Monday, May 27, 2013
What is meant by ‘Worldview’?
Worldview: “ a set of answers to the fundamental questions of what exists, how we know, how we ought to act, etc.”, or: “our set of most basic beliefs about reality, knowledge, ethics, etc.”
It either refers to:
Definition # 1. the set of most basic beliefs, in which case everyone’s should be the same;
or it refers to:
Definition #2. an individual’s (or defined group’s) most basic beliefs, in which case everyone’s is or may be individual, unique, different.
The Present Debate
The eon belief (accommodation belief (see note 1), as they all call for some kind of eon time frame) is put up against the six-day belief (literal belief, in lieu of knowing the precise or full meaning.)
1. The eon belief asserts that, whether six days or eons, the meaning of ‘day’ is interposed, or imposed onto the text;
The six-day belief insists that the “six-days” results from not interposing, of not putting arbitrary or subjective interpretation onto the text: it is the result of allowing the Word to speak for itself, no more and no less. (note 2)
2. The eon belief asserts that evolution is scientific; (note 1)
The six-day belief insists that evolution is worldview-founded. (note 3)
3. The eon belief insists that the literal interpretation is cultural, therefore worldview-founded.
The six-day belief asserts that the literal interpretation is demanded as default by virtue of a holy reverence and deep respect for the authority of Scripture whenever any meaning is unclear.
4. The debate between the two sides is presented, at best, as a struggle between two worldviews, as how one defines the other. (note 4)
If both are worldviews, that is, deriving from a set of basic beliefs about reality, etc., then ‘worldview’ must be defined as #2, since it can’t be #1.
a) If it is defined as #1 then one of the beliefs is a mistaken worldview or a dishonest worldview, and therefore not a worldview. It could also be that neither are worldviews. But it cannot be that both are worldviews; that is, they can’t both be true.
b) If it is defined as #2, then both can be worldviews, but neither can be deemed as a true belief. It necessarily follows, then, that neither side should be defending their belief as true, but both should be defended as worldview. But one can be true belief, and that is what the six-day belief can be. But then it no longer is a worldview on the same level as the eon belief.
Or, to argue it differently:
If both beliefs are asserted as worldview:
a) If ‘worldview’ is defined as #1, then one is not a worldview, the other is not a worldview, or both are not worldviews; but it is impossible that both be worldviews.
b) if ‘worldview’ is defined as #2, then both can be worldviews, but neither can be regarded as able to be placed beside Scripture, much less overtop of it, out of reverence and respect for Scripture.
c) if ‘worldview’ is defined as #2, then:
i, this debate does not belong in the church;
ii, a six-day belief does not belong in the Confessions;
iii, an eon belief is neither Confessional nor of the faith.
d) if ‘worldview is defined as #1, then:
i, this debate belongs in the church;
ii, a six-day belief belongs in the Confessions;
iii, an eon belief is not a worldview, and is still neither Confessional nor of the faith (since its’ own claims are that it is an interposed interpretation not from but yet onto Scripture.)
If both are equally interposed or imposed interpretations on the text of Scripture, then neither is definition #1. If one is imposed and the other not, then one is def. #2 and the other is def. #1. If neither are imposed, but both are of def. #1, then we have an impossible situation of two contradictory truths; in which case we are (at best) back at the first option, of two equally imposed interpretations.
If this is a debate between worldviews of definition #2, then the six-day belief is being misrepresented if it is represented as a worldview only. If this is a debate between worldviews of definition #1, then one or both beliefs are misrepresented, because they cannot both be true beliefs.
The six-day belief is the deliberate attempt to stay true to God’s Word, adding nothing to God’s own words.
The eon belief is the deliberate attempt to stay true to modern man’s arbitrary science as the higher truth source.
To determine the truth of the matter both sides must be represented fairly, justly, and intelligently. Therefore the six day belief ought to be represented as determinedly lacking interposition, in comparison to the eon belief which insists that interposition is the only possibility.
1. Evolution can be defined as the theory, or model, of origins of all things if Special Creation is ruled out. It is not necessary to this discussion to define evolution as anything more than an alternative model to the Biblical model; a more careful or refined definition does not change the substance of ‘worldview’.
Every evolutionary model is theistic, for some kind of selection is necessary; a preference of one thing over another, which necessarily implies a personal choice, or an event, or change in events, involving values not intrinsic to nature itself but which is leading and directing nature toward a purposeful or raised end. Evolution is not strictly science, as it is inducted and not deducted. It is deemed a “necessary” induction if and only if Special Creation is ruled out; and it is ruled out because it is “unthinkable”, “incredible” (not credible, not believable): that is, not subject to examination, testing, or measuring. It does not mean ”unimaginable” because, rather, it is impossible to imagine without some kind of theism, or special causing and directing. Evolution is a form of Special Creation, and no strictly all natural or scientific model has yet been suggested, introduced, or forwarded. It cannot be suggested without imposing the supra-natural values of truth, knowledge, and fitness.
2. An interposing interpretation is a suggested or inducted interpretation; any interpretation less than a necessary inference from Scripture. It may be suggested by the text itself, or it may be that it is suggested by other factors, including insights from men. A six-day belief is an interposed interpretation if it is insisted upon as doctrine*; it is not an interposed interpretation if, not being insisted upon, it is presented as the default confessional boundary. It is the doctrine of Sola Scriptura that is at stake, not the six-day belief as doctrine, because it is not doctrinal in that sense. It may be represented as an interposed interpretation, but it can also be represented as Sola Scriptura, as Scripture alone. It is as the former that it differs substantially with evolution, and as the latter that it differs diametrically with evolution.
