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Discussion in 'Apologetical Methods' started by Puritan Sailor, Mar 19, 2006.
What is a presupposition, in the worldview sense?
An assumption that is taken for granted when you engage in thought or speech.
Is it possible for our ultimate presuppositions to be proven, or are they simply taken for granted by faith?
I can only give my view on this.
Let's say we're talking about football. We may argue over the rules, over the officiating, or over which team is better. But underneath it all a third party can come away from our disagreement with a fair bit of knowledge that we both take for granted. He might know what yardage is. He might know what offside is. He might know what a time out is. All these things we discussed without defining them, taking them for granted as common. And because in our disagreement we agreed on these things without thinking about them, a third party might not know which way to go about what we disagreed on, but will have a bit more assurance on what we did agree on. And that would be because they were not the issue, but were the underlying norms of agreement upon which we built our disagreement.
I read a lot of posts that way. Not for the things that are being discussed, but for the things that are taken for granted in the discussions. I look for the reasons why people believe what they do, what really lies behind them. It isn't always what they think. But, then, the reason why I do that is because the same is true for me. I want to be able to read my own posts to hopefully find that there are things behind what I believe that ought not to be there, or that disagree with what I should believe. I think that is part of sanctification.
That is how I believe we are to read God's Word. We are to come to understand what the Word is saying, and compare that to what we hold to, and then change what we hold to so as to conform to the Word. If we bend the Word to fit our beliefs, then we are not really abiding in the Word, nor are we being corrected by the Word.
But the way some are using the term, presuppositions refers to the underlying underlying basis of what we believe. They refer to those concepts that are at the very bottom of all thought, without regard to the personal or individual differences involved; they lie underneath that. They are the concepts that one needs in order to have concepts at all. These, then, are undefilable by men, in distinction to the ones that I referred to above which are our defiled presuppositions which need to be transformed and conformed. These undefileable tenets are the first principles of knowledge, such as truth, goodness, and beauty. Their attestation lies in themselves, to our view. But God's Word shows us the real origin of them, as attributes of God.
If you know God, then they are not taken for granted. What you take for granted is that God is telling us truthfully, even if we do not understand it; and so we trust Him at His Word. That is, we have faith in God. It isn't just faith that there is a God, for we know that with certainty. But we have faith in God, because He has witnessed Himself to us through the Spirit and the Word. We may not understand His ways, why things happen as they do, but it always works out much better for us than we could have planned when we trust in Him.
something we assume prior to knowing for certain based on an antecedent premise
How do we judge between presuppositions ( "the underlying concepts" ) and preferences or assumptions?
I would say that reading God's Word provides for us the basis for judgment that we need. Not just once, but constantly. That, and prayer. One has to be in conversation, so to speak, with God the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ. Let the Word guide, and pray for those things that God will give you. Do not pray for what you want from God, but for what God will give you. And He will answer. The more you get to know God, the more you understand His communication to you. It's a life-long process, one we do not get to the end of in this life. But when we see Him face to face, then we will find that which satisifies our hunger and need.
I did answer directly, but yet it may seem that I didn't. Our assumptions and preferences will be made clear to us in time. It is part of the "taking every thought captive" part of sanctification. More and more we have to fight off our own flesh, even in our mind, to take control of it for the glory of God. We will be truly free when we are truly all in Him.
Perhaps I'll ask it a different way. What's the difference between a presupposition and a cultural norm or preference? Or is presupposition more of a broad term that embraces all the assumptions of our world view whether right or wrong?
Presuppositions are basic beliefs, foundational beliefs, that justify how we engage in thought.
The term is used both ways, Patrick. Sometimes equivocally. In your question you distinguish between "presupposition" and "cultural norm or preference." So that already answers your question. The most basic of presuppositions, that which is the basis for all knowledge, is common to all, for all know at least something. They do not all honour them, though. Some use their "knowledge" to thumb their noses at them, or as Rom. 1 says, suppress them. But cultural norms are perhaps bests described as the least homage that the culture needs to pay to them and yet seem moral or true.
You and I are of the same fallen human race. But we have been redeemed. And the Spirit is at work sanctifying us. It takes long years of practical theology to come to grips with our own preferences and norms, to replace them with God's presuppositions. But we do so on a daily basis, by the help of the Spirit.
That is why we have a church. We do not rely on any one's norms or assumptions. We rely on the Spirit working through those commissioned ( ordained ) to leave their own opinions behind so as to administer Christ's authority to us, and to minister His gospel. They too are being sanctified. But the Spirit works especially through them.
So then presuppositions in the strictest sense are simply absolutes?
Yes and No.
Yes, you can take everyone back to absolutes that are necessary for any statement that they make. The term has been used that way.
No, in the sense that you can take a horse to water but you can't make him drink. No matter how hard you try, you can't take a person where he does not want to go.
For example, I talked to an atheist last week. He said he was an atheist. My immediate response was, "You are a What?" He replied with the same assertion, but this time he looked at me like he was lost. You see, that is all you really need to refute an atheist. But that only means that you know you've refuted him, and that maybe he has some instinct telling him you did so, but he is far from being convinced. The problem is that if it is only a matter of setting the facts straight, then evangelism is one of the easiest jobs in the world. But it is much more than that. The person has to be willing too. And if he kicks against it, he will only kick harder if you take away his first line of defence.
In short, though he may also have the same absolutes as bases for his knowledge, he will not acknowledge them for all he is worth. He will not recognize them as his presuppositions.
I shouldn't be answering these questions. I'm not a formal Presuppositionalist. I am in the sense that Van Til outlined back in '32, to a degree, but only as it is a regular arm of a classical argument. Van Til taught it at that time as just a method, and just to give his students confidence in their ministry. He didn't mean for his students to go and take issue with everyone who disagree with the method, as if it were some kind of breach of orthodoxy to do so.
He took Descartes' method and Reformed it, you might say. What is regretable is that he seemed to be influenced by Dooyweerd. That seems plain enough now, as modern Presuppositionalism has taken on some of his sphere sovereignty approach, applying it to an apologetic methodology.
Thus, what the term "presupposition" now means is really far out of my league to respond to. I am certainly not a Dooyweerdian. And I have already said that the fact that Presuppositionalism has been stated as a cornerstone doctrine to the Reformed faith, and that Presuppositionalists have not objected en masse, that it is greatly discredited in my view.
So I'm not really the one to ask.
Dooyeweerd made it clear that he and Van Til were not on the same page. Yes, there are similarities but most Dooyeweerdians would be quick to emphasize that the differences far outweigh the similiarities.
They are assumed true as a matter of faith.
For some it's "what ya see is what ya get". Other's it's "I think therefore I am". Or maybe, "It's all relative". Or, "it gives me a headache to think that hard".
I think "Scripture is the truth God has revealed to man" is a good one. I believe it ultimately on faith. But then that is the nature of presuppositions. One must assume something is reliably true for us to communicate - even if that's impossible to prove. Or else, "why ask why?"
Language is a presupposition.
That's pretty good. I'd only split a hair and say they are basic beliefs a person uses to justify how he engages in thought - just so we are not saying that presuppositions themselves justify, but the person uses them to try to justify.
I know I know! I told you I was splitting a hair.
I agree, Jacob. There certainly were differences that I noticed. I read Clouser's book, and that is supposed to be textbook Dooyweerdianism. It scared me. Not as much as Hendrik Hart's book, which was also Dooyweerdian, but more ICS-ist. What I was referring to was some tendencies I have noted of late that look an awful lot like Clouser's view, and scare almost as much as Hart's view. Usually they're Clarkian, but not exclusively so.
I wouldn't even say that Van Til is Cartesian. But I still see some basic commonalities.
It's sometimes a confusing mess.
If Van Til or Bahnsen has said to me a long time ago, "Look John, we've got problems with the way some people are dealing with the evidences." I would have replied, "Amen to that!!!" As someone who shares convictions concerning the evidences, I am downcast over the way it is done by others. When I first started reading Sproul, Gerstner, and Lindsley, I was pleased by their book, and helped by it too. But somewhere it took a turn, and began to irritate me, and finally disgust me. I never did finish that book. And I would consider myself a Classicalist. I have a lot of bones to pick with men like that.
