Notes from Greg Bahnsen’s lecture, Seminary Apologetics: Evidences and Evidentialism.
The two labels of evidentialism and presuppositionalism leads to the misleading ideas that evidentialists do not have presuppositions and presuppositionalists do not use evidences. Evidentialists have their presuppositions, however, they don’t often acknowledge that. Presuppositionalists do not argue in such a way that is allergic to evidences. In fact, they think that everything is evidence for Christianity.
Van Til was not against evidences
“The point is, we are told, that in an infallible Bible there should not be any discrepancies. There should be no statement of historical fact in Scripture that is contradictory to a statement of historical fact given elsewhere. Yet higher criticism has in modern times found what it thinks are facts that cannot possibly be harmonized with the idea of an infallible Bible. What shall be the attitude of the orthodox believer with respect to this? Shall he be an obscurantist and hold to the doctrine of the authority of the Scripture though he knows that it can empirically be shown to be contrary to the facts of Scripture themselves? It goes without saying that such should not be his attitude.”
“It is quite commonly held that we cannot accept anything that is not the result of a sound scientific methodology. With this we can as Christians heartily agree. …The Christian position is certainly not opposed to experimentation and observation.”
“Depreciation of [the] sense world inevitably leads to a depreciation of many of the important facts of historic Christianity which took place in the sense world. The Bible does not rule out every form of empiricist any more than it rules out every form of a priori reasoning.”
“The greater amount of detailed study and the more carefully such study is undertaken, the more truly Christian will the method be. It is important to bring out this point in order to help remove the common misunderstanding that Christianity is opposed to factual investigation…. The difference between the prevalent method of science and the method of Christianity is not that the former is interested in finding the facts and is ready to follow the facts wherever they may lead, while the latter is not ready to follow the facts.”
“Historical apologetics is absolutely necessary and indispensable to point out that Christ rose from the grave, etc.” Not only is it indispensable in general, Van Til says of himself in particular: “I would therefore engage in historical apologetics.”
“Every bit of historical investigation, whether it be in the directly biblical field, archeology, or in general history is bound to confirm the truth of the claims of the Christian position…. A really fruitful historical apologetic argues that every fact is and must be such as proves the truth of the Christian theistic position.”
-Cornelius Van Til
Four uses of empirical evidences
1. evidences can strengthens the confidence of believers
-evidences offer God’s children the answers that they need so they are not intellectually troubled by objections
2. evidences can embarass unbelievers in their criticism of the Bible’s scientific and historic claims
-evidences can be used to silence the futile empirical objections unbelievers against the claims of Christianity
-For ex. There was a time when the Bible was ridiculed because the Bible mentioned the Hititte people existing, but 20th century archeology revealed that they really did exist.
3. evidences can tear away intellectual prejudice from unbelievers
-Scientific and historical evidences can clear away the prejudice that unbelievers have that we are against those
4. evidences can display to the willing unbeliever the wonder of God
-”willing” there was some people in whom the Holy Spirit is working
-For ex. The biological fact that life does not spring from non-life, and the fact that life cannot be produced artificially, help us to see God’s work in creation.
Biblical truths about evidences
1. What people will think about the observed evidence is affected by non-observational beliefs (e.g., Matt 28:12-13, 17; Luke 24:16, 31; John 21:12).
2. In dealing with the claims of Christ, nobody is truly detached and uncommitted one way or another: “No man can serve two masters …. He who is not with me is against me” (Matt 6:24; 23:30). What one presupposition sees as foolish, the other sees as wisdom (1 Cor 1:18-25). 3. The non-observational commitments of the unbeliever (e.g., Ps 10:4; Rom 1:25; 3:11-12) are objectively foolish and lead to the destruction of knowledge (Prov 1:22,29; Rom 1:21-22; 1 Tim 6:20) because “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov 1:7; cf. Ps 36:9).
4. All men inescapably have an inner knowledge of God (Gen 1:27; Rom 1:20-21; 2:15), the One whose sovereign power and plan uphold the universe with regularity (Gen 8:22; Jer 31:35; Heb 1:3; Ps 33:11; Acts 15:18; Dan 4:35), “working all things after the counsel of his own will” (Eph 1:11).
5. Yet unbelievers are deeply hostile to this knowledge and “suppress it in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18-21), preferring to walk in the vanity of their minds and darkened understanding (Eph 4:17-18).
6. That explains why it is that, regarding such empirical evidence as the resurrection, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31; cf. 24:25-26).
7. Nevertheless, the objective revelation provided by God in the evidence of history and Scripture is such that we can through the resurrection “know for certain that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36; Luke 1:4 says we can “know the certainty of the things” in which we have been instructed, and cf. 1 John 2:3, “we know that we know”).
(Bahnsen, Pressing Toward the Mark)
Philosophical problems with autonomous evidentialism
-their hope and aim is to have the unbeliever approach the un-interpreted facts in a neutral fashion to see how they can demonstrate the probability of that Scripture is true.
