The Problem with the Evidentialist Approach to Apologetics:

It reaffirms to the unbeliever the very self-autonomy that he needs to repent of in order to come to Christ and be saved.



Too harsh?

Too simplistic?

Or right on?

13 responses to this post.

  1. You’re not going to get us with anything short of evidence. So by all means, don’t use it. But you won’t be convincing.

  2. I was very much in the evidentialist camp until I reconnected with an atheist friend from high school. In going back and forth with him I realized that there is a fundamental level of faith that we both based our understandings on. He was willing to make the leap of faith that the universe always was, etc, while I make what I consider to be a much shorter step to faith in God. While I’ve considered myself a Calvinist for years, this encounter really solidified the “T” to me.

    What I’ve since come to realize is that the evidentialist arguments have their place. If nothing else, they serve to bolster my own faith. However, in the end my friend has chosen to be his own god because he doesn’t like the way God runs things and allows terrible things to happen to people. Therefore, he has to believe in these incredibly elaborate systems to explain the universe. He’s not going to be convinced until God changes his heart. I would be glad to be a means that God uses for that, but I realize that ultimately he is not going to be argued into the kingdom.

    More to your question, I do agree to a point. He’s using elaborate arguments to explain away God so he can live as his own god. However, if he does repent and believe it will be because God has regenerated his heart, not because of any persuasiveness from a believer’s apologetic. In other words, I cannot completely agree with your statement because the very act of repentance comes from a repentence from his autonomy.

  3. “He was willing to make the leap of faith that the universe always was, etc, while I make what I consider to be a much shorter step to faith in God.”

    I think you’re confused.

    One believes in a large and complex universe. The other believes in a large and complex universe, AND an even larger and more complex intelligent being with the power to create that universe. And you seem to think that the former is making the larger leap of faith?

    • Well, it doesn’t make much sense to me for there to be creation without a creator or design without a designer. Therefore, at some point there is a necessary being. You could go down the road of Carl Sagan who basically saw the universe as being god since he described it the same way the Bible describes God. That’s how my friend sees it as well. To me, counting on all the random occurrences that it would take to lead to our world and the life on it requires a much larger leap of faith than believing in a creator that exists outside of the time and space we can perceive.

      My friend is quite honest about the fact that the problem of evil destroyed what little faith he had. He didn’t like the way God runs things, so he decided that God must not exist.

  4. morsecode, please use your real name. We do not allow anonymous comments.

    Also, your first comment assumes that you are capable of weighing evidence in an unbiased autonomous manner. Is this your position?

    • How am I anonymous? I have a bl0g that I’ve used this name under for over a year. I’m not going to change my WordPress screen name for commenting on one blog, sorry. If you wish to delete my comments because I choose to not use my given name, so be it. That’s your choice.

      I am able to look at and weigh evidence as objectively as a subjective human can be.

      • I apologize, I thought you might want to have an honest discussion without hiding behind a pretend name. We have nothing to hide, what about you? If you do decide to respond, the plea for you to use your real name is still on the table otherwise let’s not waste each others time.

        I’ll take the bait on your last comment. You’re actually not able to weigh the evidence at all and arrive at a right conclusion. If you disagree, please provide an example where you have done this. Also, for extra credit define “objective,” since you brought it up.

  5. Well morsecode, I think you are co-inflating two different questions:

    1) What is the explanation for the universe?

    2) What is the explanation for the creator of the universe/God?

    The universe is finite and bound by time and space. God is a perfectly fine (and perfect) answer to the question.

    For #2 God is an infinite self-existent being. Though God is more complex, the explanation for His existence is logical. With the existence of God, the existence of the universe is also logical.

    In the non-theistic scheme, there isn’t nearly as good an explanation for the universe. Unless you call the idea of the totality of the universe’s energy and mass in a singularity (big bang) that is a product of another universe (multiverse theory).

    Back to the posts original question:

    I think morse code will eventually prove the effectiveness of evidential apologetics. Perhaps he will be swayed? But as in most instances of evidential apologetics, he will not.

    I truly am presuppositionalist and I do talk about the futility of evidential apologetics, however you gotta admit, its utility (for getting some communication going) is great! And if you admit it even further, you know all the evidential arguments and like them. (Or is it just me?)

  6. As a presuppositionalist in my approach to apologetics and evangelism, I think the employment of evidence is sometimes a good thing. My presuppositional brethren should not be afraid to use evidence, and in my opinion some believe they should avoid it all together, which in my mind is disarming yourself of a potential “weapon” in our warfare (2 Cor. 10:1-5).

    Where I think evidentialists fail in their use of evidence is along three areas.

