World Views (Presuppositional Apologetics)

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Every human being’s beliefs about the world has a starting point, a line of reasoning that has a beginning. Most have not even taken the time to think about the fact that they have this starting point, but everyone, no one excluded, has a starting point to all lines of reasoning. Most assume their starting point without giving it any thought.

This starting point can be described as a world view. A world view is comprised of a set of presuppositions and is controlled by an ultimate authority. Some will insist that they have no world view. They may say that they are completely objective and weigh all the evidence for all arguments and choose the one with the most evidence. This may sound good at face value, but the belief that we need to except the possibility of everything and weigh all the evidence is in itself a world view and a rather absurd and self-refuting one at that. They will say they are completely objective but by their own definition of their world view they exclude all world views that they don’t believe to be objective therefore they are not being completely objective. These same people often claim to be tolerant but won’t tolerate a view they deem intolerant. This means they will only tolerate those that share their world view of tolerance. This is very intolerant and therefore refutes their own world view. No human being is completely objective. All approach the evidence with a set of presuppositions and an ultimate authority. As a Christian I do not claim to be completely objective or tolerant. I will not even waste any time examining evolution to see if it might be true or has enough evidence to support it. Any world view outside of the Bible has to argue for itself by borrowing presuppositions from the Biblical world view therefore I have no reason to even entertain it. (I will expound on this further in the article)

Most world views fall into three basic categories Christian theism, non-Christian theism, and humanism. Atheism and agnosticism are a subset of humanism. All false converts to any theistic world view are also really humanists disguised as theists. What I mean by false converts to a theistic world view is there are many professing Christians, Catholics, Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc. who do not really make their professed religion their ultimate authority therefore they fall into the same category of humanism as atheists and agnostics. For example a person may claim to be a Catholic but states that he does not believe or practice all the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church therefore he is really a humanist as he is his own ultimate authority. He decides what parts of his religion he chooses to believe or follow. Most people are humanists (their own authority) while a minority will make something outside themselves their ultimate authority.

In the quest for truth, starting points (world views) need to be examined before any evidence can be viewed. The reason for this is because everyone will interpret evidence with their presupposed world view. If the interpretation of evidence is what is used to determine which world view is true then the examiner will end up being caught in a vicious circular loop. Let me give an example. An atheist presupposes that God does not exist, therefore special creation is not a possibility when he looks at the evidence of the geological layers. The atheist must believe that they (the geological layers) were laid down over massive amounts of time as the universe slowly evolved. The atheist then takes the evidence of the geological layers interpreted by his world view and says that it is evidence that his world view is true, but this is vicious circular reasoning. This is the fallacy of begging the question. The conclusion is also the starting premise. When this is pointed out the atheist may claim that he is not starting with the assumption that God does not exist, this can be refuted quickly however by one question. “Ok… are you saying then that God could possibly exist?” If he says “yes” then he just became a back-sliding atheist and is now an agnostic. If he says “no” he confirms that his starting premise is that God does not exist. An agnostic while he may say he is not sure of God’s existence is still using his desire that God not exist as his starting premise. He still views the world as if there is no God and then uses his interpreted evidence to confirm his belief that there likely is no God. This is still the fallacy of begging the question and circular. A Christian theist may challenge the atheist or agnostic with their own evidence that the geological layers were laid down quickly be a worldwide deluge known as Noah’s flood. Both will continue to argue all day long giving evidence and their own interpretation of it but getting nowhere because the ultimate problem is world views. This is just as pointless as arguing with a man wearing red colored glasses that the world he is viewing is not really shades of red. You can give him evidence all day long but you will not shake his belief. You need to remove his red glasses (world view) and replace them with clear glasses before a further discussion about evidence should even ensue.