-no presuppositions are supposed to intrude in the reasoning of the believer and unbeliever as they open-mindedly without philosophical prejudice approach the observational particulars of the world and history
-In taking such an approach, such as the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, apologists have fallen prey to many detailed errors in their working of their non-presuppositional arguments and inductive evidences.
Evidentialist: We can get a firmly reliable understanding of the claims of the early church from what we read in the NT, because of the early date of the documents of the NT that we can verify historically and empirically. When we read these documents, we find evidence that can used to lead to the conclusion that the only reasonable alternative is that Jesus must have risen from the dead because in the first place, if the disciples were lying why would they be willing to die for a lie?
-If these evidences are presented outside of Christian presuppositions, then these are miserable arguments
a. Why should the unbeliever accept the basic reliability of the extant of the NT documents simply due to their early date?
-Unbelievers think the Bible is full of silly miracles and magic, so it can’t be reliable.
-He does not think the reliability of the NT has anything to do with its date.
b. How can the naturalistic unbeliever be expected to treat these documents as reliable reports of what Jesus said about himself?-why should I as an autonomous scholar believe Jesus, a mere man, claims about himself as God?
-it’s more likely that the apostles misconstrued what Jesus had said to them
c. The defense that is made of this by evidentialists, they all claim that Christ promised to give the Holy Spirit to his followers to enable them to remember and interpret correctly what he taught.
-this begs the question and assumes the very deity of Jesus which the argument for the Resurrection is supposed to be proving
Evidentialist: If Jesus rose from the dead, then he is God and accordingly speaks the truth at every point.
-I think we should add that that inference pattern is far from reflecting the unbiased and accepted uniform conclusion of advanced scholarship. The logic from this argument is itself derived from and warranted from the Scriptures. If the Scriptures teaches that and that’s what we’re using to interpret the evidence, then you’re again begging the question. This would mean Christ’s interpretation of Himself is taken on the basis of Christ’s interpretation of Himself. Consider three aspects this:
a. we have this inference: if resurrected, then divine. This is hardly acceptable his one applies it in a discriminating and special pleading fashion, yet one will have to our else you’re going to end up concluding that Lazarus is God also. Resurrection does not prove deity.
b. the committed secularist will almost certainly look upon this inference pattern as a manifestation of a rather primitive god of the gaps thinking. He would present an alternative inference pattern than is more congenial to naturalism. His inference goes like this: if Jesus rose from the dead, then very complex and sophisticated biological principles and factors surpassing those presently recognized and utilized by scientists remain to be discovered. The naturalist will find some way to explain the resurrection naturally.
c. One is begging all sorts of important questions if he simply reasons that if Jesus was God he always spoke the truth, because any philosopher would tell you that there are many competing conceptions of God. The Greek God’s were not unfailing truth-tellers, and if Jesus is in that sense, then we have no reason to believe his claims.
-If you present the empirical evidence for the Resurrection outside of the circle of Christian presuppositions in a neutral fashion, then the unbeliever will not be taken to your conclusion.
Philosophical and Theological Truths about Evidences (corresponds to the 7 biblical truths)
1. all empirical observation is inescapably theory-laden (there are no uninterpreted “brute facts”).
2. The acceptance and interpretation of what one takes as “factual” is not determined by sense perception alone, but in interaction with one’s fundamental philosophical convictions (there is no presupposition-less neutrality).
–there is no presupposition-less neutrality
-If someone were to tell my last night that they had a conversation with my dead grandfather, I would not on the basis of their empirical report believe it.
3. Empirical, inductive study in itself has certain preconditions which can be intelligibly accounted for only on the presupposition of Christianity (so that scientific and historical study wittingly or unwittingly assumes what believers are defending).
–the very use of the scientific method already assumes matters as preconditions which need some intellectual justification; they can only be intellectually accounted for on the presupposition of Christianity.
4. What is assumed by the consistently non-Christian understanding of empiricism and induction contradicts biblical teaching as well as rendering empirical, inductive reasoning impossible in philosophical principle.
–for instance, if we rigorously reject the intrusion of arbitrary metaphysical prejudices and man’s mind is taken like a tabula rasa, in a completely random and contingent universe where there are only sensible particulars and not abstract universals, then there can be no logical or natural laws.
5. Unbelievers (like believers) are not at all unbiased, impartial, without motive and goal, completely open-minded, and purely disinterested in where they will be led by their handling of the empirical evidence.
6. If the unbeliever’s espoused presuppositions are not challenged, and if he holds tenaciously and consistently to them, he can for very good reason refuse to be driven from his position by consideration of empirical evidences alone.
7. Likewise, because the believer’s intellectual basis for certainty about the claims of the Christian faith is broader than his (admittedly) limited and fallible reflections upon the (admittedly) incomplete pool of available empirical indicators alone – which would, if all by itself, require humble and mitigated conclusions – those claims (even about history and nature) should not merely be considered or presented as probably true.
(Bahnsen, Pressing Toward the Mark)