Friday, July 31, 2015

Bahnsen, One Misunderstood Servant of The Lord

“A transcendental argument begins with any item of experience or belief whatsoever and proceeds, by critical analysis, to ask what conditions (or what other beliefs) would need to be true in order for that original experience or belief to make sense, be meaningful, or be intelligible to us. Now then, if we should go back and negate the statement of that original belief (or consider a contrary experience), the transcendental analysis (if originally cogent or sound) would nevertheless reach the very same conclusion.” (Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, 501-502.)

That quote by Bahnsen has been misunderstood, abused and hijacked by those who would claim Bahnsen and those who would have nothing to do with his apologetic.
Let’s take this quote of Bahnsen’s step by step.

1. “A transcendental argument begins with any item of experience or belief whatsoever”
Let’s assume as our belief that there is causality. That it is intelligible.

2. “…and proceeds, by critical analysis, to ask what conditions (or what other beliefs) would need to be true in order for that original experience or belief to make sense, be meaningful, or be intelligible to us.”

Let’s assume that what must be the necessary precondition needed to make sense of causality is God’s existence. We are now left with: If Causality, then God.

3. “Now then, if we should go back and negate the statement of that original belief (or consider a contrary experience), the transcendental analysis (if originally cogent or sound) would nevertheless reach the very same conclusion.”
Now let’s do as Bahnsen suggests and “negate the statement of that original belief”. In other words, let’s negate causality (the statement of that original belief) and see if we reach the same conclusion.

At this juncture we have two choices. The first one is a bit strange but let’s run with it and see where it takes us. (A) We can first interpret the instruction in such a manner as to introduce a minor premise thereby denying the antecedent of the major premise while affirming the consequent in the conclusion. Does Bahnsen mean this?

If Causality, then God (because causality presupposes God)
Therefore, God.
What is the problem with such a rendering of Bahnens’s words? To argue as above is to draw a conclusion that does not follow from the premises in any logical sense! The argument is invalid (and no appeal to transcendental arguments can save a formal fallacy.) Whenever possible, we should not interpret someone’s words in such a way that makes him out to look foolish or inept.

Therefore, let’s consider another way to heed the instruction to “negate the statement of that original belief”. (B) Let's interpret the instruction in such a manner as to deny the statement of that original belief not in the minor premise but in the major premise. Again, we are told to go back and negate the statement of that original belief in order to see if both the first belief and its denial lead to the same transcendental conclusion. When we do that, we are left with two different major premises that both are to lead to the same conclusion. We're left with the original premise (or belief): If Causality, then God; but also we’re left to consider the negation of that original belief with another premise: If ~Causality, then God. That rendering with respect to form is consistent with Don Collett's rendering of CVT and TAG in the WTJ: 
C presupposes G if and only if both 1 & 2:
1. If C then God exists
2. If ~C then God exists 
Whether we predicate: If Causality, then God (or) If ~Causality, then God the same conclusion, God, obtains. In other words, God is the necessary precondition for all predication. Or to put it in Bahnsen’s terms, whether we affirm or deny the original belief, the transcendental analysis nevertheless reaches the very same conclusion given both premises. {NOTE WELL: We are not 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(!), but indeed the belief or assertion of ~causality does! In other words, the concept of non-causality presupposes God.} 
The second way ought to be considered the most reasonable way in which we ought to interpret the instruction. There are two reasons for this. First, the second way is not an invalid argument as is the first way; and if we are able to interpret someone’s words in a way that is cogent rather than foolish, then we should. Secondly, it has not been shown that the author of the quote ever demonstrated in his many lectures and debates a single instance of fallaciously denying the antecedent while affirming the consequent. Yet on many occasions he labored the point that to argue against the Christian worldview, the Christian worldview must first be presupposed. And that is to argue both:

If sound argumentation, then God (since sound argumentation presupposes God)
If unsound argumentation, then God (since unsound argumentation... God) 
When we work these arguments through, we find:

If sound arguments, then God...
Therefore, no sound argument... but there are sound arguments, therefore, God


If unsound arguments, then God...
Therefore, no unsound arguments... but there are unsound arguments, therefore, God
Accordingly, whether we affirm sound arguments "or go back and negate" sound arguments, the same transcendental conclusion obtains - God!


If sound or unsound arguments, then God
Therefore, no sound or unsound arguments (but there as such arguments, therefore, God)

The deductive argument, which is transcendental in nature, establishes God as the necessary precondition for both sound and unsound arguments. TAG, however, must be distinguised from garden variety deduction, as I show here:

Finally, TAG and Bahnsen has nothing to do with anything so silly as:

If sound argument, then God
Not sound argument
Therefore, God
In the final analyses, Bahnsen’s statement need not lead us into fallacious reasoning, as some who would like to claim Bahnsen do. Added to that, it is only when we interpret Bahnen’s statement in such a manner as not to be fallacious are we able to reconcile his summary statement with his many demonstrations of what the statement contemplates. Why not, therefore, let Bahnsen not be fallacious, especially if it allows him to be consistent with himself?

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dudhduddhd said...

I'm so confused now!

I'm gonna have to talk to you sometime this weekend.


Joshua Butcher said...


Excellent explanation Ron!

How would you point out to the unbeliever that God and only God is adequate as the precondition of experience? I'm guessing you would have to ask the unbeliever what he would have instead, and proceed by reductio, as seen in your previous post on Bahnsen?

Reformed Apologist said...


Good question. That was the only consideration of my very first post on this site.I won't repeat it here but here is the link:

Reformed Apologist said...


Believe it or not, although I did not write that post because of you, I thought of you when writing it. The post speaks to a question you asked recently about a special kind of denying the antecdent. I had no idea what you must have been referring to at that time. I actually said to Lisa that I thought you must have been exhausted when you wrote the question. I then had a epiphany that you were coming under the spell of someone who has chosen a very strange hat. That's code. :)

Yes, let's talk.


Jim said...

Ron: This needs to be repeated.


Van Til was careful to note that “the Christian method uses neither the inductive nor the deductive method as understood by the opponents of Christianity, but that it has elements of both induction and of deduction in it, if these terms are understood in a Christian sense.” (Van Til, page 10 - emphasis mine.) Why the qualifier "as it is understood by the opponents of Christianity" if Van Til did not believe that TAG incorporated deduction? Why not just say that the Christian method does not use deduction, end of statement? The reason is, TAG has aspects of not just deduction but induction too, as Van Til states with no ambiguity. TAG has a distinctly inductive aspect to it because with TAG the Christian investigates what must be true in order for some experience to be intelligible. Such explorations are inductive in emphasis. Notwithstanding, the manner of the investigation is not open ended because the premises within TAG do not merely support the conclusion, they ensure it. That aspect is unique to deduction. Moreover, the conclusion from TAG is not a mere hypothesis, but rather a sound conclusion derived through a deductive process. Finally, TAG falls short of being fully inductive because there is no asserting the consequent with TAG, as there is with all scientific inference, the playground for induction.

Bahnsen typically employed modus tollens (MT) in his formal argument, yet he distinguished his employment of TAG from deduction. Mike Butler (at one time Bahnsen’s assistant) to my knowledge, also, has never pitted transcendental arguments against deduction. Butler has written TAG out, which is indeed deductive in form "For x (some aspect of human experience) to be the case, y must also be the case since y is the precondition of x. Since x is the case, y is the case." (Butler, The Transcendental Argument for God’s Existence, 91 The Standard Bearer.)

The unique quality of TAG that sets it apart from all other standard deductive arguments is that with the latter we begin with some truths (or inferences) and reason to others - but that to which we reason is not presupposed as a necessary precondition for the intelligible experience of the original fact of experience. In other words, with standard deductive arguments we try to deduce from a fact, or series of facts, other facts; no more, no less. If it's Sunday I'm with a congregation of saints from 9:30-12 in the morning. If I’m not with a congregation of saints at 10:00 a.m., then it’s not Sunday. That it’s not Sunday can be a standard deduction, yet my being with the saints at a certain time does not make Sundays possible. Kant's genius was that TA's are concerned with what must be true in order for something else to be possible. God’s revelation makes intelligible experience possible, whereas my being with the saints at a particular time does not make Sunday between 9:30 and noon possible.

Reformed Apologist said...

Jim, or do you prefer James?

I'm not sure what you grasp but you did paste the heart of one aspect of this confusion.

Someone pointed out in the comment section of another post that if Bahnsen did not allow for deduction in TAG then Butler must have committed apostasy right after Bahnsen died. Pretty fair reductio if you ask me.

The bottom line is did Bahnsen contradict himself? We must say no if we are able to reconcile his statements with his practice. He used deductive TAG in his lectures and debates. As has been shown, his statements about TAG can be reconciled with those demonstrations. Moreover, if we don't reconcile his statements in that way, Bahnsen ends up commiting a formal fallacy in his formulation of TAG while contradicting his lectures and debates where he only demonstrates TAG according to deduction. Therefore, it's incumbent upon one to reconcile Bahnsen, lest we violate the ninth commandment - a matter that should strike terror in anyone's soul.


Anonymous said...

"Why not, therefore, let Bahnsen not be fallacious, especially if it allows him to be consistent with himself?"

Because that would mean too many people would have to repent of their sins....

Puritan Lad said...

Thanks Brother. Your blog and Bahnsen's works have been an invaluable resource.

When you have the time and opportunity, one area that I've seen lacking in this method is in dealing with other religions. Of course, many of those, such as pluralism and Hindism, are self defeating, but how do we approach Judaism and Islam in particular? Bahnsen has a few online resources, but nothing that I've seen that (1) is consistently presuppostional and (2) successfully reduces the other monotheistic religions to absurdity.

Reformed Apologist said...

Puritan Lad,

Thanks for that encouraging word. Bahnsen's work is invaluable and if I am able to preserve it to some extent, then I'm honored and thankful.

W/ respect to Islam, it is self-refuting since the God of Islam, being transcendent only and not personal, cannot reveal himself. Accordingly, the god of Islam cannot be made known through the Quran's revelation.

With religions like Mormonism, JW's and Judaisim that claim at least the OT, we simply need to perform an internal critique of their doctrine, appealing to the Scriptures they accept. If the OT is true, then Jesus came according to the time frame of the seventy weeks of Daniel, proving Judaism false. If the canon is closed, then Joseph Smith is a liar and not a profit. If Jesus is God, then JW's are a cult. The appeals to those systems of doctrine that have their own revelation or borrow from our revelation all reduce to the Fristianity argument, which is no argument at all. Given enough information, they can all be shown false. Only hypothetical competitors are left.



Semper Reformada said...


Greg Bahnsen is my hero and my absolute favorite theologian. :) He is what got me started in presupp. apologetics.

What you are writing here is too technical for me to understand, but I hope to get there some day. Just got done reading "Defense of the Faith" - Van Til, and John Frame's work on Van Til.

I never get tired of this stuff. :)

What do you think of Christ Theological Seminary and their apologetics program headed up by Michael Butler?

Reformed Apologist said...

I think Greg Bahnsen is the hero of many. He set me on my journey as well in this area. To grasp this stuff takes hard thinking and prayer. Don't forget the prayer!

From what I can tell the college is sound. My daughter is considering taking courses from Mike in the fall. Mike is a friend and a scholar.



Anonymous said...

Wow, Ron! You've done a great job summarizing Bahnsen's take on the transcendental method. I am currently looking into presuppositional apologetics, and I have a couple of somewhat technical questions.Does the Strawson-Van Fraassen definition of "presuppose" (which is advocated by Don Collett) refer to the epistemological or ontological truth of its premises. For instance, you write with regard to causality that:

"We are not 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(!), but indeed the belief or assertion of ~causality does!"

In other words, if I have faithfully represented your position, you seem to hold that in the following argument -

1. Causality presupposes God.
2. ~Causality.
3. Therefore, God.

- (2) refers only to epistemological denial of causality by an individual and not the ontological negation of causality. Now, in this new argument,

4. Causality presupposes God.
5. Causality.
6. Therefore, God.

would (5) refer to the epistemological assertion of causality by an individual or the ontological reality of causality? In other words, in a transcendental argument which runs like this (let x be some indubitable experience),

1*. x presupposes God.
2*. (~)x
3*. Therefore, God.

does (2*) refer to BELIEF in ~x only if (2*) is "~x" or does it also refer to BELIEF in x if (2*) is rendered as "x"?

My second question follows from the first. When the proponent of the Transcendental Argument says "a presupposes b," is he really saying that "belief that a presupposes belief that b"? In other words, are you (and Bahnsen for that matter) arguing that logic, science, and morality presuppose merely BELIEF in God, the actual reality of God, or both?

I hope I explained my questions clearly, since they are, as I stated, a bit technical. Thank you!

Reformed Apologist said...

I appreciate your post. Thank you.

Any formulation that would deny the antecedent is formally invalid and should not be employed.

Any argument as such that mentions causality should not be interpreted as speaking in terms of predicating about causaulity, but rather the metaphysical reality of causality. So to put it in your terms, causality implies the ontological not the epistemological unless qualified in writing.

Good question on whether logic presupposes God's existence and / or one's belief in God's existence. God is a necessary precondition for logic, therefore, logic presupposes God's existence.
When you ask whether logic presupposes belief in God, what I suspect you are asking is whether one's use of logic presupposes his belief in (even knowledge of) God. Bahnsen seemed to say in his lectures that it did. Logically speaking, it is indeed true that "If one use's logic, then God" but that correlation can be misleading. God is a necessary condition for anyone's use of logic because God is a necessary condition for anything that exists, acts, thinks, etc. The question is whether one's use of logic presupposes God's existence.

"If one uses logic, then he believes in God" is true.... but that's not the same thing as:

"If one uses logic, then he believes in God because belief in God is a necessary precondition for the use of logic."

Gotta get on a plane but I'll post more later.........ron

Reformed Apologist said...

cont. We need to keep in mind that when we say x presupposes y, we are not merely saying that y is a necessary condition for y (i.e. if x, then y). We are saying much more. We are saying: if x, then y because y is a necessary precondition for y . The difference is that a necessary precondition is logically prior to that which it is a necessary condition for; whereas necessary conditions by themselves are not concerned with logical order but rather just states of affairs. I can elaborate if you like, but first take a look on the right side-bar of the blog-page for a post on logical conditions. With that groundwork laid, I do agree with Bahnsen that the employment of logic not only presupposes that God exists, but it presupposes that the person believes God exists. After all, there is an ethical quality to someone using logic. It is to bear false witness not to think critically. The person using logic feels the force of God, hence man uses logic etc. However, when I say:
“If logic, then God” I am not talking about man believing in God; nor am I talking about predicating about logic. Those refinements need to be written out for them to be implied. All that “if-then” premise implies is if the law of contradiction, then God exists. If I want to imply God is a necessary precondition for logic, then I need to write: "If logic, then God because God is a necessary…” That can be accomplished by writing, logic presupposes God. But let’s never deny the antecedent.



Scott said...


You are correct. Bahnsen meant what Don wrote and just how you explained it. He must have. He didn't commit a formal fallacy. At least we shouldn't read him as doing so.

Great point on distinguishing the metaphysical from predication about the metaphysical.

Reformed Apologist said...

You're digging up some old stuff here. :)

I replied to your other comment.


John W said...

Paul Manata shows there that TAG is deductive. I don't if he did that on your behalf but I thought you would like it!

Reformed Apologist said...


Don't know the impetus but I appreciated his thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Where do you differ from the choosing Hats people?

Reformed Apologist said...

Elaborate so I get a grasp of your understanding. For, instance what do you think I think and what do you think they think?

Anonymous said...

Well, was it something about quotes of Van Til and/or Bahnsen or whether TA's are more than just average deductive arguments?

Reformed Apologist said...

They didn't realize that TA's are deductive arguments (though they're not typical deductive arguments).

Reformed Apologist said...

Maybe look at this:

Eli Ayala (Revealed Apologetics) said...

Hey Ron. I am a Christian apologist (Presuppositionalist) and have been really blessed by your content. I would love to interview you on my podcast “Revealed Apologetics”. I think what you have to say will be very helpful to a lot of lay apologist that are trying to get a handle on the presupp methodology. Let me know if this can work. My email is


Eli Ayala (Revealed Apologetics) said...

Would you be interested in doing an interview on my podcast (Revealed Apologetics)? I would love to discuss with you the nature of TAG for a popular audience. Let me know if this can work. ( -Blessings!!!