I was unable to attend RC Sproul’s session for the Inerrancy Summit. After Sproul’s message there were several guys during the Conference that asked me what I thought about Sproul’s swipe against Presuppositional apologetics.
I finally got to see the video and if you want to see it yourself the video is below:
I thought it was ironic that Sproul spoke out against Presuppositional apologetics when many in the Inerrancy Summit subscribe to Presuppositionalism. In what follows I can only give a quick response to Sproul’s objection found within the first eight minutes. However, I think the brief summary written here does pose serious challenges to Sproul’s objections to Presuppositionalism.
Issue #1: Did Sproul accurately represent Presuppositional apologetics’ argument?
Sproul’s discussion of Presuppositionalism first identified two proponents of Presuppositionalism: Gordon Clark and Cornelius Van Til. Keep this in mind as we want to see his description and criticism of Presuppositional apologetics being relevant to these two men rather than some random Internet keyboard warrior.
Sproul goes on to level his first charge against Presuppositional apologetics by giving what he claimed was the Presuppositionalist’s argument:
P1: The Bible is the Word of God
P2: The Bible claims to be the Word of God.
Conclusion: The Bible is the Word of God.
Then Sproul charged Presuppositionalists for being circular on the basis that the above is the Presuppositionalists argument. However, did Gordon Clark and Van Til argue in this way?
Clark definitely wouldn’t have presented the above argument. That’s because Clark’s apologetics is more axiomatic in his approach. Note Clark stated “Our axiom shall be, God has spoken. More completely, God has spoken in the Bible. More precisely, what the Bible says, God has spoken.” In the same essay Clark also clarified how “axioms” cannot be proven: “But the axioms are never deduced. They are assumed without proof.” If something cannot be proven than by definition it can’t be “argued” for (moving from one premise to another), since it is merely assumed. And assuming something is different than arguing for something.
If Sproul is talking about Van Til’s approach here it seems that Van Til is actually more complex than presented. The closest I can see Van Til saying something approximating with what Sproul claim of how Presuppositionalist argues is with the following quote below:
To admit one’s own presuppositions and to point out the presuppositions of others is therefore to maintain that all reasoning is, in the nature of the case, circular reasoning. The starting-point, the method, and the conclusion are always involved in one another.”
While admitting the role of presuppositions and worldviews makes things “circular” in one’s reasoning as in the sense of it being in one’ system of beliefs, Van Til elsewhere has also shared the kind of argumentation needed to get around this potential impasse:
The Christian apologist must place himself upon the position of his opponent, assuming the correctness of his method merely for argument’s sake, in order to show him that on such a position the “facts” are not facts and the “laws” are not laws. He must also ask the non-Christian to place himself upon the Christian position for argument’s sake in order that he may be shown that only upon such a basis do “facts” and “laws” appear intelligible.
Note here that Van Til’s argument is not merely providing “The Bible claims to be the Word of God” as a second premise. There is a lot more going on here.
Issue #2: Circular reasoning
We have noted above that Sproul did not do the best job representing the argument of the Presuppositionalist. With this straw man argument Sproul also fault the Presuppositional apologist for committing circular reasoning. Sproul notes that the Presuppositionalists are not bothered with this since they say all reasoning are circular. He counters this by asserting “Circular reasoning invalidate any argument.” But if circular reasoning invalidate any argument, can Sproul give further argumentation proving that this is true? And after he provides this argument can Sproul also provide additional supporting arguments which in turn be supported with additional round of arguments, etc? If one truly believes circular reasoning invalidates every argument then Sproul would need to ground every premise with an argument to be rational and here Sproul would be caught in an infinite regress. I would also encourage the readers to read this article that further address the issue: Is Circular Reasoning Always Fallacious?
Issue #3: Presuppositionalists commit a fallacy of equivocation?
Sproul also fault Presuppositionalists who argues “All arguments are circular” as commiting the fallacy of equivocation in that they change the definition of circularity within the discussion. Sproul’s assertion raises several questions: Where did the Presuppositionalists changed the definition of circularity during the discussion? If there is equivocation going on, what are the multiple different meanings of circularity being used by the Presuppositionalists? Sproul is obligated to demonstrate that there really is the fallacy of equivocation being committed and not merely assert it.
Those who are more familiar with Presuppositional apologetics will note that Van Til does talk about vicious circularity and broader circularity but the Presuppositionalists are not using those two terms equivocally since they are not switch-referencing the term “circularity.” Note also as well that just because Presuppositionalists sees different kinds of circularity that does not mean that the meaning of circuliarity itself is being changed. Rather the distinction between vicious and non-vicious circularity are seen by presuppositionalists as two different subset of circularity BUT NOT as two different meanings of circularity. I must note the obviously: Presuppositionalists wouldn’t want to equivocate the two kinds of circularity anyways lest they want to make all circularity equally fallacious (Sproul’s view, and a view which he acknoweldge is not that of the Presuppositionalists) or equally virtuous (which would make the endeavor of apologetics pointless if every circular argument is right). Sproul’s charge of an equivocation fallacy is unfounded.
Issue #4: What about other religious Scriptures?
According to Sproul anyone could make such claim that their book is the book of God such as the Book of Mormon and the Quran. He seems to be bringing this objection as a defeater to the Presuppositionalist’s commitment to the Bible as the Word of God in their apologetics. This is where Sproul’s misrepresentation of the way Presuppositionalists argues brings obstacles to the discussion rather than help it. If Presuppositionalists merely claim that the Bible claim to be the Word of God and therefore it is, then the defeaters with the example of other religious scripture might work. However, the Presuppositionalists view of Clark and Van Til include the element of examining the other worldview and demonstrating how they are internally problematic. In fact, one can adequately counter both Mormonism and Islam within a Presuppositionalists’ framework. For an example on Mormonism see my review of Presuppositional Apologetics Examines Mormonism: How Van Til’s Apologetic Refutes Mormon Theology by Mike Robinson. Concerning Mormonism see my outline WITNESSING TO MUSLIMS: THE QURANIC VIEW OF THE BIBLE.
Issue #5: What does Sproul believe is self-evidencing?
I want to turn the tables around. As a presuppositionalist I am aware that everybody presupposes something in their belief system that is so foundational it is taken as self-evidencing. Of course people disagree with what truths are self-evidencing. Sproul hinted at what he thinks is self-evidencing:
“Obviously if it were God speaking and we heard his voice directly from his lips we won’t have to construct to have an argument to defend his infallibility or his inerrancy because we know that God is incapable of deceit and lying.”
Apparently sensation of the supernatural physically taken place is self-evidencing enough in Sproul’s view to establish that God did speak and that God is incapable of deceit and lies. “Obviously.” That’s Sproul’s own words. Sproul brings this up in juxtaposition to his objection to the Presuppositionalists view that the Bible’s claim for itself is sufficiently self-evidencing. So we see here that on the one hand the supernatural hearing of God speaking audibly is obviously self-evidencingly while the Bible claims as God’s Word is not as obviously self-evidencing. Does the Scripture support Sproul’s perspective?
Jesus in Luke 16:31 tells a story in which Abraham tells someone how to weigh the evidential value between the miraculous with the Scriptures: “‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’””
 Cornelius Van Til, Apologetics, Chapter 4.
 Van Til, Defense of the Faith, Third Edition, 100-101.