No Presuppositionalist Is More than Half-Educated
“Human faith is the rational basis for human reasoning.”
“Human beings are obligated to presuppose God in all of their thinking.”
-Dr. John Frame
The point of this article is to show the difference between getting educated and getting schooled. Pay attention. You may eventually experience both (so to speak).
I write this article in response to some recent discussions, for instance, this time I asked for clarity from Dr. John Frame and he:
- Personally insulted me…
- Turned me away in an elitist manner…
Dear Dr. Frame: When Will the Presuppositionalists Clarify Their View?
At FTNCI, we firmly believe that the risen Lord Jesus sees Presuppositionalism (and every other variety of fideism) as…
This piece also comes on the heels of some extended, public discussions with Greg Bahnsen fans who took issue with my claim that no Presuppositionalist is more than half-educated.
Here’s an indication of the level of the discussions:
Let’s outline the topic.
First, do you understand the differences between the normal meanings of schooled, degreed, and educated? We’ve all been to school. Some of us possess basic or advanced degrees. To be educated is an abstraction not so easily measured. You can attend school all of your life and never become educated.
Here’s a word about my own schooling and degrees, because some of you find that important: My M.A. is in Worship Leadership (from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2014). I am a layman on the topics of theology, philosophy, and apologetics. I am no Professor John Frame.
“But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) — well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me” (Galatians 2:6, NASB).
To be educated, is a state.
It is possible to become educated in a subject by non-standardized means. (Otherwise, how did the first educated person ever become that way?)
A person can be more or less educated in a specific field. But there is a generalized meaning for the term “educated,” and that is the meaning I use when I make my claim (that no Presuppositionalist is more than half-educated).
The general sense of the term educated means “having had a good education,” where education means “the process of receiving systematic instruction.” (Such instruction does not need to come by a formal process, but it needs to be thorough.)
My claim amounts to:
No Presuppositionalist has received good, systematic instruction. In fact, none have received more than half of such a thing.
In this context, good, systematic instruction would be understood as that knowledge required in order to be prepared for the work of a public representative of ideas, such as a pastor, a professor, or a writer pursuing intellectual topics.
Why would I claim such a thing? Here is the overview.
(Or see the transcript below.)
Some epistemological thoughts for you today—
Presuppositionalism: Let’s talk about this.
No Presuppositionalist is more than half-educated, I contend.
I don’t say this in order mainly to make them feel angry (although they should feel angry at this state of affairs).
I say this in order to highlight the nature of education and also the nature of Presuppositionalism, and their relationship.
To be educated means to know the means by which you know, and also to know all the necessary concretes to be able to reach that level of ability.
To be educated means to cease to be a Presuppositionalist (whether it is of the Marxist or Christian variety).
There are two main aspects an education should provide; Presuppositionalism destroys the second one.
The first aspect of an education is to learn to use concepts over and over, in one specific instance after another. The second aspect of an education is to be able to understand what good learning and managing of knowledge consists of — in a generalized sense. This is the stage of meta-knowledge.
Once you have learned this second aspect, you are capable of self-directed education across the course of your life, because you know the means by which you come to know. This is the significant point at which a person becomes “educated” — He knows what knowledge is and what it isn’t.
But Presuppositionalism is an entirely false theory about knowledge. It destroys our ability to understand what knowledge is. For this reason, Presuppositionalism makes the second half of education (the purpose for which the first half exists), impossible. To be a Presuppositionalist is to be uneducated.
That’s the claim. But how can I show it is the case?
To show why it is true, I will need to outline several basic epistemological concepts. These topics came up today in a conversation with a friend, so I will recount it.
From this interaction, I intend that you will begin to understand the relationship between education and Presuppositionalism in specific detail. You will see what it is about Presuppositionalism that is incompatible with the abilities that define a complete education: observation, logic, rationality, and objectivity.
My friend asked: Is being logical an aspect of being rational, or visa versa?
My answer: Being logical is a facet of being rational. The terms rationality and logic can be used as rough synonyms in many situations. But the technical, precise meaning of the terms would hold rationality as being the broader concept and logic as being one (highly important) component of rationality.
Rationality means the recognition and acceptance of reason (meaning, observation and logic) as one’s only means of knowledge. Reality (as revealed by God in General Revelation and Special Revelation) is the only source of knowledge. (See more on these distinctions here or here.)
My friend asked: Could a person use valid logic, while also being irrational?
Yes. Anytime someone makes any valid argument, they could be said to be “logical” in a limited sense. But, if they are not using their logical argument in the pursuit of truth, with reason as the means and reality as the source, then they are pretending. In the broader sense, they are not being fully logical, nor rational.
Here is how I understand these topics in a systematic way:
We collect information (by observation) and we integrate it (by logic). Logic is the art of non-contradictory identification. Observation comes first. Then we identify what we have observed. We identify it in a way that coheres with our past identifications. That is the non-contradictory aspect.
