The best evidence for Christianity deals with epistemology, or the theory of knowledge. During his debate with atheist Gordon Stein, theologian and philosopher Greg Bahnsen said this concerning proving that the Christian God exists:
I suggest that we can prove the existence of God from the impossibility the contrary. The transcendental proof for God’s existence is that without him it is impossible to prove anything. The atheist worldview is irrational and cannot consistently provide the preconditions of intelligible experience, science, logic, or morality. The atheist worldview cannot allow for laws of logic, the uniformity of nature, the ability for the mind to understand the world, and moral absolutes.Greg Bahnsen, The Great Debate: Does God Exist?
In this debate, Bahnsen provides an excellent explanation and defense of the Transcendental Proof, or Argument, for the Christian God’s existence. You can view the full debate below.
In this article, we’re going to summarize and expand upon Bahnsen’s arguments.
Introduction to Presuppositional Apologetics
In his debate, Bahnsen used the Transcendental Argument for God’s Existence. Another name for Bahnsen’s apologetic method is Presuppositional Apologetics, which argues that 1) presuppositions are necessary to make sense of human experience, and 2) there are no neutral presuppositions that everyone shares.
What Are Presuppositions?
A presupposition is essentially the foundational, or first, principle upon which a worldview is built. The presupposition, or foundational principle, of a worldview, is necessarily self-justifying, or, in a particular sense, “circular”; in other words, no higher standard can be appeals to—otherwise, it would not be the foundational principle.
The Christian presupposition, or foundational principle, is that God has revealed Himself and what is true through what is now known as the Bible.
Who Has Presuppositions?
All people have presuppositions, including atheists. Many atheists like to say that they are not presupposing, or “claiming,” anything—they are merely evaluating other claims using reason, logic, or empiricism (sense-experience).
Why Atheism Is Not Neutral, or “Claimless”
The atheist presupposition, or foundational principle, is essentially that truth claims should be evaluated using reason, logic, or empiricism. Atheists argue that this is a neutral, or “claimless” position, but this is simply not true. We can demonstrate that this is not true with the following questions.
On what basis do you say that truth claims should be evaluated using reason, logic, or empiricism?
Atheists might answer by saying that the claim that truth claims should be evaluated using reason, logic, or empiricism is merely self-evident, or something that we must assume.
However, this answer begs the question—it assumes that we must evaluate truth claims by using reason, logic, or empiricism to establish the claim that we must evaluate truth claims by using reason, logic, or empiricism.
How do you justify the existence of the laws of logic?
Atheists necessarily must evaluate truth claims using reason or logic, which presupposes the existence of the laws of logic. However, since atheists do not allow God or the supernatural to be explanations, since atheists assume that the universe is materialistic in nature, they cannot justify the existence of the laws of logic, which are immaterial, or abstract, and universal.
How do you justify belief in the uniformity of nature?
Atheists presuppose the uniformity of nature, or, that the future will behave like the past. However, the atheistic view of the universe results in the impossibility of being able to justify belief in the uniformity of nature.
How do you justify belief in objective morality?
Although consistent atheists might say that they don’t believe in objective morality, no atheist lives this way. For example, all atheists will object to another person stealing from them.
Many atheists will argue that morality is subjective, or the result of social convention. However this means they do not have a basis for arguing that the Holocaust was wrong, that slavery was wrong, that rape is wrong, or that torturing children is wrong. However, if they attempt to argue that these things are wrong for all people at all times in all places, they demonstrate that they actually do believe in an objective, universal moral standard.
Problems With Atheism
We have established above that atheism is not neutral, or “claimless.” Atheism presupposes foundational concepts such as the laws of logic, the uniformity of nature, and (objective) morality.
The Presuppositional Apologetics Argument
Presuppositional apologetics argues that atheism cannot justify the existence of the laws of logic, the uniformity of nature, and objective morality, which means that atheism cannot provide the preconditions for intelligibility. In other words, since atheism does not assume the existence of God—specifically, the Christian, biblical God—atheists cannot justify the existence of knowledge itself.
If atheism cannot justify the existence of knowledge, then rationally speaking, it can’t even begin to produce statements that are intelligible or meaningful.
Of course, atheists use knowledge. What we’re saying is that atheists can only use knowledge because they are implicitly assuming a worldview that can provide the preconditions for intelligibility (that is, justification for the existence of the laws of logic, the uniformity of nature, and moral absolutes).
Atheism, by itself, would result in philosophical skepticism, or meaninglessness.
Do Atheists Need to Justify the Existence of the Laws of Nature or the Uniformity of Nature?
Properly Basic Beliefs? (For Example, Ozymandias’s Argument)
Some atheists, for example, the YouTuber known as Ozymandias Ramses II, argues that atheists should not be trying to demonstrate the validity of reason, logic, or empiricism at all. He says that there are many “properly basic beliefs” that everyone simply must assume, without justification.
Ozymandias says this to attempt to avoid the charge of “circular reasoning,” or the need to defend a self-justifying foundational principle.
The Problem of Arbitrariness
The problem with what Ozymandias says is arbitrariness. Bahnsen says this:
One of the two great intellectual sins that men commit no matter what field of study you’re in is arbitrariness. The other one is inconsistency.
