The problem of common ground in Christian apologetics : towards an integral approach
The key issue in recent debates of Christian apologetics is whether there is any common ground of data and criteria between believers and unbelievers. Two main schools are divided on this issue, namely: evidential and presuppositional apologetics. The evidential apologists claim that a common ground exists, and that objective proofs of theism are possible from this common ground. In contrast, the pre-suppositional apologists argue that there is no common ground; and they maintain that theoretical arguments (including apologetic ones) are unavoidably prejudiced by religious presuppositions. In this study, both sides are claimed to have their own flaws. The former apologetics has the flaw that its epistemic foundation (i.e., “classical foundationalism”) is fatally defective; and it is criticised by the reformational philosophical tradition, as well as secular contemporary (postmodern) epistemology. In contrast, the latter apologetics has the flaw that when the existence of common ground is entirely denied, the problems of circular reasoning (hence, relativism) and total communication breakdown are unavoidable. In order to clarify and deepen the issue, the tradition of reformational philosophy, which is represented by Kuyper, Dooyeweerd and Van Til is first examined; and it is shown that all three scholars struggle with the tension between antithesis and common ground; and they attempt their own solution. Secondly, the contemporary anti-foundationalist epistemology is examined; and it is shown that the same tension exists between “radical” and “moderate” postmodern (anti-foundationalist) epistemologies; and their debate is on-going – without any satisfactory conclusion. As a solution, it is suggested that the notion of common ground should be distinguished by the ontological and epistemological dimensions. From the epistemological standpoint, all knowledge is prejudiced; and no objective conclusion (on the issue of e.g., theism) can be arrived at by so-called “neutral” rational arguments. However, from the ontological standpoint, it is undeniable that all kinds of knowledge are made possible by certain universal (transcendental) conditions, which constitute the ontic common ground. In this distinction, the confusion is caused by the false assumption that the ontic common ground is meant to function as an epistemic neutral criterion. In contrast, this study argues that the ontic common ground functions only as the condition for the possibility of legitimate knowledge (including apologetic arguments). As a result, this study claims that traditional apologetics, based on objective theistic proofs should be abandoned, and that (radical) pre-suppositional apologetics needs to be modified. Therefore, as an alternative approach, a new “integral apologetics” is proposed – on the basis of Dooyeweerd’s modal theory of reality. This approach emphasizes the need to utilize different types of knowledge, which together could strengthen the apologetic persuasion towards Christian theism, and take into consideration of the whole context of apologetic dialogue.