A young man from a secular university visits a seminary professor after a long sociology class, where he learned nothing about sociological method and everything about how to think correctly according to his university professor. He began to object to the absolute claims that Christianity makes, and ask why this seminary professor would bother teaching the Bible as anything other than an opinion among many opinions. The following dialogue is what ensues.
Religion always makes such claims of certainty and absolutism, but we can’t be certain of those things. I think that religious people are just trying to grab onto something more stable because they don’t want to deal with the messiness of life.
Really? That’s interesting. Why do you think that people can’t know anything spiritual with certainty?
Because we’re not God. We can’t know everything about everything, and so that means that we can’t really know anything with absolute certainty.
Fascinating. Can I ask you a question?
Do you have exhaustive knowledge of your spouse? Do you know everything there is to know about him or her, every physical, mental, spiritual thing there is to know about him or her, every thought he or she thinks, etc.?
Have you ever accidentally gone to bed with the wrong person, then, thinking that he or she was your spouse?
I don’t understand. Why not? If you don’t have exhaustive knowledge of your spouse, how can you have certainty of who he or she is? If you can’t have certainty of who he or she is, then you can’t be certain that the postman, the girl at the grocery store, or Tom Cruise is not your spouse. How can you be certain that you never actually went to bed with someone you thought was your spouse, but wasn’t?
Because I know enough about him or her to be certain that he or she is the person who is my spouse and not a different person.
In other words, you have sufficient knowledge enough to know your spouse in distinction from other people, and that sufficient knowledge gives you certainty on the matter?
Isn’t it the same when we discuss spiritual things?
Because I don’t know anything about spiritual things. I know some things about my spouse, enough to know them sufficiently, but that same is not true for spiritual things.
OK. So what certain and absolute belief does your statement assume?
What do you mean?
I mean, you’ve just stated something absolute and certain, and yet, you just said you can’t know anything about the spiritual realm that is absolute and certain, so I’m asking you what beliefs you have acquired with enough certainty to make that statement.
Well, I’m saying that I can’t be certain about spiritual things.
. . . which is a statement of certainty about spiritual things. I’m now asking upon what belief, what certain assumption about spiritual things you have to believe first in order to make that statement.
Why don’t you tell me?
Sure. If I have someone who has exhaustive knowledge of the spiritual tell me something about what is spiritual, and He will aid me in understanding it, can I know something about the spiritual?
Maybe, but maybe not with certainty, since you do not have exhaustive knowledge yourself.
But we just established that you can have certainty with sufficient knowledge. You don’t need exhaustive knowledge to have certainty, correct?
Well, yes, you’re right on that.
So I can have certainty with sufficient knowledge, and sufficient knowledge can be give by one who has exhaustive knowledge, correct?
I would imagine so.
So what does the agnostic statement that one cannot have certainty about spiritual matters assume?
That God has not spoken sufficiently to people.
In other words, it assumes that the Bible isn’t true.
Well, there are other religions . . .
Yes, but even though other religions make absolute claims, there are only the three main religions who claim to have certainty based upon divine revelation spoken by God who has exhaustive knowledge, and all of them have their roots in the Bible, so really your statement is an attack upon the Bible as God’s revelation, isn’t it?
Well, yes, I suppose so. Perhaps the Bible has some insight, but I guess I’m assuming either that it is either not God telling us about spiritual matters, but humans giving us insightful remarks about spiritual matters, or it is God telling us about spiritual matters, but because we are imperfect, we cannot understand it exhaustively.
Which, again, we covered the latter, since we have already come to an agreement that sufficient knowledge, not exhaustive knowledge, is all that is needed to have certainty about something.
So really it comes down to assuming that God has spoken or He has not spoken in the Bible, correct?
So let me ask you this, Do you believe that there is a God?
Yes, I do.
Do you believe that God is loving?
Do you believe that with certainty?
Yes, I do.
How do you know that?
Well, I just believe it.
Based upon what?
I just think that God is loving.
OK, so you do believe something else concerning a spiritual matter with certainty. We just would have to say that you have no basis for believing it without divine revelation; but let’s move on to my next point.
If someone cannot know anything about spiritual matters, and what one believes about spiritual matters direct one’s life in the right or wrong directions, do you think that is it loving for God to not give us the sufficient knowledge we need to steer our lives in the right direction toward Him and what is spiritually good, but instead to leave us to hopefully stumble upon it in the dark?
Well, maybe it’s just loving to let us search for it?
Really? If your child needed a particular pill to save his life, do you think it is loving to let him search for it in a mountain of other pills that would kill him because you think he’ll benefit from the process? Would he really ever likely find it? How can we say that God is loving if He never gives us what we need to direct our love toward the rightful and worthy objects of that love?
Well, you’ll just know in your heart.
Now I would just give you the argument you first gave me. We are too finite and fallen to know what is true and good with any certainty. We cannot know spiritual matters with certainty, precisely, because our heart is incapable of leading us there. Ted Bundy followed his heart and he became a murderer. Hitler followed his heart and became a murderer. Pedophiles follow their hearts. Adulterers follow their hearts and ruin the lives of their spouses and children. Idolaters follow their hearts and end up worshiping vain gods. What good is the heart? As you admitted at the get go, we cannot know with certainty any of these matters if we only have our finite selfs as our compass, but not knowing will lead us and those we supposedly love (although we have no way of knowing if we actually love them) to complete and utter ruin. So do you really think the heart is the best vehicle we should use to direct us?
