Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Power of Presupposition: Wayne Shorter or Andrew Hill?

It was a strange experience. I had listened to nearly an entire CD while inhaling steam out of my vaporizer. I got up and noticed the CD was on track 7, but the CD had only six tracks. Then I realized I had been listening to "Point of Departure" by Andrew Hill instead of "The All Seeing Eye" by Wayne Shorter. They are both mid sixties Blue Note recordings, and the disks look similar. While listening, I kept thinking, "Wow, James Spauding (alto sax) really sounds like Eric Dolphy. Why hadn't I noticed that before? (I should have known better; no one sounds like Eric Dolphy except Eric Dolply.) Morevoer, I mistook Andrew Hill for Herbie Hancock. Although at one point I thought, "Herbie isn't comping the way he usually does." And I mistook Joe Henderson (tenor sax) for Wayne Shorter! Ouch. This is embarrassing to a jazz fanatic.

You see, my presupposition that this was "The All-Seeing Eye" affected and infected my interpretation of the music. Nevertheless, the presupposition wasn't so deep that it could not be refuted by evidence--in this case, simply checking which CD was one.

When we challenge the worldview of nonChristians, we must realize that their nonChristian presuppositions affect how they view the world. I learned this first from Francis Schaeffer and later from Cornelius Van Til. (I was even a Van Tillian--although a blessedly inconsistent one, since I often appealed to evidence in my apologetics--for a season, but later repented of it.) No one is a blank slate or a logic machine. Nevertheless, we can challenge these presuppositions--whether naturalistic or pantheistic or Islamic--on the basis of evidence that supports a contrary worldview, which itself uniquely explains the world, ourselves, and the future according to its unparalleled merits.

My presupposition as the which CD was in the changer was not so set, so deep, so systematic that it was impervious to counter-evidence. Of course, worldview beliefs are deeper than this; however, when we view them as revisable truth claims or hypotheses, we can grant their intellectual power without taking them to be impregnable.

5 comments: said...

Dr. Groothius. Thanks for the post, but sadly you insist on a misrepresentation on Van Til's views that goes back nearly 40 years to Clark Pinnock's entry in the book honoring Van Til, Jerusalem and Athens. You say that offering evidence for Christianity is incosistant with being a presuppositionalist.

In the words of Van Til himself, "Accordingly I do not reject ‘the theistic proofs’ but merely insist on formulating them in such a way as not to compromise the doctrines of Scripture. That is to say, if the theistic proof is constructed as it ought to be constructed, it is objectively valid, whatever the attitude of those to whom it comes may be.” (Defense of the Faith, 3rd ed. 197)

Here Van Til makes it clear that he does not reject theistic evidences. This is not to deny that he rejects their presentation in a certain manner. That's the issue of the methodological debate. But to insist that he rejects proof or evidence is to mishandle Van Til's words, as well as those of his interpreters (cf. Thom Notaro, Van Til and the use of Evidence).

Those that label themselves presuppositionalists yet reject the use of evidences are doing harm to Van Til's project and have made something that was a major emphasis of his into the whole shabang (which he did not).

Doug Groothuis said...

I knew a Van Tillian wouldn't accept what I said, and insist I was ignorant of his method. No, I read all his main works years ago; read the critiques of his method; and decided his system was flawed.

He never gave a meaningful formulation of theistic proofs or a consistent manner of using evidence with an unbeliever. This was because of an overstress on the power of presuppositions. Schaeffer got it right when he viewed presuppositions more like hypotheses that could be confirmed or falsified.

Doug Groothuis said...

Further, I am not going into a protracted inter mural debate on "the real Van Til." There are much more important things to do: give apologetics to the watching and waiting world.

david said...

I can sort of see mistaking Herbie for Andrew...especially with comping. said...

Dr. Groothius, your response puzzles me. I never stated that you were
"ignorant" of Van Til's position. Neither was the issue whether Van Til
"gave a meaningful formulation of theistic proofs." The issue was whether or
not Van Til rejected the theistic proofs as such. For that, I provided a
quote from Van Til himself stating the contrary. In response you claimed
that you have read VT's major works. I have no reason to doubt you here. But
you did not respond to the words I quote which contradict your claim.
Whether or not he formulated the proofs properly was not the issue I was
commenting on. No one believes that Van Til was flawless (I certainly do
And Van Til did believe that presuppositions could be verified or falsified.
The test was whether or not the 'presupposition' in question could
consistently account for the 'preconditions of intelligibility.' On this
point I believe it's safe to say that you and Van Til are in agreement, when
backed against a corner (philosophically speaking), only Christianity can
account for and justify the belief in an ontological foundation for
morality, science, human dignity, and rationality.