Proof or Persuasion

Notes from Greg L. Bahnsen’s lecture Defending the Christian Worldview Against All Opposition (Vol. 2): 5. Proof or Persuasion

An argument does not need to be accepted by everyone in order for it to be conclusive. There is a difference between proof and persuasion. You can prove something although you have not persuaded your opponent. People are not completely rational. There are other things that affect the behavior, attitude and verbal responses of people besides whether they see or want to see the truth or not. The Bible tells us people are spiritually blind and they have hard hearts. Hypothetically we can defend the Word of God perfectly and if the person remains blind the person will not say “Oh, you are right!” God must change the hearts of people. Its not our job to convert people, it’s the Holy Spirit’s. Its our jobs to close people’s mouths and its the Holy Spirit’s to open their hearts. If you can show they have nothing to say against the faith or show what they are offering can be reduced to absurdity, you have done your job. You have defended the faith. Presuppositionalists must be the most humble of all people, because once we have reduced our opponent to absurdity we just tell him the only thing that gives him new life is the love and grace of God.
Im going to show that in order to prove anything, you are going to first have to believe in God. There are essentially for ways to go about proving things. We have four schools of thought associated with those four ways of proving things too.
1. Rationalist Approach
2. Empiricist Approach
3. Pragmatist Approach
4. Transcendental Approach

1. Rationalist Approach
What we mean is that something is proven when it uses clear and distinct ideas in a logical fashion. In the history of philosophy you have a school of thought known as Continental Rationalism represented by men like Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz. All these men thought they were using logically sound and conceptually clear ideas that were self-evident. All of these men sadly came up with different philosophies. Descartes was a dualist. He thought reality could ultimately be divided into two different things: mind or matter. Spinoza was a pantheist. He thought mind and matter were just two different ways of looking at the same thing. Leibniz was a spiritual atomist. He believed all reality is made up of an infinite number of bits of something. But they are not bits of matter, they are bits of energy or mind, which he calls monads. Here is the interesting idea. Rationalists say they will use logic to lead to conclusions, but they come to radically different conclusions.

2. Empiricist Approach
The second approach to proof is called empiricism. Empiricist says we know things through our senses or observations. The problems of empiricism are problems in what we call Cognitive Psychology. John Locke was an empiricist and the father of what we call British Empiricism. He struggled with the psychology of learning if everything is based upon some kind of sensation or observation. Locke finally came to the conclusion that he couldn’t know things in the world or know that the world outside of himself was real. If all I know are my sensations, then how can I know there is an external world that corresponds to my sensations? We do not know the external world; we only know our sensations of the external world. George Berkeley came up with a conclusion to that which is called Subjective Idealism. Berkeley says something exists if it can be perceived by people. Thats silly, because my socks in my drawer right now don’t exist because no one is perceiving them. Berkeley replies that God is looking at everything all the time, therefore the socks do exist. David Hume says if all we know are the things we observe, then we don’t know that there is a world of causation out there because no one sees causation. We don’t see causation; we see succession, moreover we do not see personal identity. Empiricism ends up telling us we cannot know anything at all. Empiricism leads to skepticism and problem in Cognitive Psychology.
3. Pragmatist Approach
Pragmatism says it will not answer the questions that Rationalism and Empiricism tried to answer because those questions are entirely irrelevant. They say the only thing that matters is adjusting to reality and being successful at life. Truth has nothing to do with having to deal with being rational or having evidence. Truth is simply a matter of what works. If you seek the proper end and you are successful in reaching it then you have got the truth. If your hypothesis doesn’t get you to that end, then it isn’t true. But the problem is it assumes you know what the proper end is.

So how are we going to prove God’s existence? The only way you can prove something is transcendentally. A transcendental proof asks “What are the preconditions of intelligibility?” or “What are the transcendentals?” “What must be true in order or something to make sense?”

When examining an argument you ask is it arbitrary? Inconsistent? What are the consequences consequences? What are the preconditions of intelligibility? A transcendental proof argues from the impossibility of the contrary. Saying you have an ultimate presupposition and I have an ultimate presupposition and the problem with your’s is if that what you say is true, we couldn’t prove anything. Nothing would make sense on your presuppositions. We prove our presuppositions by the impossibility of the contrary. Our presuppositions provide the transcendentals, the preconditions of intelligibility.
Doing a debate requires the laws of logic, but what must be true in order for there to be laws of logic? Do answer that we have to define the laws of logic. A law of logic is abstract and immaterial and absolute. Given the nonbelievers worldview, could there be anything that is abstract, immaterial and absolute? Being an atheist there can’t, because only material things things perceivable through the senses exist. You can’t touch, taste or see the laws of logic. Can you see a number? No! If a write the number 1 on the board, it is a transcription, not the actual number. If I were to erase it, then the number 1 would be gone. Their worldview debates the possibility of logic, therefore destroying the possibility of debate. Since you came to the debate you must have been assuming a Christian worldview. Therefore, coming to the debate you lose!

4. Transcendental Approach
Now its time to prove God’s existence. It turns out none of us can know anything from our experience unless we assume the uniformity of nature. The world we experience demonstrates continuity and uniformity. We can expect the experiences we have will be repeated in the future. Everything we know assumes the uniformity of nature. So lets compare worldviews in order to show that the Christian God is the starting point for all reasoning and all argumentation. Uniformity of nature is also called the causal principle or the inductive principle. Inductive means we can deduce from particular experiences a generalization about the future. Inductive/ causal principle is assumed in all reasoning and argumentation. Which worldview, atheistic or Christian can provide the preconditions of rationality, the preconditions for science?

Is there causation in this world? How can you account for this principle and why do you assume the future will be like the past? Causation is not mere succession of events. If causation were mere succession then I could tell you why eggs fry when they are placed in the griddle. I could tell you its because the alarm clock when off that morning. It must have been the alarm clock that caused the eggs to fry. No! No! The fact that it preceded doesn’t mean that it caused it. These two things are not necessarily connected. Can we see succession of events? Yes, we can, but is there necessary connection between two events?
Betrand Russel says we cannot prove the inductive principle by appealing to experience. All those past experiences can be confirmed by experience, but in regards to unexamined future cases, it is the inductive principle alone that can justify any inference between what has been examined to what has not been examined. Experience does not justify the inductive principle, it is the inductive principle that allows you to use experience and draw inferences about unexamined cases. We can never use experience without begging the question. Bertrand Russell says if we use the inductive principle we are begging the question which is the fallacy. Thus we must either accept the inductive principle on the grounds of intrinsic evidence or forgo all justification of our expectations about the future. We says there are two options, but there is a third option which is the God of Scripture which makes the future like the past. But Russell says we must believe the inductive principle based upon intrinsic evidence or there is no justification whatsoever. That is to say believing in the inductive principle is irrational or arbitrary. The foundation for all of our reasoning is arbitrary. He begins from an an irrational starting point and then uses rationality for then on. Intrinsic evidence simply means self-evident. Inductive principle must be assumed he says.

It is entirely unreasonable to not believe in God because God’s existence is the precondition for all reasoning. Anytime the unbeliever wants to reason with you, he has lost. If they finally get the point that there is no logic, morality and science in the non-Christian worldview, then they concede that we are right and they are wrong. The atheistic worldview cannot provide a cogent reason of what we assume in all reasoning. Atheism cannot make sense of reasoning and must be dismissed as another version of intellectual arbitrariness. They are living on blind faith. The problem of atheism is that they have to live on so much faith.


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