Why It’s Important to Guard Against Your Presuppositions
by J Warner Wallace
When I was an atheist, I held many presuppositions that tainted the way I investigated the claims of Christianity. I was raised in the Star Trek generation (the original cast, mind you) by an atheist father who was a cop and detective for nearly thirty years before I got hired as a police officer. I was convinced by the growing secular culture that all of life’s mysteries would eventually be explained by science, and I was committed to the notion that we would ultimately find a natural answer for everything we once thought to be supernatural.
My early years as a homicide detective only amplified these presuppositions. After all, what would my partners think if I examined all the evidence in a difficult case and (after failing to identify a suspect) concluded that a ghost or demon committed the murder? They would surely think I was crazy. All homicide investigators presume that supernatural beings are not reasonable suspects, and many detectives also happen to reject the supernatural altogether.
Detectives have to work in the real world, the “natural world” of material cause and effect. We presuppose a particular philosophy as we begin to investigate our cases. This philosophy is called “philosophical naturalism” (or “philosophical materialism”). Most of us in the Star Trek generation understand this philosophy, even if we can’t articulate it perfectly. Philosophical naturalism rejects the existence of supernatural agents, powers, beings, or realities. It begins with the foundational premise that natural laws and forces alone can account for every phenomenon under examination. If there is an answer to be discovered, philosophical naturalism dictates that we must find it by examining the relationship between material objects and natural forces; that’s it, nothing more. Supernatural forces are excluded by definition. Most scientists begin with this presupposition and fail to consider any answer that is not strictly physical, material, or natural. Even when a particular phenomenon cannot be explained by any natural, material process or set of forces, the vast majority of scientists will refuse to consider a supernatural explanation. Richard Lewontin (an evolutionary biologist and geneticist) once famously wrote a review of a book written by Carl Sagan and admitted that science is skewed to ignore any supernatural explanation, even when the evidence might indicate that natural, material explanations are lacking…
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