Last year I referred to a shift in my
thinking and its implications for this site. I also suggested that the way I'd been going
about things was intellectually bankrupt. (Unless one has
been convinced of
that bankruptcy and predicts its continuance in another form,
one may wish to read this site’s eighth anniversary update,
The position I've come to has been percolating in my mind for
years. It intruded upon my thinking
I was unable to remove certain obstacles to my assent. The
protracted delay may also be due to a personal defect, perhaps an inordinately
weak ability to decide, to commit. I am “ever learning,”
“and never able to come to knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim 3:7).
I recall that in a
letter Murray Rothbard once called me an inveterate
“Seeker,” as opposed to a “Finder.”
The strife of dialectic continues to manifest itself in my life,
irenically with fellow Christians and
apologetically (i.e., defensively) with unbelievers. By “fellow
Christians” I do
not mean only fellow Catholics, Eastern and Western, including those
who cannot imagine that there is anything in Reformed thought
worth putting at the service of the whole Church. I also mean
Reformed Christians, even those who cannot fathom why I remain
in the Roman Catholic communion.
To be clear: I am not theologically Reformed. (At
least, I don't think I am.) There
is much more to being Reformed than adhering to an approach to
philosophy championed by some Reformed
Christians. Much more study, reflection, and adjustment lie
ahead of me. More importantly, there’s more to
being a Christian than getting one’s theology right, as
important as that may be (which is, after all, a theological
critique of philosophy worked out by the
Gregory L. Bahnsen
(1948-1995 ; see links elsewhere on this page), however,
has at last won my allegiance, and he was Reformed. But in my
(corrigible) opinion, Reformed ecclesiology leaves much to be
desired. I have been, despite my best efforts to stay put, a
philosophical vagabound. I will do my best not to be an
ecclesial one as well.
The gist of Bahnsen’s critique is that philosophy as it has been
practiced is virtually at enmity with Christ, who is the Wisdom
of God (1 Cor 1:24). To the degree that it is op-posed to
Christ, to that degree it is misosophy, the hatred
rather than the love of
wisdom is not an abstract virtue, but a divine person. To
pretend indifference to Christ is pretend indifference to the only Wisdom
worth having; to hate Christ is
to hate wisdom, that is, to hate him in whom all the treasures
of wisdom are hid (Col 2:3); and to hate wisdom is to love death
(Prov 8:36). Christians may continue to use “philosophy” and its
cognates, but they reserve the right to qualify that usage.
Between the philosopher and the misosopher, covenant keeper and
covenant breaker, there is antithesis.
(To my knowledge, Bahnsen never used
the term “misosophy.”
Following the Apostle Paul, Bahnsen labelled what I call
after the elements of this world, and not after Christ”
Col 2:8. I think
which I did not coin,
captures a Van Tilian insight of Bahnsen's, and so I
would like to give it more currency. “Antithesis”,
however, is stone-cold Bahnsen.)
From 1969, when I first began to read philosophy (as it is
commonly called), I had very rarely questioned the presumption of autonomy
exhibited by my models in that field,
whereby the human mind posits itself as the final judge of what is real,
true, and good. I did not question that presumptive stance even when the provisional conclusions I arrived
at were professedly Christian-theistic and therefore
incompatible with it. The way I approached “God” did
not ethically comport with wanting God. I played it
safe, hedged my bets, looking for nothing more than a piece of
metaphysical furniture to complete the interior design of my
latest philosophical mansion. The irony of this discrepancy was
lost on me, at least until recently.
As I now see it, that loss was not innocent and my
present insight is wholly of grace. Fear of the Lord is the
beginning of wisdom (Prov 9:10), however, not something
tacked on at the end of one’s system. (Part V of Whitehead’s
Process and Reality comes to mind. So does Chapter XIX of
Human beings, Christian and non-Christian alike, do know things. They do reason.
They do calculate, induct, deduce, plan, accuse,
exonerate, interpret. They do write histories,
novels, and plays. They do compose symphonies and conduct
experiments. They do creatively improvise on canvas,
in the sculpture studio, and on the band stand. But their
attempts to account for these facts
apart from their dependence upon God
have been marvelous failures, for they cannot secure the
experience-transcending universal claims on which they
rely when they engage in any of those activities. They
ought to acknowledge the laws of logic, the uniformity of
nature, moral absolutes as gifts of God. Unless God grants
spirit of repentance, however, this they will not do, for
it is offensive to their posture of autonomy. But they pay
a price for this posture in the coin of rank foolishness.
Ironically, such a critique of philosophy is what one would
predict professing Christian philosophers to produce, informed as they
are by their awareness of the covenantal relationship
they bear to God. Historically, however, what comes
under the label “Christian philosophy” is compromised. Christian philosophers have generally given their
blessing to pretenses of neutrality and autonomy, content to
conjecture how far the human mind can
go under its own steam
before grabbing the supernatural rope to take them the rest of
They can give that blessing, however, only by suppressing
awareness (that they otherwise happily acknowledge) that the
human being is a created, covenant-bound bearer of the image of
God. That is,
Christian philosophers join
their enemies in “testing” the hypothesis that Christian theism
is at least as “reasonable” as anything else on offer in the
marketplace of ideas. As though any inference at all could
be reasonable if Christian theism were not antecedently true.
As though an impersonal matrix of possibility were Lord of all.
I understand why Christianity’s opponents “load” the argument
against Christian theism. But why do Christians follow
Bahnsen, following Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987), articulated
and promoted the transcendental approach to apologetics,
theology, and philosophy. (See the technical Note appended
below) He interpreted this trio of disciplines as three
perspectives on the same content. My wrestling with Bahnsen’s
thought for over twenty-five years has finally resulted in my
decision to identify personally with it. There is no Bahnsenian
critique of unbelieving philosophy without Van Til, but it is
Bahnsen who applied to it the tools of American academic
philosophical analysis and, to use an idiom I picked up from
him, scratched where my mind was itching.
Unlike the transplanted Dutchman Van Til, Bahnsen, who was
raised in Pico Rivera, California in the ‘50s and ‘60s, was just
five years my senior. My generation. Many of his references to
texts in academic philosophy were familiar to me. (I have the
impression that he and I read not only many of the same books,
but also even the same editions.) In short, he
spoke my language, but used it to progressively undermine my
convictions about how I’m supposed to love God with my whole
mind (Luke 10:27).
Apart from a hostile
review in 1981 of a book
favorable to Van Til, my first serious engagement with Bahnsen’s
thought spans the period 1987-1996 or so. I once had the
privilege of speaking with him in person about Bernard Lonergan
at a New York apologetics conference (he later mailed me
this paper); chatting
with him over the phone about George Smith (whom he had recently
debated) ; and
corresponding with him about
the Calvinist philosopher and apologist
Gordon H. Clark
John W. Robbins
in the letters page of a Reformed periodical. (For the latter,
they refer to
all now on Covenant Media Foundation’s site. I plan to reformat
them soon, and put them in chronological order, for this site.)
I had been in Clark's philosophical camp for about a year, although my
lengthy correspondence with Robbins shows I was not happy with
its rationalism. (I plan to scan and post all of that one day as
Over the years I asked friends to help me overcome doubts I
continued to harbor about Bahnsen’s argument. I did managed to
harness its negative power to scrutinize the worldview
underlying George Smith’s Atheism in a 1989
I was not then, however, up to the task of prosecuting the
positive case for the Christian worldview as the
transcendental presupposition of intelligible predication (as
Bahnsen did two years later in a
radio debate with Smith). One of those
friends compiled sources from Van Til and Bahnsen, including
transcriptions of passages from the latter’s recorded lectures.
(I hope to post that material soon.)
Intellectual disappointment, bordering on ennui, set in
over the next few years, followed by a nearly decade-long
sojourn through the literary vineyards of one fascinating
thinker after another. (See the
now “under quarantine.”) I continued to choose philosophies the
way I always had, the way Van Til said we shouldn’t, that is,
the way we choose hats. (See his A Survey of Christian
Epistemology, chapter XIV.) I chose them
they were going out of style,”
many of them already had. “God” was always a topic of
speculation, to be sure but, to borrow C. S. Lewis’s metaphor, I
remained on the bench and God in the dock.
If my predicament was not exactly ego-centric, it was that
posture’s first cousin: ratiocentric. My ratio. If
that’s philosophy, then I am no longer a philosopher. Even
by one of its criteria, rigorous self-criticism, “philosophy”
has failed. Or rather, misosophy has failed, as it must. No
matter how many dead-ends may litter its history, the misosopher
never questions its superficially humble but deeply proud stance
of autonomy. While claiming that they are only
“following the argument where it leads,” misosophers never put
at risk their anti-theistic starting point. They will insist upon
it no matter what folly they consequently embrace, no matter
what antinomy they find themselves reluctantly settling for.
This is neither noble nor heroic. It is quixotic and, if
pursued to the bitter end, self-destructive.
