Written by Jason Petersen
This article will discuss worldviews, presuppositions and rescuing devices. We will be defining what worldviews, presuppositions, and rescuing devices are. I am keeping this one short and simple, we will have the opportunity to expand on these concepts in further articles. Some of the information can really be a lot to memorize and I want to keep these types of articles in a format that is easy to understand.
What is a worldview?
A worldview is a set of beliefs(or presuppositions) that determine how you think, know, and do.(1) A worldview typically consists of the following tenets:
1. Axiology-Your beliefs about the nature of value such as what is right and wrong.
2. Metaphysics– Your beliefs on the nature of reality.
3. Epistemology-Your beliefs about the nature and source of knowledge.
4. Teleology– Your beliefs about the meaning and purpose of the universe and its inhabitants.
5. Theology– Your beliefs about the existence of God.
6. Anthropology– Your beliefs about the nature of your individual purpose and mankind’s purpose.
7. Cosmology–Your beliefs about the origins and nature of the universe, life, and mankind.
I recommend learning all seven terms as well as what they mean within the context of a worldview. If you debate often, knowing these definitions will be very valuable.
What are presuppositions?
In philosophy, presuppositions are considered to be “properly basic” beliefs. They are beliefs that you start with when you think about something such as morals, where you get knowledge from, or when you interpret data from science.
For instance, if one of your presuppositions is that The Bible is true and it describes a literal six day Creation about 6,000 years ago, you are going to have a different interpretation of data from science than someone who believes the Earth is old. For instance, soft tissue has been found in dinosaur bones that are supposedly millions of years old. (2) Soft tissue is known to decay rapidly as it oxidizes into smaller chemicals.(3)
Someone who believes the Earth is only 6,000 to 10,000 years old would expect to find soft tissue in bones. However, this would come as a surprise to those who believe in an old earth. They typically will invoke rescuing devices in order to keep their worldview in the case of opposing evidence to their worldview.
What is a Rescuing Device?
A rescuing device is a conjecture(An opinion or conclusion formed based on incomplete information.) that is used to save a worldview when confronted with evidence that is contrary to their worldview.
An example of a rescuing device would be when an atheist that holds to naturalism deals with the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. When confronted with a strong argument supplemented by the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection the naturalist may say something like: “Well, there is a natural explanation for every occurrence.” Of course, there is no evidence to support that there is a natural explanation for EVERY occurrence. Such a notion can’t be proven by science(Science doesn’t deal with the supernatural, nor does it say that the supernatural doesn’t exist.) or even in philosophy.
Christians have rescuing devices as well. For instance, someone may bring up the distant starlight problem which states that the distance from stars is too great for the universe to be 6,000 years old. The Christian may suggest that the starlight was created in transit.(This would not be my suggestion, but just an example of what I’ve seen others say.) Of course, there is no way to prove that God made the light in transit. While it’s possible that God could we really have no way of knowing that God created the universe with star light in transit.
Everyone has a Worldview that Contains Presuppositions
I saw Ray Comfort appear on an episode of “The Atheist Experience.” Towards the end of the episode one of the atheist hosts accused Ray Comfort of having presuppositions.(Well…Duh!) Ray Comfort told the atheist that he has presuppositions as well. The atheist denied that everyone had presuppositions.
Now, frankly speaking, anyone says that they don’t have presuppositions are either dishonest or they are very ignorant of the basics of philosophy. Recall that we talked about the tenets of a worldview which dealt with issues like morality, theology, and knowledge. The only way to not have presuppositions or a worldview is to not have any view on any of these issues at all. Of course, anyone who is an atheist will have presuppositions about the tenet of their worldview which relates to Theology. (Their beliefs on God and religion.)
Possible Objection: It’s about evidence, not presuppositions.
This is a cliche that is often repeated in debates. This kind of objection is attempting to get the other person to accept the atheist’s standard and debate them within the worldview of an atheist. What the atheist either doesn’t understand or is simply ignoring is that worldviews influence how you think, know and do. This means that whatever evidence you come across will be interpreted according to your presuppositions. To say that you don’t have presuppositions when you hold views on morality, whether or not God exists, and purpose in life, is nothing more than the fallacy of special pleading.(Asking for special circumstances while ignoring the evidence against assertions, such as the fact that they say they don’t have presuppositions while they are an atheist who has presuppositions about theology. For example, “God doesn’t exist.”)
3. Schweitzer, M. H. et al. Molecular analyses of dinosaur osteocytes support the presence of endogenous molecules. Bone. Published online before print, October 16, 2012.