Presuppositional or Evidential?

This post is kind of outside what we usually do at In His Image but a recent discussion in a social media group I’m in helped me realize that most people do not understand the difference between presuppositional and evidential (or classical) apologetic methods.  This article is an attempt to serve as a primer to the two methodologies and the pluses and minuses of each.  We at In His Image tend to lean presuppositional but we will attempt to present both sides fairly.  If someone who believes in the evidential position feels we have misrepresented their position, feel free to contact us and we will consider your comments.

I want to start by emphasizing that both the evidentialist and the presuppositionalist have the same goal when it comes to apologetics. Both camps desire to win the lost for Christ.  Both are attempting to defend the Christian faith. They simply differ on their chosen method.

However, this is not to say both methods are equal. They are not. We would argue that the presuppositional method is the better method. There are a couple of reasons for this.  The first one is that Christ Himself used a presuppositional method. In Matthew 4 Jesus is tempted by Satan. Satan tells Him to turn the stones into bread. Jesus responds, not by appealing to evidence that stones cannot possibly be made bread, but by appealing to Scripture. In fact, His response to all three temptations is not to appeal to evidence. Instead, He appeals, in each case, the Word of God.

Of course, the Bible does present evidence.  It gives us prophecies which are fulfilled and miracles that happened with eyewitness testimony. Yet in every single instance, these miracles and prophecies are hinged on one thing: God’s Word.  In most cases, the prophet begins by saying “The Lord says” or something similar, declaring that this is the Word of the Living God.  Miracles tend to be more evidential in nature. However, a miracle, while credited to God, is not an ultimate standard like the very Word of God is. For example, Pharaoh’s magicians were able to duplicate some of the plagues on Egypt, which were of supernatural origin, yet no Christian would imply that these magicians were in any way followers of the Lord.  So miracles are evidence that must be interpreted in light of what we already know to be true.

Herein lies the difference between an evidentialist and a presuppositionalist.  A presuppositionalist views the Bible as the ultimate standard of authority because God says so in the Bible. Yes it is circular, but it’s also valid (more on that in a moment.) The evidentialist agrees that the Bible is the ultimate standard of authority, but believe it is the ultimate standard because it is supported by evidence.  The issue here is who is the authority. In the evidentialist view, man’s reason is the ultimate arbiter of truth.  In other words, the Bible is not true because God says it is, the Bible is true because we have evidence to support it.  Most evidentialists would never say this publicly, but this is the implications of their position.

Returning to the potential objection that presuppositional is circular in saying the Bible is the ultimate authority because God wrote it and He says in it that it is the ultimate standard.  I freely acknowledge the circularity of this statement. However,  any time you appeal to an ultimate standard, it is circular. For example, suppose a Muslim were to appeal to the Koran as an ultimate standard. He would argue that because the Koran says it was dictated to Mohammed by allah, it is the ultimate standard because it is the word of allah.  Evidentialists do this too, they just don’t appeal to God as the source, they appeal to the mind of man.  Think about it. Evidentialist believe that they need to present someone enough evidence and then they will believe. Thus the ultimate authority becomes the human mind deciding whether to accept the evidence presented or not.  Atheists do this too, though the ultimate standard depends on the individual atheist.

The presuppositionalist view also permits something Dr. Jason Lisle calls the “Don’t Answer, Answer Strategy.” His reference is to Proverbs 26:4-5 which say “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.” In other words, according to Dr. Lisle,  you don’t answer a fool by accepting his foundation and arguing from it, instead you reject his foundation but show him how his foundation crumbles on itself. With an evidentialist approach, one of you must accept the other’s foundation to argue. Atheists are not about to admit the Bible is true to argue, so Christians are the ones expected to give up their foundation.  However, if you start with the Bible and flip the atheist’s question back at him, often you can show his worldview is self-destructive.

Of course, this is not to say you never use evidence. You certainly can and indeed should use evidence. Sometimes people have legitimate questions that should be answered with evidence. However, when people ask multiple questions in a row and refuse to accept evidence presented, it is likely they are not looking for answers and it is important to silence their objections by forcing them to defend their position.

Interestingly, something I noticed when writing this article is who are the leading apologists who espouse the different views.  Some leading recent proponents of an evidential approach to apologetics are: Norman Geisler, William Craig, J. P. Moreland, and R.C. Sproul. The leading proponents of presuppositionalism are : Ken Ham, Jason Lisle, Jonathan Sarfati, and John Morris.  You should notice a trend.  Every single one of the leading recent proponents is compromised on creation and the age of the earth. Geisler, Sproul, and Moreland are (or were) old earth, and Craig is edging towards a theistic evolutionist position, recently endorsing a book by a noted theistic evolutionist.  All the presuppositionists on the other hand, are well-known creation apologists.  Matthew 7:20 comes to mind. “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” Just a thought.

Hopefully this admittedly very brief primer on presuppositional and evidential approaches to apologetics has given you an idea why we at In His Image use the presuppositional approach.  Obviously there is a lot more which could be covered on this topic. If you want to learn logic and how the presuppositional approach to apologetics works in more detail, we highly recommend Dr. Jason Lisle’s videos on the topic, which may be found on YouTube by searching his name, and the word “apologetics”.

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