Thursday, June 26, 2008

Using the Bible to Prove God is not [always] Circular Reasoning

Let me begin by saying that more often than not, the Bible is used in a circular argument. But what is circular reasoning? It is a logical fallacy in which the original premise is assumed true, and it therefore provides no evidence for its conclusion. Thus: "X is true. The evidence for this claim is that X is true."* Sometimes this can be called “begging the question.”

Common boneheaded example:
Q1: Is there a God?
A1: Yes.
Q2: How do you know?
A2: Because the Bible says so.
Q3: How do you know the Bible is correct?
A3: Because it was inspired by God.
From “How Thinking Goes Wrong”

I hope that this argument seems silly to you. Can you see how the next logical question is to start over again with “Is there a God?” This could go on forever. Yet, I hear this kind of argument all the time. So do many non-Christians, specifically atheists and agnostics. And people have seen this so many times that if you even begin a conversation about the existence of God with the reason that the Bible says so, instantly the other person in your conversation will plug his ears and begin screaming, “Circular Reasoning! Circular Reasoning!”

The trouble with this (besides making a person burst out screaming in a public place) is twofold: 1.) The person screaming is using a term from logic, and that makes them look smarter than you, whether they are or not, and 2.) The circle in the circular reasoning hasn’t quite been completed yet. They may think you are begging the question, when in fact, they are jumping to conclusions.

Here’s what I mean: They haven’t asked Question 3 yet (How do you know the Bible is correct?), and you haven't had a chance to respond. This is where things get interesting, and this is where we Christians need to understand what we believe. (By the way, if you don’t know why the Bible is reliable, can you really say that you trust the Bible?) For, if your response to Question 3 is nothing more than Answer 3, you have nothing to offer neither yourself nor the person to whom you speak.

I’ve been working my way through Voddie Baucham’s The Ever-Loving Truth, a book about engaging post-Christian culture. Additionally, I’ve found some of his stuff on YouTube, and I like his approach. Here’s what he says about the Bible:
[The Bible is…] a reliable collection of historical documents written down by eyewitnesses during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses that report supernatural events which took place in fulfillment of specific prophecies and claim to be divine, rather than human in origin.

I like that he points out the Bible is made up of “historical documents.” It is not merely a silly “spiritual” book. It includes accounts of actual events, documented by lots of people (not just one person).

My argument here is that if one can prove that the Bible is a reliable source of historical fact, then one has a good start on proving that the Bible is a reliable source of information on the existence of God.

Now, one common counter to this kind of claim is that there is no “scientific proof” that the Bible is true. Let me just let Baucham speak for himself on this one.

Seriously, go check out that link. The original poster disabled embedding, so I can't post it here. Just be sure to come back.

Here’s the main point: the Scientific Method cannot prove anything unless it is observable, measurable, and repeatable (this is part of the problem I have with all of the certainty about evolution, but that’s another post for another day). The past is “proven” through the Evidentiary Method which requires internal consistency, corroboration, and reliability. Baucham’s argument is that the Bible meets these three requirements far better than any other historical documents from that time period.

I would like to add that this is not a new, groundbreaking argument. It is very similar to things I have seen from Josh McDowell and Hank Hanegraaf. But the reason why it is used often is because it makes the point very well. Baucham simply clarifies the difference between the Scientific and Evidentiary Methods.

Conclusion: The Bible can be used to support the argument of the existence of God, but its reliability must be proven first, and that cannot be done by the scientific method, but rather by evidentiary means (which are just as “rational”). Furthermore, the Bible stands up to this test quite solidly.

Here’s the playlist of his entire message, just in case you’d like to hear the whole thing.