Friday, March 16, 2012

Can a *Worldview* "Provide" the "Preconditions of Intelligibility"? - Part I

One of the more commonly met elements of presuppositionalism is the assumption that a worldview can “provide the necessary preconditions of intelligibility.” From what I have seen, this assumption in itself is never defended. Presuppositionalists typically do not present arguments for why one should expect that a worldview as such (regardless of the particulars of that worldview) “provides the necessary preconditions of intelligibility.” The assumption that “the necessary preconditions of intelligibility” are “provided” by a worldview is generally taken completely for granted by presuppositionalists, and I’ve never seen an argument which establishes this premise.

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.

To help make my case clear, let’s understand what presuppositionalism means by “worldview.” According to presuppositionalist spokesman-in-chief Greg Bahnsen, a worldview is:
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)
So a worldview is at minimum “a network of presuppositions,” and a “presupposition” is a “special variety of belief.” So essentially a worldview is “a network of… a special variety of belief[s].” This is important, so keep it in mind as we go forward.

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.
See that? Presuppositionalists “are speaking of the ability of a worldview to provide the preconditions of intelligibility. It is just assumed that a worldview has such an ability. On the view implied here, the worldview comes first, and as a result of that worldview providing “the necessary preconditions of intelligibility,” those preconditions are subsequently put into place. Why? Because a worldview is needed to provide them in the first place.

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)
So according to Bulter, the “entire Christian worldview” is what “provides the necessary preconditions of human experience.” Got it? On the view which Butler expresses here, a human being cannot have experience without “the entire Christian worldview.” If a person doesn’t accept the Christian worldview, he apparently can’t have any experience to begin with. Why? Because “the Christian worldview as a complete and organic system is necessary.”

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)
Devens confirms the implications given above: a “system of thought” is the only thing that “can provide the necessary preconditions which allow us to make sense of reality.” One cannot “make sense of reality” without this “system of thought,” which implies that one must accept this “system of thought” in the absence of the ability “to make sense of reality.” This may not be what the author intended to say, but it’s clear enough: it must be a Freudian give-away that something fundamental is turned seriously backwards.

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.
So it should be clear that the assumption that a worldview can “provide the preconditions of intelligibility” (or “intelligible experience”) plays a central role in the presuppositionalist playbook.

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)
Consider: How can one have an intelligible “perspective in terms of which they see everything and understand their perceptions and feelings” before the preconditions of intelligibility are in place? If presuppositionalists are claiming that a worldview (i.e., a “set of beliefs”) is needed to “provide” the preconditions of intelligibility, then they are essentially saying that the worldview itself needs to exist before the preconditions of its very intelligibility can exist, for that worldview is allegedly needed to “provide” them in the first place. It is then said that the worldview which does this is itself intelligible, even though the clear implication here is that the worldview is available before the preconditions of intelligibility are. Then it is claimed that any worldview that “fails” to “provide the preconditions of intelligibility” cannot itself be intelligible. This is a clear case of cognitive schizophrenia.

To be continued…

by Dawson Bethrick


Ydemoc said...


Christians of this ilk seem to have a terrible time sorting out epistemology, (whatever they have of it) from metaphysics. Given the Storybook notions they've accepted, it's not difficult to see how such a blurred view is the end result. To turn a phrase right-side up: Once they could see, but because of belief, now they are blind.

Great post!


Anonymous said...

Greetings Dawson, Ydemoc, and readers.

Dawson, will you ever write a poor quality blog so that you can justifiably be spanked? To date, no. {grin :_)}.

I am feeling charitable today, so I will strive mightily to rescue the presuppositionalist position.

Dawson typed: "they are essentially saying that the worldview itself needs to exist before the preconditions of its very intelligibility can exist"

That is a sound observation. Let me call it “preconditions exist prior to intelligibility” principle, or PEPI Presupper apologists, PAs, must base their case for PEPI on the idea identified by Ayn Rand that she wrote about in Faith and Force Destroyers of the World.

Mysticism is the acceptance of allegations without evidence or proof, either apart from or against the evidence of one’s senses and one’s reason. Mysticism is the claim to some non-sensory, non-rational, non-definable, non-identifiable means of knowledge, such as “instinct,” “intuition,” “revelation,” or any form of “just knowing.”

Pas claim to just know. How can that be?

Let us posit an abstract N-dimensional attribute space symmetric about an origin O. Let the origin, O, represent the boundary between transcendent realm of God and existence. Let one division of this AAS be assigned to a mathematical model of the PA’s God and be defined on N axis’ such that N unit vectors, representing alleged attributes of the PA God, each lying along its axis, sum to a complex state tensor, Ug, modeled by real and imaginary components. Let that AAS be called AASG. Let another division of the AAS be modeled for existence and let it be called AASE.

Since the PA’s God is alleged to be perfect, then Ug must be symmetrical under any translation generator, tg(p)--->tg(q), . By mathematical theorem, I cannot recall the name, that proves complex conjugation about origin, O, of Ug under symmetrical translation generator, tg(p)->tg(q) and causes the state tensor of existence Ue, to also translate symmetrically under the translation generator [-tg(p)] ---> [-tg(q)].

