Your presuppositions shape your response


Last night was the big origins debate between Bill Nye (the Science Guy) and Ken Ham (of Answers in Genesis). And while I’m sure every side is declaring victory over the other, from what I saw an opportunity was lost. Why?

Because the problem with the origins debate is the key point that’s almost always missed: this isn’t a scientific debate. Not really. Instead, we need to recognize it for what it truly is: a philosophical and theological one. 

A year ago, I read a very thoughtful book by Gerald Rau, who is both a Christian and a scientist, called Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything (reviewed here). In this book, Rau makes a critical point:

“Our worldview and philosophy shape the way we view that evidence from the first time we hear it… Each scientist is working from the perspective of one particular theory, which affects both data collection and interpretation.” (Kindle locations 189, 202)


Rau gets it.

Your worldview—the underlying presuppositions you hold which help you make sense of the world—necessarily affects your observations about the world. So think about it this way:

For the Christian, everything ties back to the truth that God created the universe and everything in it. That he creates and sustains and holds all things together.[1. I’m not getting into the mechanics part, because, frankly, that’s for another discussion.] And so the Christian can provide an answer to many questions the naturalist cannot.[2. Something seen in the Nye/Ham debate, particularly on questions like, “Where did pre-Big Bang atoms come from?” and “How did consciousness arise?”]

His worldview is begins with a Creator, and the natural response for the Christian is to worship. To give praise to the One who made all things.

For scientists who are Christians, this is what drives so much of their work. It’s not a desire to simply know “what,” but a desire to worship the “Who” behind the “what.” (Does that make sense?)

For the naturalist, though, the answers Christians provide come across as pat or (as my my friend Bill described it), as though you’re trying to counter science with magic, something that’s incredibly frustrating to Christians for whom these answers seem so “obvious.” Why?

Because the naturalist’s underlying presuppositions about how the world works—his worldview—necessarily prevents him from accepting even the idea of God as a possible answer. In order for his worldview to remain coherent, he must reject categorically reject the supernatural, even if it means having to say “I don’t know” to questions Christians can answer.

And because the subject is rarely ever broached, the real debate gets completely missed. It’s like buying a house and spending all your time focused on the flooring, but never investigating the foundation. You might buy something that looks pretty, but is structurally unsound.

This is where our debates need to go—Christians need to stop trying to debate symptoms, and start dealing with causes. The creation vs evolution question is a symptom of competing worldviews crashing into one another.

We must always remember that our presuppositions shape our response to the evidence we see. We always interpret what we experience and what we learn through the lens of our worldview.

So we need to open up the worldview question, and humbly begin to explore its coherence (or lack thereof). When we do this, we may find our debates to be far more fruitful for all.

8 thoughts on “Your presuppositions shape your response”

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  4. Ken Ham mentioned presuppositions early and often. He admitted his own presuppositions and urged Bill Nye to do the same, arguing that they both worked with the same data but different starting points. Bill Nye, on the other hand, would not accept that he had presuppositions; he tried to portray himself as the quintessential ‘reasonable man’.

    1. That brings up the other side of the problem—you can’t get anywhere when one party or the other won’t own up to having presuppositions (which is silly, of course).

    2. OldYRRTheologian

      Which is par for the course for most atheists/secular humanists. They assume theirs is the default position and everyone else is coming from a bias.

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