It is often tossed at Presuppositionalist that they are engaging in Circular reasoning and are begging the question. That all Presuppositionalism proclaims is ” The Bible is true because the Bible is true”. I just wonder if any presuppositionalist has ever heard such a charge? Let’s just look into the past to see if this ever might have popped up.
Dr. Cornelius Van Til in Systematic Theology Chapter 12 The Inspiration of Scripture said:
“Before proceeding to the development of the scriptural doctrine of inspiration, it may be w ell to refer briefly at this point to the charge of circular reasoning implied in such a method. It is said that we cannot fairly go first to Scripture to see what it says about inspiration and then say that the Scripture is true because it is inspired.
In order to avoid this charge of circular reasoning, orthodox theology has often offered the following: In the first place, it is proved by ordinary historical evidence that Christ actually arose from the dead and that he performed miracles. This is said to prove his divinity. Secondly, it is noted that this divine person has testified to the Old Testament as the Word of God and that he himself promised the gift of the Holy Spirit who should lead the apostles into the truth and thus be qualified as authors of the New Testament.
Historical apologetics is absolutely necessary and indispensable to point out that Christ arose from the grave, etc. But as long as historical apologetics works on a supposedly neutral basis it defeats its own purpose. For in that case-it virtually grants the validity of the metaphysical assumptions of the unbeliever. So in this case, a pragmatist may accept the resurrection of Christ as a fact without accepting the conclusion that Christ is the Son of God. And on his assumptions he is not illogical in doing so. On the contrary, if his basic metaphysical assumption to the effect that all reality is subject to chance is right, he is only consistent if he refuses to conclude from the fact of Christ’s resurrection that he is divine in the orthodox sense of the term. Now, though he is wrong in his metaphysical assumption, and though, rightly interpreted, the resurrection of Christ assuredly proves the divinity of Christ, we must attack him in his philosophy of fact, as well as on the question of the actuality of the facts themselves. For on his own metaphysical assumptions the resurrection of Christ would not prove his divinity at all.
In addition to showing that Christ actually arose from the grave and that the facts recorded in the Scripture are as they are recorded as being, insofar as this can be ascertained by historical research, we must show that the philosophy of fact as held to by Christian theism is the only philosophy that can account for the facts. And these two things must be done in conjunction with one another. Historical apologetics becomes genuinely fruitful only if it is conjoined with philosophical apologetics. And the two together will have to begin with Scripture, and argue that unless what Scripture says about itself and all things else of which it speaks is true, nothing is true. Unless God as an absolutely self-conscious person exists, no facts have any meaning. This holds not only for the resurrection of Christ, but for any other fact as well.
If this is done, it will be seen that redemption must have come into the world as soon as sin came into the world, because the world, to exist at all, must exist as a theistic world. This redemptive process could originate with no one but God. Accordingly only God himself can testify to the revelation that he has given of himself. Special revelation must, in the nature of the case, be self-testified. Christ did, to be sure, appeal from himself to the testimony of John the Baptist, etc., but, in the last analysis, this was not an appeal to someone else, because John the Baptist and all other prophets were nothing but the emissaries of Christ. With these things in mind, we need not apologize for going to Scripture in order to see what it says about inspiration, in order then to say that the Scriptures are true because they are inspired. The existence of God is the presupposition of all human predication and the idea of biblical self-testimony is involved in this presupposition.
The only alternative to “circular reasoning” as engaged in by Christians, no matter on what point they speak, is that of reasoning on the basis of isolated facts and isolated minds, with the result that there is no possibility of reasoning at all. Unless as sinners we have an absolutely inspired Bible, we have no absolute God interpreting reality for us, and unless we have an absolute God interpreting reality for us, there is no true interpretation at all
This is not to deny that there is a true interpretation up to a point by those who do not self-consciously build upon the self-conscious God of Scripture as their ultimate reference point. Non-believers often speak the truth in spite of themselves. But we are not now concerned with what men do in spite of themselves. We are concerned to indicate that the absolute distinction between true and false must be maintained when a self-consciously adopted monotheistic and a self-consciously adopted theistic point of view confront one another.
