Objective Reason For The God Of The Bible
I think it’s time I lay my cards face-up on the table. I’m a Bible-believing Christian, and I hold to this particular worldview as objectively true, in large part, because of the philosophical impossibility of the contrary, as the great philosopher Cornelius Van Til used to say. Only here can true metaphysical consistency be found, and it’s this bit of fodder that I intend to chew on in this essay.
Christians are supposed to be truth-seekers. For example, when the Apostle Paul presented the Christian worldview at the Macedonian town of Berea, those who heard his message were commended because, instead of either accepting or rejecting the information out of hand, they searched diligently to see whether or not the things they were hearing were true. Unfortunately, this diligent searching is often conspicuously absent among professing Christians. Please bear in mind that the Bible tells us plainly that not everyone who claims to be Christian truly is, and that those who are are often inclined to misbehave.
For years my own epistemological method has been one of careful thought and rigorous testing. For every hour I read, I ponder and think for twenty. I’ve been blessed to have walked a career path for over thirty years that involves mostly mindless labor. This leaves my mind free to wander at will through the fascinating mountains, valleys, and forest glades of philosophy and theology.
I have been in the habit of carefully refining my own worldview by exposing it to as much criticism as possible. In the process of working out any new point, I often launch an assault against my own position, seeking to poke holes in it from every conceivable angle. Sometimes I find that my beliefs are not as impregnable as I had thought, so it’s back to the drawing board. Often the beliefs are strengthened and become more firmly ensconced. I do not consider it an affront to have my belief system attacked; if anyone can show me where I’m wrong, then I will not be the least bit offended, but rather, will be grateful.
I am sometimes surprised to find how uncommon this sort of approach is in our culture – (probably in every culture). Most people simply piece together a customized worldview as if they were decorating their homes. If a particular truth-claim is agreeable enough, then a place might be found where it can be hung on the wall; if it makes them feel uncomfortable, then it finds its way into the rubbish bin. All the while, the prospect of whether or not the truth-claims are actually true is given very little consideration, if any at all. Yet, this is the most fundamental question of all: what makes me think my beliefs are actually true?
I concluded my previous essay by turning these critical guns upon my own position: “...what makes me think that my God-concept is the correct one? Why not some other God? I can’t escape nihilism simply by inventing some imaginary God who supplies all the preconditions for objectivity. What makes me think that my God actually exists?” Perhaps I’m guilty of doing the very thing that I’ve criticized in others: maybe my worldview is all wrong, and I’ve simply chosen it because I like it.
I won’t deny having my biases. I want there to be such things as objective morality, and inalienable human rights, and a universally binding concept of justice. I want evil-doers to be held accountable, but without transcendent ethical norms there can be no such things as evil, or justice. In short, I find nihilism, in all its forms, to be repugnant. But maybe this is a nihilistic world after all, whether I like it or not.
It is my intention in this essay to attempt to show how these big critical guns are really firing nothing more deadly than very soft foam rubber bullets. In fact, when nihilism launches its assault against the true Biblical position, its guns backfire, and its own position is destroyed with friendly fire. Only the Biblical worldview is able to supply the preconditions necessary to escape the trap of subjectivity, so only the Biblical worldview can truly escape nihilism.
The God Of Reason
In my previous essay I argued that, since there is a transcendent Law-Giver who supplies all the necessary preconditions, therefore there is an objective ethic that defines morality for us. In fact, since this ethic is an expression of the very nature of this absolute transcendent God, therefore it would be utterly impossible for objective morality to not exist. To put it another way: since there is an absolute law-giver, therefore this is a world which is necessarily governed by moral absolutes, which find their origin in the very nature of God. But what makes me think this transcendent law-giver actually exists? To answer this question I would like to turn that conclusion around and run the argument in the opposite direction: since this is a world which is governed by absolute norms, therefore there is an absolute law-giver.
I can anticipate the accusation that I'm presenting a viciously circular argument. I'm not. I'm simply looking for (and I believe finding) metaphysical consistency. I'm addressing the questions "what is the nature of reality?" and "is this nature consistent, or inconsistent, with the existence of God?" I intend to argue that the nature of reality is not only consistent with, but utterly dependent upon, the existence of the God of the Bible; it could not be as it is without Him.
To show this consistency (or rather, this utter dependence), I would like to briefly turn our attention away from ethics, and toward epistemology. In case you're not sure what that is, please don't be frightened by the fancy-sounding lingo. It really isn't as fancy as it sounds: epistemology is simply the branch of philosophy that deals with knowledge. It seeks to answer questions such as: "how can we know what we think we know?"
In my previous essay I built a case for the normative nature of morality. Without ethical norms, or standards, by which right and wrong behavior is defined, there can be no such thing as morality. I would like to suggest here that the same holds true in the realm of epistemology. Without norms by which right and wrong thinking is defined, there could be no such thing as rationality. Think of it this way: it would be impossible for anyone's thinking to go "off the rails" unless there are rails to go off from.
Just like in ethics, in order to escape subjectivity the norms that define rationality must be absolute. Otherwise, you could reason your way and I could reason mine, and you could arrive at your own "truth" and I could arrive at mine. Without a transcendent standard by which objective rationality is defined, the quest for objective truth is a dead-end street that terminates in the slums of nihilism.
All the preconditions necessary to justify objective ethics apply with equal force to epistemology. Without a law-giver who is both personal and transcendent, who has revealed to us the epistemological norms (laws of logic) that are an expression of His very nature, there can be no such thing as objective rationality; if there is no such thing as objective rationality, then there is no objective truth.
When I have argued this way, sometimes people have thought that I'm simply saying that it's reasonable to believe in God. Yes, it certainly is. But I'm actually saying much more than that. I'm saying that the existence of God is necessary to justify the existence of reason in the first place. Without an absolute God there could be no absolute epistemological norms; without absolute epistemological norms there can be no such thing as objective rationality. Without dependence upon an absolute epistemological law-giver, "reason" becomes an utterly meaningless concept.
Hopefully that was at least as clear as the waters of the Little Presumpscot River after a two-inch gully-washer. Please allow me to attempt to filter the muddy water with a word picture. Suppose my wife and I invite an atheist friend over for dinner (let's call him Sam). As we sit down at the table, Lisa gingerly places a large plate in front of me, upon which she has artistically arranged a sizzling venison steak, a fair hill of steaming scallops, some sauteed parasol mushrooms, and beside it all, a small bowl of lovely tart sauce made from the apples growing out back. In front of Sam she unceremoniously drops a box of sixteen penny nails.
When dinner is well under way, I notice that Sam is not eating. "Sam, eat up! My wife worked hard on this meal!"
"Well…." offers Sam, "It's just that I'm not quite sure what to do with a box of sixteen penny nails."
"Sixteen penny nails?! Nonsense! Lisa served you exactly what she served us."
"What I see in front of me sure looks like nails. How do you figure that it's the same as what you're eating?"
"Simple exercise of reason, my good fellow. You see, similarity is found in difference. The difference between my meal and yours is so great, that, the way I see it, they must be practically identical."
"But sameness is not the same as difference. That's ridiculous! That's a violation of the very first law of logic - the Law Of Identity."
"Sam," say I, "I don't care about your laws of logic. I have my own laws of logic."
"They aren't my laws of logic," replies Sam. "They were codified by the great Greek philosopher Aristotle."
"I don't give a fig about Aristotle and his laws of logic. He can have his epistemological norms and I can have mine. Eat up, man! Your dinner is getting cold!"
"But you're serving me a box of nails…."
"Excuse me, those nails are obviously not nails. Similarity is found in difference."
And so forth…..
Of course, it would be absolutely ridiculous to serve up a box of sixteen penny nails for dinner, on the grounds that it’s the same as a delicious and lovingly-prepared meal, and any absurd construct of “reason” that is used to justify this claim has most definitely gone “off the rails”. But that’s only because there are absolute rails to go off from. To say that a box of sixteen penny nails is not a box of sixteen penny nails is, in fact, objectively absurd. But this absurdity is a reality only because the Law of Identity is, in fact, a universally binding, inviolable epistemological norm. And to take the argument a step further, there can be no such thing as a universally binding, inviolable epistemological norm without its being an expression of the nature of a transcendent, personal Law-Giver (the God of the Bible).
Here is where many atheists have trained their big guns on the Biblical battle line and launched their salvo of nurf shells: "obviously, then, this is a nihilistic world. There is no God, and if that means that there are no absolute epistemological norms, then so be it. Deal with it! As Friedrich Nietzsche said: 'life is meaningless; have courage. Your courage is meaningless; have it anyway.' "
To say that these big guns are firing nurf shells is actually being a little too accommodating. In truth, these guns explode and destroy themselves. The argument is self-refuting. Here's why: because any argument that seeks to disprove the existence of absolute epistemological norms actually depends upon the very norms that it is arguing against. "There are no universally binding laws of logic" is a proposition that is entirely dependent upon the existence of universally binding laws of logic.
If you disagree with me about this, if you think that laws of logic are nothing more than cultural constructs - that they are mere man-made conventions that we can choose to submit to, or not, then I would like to hear from you. Please feel free to present your best case, but I insist that you do so consistent with your own position: use words that are not words, independent of the law of identity. Or, if you prefer, you may use words that are both words and nonwords at the same time and in the same relationship, independent of the law of noncontradiction, or, if you like, use words that are neither words nor nonwords, independent of the law of excluded middle.
If you start using words that are words, then I'm going to call you out. I want you to demonstrate that you are not unavoidably bound by absolute epistemological norms, and to use words that are words would be to submit to these norms. If you use gibberish (nonwords that are nonwords), then you are no less in submission. I want to see you demonstrate that you are independent of absolute laws of logic, and to use gibberish demonstrates nothing of the sort. I want you to use real words, just real words that aren't real words.
