“Assuming” when I was a kid led to somebody, usually the fifth grade know-it-all, telling us “assuming made an ass out of you and me.” Annoying as he was the kid had a point. If you just assume what you wish to be true is true, then you will often be a fool. This kind of assuming is fatal: epistemologically fatal.
Growing up one learns that the same word can have two meanings and in sixth grade hilarity can ensue. Pity the teacher who says that something happened on the “poop deck.”
So it goes as we grow up: language turns out to be complicated.
The word “assume” also has more than one meaning: one embarrassing and the other quite philosophically respectable. To work a logical problem, you might take a proposition and then see what the consequences are. If assuming the negation (that the proposition is false) leads to a contradiction, then you have shown that the original assumption is true! For example, if you start with the desire to:
- Show that P is true or not P is true.
- If you then assume NOT (P is true or not P is true),
- this is equivalent to saying P is true AND not P is true,
- but this is a contradiction.
We can assume a thing is true based on a previous argument and use that proposition in a further argument or we can assume something we think is false to see if it creates a contradiction. Informally, imagine that some wondered if vampires existed. Suppose they assume vampires do not exist. What facts of the world would contradicted by that assumption? Similarly, suppose (previously) a thinker had shown that abortion is murder, then they could proceed to show what the implications of that would be.
Sometimes in an argument, one begins with IF this is true, then the following might be true . . .
After all, if Atlantis had existed (it did not), then there might be capitol city of Atlantis. If Atlantis did exist, the arguing about the ruling city would be waste of time.
But wait! Suppose we are not talking about Atlantis, but something more disputed such as the proper tariff policy. A person might believe that this tariff policy (let’s call it “X”) has been shown to be best, and so then argue that this implies policy A, B, and C.
Sometimes one idea, if assumed, implies another. Now imagine a critic who has not, quite, gotten past the old fifth grade meaning of “assume.” If someone said, “If X, then assume A, B, C,” he would snort. . . “LOL! You are just assuming X is true.”
Ideas “A, B, C” are dependent on the truth of X. Sometimes the only reason to an idea is worthy of belief is based on an earlier, more reputable idea that implies the other ideas! For example, I think that tonight that Hope will wish to watch a movie with me, but this idea flows from thirty years of previous ideas and experiences. If those experiences did not exist, those ideas had not been shown to be true, then thinking “this wonderful fifty-six year old wishes to watch a movie with me” is very improbable. Yet every day, I assume the past truths (having shown them to be truth) and then act on those assumptions without (usually) making an ass out of you or even me (much harder!).
If a person attacks an idea I have, but does not accept the bigger idea, he has missed the force of the argument. Maybe my central idea is wrong, but that has to be shown. If it is right, and accepted, then all is changed. To give a simple example: if I assume my wife loves me, then many, many decisions will flow from that central belief. You cannot dismiss some implication of that idea (“She teases me to help me.”) by simply saying: “You are just assuming your wife loves you.”
I am, but based on previous arguments.
This has implications in every area of life. If a person is convinced that socialism as a general system is best, then she will draw out the implications. One cannot just say: “You are assuming socialism is true!”
Of course, she is.
Instead, the critic would have to do the very hard work of showing the root belief is false and so the implications are not true. When it comes to religion, the rules are the same. IF God exists, then the cosmos is more varied than many think. This results in possibilities (for example the existence of demons) that are not possible if God does not exist. The plausibility of one idea depends on a more central idea being true.
A besetting intellectual problem is that we think that our rational assent to any given truth depends on nothing but that truth. For example, if God exists, then perhaps we will consider the existence of demons. IF demons existed, they would have evil natures. One implication of having an evil nature is that they would have no desire to help us be rational. They would tease and not confirm their existence. IF we have shown God exist (earlier), then mayhap demons exist. IF we think we can show God does not exist, then there will never be conclusive evidence for the demonic.
Demons delight in our intellectual torture!
Here is one critic of this what I am saying here when it comes to demons:
This is assuming you know the nature of a god, and that you can say with no doubt that god acts like this. Yet you don’t, only assuming since a book, that can only be assume correct through circle reasoning, say so. This is also assuming that demons even exist or even describe correctly. How do I know the book isn’t just holy progranada used to discredit the devils. Or the devils haven’t tricked you into thinking there a good god at all? So many assumption without much proof or logic to it.
I am assuming that IF the nature of God is as Plato, Aristotle, Jesus, and Paul describe that nature, THEN there would be certain logical implications. A man might attack those assumptions and a man might. However, merely saying that what one has assumed (by way of argument) is assumed is not so interesting.
Do demons exist? There is not sufficient evidence if one is an atheist to say that demons exist. One will not come to Christ by way of demons. However, if God exists, and is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, then demons may very well exist. The second idea is dependent of the plausibility of the first. This is NOT circular reasoning at all, but sequential reasoning: if A, then B.
I do not assume devils exist. They are, if Christianity is true, a brokenness in the model. I assume that IF a good God exist, then devils MIGHT exist or they might not. We can go either way.
The critic becomes confused, because he will not think sequentially. “How do I know?”
I am not sure, let us look at first things first.
What are the first things?
What would you suggest?
Dialogue is a friend of the one who loves the Word made flesh.