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.
- Offense: Internally analyse the non-Christian's worldview and show how it is contradictory.
- 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.
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
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.
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.
In Printed Form
Along with numerous other authors including Don Landis, Bodie Hodge and Roger Patterson, Timothy McCabe contributes analyses of various world religions and cults in this volume from Master Books.
Who is Timothy McCabe?
Born in Virginia in 1974, Timothy McCabe grew up overseas, the son of a diplomat. Influenced by the cultural diversity he experienced in the Philippines, England, India, Japan, and a variety of other nations, much in life seemed very culturally subjective to him. After high school, McCabe began to slowly walk away from the values he had been raised with. Eventually, this led to emotional distress, broken relationships, failed dreams, and public humiliation.
Then Jesus saved him.
From that time on, amid a world laden with cultural subjectivity, Tim has trusted that Jesus Christ will provide for him; that God's revelation in the Bible, while often apparently open to interpretation, cannot possibly be false; and that some truths are not based on human opinions. The facts of God's existence, man's sin, the problem this creates, the solution through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ... these objective truths transcend every culture.
Tim now resides in Indiana with his wife and daughter. In his spare time, he writes novels that have never been published and contributes to the God Contention website, which he also designed and developed.
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
American School in Japan
"If God really did create everything, how would anyone know?"
From a Christian perspective, we recognize that God created everything because He has told us that He did (Romans 1:19; Genesis 1; John 1:3; Colossians 1:16); indeed, apart from divine revelation, it is impossible to know anything at all. After all, since God created everything, and "everything" includes knowledge, our knowledge is ultimately created by God, and God's provision of knowledge to us is the very definition of divine revelation.
"Do you think that education is the solution? In other words, would people agree with your view if they just had more knowledge? Is the problem basically one of ignorance?"
No. Education is not the solution because ignorance is not the problem. Sin is the problem; pride, selfishness, self-centeredness, self-glorification, and the like are what lead people to reject the God who made them. Rejection of God's commands leads to a world of pain, famine, disease, war, and ultimately death. Learning more facts will never solve the problem of "I want", or the problem of "Me, me, me".All articles