Using the Bible to prove the Bible?
Are biblical creationists guilty of circular reasoning?
Creation Ministries International is well known for accepting the Bible as God’s written Word, and thus without error and the ultimate authority on whatever it teaches. But a common objection is, ‘You believe the Bible to be God’s Word because it says so. This is arguing in a circle.’ There are two major points in answering this: the role of starting assumptions, and breaking the circle.
All philosophical systems start with axioms (presuppositions), or non-provable propositions accepted as true, and deduce theorems from them. Therefore Christians should not be faulted for having axioms as well, which are the propositions of Scripture (a proposition is a fact about a thing, e.g. God is love).
So the question for any axiomatic system is whether it is self-consistent and is consistent with the real world.
This means that the axioms don’t contradict each other. Indeed, allegedly circular reasoning at least demonstrates the internal consistency of the Bible’s claims it makes about itself. If the Bible had actually disclaimed divine inspiration, it would indeed be illogical to defend it. This is one argument that the Apocrypha was not inspired—1 Maccabees 9:27 and 2 Macc. 15:37–39 explicitly disclaim divine inspiration.
Consistent with the real world
Christian axioms provide the basis for a coherent worldview, i.e. a thought map that can guide us throughout all aspects of life. Non-Christian axioms fail these tests, as do the axioms of other ‘holy books’.1
- Biblical axioms logically and historically provided the basis for modern science.2 A major one is that the universe is orderly, because it was made by a God of order, not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). But why should the universe be orderly if there were no God, or if Zeus and his gang were in charge, or if the universe were one big Thought, as Eastern religions teach? It could change Its mind!
- Also very importantly, the Christian axioms provide a basis for objective right and wrong. Note, it’s important to understand the point here—not that atheists can’t be moral but that they have no objective basis for this morality from within their own system. The fanatical atheistic evolutionist, Clinton Richard Dawkins, admits that our ‘best impulses have no basis in nature,’3 and another atheist, William Provine, said that evolution means that ‘There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.’4 So Dawkins makes a leap of faith to say that we should be ‘anti-Darwinian when it comes to morality’, that we should ‘rebel’ against our selfish genes, etc. But his own philosophy can’t justify the ‘shoulds’.
- Christian axioms also provide a basis for voluntary choice, since we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27). But evolutionists believe that we are just machines and that our thoughts are really motions of atoms in our brains, which are just ‘computers made of meat’. But then they realize that we can’t function in the everyday world like this. Science is supposed to be about predictability, yet an evolutionist can far more easily predict behaviour if he treats his wife as a free agent with desires and dislikes. For example, if he brings her flowers, then he will make her happy, i.e. for all practical purposes, his wife is a free agent who likes flowers. Nothing is gained in the practical world by treating her as an automaton with certain olfactory responses programmed by genes that in turn produce certain brain chemistry. So evolutionists claim that free will is a ‘useful illusion’.
We must also wonder why atheists call themselves ‘freethinkers’ if they believe thoughts are the results of atomic motion in the brain obeying the fixed laws of chemistry. By their own philosophy, they can’t help what they believe! (see box 1 below).
Breaking the circle
- It is not circular to use Matthew to prove Genesis (Matthew 19:3–6, cf. Genesis 1:27, 2:24), Paul to prove Luke (1 Timothy 5:18, cf. Luke 10:7) or Peter to prove Paul (2 Peter 3:15–16).
- It is also not circular to use Jesus’ clear statements to prove the Bible. His statements such as, ‘Scripture cannot be broken’ (John 10:35) and the repeated ‘It is written … ’ show that for Jesus, what Scripture said is what God said.5 Indeed, Jesus defended many of the doctrines that skeptics love to scoff at (see box 2 below).6 Even without accepting Scripture as the authority, many liberal theologians believe that there is overwhelming historical evidence that Christ affirmed biblical inerrancy, although they disagree with Him.7 Yet Jesus proved His credentials beyond doubt by rising from the dead8 (cf. Acts 17:31). This independent historical evidence breaks the circle.
How evolutionary reasoning undercuts itself
Social commentator Dr Theodore Dalrymple, no Christian himself, commented on the atheist philosopher Daniel Dennett:
‘Dennett argues that religion is explicable in evolutionary terms—for example, by our inborn human propensity, at one time valuable for our survival on the African savannahs, to attribute animate agency to threatening events.
‘For Dennett, to prove the biological origin of belief in God is to show its irrationality, to break its spell. But of course it is a necessary part of the argument that all possible human beliefs, including belief in evolution, must be explicable in precisely the same way; or else why single out religion for this treatment? Either we test ideas according to arguments in their favor, independent of their origins, thus making the argument from evolution irrelevant, or all possible beliefs come under the same suspicion of being only evolutionary adaptations—and thus biologically contingent rather than true or false. We find ourselves facing a version of the paradox of the Cretan liar: all beliefs, including this one, are the products of evolution, and all beliefs that are products of evolution cannot be known to be true.’1
- Dalrymple, T., What the new atheists don’t see: to regret religion is to regret Western civilization, City Journal, Autumn 2007;
Jesus affirmed Scripture!
