The Reconquista Initiative
Trump, Clinton, and Presuppositional Apologetics
One of the most interesting insights provided by the proponents of so-called ‘Presuppositional Apologetics’ is that neutrality concerning the question of God’s existence is a myth, and that, ultimately, when it comes to a topic that is as fundamental as the question of God’s existence or the truth of Christianity, no one is neutral concerning these matters, and thus no one is an objective assessor of the evidence concerning these issues given the serious emotional, psychological, and behavioral consequences that on the line. Consequently, and due to the very motivated reasoning which exasperates different cognitive biases, everyone is pulled in one direction or the other, and this taints and colors the way that they see the evidence for God and how they react to it. And this insight concerning Man’s inability to be neutral about the God-question then leads to a further insight which comes from the presuppositionalists; and that is that when it comes to fundamental matters like a person’s core worldview, it is often useless to try to convince someone of the falsity of their worldview by adopting a neutral and agreed-upon foundation with them and then simply arguing about the evidence for and against a certain position, because the person’s worldview presuppositions color their perspective to such a degree that they view the exact same evidence as you do from a totally different angle. Thus, any direct approach to arguing about the evidence is doomed to failure because the person’s presuppositions literally change the way that he perceives and interprets the same data that you do, and that different perception and interpretation is so strong that it will simply overcome any evidence against the person’s position through the modification of how the evidence is perceived. And so this is why presuppositionalists often recommend an indirect approach to apologetics, where evidence is indeed discussed, but the focus is more on demonstrating that the opponent’s worldview is incoherent, ad hoc, and inconsistent with itself, thus prompting the opponent to re-evaluate his worldview from within. It is, in essence, an apologetic approach that seeks to break the opponent’s worldview from the inside out, rather than trying to smash it from the outside in by bombing it with evidence. Finally, note as well that presuppositionalism also claims that, in many cases, people can be self-deceived; thus, at a fundamental level, a person might know the truth of a certain claim, but he suppresses that truth for fear of the consequences that might follow if he admits it to be the case. And in the case of presuppositionalism, the truth that it claims that people suppress is the truth that God exists, and people suppress this truth in order to freely engage in immoral behavior without a guilty conscience.
Now, with all these points about presuppositionalism in mind, let us move to politics. During the course of this year, 2016, two of the most interesting things to have been observed in the recent American presidential election is both how wrong numerous experts were about the election as well as the unique reactions of many politic participants both before and after the election itself. And the reason that these things are mentioned in the context of this short essay on presuppositionalism is because for many people—especially people on the left—politics have become a surrogate religion (or at the very least the most fundamental part of their worldview), and so this year’s political cycle brought forth reactions and behaviors of such a type and magnitude that they were a strong example of presuppositionalism’s ideas in action. And so this is why this essay wishes to link politics with presuppositionalism.
First, consider the issue of neutrality: for many individuals on both the right and the left, there was no neutrality in this election, nor was there any possibility of weighing the evidence objectively or dispassionately. For example, for some Donald Trump supporters, their support of Trump was set in stone no matter what, thus showing a lack of interest in actually weighing the evidence for and against that particular candidate. By contrast, some non-Trump supporters had such a tainted view of Trump that no matter what he did, they would never support him; at the same time, they would endlessly support Hillary Clinton regardless of her past or future faults. In essence, the emotional and psychological investment for many people on both sides of the political spectrum was just so extreme that a dispassionate view of the facts was impossible. In many ways, this reminds us Christian apologists of certain naturalists who readily admit that even if Jesus’s resurrection was shown, to their satisfaction, to have occurred, or even if the stars themselves moved and spelled out the Apostle’s Creed, these naturalists would merely accept a far-fetched naturalistic explanation—such as a mass hallucination—for these events rather than admit that a supernatural event occurred. For them, the evidence would always be superseded by their presuppositions, as was the case for many Trump and Clinton supporters during the 2016 election.
Next, consider the way political presuppositions colored people’s interpretation of the evidence. For example, given that many people on the left already had a presupposition which viewed Republicans, conservatives, and anyone to the right of them to be morally suspect, the moment that Trump said certain controversial, but not insane things—such as the need to secure the country’s border with a physical wall or the need to seriously vet people from countries prone to creating terrorists—people on the left, given their presuppositions, turned these points into evidence that Trump was an utter racist, bigot, and was “literally Hitler”. At the same time, many on the left perceived that Trump supporters could only be driven by bigotry and racism, not by the entirely rational and/or pragmatic considerations that motivated many of them to support Trump. So, in essence, the evidence itself, though present, was magnified out of all proportion once it was filtered through the left’s presuppositions, thereby allowing the evidence to fit the left’s narrative rather than changing the narrative to fit the evidence. Indeed, rather than matching their outrage to the extent demanded by the evidence, they magnified the evidence to the extent demanded by their outrage. Additionally, the left would perceive the tiniest scrap of questionable evidence as proof that Trump was, say, a white nationalist or an opponent of homosexuality, but they would ignore the evidence immediately in front of them—like Trump waving the homosexual flag at his convention, or Trump having a homosexual man speak at his convention, or Trump saying in an interview that homosexual marriage was already decided by the courts. At the same time, the left would minimize evidence of Clinton’s major problems. And note that, in many cases, the same thing was evident on the right side of the political spectrum as well. And again, this is often what apologists see, where a non-believer, when presented with a plethora of evidence for, say, miracles, will use selective hyper-skepticism and selective evidence assessment as a means to escape the inference that the evidence points to.
Finally, we can also note how wrong so many pundits and commentators were about the election, with some leftist organizations even assessing that Clinton’s chances of winning the election were in the high nineties. Now, granted, in many cases, these individuals were following the polls, but the point is that nearly everyone—the commentators, experts, pollsters, and so on—were wrong about the election. And what this smacks of is self-deception, were an overwhelming desire to have Clinton win, combined with some evidence that supported that conclusion, blinded them to the very real possibility that Trump could win. And thus they were all dumbfounded and shocked, even physically so, when that possibility came true. They deceived themselves about important evidence—the silent Trump voter, the lack of enthusiasm for Hillary, the non-existent repudiation of Trump by minorities, the size of Trump’s rallies and the enthusiasm for him, the “outlier” polls, and so on—in order to maintain the conclusion that they desired. And this, once again, brings us back to the idea that no one is neutral when it comes to matters that they hold as fundamental, and they will even deceive themselves, in many cases, to hold fast to what they wish to be true.
And so, the long and short of it is this: from an apologetic perspective, the reason that the 2016 election has been so interesting is that it has shown that some of the ideas behind presuppositional apologetics can manifest themselves in other areas, such as politics. And lest we think that the same issues cannot arise concerning religion, note that if the animosity, disdain, and emotional reaction that people had to Trump existed in part because of some of his more conservative-type claims, then how much more animosity, disdain, and emotional reaction would there be to a God who commands people to act in a way that they object to? Obviously, if there was a pull to skew the evidence in the former case, the pull to do so in the latter case would be just as strong, if not substantially stronger. And this is why, in many cases, the presuppositionalists are right that an indirect approach to apologetics is required, and that mere evidence is insufficient to sway people out of their worldview; and the 2016 American presidential election is an imperfect but nevertheless still good example of this point in action within the political realm.
Anno Domini 2016 11 30
Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam