Presuppositionalism

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The Impossibility of a Neutral Worldview

There is no such thing as a “neutral worldview.”

It is often proposed that some worldview is “basic”, in the sense of being “the worldview from which all others should be judged.” This proposition is wholly false. Within any worldview (which will be interchangeably referred to as a “noetic structure”), certain premises are taken in some sort of presupposed form. For example, within Christianity, the existence of God, on that worldview, is a presupposition. This isn’t to say that one can’t argue for the presuppositions within one’s worldview. One can certainly argue for the validity of one’s presuppositions, but this in itself doesn’t change the fact that every worldview is built upon some background.

I have seen it claimed that atheism does not or cannot constitute a worldview. This is also false. Any human being has his or her own noetic structure from which he or she judges the probability of propositions. Various atheists are not immune from having noetic structures or beliefs.

As Stephen Parrish writes, in God and Necessity, “…there are differences in the way people judge the probability or plausibility about the truth of certain propositions, and these judgments are made on the basis of the noetic and probability structures which are believed in” (147). It is simply not possible to divorce oneself from one’s presuppositions.

Thus, it is impossible to declare some worldview “neutral” and determine that from this worldview, all others should be judged. I would call this the height of self-edification. Christians, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, etc. all have certain presuppositions within their worldviews which will make the propositions of other worldviews more or less likely. One cannot retreat to, say, agnosticism and argue that one will then judge everything from that “neutral” worldview, for everyone is going to maintain some kind of noetic structure which will, in turn, define what propositions are to be believed–or even considered.

Further, it’s not as if retreating from belief in all gods or affirming that there is no god–that is, atheism in its varied forms–will allow one to stand on “neutral” grounds in order to judge worldviews. Instead, the presuppositions within an atheistic worldview will serve to confirm that noetic structure. Again, as Parrish writes, “[r]ealistically, for many thinkers, no amount of evidence would ever be enough to justify a belief in God or miracles” (157). This, of course, is due to the noetic structures which are presupposed.

Further, writes Parrish,

“Every person capable of considering or having an opinion on issues brings with them a specific noetic structure or world-view accompanied by a corresponding probability structure. If a person did not bring this component to the debate he would be unable to formulate an opinion, as he would have no way of judging probability. So before considering the evidence on a particular issue, there must already be in place a noetic and probability structure. Probability  is inherent in one’s world-view and thus is used in judging the evidence” (158).

The same, of course, applies to Christians or believers in various faiths. Their own presuppositions guide their thinking and discernment of probability structures. Again, there is no neutral worldview.

Cornelius Van Til, one of the great apologists of the last century, was well known for his own views on how presuppositions affect judgment of worldviews. He wrote, “In spite of th[e] claim to neutrality on the part of the non-Christian, the… apologist must point out that every method, the supposedly neutral one no less than any other, presupposes either the truth or the falsity of Christian theism” (Christian Apologetics, 129). Furthermore, Van Til goes on to make the point that in some sense, then, all reasoning is circular,

“To admit one’s own presuppositions and to point out the presuppositions of others is therefore to maintain that all reasoning is, in the nature of the case, circular reasoning. The starting point, the method, and the conclusion are always involved in one another” (130).

This is not to say that we should be relativists when it comes to worldviews. There are ways (logical reasoning, scientific exploration, philosophy, etc.) to explore the validity of the claims of worldviews, and thus serve to confirm or disconfirm various presuppositions found within these noetic structures. The point, rather, is twofold:

1) It is question begging to assume that one’s own worldview is “neutral” or basic, and that all other worldviews should be judged from within this structure

2) We should be modest when comparing our worldview to that of others’, realizing that our presuppositions cannot be the basis for rejecting the claims of competing noetic structures.

Sources:

Parrish, Stephen. God and Necessity. University Press of America. 2001.

Van Til, Cornelius. Christian Apologetics. P & R Publishing. 2003.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

What kind of evidence?

It seems that it is often the case that when I read works from atheists or talk to atheists one primary objection to the existence of God is “There’s not enough evidence.” A question I ask in response is “What kind of evidence?”

For many atheists (generalizing here, and I realize this), the assumption is that the scientific method is the only way to yield truth. But, assuming for the sake of argument that God exists, how would the scientific method show God exists? It seems to me that the scientific method cannot do so. There could be ways to see traces of God’s influence on the natural world (such as Intelligent Design theorists have claimed), but the God of Classical Theism is Spirit–this God is not part of nature, but created nature. Thus, God is transcendent to nature. God can interact with nature, but is, Himself, not nature.

But then there is a quandary. If I take it that the scientific method (hereafter E for empiricism) is the only way to yield truth, then I have no means by which I can even investigate the truth claims of Theism (hereafter T). For E, at best, can only perhaps give traces of T, but these will not be sufficient for evidence of T on their own. Thus, if I take E to be the only way to investigate reality, I am, a priori, ruling out even the possibility of T, for I am ruling out any means by which I could discover T to be true.

So again the question is “What kind of evidence does one want to show God exists?” Sensory experience could be one reasonable demand, but this seems question begging, as Classical Theism generally doesn’t claim that God interacts on such a sensory (i.e. auditory, visual, etc.) level except in extremely special circumstances (as in the Call of Moses, the Call of Elijah, etc.). What kind of evidence would convince someone to believe in God? Perhaps we could grant that not just E, but also philosophy and logic (hereafter L) are means by which we can yield truth (I believe that this is not an unreasonable suggestion at all, given that science is governed by logic). This opens us up to the possibility of considering arguments for and against the existence of God.

But, at most, L could demonstrate T, but such claims could be ignored, denied, etc. It seems that L could not get one to an understanding of T that would lead to belief. Let’s be honest here, would a good argument really convince anyone that God exists? I sincerely doubt it–for reasons outlined below (and here).

It seems to me that the existence of God necessarily involves one’s will. For if T is true, then the entire world is completely different than it would be if ~T were true. If T is true, then there is a God who created, sustains, and is personally involved with the universe. This includes every person in that universe, every creature, and every object. All of these have their origins in God. But if such a proposal is true, then it seems as though one would have to think, act, and live very differently on T versus ~T. One would be obligated to think about God, to act according to God’s will, and to live daily as though God exists–interacting with God in prayer, praise, thanksgiving, exhortation, etc.

So it seems to me that if T is true, it is not just a matter of seeing enough evidence. I can believe all sorts of things and not have them mean anything to me in actuality. For example, I believe that turtles hatch from eggs. This doesn’t change my behavior. Rather, it is simply factual knowledge. But would that kind of knowledge about God be enough? Let’s say that I have some overwhelming evidence, call it x, that God exists. Is x going to be regarded by me on the same level of the proposition that turtles hatch from eggs? Obviously not, for if x exists, then T is true, and then my entire life should be different. Thus, when asking about evidence, one should realize that such evidence absolutely involves not just belief but also life. Because of this, it seems to me that God could and would make evidence of His existence “purposively available“.

So who is asking for the evidence for God’s existence? Is it someone willing to change his/her life based on the answers? Is it someone who is ruling out the possibility to begin with? Is it someone willing to submit to this God, if this God exists?

Therefore, I return to the question: “What kind of evidence?” and even this question seems to miss the point. Perhaps the answer to the assertion that “There’s not enough evidence to believe in God” or “What evidence is there for belief in God?” should be “Who’s asking?”

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

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