Well, when you put it that way, I guess not. But all of those people seemed like bad people who maybe had bad hearts.
How would judge a good from a bad heart without first knowing with certainty what is good and bad? You have to have a standard first, and everyone, even the theoretical agnostic, has absolute standards. The problem is that he says one thing about certainty, but then borrows all of the certainty from the Christian worldview upon which our society has based its moral certainty, only now he has removed the oil from the lamp, even though he still wants the wick to burn brightly. It just isn’t going to work. So I ask you again, if we are lost in the dark, how can we say that God is loving to leave us lost in the dark?
Well, not everyone is saved, so He does leave a lot of people in the dark, doesn’t He?
Sure, but not in the way that you seem to be suggesting. He leaves people in the dark who He has not purposed to save. Those He will leave to their own rebellion, but has more mercy upon, get no revelation at all. This is an act of divine judgment upon their sin against Him, so He is not merely leaving his children to destruction by not giving them revelation, but purposely not giving those He has decreed judgment upon without the revelation that would further damn them. Those who He purposes to heap judgment upon, because of the nature of their rebellion, He gives revelation to show that it is the rebellious and self-pleasing heart of man that is the problem in his quest for “truth,” not the condition of not having the truth. But those He wishes to save, upon whom He places His special love, even using the example of the damned to save and love the redeemed, to them He gives the truth of Scripture and the Holy Spirit through the Church to understand it, and they are directed, with great and absolute certainty, by that sufficient knowledge from an source with exhaustive knowledge, i.e., God.
Well, that doesn’t sound like the God I want to believe in. I want to believe that God is just as loving to all, and don’t believe that He is wrathful toward people.
Wow, for someone who doesn’t know anything about spiritual matters due to such human limitations that do not allow for it, you are pretty certain about quite a bit. But this is a great example of what I’m talking about. This is something we could only know from divine revelation. If we reason within ourselves, we will project our own ideas as true without having any basis for believing that they are, in fact, actually true. In other words, we have everything to suggest that we are self-deceived, and nothing to suggest that our opinions, apart from God’s communication to us via the Scripture, describe reality.
Well, maybe it’s OK to live in delusions if they make you happy and you accept yourself and your own limitations to have things right.
Let me ask you something, would you say the same thing concerning whether you were driving on the right side of the freeway with your kids in the car?
What do you mean?
I mean, you wouldn’t make this argument about any REAL thing. It’s just that you seem to think that spiritual things don’t function as REAL things, which again has a lot of assumptions that supposedly you cannot know. But let’s examine this for a moment. If the Bible is actually God communicating to His people, then will God lie to them?
Well, no, I don’t think He would.
So if He says that what you trust in and do in life matters, not only in this life, but in the next, and it matters so much that you will be eternally saved or damned based upon it, having grabbed hold of the true God’s hand versus slapping it away, do you think it would be wise to ignore that and opt to live in ignorance because it’s more of an exciting journey that way?
Well, no, if what is said is true, then it would be important to know what is true and good so that you didn’t end up wrecking people here and eternally damned.
So, really, if you can know with a certainty based upon sufficient knowledge given from an exhaustive source, and that source can sufficiently convey what is true concerning life and eternity, and there is great peril in not coming to the truth and good of the matter, both in this life (as is self evident) and in eternity to come, then if God exists and is loving toward His people, He has in fact given them revelation in the Bible that is sufficient enough for them to make absolute certain claims about the reality of spiritual matters, and to roll the eyes at this is only to evidence a contrary belief that is self defeating, as it must be certain about uncertainty in order to stand.
Can you run that by me again?
Sure. Let me break it down this way:
- Certainty is possible based upon sufficient knowledge.
- Humans can obtain sufficient knowledge.
- Humans can be certain.
- Humans cannot be certain about spiritual matters if they do not have sufficient knowledge concerning the spiritual.
- To be uncertain about spiritual matters means that God has left us to fend for ourselves or that He does not exist.
- Since we both believe that God exists and that He is loving, unless we are being judged by God in His wrath against those who love evil/that which is contrary to God and His true character, God would not leave us to fend for ourselves in matters that are vital to our life, either here or in eternity.
- God has therefore given us sufficient knowledge to believe and act with certainty upon what He has spoken to us.
I obviously believe, and have sometimes shown through different arguments, that the Bible is that source by which God has communicated to us spiritual matters, and therefore, it should be trusted above our human made opinions and religions, especially the postmodern pull to dislodge the Bible’s authority to make such claims via the agnosticism it seeks to paint as a more tolerable expression of humanity. In fact, it is the exact opposite. As humans, we are meant to worship God in truth and good, and without a certainty in what is true and good, our means to worship Him are dismantled. Once this is done, the unbelievers can become our prophets and ascend to the position of dictators of what is true, all the while claiming to not know anything with certainty. It’s a fantastic deception.
Well, that is certainly something to think about (pun intended). Thank you for the conversation.