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Presuppositionalism

In critical rationalism, fideism, justificationism on 16/06/2011 at 7:00 pm

A key moment in her [Rep. Bachmann’s] political evolution, as for many of her generation, was the film series How Should We Then Live by the theologian Francis Schaeffer, who is widely credited for mobilizing evangelicals against abortion, an issue most had previously ignored. A Presbyterian minister, Schaeffer argued that our entire perception of reality depends on our worldview, and that only those with the right one can understand the true nature of things. Christianity, he argued, is “a whole system of truth, and this system is the only system that will stand up to all the questions that are presented to us as we face the reality of existence.” Theories or assertions from outside this system—evolution, for example—can be dismissed as the product of mistaken premises. (Michelle Goldberg, Bachmann’s Unrivaled Extremism)

I don’t know what to say about people that are incapable of admitting fault. Ideology can be very powerful, psychologically, especially if it’s grounded in religious convictions: there are people that, if presented with evidence that challenges or discredits their beliefs, are capable of writing it off entirely.

Bachman is a joke, but there is a long history to her ideas: Schaeffer is a presuppositionalist, and presumably Rep. Bachmann is as well.

Man does not have exhaustive knowledge of how the universe operates; God does. Man does not know whether the features of the universe will continue to be as they are at present; God does. Man can be mistaken in what he experiences and how he reasons from those experiences; God is never wrong. (Brian Knapp, The Portable Presuppositionalist, p. 134)

If the presuppositionalist should object that a critic assumes in their criticism that the presuppositionalist’s stance is false, I hasten to point out that a reductio requires that the critic adopt their very assumptions. They could be wrong in their explication of a reductio, but the mere possibility of being wrong is not itself an objection. We could be wrong about many things.

Of course, the presuppositionalist retorts that the very act of criticism (modus tollens) assumes the existence of their god:

The first objection that suggests itself may be expressed in the rhetorical question “Do you mean to assert that non-Christians do not discover truth by the methods they employ?” The reply is that we mean nothing so absurd as that. The implication of the method here advocated is simply that non-Christians are never able and therefore never do employ their own method consistently…. The best and only possible proof for the existence of such a God is that his existence is required for the uniformity of nature and for the coherence of all things in the world…. Thus there is absolutely certain proof for the existence of God and the truth of Christian theism. Even non-Christians presuppose its truth while they verbally reject it. They need to presuppose the truth of Christian theism in order to account for their own accomplishments (Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, p.120).

I’ve heard that argument before, and it doesn’t hold water against critical rationalism (or comprehensively critical rationalism, which was designed to survive the tu quoque); however, it is something justificationism must yet overcome.

Schaeffer’s series How Should We Then Live is available on the internet. So far, it’s extremely perverse. For instance, at this point, he asserts that there can be no proper foundation for society other than by god’s grace–but this does not prove the existence of his god; it might also entail that there are no proper foundations for society. Moments later, Schaeffer claims that Christian martyrs that believed with certainty the truth of their religion somehow indicates that the religion is (at least probably) true. Schaeffer clearly knows nothing about the long history of martyrs from other religions, creeds, and political parties that died with just as much certainty in their pet theories.

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