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We’ve all got our circularities

I believe the Bible is the word of God because in it God speaks.  This is not an unfortunate circularity.  At the end of the day nothing could convince me it's God's word except that God speaks.  You could tell me it's great history, it's logically coherent and displays incredible internal consistency as a library of books over many centuries.  Great, I believe all those things.  But that doesn't make it God's word.  The only thing that could authenticate the Bible as God's word is if God personally speaks through it.  And at that stage I'm essentially saying that it's God's word because it's God's word.

Or to shift that argument to christology, I believe that Jesus is the Radiance of the Father's glory because in Him I've met the glorious Father.  Yet this Father is met only in the face of the Son.  In other words, I know that Jesus is Lord because I see in Him the kind of Lord that only Jesus reveals.  There is a self-authenticating majesty to Jesus such that I say, along with Lord Byron, "If God's not like Jesus, He ought to be."  Jesus is the kind of God that I believe in - the kind of God that Jesus uniquely reveals.  He's IT.  And I know He's IT because, well, look at Him!  Jesus is Lord because Jesus is Lord.

At this point you'll note how inter-related these two circularities are.  And also the integral role of the Spirit in both.  He brings us God's written word with divine authority, illuminating Christ so that, in Him, we might see and know the Father.

Now "circular arguments" get a bad name.  For one thing it sounds like buying into them will trap you.  Actually, if you find yourself in the right Circle, you'll finally be free.  The Circle of Father, Son and Spirit doesn't limit you.  No these ultimate realities (because they really are ultimate) enable you to move out into the world all the wiser for knowing their Lordship.  With the Spirit-breathed word, and the Lens of the Father's Son... then you can really get somewhere.  From this knowledge you'll find all sorts of other things illuminated by God's Light.

But still, people will cry foul.  "You can't reason in a circle" people will say.  But hang on, we all employ circular reasoning whenever we make claims about ultimate reality.  Didn't your mum ever justify her pronouncements with "Because I'm the mummy"?

It's inevitable that your ultimate ground of authentication must authenticate itself, or it isn't ultimate.

Now this plays out in all sorts of areas.  But think, for instance, of the naturalist assumption that the "natural" realm is best placed to judge any hypothetical "further realm".  If a "further realm" exists, they say, it must play by the rules of naturalism.  This, of course, radically limits the kinds of realms the naturalist would be willing to admit and means that the gods they consider can only be superbeings within the world.

Now the naturalist cannot establish such a priority via naturalism.  It is, by definition, beyond the ability of the natural sciences to pronounce on the existence of realms beyond their scope.  Yet naturalists assume that the "natural" realm is all there is, was, or ever shall be.

Naturalism, they say, is the best explanation of ultimate reality because other explanations fail naturalistic tests.  Or, to put it most simply, naturalism is true (or our best bet) because naturalism says so.

Now let's be clear - belief in naturalism is not a groundless leap of faith.  It's a faith commitment that springs from compelling evidence (true faith always does).  The evidence is this: trusting our own powers of perception and reasoning has produced great success in the natural sciences.  I.e. it works, it explains things, when we move out into the world on its basis things make sense.

But,

1) The Christian does not deny the explanatory power of the naturalistic sciences.  The Christian believes that such sciences have sprung from a broader Christian world-view and rejoice in the fruits of the gospel here.  Christians simply deny that such knowledge is the only or surest knowledge.

In fact,

2) The Christian sees that naturalism is horrifically reductionistic and harmful when seeking to be applied beyond the natural sciences.  As the old saying goes, If all you've got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  To treat human personhood and relationships, ethics and aesthetics, to say nothing of a relationship with God, as a mere interplay of matter and energy is to misunderstand these things greatly.  The explanatory power breaks down here in a catastrophic way.  And yet, these things - love, forgiveness, beauty, goodness etc - are the most precious realities in human existence.

In the discussion between Richard Dawkins and Rowan Williams the other day, Dawkins said he "believed" we would find naturalistic explanations for consciousness - explanations which we do not now possess.  That is a consistent faith position within his world-view.  Naturalism has produced the goods in many spheres of enquiry - he trusts that consciousness will be one more success story for the natural sciences.

Yet all the while an explanation for personal reality presents itself to Dawkins.  One which does not rule out science but underpins it.  And one which accounts for the priority of the personal which is the most blindingly obvious reality which we encounter moment by moment. Nothing else accounts for it like this accounts for it...

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.   (John 1:1-4)

I honestly don't know why Dawkins - or anyone - can't see it.  How can there be darkness when the Light of Christ is so dazzlingly obvious?  But then I would say that.  I'm in the grip of the ultimate Circularity!

21 thoughts on “We’ve all got our circularities

  1. Pete Matthew

    Glen,

    Thanks for this, perfect for an answer I'm drafting in an ongoing discussion. As with all your stuff, phrased and presented far better and more succinctly than I can manage.

    Thanks,

    Pete

  2. James Watt

    "Mommy" establishes authority through various means, which is why when she says "I'm the mommy", it holds weight. Her love and care for her children are both real and physically testable. Besides the fact that she is doing everything to provide the best care for her child, the child will learn through trial and error that mom is right.

    A child who touches the stove after being told not to will always remember two lessons. 1). Listen to your mother and 2). Don't touch the stove!

    Children who are raised in less fortunate family life with absent and careless parents will usually not take their mother's word for something and rebel much earlier than children in more loving families.

    The Bible on the other hand, which is a circular argument telling us to believe because it's true (and therefor, since it's true, we are to believe it), when tested is shown to be a false document. The majority of stories and facts in the bible are actually contradictory to historical evidence.

  3. andyharker

    Hi Glen, Really appreciate the post. The circularity thing does stop us 'defending the lion' (was that Luther?). I wonder whether the historicity issue that James brings up is important too though. Biblical truth is not circular in quite the same way as some of the Eastern philosophical/mythological religions. It (or better He) is historically grounded. The Truth doesn't circulate up there somewhere but touches earth. In answer to James, perhaps one way to see the whole Biblical narrative is as the history of a parent relating to her child - loving, caring, disciplining - in very concrete ways through thousands of years of history. Without wanting to put the Bible below the empirical method that it facilitates, surely the Bible does place a huge emphasis on witness (e.g. John's gospel). The call is not simply "Believe, believe" but "Hear, read, look, judge."

  4. Si Hollett

    James, I think you miss the point. God speaking has to be the highest authority (and thus must self-authenticate or there'd be a higher authority), and while historical evidence can indeed be looked at, it is a lesser, more fallible, authority (though one that backs up the higher authority).

    This is what you've done - a higher authority has decreed that the bible is bunkum (perhaps through the unquestioned enlightenment plausibility structure of the non-physical not existing as the evidence for it is bunkum as the non-physical doesn't exist), so you must ignore the actual historical evidence, especially the most recent stuff, and declare the bible is bunkum.

    The only way you can get around not having a self-authenticating highest authority is to have two or three forming a circle - eg it's logical to trust our reason and reasonable to trust logic. Otherwise you cannot know anything.

    Ignoring Genesis 1-11 (as there's debate over whether that's history, and over whether we can know that history via our current methods), can you name me one fact or story that history has debunked? Off the top of my head (and I enjoy reading debates on this subject) I cannot think of any. I might be wrong and if there's a 'majority' as you say, you shouldn't have much trouble. I tend to find that normally when such bold claims are made about the Bible, they are a house of sand and people had just taken such things as (un)holy writ.

  5. Glen

    Hi James, Welcome to the blog.

    I completely agree that there are multiple (secondary) reasons for trusting an ultimate authority - it's worked in the past, it's worked with others who have trusted such authority, the pronouncements of the authority are consistent with each other, etc, etc. But, by the nature of the case, if I treat any such corroborating evidence *as* the decisive factor, then what I claim to be my ultimate authority is not my ultimate authority.

    I listed many corroborating factors with regards to the Bible (history, logical coherence, internal consistency), let me add some more. In John 7:17 Jesus tells us to put His teaching into practice and see whether it's from God or not. I could point to historical incidences - like the sermon on the mount being heeded to phenomenal effect by Martin Luther King or Gandhi; or cultural/political facts - like the freedom and prosperity of those societies that have had centuries if not millennia of Biblical shaping; or personal experience of turning the other cheek and being astounded by the cross-shaped power-in-weakness that is unleashed. All these things (like the child who has *also* learned from experience) add up. But when we're talking about 'ultimate', we reach a level it's impossible to top. Again - that's just the nature of the case.

    You frame my circularity differently to how I do. I don't simply believe because it tells me it's true. It communicates the Truth (who is Jesus) and I know *Him* to be Lord (i.e. to be ultimate). If you ask me why *this* book does it for me and why I reckon *this* Guy to be Lord, I might point to lots of things (like above), but ultimately I'm going to say "Seriously, Look at Him! How can you *not* think He's Lord??"

    Hi Andy, I hope my response to James shows a bit of where I'm coming from. We don't so much break into God's circle, as He opens out His, in incarnation and the gift of the Spirit.

    Hi Si - be nice to our guests :)

  6. Rich Owen

    James,

    Thanks for your comments.

    Also, Mom is right cause she cooks up great food :-)

    With respect to your final paragraph, I don't think you've really "got" Glen's point. Let me explain why I think that:

    What exactly are the tests you speak of? Do these tests also define the kinds of outcomes expected? If you are saying that the Bible fails a naturalistic test, then sure, of course it will, because naturalism has a finite scope which is defined by naturalism. A circularity. Within it's own logic, it defines possibility and places parameters over possibility which logically excludes that which is not possible within its own boundaries of possibility.

    What Glen seems to be saying here, is that your logos is ultimate.

    The "natural world" is really, in Biblical eyes, hyponatural, it is under and within a bigger reality which is Jesus Christ, the logos of the universe. By this logos, the natural world can be enjoyed, tested, loved and explained. If however your logos excludes a hypernatural realm then your outcomes are limited.

    It's just bad science.

    Which brings it back to Glen's point. We all have our circularities.

    One last question, James. Have you read the Bible?

    Yours,

    Rich

  7. andyharker

    "We don’t so much break into God’s circle, as He opens out His, in incarnation and the gift of the Spirit." - That's a brilliant way to put it. Thanks. Which comes back to your wonderful emphasis on Jesus being so absolutely central, crucial, vital. I think that's what I meant (or should have meant!) - history not as a method but as looking on the glorious person and work of the God who became man.

  8. Si

    Glen - you are right, I was harsh. You and Rich challenge James' views with a lot more grace, clarity and brilliance.

    The stress of reading 'recommended' books for my essay - due in on Monday - is getting to me. I am wondering whether I've missed some brilliant quote on the topic in them, misinterpreted the question totally, or have a Dummkopf of a lecturer who either just picked some books at random as he had to have some, or wrote a question that doesn't look at the stuff he wants us to look at. I'm going with the third, as that fits the evidence best.

    Plus today I have baying hoards of young ladies trying to propose to me. Or not. ;)

  9. Josh VB

    Would it be fair to say that the only true circular argument that can genuinely exist is one that has Jesus at its very centre (to mix metaphors)? If I start at any point as my ultimate reality other than Christ I will either end up smack against a wall of contradictions or move to accep Christ as ultimate reality - thus I won't have a circular argument, but a spiral which leads to Jesus.

    If, for instance, we assumed naturalism was right we would quickly need to assume history was valid, which would quickly move to Jesus and then accepting his ultimate authority, or, to maintain disbelief in Christ, we would need to end up denying certain tenants of naturalism.

    If all truth will eventually lead to the one who is Truth (or to rejecting the truthfullness of the little bit of truth we see) and any starting point is valid then I can engage with people where they are at. Of course, if I were asked to defend the truthfulness of Jesus the quickest way to do it (and the only one with sure foundations) would be to start with him.

    (Is there a parallel with exegesis? Any exegetical method is 'valid' providing we note that it is provisional and we allow scripture to change our exegesis. In God's sovereignty - ie. through the work of the Spirit - any starting point for exegesis will lead ulitimately to accepting that Christ is the hermeneutical key for exegesis)

    This means that false views of reality aren't held by lost, trapped individuals who unfortunately started in the wrong place and have lived out the consequences, but are held by people who deny the consequences of their own beliefs so that they can continue in unbelief. More traditional forms of apologetics (i.e. non presuppositional apologetics) then plays a role in either leading someone to Christ, or exposing sin.

    Bottom line: circular arguments are fine for proving ultimate truth, but there's only one circular argument that does work.

  10. James Watt

    Wow, I have a lot to go through here! :-) I'll try to respond to as much of this as I can. I appreciate all of the responses, I'm glad to be talking to so many people who are open minded enough to have a rational conversation with an atheist.

    Andy says, "James, perhaps one way to see the whole Biblical narrative is as the history of a parent relating to her child – loving, caring, disciplining – in very concrete ways through thousands of years of history. Without wanting to put the Bible below the empirical method that it facilitates, surely the Bible does place a huge emphasis on witness (e.g. John’s gospel)."

    As for relating to God's children (humans), I would ask you to read about all of the genocide and evil laws that were carried out in the Old Testament. As well as slavery, which appears in both testaments. This does not sound like a loving and caring creator. One of many sources you can find about this: http://irregulartimes.com/secrets1.html

    As for witness testimony, how do we know that John actually said those things? Almost all of our earliest manuscripts for the New Testament are from the 3rd and 4th century. The earliest is a fragment that apologetics have dated as 125AD from the gospel of John. In other words, the story of Jesus wasn't even written down until over 100 years after his death (with some books being 300 years later). Source: http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/scriptorium/papyrus/texts/manuscripts.html

    When it comes to the actual story of Jesus, there are some issues. The story of Jesus can be found throughout mythology again and again:

    - Horus, Sun God of Egypt of the virgin Isis-Meri. Had 12 disciples he traveled about with, performing miracles such as healing the sick and walking on water. After being betrayed by Typhon, Horus was crucified, buried for 3 days, and resurrected
    - Attis, of Phyrigia, born of the virgin Nana, crucified, placed in a tomb and after 3 days, was resurrected.
    - Krishna, of India, born of the virgin Devaki with a star in the east signaling his coming, performed miracles with his disciples, and upon his death was resurrected
    - Dionysus of Greece, born of a virgin, was a traveling teacher who performed miracles such as turning water into wine
    - Mithra, of Persia, born of a virgin on December 25th, he had 12 disciples and performed miracles, and upon his death was buried for 3 days and rose again.

    I wanted to link an article describing how the bible was put together, but I've misplaced the link. I will post a follow up comment later with it.

    Si Hollett has two main arguments, so I'm going to try and break them up and address them one at a time:

    "While historical evidence can indeed be looked at, it is a lesser, more fallible, authority" <- Historical evidence is based on multiple sources that all agree. Religious evidence is based on a single source. How is a method which uses multiple sources to verify its claims "lesser" and "more fallible" than a single book (a book with known flaws, I might add)? The only way the bible can be defended is when you argue it is open for interpretation, which means anyone and everyone can "interpret" their own reality. The literal biblical translation can be shown, time and time again, to have major flaws. That is not a single, definitive source of authority; it's an excuse to invent your own authority.

    "Ignoring Genesis 1-11" <- if the bible is infallible, then we don't have to ignore any of it. If it is open for interpretation, then we can include/remove any chapters that you see fit. However, it immediately loses credibility for being an authentic, perfect guidebook left by god. A perfect god would be able to write something that didn't need to be re-interpreted every time human knowledge expanded.

    Rich asks:

    "What exactly are the tests you speak of? Do these tests also define the kinds of outcomes expected?" <- Not word games or logical fallacies, just in depth look at the scriptures and if they line up with historical evidence. I've already covered some of it above. Aside from not matching historical evidence, the story of creation and Noah's Ark are scientific claims which, when put to the test, do not stand up to review.

    One of many examples of historical evidence contradicting the Bible is the story of Moses. This is an excellent post and I would urge you to read it before responding to my argument: http://www.reddit.com/r/todayilearned/comments/pr2x3/til_that_theres_no_archeological_evidence_of/c3rrxcc

    "It’s just bad science." <- Realizing that the Bible must be open for interpretation, how is it "bad science" to not include it? Science isn't based upon the way we feel or interpret something, it's based upon solid facts. By your definition of science, including the unknown would result in science based on personal feelings or individual interpretation. This is a great video about what I'm trying to explain: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rcc6mMzdvy4

    "Have you read the Bible? <- I'm an ex-Christian w/ 12 years in private Christian school. I not only have read through the bible in its entirety, I have learned (been indoctrinated) in great detail about many parts of it. I am just starting to write about this on my blog, so please take a look there if you have more questions about my personal convictions and story.