*It is not illegitimate to represent the six-day belief as a worldview for the sake of argument; however, it is unfaithful to fellow believers, to the church, to integrity, and to the confessional standards, to assert that it is only a worldview and nothing more, or that as a worldview it is equal to the eon belief.
3. As to “evidence” for the eon belief, there is no direct evidence. The main support consists of: i. induction, a general model, from a great number* of individual facts (which could also fit into other models); and ii. a consensus among scientists. Neither of these, according to scientific discipline, may be called evidence. Therefore it is characterised as ‘worldview’; and therefore the question of the meaning of ‘worldview’.
*Some say “selected”; but “great number of individual facts” does not refer to a preponderance of evidences, but rather to the wide incorporation of the model into all the fields and divisions of the sciences, which are many. There are also a great number of facts that do not fit into the model, but evolutionists are satisfied, generally, that this is more so because of not seeing how they fit rather than from not fitting. But to dismiss the evolutionary model would seriously change many fields of scientific study in our time. Thus: the “great number” and “consensus” are seen as evidences.
4. One may well ask the Christian evolutionist the question of Acts 26 as applied to this discussion, “How is it that you (who believe in God) find it incredible that God should create the world in six days?”
Thursday, October 4, 2012
What is Meant by No Greater? Part II
In trying to define God we are trying to define the undefinable. No human definition will ever be sufficient to fully describe God. He is far more than any man can comprehend, or any accumulation of men’s intellect can grasp. We would be better off trying to put up a fence around an unlimited expanse; as soon as you do that it is no longer unlimited no matter how huge it would be.
Therefore another reason for this definition is for the sake of the one who says there is a God, the believer. Whoever would take up the cause of defending the Christian belief in God would have to do so with the humble acknowledgement that his own, not just the unbeliever’s but also the believer’s, understanding of God is very inadequate. He too could well have misconceptions about God, conceptions of God that could turn out to be wrong conceptions when held to account by those who can see the fallacies. So this definition is a humbling definition for the believer who knows that any thought might come up, a light showing something that he has not seen before, and he must be willing immediately to embrace a conception of God that is greater still. For there is nothing that can excel God for any positive attribute.
This definition is an encompassing definition. For both he who says there is a God and he who says there is no God this definition sufficiently covers any and all the particulars about God that could possibly be thrown into the debate. God would have to be greater in any positive attribute; and this definition leaves it wide open as to any positive attribute. Whatever attribute we may contemplate, He who would have it to the greatest and purest extent would be God, the same God about which both sides must be speaking.
It is an eliminating definition, one that disqualifies everything else so that only God is left to fit the definition. Anything that might compete with God for any particular that could be included in the definition is excluded on the basis that only a conception of God could be greater still. The limitlessness and eternity, or unchangeability, of God would be unexcelled and unexcellable. It also eliminates nonsense propositions such as whether God is able to create something so big that He cannot move it.
Another reason, it is a definition appropriate to our place under God that it still allows us to speak in praise of Him. God is a spiritual being, and we only partly understand what that means. When we praise Him for His love, for example, or His knowledge, or His power, we would know what these mean because we too are spiritual creatures; but we only have a vague idea of what these would look like in the unlimited and eternal and unchangeable form suitable to God’s love, God’s knowledge, and God’s power. God would have these in the form that could never be excelled by any other being; so He would have these in a form we could not really define; unless, that is, we defined them by the elimination of anything that is less. Our description and praise of God would then not be acceptable to Him unless we ascribe unto God the glory due His name.
We know that God loves perfectly, and we see in the Bible how He loved us in Jesus Christ. We marvel at His boundless wisdom and love. But the depth of that wisdom and the greatness of that love which was extended to sinners through the Saviour’s death on the cross are still far beyond our comprehension. When we praise Him our praise must be open in such a way that it does not diminish God’s attributes, but still allows us to express what our limited hearts tell us to express; it must be acceptable to God even though it is according to our limitations and not according to His limitless character. So we use the negative form, such as “boundless grace” and “unsearchable greatness” to describe His attributes. Such descriptions do not limit God, and yet allows us to ascribe glory to His name. Even in using positive descriptions we still assume the negative form in them, so that we may speak them without diminishing God’s greatness.
We have many songs of praise to this holy God. Here is an example:
Make known his glory to the nations;
Declare to all their populations
His marvellous works, for he, the LORD,
Is to be worshipped and adored.
Praise him with joyful exclamations.
Notice that this praise does not limit God in any way. To the degree that we acknowledge God’s marvellous works to that degree all praise is extended to Him. But we assume this “glory” and these “marvellous works” in a way that describes them in the negative form, which recognizes their unlimited and unfathomable depth. If we should comprehend even more of His glory or His marvellous works then these same words would still apply. Our conceptions of God remain open to improvement and to a fuller knowledge. We still confess that we ourselves are changeable creatures while we speak of His unchangeable greatness. For after we have changed for the better, in our knowledge of God and our understanding of His nature, even though we know we need to change more yet, still the same words may be sung with all the heart. The words have to be open to any and all improvements in our conception and still be words with concrete meaning.
In the same way, the concept of “no greater” will apply to God at whatever level of greatness our changing conceptions might conceive of God. We humbly acknowledge our lowly and limited conceptions of God, and yet the conception can be wholly worthy unto God. The negative form, “no greater”, gives no suggestion of human limits being put on it, while the positive form, “the greatest” is open to the suggestion of implying human limits. God is not “the greatest” of man’s conceptions, but is greater than man can conceive. Whatever “the greatest” conception man may have, God is greater still. He is the one than which a greater cannot be conceived.
We should not be rashly talking about God’s character in such a way as to reduce it to our level of understanding. Nor may we with or without our knowledge deprive God of His due in our expression or description of Him, in our praise of Him or in our conversation about Him with others. We need a definition that always opens us up for correction, which holds us to a standard at the same time as we sing His praises.
That is why the negative form is taken. Our conceptions may change, but that to which our conception reaches out cannot be of anything greater than when we think of God. We cannot know what this greatness looks like, but we can know that nothing can be greater. It includes us in the desire to get to know God better, to be better informed as to the holiness of this God.
In the cause of a debate about God’s existence, this definition puts the believer in the same category as the one who says there is no God: they both need to confess to God that they do not know Him as well as they should. But it is only faith which is open to correction by God, which is open to understanding God’s holy ways, of growing in understanding.
So here is the difference: faith seeking understanding.
Thursday, September 13, 2012
What is Meant by No Greater? Part I
It may seem to some that the definition “He than which a greater cannot be conceived” is confusing. Why not just say “the greatest being”? Why does a positive statement have to be put in negative form? It seems that this is a clumsy way to refer to something that is perfect in every way. There are things that need to be explained about the definition which Anselm uses.
In our cultural setting there is a push to have religion pushed out of any publicly supported area, such as schools, courts, government buildings or offices, and anything that is done in them. Since North American countries are built upon a Christian culture, it follows that removing religious symbols and attachments means removing Christianity. In Canada that means the removal of the Roman Catholic or Protestant religions. The ideas of the ‘Separation of Church and State’ and ‘Freedom of Religion’ have come to a point where the exact opposites of their original meanings are now the norm: separation of church from the state, and freedom from religion, respectively.
Just as in these instances we have allowed the secular community around us, the culture in which we live, to dictate to us what we are talking about, what religion means, what freedom of conscience means, so also we have also allowed the culture to tell us what the definition of God is. That is the unbeliever’s first objection to Anselm: it is the believer’s definition, the believer’s outline of who God is; and that means that the idea of existence is already in the definition. It isn’t really a logical sequence of propositions, but only a delusion of an outcome that was already there in the premise, in the supposition it started with.
It should be noted that Anselm neither invented the definition nor corrupted it to suit his own beliefs. There are reasons for the definition being put this way, and one of them has partly to do with a concession that is made to the one who says there is no God. We have to have a definition of God that he will agree to and that at the same time does not compromise in any way the idea of the God that the Bible tells us about. If our agreed definition does not agree with what the Bible says about God then the entire discussion is for nothing for both sides of the debate. The God which the person wants to deny is exactly that God of the Bible.
At the same time it has to be a definition that asks the question of God’s existence, and yet does not beg the question of God’s existence. This was the first objection to Anselm’s argument, and remains so to this day. “Begging the question” is the term used to indicate that the consequence is already implied in, or defined into, the premise. The modern form of this objection is to assert that this argument is a fallacy because it is impossible to assert God’s existence without defining existence into the premise.
We will examine this in more detail in another post. But it should be noted here that the problem is not in the definition itself. They are right to a point, that the definition all by itself is not open to being answered the one way or the other, but not for the reason that is given. But giving at least this much to the one who says there is no God is, in the first place, not giving away our own position and still allows the denier his opportunity to argue his case.
Anselm’s argument points out that it is the denier that has the problem, not the believer. In order to deny God’s existence the unbeliever has to have a concept of what it is he is denying in his mind. His intended outcome is to deny that God exists. Therefore the existence of this very God, the one described by this very definition, is the one that at least has to have existence in his mind. Not another definition, but this one. He can’t very well accept another to this point. That his understanding is a contradiction is not the believer’s fault, nor is it the definition’s fault. The definition is a necessity because of who God is, not a construction to suit the believer’s belief.
I realize that this is exactly the part that is in dispute in the modern debate on this argument for God’s existence. But no matter what definition is applied to God, it must conform to that God whose existence is either affirmed or denied, and must not be a definition so that the two sides can be talking about different beings. The one who denies God’s existence will insist on the possibility of God’s non-existence, and that is the conceptual conundrum that Anselm points to: how would one conceive of such a being and still deny the God revealed in the Bible?
How do we formulate a definition that makes sure that both sides of the argument are talking about exactly the same subject? How do we define God so that we can know on both sides of the debate that the other side is not cheating and actually talking about another entity or conception? There has to be a working definition to which both sides may appeal, and to which either side can hold the other accountable; and it must have honesty and integrity to the intellect. That being must by definition be none other than a being who alone can claim to be God. Both sides of the debate would have to conform their conception of such a being to that reality, whether or not He exists.
Thus the definition is put into the negative form, in the sense that every imperfection of being is excluded. It should be remembered that the one who says there is no God must be referring to the God that the believer says he believes in, and not a god that the believer will also deny exists. The one who denies God’s existence really does nothing if he defines God in such a way that it is not the God of the Bible, but rather the one that conforms to his own conception of God. So the definition must be in such a way as to exclude concepts which do not attain to God’s essence. Anselm is following Augustine’s example, by putting into use Augustine’s famous line “Removing what is false leads us on by degrees to things divine.”
That’s the whole point: the conception has to reach upward towards the possibility of such a being, to bring this definition to within the grasp of the limited conceptions of man, and yet be true to His eternal essence. Our minds could never circumscribe such a being, but we could eliminate by definition all erroneous concepts and all imperfect deities, so that all that remained by definition was that one being which alone could be the object of our discussion. If we listed everything that God is then the list would be endless, but if we ruled out the things He could be not we could do that with a statement that is not disrespectful of such a holy being.
The objection states that this description of God, “He than which a greater cannot be conceived”, is not a definition which solves the question of God’s existence because it defines existence into God from the start. The problem with this is not that the believer cannot define the God that denier is denying without assuming existence, but rather that the denier cannot define the God that the believer believes without contradiction. The believer doesn’t have to prove that the god the denier denies is the God he believes; rather the denier has to prove that the God he denies is the God the believer believes.
The God the believer puts all his hope in is that being who alone is most necessary for all things, even though this necessity goes far beyond the comprehension and the concepts of men. That is the premise Anselm goes from, and the definition “He than which a greater cannot be conceived” is a necessary consequence from that. The God that it is necessary for the denier to assert in order to deny His existence must be this God and no other.
In his mind he has to accept the definition that God is he than which no greater can be conceived if He exists, which the believer believes, and which he denies.
But there are more reasons for this definition, especially for the believer.
Saturday, September 1, 2012
To understand Anselm’s argument there are two main thoughts that we should not at any point forget. The first is who the God is that we are either affirming or denying. The second is once we know who this God is it becomes impossible to deny His existence. This entry deals more with the second, but at the same time the first point is present throughout.
I’ll deal with the first point more directly in a future post, because we will have to deal with at least two main objections to Anselm’s argument: 1. This argument defines existence into God; and 2. So we have to admit there is a God, but none of this says that it is the God of the Bible. A response to these objections will have to come after we have seen what the argument is saying. So first we deal with the impossibility of rationally denying God’s existence.
The main point about the argument is that the one who says, “There is no God” has to talk about the God that the Bible affirms and that the believer claims to believe in. That is, by definition it can’t be a different god. But it is impossible to define that very same God that the Bible is about and then to have the same definition when you deny His existence. This implies that we ought to know the God of the Bible better; and that has mostly been the problem when people try to understand the argument.
The argument goes like this:
We must first establish a definition of God that both the believer and the unbeliever can agree on. Anselm offers the definition that God is He “than which a greater cannot be conceived.” The believer and the denier would have to agree with this definition, because the believer will believe no less of a deity, and the denier would deny no less of a deity. But when the denier denies such a God he has to at the same time deny the definition that he has accepted.
Here’s why. A God that exists is greater in conception than a God that does not exist. And it is plain that if the denier can conceive of a being than which a greater cannot be conceived but which does not exist then he can surely conceive of a being than which a greater cannot be conceived but which does exist. And this one is greater. Thus the God he is referring to, the one that does not exist, is not as great as the one he does not refer to, the one that does exist. In saying that He than which a greater cannot be conceived does not exist the denier is at the same time admitting that he can conceive of a greater than the God he is denying. So by definition it is not the same God which the believer believes. Nor is it the definition that the denier first had to agree to.
Anselm follows this up with a number of the attributes of God that are commonly called into question when people try to demonstrate the rationale of denying of God’s existence. The most usual attributes of God brought forward are God’s perfect justice and His perfect mercy. God cannot have the one without doing harm to the other, they assert. If God is merciful to the sinner then He is also being unjust in not punishing sin to its due requirement; and if God is perfectly just, and all men are sinners, then He cannot be merciful and so leave behind His justice. But it is clear that these people can conceive of a God whose justice and mercy do not violate each other, because the conception of a justice and a mercy that do not violate each other is greater in wisdom and power. God’s unlimited wisdom and power cannot be so that He is without power to be just. Nor is His wisdom limited by His justice so that He does not know how to show mercy. So the God that they say cannot be both just and merciful is not He than which a greater cannot be conceived.
The believer right away thinks of Jesus, the God-man taking the full weight of the punishment for sin upon Himself, so that God could be perfectly and fully just and at the same time graciously and abundantly merciful; and he rejoices in such a glorious salvation. We need to pay careful attention to all that God says about Himself in the Bible, and not just be comfortable in our own narrow little definitions of who He is. The believer is always searching out his own errors in his thinking so that the God he believes in with his whole heart may be glorified in his thoughts as well.
Anselm, of course, is more eloquent in stating the argument than I am, as well as in defending God’s justice and mercy. I’m trying only to summarize it in the limited space of this journal entry. All I can do is summarize it partially; there is more to it than this brief summary.
There is a lot more to discuss that is either directly addressed or is implied in his argumentation. This is enough, however to see that there are many, many applications to today’s secular world of God-denial. The most important application, I think, is to the modern assumption that any notion of God is only speculation at best, and that no one can prove any religion to be better and truer than another. All religions have to be seen as equal, and also be equally true. That, of course, is contradictory. The assumption of “no true religion” is
exactly equal to “no religion at all”.
As an aside, isn’t it interesting that as you listen to John Lennon’s song Imagine, and it gets to the part where it says “and no religion too”, the people that the song is trying to convince are those who already believe in “no religion” because they steadfastly and firmly hold to the equality of all religions? It’s speaking to the secularized world. Neither Lennon nor those he was trying to convince are talking about the same religion that the Christian believes in. On this point we should agree with Lennon, that this contradictory and half-witted definition of religion really doesn’t make sense. Lennon, however, doesn’t come close to critiquing that religion which is not contradictory.
The non-contradictory conception of religious truth is just not given a moment’s standing in our modern society, or in the media, or in governing decisions and policies. Belief in God is allowed, and even protected by law and by the constitution, but only if it is the God that the deniers deny and not the God that believers believe. You may believe in your god, just don’t say he is the One True God, because in today’s society that is intolerant and unacceptable. That really means that you may freely believe in any god, just don’t really believe in him.
But belief in God intrinsically involves the exclusion of any other god as God. So the above view of religious freedom is contradictory, and Lennon was right to try to imagine it away.
For now let’s just leave out whether this is a proof of God’s existence. We’ll get back to what Anselm said, but for now let’s just say that whenever someone says, “There is no God” he just has a different definition and therefore a different conception of God than the God that the believer says he believes in. Or, to say it differently, when someone says, “There is no God” he changes the definition of God, and therefore his conception of God, from the one that the believer has in mind. The denier of God’s existence cannot have the same conception of God in his denial of God that the believer has in his belief in God. He who says there is no God is really just denying the God of his own conception, not the God that the believer conceives of.
Do we want it simpler than that? Ok, let’s try this: whenever someone comes up to you about your belief in God to try to convince you that there is no God, then you can quite honestly respond to him with, “I am in full agreement with you.” You may then add: “The god that you say does not exist I too say does not exist. However, if you want to talk about the God that I believe in instead, then I must insist that we talk about the same entity. Can you do that and be honest to it? Because there is one thing that you cannot honestly say about this God, and that is that He does not exist. Can we talk about Him, then?”
Wednesday, May 9, 2012
In his two treatises on the existence of God Anselm tried to prove that we all have an assumption of God’s existence, even in the very words we would use to deny His existence. He assumed, therefore, a resident knowledge in our minds which both precedes any knowledge from any other source, and which exceeds in excellence any gained in our lifetime. If we, for example, compare one thing to another and can call the one better than the other, or more beautiful than the other, then we have to have in our minds some inkling that there is a goodness or a beauty which cannot be exceeded for its’ purity, for its’ complete and absolute lack of anything that is not good or not beautiful. Even if we know of nothing that actually is this pure in this world, yet our minds ordinarily and commonly are pre-inclined to ascend to this ideal in order to compare one thing to another.
We might well wonder whether this is a learned condition or whether this is a predisposed condition. For example a child sitting in a classroom must first have it proved to him that a certain thing is true, such as 1+1=2. This is fairly easily done by holding up two fingers, one on each hand. But this still begs the question, for the fact that the child’s “light comes on” concerning this rudimentary principle is the proof itself connecting with that which naturally receives approval in the mind. That is to say, the same light should go on in every child’s mind when they “get it”. Both the proof and the mind connect in such a way that it is difficult to ascertain which was first: the mind would not have gotten it unless the proof was given; but the proof would not have made any difference unless the mind was predisposed to assenting to proofs.
Of course we can all try to put up different standards of that which is right, or is good, or is true, or is beautiful. There may be a vast difference between the truths one person will accept and those which another will accept. But both will insist on the truth of their standard, and will claim to have accepted it on the basis of a proof. Therefore it is the basis of proof that is in question here, for the one will believe one proof while another believes another proof, and neither will naturally accept the other’s proof; yet both call for an acceptance to a true standard based on a proof. But they both assume a natural predisposition of the mind to a true standard. There is a most basic and most perfect truth and goodness and righteousness and beauty which must exist before the mind can understand and assent to anything as either truer, better, more right, or more beautiful than something else, whether it is a principle, a thing, or an idea.
At some point in history this assumption which Anselm had has faded away, to the point of the present-day claims of many different kinds of truths and many different kinds of righteousnesses, and that goodness and beauty are in the eye of the beholder. That is, truth and righteousness have no absolute standard anymore, and goodness and beauty are individually defined, or have no common standard.
We have learned to live with the absurdities of such a situation. There are many faiths, for example, each of which believes in a true God. Our modern society easily accepts that there can be many different gods to worship and to serve, and that no one god may lord it over another. Not only are the people of different faiths to get along, but their gods had better accept the notion that there are other gods that have just as many rights and privileges among men’s religions. The fact that this defies the definition of God does not seem to matter anymore. Many religions easily give up the basic definition of ‘God’ in order to gain this right to free worship and service. Any religion which is not tolerant to other religions is too narrow, too intolerant, and too hateful to be a true religion. That which is true is put against what is right, as if contradictory to each other, and this is the best that any god can be.
The laws that govern the society of each nation, of course, will inevitably run into unsolvable contradictions. In today’s local newspaper there is a news article about a student in Chester Basin, Nova Scotia, who was suspended for wearing a T-shirt that had a message on it which read “Life is wasted without Jesus.” The reason for the suspension, according to the superintendent of the school, was that this was not a statement about his own belief but about the beliefs of others. This statement was unacceptable to the school’s standards of tolerance for others. The student’s pastor responded that the religious rights of this student had been violated. That this was a true statement of the student’s beliefs, which may be freely expressed, seems to take second place to the standard of tolerance, which calls for the respect of other religions, and so must accept each person’s religion as equal to another. The point which we notice here is that, in order be accepted as equal, a religion must give up its unique and exclusive claims and beliefs. That is, no religion may claim to be the one true religion if it is to be seen as a religion enjoying the freedoms granted it under the law. The very thing which the law originally intended to safeguard has become the vehicle by which all the strange religions of the world find a place to stand and to practice; this very same basis of religious freedom now prohibits the very thing that religion stands for, namely belief in the one true God.
