A Presuppositionalist Considers “Fristianity”

Isaiah 44:  I Am the First and I Am the Last!  Apart from Me, there is NO GOD!

Introduction

Lots of big words in this title, eh?

Apologetics” is the art of rationally defending the Christian faith from “rational” objections (at least: from objections that purport to be rational).

Presuppositionalism” is a particular method of going about this defense.  More specifically, it’s uniquely Calvinist in its approach, since it operates on the notion that God is LORD (shout it!) over EVERY (shout it again!) area of life!  At no point in our defense of Christian beliefs, do we yield this premise.  To do so is to dishonor Him whom we serve.

In short, the Presuppositionalist says Christianity is exclusive:

If Christianity is true, all other positions are false.

All other worldviews, philosophies, religions, conceptual schemes, and paradigms, are FALSE, if Christianity is true.

We go on to argue that if Christianity were NOT true, then human experience would be unintelligible; we wouldn’t be able to make sense of anything at all.  There could be no science, no logic, no math, no poetry, language, or music; no beauty, no art, no nothing!

So, in order for us to make sense out of our experiences, Christianity must be true.

————————————————————-

Enter the Fristians

Over time, an objection to Presuppositional apologetics arose from among fellow Christians.

For the sake of argument, they agree that if Christianity were not true, then human experience would be unintelligible.  Or, to state it another way:  Christianity is the necessary precondition for human intelligibility.

But this is to make an exclusive claim for Christianity.  Christianity, on the Presuppositionalist view, has to be NECESSARY for all human experience.

These critics don’t think Christianity is necessary.  As a cute little trick, they have posited a worldview called “Fristianity” which is supposedly identical to Christianity in every possible way, except instead of a Trinity, we have a Quadrinity (four members of the Godhead, instead of three).

This Fristian system would also provide the preconditions of human intelligibility, they argue, thus making the exclusivity claims of the Presuppositionalist, false.

(Choi cites David Byron’s summary of the history and subsequent development of the hypothetical Fristianity at web.archive.org/web/20000118153717/http://www.ccir.ed.ac.uk/~jad/vantil-list/archive-Jul-1999/msg00049.html )

—————————————-

Presuppers Strike Back

Dr. Greg Bahnsen was one of the greatest proponents of Presuppositionalism, but unfortunately, passed away before giving us a systematic treatment of Fristianity.  Thus, the job of addressing the argument fell to his student, Michael Butler.  And Butler was able to gather bits and pieces from Dr. Bahnsen’s work, expound on them a little, and provide a response to the Fristians.

He wrote a famous article addressing many criticisms of Presuppositionalism.

http://www.butler-harris.org/tag/

Butler responds by noting that one cannot simply change one small aspect of Christianity, without doing damage to the entire system.  In fact, positing a fourth member of the Trinity would, in effect, cause a chain reaction of changes in systematic theology, rendering a Fristian system incoherent.

Butler concludes:

“It is necessary, therefore, that the advocate of Fristianity spell out how this one change in doctrine affects all other doctrines.  But once this is done, there is no guarantee that the result will be coherent.

Thus, without providing the details of Fristian theology, this objection loses its punch.  It can only be thought to be a challenge to Christianity if it, like Christianity, provides preconditions of experience.  But without knowing the details, we cannot submit it to an internal critique.  Until this happens, we can justifiably fall back on the conclusion that there is no conceivable worldview apart from Christianity that can provide the preconditions of experience.”

There is a sermon series on Presuppositional Apologetics presented by Michael Butler, available for free on Sermon Audio.  In lecture 22, he expounds on what he means here, and reiterates that, unless the hypothetical Fristian worldview can be demonstrated to hypothetically provide the preconditions of human intelligibility, then we’re not obligated to consider it.

—————————————————————-

Fristians Return Fire

Philosopher of religion and Fristian advocate Sean Choi, replies to Butler’s defense in his essay on Transcendental Arguments (found in “Reasons for Faith: Making a Case for the Christian Faith”, edited by Norman Geisler and Chad Meister, pg. 242).

