The Failed Philosophy of Pressuppositional Apologetics

Presuppositional Apologetics is something of a fringe worldview among primarily prolific Christian apologists on the internet. If you are an atheist it’s maddening to even listen to. If you are a typical Christian it’s not consistent with why you believe what you believe. However, if you have ever had the pleasure or displeasure (depending on your masochistic preferences) of debating someone who uses this line of reasoning, you can probably empathize that it’s confusing and difficult to engage this person.

What is the Presuppositionalist Argument?

To put it the most simply, Wikipedia does a great job:

Presuppositionalism is a school of Christian apologetics that believes the Christian faith is the only basis for rational thought.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presuppositional_apologetics

So we can say that pressuppositionalists consider the fundamental axiom of all truth to be their Christian faith. Practically, if you want to observe the chemical structure of a tree, first at the most basic level, you ought to be a Christian. How do they get there?

First you have to assume that God created the world. You can reach this assumption in various ways, the favorite method of many pressuppositionalists is the Kalam Cosmological Argument:

  1. Everything that has a beginning of its existence has a cause of its existence.
  2. The universe has a beginning of its existence.
    Therefore:
  3. The universe has a cause of its existence.
  4. If the universe has a cause of its existence then that cause is God.
    Therefore:
  5. God exists.

Now, I won’t go into detail as to the objections of these premises and why people don’t all have to agree with this on the face of it. There’s plenty of that outlined all over the internet. If you are interested, check these links out:

For Kalam

https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/popular-writings/existence-nature-of-god/the-kalam-cosmological-argument/

Against Kalam

https://www.uta.edu/philosophy/faculty/burgess-jackson/Martin,%20Atheism%20Defined%20and%20Contrasted%20(1990).pdf

Needless to say, there is a lot more out there than this, but Craig is probably the best example of the current form in support of the Kalam, and Martin’s paper deals with the Kalam argument very well.

If you assume the above Kalam argument to be true, then God exists and created everything. From there the presuppositionalist assumes that logic, truth, and all of reality are contingent upon God’s existence and having created everything. The contingency argument can be related somewhat to Leibniz’s Cosmological Argument (http://alexanderpruss.com/papers/LCA.html), which is an abstraction of and slightly tweaked version of the Kalam Cosmological Argument. This is a step further than most believers, when pressed, would want to go.

So if you want to observe the world around you using logic of any kind to get to what is true so you can gain knowledge… The presuppositionalist would say that you have to acknowledge as a primary axiom that God exists and God created the entire universe including it’s laws in every form. If you are an atheist, you don’t believe that God created the universe and all if it’s laws, and therefore (the pressuppositionalist argues) any attempts by you to observe the world are flawed because your axioms are arbitrary and not sufficiently justified.

Presuppositionalism Is Merely Circular Reasoning

I see one good objection to the pressuppositionalist’s proposition in the chicken or the egg problem. This is an an unconventional objection because it doesn’t necessarily support the atheist’s position OVER the pressuppositionalist, merely casts doubt on their conclusion.

Which came first, the logic you use to deduce that God must necessarily exist and that all truth is necessarily contingent upon him existing and having created everything? Or did God create that logic? This is what I can call the presuppositionalist’s paradox:

If logic demonstrates deductively that God must exist and necessarily created everything, but logic is contingent upon God’s existence, then God’s existence is only confirmed by that which the presuppositionalist claims to be contingent upon God.

This is what is called a circular argument, let’s demonstrate the steps:

  1. For God to exist, logic must be used to describe how.
  2. For Logic to exist, God must create it.
  3. For God to exist, logic must be used to describe how.
  4. For Logic to exist, God must create it.

And so on… For A to be true, B must be true. For B to be true, A must be true.

Now this isn’t inherently a fallacious line of reasoning. It’s at least consistent. However, it doesn’t get us to why we all ought to believe the primary axiom of “God exists and created the universe” is necessarily true. The Presuppositionalist often claims the high ground by assuming this primary axiom, but never justifying it. When challenged to justify it, they ask you questions as to how you justify your own worldview. This means that comparative analysis must have led them to conclude presuppositionalism is the superior worldview when compared to all other views.

