This week I saw in my Twitter feed this claim from an atheist
Presuppositional Apologetics is conversational violence
Some of the subsequent discussion helped me to see that most people, like this skeptic, do not understand what the term means. Many people think it means one of the following
- I’m right, you’re wrong, that’s the end of it
- I have blind faith in the deity of my family/culture/choice so I’m right
- I don’t have any evidence, so I just assume God
This leads many skeptics to wrongly think they have defeated a presuppositional argument with the following fallacies
- “You have faith in your sky-daddy, but I have evidence”
- “Your blind faith is simply a result of you being born into a Christian family in America. If you were born in India, you’d be a Hindu”
- “You have no evidence, so you have to resort to word games”
- “Presup (presuppositional apologetics) is conversational violence”
- “I assume FSM/Sasqatch/Allah is the true god, so that has as much validity as your biblegod.”
- “That’s just word salad. It doesn’t mean anything.”
Definitions – The Place to Start
Those are misconceptions that I’d like to try to clear up in this blog post. Let’s start as basic as we can. What is a presupposition? The Google dictionary says it is
a thing tacitly assumed beforehand at the beginning of a line of argument or course of action.
A synonym for presuppositions is worldview. A worldview is the way a person sees reality and how they justify it. One’s worldview typically provides answers to these fundamental questions.
- Where did I come from? What is the origin of the universe/earth/life?
- Where are we headed? What does the future hold?
- What is my purpose?
- How should I behave? What is moral? Is justice/forgiveness possible?
- How do I know things (epistemology)? What is truth?
We’ll answer these below in analyzing worldview.
What is apologetics?
reasoned arguments or writings in justification of something, typically a theory or religious doctrine
Christians start with the presupposition that there is no higher authority than the One, who knows everything & is eternally faithful, and his revelation in creation, in the Bible, and through the incarnation cannot fail to be wrong. Therefore presuppositional apologetics is
The defense of the truth of Christianity, by analyzing the assumptions of those who would challenge it from a precarious foundation that cannot sufficiently justify the tools (logic, induction, morality) necessary to make a rational objection
Presuppositional apologetics is distinct from other main types of apologetics like
- Evidential apologetics – Using evidence to prove the existence of God.
- Classical apologetics – Using philosophical arguments like the cosmological and teleological arguments to prove the existence of God.
While these methods of apologetics have value to Christians to edify and build up the church, they are not as effective as tools for persuading the skeptic for the 4 reasons shown below. To be clear, there is overwhelming evidence and philosophical corroboration for the truth of God’s revelation, but since God is the Source of truth, no evidence or philosophical authority can refute or be the substantiation for God. God and his revelation are the ultimate authority.
Someone, like me, who thinks presuppositional apologetics gets to the heart of the issue quickly, will not present classical or evidential arguments to a skeptic because
- Everyone interprets evidence according to their worldview. So, it is a futile effort to throw evidence back and forth because in an argument since everyone has access to the same evidence. All evidence proves God
- We have all been infected by the curse of sin. Even a person’s reasoning is corrupt
- God is the ultimate authority. There is no higher authority by which to confirm/refute what He has chosen to reveal.
- The skeptic is not the judge of what’s true or false. God is the judge, and presenting evidence to the skeptic makes him/her the judge of whether they think the evidence is sufficient to convince them. This puts the sinner in the judge’s box and God in the place of the defendant.
Everyone has presuppositions. The Christian presuppositions are shown above. The skeptic presupposes that “the cosmos is all there is, ever was or ever will be.” The skeptic is bound by particles
Worldview Test – Presuppositional Scrutiny
So, rather than comparing one’s interpretations of evidences (as an evidential apologist would do), it is more incisive to compare presuppositions/worldviews. A worldview should be both internally consistent and externally consistent. When I say internally consistent, I mean that it should not contain contradictions in trying to provide rational answers to the worldview questions. For example, if someone claims that the flying spaghetti monster is the creator of all things, but then realizes that Sicilians invented spaghetti in about the 12th century, there is an internal contradiction. They cannot both be true because the FSM is made of matter and is supposed to be the source of matter. Internal contradiction. Being externally consistent would mean that the worldview has to account for all of the reality.
Secondly, when looking to test presuppositions, one should look for arbitrariness. Is a claim within a worldview arbitrary? For example, secular humanists claim that morals should be defined by empathy (To be clear, empathy is a good thing and should be considered. Christians can justify empathy by referring to Matt 22:39 2nd greatest commandment.) But considering their worldview, which says that humans are simply accidental aggregations of stardust in a blind pitiless indifferent cosmos, why did they arbitrarily choose empathy as a standard for morality? It is arbitrary, because they could have chosen setting morality to the strongest or smartest or prettiest or cleanest or tallest or fastest…Arbitrary.
When doing presuppositional analysis, test each claim for consistency and arbitrariness.
Testing the Presuppositions of Naturalism
- Where did I come from? – The cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be. The belief is that at the big bang all matter sprang forth and over billions of years dust coalesced to produce stars, galaxies, planets, life, and humans. It is inconsistent to claim that particles can produce consciousness, justice, logic, math, beauty…
- Where are we headed? – Ultimately, there is just death and collapse of the cosmos through entropy. If human life is simply the brief interruption of non-consciousness in a universe bound for frozen emptiness, there is no hope. It is inconsistent for the naturalist to assume hope or justice.
- What is my purpose? – Richard Dawkins says “There is at bottom no design, no purpose, no good no evil just blind pitiless indifference.” There is no purpose in the cosmos. There are internal contradictions here because people act with purpose. People strive to achieve purpose, but since the cosmos cannot provide purpose, it is a quixotic quest to conjure up purpose.
- How should I behave? What is moral? – Everyone recognizes morality, but in a cosmos made only of particles, it is arbitrary and inconsistent to claim that some behaviors are good and others bad. At end, the naturalist can claim only to prefer one set of behaviors to another since there are no binding morals.
- How can I know what is true? – For the naturalist, all “knowledge” is provisional. At any moment the current learned paradigm can be replaced by new findings, so there is no path to certainty. A person’s senses and reasoning can only be validated by a person’s senses and reasoning, which is viciously circular. There is also no valid reason to trust one’s senses and reasoning to provide truth since according to naturalism, senses and reasoning were produced by accidental natural forces for survival. It is an internal contradiction then to expect survival tools to provide truth. This does NOT mean that naturalists cannot know things. They do know things, but they cannot justify that knowledge. Because of their epistemic assumptions, their attempt to justify knowledge will eventually be impaled on one of the prongs of the Münchhausen trilemma.
Building a Positive Case for Christian Presuppositions
- Where did I come from? – Genesis 1 explains the origins of the universe and humanity
- Where are we headed? – Because of sin and because of what God revealed about the punishment of sin, those who do not repent of their sin and humbly submit to the authority of Jesus will face condemnation. But those who repent will be resurrected to abundant life
- What is truth? – Truth is what conforms to the mind of God
- How should I behave? – According to God’s morals. Because humans have been created in God’s image, we should reflect his character. When we fail to accurately represent God, there is punishment. But God, who is rich in mercy, has made a way to find forgiveness and abundant life through turning away from sin and trusting Jesus, who died and defeated death on our behalf.
- How can we know the truth? Because God (who knows everything and is eternally faithful) has revealed some things so that we can know them for certain, knowledge is possible. He has revealed Himself in creation, in the Bible, and by the incarnation. These revelations are interdependent and self-authenticating.
- Jesus is the Creator of all things as attested in the Bible
- The Bible claims to be the Word of Almighty God. The prophetic claims in the Bible have come true. The Bible claims that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” and “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are in Christ” and “God is the foundation of wisdom and knowledge”. One does not have to believe the Bible to know things, but because people can know things, we know God’s revelation is true. The Bible is the justification for knowledge.
- God is revealed in creation. Romans 1:18-20
- How can I know what is true? – Christians do not know everything, but we know One, who does know everything. Because the One, who knows everything and is eternally faithful, has revealed some things in his word, we can be certain that those things are true.
The skeptic may not LIKE the Christian presuppositions, but since they provide both internal and external cohesiveness (and Christianity claims exclusivity), it is the only justified source for knowledge, reason, and logic.
Addressing the Claim of Biblical Contradictions
The skeptic many times says, “But the Bible is full of contradictions!” Let’s see if this is true.
As we have already pointed out, the skeptic has no grounds to complain about contradictions because naturalism cannot coherently justify laws of logic the misuse of which produces contradictions. What is a contradiction? Dictionary.com defines it as “assertion of the contrary or opposite, a statement or proposition that contradicts or denies another or itself and is logically incongruous, direct opposition between things compared; inconsistency.”
Most skeptics think that the following is a logical contradiction in the Bible
“Who was Jesus’ paternal grandfather?” But as shown in the link, it is not a contradiction for several reasons.
The skeptic should familiarize himself or herself with the nature of contradictions, and before accusing the Bible of being filled with them, be familiar with the reasons why there are no contradictions in the Bible.
The skeptic can look here for a primer on mistakes they make when claiming contradictions in the Bible
The skeptic can look here for a list of resolutions for common claims of biblical contradictions
The skeptic could purchase the book, Keeping Faith in an Age of Reason by Dr. Jason Lisle, who addresses the 400 most common claims of biblical contradictions.
Is Presup Conversational Violence?
In the conversation that I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the claim was made that presuppositional apologetics is conversational violence. I responded to him with the questions “Why is conversational violence wrong from the atheist perspective? Doesn’t violence help drive conversational evolution, so that only the fittest arguments persist to the next generation?”
Conversational violence would be expected from the naturalist point of view to be a pressure for selection to weed out bad arguments
You may be onto something here…An evidential apologist is like the soldier, they ostensibly address legitimate topics like providing evidence for their SN claims. A presup has figured out they can’t play on this field so they instead try to frustrate and weaponize fear (shut mouths like Sye, cause confusion with obscure philosophical conundrums…)
It’s not a terrible analogy, but the conclusion is wrong. Let’s continue the analogy. If truth is the ground being fought over and the bullets are arguments, the presup is doing the opposite of creating conversational violence. Presuppositional analysis is a way to disarm the naturalist because all of his “bullets” require the great Designer. The Christian presuppositional apologist is showing the skeptic that by using his “bullets” to form rational arguments, he is confirming that there are unchanging, abstract, absolute standards like laws of logic, truth, morality and induction which only the unchanging transcendent, absolute Eternal Monarch can justify. Naturalism completely fails to provide sufficient justification for the assumptions needed to create arguments.
Presup disarms the skeptic and causes them to be skeptical of their own claims. A Presuppositional apologist should be ready to share the gospel of repentance and submission to the King when the skeptic’s worldview collapses. Preach the word. Read your Bible and believe your Bible so that the Word pours forth in every conversation. Let the Holy Spirit use the preaching of the Word to convict of sin and of the need for forgiveness through Jesus.
Romans 10:17 “Consequently faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.”
For additional resources and greater depth, see