But my appraisal is: That's not the Classical method!!! I'm goint to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Its just like in the late seventies and eighties, when people were leaving the CRC, blaming the Reformed doctrines for all the problems the churches were facing. Not only did they not stop to consider that it was precisely because the churches were not holding to these doctrines that the problems arose, but they refused to have any open ear to such notions. In the same way, I have run into the same roadblock in doing a proper critique of the ways some people go about misrepresenting these arguments that of themselves are quite convincing, and which I have used over and over again very convincingly. In my high school years I held off an entire class of superior students, while I was only an average student. They had nothing on me, and I didn't even know what they were talking about half the time. Yet they almost all became Christians later on, and thanked me for my firm and unwavering witness to the truths that always kept them in their corners. I know they work, and that they are right. I know it for a fact.
So if Van Til and Bahnsen had said to me that they didn't like the way some people were using the evidences and the classical arguments, I would have gladly shook hands with them. There would be no division. But they did not leave it at that. They took these misrepresentations to the the whole of it. And they threw the good out with the bad. And their followers condemned me along with those who misrepresented the arguments.
I have been using presuppositions for as long as I can remember. And I can't remember any time when they were separate from the evidences and arguments from concept. I just can't see how they can be separated. Presuppositions are part of the evidential approach. They are, in fact, evidences.
I have been told by one of the highest ranking Presuppositionalists that I don't really understand the analysesand terms. But why should I believe him? He doesn't understand the first thing about the Word, because he endorses the abuse of the pulpit to propagate, promote, and to teach as doctrine, a cornerstone doctrine at that, what is nothing more than a methodology of men. So you can't convince me that he has any place to tell me that I don't know what I'm talking about, in spite of his PhD. It's like someone pretending to be a scientist, telling me all about the nature and purpose of leaves, but can't even tell a tree from post.
[Edited on 3-20-2006 by JohnV]
Note carefully, Patrick, how different respondents are using the term. Its not always the same use, and not always referring to the same thing.
I noticed. That's why I asked in the first place. Hopefully this will help folks to better understand eachother
Then maybe we should play it up a bit, so that we all notice it more plainly. Let's state that there are at least two different uses and two different meanings of the term. That means we have at least four different things we are talking about in using this one term.
A - comprehensive basic - held in common by all
B - personal basis - held individually and distinct from others
c - comprehensive - accountability for all to one standard
D - personal - accountability to personal consistency.
I believe that I have seen the meanings and uses combined in different ways. So that's why I say that we have four different things to differentiate here: A with C; A with D: B with C; and B with D.
Is this what you are getting at, Patrick? Or something to this effect? This little analysis just comes off the top of my head, as an example. It certainly could use correction.
Sure. That will help. I'm not sure where I'm going with this thread. I just had a hunch that people were using the words differently and it would be helpful to other to notice that before they jump to conclusions. You know, I'm all about that unity stuff. The oilier Aaron's bear is the better.
You got me, Patrick. My mind is drawing a blank here.
I too disown Presupositionalism, except in the negative sense, as an exercise in ground-clearing with the unbeliever, demolishing his own edifices. Ultimately one has to use some kind of positive construction to press the positive claims for the Gospel, as I see it, and this is where evidences come in. The Creation Science and ID movements, for example, have utilised a powerful set of evidences to rehabilitate the Teleological Argument, and very successfully.
One other point: why oh why do so many Reformed believers make Van Tillianism an article of faith and a test of orthodoxy, such that if one does not adhere to it he is some sort of heretic? I think even Van Til himself disliked any such notion, but as is so often the case, the disciples have outgone the master.
John Frame and other Vantillian thinkers have rejected the cult mentality. I have already told JohnV that I do not make presuppositionalism a cornerstone doctrine of the Christian faith. He didn't believe me. There is little else I can do.
Ok, I got it now. I've got an older version that says it runs down Aaron's beard, not his bear. That's what fooled me.:bigsmile: