Presuppositionalists like to ask questions regarding how we know what we know. They try to corner skeptics who lack belief in the supernatural into a form of solipsism, and this can be difficult for some people to counter if they have not experienced these kinds of arguments before. Wondering how we know what we know is a valid question, and it is something philosophers have been debating for centuries in the form of the Munchhausen Trilemma. This trilemma gives people three options in creating the foundations of their worldview.
The first option is to ultimately found one’s worldview on circular logic. Atheists do this in the form of using reason to justify their reason, or science to prove science. When those skeptical of this dig deeper, atheists can respond by pointing out that this is valid because it works. We have seen this both in Matt Dillahunty’s debate performance a couple weeks ago, and in Richard Dawkins’ comment that science “works, bitches!” However, philosophically, theists like to use this as an opportunity to use God to prove God. This can be problematic because God is not reliably detected in any way, and there is no reason to believe that he exists (which is not necessarily for case for the universe in the secular point of view, as we will see later).
The second alternative to the Munchhausen Trilemma is an infinite regress of things justifying other things, but this option makes no sense. In practice, it is impossible have an infinite regress, because once one gets to the most foundational questions of existence, reasoning quickly becomes circular again, or becomes based on axioms, which is the third prong of the Trilemma.
The use of axioms is probably the best way to approach these foundational questions regarding the validity of worldview, but it is something that both Christians and atheists end up doing. Atheists generally end up using the existence of self, and of the universe as axioms, while theists like to plug in God as an axiom.
Choosing axioms on which to base a worldview can be tricky. It is theoretically possible to make anything an axiom, from god, to the force, to invisible pixies from the planet Mongo. However, this would be counterproductive if one wishes to base their epistemology on that which is most likely true. Therefore, it is best to limit the axioms in one’s worldview as much as possible to avoid violating Occam’s Razor and multiplying unnecessary, unproven variables. Axioms should be chosen for good reasons, and generally be assumed out of some sort of necessity to make a worldview function. That being said, there are two axioms that are absolutely necessary to make an epistemology escape solipsism: that the thinker exists, and that the universe exists.
The first axiom is assumed even by solipsists: that we (thinkers) exist. Descartes summed it up well: “I think, therefore I am.”. Something is doing some sort of thinking here, so we can say that it exists.
The universe can be accepted to exist as the second axiom for this reason: it is reliably and consistently experienced. Human beings have five senses, sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch, in which we can experience the universe. These experiences are generally reliable in the sense that we can continue to seek out the same sensations, and in doing so, the same thing will happen every time. If we look up, for roughly twelve hours a day, we will see a sun. For the other twelve hours or so, we see darkness and sometimes the moon and the stars. If we eat a hamburger, it generally tastes similar to the last time we had one. If we put our hands in fire, they burn. If we touch ice, it feels cold. This is different than a dream, which can be experienced once, and then disappears forever when we wake up. The difference between a dream and the universe that is dreams are not consistent, while the universe is. We can experience it for the duration of our lives. While it is possible that the universe is an illusion of some kind, it is all we have to work with, and there is no way to know it is an illusion. We could be a brain in a vat, but there is no way we could ever know any better. That being said, to an atheist, absolute certainty is a red herring, and there is very little it is possible to be absolutely certain about. The goal is to realistically maximize certainty, and to change perspectives when what is believed is shown to be wrong or inaccurate.
With all that in mind, it is time to turn our attention to whether God is a valid axiom. The idea presuppositionalists argue with making God an axiom is that because God is omniscient, he knows everything with absolute certainty, and therefore, anything he has revealed to human beings is absolutely true. While the logic appears sound if the premises are true, the problem lies in the premises. If we go back to the Atheist Experience episode 517, Don Baker and Matt Dillahunty make the point that often times, beliefs in God are not necessarily one claim, but multiple. In reaching the conclusions presuppositionalists assume, they are actually making multiple claims here. They are claiming God exists. They are claiming he is all knowing. They are claiming that he communicates with human beings. Finally, they are claiming that the so called revelation is reliable. On top of the two axioms that many atheists assume, presuppositionalists are making four extra claims just to reach the red herring that is absolute certainty. In doing so, they completely failed at this because one cannot be absolutely certain of any of those axioms themselves. Each unproven claim multiplies the possibility that the presuppositionalist could possibly be wrong and violates Occam’s Razor. Presuppositionalists are in the same conundrum they love to remind atheists of; they just refuse to admit it.
That being said, based simply on assumptions and axioms alone, a more naturalist worldview appears to be far superior, since its it makes fewer assumptions just to reach the same conclusion, and tends to defend its axioms and recognize their shortcomings more than presuppositionalists do.
J.W is an ex-Christian with a lot of interesting things to say. He argues passionately about religion and politics, and bases his views on logic, reason, and evidence.