp or another (q.v. Van Tilian vs. Clarkian presuppositionalism). Gardner so poorly understands what is being argued that we can safely say that he does not understand it at all, much less poorly. His attempt at describing the presuppositional argument is utterly unrecognizable. It might be what a person would get if he threw William Lane Craig’s kalam cosmological argument and presuppositionalist jargon into a blender and hit purée—an epic mess that nobody would recognize. It is not what a presuppositionalist argues, it is not what an evidentialist argues, it is not what Craig would argue, it is not what an atheist would argue; literally nobody would recognize that reconstruction Gardner attempted.
I think Gardner needs to first understand what he is objecting to before he attempts objecting to it. He might detect a curious odor, but he has no idea where it is coming from, much less has he determined that it is a stray sport sock or plucked it out to give it a wash.
~ * ~
There is one thing I would like to know. Gardner said quite frankly, “There is no God to deny or accept.”[ref]Ibid., para. 6.[/ref] That is a very interesting truth claim, and I would really like to see the argument which produces it. I challenge Gardner to provide the premises which lead to that conclusion.
Gardner also said that he struggles to understand how people “who are so clearly capable of researching and understanding all of this for themselves still somehow manage to come to such obviously flawed assumptions about the validity [or even] the intellectual honesty of their own position.”[ref]Ibid., para. 7.[/ref] That is another interesting truth claim, that my presupposition is invalid and intellectually dishonest. Is Gardner up to the challenge of providing the premises which lead to that conclusion?