Know your Lenses

12 Dec
Know your Lenses

So this month we are talking about atheism. A great topic that I’m sure will generate plenty of hits to our blog. I want to write this week on presuppositions or the lenses which each of us views life. These are things that each and every one of us has within our minds which we bring with us as we interpret the external stimuli and ideas we are presented with. A most basic presupposition that we all carry is that gravity exists. In other words we never really have to think that when we get out of bed our feet will be pulled down, we just assume that they will. Of course this is an extremely basic one that has little philosophical weight.
However even more than something like gravity we all carry with us presuppositions about how the world should work and what should make sense. These can, and often are, a detriment to us unless we spend time double checking them. It is absolutely crucial that we as human beings become aware of these presuppositions lest we shut out ideas or individuals for illegitimate reasons.
This is an issue that time and time again gets in the way of two individuals sharing ideas and discussing them intelligently. For instance, I am a Christian and thus one of the major presuppositions I carry with me is that God exists (this of course brings with it a load of other presuppositions). Any discussion on the beginning of the world or about the nature of man is automatically put through the lens of this presupposition. It is not necessarily a bad thing but it is something that would undoubtedly put me at odds with someone who prescribes to a naturalism world view.
Now I do not have the time or the room to sit and unpack every possible presupposition that I or others have, however this is not my intent with this week’s post. Instead I simply want to begin a conversation on the importance of being aware of the self. In being aware of not only our own but also the presuppositions of others is crucial, especially in the area of philosophical and religious discussions. It allows us to be more open and less judgmental of ideas that are not our own. It makes us better defenders of our stances in that we are more readily able to discuss the issues others have with our beliefs. Most importantly it can aid in making discussions more mutually beneficial and help in keeping them from becoming a heated emotional shouting match.
So I urge everyone; Christian, atheist, naturalist, new age, young old, male or female to realize that they carry with them a lens through which they view and interpret everything in this world. It is not necessary to rid the self of these presuppositions but simply being aware of the impact they have on every aspect of our lives is crucial.


Posted by on December 12, 2011 in Atheism, Philosophy


7 responses to “Know your Lenses

  1. Justin Kinser

    December 12, 2011 at 11:52 am

    One lens that you may want to examine is projection. Gravity may be a presupposition that you accept blindly, but that is not the case for everyone. Some of us do not value faith, or the willingness to believe “things unseen.” For some of us, gravity is an established, demonstrable fact whose properties can be clearly studied, predicted and confirmed with tangible evidence and sound reasoning.

    Stating that you always start with a presupposition that is unsubstantiated is not a display of humility, but an acknowledgement that you are begging the question from the start. No learning can be done, no inferences made or knowledge gained when it is based on an unfounded premise. How can anyone convince you of anything using reason and logic when you yourself admit that you do not start from a logical position?

    • James

      December 14, 2011 at 4:09 pm

      Hey Justin,
      Great comment. I think the concept of projection is one that we all need to take into account. And I’m going to steal your gravity analogy here for a little bit. Christians that have thought through their worldview and actually asked hard questions (i’m not claiming that there is an abundance of this type of christian, but there are some) believe that the existence of God is an established, studied, and confirmed fact. There is tangible evidence and sound reasoning that goes in to the belief that God must exist. It’s not just blindly accepted. We look at the world and see evidence that seems to point to an intentional design. Scientifically non-existence doesn’t create existence. Therefore, if something exists, it’s because something made it exist. If that’s the case, then you need something eternal. The earth doesn’t seem to be eternal. Nature doesn’t seem to be eternal either. Therefore, there must be something outside of nature or super-natural that has acted. I know I haven’t answered every question and created a perfectly water tight argument here but there is reason and thought behind the belief in a deity. That’s my point.

      As far as presuppositions are concerned, I’m not sure that everyone starts with something that is always unsubstantiated but everyone has to start somewhere. If you start with logic you have to prove why logic is a sufficient starting point. If you start with nature you have to prove not only that nature is a good starting place but that it even exists at all. It seems that so many people perceive things differently and if that’s the case and we are all perceiving nature differently, is it possible that nature itself is just a figment of our imagination. Even if it’s not a figment, we have to decide weather or not it is a solid foundation for an absolute, something that you can count on? It’s also important to ask if reason and/or logic are even trustworthy. My biggest question for you, and please don’t take this as combative cause it’s not, is “What is the founded premise from which YOU start? This is a question that I ask lots of people because I think it helps you gain insight into almost everything that person believes or doesn’t believe.

      The question worded a different way, What is prime reality? What is absolute reality? What can we look to, to test everything else against? Where do we start, and what is the foundation of our worldview? Looking forward to hearing from you again. Thanks for commenting.

      I’d be interested to hear anybody’s thoughts on this question of the basic premise of their worldview.

  2. James

    December 12, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    I think that this is a really important sub-topic in the discussion of atheism. All to often, atheists and Christians fnd themselves arguing past each other. It’s maddening to have a discussion where one side is arguing about apples and the other is talking oranges. It just doesn’t work. I think it’s impossible to talk about practical issues without taking into consideration the axioms or lenses that make up the other persons worldview.

    I’d be curious to see what people out in blogger land would call the most important lenses to think about in the normal Christian and atheist interaction?

