A Common Objection

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I've been mulling over these ideas for a while now, but never thought to post them till recently. I'm not sure the thrust of my argument is any good, but it might be something to think about.

Some skeptics discount the Bible on the grounds that the stories it contains are too fantastic, too ridiculous, too fable-like.  But I object to this … um … objection.

There is a story that the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once asked someone why the ancients believed the sun went around the earth.  The person answered, “Well, because that’s the way it looks.”  To which Wittgenstein replied, “Well, what would it look like if the earth went around the sun?”  A clever point indeed.  In this story, we learn that the ancients mistook the earth revolving around the sun for the sun revolving around the earth for the simple reason that the two situations look exactly the same to our perspective here on earth (it was only when some smart people started tracking the motion of the "wandering stars" - i.e., planets - and other celestial objects did the inconsistency become obvious).

Now we come back to the skeptic’s objection.  The reasoning behind the objection is that because the stories are so fable-like, they must be some invention of man a few thousand years ago rather than acts of God.  But let me ask this: how would God act if He did exist?  An off-the-cuff response might be, “Well, He would act in such a way as to give empirical evidence in support of His existence.”  But if you were to really ponder the question, you would come to the conclusion that you could not answer the question. (So, yes, my analogy to the story of Wittgenstein breaks down catastrophically, but at least it may have piqued your interest.)

The reason we cannot answer the question is because in order to give a valuable answer we must either be the creator of the universe or have a similarly impressive perspective.  As it turns out, we are hopelessly finite.  It seems reasonable to assume that an all-knowing infinite being would think differently than us, and the Bible makes just this claim. [1]  As finite beings, we are not in a position to accurately answer the question.

And so saying, “I don’t believe God exists because the stories in the Bible are ridiculous,” holds no more weight than saying, “I don’t believe God exists because the God of the Bible doesn’t think like me.”

The reason the ancients believed the sun orbited the earth was because they did not have an adequate perspective.  They had the perspective of their eyes, and lacked the perspective later given by the study of the paths of various celestial objects and the corresponding mathematical descriptions.  In our situation, it is easy to dismiss the stories of the Bible because they make sense from the perspective of being invented by human minds, but we lack the perspective of seeing them as the creator of the universe; and so we cannot make the judgment.

A point of clarification. This won't serve as a rebuttal to some specific evidence pointing to the falsity or fabrication of one of the biblical stories (for example, in theory one could prove that some of the stories are false or that they were not originally to the biblical text but were simply copied from an earlier text of another people group). It only serves as a rebuttal to the claim that the stories just seem made-up because of how absurd they seem to us.

I have one last thought- perhaps the reason we see some of the biblical stories as being too anthropomorphic, or too fable-like, is not because of the stories themselves but because of our caricatures of them.  The flannelgraph story of Noah's Ark is very different from the story found in the Bible.  The stories in the Bible are sometimes subtle, sometime brutal, but never banal.  Simply reading and studying the text itself will reveal to the reader a rich tapestry of theology, artistry, and linguistic skill that peers directly into the heart while also illuminating much that was once hidden.  Could it all be simply the work of some men?  It's possibility that should be considered.  But you can't simply dismiss the other possibility out-of-hand.  Remember, the God of the Bible - if He indeed exists - doesn't think like you.

1. For example, Isaiah 55:8-9: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (ESV)
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1 comment :

  1. It's a good point, but I wonder if it could cut both ways. In this case we're appealing to a justified skepticism-- we aren't in a place to understand how God would or would not choose to act in history (other than through a revealed text, which is what is being called into question to begin with). But could this same skepticism be used to undermine some theistic arguments (I'm thinking something like the argument from the uniqueness of life on earth)? Or perhaps disputes internal to Christian theology-- could God choose to use a process like evolution to create human beings? Just a thought...