Self-Evidentialism

-A breakdown of the Self-Evidential Apologetics Approach-




There are two age-old ways to suppress the self-evident truths of God: by avoiding the avenues where one would confront such truths or by treating the truths as so wide open to interpretation that one is left with precious little to submit to. Both forms of suppression are represented in the graph above (Figure 1). This graph illustrates key concepts of a new apologetics approach called self-evidentialism, an approach that I wish to formally propose as an apologetics methodology by way of this brief four-page overview of its key elements.

Epistemology—well before I knew the word—helped give me ground beneath my feet. I expound on this a bit further in the preface of my booklet, How We Can Know Who Truly Knows: An Argument for Certainty at the Intersection of Science and Religion, available to read for free on my website: www.thinkingwrinkle.com. Since 2009, I have devoted hundreds of hours to informal debate in online religious and philosophical forums. I developed the self-evidential approach in the trenches, both in an effort to streamline the debate process and in response to the perceived weaknesses of popular methodologies (as I argue briefly on page 4). I describe this method as "self-evidential" because it accords with Romans 1 on the self-evident nature of God’s existence, and those using this approach incorporate self-evident logic on two levels: 1. In leading up to the apologist’s defense of the Bible as divine revelation and 2. In drawing attention to the Bible's self-authenticating nature.

In this approach, the apologist works to quickly establish the critical truth that all people are on the same ground: that we are all obligated to take the Bible’s claims seriously. To this end, the apologist first mentally plots his opponent’s position on the x-y axes of authority and certainty based upon two factors: 1. Whether his opponent gives weight to religious truth claims 2. How his opponent responds to the notion of “knowing” or “certainty”(See Figure 1 above.)

The apologist then demonstrates that those who hold to the belief systems in quadrants II-IV of figure 1 cut themselves off from the only avenue through which direct first-hand knowledge of worldview truths can come, which is religion, and/or they embrace ambiguity and enigma. The deliberate avoidance of religious claims and/or championing of ambiguity betrays the desire of the unbeliever to distance himself from God and the truths that are known of him.

Once the apologist has presented these arguments and when debating Theists outside of orthodox Christianity (quadrant I), the self-evidentialist presents Scripture as the principle evidence for the God of the Bible. The apologist maintains that the Word of God is self-authenticating—bearing within itself the attributes of divine revelation. The self-evidentialist defends the Bible as testimony that God has put forward of Himself and of his plan to redeem sinners. The apologist does this on the basis of self-evident criteria (internal consistency, coherency, external correspondence, explanatory power), the same criteria used to evaluate testimony in a court of law.

The general flow of debate in self-evidentialism (found on page 3) is progressive in nature; each point builds upon the previous point. The flow of ideas incorporates both self-evident truths as well as logically viable/possible truths (modal logic). The general flow of debate helps to establish the critical truth that all people are on the same ground: that we are all obligated to take the Bible’s claims seriously.

Self-evidentialism is Reformed in its hermeneutic, simple, and holistic—providing a framework of thought that enables not only a robust defense of Christianity but also powerful offensive maneuvering in debate. However, following the example of apologists and evangelists in Scripture, the self-evidentialist aims to stay close to the heart-plane, being careful to frame the unbelief on the part of their opponents Biblically and to bring the Gospel to bear on their unrepentant hearts.

Logical Flow of Debate (in Self-evidentialism)

  1. Both sides agree that our world can have only one explanation.

  2. Both sides agree that worldview realities transcend our physical world; they cannot be seen with the eyes.

  3. Both sides agree that truth—any accurate description of reality—is objective; the “big truths” of our world do not change in response to feeling, opinion, or intuition.

  4. Both sides agree that any true explanation about our world will be internally consistent, coherent, and will account for the realities we perceive in our world/cosmos.

  5. Both sides agree that the body of evidence in a worldview investigation encompasses the full scope of human experience and observation, including facets such as suffering, aging, sleep, laughter, philosophy, and religion.

  6. Both sides agree that a spiritual dimension and divine revelation are logically possible—that a transcendent God can reach into our world with revelation.

  7. Both sides agree that a claim of divine revelation can be evaluated—like eyewitness testimony in a court of law—on its internal consistency, coherency, external correspondence, and explanatory power and that authentic revelation will demonstrate“insider” knowledge of the cosmos.

  8. Both sides agree that everyone operates according to a particular worldview and that all worldviews are either theistic or non-theistic. (There are only two conceivable foundations of reality: personal forces or impersonal forces. These categories are mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive. It is impossible to form moral or political values without coming down on one side or the other.)

  9. Both sides agree on the following definitions:

  • Fact-information that is indisputable and based on direct sensory input

  • Testimony-written or spoken statements recounting personal experience or observations

  • Inference-attempted explanations that move beyond what can be directly observed

  • Interpretation-inferences that are influenced by a person’s fore-drawn conclusions

  • Theory-an idea or system of ideas that is intended to explain a set of facts as they relate to one another.

10. Both sides agree that it would be impossible for scientific insight into the natural

world to trump a deity’s first-hand knowledge of the cosmos. 11. Both sides agree that a Creator God who engineered language is capable of

revealing truth and preserving its transmission in copies and translations in a manner

that is sufficient for our understanding.

12. Both sides agree that, in a search for transcendent truths, divine revelation is the

only sufficient remedy for our limited perception/fallibility. And diligent, objective scrutiny of the full breadth of evidence, using valid criteria, is our only means of confirming the authenticity of that revelation, thereby safeguarding us from counterfeits.

Key principles, theological underpinnings of Self-evidentialism:

  • God’s Word is the principal evidence of the God of the Bible. Luke 16:31, Psalm 138:2

  • God’s Word is God’s testimony of Himself (and his plan to glorify Himself through the redemption of sinners). Deut. 29:29, II Tim. 3:16-17

  • Man does not need to be convinced of God’s eternal power and divine nature by evidences or arguments. He actively runs from God by avoiding the avenues that lead to Him/His Word. Unregenerate man is disingenuous in his search for truth due to his hatred of God. Rom. 1:18-25, Romans 2:15, Romans 3:10-12, Romans 8:7

  • When God draws him, the sinner will begin to seek God. Romans 2:4, John 6:37,John 10:16, Hebrews 11:6

  • A genuine seeker will look “up” in his search (to the God he knows is there and who can furnish him with answers), and he will look for clues that he is on the right path. Acts 17:27, Proverbs 9:10, Proverbs 1:7

  • In God’s world, true testimonies are marked by internal consistency, coherency, and external correspondence, explanatory power, and an “insider’s” perspective. These trademarks characterize authentic revelation and expose counterfeits. Deut. 18:22, II Cor. 13:1, II Peter 1:16,Matthew 23:16-22

  • The genuine seeker of God will be rewarded; he will arrive at the Truth of God’s Word (God, of course, is the one who draws him and who secures his reward). Heb. 12:2, Phil. 1:6

  • The apologist can expose the unbeliever’s avoidance of religious claims and/or affinity for ambiguity for what they are: an attempt to distance himself from God and the truths that are known about Him. II Cor. 10:5, Hebrews 4:12, Romans 1:19

  • Theists outside of orthodox Christianity have either rejected God’s self-authenticating and living Word—the 66 books of the Biblical canon—choosing instead to follow self-proclaimed authorities and counterfeit claims or such individuals may be “white unto the harvest,” awaiting the good news of Jesus Christ. Luke 16:19-31, Galatians 1:8-9, Hebrews 4:12, John 4:35

Key contrast with Classical and Evidential Approaches Self-evidentialism is contrasted with both classical and evidential apologetics in that a self- evidentialist would not present arguments and/or evidences for the existence of God as this legitimizes the notion that the nonbeliever requires more evidence than he already has in order to be convinced of God’s existence, which contradicts Paul’s teaching in Romans 1 that God’s eternal power and divine nature are self-evident to mankind.

Key contrast with Presuppositionalism Van Til argued that intelligible predication presupposes the triune God of the Bible. The self- evidentialist acknowledges the ontological necessity of a triune God, but diverges with Van Til on the presuppositional necessity of God’s nature as triune. The self-evidentialist operates on the belief that man’s basic knowledge of God acquired via natural revelation would not render him accountable for knowledge of God’s triune nature but rather renders him accountable for knowledge of God’s singular, personal, supreme, and eternal nature (Romans 1: 18-25). The self-evidentialist, therefore, operates on the conviction that it is valid for men to evaluate religious claims to divine revelation. © 2020 S.P. Clifton @ www.thinkingwrinkle.com


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