But there is a hint of truth to the claim that an antithesis exists, at least between the Christian on the one hand, and the one who adheres to an objective understanding of the world on the other. Unlike the rational human being, who recognizes the fact that reality sets its own terms independent of human inventions, the Christian intentionally views everything through the prism of a collection of stories, stories which even on the his own premises the Christian could not genuinely know to be true, regardless of how strongly he believes them to be true. Indeed, it is one thing to believe that something is true, and another to know that it is true. This distinction is lost on most presuppositionalists, since they tend to construe knowledge in terms of belief in the first place (I have already criticized this view here).
Christians tend to portray themselves as a collective bound together by a story, a story which they insist is true, even when facts are brought against it. In actuality it is their acceptance of this story – which is a volitional action on each adherent’s part – which gives them this shared sense of mutual connection and commonality. Just accept the story, and Presto! you’re immediately part of the beloved clique, the 'happnen' in-crowd.
Not only does this acceptance of a story give Christians a sense of unity (mind you, a unity which crumbles into splinters very easily), it also shapes in the way they understand the world. As Cornelius Van Til puts it in the Mein Kampf of presuppositionalism:
Christians interpret every fact in the light of the same story. For them the nature of every fact in this world is determined by the place it occupies in the story. The story they cannot get from any other source than supernatural revelation. The Christian finds that his conscience agrees to the truth of the story. He holds that those who deny the truth of the story have an axe to grind. They do not want the story to be true; they do not want the facts to be what the story says they are. (The Defense of the Faith, 4th ed., quoted in Hubner, Jamin, The Portable Presuppositionalist, p. 239).
Those who do not accept the story are characterized as willfully resisting what the believer considers an incontestable truth: “They do not want the story to be true; they do not want the facts to be what the story says they are.” Non-believers are represented in the literature as slaves to their nefarious, truth-denying desires: they don’t want the story to be true; they do not want the facts to be what the story says they are. Acceptance of the story somehow provides the believer with intimate familiarity of non-believers’ motivations. The believer is not at the same time encouraged to consider the possibilities that non-believers honestly do not believe the story is true, and that believers are the ones who are held captive by their desires in wanting the story to be true. Such proposals are kept safely out of sight, as they are not to be considered, for the believer has no rational defense against them.
As with other specimens of fiction, the bible-believer’s story takes its residence in the believer’s imagination. However, it is not a story which the believer’s own imagination creates, but which his own imagination informs as he tries to digest its contents into the sum of his cognition, whose inner workings are situated beyond his own understanding (for he does not endeavor to understand the nature of his imaginative indulgences when it comes to his theism), given his focus on seeking to enshrine the elements of the story as a guide to his understanding of the world. The more concrete elements of the story are unavoidably open to being imagined differently from believer to believer, but certain stereotypes have as a matter of tradition inserted themselves into the images which believers cultivate as they recreate biblical scenes in their minds. When Jesus commanded the water pots to be full of wine at the marriage in Cana (cf. John 2:1-11), for instance, the believer may imagine that he wore a white robe and had a long beard, was he taller than most of the other guests, had an austere sense of omniscient awareness and wisdom, spoke softly and compassionately, that he radiated with a holy glow visible to “the chosen,” etc. These images have worked their way into the believer’s imagination courtesy of earlier believers who concretized their imaginings of the same story in media such as paintings and the silver screen. But they are all imaginary just the same.
In the passage by Van Til quoted above, the Christian is explicitly encouraged to believe that “those who deny the truth of the story have an axe to grind,” which is not intended to be complimentary. The believer’s experience of the world is carefully managed by those who watch over him, who oversee the constant surveillance over his devotion to the program, as he is told specifically how to view all outsiders to the faith, given the fact that they are outsiders to the faith. The us-versus-them collectivism inherent in the religious allegiance to the Christian worldview is affirmed explicitly in the substance of the narrative itself (cf. Mt. 12:30: “He that is not with me is against me”). To put it bluntly, those who have not chosen, as the Christian believer has chosen, to accept “the story” as some incontestable cosmic truth about reality, are to be seen as stubbornly resisting truth in an irresistible fit of contempt, a product of their depravity, as a result of some fundamental choice they have made in opposition to the ethical path which only the story can offer.
