Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A question for presuppositional apologists

What happened here? I read this debate and thought that Wilson was exposed as someone who, in the last analysis, had no arguments whatsoever.

Now I realize that the Clint Eastwood of presuppositional apologetics, Dr. Greg Bahnsen, had at this point passed on to his eternal reward. But Wilson was not facing Gordon Stein, he was facing a fully-credentialed philosopher.

So did something go wrong here, and if so what? Did Wilson press the antithesis the way he ought to have? Did his strategy fail? Or should I have drawn a different conclusion about the ourcome of this debate. Maybe he won after all, and I just didn't realize it.

8 comments:

the metaphysician said...

Dr. Reppert, that is unfair to Wilson. He did have bad arguments (and thus it is false that he had no arguments). But I agree that he didn't fare that well in that debate.

Frank Walton said...

With all due respect, I don't think that Wilson won that debate. A better debate Wilson had was with atheist Dan Barker. Personally, I thought Wilson won that debate. Also Wilson crushed atheist Farrell Till. As far as I know there is no presuppositional debater on par with Dr. Greg Bahnsen.

Victor Reppert said...

I guess I'm asking how Wilson could have done better. Apparently he is not a bad debater. Or, what we might want to ask is WWBD (What Would Bahnsen Do).

steve said...

It's been some time since I've read the debate, but if memory serves, I think that Wilson got in way over his head. So I agree with Reppert and Choi.

On a side note, I happen to think that C. S. Lewis was a true believer.

Paul Manata said...

VR: What happened here?

PM: Where. I don't think *every* minute point was won by Drange.

VR: I read this debate and thought that Wilson was exposed as someone who, in the last analysis, had no arguments whatsoever.

PM: As Sean said, the best you can say is that he had bad arguments.

VR: But Wilson was not facing Gordon Stein, he was facing a fully-credentialed philosopher.


PM: And Drange was not facing a fully-credentialed philosopher in Pastor Wislon. So, if the Stein/scientist point works against Bahnsen the Wilson/pastor point should work against Drange. Hey, just calling for consistency.

VR: So did something go wrong here, and if so what?

PM: Well, a lot could be said. maybe he was having a bad day. Have you won every debate you've ever entered into? In any case, there have been *particular* non-presuppositionalists who have got their clocks cleaned.

VR: Did Wilson press the antithesis the way he ought to have?

PM: Maybe not as deep, but I think it was pressed. The problem is that the pressing should be done by the muscle of argument, not assertion.

VR: Did his strategy fail?

PM: Possibly. Who knows in the long run.

VR: Or should I have drawn a different conclusion about the ourcome of this debate.

PM: I don't think so. But are you suing this (and I'm not saying you are) to try and knock presuppositionalism? If so, I can match you dollars to pennies.

Honestly, I disagree about the Wilson/Barker debate as well. I do not think he won that debate either. Maybe Wilson isn't cut out to debate atheists/philosophers whereas he's more skilled in debating theology.

Paul Manata said...

p.s. on a side note, I think C.S. Lewis was a true believer :-)

Victor Reppert said...

My point has to do with the issues. There are stronger arguments that Wilson should have used. What are they? How would you have debated differently?

I'm not just bashing presuppositionalism. I'm asking you how you would go about shoring it up.

When Anscombe showed Lewis he hadn't formulated his argument adequately (this is the one sense in which it is correct to say she "won") he revised the chapter and strengthened his arguments. On Wilson's behalf, how would you strengthen his case?

Edward T. Babinski said...

Winning or losing debates isn't important. Why not pick your favorite individual arguments from your favorite debates and discuss those?

Here's over twenty articles by Bahnsen (he was a big fan of Cornelius Van Til fan, defending him even to other Reformed scholars who questioned Til's apologetics approach): http://solagratia.org/Authors/4.aspx

Presupositionalist and Evidentialist apologists have been debating relative merits and flaws in each others' apologetics approaches for years. There's a book I read about that featuring essays by John Warwick Montgomery, Van Till and others, titled Jerusalem and Athens I think.