With that in mind, let us examine one of the most basal of PA’s alleged God attributes, creator of the Big Bang. Christians assert their God caused both the classic hot big bang and the alleged quantum singularity form which it is alleged to have occurred. Interestingly, a quantum singularity composing all of existence without any space-time in which to instantiate cannot evaporate by means of Hawking radiation, and in PA’s mythology there would have been no quantum potentials or Heisenberg uncertainty from which particle pairs could spontaneously appear from the quantum vacuum to allow Hawking radiation. Prior to big bang, quantum singularity, cosmic egg, would have been perfectly symmetrical about any axis in AASE as it composed all spacetime and Mass/Energy/Fields and have had existed in a state of maximal/minimal entropy.

With initiation of the big bang, cosmic egg’s symmetries would have been broken sequentially such that the causality of reality then deterministically produced the cosmic domain we see and love about us. The point of interest here is that symmetries were broken. By complex conjugation about origin, O, Ue in AASE experienced a set of translations that would have had to be mirrored across O to AASG and thus breaking the symmetry of Ug producing a state where God would have no longer been perfect.

Lacking symmetrical perfection, complex conjugation across the boundary between the realm of nothingness where God reposed and the primeval quantum singularity would have ceased after initial symmetry breaking and thus no communication between God and any future PA’s would have been possible even if their God had not stopped being God. Therefore, they cannot have any special knowledge of a worldview prior to preconditions for its intelligibility, and I have failed. I cannot rescue the PA case for just somehow knowing their claimed worldview prior to any “preconditions of its very intelligibility can exist”.

Justin Hall said...

"Christians of this ilk seem to have a terrible time sorting out epistemology, (whatever they have of it) from metaphysics"

Spot on Ydemoc, likewise I have repeatedly asked Nide if he knows the difference between a concept and its referent, he has never answered. I don't think he even understands the question

Justin Hall said...


The science is very interesting no doubt to us, although not to them, to them it is just a threat to be nullified. Frankly it does not matter what theory for the big bang has the best evidence currently, this is one of those rare times when philosophy has nothing meaningful to say to science. Regardless of where the big bang came from, assuming it came from anywhere, we still have to start with existence and that existence will have an identity. That rules out god from the outset. Debating the finer details of this theory or that theory is really pointless with theists, even if they have the knowledge they have no appreciation for open peer reviewed inductive inquiry into how universe works. After all in their world view it is all automatically taken care of god so who cares:)

That having been said, I love science and would cheerfully read a 200 page book by Guth on inflationary big bang theory!

Anonymous said...


Don't waste your time here is the answer:

Ydemoc said...

Trinity writes: "Don't waste your time here is the answer:"

Yes. I encourage everyone to go to Trinity's blog and see for themselves the kinds of inanity being peddled.

Keep firmly in mind when reading his posts and exchanges: When it comes to Conversational Donkeys, there is no if, and, or but. He must accept this notion, solely on the basis of what he's read in a book. He doesn't think such a notion is absurd, because it says so in his book. No matter what evidence there is against it, no matter that there is no credible evidence for it, he believes it, because a book tells him so.

And that is the basis of his entire worldview, the basis for everything he posts, coloring every exchange he has. Not reality. Not the discoveries made by his own mind. Not credible evidence. Not truth. Just a book, filled with absurdities.


Anonymous said...

Hi Justin: Of course you're spot on. I was thinking outside the box in an effort to salvage the PA's basal premise that she knows something that corresponds to the body of propositions composing her "worldview" prior to any “preconditions of its very intelligibility can exist”. The only method by which I could think that might be suitable for modeling was the abstract attribute space schema.

But it won't work because as you correctly pointed out, classic hot big bang cosmology featuring a cosmic egg quantum singularity was supplanted and replaced by Chaotic Eternal Inflation about 30 years ago. I choose to make my argument using classic hot big bang cosmology because that is what Christians who are not delusional enough to advocate the Genesis creation myths hold to.

The other reason why the complex conjugation technique fails is that all sides of boundary origin between hypothesized transcendent realm of the Gods and existence must obtain to State Tensors that are translationally invariant and thus symmetrical. If symmetry is broken, then complex conjugation cannot be proven. Thus even if a ruling consciousness ensconced in nothingness could somehow cause in an uncaused manner a big band of a quantum singularity, it did so at the cost of losing symmetry and thus complex conjugation.

If it were the case that our cosmic domain started from a quantum singularity that was uncausedily caused by God, then God ceased being God by ceasing to be perfect, immutable, and symmetric under all translational generator functions.

Best and Thanks

Anonymous said...

Well, Some talking asses are dumb, stupid , absurd and irrational and I am happy we have plenty of evidence.

Good Job Ydemoc.

Ydemoc said...

Trinity wrote: "Well, Some talking asses are dumb, stupid , absurd and irrational and I am happy we have plenty of evidence."

Not exactly addressing the notion of Conversational Donkey, as presented to us in his Storybook, is it, folks?


Trinity attempts humor to avoid examining too closely the notion of Conversational Donkey, Chit-Chatty Snake, and City-Strolling Corpses.

I suppose examining such notions doesn't hold much importance to those who place belief above reality and faith above reason.

I would be curious, though: Trinity's claim that he has "plenty of evidence" for "[s]ome talking asses [that] are dumb, stupid , absurd and irrational," -- is the evidence he has for the claim he makes here higher or lower in quality and quantity than the evidence he has for his claims of Jesus existing or Jesus rising from the dead or Chit-Chatty Snake or City-Strolling Corpses or....

Anyway, today, Trinity has given us just a sampling of his biblically based babble. To read more of his blunders, head on over to his blog. You'll be glad you did.


Anonymous said...

Hello good morning all. After thinking/sleeping on the presupper's problem of how to show they get special knowledge from somewhere other than existence to inform their world view prior to conscious awareness of preconditions for intelligibility. After having dismissed complex conjugation the obvious possibilities are psychic ESP and Quantum Entanglement – Non Locality. Sadly for presuppositional religious apologists, recent rigorous attempts at reproducing data from an experiment indicating positive statistical probability for precognition in a group of test subject's recognition of words presented randomly from a list, has failed. So any rational PA appeals to psychic ESP risks charges of irrationality.

“Believing the Impossible: No Evidence for Existence of Psychic Ability Found”

As for quantum entanglement and non-locality, it does not allow for super-luminal communication.

However, the main problem afflicting PA's attempt to justify their assertion that they get special knowledge from somewhere other than existence to inform their world view prior to conscious awareness of preconditions for intelligibility is to show how there can be any unmediated attachment between spatial, temporal reality and some A-spatial, A-temporal, transcendent other realm.

In “The Impossibility of God”, philosopher Jeffery Grupp showed the impossibility of such communication from within the worldview of Platonism. Since PA's are necessarily Platonists in their Christian beliefs, then Grupp's argumentation is appropriate and can be found at

This insurmountable problem occurs because it is impossible for relationships such a causality to obtain between aspatial and atemproal realms of Platonic Universals and of the gods and spatial-temporal existence. Even more troubling for the PA is following inference that

“God would be impossible since God would be an entity that causally relates to the universe by a relation that does not exist. In other words, and more simply put, rather than it being the case that a relation inevitably exists just because God exists, I will instead argue that God does not exist, due to absurdities that ensue if God is alleged to be causally interrelated with the universe.” ~ Jeffery Grupp

Grupps main argument is found in section 2 of his paper and identifies the fatal flaw in the PA's case that renders it unsalvageable. There can be no causality between the Platonic aspatial-atemporal realm of the gods/universals and spatial-temporal existence. In section 3 he handles objections to his argument deflecting obvious criticisms.

An appeal to non-locality won't help the PA because entanglement happens to things in space-time. Likewise appeals to classical hot big bang cosmologies would fail because evidence from reality strongly supports Chaotic Eternal Inflation. Besides notions of quantum singularity at time t(o) being aspatial also fail because it would not have been part of existence but rather source of existence. In that case the truth value of the statement “God created the Universe.” would be false as instead God would have created the singularity that lead to the Universe by its own expansion.

If God cannot exist as Objectivism and many others have proven, and if there is no psychic ESP activity, and if information cannot be communicated super-luminally, then it looks very much like the PA's case is built on a foundation of imagination.

A more detailed version of his paper can be found here

Unknown said...

"If one does not have these particular beliefs, then there are no preconditions for intelligibility."

I'm not sure if this is what presuppositionalists believe. I think the "provides" there means something like "have an explanation for". I don't think it means "it has to exist before something else will exist"

...because in my understanding the preconditions of intelligibility are themselves part of one's worldview

Unknown said...

An important distinction the author of this article seems to fail to make is that no worldview OR presupposition provides the preconditions of intelligibility. The preconditions of intelligibility exist (Not disputed on the article) no matter what worldview anyone has, Christian or otherwise. The argument presuppositionals (like myself) present is the fact that only a Christian worldview is able to RATIONALLY ACCOUNT FOR THESE PRECONDITIONS WITHOUT A USE OF ARBITRARY STATEMENTS OR REASONS. Therefore, the Christian worldview is proposed as the only true rational and logical worldview since all others falls short of this criterion. In summary, this is a straw man. A presuppositional apologetic biblical worldview does not provide the preconditions of intelligibility, the biblical God did and continues to do so.

J said...


I think the assumption you're looking for is that: a worldview exists that has intelligibility. This assumption is made because we exist therefore we can make the assumption that we are intelligent and are capable of understanding and comprehension. Whilst that is also assumption the conversation wouldn't exist otherwise. Because of this "a worldview exists that has intelligibility". So the question then is what worldview can prove this?