Monday, 30 July 2012

"The Bible says it, therefore I believe it"

(Cross-posted at

Sal wonders why someone might say "the Bible said it, therefore I believe it", unless they are "supremely gullible".
This is an epistemological question. I approve of the formula, so I'll try and answer why.
Firstly, let's clear away some possible misunderstandings. The formula presupposes that the Bible really does say whatever the "it" is. Someone might choose to apply the formula to something the Bible doesn't say. The Bible teaches the world ended last Tuesday, therefore I believe it - except that, it doesn't. Those reading the Bible can be caught up in misunderstanding, misinterpreting, twisting, mistranslating, and the like. Such cases are not in view in this discussion.
Secondly, the formula presupposes that there really are things that the Bible does say, and which we should know it says. Some things are not a matter of personal interpretation, or so doubtful that we cannot say anything, whatever the canons of literary deconstruction say. The mother of Jesus was, according to the Bible, called Mary. Regardless of how much pomo-relativo juice you drink, you cannot validly read it to say that she was called Jezebel Mehetabel Bob Smith. Should the reader prefer to interpret the text that way, the reader is a loon.
Thirdly, we're not here discussing how someone personally moves to this position. Someone might not be sure why they might find the Bible reliable, or how to end up in such a position if you start from a position of skepticism. A Christian answer to that would bring in many further issues. The scope here though is how someone who does hold that position - whatever their journey was - could reasonably justify it, having arrived there.
OK, got that. We're thinking of something that we are supposing the Bible really did say. Why might someone - as I do - then proceed to say "therefore, I believe it?" and not need to add the corollary "coz I is supremely gullible, you know?"
Sal himself quoted Jesus two sentences later. The quote was out of context; Jesus was talking about miracles his hearers had personally witnessed, not about scientific experiments. But anyway, Sal seems to think that Jesus is someone we might take seriously. I'm not sure how far he'd go with that. But if you think that Jesus is the Son of God, and that his claims about himself, that he had come from the Father and his words were totally reliable because he had descended from heaven, then that's one place to begin. Jesus took the words of Scripture as totally reliable. Jesus himself took the position "the Bible said it, therefore I believe it." "The Scripture cannot be broken", John 10:35. "You are wrong, because you do not know the Scriptures" (Matthew 22:29).
He who says "A" and "B" must then say "C". Once someone takes the presupposition that the words of Jesus are supremely reliable, it follows that the Scriptures then have to be taken as supremely reliable. To be consistent, if you believe that Jesus' attitude to Scripture is reliably recorded in the gospel records, and if you believe that Jesus had a correct attitude to Scripture, then this becomes your position. The alternative is to be incoherent. If God is orderly and coherent, then his image-bearers should seek to be so too. QED.
Sal posits that we might take the Bible's statements as tentative, then test them out. How do you test them out?
Remember that the Bible itself claims to be the revelation of the mind of God. It is claiming to be a *final* authority. Where do you go after you have taken your case to the Supreme Court? Either the court really was supreme, or it wasn't. If there is another bench that sits afterwards, then it wasn't the Supreme Court after all.
If the Bible's statements can be taken to a higher authority to test - such as Sal's laboratory, or mine - then ipso facto, the Bible is already assumed to /not/ be what it claims to be. My or Sal's reasoning processes are being set up as a more reliable authority, and can be used to test it.
Either the Bible can sit in judgment on my reasoning processes and verify their veracity, or my reasoning processes can sit in judgment on the Bible and verify its veracity. But not both.
My position as a Christian is not that I can prove every statement in the Bible, or even most of them, to be true. Such a claim would actually be inconsistent with the view that the Bible is the final authority. By definition, your foundational presuppositions or (those things directly deducible from them) are not subject to further verification - or they would not in fact be foundational presuppositions. Rather, my position is that only taking the Bible as foundational can consistently make sense of everything else. C S Lewis asked why we believe that our night-time dreams are not the true world, rather than the one we spend the day in. How do we know that day-time is not the dream? How do we decide for sure which is the real world? He answered, because the real world makes sense of our dreams; whereas our dreams make sense of nothing. One gives a coherent account of the other. That's as far as you go in such questions, and normally it satisfies us. Christians believe in the triune God and in the Bible, not because we have a scientific proof of them; but because they make sense of the world, science and everything else whereas the alternative choices fall far short. Science makes sense within a Biblical world-view. There are coherent reasons for doing science and expecting sound results. But when I make myself the centre of my existence and epistemology, I end up being able to make sense of nothing. How do I know that the world is not just an illusion? Why expect the future to be in accordance with the past? There are reasons why science flourished within the soil of a Christian culture, when it had failed to do so amongst other those of world-views.
This is not special pleading. Sal appears to believe that his own reasonings and perhaps empirical tests can prove or disprove statements in the Bible. This means that Sal believes in the reliability of his own reasonings and tests, above that of the Bible. But why does he believe in them? What makes him think they are reliable? Has he verified them some other way? If so, then how was that "other way" itself verified?
If you keep pressing that process back, then eventually you have to come back to some foundation beyond which you cannot go. Unless you presuppose *something*, you cannot deduce *anything*. There must be a "this is where we start, and which we assume is true". The child's questions "why, why, why?" must eventually end with an answer "because it is so". The issue is not "why take the Bible as your foundation - doesn't this decide the issue in advance?" It's not a matter of taking a foundation or not. Our epistemology has to have *some* foundation. The only question is, "which one?". A man with zero prior assumptions can only end up with zero conclusions. If you have some conclusions, you must have had some foundational assumptions. So why not the Bible? Why believe in your own ultimate, final reliability above that of the Bible?
So, the only question to be decided is where we stop, not whether to stop. As a Christian, I believe that the Bible is that ultimately reliable stopping place. I myself am a fallen creature, and my reasoning processes are corrupt and not ultimately and finally reliable. They are biased, by my own ignorance and selfishness. I cannot make them the ultimate foundation of my thinking and living.
I hope this at least answers the question, why someone might use the formula "the Bible says it, therefore I believe it". I approve of that formula, not because I think of myself as supremely gullible, but because my aim is to bring my thoughts into submission to God's - rather than the other way around.
Nobody is claiming that agreeing with this assessment is an essential of Intelligent Design theory. But it surely helps conversation if we each understand why we are each saying the things we do. If we're convinced that scientism is a bogus epistemology, then what does a true one look like? "The Bible says it, therefore I believe it" gives me a basis for doing science personally; made in the image of God, in a logical and orderly creation, I can put some level of basic trust in my thought processes and observations - whilst maintaining a healthy skepticism, knowing my own fallibility. Where does Sal get such a belief from? Does he just hope that this is the way it is? (Don't tell me he's done some tests/had some past experience - that's viciously circular). I get what Sal assumes, for free, as a consequence of my foundational assumptions. "The Bible says it, therefore I believe it" is a sound epistemology, not a mark of being gullible.

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