I’ve listened to numerous debates by famous Christian apologists (William Craig, Douglas Jacoby, Mike Licona, ect.) and I noticed that in some of their arguments they regard the Athiests of having a presupposition (naturalism, materialism, etc.) for not believing in God. However, I was wondering what if we asked that same question about Christians? I was wondering is there a way of checking your presupposition? Have you ever checked or re-evaluated your presuppositions? Thanks!


This is a very insightful question.   First of all, we need to ask what is meant by “having a presupposition.”   It is close to, but not identical to the concept of using circular reasoning.  To argue circularly means that one makes an argument for a conclusion having already assumed the conclusion as part of the premise used as the basis to argue for the conclusion.   For Craig and Jacoby to accuse a  number of atheists of using circular reasoning is reasonable, although not all atheists are uncareful enough to do this so blatantly.   A typical argument I have heard  from many unbelievers might go something like this.   The only things which are real are physical things.  Therefore miracles are not possible.   The argument presupposes the conclusion in this case.   I have heard non-believers make this kind of argument all the time.   It is blatant circular reasoning.   Many (but definitely not all!) atheists and agnostics are disdainful of believers and are really rather unsophisticated in their arguments.  They do not even bother to think carefully about their arguments.   Do Christians ever do this?   Unfortunately, the answer is, of course, that they do.   However, I certainly would not accuse William Craig or Doug Jacoby of doing so.  They are much too smart and careful to do this.

To make an argument based on a presupposition is not necessarily to argue circularly.   In fact, there is an entire branch of Christian Apologetics which is known as Presuppositional Apologetics.   Let me explain.   Arguments of this sort go something like this.    Let us begin with two distinct presuppositions.   Presupposition #1 is that there is no supernatural reality at all–that only physical things are real.  This would be to presuppose atheism.   Presupposition #2 is that there is a supernatural personal presence which is involved in human reality.  This would be to presuppose theism.   The argument would then proceed to ask which of the two presuppositions most accurately predicts the actual reality which we know from our observation, experience, based on logical inference from these things and from simple rules of logic.   The result would not be a proof of either presupposition.   It would be an inference to which is the most reasonable assumption.   I myself have made such arguments frequently in my public presentations.    The moral argument, the teleological and the cosmological argument for the existence of God are of this sort.

Those who accuse non-believers of working from a presupposition most likely also work from a presupposition.  I am confident that if you asked Doug Jacoby or William Craig if they work from presuppositions they would say that they do.   I believe the criticism that Jacoby, Craig and others legitimately make is that the atheist does not acknowledge his/her presupposition, whereas Jacoby, Craig and others do acknowledge their working model and defend that model rather than presupposing it and pretending that they do not.    In this case, the Christian apologists, generally, have much more sound arguments in my opinion.   I am afraid I cannot make such a broad statement about all unbelievers versus all believers, but it certainly applies to the public debates of the believers you list above.

This might be a bit confusing, but that is how I see the typical debate between the more well-informed Christian debaters and their unbelieving opponents.

You ask whether I have questioned my own presuppositions.   Yes, I have done this many times and in many ways.   I will admit that when I read the Bible, I do so from a position of giving the scripture “the benefit of the doubt.”    I assume that when I see what can perhaps be seen as a contradiction, that almost certainly it is not a contradiction at all.   This amounts to a presupposition.  The fact is that I am well aware of the presupposition and when asked I openly admit that this is what I am doing.   I have a very good reason for making this presupposition.  It is because, whenever I have tested it, it has held up fantastically well.    When I read the criticism of the Bible from those who presuppose it is fallible and full of human error and wisdom, this presupposition ALWAYS fails miserably.   Therefore, my presuppositional thinking is supported and I feel more strongly that it is a reasonable presupposition.   I believe that this process of thinking is perfectly reasonable.   In fact, I have found that listening to the arguments of unbelievers is one of the strongest support I have to my faith.  Their presuppositional arguments are generally so poor as to make the assumption that the Bible is from God appear stronger than ever.

The answer is a definite yes!   I have consistently and reasonably challenged my own presuppositions.   Unlike most atheists and unbelievers, I have read a LOT of the material by my opponents in these debates.   I have carefully considered their arguments and tried to look at the evidence from their point of view.   I have consistently found the unbelieving presupposition to not be consistent with the evidence.   I openly admit that I use presuppositional arguments and will defend them to any unbeliever in a fair and open discussion.

John Oakes

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