Bahnsen Burner's Presuppositional Apologetic For Objectivism, Part 1

Recently I posted an illustration which I use when presenting presuppostional apologetics in an introductory fashion, asking for corrections where due and suggestions on how the illustration might be made better. The first response I received serves to confirm that which is communicated through the illustration as the response is from a non-Christian. The objections raised about the illustration are based upon a particular manifestation of the non-Christian worldview known as Objectivism. In essence, Bahnsen Burner, the nick of the individual responding to the original post, appears to “agree” with me that there are two worldviews but delivers this message from within the context of his own Objectivist worldview. Thus the illustration is faulted for being in disagreement with Objectivist categories.

Bahnsen Burner argues ( that assuming “the whole spectrum of philosophies can be divided into two fundamentally opposed categories, that which is Christian in nature…and that which is not Christian in nature…implies a global uniformity within Christianity that simply does not exist”. It should be forthrightly acknowledged that there is not a “global uniformity” within Christianity, but it should at the same time be pointed out that global uniformity within a worldview is not necessary for the presuppositionalist’s purposes. Just because a particular person or group might identify him/her/itself as Christian does not mean that the identification is correct, nor does it mean that the presuppositionalist must extend the Christian worldview to accommodate sub-biblical views. It is no secret that presuppositional apologists such as Van Til and Bahnsen were very forward with their adherence to the specifically Reformed camp of Christianity as it is the truest expression of what Scripture teaches. Recognizing this significantly narrows the term “Christian worldview” in the context of presuppositional apologetics. On a pragmatic level those things which Christians would take to be fundamental aspects of their worldview and are agreed upon by virtually every individual referring to him or herself as a “Christian” are often all that are appealed to in a presuppositional encounter with an unbeliever anyway. Bahnsen Burner’s pointing out that that there are minor disagreements within the Christian worldview is hardly an argument against Christianity, especially when this disagreement may be accounted for within the context of the Christian worldview. Disagreement, even amongst believers, stems from sin. When Bahnsen Burner asks, “Are the thought patterns of the ‘original knower’ so tangled that its mouthpieces should be caught up in endless internal bickering when ‘thinking’ the original knower’s thoughts ‘after Him’?” he disregards the clear answer Scripture provides. Not even all believers think God’s thoughts after Him all the time. Has this point really been lost on Bahnsen Burner? The Bible is clear concerning the perfect nature of the thoughts and words of God. It is the sinful creature who does err and redemption found in Christ alone is the way out. An interesting question is what causes disagreement amongst those in the Objectivist camp and what is offered as a solution according to the same camp, but this will not be dealt with further here.

Bahnsen Burner writes,

“The descriptor ‘non-Christian’ could feasibly apply to a wide diversity of worldviews such as Hinduism, Shintoism, Buddhism, Taoism, Existentialism, Dialectical Materialism, Zoroastrianism, eastern occultism, animism, monotheism, deism, pantheism, rationalism, skepticism, etc., and yet the only thing that would hypothetically link these utterly different conceptions of the world together would be that they are not identical with the flavor du jour of Christianity preferred by the defending apologist, which is certainly not a fundamental.”

Only part of this statement is correct. The term “non-Christian” does apply to all of these. This is the only part of the statement that is correct. All of these views of the world are in fact the same in terms of their rejection of the Christian worldview, which is sufficient to warrant the non-Christian label (duh), and this is most important for the present discussion. As a side note, the non-Christian nature of these various manifestations of the non-Christian worldview is most certainly not “the only thing that would hypothetically link these utterly different conceptions of the world together”, mostly because it often turns out that they are not so “utterly different”. There are only so many ultimate questions available to any worldview with a finite number of “possible” answers. It may be inferred that many answers to ultimate questions provided by different conceptions of the world will overlap with one another and when studying them such is found to actually be the case. For example, major differences between Eastern and Western thought are often highlighted in textbooks, but this would not be if it were not for the similarity of certain schools of thought within each of these geographical locations.

The illustration of the two worldviews, Christian and Non, is critiqued based on Objectivist presuppositions, obviously entailing that the two parties involved in the discussion are not going to agree! “Metaphysical primacy” is assumed to be at the “fundamental level of philosophy” and, so far as one can tell, to be the main emphasis of an epistemological discussion. It is said that Christians mistakenly assume the primacy of consciousness which is defined as “the view that consciousness holds metaphysical primacy over objects distinct from itself in one capacity or another (or, in the case of the Christian god, in all capacities)”. Bahnsen Burner would thus offer a presuppostional model of his own based upon Objectivism. It is this presuppositional model which he uses in critiquing the aforementioned illustration which gave rise to this discussion.

More to come…

Your Thoughts Welcome...

The illustration here is one I use for teaching presuppositional apologetics. Feel free to comment on what may not be correct, how it can be improved upon, etc. I realize that it is not necessarily self-explanatory, but then if you read some of the other posts here or watch the recent videos you may get a better grasp of what I intend to communicate through this illustration.

Traditional Proofs

For centuries people have tried to settle the issue of whether or not God exists. One of the methods used by Christians in the past and present has been to formulate philosophical "proofs" for the existence of God. There are serious problems with some of the traditional approaches to this endeavor.

Traditional proofs for the existence of God do not require that God exists. Instead, they show that the existence of God may be possible or even probable. God is not seen as the only ultimate all-conditioning cause of everything that happens.

In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve interpreted creation through the things that God told them directly. God is the only Being who knows all of the facts of existence and has properly interpreted them. Humanity knows things as they are only when it thinks God's thoughts after Him. Traditional proofs for the existence of God assume that humanity can understand the facts without God. It is not true that looking at God's revelation in nature can be properly understood without reference to God. It is also calling God a liar when a proof is used that starts with nature and then comes to the conclusion that God's existence is "probable". This is because God's revelation of Himself in nature is clear and it is man who sinfully concludes that it is not so that only "probability" is assumed. God has provided abundant and clear evidence for His existence and tells us so in His Word.

Traditional proofs for the existence of God deny the self-attesting authority of the Word of God. Arguments from human reasoning and experience are thought to be able to properly judge whether or not God's Word is God's Word. God's Word is thought to be unable to identify itself as God's Word, so it is up to man to decide what is God's Word and what is not. The authority of scripture takes second place to the authority of humanity. How then can God's Word be the final authority if humanity gets to make the decision as to whether or not it is what it says it is?

The idea that human reason was left untouched by the results of the Fall of humanity is unbiblical and a poor foundation for communicating with unbelievers. Humanity is created in the image of God and is not independent of God, but traditional proofs for the existence of God often deny this in methodology. In reality humanity has to think God's thoughts after Him or else have no knowledge at all.

Humanity is totally depraved, meaning that every part of every man and woman was affected by the Fall. This includes thoughts and attitudes as well. The problem with humanity is not primarily an intellectual one; it is primarily a moral one. Traditional proofs do not take this into account as they should. The grace of God is the only way that anyone can be saved and remade in a way that knowledge is possible. People cannot use their reasoning and finally "find God" and jump into believing in Him because human reasoning has been corrupt and immoral ever since Eve thought of herself as an ultimate authority in weighing the Word of God against that of the serpent. A right use of reason comes only through salvation by the grace of God.


I was listening to a snippet of a debate this morning between the atheist Dan Barker and a Christian whose name I do not recall (sorry). Throughout much of the cross examination portion of the debate, Barker kept appealing to the audience with statements that essentially stated "you all know this is true" or "I know you would agree with me when I say ..." (While these are not exact quotes, they present the essence of what Barker was saying.) The tactic is a common one when trying to convince someone else of your opinion. The problem is, whether or not someone already agrees with you is entirely irrelevant to the truth or falsity of the point you are arguing for. Truth is not, after all, determined by majority rule.

Let me offer a more specific example of irrelevance - one that I see presented over and over again in debates between atheists and Christians.

Quite often a statement such as "well you believe in a book that was written thousands of years ago by people lacking the scientific insights we have today" is presented as a counter to a Christian's appeal to the Bible as a useful source of knowledge. The statement is typically made in passing, so as to not draw too much scrutiny, but I fear it often has it's intended impact nonetheless - namely to discredit the authority that the Christian is drawing on in their argument. The problem with this type of assertion is twofold.

First, it is irrelevant to the question normally under debate, namely whether or not the Christian God exists. Recall that the Christian's position is that God himself inspired these writers to write the words they penned, meaning that it wouldn't matter how much scientific knowledge the writers possessed. All they would need to be able to do is to write what God inspired them to write. The atheist that happens to follow this line of reasoning demonstrates either a lack of understanding of the claims that Christians make, or a complete disregard for the lack of relevance of the argument.

Second, it can be used against the atheist's own position. There are, as expected, examples of atheist writers in the far past - some as far back as 600 BCE. If not possessing the scientific knowledge we have today was a shortcoming of those penning the scripture of the OT and NT, then why would it also not be a shortcoming of those who held to a non-theistic position? To claim that Theistic writings during this time period are suspect due to lack of present-day scientific knowledge, but non-Theistic writings are not, is to hold a double-standard and be guilty of the fallacy of Special Pleading.

The fallacies of relevance are numerous - too numerous to cover in a short post on this blog. However, they are something each of us should be aware of. Not only for the sake of correcting others when they use them, but also to be certain that we do not fall into the trap of using them ourselves. We are not only interested in the end, but the means we employ as well.


There Are No Syllogisms In Scripture

syl⋅lo⋅gism [sil-uh-jiz-uhm] –noun 1. Logic. an argument the conclusion of which is supported by two premises, of which one (major premise) contains the term (major term) that is the predicate of the conclusion, and the other (minor premise) contains the term (minor term) that is the subject of the conclusion; common to both premises is a term (middle term) that is excluded from the conclusion. A typical form is “All A is C; all B is A; therefore all B is C.” (

My students are often reminded that there are no syllogisms in Scripture. Actually, this is not quite true, but it does capture something I hope to impress upon you now even if you have never thought of it before. Popular apologetics involve syllogisms, often lengthy and complex syllogisms, in an effort to persuade non-Christians to embrace the existence of God. The Bible never presents anything remotely similar to this method of showing that God exists.

For example, Genesis 1.1 does not read:

"1. Everything which begins to exist has a cause for its coming into being.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore the universe has a cause for its coming into being."

Rather, it states:

"In the beginning God..."

God is in the beginning of the Bible in an account of what was in the beginning; no syllogism necessary. You did not come to believe in the existence of God through a syllogistic proof, and you are not going to convince anyone else to believe in God with such a method either. You already believed in God, and so did they.

The Bible presents the truth of the existence of God and argues that if it is rejected one is lost in total darkness, unable to make sense of anything. God is not hidden in puzzles that an ancient Greek philosopher named Aristotle thought up, He is present and plain for all to see in that He has revealed Himself to us. This is to be our message to those who attempt to deny the truth.