Today my mind has been on a topic brought up in a post at worldmagblog regarding the canon of Scripture. The blogger mentioned “presuppositional biblical reasoning,” and said that it is circular – but then that all reasoning is circular. One commenter objected to that statement, and another commenter pointed out to him that he was demonstrating the faulty Enlightenment epistemology she keeps noting in his comments. Perhaps my epistemology is likewise faulty, but I’ve never quite gotten a handle on “presuppositional biblical reasoning.”
It’s what we were taught in Bible school and at the Baptist college I attended, and for years I accepted the idea of it, because the pastors and teachers I trusted had taught it. But apparently I never quite learned it, because the actual presupposition I was using was that the people I trusted had it right. And when I started questioning that – not because I no longer trusted them but after all they’re fallible human beings like everyone else, I realized I wasn’t sure exactly what my basis was for believing it.
To some extent I still go by that trust in people whose characters and lives have proved themselves trustworthy to me. (There are others with the same doctrinal stands that have proved themselves untrustworthy, but I don’t blame their doctrine for that, people are endlessly capable of deceiving themselves and often other people about their true nature.) But I’ve spent the last couple decades (in between having children and working and volunteering at church and reading and puzzles and all the business of daily life) thinking about these things.
I understand that everyone makes assumptions. It’s impossible not to. What’s important is to realize what assumptions you are making. But assumptions, it seems to me, are something that not only can’t you help making, the only ones you do make are the ones you can’t help making (except to discuss hypothetical situations). You can’t just decide to make an assumption, you make it because … well, it just seems obvious to you. You can’t really give a reason for assumptions because if they had reasons they’d be something you could prove.
I assume that I exist. I can’t very well not assume that. But I certainly can’t prove it either. (I know, cogito ergo sum, but that doesn’t seem like much of a proof to me.) I assume that what I remember reflects, for the most part, actual experiences I have had. (My dreams occasionally trip me up by making me remember things that have only happened in my dreams. And memory is malleable to a certain extent.) I assume that what I perceive of the world reflects reality to a limited extent – I suspect there’s a great deal I don’t perceive as well.
I assume that other people think and feel and perceive in ways similar though not the same as me. I assume that when many people experience something that I do not, that there is some reality there rather than that they are all hallucinating or lying. I assume that the rules of logic make sense.
Beyond that, I’m not sure what I can assume. I believe God exists, but I say that as an inference from a variety of evidence, not as an assumption. And if someone tells me that that means I am setting myself up as an arbiter of truth, determining based on evidence whether God exists or not, rather than submitting myself to God and His truth, I don’t quite know what to respond. I certainly want to submit myself to God and His truth, but I don’t know how to make my mind work differently than it does.
I’m quite willing to believe in the noetic effects of sin (i.e. on the mind), and I know I am quite capable of deceiving myself sometimes about myself. But if there is some kind of sin that prevents me from making the assumptions about God and the Bible that presuppositionalists want me to make, I don’t quite know what to do about it.
I tried once to read a book on presuppositionalism, and found it simply too hard to wade through. (And this was right after graduating with about a 3.83 average in college – I am good at reading books that take a lot of thought, but that one was beyond me.) I’ve tried looking around for resources on the internet but haven’t yet found anything helpful. If you know of something to explain “presuppositional biblical reasoning” to a reasonably intellectual person, that won’t bog me down saying “Huh?” I’d be interested to know it.