Stress-testing the
mind of Christ

Where a recovering ex-atheist rams the Bible into other worldviews to see what breaks (note: Scripture cannot be broken)


series
Does God exist? Part 4

Continued from part 3 « Click here for Angels Depart’s final statement; below is my response— As I see it, Angels, there are three main areas which I must cover in this final response so as to show convincingly that God must exist, and that the Bible is his revelation. The first area regards the […]

Continued from part 3 «

Click here for Angels Depart’s final statement; below is my response—

As I see it, Angels, there are three main areas which I must cover in this final response so as to show convincingly that God must exist, and that the Bible is his revelation. The first area regards the issue of the textual criticism of Scripture. I will dwell on this as briefly as possible, since although it is important, it is also incidental to the main thrust of my argument. The second deals with science and probability. Again, I will treat this with as cursory a consideration as possible before leading into the third area, which is the question of epistemic authority and security. I will spend the most time on this question, in order to fully demonstrate why God must exist.

So firstly, regarding the contradictions you have asserted to exist in Scripture. You discuss angels being bound versus the devil being free; God’s omnipotence versus his inability to lie; and his alleged inability against iron chariots. Your responses to the first two of these three questions seem to be disconnected from the arguments I forwarded in my previous statement. You accuse me of failing to address the issue of devils appropriately, and of “completely ignoring” the “blatant contradiction” of God’s omnipotence and inability to lie. But in my previous statement, I said—

Since God is truth (John 14:6; 1 John 5:6), and he cannot contravene his own nature (otherwise he could not be God), it is absurd to suppose that he can lie. If he could lie, he would not be God. It does not make him less than omnipotent, unless you misunderstand what omnipotence means.

As you can see, I have clearly answered your objection. If you believe that my answer is inadequate then I would ask that you explain why, rather than alleging that I ignored the “contradiction” altogether. Similarly, as regards the issue of demons, I stated clearly that the Bible does not say in 2 Peter 2:4 or Jude 1:6 which angels were imprisoned; nor how many. It is true that fallen angels are demons, and that Satan, the devil, is a fallen angel. But these passages do not say that all angels were imprisoned, nor when. There is ample provision within them to be referring to a specific group of angels; and there is ample provision also for the passages to be speaking metaphorically rather than merely spiritually. If the latter is true, then it is likely that they are referring to the same event as Revelation 20:2. I would interpret this through a preterist eschatology and argue that the binding is not in a literal pit for a literal thousand years (that is, it is not a total incapacitation), but rather is an apocalyptic illustration of how God has revoked the ability of Satan and his angels to prevent the spread of the gospel in the “millennium”, which is the current age. However, it seems needless to continue any complex exegesis when I can simply point out that to establish a contradiction here would require far more information than the passages themselves provide. It is only by assuming from them a great deal more than is warranted that any kind of incongruity can be suggested. I made this quite clear in my previous statement, and it strikes me as strange that you would have mistaken my clear refutation of your objection for my conceding the point.

As regards Judges 1, you have conceded my defense here, and although you raise ancillary objections, they are not arguments per se, but rather your own personal disagreement with God’s methods. No doubt you would do things differently to God, but since the Bible itself tells us to expect such a thing, this is by no means a problem.

What would be really impressive in situations like these is if god made himself/herself known directly to the enemies of his/her people. A direct revelation from god could not be refused. There are many examples of god making people’s hearts hardened and making them disobey his/her command, but he/she never coerces someone to follow them.

Of course, this is simply not true. If by a “direct” revelation you mean simply a revelation in which God himself appears to people, then such a thing can and may be refused, as evidenced by all those who gathered around Jesus and yet disbelieved him. But if by a “direct” revelation you mean a personal imparting, by God, of the truth of his word, then such revelation is never refused. This is the basis of Christian faith: the indwelling Spirit and the implanted word (Jer 31:31-35; John 3:3-8; James 1:21).

The second thing is, if god normally works through average everyday means then how do we know that it is god working? If we assume that it is god working but he/she is working through everyday means then how is that any different than there being no god?

As I will show, the difference is that reality is unintelligible and impossible if there is no God. Nonetheless, I find your question rather bizarre. I’m not really sure with what purpose you framed it, so it is difficult to answer directly.

Moving on, you ask why God would issue a covenant knowing full well that it would be broken. This question is loaded with implicit assumptions, not least of which is the supposition that God issues covenants for similar reasons that people do; and that people always wish covenants they issue to be fulfilled. However, since God’s purpose in creation is to glorify himself, and one of the ways in which he can do this is to show the results of disobedience to his commands, many reasonable explanations can be formulated to the contrary. That said, it is not necessarily appropriate for a Christian to do this, and I will not be seen to be questioning or testing God’s motives—neither is it necessary for the sake of argument, since your inability to discern these motives does not imply that they do not exist, nor that they are not superlatively good.

Nonetheless, lest your accusation of God being deceitful seem unanswered, let it be noted that Scripture does in fact explicitly state at least one purpose of the law in general (which includes the covenant conditions in question): to demonstrate man’s inability to justify himself before God, and thus the necessity of faith (Gal 3). It “was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith” (v 24). There was no deceit on God’s part; only inability and incomprehension on man’s part.

As for your allegation that “there is a countless amount [sic] of absurdities and direct contradictions in the Bible that are impossible to reconcile”, I have already shown that this is a ridiculous claim. You cannot give examples of supposed contradictions, have them refuted, and then immediately say, “well there are countless others that can’t be reconciled!” Since I have proved that those contradictions which you have alleged were apparent only on the basis of an ignorance or naiveté of one sort or another, it is simply absurd to give you, rather than the text, the benefit of the doubt as regards other supposed contradictions. To do so would be to commit the twofold error of violating a major principle of textual criticism, and ignoring the precedent of your previous errors—errors which you now compound by citing a supposed incongruity between Genesis 1 and 2, thus demonstrating that you are ignorant of a fundamental aspect of Hebrew thought: block logic. Since you are evidently unaware that in Hebrew culture it was common to arrange stories conceptually, rather than chronologically, how can I possibly take your criticism of the Bible any more seriously than you would take criticism of evolutionary theory from someone who did not understand the concept of a common ancestor? Your textual objection is as well-founded as the scientific objection that if we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys around? (I should also note that it isn’t really cricket to allege another contradiction after I have already considered and refuted more than I originally offered to—at best it suggests a certain degree of desperation on your part.)

Now, to briefly address your objections to the canon of Scripture: since these seem to be based entirely on your own speculation rather than any hard evidence; and since, if Scripture is true, then God sovereignly ensured its accurate transmission regardless of potential pitfalls and possibilities of error, I see no counter-argument that needs to be made. Scripture is inerrant because it was authored by God, and not because of any particular historical arguments. That said, the only historical arguments against its accuracy are those propounded by heavily biased, fringe theorists who have an insufficient grounding in genuine historical scholarship.

Lastly, the argument from atrocity. You cite various New Testament passages which supposedly contradict the Bible’s own commands in the Old Testament. However, since I have already stated that these Old Testament commands were situational and specific, and cannot be generalized; and since I have similarly acknowledged the general commands given in both the Old and New Testament to love one’s enemy, you appear to be arguing against a nonexistent position. Your objection does not engage with my point regarding specific versus general commands at all, let alone demonstrate why it is in error. You would therefore seem to concede this point by default.

The second area I must cover is science and probability. More specifically, I should say science and uniformity. You have given some impressive-looking calculations and arguments for the accuracy of scientific prediction, but you have done so on the basis of the very assumptions which I have called into question. In other words, you are continuing to assume the validity of presuppositions such as the uniformity of nature, so as to make your argument. But since it is not any specific experiment which I am questioning, but rather the underlying philosophy of them all—the very presuppositions you are assuming—your argument is both irrelevant and unable to engage with the points I am making. Allow me to elaborate:

For example we do have a way of knowing exactly the potential outcome given consistent variables. If you are coming up with slightly different outcomes it is likely that your variables have not been consistent. For instance, in your example regarding a measurement taken on the speed of sound, I would question whether or not the scientist was controlling for variables, such as wind speed, air density and elevation.

The latter part of this statement is not in question. I was careful to mention, when giving this example, that I was simplifying for the sake of brevity. Furthermore, the example (along with its companion the pendulum) was demonstrating that “empirical” laws are actually not empirical at all—a point with which you have not engaged. It was not trying to show that consistent results are impossible.

Nor have I claimed that consistent results are impossible. On the contrary! I affirm the law of uniformity, and the usefulness of science, and the benefits of medicine, and all those other things you represented me (for what reason I do not know) as being against. My point was that you, and not I, are in the situation of having no justified, rational reason to suppose that consistent results are to be expected at all. Since you have no rational reason to suppose this, you also have no basis for calculating even the most tentative probabilities—for, as I said, this requires knowledge of the number of actual and possible instances of something happening. If you have no justification for supposing that something will happen the same way twice (given sufficient control of the variables of course), then you have no basis for calculating a probability based on hypothetical occurrences; you must restrict yourself to actual ones. My comments regarding probability were merely introductory to the main thrust of my argument, which was regarding uniformity. This argument you have not engaged with in the slightest. You have not even attempted to refute the fact that your (not my!) worldview cannot justify its assumption of uniformity, which of course includes such assumptions as the accuracy of memory and so on.

Now, for some reason it is entirely common for people to think that I am myself arguing against science, uniformity, and so on, when in fact I am arguing against the secular scientific worldview. Obviously, it is absurd and ridiculous to think that if I hold up a glass of water and let it go, it will not fall to the ground and break, sending water all over the place. We all agree on that. What seems to be somehow missed in my presentation is that this is my point. If it is so absurd and ridiculous to disbelieve uniformity, then conversely its truth must be obvious and entirely sensible. But if it is so obvious and true, then it ought easily to be demonstrated. Such an obvious truth, being so fundamental to all science, should be able to easily be proved. There should be a rational basis for it. To put it more technically, the philosophy of science should entail a metaphysic, or theory of reality, which can rationally justify its belief in the principle of uniformity.

But it can’t. The Christian worldview, of course, can—it accounts perfectly for uniformity, because our orderly and consistent God “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb 1:3). We can rightly ridicule a worldview which cannot even account for the basic principle of uniformity, because such a worldview is genuinely ridiculous.

Now, this leads me into my third and final area of discussion, which is epistemology and metaphysics. You said that we “have a way of knowing exactly the potential outcome given consistent variables.” I am glad you used that word, knowing, because that is the precise question at hand. If I can show that you have no way of knowing anything of the sort—that you have no justification for any scientific or religious proposition which you may assert—then the foundation of your entire worldview crumbles, and any argument you may bring to bear will collapse from the ground up. Conversely, if I can show that I do have justification for the scientific and religious propositions I assert, I automatically exclude any contrary propositions by merit of that justification.

What I am saying is that knowledge (I am sure you will agree) entails a belief which is both true, and justified. One may coincidentally believe something true, but if one believes for no good reason, or for false reasons, then one does not have knowledge. Therefore, if you are to make any claim to knowledge (such as that God does not exist, or that it is unknowable whether or not he exists), you must be able to justify your claim. You must be able to show that it is true. If your assertion is without rational basis—that is, if it cannot be shown to be genuinely, objectively true, but rather is ultimately a result of your own subjective ideas—then obviously you have no argument whatsoever. You have only opinion; and opinion is of no use in a debate.

So far, you have offered numerous reasons for doubting the truth of Christianity. These reasons have basically been empirical in nature, one way or the other. You have assumed that one can come to at least some knowledge through empirical means, and that this knowledge can contradict other knowledge-claims, such as those made by the Bible. But what if you can come to no knowledge whatsoever using empirical methods?

In order to use empirical evidences, you must make assumptions. One of the assumptions I have already mentioned is that of uniformity. Since you are unable to justify this assumption, any belief built on top of it is necessarily unjustified as well. That is to say, if you claim to know that the Flood did not occur (and here is why I concede no point at all regarding it), then you must also claim to know all the other things, including philosophical ones, upon which this alleged knowledge is based. If a prerequisite to your claim is that nature is uniform, then you must be able to know that nature is uniform. It is no good to merely believe it, no matter how apparently obvious or necessary that belief is. Indeed, the more obvious or necessary it seems, the easier it ought to be to show that it is rationally justified.

