Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Presumption, I Presume

Until last night, I had not heard of "presuppositional apologetics". Then I came across Why Do Christians Presuppose the Bible is God's Word? on Debunking Christianity, a relatively new blog that I have been reading. So I had a bit of a laugh when Ernie posted Does Secularism = Relativism = Nihilism?, based on another blog he reads that recently mentioned presuppositionalism.

Since I have only recently even heard of this, I am not going to say too much about it until I have had more time to get a feel for what is really being said. The quote that Ernie includes, however, has some highly questionable claims.

How is it then, then, that atheists know anything? They have knowledge because they presuppose the existence of the Christian God, but they suppress God's truth in their unrighteousness. In other words, there are no authentic atheists. There are only self-deceived individuals whose rejection of their Creator has resulted in a culpable ignorance of the Truth.

Really. How convenient. I guess how I could see how someone holding this view would feel pretty secure in their beliefs, because anyone that disagreed is, almost by definition, deceived. Does this not make alarm bells go off in your head? How can you possibly show that belief in the God of Christianity (specifically!) is necessary for knowledge? Even if there were some philosophical reasoning that made human knowledge dependent on some kind of transcendent personality, why would it have to be the Christian God? "Begging the question" is the phrase that comes to mind.

But perhaps that quote is not representative. Ernie also provided a link the Wikipedia article Presuppositional apologetics which paints a slightly better picture. Apparently, some presuppositionalists answer the question of circularity by claiming that "all worldviews are ultimately circular" and that the "when considering worldviews, the concern must ... [be] for internal coherence."

And that brings us back to the ongoing dialog that Ernie and I have been having, which has, I think, come back nearly to where we started. A couple of posts ago, Ernie suggested that neither of us was clear about whether he was trying to convince me that his beliefs are true versus merely consistent. In his more recent post, in summarizing what he sees as unstated questions that have been underlying the conversation recently, he includes several questions related to the idea of truth vs. consistency:

  1. Is Christianity demonstrably true? Or demonstrably false?
  2. Is it possible to be logical consistent and a Christian?
  3. Can a reasonable conception of justice co-exist with any meaningful concept of eternal hell?
  4. How do we know what is true? How do we decide if we've been self-deceived?
  5. Does Christianity promote virtue? Is that an answerable (or even askable) question?
  6. What do I believe? Why?

He goes on to list a number of things that he believes, and says that I need to "ante up *something*.", something that is "an unquestionable absolute" that we can agree on before he can proceed. Or, alternatively, I can ask a single specific question that can be decoupled from all the others.

At this point, the single question that I would like to have Ernie answer is the one I posed here:

What would it take for you to stop believing in Christianity? What would have to happen? What would you need to learn, discover or observe?

Finally, I want to revisit a question that Ernie posed a few weeks ago.

Which brings me to my final question, Alan, and something that has long puzzled me. I totally understand why you decided to reject the fundamentalism of your youth as you learned more about the Bible and justice. However, I just can't figure out why that also led to your rejecting all Christianity (including, say, the milder but still robust British evangelicalism practiced by C.S. Lewis) -- much less (as far as I can tell) all of theism and deism. To me, that would be like rejecting all of physics upon discovering that Newton was wrong, which sounds more like spite than logic.

The difficulty I have with Ernie's suggestion is that it seems to be aimed at maintaining some part of my (previous) beliefs, as if that were a goal I should have. It was too close to a "God of the gaps" approach, where I would grudgingly believe less and less as I went on, holding on to as much as I could, as long as I could. My goal was to discover the truth, so far as it can be known. Because I saw how people have a tendency to defend their beliefs, I wanted to avoid an approach that would allow internal defense mechanisms an opportunity to flourish.

I would like to suggest that this kind of defense mechanism explains certain facets of the development of liberal Christianity, wherein beliefs previously held are slowly eroded and replaced by less obviously flawed substitutes. Ernie, are you concerned about the possibility that such defense mechanisms may be at work in your mind? How, if at all, do you counter them?

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