We have this tendency to take on the questions that we can answer.  For instance, when we were young and in school and the teacher asked a question for which we knew the answer our hands would shoot up.  Giving an answer to things we know, especially those things that others do not know, provides a great deal of satisfaction.  Though today we may wrap this in a more mature package it seems that the tendency remains.  Though the action rarely expresses itself in the show-off attitude of a child we still find pleasure in being right.

In sports, as in the scholastic method, challenges are identified and a strategy is devised as a response.  A sports strategy, like a chess theme, goes further and anticipates responses.  By two layers, in sports, the play has ended.  Though the strategy may continue through the contest, eventually the contest ends.

In philosophy and apologetics (and of course the sciences) this is only the beginning.  The discussions never end.  There are always critiques and responses, few of which come to any terminus.  There area  few apologetic positions which the Christian has won.  We have, for instance, successfully answered the problem of evil and the historicity of the New Testament documents, except perhaps for clarifying the issue of Luke and the census of Quirinius.  These arguments arise today only because people fail to read the relevant material.

Likewise the problems of empiricism and induction, raised by Hume as he introduced the world to empirical requirements, seem to have been answered by both evangelical (VanTil) and Marxist (Feyerabend)[1].  Yet the challenge of the empiricist movement refuses to go away. This seems the case largely because, in their philosophy of life, philosophy seems unimportant.  One might think of it as the fideism of science, a place where information is taken at empirical face value all the time avoiding the face that is being placed on the information.

Still other questions remain.  These are not questions which are brought up at your local apologetics conference.  Interestingly they relate to some of the questions that we use to challenge our critics.

One of the first questions is this: How an an ontological question be answered from inside the box?  That is, if objectivity is not possible the how can we account for the existence of a deity who exists outside of the bounds of our knowledge? Or, how can a deity outside of creation be identified by a creature bound by the limits of creation?

This question represents a Kantian/neo-Platonist bent.  It makes an assumption regarding our capacity to know.  Is it possible for us to know of the existence of God (or anything else for that matter)?  That is a dilemma for the Kantian.  Kant’s argument was that we can identify God through the existence of morality.  The existence of morality, objective morality that is, would require a being as its standard.  Ritschl went along with this this but moved this knowledge from the moral theory to practical morality.[2]

One might call that an argument, against skeptics, for the existence of God.  Though Kant and Ritschl were hardly in the orthodox, let alone evangelical, camp they understood the need for objective morality and consequences of a world without such.  But that’s a practical response and does not address the question specifically.

The classic and evidential apologists approach this issue with logic.  First a consensus is gained that there are universals, such as logic.  Logic is thus objectified as there can be no discussion without it.  Then logic is employed as a tool, akin to Kant and Ritschl, to show that God is necessary in order to justify these objective universals.  Once the point of objective universals is acknowledge then the Christian holds the edge in the argument.  Universals cannot exist on their own — they had to have been created.

Do you see the problem here?  The consensus regarding universals is occurring within the box.  This consensus is not a truly objective determination.  We within the box are presuming that our knowledge of ‘x’ is equivalent to what exists outside the box.  We remain inside the box.  What remains is an empty deism.

The presuppositional apologist says that revelation is the escape.  That is, God has revealed himself over time and in history.  This revelation includes the providential history in the Bible and culminated in the redeeming work of Christ.  In this revelation is the foundation for all knowledge, both of God and of universals.  Without God there is no reasonable foundation, not only for universals, but even for being reasonable.  We would remain nothing more than clever apes.

Jerry Coyne has acknowledged the problem. [3]  He maintains Empiricism’s presumed objectivity and states that

science has no add-ons. Once you find out that birds descended from dinosaurs, nothing else need be added to make this an objective truth (provisional truth, of course!).

On its face this is a contradiction.  Do you see it?  Well, actually several things have been added on.  There are two which stand out to me.

First is the assumption of materialism.  Though he would assume that a deity is an add-on, ideas and presumed conclusions also fit the bill.  There are no brute facts.  We are all, at least informally, systematicians.

Second, “science” itself is the add-on.  Science is a system of interpretation.  For Dr. Coyne it requires a certain frame of reference.  For him it is the empirical approach coupled with materialism and determinism.  These assumptions give no room for morality.  Objective morality seems for him an empty set.

Though he criticizes Sam Harris for attempting to create a morality out of this empty set, it is my sneaking suspicion that Dr. Coyne would be embarrassed to go to work wearing nothing but smile.  And I highly suspect that he has never practiced vivisection on one of his students.  He has not escaped the morality of the Christian-influenced world in which he lives.  It works for him in practice; it only fails him in theory.

This is the challenge that Bahnsen would raise in debates: Come back when you can present a worldview which does not borrow from the Christian worldview.  One cannot argue against it while at the same time accepting and practicing major components of it.  That’s both hypocritical and self-defeating.

One might find it odd that a determinist would choose to write such an article.  But this type of determinism is not like the works of a machine. It is more like a limited will, managed by both external stimuli and genetic predisposition.  It bears some resemblance to VanTil’s (Biblical) proposal that the will is tainted and because of that taint is limited in its capacity to either evaluate or choose.  What it seems Dr. Coyne is doing is rejecting is libertarian free will, defining this limitation through naturalistic constraints.

Dr. Coyne faces the same dilemma as does the Christian.  He is working within the box to describe something that is outside his box, or that fills the box.  Though he would reject anything outside the box (object morality, for example, as well as any deity) the dilemma remains that he would like to describe the box itself.

One response from the secularist might be to concur that none of us has any capacity to judge outside the box. How do we know that what we call “revelation” is actually revelation? It might be something else.  Likewise, it might be rejected that there are no universal laws such as logic, or at least that they are not knowable, as revelation is not really knowable.  This would be consistent with the objectivity challenge.  Yet the challenge comes about by employing a consensus on logic which may not be objective but which is at least universal.  This consensus spans cultures and allows people to communicate on ideas.  It is observable within the box and, by all observation, seems to span the box.

A suitable response to this might be to suggest that any argument against the ability to argue is pointless.  If one dismisses knowability of the laws of logic then why would the individual engage in such a discussion?  Such a proposition seems self-defeating, at least in practice.

It appears that unless one presumes revelation from outside the box objectivity is impossible.  Most do not do this formally.  Only the presuppositionalist does this formally.  (This is not a non-distinction fallacy. I am attempting to be clear about formal and informal presuppositionalism.)  The classic as evidential presume to reach the outside of the box from the inside. Many who propose secular arguments also do this informally, assuming (as does Dr. Coyne though he is certainly not alone) and imbuing characteristics onto the box.  The presuppositions may differ but the exist never-the-less and provide the foundation for many arguments.

The “outside the box” discussions is essentially a Kantian or neo-Platonist discussion.  It asks whether we can we know about the box or actually touch the box itself and reach the deity on the other side (or He reach us).  Revelation tells us we can know.  Though we might point out the many failings of Kantian epistemology a systematic Christian epistemology which does not borrow from the Rationalist is needed.

[1] VanTil and Feyerabend argued during the same period of time, the mid 20th century, that the over-confidence of the empiricist was unjustified.  For VanTil (and others in the Reformed tradition) it was a matter of epistemic capacity on account of fallenness, creating a frame of mind incapable of objective observation (“Christian Apologetics”).  Feyerabend identified the problem as the inability of a person to separate himself from history and wroldview, again limiting even the methods of inquiry (“Against Method”).  Neither allowed for the error “brute facts” that exist outside of interpretation.  We all thing and interpret systematically — we organize our thoughts and ideas around assumptions that are both learned and part of our nature.

[2] Orr, James, “The Ritschilian Theology and the Evangelical Faith,” Second Edition, Hodder and Stoughton (London), 1898, p. 34ff

[3] https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/07/24/why-there-is-no-objective-morality/, cited 11/28/2015