Presuppositions: Where We Begin

It is not a profound insight, but it is important to make the point: Everyone has a starting point in terms of what they believe. Every worldview has a starting view, a belief at the beginning that exerts considerable influence over all the other beliefs that follow as a matter of due course. Whether rationalism, relativism, empiricism, pluralism or atheism, every worldview starts out with certain presuppositions. Even the scientist in the lab cannot achieve a state of mind that is absolutely free of those structures that influence observation and interpretation. 

Presuppositions will effectively determine every conclusion reached when one attempts to answer a significant question within the framework of his or her worldview. This is no less true of a biblical theistic worldview. We are never at the mercy of a secular rationalist who presupposes that secular rationalism is a superior belief system to biblical theism. She has come to her conclusions, not because relentless logic and rational arguments lead her to such conclusions, but because she, like all of us, navigates the world of knowledge by starting somewhere.

Where we start influences where we end. Perhaps "influence" is a little too mild to capture the truth. We might better say that the outcome is actually determined by our presuppositions. The biblical form of Christianity is no more or less dependent upon certain presuppositions (starting beliefs) than any other worldview. The biblical theistic worldview begins with God's existence. The atheistic worldview begins with a denial of God’s existence. The pluralistic worldview begins with the equivalence of even contradictory beliefs (making pluralism hopelessly irrational).

There is no possible way (rationally or logically) to arrive at the conclusion that there is no God other than to start with the belief that God does not exist. The atheist surely believes her denial of God's existence rests on a superior foundation than that of the biblical theist. She must start with the assumption of superiority-- untested and unverified by any other criteria than that which is already entrenched in her belief system before she grapples with the singularly weighty question of God's existence.

We are all far more subjective than we imagine, the empiricist no less than the philosopher. The philosopher denies not the findings of the scientist as the latter plies his trade in the sterile laboratory. The scientific method is sound. Water always boils at 212  degrees. It always freezes at 32 degrees. This knowledge is secure and extremely unlikely to change as long as "the sun and the moon shall endure" (a quote from Anne of Green Gables). Yet when the scientist starts answering questions that go beyond what temperature water boils or freezes, his subjectivity begins to take control of both the questions and the answers. If he says God does not exist because he cannot see him under the microscope or through the telescope, he has left the sterile laboratory of the scientist for the murky musings of the philosopher.

We are perfectly willing to wear our presuppositions out in the open for everyone to see. Not because we have a martyr complex or suffer from a delusion of grandeur, but because it seems more honest to say what our starting point is so that there is no ambiguity about how we end up with the worldview we embrace as the only true worldview. A less profitable use of our time and energies would be spent trying to convince the atheist to become a theist. As for the theist, so also for the atheist: to convert from one to the other involves a total upheaval of one's most basic beliefs. This kind of upheaval can hardly occur on the basis of any argument we might set before the atheist. The leopard could sooner change his spots for stripes!

It would, therefore, be less than honest if we didn't say upfront that we already believe that God exists and that the God who exists is the God of the Bible and no other. This is where we begin. We have to.  So we’re not really trying to prove what we believe. It has been proven to our satisfaction already though not for the majority of human beings now living. But majorities on matters like this don't matter at all. The one-person-one-vote doesn't decide what's true and what's false. Nor can the stable and reliable scientific method ruling the laboratory speak with any relevance at all to the question of God's existence. Let’s be frank. The existence or non-existence of God or a god can never be determined by any human endeavor to prove one conclusion over the other. The only way to know whether or not God exists is if the God who exists reveals himself. Near the end of the fourth Gospel (John) in the New Testament, the resurrected Jesus engages with one of his unbelieving disciples in a conversation that will tag the disciple and become a byword up to this present time. "Doubting Thomas" disbelieved in Jesus's resurrection until Jesus gave him the opportunity to see for himself. Only after Jesus revealed himself to Thomas did Thomas believe. then Jesus said something quite remarkable to Thomas: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

In our mere humanity we cannot dispense belief  as if it were a commodity. We can open no one's eyes--frankly, not even our own. Nevertheless, we continue to hold forth the truth of Jesus Christ as the only person who can open eyes and make dead people alive.

So this is where we begin. We did not come to this starting point all by ourselves. In point of fact, our starting point used to be very different from this one. Then we read the Bible. It seems rather dreary in most places and we did not want to read it again. Something persisted against our first inclinations. We read it again. And though we cannot say how or why, it began to occur to us that this book was God revealing himself in a way that could make it possible for us to believe in order that we might also see.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *