Wednesday, October 3, 2018

What is Apologetics? Pt. 3

by Hiram R. Diaz III 

§ I. The Impossibility 
of Epistemological Neutrality1

The particular apologetical methodology which we have been discussing has been called presuppositionalism by some thinkers because it does not argue to the Christian faith, it argues from the presupposition that the Christian faith is true. We presuppose the truth of the Christian religion, we do not argue to it from the basis of some neutral starting point. This is because epistemological neutrality does not exist. According to Scripture, we are either for Christ or against him;2 therefore, either one’s mind is in submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, or it is not. And if one’s mind is not in submission to the Lordship of Christ, then it is in opposition to Christ. 

Paul the apostle repeats this truth when he declares that “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot.”3 In context, Paul is speaking to fallen man’s inability to love and serve God, and this includes his ability to love and serve God with his mind. How this plays out in epistemological contexts is clear – if the law of God written on a man’s heart4 binds him to accept the truth about who God is, for this indeed pleasing to God, then the fallen man cannot do this. Instead, he suppresses the truth in unrighteousness.5 Fallen man is always at the center of all of his reasoning. Be it empirical research or mathematical calculation, there is no difference. Consequently, fallen man’s construction of criteria for what does or does not constitute evidence for the truth of any proposition is geared toward this end, namely his own self-satisfaction in opposition to his Creator. 

What is more, we must recognize that if there is a proper means of evaluating evidence, and there is, then that proper means of evaluating evidence has its origins in God himself. This means that whenever we reason correctly, we are reasoning according to that standard which God has determined we ought to follow. It, therefore, likewise means that when we do not reason correctly, we are not reasoning according to that standard which God has determined we ought to follow. And so the unbeliever’s reasoning, if it is sound, is built upon the truth (e.g. the laws of logic, mathematics, and so on), whereas his unsound reasoning is built upon his sinful desire to glorify himself, not God. 

If there are universal standards for the evaluation of proposed evidences in favor of some spiritual matter, in other words, those standards are necessarily there because God has placed them there. The laws of logic, for example, do not exist apart from the Logic of God, Christ Jesus who sustains the universe in existence by the Word of his power. Knowledge is always revealed by God, even the knowledge that A is A, or that If A is B, and B is C, therefore, A is C. This is why the unbeliever’s opposition to the Christian faith is riddled with logical fallacies and contradictions – for he is trying to use God’s own revealed knowledge against God’s revealed knowledge. 

Thus, we reason from the truth of the Scriptures, because all human reasoning argues from a foundation, a starting point. What is more, all human reasoning argue from the revealed knowledge of God present in all men’s minds (e.g the laws of logic). When the unbeliever claims to have reasoned from that very foundation given by God for our acquisition of knowledge, and upon that basis have come to the conclusion that Christianity is false, therefore, we challenge his claim by asking him about his own epistemological foundation, demonstrating its inherent instability due to the fact that it is attempting to use God’s revealed knowledge in one area of life (i.e. non-spiritual matters) against God’s revealed knowledge in another area of life (viz. spiritual matters). 

There is no neutral starting point. One is either reasoning under the dominion of sin and death, or one is reasoning under the Lordship of Christ.

§ II. The Suppression of the Truth 
is Active and Passive 

Some opponents of presuppositionalism will readily agree that man’s noetic abilities are greatly impaired as regards spiritual matters, but will deny that his reasoning about non-spiritual matters (e.g. whether or not he should buy a hammer, learning how to write software, etc) has been affected by the fall/immorally motivated to suppress the truth. However, this is not the case. Given that men use their senses (ostensibly, for the sake of argument) and reason when seeking to determine the truth value of spiritual claims/claims about the Christian faith, then it follows that if their reasoning about non-spiritual matters has not been affected by the fall, then in their evaluation of proposed evidence – evidences that are not spiritual but empirical and documentary – of the truth of Christianity, they should be able to come to the truth of the faith by means of thinking soundly. However, not all men who evaluate the Christian faith believe. This implies 
(a.)they are making epistemological assumptions about non-spiritual matters that inform their rules for the evaluation of the truth of religious beliefs, rules which inevitably lead to a rejection of those religious beliefs; 
(b.)They are reasoning unsoundly and, therefore, are unable to see that some spiritual belief is true. 
Now if (a.) is the case, then the unbeliever’s epistemology is faulty, as it is driven by his desire to suppress the truth. And if (b.) is the case, then the unbeliever’s reasoning is inherently faulty, as it is unable to lead him from the evaluation of non-spiritual evidences in defense of spiritual matters to an affirmation of the Christian faith. (a.) and (b.) are ways in which fallen men suppress the truth in unrighteousness, the former being an active suppression of the truth, and the latter being a passive suppression of the truth. 

What we mean here by active is that the unbeliever is constructing an epistemology that a priori repudiates, or identifies as illegitimate or false, any claims concerning the doctrines of Christianity. As for the passive suppression of the truth, what we mean here is that by simply thinking as a fallen creature man’s reasoning process, by virtue of its inability to draw the correct conclusions from proposed evidences, suppresses the truth (it is “in unrighteousness” as it stems from the heart/mind of fallen man, it is corrupt fruit from a corrupt tree). Thus, whether he is active or passive, fallen man’s reasoning has been profoundly affected by the fall. 

§ III. The Nature of Fallen Man’s Thought, 
According to Scripture 

When we look at Scripture’s representation of fallen man’s thinking, we see the above considerations further confirmed. Let us consider some Scriptures that demonstrate our main points. 

1. The Impossibility of Epistemological Neutrality – This is a point that is made very early on in the Word of God. Firstly, given that Adam can hear and understand the words of God in Genesis 1:28-30, we may infer from this that Adam was created with knowledge. The extent of that knowledge is not fully revealed. However, we are given a very clear indication that Adam’s comprehension of language was immediate, requiring no formal or informal training. Adam understood the following aspects of spoken language – 
a. Literal Signification – Adam understands the plain meaning of God’s blessing, as well as his announcement of man’s responsibilities in his earthly and spiritual labors (cf. Gen 2:16-17). Adam understands the bodily processes of eating, procreating, ordering/exercising dominion, etc. 
b. Metaphor – fruitful and face are metaphorical expressions denoting, respectively, the abundant production of offspring and the visible top layer of the ground. It is clear that Adam can differentiate between the metaphorical and literal use of the word fruit-ful seeing as he understands that God has given him fruit to eat, as well as prohibited him from eating another kind of fruit.
c. Proper Names – Adam understands the function of proper names, as designations of distinct identities (cf. Gen 2:18-20 & 23; Gen 3:16 & 3:20).
d. Interrogatives – Adam understands the function of questions, broadly speaking, to elicit information from the one questioned (cf. Gen 3:9 & 11).
e. Imperatives – Adam understands that imperatives are to be obeyed (cf. Gen 1:28 & 2:16-17).
d. Indicatives – Adam understands God’s actions, as articulated by God, as actions (cf. Gen 1:29-30; 3:17-19).
e. Metonymy – Adam understands that he is not literally dust, but made from the dust of the earth (cf. Gen 3:19). 
Given that Adam was created with this knowledge already, it follows that God gave Adam the knowledge he possessed. The knowledge was not gained through Adam’s sensory experiences, but given by God freely to him. What is more, Adam’s profession as tiller of the ground (cf. Gen 2:15) does not imply that he neutrally gained knowledge about the grounds by means of experience, since God declares the he is the one who has “rightly instructed” the man who sows and plows the earth (cf. Isa 28:23-29). Thus, even Adam’s knowledge of how to plant seeds and care for God’s vegetation is that which God has revealed to him. Adam’s knowledge was given to him by God, as is the knowledge that all of Adam’s posterity possess from birth. And that knowledge, coming from God himself, is good. However, with the fall of man came the corruption of man’s mind. We see this as early as Gen 4:8, where it is safe to assume that Cain lied to Abel in order to kill him. This is confirmed, it seems, by Cain’s willingness to lie to God in Gen 4:9. Later in the chapter, Lamech attempts to use his knowledge of God’s dealings with Cain (cf. 4:8-16) to justify his own wicked behavior (cf. Gen 4:23-24). 

Thus, we see a downward progression away from the righteous use of the mind in non-spiritual and spiritual matters to the perverse use of the mind in non-spiritual and spiritual matters. God identifies the corruption of man’s mind as encompassing all of man’s intellectual life in Gen 6:5 & 8:21. Man’s thinking is, according to God himself, corrupted by sin, even down to the very root. There can be, therefore, no epistemological neutrality. 

As the Lord declares through the prophet Jeremiah – 
The heart [i.e. mind] is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?6
2. The Suppression of the Truth is Active – In Matthew 16:1-4, the Lord Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for their acceptance of weak empirical evidence meant to prove that the weather would be good or bad, with their rejection of the very strong, indeed infallible, evidence of his person and work made manifest in his miracles. Although they saw Christ fulfill the Scriptures in their hearing (cf. Luke 4:16-30, they grew wrathful upon his having pointed it out to them. They could not accept the truth, despite the fact that there was convincing evidence of his person and work (cf. John 10:31-38). 

This must be pointed out, lest the reader forget – these were not fallible attempts at rationally defending the Christian faith. Rather, they were infallible proofs from Almighty God Incarnate. Yet fallen man cannot see or hear or believe the truth. Evidence is not the problem, but sin. 

3. The Suppression of the Truth is Passive – This is implied by the Lord’s words in Gen 6:5 & 8:21, as well as Jer 17:9. The entirety of fallen man’s mind is mired in wickedness, constantly seeking not the truth but sinful self-satisfaction. As we noted earlier on, the mind that is set on the flesh cannot please God. Thus, even when receiving knowledge fallen man’s mind is doing so in a way that is corrupt. The noetic affects of sin are demonstrable not only in fallen man’s defensive construction of anti-Christian epistemologies, but also from fallen passive reception of truth as given by God in general revelation. 

§ IV. Conclusion

In this brief article, we have demonstrated from Scripture that the use of a presuppositionalist approach to doing apologetics is necessary. We have demonstrated that the Scriptures teach that truth is given to man by God and is not, therefore, neutral. Rather, all of creation testifies to who God is, but man, since the fall, perverts the truth given to him by God. We have shown, then, that fallen man’s reasoning has been corrupted to the core by the fall. God identifies every thought of the hearts of fallen men as being desperately wicked. We have, lastly, demonstrate that man passively receives knowledge through a corrupt mind, and actively constructs epistemologies that serve his corrupt mind. 

Thus, we are required to argue presuppositionally when engaging with unbelievers over the truth of the Christian faith. The Christian faith is the foundation from which we argue, not the goal toward which our argumentation is geared. Apologetics is not a figuring out of the faith. 

Apologetics is the defense of the faith. 

1 For a personal account of how even the most abstract reasoning stems from a corrupt heart, see Diaz, Hiram R. Non-Neutrality: A Personal Testimony (Lewiston: Scripturalist Publications, 2017), 60pp. 
2 cf. Matt 12:30.
3 Rom 8:7.
4 cf. Rom 2:15. 
5 cf. Rom 1:18.
6 Jer 17:9a.