Saturday, November 20, 2004

Presuppositions Color Conclusions

presuppositions: interaction on a usenet group at Mississippi State.

<>On Fri, 19 Nov 2004, JPL wrote:

> WRONG! That is the typical cheap shot taken by a theist who either
> (a) does not understand the meaning of the word "atheist" or (b) is being
> purposefully deceitful. The word "atheist" means one who is without
> theistic belief. All children, e.g., are atheists until they are brainwashed
> by their parents into thinking there is a god or gods. There is a small,
> very small, part of atheism called "positive atheism"which asserts there
> is no god. To lump all atheists into that is a cheap shot.
> Everyone is either theist or atheist. There is no middle ground, e.g,
> there is no agnostic safe median between the two. If you believe in
> god(s) then you are a theist. If you lack that belief then you are an
> a-theist.

As you said, WRONG!!! We could go on, "IS," "NOT", "IS," "NOT," like a couple of kids. And we might both be right, but in our own frame of reference, but we can't both be right, absolutely.

Deductive argument works like this:

If something can be put into the following form (modus ponens), it is valid because of the form (i.e., formal logic).

<>Major Premise (General Rule)
Minor Premise (Particular)
Therefore, Conclusion (Q.E.D.)
<>All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Therefore, Socrates is mortal. (Q.E.D.)

If the major premise is true and the minor premise is true, then it necessarily follows (from the form of the deductive argument) that the conclusion is true.

The problem is that our major premises are not always explicitly stated, and they, like the one in the example, may not be provable. I.e., can you prove that all men are mortal? (Hint: some people are still alive.)

Except for tautologies (e.g., X is X) which are true by definition, major premises can't be proved to be true.

Major premises are normally really a chain of assumptions, and the most basic ones are not stated, but assumed to be true. There are some things that are commonly accepted as true (the all-men-everywhere-believe things). The problem is that we can't really test all men everywhere.

People can communicate when they share the same basic assumptions, i.e., their world-and-life view (weltanschauung). When people come to different conclusions about the meaning of the facts, it is not generally because they are examining different particulars (minor premises), but because they have differences in what they believe to be true about the world and life, i.e., their logical framework (their major premises).

<>As I said, major premises cannot be proved; they are just accepted as true. If they are not, in fact, true, then conclusions derived from them may not be true. In logic, both the major premise and the minor premise must be true for the conclusion to be necessarily true. That is how two rational people, both looking at the same facts, come to different conclusions, and how we get into IS/NOT shouting matches.

Note that weltanschauungs cannot be proved. You have one; I have one; everyone has one. They consist of beliefs about reality, i.e., they are belief systems. The religious word for belief systems is "faith."

It is not just "mindless fundamentalists" that use faith; all people do, even those with great minds. Most people do not, however, openly state their beliefs. The assume everybody has the same basic presuppositions that they do.

I will tell you mine. I start with the joint presupposition that there is a God, and the bible is his revelation.

You may agree with me about one or both of those presuppositons, but if you agree with me about both of them, then you and I must come to the same conclusion about the definition of atheist.

[Webster (
BTW, agrees with me, demonstrating that the point is arguable, even without this discussion of biblical presuppositions. ]

Romans 1:18 - 23 (Weymouth translation) says:

For God's anger is being revealed from Heaven against all impiety and against the iniquity of men who through iniquity suppress the truth. God is angry: because what may be known about Him is plain to their inmost consciousness; for He Himself has made it plain to them. For, from the very creation of the world, His invisible perfections--namely His eternal power and divine nature--have been rendered intelligible and clearly visible by His works, so that these men are without excuse. For when they had come to know God, they did not give Him glory as God nor render Him thanks, but they became absorbed in useless discussions, and their senseless minds were darkened. While boasting of their wisdom they became utter fools, and, instead of worshipping the imperishable God, they worshipped images resembling perishable man or resembling birds or beasts or reptiles.

Therefore, an atheist is a person who denies the truth that he knows: God has made himself known to him and he refuses to acknowledge it. (Q.E.D.)

In order to discount my argument, you have to disprove my major premise, i.e., you must be able to prove that there is no God, or that the bible is not his revelation.

The minor premise is just a statement of what is in the revelation, and I have either stated it correctly, or not (which is verifiable). (I used copy and paste. :))

An apologist (Clark Pinnock) has stated that the heart cannot accept what the mind rejects as false. Christians are not mindless; they are just honest about their human inability to know things outside the realm of scientific investigation without revelation, and then they are submissive to what the revelation contains, when they accept it as being from God.

They use their minds to be convinced by logical proofs that their assumptions are well-founded. For example, the bible is not normally accepted blindly, but by a confidence that has been built up over time. When what it states about historical situations can be verified by other historical sources and archeology, for example, it gives confidence that it is also true in areas that cannot be independently verified.

What we have is two competing frameworks based upon two different world views. Whoever has the correct presuppositions is right. (It might be neither of us.) I cannot prove mine, but I accept them. Can you prove yours? They have to be different from mine because we have looked at the same minor premises, but reach different conclusions.


> > By the way, I do believe in unicorns.

Because the bible mentions them. It is the only way for me to be consistent with my presuppositions.

> Once you convince someone of the existence of a mystical grand poopah
> in the sky, you can convince them of anything. I wonder if there is a
> strong correlation between xian beliefs and other gullibilities, such as
> reading tea leaves....or believing in unicorns, ghosts, etc.