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In the landscape of Christian apologetics, Presuppositional Apologetics is not the only school of apologetics. There are other “house” that’s suppose to provide to Christians a defense of their faith, made up of different materials than the “house” of Presuppositionalism. Sometimes, when members of another school of apologetics criticize Presuppositionalism, it exposes more of the weak materials of their apologetic (hay and straws, if we are continuing with our analogy) rather than the weakness of the brick house of presuppositionalism. Consider the following criticism of Presuppositional Apologetics from a self-confessing “evidentialist” :
“The heart of the presuppositionalist system seems to be this: an insistence that “knowledge” has two components. First, the thing itself, and second, a judgment about the thing. We know the fact, and the meaning of the fact. Otherwise it is not knowledge. This definition goes all the way back to Plato.
If we accept this definition, presuppositionalism follows automatically, because a norm that yields judgments is a presupposition. Evidentialists do not accept this definition of knowledge! Evidentialists use the “normal” definition of knowledge, which is everything recorded by the mind. To recall knowledge, I do not need a norm of judgment; all I need is an “association” of an experience with another experience.”
From the first sentence above, it is clear that the person wants to critique an essential rather minor point of Presuppositionalism when he stated: “The heart of the presuppositionalist system seems to be this“. The essence of Presuppositional Apologetics that he focuses on is Presuppositionalism’s “ insistence that “knowledge” has two components“, namely what he described in the second sentence as “the thing itself” and “a judgment about the thing“. He then goes on to describe (roughly stated) Presuppositionalism’s epistemology in the following three sentences (sentence three to five). One can see that the evidentialist’s objection to Presuppositionalism here is epistemological in nature.
His objection, fleshed out in the sixth sentence to the ninth sentence, deserves a closer look:
1.) One of the aspect of Presuppositional Apologetics (though not exclusive to it) is the call for Christians to be conscious of their own and other’s presuppositions. That includes being conscious of definitions. Commendably, this particular evidentialist is quite “Presuppositional” when he critiqued Presuppositionalism’s epistemology beginning at the level of definition, specifically the definition of knowledge : “If we accept this definition, presuppositionalism follows automatically, because a norm that yields judgments is a presupposition” (Sentence six). Of course, he rejects presuppositional apologetics’ definition of knowledge: “Evidentialists do not accept this definition of knowledge! ” (Sentence seven). The crux of the matter is whether or not knowledge requires norms (what he calls “a judgment about the thing“), and if norms are required, to put it in his own words, “presuppositionalism follows automatically, because a norm that yields judgments is a presupposition” (Sentence six). Thus, to vindicate Presuppositionalism, the burden of the Presuppositionalist is to establish instances in which norms are required for knowledge. On the other hand, the other side has to show that norms has nothing to do with the formulation of knowledge.
2.) His rejection of the presuppositionalist’s requirement for knowledge (sentence six) did not just happen in a vacuum. The reason he rejected the presuppositionalist’s position is because he has his own definition of what knowledge is: “Evidentialists use the “normal” definition of knowledge, which is everything recorded by the mind” (Sentence Eight). Surely there is a conflict of definitions, yet how do we know (did you catch that?) the correct definition? This evidentialist believes his definition is correct but reject the presuppositionalist’s definition. Ironically, by rejecting one definition and embracing another, he is actually presupposing norms. For one thing, he assume the law of non-contradiction in his reasoning process since both conflicting definition of knowledge cannot be true. Secondly, he assumes that incorrect definitions “ought not” to be accepted while correct definitions “ought” to accepted. Such obligation betrays the operation of norms in the process of knowledge. Thirdly, he assume as a rule or norm that an arbitrary definition should not be accepted. In other words, knowledge (including knowledge of the proper definition of knowledge) presupposes a normative aspect: In one aspect, this debate is epistemological in nature (how do I know what definition to accept over another?) and yet there is also a normative aspect governing the process of acquiring true knowlege (laws of logic, obligation to accept the truth, etc). It is ironic to point out in light of the evidentialist’s rejection of norms in knowledge, he would describe his definition as the “normal” definition of knowledge.
3.) Again, one of the factor for why this evidentialist rejected the presuppositionalist’s definition of knowledge is because he already has decided ahead of time how knowledge should be defined. In contrast to Presuppositionalism, “Evidentialists use the “normal” definition of knowledge, which is everything recorded by the mind” (Sentence Eight). This definition of knowledge (knowledge is “everything recorded by the mind”) is an inadequate one. In order for someone to know something, it also has to be true because it would be incorrect to say you “know” something, when that something (content of knowledge) is false. In light of this, knowledge as “everything recorded by the mind”(Sentence Eight) fail to account for the fact that “everything recorded by the mind” is not necessarily true. For instance, what is recorded in the mind at times might be mistakenly accepted to be true when it is not. Magical shows and optical illusion is such an example. Also, what is recorded in the mind might at times turn out to be down-right false. Reading a false scam letter, one records it to one mind of what is read but recording it in the mind does not make something become true. You can not know it is true or false just on the basis of it being stored into your mind. The point here is that there is a lot more going on when someone knows something than just “everything recorded by the mind”(Sentence Eight).
4.) Being against norms in the process of knowledge, this person substitute norms with association instead: “To recall knowledge, I do not need a norm of judgment; all I need is an “association” of an experience with another experience” (Sentence Nine). Yet, “association” of one experience with another is not an adequate substitution for norms in knowledge. For one thing, there can be false association between experiences. There are many ways that false associations can be construed: there’s Bandwagon fallacy (wrongly associating the truth of a proposition to it’s popularity), straw man fallacy (wrongly associating a position to be that of an opponent when it is not), casual fallacy (wrong associating two experiences that one is the cause of the other experience and that the other experience is the effect when it is not so), etc. To recognize logical fallacies that involves fallacious associations is to make “a judgment about the thing” or “things”. Again, norms of thoughts and reasoning are required in assessing what are relevant and irrelevant associations.
With an epistemology contrary to that of Presuppositionalism that is inadequate for proper knowledge, self-refuting in nature and which the arguments against Presuppositionalism’s epistemology ends up presupposing the truth of what it is trying to refute instead, is this opponent’s “house” of apologetics made of suitable material for Christian defense?
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