Evidence that demands a worldview: or how apologetics requires a metapologetics

Image result for evidence that demands a verdictThe new edition Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World, edited with his son Sean, recently caught my eye on Amazon. The first edition did that over 40 years in Christian Publications’s bookstore in Manhattan (8th Avenue between 42nd and 43rd Streets).

Gabriel Monheim (1936-2015: this pic is circa 1979-80), who preached on Wall Street, recommended it to me in 1978. The occasion was my asking questions that someone (certainly an ex-Marxist graduate philosophy student) might have about the Bible.

The McDowells’ 700+-page tome is a compendium of orthodox Christian answers to (mainly) historical and archaeological objections to belief in the Bible as the Word of God written and to the many propositions that this belief logically commits the believer. That is, it’s a contribution to apologetics.

Mainly, but not exclusively. To address new versions of perennial philosophical objections the McDowells have added six chapters: “The Nature of Truth,” “The Knowability of Truth,” “Answering  Postmodernism,” “Answer Skepticism,” “Are Miracles Possible?,” and “Is History Knowable?”

Complementing this approach to apologetics for me are the works of Norman  Geisler (PhD, Loyola, 1970; b. 1932), whom I met at the 1982 annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion. Geisler starts with defending theism, grounding his premises in principles that one cannot coherently deny. He then defends the historical reliability of the Bible. On its basis he argues for the deity of Jesus. Whatever Jesus teaches is true, and He taught the divine inspiration of the Old Testament and promised an inspired New Testament. Image result for norman geisler

Geisler’s apologetical method is commonly labeled. “evidentialist.” It’s also categorized as “classical” as distinct from the “presuppositional” approaches of Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987) and Gordon H. Clark. (1902-1985).

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But facts bear an evidential relationship to each other only if certain background conditions obtain. They connect (a) facts to each other causally and (b) each of them to our evidence-weighing minds (c) within a world created by God. That’s the worldview that grounds the premises of sound classical apologetical arguments. It would take me years to accept that from Van Til (above, on the steps of Federal Hall, Wall & Broad, NE corner, 1978, the year I met Monheim; the man in front of him, resting his chin on his left fist, is my old friend Eric Sigward. ). My reading and interacting with Greg L. Bahnsen (1948-1995) made the decisive pedagogical difference.

God has (as it were) encoded these conditions into every human mind (Genesis 1:27; John 1:6; Romans 1:18-20), even minds that reject the Bible. The worldview expressed in the Bible, and only that one, explicates them. The Bible confirms as divine revelation what every human knower tacitly and spontaneously works with, but can justify (when justification is called for) only on the basis of the Bible.

When apologists argue with an unbeliever about, say, the authorship of Isaiah, they should be prepared, at a moment’s notice, to foreground the conditions of intelligible discourse.

To foreground them successfully involves rhetorical skill, if not art. For we don’t become aware of that grounding relationship in an ordinary way: we neither perceive them empirically nor deduce them from axioms. They’re divinely encoded first truths.

We presuppose something “in the background” of our cognitive activity that ensures that our effort to know is not a fool’s errand. We intuit this background, that is, we tacitly sense that we rely on a disparate—yet seamlessly networked—features of our experience like nature’s patterns; our memory of them; the objectivity of truth, goodness, and beauty; and the mind-independent reality of numbers and moral absolutes. And they all comport with each other only in the Biblical worldview.

Neither Geisler nor the McDowells advert to first truths. They restrict their arguments to (first-order) apologetics without even mentioning the need for (second-order) meta-apologetics (or metapologetics).

For them, the apologists’ job is done if their auditors (a) believe their questions have been answered satisfactorily and (b) consequently feel intellectually free to receive Christ as their Lord and Savior. If the auditor doesn’t feel that way, however, the apologist must leave him or her in the hands of God.

An alternative to throwing up one’s hands in prayer is to don one’s metapologetical cap, that is, to identify and neutralize the root of the unbeliever’s resistance in his or her presumption of intellectual autonomy.

A 50-page (double-column) bibliography enhances the value of Evidence That Demands a Verdict. And yet although it lists a dozen works that Geisler has written or edited, not one by Van Til or Bahnsen (or Clark) appears in it.

Van Til, Federal Hall, 1978, with the late Jack Miller

Evidentialist arguments sometimes model a modified version of F. H. Bradley’s aphorism (quoted here): apologetics is the finding of bad reasons for what we believe on faith. But to find these reasons is no less an act of faith.

It’s not that evidentialist arguments are necessarily bad; it’s that they leave the unbeliever wiggle (better, “wriggle out”) room. Both the apologist and the resisting unbeliever have some insight into intellectual exigency; they disagree over whether a given apologetic argument meets it.

If God is already moving in the life of an unbeliever, and he or she is willing to be moved, i.e., not resisting, then these arguments (McDowell’s, Geisler’s, etc.) are pretty good. Overall. Most of the time.

If He’s not doing that, and the unbeliever has decided he or she won’t be convinced, then the gap between “highly probable” and “certain” will be evident, painfully so to the apologist. The unbeliever will magnify that gap until it’s a psychologically (but not logically) unbridgeable chasm.

Once apologists “get” Van Til’s critique of fallen man’s pseudo-autonomous posture toward revelation, however, they can use, even enjoy, the wealth of information found in Evidence That Demands a Verdict and books written in the same vein.

There’s a time and place for asking about the conditions of intelligible predication. It’s probably not when someone asks whether Jesus Christ was an historical figure. It is when someone suggests that one or another non-Biblical narrative or speculative philosophy makes sense of our disputes about Jesus. Or about anything else.

In 1 Peter 2:16 we read: “For so is the will of God, that with well doing you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.” Showing that the unbeliever cannot help but rely on a network of first truths that’s possible only on the Christian worldview is the “well doing” of metapologetics.


Reading recommendations (for the strong of heart and mind): Greg Bahnsen’s Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended . . .

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and Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis.