Mark Ward reviews Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion

"As a presuppositionalist (who doesn’t like to ride the label, and who believes in the value of evidence because Paul does in 1 Corinthians 15), I observe that my own tribe’s arguments don’t always get that kind of honing… I don’t seem often to run into people who can really understand what I’m saying when I go presupp on them; it’s all too philosophically demanding." - Mark Ward

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GregH's picture

Besides this book, does anyone have recommendations on the best Christian apologetics books that are not presuppositional in nature and have been written in the past 50 years? I am looking for meaty stuff, not dumbed down (or lay-friendly as Mark calls it). 

I don't know if Mark reads/posts here but I thought of something that made me smile when I saw him admit to being a presuppositional apologist. I know that he confronts the KJV crowd a bit and wonder what he thinks of their presuppositional argument for the KJV. Essentially, they believe that the received text is the correct text because the Bible claims that God will preserve the Bible. To me, that is presuppositional apologetics gone off the rails if you can even call that apologetics. 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I'm in the process of re-examining the whole presup vs rational vs semi-rational apologetics topic, though not very systematically yet. My journey has been pretty much "semi-rational" (I think this is the correct term) in high school and college (before I'd even heard of presuppositional apologetics), then I pretty much became convinced of presuppositionalism in seminary, then I think along the way I sort of unknowingly slouched into a kind of defective version of presuppositionalism maybe, because I suddenly found (quite recently) that I had become very antagonistic toward evidence and reasoning without really knowing why.

Whatever the reasons were, I've forgotten them.

So I think some would say I'm back to semi-rational/evidentialist apologetics, but I'm not sure that's true.

At any rate, some recommendations:

  • Alvin Plantinga ... I've only read Where the Conflict Really Lies, but I suspect all his books are very well thought out. His reasoning is rigorous. Looking forward to taking on Warranted Christian Belief one of these days.
  • Francis Shaeffer ... Easier reading than Plantinga in many ways, and far more "history of philosophy" focused. But plenty of meaty stuff to think about. Some of his interpretations of western philosophers is much disputed. I'm not qualified to judge, but what's certain is that he engaged with these thinkers very deeply. I have more reason to trust his take than I have reason to trust the POV of the critics I've read--so far.
  • William Lane Craig - I've just started reading On Guard. Not far into it, so I don't know what to say yet other than that I expect him to be less accessible/more difficult. So far, not the case, but there is an intellectual energy there that leads to expect he'll be very stimulating and challenging once I get further into it.
  • You might like John Lennox. Haven't read any yet, but he's definitely a brainiac... Degrees in theology and philosophy but I get the impression he prefers the philosophy. (Since my background included precisely 1 course in philosophy--a political theory class--I'm happy to read authors who help me fill in the holes, which are numerous and sometimes large.... Why we don't require philosophy courses for Bible majors and seminary students is a mystery to me!!)
  • You might like Michael Behe... if you have the biology/chemistry background I'm assuming one needs. Hoping to give him a spin one of these days also.
  • Of course, you could dig into Cornelius Van Til. I have sampled some of his work and he's definitely no slouch. I really wish I could find it in audio, since I have a good bit of discretionary listening time.
  • J.P. Moreland... somehow he tends to bore me, but I don't know why.... then all of a sudden he'll say something that keeps me chewing on an idea for hours (or weeks or much longer off an on). So it's worth it to be patient. You might find some good cerebral exercise there.

On the KJV topic... It's not apologetics. Different animal. There is a little resemblance I suppose in that some things are a priori, I suppose. The main problem w/the preservation argument is that God has not promised anything like the kind of preservation that argument requires.

Andrew K's picture

Paul Helm, who is a critic of presuppositionalism, recommends George I. Mavrodes Belief in God: A Study in the Epistemology of Religion (1970). He was a philosophy professor at U of M.

I found myself a copy a few years back and started it, but it's a really tough go. The guy was a rigorous thinker, to put it mildly. Excellent first chapter though. Gave me more to think through than most whole books. I mean to pick it back up and continue someday soon.

GregH's picture

Thanks for the list Aaron. I am studying this issue very carefully as well. I have been reading philosophy mostly as well as church history. One of the things that I am most interested in is how Greek philosophy influenced the early church. 

One of the interesting things I have learned in the world of philosophy is that there is a huge intersection between it and theology, even in areas that one might not think of. For example, predestination was a philosophical issue long before it because a theological issue. And numerous "secular" philosophers wrestled with the attempt to prove God for many centuries until it became less in vogue to do so.

I am not knowledgeable enough to speak authoritatively on this but my current thought is that presuppositional apologetics is the only real Christian apologetics that has a shot. In other words, if you put Aquinas at the pinnacle of attempts to rationally prove there is a God and his valiant efforts were insufficient, it is unlikely that it can be done. I can sort of get behind some of the rational arguments for there being a God (Aristotle's unmoveable mover for example) but I have never seen a rational argument that is very successful in proving that the Christian God is the true God.

If I am right about the futility of rational apologetics, my suspicion is that apologetics is almost a waste of time because how can you convince anyone of anything if the underlying presuppositions are different? That is why Christianity is a faith issue. I actually would take presuppositional apologetics over bad rational apologetics any day. The latter has done huge damage I think. I suspect there are lots of "nones" because of bad rational apologetics.

You might like this article from of all places the Ayn Rand Institute: https://campus.aynrand.org/campus/globals/transcripts/thomas-aquinas-the-union-of-aristotelianism-and-christianity

GregH's picture

Andrew K wrote:

Paul Helm, who is a critic of presuppositionalism, recommends George I. Mavrodes Belief in God: A Study in the Epistemology of Religion (1970). He was a philosophy professor at U of M.

I found myself a copy a few years back and started it, but it's a really tough go. The guy was a rigorous thinker, to put it mildly. Excellent first chapter though. Gave me more to think through than most whole books. I mean to pick it back up and continue someday soon.

Yes, Mavrodes is a philosopher and I think that most philosophers would consider the idea of intentional presuppositions to be at best a punt and not very worthy of respect. I will check this out. Thanks.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Avoiding presuppositions is indeed impossible. There is no way to reason to first principles because you have to "believe in reason" before you begin reasoning. Similar problem with observational data ... which means nothing until you first believe it represents reality and then believe its possible reason on the basis of what's observed.

This doesn't make evidence and reasoning useless by a long shot. For one thing, it's exactly what Paul did in the synagogues in Acts, what he employed in Athens, what his epistles are full of. He doesn't use "scientific" evidence, but uses evidence and reasoning accepted by his audiences as a basis for establishing additional propositions as true.

But for me, the effort isn't about "proving there's a God" or "proving Christianity is true." I was trying to explain by recently revived interest in this to a friend recently and told him that for me it's about loving God with my mind. I probably explained it poorly, but what I'm getting at is that apologetics is--from my point of view--mostly for Christians, not for unbelievers. It's a tool for helping individuals with regenerated and liberated minds develop a fully Christian way of thinking about everything that was and is. 

So, developing a robust Christian worldview has lots of practical benefits--and some of those are evangelistic--but independently of the outcomes, it's simply the right thing to do with the thinking capacity God gave us. It's glorifying and loving Him through mind.

A couple of corrections to what I posted last night;

* Philosophy was required for Bible majors where I did my undergrad at BJU. But my major was Bible Education, which was a hybrid degree, part School of Ed. and part School of Religion--and in the need to fit it all in and qualilfy for potential teaching certificate, there were lots of psychology requirements... which crowded out the philosophy in my case.

* In seminary, philosophy wasn't quite adequate, but I did have some work in it. I may even have had a whole course in epistemology, but I'm not sure now! What I didn't get is "Introduction to Philosophy" as a course--probably because it was assumed that you'd get that with your BA.

* Two more authors: I've benefited from Norman Geisler in the past. In seminary I read, with profit, Return to Reason: A Critique of Enlightenment Evidentialism and a Defense of Reason and Belief in God by Kelly James Clark. I recall enjoying that one quite a bit at the time, but later came to believe Clark was 'semi-rational' and that this was supposed to be a bad thing.... but even the title sounds pretty presup to me, so I don't know where that notion came from.

OK, one last point: people's presuppositions can be challenged and replaced with other presuppositions. This is an additional reason for the value of evidence-focused apologetics efforts. A false belief system is going to have truth in it but it's not going to fully cohere, so there will be problems and conflicts in it and often those will go all the back to presuppositions that actually contradict eachother. So it can definitely be demonstrated that some belief systems cohere/pass the test of self consistency better than others. And the superiority of Christian belief in that area is something I've only grown more confident of over the decades.

AndyE's picture

GregH wrote:
If I am right about the futility of rational apologetics, my suspicion is that apologetics is almost a waste of time because how can you convince anyone of anything if the underlying presuppositions are different? That is why Christianity is a faith issue. I actually would take presuppositional apologetics over bad rational apologetics any day. The latter has done huge damage I think. I suspect there are lots of "nones" because of bad rational apologetics.

Greg,

You are exactly right here, and that is why presuppositional apologetics tries to show the futility of the unbeliever’s worldview and his associated presuppositions. The real eye-opener here for me was reading Greg Bahnsen’s Van Til’s apologetic.  But you asked about non-presuppositional apologetic works.  I have Douglas Groothuis’ Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith.  I sort of view this as a cumulative case approach to apologetics. Aaron already mentioned William Lane Craig and he would have been the other person I would have pointed you to.

Bert Perry's picture

It's worth noting that a person with a single semester of college chemistry (that would be me) can understand Behe's arguments.  Really, pretty much everything written regarding evolution--almost to the degree of academic treatises advocating the hypothesis--can be understood reasonably well by someone with a college education and a glossary of important terms they're using.  It's a pattern that started with Darwin's Origin of Species.

 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Depends on the degree to some extent. I got two semesters of biology for the BA but didn't get chemistry in college... and scored a very generous D in high school chem. 

I'm sure I could do college chem now and mostly enjoy it, but the supposedly-peak 15 yr old brain was not ready for that!

Anyway, appreciate the encouragement on Behe and I hope to give Black Box and the newer one on DNA a try before too long. 

GregH's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Avoiding presuppositions is indeed impossible. There is no way to reason to first principles because you have to "believe in reason" before you begin reasoning. Similar problem with observational data ... which means nothing until you first believe it represents reality and then believe its possible reason on the basis of what's observed.

This doesn't make evidence and reasoning useless by a long shot. For one thing, it's exactly what Paul did in the synagogues in Acts, what he employed in Athens, what his epistles are full of. He doesn't use "scientific" evidence, but uses evidence and reasoning accepted by his audiences as a basis for establishing additional propositions as true.

But for me, the effort isn't about "proving there's a God" or "proving Christianity is true." I was trying to explain by recently revived interest in this to a friend recently and told him that for me it's about loving God with my mind. I probably explained it poorly, but what I'm getting at is that apologetics is--from my point of view--mostly for Christians, not for unbelievers. It's a tool for helping individuals with regenerated and liberated minds develop a fully Christian way of thinking about everything that was and is. 

So, developing a robust Christian worldview has lots of practical benefits--and some of those are evangelistic--but independently of the outcomes, it's simply the right thing to do with the thinking capacity God gave us. It's glorifying and loving Him through mind.

A couple of corrections to what I posted last night;.

* Two more authors: I've benefited from Norman Geisler in the past. In seminary I read, with profit, Return to Reason: A Critique of Enlightenment Evidentialism and a Defense of Reason and Belief in God by Kelly James Clark. I recall enjoying that one quite a bit at the time, but later came to believe Clark was 'semi-rational' and that this was supposed to be a bad thing.... but even the title sounds pretty presup to me, so I don't know where that notion came from.

OK, one last point: people's presuppositions can be challenged and replaced with other presuppositions. This is an additional reason for the value of evidence-focused apologetics efforts. A false belief system is going to have truth in it but it's not going to fully cohere, so there will be problems and conflicts in it and often those will go all the back to presuppositions that actually contradict eachother. So it can definitely be demonstrated that some belief systems cohere/pass the test of self consistency better than others. And the superiority of Christian belief in that area is something I've only grown more confident of over the decades.

I get what you are saying and largely agree. I have a few additional thoughts:

* While it may be impossible to avoid presuppositions, I think that the exercise of trying to strip away presuppositions has value and can only help the process of learning. It is certainly obvious from life that biases rarely help people grow. So the fact that we cannot avoid presuppositions (Descartes even has presuppositions in "I think therefore I am") does not mean we should not do the hard work to try.

* Yes, I understand what you mean when you say that apologetics is mostly for Christians. But if that is the point, is it apologetics? I don't think it is, at least according to the common definition of apologetics. If you go down that road too far, every issue of faith becomes apologetics and credibility is lost. The KJV preservation issue is an example. Those guys actually label their defense of the KJV as apologetics.

* I read something recently on why there is no such thing as a philosophical presupposition. I think it likely that few if any philosophers would do anything but turn their nose at presuppositional apologetics of anything much less Christianity. So I wonder if redefining the terms might help a bit to differentiate between philosophy, apologetics and just good rational thinking. I see those as three very different things.

What I see as passing for apologetics these days (thinking about my kids' exposure in Christian school, etc) does not really fit into any of those 3 categories. It belongs in a 4th category called "bad, irrational thinking."

josh p's picture

If we are talking science based books, I really benefited from Stephen Meyer’s, “Signature in the Cell.” No it doesn't ultimately argue for the Christian God exclusively but I believe that a very strong argument can be made based on the attributes of mankind and how they must reflect (or at least please) the Creator. Jim once linked a twitter account, Sarah Salviander, who is a Christian Astro-physicist who converted from an informed atheism. I enjoy reading her posts and interactions. She is not presuppositional.

GregH's picture

AndyE wrote:

 

GregH wrote:
If I am right about the futility of rational apologetics, my suspicion is that apologetics is almost a waste of time because how can you convince anyone of anything if the underlying presuppositions are different? That is why Christianity is a faith issue. I actually would take presuppositional apologetics over bad rational apologetics any day. The latter has done huge damage I think. I suspect there are lots of "nones" because of bad rational apologetics.

 

Greg,

You are exactly right here, and that is why presuppositional apologetics tries to show the futility of the unbeliever’s worldview and his associated presuppositions. The real eye-opener here for me was reading Greg Bahnsen’s Van Til’s apologetic.  But you asked about non-presuppositional apologetic works.  I have Douglas Groothuis’ Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith.  I sort of view this as a cumulative case approach to apologetics. Aaron already mentioned William Lane Craig and he would have been the other person I would have pointed you to.

Thanks. Is this accurate?

The Van Til approach is to be unapologetically presuppositional and to essentially argue that:

1) Everybody else has presuppositions too
2) Those presuppositions are more flawed than Christianity's

AndyE's picture

GregH wrote:

Thanks. Is this accurate?

The Van Til approach is to be unapologetically presuppositional and to essentially argue that:

1) Everybody else has presuppositions too
2) Those presuppositions are more flawed than Christianity's

Not exactly. The heart of the method is to show the incapability of the non-believing worldview and its presuppositions to account for the existence of ....anything, really...life, science/laws of nature, logic, communication, morality, etc. Only the presuppositions of the Christian worldview provide the framework necessary to account for these things.  Van Til uses a transcendental argument to prove this.    The beauty of this method in my mind is how it ties in to the attributes of God.  Take God's eternal unchangeableness.  That can account for laws of nature that are consistent through time.  What does an atheistic naturalist have with his presuppositions (basically relying on random chance) to account for physical laws that never change.  Nothing.  The best they have is, "well that's just the way it is", but there is nothing in their worldview that can account for it. There is much more that can be said, but that's the gist.  In the end you still have to have faith in the God of the Bible.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

GregH wrote:

I get what you are saying and largely agree. I have a few additional thoughts:

* While it may be impossible to avoid presuppositions, I think that the exercise of trying to strip away presuppositions has value and can only help the process of learning...

* Yes, I understand what you mean when you say that apologetics is mostly for Christians. But if that is the point, is it apologetics? I don't think it is, at least according to the common definition of apologetics. ...

* I read something recently on why there is no such thing as a philosophical presupposition. I think it likely that few if any philosophers would do anything but turn their nose at presuppositional apologetics of anything much less Christianity. So I wonder if redefining the terms might help a bit to differentiate between philosophy, apologetics and just good rational thinking. I see those as three very different things.

What I see as passing for apologetics these days (thinking about my kids' exposure in Christian school, etc) does not really fit into any of those 3 categories. It belongs in a 4th category called "bad, irrational thinking."

Appreciate your thoughts on this, Greg.

On the first bullet, I agree. While presupposing some things is unavoidable, even those should be examined and understood. And it makes sense to me to presuppose as little as possible quantitatively. Seems like looking at it qualitatively, presupposing a lot is the Christian way. Qualitatively, "There is a God and He has revealed Himself in the Bible" is really huge. That first step is a doozy, as they say. Starting out with "human observation and reason is the measure of all things" is no small thing either--though, in an important way, infinitely smaller than the Christian presupposition... but also infinitely less useful.

Second bullet: yeah, I was telling a friend also not long ago that I'm reading "apologetics" books but to me it isn't about apologetics--it's about developing the Christian mind, more fully understanding the world, more fully understanding humans and the God who made them. Indirectly, I think this still ends up being apologetical because I do agree with Moreland and WL Craig and others, that believers who have a well-developed worldview are more confident about sharing their faith, and more resilient in the face of attacks on our faith. But I don't look at these books as "ammunition for converting atheists" or "how to prove... [things that mostly do not need proving, to people who are really not persuadable]"

Third bullet: Not sure I understand what you mean. Maybe you can elaborate further on that? I do think that helping people see their presuppositions can be a good conversation... but does the term close the door before the meeting of minds even happens? Maybe so.

There is a lot of dumbed down and oversimplified "apologetics" out there. I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, it's certainly annoying-- and weak arguments set people up for a fall when they encounter a really strong counter-argument. And arguments built on bad information even more so, when they discover the facts aren't what they'd been led to believe. On the other hand, so many people can't really follow a logical argument (or just aren't interested in following one) or see when reasoning is faulty--if they like the conclusion. How does one talk to these folks? My advice--especially to young people who are sharp and really have the critical thinking thing going strong--is to try to appreciate good intentions, but take on the responsibility of developing your own mind yourself: and read the better books. You'll feel a lot less lonely and you'll know on a deeper level that no, Christianity is not "just for idiots."