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Brief Review of a Paper on Presuppositionalism


Posted by Matt Postiff May 28, 2020 on Matt Postiff's Blog under Theology  Apologetics 

I recently read a paper by David Haines entitled "A Potential Problem with Presuppositionalism." It can be found on academia.edu.

I think the title would be better without the word potential because the author is not claiming that there is a potential problem, but rather he is asserting there is a fatal problem.

Haines wrote on page 5 two claims that underlie his argument:

  1. All rational beings use an interpretive scheme from which they cannot escape, and
  2. There is no common ground

These two claims do not match what I understand of Van Til's apologetic. (I was schooled in this approach and adopted it for myself some years ago, so I am somewhat of an "insider.")

Quick comments on the two claims:

1) All rational beings use an interpretive scheme: true. The believer interprets life through the truth revealed by God in Scripture. The unbeliever uses some other means to interpret life, but never comes to the table "presupposition-less." This is because their minds are darkened by sin. Depravity affects not only the moral system in man, but also the rational/intellectual system. Therefore, the unbeliever's interpretive scheme, of whatever variety it may be, is rooted in unbelief and proud rebellion against the creator, and self-deception about the deity and power of God.

From which they cannot escape: false. Regeneration causes an unbeliever to quickly reach 'escape velocity' from their presuppositions and plants them onto another presuppositional foundation. So in fact, the person can escape from one foundation to another; what he cannot escape is the fact that he is standing on some kind of foundation, never in free space, utterly neutral.

2) There is no common ground: false. As I understand the presuppositional apologetic, it claims that there IS in fact common ground between people, and that is rooted in God, His creation, and specifically the image of God in man (conscience, etc.). There is NOT common ground where the unbeliever wants it--in purely empirical or rationalist terms, nor even where the rational apologist wants it--in rationalism. This is because the mind of the unbeliever is darkened.

For me, it boils down to this: we live in the world. The world and all that is in it was created by God. Neither this world nor the truth about its creation can be escaped. That is the ultimate common ground. You cannot postulate a world which was not created by God, because in order to do so, you are using your mind and world in which you exist, which was created by God. It is utter deception to use a God-given mind to suggest that God doesn't exist!

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