Thursday, May 24, 2007

Presuppositional Blindness

Presuppositional Blindness

I was recently interacting with a person who stated: "I do not know what the real story of 9-11 is, but I am confident that the official story is bogus. I would be happy to debate the issue, but I am confident that nobody will take up my offer since it would only dignify a “nut-ball” position."

As an aside, I immediately took up his offer. It's an easily winnable debate. How do I know?

I was, like many, initially skeptical that the official reports were generally correct. I watched the "squibs" of dust on the Loose Change video, and reviewed the many analyses of the various data. I read many skeptical reports, and saw the far left and the Libertarian and Anarchist right responses to the official report.

Then, I dug deeper. I spoke with a civil engineer who had the same initial reaction of "How on earth could a building fall down like that," but who was persuaded by the explanation provided. I spoke with a person who actually saw the plane fly into the side of the Pentagon. I reviewed the detractors' articles, and then reviewed the source materials.

You know what I found? Most of the detractors (not all, certainly) were willing to distort the evidence, truncate quotations, change quotations, assert scientific falsehood, and maintain not just unproven but disproven hypotheses.

In speaking with the person whom I've quoted above, one favorite tactic was to take a quotation from Mr. Silverstein (a leaseholder of the WTC complex), alter the quotation and then take it out of context! I was absolutely flabbergasted, because this man is someone who is ordinarily not just rational and cogent, but intelligent and respectable. I've enjoyed, over the years, listening to what this man has explained and reading the articles he has written. I have immense respect for this man.

I could not figure out why he would treat the evidence with such open disregard. After all, his distortions were easily identifiable. The quotation was taken from a documentary that aired on PBS in September 2002, and at least one person legally recorded the quotation and its immediate context and posted it to the Net. All I had to do was provide a link, and Mr. Silverstein could be heard, and - for part of the quotation - seen saying what he actually said.

Then, later in the discussion, a third party asked one of the frequently asked questions that one sees, because of the many deceptive web sites that claim that there are unanswered questions. The person's question related to the mechanics of the collapse, an issue that was dealt with in great depth by the NIST report on the topic, and dealt with in summary form on various web sites.

I had commented that the only way to discard the scientific arguments is essentially to have a severe prejudice against the government.

One part of the commenter's response was striking: "'Severe prejudice' might better read ‘prudent presupposition,’ given the history of our government and most others."

Leaving aside the prudence of the presupposition, I think the commenter hit the nail on the head.

The denial of 9/11 is, for many people, presuppositional. No amount of evidence will dissuade them from their tenacious denial of the facts that a group of Muslim terrorists killed thousands of people and damaged or destroyed several large buildings. There are confessions of the terrorists. There is both documentary and image evidence of the terrorists preparing for the attack and boarding the planes. There are a myriad of witnesses who actually saw the planes hit their targets. And so on, and so forth.

One of the other commenters on this same thread wrote (regarding me): "TF — I get the feeling that nothing short of a full and public confession by the responsible parties would convince you." I was amazed. In fact, we do have a fairly full and reasonably public confession by the responsible party (Al Qaeda). Yet, even THAT is not enough to convince the 9/11 conspiracy theorists.

That's when I realized why the conspiracy theorists rarely agree to debate the topic, normally avoid structured debates when they do debate the topic, and inevitably lose the debates when they do debate the topic in any structured way: their position is based on presupposition.

Presuppositions are important and useful, as long as they are correct. I am a presuppositionalist, and my presuppositions are correct. I presuppose that God exists, that He revealed Himself in His Word, and that He is True to His Word. From those presuppositions I derive my doctrine and worldview. If someone wants to debate the existence of God, I can demolish their arguments against God's existence, but I cannot positively prove my presuppositions. I can explain the usual arguments for the existence of God, including the intuitive "first cause" and "source of meaning" arguments. Nevertheless, these will only be persuasive if the person already shares my presuppositions, or if God opens their eyes to the truth.

The same is somewhat the case here as well. While the presuppositions against the U.S. government may not be as fundamental as religious presuppositions, these men have real presuppositions that should be identified and stated. The masking of these presuppositions is a great evil.

Dr. James White, a Reformed Baptist elder, likes to say that the person who denies that he has traditions is the greatest slave to them. It's a bit glib, but it is generally accurate. People who do not recognize what their presuppitions are, are to a large extent blind. The result is that they can deceive themselves, and deceive those around them. They can leave gaping holes in their arguments without even recognize that the hole exists.

This is why you see comments like this one: "I do not know what the real story of 9-11 is, but I am confident that the official story is bogus." Someone does not recognize, or is unwilling to state, his own presupposition that if something really bad happens, wickedness on the part of the government (or a puppeteer behind the government) is behind it. Even though this person recognizes that there is no coherent alternative to the official story, and even though this person cannot disprove the official story, this person is absolutely convinced that the official story cannot be true.

As such, to a limited extent, this otherwise cogent, intelligent, rational, God-fearing man is blind. He cannot see the evidence because he has already decided the issue as a matter or presupposition. He himself made the comparison between his failure to accept the evidence presented in the extensive and detailed government reports and the failure of unbelieving Jews to accept the evidence of the New Testament. I think it may be too harsh a comparison against him, because I - presuppositionally - have some hope that a regenerate man (like himself) could be fully reasonable on such matters.

But I'll tell you what doesn't help: posts like this one that call 9/11 conspiracy theorists "nut-balls," and that ridicule them. I know many intelligent, reasonable people who spin out conspiracy theories. Mocking them is not a serious response, and saying that the ridiculous deserves ridicule is not a kind and merciful remark. It does not show love.

I am happy to discuss the evidence with 9/11 conspiracy theorists, but I think the bigger point that they need to recognize is that they believe what they believe not because of the evidence, but because of their presuppositions.

And its not just a lesson for 9/11 conspiracy theorists but for others as well. If you presuppose that Joseph Smith or Mohammed was a prophet of God, or that Vatican II was a council of the godly you will reach certain conclusions regarding doctrine that are not driven by the Word, but by presupposition. If presuppose that man's destiny is not fixed in stone, you will arrive at a different conclusion from reading Scripture than if you discard that presupposition.

If you cannot identify your own presuppositions, you are - at least to some degree - blind, no matter how wise you are in general. May God enable all of us, this author included, to more clearly see our presuppositions, and to more clearly identify those presuppositions to those with whom we interact.


No comments: