In part 2, we had a look at a practical example, and briefly went over the “in practice/ in principle” distinction, as well as some criteria for evaluating worldview’s, however, it may be worth expanding these ideas themselves into another post to look a bit more in-depth at them, as well as some others.
In practice / In principle:
Why is the “in practice / in principle” distinction important? Well, it normally arises in response to an objection similar to this hypothetical:
“If God didn’t exist, you couldn’t know how to balance your budgets!”
To which an unbeliever could say:
“Yes, but I DO balance my budgets!”
Note the distinction between “know how” and “do”.
The issue is that in principle if the unbelievers worldview was correct, he wouldn’t be able to do this. But the very interesting part is his own confession, he does do these things. Why is this then? Because his worldview isn’t true, and he is, in fact, a creature created in God’s world, running under God’s rules, in God’s universe. An unbeliever has no choice but to do the general things that he does in his every day life, because He is created in God’s image and has been created in such a way as to achieve God’s plan and purpose for that person in the world. No one is an ‘in practice’ an unbeliever (say, an atheist), they all do things consistent with the Christian worldview, not the unbelieving one. As Van Til once said, (paraphrase) ” Unbelievers can count, but they cannot account for counting”.
Four criteria to look for:
In my previous post, i looked at some questions and areas to probe into and look for when discussing worldviews and people’s presuppositions:
1: Arbitrariness. Are there any unjustifiable claims being made?
2: Inconsistency. Does that belief contradict itself with another belief within that worldview?
3: What are the consequences of that in reality? Does it reduce to absurdity then taken to its logical conclusions?
4: What presuppositions would need to be true for us to make sense of a particular aspect of our experience, and does that worldview provide those presuppositions?
So, lets look at each of these a bit more, and maybe give an example of what this looks like:
1: Arbitrariness :
Normally an arbitrary statement is simply one that someone cannot ‘back up’ with another reason, it is simply stated out of personal preference or even random choice.
Lets say for instance, we have an unbeliever who states that because there are people in the world that have other ideas about a particular topic, it means you cannot know the truth of a matter. This would be a common sort of objection that may come from a post-modern person or a skeptic. Essentially they are saying you cannot know the truth of something because people disagree on a topic.
The statement to them could simply then be:
“Ok, but I disagree with you that we cannot know what the truth of a matter is, just because other people disagree.”
What we have done here is essentially taking on their standard of knowing something, (or in this case, not knowing something), and using it against their own position. We have generated a contradiction, because if they believe that people disagreeing on a topic means that you cannot know the truth or falsity of that topic, then all a person would need to do is disagree with them, because that then creates the very disagreement on the topic of “the know-ability of topics” that they said would mean that it couldn’t be known.
The arbitrary part could come in here:
A:”Yea, well, it takes more than just one person to disagree!”
A: “I don’t know.”
If they do not know how many people it takes more than just one, how can they know that statement itself is true? It is simply an arbitrary assertion.
People can more readily see this one I think! Let’s take a moral example:
If there was a person who believed that sexual promiscuity was totally fine, and that really, in regards to morality, ‘anything goes’ and its all up to personal choice. However, if that person then came out and protested against pro-choice advocates, or against those who believed in the traditional view of marriage, and wanted to get them to abandon those views in favor of the persons own moral system, that person would be being radically inconsistent. Why? Because in one hand, they are saying that morality is ‘anything goes’, yet on the other hand, is passionately against people who hold contrary views to them. One one hand they are pushing for radical subjective morality, and on the other hand, they are pushing for radical objective morality that everyone should abide by. This is inconsistent.
Alternatively, in Islam, it references the fact that it is a further revelation from Allah, coming after the OT and NT scriptures. However, the Qur’an contradicts the OT and NT in many ways, not least the idea of a works salvation vs salvation by faith in Christ alone. The answer to this is that the Muslim would say that the OT and NT scriptures are corrupted – that they’ve been changed. The problem with this is that the Qur’an also states that Allah’s words are incorruptible. Such a defence of their views is inconsistent with the Qur’an and thus, is inconsistent. Not only that, but the Qur’an states that muslims are to read the gospels and see if it is consistent with the Qur’an – the Qur’an was written in the 7th Century, of which we have full copies of NT texts and know what the bible looked like at that time, so to state that it was corrupted is irrelevant, because we have texts from the same time that the Qur’an was written, so we can refer to those. These texts also refute the teachings of the Qur’an, showing that the Qur’an is inconsistent with both itself, and the scriptures!
3: Consequences in reality
This one is similar to the second, and looks at what the results would be of someone’s thought’s. In a way, this is ‘playing out’ what their worldview states, and seeing what that would actually look like. Normally people are quite happy to assert that they believe in such things as evolution, or that the world is simply matter in motion as isolated explanations of why we are here, or what reality actually is, however, rarely do people think through the consequences of these thoughts consistently to their logical conclusions.
Let’s take an example that you may hear: “the survival of the fittest” for instance.
Many Darwinists would be happy to assert that we got here by natural selection, that the beings that were able to evolve to other species in reference to their environments or other factors survived, while those who were not so suited, died out, and thus, those who would survive can help produce other beings that are fitter and more adaptable and suited to their environments. They would see this as a positive change – a good thing.
However, on the other side of the fence, you have atheists contending for moral values, and helping the weak and the old or sick. However, the results of “the survival of the fittest” would reduce such moral actions to absolute absurdity – if the Darwinist was consistent (note this reference to #2), he would be fighting against the people who help those who are in those situations, because they are holding back the progress of evolution!
Further, if all that reality is, is matter in motion, that means that there can be no such thing as an immaterial ‘mind’, that all our thought processes must reduce down to simply chemical and physical reactions in our brain that are simply random. There is a problem with this however, because this means that in actuality, no one can state that an idea is any more true or false than any other idea, because one person’s brain reactions are simply different from another persons, and another persons, they are all subject to the way that their brain is acting, thus this destroys the idea of any kind of ‘will’, as they are subject to simply the laws of physics and chemistry out working themselves in their skull. Nor is there any ‘personality’, they have essentially reduced their activity in the brain down to shaking two different drinks together and seeing that one fizzes this way, and another fizzes a different way. Just two randomly different chemical reactions with no purpose. How can they know that their brain ‘fizzes’ are reliable? That they are actually reflective of reality?
4: What presuppositions would need to be true for us to make sense of a particular aspect of our experience, and does that worldview provide those presuppositions? (preconditions of intelligibility)
Certain things in our life that we take for granted require certain things being true in order for them to be, or even certain things that we say without even thinking about it, require for us to make assumptions and have presuppositions about things.
For instance, looking back to part 1, we discussed the glass of water that was filled half way with water, with the question asked “Is this glass half full or half empty”.
Now, what does an answer to this question presuppose either way? What is the hidden assumption?
The reliability of a person’s sense perception – specifically, that their eyes are telling them correct information about the outside world.
The question then becomes, “OK, what things would have to be true in order for our senses to be reliable?”
The Christian can answer this, because we are created in God’s image, as actors in His world, and have been given responsibilities to outwork in this world, this necessitates having properly working sensory apparatus, and numerous times God has spoken to people, and expected them to hear his voice, and to interact with Him and others.
Can an unbeliever answer this question? Well, it depends on the unbeliever! If it were a Darwinist, then no, they couldn’t, because they would have no reason to believe that their senses were actually telling them correct information about the outside world, their senses simply were the product of random chance. (This very idea, of course, coming from the view of man’s reason that it is just a ‘fizzing’ brain, as we discussed earlier). If it were a Muslim, they could simply try to claim that Allah did the same as the Christian God, however, their worldview would fail based on the previous point of consistency. A worldview may be able to give explanations for individual necessary preconditions of our experience (ie, answering why their sense experience is reliable, or the laws of logic can work etc) – but the issue is not that it can account for one or two issues, but it must be able to account for all the issues, as well as being able to be hold up under the points that I’m mentioning in this post ( ie consistency, is it arbitrary? etc). A worldview need only fall at one hurdle for it to be false.
Or consider this summary about induction from Greg Bahnsen :
“All science rest upon inductive inference. It takes something that we have experienced in the past and projects it into the future. Here is an example, you get up in the middle of the night and you walk around and stub your toe. The next night you get up in the middle of the night and walk around and you’re careful to not stub your toe again. If stubbing your toe last night hurt, stubbing your toe tonight will hurt to. The way things were in the past in terms of causal relationships will be things you encounter in the future too. Can you see why all science depends upon this? If there were no uniformity in the natural world, then all of your scientific experiments would be waste of time. You could learn everything you wanted about chemical reactions on Monday, but on Tuesday everything would be different. Induction is simply the view that the future will be like the past. Future relationships between events will resemble past relationships between events.