    First, they believe evidence is self-defining and authoritative within itself apart from special revelation informing us. So they operate from the notion that all men, believer or non-believer, will look at the same evidence and draw the same conclusions. Greg Kohkl of Stand to Reason often raises this issue about evidence when he objects to a presuppositional approach.

    Second, they assume all men, believer and non-believer, will all interpret and draw the same conclusions about the evidence in pretty much the same way. If the evidence is already self-defining and authoritative in and of itself, then all men must have the same ability to understand it. To suggest men must have special revelation to perceive the world correctly is just irrational, argues the evidentialist, because it is saying no one would be able to function anywhere in the world without the knowledge of God, and we know people have functioned with out that special knowledge.

    Then third, they fail to take into consideration the impact man’s fallen sin nature has on his ability to rationalize and the necessity of divine regeneration to free man’s mind to think rightly. Where as the evidentialist assumes men will look at all the evidence and draw similar conclusions, the Bible tells us he looks at the evidence and draws conclusion designed to justify his rebellion against God’s sovereign authority. A recent example is atheist Anthony Flew who became a “theist” with a little “t” a few years back (or so he says). He finds the advancement of DNA research to be a compelling argument against evolutionary descent with modification, and has allegedly abandoned his total commitment to atheism and is warm to ID arguments. Where as the various Christian evidentialists like Flew’s friend, Gary Habermas, see he philosophical move as a wonderful example of open mindedness that follows the evidence where ever it leads, Flew is still very much opposed to God, especially as He is revealed in scripture and in Christ. In reality, Flew is in more danger now because he will be held accountable to rejecting greater knowledge about God.

    All that to say, however, that evidence, in spite of its short comings, if utilized correctly by the Christian, can be an effective tool. Particularly as we force the unbeliever to justify his worldview as to how he interprets the evidence according to the constructs of his chosen world view. So morsecode the atheist, as with all atheists, has to provided a cogent, logic explanation as to how complex biological lifeforms can come to even exist all on their own in what the atheist claims is a purely natural, materialistic world. Because, let’s be honest, the evidence does not justify such a view of reality.

  7. Posted by Scott Christensen on August 25, 2009 at 10:42 am

    At the heart of the issue is the noetic effects of sin. By this I do not mean that the fall has diminished rationality or intellectual capacity. Clearly many unbelievers are intelligent and rational thinkers. Evidentialist arguments make a direct appeal to reason (without necessarily the aid of revelation). In many instances it is successful. I think Flew was absolutely compelled by the rational arguments of ID. But here is the problem – one can be convinced of a proposition or factual claims of the Christian faith and still reject it out of hand.

    One can be convinced that the arguments for the ressurrection are more compelling than the ones that deny it. OK, so one accepts the resurrection, now what? In and of itself it means nothing to accept the miracle of the resurrection of Christ. Many in the day had no choice but to accept it’s reality or factuality. The question is, is one prepared to accept what it means? The meaning of the resurrection is not mundane, that is, a unusual occurence that goes against the norm yet somehow devoid of anything deeper. To the contrary, it has spiritual significance of the highest order. But, the unbeliever is blinded to spiritual reality. The fall has made him unspiritual and therefore he will not and cannot grasp the spiritual significance of the resurrection.

    Thus, apart from regeneration all evidence for the Christian faith falls on deaf and distorted ears. Heart rebellion against God will steal rational arguments from the mind and cast them aside no matter how compelling. The bottom line is, the unbeliever does not want his rebellious heart exposed and so he will distort all manner of evidence to justify his rebellion. This is what evidentialism misses. It assumes that if the unbeliever can be persuaded that something like the resurrection is true that this will automatically lead him to faith in Christ. There are far greater barriers to belief than intellectual ones. I think presuppositionalism tries to grapple with that reality.

  8. 1. “Autonomous” is nothing but a pejorative buzzword.

    2. “Autonomous” reasoning is all God gave us, to receive and evaluate information. There ain’t anything else.

    3. If God is above logic, as Van Til claimed, then we can’t know anything about God. This principle is the pathway to neo-orthodoxy and spiritual skepticism.

    4. If you have to understand everything (the eternal context) in order to understand any one thing (brute facts), then none of us know anything. Which is a foolish claim.

    5. If Christians and non-Christians share nothing in common epistomologically, then we are incapable of reasoning with each other, and are forced to just yell louder and more assertively at people. And add pejorative adjectives like the word “brute” in front of innocent words like “facts.”

    6. The argument that presupposing the Christian worldview makes everything else intelligible is… an argument based on evidence. It’s called “the argument from coherence.” Like C.S. Lewis’ “I believe in the sun because by the sun I see everything else.”

    7. The Bible nowhere claims to be self-attesting. Van Til made that up.

    8. If evidentialism is so bad, why does God use it in Scripture?

  9. Jack,
    Your mistaken with a lot of your assertions here and regrettably I don’t have time to flesh them all out. I do have some questions:

    1) First, I don’t think anyone here even invoked Van Til, or at least pure “Van Tillianism.”

    2) A question: Do you think sin has any impact on man’s ability to reason and draw conclusions about “facts” or “evidence?”

    3) To put that last question in perspective, why exactly are Darwinian evolutionists wrong about how they interpret the world?

    4) If the Bible is not self-attesting as you claim (the term “self-attesting” pre-dates Van Til, btw, See Warfield who used it regularly and was a staunch opponent to Kuyper who was himself a sort of a pre-Van Tillian), how do you understand Paul’s comment about scripture in 2 Tim. 3:16?

    5) Can you give us an example of an uninterpreted, non-“brute” fact?

    6) In regards to your last point: Where does God use strict evidentialism in scripture that is apart from Him interpreting the said evidence? I as one who adheres to more of the presuppositionalism you despise does not reject evidence as a tool in apologetics. Its just that the evidence must be placed in the context of God’s use of it.

    On your main page rant outlining your complaints against Van Til, you mention the prophecy of Cyrus being fulfilled, but it is the Lord of scripture who works out that prophecy in history. If there was no historical evidence of Cyrus, would you still believe that prophecy? This was a major criticism of the prophecies in the book of Daniel until the mid to late 1800s. All critics of Daniel said the book was false simply because chapter 5 mentioned Belshazzer as the king of Babylon. Anyone even remotely familiar with Babylonian history knew Nebonidus was the last king of Babylon. This discrepancy was not solved until it was found in the Nebonidus Chronicles, discovered around the late 1860s, that Nebonidus appointed his son, Belshazzer to be king in Babylon as a co-regent. So was Daniel true before that time, in other words, self-attesting?

    • Reply @Fred:

      1… Van Til created this school of thought, and his two main published disciples *Bahnsen and Frame) are self-consciously following him, with modifications of their own. So a presuppositionalist can’t say, “Van Til isn’t relevant”, if the subject is presuppositionalism. That’s like saying Einsten’s ideas wouldn’t be relevant to a discussion of the relationship of energy to matter.

      2…The noetic effects of sin have no bearing on the fundamentals of presuppositionalism. A Calvinist evidentialist (such as myself) also affirms the noetic effects of sin. For example, it’s a non sequitur to say, “Sin has noetically affected the lost person’s mind, so that the lost person can’t embrace the Gospel without the assistance of divine grace; therefore, Christians and non-Christians share nothing in common epistomologically.” The second assertion doesn’t at all follow from the first. It just ends up being a rabbit trail.

      3. For a variety of reasons, including a failure/refusal to use logic and include all the evidence. They have a prejudicial pre-commitment to atheistic naturalism (which Darwin himself didn’t have). As a result, their problem isn’t that they use autonomous reason. They stop using reason, whenever and wherever it suits their foolish prejudice. You cannot suppress the truth by use of reason. You have to abandon reason in order to suppress truth.

      4. I would appreciate first what you mean by “self-attesting.” Nothing in 2 Timothy 3:16 claims that the Scripture is self-attesting. 2 Timothy 3:16 claims that the Scripture is divinely inspired. Is that what you (pl.) mean by self-attesting — that it makes a particular claim about its own origin and nature? Because so do all the other major religious texts in the world.

      5. Brute facts are the only facts available to anyone. Your knowledge of what I wrote, which controlled the occasion to which you replied, is 100% comprised of brute facts. You don’t God’s “big picture” in, around, and through my comment, nor do know it regarding yours, but here we are talking anyway. Because we understand each other perfectly well with nothing more available to us than “brute” facts. “Brute’ is another example of a rhetorical flourish, a word used only to create a negative feeling but without any substance. For instance, you call my comments a “rant”, even though you don’t answer any of it.

      6. What’s to interpret? God said, “I’m the real God, because I foretell the future, unlike these stupid idols of yours that can’t see, hear, or talk.” Jesus said, “Believe I’m the Son of God because I work miracles.” God didn’t give people philosophy lessons in Dutch Idealism before giving them proofs of His own identity. The point remains, one can’t promote a philosophy of knowing that isn’t taught in the Bible (whether explciitly, or by a necessity of logic, as the WCF says), and in fact is contradicted by the words and actions of God.

      7. “True” is not a synonym for “self-attesting.” If it is, then Presuppositionalists are going around making the numbingly mundane claim that the Bible calls itself true as opposed to not-true. Yes, the Bible does depend throughout on empirical verifications. If archaeologists ever find Jesus’ skeleton (hypothetically speaking), then Christianity and the Bible aren’t true. Correct?

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