So acceptance of the story as truth, regardless of actual truth value, its content and its meaning under examination, is of paramount importance to the devotional program of Christianity. The believer is expected to adopt the disposition that the story is worth dying for. And even though it is never explained how the story can benefit from the believer’s self-sacrifice, he is told explicitly that “religious faith is something to die for and something to live every moment” (Kreeft and Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p. 14). The believer is to give priority, just as in Kreeft and Tacelli’s statement, to being willing to die for the story. The believer is not to consider the fact that differing interpretations of the same story are what has caused Christianity to implode on itself since its very inception, resulting in hundreds if not thousands of schisms, sects, denominations, factions and cultic offshoots. He is not to consider the fact that each believer’s imagination plays an essential role in his reading of the story and in his overall religious experience, a role which governs his interpretation of the story. What is important is that the believer do his best not to fall prey to the “false prophets” of other religions, and other interpretations of the same story. There is only one story, he is taught, and only one interpretation of that story. Anything else is heresy and depravity.
As Van Til states:
Scripture presents itself as being the only light in terms of which the truth about facts and their relations can be discovered. (The Defense of the Faith, p. 108)
Christianity, then, is a worldview based on a storybook, and which requires that its adherents view the world through the prism of a storybook. For those who do interpret the world in terms of what the storybook would have them believe, those who do not take the storybook seriously and similarly look at the world in terms of what the storybook says, are to be scorned, despised, held in contempt and considered to be a threat. It is for this reason that believers always reserve for themselves the option of simply ignoring what critics of Christian philosophy have to say: since they do not accept the story, non-Christians are considered to be darkened in their understanding, given over to demonic influences, and beyond the reach of the “reasoning” which believers themselves find so persuasive and enticing.
For the Christian, the atheist is the most despicable of spoilsports. He’s a spoilsport because his very existence, given the fact that he is a non-believer, serves as a constant reminder to the believer that the storybook is actually a cauldron of deception. This is not only why non-believers are so despised, but why they are also the target of so much Christian animosity and resentment. Defeating the non-believer is of utmost priority to defenders of the Christian faith, as his very existence constitutes a lethal threat to the sanctity which they want their storybook to possess. Defeating the non-believer on his own terms is unnecessary and even to be discouraged, for it could end up in failure. Discrediting by means of insult is ultimately the only way out for believers, and they know this, which is why many internet apologists have learned to head directly for this path when they encounter criticism.
Philosophically, the storybook leads the believer into a pit of internal conundrums and contradictions, mental snares which are acknowledged to exist but characterized as “paradoxes” so as to construe them as evidence of the supernatural genius and mysteriousness of its alleged author, for “God must always remain mysterious to man” (Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, p. 14). It portrays its god as a father which allows his only begotten son to be tortured and murdered by vicious villains, and equates this same god with “love” (I Jn. 4:8). It claims that its god is uncreated and equates it with light (I Jn. 1:5), and it tells us that light was created (Gen. 1:3). It tells us that “whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23) and that “the law is not of faith” (Gal. 3:12), but insists that the law is not sin (Rom. 7:7). It tells us that things which are invisible are “clearly seen” (Rom. 1:20).
The story which Christians accept as truth, characterizes man as inherently defective. And yet his creator is supposedly “perfect” (Mt. 5:48), whose “work is perfect” (Deut. 32:4), whose “way is perfect” (2 Sam. 22:31). This perfect creator created imperfection (see here). The perfect creator’s greatest creation – which is man – turns out to be one of the biggest bungles of all history, according to Christian doctrine itself.
Left alone, man will – according to the storybook-informed Christian worldview – automatically deviate from “the truth,” for “the truth” is not something that he can discover on his own. According to Christianity, truth is something that must be “revealed” to man from some supernatural source. Once the priests’ underlying premises are accepted, the believer has no basis to question their propagandistic influence and manipulation, and is thus prone to sacrificing himself to their lead, believing that such sacrifice is good, moral, noble. As for the problem that results from supposing that man is inherently defective on the one hand, and created by a perfect creator on the other, the priests have an explanation for this: man chose to depart from the true path. That is, one man chose to depart, and all men were thus infected with this defect as a result. Not only does this clue us in on the collectivistic conception of guilt which Christianity fosters in the believer’s psyche, it is also an example of blaming the product rather than the producer for the product’s faults. Not only are all the products vulnerable to the defects of one, but the producer continues to produce more products after its first product has proved defective, allowing the defect to propagate throughout the general population. The storybook would have us believe that this is the choice of a perfect creator. And responsibility for the summary deficiencies resulting from the choices on the part of the producer, is laid at the feet of every product. It’s the lemon’s fault that it is a lemon.
But this distortion of justice is all part of the story which the believer is supposed to swallow hook, line and sinker. Christian apologist John Frame puts it as follows:
As Calvin said, the Christian should look at nature with the “spectacles of Scripture.” If even unfallen Adam needed to interpret the world according to God’s verbal utterance, how much more do we!... To allow Scripture this corrective work, we must accept the principle that our settled belief as to Scripture’s teaching must take precedence over what we would believe from natural revelation alone. (Apologetics to the Glory of God, p. 23)
Frame insists that he is “not advocating dogmatic adherence to ideas based on half-baked exegesis and rejection of, say, scientific theories on the basis of such sloppy theologizing” (Ibid., p. 23n.26), though he does advocate the rejection of the scientific theory of evolution because of its damning threat to the biblical worldview (cf. pp. 103, 129, et al.). It is interesting that Frame characterizes evolution as a form of idolatry, saying,
Nobody can prove evolution. Evolution is a hypothesis held by faith, and all supposed facts must be made to fit into its framework. It is a “paradigm” in Thomas Kuhn’s sense, a criterion for judging other proposals, itself not subject to judgment. Indeed, evolution is necessary, once one rejects creation. For either the earth was produced supernaturally (i.e., created0 or it was produced naturally, apart from God. Any naturalistic origin of the world will involve evolution, for it will be the result of natural laws operating upon primitive matter, producing complexity over time. Thus, the concept of evolution did not begin with Darwin. Rather, it has been characteristic of every non-Christian philosophy since that of Thales in the sixth century B.C. (Ibid., p. 197)
Are you following this?
Also, Frame tells us that he is not saying
that our settled beliefs concerning the teaching of Scripture are infallible… But I repeat: those settled beliefs must take precedence over our beliefs, settled or not, from other sources. Otherwise, we do not allow Scripture to be a true corrective to our understanding of natural revelation. (Ibid., pp. 23-24n.27).
I found the following statement from Frame most curious. He writes:
there are some who claim that proof is necessary for them… Scripture does more than simply rebuke them. It provides much persuasive testimony of God’s reality and also points us to sources outside itself where more testimony can be found. (Ibid., p. 66)
What I find interesting about this statement is Frame’s view of proof. Presuppositionalists insist that their “transcendental argument” is “absolutely certain proof” of the Christian god’s existence and of “the truth of Christian theism” (cf. Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 3rd ed., p. 103), and that it is the only apologetic scheme compatible with the bible. So if there is a “proof” of the Christian god’s existence which is so compatible with what Christians call their god’s verbal revelation, why would that verbal revelation rebuke or condemn those who expect proof?
In regards to presuppositionalism proper, notice how it involves appeals to a storybook in order to settle age-old philosophical questions. The problem of universals, for instance, is “answered” by pointing to a triune god – i.e., to a character in a storybook which the believer has no alternative but to imagine in his own mind. It is supposedly in the mind of this supernatural triune god where “the one” and “the many” – “unity” and “plurality” – are fundamentally related. Thus, instead of understanding the relationship between the multitude of concrete objects which we perceive and the abstractions by which we unite them in a conceptual manner, the presuppositionalist approach prefers to attribute this relationship to the mind of a character found in a storybook which takes residence in the believer’s imagination. Similarly with the so-called “problem of induction” raised by the Scottish philosopher David Hume. Instead of questioning the premises of Hume’s skeptical argument, presuppositionalists prefer to take Hume’s argument for granted and point to a character from their sacred storybook as the solution to the ill-conceived problem. On presuppositionalist grounds, the problem of induction is “solved” – not by recognizing the objective nature of reality and understanding the conceptual process by which the human mind performs inductive inferences – but by pointing to a storybook character which has allegedly “created the universe in which we live (Gen. 1:1, Col. 1:16), and who sovereignly maintains it as we find it to be (Heb. 1:3)” (Brian Knapp, “Induction and the Unbeliever,” The Portable Presuppositionalist, p. 132). Does this bring us any closer to a rational understanding of induction? Of course it doesn’t. But it conforms to the believer’s devotion to the view that the storybook is true, and that’s what’s important to the believer.
We cannot expect a storybook which departs from reality so radically as the bible does, to provide rational answers to such important questions. Instead, we are expected to simply don “spectacles of Scripture” and ignore its discrepancies with reality as if they did not exist, as if they would disappear if we ignore them long enough. Such is the presuppositionalist’s last resort, one which he takes more often than he’d like to admit.
by Dawson Bethrick