The Christian theist and the unbeliever (anyone who does not completely accept the truth of the Bible) will both have to use what is known as a rescuing device at times to save their world view from evidence that would seem contrary to it. Let me give several examples. The Christian theist may challenge the unbeliever with the evidence of comets to refute the unbeliever’s belief in a multi-billion year old solar system. (Comets only last about 10,000 – 20,000 years as they orbit the sun and lose material.) The Christian will ask the unbeliever if the solar system is indeed that old why there are still comets. The unbeliever will then appeal to a rescuing device like the Ort Cloud to substantiate his belief in billions of years. (The Ort Cloud is an unobserved cloud of icy material that is said to exist on the outer boundaries of the solar system that occasionally creates new comets when some material is kicked into the inner solar system by the gravity of a passing star or one of the larger planets.) When the unbeliever is asked for observable (empirical) evidence for the Ort Cloud none can be given, but since the Christian cannot give any evidence that it absolutely does not exist the rescuing device is not necessarily invalid and is a possibility. Another example could be the irreducible complexity of the simplest living organisms like bacteria that have 160,000 base pairs of DNA information. The unbeliever may be asked how the gap from random molecules to a self-replicating machine with that much information can be bridged and how that doesn’t violate the Law of Biogenesis. The unbeliever will just use a rescuing device again and say that science is still pursuing the answers to such questions but the answer will most certainly be found in the future. This is blind faith but the Christian really cannot argue against such reasoning because he does not know the future. The Christian sometimes has to use a rescuing device also. For example the unbeliever may ask the Christian how he explains the astronomical distances that light travels in the universe that is measured in millions and billions of light years. The Christian may say well God created the light in transit (I don’t like this one) or that Dr. Russell Humphrey’s white hole cosmology theory solves the problem (I do like this one). Either one of these answers however is a rescuing device. All non-Christian world views must incorporate a large number of rescuing devices while the Christian world view has relatively few in comparison but this in itself is not the best proof of which world view is true.

The best proof for the veracity of the Christian theistic world view is that it is the only one that provides a foundational reason for the basic presuppositions shared by all world views (the laws of logic, laws of science, uniformity of nature, laws of mathematics, and the laws of morality). These are the presuppositions that we all use to examine evidence. All non-Christian world views either have no foundation for these presuppositions even though it assumes them (humanism) or it is internally inconsistent because while it may have a theistic foundation for our basic presuppositions the world view contradicts them therefore rendering it false (non-Christian theism). Christian theism is the only true world view as it provides a foundation for all our basic presuppositions and it never violates them. Any world view that contradicts the Christian theistic world view is therefore false.

Whenever a professing Christian holds up interpreted evidence (archaeology, science, etc.) as proof of the Biblical world view he is holding that evidence as a higher authority than the Bible. The Bible (Christian theistic Ultimate Authority) is the only valid starting point so when we use evidence to substantiate the Bible we are placing that evidence before the Bible as the starting point. The problem is that the evidence itself could not be examined if the Bible was not true therefore it is fallacious to use it as the authority to prove the Bible. Evidence is of interest though. It can be used to confirm the existing presupposed truth of the Bible. If evidence seems contrary to the Bible then our interpretation of the evidence is what is false and not the Bible.

The professing Christian that claims the Bible as his presupposition yet rejects certain plain Biblical truths because he believes that there is evidence contrary to it has placed himself in a very precarious position. He is like a man standing on a rug tugging vigorously at it trying to pull it out from under himself. I recently was in a phone conversation with a professing Christian who was telling me how he rejects evolution and how foolish it is in the face of all the design we see around us. He was explaining to me some of the different evidences he uses to argue for creation. Then he said something very interesting. He said that he had a hard time believing though that the earth was less than 10,000 years old. What this man is doing is he is saying that his senses are valid because he is created in the image of God but he rejects the plain truth of the age of the earth because it doesn’t pass the test of his senses. This is claiming the Bible as his ultimate authority at the same time he is rejecting it. The question to ask this man (I failed to do this) is “how do you know that you are created in the image of God?” The answer is of course the Bible. The next question is “how do you know that the parts of the Bible that states we are created in the image of God are true; if the timeline given in the Bible and the days of creation are not true?” See this man is unknowingly making himself the ultimate authority over the Bible (humanism). I cannot write this and act like I have always made the Bible my ultimate authority. I have placed my own reasoning and feelings over that of the Bible in the past and have needed to repent of that.

Let me give some examples of how a non-Christian world view like humanism (atheism, agnostics, evolutionists, false converts to theism) is false. Ask any humanist whenever they make a truth claim contrary to the Word of God (the Bible) how they know that their claim is true. They will always be arbitrary in some way. Either the claim itself will be completely arbitrary (unsubstantiated) or it will reside on a presupposition that is equally arbitrary. Here is one example. I was witnessing to a man at a local mall recently and I asked him what his beliefs about the afterlife were. He said that he believed that the universe was composed of positive and negative energy and that we become part of this universal energy when we die. He seemed rather sure of himself until my next question was “How do you know that is true and what evidence do you have for this?” After stumbling around a bit he finally said he just felt that it was true. I then told him that his belief was just based on a subjective feeling and had no substantial reason for being true. This is blind faith, a belief without any reason (arbitrary).

An evolutionist will often appeal to science as his authority (Fallacy of Reification). I usually try to correct this because science is the collection of knowledge claims made by scientists. I will correct him and say that he is using claims made by scientists as his authority instead. It brings the claim of science as the ultimate authority down to knowledge claims made by fallible man as his authority. (It might also be beneficial to point out the differences between historical science (beliefs about the past) and observable empirical science.) Next ask him how he knows a science claim is true. He will say that the observed evidence has to support it (empiricism). Next ask him how he observes evidence. He will have to say with his senses. Ask him how he knows his senses are correct. He will be unable to give any reason other than that he has to use his senses to validate his senses. This is viciously circular and arbitrary. He will have to come to the conclusion that he cannot be certain about anything or that he could be wrong about everything that he knows. Ask him if he is certain about that (self-refuting). At this point he has given up all knowledge and whenever he continues to make a truth claim (he will) just ask him if he is certain about that or if he could be wrong about that. He will also say things like “there is no absolute truth”. Ask him if that is absolutely true (self-refuting). Usually they will get to the point of accusing the Christian theist of being in the same boat and not being able to have certainty that his senses are valid either. The Christian however does not have to be arbitrary and circular with his senses. He can respond that he knows his senses are valid because God created him in His image therefore God has created his senses in such a way that he can trust them to a certain degree as long as they agree with God’s special revelation (the Bible). The Christian can have certain knowledge (absolute truth) and he can account for this knowledge because the God who knows everything (omniscient) can reveal things to us in such a way that we can know them to be certain. See the evolutionist even though he will come to the logical conclusion within his world view that he cannot know anything for certain, does know many things for certain (i.e. 1+1 always = 2, gravity will always work (uniformity), the law of non-contradiction does not change, parallel lines never intersect, etc.). Somehow he has knowledge of absolute truths despite not knowing everything (omniscience). He cannot explain this in his world view. He reveals this as he continues to make truth claims (even though he has denied certainty and knowledge) and tries to point out fallacies in the Christian’s thinking. The problem is his world view is founded only on himself (subjective) and therefore he cannot account for truth, contradictions or fallacies. He has to borrow from the Christian world view to argue for his own. He is a walking bundle of contradictions. He is like a man arguing against the existence of air while he is breathing it and using it to send sound waves to make his argument.

Let’s say an atheist or agnostic accuses a Christian parent of lying to or abusing their own children by teaching them Biblical creation. The Christian just needs to respond by asking the atheist why lying to children would be wrong if the atheist’s world view was true? Is there an absolute moral standard that says lying is wrong? If so how does the atheist account for this universal and absolute law that says lying is wrong? Why would lying be wrong in the atheist world view especially if it benefits the survival of the liar? The atheist has to borrow the moral law that lying is wrong from the Christian world view to accuse the Christian of teaching lies to their children.

Atheists will often say that morality is that which brings the most happiness to the most people or it is a convention of society. These are just arbitrary answers. Why should we do things that bring happiness to others if atheism were true? If morality is just conventional then genocide is justified whenever a majority wants to rid themselves of a minority. Hitler would not have been doing anything wrong with his treatment of the Jews because it was supported by a majority of Germans. The atheist has no right in his own world view to ever say anything is right or wrong. If he does he is imposing his morality on others. The atheist is declaring himself to be God. Only the Creator would have the right and authority to impose a morality on His creation.

If an atheist says that morality is not absolute ask him if he can think of a case where rape or pedophilia is right? Tell him that you are recording the conversation to report to the police if he gives a justification for either. If he cannot give a justification for either then rape and pedophilia must be absolutely wrong all the time.

Theistic humanists (false converts to a theistic world view) are often arbitrary with the moral law they claim to believe in. For example a Mormon may say that he believes that lies are justified if they don’t hurt anyone or that lying in business is necessary sometimes to get ahead, etc. etc. the list could go on. A Catholic may say that it is not really fornication to have sexual relations with an unmarried partner if you have been dating the person for a while and are committed to them. With any of these answers all a Christian has to ask is “Says who….?? Says you?? Who made you God? If you are God then who was God before you were born and who is going to be God when you are dead? Are you the arbitrator of morality for the universe?” What the theistic humanist is doing is he is just moving the moral line to a place that he is comfortable with in his own life. Usually it is because he or someone he cares about needs to justify a sinful action. The theistic humanist will usually stand strong on moral laws that don’t directly affect him (i.e. he won’t give any justification for murder if he is not a murderer).