Presuppositionalism is a Pathway to Justifying Anything

If I say that the earth is flat, someone will disagree and point to scientific observations and theories that seem to contradict the assertion that he earth is flat. However, I can then say, “But all of those scientific observations rely upon the science fairy to exist, the science fairy knows everything and can never tell a lie. The science fairy told me that the earth is flat. Since the science fairy is the creator of all scientific observations, cannot tell a lie, and knows everything, the earth must be flat.”

The scientist might object, “but then the science fairy is wrong!”

“Tisk, tisk, tisk… You see, to make that determination you have to do science, which the science fairy created and is the sole primary source of, therefore you have to believe that the science fairy exists to even begin doing science in the first place! Checkmate scientist!”

Many people reading this can see why this is immediately something we can all disagree on, but I see no difference between this hypothetical annoying conversation and what is at the core of the presuppositionalist’s claim. If God only created the universe, but it’s a stretch to say he created logic, was there a necessary non-contingent source of all logic as well that had to exist?

There could be. Let’s call the logic-creator… Craig.

The Source of All Logic is Craig, Not God

  1. Everything that has a beginning of its existence has a cause of its existence.
  2. Logic has a beginning of its existence. Therefore:
  3. Logic has a cause of its existence.
  4. If logic has a cause of its existence, then that cause is Craig. Therefore:
  5. Craig exists.

We can go a step further, to abstract it out to get to why Craig is necessary:

  1. Logic (a mind-independent set of rules to reliably make sense of reality) exists.
  2. Logic has a cause of or explanation for its existence.
  3. The cause of or explanation for its existence is something other than logic itself.
  4. What causes or explains the existence of logic must either be solely other things like logic (math, theory, etc…) or include a non-logical being.
  5. Logic and things like logic alone cannot provide a completely adequate causal account or explanation for the existence of logic.
  6. Therefore, what causes or explains the existence of logic must include a non-logical being.
  7. Therefore, a non-logical being exists.
  8. All things, including the universe, are either things like logic or adhere to the rules of logic.
  9. Therefore, this non-logical being is something other than anything defined in 8.
  10. We call this non-logical being, Craig.

All hail Craig, for without Craig, God couldn’t be demonstrated to exist, right?

Surely any Christian reading this can see now why things like the Leibniz Cosmological Argument aren’t convincing to atheists, AND they can see why using this as a justification for presuppositionalism at all is not convincing. What good is a philosophical position if you aren’t trying to make it as convincing as possible?

Presuppositionalists and the Ultimate Skeptic Are One and the Same

Presuppositionalism to me is no different than a common form of radical skepticism that most people go through in their teenage years. They just arbitrarily (as shown above in the circularity of their reasoning) assign God as the only non-radical function in the equation. They are in 100% agreement with the Ultimate Skeptic (one who thinks that nothing can be known or understood) up until one point, the presuppositionalist believes that God makes things able to be known or understood, and only through God is it possible to know or understand anything whatsoever.

So how are radical skeptics treated in philosophy? Often with disdain and annoyance. Not only are they hypocritically using tools contingent upon knowing and understanding being possible, they are not offering any real solutions to the problem. They are a mopey teenager lost in a pit of despair with no purpose or meaning, and an active desire to undermine any attempts at finding meaning or understanding about anything. The presuppositionalist is equally as annoying and for the same reasons, but they are just motivated by fervent personal belief in their God.

So how should we treat Presuppositionalists? With the same kind of disregard and disdain. They are offering no real insights or solutions. Their only goal is to gaslight you into submission that you “don’t actually know anything” so they can force feed you “God” as a pain pill of relief. Since they are arbitrarily causing their own circular argument, AND they are doing it in a way that can justify all sorts of wacky and maybe harmful belief systems… I think the best way to challenge a presuppositionalist is to use their logic against them in a way that you know will frustrate them. There is no honest debate with a bad faith actor like them. So I’ll leave this off with the best challenge I’ve seen toward MrBatman, God’s supposed omniscience juxtaposed with knowledge of gay oral sex. Not Safe For Work, obviously.

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