the Website of Timothy McCabe Follower of Christ; Student of Epistemology, Apologetics, and Theology
Home Articles Questions Philosophy and Proofs Other Writings Software

Presuppositional Apologetics

What's a Presupposition?

noun: presupposition; plural noun: presuppositions
a thing tacitly assumed beforehand, or taken for granted, at the beginning of a line of argument.
synonyms: presumption, assumption, preconception, supposition, first-principle, premise, postulation

Why Should I Care?

Everyone has presuppositions. Sometimes, our presuppositions are true. Other times, they are not. Often in conversation we take for granted that others share our presuppositions. Frequently, however, they don't. Being able to recognize one's own presuppositions and those of other people can be very helpful in understanding why people come to differing conclusions and can often help prevent us from committing logical fallacies or errors in our thinking.

Analysing the most basic presuppositions of any worldview, faith, or religion is often the fastest way to discern if that worldview is true or false. Sometimes, when the presuppositions are actually considered, the errors in the view are blatant and undeniable.

How Does This Work?

Presuppositional apologetics involves a very simple procedure or method. Any specific application of the method may be difficult or get complicated, but the method itself is very simple. It involves two steps, one offensive and the other defensive.

  1. Offense: Internally analyse the non-Christian's worldview and show how it is contradictory.
  2. Defense: Internally analyse the Christian worldview and show how it is consistent.

Notice that each worldview must be internally analysed. A worldview cannot be analysed from the outside. To analyse it from the outside is to make assumptions (presuppositions) about it that are false. This leads to what is known as "straw-men fallacies", where the worldview is mischaracterized while it is being investigated.

Many people in our empirical age will want to look at evidence before accepting a worldview. However, these individuals fail to realize that evidence is always understood based upon one's worldview, not the other way around. The process of interpreting evidence works differently in different worldviews -- it is not an objective and universally accepted process. If we interpret evidence according to our own worldview in order to investigate someone else's worldview, we will only ever see a mockery of their view.

While a full presuppositional apologetic involves both offensive and defensive steps, sometimes only one or the other step is provided, depending on the context. Generally, if having a one-on-one conversation with a non-Christian, employing both steps is very important. But the offensive and defensive arguments can often stand alone as well. For example, a Christian who understands the coherence of their own view does not need to be taught how to defend its coherence, but he may need to learn the flaws in another view. In such a circumstance, if we were teaching him, we may only present the offensive measures, since he already knows the defense. Alternatively, if a Christian's faith is being challenged, we may only present a defensive response and leave out the offense. Judge based on circumstances.

Examples: On the Offense

None of the following examples are intended to be a full conversation with an unbeliever, though the arguments presented therein can certainly be a piece of such a conversation. Rather, they are intended to be offensive arguments against non-Christian worldviews: only one-half of a full presuppositional apologetic. Each argument begins with premises the non-Christian worldview accepts, and each ends with a conclusion the non-Christian worldview does not accept, but the conclusions deductively follow from the premises. This demonstrates the contradictory nature of the non-Christian's worldview.

Please keep in mind that the word offensive simply describes the direction of the analysis in that it is analysing the other person's worldview, entering their territory to tear down their false system. Offensive is not intended to describe the attitude of the analyser.

Deductive Argument that Atheism is False

Atheists presuppose two things that are in fact mutually exclusive: they cannot both be true. The first is that their own conclusions are rationally justified, and the second is that there is no sovereign rational creator. The combination of these two presuppositions makes the worldview of the atheist inherently contradictory.
Read more

Deductive Argument that Polytheism is False

Polytheists also presuppose two things that are mutually exclusive. The first is that non-contradiction is both universal and invariant, and the second is that there are multiple sovereign creators. But as Socrates pointed out in Plato's Euthyphro, the combination of these two presuppositions makes the worldview of the polytheist completely incoherent.
Read more

Deductive Argument that Deism is False

Deists likewise presuppose two things that are mutually exclusive. The first is that their own conclusions about the present are rationally justified, and the second is that no sovereign rational entity has authority over time. These two views, however, cannot both be true.
Read more

Deductive Argument that Unitarianism is False

Unitarians, too, presuppose two things that are mutually exclusive. The first is that their version of god is rational. The second is that his ultimate reason for his actions is not himself. As the proof demonstrates, this makes unitarianism incoherent.
Read more

In Printed Form

Along with numerous other authors like Don Landis, Bodie Hodge and Roger Patterson, Timothy McCabe contributes analyses of various world religions and cults in this volume from Master Books.

World Religions and Cults (volume 2)

Also by Timothy McCabe

"How do you know your god is good, and is not actually a satan making us think he is good?"

We know this because the contrary is impossible... We know that God necessarily exists because of the impossibility of the contrary. We also know that God is good and that He cannot deny Himself for the same reason. We know that we ought to behave in a certain way, and we know that we became aware of these oughts as a result of God's personal choice. In other words, He informed us of them.

"Should modern mainstream religions be considered cults?"

Modern mainstream religions could be considered "cults", and every form of Atheism could as well. But why should it matter if that particular term can be applied? Why would we want to call every modern mainstream religion a "cult" apart from a desire to provoke some type of defensive emotional reaction from religious persons? And why would anyone be interested in manipulating such a reaction?

"How can my mother enjoy Heaven, knowing that her atheist son will be tortured forever in the fires of Hell?"

Obviously, it is not important to you that you will be tormented forever in hellfire. Why should it bother your mother? Your mother's existence is not all about you, nor your father's or any of your friends' (Luke 14:26). Therefore, you should stop thinking that the universe revolves around you. If your mother is a Christian, she holds God first and foremost in her heart and soul and rejoices to see Him glorified.

"Are you absolutely sure that the Bible is not a work of Satan, the Father of Lies, appearing under the guise of an angel of light to deceive you? (2 Cor 11:14)"

This is a great example of a nonsensical question. 2 Corinthians 11:14 claims that "Satan disguises himself as an angel of light". John 8:44 states that Satan "is a liar and the father of lies". The question presupposes that 2 Corinthians 11:14 and John 8:4 are in fact true. It then goes on to suggest that if in fact these verses are true, mightn't they also be false? The answer is quite obviously, no.

"Why does religion 'permit' murder and why are people so eager to justify murders their people commited?"

The dictionary defines murder as "the killing of another human being under conditions specifically covered in law". I will, throughout this answer, use this definition as what I am referring to when I use the word "murder", and I will assume that this is the definition in view by the questioner. When humans deny their Creator, the God of the Bible, there is no longer any objective moral authority, or highest moral law.

All articles