Illustrations of the Transcendental Argument

“Now of this approach Mr. Frame asks some questions in his new book, Apologetics to the Glory of God, and we begin on page 71. I’d like to very quickly go through these questions and try to answer them as one Van Tilian or one presuppositionalist might, and then we’ll open the floor to get your responses to see what you think.

Near the top of 71, Mr. Frame says:

I agree with Van Til that theistic argument should have a transcendental goal. Certainly our purpose is to prove nothing less than the full biblical teaching about God—that he is absolute personality, transcendent and immanent, sovereign, Trinitarian. And indeed, part of that teaching is that God is the source of all meaning. Certainly we must not argument in a way that misleads the inquirer to think that God is anything less than this. But I have some questions.

Okay, so everything I’ve done so far is all just preparation, finally coming in why I came today to try to answer Mr. Frame’s questions. He’ll decide whether I do a very good job of it or not.

First [he says], I question whether the transcendental argument can function without the help of subsidiary arguments of a more traditional kind.

And if you want to do cross-references, it’s important that you look at page 73 where a similar remark is made at the end of what is called Number 5, when he speaks of the transcendental argument requiring supplementation by other arguments.

Okay, so the first thing Mr. Frame is asking is, “Can you really use the transcendental argument without subsidiary…being required to [use] subsidiary arguments and subsidiary arguments of a more traditional tie. Well in my remarks this afternoon I have already given an account for the variety of arguments that might by used by presuppositionalists. And so in that sense I could agree; I could say, “Of course, it calls for other arguments.” You don’t just stand up and make the one remark: Christianity is the pre-condition of intelligibility—and that’s it. And when someone asks a question about the king list of the Old Testament you say, “Christianity is the presupposition of the intelligibility of experience”…and go on and on and on. So I, in one sense, I’m agreeing it takes more than just those claims or arguments of that nature. It takes other kinds of arguments as well. But as you know I’ve indicated that this variety of arguments are illustrative of the broader strategy. They are not arguments of a different kind, they are just illustrative of the broader presuppositional or transcendental thrust. They are not independent proofs of isolated elements of the Christian system. It’s not as though, well now that I’ve proven you need logic, let me prove that you need induction; and now that I’ve proven you need induction, let me show that you need moral absolutes; and then I’m going to wrap it all up one day and include Jesus in there, and you’ve got the Christian worldview. It’s nothing like that. Subsidiary arguments are called for, but I don’t tend to call them subsidiary, I tend to call them illustrative of the general strategy. I suppose what concerns me even more about than calling them subsidiary though, is to say that they are of the traditional kind. If you heard my lecture this morning, you already know what I will be getting here. I believe that there’s an epistemological and moral divide between traditional apologetics and presuppositional apologetics. And so I wouldn’t be inclined to say that the arguments I’m using are of the traditional kind. But then, when you go on to see what Mr. Frame means by this—follow closely—it turns out he doesn’t mean of the traditional kind either. He means of the traditional kind only as reformulated to be true to our ultimate commitment and loyalty to the Word of God, and final authority of Jesus, and so forth.

The difficulty I have with the traditional arguments—and I don’t have time to elaborate, sorry—but the problem I have with the traditional arguments is of course a moral problem. I’ve explained that. It’s an epistemological problem that is the theory of facts, concepts, logic, and so forth—is wrong. But just bottom rung of the rung of the ladder, they’re bad arguments! They’re really bad arguments as traditionally formulated. Now what I see what Mr. Frame does in reformulating them in his book, I—for the most part, I’m not going to give up all critical mindset here—but for the most part I don’t have difficulty with that. I rejoice in it. But he’s not giving you the traditional arguments. The traditional arguments are very bad arguments. If you appeal to the concept of causality to prove there’s a creator of this world, you’ve proved that there are many creators of this world, as equally as you’ve proved that there’s one. You can prove Aristotle’s god to be the creator of this world as much as you can prove the God of Moses, and on, and on, and on, and on. The problem with these traditional arguments is not just moral or epistemological—it’s just that they’re bad arguments too.

So, to Mr. Frame’s first question I’d say, “Yes.” Transcendental presuppositionalism calls for other kinds of arguments, but I don’t believe that they’re of the traditional sort. They must be versions of presuppositional argument.”

(Bahnsen, Answering Frame’s Critique of Van Til)

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