On Presuppositional Creationism

On Presuppositional Creationism May 1, 2017

As I read a recent thread of tweets by creationist Ken Ham, my mind was drawn to something called presuppositionalism. In his tweets, Ham repeatedly calls evolution a “belief.” I’m not surprised. It’s possible, though, that Ham might call creationism a “belief” as well. This is because Ham and his organization, Answers in Genesis, adhere to something called presuppositional apologetics.

Have a look at this image, as an illustration:

Note that both men are looking at the earth through a lens—neither is just looking at the evidence, and then creating an interpretation. Illustrations like these proliferate in Answers in Genesis materials. They believe secular scientists are looking at the evidence through a darwinian lens, while they are looking through a “biblical” lens.

(I use scare quotes above because there are multiple interpretations of the Bible, and Answers in Genesis does not have a monopoly on Christianity).

There’s actually a bit of a divide among creationists on this point. Initially, young earth creationism was all about evidence—about using scientific evidence to prove that the world was created 6,000 years ago—and you can still see this today, including in articles on Answers in Genesis. But then there is presuppositional apologetics, which has gained increase influence. Under this view, everyone approaches the world through a lens; what’s important is presupposing the correct lens in the first place—the Bible. Proof is irrelevant. You simply assume it.

I grew up in an evangelical home. My early training was largely in line with books like Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict. I was taught that the evidence pointed straight to Christianity. My father said that any honest seeker, sincerely looking for truth, would find his way to Christianity, and to the Bible. This is one thing that attracted me to young earth creationism, which I discovered through Henry Morris’s The Genesis Flood at our church library—it was predicated on scientific evidence and proof.

This is why, when I went off to college, I wasn’t afraid of the new information I came in contact with. Follow the evidence, my father had said. And I was confident that if I got to the bottom of things—if I paid attention to sources and checked claims and did my research—it would all lead directly to the conservative evangelical beliefs I had imbibed so eagerly growing up. Except that it didn’t. Instead it led me other places, on a journey that would have been enjoyable if I hadn’t suddenly found myself in my parents’ crosshairs.

In the midst of all of this, my father sent me a book I hadn’t read before. It was a young earth creationist book, it was from Answers in Genesis, but it approached the issue differently from the evidence-based focus of my youth. Instead, it embraced presuppositional apologetics. This book was titled The Ultimate Proof of Creationism, by Dr. Jason Lisle. The cover promised that if the reader mastered “the method outlined in the following chapters” they would “be able to defend Christianity against all opposition.” Here’s an excerpt from pages 71-74:

The Bible not only tells us how to identify a fool, but also how to converse with one. We’ve already seen that we cannot simply use scientific evidence on those people who have different presuppositions; they will simply re-invent the evidence to fit into their worldview. God knew that this would be the case, and so He provided us with a crucial tool: a strategy for answering those people who have foolishly embraced erroneous, unbiblical presuppositions. It is a two-step strategy found in Proverbs 26:4-5.

Proverbs 26:4 is step 1. The verse states: “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him” (NKJV). Here we learn that we are not to answer the unbeliever according to his folly—according to his fallacious presuppositions. We are not to accept his standards for the debate, because they are nonsense. His ultimate standard leads to the conclusion that knowledge is impossible, in which case there is nothing to debate anyway. If we were to accept his ludicrous terms, we, too, would be reduced to futile, contradictory thinking, and this will get us nowhere.

As an example, consider an argument with an empiricist. The empiricist will only want to accept arguments that are based on empirical observation. Recall, his standard is that “all knowledge is based on observation.” But this standard is self-defeating; if all knowledge is based on observation, then we could never know that “all knowledge is based on observation,” since this has not been observed. The empiricist can’t really know anything at all since his standard (by which he tests other things) is uncertain. Therefore, if we accept his self-defeating standard, we, too, will be in the position of not being able to know anything. We will have become like him.

Second, this is really an example of the “pretended neutrality fallacy.” The biblical creationist is trying to show that the Bible is the ultimate authority by which all evidence (and that pertaining to origins in particular) should be interpreted. If it were possible to correctly interpret evidence about origins without biblical presuppositions, then the Bible really isn’t the ultimate standard. So if we agree that the Bible can be left out of the discussion, we’ve immediately lost the debate–for this is the real issue behind the origins debate.

Third, the idea of leaving the Bible out of the discussion when talking about origins really does not make any sense. The Bible is the only infallible record we have regarding origins. Why on earth would we want to leave that out of the discussion? Furthermore, the Bible is the only ultimate standard that can provide the preconditions of intelligibility that make knowledge possible. The evolutionist’s ultimate standard leads to nonsense (as we saw in the last chapter). If we trade in our correct worldview for a faulty one that can’t lead to knowledge, then we, too, will be reduced to foolishness. Do not “answer a fool according to his folly”—according to his erroneous presuppositions—otherwise you will be just like him.

This is actually a pretty good summary of presuppositional apologetics.

If you didn’t follow the summary above, try rereading it. Then reread it again. It took me a few times. The basic argument is that Christians should not try to prove their position using evidence, because the idea that there is evidence that we can observe, and that we can trust our senses and conclusions, is itself built upon a false and self-defeating premise. Instead, Christians must presuppose that the Bible is true—irrespective and irregardless of evidence. Why? Because the Bible provides the only premise that is not self-defeating. Therefore we must presuppose it is true.

Have a look at this excerpt from page 45:

Likewise, the evolutionist must use biblical creation principles in order to argue against biblical creation. In order for his argument to make sense, it would have to be wrong. ironically, the fact that evolutionists are able to argue against creation proves that creation is true! Evolutionists must assume the preconditions of intelligibility in order to make any argument whatsoever; they must assume things like laws of logic and uniformity of nature. But these preconditions of intelligibility do not comport with an evolutionary worldview, they only make sense if creation is true.

Yes, that really is the claim made by presuppositionalist apologetics. You can’t argue with individuals following this approach, because the moment you try to, a presuppositionalist will tell you that in using logic you are affirming creationism—because logic only works with biblical presuppositions.

I was surprised when my father sent me this book, because this wasn’t what I remembered growing up. I believed in the Bible based on the evidence I had been presented, not based on some sort of logic runaround. I was an empiricist. I remember seeing Answers in Genesis cartoons like the one earlier in this post, and I remember hearing that both creationists and proponents of evolution were looking at the same evidence, and coming to different conclusions. But I suppose I assumed that this was because, as I then believed, proponents of evolution wanted to believe there was no God, and that this skewed their interpretation of the evidence.

The Answers in Genesis website is full of articles on presuppositional apologetics. Some attempt to combine this approach with a more empiricist approach, more so than Dr. Jason Lisle might be comfortable with. But the overarching idea is the same—the ultimate proof of creationism is the existence of logic and reason.

Everything else is irrelevant.

Ultimately, I found the book my father sent me unconvincing. Why would the God of the Bible create reason and grant us senses, but create a world with evidence that directly contradicts the Genesis account of creation? More pertinently, the reason we trust reason and our senses is that they work. This is not self-defeating.

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