Monthly Archives: March 2010

Anyone who has shared the Gospel with others has probably heard that familiar demand: “Prove that the Bible is the word of God.” The naturalistic assumptions driving such a demand are staggering. When people demand such proof, usually what they want is some empirical proof that they can test with their senses. Thus, they are assuming that empiricism is the default standard for determining truth of any kind. In other words, they assume that all truth propositions can be—and must be—evaluated using the natural senses alone.

But before the empiricist can proceed along this line, he or she must prove first that empiricism really is the standard by which to judge all truth claims. Sadly, though, they usually do not make any attempt to establish this, assuming at the very outset that science is the measure of all things and, operating on that presupposition, putting theists on trial and on the defensive.

The task of proving anything is actually quite a tricky business and not nearly as simple as the naturalist or empiricist may think. The problem is that as soon as you appeal to something to establish a belief, that thing you appealed to now becomes your authority—call it authority A. If you then appeal to yet something else to establish authority A, then that new thing to which you have appealed has now become your higher authority—authority B. If you continued like this, you would go on forever in infinite regress. Nobody does that, though, so all people have some starting point, some point beyond which they do not go, some unprovable foundation on which they build their belief system. Otherwise they could never form any beliefs at all, scientific or otherwise. In this respect, everyone is on the same footing, whether they are evolutionists, scientists, theists, atheists, Christians, and so on.

For example, if a person claims to rely on just plain facts—no feelings, no personal interpretations, but just the facts—on what authority does he establish that those facts are true—by reasoning? If so, does he establish reasoning by something other than reason? If not, then he has made reason his ultimate authority, but that begs the question: Are his reasoning capabilities beyond error? Of course not! But if that is the case, why would he make it his ultimate authority, his starting point? He does so because he wants to.

Perhaps another person’s ultimate authority is empiricism. Perhaps she thinks that all knowledge comes through the senses. But the same question I asked about reasoning also applies to empiricism: Is it beyond error? Are our senses always reliable? A green shirt, for example, appears to have the color green, but in reality it doesn’t have one bit of green in it. All it’s doing is reflecting that color from the spectrum of light that is falling upon it. Our senses can deceive us in other ways, too. I’ve heard of people who, after having a limb amputated, actually sensed that the amputated limb was still there. So the same question could be asked of the empiricist, namely: If empiricism is fallible, why would someone make it their ultimate authority? And we end up with the same answer: She does so because she wants to.

And if you really want to get down to the nitty-gritty, can empiricism be proven empirically? Or can the need for proof be proven?

It is important at this point to clarify that none of the above is meant to say that people may believe whatever they want; the point is that people do believe whatever they want. Thus, none of the foregoing comments endorse the idea that it is morally correct to believe in whatever we feel like. The point is that human beings are so constituted that they believe whatever they desire, without complete proof. Everyone—including the atheist—is a person of faith.

In my opinion, this is where so many in the scientific community go wrong, especially atheists. They are not right to claim or imply that Christians are at some kind of disadvantage because they rely on faith while they (the atheists or skeptics) allegedly examine the straight facts in an unbiased manner. The truth is that they are not neutral at all. Their beliefs ultimately rest on some unprovable authority, and that because of their own personal presuppositions. That is certain because that authority cannot be substantiated by any higher authority. Otherwise it would no longer be the ultimate authority.

Of course, this does not mean that science is worthless. On the contrary, science is very useful when and where it applies. That, of course, is the restriction: where it applies. The physical world—all that is subject to the physical senses—lies within the domain and jurisdiction of science. The unseen world, however, lies outside its domain. To say that God does not exist, for example, merely because God has not been empirically discerned would be like saying that the planet Pluto had not existed prior to its discovery in 1930. Someone or something does not have to be discerned in order to exist. Reality is not created by the senses. Thus, science has no right or authority to declare dogmatically the truth or untruth of any religious, spiritual claim.

My ultimate authority for the Christian life and spiritual matters is the Bible. When I engage in evangelistic discussions, I start with that presupposition. I don’t proceed with a “The Bible is true because…” approach but rather “Thus says the LORD.” If I were to attempt to prove the reliability of the Bible using some extrabiblical authority, such as my own reasoning, then I would be making that authority higher authority the Bible. God’s word, however, is not subject to the judgment of men. Herman Bavinck summarized this truth well when he wrote:

If Christian revelation, which presupposes the darkness and error of unspiritual humanity, submitted in advance to the judgments of reason, it would by that token contradict itself. It would thereby place itself before a tribunal whose jurisdiction it had first denied. (516)

How liberating that is! We don’t have to be defense attorneys for the Bible, lining up proof after proof of its inspiration in the hope of convincing the unbeliever that it can be trusted. All we need to do is proclaim it and teach it faithfully.

If we don’t have to prove that the Bible is the word of God, then how will people come to believe what it says? God’s word is self-authenticating. The Holy Spirit creates faith in a person, with which that person then responds in faith to God’s revelation. I agree with Herman Bavinck’s teaching that faith is the organ of any knowledge of God. This truth is borne out in the epistle to the Hebrews:

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. (Hebrews 11:1–3, NIV, emphasis added)

Faith itself is the assurance of what is hoped for and the certainty of what we don’t see. Thus, true knowledge of God is a faith-knowledge. We don’t become intellectually convinced of God’s existence or of a particular truth about him first and then believe solely on the basis of that intellectual conviction. If that were the case, it would no longer be faith. Faith presupposes that which it believes; it does not require proof to believe in its object. I’m not saying that faith is divorced from the intellect; the two go hand in hand. I am just not sure that faith depends entirely on the intellect’s being convinced that something is true. People can, and do, reject things that they know to be true, so convincing the intellect alone does not guarantee faith. There must be an inner assurance and conviction that the object of faith is true, and in the spiritual realm, that assurance and conviction come from the Holy Spirit.

Is faith voluntaristic or intellectualistic? Is faith a moral act of the will whereby we willingly receive what God has said because we want to do so, or is it primarily an intellectual act? If the former, then the unbeliever’s issue is not that he needs to be intellectually convinced that the Bible is divinely inspired. Rather, his real issue is his willful rejection of the Bible’s authority. The will must be changed before belief will occur.
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Bavinck, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics. Ed. John Bolt. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003. 4 vols.