Saturday, May 26, 2012

Evidentiary versus Presuppositional Hermeneutics

I'm working on the Atlanta paper today, but thought I would drop this distinction I've been developing for dialog between varying scholars:

I'm afraid I'm not good enough at graphics to get the diagram quite the way I wanted in the time limits of this morning.  In theory, there might be a line right down the middle of the shaded area to make four basic interpretive approaches.

Broadly speaking, the two basic approaches are 1) an evidence-driven hermeneutic that tries to form its conclusions as much as possible on the basis of the evidence, following something like the scientific method and 2) a presupposition-driven hermeneutic that comes to the evidence with certain presuppositions that drive the limits of what can and cannot be concluded.

The overlap is an area where dialog can take place between those who take these contrasting approaches.  It is an area where those who are primarily presupposition oriented can talk evidence and those who are evidence oriented fall within the presuppositional parameters of those who are more presuppositionally oriented.

Outside the overlap are the points where no discussion can take place and someone in the shaded area or other circle cannot dialog.  For example, a person from the unshaded part of the evidence-driven hermeneutic might have a hard time approaching the text with a sense that miracles might take place or that God actually engages the world.

On the other hand, when a person is so presuppositional on an issue that no amount of evidence would bring a change of position, then a person approaching a topic from the standpoint of evidence will not be able to dialog with that person at all on that particular issue without ultimately discussing presuppositions.

It is impossible for anyone to be completely without presuppositions, and a presuppositionalist who does not engage evidence at some level will appear to be a lunatic.  But this is why, on so many religious topics, we can't talk to each other.  We should not be surprised.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

"Faith" is an open stance toward hermeneutics of text and tradition, while a skeptical stance is an evidence based approach.

Text and tradition are the basis of much of what believers presuppose. Believers are mostly unaware of how they presume upon the text and tradition, as this is what creates "their reality".....
Religious cultures are formed an framed by text and tradition in their experience and reasoning, as "God" is over text and tradition.

Reason, on the other hand, looks for naturalistic causes to the universe, not religious ones (though some claim that "God" coul have been the instigator of natural causes). Reason does not presuppose "God" to answer questions, it seeks to discover causes. And since humans seek to understand, or rationalize their existance, then "God" and/or science are useful tools....

Ken Schenck said...

Angie, I almost mentioned a naturalist position as an example of an unshaded part of the evidentiary circle. I decided against it for this reason. A true evidentiarily oriented person must leave open the possibility for the supernatural and miracles. It is perfectly legitimate for an evidentialist to exhaust every other "natural" explanation first.

But to insist there cannot be miracles or to exclude the possibility that there might be a God is a presuppositional stance that precludes interpreting the evidence in one possible way. In that sense, a hardened naturalist is also a presuppositionalist who sets boundaries on how the data might be interpreted.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I agree, as it is all about probablities, and where you choose to be biased. Is it rational to "trust" God, or get a vacination? Is it rational to believe that despite evidence to the contrary that "God controls, intervenes and dictates" outcomes? I don't think so, as then, "the end" is a justifiable reason to do anything!!! (for God, of course)!!

But, it is just as likely that atheists do the same thing in their "ends"/outcomes, because they set agendas, and goals that justify their "means", too! "Ends" are not about "God" one way or another, ends are values that are pursued by different groups for various reasons.

Our society believes that individuals are free to determine their own "ends", that government was only to defend liberty and define limitations as to conflicts of various interests.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Therefore, when one limits oneself to text and tradition, one limits the possibilities, and questions, too. Everything revolves around and is about "God". Spiritualization doesn't sanction anything, it just makes the religious feel better about themselves. Such "self justification" can be a "bad thing", as it can promote a "self righteousness" and certainty about everything. Text and tradition is certainly limiting....

Chris said...

Hi Ken,

I wonder if your model/diagram also implies that the 'evidence based' approach lacks significant presuppositions? Anything but a rigorously empiricist scientism recognises the host of presuppositions made, necessary and appropriate to, even the natural sciences.


Ken Schenck said...

I tried to indicate that presuppositions are always in play, even for the logical positivists. This is also the implication of Kant's improvement on Hume. Nevertheless, there is a clear range of the extent to which presuppositions are in play. For example, Plantinga's idea that belief in God is "properly basic" is more presuppositional than someone like, say, Josh McDowell claimed.