Polite Canadian takes on Presuppositionalists

Without a doubt, the most irritating and frustrating conversation one can have about religion is one with a presuppositionalist. It’s the rather confusing assertion that a pre-requisite for all knowledge claims anywhere ever is a believe in god.

It’s another example of apologetics as conversation stopper: you must explain to me how X is possible unless God did it, to my satisfaction (usually here on the street corner) otherwise you forfeit the argument. And in this case X is something that most philosophy professors would struggle to explain in a way that was accessible to the average person. They have a few wordgame exchanges that they can walk through but ultimately a pre-suppositionalist is someone who wants to preach while giving the illusion of having a conversation.

It prays on the fact that we have common words like “truth” and “knowledge” that don’t are not well-defined simply because they have multiple uses and change their meaning significantly depending on the context. It also prays on our discomfort for uncertainty, dialling it up to eleven.

What it simply gets wrong is the way logic works. (Some go further and presuppose logic as some sort of pre-extant universal transcendent phenomenon that needed to be woven into the fabric of the universe, rather than a human-designed thinking tool designed to exploit observed regularities in the world to cut down on the number of false beliefs we have.) But in strict logic you start with simple axioms and work your way up to more complicated propositions from the ground up. But how effective your system ultimately becomes depends on how easy it is to accept your axioms. If you can make valid arguments within that framework, then if someone agrees with your axioms, they will agree with your conclusions even if they would rather not. But by introducing a disputed axiom at the very bottom (in Eric’s case, the existence of God) you don’t have any simpler propositions to fall back on to justify them, and hence convince someone else of their truth. So by its construction, pre-suppositionalism is an utterly impotent argument, because it is logically incapable of

It seems to have begun with the work of theologian Cornelius Van Til, but it achieved internet prominence when Eric Hovind (son of the evolution denier and convicted tax fraudster Kent Hovind) teamed up with a Canadian Apologist Sye-Ten Bruggencate (never try saying it ten times fast). Hovind was already making a fool of himself rehashing his father’s old arguments, often delivering the same sermons with the same powerpoint slides and same jokes, but filmed in a studio with a bit of computer generated graphics and animation to update the look and feel. So he already had the undivided attention of the internet’s critics of Creationism when he made this line argument his preferred method of debate.

This video is the best takedown of the argument I’ve ever come across. It takes the time to pick apart the word-game to explore what the words actually mean and how they are being misused. It’s prototypically Canadian and polite with just the right amount of mockery thrown in between the lines. 


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