August 31, 2008

The Great Debate: Does God Exist? : Part II

Dr. Greg Bahnsen versus Dr. Gordon Stein
At the University of California, Irvine, 1985


Apologetics is the process, or art, of defending a particular theological or philosophical stance. Christian apologetics is a time honored tradition, beginning with Justin Martyr, revitalized by CS Lewis, and is maintained in various forms.

Apologetics is done with the utilization of reason. Sometimes it is done through the utilization of the prejudices of the opposing beliefs; other times, it simply stands firm on the assumption of the ultimate legitimacy in Christian tradition; but it almost always relies on reason.

Apologetics can either be done offensively or defensively. Defensive apologetics explains and proclaims the Christian tradition and the gospel. Offensive apologetics, or polemics, undermines and dismantles opposing belief structures. The best apologetic methods accomplish both simultaneously.

My aim in this post is to go through two types of apologetic methods: Evidential and Presuppositional.

Evidential Apologetics

This is the more accessible form. One forms some kind of common ground with the opponent, and then presents evidence that comes from that common ground. The most obvious example of this would be the use of scientific evidence in proving creationism over Darwinism. Science would be the common ground from which both sides are drawing their evidence.

Presuppositional Apologetics

This one operates with a more critical look at one's whole position. It realizes that all logical systems are based upon certain presuppositions. All logic and evidence is translated through these presuppositions. Therefore, in order to truly demonstrate Christianity as superior, one must compare the logical systems by way of the presuppositions.

What makes this approach so interesting is that it addresses the big picture. Instead of merely arguing over the age of the earth, it compares the full system of thought. It compares atheism as a whole against Christianity as a whole. One defeats their opponent by demonstrating that Christianity is a more consistent system of thought. This is the form of argumentation employed by Dr. Bahnsen.

What method should one use?Well, that somewhat depends on yourself, and your opponent. For instance, if one is debating with a committed naturalist, one will have a difficult time using the evidential method to prove Christianity, for any evidence you provide will be given some kind of naturalistic interpretation. Bransen quotes Stien in the debate:

But, Dr. Stein precludes the very possibility of any of this empirical evidence counting as proof for God's existence. He writes, " Supernatural explanations are not allowed in science. The theist is hard put to document his claims for the existence of the supernatural if he is in effect forbidden from evoking the supernatural as a part of his explanation. Of course, this is entirely fair; as it would be begging the question to use what has to be proved as a part of the explanation." As one can see, one would be hard put to argue against a defense like that, where any proof for God is off-handedly rejected since it demonstrates God. In order to get past this kind of obstacle, a presuppositional approach is better.
But, an evidential approach is better for someone that doesn't have a developed system of thought. Some people are just scrambling around, looking for any kind of answer. To speak of presuppositions is over their head. Now, the general principle of exposing false premises can still be employed, but it is in a much more limited sense.

Additionally, a presuppositional approach is impossible unless you, yourself, are thoroughly acquainted with both their system as thought, as well as the idiosyncrasies of your own. Otherwise you simply won't know what you are talking about. It would be like comparing the contents of two boxes, while only seeing the outside. Now, I would encourage everyone to explore the full breath of Christian thought, but don't engage in a presuppositional debate with someone until you have.

click here for the link

post II
post III

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