In a friendly conversation this past week, J Brian Huffling asked me if I could articulate the Transcendental Argument for God (TAG). The conversation was on Twitter, so with the character limit, I decided to create a blog post for the benefit of verbosity
I do not know Dr. Huffling personally. We follow each other on Twitter, and I have appreciated his tweets/articles. I have no reason to doubt his regeneration in Christ. This is a friendly conversation on apologetic method only. I hope that when we get to interact on this post and future conversations, that we will both be able to discuss on a friendly level with greater knowledge of the other’s viewpoint – all for the glory of God. This discussion is a brotherly interaction with the disagreement being solely about apologetic method. I consider Dr. Huffling a brother in Christ and a faithful disciple (from what I have seen/read). So, there is no animosity or condemnation on my part towards him.
The discussion is primarily about whether presuppositional apologetics or classical apologetics is a better description of how Christians should defend the faith. It became interesting when there was disagreement over what is the ultimate source of knowledge. Huffling said there is knowledge of nature before there is knowledge of God. Let’s define the term knowledge.
What is knowledge? Justified true beliefs.
How can one justify their beliefs? The Christian can justify his beliefs by standing on the foundation of God’s revelation:
- Prov 1:7 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge”
- Proverbs 2:6 “For the LORD gives wisdom and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding”
- Proverbs 9:10 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom”
- Psalm 111:10 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom”
- Isaiah 33:6 “The LORD will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge. The fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure.”
- Colossians 2:2-3 “Christ in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”
- Romans 1:19 “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them”
The presuppositional apologist will stand firm on this principle: God’s revelation and the ability to justify this revelation through God’s Word
The skeptic has no such path to justification. For them all knowledge is provisional and the tools for justification are not compatible within a worldview that does not start with God.
Classical apologists (like Dr. Huffling) view reasoning as the standard for determining truth. Reasoning IS a valid tool for the Christian and it is not wrong to consider regenerated reasoning as glorifying to God, however, because of the curse of sin, the unbeliever cannot trust his reasoning and reasoning itself does not hold the power of ultimate justification. So, I would view the classical argumentation as deficient in properly communicating the defense of the faith.
Back to the conversation with Dr. Huffling. There was a misunderstanding on presuppositional apologetics and the transcendental argument for God (TAG). Dr. Huffling asked me to articulate TAG. I think what happened in the exchange was that he conflated presuppositional apologetics with TAG. Now TAG is a particular type/category of presuppositional apologetics, but the two are not synonymous. As described above, I would say that presuppositional apologetics has more to do with the analysis of both the Christian and non-Christian worldviews. The epistemology of the Christian is revelation from God. We can know things because God has revealed them. His revelation has three main manifestations (Hebrews 1:2-3)
- The Bible
The accusation from Dr. Huffling and others is that presuppositional apologetics is circular since it relies upon the Bible to prove the Bible. This is a mischaracterization of the claims of presuppositional apologists. The Bible is revelation from the One, who knows everything and is eternally faithful AND since it is only part of God’s revelation, it can be verified by the other parts of his revelation
- Jesus is the Creator (John 1:3)
- Creation is the manifestation of God’s power and divine nature (Rom1). The Heavens declare the glory of God (Ps 19:1). If people do not praise God, the rocks (creation) will cry out in praise (Luke 19:40)
- The Bible records the details of God’s creative works (Gen 1)
- Jesus fulfilled the prophecies recorded by the prophets in scripture (I Cor 15)
- The whole purpose of scripture is to detail, who Jesus is and codify the covenant of God (Luke 24:27)
- So creation, the Bible, and the incarnation are self-authenticating interdependent revelations from God, which gives the Christian a justified epistemology for certain knowledge. What God has revealed cannot be refuted or validated by any higher standard. As Hebrews 6:13 tells us “When God made His promise to Abraham, since He had no one greater to swear by, He swore by Himself”, so we know that there is no higher standard. Should we follow the logic of Dr. Huffling that circularity in logic is always fallacious, then God would be fallacious by swearing upon Himself. But we know that God has never been fallacious. Since He is the highest authority and his eternal Word carries the weight of his authority, the Bible can be used to virtuously authenticate itself as part of God’s revelation.
Dr. Jason Lisle says it more eloquently :
“In fact, all of God’s reasoning is necessarily circular. God is all-knowing. So, whenever God draws a conclusion from premises, the conclusion is something that God already knows. Truth is that which corresponds to the mind of God. And the justification for that truth is… that it corresponds to the mind of God. This is not arbitrary, but logically necessary since God’s mind determines all truth. Those people who argue that all forms of circular reasoning are fallacious are in the unenviable position of implying that God’s reasoning is fallacious.”
Rather than presupposing that the Bible is ultimately true but instead arguing that one’s senses/reasoning are the valid source for determining truth, this person must then attempt to validate their senses/reasoning by employing their senses/reasoning – which is viciously circular.
The skeptic (and even Dr. Huffling) might reply “But we need to use our senses/reasoning to read the Bible.” While this is true, using our senses/reasoning is not the same as justifying them.
“Yet, this answer has a degree of circularity. Namely, we must use our senses in order to read in the Bible that our senses were designed by God. Does this mean that the reliability of sensory experience is more foundational than the Scriptures? Not at all. This is another example of a difference in the order of chronological discovery and logical primacy. That is, we believe in the reliability of our senses before we discover the logical justification for that belief (the biblical worldview). This is always the case with our most foundational presuppositions. They must be assumed before they are proved. Yet, after assuming that our senses are reliable, we discover that we have a good independent reason to believe this: the Bible. The circle is not vicious because our belief in reliable senses is not arbitrary; it is rationally necessary for us to discover that it has independent, self-consistent justification. Namely, we need reliable senses to discover what the Bible says about our senses. But when we read the Scriptures, we find that our belief was justified.”
Regarding the use of either presuppositional or classical apologetics in conversations with unbelievers, I would suggest that Christians should not trust the unregenerated reasoning of unbelievers to conclude rationally to trust God. Romans 1:21 tells us “…their (godless/wicked) thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” So, when the unbeliever attempts to use their reasoning/understanding of evidence to determine truth, their presuppositions are deficient. There are several problems with the approach that people can accurately view evidence by applying their reasoning to determine something as accurate:
- Everyone interprets evidence according to their worldview. For instance, if we were to evaluate the evidence of a dinosaur bone, a Christian would say “This is great evidence that supports the historical global flood.” The non-Christian would say “This is great evidence that supports the idea of millions of years of natural selection acting on random mutations to produce all life from bacteria to Bach.” Same evidence – different conclusions
- If the classical/evidential apologist presents evidence to the non-believer, he is putting the non-believer in the judge’s chair…God’s rightful place. God’s existence is never up for judgment as God has revealed Himself. As Romans 1 tells us, “what may be known about God is plain to them because God has made it plain to them.”
- Because creation bears the scars of the curse of sin (Romans 8, Genesis 3), it is an insufficient source of knowledge to bring one into a saving faith in the Triune God. Only with guidance by the special revelation of scripture can a person be knowledgeable of the necessity of repentance and humility before God for grace by faith
Colossians 2:8 goes even further in telling Christians to begin with the presupposition of Christ’s revelation: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” And before the Christian can defend the faith, we must (as Peter tells us) “set apart Christ as Lord in your heart”.
If our primary presupposition is NOT God and his revelation, then we (as Christians) are missing the proper biblical apologetic method.
Now, as some may be remembering, I still have not articulated the transcendental argument for God. It’s not that I have forgotten, but it was more important for me to clear up the misunderstanding above that Presup = TAG. The more important part of Presup for me is the identification and analysis of presuppositions for knowledge. As shown, the Christian bears witness to the necessary and exclusive preconditions for intelligibility because of God’s revelation. I believe that others, more knowledgeable/eloquent than I have done better at articulating the nuances of the transcendental argument, but I’ll give it a shot:
TAG – Because there are transcendentals (unchanging, abstract, absolutes) like logic, math, induction, morality. and information there must be a reasoning & upholding Source for these absolutes. God is unchanging, transcendental and absolute therefore He is (at minimum) consistent with the existence of unchanging, abstract, absolutes. Further, God has revealed that He is the source of logic (law of identity & law of non-contradiction) in Ex 3:14 “I AM who I AM”, Isa 45:19 “I YHWH, speak the truth. I declare what is right”, 2 Tim 2:13 “he remains faithful— for he cannot deny (contradict) Himself”. And when the skeptic asks “How do you know the Bible is revelation from God?” the presuppositional apologist can reply “By the impossibility of the contrary.”
The impossibility of the contrary can best be described as if what God has said is not true, then nothing can be known and only absurdities result from all events. Since we can know things, God’s revelation is corroborated. From Dr. Greg Bahnsen’s work – Always Ready, he describes the “impossibility of the contrary” thusly:
For a better (than my own) explanation of the transcendental argument for God, please see
If I misrepresented Dr. Huffling in any way, it was not my intention, and I would ask him (or someone knowledgeable of his views) to provide correction in Christian love, and I will humbly edit this post.
Good post; I’m going to share it for the next round up!
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I also thought your article is good. It’s interesting to hear classic apologists talk about reasoning from one’s senses. I can hear Greg saying how that is self-defeating since you can then ask, “What did you taste, hear, or smell that told you to do that?” 🙂
Also, it’s sad to hear classic apologists flinch at the notion of using the Bible to support the Bible since Jesus, the prophets, and the apostles all never saw the need to prove the Bible before using it. They just used it. How ridiculous would it be to hear the Word, Jesus, proving the reliability of the word?
The truth of the Word of God can and must be assumed at the outset. Without it, we couldn’t prove anything at all.
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I think what you presented here is a TAG. 🙂