I’ve said this about presuppositional apologetics before. But it’s sometimes hard to keep it in mind in the middle of actually talking to a practitioner, like Seth on yesterday’s show. So I’m writing it again just to remind myself.
The thing about presuppositional apologetics is that it’s not convincing to anyone who isn’t already looking for an excuse to continue believing in God. I’ve never in my life heard anyone say “I used to be an atheist, but then I realized that there is no basis for believing things based on logic and evidence, so I decided to believe in God.” That would be an embarrassing and transparent reason to explain a conversion moment. So presuppositionalism is absolutely about shoring up the morale of the troops, not changing anyone’s mind.
When I’m talking to a presup, there’s always a nagging feeling at the back of my mind that I’m doing it wrong in some way, and that the show comments are going to get flooded with criticisms about how we could have handled it better. Then I read the comments and they not only aren’t bothered, but deride the presuppositionalist as in way over his head. Sample from yesterday:
“Tonight’s show’s Theme did seem to be ‘lie to the faces of the hosts about what the hosts are saying’” –Jasper of Maine
“From the perspective of the show, if the whole point is ‘what do you believe and why’ and the person can’t or won’t get to a ‘why’ and refuses to even consider evidence, then (ahem) why are they calling?” –Aaroninmelbourne
“Part of the problem I see with many callers is that they don’t listen to what is actually being said to them.” –Ethan Myerson
“Tracie and Russell got to most of my points. Good job!” –EnlightenmentLiberal
Granted, these are all show fans, with a big bias towards agreeing with us. But we get critical emails all the time telling us when we screwed up, and I never, ever heard anyone refer back to a presup caller and say “Now that guy made a lot of sense.”
This is presuppositionalism boiled down to its essential components: You can’t prove logic using logic. Therefore you can’t justify that logic exists. Therefore if I say “God created logic,” you must either present an alternative “explanation” for logic, or just believe me and accept that God exists. That’s pretty much the whole ball of wax, the rest is window dressing.
But there’s a lot of window dressing involved, because showmanship is also a totally indispensable component of presup. Every presup I’ve ever met has filled his own conversation with a huge amount of smug self-congratulation. Seth had the line about how atheists are stabbing themselves and shooting themselves in the foot and so on. Stephen Feinstein, over the course of his five posts, kept telling everyone over and over again how he was “winning,” and what a crushing victory it was and how stupid I was being. But in the hundreds of comments that followed, either on our blog or his, I never saw one that said “This debate has swayed me to take Stephen’s side.”
I’ll be honest here… having a conversation where the other guy is trash talking and ridiculing you most of the time isn’t very much fun. Conversations with rude, angry people isn’t enjoyable, and rude comes with the territory. That’s why people who talk to presups often feel like they’ve said something wrong, even though presuppositionalism completely fails to make a positive case for God of any kind, any more than it makes the case for Pikachu or the Great Pumpkin or a time traveling Lynnea. Being verbally abused is all they’ve got, and that generally only works on the person you’re abusing, not on the listeners.