An Informal Introduction to Covenantal Apologetics: Part 9 – Standards of presuppositions.

By C.L. Bolt

The apparent implication of some of what we have said is that there is some sort of relativism with respect to objective arguments. Whether or not arguments have true premises, are valid, etc. appears to be completely dependent upon one’s worldview. But the Christian will want to reject this relativism! Of course, we are not proposing that the unbeliever is right to view things as she does, and there is objective truth. But it must be understood very clearly that when we are speaking to people we are dealing with entire worldviews and presuppositions that are completely opposed to one another. Everything will be interpreted in light of these all-encompassing and fundamental features of thought. Hence it really is the case that standards of reasoning, if there are any such standards, will be understood in terms of one’s worldview. There is a radical difference between viewing the world as God would have us to view it and viewing the world as we ourselves might attempt to view it.

Not only is the evidence and argument viewed differently, but so are overarching themes and principles involved in the interpretation of evidence and argument. For example; truth, possibility, logic, rationality, science, etc. will all have different accepted meanings depending upon which worldview they are being offered from. Consider an unbeliever who believes that lighting a baby on fire and watching it burn to death is not “morally good.” The believer will no doubt agree. But note that the agreement begins and ends on a formal level. The unbeliever in this instance believes some principle like, “Killing babies is wrong because the government says that it is wrong,” whereas the believer finds this action immoral ultimately because of the revealed will of God concerning the matter. There is a surface level agreement, but the assumptions underneath the claim correspond to the worldviews held in opposition to one another at the most fundamental level.

Or, consider one of the most popular appeals to authority used in philosophy today, the appeal to what is possible. Possibility is not presuppositionally neutral. What one thinks of possibility in its various forms is dependent largely upon one’s entire worldview. For example, a Christian might hold that it is not possible that God should not exist, whereas a non-Christian might hold that it is possible that God not exist. At a shallower level, the basis upon which possibility is determined will be logic or physics or something else depending upon what kind of possibility is in view. What we think about logic or physics or anything else is, again, determined by more fundamental presuppositions.

At this point your mind should be spinning from the possibilities of where these observations might be taken. When discussing whether or not something is true, we need not just attempt to show that something is true, but come to an understanding of what “true” itself actually means. Otherwise you might go away from a conversation with the pragmatist smiling and proclaiming that Christianity is true, which is to say, useful, workable, or having cash value in terms of the practicalities of the world. Of course Christianity might be said to be all of those things too (depending on what we mean by them!), but it is much more. Note then that an apologetic discussion cannot operate at merely the evidentiary level; it must go deeper and involve presuppositions. Ultimately, every disagreement is a disagreement concerning presuppostitions. Two quick qualifications should be made here. One is that the nature of an argument, while always presuppositional, may nevertheless not require us to go as far as to make these things explicit and so we need not do so in every case. The other is that we are speaking here of more than just being analytical or clear in our apologetic; we are saying that there are fundamental disagreements about these items that pertain to the apologetic discussion.

It is typical for unbelievers to demand evidence that Christianity is true. Or, the unbeliever may demand some arguments that Christianity is true. But why should we immediately jump to fulfill this request? What is it about the unbeliever’s worldview that we find must reign over our own in this matter? Rather than immediately jumping to provide evidence that we have already explained is problematic for other reasons, we should question this desire for evidence itself.

Consider also the issue of the burden of proof. Typically the person who carries the burden of proof in an argument is the person who makes some claim. In other words, if the person is doing more than asserting mere opinion, then some support must be provided for the things that he or she says. But in the case of, say, an atheist who denies that God exists, a claim has been made. The atheist may say that God does not exist. This is a knowledge claim. The atheist should provide some proof for it. The atheist is not “allowed” in terms of the rules of engagement to merely assert this claim without having to back it up. The atheist carries the burden of proof in this instance. This is not to deny that the Christian theist will also carry the burden of proof.

But even what constitutes the “rules of engagement” is not a neutral subject. If God has said that He is known by all and abundantly plain in the things that have been made, then anyone who denies this claim in any way – either by believing in some other god or saying that one cannot know whether or not God exists – has made or at any rate assumed a claim that the Christian worldview is false. That is a very large claim, and one which the unbeliever should be asked to provide support for at the risk of doing nothing more than asserting his or her opinion without any reason for doing so.

The overall point here is that things are simply not as simple as many initially believe that they are. Our introduction – brief and rough though it has been – has served to highlight some of these more complex and presuppositional features of the apologetic discussion for us. Entire worldviews are in conflict in the course of an apologetic encounter. Neither party involved is neutral, and both parties carry a burden of proof. Appeals to what are often taken to be neutral features of philosophical discourse will in actuality be appeals to some part of a worldview – whether logic, possibility, or the rules of engagement themselves – there is no neutrality, and this point should be exploited to the full. The question will then become how we can even engage in apologetic encounters if things are as described. We will eventually attempt to answer this question in terms of transcendental argumentation.

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