Presuppositions & Worldviews

From the time I first began to realize that everyone, whether they know it or not, operates on a specific worldview, I’ve analyzed everything through that insight. I agree with the late Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer, who famously explained in his excellent book, How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture,

People have presuppositions, and they will live more consistently on the basis of these presuppositions than even they themselves may realize.

Schaeffer then defined his primary term:

By presuppositions we mean the basic way an individual looks at life, his basic world view, the grid through which a person considers to be the truth of what exists. People’s presuppositions lay a grid for all they bring forth into the external world.

Their presuppositions also provide the basis for their values and therefore the basis for their decisions.

“As a man thinketh, so is he,” is really most profound. An individual is not just the product of the forces around him.

That explanation took hold on me early in my Christian journey and has framed much of what I teach. I’m always concerned with showcasing worldviews to my students, in the hope that they will look beneath the surface and see the roots from which certain beliefs spring.

We all live our lives with baggage. When we surrender our lives to the Lordship of Christ, we begin a new path that is supposed to leave the bad baggage behind—baggage like a false worldview.

This is not instantaneous; it is a process that lasts throughout one’s lifetime. Yet significant strides in replacing old views can be made even as we start this new life. As we’re told in the book of Romans, the 12th chapter,

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

The word translated as “transformed” can also be translated “transfigured,” as when Jesus took three of His disciples up on the mountain and they saw Him changed into the glorious nature that was hidden beneath His humanity.

Our minds need to undergo a similar change. They need to be renewed because they have fallen into the decay of sinful worldviews. In Christ, that gets turned around.

I also like what I read in Colossians 2:8:

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

Deception roams among us at all times, and we need to be alert; it’s far too easy to get intellectually and spiritually lazy and get taken captive unaware. We need to continually focus on the principles given to us from the mind and heart of God. When we meditate on those truths, that which is hollow and deceptive will become clear.

Our marching orders with respect to worldviews can also be seen in 2 Corinthians 10:5, where we’re instructed,

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

So there is a negative aspect to our mission in one sense: we are to tear down and destroy all false arguments that would lead people astray from the truth. We are to use our minds in the way God intended, where every thought becomes subject to Him.

This is my passion, placed in my heart by God’s Spirit. I have a deep, abiding love for the truth. I must always remember, though, one further exhortation found in Ephesians 4:15, where I’m told I have to speak His truth in love.

That can be a challenge at times, especially when I see others being deceived by the falsehoods. But speak I must. That will never change.

Lewis: False Presuppositions of the Modern Mind

C. S. Lewis 14One of the essays I had my students read this semester in my C. S. Lewis course was “Modern Man and His Categories of Thought.” It’s probably one of Lewis’s most overlooked essays. The first time I read it, I wanted to be sure students were exposed to it.

In it, Lewis takes aim at the presuppositions that modern men take for granted and then shows why they have accepted unsound reasoning. Modern men have assumed, without thinking it through clearly, many ideas from what Lewis would call pseudo-science.

Here’s an example:

To the modern man it seems simply natural that an ordered cosmos should emerge from chaos, that life should come out of the inanimate, reason out of instinct, civilization out of savagery, virtue out of animalism.

This idea is supported in his mind by a number of false analogies: the oak coming from the acorn, the man from the spermatozoon, the modern steamship from the primitive coracle.

So what’s the problem with these assumptions? Lewis calls on us to think more deeply:

The supplementary truth that every acorn was dropped by an oak, every spermatozoon derived from a man, and the first boat by something so much more complex than itself as a man of genius, is simply ignored.

The modern mind accepts as a formula for the universe in general the principle “Almost nothing may be expected to turn into almost everything” without noticing that the parts of the universe under our direct observation tell a quite different story.

Lewis has a way of telling that “quite different story” and making us rethink our assumptions.

My Educational Philosophy: A Summary

As a university professor, I think a lot about what I should do in the classroom. What is the proper way to teach? How much do I let my beliefs enter into the subject? One of the biggest problems in many universities is when the classroom is used primarily as an indoctrination center for leftist ideology and all the trendy movements: multiculturalism, radical feminism, environmentalism (anyone notice an “ism” problem here?).

The response of most conservatives has been to call for a neutral classroom where, supposedly, facts are presented without any particular slant. Let the facts speak for themselves; allow the students to come up with their own rationales for what they believe. To a point, there is some truth in that approach, in that every student eventually is going to decide for themselves what they believe. But how much can the professor offer to influence those students?

I have it easier in one sense than many professors who are Christians teaching in public universities. Since I teach in an evangelical setting, there are parameters for my teaching. It’s assumed by the students that I will honor Biblical doctrines. Yet the issue remains the same since not every Christian professor applies those doctrines to their subjects in the same way.

Here’s how I explain to my students the approach that I take. First, I don’t believe that it’s possible for anyone to be totally objective in teaching. I reject the idea that education can be value-neutral. What we believe will come across in some way. Therefore, we are all subjective: our life experiences, backgrounds, and beliefs systems go with us into everything we do. This is not wrong. This is inescapable. As a Christian, I want it to be inescapable.

The late Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer said it best, I believe, when he explained,

People have presuppositions, and they will live more consistently on the basis of these presuppositions than even they themselves may realize. By presuppositions we mean the basic way an individual looks at life, his basic world view, the grid through which he sees the world. Presuppositions rest upon that which a person considers to be the truth of what exists. People’s presuppositions lay a grid for all they bring forth into the external world. Their presuppositions also provide the basis for their values and therefore the basis for their decisions.

My presuppositions are Christian. It is then natural and right that I should share those presuppositions in all I teach. Knowledge cannot be separated into some tight compartment, isolated from a person’s basic worldview. I will interpret my subject area [history, in this case] in accordance with the grid through which I see the world. What I believe to be truth will impact both what and how I teach.

There is a difference, though, between being subjective and being biased. Bias is an attitude that never allows any new information. It approaches the world with a view that all things must be squeezed into a preset idea or interpretation. If facts don’t fit this prejudgment, they must be forced to fit. Any university professor who does this is not teaching; he or she is simply trying to create ideological clones.

Do I want my students to agree with my views? Yes. But I can’t force them to agree. I have to win them over by the logic of the facts I present. I have to show them how the facts fit into my interpretation, all the while staying open myself to new information that may modify what I teach.

For instance, in American history, as much as I would like to make all the Founders into evangelical Christians, to do so would be to set aside some facts and dishonestly disseminate false information. Now, I believe the founding of America was based on Biblical thinking, for the most part, but I cannot “make” Benjamin Franklin a Christian without violating my own conscience before God.

I always keep in mind this one thing: first, I am a Christian; second, I am a professor. My overriding concern has to be the one that Jesus left as a charge for all Christians when He said,

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.

So even when I teach history, my primary goal is to ensure that the study of history will lead my students into a stronger relationship with the One for whom all of life is to be lived. I’m in the process of making disciples. If I do anything that lessens their desire to know and love God, then I am a failure.

It’s an awesome responsibility, and one that I take seriously.