1. No one is allowed to be arbitrary if you’re trying to present a rational basis for what you believe.
2. And no one is being rational in presenting a basis for what they believe if they contradict themselves—if they’re inconsistent.
When Ozymandias says that everyone simply must assume many “properly basic beliefs”—such as the laws of logic and the uniformity of nature—he is essentially saying that the starting point for his worldview is arbitrary, that is, he has absolutely no reason for it. That’s not rational.
Is Saying that God Is the Foundation for “Properly Basic Beliefs” Arbitrary?
Atheists argue that it’s arbitrary and irrational to say that God is the foundation for “properly basic beliefs” like the laws of logic and the uniformity of nature. They say that since there is no evidence for God, we cannot use God as the explanation for these “properly basic beliefs.”
However, what these atheists are missing is that the Christian God is not an arbitrary God or an arbitrary explanation. The Christian God, and the Christian worldview, is filled with content that directly relates to human history and human experience.
So, when presuppositionalists say that God explains the existence of the laws of logic and the uniformity of nature, they are not making up a God that conveniently answers these foundational philosophical questions. Rather, they are describing a very specific God who has revealed very specific things about Himself, who has communicated directly with humans, and who has consistently acted within human history.
Ozymandias uses the example of Superman. He says it is irrational to say that Superman explains the existence of something like the Grand Canyon. He says Superman is a pseudo-explanation, a placeholder for a natural explanation. However, there are at least two major problems with his example:
- Superman is an arbitrary explanation because he is a fictional character, whose entire identity is fabricated by humans. In contrast, the Christian worldview is founded on the principle that the God of the Bible is not an arbitrary character, nor invented by humans—rather He is someone who has revealed many specific things and done many specific things in history, things that can be evaluated and tested.
- Second, Ozymandias assumes and asserts, unjustifiably, that the highest goal is “a natural explanation.” This assertion is arbitrary, and he has already just admitted that there is simply no natural explanation for the “properly basic beliefs” he has listed. His demand for a purely natural explanation for these “properly basic beliefs” is arbitrary, irrational, and impossible.
Do Christians Have the Same Problem of Not Being Able to Justify “Properly Basic Beliefs”?
Ozymandias asserts that Christians have the exact same problem of not being able to justify the “properly basic beliefs” that he mentions. His argument is that the Christian presupposition presupposes, also without justification, these “properly basic beliefs.”
Now I’d like to switch gears and consider how the two main presuppositions of presuppositional apologetics are themselves dependent on other presuppositions: the properly basic beliefs I named earlier…
Now you presuppositionalists couldn’t infer anything from the existence of your hypothetical God or even learn about such a God or even conceive of such a God without tacitly employing the universally held properly basic beliefs I’ve been talking about.Ozymandias Ramses II, Presuppositionalism & Properly Basic Beliefs
The statement above demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of presuppositional apologetics.
- Ozymandias is saying that Christians depend upon these “properly basic beliefs” to produce any content related to the Christian worldview.
- However, the entire point of presuppositional apologetics is that these “properly basic beliefs” are insufficient as a rational starting place for a worldview because they are unjustified and therefore arbitrary.
- The fundamental question is not how we determine what is true, but rather, what makes rationality and determining truth even possible in the first place?
- The Christian worldview provides a non-arbitrary starting place—the biblical God—that allows for the very possibility and beginning of rationality.
On Preferring Uncertainty Over Dogma
At the end of his video, Ozymandias says this:
Well, some of us would rather not pretend to have a completely consistent worldview. We’d rather have an incomplete, inconsistent, uncertain belief set made up of provisionally held beliefs, which are properly motivated and honestly recognize our epistemological limits because unlike some people, we aren’t intellectually satisfied with pseudo-explanations and vacuous accounts. Your presuppositions aren’t presuppositions. They’re your dogmas.Ibid.
This is a popular position and objection to Christianity and presuppositional apologetics. Essentially, Ozymandias is saying that he’s rational and presuppositionalists are not, that he doesn’t hold to dogmas and presuppositionalists do hold to dogmas. However, again, he’s wrong.
Ozymandias holds to the dogma of naturalism—everything must be explained naturally, without appealing to God or the supernatural. We would also say that Ozymandias is irrational in holding the position that it is rational to begin with the assumption of unjustifiable “properly basic beliefs” and rejecting the Christian worldview as providing rational justification for these “properly basic beliefs.”
To conclude, people like Ozymandias think they are rational and think they do not hold to dogmas, and they accuse Christian presuppositionalists of being irrational and holding to dogmas. What they don’t realize is that by refusing to accept the validity and rationality of the Christian worldview, they demonstrate that they are holding to their own dogma, the dogma of naturalism.
The two differences between the atheist’s dogma—or presupposition, or foundational principle—and the Christian presuppositionalist’s dogma are:
- Atheists don’t recognize and don’t admit that they have this dogma, and
- The Christian presuppositionalist’s dogma makes rationality possible, whereas the atheist’s dogma does not.
The Laws of Logic
The laws of logic are immaterial, or abstract, and universal. They are immaterial in the sense that we can’t see or touch them, and they are universal in that they are the same for all people at all times.
One major problem with atheism is that it assumes that the universe is material in nature. In other words, the universe consists merely of matter, or matter in motion.
The question that atheists can’t answer is this: How can something that is immaterial and universal, such as the laws of logic, exist in a purely materialistic universe?
Are the Laws of Logic Self-Justifying?
Some atheists might argue that the laws of logic are self-justifying, or that they exist apart from experience. Here is Bahnsen’s response:
But if you don’t take that approach and want to justify the laws of logic in some a priori fashion, that is apart from experience—sometimes that suggests that these things are self verifying—then we can ask why the laws of logic are universal, unchanging, and invariant truths. Why they, in fact, apply repeatedly in the realm of contingent experience.
Dr. Stein told you, “Well, we use the laws of logic because we can make accurate predictions using them.” Well, as a matter of fact, that doesn’t come anywhere close to discussing the vast majority of the laws of logic. That isn’t the way they are proven. It’s very difficult to conduct experiments on the laws of logic of that sort. They are more conceptual in nature rather than empirical or predicting certain outcomes in empirical experience.
But even if you want to try to justify all of it in that way we have to ask why is it that they apply repeatedly in a contingent realm of experience? Why in a world that is random, not subject to personal order as I believe it is because of the Christian God, why is it that the laws of logic continue to have that success generating feature about them? Why should they be assumed to have anything to do with the realm of history? Why should reasoning about history or science or empirical experience have these laws of thought imposed upon it?
Are the Laws of Logic Conventional?
Some atheists argue that the laws of logic are conventional—that is, they are agreed upon by humans. Here is Bahnsen’s response:
Once again we have to come back to this really unacceptable idea that they’re conventional. If they are conventional than of course there ought to be just numerous approaches to scholarship everywhere, different approaches to history, to science, and so forth, because people just adopt different laws of logic. That just isn’t the way scholarship proceeds and if anybody thinks that is adequate they just need to go to the library and read a bit more. The laws of logic are not treated as conventions. To say that they are merely conventions is simply to say I haven’t got an answer.
Induction and the Uniformity of Nature
Induction means “inference of a generalized conclusion from particular instances.” For example, an example of using induction would be inferring that gravity will be the same in the future because gravity has been a certain way in the past.
Induction depends upon the uniformity of nature, or the principle that the future will resemble the past. However, atheists believe in a contingent, or chance, universe, which means they cannot justify their reliance upon the uniformity of nature.
Atheist David Hume made this problem famous. He writes:
From causes which appear similar we expect similar effects. This is the sum of all our experimental conclusions. Now it seems evident that, if this conclusion were formed by reason, it would be as perfect at first, and upon one instance, as after ever so long a course of experience. But the case is far otherwise. Nothing so like as eggs; yet no one, on account of this appearing similarity, expects the same taste and relish in all of them. It is only after a long course of uniform experiments in any kind, that we attain a firm reliance and security with regard to a particular event. Now where is that process of reasoning which, from one instance, draws a conclusion, so different from that which it infers from a hundred instances that are nowise different from that single one? This question I propose as much for the sake of information, as with an intention of raising difficulties. I cannot find, I cannot imagine any such reasoning.David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 4.
In other words, Hume is saying that there is no rational reason to assume that a future occurrence of something will be like a past occurrence.
Likewise, popular atheist Bertrand Russel has said this:
Domestic animals expect food when they see the person who usually feeds them. We know that all these rather crude expectations of uniformity are liable to be misleading. The man who has fed the chicken every day throughout its life at last wrings its neck instead, showing that more refined views as to the uniformity of nature would have been useful to the chicken.Bertrand Russel, The Problems of Philosophy, Chapter VI
To summarize, atheists depend upon induction and the uniformity of nature to draw conclusions, but they cannot justify the uniformity of nature. According to the atheistic worldview, there is no reason why the future will resemble the past.
Bahnsen has said this concerning the atheist’s moral problem:
In an atheist universe, there’s no obligation for us to care for each other whatsoever because we’re nothing more but bags of biological chemicals and things subject to the laws of physics. Mr. Tabash has been asked a very good question. It’d be nice if he finally would come out and address it and deal with it rather than skirting it.
How do values comport with his view of the universe? Now, no one doubts that atheists feel love. I agree they do because I know they’re made in the image of God I can account for the love that they feel.
I can account for the compassion they want to show, but they cannot account for it because every time they do, they end up appealing to things which are not molecules in motion. Talk about fictitious projections—he thinks that’s what my god is—without this God, we couldn’t reason at all or make these moral judgments.
But you make a fictitious projection that there is something like value or love when all you have to work with are molecules in motion. It should be commented somewhere along the line because it’s just not right for a man to keep making remarks that are distorted and false and just think he can walk away from that publicly.
Atheists have proposed many possible solutions regarding where moral standards come from.
Does Morality Come From Human Convention?
Problems With Non-Christian Religions
Answers to Objections Against Presuppositional Apologetics
Many atheists dismiss presuppositional apologetics