I don’t very often get into debates about this but it did come up recently (by a person I make out to be an atheist no less) in the comment section of one of my blog posts. I’m not sure what his final purpose was… did he mean to convey that we really should assume our beliefs are true and then work from there? And that is ok?
For reference sake, he quoted this article by a presuppositionalist and for the purpose of this post if you want to know what a presupper believes that article is a good place to start. The author refers interested folks to Van Til who also we can classify as a presupper. But I am not a presuppositionalist. I am an evidentialist.
It is often argued by Christians that atheists have their views because they have assumed that naturalism is ‘true by default.’ This will be packaged with such justifications such as “Well, Occam’s razor demands we prefer the system with one less explanation.” They have other justifications as well, but they are not my target here. It is a demonstrable fact that nearly all materialists begin with the assumption of materialism. The presuppositionalist, however, does not fault them. The evidentialist does, for it is clearly circular reasoning. If you assume materialism is true then it is not a surprise when you come up with materialistic explanations for everything. Nor is it settled that just because you’ve come up with a materialistic explanation you’ve arrived at the best explanation.
My point is simply this: if our world view is not going to be decided upon the evidence, then what is it going to be decided upon?
Reading the article I cited above there are several statements like this one:
…there are many reasons why the evidentialist’s building a case for Christianity upon neutral ground with the unbeliever ought to be avoided.
The first is the Lordship of Christ over the whole of the Christian’s life, even his intellectual endeavors.
It’s probably tacky to demand an explanation from a dead man, but I should like to know how it is he came to believe that Christ was Lord in the first place, if not for the evidence. I definitely agree that Christ is Lord over the whole of our lives and that includes the intellectual endeavors. But on what basis have we decided to let Christ be Lord? Are we really simply to presuppose it?
I will grant that I don’t have an extensive history with presuppositionalists, but in my readings and encounters it is not uncommon to read statements as in his opening statement. It is worthy of quoting it in full:
It is indubitable that the resurrection of Jesus Christ has paramount significance for the history of redemption and for Christian theology (cf. Rom. 4:25; 1 Peter 1:3). It is also clear that this resurrection must be held by the Biblical Christian as one which took place in calendar time and involved Jesus’ empirical body (cf. Luke. 24:39; 1 Cor. 15:4). Moreover, a decisive refutation of the resurrection would shatter the validity of the Christian faith (cf. 1 Cor. 15:14, 17). Hence the Christian’s affirmation of Christ’s resurrection is not an empty assumption, dreamy speculation, or a timeless axiom. The Biblical faith is not indifferent to God’s acts in history, nor is it pessimistic about evidences. The dead bones of Jesus will never be found, and the believer need never fear investigation into the facts. All facts are created facts which can be properly understood only when given the interpretation the Creator intends; as such, all facts demonstrate the truth of Christianity. So any and all relevant evidence pertaining to Jesus Christ’s resurrection in history will be significant for the believer. And such evidence can have a role in his apologetical efforts.
I do not believe the phrase ‘for the believer’ is unintentional. It is important for the believer to hold that Jesus death and resurrection took place in calendar time and involved Jesus’ empirical body. But what of the non-believer? Surely the pertinent question is whether or not it happened or not. If it happened, the non-believer should non-believe no more. If it didn’t, then believers should believe no more. Granted, a thing may have been an actual event but the evidence does not exist today to know it. Trillions of events of the past happened and we have no historical record of them. Yet our presupper has come to the view that it has happened… and why? Did he first presuppose the truth of scripture as the quote below says?
Is that really going to be our defense of Christianity? Christianity is true and you know it bu presupposing it is?
When Jesus told those who demanded a sign that none would be given except the ‘sign of Jonah’ or when the disciples wanted to see the Father and Jesus chastized them saying “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves” (John 14:11) was Jesus calling them merely to accept a set of presuppositions? I think not. Apparently Jesus believes the ‘divine inference’ is justified. Not Bahnsen:
Yet the very point which the evidentialist is trying to prove is that of miracle, i.e. discontinuity. So he is enmeshed in using a principle of continuity to establish the truth of discontinuity! When the evidentialist seeks to exhibit that the resurrection very probably occurred as a unique truth-attesting sign he is divided against himself. Furthermore, since inductive argumentation is dependent upon the premise of uniformity, and since this premise can only be established by a Christian presupposing the truth of scripture
It is hard to imagine how the disciples could come to accept that the miracles happened and were evidence of God’s interaction in the world if they had to presuppose the truth of scripture- which had not been written yet.
Presuppositionalists do make some points that I can agree with. For one thing, if you hope to understand another viewpoint or world view it is important that you hold in your mind the propositions believed to be true within that world view when you evaluate statements made by adherents of that perspective. For example, atheists constantly hold up statements that Christians make about prayer for ridicule without taking into account the framework in which the statements emerge. Sure, the statements may seem ridiculous from within the atheistic world view. They are not ridiculous from within the Christian framework. Obviously, it works the other way, too.
I could say much much more about this subject but let me close with this observation: it is a twisted irony that skeptics, atheists, and ‘free thinkers’ insist that the evidence is on their side yet in the same breath they will often not only admit but will positively defend the fact that they proceed from the assumption of naturalism as default. For all their evidential saber rattling, the truth is that they are presuppositionalists. Also true is that if Christians universally accepted a presuppositional approach they would probably be well received by the atheistic community. None will be converted,* but at least they’ll tolerate you. The thing that burns many skeptics up is that you aren’t content to just say you believe on ‘faith’** but actually think you’re right- on the evidence.
Yet it wasn’t a presupposition that drove the first Christians to be martyrs and the cross is not a stumbling block if it is merely a given within a particular system of thought. It is only a stumbling block if it really appears to have happened. Otherwise, its just an article of faith which you can condescendingly tolerate when it appears in the idiotic underclass of religionists. Just don’t let them say it is true!
*I would be happy if anyone could show otherwise. Where is the atheist that converted to Christianity because of a full blown presuppositional apologetic? I would like to meet him. Most presuppositionalists I’ve read started Christian and ended Christian.
** Within the skeptical world view, ‘faith’ is believing something without evidence or even in spite of the evidence, or even things you know aren’t true. The fact that Christians mean something quite different is of little concern to many atheists.