For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
I am going to continue my series on presuppositionalism:
A discussion of presuppositionalism will or should turn to what we mean by presupposition. To the surprise of no one, the idea of presuppositions is also debated. Different thoughts about that can be seen here:
From my understanding most Van Tilians think that TAG should be argued as Collett has by implementing Strawsonian semantics theory of presuppositions then we have understood what Van Til was trying to argue. That has been argued by capable proponents here:
The idea becomes whether we deny God’s existence or affirm God’s existence we presuppose that God does exist. That is the aspect that really reflects Van Til’s thought. Some think that even that needs to go further and that even still doesn’t fully encapsulate the thought presuppositionalist are trying to get across. Paul Manata has said elsewhere:
Collett’s use of Strawson’s (Van Fraassen’s, btoo, for that matter) notion of presupposition a good move. That notion recognizes that (well, for Van Tilians, at least) the existence of God is implied propositions by both p and ~p. However, Collett’s analysis fails to capture the *modal* character of VTAs, i.e., the *very possibility* of predication, human thought and intelligible experience.
Some are supporters of a more Bahnsen like understanding of TAG. That comes from the more Dr. Butler vain of presuppositionalist. They think Collett reduces TAG to being about predication and nothing more:
Finally, it has been noted by some and popularized by Don Collet in the Westminster Theological Journal that the only way a transcendental argument may be formalized is thusly (TAG*):
C presupposes G if and only if both 1 & 2:
1. If C then God exists
2. If ~C then God exists
Given such a construct, we are no longer negating the metaphysicality of causality but rather the truth value of the predication of the metaphysicality of causality. In other words: ~causality (which is chaos) does not presuppose God so for the construct to make sense it must pertain only to prediction about causality. In other words, since non-causality is an impossible entity that defies creation, providence and intelligibility, such a formulation of TAG (TAG*) limits itself to predication only. Does the apologist really want to do that? Do we want to give up arguing that God is the precondition for the intelligible experience of actual causality? I think not. TAG* (as opposed to TAG) is indeed powerful but it does not pertain to anything other than predication; whereas TAG may pertain to predication and the reality that the predication contemplates.
That leaves many confused about which view to take and so forth. Others go on to think that many different kinds of arguments can be classified under the TAG classification. That no single formulation needs to hold prevalence but rather the content of the TA is important and not the form.
Transcendental arguments are partly non-empirical, often anti-skeptical arguments focusing on necessary enabling conditions either of coherent experience or the possession or employment of some kind of knowledge or cognitive ability, where the opponent is not in a position to question the fact of this experience, knowledge, or cognitive ability, and where the revealed preconditions include what the opponent questions. Such arguments take as a premise some obvious fact about our mental life—such as some aspect of our knowledge, our experience, our beliefs, or our cognitive abilities—and add a claim that some other state of affairs is a necessary condition of the first one. Transcendental arguments most commonly have been deployed against a position denying the knowability of some extra-mental proposition, such as the existence of other minds or a material world. Thus these arguments characteristically center on a claim that, for some extra-mental proposition P, the indisputable truth of some general proposition Q about our mental life requires that P.
What is a worldview? We talk about them all the time and yet rarely stop to think what a worldview is all about. The notion floats around the presuppositionalist camp and the phrase is constantly used in discussions of important matters. Worldviews seem so important for they seem to determine whether an individual values their children or sells them. Let’s look at what Dr. James Anderson defines as a “worldview”:
What is a worldview? As the word itself suggests, a worldview is an overall view of the world. It’s not a physical view of the world, but rather a philosophical view, an all-encompassing perspective on everything that exists and matters to us.
A person’s worldview represents his most fundamental beliefs and assumptions about the universe he inhabits. It reflects how he would answer all the “big questions” of human existence: fundamental questions about who and what we are, where we came from, why we’re here, where (if anywhere) we’re headed, the meaning and purpose of life, the nature of the afterlife, and what counts as a good life here and now. Few people think through these issues in any depth, and fewer still have firm answers to such questions, but a person’s worldview will at least incline him toward certain kinds of answers and away from others.
Worldviews shape and inform our experiences of the world around us. Like spectacles with colored lenses, they affect what we see and how we see it. Depending on the “color” of the lenses, some things may be seen more easily, or conversely, they may be de-emphasized or distorted—indeed, some things may not be seen at all.
Whether we call it a “web of beliefs”, “connection of interworking presuppositions”, or “thoughts on reality” everyone has one and operates off of one. They are unique because they are here to explain reality in terms of human a belief. They are an all-encompassing view of everything. They deal with everything that is or ever could be. Ethical matters, religious matters, anything you could imagine they deal with.
3. Stephan Körner’s objection
You have heard this objection before, but you probably don’t recognize the name of the person. Robin Ingles-Barrett commenting on Dr. Michael Butler summarizes the objection like this:
Butler explains the nature of Montgomery’s objection, saying, “Montgomery contends
that there is no way to establish that the Christian God is the necessary precondition of human experience since there is no way to eliminate all of the possible alternatives.”92 The issue is that Christian theistic transcendental arguments seek to show that the Christian God is the necessary precondition for intelligibility of human experiences. The problem is that it does not appear possible to refute all other worldviews. Even if one refuted all known worldviews, it could be postulated that there is some unknown worldview that provides the necessary precondition for the intelligibility of human experiences. If this is true, then Christian theistic transcendental
I’ve interacted with this objection on different occasions. It is the most common and intuitive of the objections against presuppositionalism. This leads into a statement made by Dr. Chris Bolt that I wish to speak about:
People consistently miss that we are talking about a very different animal when it comes to transcendental schemes.
. … But since the transcendental is by definition the transcendental, supplying a sufficient transcendental is supplying the necessary transcendental.
Recall back to the function and purpose of what a worldview is and does. It defines and shapes the content of all your beliefs about reality and your knowledge of it. It shapes and molds what you think is possible. You saying that your worldview contains whatever that makes reality intelligible would imply that your worldview is transcendentally necessary. The notion of possibility isn’t even coherent apart from such a thing. It is that very transcendental that makes intelligible the idea that anything is possible. It could hardly be subject to not being possible itself. If your worldview doesn’t contain some principle explaining reality then your beliefs aren’t a very well thought-out worldview. The goal of a worldview is the ultimate explanation of what is the case(reality, knowledge, ethics). Suppose a thing like the logos existed. By logos, I mean some principle or thing explaining everything and anything. Suppose also for the moment that the logos explained everything about reality in a broad comprehensive way. Would the logos be contingent or necessary? How could the logos be contingent? Without the logos, it wouldn’t make sense to speak about contingency. Without the logos, contingency is unintelligible from impossibility. The logos being sufficient to be the ultimate explanation makes it necessary for anything. Thus it follows to be sufficient for being transcendental entails that it is necessarily transcendental.
The idea that anyone can refute an infinite set of worldviews is unnecessary from any perspective. You could separate worldviews into categories and refute beliefs that multiple worldviews hold to. If you have a refutation of Unitarianism, then you refuted Islam, Judaism, and most of Christianity’s competitors. If you have a refutation for dualism, then you have no need to refute every particular form of dualism.
Presuppositionalists often talk about laws of logic and other things pertaining to abstract objects. There exists a divide in Christendom to explain such things as well in secular thought. The picture above shows the plethora of views that have existed when considering what an abstract object is and each has had their moment in the sun. The kinds of things that belong to the class of abstract objects are things like “properties,” “propositions,” “relations,” “sets,” “possible worlds,” “numbers,” and other things. We are also looking at that issue in light of the Christian God. That is granting some form of classical theism is true. God would be stating God is omnipotent, omniscient, immutable, impassible, necessary, a se, sovereign, and is the ultimate explanation of reality.
Let’s talk about them:
In context, there are roughly three kinds of realism:
1. Aristotelian realism
Universals are contingent, concrete properties. There are no universals over and above physical objects in which they inhere. There are no unexemplified universals.
One problem with this position is how to distinguish it from nominalism. If particulars are all that exist, how are universals even distinguishable from particulars? Aristotelian realism seems to collapse into nominalism or conceptualism.
2. Platonic realism
Universals are abstract objects. General paradigms. Repeatable or multiply instantiable. Timeless and spaceless. A tertium quid: neither mental nor material. Particulars approximate universals. Two (or more) kinds of things are said to be similar in virtue of their sharing a common universal.
There are some problems with this position:
i) To posit a terbium quid is conceptually opaque. To say something isn’t either mental or material seems unintelligible. We can’t form a clear conception of what that would be.
ii) The universals are causally otiose
iii) There’s a discrepancy between the generality of the universals and the specificity of the particulars. What fills the gap?
iv) A traditional objection, which Plato himself broached (in the Parmenides) is whether his theory of attribute generates an infinite regress (the Third Man).
We could debate the merits of that objection. I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically unacceptable about an actual infinity of (abstract) relations. That’s not necessarily a vicious regress.
At the same time, relations are secondary to properties. I think the infinite regress of relations is often imaginary. It doesn’t add any new conceptual content. It’s not a distinctive perspective.
Creatures are instances of divine ideas. Creatures are composite instances of God’s communicable attributes.
For example, God has an infinite idea of the Mandelbrot set. A human idea of the Mandelbrot set, or graphic of the Mandelbrot set, is a finite instance of the Mandelbrot set.
Likewise, God has an idea of a mathematically perfect ellipse. God creates planets with elliptical orbits that approximate the mathematical idea.
Many divine ideas remain unexemplified, viz. possible worlds. But they are grounded in God’s mind.
Exemplarism has certain explanatory advantages over the alternatives:
i) God is an agent, so his ideas are not causally inert.
ii) Exemplary ideas are mental entities, so we are able to grasp what that means.
iii) Unlike generic universals, God’s complete concept of a creature is exacting and exhaustive. There is no discrepancy between the exemplar and the exemplum.
The quote leaves out a few mentionable positions and I’ll mention them here:
4. Theistic Activism
It is very similar and probably falls under exemplarism but I find it a bit different than the norm. It states that like Divine Conceptualism abstract objects exist as Divine thoughts, but unlike conceptualism, they maintain that abstract objects are still created.
Theistic activism locates the platonic horde within the mind of God as created, and thus dependent, entities. Properties and relations are identified with divine concepts, and the rest of the platonic apparatus is built up from there. Propositions are just divine thoughts. Numbers, sets, and possible worlds are also explicated in terms of properties and relations (that is, divine concepts) and propositions (that is, divine thoughts). Importantly, God creates all reality distinct from God, including the entire platonic horde.
Paul M. Gould. Beyond the Control of God? (Kindle Locations 346-349). Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. Kindle Edition.
Some proponents like Morris and Menzel maintain that God created his nature:
In their view, called absolute creationism, “all properties and relations are God’s concepts, the products, or perhaps better, the contents of a divine intellective activity… . Unlike human concepts, then, which are graspings of properties that exist ontologically distinct from and independent of those graspings, divine concepts are those very properties themselves” (1986, 166).15 Thus, divine creation of abstract objects is understood as eternal, necessary, and absolute: God necessarily and eternally creates all abstract objects whatsoever. Further, since God exemplifies a nature, understood as a bundle of essential properties, absolute creationism entails that God creates His own nature.
Paul M. Gould. Beyond the Control of God? (Kindle Locations 350-356). Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. Kindle Edition.
This is a very odd position, to say the least. It seems incoherent for a being to create his own thoughts if he is essentially omniscient. God would’ve already possessed the knowledge that he would be creating. Dr. Greg Welty makes that observation:
With its affirmation of divine aseity and necessary divine omniscience, TCR rejects the theistic activist notion that the divine thoughts properly come under the province of divine creation. Plausibly, the claim that there is an individual who is the creator of all things, is to be understood with the qualification “apart from himself” or, more precisely, “apart from anything the existence of which is entailed by his own existence” (Swinburne 1993: 129-130). Now if God is necessarily omniscient, and therefore necessarily knows (among other things) his own power, then he necessarily has some of the thoughts he has. But then these are thoughts that are entailed by his own existence, and they should not fall under the category of something that God has created.
Furthermore, if someone thinks that God causes his own nature that has similar problems. I’ll summarize something Brian Leftow wrote in one of his articles. To be God is to have the prerogative of being the creator of all things. He is that in virtue of what he is. So, in order to be a creator you have to be God. In order to be God, you must possess the Divine nature. How could God create before he has his nature? This continues on to the issue that even to say God created his nature implies prior that he had a different nature, but if he has one nature that was uncaused and later caused his divine nature then his natures aren’t the same natures. One is uncaused and the other is caused. The last issue is that it is incoherent for one to create themselves. To be God is to possess his attributes and prerogatives.
This position gives the easiest answer to the problem by just stating that there are no abstract objects. There exist only concrete particulars. That is to say, there are only brown things(tables, chairs, dogs) but not the abstract property of being brown. Whiles being a simple position it also has its problems. The issues with nominalism are not like the issues for the other positions.
With this position, you avoid the issues of undermining God’s aseity and have no real issue with the bootstrapping objection. The issue with it is you end up with the problems of universals again. Why do we see unity if everything is concrete and particular?
Nominalism had the opposite problem from realism. Its problem was to account for the unity. We start with many cats. Why is there anything in common between the many cats, any commonality that would lead us to group them all under a single category of “cat”? Nominalism suggested that the category is our invention, corresponding to nothing out in the world. It is simply an idea. It is an illusion. Or, if a nominalist did not want to go this far, he could say more guardedly that the unity is a secondary construction, based on the primary reality of the diversity of cats. But if we start with pieces that are purely diverse, how can we later create unity? Even if the unity is pure illusion, we need to explain where the unity in the illusion came from. Moreover, it is not plausible to claim that there is nothing “really” similar about the different cats.
Dr. Vern Poythress – Redeeming Mathematics(pg. 31). Crossway
Some may try to explain the reason why we see unity in the flux of pure diversity by identifying some common feature or property all these things share in order to explain the unity. The issue with that approach is that it becomes an infinite regress.
These are direct arguments for realism. There are also indirect arguments, i.e. arguments to the effect that the alternatives to realism cannot be right. Consider nominalism, which holds that there are no universals, numbers, or propositions.15 Where we think there are universals, the nominalist says, there are really only general names, words we apply to many things. Hence, for example, there is the general term “red,” which we apply to various objects, but no such thing as “redness.” Of course, this raises the question why we apply the term “red” to just the things we do, and it is hard to see how there could be any plausible answer other than “Because they all have redness in common,” which brings us back to affirming the existence of universals after all. The nominalist might seek to avoid this by saying that the reason we label different things “red” is that they resemble each other, without specifying the respect in which they resemble each other. This is implausible on its face – isn’t it just obvious that they resemble each other with respect to their redness? – but there are other problems too: 6. The vicious regress problem: As Bertrand Russell noted, the “resemblance” to which the nominalist appeals is itself a universal.16 A “Stop” sign resembles a fire truck, which is why we call them both “red.” Grass resembles The Incredible Hulk’s skin, which is why we call them both “green.” And so on. What we have, then, are multiple instances of one and the same universal, “resemblance.” Now the nominalist might seek to avoid this consequence by saying that we only call all of these examples cases of “resemblance” because they resemble each other, without specifying the respect in which they resemble each other. But then the problem just crops up again at a higher level. These various cases of resemblance resemble other various cases of resemblance, so that we have a higher-order resemblance, which itself will be a universal. And if the nominalist tries to avoid this universal by once again applying his original strategy, he will be just faced with the same problem again at yet a higher level, ad infinitum.
Edward Feser. The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism (Kindle Locations 951-967). St. Augustine’s Press. Kindle Edition.
6. Christian Platonism
This is where Platonism is incorporated into Christian theology. That alongside and independent of God has existed platonic objects(numbers, properties, possible worlds). The issue with this model is that it seems to be falsified easily by the Bible itself. The Bible gives us a cosmological picture of reality and it seems to provide a two-tiered cosmology. The things in the eternal domain and the things caused by God. The only thing inhabiting the eternal domain is God. Here are the passages stating that idea:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
1 Corinthians 8:4-6
4 Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.
Another objection to Christian Platonism is whether it is consistent with God being a se(having aseity). God isn’t the ultimate grounds of reality and is dependent on the forms to create the world. God is reduced to a mere demiurge picture that Plato invoked. God can only do what the forms have deemed possible for him to do. Either abstract objects are dependent on God or they are dependent on God. The view abstract objects are dependent on God is Modified Platonism. The idea they are independent of God is Platonism. The problem is explained as such:
(1) Abstract objects exist. [platonism] (2) If abstract objects exist, then they are dependent on God. [from AD] (3) If abstract objects exist, then they are independent of God. [platonist assumption] …
But, if claim (2) is rejected, the platonic theist runs into another problem, call it the ultimacy problem. Consider one kind of abstract object, property. If properties exist independently of God, and God has properties essentially, then God’s nature is explained by some other entity, and God is not ultimate.6 But, as Leftow states, “theists want all explanations to trace back to God, rather than through God to some more ultimate context” (1990, 587; cf. Plantinga 1980, 31–3). The same problem surfaces when considering other platonic entities as well. On the platonic story (for example), possible worlds exist independently of God and God’s existence is necessary because in each possible world, God exists. But then “this threatens to make God’s existence derive from items independent from Him: The worlds are there independently, that He is in all of them entails God’s existence” (Leftow 2009, 27). It seems that the platonic theist must bite a bullet and admit that God is not ultimate in explanation or existence if claim (2) is denied, yet this thesis appears to be a core intuition of the theist’s conception of God.
Paul M. Gould. Beyond the Control of God? (Kindle Locations 184-194). Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. Kindle Edition.
Another objection is that it still seems to be the case that Platonism can’t explain why particulars exist.
Medieval realism started with the unity of a category. So how did it explain diversity? The medieval philosophers believed in God, so they believed that God creates each cat. He uses the same pattern, namely catness. But if he uses the same pattern, why does each cat not come out exactly the same, like candies made using the same mold (the same pattern)? Even candies made with the same mold show minute differences, which may be due to imperfect mixing of the ingredients, or slight differences in the making process. So a person could try to say that the cats are different because the matter used to make them is different, or the making process shows slight differences. But this explanation just pushes the problem back in time. What generated the differences in the matter? What generated the differences in the processes? The processes presumably have a universal category to describe the unity that belongs to them. So what leads to the differences when we compare two instances of the same process?
Dr. Vern Poythress – Redeeming Mathematics(pg. 30). Crossway
7. Modified Platonism
The Modified platonist wishes to affirm that there are abstract objects, but they are created by God. This is to escape the problem of undermining Divine Aseity. This runs into the other issue with abstract objects know as the “Bootstrapping objection”. Dr. William Lane Craig wrote on this:
I don’t think modified Platonism works because it seems to me that some of these objects are uncreatable. For example, take the property of being powerful. If God has to create properties in order for them to exist how could he create the property of being powerful without already having the property of being powerful? In order to create the property ‘being powerful’ God would already need to be powerful. He’s got to have some power in order to do that. But then you’re in a vicious circle, you see—in order to create the property he already has to have the property. So it seems to me that modified Platonism is attended by this vicious circle or bootstrapping problem that I don’t know how to escape, and therefore I am not enamored with this modified Platonism or absolute creationism, as it’s sometimes called.
This is the idea that Abstract objects are human concepts. It has similar aspects to a nominalist view known as fictionalism. Psychologism is nearly universally rejected by philosophers. It is difficult to maintain such a position because of the necessity and invariant nature of abstract objects. Also, the amount of abstract objects goes far beyond what all the human minds could contain. Dr. Greg Bahnsen dealt with that position in his debate with Stein.
You should now have a basic grasp of the issues regarding abstract objects and God’s attributes. The issues being a conflict of dependency, bootstrapping, and universals. God is unique and has implications for what we believe about anything and everything. The search to be more consistent with our Christian convictions will bleed into our search for a philosophy that represents those goals. The saying “Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda est secundum Verbum Dei” applies here. It means The church Reformed and always reforming according to the Word of God. It is a Reformed motto and applies for us still now.
Nathaniel Gray Sutanto: