Two Worldviews and the Presuppositional Method

A helpful discussion on an Amazon customer review board regarding the presuppositional method and its categorization of two worldviews.

PART 1

A: I’m not a philosopher, but it seems to me that making a distinction between “Christianity” and “every philosophy and worldview that is not Christianity” is arbitrary. Couldn’t one make the same claim about Islam, or Judaism, or Scientology, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster? What would prevent someone from saying that there are two worldviews, “Scientology” and “not-Scientology,” and since the Flying Spaghetti Monster is in the group “not-Scientology,” and is demonstrably false, therefore Scientology is true?

I would think that if you’re going to claim that a particular worldview is the only correct one by default, you do have to take the time to refute each competing worldview. I would also think that you have to look at each claim within each worldview as well. For example, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all agree on the existence of a monotheistic God. So you have to define what is meant by any of these and get everyone to agree, otherwise, just saying “Christianity” is meaningless.

If I’m missing something here, I would appreciate if someone would correct me and explain why there is no other way to divide worldviews other than the way Bahnsen seems to be doing it.

B: There are two reasons Bahnsen divides all worldviews into 2 categories. First, scripture does this. Second, all non-Christian worldviews share something in common – namely that they are *not* Christianity. More specifically, they deny one or more aspects of this thing called “Christian Theism”. What’s key here (and what most opponents of Bahnsen either faith to see, or ignore if they do see it) is that Christianity is argued for *as a unit*. Van Til (Bahnsen’s Mentor) spoke of those who argued for Christianity a piece at a time as employing a “blockhouse method”. Bahnsen stressed over and over again that the entire Christian worldview is what is being defended. That’s the reason all other worldviews fall nicely into the “non-Christian” worldview category. To speak specifically to your point, yes, there are multiple belief systems which presuppose a monotheistic god, but there is only *one* worldview that presupposes *all* of Biblical Christianity.

Are there other ways to divide things up? Sure. You can divide all worldviews into “Islam” and “non-Islam”, or “Judaism” and “non-Judaism”, etc. There’s nothing remarkable about setting up this sort of dichotomy. After all, any worldview that is not “X” (whatever “X” happens to be) fits very nicely into the broad category of “not-X”. For example, if a proponent of Islam wanted to do this, a Presuppositionalist would have no problem at all, because the strength of the apologetic is not merely in presupposing the entirety of Christianity, the strength lies in the *content* of the Christian worldview.

As you can probably tell already, there are lots of different views of what Bahnsen “supposedly” believed. If you are at all concerned as to what he was trying to say, I would recommend either reading his books (or listening to his lectures), or challenging those who claim to speak on his behalf (including me!) to back up what they say with quotes (and associated citations).

A: It sounds as if Bahnsen is starting from the position that Christianity is a priori true, then arguing from there. Nothing wrong with that – if a Catholic is trying to get a Baptist to convert to Catholicism, that’s how he should start, too. The problem is that isn’t going to convince anyone who does not also share that premise. He’s starting from the conclusion and reasoning backwards.

If you’re saying that any religion can be defended in the same way, then I don’t see the value of picking one at random and applying that method.

B: Bahnsen’s approach is a two-step approach. Step-one: Presuppose the truth of Christianity. Step-two: Presuppose the truth of the particular opponent (which will be a “flavor” of non-Christianity) in question. [BTW, the “Christianity” in view for both Van Til and Bahnsen is traditional Reformed Biblical Christianity – no other “flavor” of Christianity is going to work.] In both cases, the goal is to show what would be *possible* if the worldview being presupposed *for the sake of argument* were (in reality) true.

Bahnsen will argue that God is the “necessary precondition for the intelligibility of experience”. That is, unless you presuppose the truth of Christianity (step #1 above), you will not be able to make “intelligible” those things which are intelligible (including any arguments *against* Christianity). This is what makes Christianity a “transcendental” – a “precondition of intelligibility” – you must presuppose its truth even to argue against its truth. [If you do some reading up on Kant’s Transcendental arguments, you will see generally the same form. The difference is that what Van Til and Bahnsen are arguing for is something much more foundational than Kant ever did.]

