A couple of months ago I was debating an acquaintance of mine on the rational merits of the doctrine of Original Sin. After describing some of the logical failures and destructive consequences of the doctrine, I concluded by saying of Original Sin, “That’s impossible”. To which he replied, “That’s Bible”.
His reply is an example of the rational fallacy known as “argument from Authority”. The definition is pretty self-evident. One asserts a thing is true based not upon the internal consistency of the logic, but upon what, or who, happens to be asserting it. In this article I shall explain why the argument from Authority as it pertains to the Bible in particular is a rational disaster, and, due to its relentless prevalence and promulgation amongst today’s Christian apologists, makes these apologists the laughing stock of pretty much any and all intellectual discourse. I will do this by attacking the issue relatively obliquely, posing a hypothetical contradiction.
If the Bible said that 2+2=5, would you accept it as true?
Well, there are three ways we can answer this question. One is the best; one is the worst; and one is okay. The one most Christains use is unfortunately, and of course, the worst one. Why? Because it’s lazy AND contains no null hypothesis, either implicit or explicit, and thus it ironically allows them to claim infinite moral and intellectual superiority without ever having to consider critically nor defend or debate…well…ANYTHING about what they say they believe. This approach is VERY appealing to many because, among other things, it pretends to provide truth to those who for whatever reason are incapable of achieving it on their own. By offloading moral and intellectual responsibility to the Bible (that is, the Authority), absolute truth is (somehow) INSTANTLY accessible. This is intellectual and moral egalitarianism at its penultimate worst, behind only Marxism, and should be regarded by anyone with an ounce of integrity and self-respect as completely embarrassing.
At any rate, here are the three ways we can answer the question: Can 2+2=5 if the Bible declares it?
1. No. Of course not. If an assertion defies rational consistency and logic then it cannot ever be true. The source is irrelevant. For even if we assume that God himself could make 2+2=5, humanity would have no way of confirming its veracity. Human beings organize their reality according to the non-contradiction of concepts, period. We call this reason. If black is also white and up is also down and blue is also red and a square is also a circle then correctly interpreting reality is impossible for man, and his very mind is totally irrelevant and contrary to existence, itself, which means he cannot possibly know God let alone claim that God can defy reason. Concepts must mean one thing and one thing only for ANYTHING to be defined. If 2+2=5 then conceptualization itself is impossible, because concepts which contradict cannot generate meaning. Thus the very notion of “to conceptualize” is categorically defunct. And without concepts there is no language, and without language there is no meaning, and without meaning there is no knowing, and without knowing there is no God as far as man is concerned.
2. If the Bible says so then it must be true. Man’s wisdom is irrelevant; we must accept what the Bible says without question. After all, this is what it means to have faith. Because God is its author, the Bible’s veracity is not dependent on man’s finite capacity for reason.
The problem with this answer is that it implies that man must accept what is irrational as nevertheless true if God says it. But if you ask why, you will ultimately be told either explicitly or implicitly that because God is who He is, he is able to do things man cannot do, including claim “truths” that are inherently contradictory and thus ultimately self-defeating. In other words, the one making the argument from (God’s/Bible’s) authority is appealing to his insinuated RATIONAL belief in God as a defense of his IRRATIONAL belief that 2+2 can equal 5. It is REASONABLE, in other words, that God’s message is UNREASONABLE. Or, put most simply, the unreasonable is defended by appealing to reason.
Do you see the MASSIVE problem with this? We cannot argue that it’s rational to believe in the irrational, because we are obligating irrationality to rationality, which is a complete contradiction of the concepts. The entire argument then falls apart. If our understanding of God (even if we should claim it “incomplete”) is based on reason then we must likewise base our understanding of what he declares on reason. The method by which we understand who God is cannot be mutually exclusive of the method by which we understand what he says. If our belief in God is reasonable then our belief in what he says must also be reasonable. Of course we can attempt to jettison reason entirely with respect to God and his message but then we are left without a means to claim that we can know him or anything he says. Which makes God and his message meaningless to us. Man uses reason to arrive at truth, period. There is no other method. Even if we say we have pure faith we must be able to say WHY; otherwise it’s not faith. It’s “faith”…as in just a noise from your mouth hole.
3. I need to examine the issue further. It is possible that the Bible is speaking metaphorically or allegorically or poetically. Or perhaps I am interpreting the Bible incorrectly…perhaps I hold an erroneous assumption about what the Bible is actually saying, or have misunderstood the context somehow. Perhaps my own logic is flawed, so I will examine my own assumptions to see if they are indeed consistent with reason before I offer a verdict..
As for the last point—the possibility of flawed assumptions on my part—I offer the following example:
The Bible is often criticized as erroneous for teaching geocentricity due to many passages referencing the sun rising and setting. Though this provides little hard evidence for such a complaint, let’s assume that yes the Bible does clearly assert geocentricity. Now, we might be quick to dismiss such an assertion as impossible. After all, science has long since proven that the earth revolves around the sun, not the other way around. But has it really?
Before we reject the passages which speak of geocentricity and chalk them up to error and ignorance, perhaps we should examine our own assumptions to see if our rejection of the Bible’s claim is actually warranted.
In a vacuum all objects must move/exist relative to one another. No object in a vacuum possesses in itself an endemic natural and existential property which makes it the “center” or, conversely, which makes it “that which revolves around”. In a vacuum ALL positional references must be defined by an observer (one who is self-aware). This is utterly axiomatic. An observer writing in the time of the Torah and New Testament would indeed perceive the sun as revolving around the earth. And, as bodies in space all move relative to one another, one could not declare this observer objectively wrong. Simply because geocentricity is not mathematically useful does not make it utterly false as a concept in EVERY context. Thus, the Bible would NOT necessarily be asserting a rational error by claiming that the sun revolves around the earth.
Thus, my first instinct when asked if I would accept as true 2+2 equaling 5 if the Bible claimed it so would be to examine the Bible, the context, and my own assumptions and conclusions before giving an answer.
Answer number three then is the best; answer number two is the worst; and number one I would say is okay, at least as a gut reaction. The point is that if we stay away from number two, we stay away from foolishness. And then maybe we can legitimately and with integrity begin to insert the Bible into mature intellectual discourse once again.