Choi denies that Butler’s defense has done any real work in refuting the Fristian illustration.  He claims that the Fristianity illustration successfully demonstrates that the Presuppositionalist has not proven that Christianity is exclusively (necessarily) true, since Fristianity might be hypothetically possible.

Maybe it will reduce to incoherency (as Butler suggests) or maybe it wont.

Choi claims that it is the Presuppositioanlist’s job to show how Fristianity fails, and Butler didn’t even attempt it.

———————————————————

The Fall Out

Unfortunately, it’s generally considered that Choi has defeated Butler.  Many would-be Presuppositionalists have given up a faithful practice of the methodology in favor of more tentative positions.  I’ve talked with many apologists who admit as much.  They suggest that Van Til, Bahnsen, and Butler offered too strong a position, and what’s needed, instead, are arguments more narrow in scope.

Additionally, many of the hell-bounders have heard rumor of this intramural discussion and present “Fristian” type arguments when debating with me.

There are some still faithful to Bahnsen’s formulations, however.  For instance, Chris Bolt of Choosing Hats fame, in a podcast on the Fristianity problem, offers a unique answer.  (I have the mp3 of this podcast, but can no longer find a link to it on their website.  If you’d like a copy of the discussion, contact the Choosing Hats guys, and request it).

Also, see Bolt’s article, expounding on the argument, here:

http://www.choosinghats.com/2011/01/is-fristianity-sufficient/

He suggests that, since Choi admits he is merely stipulating the Fristian worldview, and furthermore, is self-consciously presupposing the actual Christian worldview in order to do his stipulating, then Fristianity must presuppose Christianity.  Thus, Fristianity is not a defeater of the exclusivity claims of Christianity since it relies on Christianity to operate.

In other words, Christianity must be true for all human experience to be intelligible, including the experience of positing hypotheticals meant to defeat exclusivity claims.

While this is a brilliant attempt at overcoming the Fristianity objection, I’m not sure it works.

The Fristian is suggesting that “Fristianity” (hypothetically) provides all the preconditions of intelligibility, presumably including the positing of hypotheticals.  The Fristian seems justified in claiming that the Fristian worldview, if presupposed, would account for the positing of hypotheticals, just as good as Christianity can (again: hypothetically speaking).

The Fristian might suggest that one must stand on a Fristian foundation in order to posit a hypothetical Christianity, and thus, Christianity, to operate, must presuppose Fristianity.

So, the exclusivity claim of Christianity seems to remain in jeopardy.

————————————————-

Shotgun deals with Fristianity

I’d like to offer my own criticism of Fristianity that builds on what both Butler and Chris Bolt have suggested, although mine will be much shorter and to-the-point.

First, for clarity’s sake, I think we should take a page from Michael Suddoth’s book “Reformed Objection To Natural Theology” and make a distinction.

Call it Fristianity A

and

Fristianity B.

Butler, Choi, and most all discussions on this topic I’ve read, realize the Fristian is not trying to defeat Christianity as a worldview.  Many hell-bounders, however, do not realize this and attempt to utilize Fristian type arguments against Christian truth-claims.

So, Fristianity Alpha (FA) is – The attempt to defeat Christianity by positing a counter worldview, “Fristianity”.

I’m not concerned with Fristianity A, since as most Presuppositionalists, and even many Fristians have realized, Fristianity would be easy to refute.  Most importantly, it has no actual revelation, and thus: no plausible epistemological authority.  It would be reduced to mere arbitrariness and triviality by a competent Presuppositionalist, in no time.  Further, the hell-bounder using Fristianity A, has presumably had his own position so thoroughly trounced he has given it up and moved on to a purely imaginary position in a last-ditch effort to save face.  If he’s gone that far in the debate, he’s already lost.

Fristianity Bravo (FB) however, is not attempting to refute Christianity, rather, it’s aimed at defeating the exclusivity claims of Presuppositionalists.

As such, it is more interesting and deserves further investigation.

But what are Choi and the Fristians actually doing?

In my analysis, Choi hangs himself severely in his own writings.  That no one else has (to my knowledge) pointed this out yet, makes me second-guess myself; yet, after thinking on it, I cannot see how Choi or any Fristian can recover.  The one, glaring, sentence in Choi’s article, that I find so outrageous, is on page 246.

According to Choi:

“Fristianity has come to mean what it does precisely because in the course of offering a possible defeater to TAG, Fristianity was defined as a possible worldview that includes a quadrinitarian God.  Voila!”

Voila, indeed!

In other words, to defeat the exclusivity claim of Presuppositionalists, Fristianity is offered as a POSSIBLE worldview.

Even simpler:

To defeat the exclusivity claim of Presuppositionalists, the exclusivity of Christianity is assumed false.

Well, of course it will be hard to defend the exclusivity claim of Christianity when an argument presupposes it’s false to begin with!  The very fact that “Fristianity” is possible, is what is contentious in the first place!!

When we Presuppers ask for a coherent presentation of Fristianity, we don’t get it.  Choi, on page 247 says it’s not necessary.  “It’s YOUR job, presupper, to show why Fristianity is false!”.  I don’t believe Fristianity is even hypothetically possible.  Just like I don’t believe any number of infinite worldviews are hypothetically possible.

The Fristian, in my view, amounts to demanding the Presuppositionalist do the following:

“Assume hypothetically, that Christianity is not exclusive.  Now prove Christianity is exclusive”.

No, I don’t think I will.

Of course, in that hypothetical scenario, where Fristianity ACTUALLY accounts for all the preconditions of intelligibility, the presuppositionalist’s exclusivity claim would not obtain.

The same is true for any religion or worldview.  We could say the same for Islam, for example.  If Islam, hypothetically, were able to account for the preconditions of human intelligability, then of COURSE Christianity wouldn’t be the only religion that could.

Again, no thank you.

I will presuppose the exclusivity of Christianity until the Fristian deigns to present a worldview that accounts for the preconditions of intelligiblity.  Let them write a systematic Fristian theology that accounts for human experience.  Please.

Come onto the court and let’s play.

We Presuppositionalists are within our rights, apologetically-speaking, to continue presupposing the exclusivity of Christian theism until we have reason (even if hypothetical) to doubt it – a reason other than arbitrarily supposing it’s dubitable for the sake of argument.

13 thoughts on “A Presuppositionalist Considers “Fristianity”

  1. X causes Y. Y exists, therefore…X.

    [God] causes [intelligibility]. [Intelligibility] exists, therefore…[God].

    Frist causes cancer. Cancer exists, therefore…Frist.

    The whole thing seems like fideism crammed into an overly formulaic apologetic framework. Why not be more poetic and direct about it and declare simply and directly that your thinking begins with Christ, not with “neutral” atheist logic and reason?

    I fancy Dostoevsky’s blunt framing of the issue…

    “If anyone could prove to me that Christ is outside the truth, and if the truth really did exclude Christ, I should prefer to stay with Christ and not with truth.”

  2. Only, I don’t think the “Frist causes cancer” premise can be proven, even if the claim can be made. (Anyone from Flying Tea Pots, to Pink Unicorns can claim to cause intelligibility or cancer – but can they back up their claim?)

    I agree about Dostoevsky, though.

    I often feel the same way about old Europe. Even if it’s true what the modernists say, that the Europe of stories never existed, I’d rather live as if it did.

  3. Speaking as a recovered atheist who’s rather familiar with the milieu, I don’t think it’s about logic, reason, and philosophy for them, either. Contemporary atheism almost always amounts to a parlor trick, an attempt to ally themselves with nihilism without ever actually being nihilists.

    They have a mythic narrative and a conception of the universe pulsating with a transcendent human will as surely as you do. They just play logic games around it, calling it something other than God. By design, a man can no more bear to peer directly into that dark abyss than a man can bear to peer directly into the mid-day sun.

    A cursory review of the atheist community itself confirms that atheists are far more upset about our being wrong, bad, and evil than about our being incorrect or illogical. A cursory discussion with them about any other topic confirms that logic and reason aren’t their primary tools for analyzing claims.

    Even if it had even once actually saved a soul, I just simply don’t have the stomach for apologetics. I feel like it truly does amount to apologizing for my faith, a faith which is a divine mystery, not the answer to an elaborate brain teaser. When I do find myself in discourse with an “atheist”, the first thing I do is try to figure out what’s behind the empty placeholder of atheism: humanism, biological reductionist social darwinism, pantheism, quasi-nihilism, or whatever? …Then one can have a debate.

    Otherwise, you’re stuck with the paradoxical belief that your opponent is a consistent nihilist who’s motivated to persuade you to nihilism. DOES NOT COMPUTE

    Don’t lure them away from nihilism, goad them deeper into it. Back them farther into the opposite direction, connecting their own dots and drawing natural conclusions from their premises for them. Their instincts will take over if they get too close to the black hole. If you can lead them to the despair, futility, and hopelessness their worldview actually entails, you can have yourself somebody who truly has ears to hear the good news.

  4. You’ve misunderstood me, I think.

    I hate apologetics – where “apologetics” is understood as the attempt to reason men to their Creator, as if He needs men crawling, against their fallen wills, to His feet.

    I’ve been doing apologetics for fifteen years, and have yet to see a single person come to this or that position (doesn’t matter what it is) based on mere reason.

    Maybe (and this is offering a lot), someone might change his opinion on mundane or trivial matters, based on simple reason, always allowing he has no pride tied up in the changing. The price of eggs at the store, might be a good example. I think they might be 5 dollars a dozen, but if, after empirical investigation, I turn out wrong, no big deal.

    Of course, were we betting our life savings on the price of eggs, there would be no end of contesting the matter, and after myriads of technicalities had been reasoned through, it might be found, finally, that the truth cannot be found through reason at all!

    That’s my position on philosophy, anyway.

    I’ve read some of the most sophisticated arguments presented in the English language – some of the most rigorous attempts at finding “certainty” the West has ever produced, and in the end, they all admit failure.

    What you’re seeing here, is not my plea to the rational mind of man.

    What you’re seeing here, is the sharpening of a rhetorical sword, used in a program of deconstructing all pretenses of knowledge among anyone.

    I’ve become so adept at this game, that I can usually reduce anyone wanting to play (play at “reason giving”) easily to skepticism. “What is it you think you know?” becomes less of a question and more of a challenge. “Offer us one, single, fact you claim to know, and we’ll see if you really know it at all!”

    This is all meant to reduce the “reasonable” West to the sputtering, infantile, adolescent it really is. My hatred of Modernism is so thorough that I seek to destroy it, using philosophical deconstruction, wherever it might be found, so that the wisdom of the old poets might, once again, come to rule in hearts and minds.

    And why not Poe, or Blake, or Hawthorne? Why not Steiner and Owen Barfield?

    What you’re seeing here, is my attempt to lay the ground work for an epistemological revolution in Western though – away from vulgar “rationalism” (since the reason game reduces to absurdity) and back towards the Romantic intuitionism and Spiritual cognizance, of our saner ancestors.

  5. If the Fristian wants to presuppose everything about Christianity is true except for God’s essence then look him/her straight in the eye and tell them to confess their sins and cleave unto Christ. After all, they presupposed that “everything” about it is true.

    If they say that the saviors name isn’t Jesus then they’ve changed two elements of the message and now they’ve shown that they don’t presuppose Christianity true. If they refuse to confess Christ then they’ve shown that they don’t presuppose Christianity true.

  6. Shotgunwildatheart: “I’ve become so adept at this game, that I can usually reduce anyone wanting to play (play at “reason giving”) easily to skepticism. “What is it you think you know?” becomes less of a question and more of a challenge. “Offer us one, single, fact you claim to know, and we’ll see if you really know it at all!”

    This is all meant to reduce the “reasonable” West to the sputtering, infantile, adolescent it really is.”

    Are you familiar with the presuppositionalist Vincent Cheung, particularly the informal, written debate he had with the atheist Derek Sansone? It’s quite excellent. By the end of it Cheung succeeds so thoroughly in exposing Sansone’s humanist first principles as the irrational nonsense that they are that you *almost* feel sorry for the pathetic creature. Sansone’s epistemological feet were knocked out from under him before he even had a chance to mount an attack, which is exactly how Christian apologetics should be done.

    Here’s the link to the debate, if you’re interested or if you haven’t yet seen it: http://www.vincentcheung.com/biblical-rationalism-vs-psycho-assertionism/

    • I read a few articles by Cheung, including one where he attempts to deal with Van Til… I didn’t like what he was offering.

      I’ll check out that debate though. Thanks for posting it.

  7. “Assume hypothetically, that Christianity is not exclusive. Now prove Christianity is exclusive”.

    No, I don’t think I will.

    ***

    Exactly! Good stuff, Shotgun.

    Regarding Matt’s syllogism, I think this is where more work needs to be done. At least more clarity given. The issue, I believe, is whether TAG is deductive. Butler says yes (right?), but I believe other Van Tillians say no. The odd thing is that in Butler’s TAG piece, I think he gets to the core of this deductive/non-deductive thing:

    “Contrary to Frame, then, the traditional arguments do not have transcendental conclusions. They may conclude that God is the *transcendent* cause of the universe, but this is very different from concluding that his existence is *transcendentally* necessary. Though subtle, this distinction stands at the very center of Van Til’s methodology.”

    The tricky thing is that while TAG can be stated in a deductive syllogism, it’s not *arguing* deductively, but transcendentally. That’s the hump.

    • Yes! You’re exactly right (in my opinion).

      Transcendental arguments must take a deductive form, but they can take any sort of deductive form (ie: modus ponens, or modus tollens, etc.).

      I should also mention that I’m starting to see the “Fristianity” objection as a form of fallacious de-facto argument:

      1. If Christianity were true, then it is exclusive.

      2. Assume Christianity were false.

      3. Christianity is not exclusive.

      4. If Christianity is not exclusive then a Van Tillian-type transcendental argument fails.

      Conclusion: Van Tillian-type transcendental arguments fail.

      ———————————-

      But this is clearly a non-sequitur, making the entire argument formally invalid.

      Premise 2 either must be arbitrarily assumed (as I point out in this article), or proven.

  8. Right on. If you can assume 2, then we can assume all manner of absurdities, like that unicorns exist. Or that Matt Parrot is more handsome than Josh.

  9. As the naturalist method is to determine something true based on the effect of a test/experiment examining the ‘result’ with a mindset that allows only the possibility of natural laws to consider the burden of proof falls on the naturalist not so much for incorporating a starting point(as credible ) in a line of reasoning that begins after a test, the burden falls on ‘why is it more reasonable to start with out a presupposed methodological approach that considers the credibility for intelligence for something existing rather than something not existing. Its as if the sceptic is claiming to be intellectually honest for incorporating starting points ‘after’ a test while being justified in railing accusation to the Christian for supporting the notion of it to be rational to presuppose not only the idea of a Creator but what must be a particular methodological approach which would have to be an approach that involves ‘order’ which demands the laws of logic of the which are immaterial.To posit a claim that their isn’t enough proof credible prior to a “thing that exist”is not a claim from a neutral position and to evade the point made is to only borrow from the foundation for logic to be consistent but primarily its starting point. It seems to me that what draws the line is demanding the atheist to account for their materialist methodological approach while they concede that a conclusion demands proof which presupposes the immaterial laws of logic. To move beyond the very point is to grant that its possible to have rational debate precede being founded on a system by which every single claim is arbitrary yet supposedly authoritative when it isn’t even sound.

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