We all have presuppositions. These presuppositions are based on what our underlying worldview is and informs how we interpret and filter information which we are presented with. It lays the foundation for how we make sense of the world and also how we build our defence for what we believe. As a Christian, I base my worldview on the Bible and what it says about ultimate reality: God, His creation, and myself. It provides a basis for me to know truth and expect to have an intelligible Universe that I can make sense of. Worldviews then, act as lenses through which we see the world around us. If the lenses are distorted, and they are all we have known, then there is no way of us knowing that they are wrong. Just as if a person is born blind, the world they know is one void of colour and light. Interestingly, this is exactly how the Bible describes people without a knowledge of God—spiritually blind, and blind to their own blindness. This is why we need God to give us eyes to see and ears to hear.
A Paradigm Shift
A helpful modern analogy I have found is in physics. Before the development of Quantum physics—which deals with the mechanics of sub-atomic particles which may sometimes have totally different rules to normal mechanical physics—Newtonian physics was all that there was. No one could ever imagine or conceive of these different laws and functions because all that was known was the Newtonian model. Such suggestions would have seemed foolish and absurd. Also, the move to Quantum physics models can seem like a jump—as there can seem like there is no direct, gradual way to move from Newtonian to Quantum. However, once the jump was made, there was no going back. I find in this a good metaphor to what happens at conversion for the Christian.
Before we were converted, all we knew was ‘Newtonian’ and we couldn’t even imagine the other side of the gap—indeed, the Cross was foolishness to us and we could not accept it (1 Cor. 1:18; 2:14). The only thing that made sense was what we understood within our worldview. However, after conversion—on the other side of the Quantum gap—we not only could make sense of the Newtonian world, but also the Quantum. A sort of paradigm shift had happened and now we see the world from the other side as it really is. The things which we saw before still make sense, but now we can see a bigger picture and understand a whole lot more.
Perhaps a simpler (and better) analogy is of someone who was colour blind having an operation that allows them to see colour—the world they knew before still makes sense, but now they see a fuller picture that people who are still colour blind could not comprehend fully.
Evidence is not enough—we must love the truth
Many of the struggles that freshman university students face with regards to their faith and encountering challenges from professors and philosophies they have never heard starts here. If we do not have a sure foundation upon which our faith is built—our worldview—the structure is bound to come crashing down. However, merely giving statistics, numbers and facts is not enough. If I were to just only give ‘evidences’ for belief, without first addressing the lenses we have, it will do no good—for our presuppositions will always tend to interpret those evidences in a way to match our worldview. In this regard, one may say that our reasoning is always circular since our worldview and presuppositions are what allow for reasoning to happen.
However, what I am arguing is that the naturalistic atheist is actually borrowing from a Christian theistic worldview in order to substantiate his faculties of reason and then using that to disprove the worldview he is borrowing from.
The Bible doesn’t tell us that we have to throw away our reason in order to have faith—in fact in Isaiah 1:18 it says, “Come now and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.” Peter encourages us to be ready to present logical and compelling reasons for the hope we have (1 Peter 3:15). But I could throw at an unbeliever a multiplicity of evidences and it would be to no avail—and this is why we have many, even in the scientific community, who can see all the same ‘evidences’ and yet come to different conclusions. As George Mac-Donald said, “To give truth to him who loves it not is to only give him more multiplied reasons for misinterpretation.” There must be an inner disposition which loves the truth, and is open to it challenging their own preconceptions. This, I argue, must be a work of the Spirit—since it requires a change of heart for the one who may have previously been opposed to the Gospel message. For the natural man does not receive the things of God—he is hostile against it (1 Cor. 2:14; Rom. 8:7).
Faith: The Foundation of Knowledge
All knowledge requires faith—even ‘scientific’ knowledge—since the scientist has to have faith that his own senses are accurately relaying to him truthful information about the world he perceives. He must have faith that his instruments function properly. He must have faith that the laws of physics are constant and stable to give repeatable results to his experiments. He must have faith that his colleagues and the textbooks he reads and uses for information have faithfully reported their findings. Every worldview begins with a basic assumption about the nature of reality which cannot be proven by the scientific method because that very method relies on those very assumptions. This is where we begin to see the insufficiency of a purely ‘scientific’ method to know all truth and we move out of the realm of evidential science into that of metaphysics and philosophy. Edward T. Ramsdell (professor of systematic theology at Vanderbilt University) writes,
“The natural man is no less certainly a man of faith than the spiritual, but his faith is in the ultimacy of something other than the Word of God. The spiritual man is no less certainly a man of reason than the natural, but his reason, like that of every man, functions within the perspective of his faith.”