We may now first show what the Scripture says about personal revelation, then what it says about scriptural revelation, in order to see that plenary inspiration is involved in these two.”
Dr. Greg Bahnsen in his debate with Sproul said:
“So that’s not fideism at all, not at all. It doesn’t come close to subjectivism, it doesn’t give the pagan an excuse either because it doesn’t say to him that we have one circle here and another circle there and well, I guess it’s different strokes for different folks, take the one you want.
That isn’t the presuppositionalist argument! The argument is “you’re reasoning in a circle. And it is a destructive circle. And I may be reasoning in a circle but it is one which it encompasses your thought and everything valid in your thought as well as other things. It gives science a foundation.
Now, this word about presuppositional and circular argumentation needs to be expanded just a bit more. Let us say that I, as a Christian, am dealing with a man who is a committed and exhausted empiricist. He believes that sense perception is the test of all truth, whatsoever. So, his ultimate presupposition is that sense perception is the standard of truth.
Now consider a man who wants to debate with the empiricist at this point. And he brings an argument, we will call it argument A, to bear on the empiricist.
And another man comes into the room and he uses argument B with the empiricist. Now if argument A is in fact predicated on an ultimate presupposition which denies that sense perception is the standard of truth and the empiricist buys argument A, would you please notice that he can only buy that argument by rejecting his presupposition? That is, he can’t buy that argument and keep his presupposition because this is predicated on the denial of that as the ultimate standard of truth.
On the other hand, if somebody arguing on the basis of sense perception being the standard of truth goes along with his argument, and the empiricist buys it, he buys it because he is already committed to sense perception as being the standard of truth.
Now, nobody is talking about what has been referred by RC as the elementary logical fallacy of circular reasoning. Nobody says that A is true because A is true. We’re talking about transcendental thinking and that’s a very important area of epistemology. It goes far beyond elementary (modal?) logic, far beyond Helean empiricism. And in fact, if anything, it has its roots in what is really the continental tradition of Kant of asking about the preconditions of all knowledge, be it logic, or sense perception or whatever.
And what the presuppositionalist says is you must recognize that an ultimate standard is just that: ultimate. And if you have an argument for that ultimate standard that is other than the ultimate standard, then that other argument is your ultimate standard. Do you understand, that you can’t establish your ultimate point by going behind it, because if you could go behind it to find some grounds for it there, that would be your ultimate standard.
And so then the question is how do you argue to this? And the fact is the only way you can argue is in a way consistent with your presuppositions. And the only way that you can establish your presuppositions is transcendentally. And that is circular argumentation. It has nothing to do with the flat line circularity of begging the question.”
Dr. Greg Bahnsen said in “Socrates or Christ” in the article entitled “Pragmatism, Prejudice, and Presuppositionalism”:
The Christian method in epistemology should be the “transcendental” method of “implication”, seeking to bring every fact which is investigated into the illuminating context of God’s revealed truth and plan. This method takes any fact and recognizes the presuppositions which are necessary for it to be what it is. When worldviews collide, the Christian transcendental epistemology calls for us to ask what foundations knowledge must have in order for man intelligibly to understand the facts at all. Van Til calls this “spiral reasoning” because “we are not reasoning about and seeking to explain facts by assuming the existence and meaning of certain other facts on the same level of being with the facts we are investigating, and then explaining these facts in turn by the facts with which we began. We are presupposing God, not merely another fact of the universe.” This is not circular; it is transcendental. Nor is it autonomous, seeking to establish the groundwork of knowledge by means of a scholarly investigation which is carried on independently of God’s revealed word. The Christian begins with an interrelated system, a revealed worldview, and from that vantage point examines all facts, competing systems, and the transcendentals of knowledge. Therefore, we can say that Christian epistemology is revelationally transcendental in character.