So it isn’t merely arguing *from* Christianity, and that’s all there is to it. It’s two-steps, showing what Christianity can “do” if presupposed, and what the “competition” cannot do if presupposed. This is exactly why this method is *not* a form of special pleading, as it doesn’t assume *merely* that Christianity is true in its argument and not give the “competition” an opportunity to be argued for in the exact same manner. It gives both sides an equal chance – no double-standard whatsoever.

To your last point, you can certainly *try* to defend any belief system you want using this approach, but you won’t be successful. The “value” of Christianity is that it is the *only* one (because of the *content* of the belief system) that can live up to the challenge.

BTW, I’d love to talk more about this, but I’m out of here for now …

PART 2

A: Bahnsen would not agree with you that “the contrary of Christianity is every possible theory of reality that is not Christianity.” If it were the case that he did agree with you, then he would indeed be inconsistent to claim such a proof is possible while at the same time claiming the conditions of that proof (refuting every single possible theory of reality …) was itself not possible.

B: If “the contrary of Christianity” is not every possible theory of reality that is not Christianity, then what do you think it is? Do you think there are theories contrary to Christianity that are consistent with Christianity?

A: What I think doesn’t matter – what Bahnsen thinks on the issue is what is important, since you are taking him to task.

Bahnsen argued there were at base only two worldviews – Christian Theism (CT) and non-Christian Theism (~CT). He argued that there are, of course, many “flavors” of ~CT, but that at the end of the day they all share in common the fact that they are ~CT. His argument from the impossibility of the contrary (IotC) intended to show that by demonstrating a single flavor of ~CT to be untenable, you have demonstrated the truth of CT from the IotC. Bahnsen was very clear that the Transcendental Argument for God (TAG) was neither deductive nor inductive in nature; that it did not proceed by attempting to demonstrate that many (or even all) flavors of ~CT are false, therefore CT is most likely (or necessarily) true. Rather, it demonstrates the truth of CT by demonstrating it’s “contrary” (or perhaps more accurately, its “contradictory”) is “impossible”.

B: In your one short paragraph above attempting to defend Bahnsen’s apologetic you have asserted three major logical fallacies.

The contention that there are only two world views, Christian Theism and non-Christian Theism, invokes the category error known as the fallacy of composition which I have exposed multiple times now in this thread as it is a favorite of Bahnsen’s supporters.

The fallacy of composition erroneously applies an attribute of a class member to the class itself. To say that there are only two worldviews consisting of Christianity and non-Christianity is like saying there are only two types of animals: cats and non-cats. While dogs are a single type of animal and giraffes are a single type of animal, it does not follow that the class that contains dogs, giraffes and all non-cats is a single type of animal. Similarly, while each specific member of the class of non-Christian worldviews may be a single worldview, it does not follow that the class is a single worldview.

Next you say that Bahnsen’s argument from the impossibility of the contrary is intended to show that by demonstrating a single flavor of non-Christian Theism is untenable, you have demonstrated the truth of Christian Theism from the impossibility of the contrary. So your claim is that if one non-Christian worldview is negated, say Zoroastrianism, that negates all non-Christian worldviews and therefore proves Christianity to be true. Again, a logical fallacy.

Finally, even if it were possible to negate all non-Christian worldviews (and Bahnsen says it is not) it still would not logically follow that Christianity is true.

A: Let me start by being very explicit here, because I think you are misunderstanding my purpose in posting. I am not defending Bahnsen in the sense that I am saying his argument does what he claims it does. I am actually making no claim either way in our discussion as to whether or not I agree with him. I *am* however defending him in the sense that you are misrepresenting the spirit of his argument by taking his comments out of context. I do not believe you are being fair to Bahnsen or those who follow his methodology.

