Can a *Worldview* "Provide" the "Preconditions of Intelligibility"? - Part I
Rather, it is typically embedded into the presuppositionalist characterization of the antithesis between Christian theism and any acknowledged contenders, as though it required no substantiation whatsoever. This in itself is noteworthy since presuppositional apologists commonly seek to make a worldview’s ability to “provide the preconditions of intelligibility” the fulcrum upon which the debate between Christianity and any non-Christian position hinges.
In this series, I will argue that at least some (indeed, the most fundamental) preconditions of intelligibility are actually not provided by any worldview. The position which I will defend is the view that those preconditions in question would already need to be in place for any worldview to exist in the first place. Moreover, I will argue that in the case of those preconditions for intelligibility which a worldview should supply, Christianity as a worldview comes up far too short to be seriously considered as their source.
a network of presuppositions, which are not tested by natural science, and in terms of which all of experience is related and interpreted. Once again: a worldview is a network of presuppositions, not tested by natural science, in terms of which all experience is related and interpreted. A person’s worldview is a network first of all. It’s not just one belief. It’s a whole system of beliefs. But the kind of beliefs we’re dealing with when we’re talking about a worldview, are that special variety of belief called presuppositions. We’ll say more about what a presupposition is later, but for now suffice it to say that a presupposition is not just any assumption a person has. It’s a very fundamental, or logically basic, assumption. It is in fact the precondition of that person’s thinking. Because a person’s presuppositions about the nature of reality, the nature of knowledge, and the nature of human conduct and value, a person’s presuppositions provide the precondition for choosing the problems that you consider genuinely problematic, giving you a method for discovering and resolving, providing for you the standards of interpretation. (quoted from Bahnsen’s lecture Introduction to Worldviews (part 1), beginning at minute mark 00:33)
To say that a worldview “provides the necessary preconditions” for intelligible experience, knowledge, sense-making, or what have you, is to say that “a network of… beliefs” is what “provides” those necessary preconditions. Presumably, on the presuppositionalist view, when a person has beliefs X, Y and Z, and these beliefs are (presumably) Christian beliefs, those beliefs are what “provide the necessary preconditions” for intelligibility et al. If one does not have these particular beliefs, then there are no preconditions for intelligibility.
Presuppositionalist blogger Chris Bolt confirms this analysis when he states that “beliefs are preconditions for intelligible experience” (see Bolt’s paper An Informal Introduction to Covenantal Apologetics: Part 12 – Transcendental argumentation).
So presuppositionalists hold that beliefs “are” or “provide” the “preconditions for intelligible experience.” Whether or not there are any preconditions for intelligible experience, all depends on what a person happens to believe.
With me so far?
In addition to Bahnsen’s statement above, several quotes from some of presuppositionalism’s lesser defenders should suffice to show that the assumption that a worldview as such can “provide the preconditions of intelligibility” is common to presuppositionalism in general.
For instance, Chris Bolt writes:
When we speak of the problem at hand, we are speaking of the ability of a worldview to provide the preconditions of intelligibility. This may be expressed in the context of several different subjects, but chiefly, it must be said that it is only being expressed in terms of entire worldviews. When, for example, we speak of the preconditions for the intelligibility of knowledge…, we are speaking of epistemology.
Apologist Michael Butler points out that the presuppositional apologist
maintains that it is the entire Christian worldview that provides the necessary conditions of human experience, not just a portion of it. The Christian worldview as a complete and organic system is necessary. (The Transcendental Argument for God’s Existence, The Standard Bearer, p. 87)
Apologist Keith Devens describes the presuppositionalist venture as follows:
The goal of a presuppositional apologetic is to show that Christianity is the only system of thought, or worldview, that can provide the necessary preconditions to allow us to make sense of reality, and to show that no other system can. (Presuppositionalism)
But wait, there’s more. By way of contrast, apologist Greg Bahnsen asserts in his opening statement in his debate with atheist Dr. Gordon Stein, that
The atheist world view is irrational and cannot consistently provide the preconditions of intelligible experience, science, logic, or morality.
Unfortunately for presuppositionalism, however, the idea that a worldview can “provide the preconditions for intelligibility” – at least with respect to the most fundamental of those preconditions – is itself incoherent. That is because those preconditions would already have to be present in order for a worldview to exist in the first place. The most fundamental preconditions of intelligibility are metaphysical in nature; they are not man-made, so they cannot be the product of conscious activity, whether that activity is characterized as believing, affirming, confessing, thinking, wishing, commanding, imagining, fantasizing, or any other cognitive operation. A worldview – i.e., a set of “beliefs” (as presuppositionalism informs this all-important keyword) – does not put into being its own preconditions any more than a man’s thinking makes his own existence a reality. The preconditions for “believing” would have to be in place before any believing actually takes place, just as a man would have to exist before he could think.
This appears to be a simple case of reversing one’s basic priorities, of not understanding what comes first. One’s worldview does not come first, and subsequently from this the preconditions of intelligibility are “provided.” Rather, the preconditions are in place already, and these make the assembly of a worldview possible to begin with. A worldview has the task of identifying these preconditions, but it does not “provide” them as if the worldview itself were their precondition. Indeed, in order for the worldview to identify these preconditions, the preconditions in question would already have to exist. So presuppositionalism, as it’s been described, appears to have it all backwards, and this basic blunder is systematically built into the “presuppositionalist challenge” to non-Christian worldviews. Such a tactic can only backfire on the apologist if one probes what the apologist takes for granted.
Notice how presuppositionalists themselves seem totally unaware of this most obvious blunder. Bahnsen explains what he means by ‘worldview’ as follows:
Everybody has what can be called a “worldview,” a perspective in terms of which they see everything and understand their perceptions and feelings. A worldview is a network of related presuppositions in terms of which every aspect of man’s knowledge and awareness is interpreted. (The Heart of the Matter, Always Ready, pp. 119-120)
To be continued…
by Dawson Bethrick