‘Presuppositonalism’ seems like just a fancy name for shutting your ears


As we have seen, many evangelical Christians have closed ranks behind Roy Moore’s candidacy for the US senate despite the many credible reports that he repeatedly hit on teenage girls when he was an assistant county district attorney in his thirties and his creepy behavior was so well known that some girls at the local mall set up an informal alert system to warn others when he was on the prowl and his presence was monitored by security. There was even a security watch to see that he did not harass high school cheerleaders.

So how do religious people, even pastors, overcome their scruples and not only vote for such a person but even publicly endorse him? Some have even said that what we are seeing is a ‘war on men’ and that women are the real predators who are getting away with it because of (you guessed it) political correctness.

Pastor Franklin Raddish of the Capitol Hill Independent Baptist Ministries, a nationwide church, told AL.com from his South Carolina home that the spate of accusations against men in politics, Hollywood and elsewhere was a “war on men.”

“More women are sexual predators than men,” said Raddish. “Women are chasing young boys up and down the road, but we don’t hear about that because it’s not PC.”

According to Yonat Shimron, this apparent disconnect with reality is because is evangelicals practice what is called presuppositionalism. What is that, you ask?

It holds that evangelicals should examine other people’s underlying suppositions before debating them. If those people or groups don’t adhere to the right worldview — one that accepts the Bible as the inerrant word of God — they should not be trusted.

The argument, said Worthen, goes like this: “When secular liberals say that the public square can be this neutral space, fair to all metaphysical beliefs, that’s a lie, because folded into that it is a secular humanist worldview, a set of anti-Christian presuppositions that are now being foisted onto our public square. You, as conservative evangelicals, need to fight that, and you need to be savvy when they try to pull one over on you.”

All that seems to be just a fancy rationalization for saying that evangelicals shut their ears to anyone who is not seen as one of their tribe. Here is one woman explaining why she will still vote for Moore.

The voter, Martha Shiver, attended a “Women for Moore” rally Friday in the state Capitol in Montgomery, and she spoke briefly to MSNBC reporter Vaughn Hillyard.

“Well, I want to let him know that we’re 100 percent behind him, we believe in him and we just don’t really believe in all the slander that’s going on, and we want him to know that we’re 100 percent behind him,” Shiver said.

But that is not all. The subculture of Alabama takes pride in the fact that they are ‘different’, even if that difference stems from ignoring reality. Part of that difference is, as one person said, “It’s not a southern problem, it’s a fundamentalist problem. Girls who are 14 are seen as potential relationship material.”

According to is Shimron,

“Alabamians are very prideful and very defiant about their being different from anyone else,” said Roberts, who grew up in Falkville, Ala. “They’re not ashamed of being different. They’re not ashamed of being made fun of.”

For that reason, Roberts said, blowback from Washington political leaders such as Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said Moore should “step aside,” is unlikely to affect the campaign.

But that does not mean that they will all come out to vote for Moore. The cognitive dissonance of their standard bearer violating their stated norms may dampen the enthusiasm of some, even if it does not change their minds.

[S]ome evangelicals will sit out the election. There’s no other consequential issue on the ballot, so it may be easier for some to stay home, said Roberts.

Those evangelicals who do go to the polls will likely vote for Moore.

“When (people) face really tough choices, the tie-breaker will be partisanship,” said John C. Green, political science professor and director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron.

“Sometimes that’s just instinctive. It can also be cognitive. They’ll say, ‘Jones is a better candidate, but he’ll go to Washington and caucus with the liberals,’ or ‘Moore may be a flawed human being but he’ll be a Republican vote….Their religious values and their political views are strongly linked.”

There are some pastors who have disavowed Moore though it is not clear how many of them, if any, are evangelicals.

Meanwhile Donald Trump, after laying low for a while, has come out in favor of Moore. Sexual abusers stick together, especially if they share the same voter base.

I am really curious to see what the exit polls will reveal about voter attitudes after the December 12 election.

Comments

  1. starskeptic says

    I’d never heard of Presuppositionalism being defined in this way, it completely inverts the party making the presuppositions…

  2. Owlmirror says

    The article by Yonat Shimron cites Worthen as saying that Francis Schaeffer was the “architect of this way of thinking” ; the Wikipedia page talks about Cornelius van Til and Gordon Clark, and only mentions Schaeffer as one who was influenced by Clark.

    I would phrase it more like: Presuppositionalism is declaring yourself to be the winner of any argument in advance.

  3. says

    It holds that evangelicals should examine other people’s underlying suppositions before debating them. If those people or groups don’t adhere to the right worldview — one that accepts the Bible as the inerrant word of God — they should not be trusted.

    That’s not presuppositionalism. Shimron is constructing a straw-man form of presuppositionalism and has done a job of knocking straw all over the place but failed to make an argument.

    Presuppositionalism is when you presuppose (hence the name!) certain parts of your argument are true.
    – The bible is the inerrant word of god
    – It says so in the bible
    – Since the bible is the inerrant word of god, that assertion is true
    It’s a fancier way of saying “begging the question” – which is a popular form of argument with the faithful. Some skeptics argue that all religious arguments are a form of presuppositionalism since the religious people already believe there is a god, otherwise they wouldn’t be arguing about it at all – I think that’s probably where Shimron is coming from.

    In terms of Argument Clinic strategy I think Shimron is using presuppositionalism as a straw man to label religious arguments as inherently wrong. That’s not particularly honest because religious arguments can be wrong in a variety of amusing ways and are not always presuppositionalist (sometimes they are purely semantic, as in the ontological argument)

  4. Owlmirror says

    @Marcus: Shimron is citing Molly Worthen on the topic, and Worthen may well be referencing something Schaeffer said or wrote.

    Also, while it may not be exactly the same, I think the formulation you cite can be mapped to the more classical formulation.

    After all, if you presuppose that the Bible is the true, inerrant word of God, then everyone who does not presuppose that must have false presuppositions (and therefore cannot be trusted).

  5. says

    Owlmirror@#4:
    After all, if you presuppose that the Bible is the true, inerrant word of God, then everyone who does not presuppose that must have false presuppositions (and therefore cannot be trusted).

    Well, that makes sense.

  6. jrkrideau says

    # 5 Marcus
    Apparenty (from a lucky couple of google hit and at least 10 minutes reading) the issue is whether one using a Deontological or Teleological approach to ethics.
    http://www.bioethicscourse.info/lecsite/ethicsintro.html

    Trigger warning: Any philosophers reading this should have 911 on speed dial. A strong drink might help.

    Another link, which I have lost, suggests that Christians especially Fundamental Christians should/have been follow a Deontological approach which I Internet a “there are clear rights and wrong and the outcome of an action has no effect on whether the action is right or wrong.

    Teleological methods seems more along the lines of “the end justifies the mean”. The link I lost suggests that many conservative fundamentalist Christians in the USA have been moving into the Teleological camp. What US President said something like “He may be a bastard but he’s our bastard?”

  7. John Morales says

    What Owlmirror wrote @2 & 4.

    I too have spent many, many hours arguing with presupps. It can be frustrating.

    They firmly believe, for example, that atheists are in denial because nothing makes sense without presupposing God — which means that it is therefore futile to use logic or morality to dispute their worldview, since to appeal to logic or to morality is to presuppose God.

  8. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    “Presuppositionalism” is just a less popular way of saying “foundationalism”, which has been the consensus of philosophers and logicians throughout all of recorded history on how to construct an epistemology. Only in the last 100 years have competitors emerged, coherentism and infinite regress justification.
    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/justep-foundational/

    When I analyze and formalize my beliefs, I come to the answer of foundationalism, with some sprinkling of coherentism, but the coherentism is largely limited to the foundation itself, and the non-foundation beliefs, which are vast majority of my beliefs, are justified in the usual, common sense of “justified belief”. I’ve heard one person describe this position as “foundherentism”.

    Assuming you want to hold justified beliefs, and to get rid of unjustified beliefs, then it be formally shown that your only options are foundationalism, or coherentism, or infinite regress justifications, or some mix of the aforementioned, or putting your fingers in your ears and saying “lalala” and ignore the problem entirely. (The problem is known as the “regress argument” and “the Münchhausen trilemma”.)

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regress_argument
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%BCnchhausen_trilemma

  9. John Morales says

    EL @10, not really, it’s a mode of Christian apologetics which happens to appeal to foundationalism.

    Foundationalism has nothing to say about God (never mind requires the concept), rather, it’s as you say.

  10. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To John
    It’s fair to recognize that the word “presuppositionalism” is almost always used by persons with a Christian fundamentalist foundationalist epistemology. (Is this true? I’ll grant that this is true for the sake of argument.) I suppose I didn’t realize just how tightly coupled the word is with Christian apologetics.

  11. flex says

    Quote from Yonat Shimron in OP, who appear to be paraphrasing Worthen:

    “When secular liberals say that the public square can be this neutral space, fair to all metaphysical beliefs, that’s a lie, because folded into that it is a secular humanist worldview, a set of anti-Christian presuppositions that are now being foisted onto our public square….”

    An interesting and revealing idea. In other words; the public square is not a neutral space, but an explicitly Christian space. Rarely have I seen privilege expressed so bluntly.

  12. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To flex
    Yes. The secular humanist worldview includes the values of fairness and self-determination. The fundamentalist worldview includes the values “Christianity is right” and “we should use the power of the state to enforce Christianity”, aka Christian theocracy. I think that they’re usually quite open and blunt about this.

  13. Owlmirror says

    A quick search finds this article by Molly Worthen: The Evangelical Roots of Our Post-Truth Society

    Which includes:

    The second impulse, the one that rejects scientists’ standing to challenge the Bible, evolved by the early 20th century into a school of thought called presuppositionalism. The term is a mouthful, but the idea is simple: We all have presuppositions that frame our understanding of the world. Cornelius Van Til, a theologian who promoted this idea, rejected the premise that all humans have access to objective reality. “We really do not grant that you see any fact in any dimension of life truly,” he wrote in a pamphlet aimed at non-Christians.

    Since Worthen does seem reliably informed as to the actual original promoters of presuppositional theology, I suspect that Shimron misunderstood something that Worthen wrote.

  14. Steve Morrison says

    #7:

    What US President said something like “He may be a bastard but he’s our bastard?”

    I tried to trace the quote but nobody seems to know where it came from; this thread on the Snopes message board names quite a few putative sources but doesn’t actually trace the saying to any of them.

  15. jrkrideau says

    @ 18 Steve Morrison
    Thanks Steve. I think that this is not unusual. I would not be surprised if it is a mélange or paraphrase of 2 or 3 statements.

  16. says

    [A]s one person said, “It’s not a southern problem, it’s a fundamentalist problem. Girls who are 14 are seen as potential relationship material.”

    Sixty years pass, and nothing has changed in the southern US. They colletively said, “Where’s the problem?” when Jerry Lee Lewis married his 13 year old cousin.

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