When you claim that *I* am asserting logical fallacies, you are assuming that I agree with Bahnsen on this, which you have no reason to assume. The most you can say is that *Bahnsen* (if you are accurately representing him, of course) is guilty of these fallacies. Please keep this in mind throughout our discussion.

So let’s discuss the fallacy of composition …

Bahnsen states that there are multiple worldviews that people hold to, while at the same time stating that all of these worldviews are *at base* one in the same. He claims that they are “identical” insomuch that every single one of them is equally a *denial* of CT – a claim that he argues for from scripture. In other words (and this is *critical* to understanding his argument), he offers *Biblical* support for the idea that all of the individual worldviews are *in essence* merely flavors of a single worldview. He does not *arbitrarily* move from the existence of multiple flavors of ~CT to a single ~CT *without* offering an argument to support his conclusion. Thus your criticism of the fallacy of composition is unwarranted, because he is not doing what you claim he is doing. If Bahnsen’s Biblical argument is correct, then it *does* “follow” that the class of all flavors of ~CT can rightly be viewed as a single worldview known as ~CT. Even if his argument is incorrect, he is still offering a *reason* for his belief – it isn’t a mere assumption on his part.

Furthermore, following his line of argumentation, it does follow that if he disproves any one of these flavors, he has proven CT to be true from the IotC. Why? Because CT and ~CT (as represented by the flavor in question) are the only possible choices, and one of them necessarily must be true.

Now, perhaps you do not agree with Bahnsen on this, and that is fine. Just be sure you are accurately representing him and those who embrace this methodology by not leaving out the fact that he has a *reason* to believe that all flavors of ~CT are synonymous with a single class known as ~CT.

As to your last point, you are incorrect on either view being presented here. The Christian worldview in combination with “all non-Christian worldviews” is a set which covers all “possible” worldviews. Since one “possible” worldview must *necessarily* be true, removing all non-Christian worldviews leaves only one contender – the Christian worldview, which *necessarily* must be correct (in this example).

B: I see you are now trying to distance yourself from Bahnsen by claiming that the logical fallacies I identified in your last post were really Bahnsen’s and not your own. If you are going to hide behind Bahnsen like that you should at least quote his own words rather than restating his argument in your words. So long as you use your own words and not his, you are responsible for the logical fallacies.

Regarding the fallacy of composition, you attempt to justify it on the grounds that the Bible supposedly justifies this logical fallacy. Of course that would contradict Bahnsen’s statement, which I quoted above in response to Nextor, that the Bible is not “anti-logical.”

You still insist that the negation of one non-Christian worldview negates all non-Christian worldviews. That is another version of the fallacy of composition by which one argues “from each to all.” Its the same as arguing one student at Notre Dame is not a male, therefore all students at Notre Dame are not male.

Next you argue that that the negation of all non-Christian worldviews proves Christianity is true because “one of them necessarily must be true.” A major problem here is that you cannot even identify, much less negate, all non-Christian worldviews, so you simply presupposes their negation. But the holder of a specific non-Christian worldview could presuppose the same thing regarding his world view and your only response is to invoke special pleading and argue the Christians can make this presupposition but non-Christians may not.

A: “I see you are now trying to distance yourself from Bahnsen by claiming that the logical fallacies I identified in your last post were really Bahnsen’s and not your own. “

I am doing no such thing. I am neither drawing myself towards him nor distancing myself from him. I have made no claims where I state that I either agree or disagree with him. You are intent on changing the focus of this discussion from whether or not you misrepresented Bahnsen to anything other than that topic.

“If you are going to hide behind Bahnsen like that you should at least quote his own words rather than restating his argument in your words. So long as you use your own words and not his, you are responsible for the logical fallacies. “

I am happy to quote Bahnsen to support any of the assertions I have made as to what he believes. Give me something you disagree with and I will provide quotes to back it up.

“Regarding the fallacy of composition, you attempt to justify it on the grounds that the Bible supposedly justifies this logical fallacy.”

No, I do not claim the Bible justifies any logical fallacies. In fact, I didn’t make any claims about what the Bible says *at all*. Here is exactly what I said:

“In other words (and this is *critical* to understanding his argument), he offers *Biblical* support for the idea that all of the individual worldviews are *in essence* merely flavors of a single worldview.” and “If Bahnsen’s Biblical argument is correct …”.

Notice that nowhere did I claim the Bible supported or denied any particular position. My assertion was entirely about what Bahnsen was doing in his argument. Please also note that I did not make any claims as to whether Bahnsen’s argument was sound. In fact, I even brought it into question when I stated “If Bahnsen’s Biblical argument is correct …”. What I have done here is to identify for you why Bahnsen made the claim he did, and also provided a reason as to *why* Bahnsen was not guilty of the fallacy of composition. If you would like to get into the details of the Biblical argument we can do that (including quotes from Bahnsen), but the point is, whether Bahnsen is successful in providing a sound argument from the Bible *for* the notion of a single ~CT worldview, or whether he is not successful, in neither case is he guilty of what you claim he is guilty of.

“Of course that would contradict Bahnsen’s statement, which I quoted above in response to Nextor, that the Bible is not “anti-logical.” “”

I’m sorry, I’m not following the entire conversation (all 9 pages of it). Regardless, I would agree that Bahnsen does not believe the Bible to be “anti-logical”. (Please note I made no claims about the Bible *myself*). However, since Bahnsen was not arguing that the Bible justifies any logical fallacies, your conclusion that such a thing would contradicts Bahnsen’s statement that the Bible is “not anti-logical” is a non-sequitur.

“You still insist that the negation of one non-Christian worldview negates all non-Christian worldviews. That is another version of the fallacy of composition by which one argues “from each to all.” Its the same as arguing one student at Notre Dame is not a male, therefore all students at Notre Dame are not male. “

No, that is not what I said (again). Please Dan, take the time to read and comprehend what I am saying here. We are wasting a lot of time going back and forth over misrepresentations.

What I said is that “it does follow that if he disproves any one of these flavors, he has proven CT to be true from the IotC”. Please be sure to argue against what I actually say.

“Next you argue that that the negation of all non-Christian worldviews proves Christianity is true because “one of them necessarily must be true.” A major problem here is that you cannot even identify, much less negate, all non-Christian worldviews, so you simply presupposes their negation.”

I don’t need to identify them all to make my argument, nor do I need to presuppose their negation to do so. *If* (notice the introduction of a hypothetical here) one happened to eliminate all possible worldviews except one as false, then one has demonstrated the truth of that final worldview. This is because one of the many possible worldviews must *necessarily* be true, meaning if all but one are false, that final one *must* be true.

“But the holder of a specific non-Christian worldview could presuppose the same thing regarding his world view and your only response is to invoke special pleading and argue the Christians can make this presupposition but non-Christians may not. “

My response was in response to a hypothetical which you introduced … a hypothetical where you stated “even if it were possible to negate all non-Christian worldviews (and Bahnsen says it is not) it still would not logically follow that Christianity is true. “. My response to you was that your conclusion was wrong – that it *would* logically follow that CT is true. I even offered the reason why – because CT + all flavors of ~CT “cover all the bases”. There are no other options, and at least one option must be true. I was not presupposing what you claim I was presupposing, and so your example is irrelevant to the conversation (though perhaps worthy of a different thread).
B: Your last post to me merely repeated prior, demonstrably flawed arguments.

For example, you repeated the argument that if someone “happened to eliminate all possible worldviews except one as false, then one has demonstrated the truth of that final worldview.” Bahnsen himself rebutted this identical argument on page 265 of the book. Read it.

You also repeated your argument that “it does follow that if he disproves any one of these flavors [of not Christian Theology], he has proven CT [Christian Theology] to be true from the IotC [Impossibility of the Contrary].” Try this: Pick any “flavor” of ~CT you like and disprove it. (That should be easy for you since you can pick anyone you like.) Then demonstrate how that proves Christian Theology is true. (That won’t be so easy. In fact you will not be able to do it, but trying may help you begin to see the irrationality of your argument.)

A: “Your last post to me merely repeated prior, demonstrably flawed arguments.”

My last post was a point by point response to an ongoing discussion. If your intention is to argue by waving your hand and pronouncing that everything I’ve said has already been refuted, rather than responding to my responses to you, then I don’t hold much hope for making any progress in this discussion.

==============

“For example, you repeated the argument that if someone “happened to eliminate all possible worldviews except one as false, then one has demonstrated the truth of that final worldview.” Bahnsen himself rebutted this identical argument on page 265 of the book. Read it.”

No, Bahnsen did not rebut this identical argument. In fact, Bahnsen says exactly the same thing I said, though he words it in a syllogistic manner as follows:

“So, in order to shore up their defenses, these three apologists would have to add the following argument to their case for Christianity.

1. Christianity, or Hypothesis(1) or Hypothesis(2) or … Hypothesis(n).
2. Not (Hypothesis(1) or Hypothesis(2) or … Hypothesis(n))
3. Therefore, Christianity is true”

Bahnsen is saying that the only way Clark, Carnell and Schaeffer could accomplish their apologetic would be to do the very thing I stated. He is arguing that they would have to eliminate all possible world views except one as false (e.g. Hypothesis(1) or Hypothesis(2) or … Hypothesis(n)), which would then demonstrate Christianity to be true (e.g. 3. Therefore, Christianity is true). In other words, Bahnsen agrees with me that *if* they refuted Hypothesis(1) … Hypothesis(n), then they would have proven that Christianity is true (which is exactly what I said).

Yet this is *not* possible to do, and *I never said it was*. I stated that *if* one eliminated all non-Christian worldviews, one would have proven Christianity to be true. I never said it was possible to do so. In fact, I totally agree with Bahnsen when he says …

“Yet no human, not even a Christian apologist, has the omniscience to know all possible rival hypotheses nor the eternity needed in which to test them all. Hence only God could apply this argument with any final satisfaction (but He is the very issue under discussion!), and the human apologist is driven to skepticism, agnosticism, or ignorance.” (Page 265)

So, you have confused two issues here – what Clark, Carnell and Schaeffer would be *required* to do if they wanted to prove Christianity is true according to their method of apologetics, and the possibility of actually doing this.

Dan – I really think you need to slow down and read my posts more carefully. We are both wasting a lot of time rehashing old stuff, because you are misrepresenting me just as you misrepresented Bahnsen.

==============

“You also repeated your argument that “it does follow that if he disproves any one of these flavors [of not Christian Theology], he has proven CT [Christian Theology] to be true from the IotC [Impossibility of the Contrary].””

Here is exactly what I said “Furthermore, following his line of argumentation, it does follow that if he disproves any one of these flavors, he has proven CT to be true from the IotC. Why? Because CT and ~CT (as represented by the flavor in question) are the only possible choices, and one of them necessarily must be true.”

(Just a note – when I use “CT” it refers to “Christian Theism”, and not “Christian Theology”)

Please note the important qualifier “following his line of argumentation” that you totally left out when quoting me. Do you recall what his line of argumentation was? It was that the Bible states that there are (at base) only two worldviews. *If* his argument is correct (and I’ve never said it is or is not), then it does follow that refuting a single flavor of ~CT is synonymous with refuting ~CT “on the whole”, thus proving CT to be true (as, according to this line of argumentation, CT and ~CT represent all possibilities.)

Please do us all a favor and interact with all of what I said here. If you disagree, then explain why – don’t just repeat your position, as we already know what your position is. Interact with my argument.

==============

“Try this: Pick any “flavor” of ~CT you like and disprove it. (That should be easy for you since you can pick anyone you like.) Then demonstrate how that proves Christian Theology is true. (That won’t be so easy. In fact you will not be able to do it, but trying may help you begin to see the irrationality of your argument.)”