I’ve heard some try to avoid this truth by saying they don’t have faith but rather base their knowledge on probability: that a fact is never able to be ascertained with absolute certainty, but one can have a sufficient amount of probability that it is so. However, that just moves the question one step back—for it still assumes that premise to be true—that a fact can never be ascertained with absolute certainty. They have faith that this statement is true and starting principle. It is self-defeating.
Similarly, we have postmodern pluralists who insist that truth is relative and based more on personal preference than empirical or objective facts. We’ve all heard the catchphrases like, “Oh that may be true for you, but it’s not true for me” or “truth is what you make it, or feel it to be, etc.” This has led to a sort of radical scepticism in our age, a redefinition of ‘tolerance’ into acceptance of all beliefs even if they are contradicting (with the exception of course of Christian belief which is seen as exclusivist), and the rejection of all overarching metanarratives (a big story) that define reality. This too however does not dodge the fact that there is still a faith system in place—even the postmodernist has a set of beliefs and assumptions which they trust to be basically true in order to construct their worldview.
“As Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, God has put eternity—a sense of beginning and end, a sense of being part of a larger story—in our hearts, in the very core of our being, so that we require some larger story within which to situate, to make sense of, the smaller stories of our lives and cultures. God intended us to find meaning in our lives through being part of a larger story that gives purpose and direction to our lives and explains our world. It is important to note, therefore, that one who rejects the Christian story will not simply live without a grand story but rather will find an alternative grand story and live by it. Even the postmodern view, which says that there is no grand story, is itself a whopper of a grand story!”
Both of these systems, though they deny the Christian God, borrow from starting principles of Christian theism in order to assert their denial of the same. It is to this now I will briefly try to address and show that Christianity actually provides the basis for ‘knowledge.’ Indeed, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,” (Prov. 1:7; 9:10) and in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3).
Weighed and found wanting
Atheistic humanists put their faith in the findings of science and experience which cannot be rationally demonstrated as the source of all truth without appealing to certain worldview assumptions. The irony of this is that many of those assumptions are not possible without a Christian worldview. Science itself depends on assumptions that the world in which we live is intelligible and that the laws of nature which are used for calculations are stable. Neither of those two foundational truths are possible or to be expected if the Universe is simply the product of random, unguided, chaotic chance. Why should we expect to see order or stability then? Such order and stability are only expected if there is a mind behind the design of Creation, and an unchanging Author who has set these laws in place. The intelligent design movement is a sector of the scientific community which has caught on to these truths. Both of these truths we find established in the Bible. Nobel Prize winning quantum theorist, Mark Planck, one of the most important physicists of all time said:
“Anybody who has seriously been engaged in scientific work of any kind realizes that over the entrance to the gates of the temple of science are written the words: Ye must have faith. It is a quality which the scientist cannot dispense with… Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. That is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are a part of nature and therefore a part of the very mystery that we are trying to solve.”
The End of Reason, Justice and Morality
In a Darwinian naturalistic view, we are the products of random chance—simply molecules in motion. How then can I trust that the molecules which are dancing between your ears are any more ‘truthful’ than mine? Molecules have no commitment to honestly after all. How can that which is created from random, unguided chaos be expected to produce orderly and logical thought? In asking that very question even it betrays the expectation that what we are saying even makes sense. Order, logic, creativity, reason—all these things are not the product of chaotic randomness—no process of unguided chaos will ever produce design and order. The puzzle of why we have a ‘mind’ and where it comes from can only be satisfactorily answered if we have a Creator who is personal and has a mind also. Consciousness does not arise out of inanimate matter. Rather, it is part of the Imago Dei—that we are created in the image of God.
In fact, the naturalistic worldview taken to its logical conclusion turns out to be very deterministic. Because, if we are simply dancing to the music of our DNA, that all we are is material and our genes determine everything about us and there is no transcendent mind or soul—then how can we trust our reasoning about ontological and objective truths? From a purely naturalistic standpoint, you think the way you do because your genes program you to do so. You cannot think outside of the way your genes have coded you to do so. There is no true ‘freedom of the will’ because we all simply blindly follow what our DNA dictates with no ability to do otherwise. However, how incredibly odd is it then, if that is the case, for us to even ask questions of it and challenge the functioning of our own minds if we are bound to its DNA hardcoding? Does that mean I have some sort of genetic coding to question my own mind? Does that mean there’s some sort of gene for faith that those who believe in God have and those who do not lack?
Therefore, the serial killer or rapist also cannot be held accountable in a purely naturalistic framework—they were just doing what their genes told them to do. How can we expect them to rise above what they were destined to do through their genetic programming? There is no ultimate basis for objective morality—only a subjective preference or at best a societal agreement on moral judgments. But in the end, it is survival of the fittest and the strong survive. The only basis for ‘oughts’ then should be whatever guarantees the most propagation of my genes to the next generation. So then, why not kill and rape and pillage if that brings about the most continuation of my DNA? Why the moral outrage—as many atheists like to levy the moral arguments of the existence of evil to disprove God—not realizing that they need a theistic framework to even ask this question meaningfully! This is what English journalist, Steve Turner, was referring to in his satirical poem on the modern mind, “Creed” when he said:
“If chance be the Father of all flesh, disaster is his rainbow in the sky and when you hear, ‘State of Emergency! Sniper kills ten! Troops on Rampage! Whites go looting! Bomb blasts school! It is but the sound of man worshipping his maker.”
An Unliveable Premise
Postmodernism sounds like a fine theory, but upon closer inspection it turns out to be nothing more than living in a fantasy world. “To say that we cannot have knowledge of reality is itself a claim to know something about reality. Postmodernists also refute their own position when they give reasons for their views and cite facts and observations.” Ultimately, relativism is unlivable. Stating that there is no such thing as absolute truth is itself self-defeating. Just ask anyone who says that whether if that statement itself is true and watch it breakdown since what they have in fact stated is a claim to an absolute truth that there is no absolute truth. Postmodern writers themselves divulge this when they “write literary texts and protest when people misinterpret the authorial intent in their own writings.” Postmodernists presuppose what they deny, which is that we can know anything objectively, because they suppose that they can know objectively what they deny.
If you really want to see the true colors of a postmodernist or moral relativist show, just simply grossly misrepresent or misinterpret what they just said to you or steal something from them. They will either correct your misrepresentation—showing that they do in fact believe in truth and that words have meaning—or they will become outraged that you stole something—showing that they do in fact believe in morals which are objectively binding since they’re holding you accountable to a moral standard outside what is just their personal preference. God has written his law on our hearts and consciences (Rom. 2:15; Jer. 31:33). At some point, there are beliefs which are necessary truths that cannot be empirically demonstrated but must serve as first principles upon which everything else must be built upon. Such basic assumptions are: one’s personal existence, the reality of the external world, basic reliability of the senses, the rationality of human reason, and the principle of causality.
G.K. Chesterton says, “The man who begins to think without the proper first principles goes mad; he begins to think at the wrong end.”
Geisler and Zukeran state,
“First principles of knowledge are self-evident (obvious) truths, and they form the foundation of all knowledge. Since a principle is that from which everything else in its order flows, first principles of knowledge are those basic premises from which all else follows in the realm of knowing.”
Cornelius Van Til gives the example of why addressing this issue of presuppositions is important—for if we do not address the fact that a person’s presuppositions and worldview are actually foundational to whether we can accurately find or even expect to find truth, it is like a man-made of water, in an ocean of water, trying to get out of water by making a ladder of water then climbing up it, only to fall into water. This is the hopelessness and senselessness of using a methodology of a worldview that’s presuppositions do not allow for any other conclusion than that which was presupposed. Christian theism “is the only position which gives human reason a field for successful operation and a method of true progress in knowledge.” Van Til said,
“In spite of this claim to neutrality on the part of the non-Christian the Reformed apologist must point out that every method, the supposedly neutral one no less than any other, presupposes either the truth or the falsity of Christian theism.”
The illusion of neutrality must be shown false, for we all have presuppositions/worldview which we work within. This is not to say that non-Christians don’t discover truth by the methods they employ, but rather that those methods borrow from Christian presuppositions about the ultimate reality of the Universe. This is the great irony, that in order to prove Christianity wrong, one must presuppose it true—and this is exactly the point to which God brings us in Romans 1, that men suppress the truth in unrighteousness—but we will come back to that later.
On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand
I have really briefly run through two contemporary worldviews and shown how they lack a proper foundation upon which to build a worldview. Now, I’d like now to spend the majority of the rest of my time building an argument for the reliability of the Bible—specifically focusing on the New Testament due to time—as the foundation upon which we can build. Goheen and Bartholomew state that,
“The Bible claims to be the real world. This story, among all stories, claims to tell the whole truth about the way our own world really is. Here, inside this story, we are meant to find the meaning of our lives. Here we must find a place in which our own experience was meant to fit. Here we are offered insight into the ultimate significance of human life itself.”
This section will focus briefly on several evidences which give us confidence to trust in the Bible (NT). One of the major question we have to answer in a religiously pluralistic world with many other ‘holy books’ claiming divine authority is, how can we know the Bible is God’s Word and what sets it apart as unique from others?
One of my pet peeves is how decidedly biased a lot of the information—or rather misinformation—presented to the public on popular ‘learning’ networks and especially online can be. A lot of the time, things which have been rebutted thoroughly for many years in Biblical scholarship is brought up again and again, presented as if it is ‘amazing new evidence’ against the Bible. So in my presentation that follows I’ll also try to address some of these which are popularly thrown out there. We shall focus primarily on the manuscript evidence for the NT, internal and external evidences, early testimony of the church and the resurrection. While this is by no means exhaustive of all the evidence we have in favor for the Bible as a sure source, I do believe they do help to build a compelling collaborative case for Christian belief. And while I am presenting ‘evidences’ here—what we had previously discussed about our presuppositions and starting assumptions still holds true—we must still assume a Christian theistic framework to even make sense of and process these evidences according to logic, reason, etc. What is being built here is why the Bible is a sure foundation upon which to rest those starting presuppositions.
The Hard Truth of Unbelief
So, in light of all of this, why do unbelievers not believe if the evidence is so clear? Because in their natural state—they do not want to. This is a hard truth to hear, and one that will upset many as we often like to think of ourselves as better than we actually are. Speaking about unbelievers Paul says:
“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)
This is consistent with what we see in Ephesians 2 also:
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Ephesians 2:1-3)
It is our own sinful desires which prevents us from seeing the truth because ultimately, at the deepest level, the person apart from the grace of God hates it and is in rebellion against God. This is the effect of the Fall to all humanity. If we go to Romans 1:18-20, it tells us that all people have a knowledge of God through what is main plain to them through creation but suppress that truth by their unrighteousness and are therefore without excuse. That word there is ἀναπολογήτους [anapologētous], which literally means ‘without an apologetic’ or without a reasonable defence. This is why in the first section I covered our presuppositions and the fact that even unbelievers borrow from a Christian theistic framework. They have this instinctive knowledge of the truth, but suppress it. This however, is not to say that they are necessarily conscious of doing so, but is something which may happen at a more subconscious level as the working out of the mind and heart which is in rebellion against God.
Jesus himself, after our favorite verse memorized in isolation—John 3:16—tells us that, “this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” (John 3:19-20) This is why we need a new heart—to be born again. Augustine said therefore, that faith precedes understanding. That metaphorical paradigm shift from Newtonian to Quantum, or blind to seeing needs to happen. We need to be converted by the Spirit of God himself. Without that, I can throw many more evidences at an unbeliever, and he can even intellectually understand them but still remain unconverted because the Spirit of God needs to work a miracle of regeneration in his heart (John 1:13; 3:3-7; 6:44; 1 Pet. 1:23; Eph. 2:1-5; 1 Cor. 1:18; Rom. 8:7).
So where does this leave us? We have seen how without a Christian worldview, the basic presuppositions which allow us to have a firm foundation for truth, science, intelligibility, reason and morality break down. A postmodern/relativist worldview and a purely naturalistic worldview both break down. We’ve seen the trustworthiness of the Bible both from its internal and external witness. Also we’ve seen its uniqueness both of the weight of manuscript evidence and in its claims. There’s much more we could cover—however, I think it would be inappropriate to do so without bringing to bear what this means for us now. What do we do with this truth? Is man’s problem actually a lack of information, or sinfulness which prevents us from even seeing rightly and believing? What does God through His Word tell us about Himself, ourselves, and our responsibility in light of that? What is the actual cure for man’s condition?
The central, unifying theme of the Bible is the Gospel—that is, God’s redemptive plan for mankind. The essential message can be broken down as follows:
God is holy—the sovereign creator of all that is—righteous and just. Man is sinful and fallen, unable to live up to the perfect law of God, we cannot earn right standing with an absolutely Holy God and are in rebellion to Him. This therefore causes a problem for man, the worst news is that God is good and we are not, and thus there is a separation between God and man caused by sin. We cannot keep God’s moral Law—we all have broken it and are thus guilty and liable to the punishment of that transgression. God in His mercy and grace sends Jesus—the incarnate Son of God—to live a perfect life and die a substitutionary death in payment for sin, suffering the just wrath of God against sin in our place. God shows his acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice by raising him back to life and now he sits at the right hand of the Father as a perfect intercessor for all those who put their faith in his accomplished work of redemption as their only hope.
