Presuppositionalism and Certainty

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. I’ve been spending much of our time lately looking at presuppositionalism. I’d like to begin wrapping things up now and the first step in doing that will be to look at the question of certainty and how it relates to the epistemological basis for presuppositionalism.

Do you know anything? If so, how do you know that you know what you know? For the presuppositionalist, the answer is that you cannot know anything unless you are able to ground it in the triune God who is the basic presupposition of understanding anything. If you do not have that grounding, then how could you know anything at all?

Most of us however do think that we know things even if we cannot exactly say how we know them. The idea of knowing how one knows first is far more Cartesian than anything else. Descartes wanted to start with a method for establishing knowledge and come to something that could not be doubted and he got the cogito which goes “I think, therefore I am.”

First problem? It’s doubtful. Because there is thinking, that means there is a thinker who exists and that thinker is an I? What could be said is that thinking exists. There were numerous philosophers in Descartes’s day that raised the objections to him.

Second, was this really the way to go? Do you really have to have total and absolute certainty in order to be able to establish something as true? For instance, I believe that I can tell you what I had for breakfast this morning and be totally correct. How could I establish that to you with certainty? I have no idea. However, I can think of no real reason to doubt it.

The counter to Descartes is to think of foundational beliefs instead. It is not that you begin with how you can know something, but you begin with what you know and then you think about how you know it. There are a number of propositions that you can be given and when asked how you know that they are true, you eventually say “I just do!”

From what I see in the presuppositionalist approach, the idea is to go with the doubt of Descartes instead and ask how someone knows something apart from God. The response to give would be “I have no reason to doubt it. Can you give me one?” Now I’m not against asking someone how they know something and I think if you can give reasons for doubt, by all means do some. Doubt can be a very powerful weapon.

However, I am against an epistemological approach that bases itself more on doubt than on truth finding. I have not seen an epistemological method given yet from the presuppositional approach. In all of Bahnsen’s “Van Til’s Apologetic” there is no epistemology mentioned. There is just the assertion that reality needs to be grounded in the triune God. Now I agree that God is the basis for reality and it is all grounded in Him, but we need more than just saying “It is.”

Thus, my first major objection is this idea of absolute certainty. By all means, be as sure as you can in your beliefs, but do not make it a statement of saying that unless you can absolutely positively know something without a shadow of a doubt, you do not know it. The presuppositionalist approach if they want to hold to their arguments needs to have an epistemology in it.


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