Nothing Worse Than an Analytic Fairy
Atheism and Apologetics - Apologetics in the Void
Written by Douglas Wilson
Saturday, 02 February 2013
Yesterday I was having a good discussion on apologetics with Pastor
Will Little of Mars Hill, and the discussion dislodged in me a few
thoughts on the subject that I thought would be good to note here.
We were talking about presuppositionalism. I think it is crucial for us to distinguish between presuppositionalism as a foundation for the apologist, and presuppositionalism as a subject
that the apologist will broach with the unbeliever. There are times
when it will be both, but those times are rarer than apologists who are
trained Van Til ninjas might think.
If the point is to win men, and not arguments, then we have to
understand where the actual hang-up is with that unbeliever.
that we understand the foundational issues does not mean that he does, and what good does it do to bounce arguments off his forehead, which then just lie on the floor unheard?
At the same time, when someone observes that rigorous analytic
philosophy leaves a pomo-hipster with marriage problems unmoved, the
temptation is then to think that there is something wrong with the
rigorous reasoning. No, there is nothing wrong with it, but the hard
cold concrete of my presuppositions might need to stay in the basement,
holding the house up, while my wife prepares chicken enchiladas for the
family and we invite the troubled couple over. The foundation holds the
kitchen up, and I can cheerfully grant that the unbeliever was greatly
moved by the fellowship around the table without concluding that we
shouldn't have spent all that money on the foundation walls. We can
always explain the connection to him later.
Apologetics should always move toward authoritative declaration. The foundation for this is the revealed Word of God. I reason from Scripture, not to Scripture. This makes me a presuppositionalist. But I can be a presuppositionalist without talking
presuppositions all the time. In fact, to talk about them all the time
can easily become self-contradictory. If they are my presuppositions,
then why don't I presuppose them more?
Sometimes I must deal with a particular kind of unbeliever, a man
whose difficulties are all "in the basement." There we can talk
presuppositions because (as ancient stasis theory in rhetoric taught us)
that is where his issue actually is. But most of the time, with most of
the people we talk to, that is not where the issue is.
issues will frequently come up in ordinary conversations, but we must
distinguish between unbelievers genuinely troubled by the
epistemological issues, and the unbelievers who parrot that relativistic
nonsense because that is what they were taught, and because that is
what lets them sleep with their girlfriends. So, to the extent that we
talk presuppositions with unbelievers on the street, we should should do
it in street language, and not in the rarified language of the
philosophy department. Having done so, we should move as quickly as we
can to the real hang-up, as Jesus did when He asked to meet the
Samaritan woman's husband (John 4:16).
If a fellow on the subway tells you there is no such thing as truth,
it is better to simply ask him if that is true than to show him the
trouble with [Not A > A].
Now in order to declare the truth, I must assume it. And when I
assume it, I am going assume as much of it as I can. Having done so, I
will take it from there, asking the Spirit to work powerfully in and on
the conversation. I don't want to take the Cartesian approach of
narrowing everything down to a minimum hard datum of truth, and then
asking the fairy of logic land to anoint it. The fairy of logic land is
We need the Spirit of Jesus, not analytic fairies. Nothing
worse than an analytic fairy.