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The ‘interpretation argument’: an irrefutable argument against Christianity?

Published: 26 June 2021 (GMT+10)
man

We recently received a letter from a reader who had come across a YouTube video about something the presenter dubbed ‘the interpretation argument’ which was claimed to be an irrefutable evidence against Christianity. Lita Sanders’s response follows:

It’s pretty rare for a career apologist to come across an argument against God they haven’t heard of, so thanks for that! The Interpretation Argument was summarized by the fellow who made the video you referred to as “Christians disagree with each other, therefore God doesn’t exist”. OK, that seems like an illogical leap of fancy, but maybe he has a point. So in the interests of giving him a fair hearing, I listened to the rest of the video. He elaborated:

1. For any event God wants, he knows how to bring it about (omniscience)
2. For any event God wants, he is capable of bringing it about (omnipotence)
Therefore: If God chooses to bring about a particular event, it must occur.

He correctly says that Christians will agree to this. Then things go off the rails. He applies this to a specific instance:

1. For any message God wants to communicate, he knows how to communicate it such that it will be interpreted correctly
2. For any message God wants to communicate, he is capable of communicating it such that it will be interpreted correctly
Therefore: If God chooses to communicate a message it must be interpreted correctly.

But Christians have interpretational differences, therefore God doesn’t exist. So it is an illogical leap, but where does he go wrong? We might say that he, like the Sadducees, is wrong because he knows neither the Scriptures nor the power of God (Matthew 22:29). But let’s be a little more detailed than that.

First, God communicates for reasons other than to be understood. Sometimes He communicates so that people will not understand because of their unbelief, and thus be condemned, as in the case of Isaiah (Isaiah 6) and Jesus’ parables (Matthew 13:10-17). Sometimes He communicates about future events in ways that are only comprehensible in light of the future event, such as the prophecies in Daniel.

God desires people to have faith. Regardless of what position one takes on the predestination/free will spectrum, no one has a fatalistic view that leaves no room for meaningful human choice. And many Christians were not believers from young childhood, but went through a process where they went from unbelief to belief. God could intervene in such a way that everyone would interpret the Bible correctly, but that intervention would leave no room for faith.

Furthermore, just because God desires something to happen doesn’t mean that He desires it immediately. God is outside of time, which is why the Bible says a thousand years is like a day to Him. He can bring about any result at any time He wishes, and the book of Revelation indicates that in the end we will be in unbroken fellowship with Him, and that will likely include a much greater grasp of His nature, will, and Word.

But our (self-described) pagan friend doesn’t stop there. Taking that very wrong conclusion and making it premise 1 of his next argument:

1. It is logically impossible for God’s communications to be misinterpreted.
[He does not state the necessary statement in between 1. and 2: 1a: A misinterpretation of God’s communication is equivalent to a false communication from God.].
2. If God is all-knowing, a communication of a false proposition must be a lie
3. If there are contradicting interpretations, at least one of them must be false
4. There are multiple instances of contradicting interpretations of God’s communications
Therefore: God is a pathological liar.

We could just point out that our interlocutor has no reason from his worldview to object to pathological lying, but let's go a bit further in depth.

One element that we didn’t discuss earlier was the Fall. The Fall, brought about through Adam’s sin, interrupted our relationship with God and corrupted our minds. Therefore a message that God has communicated with perfect clarity may be misunderstood because of sin. Blaming that on God would be like someone busting his own TV set and then complaining that he can’t watch Call the Midwife, which is obviously the BBC’s fault.

Also, it is ridiculous to equate misunderstanding a message to the message being a lie. For God to ensure everyone correctly interpreted His message, He would have to personally intervene in the minds of each and every reader of Scripture, in some cases inserting previously unknown concepts into their brains. Obviously nothing is impossible for God, i.e., He could do that, but he would probably call that a massive abuse of power for God to force everyone to think a certain way.

He concludes that Christians either have to accept these premises or sacrifice key elements of the faith. I think my response shows otherwise.

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