Reason, Presuppositions, Truth & Christian Theism
Most of my errors are errors of assumption (Hall of Fame Quarterback Fran Tarkenton).
All scientific observation is to some extent interpreted through a paradigm. However neutral he or she might pretend to be, the scientist always filters data through a set of unspoken (or unconscious) presuppositions (James Spiegel: The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief).
Perfect objectivity is impossible, at least for mere mortals. Yet some persist in claiming that science gives us an objective, unfiltered view of the world. For scientists are not immune to the influence of their own beliefs and values as they do their research and theory formulation (Spiegel: The Making of an Atheist).
The English word “presupposition” has been advanced in several varieties of philosophy as an assumption regarding human experience. It can also understood as a preeminent belief held to be true and taken as a precommitment. It is the belief that is held at the most foundational level of one’s grid or web of beliefs.
Varied Use of the Term Presupposition
He [Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist (Colossians1:15-17).
It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see (Henry David Thoreau).
A presupposition is something assumed or supposed in advance. A good definition is to require or involve necessarily as an antecedent condition. One could say that to “presuppose” is to conclude something before the investigation is commenced (Josh McDowell).
The term “presupposition” has developed in various categories of philosophy (including in the branch of pragmatic linguistics) as an assumption concerning reality. It can also be thought of as the back-setting belief involving an assertion, for this belief is assumed and understood in a communication act. This use is similar in some ways to my use, but with important differences. Nonetheless, an exposition on linguistic use will help the reader better understand its employment within a TA.
Notice how these linguistic presuppositions function:
One of the most remarkable aspects about arguing from presupposition is that the negation of an assertion does not affect its truth. In linguistics one can assert:
• I need to eat again.
• I do not need to eat again.
Notice that both of the aforementioned assertions, the affirmation and the negation, presuppose that I had eaten previously. Thus one can see that a presupposition is differentiated from what is implicated or what can entail from the assertion.
• My lawn is green.
• My lawn is not green.
Both statements presuppose I have grass; if true both statements require that I have a lawn.
If one says that your car looks like a Ford, yet your car is a Chevy, his mistaken assertion presupposes that you own a car. Regardless of whether he was correct concerning the trade name of your car, he still presupposes that you own a car. In addition to linguistic presuppositions, there are epistemic presuppositions: things one must assume within the knowledge enterprise (the laws of logic, moral law, and predication).
Presuppositions and Christian Truth
Unbelievers “are presupposing the Lord whenever they claim to possess any knowledge, discern any truth, use logic, etc.” (Steve R. Scrivener: Speaking the Truth in Love).
We all have presuppositions, the non-Christian as well as the Christian, the Islamist, the Mormon, the secularist, and Uncle Tom Cobbly and All. Another word for “presupposition” in this sense would be “premise” or “assumption.” So we start our arguments, all of them, from premises, or from assumptions, things we take for granted. An assumption may simply be that, an assumption, taken to be true for the sake of the argument. But it may also be something that the arguer holds to be true. We all have such assumptions, from the least of us unto the greatest, matters which we take to be true and which form the basis of other claims that we make. Besides, we all have agendas too (Paul Helm: HelmsDeep.blogSpot.com).
I employ non-lexical or non-linguistic presuppositional focus in my argument for the existence of God. I contrast non-theistic presuppositions with Christian presuppositions using ultimate rational standards such as the laws of logic* (also termed as the laws of truth and laws of reason), predication, and moral absolutes. I often employ an ontological TA (not to be confused with an Ontological Argument) that seeks to prove the necessity of God’s ontological status to account for some essential element within human experience.
The prefix “pre” in presupposition does not concern a temporal position, but I use it as a position of preeminence, superiority, and importance. It concerns a belief that takes preeminence, the more ultimate criterion or standard providing the conditions for intelligibility; the ultimate presupposition is the triune God as He supplies the a priori essentials to make sense of human experience.
It’s hard to see the rainbow through dark glasses (Johnny Cash).
James Spiegel continues to expose the biases of atheists inasmuch as they suffer from “paradigm-induced blindness. Their theoretical framework prevents them from seeing the truth, even when it is right in front of them” (Spiegel: The Making of an Atheist). Atheists are rationally and ethically blind in their assessment of Christian theism (CT).
K. Scott Oliphint echoes previous scholars as he notes: “Given any fact or experience, it (TA) asks the question as to the presuppositions behind that fact, and which make it possible.” Michael Butler adds that “only the Christian worldview provides the necessary preconditions for the intelligibility of human experience. That is, only the Christian view of God, creation, providence, revelation, and human nature can make sense of the world in which we live.”
John Frame contends: “Among all the sources of divine revelation (including nature, history, human beings in God’s image), Scripture plays a central role. Indeed, though the point cannot be argued in detail here, my view is that Scripture is the supremely authoritative, inerrant word of God, the divinely authored, written constitution of thechurchofJesus Christ. Scripture is therefore the foundational authority for all of human life including apologetics. As the ultimate authority, the very word of God, it provides the foundational justifications for all our reasoning, without itself being subject to prior justification.” Thus the complete Christian worldview, in principle, must be presupposed for the intelligibility of human experience.
What’s the condition of the possibility of the world being intelligible? God (Bernard Lonergan: Intellectuals Speak Out About God).
The skeptic Tom Paine asked Benjamin Franklin what he thought of the book he wrote that aimed to undercut Christianity. The only reply fromFranklinwas: “Tom, he who spits against the wind spits in his own face.” And the non-believers who attack the Christian Worldview have more than epistemic spittle on their faces given that they have to presuppose the truth of CT even in their attacks against it.
Stephen Prothero rightly notes (concerning judges) that when it comes to scholars and their biases, there are “only two types: those who acknowledge their biases and therefore try not to succumb to them, and those who are ignorant of their biases and therefore succumb to them unwittingly” (USA Today, 5/17/10). All men have their own controlling presuppositions; no one is truly detached but is empowered by a priori biases and engrained assumptions.
Recognizing One’s Rational and Ethical Predispositions
Belief in God is ultimately, of course, the presupposition that controls even one’s concept of reason itself (John Frame, DKG).
The man of science is a poor philosopher (Albert Einstein).
Dr. Lennox presses the need to recognize one’s biases and presuppositions when looking at the world as well as science: “What about bias? No one can escape it–neither author nor reader. We are all biased in the sense that we all have a worldview that consists of our answers and partial answers to the questions that the universe and life throw at us. Our worldviews may or may not be even consciously formulated, but they are there nonetheless. Our worldviews are … shaped by our experience and reflection” (John Lennox: God’s Undertaker).
On pre-theoretical commitments concerning science Michael Polanyi notes: “These maxims and the art of interpreting them may be said to constitute the premises of science but I prefer to call them our scientific beliefs. These premises or beliefs are embodied in a tradition, the tradition of science.” Foundational beliefs are important, essential, and cannot be avoided.
“Admitting our biases is the best way towards rational discussion” (John Lennox: Expelled).
All men approach the pursuit of truth or science with rational precommitments and personal biases. The wise man recognizes this and the honest man admits it. I have a rational precommitment to the Christian worldview forasmuch as it is true and it provides the necessary pre-essentials to account for knowledge.
Greg L. Bahnsen’s Definition of Presupposition
Presuppositions form a wide-ranging foundational perspective or starting point in terms of which everything else we believe is interpreted, in terms of which everything else we believe is evaluated and interrelated. And that’s why presuppositions are said to have the greatest “authority” in one’s thinking. Presuppositions will turn out to be the least negotiable beliefs a person has. People will grant to their presuppositions the highest degree of immunity to revision (Greg L. Bahnsen).
The Christian worldview is true because God is sufficient to account for everything. God, as the One who provides the a priori truth conditions for all things, has the ontic capacity to account for immutable universals (laws of logic, moral law, mathematical truths, enduring personal identity, etc.). Mutable and non-universal entities (men and the material cosmos) are devoid of the sufficient attributes that are required, so they are ontologically undersupplied to account for the laws of logic. These laws are invariant universals and are required for communication and knowledge.
The contrary of the Christian worldview implies an incongruity inasmuch as the denial of the Christian worldview leaves one without the ontic (ontic: relating to ontology; relating to existence, being) foundation to ground immutable universals such as the laws of logic and moral laws, which are required for knowledge. The denial of knowledge (or its ground) is a self-stultifying endeavor.
At least one of the implications of this for epistemology is this: just as in the theology there must be a principium essendi that grounds our principium congoscendi—that is, just as the existence and character of God ground our knowledge of him, since that knowledge presupposes his existence and character (as given to us in Scripture)—so also in epistemology generally. With respect to knowledge, in general, it must be that the existence and character of God ground our knowledge of him as given to all through all that is made (K. Scott Oliphint: God with Us).
God furnishes all the a priori essentials; the necessary epistemic equipment utilized in all thoughts and achievements. God has the ontic attributes of omniscience, immutability, and omnipotence (He has universal reach) enabling Him to be the ground for the immaterial universal and immutable laws of truth and ethical necessities (moral law) that are utilized in all thought and action. Any position that rejects the true God as the epistemic (knowledge) base not only leaves an unnerving fissure, but hopelessly fails. Consequently, whatever evidence one discovers must be discerned and processed with the rational implements that arise from Christian theism and the worldview that streams from the true God.
What I do know of myself, I know by Thee enlightening me (Augustine: Confessions 1:1).
* The Laws of Logic: Laws of thought and reason that are immaterial, aspatial, transcendent, universal, obligatory, necessary, immutable, and absolute. Some academics identify them as the laws of thought, the laws of truth, or the laws of reason. A few scholars strongly prefer to name them the laws of logic because they are independent of human minds and are ubiquitous throughout all experience. All rational thinking (and communication) presupposes and uses the laws of logic. The Law of Identity (LOI) is A=A. The most well-known law is the Law of Non-contradiction (LNC): A cannot be A and Non-A at the same time in the same way (A~~A). A man cannot be his own father. The laws of logic reflect the nature and mind of the God of the Bible; thus, they have ontological grounding—that is, they are grounded in the very nature of truth itself and cannot be reduced to human convention, opinion or psychology.
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