  3. Ender

    December 13, 2011 at 11:58 pm

    Justin: I agree completely and will admit that I did project a little in this post. In this scenario I was a little forced to project considering this was written without interaction with an individual.
    I was not arguing that everyone should accept “things unseen” but that we should be aware of differences in how we perceive the world.

    Perhaps I should have made myself more clear in the post itself but what I was trying to get at is the all to often situation of the Christian and Non-Christian arguing over something like evolution without first acknowledging that they have very different base beliefs. Personally, evolution does not seem like a complete answer, but that is very much influenced by my beleif in the Judeo-Christian God. My answer to the question of how life came to exist would be very different if I did not believe in said god. I could argue till I am blue in the face that God created everything, but if you do not believe in his existence it would fall upon deaf ears. The same is true in the opposite direction.

    This post ties in well with my last post in that I wish us to be able to have intelligent conversations that don’t end in child like fits with fingers put in ears because we disagree. Instead I want us all to be able to say “you believe this and I believe this” and continue on without completely dismissing an idea as ludicrous or ignorant because it doesn’t fit in with our particular worldview. I believe that there is a lot of true and valuable ideas and thoughts from people who are not Christians. I just don’t want those to be unheard because they come from a different worldview. And I hope that non-Christians would give the same curtesy to Christian thoughts and ideas.

  4. Larry, The Barefoot Bum

    December 22, 2011 at 4:52 am

    Sigh… If you’re going to talk about presuppositions, it’s probably helpful to study some philosophy.. It’s helpful not so much to learn what the answers are (philosophers don’t have answers), but to develop habits of rigor, precision and accuracy; these habits are, sadly, all too often best learned by criticizing bad philosophy.

    We need to distinguish between three kinds of statements: statements that we take for granted because they are well-established (such as gravity), statements we take for granted without thinking about them deeply (such as realism), and “true” presuppositions, which are statements we *must* (in some sense) take for granted (such as phenomenalism).

    An individual by definition cannot distinguish between these kinds of taken-for-granted statements without special effort, and it can legitimately be said that all these statements, of whatever kind, form an individual’s “lens”, they way they actually do examine those statements they do not take for granted.

    But simply saying that everyone has a “lens” is not enough, because we *can* examine any statement heretofore taken for granted. We cannot blithely say (and I don’t think you are blithely saying) that all lenses are created equal. Indeed, it’s arguable that the purpose and value of philosophy is not to find the “right” lens, but to make us examine our lenses in detail: what can we learn from examining how we examine things? The self-referentiality of such a project should be obvious, and we must beware the perils of self-referential paradoxes, but that’s what makes philosophy both dangerous and interesting.

    As I said, I don’t think you are blithely saying that all lenses are created equal. But I think you are not being strong enough in your exhortation that “everyone … realize that they carry with them a lens through which they view and interpret everything in this world,” and “it is not necessary to rid the self of these presuppositions but simply [to be] aware of the impact they have on every aspect of our lives.”

    It is not enough, not nearly enough, to simply be aware of our presuppositions, the statements we take for granted. We really should take the time “to sit and unpack every possible presupposition” we have. I actually don’t think it’s true, but if an individual cannot live long enough to do examine all of his or her own presuppositions, that would be only a tragedy, not an excuse. We should examine all our presuppositions, or die trying.

  5. Larry, The Barefoot Bum

    December 22, 2011 at 5:12 am

    One misconception that’s widespread is that naturalism (or atheism, or “scientism”) asserts that presuppositions are uniformly bad. This misconception is, I think, a holdover from the early 20th century philosophical project of Logical Positivism and Naive Empiricism. It’s noteworthy that both Positivism and Naive Empiricism have been pretty much abandoned by both scientists and philosophers. Ever since Popper (at least), naturalists and scientists have had an imperfect but reasonably good framework for evaluating metaphysics and presuppositions and accepting some of them. The naturalist (or atheist or “scientism-ist”) critique of supernaturalism (or theism) is not that it has presuppositions; the critique, rather, is that theism has “bad” presuppositions. By “bad” we mean bad according to the “good” presuppositions that both supernaturalists and naturalists share. (We might be mistaken in this critique, of course, but that’s what the critique actually is.)

    Another common misconception — sadly all too often shared by naturalists — is that naturalism has more “true” presuppositions (as defined above, statements we *must* in some sense take for granted) than it actually needs. Realism — the notion that a “real” world exists outside our minds — is a notable example. A lot of even philosophically aware naturalists take realism as a “true” presupposition. But it we can dispense with realism as a presupposition; it is actually a conclusion that rests on the “true” presuppositions of phenomenalism and pragmatism. As I noted earlier, simply saying that a lot of scientists and naturalist philosophers do take realism for granted does not mean they *must* take realism for granted.

    • James

      December 22, 2011 at 3:24 pm

      Thanks for your comments Larry.

      I think we are on the same page here. I feel like the thrust of this article was to encourage people to look at their own lenses. The hope and goal of that encouragement is that if they see something that is just silly on their lens… Hopefully they will wipe it off. If they see a scratch that can be fixed, fix it. If your lens is just crap, well then throw it away. I think we have to remember than not all lenses are equal but we also need to remember that ours isn’t the only lens out there. After we have examined our lenses we need to examine the lenses of others to see if they have maybe seen something that we didn’t. To me that’s kind of what Philosophy does and if we use it correctly we can use both philosophy and logic to inform our worldview, our religious beliefs (or lack thereof), etc.


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