Notes from Greg Bahnsen’s lecture, Seminary Apologetics: Answering Frame’s Critique Against Presuppositionalism.
John Frame’s Critiques (AGG) of Van Til’s TAG and Bahnsen’s Response
Criticism Form 1: TAG is not distinct and cannot set out what it seeks to do
“First, I question whether the transcendental argument can function without the help of subsidiary arguments of a more traditional kind. Although I agree with Van Til’s premise that without God there is no meaning, I must grant that not everyone would immediately agree with that premise. How, then, is that premise to be proved? Is it that the meaning-laden character of creation requires a sort of designer? But that is the traditional teleological argument. Is it that the meaning-structure of reality requires an efficient cause? That is the traditional cosmological argument. Is it that meaning entails values, which in turn entail a valuer? That is a traditional values argument.” (71)
Van Til never rejected the traditional arguments, but the difference is that the traditional formulation of the traditional arguments were designed to honor human autonomy. Van Til does not reason from the causes in the natural world to one more cause, which we call “God.” Van Til argues if you don’t have God, the concept of cause is unintelligible. When Frame says that the transcendental argument needs support from traditional arguments of a more traditional kind, he hasn’t honored the distinction between traditional and transcendental arguments. I do believe that TAG needs support from subsidiary arguments, but only if you mean by that illustrations of the general strategy. For example, without the God of Christianity you cannot debate because you are utilizing the laws of logic which atheism cannot account for.
“I do not agree that the traditional arguments necessarily conclude with something less than the biblical God.” (71)
It is true that in many of the cases that the god that is proven by the cosmological argument does not have much to do with the Biblical God. Frame says all we can do is prove bits and pieces of the Christian worldview at a time. The answer is yes and know. We can talk about bits and pieces at a time, but we cannot prove Christianity in blocks. That’s what the traditional arguments attempt to do.
“It should be remembered that the traditional arguments often work. They work because (whether the apologist recognizes this or not) they presuppose a Christian worldview. For example, the causal argument assumes that everything in creation has a cause. That premise is true according to a Christian worldview, but it is not true (at least in the traditional sense) in a worldview like that of Hume or Kant.” (72)
The traditional arguments assume that you can understood causes within the Humean or Kantian worldview and then move to the Biblical God.
“I do not think that the whole of Christian theism can be established by a single argument, unless that argument is highly complex!” (72)
We can only talk about certain things at once, but the way we should talk about them is in the context of the Christian worldview.
“If we grant Van Til’s point that a complete theistic argument should prove the whole biblical doctrine of God, then we must probe more than that God is the author of meaning and rationality. Ironically, at this point, Van Til is not sufficiently holistic! For besides proving that God is the author of meaning, we must (or may in some cases) prove that God is personal, sovereign, transcendent, immanent, and Trinitarian, not to mention infinite, eternal, wise, just, loving, omnipotent, etc. Thus, for another reason (in addition to the fact, already discussed, that it can not function without the help of subsidiary arguments of a more traditional kind), the transcendental argument requires supplementation by other arguments.” (73)
Van Til is not attempting to use one element of Christian theism to prove the entire Christian worldview, because he openly rejects the block-house methodology. His method is to stand within the entirety of Christian Theism and compare it with the entire system of another worldview.
“All this suggests a further reason why there is no single argument that will prove the entire biblical doctrine of God. To generalize: any argument can be questioned by someone who is not disposed to accept the conclusion. Such questions may require further arguments to defend the original arguments, and so forth. Since there is no single argument guaranteed to persuade every rational person, there is not argument that is immune to such additional questioning.
Therefore, Van Til’s transcendental argument (like every other argument) is not sufficient, by itself, to prove the existence of the biblical God to everyone’s satisfaction. Nor do transcendental considerations exclude arguments that are intended to prove only part of the biblical doctrine of God…There is probably not a distinctively “transcendental argument” which rules out all other kinds of arguments.” (73)
Apologetical arguments is not gauged by what persuades but what proves. Just because an argument does not persuade does not mean that it doesn’t prove. Van Til does not rule out other kinds of arguments, but they just need to be pursued within the general framework of the transcendental argument.
“Are indirect arguments really distinct from direct arguments? In the final analysis, it doesn’t make much difference whether you say “Causality, therefore God” or “Without God, no causality, therefore God.” Any indirect argument of this sort can be turned into a direct argument by some creative rephrasing. The indirect form, of course, has some rhetorical advantages, at least. But if the indirect form is sound, the direct form will be too–and vice versa. Indeed, if I say, “Without God, no causality,” the argument is incomplete, unless I add the positive formulation “But there is causality, therefore God exists,” a formulation identical with the direct argument. Thus, the indirect argument becomes nothing more than a prolegomenon to the direct.” (76)
It is not correct to say indirect TAG is a reworking of direct arguments. The cosmological argument says that we have a regress of causes in the natural world and then we end up conclusion that God must have created the world. God is put on a horizontal level of causes in the chain. In TAG, God does not become one more cause in the chain of causes; He becomes the precondition of causality in the first place.
Criticism Form 2: When we present our TAG, we are not showing Christianity to be the only position that is able to account for the preconditions of intelligibility.
-Do we say atheism presupposes theism or do we only show each brand of unbelieving thought on a case by case basis is untenable because it can’t account for the laws of logic, uniformity of nature, morality etc and then show how Christianity does not have any of these defects?
-How do you get from the claim that the Christian self-authorizing circle is objectively true and provable to the claim that the Christian worldview is the only objectively true and provable one when we must negate various brands of unbelief with internal critiques on a case by case basis?
-There are still thousands of different versions of non-Christian religions out there. Even if you have refuted all the religions that you know of, you still don’t know whether there is another religion out there left to refute.
There are only two worldviews broadly speaking: the Christian worldview and the non-Christian worldview. There are many variations of the non-Christian worldview, however, they still share in their autonomy. We begin by stating that Christianity is the only option and then we challenge whatever contenders challenge us. Is a worldview dis-proven if one of its essential claims is false? Yes. You cannot use a false position for the foundation for all that you think, because you won’t be intellectually successful. If the Christian worldview claims to be the only precondition of intelligibility, then it must be the only one. Therefore, we don’t need to worry about another competing opponent.