Dr. K. Scott Oliphint said in an article for the Gospel Coalition:
Copan’s concern is that anyone utilizing a covenantal methodology will “get you an ‘F’ in any logic class worthy of the name.” It is a bit naïve to think that Van Til, with a PhD in philosophy, would have missed something so basic. And, of course, he didn’t. He explains his notion of circular reasoning in various places. The way I explain Van Til’s use of circular reasoning can be found in Defense of the Faith, 4th edition, p. 123, n.8:
Van Til is not advocating fallacious reasoning here. Though much more needs to be said, a couple of points should be remembered when Van Til wants to affirm circular reasoning:
(1) Circular reasoning is not the same as a circular argument. A circular argument is one in which the conclusion of the argument is also assumed in one or more of the premises. Van Til’s notion of circularity is broader, and more inclusive, than a strict argument form. For example, in William Alston, The Reliability of Sense Perception (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993), Alston argues that it is impossible to establish that one has knowledge in a certain area without at the same time presupposing some knowledge in that area. His example is an argument for the reliability of sense perception. Any argument for such reliability presupposes that reliability. And it does so because of the epistemic situation in which human beings exist. Alston is right here, it seems. Not only so, but, to go deeper, the epistemic and metaphysical situation in which human beings exist is one in which the source of and rationale for all that we are and think is, ultimately, in the Triune God of Scripture. Circularity in this sense is inevitable. We will never be outside the context of image of God as we think and live—-not in this life or the next.
(2) Van Til’s affirmation of circular reasoning should be seen in the context of the point he makes in various places about “indirect” arguments. Any petitio principii is, by definition, a direct argument—-containing premises and a conclusion. Van Til’s indirect method moves one out of the context of a strict proof or direct argument, and into the context of the rationale for any fact or law assumed to be, or to be true. Thus, circularity is inextricably linked to the transcendental approach, and is not meant to be in reference, strictly speaking, to direct argumentation.
Maybe we can put it more simply. Is it possible to posit any truth at all without that truth having its genesis and its impetus from God’s creating and sustaining activity? If not, then every truth presupposes that God is, that he is the Creator of all that is, and that he sustains it.
Dr. John Frame in an article said:
The problem of circularity
The presuppositionalist then faces the problem I mentioned earlier. If he proceeds from Christian presuppositions to Christian conclusions, how can his argument be persuasive to a non-Christian? And how can he avoid the charge of vicious circularity?
Presuppositionalists have given different answers to this question.
Edward J. Carnell, who is sometimes described as a presuppositionalist, affirms the Trinity as the “logical starting point” which “gives being and meaning to the many of the time-space universe” (An Introduction to Christian Apologetics, p. 124). But his apologetic method treats the Trinity, not as an ultimate criterion of truth, but as a hypothesis to be tested by “both logic and experience” (Gordon R. Lewis, Testing Christianity’s Truth-Claims, p. 179). He never indicates in any clear way how logic and experience themselves are related to Christian presuppositions.
Gordon H. Clark, who accepted the label “presuppositionalist,” held that Scripture constitutes the “axiom” of Christian thought, drawing an analogy between religion and geometry. The axiom, or first principle, cannot be proved. But axioms of different worldviews can be tested (1) to determine their logical consistency, and (2) to determine which of them is most fruitful in answering the questions of life. (See Clark, A Christian View of Men and Things, pp. 26-34.)
Clark admits that more than one system of thought could be logically consistent, and that fruitfulness is a relative and debatable question. So Clark’s method is more like an exploration than like a proof. By renouncing proof, he avoids the circularity of having to prove the axiom by means of the axiom. But if Christianity is not provable, how can Paul say in Romans 1:20 that the clarity of God’s self-revelation leaves unbelievers without excuse?
Cornelius Van Til accepted the “presuppositionalist” label somewhat reluctantly but admitted straightforwardly that the argument for Christianity is in one sense circular. But Van Til believes that the non-Christian’s argument, too, is circular: “…all reasoning is, in the nature of the case, circular reasoning. The starting-point, the method, and the conclusion are always involved in one another” (Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, p. 101). It is part of the unbeliever’s depravity to suppress the truth about God (Rom. 1:18-32, 2 Cor. 4:4), and that depravity governs their reasoning so that unbelief is their presupposition, which in turn governs their conclusion.
