Are all forms of knowledge equal? When we consider basic epistemologies our core assumptions form a baseline to judge between them. But how do we come to those baseline assumptions? Is reason any better than revelation? And who’s to say? In my reading on this subject some Christian apologists believe and have argued that ultimately every position is a faith position. This is something of a truism, mostly because any kind of certainty is elusive if not impossible.
The Reformed (Calvinist) tradition within Christianity has a unique take on basic assumptions called presuppositionalism. There is quite a bit to say about presuppositionalism, but for my purposes here I only want to concentrate on one aspect. In my mind presuppositionalism is a cornerstone of Reformed ideology (and make no mistake, this is an ideology). The unique function of presuppositional apologetics is not that it reduces all forms of knowledge to Revelation, but that it insulates Reformed epistemology from criticism. In a segment from the movie Collision pastor Doug Wilson speaks to Columbia University’s club of atheists and agnostics and during the talk states that people who base their epistemology on reason are only “opening up their Bible” to explain their system of knowledge. What he means by this is that any conclusion is already based in the premise (and he admits this as much for Revelation if you’re paying attention).
My problem with presuppositionalism falls squarely on this point. By reducing all forms of knowledge to Revelation (we can only know the truth of things because God shows us) any way to judge between epistemologies is eliminated. Furthermore, and this is the kicker, presuppositionalism has to borrow from other epistemologies in order to support it’s own reliability as a system. Let me explain. Suppose you meet someone and they want to explain everything we know by Revelation. If you asked them why they would undoubtedly tell you that the explanation starts with acknowledging certain truths about reality, but really they have to operate under the assumption that the reasons they give are intelligible and can be proved by reason. Indeed, why have the discussion in the first place if this wasn’t the case?
Presuppositionalism perpetrates the worst kind of intellectual sophistry. By sleight of hand it pretends to give the baseline for all thought, but really it negates all thought. How could one avoid the conclusion that presuppositionalism is nothing but fideism? When pushed on this point all the proponents of Reformed epistemology can say is that it has yet to be revealed to the infidel (Christian or otherwise). Yet they make the point from a locked, sound-proof room.