Jesus affirmed the reality (historicity) of the following people and events, often the targets of most skeptical and liberal mockery:
- Matthew 19:3–6, Mark 10:5–9—God created Adam and Eve as the first man and woman, ‘from the beginning of creation’, and this was the basis for marriage.
- Luke 11:51—Abel.
- Matthew 24:37–39—Noah and the Flood (Luke 17:26–27).
- John 8:56–58—Abraham.
- Matthew 10:15; 11:23–24 (Luke 10:12)—Sodom and Gomorrah.
- Luke 17:28–32—Lot (and wife!).
- Matthew 8:11—Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Luke 13:28).
- John 6:31, 49, 58—Manna from heaven.
- John 3:14—Moses and the bronze serpent.
- Matthew 12:39–41—Jonah and the great sea creature (vs. 42—Queen of Sheba).
- Luke 16:31 and John 5:46–47—Moses as inspired author of the Pentateuch.
- Matthew 24:15—Daniel the Prophet as author of the book of Daniel (citing Daniel 9:27).
Creationists are thus not guilty of circular reasoning. Also, accepting the biblical presuppositions is not a matter of blind faith. Biblical faith is not blind;9 rather, it is belief, and trust and loyalty, for sound reasons.10 1 Peter 3:15 tells us to give a reason for the hope that we have.11
Furthermore, we are not merely asking opponents to consider biblical presuppositions as an alternative way of looking at the evidence. Nor are we merely saying that they are ‘nicer’, nor even that they provide a superior framework that better explains the data (although both of these are true as well). Rather, the claim is even stronger: that the biblical framework is the only one that provides the foundation for science, voluntary will, logic and morality.
References and notes
- See also Catchpoole, D., Holy books? Which one are you going to trust? Creation 26(1):19, 2003;
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- Stark, R., For the Glory of God: How monotheism led to reformations, science, witch-hunts and the end of slavery, Princeton University Press, 2003; see also review by Williams A., The biblical origins of science, Journal of Creation 18(2):49–52, 2004;
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- Evolution: The dissent of Darwin, Psychology Today, January/February 1997, p. 62. Return to text.
- Provine, W.B. (Professor of Biological Sciences, Cornell University, USA), Origins Research 16(1):9, 1994. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., The authority of Scripture, Apologia 3(2):12-16, 1994;
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- Livingston, D., Jesus Christ on the infallibility of Scripture, from ‘A Critique of Dewey Beegle’s book titled: Inspiration of Scripture’, M.A. Thesis, 2003;
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- Harold Lindsell cites the liberal scholars H.J. Cadbury, Adolph Harnack, Rudolf Bultmann and F.C. Grant to prove this point, The Battle for the Bible, Zondervan, Michigan, USA, pp. 43–45, 1976. Return to text.
- For example, there are at least 17 factors that meant Christianity could not have succeeded in the ancient world, unless it were backed up with irrefutable proof of the Resurrection, as shown by Holding, J.P., The Impossible Faith, Xulon Press, Florida, USA, 2007. Return to text.
- Note, some contextually illiterate critics claim that the ‘doubting Thomas’ passage (John 20:24–31) promotes a blind faith. In reality, Thomas’s problem was rejection of ample evidence—the testimony of at least 11 men whom he had gotten to know intimately over at least the past three years, plus personal experience of the miraculous powers of Jesus, including raising Lazarus from the dead and even an empty tomb.
Also, almost all future potential converts thereafter would have less direct evidence than Thomas did, although still ample. So Jesus could not allow Thomas to ‘set an example’ to spoiled skeptics who demand God’s personal appearance before them before they are willing to believe, as if God were their personal genie at their beck and call. See also Holding, J.P., Blessed are ye who whine: does John 20:29 promote a ‘blind faith’?
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- Holding, J.P., Fallacious Faith: Correcting an all-too-common misconception,
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- See also Sarfati, J., Loving God with all your mind: Logic and creation, Journal of Creation 12(2):142–151, 1998;
Misquoting Dawkins. The actual fragment was said by Jaron Lanier in a debate. He was saying that people reject evolution because they perceive a moral vacuum, where nature doesn’t account for our moral impulses, to which Dawkins says, tough they have to face the truth. Grammatically, Dawkins means the truth of evolution, and that whatever the opponents “perceive”, regarding moral vacuums doesn’t change the truth of evolution. His implication is that this perception is false. You should omit this citation because it is severely incorrect and out of context and weakens your argument tremendously.
You’re surely not serious. He was affirming this perception but said it was tough because, in his misguided view, evolution is true. This is typical of Dawkins’ other beliefs. He also says that we live in a universe which has “no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference” [River out of Eden, Chapter 4]. In this, he is similar to other evolutionists, as we have document many times. Here is a recent article documenting other evolutionary arguments on similar lines, by historian Dr Richard Weikart, author of From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany. So we have no intention of refraining from this quote.
Dr Sarfati, thank you for such a wonderful article addressing a common accusation. It’s because of articles like this that I decided to become a subscriber of Creation.