More fundamentally, though, empirical knowledge-claims rely on more basic assumptions, like, an external world exists, and, we can come to knowledge of the external world through our senses. Again, how do you know this? You may subjectively believe it, and it may appear absurd to question it, but what rational justification do you have for this belief? If no rational justification can be given, then regardless of how sensible it may seem, it cannot be called knowledge. And, as I have said, a worldview which cannot justify even its most basic beliefs can rightly be called ridiculous. Since it clearly fails to engage with even the most fundamental aspects of reality, which we all take for granted, there is certainly no reason to suppose that it correctly interprets reality in more complex ways.

It should be obvious from what I have said so far that no worldview which is based purely on subjective experience can make any meaningful claim to knowledge (by “meaningful” I am referring to claims of the sort currently under debate: religious assertions and the like). Since knowledge deals with rational justification and true beliefs, it is by definition dealing with principles and facts which are not specific to any one person, but rather are universal to all people, having an origin outside of them. In other words, knowledge must be objective. But a particular and subjective person such as you or I is simply unable to assert universal and objective principles on the basis of our own experience. We have no way of knowing that we are not mistaken. The rather tired example of the brain in the vat suffices to show this. It is only in the case of necessarily true objective facts, such as the law of noncontradiction, that we can make any claim to knowledge at all. Nothing can simply be asserted as true on the basis of subjective belief, regardless of what it is.

This leaves the empiricist, who relies wholly on subjective interpretation of the world and the belief that what he perceives actually correlates to what is, in a position of total skepticism. Unless he can logically infer from the proposition, I perceive an external and physical world, to the conclusion, there is such a world, he simply cannot know if he is right about any given knowledge-claim or not. He would have to stop making knowledge-claims altogether. But such skepticism itself is a self-refuting position: that is, its assumption that we can know nothing about the world is itself rationally unjustified. How do we know we can know nothing about the world? What if, for example, there is an objective, universal deity who is both immanent (exists within reality and can communicate with us) and transcendent (exists outside of reality as we know it, and causes it to exist)? What if that deity has given us a true revelation of the world, so that we can know about it and make justified claims about it?

Certainly, such a revelation would be a valid basis for making knowledge-claims. If that revelation was from a truthful God, and if it declared that this was so, and if it told us enough about the world to build a workable framework for interpreting reality—that is, a metaphysic—then that metaphysic would be completely true, and any claims to knowledge we made based on it, whether directly or through valid inference, would be indeed genuine. So, since any worldview which is based on subjective experience or beliefs cannot make knowledge-claims and must reduce to skepticism; and, since skepticism refutes itself and cannot be true; therefore a worldview based on an objective revelation is the only possible alternative. Without it, you cannot claim to know, and you cannot claim not to know. A revelatory worldview is therefore not merely the only theoretically viable one—it is the only actually viable one. No other worldview can be true. To say otherwise is a knowledge-claim, which I have just shown cannot be made except on the basis of objective revelation. Therefore, any knowledge-claim—even one which asserts the falsehood of a revelatory worldview—must presuppose objective revelation. It borrows from this revelation even as it seeks to deny it.

Now, you might object that, even so, there are many worldviews which claim to be based on objective revelation, so the point I am making is at best moot. It certainly does not help me in establishing the truth of Christianity, since although I seem to have narrowed the possible contenders for a true worldview to a handful, I have no justification for claiming the Bible as the one genuine revelation, rather than (say) the Qur’an. But of course, even your saying this requires some kind of basis for doing so. What basis will you claim? I have already shown that you are wrong to say that no proof exists for God, since whichever alleged revelation is genuine does indeed constitute such a proof, as does the argument I have given above. It is in fact impossible for God to not exist, since that would mean we can know nothing. The only possible knowledge-claim which can be made in this regard is that God does exist. The assertion that he does not is by definition false; therefore, once properly reduced and analyzed, it is actually unintelligible. It is an incoherent statement; it means nothing. It is not a knowledge-claim, and worse, since it claims to be knowledge-claim, it is not even a sensible statement at all. Thus your position—whether it be that God does not exist, or merely that we cannot know if he exists—is shown to be absurd and false.

So even if it is the case that revelationism does not establish the truth of Christianity automatically, you should still recant your previous agnosticism and earnestly try to determine which revelation is true. (I say this only to remind you that your agnosticism has been soundly refuted and you have therefore lost the debate; we should still consider the objection, because that way we can show not only that “god”, in a general sense, exists; but that this god is YHVH, the Christian deity.)

Obviously there is a great deal which can be said at this point; and a lot that should be said also. For example, to most fully expound and prove my case, I should not merely disprove all other non-Christian worldviews, but also explicate the biblical metaphysic and epistemology to show that they do indeed make reality intelligible. Obviously, the Christian worldview must actually be able to justify the knowledge-claims it makes. However, I unfortunately cannot do this here for reasons of brevity and etiquette. For now, I can only direct you to The Wisdom Of God by way of proof that I can do this; and to Vincent Cheung’s Systematic Theology (PDF).

That said, I assert on the basis of the above precedent that the biblical worldview does make reality intelligible, while also acknowledging the open nature of this assertion, and inviting you to interact with it more fully in the future. In order to briefly demonstrate it, and to prove its exclusivity (that is, that only the Bible is sufficient as a basis for metaphysics and epistemology), I cite the philosophical concern known as the problem of the one and many.

This problem, briefly stated, asks: is the universe one? How then is it diverse? Or, is it diverse? How then is it one? This question can be expressed in many ways, but its basic gist is that either unity, or plurality, must be ultimate. If unity is ultimate, then diversity is impossible; if plurality is ultimate, then unity is impossible. However, neither of these situations is sensible, since they lead to logical absurdities. Obviously diverse things exist, and therefore unity cannot be ultimate, for no diversity can come from something totally unified. But if unity is not ultimate, then diversity must be—but then the same problem applies in reverse: no unity is possible. And if unity is impossible, relationships between things could never exist, for a relationship by definition is a unifying principle between two different things. Since logic entails relationships, and logic is self-affirming, it is irrational and self-refuting to think that diversity could be ultimate. Thus, neither is possible.

The only resolution to this dilemma is the equal ultimacy of unity and plurality represented in the trinitarian God of the Bible. Unless another worldview alleges a revelation from such a God, it cannot be true, because it would necessitate the impossible situation of an unintelligible reality. This simple philosophical issue therefore refutes any monotheistic or polytheistic religion which claims objective revelation. Any worldview which fails to answer the question of unity and plurality fails to make reality itself intelligible, and is thus incoherent and false.

Therefore, by merit of the impossibility of the contrary, Christianity must be true. Now again, to be fair, I have not presented my argument in great detail; nor have I explicated many points which might be misunderstood; nor have I dealt with many objections which commonly arise. If you would like, I would be quite willing to schedule a second debate to examine these sorts of questions in a mutually convenient way. Alternatively, I could recommend you read The Wisdom Of God, which is available online either in free PDF or a cheap paperback, and is linked at the top of the sidebar.

However, the salient points I wished to affirm have now been made. I have demonstrated that empiricism cannot make any knowledge-claims at all, and that you are therefore wrong to consider it either rational, or capable of proving anything. It is, in fact, irrational and unsupportable—and therefore false. I have demonstrated equally that skepticism is a position which must be necessarily false. Thereby, I have proved that what one might call revelationism—a system of thought founded upon objective revelation—must be true. This constitutes a proof for God in the broadest sense, and thus refutes the negative position of the moot of this debate. I have then further demonstrated that only the biblical worldview can genuinely claim divine revelation, because the gods of no other religions have natures which answer one of the basic questions which must be answered if reality is to be intelligible and coherent.

I have also addressed and refuted your objections against the Bible itself, from several angles, thus defending its internal consistency and truth. It therefore remains as the sole basis for any claim to knowledge, whatsoever.

Continued in the conclusion »

2 comments

  1. angelsdepart

    I am ready to post. Let me know when.

  2. Scott

    I am a former Full Preterist and have recently published an article to my blog on why I can no longer accept that position. This may be something you may want to check out.

    http://www.shadowsofthecross.com/

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