The Bible itself never makes any attempt to prove the existence of God or to prove itself. In the book of Hebrews 11:1 it says “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.(KJV) This verse is not saying that we have evidence for our faith, no it is saying that faith itself is the evidence. Our faith and belief in the Bible is all the evidence we need. If we stay consistent to this presupposition no unbeliever can ever contradict us. Jesus even promised us this in Luke 21:14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.(NIV) We don’t even need to worry or stress about encounters with unbelievers, all we have to do is remain faithful to the Word of God, trust in the Holy Spirit and the unbeliever will never be able to contradict us. They may get angry at us they might even harm or kill us but they will never be able to refute the truth of what we say. While the presuppositional approach to apologetics is irrefutable just because an argument is convincing does not mean that the hearer will repent and become a Christian. We have to remember what Paul says in Romans about the unbeliever. (Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; 19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. 20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: 21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, (KJV)) The unbeliever already knows that God exists even before we use the presuppositional approach with them. He is not an innocent bystander just waiting to see enough evidence so he can believe in God. He is suppressing the truth of what he already knows because he loves his own sin (unrighteousness) and himself more than he loves God. Only God Himself can humble his heart to repentance, our job and task is just to speak the truth from the Word of God. Jesus said in Matthew 12:30 He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.(KJV) The unbeliever (He that is not with me) is an active enemy of God (is against me). He is not a innocent person that is just waiting for enough evidence to convince him but he is an active enemy working against God.

The unbeliever will often claim that he is neutral and that he just hasn’t seen enough evidence yet to be convinced of the Biblical God. I have an atheist neighbor that has told me this while I was witnessing to him. This is known as the pretended neutrality fallacy. The problem is that many professing Christians accept this professed neutrality. I have been guilty of this in the past. If we accept the unbelievers claim of neutrality though we have actually lost the debate before it has ever started. This is because we have just said the Bible is untrue because the Bible says that the unbeliever is not neutral, that he is an active enemy of God and he is suppressing the truth in unrighteousness (see verses above). If we accept this claim by the unbeliever we are believing the unbelievers claim about himself over what God says about him. We are starting out the argument with the Bible being untrue. We have already lost. Most evidential apologists accept the unbelievers claim of neutrality and try to convince him with evidence outside of the Bible. They (the evidential apologist) may have good intentions but good intentions are not the barometer of truth the Bible is. This is as I stated earlier like trying to argue with a man wearing red colored glasses that the world is not red. This is also setting up a trial situation with God in the plaintiff chair and placing the unbeliever in the judge and jury seat to determine if there is enough evidence for the Biblical God. This is a violation of Deuteronomy 6:16 Do not test the LORD your God (NIV). God is the judge of the unbeliever not the other way around.

One argument that Christians should not use is the Bible is the Word of God because the Bible says it is the Word of God. This is circular reasoning. The Bible does claim to be the Word of God but the reason that it is true is because it is the only consistent foundation for all of our basic presuppositions. There are other books (Book of Mormon, the Koran, etc.) that claim to be the Word of God but they are not because they contradict the Bible and have internal contradictions themselves. All ultimate authorities will be somewhat circular as there is nothing that comes before it to validate it, but the measure of that ultimate authority’s validity is whether it is viciously circular or not. The humanist makes himself the ultimate authority for truth but he has a big problem because he has a beginning and an end and he doesn’t know everything, so how can he possibly be the ultimate authority? How can there be 7 billion+ ultimate authorities?

One of the primary deceptions of man is his belief that he is something without God. This is the sin of autonomy. Those that reject the Biblical God as their foundation and authority believe that they are somehow autonomous and self-existent. To be a Christian and to make God and His Word one’s authority is to be accepting and willing to embrace the the truth and reality that we are nothing without God. To reject the Biblical God is to actually reject reality. The sin of autonomy is the breaking of the very first of the 10 Commandments. (Exodus 20:3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.(KJV)) To believe that we are autonomous is absurd in so many ways. The person that believes this cannot even control his own hiccups or sneezes but still believes that he is somehow in control of his own existence. We do not get our next breath if the Creator does not will it; to believe otherwise is absurd.

The argument against arbitrary claims of truth is also in the Scripture but in this case it is used by the Pharisees against Jesus. The Pharisees understood this but they were trying to employ it against the One who actually had the Authority to make claims of truth without providing a reason for it since He actually was Truth (The Ultimate Authority). John 8:12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” 13 The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.” 14 Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. 16 But if I do judge, my decisions are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. 17 In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two men is valid. 18 I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.” 19 Then they asked him, “Where is your father?” “You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” (KJV). The Pharisees are challenging Jesus here and I will paraphrase “Jesus you are being arbitrary, you are being your own witness, therefore your statement is not valid.” Jesus however had the Authority to make claims of truth without any justification outside of himself because He is God and as God he was the source of all truth. Jesus even made a claim of being God here when he said “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid“. He continued by telling them “You judge by human standards” stating that they were judging him as a mere human when he was not. He did have the right and authority to make statements of truth without providing a reason. An ultimate authority does not have anything that precedes it to validate it; if it did the preceding validation would be the ultimate authority. Jesus was clearly stating that He was God. He further confirms this in verse 23 of the same chapter “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.“(KJV) Jesus makes another claim of deity in the last verses of the same chapter when He says John 8:58 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.(KJV) The Pharisees reaction of wanting to stone Him for this statement confirms that they knew He was claiming to be God.

Once we understand the presupositional approach and are effective in communicating it and understand that it is the only truly Biblical way of defending the faith, we can relax when it comes to providing a defense of the faith with unbelievers (1 Peter 3:15). We do not need to learn all of the scientific rebuttals for all the claims made by unbelievers. We do not need to be afraid of how we will answer someone when they give some evidence that we have never heard. I find science to be of interest personally but I do not study it any longer to provide answers to the attacks of unbelievers. I study science because it continues to confirm the truth of the Bible and a study of God’s Creation causes me to marvel at His genius and power. Psalms 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. (KJV)

In closing this article I want to point out that the presuppositional apologetic is not just a good way to win arguments. That is not it’s intended Biblical purpose. We can use it to refute the arguments of unbelievers but we should only use it as a tool for presenting the Gospel. A use of the presuppositional apologetic without ever getting to the Gospel is useless and has more to do with self pride then compassion for the lost. The presuppositional approach should always be followed with the use of the law (The 10 Commandments) to bring the knowledge of sin and the eternal destiny of man who has violated God’s law. Then on to the good news about how Jesus, God Himself, paid the penalty for sinners and all who repent and put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ alone for their eternal salvation will find him to be a perfect Savior.

I cannot claim originality for much that I wrote about above. This article is the result of about two years of studying and putting to practice these principles. Some of the examples that I give are my own but some are from resources like the “Ultimate Proof of Creation” by Dr. Jason Lisle, “How do we know the Bible is True” Volume 1 and 2 by multiple authors, “Presuppositional Apologetics, Stated and Defended” by Dr. Greg Bahnsen, “How to answer the fool” DVD by Sye Ten Bruggencate, and some online apologists like Ray Comfort, Mark Spence and Tony Miano.

2 comments

  1. Carl A Dixon says:

    This is a well written and well thought out article. When i attended seminary one of the classes was designed for us to discover what our ‘presuppositional base’ was. It was a real eye opener. I in particular thought i fully knew everything i needed to know concerning a particular theological system i had embraced. I finished the class repeating often the phrase; ‘but i could be wrong!’ BTW i do believe in absolutes but some Christians make theological systems and cultural preferences into absolute dogma – seminary cured me of that idea. One other comment. I became a Christian from a strong atheistic background. The above arguments had no effect on me at all. I was not an agnostic and believed fully there was no God. What changed my mind was a neighbor and a business associate. They never once tried to refute any of my strong willed arguments. They simply lived their lives before me – respected my dumb beliefs and cared about me. I know they were praying for me and had others praying for me but if they had tried any kind of evangelistic approach i would have ‘blown them off’ and gone on with my life. One of the men gave me a copy of the Chuck Colson book – Born Again – and because of reading it i decided to read C. S. Lewis’s book Mere Christianity. The chapter on pride so exposed me to myself i gave my life to Jesus and have never looked back. I had no concept of sin, i knew my life wasn’t fulfilling, and Lewis demonstrated to me that my pride was replacing God in my life and i agreed and prayed and He changed my life forever. It was after i asked for salvation and started reading the Bible that i then saw how dumb my worldview really was. So all that proves this article is correct. God did the converting – not some clever argument of mankind.

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