Epistemological Issues in Christian Apologetics – Part 3/3

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Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3

The Weaknesses of Presuppositionalism

The considerations presented above seem to count heavily in favor of presuppositionalism, and at least some of the more naive versions of evidentialism can be seen as somewhat misguided in light of this. But now the question must be asked if presuppositionalism has epistemological problems of its own. Here, the answer would seem to be ”yes”. The presuppositionalistic insistence on the postulation of the Christian God as the only possible epistemological grounding seems somewhat arbitrary. At the very least, the monotheistic varieties of other religions would seem to be plausible candidates as well, and the possibility of a god that has not given a special revelation for humankind (at least not yet) is also an option that is hard to discard simply on the basis of epistemological grounding. At this point, the presuppositionalist may present an internal critique of the competing theistic worldviews, but it is far from clear that all of them can be shown to be contradictory or inconsistent. Thus, the best strategy for the christian apologist at this point would seem to be an appeal to evidential arguments (especially, arguments from history). Given that this appeal is made in an explicitly theistic context, much of the typical sceptical argumentation against the possibility of miracles and supernatural revelation will lose its force, and the prospects for success in historical argumentation can be quite promising.

Also, some criticism of the presuppositionalistic reluctance to give any credence to the traditional theistic arguments is in order. These arguments can be very effective when used in conjunction with the more transcendental-type argument from epistemic grounding as presented above. The presuppositionalist may reply that probabilistic arguments are not worth using, or are even somehow antithetical to a self-consciously Christian apologetic presentation. But a few considerations will suffice to rebut this reply. First of all, it is not clear that the presuppositionalist is able to go through with his own apologetic project without an appeal to evidential-type considerations. Secondly, the classical arguments for the existence of God can be incorporated into the presuppositionalistic framework by treating them as part of the internal criticism of atheism. Even though the presuppositionalist may disagree with the contention that probabilistic standards for arguments are allowable and there exists a considerable amount of neutral ground, these classical theistic arguments can still be used to show that atheism is in trouble even within its own presuppositions, as the consistent result of the outworkings of its presuppositions will be the probable existence of God, which renders atheism – by its own standards – untenable.

Conclusion

I think that I have demonstrated (to the extent that this is possible within the space constraints of this paper) that there is a need to integrate the strengths of presuppositionalism and evidentialism into an apologetic methodology which is both epistemologically self-conscious, and also realistic with regard to the limits of transcendental-type argumentation.  

Bibliography

Beilby, James (Ed.): Naturalism Defeated? Essays on Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. Cornell
University Press, 2002.
Craig, William L.: Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. Crossway Books, 1994.
Moreland, J. P. & Craig, William L.: Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. InterVarsity Press, 2003.
Plantinga, Alvin: Warranted Christian Belief. Oxford University Press, 2000.
Zalta, Edward N. (Principal Editor): The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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