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Presupposition Apologetics

A few people on FreethoughtBlogs (AronRa & PZ) are talking about Presupposition Apologetics. As it so happens, this subject interests me greatly because I think it is the best argument religious believers have. What I mean by that is that it is by far the most convincing and the hardest for most atheists to refute. That being the case, I’m going to refute it pretty easily so that you can do the same when some religious apologist tries to use it on you.

So what is presupposition apologetics? The claim is that Christians view everything through the lens of the Bible. They presuppose the truth of the Bible and thus believe that the Bible is true because it says it is true. This is obviously circular reasoning. But here is the rub. They claim that we are using circular reasoning too.

They claim that atheists presuppose the truth of logic and reason and thus we use logic and reason to prove that logic and reason are true. That sounds pretty circular and it seems like atheists are in the same boat as Christians and therefore circular reasoning isn’t a problem and ought to be perfectly acceptable, right?

Now I have already written about this on Examiner and while I think I addressed the issue pretty well there, I think I could be clearer. I think I can address the issue in three very short sentences that would knock this argument aside. You can quote me on this; here we go:

“We observe that logic and reason work. We don’t presuppose them. We deduce them.”

Yeah, it is pretty much that simple. Logic and reason are tools we use to understand the world around us. We use those tools because they work. We know they work because we observe that they accurately predict the future. When someone makes a prediction using reason, logic, and the scientific method and that prediction fails, we change the theory until the theory does actually predict the future and can be repeated.

I should add that if reason and logic didn’t work, then we would never have invented the wheel. We would have observed that sometimes a wheel rolls and for no apparent reason sometimes it doesn’t. Everything we do would have randomly different outcomes and we wouldn’t have computers, houses, automobiles, books, or fire.

Stephen Hawking put it best when he said:

“There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority and science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.”

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  • Asktheatheist

    My favorite response to the propositional argument is to ask if God is a logical necessity? If they say yes, then they would have to admit that logic existed before their god. It’s a fun way to watch their head spin.

  • Thaddeusjwilliams

    While I appreciate your thoughts, it seems like you’ve deconstructed a straw man of what presuppositional apologetics is really trying to say. I wonder if you’ve actually read any of the presuppositionalists yourself, guys like Cornelius Van Til, Gordon Clark, Greg Bahnsen, John Frame, etc. Their arguments are a heck of a lot more nuanced and rigorous than your caricature suggests. Among them is the problem that starting from a worldview presupposition of metaphysical naturalism, logic and conscious minds that use it don’t seem to be at home in that perspective. For example, a basic logical law like the law of transivity (if a=b and b=c then necessarily a=c) is does not have a chemical base or a spatial locality or any other physical properties. If all things metaphysically reduce to or emerge from mere physical processes then please name for me just one physical property of the law of transivity or help me understand what kind of physical process caused such a law to emerge. That’s not to mention all the other features of mind you used to write your blog that are hard to square with a nature-and-science-explain everything perspective, e.g., if your article was merely the byproduct of machine like deterministic processes in your brain chemistry or the macro effect of some indeterminate quantum event in your brain matter (rather than the result of an irreducible conscious reasoning choice-making mind) then why should anyone give the time of day to what you’re trying to say? I of course think youre much more than a bundle of physically produced processes, but I’m certainly open to any self-depricating argument you may have otherwise. g

    • dangeroustalk

      That’s a different question than the one I am exploring here, but it is equally as ridiculous. First, you reasoning and logic are human constructs that we use to help us understand the world. All our reasoning is a product of our brain and the interactions that take place inside our brain.

      You ask, “why should anyone give the time of day?” The answer is of course that they have no choice but to give it the time of day if they are reading it. We are determined by our nature and nurture. We come into contact with new information and new people all the time. This is part of nurture and it changes the way we view the world. Now, we have conscious data and subconscious data. By making reasoned arguments, I am effecting change. You will read these arguments and that data will go into your brain. You may think about it consciously or subconsciously. But it is there and it will play a role in determining what you do and how you think. Maybe you will think about it tomorrow or maybe you will think about it a year from now, but you have no choice. The information is there and once there, it won’t go away (unless you are brain damaged at some point).

      • Thaddeusjwilliams

        So is that a yes or no on whether you’ve actually read any works by leading presuppositionalist scholars prior to writing your “rebuttal”? Also your response shows that I hold a higher view of you than you do of yourself (and a higher view of your readers). On my view you and your fellow readers are, in addition to being shaped by nature and nurture, irreducible minds capable of rational choice-making. On your view everything you and your readers believe and defend is the deterministic byproduct of nature plus nurture. That’s insulting to both yourself and your readers. Moreover, your reductivism of all human thought and action to nature and nurture (while I applaud your consistency to metaphysical naturalism) gives every violent religious fanatic in history the ultimate excuse: I had no choice to launch that inquisition or jihad. My nature and nurture made me do it. Please square your deterministic physicalist account of human belief and behavior with our shared sense that religious violence is morally reprehensible and it’s culprits blameworthy choice-making agents. Cheers !

        • dangeroustalk

          I find it interesting that you place values on thing which don’t have values. You claim that you have a “higher view” but if your view is not true, then it really doesn’t seem “higher.” That’s like saying that I have a higher view of humanity because I believe we will each ourselves to the Earth while you believe gravity holds us down, lol. Whether you choose to admit it or not, all your actions are determined by your nature and your nurture. It isn’t an issue of blame, it is an issue of new experiences. I don’t believe earthquakes are morally evil because they cause destruction, but that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t try to prevent earthquakes if I could or protect people from them if I could. Religious believers who act violently are no different. I would want to lock them away and educate them. But I don’t blame them as inherently evil. But here we have strayed off topic quite a bit and I have already written quite a lot on this subject. Check out the Atheism 101 series and/or search the categories in the sidebar for posts dealing with morality and free will.

          • Thaddeusjwilliams

            Allow me to quote you here: “whether you choose to admit it or not, all of your actions are determined by your nature and your nurture.” I hope I’m not the only one who finds that statement hilarious. In the first clause I can CHOOSE to or not and in the next clause of the same sentence I’m completely determined by my nature and nurture. And religious people are the illogical one’s who need to be confined and re-educated by you, huh? You’ve managed to demonstrate both how contrary to common sense your own avowed determinism runs and displayed an utter disregard for the laws of logic (namely, the law of non-contradiction) all in a single sentence. But to hone in on a single point I’m still waiting for a simple answer on: Did you actually read presuppositionalist scholars before so flippantly claiming to refute their arguments? If so, which ones? Van Til, Clark, Bahsen, etc? I’m curios just how much

            • dangeroustalk

              First, people can and do make choices all the time. That is not in conflict with determinism. It is in conflict with predestination, but that is a Christian concept. So yes, you can choose to believe whatever you what, but that doesn’t make it true. What is true is that whatever you do choose, you chose out of deterministic factors of your nature and your nurture. Some of those factors you are aware, but most you are not. Second, you have created a strawman in that I am not arguing against Van Til (who I have read). I might be arguing against the others, but i don’t know because I haven’t read them. I am arguing against a part of Presuppositionalism that many Christians use today (namely Douglas Wilson). I have presented that argument that I am arguing against, “They claim that atheists presuppose the truth of logic and reason and thus we use logic and reason to prove that logic and reason are true.” You can dress this argument up all you want, but it basically comes down to an attempt to make circular reasoning valid when it is not.
              Third, you criticize determinism and it seems from your strawmen, that you haven’t read anything on the topic. I wonder if you have read any moral philosophers at all. Forth, as I said before, this post isn’t really about moral philosophy or determinism. I pointed you to places where I do discuss these things, but I doubt you went there either. Instead, you expect me to re-write what I have already written elsewhere just to satisfy your laziness. Five, you totally ignored the points that I made in the last response. So I guess I should assume that you recognize how ridiculous your view that you have a “higher” view of humanity than I, actually is (especially in light of the fact that you believe everyone is born an evil sinner and I believe that we are all trying to be the heroes of our own story).

              • Thaddeusjwilliams

                Now you’re resorting to personal assumptions about a guy you’ve never met, throwing out ad hominems that I’m “lazy” and implying that I’ve never read anything on determinism or “read any moral philosophers at all.” So charitable. At least I asked you if you’d read the presuppositionalist rather than stooping to rude personal assumptions. But for the record, I’ve taught Ethics and Metaphysics at the University level for seven years, hold a MA and earned Ph.D in the field of ethics, both with high honors, and have published well-received peer-reviewed works on such topics as free will, determinism, ethics, etc. I don’t assume you’re an uneducated moron because you don’t agree with me. My point about choice and determinism being mutually exclusive is not MY point. Its simply regurgitating what your fellow free-will-is-an-illusion professional philosophers have to say on the topic. Saul Smilansky, Galen Strawson, Paul Churchland, Jaegwon Kim, and all other contemporary determinists I know are consistent enough to jettison “choice” language if all action reduces to the complex interplay between nature and nurture that determines all action. I’ll return to your other points in future responses (hoping you don’t assume I finally realize how “ridiculous” my views are if I don’t respond to every point you make in every next post). Hoping we can continue the dialogue without all the uncharitable assumptions that are unbecoming of someone so committed to “reason” “logic” and “science.” I hope to see more practicing what you preach in future posts.

              • Thaddeusjwilliams

                As a brief follow up to your previous points: In YOUR words from your first response to me, “you have no choice” and you explain this on the basis of nature and nurture being determining factors behind all actions. Then in your last post, again, YOUR words, “people can and do make choices all the time.” I’m sorry but I just can’t see how you can go on presenting yourself as a champion of reason and logic against all those authoritarian religious quacks unless you retract one of those two contradictory statements.

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