However, man being spiritually dead and blind, not wanting the things of God—they love their deeds, and instead of accepting God’s free offer of grace, continually look to find ways to justify themselves. This is futile though since the separation and debt is an infinite one, but Christ being the God-man is able to fulfill the infinite requirement. A great exchange happens in the Gospel where our sin is put on Christ, and his righteousness is put on our account—this is called imputation. If we want to see the cost of our sin and redemption—we need look no further than the Cross, for it required the death of the very Son of God to pay for it. In addition to this, God not just saves us from the consequence of our sin but also the power of sin—He gives true believers His Holy Spirit which works in the life of a believer to bring them gradually closer and closer to his standard of holiness and wanting the things of God—this is called sanctification.
The call of the Gospel then is simple—repent and believe. Repentance is a turning away from sin towards God, to forsake all that we once lived for in our sinful desires and follow after God. It is a constant action, not just a one-time event. The evidence that we’ve truly repented is that we continue to walk in repentance. Secondly, belief—true belief is to put all of our trust and hope in Jesus’ completed work of redemption on the Cross. We no longer trust our own good works to justify us, but realize our poverty and need for God to do for us that which we cannot do for ourselves. True belief also works itself out in every aspect of our lives—because like our discussion about worldview, belief is the foundation of our worldview and thus it will radically affect how we live our lives.
While the Gospel call is simple, it is also costly. This is why we see the Bible instruct us to count the cost before—Jesus says that if any man desires to be his disciple, let him take up his Cross daily, deny himself and follow Christ (Luke 9). It is a call to lose you life that you would find it in Christ. The Gospel is no half-hearted call, nor is Jesus simply something you add on to your life—but rather we receive him in exchange for our life. This is why the most common term of the apostles to refer of themselves was as “slaves of Christ.” They understood that they were bought with a high price (the Cross) and thus they no longer belonged to themselves or lived for themselves but rather for their Master. The believer is dead to sin and alive to Christ, their whole life is hidden in Christ and thus defined by him.
Lastly, the Gospel is received joyfully. Jesus tells parables of the Kingdom of God as a treasure found in a field or a pearl of great price, that the person upon finding, in their joy sells all that they have just to have it. That is the value of Christ we need to come to understand—that far from Christianity being a solemn, fun-sapping, set of rules and restriction—it is actually true life! Jesus says that he desires that we would have life to the full (John 10:10)—and this is life, that we would know God and Jesus Christ (John 17:3). Together with a serious contemplation of the cost of Christianity, must also be the overwhelming joy of Salvation—in knowing how greatly we’ve been forgiven of our infinite debt before a holy God, our hearts rejoice in the salvation which is graciously given to us freely without deserving it. Without Christianity we are left to a cold, indifferent, incoherent, purposeless existence with no expectation that things should make sense or for any sort of final justice or meaning. With Christ we get all things—for in him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. We get a coherent worldview and system, we find forgiveness and reconciliation to God, we find hope for tomorrow in spite of the sufferings of today, we find ourselves in a grand metanarrative of redemption that gives purpose and meaning to all of Creation and we find joy of having our deepest need satisfied—we have eternity set in our hearts, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Him.
-  More on spiritual blindness here: http://www.gotquestions.org/spiritual-blindness.html
-  Edward T. Ramsdell, The Christian Perspective (New York, NY: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1950), 42.
-  Michael W. Goheen and Craig G. Bartholomew, Living at the Crossroads: An Introduction to Christian Worldview (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 24.
-  For more on intelligent design: http://www.gotquestions.org/evidence-intelligent-design.html there are also numerous books and resources online about this movement.
-  Mark Planck, Where is Science Going? Epilogue (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. NY, 1932), 214.
-  As quoted in Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God?, 42-44.  H. Lynn Gardner, Commending and Defending Christian Faith: An Introduction to Christian Apologetics (College Press Publishing Co., 2010), 157.
-  J.P. Morelland, The Challenges of Postmodernism, 208.
-  See R. Scott Smith, “Christian Postmodernism and the Internal Relation of Language and the World,” in Christianity and the Postmodern Turn, ed. Myron Penner (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2005).
-  H. Lynn Gardner, Commending and Defending Christian Faith: An Introduction to Christian Apologetics (College Press Publishing Co., 2010), 159.
-  G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy: The Classic Account of a Remarkable Christian Experience (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press, 1994, 2001) 31.
-  Norman L. Geisler and Patrick Zukeran, The Apologetics of Jesus: A Caring Approach to Dealing with Doubters (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2009) 66.
-  Cornelius Van Til and William Edgar, Christian Apologetics, 2nd ed. (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Phillipsburg, NJ, 2003).
-  Cornelius Van Til and William Edgar, Christian Apologetics.
-  Michael W. Goheen and Craig G. Bartholomew, Living at the Crossroads: An Introduction to Christian Worldview (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 4.