By the way, the next to last thing I studied before I left the Christian fold was presuppositional apologetics. I was dating a Christian girl whose brother had a wall of books pub. by a Presbyterian and Reformed publishing house, and other Reformed publishing houses. He loved Van Til, Rushdoony, Dooyeweerd (sp), B.B.Warfield and took me to his Reformed Episcoplian church. I also met his friends at his college Reformed Christian club who loved theonomy and the Chalcedon Foundation. He loaned me his books, and I even took two trips to Westminster Theological Seminary to buy some more. (I lived in New Jersey at the time.) I spoke with a professor at Westminster and said I had read a few of Van Til and Rushdoony's books, and he told me I had just missed seeing Til, because he had been visiting the campus that day.

Though my relationship with his sister fizzled (were still friends), I wound up becoming good friends with her presuppositionalist Christian brother, who loaned me his books. We also both played guitar, and played in a college band together, he knew how to rock out back then (years later when I visited him the strings had rusted off his unplayed guitar, sad).

We did have our theological differences later, since he was convinced that many folks were predestined from the beginning to burn in hell, yet such folks were also "free agents" (as Van Til wrote, whatever that means--like a stone is "free" to sink I suppose).

Also, the churches he attended were kind of "inbred," small quiet congregations (especially the women, very quiet), with people staring at newcomers (in this case me), wanting for them to prove their faith perhaps in some vocal way before they could grow to trust others. They all believed in divine wrath, eternal punishment, predestination, and young-earth creationism. At the college group the students there were praising Rushdooney's contributions to Theonomy, including his idea that America's legal code ought include a law that says practicing homosexuals needed to be stoned, and that the Bible was right to suggest using stones, since they were plentiful and cheap--economical.

I lost touch with my theonomist friend over the years. Visited him for a couple weeks though, years after we initially lost touch. He thought he had cancer and we'd kept up via phone every now and then, so I thought I'd go see him. The test results were negative, he was well. He as also dating a Catholic girl, and in matters of faith she had to bend his way or he'd get snippy with her, made her convert to his little inbred church lifestyle. It seemed to me she was being mentally abused. I phoned his college a while later to tract him down for another phone call a year or two after my visit, and he had left, but I asked his fellow profs about how he seemed to interact with his fiancee and without me saying anything they just blurted out the same thing I had noticed, "mentally abusing her." I had met his family and he came from a divorced family wherein the husband had made mentally abusive demands on the wife. So he saw that growing up. Maybe he was acting out how he'd been raised? Anyway, his particular religious beliefs seemed to reinforce the idea of abusive behavior, even its necessity. When I visited him and spoke to him about questions and doubts I was beginning to have concerning young-earth creationism and also the historicity of John compared with the synoptics, he said maybe he shouldn't have let an unbeliever visit him, I was dishonoring God, and maybe he should throw me out of his apartment (into what was at the time a literal blizzard!). He didn't, to his credit, do such a thing, and I to my credit, avoided all topics religious with him during the duration of my stay with him.

I finally did reach him on the phone years later. He was sad that his wife hadn't conceived a child, and referred to a curse of barenness as in Genesis where God opens or shuts women's wombs at will. And his sense of humor seemed to have deadened over the years. He was working with older people with mental illnesses. That will deaden anybody's sense of humor. He joked about original sin destroying mankind. It wasn't like his old sense of humor.

Ah well, we all change.

I'm sure Bahnsen's life was one big bowel of adoring cherries being tossed into his mouth, such as you guys have been doing. Yeah, I'd like to have seen Bahnsen, met him, and C. S. Lewis too. Not to mention seeing them debate guys like Ingersoll, Twain, Mencken, Voltaire in print AND on a stage (why limit ourselves?). But Bahnsen's dead, and Wilson doesn't appear to be carrying the torch as well. I guess God's taking a break by not creating any more great presuppositionalist apologists. Just like the devil took a break creationist great anti-apologist public debaters like Ingersoll.

Hey, what great presuppositionalist Reformed Christian apologist IS still alive? Even Francis Schaeffer's son left Evangelicalism to become an apologist for the Eastern Orthodox church.