In the realm of philosophical discourse, the term presuppositionalism often finds itself shrouded in misconceptions and misinterpretations. Critiques usually stem from a misunderstanding of what precisely presuppositional argumentation is. Many individuals tend to strawman presuppositional arguments by suggesting that they merely involve an initial assumption (such as the existence of God), followed by blind faith, without the need for further argumentation. Of course, this argument fails because that’s different from what presuppositionalism is. So, what exactly is presuppositionalism, and why do other epistemologies fail?
First and foremost, presuppositionalism is a kind of epistemology that recognizes everyone has presupposition or prior assumptions by which we interpret evidence and argue for or against certain propositions. In other words, nobody is presuppositionless, and nobody confronts a concept without priorly holding specific ideas to be true. This frames the way in which we argue and what constitutes as evidence. This fact has even been recognized by secular and analytical epistemologists, as exemplified by Wilfrid Sellars, who coined the term “the myth of the given.” This notion of neutrality, which suggests that evidence can exist independently of theoretical influences and doesn’t require individual interpretation, is patently false. Thus, in presuppositionalism, the initial step entails acknowledging that every argument is inherently linked to a paradigm or framework, essentially representing the fundamental presuppositions of any thinker.
The question is, “what presuppositions are necessary to define a criterion essential for accurate justifications?” We will get back to that question in a moment, but before we do, I want us to understand exactly what is being asked here. This question raises a meta-epistemological examination into the precise nature of a valid justification at the paradigmatic level. Non-presuppositionalist epistemologies, such as evidentialism or classical foundationalism, are posed with a big problem here. They find themselves compelled to make arbitrary or viciously circular assumptions regarding the criteria for a justification. If one were to challenge these arbitrary or circular presuppositions, the response often circles back to “that’s where we must commence our discourse because we collectively accept (insert pseudo-justification one is unwilling to defend) as true.” In such a scenario, if you were to counter with, “Well, I do not consider (insert pseudo-justification one is unwilling to defend) as true, why should that serve as a justification? Why is this the starting point for our discourse?” The non-presuppositionalist, dear reader, will invariably be unable to respond coherently. Therefore, their arguments remain incapable of accomplishing their intended objectives because they falter in offering a justification for their own presuppositions, including first principles. As Laurence BonJour has stated, “The classical formulation of foundationalism requires basic beliefs to be infallible, incorrigible, indubitable, and certain if they are to be adequately justified.” The non-presuppositionalist is either doomed to fall into vicious circularity, saying, “My point is true if my whole paradigmatic system is true” (which is exactly what’s at question), or the point they attempt to make is simply arbitrarily asserted as a justification without getting into the domain of epistemology itself, “my argument is true because I say it is true.”
Now, we come back to our question of what kind of presuppositions would actually work as valid justifications, and what possibly could satisfy the necessary demands? The only coherent conclusion is that no presupposition can do the necessary justifying work other than God in His revelation. Only the Holy Trinity can provide the necessary grounding for the transcendental categories of time, space, ethics, the self and even knowledge itself, which are all presuppositions that the non-presuppositionalists need, yet can’t justify. The non-presuppositionalists tend to get very upset with this assertion, and the reason for their fury stems from the desire to hold tightly to ideological idols. They want you to grant them their presuppositions so that they can make their arguments. What the presuppositionalist does is he moves the question back farther and asks, “What exactly is your justification criteria, and does it do the work?” And always, if the foundation is not God, the argument will not work.
The crux of presuppositional epistemology lies in the concept of necessary conditions. It posits that there is no such thing as common ground, and no facts exist devoid of theoretical influence; even self-evidence is an elusive notion. A substantial portion of the argumentation put forth by evidentialists and foundationalists hinges on self-evident maxims. However, we challenge this assertion by highlighting its nonexistence. As previously mentioned, one is either ensnared in circular reasoning, which both evidentialism and foundationalism vehemently reject, or compelled to embrace arbitrary and unjustifiable self-evident “truths.” There exists no alternative but to turn to a form of coherence and paradigm-level consistency. Worldviews, by their very nature, are holistic, and none of these concepts exist in isolation or function independently. For example, when a non-presuppositionalist epistemological approach is used to defend the Christian faith (i.e., Natural Theology), it results in granting perceived intellectual independence to those who don’t base their knowledge on divine revelation. This assumes an idea of epistemic neutrality where individuals can, theoretically, draw reasoned conclusions and truths from sensory experience and “self-evident” principles. However, as pointed out above, engaging in a pretense of independent knowledge, where one bases their foundational principles on finite human reason or worldly observations, without relying on the infinite God-centered epistemology rooted in divine revelation, will result in circular reasoning and an inability to establish a valid basis for knowledge. The Holy Trinity then is not the God whom we reason up to, He is the God whom we cannot reason without.
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10)