Q&A: Presuppositional Evidence

Presuppositional Evidence

Question

How do you reconcile presuppositionalism with some of the evidential approaches offered in the Bible itself? For instance, God empowered his early disciples with the ability to work miracles as evidence that their message was divinely authorized (Mark 16:20). Jesus presented an entire list of evidences for himself in one speech (John 5:31-47). Peter seems to formulate a very evidential sort of argument when he gives 4 premises and draws and affirmative conclusion about Jesus' identity (Acts 2:22-36).

Answer

I agree entirely that apologetics includes sharing evidences with unbelievers. Your biblical references are to the point. This is not inimical to presuppositionalism. Every presuppositionalist writer, including Van Til, Greg Bahnsen, and yours truly has endorsed strongly the use of evidences. (Gordon Clark, however, was skeptical about evidences, and since he sometimes called himself a presuppositionalist, people sometimes confuse his position with Van Til's.)

As to the place of evidences in a presuppositionalist framework, you should look at Thom Notaro's book Van Til and the Use of Evidence (P&R, 1980). I have also dealt with that issue in Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 140-149, Apologetics to the Glory of God, Chapters 1-3, but especially 57-69, and in Cornelius Van Til, 177-184.

The short story is that you may and should use all the evidence you can muster, but you should use it only as Scripture directs; that is, you should use it in the context of a transcendental argument, with a presuppositionalist epistemology. It's OK to use evidence of intelligent design, for example, in an argument for God's existence. But (1) you should never claim neutrality. That is, you should never pretend that intelligent
design is meaningful on any other basis than the biblical worldview. (2) Therefore, in a broad sense, the argument will be circular in a way: the evidence proves the Bible, but the Bible is first used to screen it, to interpret it. The evidence proves the Bible, but the Bible provides the only worldview in which any evidence makes sense. (Note my distinction between "narrow" and "broad" circularity that I've expounded fairly often.)


In a presuppositional epistemology, by the way, EVERYTHING is evidence for God. For no fact could be meaningful unless God existed and ruled the world. So our doctrine of "general revelation" (Rom. 1, Psm. 19:1, etc.)

Answer by Dr. John M. Frame

Dr. John M. Frame is Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL.