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Friday, February 12, 2010

Faith or Reason? Part Two

In yesterday's post, I showed that Christian apologists subordinate reason to faith. They follow the lead of the author of Hebrews who said, By faith we understand (11:3). In other words, without faith it is impossible to make sense out of the Bible. One must accept the idea that the Bible is a divine revelation and then interpret everything in light of that belief. If science or reason contradict something in the Bible, faith demands that the Bible be true and science or reason be wrong.

Today, I want to give some examples of this methodology from a leading evangelical apologete, Dr. Norman Geisler.

Evangelicals believe that the Bible is without error. They argue that since God cannot lie and since God is the author of the Bible (albeit making use of human instruments); therefore, the Bible must not contain any untruths. Geisler, in his book, When Critics Ask (Victor Books, 1992) offers the following syllogism:

God cannot err.
The Bible is the Word of God.
Therefore, the Bible cannot err.

Once again, this idea goes back to Augustine of Hippo. In his polemical treatise against the Manicheans, he argued: "If we are perplexed by any apparent contradiction in Scripture, it is not allowable to say, "The author of this book is mistaken;" but either the manuscript is faulty, or the translation is wrong, or you have not understood (Bk 11, par.5).

Geisler lists 17 mistakes he believes critics make when approaching alleged errors in the Bible. For our present purpose, I will deal with four of these.

1. Assuming that the Unexplained Is Not Explainable.

Geisler writes: No informed person would claim to be able to fully explain all Bible difficulties. However, it is a mistake for the critic to assume, therefore, that what has not yet been explained never will be explained.

But what does this boil down to? One must by faith believe there is a resolution to the problem even though no one has found it in over 2000 years. Once again, you just "gotta believe."

2. Presuming the Bible Guilty Until Proven Innocent.

Geisler thinks we should approach the Bible in the manner that the US courts approach a person charged with a crime. Presume innocency until guilt is proven.

The problem here is that for evangelicals like Geisler, it is impossible to prove guilt. Nothing could ever be accepted as an error by them; their conclusion is already predetermined by faith.

3. Confusing Our Fallible Interpretations with God's Infallible Revelation.

Geisler says: Human beings are finite, and finite beings make mistakes. That is why there are erasers on pencils, correcting fluid for typing, and a "delete" key on computers. And even though God's Word is perfect (Psalms 19:7), as long as imperfect human beings exist, there will be misinterpretations of God's Word and false views about His world.

Note that Geisler is presupposing the truth of the Scripture. Why? Because the Bible says its perfect in Psalms 19:7. How can one not see that this circular reasoning? He has by faith accepted the Bible as the divine word of God and therefore if there is something in the Bible that appears to be in error, the fault must lie with him not with the Bible.

15. Forgetting that Only the Original Text, Not Every Copy of Scripture, Is
without Error.

This retreat to the "original text" was popularized by B.B. Warfield in his book, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible.

This retreat to the "original text" is quite convenient. Why? Because the original autographs of the Biblical text are not available. They have long since perished. All we have are copies of copies of the originals. Since no one would ever be able to produce the originals, Geisler, and his evangelical friends, have an unassailable position. By faith, they believe the original documents were perfect and the originals are forever lost; therefore no one, in their minds, could ever demonstrate a definite error in the Bible.

So, as I argued yesterday, for the evangelical, faith trumps reason. They will give lip-service to reason but ultimately their religion, as all other religions, is based on faith.


  1. Thanks to JamesPate's blog I read you were back. I admit that I checked everyday for almost a month. Welcome back! I ordered both books by Dr. Jason Long. I have a friend and we have long discussions about the accuracy of the NT. He took me to his Lutheran minister because I showed him the discrepancy between Matthew, Mark, and Luke's protrayal of the last supper being a Passover seder and John's portayal of it as a regular meal with Jesus's crucifixion happening before Passover began. The minister told us that he didn't have a problem with this discrepancy because John's version was a . . .

    wait for it . . .

    literary device.

    Really? I was so stunned it took me a moment. Doesn't the "literary device" open the door to all kinds of questions? What about the geneologies and the resurrections story discrepancies?

    My friend was satisfied by the answer. I'm
    baffled by these two intelligent men. So, I need to read those books to help me understand human nature.

    Also I would like to do a survey to see how many Christians know that there is such a discrepancy.

  2. Ken,

    Actually, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the grounds for inerrancy. Inerrancy is grounded in the words of Jesus who demonstrated empirically that he was the Son of God.

    You should know this if you had a PHD.

    The writers of Scripture were simply stating that which everyone knows is true. Faith is the foundation for all knowledge. We have to have faith that are senses are informing us accurately about reality. It also takes faith in Jesus to inform us about the love of God.

    If faith was not involved, then mankind would be omniscient. However, you are providing a false choice between faith and omniscience. A reasonable person would recognize that the ground of all knowledge for finite individuals is faith.

    I don't know of a scientist alive who believes mankind has all the answers. By your logic, no one should believe what a scientist has to say then which is clearly absurd.

    God Bless..

  3. "Faith is the foundation for all knowledge."

    Wow. So when Christians ruled Europe they had no faith, because knowledge stagnated and decreased during the Middle Ages?

    "We have to have faith that are senses are informing us accurately about reality."

    No, you are wrong. We verify it, through as many methods as possible, by as many people as possible. This does not rule out the idea of being a brain in jar, but that is not a reasonable alternative. There is a difference between doubt and reasonable doubt.

    "If faith was not involved, then mankind would be omniscient."

    Why? For what evidence do you give to prove this assertion?

    "However, you are providing a false choice between faith and omniscience."

    Straw man argument (Ken never made this claim) and false dichotomy (faith or omniscience are the only two choices?).

    "A reasonable person would recognize that the ground of all knowledge for finite individuals is faith."

    Besides being one of the dumbest things I have read, this is poisoning the well (if we don't agree with you we are unreasonable).

    "I don't know of a scientist alive who believes mankind has all the answers. By your logic, no one should believe what a scientist has to say then which is clearly absurd."

    Straw man, Ken said nothing of the sort in his post.

    Can you please try again after reading and understanding the post?

  4. By the way you contradict yourself:

    "Faith is the foundation for all knowledge."

    "If faith was not involved, then mankind would be omniscient."

    Faith can't be the foundation for all knowledge if without faith we would be all-knowing.

  5. Ken, your post gets at the heart of something that I've thought but never really been able to express. Right now, our understanding is flawed---our interpretation of the Bible is flawed, the Bible we have in front of us (in contrast to the original) is flawed, our understanding of God is flawed. When we encounter things about God that appear to violate our moral sensibilities, we're told (by certain Christians, but not all) that we don't see the big picture, that God is actually good, even in that situation. And he may be. But, when I make that judgment call, I'm subordinating the Bible to something higher---my moral sense---by saying that the Bible conforms to that when it doesn't appear to at the moment. That can open the door to interpretative anarchy, since we can say that the Bible means anything we want, but we don't see it yet because of our limited understanding.

    I should probably work at expressing this better. It just seems that Geisler is saying we should trust in perfection that eludes us, on account of our and the current text's imperfections.

    And here's a point that someone else once brought up to me: some fundamentalists act as if the world will cave in if we don't accept biblical inerrancy. But then they say that our understanding of the text is flawed, and that the text in its current form is flawed. So, in our religious lives, we already plow along with errancy!

  6. Emet--glad to have you back. You will enjoy Jason's book but remember, he points out a lot of problems in the Hebrew Bible as well.

    Zdenny--the resurrection is far from certain, so on your logic, so is inerrancy. Once again you misunderstand my position. I am not saying that faith in somethings is never justified but what I am saying is that the apologists and the NT says that faith trumps reason. If we don't understand, just believe!!! That is intellecutal suicide.

    James--you are exactly right. Even if the originals were inerrant, it doesn't matter now, since we don't have them. Everyone admits that the copies are flawed. Everyone admits that man's understanding is limited and sometimes flawed (hence, the many different interpretations among Christians). This is another reason why I am agnostic. There may be a god or supernatural entity of some sort but I don't find that he/she/it has communicated with man or even desires to.

  7. Reason is never really subordinate to faith in any fundamental way. Here's what I mean:

    A Bible-believing Christian says, "I take all on faith and subordinate reason to it."

    Someone says, "What do you have faith in?"

    "God's word, the Bible"

    "Why is the Bible God's word?"

    Upon which, the believer gives a set of reasons for accepting the Bible as the word of God. So it comes back to reason after all.

  8. Hi StevenJ,

    Your logic is faulty. What gourd should your reasoning be better than the bible?


  9. Ken,

    My point is that faith always trumps reason no matter who you are. An atheists or agnostic holds their worldview on the basis of faith. They have to..

    Since we are finite and only have probability in our knowledge, we can never know anything with 100% absolute certainty. Thus, a level of faith..

    As a result, mankind always have to rely on faith including you. Faith is the foundation of all knowledge and has to be. The only other option is omniscience which can only belong to a mind that contains all knowledge within it i.e. the Mind of God. As soon as the mind goes outside of itself, it has to rely on faith.

    I am not saying that there is not a test for what is reasonable and unreasonable; however, reasonable explanation always rest on the foundation that our senses are correctly informing us about what we see. The fact that other minds exists is also grounded in faith. In fact, anytime you go outside the mind, you are relying on a level of faith since we are finite having only access to probability in our arguments.

    Faith always trumps reason; however, what is reasonable can determine your faith. You can never have faith without reason since they are both two sides of the same coin.

    If you think reason exists without faith, no one will ultimately agree with you because every rational person recognizes that mankind's knowledge is only probable. Talk with any scientist and they will tell you the same thing.

    God Bless...

  10. Ken, I'm looking forward to Jason's books, no matter what they contain. I came from Christianity, but I never really looked at what the bible said. I was Catholic because my mother raised me to be a Catholic. As a child it never dawned on me that my teachers, and my family might be wrong. Later in life I examined the NT and looked up every quote and OT reference. I was shocked to find so many errors, inaccurate quotes, and conflicting ideas. I haven't had too many people talk about the problems with the Hebrew Bible but I'm looking forward to it. I live by this quote now, "Question, you will never regret knowing".

  11. "Since we are finite and only have probability in our knowledge, we can never know anything with 100% absolute certainty. Thus, a level of faith."

    Or, a simple matter of living without absolute certainty. That does not require "faith" in any sense that the word is commonly understood.

    Even if we expand the definition of "faith" to include, I don't know, the expectation that the world operates in predictable, understandable ways... that is a completely different meaning from religious faith, despite you attempts to conflate the two.