We have already noted in a previous essay that the modern, commonly accepted definition of ‘faith’ cannot be acceptable to the believing Christian. For the Christian faith cannot be a belief in the absence of all evidences; it has to be a faith even when evidence is absent because of the transcendent things that have been proved. At the very least he believes the Bible because it is true, and for that reason he denies that the Bible is true because he believes in it. He is not saying that the Bible is his favourite faith system; he is saying that the Bible’s truth is true the same for everyone. The fact that there are many or a multitude of people who do not believe it makes it no less true for everyone. The Christian believes that the Bible instructs him in real and unchanging truth, not at all inferior to scientific truth, not because he is not a scientist but because the Bible has a firmer foundation for knowledge. ‘Faith’ cannot be a belief for which there is no evidence; it must be a belief for which there is evidence, an evidence which is superior to any other so that he can rely on it in faith when it calls him to stay the course even beyond to evidences.
The point being raised here is that, since Anselm’s time, there has been a great shift in definitions and usages of terms. We can assume that these all came about under the influence of the philosophers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but one cannot do so without taking each one to task. This, again, would involve an assessment of their views and teachings which itself would beg the question. It is best to try to state this shift in self-evident terms rather than to provide evidences and proofs which themselves may not stand up to the same standards as applied to these philosophers.
One could make a mental note, say, of Psalm 139, written by David long before the Greek philosophers. David here speaks of things that go far beyond the best of the Greek philosophers, when he speaks of God omniscience and omnipresence, of His yet being distinct and independent from creation instead of being a part of it, and of His creating even the mental faculties which men exercise in the improvement of the soul. Long before philosophers sought that which make men happy, before they understood that there could not be many gods without a one supreme God, before they found contentment in being followed rather than in leading, David recognized that a submissive heart to the God who sustains body and soul by His perfect will is the key to full happiness and contentment. The Old Testament word which we tend to use for Matthew 5, but which is still rendered “blessed”, is ‘beatitude’: the complete and perfect satisfaction of all desires.
Here we are again, full circle! The values by which men judge all things are truth, goodness, and beauty. Somehow our mind accepts what is true, not only because it is true but partly because it is good and beautiful too; it accepts what is good, not only because it is good but partly because it is true and beautiful too; and it accepts what is beautiful, not only because it is beautiful but partly because it is true and good too. And we can’t have these a priori notions in our minds and hearts unless we are yearning to be completely without falsehoods, completely without evils, and completely without repulsive images. We have an image of that which is perfect, and we are not fully happy unless and until we attain to it. We are back at Anselm’s assumptions again.
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
[The following is in response to a question which was asked of me in person. This essay will reveal what the question was, and also my personal response at the time.]
Regarding our conversation about the feeding of the five thousand, whether such a miracle does the two things which you asked of it, I would like to give you a more formal and organized response. Please read this at your leisure, and with sensitive care for truth.
You asked two things of this story as found in the Bible. First you required of it that it be more than just a self-justifying story. Anyone can make up a story, and then assert it as truth and require belief: that does not make it true. Secondly, you wondered how it can be true because it defies all natural law, and is therefore incredible as a story.
My initial response was to ask why, if Jesus is the second person of the Trinity, and therefore has divine power, it would then be incredible that He fed five thousand from only five loaves and two fishes? I confess to you that this is only a partial answer, and that it does not adequately answer your need to know some things. Therefore I would like to give you a fuller answer, one that hopefully satisfies you concerning any doubts that you might have about the certainty of the miracle and of God’s hand at work in the creation.
Let me begin by confessing to you that I cannot fathom some things. I do not understand, for example, Einstein’s equation concerning mass and energy in relation to the speed of light: E=MC2. I never took calculus in high school, so I don’t understand that either. There are a great many things in that one subject alone that I do not know. But all that in no way diminishes my certainty that when I add two numbers together, or subtract one from the other, or multiply or divide, that the result is an accurate one. No one is going to flim-flam me with his highly specialized education into doubting that certainty that I have in this one branch of mathematics called arithmetic. I have a very sure certainty, even though my knowledge is only partial. And that is not because I am so smart or so certain; it is because the system of arithmetic is certain.
What I am conveying by this example is that we as people, though our knowledge is only partial and limited, and even small in comparison with all of knowledge, yet can have certainty in some matters. We may even have doubts about some of the things that we are certain about, but that would in no way diminish the certainty of the thing itself. A most singular example of this would be a person’s assurance that God exists because he witnessed one thing that can only be explained by divine power and in no other way. He does not have to know the extent of God’s being, or have physical proof of God Himself, or understand all the mysteries of His attributes and character. If a person sees something that clearly goes beyond the possible of a naturally governed world, which can only be explained by divine power, then he can have assurance that there is a God.
The feeding of the five thousand is just such a miracle. You yourself attested that there can be no natural explanation for such a thing. That would seem to be just the point that is being made. That it did happen on a real hillside, at a real moment in history, there can be no doubt. After all, the story involves over five thousand people, anyone of whom could have denied the historicity of the account. The story was written to record the event for posterity, not to inform those who were there of an incident of which they were not ignorant. It was an old story for the first readers of the epistles, even for the many who were not there but knew about it all the same. It was a new story only for the wider audience and the following generations, whoever might read it for the first time. Many saw it and believed, because they saw it and ate of the bread and fish. Many had the opportunity to belie the story if it was not a true one, for the verity of the gospel accounts was of prime importance to the first generation of gospel readers, of those who were there and saw recounted in the gospel what they themselves had seen in person, or been made aware of by these witnesses. Many opponents had the opportunity to provide proofs that such things did not happen as they were recounted among the believers and as told to unbelievers. But their main concern was not how to counter the stories of the deeds themselves, and that was because they were real and could not be denied.
They were not concerned about how to counter stories about alleged deeds, but rather about how to counter the teaching what was supported by such undeniable deeds, undeniable even by those who should have been the first to dispute them. There was no counter argument in the society itself, neither from the believers nor from the unbelievers, which could deny that they happened. So indelibly clear were these events.
