A little boy was asked, “What is faith?” He answered, “Faith is to believe what you know isn’t true.” The fallacy of his answer may be apparent, but many Christians act or speak as though his answer was correct. We have seen that faith is central to the question of truth for anyone whether he is a Christian or not (Chapter 1). It is unfortunate that most Christians do not have a Biblical worldview in the natural sciences. It is a fatal error in the battle against humanism that Christian schools, colleges, seminaries, and churches do not teach this Biblical understanding, or worse, they teach them from humanistic premises.
While I did not have an education in which I was instructed in presuppositional thinking, I was forced to investigate these areas because of my interest in medical ethics. I was compelled to find out how I could find principles that were biblical and certain. When I began, I did not know that I had entered into epistemology. (I could hardly spell it, much less understand what it meant!). 1 It is to philosophy, epistemology, and other subjects that I want to introduce you here, as we view the unity of all areas of life and seek a consistency and correspondence among them. The subject is not difficult once you learn a few definitions. The concepts are commonly used by us all, but appear to be more difficult because of the jargon of theology and philosophy. (Thankfully, there are Christian philosophers who are exceptions and explain these areas clearly and Biblically. Two of these are Gordon Clark and Henry Stob. Find any of their books and read them!)
What Is Truth?
In philosophy, there are commonly found three tests of truth: correspondence, coherence, and pragmatism.2 Correspondence is the agreement between what is thought to be reality and what is known to be reality. Coherence states that something is true if it is consistent with other judgments that are accepted as true. Pragmatism denies “ultimate realities” and claims that truth is “what works.” The intricacies of these theories are beyond our purposes here. What should be noted is that each test requires something to be known with some certainty in order to test the truth of other subjects.
Each test of truth has its particular strengths and weaknesses, but the best test is coherence because it requires that all truth fit together as a system. It is also the application of the premise (infra) in logic called the law of non-contradiction; simply, if one thing is true, its opposite cannot be true. Coherence is like the pieces of a jig-saw puzzle: there must be a smooth fit of all the pieces to complete the whole picture. Every point of contact within the puzzle has only one “fit.” Unfortunately, in our fallen and finite minds we will never have perfect “fits” of all the pieces, but the Christian’s picture can approach a unity that far exceeds other systems. In my field of medical ethics, I have been amazed at the agreement of truly Biblical scholars, arriving at their conclusions independent of each other, but in the unity of God’s Word.
Here, I have started with the problem of truth, but the astute reader will have recognized that the tests of truth, themselves, depend upon some “givens” (premises, presuppositions, first principles, axioms, etc.). Even the definitions are givens! Further, coherence requires the criteria of “fit,” the law of non-contradiction. No one can begin without some “givens” of definitions and criteria. Here is the “bottom line.” The native in the jungle and the highly educated philosopher begin at the same place: they assume their starting points. The reader may also realize that we have returned to our definition of faith that saw the starting point in “subjective premises.”3 This subjective basis of truth is a central focus of this book, as the determining factor of what one believes to be true or not true. This concept in philosophical terms is epistemology.1
Thus, saving faith is no more or less subjective than any other approach to truth. Even natural science has givens and premises. All philosophers, politicians, physicians, and historians begin with a subjective predisposition that determines their more objective work. None can claim a methodology that begins and proceeds differently. Thus, any claim to total objectivity by anyone is false because he has proceeded from subjective (personally chosen) premises.
There may be problems relating the words of Scripture with the words and concepts of other areas of knowledge, particularly in the natural sciences, but no claim to truth approaches the objectivity of God’s revelation. The Christian has been given this standard by which all other truth is to be judged, and never vice-versa. Our responsibility is to develop the coherence of Biblical truth with all other claims to truth. As we will review briefly, Christians have not been careful to maintain “functional control” of biblical truth over all “-ologies.” Some “-ologies” need more direct control, others less. If any Christian believes that “God knows best” and that the Bible “thoroughly furnishes the man of God for every good work,” then he must work out the coherence of the whole system or find others who have, so that he will know God’s truth more fully. The Christian’s life is an epistemological and philosophical endeavor! (4) All areas of knowledge are relevant to “the faith” of the Christian.
What about “proof,” or as some philosophers call it, “the notion of proof.” Who has not encountered the skeptic who has challenged, “If you can prove to me that God exists, I will become a Christian.” Even when the Christian is prepared and gives a lengthy, detailed and accurate account of the rational support for the Christian faith, the atheist remains unconvinced. Why? (The example of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea has already been given, infra). The atheist’s premises for proof differ from the Christian’s. Thus, proof is relative to one’s premises*. Where two sets of premises differ, the proof based upon one premise (or set of premises) is not proof for the other premise (or set). “Proof” or the “notion of proof” is just another name for the process of determining truth. Any two proofs with different premises cannot possibly be acceptable to those who hold these different premises. This failure to accept a proof based on different premises is what Jesus meant when He said that even the visible evidence of resurrection would not be sufficient proof to change the sinful ways of some people (Luke 16:31). In another situation, He pointed to His works as “proof” of who He was, but this evidence was believed by some but not by others (John 10:37-42). These different responses stemmed not from the evidence itself but from the interpretation of the evidence based upon differing premises. It may surprise some people to realize that Jesus Christ not only understood epistemology, but He invented it!
* A good question to ask, when a Christian has been challenged in this way, is to ask in return, “What evidence or proof would you be willing to accept. There is no reason to go into lengthy explanations, if the questioner is not willing to accept anything that you say as valid or true.
Faith and Science
It is surprising that science is the strongest opponent of the Christian faith today when it should be its strongest ally (or weakest opponent). It is crucial in both apologetics and one’s own personal faith to understand this relationship. Science, feared by many Christians, becomes nothing more than a paper tiger when its foundations and methodology are exposed.
Science begins at the same point as other disciplines. Historically, the word “science” was applied to systematic study in any area of knowledge. For example, theology was called “the queen of the sciences,” beginning with the Scholastics in the 12th century. In modern use, however, “science” has become identified with only the natural sciences. This limitation is unfortunate because it contributes to the separation of the natural sciences from other areas of knowledge. When one wants to give the final word on a subject of discussion, he says that “such and such” information is “scientific.” All argument is supposed to give way at that assertion except for similar “scientific” data. To be consistent with modern use, I will use “science” to denote the natural sciences, also. Otherwise, the thought processes become too complex for discussion.
Science always begins with axioms. We have already learned other synonyms for these “givens.” Perhaps, the most objective of sciences is geometry, but anyone who has taken it knows that the first things to be learned are axioms and postulates. These are never “proved,” but are used to prove subsequent theorems. Thus, geometry illustrates the method of any science. One of these axioms that is almost never mentioned is the restriction of science to the observation and collection of measurable data, a process called “empiricism.” The recognition of this axiom or presupposition is extremely important because it means that science cannot say anything about metaphysical reality. This axiom means nothing more than what we saw in our discussion of generic faith (Chapter 1): at some point every person makes a decision about the existence of realities that are beyond his senses, that is, beyond “empirical observation.”
Our example of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea illustrates. Science immediately says that a miracle did not occur. Are the Christian faith and science in conflict? Not at all. Science has made a statement that it cannot make because, by its premises, it limits itself to what is tangible or empirical. The crossing of the Red Sea is outside the bounds of science for two reasons. First, historical events cannot be empirically investigated, so historical verification involves a different methodology than science. Second, a miracle is a unique event that cannot be explained by natural processes. This fact places the crossing of the Red Sea outside the limits of science. Therefore, when any scientist gives his view of the truthfulness of this Old Testament event, he ceases to be a scientist. He has become a metaphysical philosopher or a historiographer No scientist has no special insight on this event. As a scientist, he should not speak at all! If he does, he should not be given any credence!
Science cannot determine value or morality. Again, this limitation comes from an axiom of science: its concern with objective analysis and the removal of observer influence as much as possible. Psychologists, as scientists, may study the behavior of people and give detailed descriptions of what how they behave, but they can say nothing about those behaviors being right or wrong (ethics). Value or morality is a metaphysical decision and discussion, not a scientific one.
Morality concerns value, and value is entirely subjective (inherent within the individual or God Himself). For example, what gives gold its value? All the scientific knowledge about gold will not tell anyone how much to pay for a certain quantity of it. The physical characteristics of gold will be the same at all times and in all places, but the price people are willing to pay for it will not. Some people will kill others to acquire gold. Others remain content without any. The difference is not in the gold but the person’s subjective (personal) values.
Thus, the psychologist, who is willing to govern all of society in their behavior (if he will only be given the power and opportunity to do so) because he considers those behaviors to be more valuable than other behaviors, has stepped outside his scientific role into a subjective role. When he does so, he speaks and acts with statements that are entirely unrelated to his expertise. He has become an ethicist. In our society, however, because of his scientific accomplishments, the scientist is often given credence that has nothing whatever to do with values or morality. (An athlete or a movie star is often given the same credence, based upon merely their athletic or role-playing ability!) The same can be said for his ability to give any purpose and meaning to human existence. Science can only describe and investigate. It cannot say anything about values or purposes in living. For the same reasons, the scientist can say nothing about evolution, either. Evolution falls under the area of history, not scientific investigation.
The limitations of science become apparent when scientific explanations change. I was taught in elementary school that neither matter nor energy can be created or destroyed, but now it is common knowledge that matter can be converted into energy and vice-versa. Also, knowledge of other planets has been changed markedly by space probes. Who cannot remember the false assertions of our school textbooks about Mars and Venus and the characteristics of what existed there? Statements that are now considered to be erroneous were made without qualification or hesitancy! Another example is the description of light as both a particle and a wave according to what “fits” the explanation or current experiment better. Any statement of science is, therefore, tenuous because it may be changed tomorrow. It should be obvious: no area of knowledge that is so subject can be accepted as truth! One of the characteristics of truth is that it never changes.
The difficulty of coherence between science and Christian faith is two-fold. First is the misconception that science can give an infallible explanation of man and his universe (cosmology). We have briefly explored some reasons that such a perception is wrong. Second is the problem that science and theology have their own terminology. A consistent and thorough understanding of God and His universe allows no legitimate conflict between the two. If God is the creator of all things and is omniscient (one characteristic requires the other), then true facts about his world cannot conflict with the revelation that He has given of it in His Word. The problem is the reconciliation of the jargon that each discipline uses.
The Bible is not less accurate in its use of words than science, but its meanings are not always as clear because they were used in a different culture and for different purposes. Scientific words are modern, so we more readily understand their meanings. For example, leprosy is a common translation of Hebrew and Greek words that is now known to be various skin diseases that may or may not include what we call leprosy today. One must be careful, however, where he places the higher authority. The Bible is God’s perpetual Word to man. Its truth must always be the controlling factor in any resolution of scientific and Biblical words or conflict. Dr. Francis Schaeffer has written of this process and a warning about its conclusions:
…it may not always be possible to correlate the two studies (science and the Bible)… yet if both studies can be adequately pursued, there will be no final conflict…. Science by its natural limitations cannot know all (that) we know from God in the Bible, but in those cases where science can know, both sources of knowledge arrive at the same point, even if the knowledge is expressed in different terms….there is no automatic need to accommodate the Bible to the statements of science…. there is the danger of evangelicalism becoming less than evangelical, of it is not holding to the Bible as being without error in all that it affirms.5
(Dr. Henry Morris and others have additional resources that illustrate the resolution of biblical and scientific words.6)
The concept of “fact” is central in this argument. Some people assert that biblical accounts do not fit with the “facts.” But, “facts” are based on premises or axioms as is every other claim to truth. Francis Schaeffer and others have said that there are no such things as “brute facts,” that is, facts that are self-interpreting. Thus, the Christian can know that any claim about “facts” is no more valid than the premises behind those facts. That is, facts are no more valid than the “faith” that underlies them.
Science uses “givens” (premises, presuppositions, first principles, definitions, etc.) as a starting-point or foundation. Thus, it does not differ from other sources of knowledge, including the Christian faith that is founded upon the Bible. By its own limitations it cannot make value judgments or determine purpose and meaning about any subject. It cannot speak to the reality or non-reality of miracles. Its conclusions are temporary and time-dependent, as opposed to teachings of the Bible that are “the same, yesterday, today, and forever.” With some effort and the starting-point of Biblical faith, apparent conflicts of the Bible and science can usually be resolved.
Finally, science fails the test of coherence (consistency) for truth. Science states that order is built on disorder both in its claim for evolution and its claim for the “big-bang” as the origin of the universe. The first claim conflicts with the second law of thermodynamics that systems of energy move from order to disorder, if they are without outside influence (in a closed system). The second claim is invalidated simply by common sense: millions of explosions have only revealed that the bigger the “bang,” the greater the disorder. Many other examples of incoherence could be given, but these two will suffice here. The Christian faith with its starting-point and Biblical truth is completely coherent in its theology (knowledge of God), anthropology (knowledge of man), and cosmology (knowledge of the origin of the universe). The assertion that science or any other fact proves the fallacy or limitations of the Christian faith fails to understand that all knowledge begins with premises. Faith and fact are established by the same methods.
- Epistemology is simply “how does one know what is or is not true?” One can keep asking this question until one one comes to the point where one cannot go any further. That position is a premise that is accepted by faith. So epistemology is really the study of your position of faith. Gordon Clark’s book,A Christian View of Men and Things(published by Baker Book House, 1981), is a complete exercise in epistemology, as it moves from politics and history to science, and finally to epistemology. His work is highly recommended to demonstrate the basis of truth in history, politics, ethics, science, religion and epistemology.
- Titus, Harold H., Marilyn S. Smith, and Richard T. Nolan,Living Issues in Philosophy, 7th Ed., New York: D. Van Nostrand Company, 1979, pages 202-209.
- The word, premise, may not be used in some areas of study or by some scholars. Instead, these synonyms may be found: presupposition, precept, axiom, assumption, pre-condition, postulate, hypothesis, first principle, and antecedent.
- I am convinced that all these “-ologies” are essential for a complete Christian education. Saving faith is not “a leap in the dark” and does not involve a method that differs from the development of other kinds of knowledge. The only difference is God’s prior action, subjectively in regeneration and objectively in the Scripture. If all truth can be seen as grounded in these two realities, the Christian is prepared to “… destroy speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God … taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (II Corinthians 10:5).
- Schaeffer, Francis,No Final Conflict, Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, pages 44-48.
- Morris, Henry,Studies in the Bible and Science, Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1966 and other publications of The Institute for Creation Research, 2716 Madison Avenue, San Diego, CA 92116.