There’s No Such Thing as Presuppositional Naturalism

I was watching one of Matt Dillahunty’s recent debates, Is Belief in the Christian God Rational?, versus Cliffe Knechtle today and one of the many, MANY things that I took issue with that Cliffe said was a bit about Naturalism.

The gist of it was that, if you have a naturalistic worldview, then he agreed with Matt that you could discount the Bible as being true because it contains miracles which are, naturalistically, impossible. But! he continued, this line of reasoning requires that you presuppose naturalism. The implication was that you can’t prove naturalism any more than you can prove Christian presuppositionalism, and thus both positions rely on faith, which makes Matt’s position (that faith is irrational) inconsistent.

If you’re not familiar with the terminology, I’ll take a quick aside for that. A presupposition is something you accept in order to create an argument. It is different from an assumption (or a supposition) in that it is usually an unexamined and not directly a part of the argument. Often they can be hidden and much harder to identify. It’s a bit easier to explain with examples. If you’re trying to form a logical argument, using premises and deductions to arrive logically at a conclusion, then one of the things you’re presupposing is the validity of the logical system you’re using. When apologists try to prove the truth of Christianity by pointing to the Bible and telling you what it says, they are presupposing that the Bible is 100% inerrant (this, incidentally, is called presuppositional apologetics).

Naturalism is the philosophical position that all which exists is the natural world: people, trees, rocks, starts, protons, quarks, really awesome cars, etc… But not things like ghosts, demons, souls or anything else that would typically be called “supernatural”. Generally speaking, “natural” means anything which can be observed to exist.

You might be able to see the problem here: If all the stuff that is observable is part of the natural world, then what exactly is left? Keep in mind that in scientific terms, “observable” doesn’t just mean “can be seen” there are many other ways of observing stuff either directly (using other senses, or even apparatuses we’ve built such as telescopes to detect distant stellar objects) or indirectly (observing the effects of gravity to deduce the existence of dark matter). So if something  interacts in any way with the world, it is by definition “natural”.

This is why the term “supernatural” is so frustrating. At the end of the day, “natural” basically just means “anything that exists”. So when people start talking about the existence of supernatural ghosts or souls or gods, they are talking about things which, by definition, don’t exist. If they did, then they would be part of the natural world.

So to say that you have a naturalistic presupposition is to say that you are presupposing that all things which exist… y’know… exist. It’s a purely a priori, analytical tautology.

So to claim that miracles are impossible only under a presuppositionally naturalistic worldview is to agree that miracles are impossible. Leastways, it’s to say that the things we consider miracles are explainable, just we don’t currently have the explanation available to us. Either that or they never actually happened.

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  • […] about presuppositions. I will refer people to a good blog on atheistlogic refuting this point: There’s No Such Thing as Presuppositional Naturalism. Cliffe’s point here is merely an attempt to reverse what is really a bankrupt element in his […]

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