When Peter and John healed the man who was lame from birth, the very people who most opposed their ministry said, "What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.” (Acts 4:16)
These certain and sure works of divine power occurred and could not be denied. It is true that in our day we could question the validity of the “stories” because none of us were there to witness them ourselves. And our belief would seem to rely on witnesses who can no longer either confirm or deny them. But that was not the case, most definitely not the case, in the First Century when these accounts were being talked about constantly, and were recorded in written form for all posterity. Anyone could have questioned their authenticity. Therefore it is all the more curious that not even the fiercest opponents claimed that these miracles did not occur, but rather conceded that they did happen; and were concerned about how to oppose a teaching that was so undeniably accompanied by such miraculous works.
So these are not stories that are self-contained to prove their own teachings, as you suggest. They are accounts that could easily have been belied at any time by anyone. And counter claims could have been raised at the time as well. There can be no doubt that these miraculous things did happen, that five thousand people were fed out of five loaves and two fishes, because even the opponents of our Lord did not deny that they did indeed happen.
Secondly, the miracle’s claim is just that very thing which you say causes you to doubt it. It is so far beyond natural physical laws that it can be nothing else but unbelievable. And whether it was a scientifically ignorant era in time, compared to our own, or a more sophisticated time, it does not seem to matter to the argument, because even by today’s standards you cannot feed five thousand people from five loaves of bread and two fishes, and still have twelve baskets left over. Physically speaking, it is not possible. But that is just the point. This proves that nothing else but divine power can do this.
That this happened cannot be doubted, even by the opponents of Jesus’ ministry. These adversaries were at a loss as to what to do about it, but they could not deny these works. But now we also see that nothing else but divine power could do such a thing in this particular instance, for no physical explanation is possible to us in our scientifically knowledgeable age which could explain it, and thereby deny its’ miraculous character.
There is only one question left to answer. Could any other being than God have done this, a being bestowed with a divine-like power who could do works beyond any natural or physical law? Such a being, we should assume, would have to have some kind of super-natural power. There can be no doubt that Jesus did this miracle, that it happened, and that it was beyond any natural explanation. But Jesus claimed to be God, and not to be just a god. He claimed to be that divine power which rules all divine power, even the lesser ones if there were such gods. Now if God was such a God as He said He was, then He would not allow Himself to be so misrepresented by a lower divine power so as to fool His people into thinking that this Jesus, who claimed to be God Himself, and forgave sins which only God could forgive, and made claims for God that only God could make, and that He could do so with such impunity if He were not really God or not officially representing Him, that this Jesus was God if He really was not truly this supreme God.
A lower being would not be supported by God’s approval if He did such miraculous deeds for his own glory and not to serve God’s intended will for His people. God would not approve, and His all-knowing eye would see it, and would punish it plainly enough so that His own witness of His will would prevail. If a lower being than God, divine but not God (granting for the moment that there was such a being), did do such works then he could only do so with God’s permission, and only to do God’s will. Otherwise God Himself would counter them. But a lesser being who was divine would not receive God’s blessing or approval if he claimed that he himself was this God instead of being only a messenger of God. God would not allow such deception to serve His perfect will. But this is just what Jesus claimed to be: He claimed to be the very Son of God, that He was one with the Father, that He had authority to forgive sins without first asking the Father, that He had authority with the Holy Spirit to teach God’s truth without saying, “Thus says the Lord!” He did not have to say that if He was the Lord. Jesus had only to say, “Truly, truly I say to you…”, and did not say “Thus says the Lord” as if He was not the Lord Himself. God would not have allowed such audacity, and still allow such miraculous deeds to occur. God allowed the miracles to happen, and therefore showed approval of Jesus, and therefore also of His unique claims.
There can be no doubt, then, that these things did happen just as the witnesses testified. There can also be no doubt that these were indeed miraculous deeds, even by today’s knowledgeable standards. And lastly, there can be no doubt that God approved the person who did them, and therefore also approved His lofty and unique claims about Himself. That these things are proofs of God’s existence there can be no doubt, even though we believe them through the testimonies of long dead witnesses. The questions or doubts which we might have of these accounts can in no way lessen the certainty of these accounts. The doubts and questions speak of our weaknesses, not of any weakness of the testimony itself. They speak of men’s stubborn hearts to remain unconvinced, not of any uncertainty of the proofs themselves. Though I cannot explain all of these things, my certainty in them is not lessened by even the smallest amount due to my small and limited understanding.
I have tried to show you the reasonability that is bound up in the faith. We cannot accede to the world’s standard for faith that allows ‘faith’ to be defined both by its’ meaning and its’ opposite. To the world unbelief is just another kind of belief, but to a Christian faith and un-faith are opposites, and cannot be merely different forms of the same thing. If truth is merely a matter of the mind for each person, then it is not truth at all, but only that which a person convinces himself of whether true or not. It would be wrong to call that truth, because it would confuse real truth with untruth. The world accepts this kind of definition, that one person’s truth is another person’s untruth, and that these are just two kinds of truths even if they’re opposites; but Christians cannot. Christians do not believe in their truth; they believe in the Truth.
Anybody can belie the claims that Christians make, but though every age has tried to do so yet no such attempts have yet succeeded. The true Church still lives by the same confession which the Bible in Heb. 4:14 admonishes us to hold fast. If we have such a high priest in Jesus who fed five thousand, and who died for us and rose again, who passed through the heavens, then let us hold fast this confession. Many centuries have gone by, and each one of them has seen men of learning attempt to demonstrate the contradictions of this confession; and yet today the Church stands tall with the same confession as the very first churches, still holding it fast.
Thursday, March 29, 2012
We have seen that there is a difference between what a Christian calls ‘faith’ and what the world calls ‘faith’: they are not referring to the same meaning of the word. For the Christian ‘faith’ cannot mean the opposite of faith, while the world’s meaning may well include its’ opposite. For the world unfaithfulness is just an expression of another faith. True or false does not apply, so it is very unlike the Christian’s meaning of faith.
The Christian’s faith does not rely upon his own understanding, but either is in line with or out of line with what God has said to be true. There are many types of Christians in this world, but there are some things that are in common with all of them. There is one creed to which all of them agree: the Apostles’ Creed.
It is important to know what the Apostles’ Creed is. It is not a creed thought up some four centuries after the Apostles’ time so that the Church may appear to be united in its beliefs. It had been in existence already for a long time before that, in a number of different forms, before it was adopted into a single form for all to hold to. The creed is an answer to the question “Which confession?” that may be asked when reading Heb 4:14, Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. One person believes one thing and another believes something else, so which is the confession that we all are to hold to? This creed states what the church has believed in response to the gospel message in every age since the time of the Apostles, and the Apostles received this confession direct from God by way of the Holy Spirit.
This is important because it has to be seen as the work of the Holy Spirit in each generation. If Jesus promised to be with His people until the end of the age, as He did in Matt. 28:20, then it should be seen that the Church has believed the same thing throughout that age, that it is in contact with that same Jesus in each generation. Believing the same articles of faith, therefore, is a proof that the same Holy Spirit has worked in the hearts of each generation, because the same faith is still confessed today. There will, of course, be differences of time and circumstance, but all these differences pertain to the time and the circumstance, not to the confession that is held to. Whenever a church strayed from holding fast to the confession there was always a return to this same confession when that church would again turn to the Bible. So, though it is not “divinely inspired” like the Bible, but is penned by the Church in response to faith, yet it is a demonstration of the work of the Holy Spirit in each age.
The Apostles’ Creed, therefore, is the eye-witness testimony of the truths of God’s Word passed on from generation to generation. It is also the evidence that the Holy Spirit has been with the Church all along, so that Jesus’ promise to be with us is shown to be faithfully kept until the present day.
It is this present day, our modern era, that gives us the problem. In our day all faithful beliefs and unfaithful beliefs are considered to be equal. When we say we believe the Bible it is now commonly thought to be that we are saying the Bible is true for us because we believe it, but that other scriptures might be true for others because they believe these other ones. Who is to say which one is right? It is all a matter of faith, isn’t it? But the history of the Church has this one creed in common all along, and this marks our faith. The Bible is not true for us because we believe it; rather we believe it because it is true.
In our own circles there is the question of believing in a literal six day creation when all the scientific evidences prove the earth is a lot older than the first man Adam, and not just six days older. It is said that those who believe in a literal six days do so because they impose their faith onto the Word of God, making it say what it doesn’t really say. So we face a lot of contention over our faith, not just because we mean something different when we use the word, but because what we believe is countered with “evidences” to the contrary.
Christians understand it that belief in a six day creation is not the result of “interpreting” on man’s part. It is particularly an act of avoiding exactly that thing. It is called “taking God at His Word”, or “taking the Word at face value.” There are limitations to science. Scientists might be able to determine the speed of light, and therefore determine how long it should have taken for the light of a distant star to reach the earth, but because they cannot go back in time, or live long enough to witness it from beginning to end, it cannot be proven that it actually took as long as they would calculate. If God can make axe heads float, or make a donkey talk, or raise the dead back to life, if He is the God He says in His Word that He is, then why would anyone think it incredible that He caused the light of distant stars to reach us the same day they were created? It certainly is not outside His power to do so. In the absence of scientific certainty the Christian simply takes God at His Word; because he knows that putting his own spin on it is being unfaithful. God knows what He meant to say, and it is always best to seek that than to assume the Bible depends in any way on one’s own understanding. The six day belief is simply saying, “We don’t know, so we just take God at His Word.”
There are many scientists who say that they do know. But there is a difference between the scientific conclusion, for example that light travels at a certain speed, and a deduction that is based on scientific conclusion: the source of light being so many millions of light years away is therefore so many millions of years old. This second part, the deduction, is a conclusion of a different kind, not of observation but of logic which involves limited knowledge. The first kind looks at all the facts, this second kind does not take into account that God could have created it in the first place. If He did, then it would be very non-objective of scientists to ignore this fundamental fact. There are more things that scientists cannot put under the microscope to find out what it is, or to prove its parts, but that does not mean that they don’t exist. Science cannot examine God, but that does not mean that God is not there. Scientists may say they know, but in fact they are talking about theories that work for the present, not about facts that they know are true. No one can step back in time to prove that miracles did not happen, that God’s works did not happen. Scientists do not know that the creation did not take six days. They deny it because it does not fit their theories, not because they have proven it false.
Christians know that any man’s knowledge is only tentative, partial, and still forming. We do not take the precepts of men and impose them on the Bible, and therefore we are left with (did not invent but are left with) a literal six day creation. We acknowledge that man’s knowledge is not as full as some boast of. We are not subjecting God’s Word to our beliefs, but rather trying to hold fast to the original confession, and we are doing so because the Holy Spirit is still at work in our day. Jesus is still present with His Church in the 21st Century. We know this because there are still Christians who have such respect for God’s Word that they dare not impose their own understanding on it, but let it speak for itself and put their full trust in it. And in doing so they demonstrate that they still hold to the same original confession.