Presuppositional Apologetics

There was a guy at church arguing that Presuppositional apologetics is the only sound epistemology to teach children growing up in the church. I think that's risky. Wikipedia defines Presuppositionalism, a school of Christian apologetics that believes the Christian faith is the only basis for rational thought. It presupposes that the Bible is divine revelation and attempts to expose flaws in other worldviews. It claims that apart from presuppositions, one could not make sense of any human experience, and there can be no set of neutral assumptions from which to reason with a non-Christian. Presuppositionalists claim that a Christian cannot consistently declare his belief in the necessary existence of the God of the Bible and simultaneously argue on the basis of a different set of assumptions that God may not exist and Biblical revelation may not be true.

Presuppositionalists compare their presupposition against other ultimate standards such as reason, empirical experience, and subjective feeling, claiming presupposition in this context is a belief that takes precedence over another and therefore serves as a criterion for another. An ultimate presupposition is a belief over which no other takes precedence. For a Christian, the content of Scripture must serve as his ultimate presupposition.... This doctrine is merely the outworking of the lordship of God in the area of human thought. It merely applies the doctrine of scriptural infallibility to the realm of knowing.

Wiki goes on to tell us that critics of presuppositional apologetics claim that it is logically invalid because it begs the question of the "truth" of Christianity and the non-"truth" of other worldviews. Of course I would add that the reverse is also true.

Begging the truth question is not IMHO the worst problem with presuppositionalism, but rather that it appears to set up every set of presuppositions as morally equivalent in a buffet of options, so that the team with the best orator wins the contest. The atheists often have the best orators, and they tell gullible college kids, "all the smart people believe [our presuppositions]." That may or may not be true, but unless you give people some logical basis for evaluating the different sets of presuppositions, they will make their decision on some irrational (and probably faulty) basis. Pascal's Wager is probably not compelling enough to overcome the enticements of here-and-present sin.

Presuppositions are unavoidable, but we can choose a set of presuppositions that does not beg the truth question. I took that approach in my faith essay, here, with only two presuppositions, which I believe to be faith-neutral:

1. "Cogito ergo sum" ("I think, therefore I am" in Latin) = I am a thinking, rational person.

2. There is a real world out there, that I can reasonably perceive and evaluate.

The atheists implicitly add to that,
3*. There is no such thing as god or supernatural.
But 3* is provably illogical and scientifically false. The uncritical acceptance of 3* by the atheists is most likely the primary motivation of the presuppositionalists. A much more reasonable third presupposition is simply the open-minded repudiation of presuppositional atheism without committing the opposite error,
3. There might be a god who might want to communicate with us.
This leaves us with the moral imperative to evaluate the evidences for the various candidate deities or lack thereof. When we do so honestly, the God of the Bible wins. Notice that an inerrant Bible is nota presupposition in this model, but rather an inference based on a reasonable evaluation of the evidence, the details of which I leave for a different time and place.

Everybody believes in truth. At least they want to say so. Working it out is a lot of work, but the method is robust enough to stand up to the onslaught of presuppositional atheism in the world and at colleges. However, it is necessary to recognize that any proponents (especially the atheists, who have no moral imperative to be truthful, but unfortunately not excluding the Christians, who should have been taught better) are likely dishonest in favor of their preferred religion, and you need to check out their claims with a fairly robust "BS Detector" like mine.

What I propose here is neither pure presuppositionalism nor empiricalism, but rather a composite that better fits our natural dependence on a variety of bases for evaluating truth.

Tom Pittman
2012 December 29