Friday, August 24, 2012

Presuppositions

Why is it that one person can not believe in God or the biblical account of creation, the fall, judgment and salvation, while another person believes it all to be literally true?

The unbeliever derisively accuses the believer of "bronze age" beliefs and superstitions. The unbeliever may mock accounts of miracles as impossible and biblical beliefs as unscientific. He may say religious beliefs are illogical, irrational and inconsistent with truths discovered by modern science. He may say that primitive people needed religious theories to explain life and death before modern science was able to show the truth about how things work. He accuses the believer of resorting to the "god of the gaps" to explain things that will eventually be explained naturally by science.

The believer, on the other hand, notes that the unbeliever has faith in "naturalistic miracles" - things that are not observed in nature, but that people who reject supernaturalism believe must have happened. How did everything come from nothing? How did life come from non-life? How did incredible complexity and interdependency found in the world of living things develop without design or creation by an intelligent being? (This complexity is continually being discovered, but is so advanced that it cannot even be reverse engineered by humans with all their technology.) He accuses the unbeliever of resorting to "evolution of the gaps" to explain things that cannot be explained or tested by science.

So what is the difference? There are very intelligent people on both sides. There are highly educated people on both sides. There are scientists, philosophers, intellectuals on both sides. What is the dividing line?

As a Christian believer I am tempted to say the difference is "spiritual" and begins with a spiritual experience. But that would be a form of circular reasoning. "Why do I believe in spiritual things? Because of something spiritual!" I am aiming at something deeper than the difference between Christianity and any other religious view. I am aiming at the what makes one person reject all religion, versus what makes another person open to religion.

The fundamental answer is the differences in the presuppositions that lie at the heart of your worldview. These presuppositions are your assumptions about the true nature of reality. Is the world you observe actual or illusion? Does reality include both natural and supernatural realities or not? Is matter in its various forms the  only reality, or is there also an immaterial/spiritual reality?

Presuppositions are initially learned through enculturation - children learn from their parents, teachers, friends and broader community. But in a pluralistic societies people are exposed to various worldviews and may eventually choose presuppositions that are different from their parent's or friend's. And this makes all the difference in what they will consider as possible.

If a person assumes naturalism and materialism as their presupposition about the nature of reality, they cannot rationally consider a supernatural or spiritual cause for various observations about things that happen. They must explain the universe without resorting to supernatural beings - like gods. They must explain everything - the existence of the universe, apparent design, life, meaning, purpose, moral feelings of good and bad without resorting to spiritual categories.

If a person's worldview allows for supernatural and spiritual realities, then it is no problem for them to believe in supernatural beings and supernatural causes. They don't necessarily reject the material reality, but have both material/natural and spiritual/supernatural realms to consider. If a person's worldview allows for spiritual reality that is separate from the material reality, they can believe that they are more than their physical body and might live beyond the boundaries of physical life and death in this world.

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