Battle of Worldviews by Jack Kettler
In this article, the goal is to provide believers with ammunition for the battle against the worldview of non-Christians. In formal writing, it is frowned upon to use personal pronouns. Therefore, attempting to do this makes the wording a little awkward.
The following article was written after a recent online discussion about worldviews and what a worldview can tell us. Many Christians who are active in witnessing on behalf of the Christian faith have experienced similar encounters. Hopefully, the believers who read this will relate to what is shared and benefit from it. There will be some repetition of thought to drive home the points made. Sometimes in discussions, points need to be repeated and reemphasized.
The recent discussion started when this writer challenged the legitimacy of a prostitute/porn person’s character who has been in the news lately and has filed a defamation of character lawsuit. The present writer of this article asked, what character? The post then started a lengthy thread that went on for a week, both day and night. The discussion involved interacting with several individuals who will be called detractors.
This author was challenged regarding this writer’s standard for making the judgment about the prostitute/porn person’s character and responded by saying the Bible was the standard. The response was met with ridicule. It was to the present writer’s advantage to subsequently ask the detractors what basis they had for judging this writer’s criteria and asked what their criteria were for condemning mine were since they too were making judgments. No intelligent response was given. Some ad hominem replies were directed towards this writer.
This writer asked the detractors to identify their worldview. Were the detractors arguing for materialism? Non-Christian mysticism? Eastern philosophy? Empiricism? Rationalism? Irrationalism? UFOology, space beings, or gods from a different planet? Again, no response was forthcoming, and then asked the detractors, whatever their worldview was to provide an explanation of how their worldview could substantiate the use of logic and ethics. Counter responses were nothing more than begging the question.
The detractors were outraged that one could even ask such a question about their worldview. For them, the use of logic and talking about ethical positions seemed self-evident, at least to them. This writer has never said that non-Christians do not use logic or ethics but instead has said their worldview does not provide any justification for such activities.
The detractors made adamant statements that this writer’s judgment was wrong. Based on what standard were the detractors referring to? No response was given. This writer was just wrong, the detractors replied. It was interesting that these non-Christian detractors were using absolutist assertions within an unnamed worldview structure. If the unnamed structure provided the authentication for logic and ethics, then fine. However, if the unnamed worldview was materialism, for example, it has no basis for making such a claim. Materialism is starting from rocks or matter. What can one arrive at, starting with rocks? Rocks or matter do not speak. It can be said unequivocally, material or matter is silent!
A common problem for Non-Christians, as noted, is that they are notorious for using absolutist terminology when their worldview precludes it. One cannot function without absolutes, yet most non-Christians are inconsistent in their denial of biblical absolutes. The inconsistency appears when saying that it is wrong to murder or steal. The non-Christian inconsistently appeals to absolutes when their system excludes it. The detractors also manifested elements of atheism and agnosticism. Both atheism and agnosticism will be dissected.
For example, most Christians have encountered the following self-refuting assertions from encounters with non-Christians along with our rejoinders:
“Only knowledge that can be empirically verified is true.” Can one empirically verify that statement?
“There are no absolute truths.” Is that statement true?
“All truth is relative.” Is the supposed truth just asserted, relative?
“Should people be skeptical of everything.” Should an individual be skeptical of that statement?
“One ought not to judge.” Is that a judgment that was just asserted?
One can say it is problematic for non-Christians when they assert moral absolutes and omniscient statements within the framework of a materialistic system that does not allow absolutes. When a finite man without biblical authority asserts moral absolute omniscient statements, it is indefensible. Likewise, it should be correspondingly noted the absurdity of atheism's claim when asserting, “There is no God.” The absurdity is this; it is impossible to prove a universal negative. Furthermore, when the atheist asserts that “there is no God.” When using the second question of the Socratic technique, “how do one know that?” reveals rather quickly the failure of this unverifiable claim. The detractors at one point said it was the Christian God who did not exist. This writer wished them the best in trying to prove that universal negative also.
With that, one can dismiss the non-Christian's demand for verification, which is always demanded of Christians. Yet, incredibly, the agnostic claims for himself ignorance concerning the existence of God. It should be noted that this claim of ignorance is not an argument against the existence of God. Instead, it is a sign of epistemological bankruptcy and what could be described as a deficiency of knowledge.
