The Problem of Presuppositions

Let’s face it. Everyone has presuppositions or preconceived notions. When we come across certain situations, we often start with our presuppositions as a launching point to come up with an answer or solution to the problem we face. Sometimes, however, presupposing can lead us to the wrong answer.

J. Warner Wallace, a cold-case homicide detective and author of Cold-Case Christianity, describes his first homicide case in his book:

This was my first homicide scene and I didn’t want to make a fool of myself…I took small, measured steps and followed Detective Alan Jeffries around like a puppy. Alan had been working in this detail for over fifteen years; he was only a few years short of retirement…

We stood there for a moment and looked at the victim’s body. She was lying partially naked on her bed, strangled. There was no sign of a struggle and no sign of forced entry into her condominium…My mind was racing as I tried to recall everything I had learned in the two-week homicide school I recently attended…

“Hey wake up!” Alan’s tone interrupted my thoughts. “We got a killer to catch here. Go find me her husband; he’s the guy we’re looking for.

What? Alan already had this figured out? …He pointed to a framed picture toppled over on the nightstand. Our victim was in the loving embrace of a man who appeared to be her age. He then pointed to some men’s clothing hanging in the right side of her closet. Several items appeared to be missing.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time, kid,” Alan said as he opened his notebook. “’Stranger’ murders are pretty rare. That guy’s probably her husband, and in my experience, spouses kill each other.” Alan systematically pointed to a number of pieces of evidence and interpreted them in light of his proclamation

As it turned out, it was a little more difficult than that…it turned out to be the victim’s twenty-five-year-old neighbor. He barely knew her but managed to trick the victim into opening her door on the night he raped and killed her. She turned out to be single; the man in the photograph was her brother (he visited occasionally from overseas and kept some of his clothing in her closet).

Wallace goes on to describe how his partner’s presuppositions were wrong. They colored the way he viewed the evidence at the crime scene.

As I said, presuppositions give us starting point or reference point to solve a problem or puzzle. The problem with presuppositions is it automatically eliminates possible answers or solutions. It can influence the way you look at a particular situation and possibly prevent you from arriving at the truth.

As Wallace and his senior partner were standing at that crime scene trying to answer the question of who had murdered this woman, one already had the answer due to presuppositions. It was like he was asking “Did her husband kill her?” after excluding every suspect other than her husband.

There are a lot of people who adhere to a philosophy called naturalism – which teaches that nothing outside the material universe exists. There’s no God, no soul, no afterlife, no nothing that can’t be seen or measured by science.

When Wallace was an atheist, he tells of how he did the same thing his partner did in the crime scene. He was evaluating the evidence for God as a naturalist – canceling out the idea of anything existing beyond the natural realm. In other words, he was asking “Does a supernatural being exist?” while eliminating the possibility of anything supernatural.

Wallace learned from that first experience to enter homicide scenes with an open mind. He adhered to a philosophy to let the evidence lead him to the answer, wherever that journey may go. As he puts it:

There’s one thing I know for sure: you simply cannot enter into an investigation with a philosophy that dictates the outcome.

He eventually learned that if he wanted to find out the truth about God, he would have to approach it the same way he approached homicide cases – without any presuppositions.

What presuppositions or preconceived notions do you have about various areas in your life? Even about God?

Could these possibly be holding you back from discovering the truth? Like Wallace, are you willing to let the evidence lead you to the answer – whatever that may be?


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