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Faith and facts

How a biblical worldview makes best sense of the evidence, such that the unbeliever has ‘no excuse’

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Published: 1 March 2016 (GMT+10)
Battle_For_Truth
Everyone has the same facts, such as fossils, rocks, etc. How one interprets those facts does depend to a great extent on one’s presuppositions—or worldview—that is brought to the table. However one worldview does a much better job of coherently explaining the evidence, so “they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).

‘Prove to me that God created everything!’ Have you had anyone say that to you? Or ‘Prove to me that God exists’? Have you ever tried to do that, but encountered a brick wall of resistance where the challenger dismisses anything you have to offer? Your friend might even say, ‘You just have faith, you have no evidence, I base my beliefs on evidence.’

What is going on here? Your friend is beginning with a different worldview, an over-arching view of everything through which he/she interprets the evidence. The common non-Christian worldview in the West nowadays is secularism/atheism based upon naturalism. This has no place for a divine Creator and certainly not the One the Bible reveals, or the history of His works recorded in the Bible. Your arguments seem to fall on deaf ears.

The Bible says that such people have no excuse for adopting a view that excludes God. Romans 1:18 says that they are suppressing the truth in their unrighteousness because God’s existence is evident from what He has created (vv. 19ff).

We all have the same evidence in the present that we interpret according to an assumed history of the origin of everything—either that things self-created somehow, or that God created them.

Within the secular worldview, intelligent people are feverishly trying to work out clever-sounding ways to try to explain how the universe made itself, life made itself, and the diversity of life-forms on earth also made themselves. This is the grand scheme of cosmic evolution. They expend much energy trying to make it seem that they really know how these things happened. Much of this may even be in an effort to convince themselves—since the suppression noted above is by no means all conscious. They claim ad nauseam that this is a ‘scientific view’, but everything making itself from nothing contradicts something that is affirmed by every scientific experiment ever done. At its very core, science operates on the law of cause and effect; that things do not happen without something sufficient to cause them to happen.1 But that ‘minor point’ is overlooked.

We are talking about presuppositions here; fundamental assumptions or axioms that people bring to the evidence, and which they use to interpret it accordingly. It is very important to remember and point out that every person brings a worldview to the table when considering the origin of everything. We all have the same evidence in the present that we interpret according to an assumed history of the origin of everything—either that things self-created somehow, or that God created them.

So, it is not ‘science versus religion’ or ‘facts versus faith’ but one faith versus another faith. It is certainly important to show someone that their view, whatever it is, is not just ‘the facts’, but that they have brought certain assumptions (axioms) to the table for which they have no evidence, and that their presuppositions determine how they interpret facts that they then claim is evidence for their worldview.

Biblical creationists interpret the facts/data in terms of the axioms revealed by Scripture: creation about 6,000 years ago, the Fall bringing sin and death, and the global Flood. From different axioms are deduced different world histories to explain how the current evidence came to be. In reality, evolution is a historical idea deduced from the assumption of materialism or naturalism—matter is all there is. Another way to put it, as Dr Carl Wieland did in a profound article back in 1988, is that evolutionists ultimately exclude creation a priori not because of evidence, but because it violates their arbitrarily decreed materialistic ‘rules of the game’.

What about ‘the facts’/the evidence?

In creationist circles, this understanding about the importance of presuppositions in the origins debate has been loosely termed ‘presuppositionalism’ (to distinguish it from ‘evidentialism’ which naively presumes that evidence speaks for itself). It has been very significant in advancing the creationist cause. However, it can be taken too far. Some speak almost as if the evidence does not matter, that it is just a matter of interpretation: ‘Same data, just different interpretations.’ This view can all too readily morph into a type of post-modernism, whereby ‘it’s all in your head’ and all we can hope to do is work on changing the person’s worldview so that he/she can begin to see the same evidence in a different light that is compatible with a Christian worldview. Proponents often recommend that approach, rather than dealing with the creation-evolution issues, which entails pulling the philosophical rug from under an unbeliever by showing how their presuppositions fail to account for the evidence.

Some even go so far as to disdain ‘human logic’, implying (often even explicitly arguing) that man’s truth, logic, and meaning differ from God’s. They reason that original sin causes such wholly depraved thinking that the unregenerate man (the non-Christian) cannot think any logical thoughts. However, if this were so then it would render void the clear teaching of Romans 1:18ff. If people suppress the truth in unrighteousness (v.18) they must at some level know what the truth is in order to suppress it. Furthermore, Scripture says that they are “without excuse” (v.20) for denying that God exists. If they can’t see it because they just can’t think clearly enough, then they would have an excuse.

Likewise, in 2 Peter 3 we read that “in the last days scoffers will come” denying that God created everything and that He destroyed the world in the Flood of Noah. It says that they “deliberately forget”. Here also, they are not ignorant of the truth; they suppress it. It is wilful ignorance, not just ignorance. God does not condemn people for what they do not know, or do not perceive, but for wilfully going against what they do know; that He exists. This is sin.

So the Bible teaches us that some fundamental truths about God and His works are apprehended by the non-believer, which he/she suppresses.

Laws of logic universal?

People can think certain rational thoughts precisely because God has endowed His creation with rationality; it reflects His very nature.

For all people to be able to see these things, it implies that there must be certain principles of logic/reasoning that are universal, that God has built in to us.

Reflecting on the writings of the great 18th century Christian apologist Jonathan Edwards, Martin Murphy wrote, “The law of non-contradiction,2 the law of causality,3 and the basic reliability of sense perception are three components necessary to communicate truth.”4 Such laws of logic are embedded in the created order, so they are revealed in the creation. Without all three of these, it would not be possible to cross the street safely. Christians and non-Christians alike can cross the street safely because God has endowed all people with these principles of reasoning, by which we can also understand propositional truths.

Such logic is ‘built-in’, a part of the way in which the creation reveals the attributes of God (Romans 1:19ff). We might see this as part of what theologians call ‘common grace’ by which God has blessed all people.

Some argue that to understand the Bible, we have to get our understanding of how to understand the Bible from the Bible—a ‘biblical hermeneutic’.5 However, how do you derive anything from the Bible without a pre-existing hermeneutic? That hermeneutic has to be rooted in the three universal principles listed by Murphy above.

Theologian Herman Hoeksema put it clearly: there is no separate ‘God’s meaning’ for words that is different from ‘man’s meaning’, and neither is there a ‘divine logic’ that is separate from ‘human logic’, otherwise Scripture simply could not communicate God’s truth to man, as per 2 Timothy 3:15–17:

Either the logic of revelation is our logic, or there is no revelation.6

It is true that apart from God’s works we could think no rational thoughts; people can think certain rational thoughts precisely because God has endowed His creation with rationality; it reflects His very nature. Without this innate logic/rationality it would not be possible to live. And because of this, no one has any excuse.

We even see this logic in babies, who react to improbable situations with surprise. Researchers showed pre-speech infants balls bouncing inside a container with a hole where the ball could exit. When a ball appeared from the hole without having travelled on a trajectory that would enable this, the babies expressed surprise. They were thinking logically, despite not having any words with which to formulate such thoughts.7 Likewise, pre-school Japanese children believe in an unseen intelligent creator of everything.8 This is in a culture where the Buddhist and Shinto religions of the adults have no such Creator-God. Logic is innate and the conclusions from that logic, for example that God exists, have to be suppressed.

Changing a worldview

Noone_Tells_Me
The non-Christian often claims to be unbiased, just ‘facing the facts’, but this is clearly not the case. The Bible says that those who don’t acknowledge the Creator-God ‘suppress the truth’ (Romans 1:18ff).

How do we help someone realize that his or her worldview (religion) does not measure up? Merely asserting that ours is the better one is not going to get us far. Nor is it going to help by asserting, as some do, that they must accept our worldview (derived from the axiom that the Bible is God’s revelation to man and true in all it asserts) before they can think anything rational—especially since, as shown earlier, they clearly can, even in infancy. No, we need to demonstrate that the other person’s worldview does not actually do a good job of accounting for the evidence that we both have before us. In other words, the evidence matters.

A sound worldview, such as that derived from the Bible, actually accounts for what we see around us; there is a ‘coherency of truth’, whereas we can show that an atheistic view, for example, is incoherent.9

The well-known non-Christian philosopher Thomas Nagel has acknowledged that the modern evolutionary view of origins—the atheists’ creation myth—is incoherent, as commentator Andrew Ferguson noted:

“His [Nagel’s] working assumption is, in today’s intellectual climate, radical: If the materialist, neo-Darwinian orthodoxy contradicts common sense, then this is a mark against the orthodoxy, not against common sense. When a chain of reasoning leads us to deny the obvious, we should double-check the chain of reasoning before we give up on the obvious.”10

This again reflects Romans 1, where it says when people suppress the truth about His existence, God gives them over to futile thinking: “For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:21)

We see this in full measure in the modern Western secular mindset of cosmic evolution, that ‘everything made itself’, which is an astounding idea that contradicts the most fundamental principles of science and rationality.11

Materialism/atheism fails at multiple levels. Many atheists claim that science is the only way of knowing,12 but since there is no way for science to prove this, the claim itself is incapable of being known to be true. So this position (‘scientism’) refutes itself. Indeed, a corollary of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, a now well-accepted principle of mathematics and philosophy, is that there can be no self-authenticating body of knowledge. In other words, science cannot prove that science is valid. (As an aside, there can never be a ‘theory of everything’, as the atheist Stephen Hawking hopes for.)

The presuppositions needed for doing science don’t come from science; they come from outside of science. Indeed, they came from a biblical Christian worldview.13

A sound worldview, such as that derived from the Bible, actually accounts for what we see around us; there is a ‘coherency of truth’.

Atheists/materialists believe that our existence is a cosmic accident; our origins ultimately depended on random events (in biological evolution mutations are random events, for example). However, as the Christian apologist C.S. Lewis pointed out, random origins would not give any basis for believing in reliable (non-random) thoughts about those origins.14 The position is again self-refuting.

There are many ‘facts’ that don’t make much sense in an atheistic worldview: the existence of altruism, love, and intelligence for example. There is incredible design in living things—such as the language code of the DNA, which is impossible to account for without intelligent design.15 Almost every biological feature, particularly at the molecular level, shows irreducible complexity, where multiple complex components have to be present for it to work at all.16 Design is the elephant in the room for modern evolutionary biologists and every day the elephant gets bigger and harder to ignore.

We can also look at some of the overwhelming evidence for the world-wide Flood of Noah and the mounting problems with the billions-of-years belief system (such as carbon-14 in coal of all supposed ages, and fragile organic compounds in fossils supposedly many millions of years old).

As Dr Rob Carter remarked,

“I feel that creation is a much better explanation for the world around us, and we are making great strides almost daily in multiple fields. Our case is getting stronger, not weaker, as we learn more about the complexity of the genome, catastrophic geology, cosmology, speciation, climate, radiometric dating, etc., etc. I am a ‘presuppositionalist’, not an ‘evidentialist’, but I am not a creationist solely because I am a Christian and believe the Bible. I am also a creationist because I believe the weight of evidence points to a young, created universe. My presupposition is strong, but I feel it is well justified.”17

CMI’s philosophical approach thus takes seriously and engages with the evidence of the real world, while recognizing the importance of presuppositions and worldview in interpreting it. Our position is perhaps best labelled classical presuppositionalism.18 This recognizes that, although our understanding is seriously affected by our presuppositions, there is an objective reality independent of what we might think (we might not believe the Law of Gravity but we will still go splat if we jump off a cliff). It also recognizes the importance of showing that one worldview (biblical creation) and the axioms upon which it is based enable a more coherent and rational explanation of reality than another (such as naturalism).