I will also be unimpressed if you attempt to communicate in some other manner that avoids the use of words altogether - pantamime, for example. I want you to prove that you are not unavoidably bound by absolute epistemological norms by using real, genuine syntax - just make sure that the words that you use are not words. If laws of logic are nothing more than mere man-made conventions that are not universally binding, then this should not be difficult. Give it your best shot.
Often people attempt to dismiss the reality of absolute epistemological norms by appealing to a false dichotomy between "Eastern" and "Western" thought. It is argued that while Westerners think in "either/or" categories, Easterners think in "both/and" categories. Easterners don't concern themselves with contradiction; they simply accept that both sides can be true. The only reason why I think the way I do is because I was born and raised in Western Culture; if my homeland were somewhere else, like India for example, then I would think very differently.
Honestly, I think this is a little bit of a cheap trick. Not even epistemological absolutists want to be regarded as cultural bigots, so when the Eastern/Western dichotomy is brought up, too often they simply wilt.
The truth is that this dichotomy is nothing more than a rhetorical exercise, which is immediately abandoned as soon as its proponent steps into the real world - even in Eastern Culture. Suppose I were to visit India, where I find myself buying goods from an eastern-thinking vendor at the marketplace. When he tallies up the sale, I only give him half the amount owed. I'm quite sure he would abandon "eastern thought" rather quickly if, just prior to walking away, I explained to him that, as a practicioner of eastern thought myself, I recognize that while it's true that I stiffed him, it is equally true that I didn't.
Please don't see any of this as criticism of Eastern Culture. I love the diversity of cultures around the world, and I hate the arrogance that permeates Western Culture. My point is simply this: that Easterners are just as unavoidably bound by absolute epistemological norms as Westerners. In fact, some of the most logical-minded people I've known have been dear friends who immigrated from Taiwan and South Korea.
The East/West dichotomy is a little too unnecessarily divisive for my taste. Humans are humans no matter where we find them. We certainly are a diverse and eclectic lot, and that, of course, is exactly as it should be. God has given each of us our own particular gifts, abilities, proclivities, personalities, aptitudes, etc., and all are intrinsically valuable. God-given differences should never be disparaged.
These differences obviously effect how we think. Some people are more inclined to think logically than others; some people think myopically while others are "big picture" thinkers; some people like mathematics, and find it easy, while others hate it and struggle through it, preferring the more artistic pursuits; and this list of differences has barely begun to scratch the surface. This is a beautiful thing; I'm very glad that we're not all the same.
But, back to the point: no matter who we are, or where we were born, or how our brains are wired, we are all unavoidably subject to absolute epistemological norms, whether we like it or not, and whether we realize it or not. If you disagree, then I will be delighted to hear anything you have to say, but please say it using words that are not words.
I am fully convinced that an honest consideration of the necessary preconditions for objectivity, both of ethics and epistemology, can lead to only one place: only the God of the Bible fills the bill. There is no runner up. For more detail, take a look at my previous essay, "A Solid Foundation For Objective Morality". In short, there can be no absolutes of ethics or epistemology unless they are an expression of the very nature of a transcendent, personal, unchanging, all-knowing, sovereign God, who has revealed Himself to us. No other God-concept supplies these necessary preconditions.
Any worldview position that rejects this God cannot escape the trap of subjectivity, and therefore reduces to nihilism. Yet, there is absolutely no possibility that this is a nihilistic world. Nihilism refutes itself: to argue for it is to disprove it, since the very act of argumentation depends upon the absolute epistemological norms that nihilism denies the existence of. The nature of reality is such that it would be impossible to even conceive of a hypothetical world without absolute epistemological norms: such a conception depends upon that which it is attempting to reject. Therefore, any denial of a correctly Biblical worldview would be impossible if the Biblical worldview were not true. Such a denial finds itself in utter dependence upon the absolute epistemological norms that cannot exist without the God of the Bible. To deny the existence of the God of the Bible would be impossible without first (though unwittingly) assuming the existence of the God of the Bible.
I expect this sounds arrogant to some people. I assure you that it isn't. I'm not saying "my way is the right way because it's my way", or anything like that. I'm simply trying to be a truth-seeker on a quest for metaphysical consistency, and pointing out where I have found it. I'm simply saying that the nature of reality is what it is, and this reality cannot be justified by appealing to any other than this God-concept.
Why the God of the Bible? Because only He supplies the necessary preconditions for objective ethics and epistemology. But, why can't I accept the possibility that this is a nihilistic world? Because nihilism is self-refuting and inconsistent with the nature of reality. Why the Bible? There are many fascinating evidences that demonstrate that the Bible is of Divine origin, and perhaps we can take a look at them another time. But for now, I'll answer the above question by pointing out that here is where the God who supplies these necessary preconditions has revealed Himself. Here is where metaphysical consistency is found: consistency between the nature of reality, God's revelation of Himself in His creation (the world around us), and His written revelation (the Bible). I'm simply arguing that reality is what it is, and that it cannot be as it is without the God of the Bible.
I intend to write another essay soon that seeks to answer the question "why does all of this matter?" In the meantime, all I ask is that you think deeply about these things.
Blessings, freedom-minded friends.