Epistemological Crises, Dramatic Narratives, And Apologetics: The Ad Hominem Once More -- By: Michael W. Payne

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 64:1 (Spring 2002)
Article: Epistemological Crises, Dramatic Narratives, And Apologetics: The Ad Hominem Once More
Author: Michael W. Payne


Epistemological Crises, Dramatic Narratives, And Apologetics:
The Ad Hominem Once More

Michael W. Payne*

[*Michael W. Payne is Associate Professor of Theology and Missions at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, MS.]

In the following essay I will offer some exploratory reflections on the use of the ad hominem argument within a presuppositional apologetic methodology. More specifically, my purpose is to clarify its role in producing an epistemological crisis for the unbeliever. After first mapping the nature of the controversy between presuppositionalists and evidentialists over the issue of “objectivity” and “rationality,” I will survey Cornelius Van Til’s brief comments on the ad hominem argument’s use and usefulness, particularly the guidelines he employs in articulating its proper application. If, as Van Til seems to suggest, the ad hominem argument is intended to facilitate a coming to epistemological self-consciousness1 on the part of the unbeliever, a problem emerges. Given the presuppositionalist’s insistence on the presuppositional nature (circularity) of all thought and predication, and subsequently that these ultimate commitments (presuppositions) are unfalsifiable (hold revisionary immunity), then what is the point of argument? The answer will require a brief consideration of Van Til’s language of antithesis and the role this language can and often does play in obfuscating the nature of the common ground that exists between believer and unbeliever. In an attempt to achieve greater clarity with regard to the role of argument in producing an epistemological crisis, I will explore two recent attempts to a) explore the nature of epistemological crises, and b) analyze the role of the ad hominem as a form of practical reason. For the former I will examine the work of Alasdair MacIntyre,2 and with regard to the latter I will turn to the writings of Charles Taylor.3 In the end I will conclude that presuppositional apologetics is not stalled by its commitment to the normative role of ultimate commitments. The ad hominem argument of Van Til, once clarified and enlarged by the insights provided by MacIntyre and Taylor,

serves to promote lively argument with the unbeliever—argument circumscribed by the theological limitations imposed by Scripture itself.

I. Introduction: The Problem Posed—The Incorrigibility Thesis

The context in which the discussion of the ad hominem argument is best served is as follows. A co...

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