Is pre-suppositionalism a Biblical way of defending the faith?

I’m a classical apologist, so I do use pre-suppositional arguments to question my opponents about whether their non-Christian worldviews can ground rationality and objective morality, etc. But I also use evidential arguments from nature and history. Some people think that evidential arguments should not be used and that they are not as persuasive as pre-suppositional arguments.

When I look the Bible, I don’t see any Biblical support for the view that pre-suppositional apologetics is the only approved way of defending the faith. Instead, the standard method seems to be evidentialism.

In Romans 1, Paul writes that people can learn about God’s existence from the natural world.

Romans 1:18-23:

18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,

19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.

20For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools

23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

And in Acts, Peter appeals to eyewitness testimony for the resurrection, and Jesus’ miracles.

Acts 2:22-24, and 36:

22“Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.

23This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.

24But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

And finally from the same chapter:

36“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

So, I see that God uses nature and miracles to persuade, which can be assessed using scientific and historical methods. Can anyone find me a clear statement that states that only pre-suppositional arguments should be used? I could be wrong, and I am willing to be proven wrong.

5 thoughts on “Is pre-suppositionalism a Biblical way of defending the faith?”

  1. Evidential apologetics can veer into something mildly unsatisfactory — apologists thinking that it’s just a matter of providing people with the right facts or right information or the right argument — which Romans 1 cited above, refutes. The problem is not lack of information; it is a perverse willingness to avoid the evidence that blazes before our eyes, our hearts, and our minds.

    I like this presuppositional quote from Radio Apologia: “The anti-theist lives as if this were God’s world, with abstract norms, regularities, standards, etc; but pouts that “he just cannot know” whether the God on whom he is utterly dependent exists or not. Nowhere to go; it’s just baffling that someone would choose beliefs that *if true* (which they’re fortunately not) would *undermine the possibility* of logic, science, and ethics. And it’s baffling that someone would so choose, all the while living as if the world were a world of meaning, standards, consciousness, and value — rather than of matter clunking chemically against impersonal matter.”

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  2. The combination of both styles is most effective, and the presuppositional apologists I have read accept the vital role played by evidential arguments and research.

    In terms of strength of argument, once you get your head around the philosophy, the presuppositional argument is the most devastating I have heard when it comes to stopping the opponent before they can even get started.

    I found this form of apologetics long after being deeply impressed by Bill Craig and watching debate after debate of his. One that always stuck in my mind was his debate with Peter Atkins, particularly a section during the discussion at the end where Craig lists the things that cannot be proven but that science must presuppose to function at all. I remember thinking at the time that this was the moment he really made Atkins look lost. What I wasn’t aware of then was that Craig was deploying a presuppositional argument against Atkins at this point.

    In other words, for me, it’s not either/or. It should be both, although care must be taken not to give ground to the opponent that he/she cannot account for without unwittingly presupposing a theistic worldview.

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  3. I’ve never seen anyone make the claim that presuppositional arguments are the only valid arguments. The claim you’re probably objecting to is that presuppositional arguments are the only ones that cannot be refuted. HOW someone uses evidence is based on their presuppositional worldview. Every side uses the SAME evidence to support their own arguement.

    Once again I point to Jason Lisle’s The Ultimate Proof of Creation and Greg Bahnsen’s Presuppositional Apologetics.

    As for biblical support:

    Genesis 1:1 (No evidence is presented for God’s existence. He is assumed from verse 1).
    2 Timothy 3:16-17
    Proverbs 9:10
    Colossians 2:8
    1 Corinthians 2:1-8
    1 Corinthians 3:18
    Psalm 119:130

    “Without the Word of Christ there is no theoretic basis for logic, history, or science [Colossians 2:2-3]; so when the unbeliever fights against the gospel he is wroking toward ruining his very tools of destruction! His ‘wisdom’ becomes folly.

    “The apologist will be effective, then, only if he refuses to reason on the basis of the same presuppositions as the unbeliever [Proverbs 26:4] and he begins as well as ends his intellectual efforts and aruments with the Word of Christ in whom dwells all wisdom and knowledge. [Proverbs 26:5]” – Greg Bahnsen

    I have not objections to other apologetics. I frequently listen to W.L. Craig podcasts, but find his arguments to be incomplete. He would do well to embrace rather than outrightly reject Bahnsen and Van Til. He rejects them for begging the question, while never bothering to answer what other presuppositions can lead to knowledge. What it really boils down to is the impossibility of the contrary.

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  4. Wintery,
    I’m a presuppositionalist (in fact, I teach an apologetics course from this perspective) and I use evidences. Presuppositionalists aren’t against using evidence.

    We’re against the way in which evidences are used. Simply stacking up evidence after evidence is not going to persuade a non-believer. I base this on the very passage you quoted in Romans 1:18 which says that men “suppress the truth”. In other words, they know the truth yet willfully decide not to obey it and deceive themselves. Also consider 1 Corinthians 2:14 which says that non-believers don’t accept the things of the Spirit of God because to them, it is foolishness.

    Also consider Romans 8:7-8 which instructs us that non-believers are naturally hostile to God and do not, in fact cannot, submit to God. Without the work of the Holy Spirit, they will never believe.

    Presuppositionalism puts the non-believer’s worldview on trial and demonstrates that they are unable to get off the ground (a.k.a. they need another worldview!). This is the method Paul was using on Mars Hill in Acts 17.

    Evidentialism puts God on trial and allows the non-believer to reason from his or her worldview which will result in foolishness.

    I’m not aware of presuppositionalists who flat out never use evidences. I think van Til and Bahnsen are sometimes accused of this but, as I understand them, I don’t think they would say to never use evidences.

    Anyways, I’ll still read your blog, Wintery, even though you are clearly the unbiblical one (totally kidding on that!).

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