    I thank you all for the excellent posts. I enjoy examining this stuff because it makes me reflect upon my own views in the process. Self-reflection and debate are how we find answers. I look forward to your replies.

  11. theoldadam

    Lots of great comments and ideas here.

    Thanks to all of you.

    I believe that the Bible's power is in it's ability to create faith through the written (read) Word...and through the preached Word.

    Romans 1:16 bears this out.

    It creates faith in the preaching and the hearing of this Word, who is Christ Jesus.

    Thanks.

  12. andyharker

    Thanks for all your comments and engagement James. Just to correct and clarify myself - I should have said 'his' rather than 'her' (I was picking up the mum/child analogy) and I was thinking of the relationship between the Triune God and his people (Israel/the church) rather than humanity in general. As everyone is saying it really does all come back to Jesus and especially the cross. There is where we see the awfulness of humanity, there we see what what we really deserve and there we see the spectacular love of God. I'll leave others to respond more fully.

  13. Si Hollett

    To take that article about there being no evidence that the Egyptians enslaved the Israelites, that's because for a generation or two after the date for the exodus, the Egyptians were monotheistic (and didn't have a big army, nor did any big building works unlike the time immediately before) - later generations were so appalled by this and vigorously erased writings and references to that entire time. What we are left with is a lack of evidence and Horus - pilfered off the Israelites (some later than the exodus). Still, at least Horus is pre-Christ, unlike Mithras.

    As for why I excluded Genesis 1-11 from my thing is that it's disputed by Christians as to whether it is trying to lay down history/scientific fact or just theological concepts (that wouldn't undermine Biblical infallibility, which you take to mean that the bible is some sort of textbook, when it doesn't mean that). That said, pretty much every civilisation - including Australian natives and other isolated people - have flood stories - pretty good historical case there. Along with Mithras, et al, perhaps you'll just say that Israel/Christians just pilfered these myths - perhaps the Chinese about their first emperor, who looks a lot like Noah (rainbows, saving animals, etc) and there's all sorts of Genesis 1-11 imagery in some of their letters (well not 'letters', but you know what I mean and it's clearer to get what I mean than 'characters' or 'writing').

    You say the creation and flood accounts don't stand up to review, but that review is using science that assumes there isn't a god acting in the universe (as Dawkins says - science would look different with a god in the picture). So your case for "God doesn't exist" is that, using methods that assume there is no god intervening in history, you find that there is no god intervening in history. Sounds circular to me - you assume there is no god and quelle surprise you find that there isn't a god!

    And finally, you miss the point entirely about historical sources being less authoritative than a single 'religious source'. You are forgetting who is speaking in the 'religious source' - if its God, then there cannot be a higher authority as what has to be a true account from a better eyewitness. The highest authority must self-authenticate (and as Josh VB says anything without that highest authority being Christ is a house of cards), because otherwise it's not the highest authority, but rather the one that authenticates it is higher.

  14. Rich Owen

    Hey James,

    Can I say (without meaning to be patronising, etc) how I appreciate your tone and engagement here. It's so sad when Christians and Atheists seem to descend into a verbal blows.

    I did look at that article you linked to. It is, in a sense, a case in point for what Glen and I have been saying.

    I don't have a problem with the logic, or even the argument, I really don't. It just seems to be operating within it's own circularity. A circularity which doesn't allow for the hypernatural - the "convenience" of Manna etc - will not be able to explain how 2 million people, plus cattle etc could wander through the desert because that circularity doesn't do Manna :-)

    But that is the point. Hyponature cannot explain all the aspects of hypernature since it cannot reach outside of itself to explain it. We need hypernature to incarnate at the heart of hyponature to bring the logic of the hyper to the hypo. This is where I'm at. With this external logos giving us the framework and language and opening our eyes to the possibility of the hyper, we can walk out, in faith to explore.

    However, if the logos, the science of investigation, deliberately excludes that logos, how can it explain the hyper? That is why it is bad science.

    It's not a matter of subjective, feelings based exploration, it's faith based. Faith in that external Word which comes (as theoldadam says) through hearing and reading.

    I know you aren't going to particularly track with that, but perhaps you might be prepared to accept that the circularity in which you operate still requires you to move out in faith - with the tools your logos provides to explain the world you live in. In many ways, it's no different to my approach, except for the logos.

    I'm really sorry that you call yourself an ex-Christian. I'll take a look at your blog and read more of your story. Thanks again for offering some of yourself here - it makes a difference.

    Rich

  15. Rich Owen

    Perhaps bad science is a tad harsh. I take that back.

    It's self consistent science. It's actually omnipotent science. Fully able and capable of doing anything and explaining anything within it's scope of possibility.

    :-)

  16. Glen

    Hey James,
    Good interacting with you.
    I've seen the articles/videos you linked.

    On the genocide question, your source is just plain wrong that Christians can claim any support for modern-day genocide from any OT passage. Christ's coming and dying is absolutely decisive for the Christian. The fact that Milosevic allegedly claimed biblical sanction for his bloodlust only proves his madness. His actions fit *far* better with the kind of text sub-titled: "The Preservation of Favoured Races." Or from the philosophy of life which sees human being as (selfish)-gene replicating machines. If survival of the fittest is the bottom line, genocide can't be far away. If *Christ* is the bottom line then bleeding *for* your enemies is the way forward.

    On the Exodus, there are many resources you could look at, but this article is on a site with a wealth of other resources. You owe it to yourself to engage with the best of scholarship and with the strongest of opposing views:

    http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2009/08/09/The-Exodus-Controversy.aspx

    On the manuscript evidence for the NT, even your source disagrees with you! Discussing the convergence of the (earlier) papyri and the (later) manuscripts your source concludes:

    "This settled the vexed question whether we have in the parchment manuscripts of the fourth and fifth centuries a safe guide to the original text of the New Testament. We have."

    The fact we have a papyrus fragment of John from AD125 is astonishing. It doesn't at all mean that John wrote this in 125 - what it does mean is that there is a *copy* of John within a generation of the Apostle. This close date between the writing and the discovery of a copy is unprecedented in all ancient literature! To get a feel for how certain we can be about the text of the NT:

    http://visualunit.me/2010/12/11/the-reliability-of-the-new-testament/

    On the Christ-myths of other religions... I'm afraid this allegation - coming from luminaries like Hitchens - shows only too well how uncaring for historical truth some atheists can be. To save time I'll just link to one of *many* sites that debunk the claims made for many of these "Christ-figures"

    http://kingdavid8.com/Copycat/Home.html

    Of course, Christians are not surprised that there are echoes of Christ all over the world. This is His universe. And right from the garden of Eden humanity has been led to expect the miraculous offspring of a woman to defeat our greatest enemy through suffering and to win us salvation.

    The thing is, *only* Jesus actually fits this bill. And *only* Jesus stands up to historical scrutiny. Horus, Attis, Krishna etc are legends and so *very* different to Jesus. The writings surrounding them are so incredibly different to the historical accounts we call the New Testament it is just laughable.

    But the really good news is this - there really is a Hero who really has taken on evil and won and He really does offer you new life and hope. Those counterfeits exist because the Reality is so compelling. I really hope you look again to Christ Himself - forget the cultural baggage of Christianity, look at Jesus and tell me you don't see "the Lord"!

  17. James Watt

    If I have cited bad information, I will certainly do my best to either find better sources or stop using that bad information in the future. Let me do some research and I will respond once I know more.

    But I'm still not buying the "It's the highest authority because God is the highest authority" argument. Do you believe in the Loch Ness monster? No. Would you if substantial evidence was provisioned? Sure. Has any? Never. But what if the Loch Ness Monster was the highest authority, simply because I said it to be so? Instead of providing evidence to verify my claim, I would just tell you that as the highest authority, it is self-authenticating and doesn't need to be verified by worldly standards.

    So, let's take the argument in a slightly different direction... instead of making this an argument between the authority of the Christian god and the authority of worldly evidence (history, science, etc.), let's make it an argument for the Christian god vs all religions (including religions which are derived from the same original god, such as Islam). However, in order to be objective between the two faiths (Islam & Christianity), we must start from the default position of not yet having a faith.

    How do you prove, objectively, that one religion can have self-asserted authority without evidence while also dismissing an identical claim made by Islam?

    Look forward to your replies

  18. Glen

    Hi James,

    I think one of your sources was very good actually. Unsurprisingly it was the one with the .edu suffix! I would take that one with great seriousness. I think it goes to show that the best scholarship attests the historical reliability of the New Testament. I’m sure we both have a much higher inclination to listen to sources from good universities, those with proper footnotes and cited academic publications – though obviously I’d go one stage further and say: “For the NT to *be* the word of God, the ultimate authentication must be God speaking Himself.”

    The Loch Ness monster is a mythical being within the created order that is of infinitesimal relevance to anyone. And you’re welcome to make supreme claims for “the word of James” but even on this webpage they’ve proven to be fallible :)

    Your analogy is a long way removed from what I’m saying. The God who I claim authenticates His word is the One who determines everything in the universe. The Lord Jesus is the Logic of the Cosmos so that encountering Him means encountering the One who confronts us in every aspect of our lives. And I’m not claiming that the word of God reveals things apart from check-able, real-world evidence. I’m saying that in history Jesus Christ walked the Judean roads, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, rose bodily from the tomb and was seen by eye-witnesses who wrote compelling and credible history. More than this, these events corroborate centuries-long prophecy that coheres and centres on Jesus in a remarkable way.

    What I’m saying is that the Bible, which is internally consistent and historically reliable, is more than just consistent and reliable. It is the word of God because it reveals the One who is most obviously Lord: Jesus. The Christian can do nothing else but argue in a circle – it’s the word of God, because it’s the word that brings us this God and this God is precisely the God of this word. That’s circular. But so is your reasoning – so is everyone’s (e.g. reason is ultimate because it’s reasonable for reason to be ultimate).

    Comparisons with the Loch Ness monster remind me of New Atheist jibes about ‘an invisible sky fairy’, or Douglas Adams’ line in the introduction of ‘The God Delusion’ – that we can appreciate a garden without believing there are fairies at the bottom of it. The Christian claim is not that there are fairies or mythical super-beings somewhere within the garden. The Christian claim is that there is a Gardener! Something entirely different. The minute I hear atheists make comparisons to fairies and mythical creatures I have to wonder whether they've really understood the Christian position at all (and this goes for Dawkins - perhaps especially Dawkins).

    I don't agree that Christianity and Islam are divergent versions of essentially the same reality. They do not make identical claims at all. The Muslim doctrine of Allah is probably closer to Stephen Hawking's primeval-physical-force than it is to the Trinity. We've all got conceptions of ultimate reality, and they're all imcompatible. The Islamic conception is incompatible with the Christian and the Christian's is incompatible with the naturalist's, etc, etc. It's a god eat god world out there James - and its every god for himself.

    Your hypothetical neutral position is simply impossible. Why should we consider naturalism the default position? Says who? On what basis? Once you've answered those questions you've only confirmed that you're a naturalist! But that's precisely the circularity that this post is all about - i.e. your circularity is something along the lines of: 'We should assume naturalistic methods to assess ultimate reality, why? because naturalism is the safest foundation for knowledge.' Do you see how the naturalist also argues in a circle?

    Which means we come back to... which circularity actually explains our experiences? The naturalist claim is that, ultimately, impersonal forces and chaos rule. And yet, my claim is that all of life testifies to the fact that personal relationships - love! - is ultimate. Naturalism (along with Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, just three other religions we've discussed on this thread) is ultimately impersonal and dehumanizing. But when I look in the face of Jesus, I see ultimate reality - because here is sacrificial, self-giving love. And when I see *Him* my heart is won and I say "You are Lord."

    My friend Mike Reeves makes brilliant points along these lines here. It's called "How the atheists are right!"

    http://www.sermoncloud.com/reading-university-christian-union/how-atheists-are-right-mike-reeves-at-university-of-bath/

    He interacts brilliantly with Christopher Hitchens. Shove it on your iPod and see what you think.

    PS - Sorry to be so verbose!

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