By Elias Ayala (M.A.T & MDiv)
What is Presuppositional Apologetics?
It is an apologetic methodology formulated by Dutch Reformed Apologist, Cornelius Van Til. The method emphasizes the superiority of the Christian worldview over and against competing worldview perspectives. Furthermore, it seeks to demonstrate that genuine knowledge is impossible without the presuppositions of the Christian worldview as revealed in scripture. The methodology differs from traditional schools of apologetic thought in that it seeks to bring to light the fundamental presuppositional differences between worldview perspectives, and seeks a two-fold approach of presenting the irrefutable truth of the Christian worldview while internally critiquing competing schools of thought. While acknowledging the fundamental differences between world-views, presuppositional apologetics seeks to push those differences to the core, thus forcing the proponent of the competing worldview to be consistent with his or her underlying presuppositional commitments so as to demonstrate its inherent irrationality and inconsistency, in that the competing worldview evinces a hidden reliance upon the necessity of the Christian worldview even to argue against it.
Understanding the Role of Evidence Through a Biblical Lens:
Because of the tendency to over emphasize the importance of presuppositions, the presuppositional method is often criticized for undermining or ignoring the role of evidence. It is sometimes argued that since evidence must be interpreted, the real focus should be on examining the unbelievers presuppositions. While this is true, many presuppositionalists have unwarrantingly cut themselves off from any discussion on the particular and specific evidences for the truth of the Christian faith. However, such a neglect of evidences was never intended by Van Til. It may come as a surprise to many, but Van Til has said, “I do not reject the theistic proofs but merely insist on formulating them in such a way as not to compromise the doctrines of scripture.”1 The concern of Cornelius Van Til, was not in rejecting the traditional arguments for God’s existence, and the evidences marshaled in support of them, but rather, understanding them in a way that was consistent with God’s revealed truth. For Van Til, apologetics had to be an extension of one’s theology, as it is applied to the realm of unbelief. As a Reformed philosopher and theologian, Van Til sought to have his apologetic flow from his Reformed faith which was rooted within scripture itself. There would be no business of neutrality of thought or interpretation of facts. For Van Til, every fact of reality is what it is because the Triune God had given it an original meaning. The unbeliever has no right to redefine a fact contrary to God’s intended meaning of the fact, and the believer is morally prohibited from arguing in a fashion that catered to the natural man’s redefinitions of reality. For Van Til, apologetics is intricately connected with our theology, which flows from God’s Words.
The Presuppositionalist Welcomes a Discussion of the Evidence:
If we consider the truth that all truth is God’s truth, and all facts are what they are because it is the Triune God that gives facts their factuality, then we need to also consider, that when engaging in apologetics, we cannot argue with the unbeliever while denying the necessity of the Triune God for providing facts with their objective meaning. We must be consistent at this point. Likewise, we seek to ensure that the unbeliever is to be consistent as well as we seek to demonstrate the irrational ends his worldview brings him to. Hence, when we discuss evidences, we want to ask: What worldview allows the very concept of evidence and factuality to be rational? This kind of worldview analysis that is put forth by the presuppositional method does not preclude a discussion of specific evidence. While it is true that proponents of each respective worldview will interpret the evidence differently, given their presuppositional commitments, it does not follow therefore that it is pointless to discuss the “specifics”. Presuppositionalist are eminently evidentialist in that for the presuppositionalist, every fact of reality is evidence for the existence of the Triune God. Every fact to be known, every object within the universe along with the universe itself has the fingerprints of God all over it. Hence, if everything is evidence for God, we can speak of any particular fact and connect it to the creator of facts, the Triune God Himself. The presuppositionalist does not run from using evidence since it is his position that everything including the very rationality of evidence itself, is evidence of the creator.
1. Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (Philadelphia: Presbyterian: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1955, 1967), p. 194; A Christian Theory of Knowledge, p. 292.