Benefits of a proper approach

A proper approach makes for an effective witness (2 Corinthians 10:5, 1 Peter 3:15). We connect with unbelievers ‘where they are at’ and do not insult them by trying to prove or imply that they cannot think any logical thoughts whatsoever. Also, we don’t use esoteric philosophical arguments that most people will not relate to, and which can come across as avoiding the evidence.

As Martin Murphy wrote, “The Christian apologist must meet the seeker at his own level.”19

In all of this we recognize the vital role of the Holy Spirit in enabling a person to change his/her attitude toward God (repentance/faith). Murphy’s quote goes on to say (emphasis in original): “Apologetics cannot and will not save anyone. The powerful work of the Holy Spirit can and will change the heart.”18

Mistaken approaches

  1. Evidentialism. This is the position that the evidence ‘speaks for itself’. That is, let’s just present evidence for design in living creatures and atheists will abandon their creation myth (evolution) and become Christians. Certainly, we would expect creation evidence to be superior, because Romans 1:20 states that people are “without excuse”. And we know of people won over by the evidence, e.g. ‘Sonia’ and even CMI’s Shaun Doyle, who became a creationist before he became a Christian.20
    However, if someone has become a believer because of one particular item of ‘evidence’, what happens when (as sometimes happens for both creationists and evolutionists) that particular item of evidence or argument becomes superseded, or is even shown to have been wrongly interpreted or understood? It leaves people vulnerable to what CMI’s Andrew Lamb called the “evidentialist roller coaster”—where a person’s faith goes up and down depending on the status of the latest ‘evidence’ (see the article Swaying in the breeze).
    The presuppositional approach affirms the veracity of Scripture, and ultimately the Gospel. In contrast, a pure evidentialist argument from design, for example, could leave the door open to speculative ideas like aliens being our creators.
  1. Fideism. “Fideism is the complete reliance on faith without evidence and/or reason.”21,22 Misconstruing Hebrews 11:1, I have heard people say, ‘What has faith got to do with evidence?’ Some are even upset by the idea that there is evidence for our Christian faith (yes, the tomb was empty, for example). They see their faith as diminished if it has evidence to back it up. Some church traditions even see ‘faith’ as something that earns merit with God, and the more difficult it is to believe, the more merit that is earned with God. Of course such a view of faith contradicts the Bible’s teaching that faith is a gift of God (Ephesians 2) so that we have no basis for thinking that faith comes from our own efforts. Such unbiblical faith traditions are so widespread that it is no surprise that God-haters often pick up the idea of faith being like Alice in Wonderland seeing how many impossible things she can believe before breakfast. We need to show that only biblical axioms provide a self-consistent worldview with a rational basis for morality and indeed for science itself, while atheism must postulate certain unprovable beliefs that go against observable science, as shown in this reply to an atheist.
  1. Non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA). Francis Bacon, Galileo, some recent Roman Catholic Popes, and even atheists such as Stephen Jay Gould have promoted the idea that ‘religion’ and ‘science’ are two separate domains of thought (magisteria) that do not overlap. They can coexist without competition or interaction. The Signature Room of the Sistine Chapel in Rome has huge murals by Raphael, painted in the early 1500s. A painting on one wall represents ‘philosophy’, which incorporates science, and one on the opposing wall, ‘theology’. This probably encapsulated the ‘two magisteria’ idea. The statement that ‘the Bible tells us the way to go to Heaven, not the way the heavens go’ also reflects the idea. Often church statements of faith, perhaps inadvertently, echo this concept: ‘The Bible is authoritative in matters of faith and practice.’ Surely if the Bible is the inspired Word of the Creator-God who knows everything, then it is authoritative on everything of which it speaks? What about the Bible’s history? Is that authoritative? Did Jesus actually rise from the dead or is it just a theological concept?
  1. Mysticism. This emphasizes God as ‘beyond reason’; that ‘faith’ does not need rational thought. It involves concentrating on religious experience without engaging the mind. In some circles ‘New Age’ ideas borrowed from eastern mysticism (Buddhism/Hinduism) have crept in, with mind-emptying meditation promoted as a means of achieving ‘spiritual peace’. However, the Bible enjoins us to meditate on God’s Word, not on nothing (see Psalm 119). Jesus stated the First Commandment as to ”Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind”. We are to worship God with our whole being.
    Post-modernism is a form of mysticism. It denies an objective reality that exists independently from what we think about it. However, God created mankind towards the end of Creation Week (which, compared to thousands of years hence, would still be at the beginning of creation, as Jesus put it in Mark 10:6), after He had created everything else, and then declared this “very good” (Genesis 1:31). This implies that much of the created order existed, and that God had objectively assessed this as its condition, independently of man’s opinion about it.

References and notes

  1. Batten, D., “It’s not science!”, February 2002; creation.com/notscience. Return to text
  2. The law of non-contradiction: that something cannot be both true and not true at the same time (in the same context). For example, if I am alive, then I cannot be dead at the same time (in the same sense). Return to text
  3. Causality: The relationship between cause and effect. The principle that all events have sufficient causes. Return to text
  4. Murphy, M., My Christian Apology: Apologetics: Explained and Applied, Theocentric Publishing Group, 2011. Return to text
  5. Hermeneutic = a method or principle used to understand a text. We are not here referring to the principle that ‘the Bible interprets the Bible’ where one passage sheds light upon another; we would affirm this. For example, when considering how Genesis is meant to be understood, we find that the other parts of the Bible treat it as historical narrative, which therefore directs our approach. Return to text
  6. Hoeksema, H., The Clark-Van Til Controversy (based on his Standard Bearer editorials from 1944–1946), p. 8, 1995; cf. also pp. 26, 27. Return to text
  7. Téglás, E., et al., Intuitions of probabilities shape expectations about the future at 12 months and beyond, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 104(48):19156–19159, 2007 | doi: 10.1073/pnas.0700271104. Return to text
  8. Catchpoole, D., Children see the world as ‘designed’!, July 2009; creation.com/kids-designed. Return to text
  9. This does not mean that there are no scientific puzzles remaining to be solved with a biblical worldview. Our knowledge is always limited and our understanding will always be finite/limited. Return to text
  10. Nunn, W., Thomas Nagel—The atheist who dared to question materialism, March 2014; creation.com/nagel-materialism. Return to text
  11. Batten, D., Although widely respected, the Grand Theory of Evolution is really quite preposterous, Creation 33(1):6, 2011; creation.com/evolution-preposterous. Return to text
  12. The study of how we know things is a formal discipline known as epistemology. Return to text
  13. Reed, J.K., Rocks Aren’t Clocks, Creation Book Publishers, p. 47, 2013; and Sarfati, J., The biblical roots of modern science, September 2009; creation.com/roots. Scientists universally accept these presuppositions today for the simple reason that they work, but there is no coherent rationale for this to be so outside of a biblical worldview. Why should the laws be understandable to us and why should they be unchanging, for instance? Or why should the same laws be assumed to apply in a distant galaxy as here on earth? Return to text
  14. Accidental angle, Creation 21(2):47; March 1999. Return to text
  15. Sarfati, J., DNA: the best information storage system, June 2015; creation.com/dna-best; and Williams, A., Astonishing DNA complexity demolishes neo-Darwinism, J. Creation 21(3):111–117, December 2007. Return to text
  16. For example, the ATP Synthase ‘rotary motor’, or the kinesin delivery system, or RNA polymerase, or almost any of the hundreds of biochemical pathways in living things. Return to text
  17. Genetics and geographical distribution, April 2011. See also Catchpoole, D., The importance of evidence, Creation 30(3):6, June 2008; creation.com/evidence. Return to text
  18. Beisner, E.C., Classical Presuppositional Apologetics: Re-introducing an Old Theme, 2001, revised 2006, 34 pp. Return to text
  19. Ref. 4. Return to text
  20. See Bates, G., The ‘knockout punch’ syndrome, Creation 34(3):24–27, 2012; creation.com/ko. Return to text
  21. CARM, carm.org. Return to text
  22. Sarfati, J., Why use apologetics for evangelism?, January 2008; creation.com/apologetics-evangelism. Return to text