Problems with the non-Christian’s demand for verification:
“Modern science boldly asks for a criterion of meaning when one speaks to him of Christ. He assumes that he himself has a criterion, a principle of verification and of falsification, by which he can establish for himself a self-supporting island floating on a shoreless sea. But when he is asked to show his criterion as it functions in experience, every fact is indeterminate, lost in darkness; no one can identify a single fact, and all logic is like a sun that is always behind the clouds.” (1)
In the discussion, when it was asserted the Christian God did not exist, the detractors taking on the characteristics of omniscience. In this online discussion, this writer put forth a positive presentation of a Christian worldview. Some of the best apologists were quoted whose writings can be assessed online.
For example, on scripturalism, the following is a paraphrase or summation of the Christian’s starting principle by Gordon H. Clark:
The Christian argues that scripturalism (all knowledge must be contained within a system and deduced from its starting principles, in the Christian case, it is the Bible).
An irrefutable conclusion that can be reached from this principle:
The Bible contains the Christian's starting principles or presuppositions. God speaks to individuals in the Scriptures (special revelation) with human language utilizing logically structured sentences in which He tells us the difference between right and wrong. Consequently, the strength of the Christian worldview is seen by the impossibility of the contrary. The impossibility of the contrary can be asserted because as of this day, no non-Christian anywhere has shown how their worldview can account for the use of science, logic, and ethics.
Now it can be said that philosophers of the stature of Plato and Aristotle tried to account for ethics within their worldview. For example, Plato tried to ground truth in the world of ideas. The world of ideas interpreted the temporal world of Plato’s forms. The temporal forms were imperfect replicas of the eternal, perfect ideas. One problem he ran into was perfect dung and filth existing in the world of ideas. Did Plato and Aristotle succeed in developing and justifying an ethical system in their worldview? Has anyone heard of an appeal to a body of Platonic or Aristotelian ethical laws lately? Biblical ethics, on the other hand, has undergirded the Western legal system and are with us today. Has it been heard of the commandments not to murder, steal, bear false witness, and commit adultery and rights of appeal?
Why is the non-Christian unable to articulate a coherent theory of knowledge? Because as said, the non-Christian worldview has no basis or explanation for the use of science, logic, and ethics. The non-Christian uses logic and talks about ethics. They do so without justifying or demonstrating how their worldview can account for these things. In other words, as said, the question is begged, and the non-Christian steals from the Christian worldview in order to make sense of things. Christian apologist Cornelius Van Til gave the example of a child sitting on the father’s lap and attempting to slap the father as the father explained things to the child. When informing the non-Christian of their theft, get ready for emotional responses or ad hominem attacks.
The following two references caused the detractors a particular amount of emotional excitement.
Gordon H. Clark: The Axiom of Scripture:
“Every philosophic or theological system must begin somewhere, for if it did not begin it could not continue. But a beginning cannot be preceded by anything else, or it would not be the beginning. Therefore every system must be based on presuppositions (Require as a precondition of possibility or coherence. Tacitly assume to be the case) or axioms (An accepted statement or proposition regarded as being self-evidently true). They may be Spinoza’s axioms; they may be Locke’s sensory starting point, or whatever. Every system must therefore be presuppositional.
The first principle cannot be demonstrated because there is nothing prior from which to deduce it. Call it presuppositionalism, call it fideism, names do not matter. But I know no better presupposition than “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the word of God written, and therefore inerrant in the autographs.
If the axioms of other secularists are not nonsense, they are nonetheless axioms. Every system must start somewhere, and it cannot have started before it starts. A naturalist might amend the Logical Positivists’ principle and make it say that all knowledge is derived from sensation. This is not nonsense, but it is still an empirically unverifiable axiom. If it is not self-contradictory, it is at least without empirical justification. Other arguments against empiricism need not be given here: The point is that no system can deduce its axioms.
The inference is this: No one can consistently object to Christianity being based on an indemonstrable axiom. If the secularists exercise their privilege of basing their theorems on axioms, then so may Christians. If the former refuse to accept our axioms, then they can have no logical objection to our rejecting theirs. Accordingly, we reject the very basis of atheism, Logical Positivism, and, in general, empiricism. Our axiom shall be that God has spoken. More completely, God has spoken in the Bible. More precisely, what the Bible says, God has spoken.” (2)
“Logically the infallibility of the Bible is not a theorem to be deduced from some prior axiom. The infallibility of the Bible is the axiom from which several doctrines are themselves deduced as theorems. Every religion and every philosophy must be based on some first principle. And since a first principle is first, it cannot be “proved” or “demonstrated” on the basis of anything prior. As the catechism question, quoted above, says, “The Word of God is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify Him.” (3)
Back to comments on the online discussion:
In the recent discussion, the charge against this writer’s position was that of circular reasoning. It pointed out that this only holds water if the non-Christian can explain how the non-Christian position, namely, starting with oneself as an authority ending with oneself as an authority, could escape the same charge. This writer’s opponents never articulated a response to the counter charge. When one starts with self-authority and ends with that as the final criterion, how is this not circular?
The subsequent four citations also received no responses.
Epistemological problems for the non-Christian raised by Cornelius Van Til:
“If he [the unbeliever] is asked to use his reason as the judge of the credibility of the Christian revelation without at the same time being asked to renounce his view of himself as ultimate, then he is virtually asked to believe and to disbelieve in his own ultimacy at the same time and in the same sense.” (4)
“If we first allow the legitimacy of the natural man's assumption of himself as the ultimate reference point in interpretation in any dimension we cannot deny his right to interpret Christianity itself in naturalistic terms.” (5)
Van Til notes how the non-Christian is caught in an impossible contradiction.
Cornelius Van Til speaking of agnosticism, says:
“[Agnosticism] is, in the first place, psychologically self-contradictory upon its own assumptions. Agnosticism wants to hold that it is reasonable to refrain from thorough epistemological speculations because they cannot lead to anything. But in order to assume this attitude, agnosticism has itself made the most tremendous intellectual assertion that could be made about ultimate things. In the second place, agnosticism is epistemologically self-contradictory on its own assumptions because its claim to make no assertion about ultimate reality rests upon a most comprehensive assertion about ultimate reality. . . . the alternative is not between saying something about ultimate reality or not saying anything about it, but that the alternative is rather between saying one thing about it or another. Every human being, as a matter of fact, says something about ultimate reality.
It should be noted that those who claim to say nothing about ultimate reality not only do say something about it just as well as everybody else, but they have assumed for themselves the responsibility of saying one definite thing about ultimate reality. They have assumed the responsibility of excluding God. We have seen again that a God who is to come in afterward is no God at all [i.e. a God that is not sovereign over all existence – M.W.]. Agnosticism cannot say that it is open-minded on the question of the nature of ultimate reality. It is absolutely closed-minded on the subject. It has one view that it cannot, unless its own assumption be denied, exchange for another. It has started with the assumption of the non-existence of God and must end with it. Its so-called open-minded attitude is therefore a closed-minded attitude. The agnostic must be open-minded and closed-minded at the same time. And this is not only a psychological self-contradiction, but an epistemological self-contradiction. It amounts to affirmation and denial at the same time. Accordingly, they cancel out one another, if there is cancellation power in them. . .
Incidentally, we may point out that, in addition to being psychologically and epistemologically self-contradictory, the agnostic is morally self-contradictory. His contention was that he is very humble, and for that reason unwilling to pretend to know anything about ultimate matters. Yet he has by implication made a universal statement about reality. He therefore not only claims to know as much as the theist knows, but he claims to know much more. More than that, he not only claims to know much more than the theist, but he claims to know more than the theist’s God. He has boldly set bare possibility above the theist’s God and is quite willing to test the consequences of his action. It is thus that the hubris of which the Greeks spoke so much, and upon which they invoked the wrath of the gods, appears in new and seeming innocent garb.” (6)
Van Til goes on to say:
“We must point out that reasoning itself leads to self-contradiction, not only from a theistic point of view, but from a non-theistic point of view as well... It is this that we ought to mean when we say that we reason from the impossibility of the contrary. The contrary is impossible only if it is self-contradictory when operating on the basis of its own assumptions has been stated. The various opposing posts have not once articulated a coherent theory of knowledge. If so, send a copy a previous post where my challenge asking for any worldview to provide a justification or basis for language, logic, ethics or science that has been met or explained. To this challenge, there has been nothing but dodges or additional assertions or accusations.” (7)
Problems for Materialistic Empiricism:
A popular contemporary form of empiricism that derives from John Locke is known as the theory that the mind at birth is a blank tablet (tabula rasa) and then assimilates knowledge through sensations. This theory could be called the “blank mind theory” of knowledge.
The Positivist School boldly asserted as its starting principle that they would only accept what can be verified empirically. The positivists would accept a statement like “some cars are red,” because this could be verified empirically. A color-blind person would have to take this statement by faith. A statement like “God exists” would be rejected since God cannot be brought into a science laboratory and inspected. Once upon a time, someone asked, “How does the positivist school verify its starting principle empirically?” With that question, the empirical, positivist school collapsed. There are still those who promote elements of this philosophically discredited theory, not realizing that in doing so they have become an irrationalist or guilty of inexcusable ignorance. Positivism collapsed because, as in all non-Christian philosophy, it contains its own internally self-refuting contradiction. This positivist contradiction is in the same category as with those who assert “there is no truth.” Supposedly, this assertion is true. Many non-Christians hold to a materialistic, atheistic worldview.
Another big problem for materialistic empiricism:
Empiricism historically argues that knowledge comes through sensations in the following order: (a) sensations, (b) perceptions, (c) memory images, (d) and the development of abstract ideas. In this system of interpretation, perceptions are inferences from sensations. How does the empiricist know valid from invalid inferences? Given this uncertainty, how can the empiricist be sure of anything, let alone what type of matter he may be trying to examine?
Problems for Materialist Rationalism:
Many are not epistemologically self-conscious, including some Christians, and therefore are unaware that they have presuppositions, which govern their interpretations. In particular, fallen a man generally refuses to acknowledge that he has presuppositions and that his presuppositions govern interpretations of matter or anything else. Too many, what is put forward as evidence and interpretation seems self-evident, but in reality, it is nothing more than a subjective evaluation. Escaping from subjectivity is no easy task. Does non-Christian philosophy enable man to get beyond his subjectivity? Can non-believing man's rationalism (reason alone using logic) save him? Can the laws of logic within the framework of a non-believing worldview accomplish this? How can they, since the laws of logic cannot even be explained or justified within the framework of this philosophy?
For example, where did these laws of logic arise? Are they universally interpreted in the same way? The laws of logic within the framework of non-belief are nothing more than a philosophical construct, which ends up collapsing into irrationality. The rational man, in other words, has no basis for his rationalism. The earlier statement “matter is silent” should be understood in contrast to a statement that God is not silent. This second assertion is the Christian solution to obtaining knowledge. God has spoken through the Scriptures to mankind. We have a biblical foundation for seeking knowledge and obtaining it. God-given revelation is objective. Ungodly men reject biblical revelation; they suppress the truth that God has revealed to them through creation (Romans 1:18). God has spoken in the Scriptures, i.e., God’s special revelation to man concerning what is required of him. The suppression of God's revelation by fallen man is evidence of his epistemological rebellion (Romans 1:18-20). Again, one can ask the non-Christian what standard is being used and identify the worldview and its basis for predication?
In addition to numerous philosophical problems regarding fallen man’s interpretation, it should be clear that matter or material has nothing to say within the framework of non-believing philosophy. What could it say? Within this framework, material or matter is ultimately an accident and therefore meaningless. In addition to this problem, all men have a priori commitments, which are at work and from which truth or falsity is deduced. The question is not does man have a priori commitments, but what are they? Do these commitments acknowledge God in the reasoning process? If one starts with non-Christian premises, it is impossible to arrive at the biblical truth. For a conclusion to be valid, it cannot contain information not stated in its premises. The non-Christian cannot have accurate knowledge because his presuppositions, starting premises, or axioms, which govern interpretations, are false.
Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he is wise in his own conceit. (Proverbs 26:5)
One Johnny come lately to the debate person started off by accusing this writer of being a moron. To this, it was replied that this person started off with ad hominem, and since this person started with this rudimentary logical fallacy, maybe he was the one who is the moron.
The One and Many Problem:
The “One and Many Problem” is another dilemma for non-believers. Is reality ultimately one or many? If reality is ultimately one, this can manifest itself as communism. If reality is ultimately many, this can lead to political anarchy. Eastern polytheistic philosophy comes down on the side of the many and, at other times, the one manifesting itself as pantheistic monism. Moreover, and consequently, they have never produced a system guaranteeing individual rights. Communism answered the question as noted in favor of the one or total state, and it likewise never produced any protection for property rights or individual freedom.
The Christian worldview, on the other hand, has produced a balance of individual freedoms and a basis for the state and church authority. These freedoms are accomplished because of the doctrine of the Trinity. The Christian God is the ground and explanation of all reality. God is one and yet more than one, with a plurality of persons within the one God. Politically and religiously, this manifests itself by giving due authority to the state or church and a proper place for individual rights and the basis for appealing abuses of the state or church. The reader should see The One and the Many: Studies in the Philosophy of Order and Ultimacy by R.J. Rushdoony.
In essence, fallen man has erected a closed system. His system is closed to God. He does not allow God to speak. Since man rejects the Creator, he has nothing within his closed system that he allows to speak with ethical certainty. He is left to himself. As long as fallen man excludes the biblical God from his system, he cannot know anything with certainty. The non-Christian’s thought has no basis for absolutes. Just many arbitrary social conventions. If there are no absolutes, there can be no meaning attached to anything since everything could be said to be true and not true at the same time, which is unacceptable nonsense.
Thus, fallen man is left with an endless matter, unintelligible sensations, or his atheistic apostate reason. Thus, is the bankruptcy of atheistic, materialistic humanism. It is only the Christian that has a rational basis for knowledge. It is because Christians allow God to speak to us in creation and Scripture. The non-Christian will not allow room for the God of the Bible to speak in their system. Their system is closed to God’s revelation. Our system is not closed like the non-Christian. The Bible tells us about general revelation and man's requirement to worship the Creator. The Bible tells us the specifics on how to worship the Creator. It is because we have biblical, i.e., God’s revelation, that an intelligent conversation on these matters can be carried on.
It would be impossible to have a discussion about these concepts without God's special revelation in the Bible since biblical revelation is where the concepts appear. Clearly, without special revelation, there would be no discussion of ethics, science, and logic with any certainty. As a quick aside, what about Islam and its moral code? Does this contradict what has just been argued for regarding the Christian worldview as the only worldview that can account for the preconditions of knowledge? No, it can be said that Islam is essentially a Christian heresy, which means the Islamic worldview has stolen and corrupted the biblical ethical code. Similar to this is the universal flood stories that appear in ancient literature. The Babylonian flood story, for example, is simply a corruption of the biblical account.
Philosophically unbelief vacillates between two positions of knowing and not knowing. These two opposite poles of allegiance constitute a never-ending dilemma, thus revealing the futility of non-Christian epistemology. Does any of this affect the non-Christian? No, the philosophy of non-belief presses irrationally on, certain of its uncertainty, oblivious of the self-refuting contradiction being advanced. To illustrate, for example, some non-believers claim with absolute certainty that there are no absolutes. The philosophy of non-belief contradicts itself when it claims not to know (uncertainty, agnosticism) and to know (certainty, atheism). Both atheism and agnosticism are two sides of the same coin. Fallen man's contradictory uncertainty and certainty are manifestations of his epistemological and ethical rebellion against God.
“For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.” (Romans 1:20-22)
1. Cornelius Van Til, Christian-Theistic Evidences, (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1978), pp. 147-48.
2. Gordon H. Clark, In Defense of Theology, (Fenton, Michigan, Mott Media, Inc. Publishers, 1984), pp. 31-33.
3. Gordon H. Clark, What Do Presbyterians Believe? (Phillipsburg, New Jersey, Presbyterian and Reformed 1985), pg. 18.
4. Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, ed. Scott Oliphint, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian & Reformed 1955), p. 107.
5. Cornelius Van Til, The Defense Of The Faith, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian & Reformed), p. 93.
6. Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology, (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company 1970), pp. 213-214.
7. Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology, (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Presbyterian and Reformed, 1970), p. 204.
8. Jack Kettler, many of my comments are adapted from Appendix One and Two from the book, The Religion That Started in a Hat.
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com
For more study:
The Gordon H. Clark Foundation http://gordonhclark.reformed.info/
The Trinity Foundation http://www.trinityfoundation.org/
Alpha & Omega http://www.aomin.org/
Cornelius Van Til information http://www.vantil.info/bycategory.html
Van Til Diagrammed
* Predication: attaching a predicate to a subject; hence, making an assertion. Van Til says that only the Christian world view makes predication possible.