The history of “philosophy” is the story of the attempt to make
the anti-theonomic gambit pay off intellectually. It has been
marked by seductively penetrating analyses and fierce dialectical
combat and drama, often starring outsized dramatis personae.
It has been occasionally graced by literary elegance, but always
sentenced to utter failure (1 Cor 1:20).
Van Til spent five decades itemizing that failure. Bahnsen
spent two summarizing, extending, and sharpening the
vindicating the Christian worldview
along the way.
whose signage you are now reading, will be displaying some of their
tools. An eagle-eyed visitor will notice is that some
postings, especially those from Bahnsen, predate this
An excerpt from a
1907 book by Augustus Strong, which one might fairly
describe as “proto-presuppositional,” has been up since 2009.
As I said, this has been brewing for some time.
January 17, 2013
(The site’s ninth anniversary)
January 26, 2013)
Notes on the Transcendental Argument
One’s worldview is one’s network of nonnegotiable beliefs. On
the Christian worldview there is a sovereign, self-contained,
self-revealing, and covenant-making triune creator God, who is
the ground of man’s being, knowing, and doing.
One proves God’s existence by showing that it is the
precondition of our proving anything. That, in an abbreviated
form, is the transcendental argument for
the existence of God.
The context of apologetics—the attack upon and defense of a
worldview—is a reason-giving (or argument-offering) game.
Whoever challenges the transcendental argument is automatically
playing it. If he does not want to play that game, he
should get off the court. While on the court, he is not free to
refuse to receive or pass the ball and then taunt players to the
effect that he hasn’t been beaten. Outside the reason-giving
game, the antics of the skeptic have no forensic import.
Once an opponent of the Christian worldview makes an existential
or epistemological claim—on the basis of which he claims to
infer the falsity of Christianity—he must justify that claim in
terms of his worldview or show (as the Christian will be
happy to show) that he cannot do so without borrowing from the
Christian worldview—a self-contradictory state of affairs. If
he is not willing to offer justification, then his claim is
arbitrary. He is no longer playing the reason-giving game.
The Christian worldview presupposes the existence of a God who
connects all particular facts—past,
present, and future—into
a foreordained and exhaustively known system without destroying
The human mind, by contrast, lacks and cannot construct an
all-comprehending system of universals, a system of absolute
truth, because it cannot grasp all the particular facts
system must accommodate.
Left to itself, the human mind cannot relate any two
facts to each other. Lacking that system of universals,
however, the human mind is unable to identify one fact
with certainty: how the completed system affects that fact could
never be known unless and until that system is attained.
Whenever a non-Christian predicates—identifies
two facts and relates them intelligibly—he
appeals to the metaphysical and epistemological necessity of
there being a system of absolute knowledge that logically
relates all concrete particulars, he is relying on the very
thing he professes to reject, i.e., the Christian worldview.
In his defense of the Christian worldview, which he learned from
Cornelius Van Til, Greg Bahnsen did not only refute individual
examples of non-Christian worldviews seriatim by showing
that they make nonsense of human experience and are riven by
contradictions. He also elaborated a general theory underlying
his ability to do that. His forensic successes were not a
case of “so far, so good.” A bit of that theory has been
The project of vindicating the transcendental argument consists
of showing that the price of human autonomy in thinking is not
just a little less coherence or empirical adequacy than one
would prefer, but rather utter unintelligibility, irrationality,
The showing can only be indirect, for it is neither a
deduction from premises known more certainly than the argument’s
conclusion nor an induction from a series (however
impressively long) of refutations of the non-Christian worldview
(in whatever guise).
The showing consists of communicating an insight into both
one’s dependence on God’s internally coherent foreordination and
foreknowledge of whatsoever existence and comes to pass and
the futility of attempting to think independently of God. There
is, therefore, no parity or “stand-off” between God’s claim of
authority and man’s that would permit an arbitrary choice
between them, no more than there is parity between nutritious
food and garbage if one is playing the life-sustaining game.
Our ability to predicate intelligibly is the precondition of our
intelligible affirmation and denial. If neither affirmation nor
denial has occurred, then the reason-giving game has not begun.
If I do not understand a predication made in Sanskrit, for
example, I cannot affirm or deny a proposition in that language,
for that predication would be unintelligible to me.
But even predications made in English are intelligible to me
only because I presuppose or take for granted that
the world (with me and my actions in it) is a certain
way. There must be an ultimate ground of the proximate
intelligibilities of logic, nature, and ethics that we rely on
whenever we infer (deductively or inductively) and whenever we
Psychologically, inferring and oughting are usually
unproblem-atic for us, but that does not solve the
epistemological problem of justifying our doing so.
The transcendental argument for the existence of God shows that
makes possible the deduction, induction, and obligation we take
for granted as well as their mutual coherence; that is, all
other worldviews, denying God as defined above, cannot account
for those features of human being and experience.
At the risk of suggesting that the transcendental argument is a
deduction, one might view it as a syllogism. It must be
stressed that the project of vindicating the argument is not
a syllogism. With that proviso in mind, let P stand for the
complex of propositions that expresses the Christian worldview.
P or not-P. (Disjunction of contradictories)
Not (not-P). (Negation of one of the disjuncts)
Therefore, P. (Deduction of the other disjunct)
For any proposition P, if not-P is impossible, then P follows
necessarily. The demonstration of the impossibility of
(whether one or many) of P’s
however, will not allow one to deduce P. In Bahnsen’s argument,
however, P is the complex proposition that we may label “the
Christian worldview,” whereas not-P is the negation or
contradiction of P at one or more points. Any number of
worldviews—e.g., materialism, idealism, monism, dualism, etc.;
or: Marxism, Objectivism, Existentialism, Pragmatism, Process
Philosophy, etc.—can represent that contradiction.
contrary of the Christian worldview
fail to account for intelligible predication, then it is
necessarily true. It could not be false in any world in which
“true” and “false” have meaning. Superficially, P’s contraries
may be legion, but at bottom they are one, united in their
presumption the would-be autonomous man's own authority, the
issue of which can only be self-stultifying subjectivism. When
that is shown, P has been proven.
perspective on the transcendental
argument also risks misunderstanding in that it takes for
granted the force of a syllogism. Outside the Christian
worldview, one has no ground for even affirming abstract
identity (e.g., A = A).
January 17, 2013
(revised heavily March 7, 2013)
(corrected July 6, 2013)
* Bahnsen took over from Van Til uncritically (and, in my
opinion, unfortunately) the phrase “argument from the
impossibility of the
when what he must have meant was “argument from the
impossibility of the
The impossibility of either member of a pair of contradictories
necessitate the other member; the impossibility of a contrary,
however, does not: it may be that both contraries are
false. As a trained philosopher, Bahnsen was familiar with
square of opposition,
so why he bought into Van Til’s departure from the traditional
usage of the technical terms employed in that diagram is a
mystery to me. Not (not-P) refers to the impossibility, not of
“the” contrary of P (as if P has only one contrary), but of
contrary whatsoever. (Not
merely contrary, but as the member of the set characterized by
Were you looking for me?
Probably not. Most likely you were searching for certain content
and, having found it on this site, you wanted to know a bit more about what's behind it.
(and technologically unevolved) is a repository of
(a) samples of the scholarship that has put me in the debt of
others over many years and (b) essays of mine through which I try to pay that debt forward.
I hope the site will continue to play that role.
Tool around the site.
Perhaps you will find things of interest that you were not
Revised January 17, 2013
(The site’s ninth anniversary)
Who Has the Greatest Influence over My Mind's Present Course
December 26, 2012
Gregory Lyle Bahnsen
The Transcendental Argument for God’s Existence
Michael R. Butler
Just in case
you thought I've forgotten about Murray Rothbard . . . .
Apropos the semicentennial of the March on
Washington, August 28, 1963, I am pleased to post Murray N. Rothbard's
neglected analytical essay,
"The Negro Revolution,"
published shortly before that event.
that survive the transition
Conversation is a game with some hard rules: say only what you
mean; say it as accurately as you can; listen to and respect
what the other says, however different or other; be willing to
correct or defend your opinions if challenged by the
conversation partner; be willing to argue if necessary, to
confront if demanded, to endure necessary conflict, to change
your mind if the evidence suggests it.
David Tracy, Plurality and Ambiguity:
Hermeneutics, Religion, Hope. Harper & Row, 1987, p.
The Desire to Be
A prime cause of our being deceived is . . . always our own desire to
be so deceived. . . . (A)ll of us constantly need to be asking
ourselves what it is which we want to be true, and whether our
desires so to believe are stronger than our desires to know the
truth, however uncongenial to us that truth may be. It is
truly an existential challenge.
Antony Flew, How to Think Straight:
An Introduction to Critical Reasoning.
(Thanks to Dave Lull for the citation I carelessly lost!)
But Flew fails to address our
avoidance of that challenge. Our intention to deceive
ourselves is almost always self-covering. See Greg L.
The Crucial Concept of Self-Deception in
a synopsis of the argument of his doctoral dissertation.