Responding to Adam Tucker’s Response to Fred Butler: Apologetic Method

by | Apr 6, 2016 | Theology | 0 comments

In the interest of transparency, I am a reformed Baptist. John MacArthur is my favorite pastor/preacher on the national stage. I follow and admire Fred Butler’s blog and find his perspective to be spot on most of the time. I studied apologetics under Norman Geisler and then shifted to the materials of Van Til, Bahnsen, Frame, Oliphint, and even studied under Mike Butler for a couple of years. Hence, I am of the Van Til stripe for the most part. I love Cliff McManis’ book, “Biblical Apologetics.” I think he is mostly right, even when he is critical of philosophy, a field I enjoy. So, I am not neutral concerning the disagreement between Adam and Fred.

Since this is a subject that is near and dear to my heart, I thought I would offer my own response to Adam’s criticism of Fred’s position because, well, Fred’s position is just about identical to my own. More importantly however, I believe there is tremendous damage being done to the body of Christ by way of Adam’s method of apologetics. I believe the classical method is responsible for producing many false converts within Christian churches. There are a number of people in our churches who are there because the evidence was compelling, not because they were given faith to believe. They followed the formulas, examined the logic, and the evidence and concluded that Christianity is probably true and here they are, holding hands with us claiming to love God while believing that God probably exists, Jesus probably rose from the dead, and the Bible is probably the Word of God. And folks, if it feels like that is a problem, you are right: it is a problem. In fact, it is a deadly serious problem. I will come back to this in my summary.

First, it is interesting that the post begins with a poisoning the well/begging the question fallacy as Fred classifies his brand of presuppositional apologetics (as opposed to my classical apologetics) as “what [he] like[s] to call biblical apologetics.”

I don’t think Cliff McManis poisoned the well when he wrote his book, “Biblical Apologetics.” I don’t believe that Milton Terry poisoned the well when he titled his book, “Biblical Hermeneutics.” And I don’t think Fred poisoned the well when he refers to his method as biblical apologetics. All Fred is looking to do is signify that his method begins with the Bible. For Adam to point this out strikes me as desperate if not potentially a bit disingenuous. Adam misses the mark on this point. Perhaps he can do better on his next point.

Given the kind of being man is, we gain knowledge about reality, at least initially, by sensing, and forming judgements [sic] about, sensible things.

Notice that Adam claims we gain knowledge about reality, at least initially, through the senses. Well, grammatically speaking, the statement is very difficult to follow, and hence, nearly impossible to analyze. The reason is simple: initially, one does not gain knowledge. One only gains knowledge if he possesses knowledge initially. To gain knowledge is to increase existing knowledge. I am not convinced that Adam meant to use the word “gain” in his argument. It places him in the very awkward position of having to explain how one adds more to a thing that they do not possess in the first place. When the first man, Adam, was created, he knew nothing, if our Adam is right. He possessed no knowledge whatsoever (at least if I understand our Adam) until he began investigating the reality around him. And without any knowledge whatsoever, one has to ask how the first man, Adam, began to know anything at all. How did Adam know He was a man? Where did that knowledge come from? Moreover, how did Adam know anything about knowledge? Quite simply, Adam could not attain any knowledge whatsoever from his initial state of no knowledge. Without some knowledge, even the slightest knowledge is impossible. You must know something if you are going to know anything at all. A priori knowledge is absolutely necessary in order for human beings to possess a posteriori knowledge. Now, this all raises the question as to what knowledge is in the first place. But we will come back to that later, if not in this post, perhaps in a follow-up post. Adam’s second point is epistemically implausible. There is simply no way that a posteriori knowledge can exist apart from a priori knowledge. To say that we know, initially by sense experience, ignores the role of the mind in the epistemic process. Adam misses his epistemic target by miles, not inches.

Adam continues to make his case that man’s knowledge of God is intermediate:

In other words, just as the Scriptures attest (cf., John 1:18, 6:46; 1 Tim. 6:16; 1 John 4:12), we do not have direct knowledge of the divine essence. We reason from effect to cause resulting in finite, but true, knowledge of God via things (1 Cor. 13:12).

Do these texts actually say what Adam says they say? Adam says these texts attest that men do not have direct knowledge of the divine essence. How does Adam do on this point? Well, John 1:18 does not even mention the word knowledge. He simply states what has been stated in other places in Scripture; that no one has see God at any time. He goes on to say that Jesus Christ has explained God and I would argue, done so in a more thorough way than previous revelation has done, and that is John’s point. Jesus Christ has explained the Father, being God in the flesh. This is the crescendo of divine revelation. Moreover, the knowledge of God we receive from the Christ event is not the sort of knowledge of God that is in question in this dispute. There is a marked difference between the saving knowledge of God and the knowledge of God all men possess as a result of regeneration. So John 1:18 does not say that man does not have direct knowledge of God. The same comments that apply to John 1:18 apply to John 6:46. Moreover, if we are to take Adam seriously in regard to how he seems to understand 1 Tim. 6:16, we end in skepticism. No one has seen God and this includes all humans, even Christians. And if Adam understands οραω to mean know, then no one knows God. This means the first man Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and a host of others did not actually possess knowledge of God. This view, as you can see, leads to a radical skepticism. 1 John 4:12 says exactly the same thing as the other texts. The problem is that not one of these texts suggests that men cannot have direct knowledge of God. What Adam is doing is presupposing that if men cannot see God, they cannot know Him because all knowledge comes through the senses. And that is exactly what we are disputing. Adam is presupposing what he needs to prove. Adam misses the mark on this point as well. So far, Adam has not been able to sustain a single point in his response to Fred.

Be that as it may, from a strictly grammatical standpoint, Fred’s understanding of this passage seems amiss. Romans 1:19 says, “Since what can be known about God is evident among them [or within them], because God has shown it to them” (HCSB).

 Adam makes the accusation that Fred engaged in Eisegesis regarding how he interprets Romans 1:19. The Greek text reads: φανερόν ἐστιν ἐν αὐτοῖς· ὁ θεὸς γὰρ αὐτοῖς ἐφανέρωσεν; “is evident in them; for God made it evident to them.” To whom? The language is universal; all men everywhere. What is true about all men everywhere? That which is known about God is evident within them, for God made it evident to them. The same people that possess knowledge about God are the same ones that God makes Himself it evident or plain. Adam makes a big deal out the difference between the words for “evident” in this text. Adam’s comment, “Though the words for “evident” in this verse are related, they have slightly different meanings” are very interesting. The words are more than a little related. It is the same Greek word with different forms. One form is an adjective in the nominative case while the other form is an indicative verb in the aorist tense. That is the reason one clause is an action clause while the other is descriptive. It’s the same word, not two related words. Now, it also seems lost on Adam that this verse is a subordinate clause which means it is dependent on the main clause which is found up in v18. Paul begins v19 with the adverbial causal conjunction διότι. The cause for the wrath of God being poured out on these men who suppress the truth in unrighteous is simply this: The knowledge God was something they possessed, for God made sure they possessed it. God made it so plain to them that they are left without excuse. They are guilty of suppressing the truth. They are preventing and restraining the truth of God. They willingly hold down the truth of God. It’s all about context. Adam says that we can infer from effect to cause. And he is correct in one sense. But that only begs the question. The reason we can make such inferences is because Christianity is true. God did create the world and all that is in it. God is the ultimate cause of all that came to be. But that is not the issue. The issue concerns that which Paul is revealing to us in Romans 1 about man’s knowledge of God and, how man has behaved toward that knowledge. While v20 points out that every fact of reality testifies about God, v21 points out something far more direct. διότι γνόντες τὸν θεὸν is abundantly clear; For although they knew God. The NASB, NIV84, ESV, NET, and HCSB all render this Greek construction essentially the same. It cannot be interpreted any other way than that these people knew God! All of them! And they all do exactly the same thing with this knowledge of God: they suppress it! So, as Paul’s argument progresses, he explains that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteous of men who are suppressing the truth of God in unrighteousness. He says the cause of this wrath is that these men have the knowledge of God within them and that God has made it plain to them. He goes on then to say that every fact of reality testifies to God’s existence. So we have both an internal and an external witness of God. And finally, Paul says although they knew God, they did not honor him as God. This harkens back to v18 where Paul said these men suppress the truth of God in unrighteousness. The entire context of Romans 1 screams that all men possess innate knowledge of God. They are in possession of the truth of God. The problem is that they refuse to acknowledge these facts. And this is because of sin. Again, v25 says that these men exchanged the truth of God for a lie. That men are in possession of the truth and that men have been given knowledge of God seems to be undeniable if we give Romans 1 a fair hearing, allowing it to speak for itself. Clearly, Adam’s point in this case fails to hit its mark.

Another point that Adam introduces seems to fair no better:

Jesus obviously taught these men, performed miracles as signs for these men, etc. and did not reference some innate knowledge of Himself these men were supposed to have.

Nothing could be father from the truth. “And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 16:17) “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me.” (John 6:45) “As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.” (1 Jn. 2:27) “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” (Lu. 10:22) “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.” (Rom 2:14-15) Miracles are not the variable that brings men to a true belief that Christ is who He said He is. Miracles may give cause to accept claims on a superficial level, but not on the level of true belief and certainly not on the level of true knowledge. When belief is based on such superficial ground, it is subject to revision and abandonment, just as we see take place in the New Testament. This lends itself to my false-convert comments at the opening of this post. Have we ignored the fact that Jesus’ disciples all forsook Him and His culture killed him in the end? Additionally, revisions of beliefs are an inherent component of the inductive method of classical apologetics. That method tells us that we can never be sure and that we should always leave room new conclusions based on adjustments to our hypotheses should new evidence come to light. This is a deadly problem for Christian belief. It is antithetical to Christian theism top to bottom.

Furthermore, we see an appeal to creation as it relates to knowing God’s existence and nature in many places throughout Scripture (cf., Ps. 19:1-4; Acts 14:16-17, 17:24-29).

Ps. 19:1-4 is a statement of fact. It is special revelation informing us that the heavens declare the glory of God. And they do! But Ps. 19:1-4 is not a logical syllogism telling us that we should infer that there is a god somewhere because creation proves it. Far from it. Acts 14:16-17 is also not a logical syllogism attempting to show that it is probably true that God exists. Far from it! It is a declaration of God’s common grace on all of humanity. Finally, Acts 17:24-29 is not a philosophical diatribe in which Paul concludes, therefore God exists, or worse, therefore God probably exists. All the wishful thinking in the world will not produce such a conclusion. Paul never attempts, not once, to argue that God (or probably) exists. Everywhere Paul is recorded to preach the message of the gospel, he assumes, or better, presupposes that God exists and that men know that God exists. Acts 17 is no exception. There are no appeals within Scripture to any arguments that attempt to persuade men to believe that God exists. Scripture presupposes God everywhere, and never attempts to convince men that God exists. Men know that God is there. The problem is that unregenerate men convince themselves that the God that is there is somehow, a different sort of god. They suppress the truth from God. It is true that God reveals details about Himself through Scripture. Adam confuses and conflates these incidents with natural revelation in an attempt to prop up his Roman Catholic method of apologetics. Adam fails to hit this target on this point as well.

Aside from some minor differences, as a classical apologist this is essentially my position! Because we are human beings our minds are able to be written upon in certain ways such that we can know reality. From our knowledge of “the world and how it operates” our minds naturally reason to the fact that there must be an uncaused cause that simply is Being/Existence itself sustaining everything else in existence. There is more work to be done from this truth in order to show that this is the God of the Bible and that Christianity as a whole is true, but on this point at least, I am glad I can welcome Fred to my side of the debate in practice even if not in principle. For, once one actually starts doing apologetics, it is very difficult to do anything other than classical apologetics even as one verbally denies its merits.

In truth, there are significant differences between the classical approach and the presuppositional approach when it comes to defending the Christian worldview. For starters, the classical approach fits seamlessly within the Roman Catholic version of the gospel. For those of us who are truly Protestant in our confession, and in our Christianity, such an approach simply will not do. Adam, in his approach, has assigned a measure of self-sufficiency to man. Man is capable of examining brute facts and inferring from these facts (that are supposedly just there) to the conclusion that God probably exists. But this is impossible since there is no such thing as brute fact, and since fallen man has been hopelessly affected in his thinking by the fall. The truth is that we simply do not witness this classical approach to apologetics anywhere in Scripture. It is absent from Scripture from Genesis to Revelation.

Adam claims that knowledge begins with sense experience and proceeds from there. But why must we accept his claim? What exactly is sense experience and what role does the human mind play in cataloguing it? How does the mind know to order reality in the way it does? That knowledge does not come through sense experience. Adam claims that our minds are written upon by sense experience. I have to confess that this scenario seems more than a little outrageous. The truth of the matter is that we impose our worldview on the things we experience rather than the other way around. And that is the basic difference between classical apologetics and presuppositional apologetics. The human mind is active in the knowing process contrary to Adam’s approach, which seems to suggest that the mind is passively written upon by sense experience. In that scheme, the skeptics rightly conclude that knowledge about is something man could never attain. Skepticism wins the day.

Adam presumes that there is some sort of agreement between the believer and unbeliever regarding how the world operates. This is simply not the case. The unbeliever sees a world that is operating by impersonal laws of nature, the random product of time and chance. This world sprang into existence millions of years ago as the result of an accident of nature. The Christian sees the world differently. Knowledge of reality is possible and works the way it does only because the Christian worldview is true. God created the universe and all that is in it. He created man with an innate knowledge of Himself and man is capable of gaining knowledge about his world because, initially, he knows His creator, has been created in God’s image, and is designed to gain knowledge in precisely the manner in which he does. “It is important to understand powerful philosophical errors, both in original and in subsequent adaptations of thought, which have shaped the whole cultures, as well as our own outlook, without our knowing it.” [Meek, Loving to Know: Covenantal Epistemology]

Just to keep painfully simple, Adam, like most classical apologists claim that men do not possess an innate knowledge of God. In response to this, to keep it simple, Paul says, of all unregenerate men in Romans 1:21, “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” Stay tuned.


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