I recently came across an introductory lecture on apologetics by Dr. Cal Beisner given at Knox Theological Seminary. I only wish there were more seminary lectures like this one. And not just because of Cal’s obvious admiration for Gordon Clark. The irrationalism he references in regards to Vantilian presuppositionalism is pervasive in so-called Reformed seminaries that any view that defends Christianity as the rational faith is a breath of fresh air. The influence of Van Til and his followers is so bad that men coming out of these things don’t even know what faith is. When young men ask me which seminary they should go to, I generally suggest they don’t. Maybe there are a few exceptions, but I think this lecture is a rare find and is noteworthy for a number of reasons, but primarily because Cal goes to great pains to distinguish presuppositionalism of the Vantilian kind with the “classical presuppositionalism” of Gordon Clark. Frankly, and to be kind, he destroys Van Til’s presuppositionalism completely. In addition, I have never heard Clark’s presuppositionalism called “classical” before, but it is an excellent way to distinguish Clark from the sad and sorry majority position of Cornelius Van Til and his many followers.
While you can read the entire lecture here, to whet your appetite here are a few choice bits:
No apologetic method that begins elsewhere than in propositional truths is capable of interpreting the surrounding world and our experiences in it in a manner that actually establishes the truth of any conclusions.
Frame has an aggravating habit of qualifying what he says but not defining the qualifiers. For instance, he writes over and over again (not only in this essay but also elsewhere) of “human reason” and “human logic”–a habit that he shares with Van Til. “The content of faith, Scripture,” Frame tells us, “may transcend reason in these two senses: (1) it cannot be proved by human reason alone; (2) it contains mysteries, even apparent contradictions, that cannot be fully resolved by human logic. . . .” But what purpose does that modifier, human, serve in these statements? Is there some other reason or logic that is not human? Perhaps Frame means not reason or logic in the abstract but the attempt at reasoning by particular persons–though if that is what he means, we might plead with him to say so. But what is reason or logic other than the way God’s mind thinks? The logic humans use includes the law of contradiction; does Frame have in mind some logic that excludes it, a logic that he would describe as “nonhuman logic”? Would that even be logic? Until Frame specifies the axioms of a nonhuman logic, or of a nonhuman reason, his qualifying reason and logic with human is meaningless.
…. the defining marks of Frame’s presuppositionalism (and in them Frame accurately reproduces Van Tilian presuppositionalism) are circularity and a disdain for logic. Those are not high recommendations.
Unlike Van Tilian presuppositionalism, classical presuppositionalism will not argue, “God exists, therefore God exists.” It will not argue, “The Bible is the Word of God,therefore the Bible is the Word of God.” Those are circular arguments. They fail to recognize that an axiom by definition cannot be the conclusion of any argument. Indeed, by treating the same statement as both axiom and conclusion, they violate the law of contradiction, and it is precisely this contradiction that makes every circular argument fallacious. Every circular argument calls one premise of an argument the conclusion of the same argument, but by definition conclusion and premise are not the same. Every circular argument therefore violates the law of contradiction.
In short, classical presuppositionalism is an apologetic method that (a) asserts Scripture (which includes the laws of logic) as axiomatic, (b) attacks competing worldviews and propositions at the presuppositional level where appropriate, and (c) defends logic and Scripture (and thus the whole of the Christian faith) against attacks by using noncircular arguments that include some theistic proofs and evidential arguments. Because the specific definition of this view arises in the context of modern debates, it would be anachronistic to ascribe it directly to premodern thinkers. However, it is generally true that all those who tended to see reason as dependent on faith, who would say, Credo ut intelligam (“I believe in order to understand”), are representative of this view. The most important among them was St. Augustine, and perhaps the most important statement of his thought in this regard was his De Magistro (Of the Teacher), in which he argued that God’s imparting logos to man as His image and enabling him thereby to recognize His voice in revelation was essential to all knowledge. Leading modern adherents of this view have been Gordon H. Clark, Carl F. H. Henry, Ronald H. Nash, John Robbins, and Robert L. Reymond. Clark’s is the name most commonly associated with it, although, sad to say, his views often are lumped together with Van Til’s.
No argument containing one or more probabilistic premises can validly yield an absolute conclusion. There is nothing inherently wrong with probabilistic arguments; we make most of our choices, including life-and-death choices, on the basis of them. But they should not be confused with demonstrative proofs.