What will happen if I let go of this marker? Let’s say that you have never seen this experiment done before. The good philosopher will say that we have no way of knowing. I will now do the experiment. Watch closely! (it drops). We are now going to do a second experiment. You now know that one time, 20 seconds ago, this fell when I let go of it. What will happen when I let go of it this time? You don’t know. The reason you don’t know is because you have no basis for inductive inference. You have no basis for knowing the future will be like the past. You say, “well that was 20 seconds ago with the same conditions.” But you are assuming under the same conditions that one event will lead to the same event. You are assuming the uniformity of nature.
Now I’m a Christian, the reason I’m going to the science lab today is because I know that there is a sovereign personal God who governs this world. He controls it and makes it regular so that I can have dominion over it. My question for you Mr. Atheist is why you are going to the science lab today?
What are some ways one will try to recover from the problem of induction? The atheist says that they live in a random universe. He has no right to rely on inductive inference. He has no reason to expect the uniformity of nature! If he has no basis for the uniformity of nature, he has no basis for doing science. He will often retort, “Well very probably will the future be like the past. The reason why it probably will is because it has always done so in the past.” The problem is that he has smuggled into the argument the thing he’s supposed to prove. When I say that the future will probably be like the past, I’m basing that upon past information. In the past, the future has always resembled the past. I want to know how in the future, the future will be like the past.”
In a nutshell, here could be a possible scenario:
You preach the gospel to someone, but the person retorts that they don’t believe in God, or that they don’t believe the Bible is true.
At this point a person could be asked why? What we are doing is trying to is unearth their ultimate authority, and ask questions about their worldview, to listen to them and try to put together in our heads, how it is that they view the world, to ‘step into their shoes’ as it were. When there, we are applying the above considerations in regards to things we are on the look out for!
The person could state well, they don’t believe it is true, because science has disproved the Bible!
You could at that point then ask them how they know it has disproved the Bible. You could also ask them what they believe reality is, and how they know things? These could be simply answers such as ‘the scientific method’ or ‘we know things because we can see and hear and use science to determine what is real’. All these things help us and give us clues as to how the person’s worldview sits together.
Now, if that were all you had, you’d already have enough to destroy that worldview. Why?
A: They don’t believe that God exists, therefore there is no such thing as providential care over the universe, and no personality governing things.
B: They believe that the way that they know things is through science. The scientific method generally assumes a materialistic outlook on life – you should clarify though if the person believes that this is actually the case.
If we look at number 4 in our above considerations, you could look at the teaching summary from Greg Bahnsen on induction, and how science presupposes the uniformity of nature, and how they can account for that given that there is no God.
If they cannot account for this (which they cannot – but may give away some red herring answers), then you can show them how Christianity DOES provide the necessary accounting in order to know that nature is uniform, and acts consistently, and how theirs doesn’t. This shows that the objection that they were raising against the Bible, was resting on a materialistic view of science, that cannot work because in order for it to do so, that view would have to have something to account for the uniformity of nature in order for science to even be done. Given their worldview, science cannot work, therefore their criticism against the Bible on the basis of that view of science cannot even be made. Think of this as pulling the rug from under someone’s view. You don’t attack the top of the Jenga tower, you analyse to see if the tower actually has any foundational blocks to it, and you point out the fact the tower they are trying to make has no foundation and crumbles.
Any objection can be treated like this, not just objections from science. Simply take the particular objection and ask the question, What is the possibility of X (where X is the standard used to object against Christianity, ie science, history, linguistics, etc) and ask, given their worldview, their view of nature and reality and how they know things, could those particular standards even work? We don’t attack the peripheral issue or specific ‘fact’ or ‘evidence’, we attack the standard they are using to assert the claim of that ‘fact’ or ‘evidence’, and thus undermine their ability to even make it.
One objection that comes up now and again is the idea of ‘well, just because my worldview might not be true, what about all the other worldviews, they could be true!’ or similar ideas.
It’s fairly straight-forward to deal with. On what basis did the person make the claim that those other worldviews could be true? How did they evaluate them? There is no escaping one’s worldview – even that statement itself is a product of their worldview, which means that it is subject to the same fault as any other statement that they have made once their worldview has been shown to be futile – they can’t know that other worldviews might be true, because that statement rests on their OWN worldview being able to make sense of reality – which it cannot.