How, then, can believer and unbeliever debate the truth of Christianity, given that the issue is already settled in the presuppositions of both parties? Van Til recommends a kind of “indirect” argument:
The Christian apologist must place himself upon the position of his opponent, assuming the correctness of his method merely for argument’s sake, in order to show him that on such a position the “facts” are not facts and the “laws” are not laws. He must also ask the non-Christian to place himself upon the Christian position for argument’s sake in order that he may be shown that only upon such a basis do “facts” and “laws” appear intelligible. (Van Til, Defense, 100-101)
But in this strategy, how does the apologist argue that the non-Christian’s “facts” are not facts and his “laws” not laws? Should he argue on presuppositions acceptable to the unbeliever? If so, then on Van Til’s account, he can reach only non-Christian conclusions. Should he argue on Christian presuppositions? Then the problem of circularity returns.
I would say that it is best for presuppositionalists to respond to the question of circularity as follows:
As Van Til says, circular argument of a kind is unavoidable when we argue for an ultimate standard of truth. One who believes that human reason is the ultimate standard can argue that view only by appealing to reason. One who believes that the Bible is the ultimate standard can argue only by appealing to the Bible. Since all positions partake equally of circularity at this level, it cannot be a point of criticism against any of them.
Narrowly circular arguments, like “the Bible is God’s Word, because it is God’s Word” can hardly be persuasive. But more broadly circular arguments can be. An example of a more broadly circular argument might be “The Bible is God’s Word, because it makes the following claims…, makes the following predictions that have been fulfilled…, presents these credible accounts of miracles…, is supported by these archaeological discoveries…, etc.” Now this argument is as circular as the last if, in the final analysis, the criteria for evaluating its claims, its predictions, its accounts of miracles, and the data of archaeology are criteria based on a biblical worldview and epistemology. But it is a broader argument in the sense that it presents more data to the non-Christian and challenges him to consider it seriously.
God created our minds to think within the Christian circle: hearing God’s Word obediently and interpreting our experience by means of that Word. That is the only legitimate way to think, and we cannot abandon it to please the unbeliever. A good psychologist will not abandon reality as he perceives it to communicate with a delusional patient; so must it be with apologists.
In the final analysis, saving knowledge of God comes supernaturally. We can be brought from one circle to another only by God’s supernatural grace.
Steve Hays said in his article:
i) To begin with, there’s a sense in which circular reasoning is a necessary condition of a valid argument. To be valid, the conclusion must be implicit or contained in the premises.
ii) Likewise, there’s a sense in which many sound arguments beg the question. That’s because a sound argument presumes the truth of the premises. A sound argument is not an argument for the truth of the premises, but for the truth of the conclusion. It takes the truth of the premises for granted. That’s an unproven presupposition of the syllogism. In that respect, a sound argument assumes what it needs to prove. Given the truth of the premises, the conclusion is true–but unless you grant the truth of the premise, to claim the argument is sound begs the question.
iii) So what makes some arguments viciously circular and other arguments virtuously circular? There are at least two possible considerations:
a) If the truth of the premise is not in dispute, then the argument doesn’t beg the question. Keep in mind that’s person-variable.
b) In a deductive syllogism, the premises are reasons in support of the conclusion. They are intended to warrant the conclusion. So there’s supposed to be some logical progression from premises to conclusion. If, however, the conclusion is essentially a restatement of the premises, then all it’s done is to reassert the same claim. A disguised, repeated, unjustified assertion.
iv) Truth claims are ultimately circular. An appeal to reason presumes the reliability of reason. An appeal to memory presumes the reliability of memory. An appeal to testimony presumes the reliability of testimony. An appeal to observation presumes the reliability of observation. An appeal to Scripture presumes the reliability of Scripture.
Circular reasoning in that sense doesn’t ipso facto mean the appeal is arbitrary. These may be necessary preconditions of knowledge. The alternative is global skepticism–which is self-refuting. Mind you, that, in itself, is a tacit appeal to reason.
Dr. James Anderson in response to Dr. Paul Copan said:
It’s therefore all the more surprising to find him repeating the “begging the question” charge, for once one understands the nature of a transcendental argument it’s clear that no fallacy of petitio principii is being advocated or committed. A transcendental argument typically takes the following form:
(1) If X were not the case, Y would not be possible.
(2) Y is possible.
(3) Therefore, X is the case.
In the presuppositionalist’s argument, X is the existence of God and Y is rational thought. …
(1) If God did not exist, rational thought would not be possible.
(2) Rational thought is possible.
(3) Therefore, God exists.
One common criticism of TAG is that presuppositionalists haven’t adequately defended the first premise. However, that’s not Dr. Copan’s criticism. His charge is that presuppositionalism is guilty of “assuming what one wants to prove.” But how exactly does the argument above assume what it sets out to prove? How does it assume the existence of God in any rationally objectionable fashion?
The problem here is that Dr. Copan, like many critics of presuppositionalism (and even some of its would-be defenders), confuses a presupposition of an argument with a premise of an argument. There’s a significant sense in which the argument above does indeed presuppose the existence of God. For if the first premise is true, the existence of God is a necessary precondition of rational thought, and the possibility of rational thought is a presupposition of all argumentation, including TAG. So in an obvious sense, if TAG is sound then TAG presupposes the existence of God (and so does the cosmological argument, the teleological argument, the moral argument, and every other theistic argument). But this is not at all to imply that the existence of God functions as a premise in the argument. TAG doesn’t look remotely like this:
(P1) God exists.
(C) Therefore, God exists.
Nor does TAG employ any premises that trivially presuppose the existence of God (e.g., “God is all-knowing” or “God has spoken in the Bible”). So it’s hard to see exactly why Dr. Copan thinks that presuppositionalism flunks Logic 101.
Dr. Brant Bosserman wrote in his book “The Trinity and the Vindication of Christian Paradox: An interpretation and Refinement of the Theological Apologetic of Cornelius Van Til”(pg. 97-99):
The most natural allegation to level against Van Til’s apologetic is that it is illogical, as a blatant example of circular reasoning.373 However, this critique is imperceptive of Van Til’s point that self-confirmation is the unique prerogative of, and is indeed something quite different for, the Triune God than it can be for anything else. For example, claims that the laws of logic are evidently true, on the basis of nothing but their own self-testimony, negate themselves. For, the applicability of logic to the Spatio-temporal universe cannot be deduced from logical principles alone. And yet, the meaning of the law of contradiction cannot be conceptualized apart from notions of incompatibility and repulsion that are supplied by a number of contrasting principles and spheres (e.g., space, time, facts, qualities, ideas, languages, cultures, feelings, etc.).374 For this reason, Van Til contends that one must acknowledge the Triune God Who harmonizes universals and particulars, logic and history, subjects and objects, before he can be justified in believing that any of these pairs overlap at any point. For the same reason, God’s Self-testimony in Scripture must be accepted on the basis of His unparalleled authority alone (Heb 6:13; Mark 1:22), since the rest of reality cannot even bear a consistent witness to itself apart from His illumination.375 At this point, one might object that Scripture depends for its meaning on a host of extra-biblical factors, with the result that its testimony is no more self-evident than that of the laws of logic.376 But, the point belabored by Van Til is that Scripture, nature, and man are three distinct but complementary forms of divine revelation, so that when they are allowed to qualify one another, they comprise a single self-elucidating Word of God.377 God’s Word in Scripture is not self-confirming in the simple sense that it is followed by the addendum “and this word is trustworthy” (although this appears on occasion—Matt 5:18; John 3:11; Rev 21:5; etc.). Instead, it is self-confirming as a light which so illuminates every other aspect of creation that they respond with their own unique testimonies to God’s nature and existence (Ps 36:9). Thus, it is better to speak of the proof for God as an instance of “spiral”378 reasoning, which begins with God’s self-testimony, turns in His light to evaluate other aspects of reality, and finally returns with an ever more refined and confirmed379 vision of God.380 In contrast, unbelieving perspectives lack coherence altogether, since not even the simplest act of predication is justified.
Dr. Chris Bolt: