Stanley fish argues to his largely atheistic NYT readership that the concept of assumptionless facts are not possible. He writes:
To bring all this abstraction back to the arguments made by my readers, there is no such thing as “common observation” or simply reporting the facts. To be sure, there is observation and observation can indeed serve to support or challenge hypotheses. But the act of observing can itself only take place within hypotheses (about the way the world is) that cannot be observation’s objects because it is within them that observation and reasoning occur.
This was Van Til’ s primary emphasis in his writings. The very idea of brute facts strikes at the heart of irrational reasoning. Everyone has assumptions (Frame, Bahnsen). These assumptions form both the context and the culture of all human thinking. Hence, human thinking never begins in a tabula rasa (John Locke), it begins and ends in accordance to preconceived notions of politics, religion, etc.
Professor Fish’s Opinion article reflects–at least in my opinion– a reaction to the often abused usage of evidential and classical apologetics. Both of these forms assume a common ground, a neutrality in dialogue between believers and unbelievers. Ultimately as Van Til and R.J. Rushdoony argued, to compromise our revelatory faith for the sake of dialogue is a dangerous error.
The New-Atheism (Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, etc.) has attracted plenty of theists to a round of debate. These theists have accepted the “common ground” argument. They appear to have fallen in the trap. The atheist simply begins with a plethora of arguments against the consequences of Christianity in society and conclude that “Christianity is not good for the world,” while the “common ground” theists come along and argue vociferously that the Inquisition was not a Christian cause and that Fundamentalists do not represent the mainstream of the Christian faith. But that is exactly where the atheist wants the Christian to be. He wants them to be in the defensive; always having to explain and re-exaplain the errors of his faith. This is why Fish’s approach to this matter is so refreshing. If you abandon your trinitarian assumptions for the sake of dialogue, you have abandoned the only true foundation and standard for all thinking.