Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Where do Presuppositions Come From?

A common theme is the last several essays has been that presuppositions determine conclusions.  The major premises that we accept without proof influence our logical conclusions as much as the minor premises discovered by investigation.  People who believe catastrophism will come to different conclusions than those who begin with uniformitarianism.

But where do major premises come from?  Basically, we believe what we believe because of our experiences and because we have not experienced anything that would contradict what we believe.  If we have experienced a contradiction, we are more prone to challenge or reinterpret the contradicting information than to contradict our prevailing belief set, because it is our prevailing belief set (often called our world and life view), that gives us our identity.  It is what makes us right in our own eyes, and we as a species, are reluctant to admit to being wrong.

I came to my presuppositions as a result of the sum of my life experiences, and you came to yours as a result of your life experiences.  Since no two of  us have identical life experiences, we rarely find someone whose presuppositions are identical to our own.  When we do find someone whose shared, shared experiences match those which we are willing to share with them, we call them "soul mates," because most people do not fall in the same category.  [It is only the shared, shared experiences that we find in common.  Some other experiences may be common to both, but without the verbalization and communication (sharing) of them, we do not realize all the commonalities or differences we have.  That is why soul mates break up.  They learn of differences that they had only assumed were commonalities.  They are no longer one.]

The scientific word for experience is experiment.  We learn what we learn and believe what we believe because of experience.  If we are wise, we can also learn from the experience of others, but most people appear programmed to have to go through things for themselves, and do not accept the testimony of others.

Let's revisit the major premise of the first argument we looked at:  All men are mortal.  Assuming this statement is not a tautology, then it relates to our experience.  We have each observed a process whereby living people die.  We have observed people to die who have an accident, an abnormal medical condition, an act of war, a capital crime committed against them, or they have grown too old to continue living.

In our "universal human experience," we have an expectation of death as an event that terminates physical life.  This experience is so common in our experience that we accept it as true.  On the other hand we may not, a priori, deny the existence of never-dying persons, on the basis that we have never seen one.  But we accept it by faith, or else accept, as we do for most theories, that it is probably true with a very high degree of probability.

Other presuppositions come with the same caveat: they are probably true. We build chains of inference that depend on our presuppositions.  If uniformitarianism is true, then evolution is probably true.  If catastrophism is true, then a world-wide flood is probably true. Etc.

Or, stated in the opposite way, if evolution is true then uniformitarianism (or something very much like it) must be true, and if world-wide flooding is true, then castrophism (or something very much like it) must be true.

Where do presuppositions come from?  They come from our experiments and experience.  Are they true? Probably.  What if two people have different presuppositions?  They should test them to make sure they are consistent with the rest of the data they collect.  What if the two people's presuppositions contradict each other?  They might both be false, but they cannot both be true, if, indeed, there is a contradiction.  Is one presupposition better than another?  Actually, the true ones are better than false ones.

The bottom line is, What do you believe?  Why?  It is your faith that determines your conclusions.

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