Consider this example: Suppose you are sorting your socks. You identify which socks are larger or smaller and which ones are black or white or other patterns or colors. You are identifying them. You sort them out and put all the dark colored socks into their own pile.
Now you have a concept: “Dark colored socks.” The concept is a mental classification that corresponds to the reality. Any observer can look at your grouping of the socks and understand that there was a basis for your choice to group them as you did. The system of classification is based on measurable differences between the socks. That makes the system “objective.”
So now we see how the various terms interrelate:
- Observation and logic are the more basic concepts. Observation requires no special explanation here. Logic is the method of collecting knowledge by making observations and integrating them without contradiction. When you place a black sock with other black socks, you are affirming its blackness and denying its non-blackness. You are acting in a way that is continually consistent with your observations. That is, you are acting logically.
- Reason (as a method) means making observations and applying logic to them in order to form an integrated understanding of reality. Since your goal is to match your socks, you have approached the task by looking, thinking, identifying, and classifying, not by feeling, wishing, or guessing.
- Rationality is a commitment to holding reality as the sole source of knowledge — and reason as the sole means of knowledge. As you are sorting out the socks, you may at some point feel tempted to grab the closest one. But instead, you grab the correct one.
- Objectivity means being reality-oriented by means of a specific method — a method based on observation of reality and based on a commitment to logic and rationality. Thus, objectivity is the more complicated concept. It means being rational — by a consciously systematic approach. If you sorted the socks by a system that you could explain and justify to another person (and by a system based on observed reality) we could call your approach “objective.”
It’s not possible to be anti-objective and still to be rational or logical. The terms are all involved in each other. But objectivity is the term for when a person sets out to gain knowledge by means of a method he has consciously identified as being reality-based, reason-based, and logic-based. So we speak of “objectivity” in journalism or in science typically. We could also speak of objectivity in philosophy, theology, history, or other academic fields. We don’t typically speak of objectivity in grocery shopping or sock sorting. In such cases we could speak of someone making an irrational purchase or an illogical pile of socks. But the term objectivity typically applies to people who are studying within a field of knowledge and performing a broad, integrative mental task.
Young children are capable of being rational and logical. But, in the full and strict sense, they are not capable of being “objective.” That is a skill that requires self-conscious understanding of method, so it is developed as a child grows and becomes educated. In fact, this is the entire purpose of education. (But almost no one understands this).
My friend then asked: Would it be more accurate to say that young children are capable of being objective, incidentally; they just aren’t capable of being objective on a conscious level? Or are they completely and utterly incapable of being objective?
To be rational and logical on a conscious level (and to be able to correctly account for how one is doing it), is to be objective. Once a person can do that, by definition, he is no longer a young child.
The second half of education is to understand what knowledge is.
An educated person knows where knowledge comes from. He may not precisely know the epistemological use of the terms I described above, but he operates according to the way described.
But the Presuppositionalists don’t. In fact, Presuppositionalists self-consciously deny man the right to do exactly what I described above. They oppose knowledge itself (if you take knowledge to be that which I have been describing above). And they oppose it on moral grounds. That is what it means to be a fideist.
Don’t believe me? Read this exerpt from Brian K. Morley’s Mapping Apologetics:
In Van Til’s view, if we use anything to prove that the Bible is the Word of God we in effect put it above the Bible, making it a higher authority. But since nothing can be higher than God, nothing can be used to verify that the Bible is true. And if the Bible needed anything to verify it, it would not be God’s Word. On this much he and E. J. Carnell agreed. Attempting to show that the Bible passes a test would be, to quote Van Til, “blasphemous.” Bahnsen adds that “God makes a radical demand on the believers’s life which involves never demanding proof of God or trying Him…. No one can demand proof from God, and the servant of the Lord should never give in to any such demand.” The apostles were “not afraid of evidence” but never argued on the basis of it” (78–79).
Does such a view amount to fideism? Yes it does.
Many readers may not yet be convinced of this claim. Substantiation of the claim goes beyond the scope of this write-up. See the final third of Classical Apologetics, by RC Sproul, John Gerstner, and Arthur Lindsley. Or, for a start on understanding the seriousness of the criticisms leveled against the Presuppositionalists, read this:
A Cloud of Witnesses Against Presuppositionalism
It has been alleged that the growing number of us who sharply oppose presuppositionalism in the Church do so from a…
It is for the above reasons that I say no Presuppositionalist is more than half-educated.
Education consists in two things: Learning the basics of thinking, and learning to introspect about what has been accomplished in thinking in order to gain the ability self-consciously to be objective.
(Side Note: Here I’m speaking of being objective in action and application, which is not necessarily the same as being able to explain objectivity on the level of theory. Otherwise, only careful students of philosophy would be capable of objectivity. But the engineer or the scientist is able to be objective without having taken a philosophy course, if he has received good, systematic instruction.)
The second goal of education, self-conscious objectivity, is entirely impossible for a Presuppositionalist. As a matter of definition, all Presuppositionalists think as children on the matters about which they are presupposing. This is the essence of fideism: It is the self-righteous appeal to faith as a means of knowing — which is childishness. (Consider 1 Corinthians 13:11 and 14:20 for warnings against childish thinking.)
Academic fideists such as Drs. John Frame, James White, Greg Bahnsen, and Cornelius Van Til would not admit to being fideists. But neither would they confess that reason is the single means of knowledge. In fact, their entire intellectual system is a rationalization for denying reason as the single means of knowledge.
They will try to “give reason its place.” But, as long as they will not put reason in the place it belongs, as our only standard of discerning the true and the false, they do not know the first thing about Epistemology — the topic they are claiming to teach. They are no more than half-objective, half-rational, half-educated.
Worse, they are the antithesis of objectivity on the all-important topic of why we should believe in Jesus Christ — and also on the essential topic of how knowledge (of Christ, or of anything) works.
They are simply defenders of fideism too embarrassed to admit it, or perhaps too obtuse to know it, or both.
I elaborate in four short videos
(Or see the transcripts below them):
“I’m not a fideist so shut up!” he explained.
Have you ever noticed in a debate or discussion that it gets heated and one person says: “The implications of your view are this”?
And the other person says, “No they’re not!”
But the first person comes back and says, “Yes, you’re an advocate of X.”
And the other person says, “I don’t think I am.”
That’s an important issue. When you’re in a debate, you have to be able to distinguish between saying “You knowingly advocate this,” versus “The view that you hold implies this.” Those are two different things.
Now, that said, I want to ask you a question: Suppose that somebody is an abortion doctor and they’re killing babies day in and day out, and you say “You’re a baby killer.” Then they say, “I don’t think those are babies.”
Are they a baby killer or not? They are.
I point this out because the implications of a view (or action) do matter and the truth of the situation does matter.
And we can say it.
And in the fight against temptation’s flood,
You have not struggled yet unto the point of blood.
Do you know that there is such thing as an intellectual temptation? A temptation to sin in an intellectual way?
There is such thing as intellectual adultery. And I don’t mean imagining a woman in your mind. I mean imagining false things and turning them into something that you worship.
Jesus condemned the Pharisees, the fishermen, and even the disciples for the fact that when they could look at the sky and see that it was red. They knew what kind of weather was going to come of it because their syllogistic reasoning was working just fine, and yet they did not want to know the truth (about him).
If you’re a Presuppositionalist, you do not want to KNOW the truth.
(A fideistic theory of knowledge is a denial of what it means to know.)
Why do we rail against Presuppositionalism?
Why do we do it?
Why do we rail against Bahnsen and Van Til and all the other Presuppositionalists?
It’s because they’re teaching a lie about what faith is, and that’s incredibly damaging to Christianity if you get away with doing that.
We don’t want them to get away with it.
Faith is the persistence in a conclusion that you’ve chosen to believe — that you’ve come to know by observation and by reason.
To say otherwise is to make faith the means of knowledge.
Now, let’s look at Hebrews: It says that it’s by faith that we understand that God created the world in six days, and so on. Does that mean that the starting point in our knowledge was faith?
No, no, no.
The starting point in our knowledge is observation.
Abraham reasoned that God was able to raise Isaac from the dead. And in Isaiah, God says, “Come let us reason together.” God accompanies his messengers with signs, wonders, miracles, so that you may know.
And then after you hear the message, then you can believe things that God teaches.
Presuppositionalists divorce themselves from the Reformed tradition, from reason, and from the Bible.
I’ve identified what faith is.
It is persistence in belief.
And that’s incompatible what the Presuppositionalists are describing, because they are not going to say that, “You come to the belief and then you persist in it, and that is faith.”
They’re going to say, you must know BY faith (faith as a means).
Hebrews says that by faith we can know some things. True (Hebrews 11:3).
When you have faith in somebody and they tell you something, you believe their report. It extends your knowledge.
But they don’t want it to be an extension of knowledge based on reliable testimony. They want you to presuppose that the testimony is reliable.
- They do not want you to judge for yourself that the testimony is reliable.
- They do not want you to put yourself on the judgment seat.
- They do not want you to use your autonomous human reason.
And in so doing, they divorce themselves from the reformed tradition. They divorce themselves from reason and from the Bible.
Not convinced that the teachers of Presuppositionalism are deflecting from attempts to clarify their view? Read this:
Dear Dr. Frame: When Will the Presuppositionalists Clarify Their View?
At FTNCI, we firmly believe that the risen Lord Jesus sees Presuppositionalism (and every other variety of fideism) as…
Looking for an overview of resources on the topic? Read this:
Need a laugh? Watch this:
Are you not convinced that Presuppositionalism is a rapidly spreading plague on the church, turning young men into fools? Review the following interactions from just this month on Facebook:
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