See – it’s this type of challenge that makes me think you aren’t even reading what I am writing. I’m not claiming CT is true. I’m not claiming that disproving one flavor of ~CT demonstrates that ~CT on the whole is false. I’m claiming that *if Bahnsen’s argument is correct* (the one he appeals to scripture to support), *then* it would follow that refuting one flavor of ~CT is actually refuting ~CT on the whole.

This entire thread has been about your misrepresentation of Bahnsen’s position. It hasn’t been about CT being true. It hasn’t even been about whether Bahnsen’s argument (i.e. TAG) is a sound argument. Therefore, any attempts to challenge me to support either of these things is nothing more than a red herring.

Besides – you have demonstrated repeatedly that you have a difficult enough time responding to those things I’ve already posted – why would I want to enlarge the scope of this discussion to include the truth of CT or the soundness of TAG?

B: Let’s look at your latest responses:

“I stated that *if* one eliminated all non-Christian worldviews, one would have proven Christianity to be true. I never said it was possible to do so.” So here you acknowledge that your argument was impractical and pointless.

“*If* his argument is correct (and I’ve never said it is or is not)…” Here you acknowledge you have not defended Bahnsen’s argument (which is indefensible).

“I’m claiming that *if Bahnsen’s argument is correct* (the one he appeals to scripture to support), *then* it would follow that refuting one flavor of ~CT is actually refuting ~CT on the whole.” That is not what you claimed. You claimed that if someone “disproves any of these flavors, he has proven CT to be true…” I challenged you to refute any one ~CT you choose and demonstrate how that proves CT to be true, and you cannot do it.

A: Brian said – “I stated that *if* one eliminated all non-Christian worldviews, one would have proven Christianity to be true. I never said it was possible to do so.”

Dan said – “So here you acknowledge that your argument was impractical and pointless.”

I guess I can see how you might view being corrected as “impractical and pointless”, but I certainly don’t see it that way. If you take the time to go back and read all of our interactions, you’ll see that the majority of my comments have served the purpose of correcting your misrepresentation of some I had said earlier. Regardless, you have once again resorted to that which you do best – erecting straw men, for nowhere did I “acknowledge” that my argument was “impractical and pointless”. This is just a last ditch effort to save face on your part.

Furthermore, I’ll take this to be a concession on your part that you did, in fact, confuse what Clark, Carnell and Schaeffer would be required to do, and whether such a thing was possible.

==========

Brian said – “*If* his argument is correct (and I’ve never said it is or is not)…”

Dan said – “Here you acknowledge you have not defended Bahnsen’s argument (which is indefensible).”

Congratulations. I think you are finally beginning to understand the nature of my criticism of your review. Whether I believe his argument is sound or not isn’t the issue *at all* – it’s your misrepresentation of his argument that is the issue, which (no doubt) informs your opinion as to whether or not it is defensible.

==========

Brian said – “I’m claiming that *if Bahnsen’s argument is correct* (the one he appeals to scripture to support), *then* it would follow that refuting one flavor of ~CT is actually refuting ~CT on the whole.”

Dan said – “That is not what you claimed. You claimed that if someone “disproves any of these flavors, he has proven CT to be true…””

Dan – Here are the *exact* words I said (again) – “Furthermore, following his line of argumentation, it does follow that if he disproves any one of these flavors, he has proven CT to be true from the IotC. Why? Because CT and ~CT (as represented by the flavor in question) are the only possible choices, and one of them necessarily must be true.”

Once again I draw attention to the key phrase “following his line of argumentation” as the qualifier upon which the rest of my assertion is based.

==========

Dan said – “I challenged you to refute any one ~CT you choose and demonstrate how that proves CT to be true, and you cannot do it.”

I already stated why I would not entertain this challenge. Whether or not I *can* do it is irrelevant to this discussion – it is a red herring, intended to distract from the actual disagreement you and I share. Regardless, the fact that I am not taking you up on this challenge is not proof of my ability (or Bahnsen’s, or anyone else’s) to argue TAG. Lack of proof is not proof of lack.

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