Many people have the impression that Christians live in two “worlds”—the world of faith and the world of reason.
Many people have the impression that Christians live in two “worlds”—the world of faith and the world of reason. The world of faith is the realm that Christians live in on Sunday morning, or the world to which they refer when asked about spiritual or moral matters. However, it would seem that Christians live in the world of reason throughout the rest of the week, when dealing with practical, everyday matters. After all, do we really need to believe in the Bible to put gasoline in the car, or to balance our checkbook?
The notion of “faith versus reason” is an example of a false dichotomy. Faith is not antagonistic to reason. On the contrary, biblical faith and reason go well together. The problem lies in the fact that many people have a misunderstanding of faith. Faith is not a belief in the absurd, nor is it a belief in something simply for the sake of believing it. Rather, faith is having confidence in something that we have not perceived with the senses. This is the biblical definition of faith, and follows from Hebrews 11:1. Whenever we have confidence in something that we cannot see, hear, taste, smell, or touch, we are acting upon a type of faith. All people have faith, even if it is not a saving faith in God.
For example, people believe in laws of logic. However, laws of logic are not material. They are abstract and cannot be experienced by the senses. We can write down a law of logic such as the law of non-contradiction (“It is impossible to have A and not A at the same time and in the same relationship.”), but the sentence is only a physical representation of the law, not the law itself.1 When people use laws of logic, they have confidence in something they cannot actually observe with the senses; this is a type of faith.
When we have confidence that the universe will operate in the future as it has in the past, we are acting on faith. For example, we all presume that gravity will work the same next Friday as it does today. But no one has actually observed the future. So we all believe in something that goes beyond sensory experience. From a Christian perspective, this is a very reasonable belief. God (who is beyond time) has promised us that He will uphold the universe in a consistent way (e.g., Genesis 8:22). So we have a good reason for our faith in the uniformity of nature. For the consistent Christian, reason and faith go well together.
It is appropriate and biblical to have a good reason for our faith (1 Peter 3:15). Indeed, God encourages us to reason (Isaiah 1:18). The apostle Paul reasoned with those in the synagogue and those in the marketplace (Acts 17:17). According to the Scriptures, the Christian faith is not a “blind faith.” It is a faith that is rationally defensible. It is logical and self-consistent. It can make sense of what we experience in the world. Moreover, the Christian has a moral obligation to think rationally. We are to be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1), patterning our thinking after His revelation (Isaiah 55:7–8; Psalm 36:9).
There are those who would challenge the rationality of the biblical worldview. Some say that the Christian worldview is illogical on the face of it. After all, the Bible speaks of floating ax heads, the sun apparently going backward, a universe created in six days, an earth that has pillars and corners, people walking on water, light before the sun, a talking serpent, a talking donkey, dragons, and a senior citizen taking two of every land animal on a big boat! The critic suggests that no rational person can possibly believe in such things in our modern age of scientific enlightenment. He claims that to believe in such things would be illogical.
The Bible does make some extraordinary claims. But are such claims truly illogical? Do they actually violate any laws of logic? Although the above biblical examples go beyond our ordinary, everyday experiences, none of them are contradictory. They do not violate any laws of logic. Some biblical criticisms involve a misuse of language: taking figures of speech (e.g., “pillars of the earth”) as though these were literal, when this is clearly not the case. This is an error on the part of the critic, not an error in the text. Poetic sections of the Bible, such as the psalms, and figures of speech should be taken as such. To do otherwise is academically dishonest.
Most of the criticisms against the Bible’s legitimacy turn out to be nothing more than a subjective opinion of what is possible. The critic arbitrarily asserts that it is not possible for the sun to go backward in the sky, or for the solar system to be created in six days. But what is his evidence for this? He might argue that such things cannot happen based on known natural laws. With this we agree. But who said that natural laws are the limit of what is possible? The biblical God is not bound by natural laws. Since the Bible is indeed correct about the nature of God, then there is no problem at all in God reversing the direction of the planets, or creating the solar system in six days. An infinitely powerful, all-knowing God can do anything that is rationally possible.
Non-Christian circles of reasoning are ultimately self-defeating. They do not pass their own test.
When the critic simply dismisses those claims of the Bible that do not appeal to his personal, unargued sense of what is possible, he is being irrational. He is committing the logical fallacy known as “begging the question.” Namely, he has decided in advance that such things as miracles are impossible, thereby tacitly assuming that the Bible is not true because it contains miracles. But this is the very assumption with which he began his reasoning. The critic is reasoning in a vicious circle. He has decided in advance that there is not an all-powerful God who is capable of doing the things recorded in Scripture, and then argues on this basis against the biblical God. Such reasoning is not cogent at all. So, when the critic accuses the Bible of being illogical because it goes against his subjective assessment of what is possible, it turns out that it is the critic—not the Bible—who is being illogical.
When people argue that something in the Bible seems strange or unreasonable, we must always ask, “strange or unreasonable by what standard?” If it is merely the critic’s personal, arbitrary opinion, then we must politely point out that this has no logical merit whatsoever. Personal feelings are not the limit of what is true or possible. In fact, since all the treasures of knowledge are in Christ (Colossians 2:3), it turns out that God Himself is the limit of what is possible. His Word is therefore the standard of what is reasonable, and we have no independent (and non-arbitrary) standard by which we can judge the Word of God.
The extraordinary claims of Scripture cannot be dismissed merely on the basis that they are extraordinary. If indeed the biblical God exists, and if indeed He has the characteristics attributed to Him by the Bible (all-knowing, all-powerful, beyond time, etc.) then the critic has no basis whatsoever for denying that the miraculous is possible. Clearly, an all-powerful God can make a donkey talk, can create the universe in six days, can bring two of every animal to Noah, etc. These are simply not problems in the biblical worldview. When the critic dismisses the miraculous solely on the basis that it is miraculous, he is simply begging the question.
Everyone has an ultimate standard, whether he realizes it or not. If it is not the Bible, it will be something else.
However, sometimes the critic asserts that the Bible has actually violated a law of logic; he claims that two passages in the Scriptures are contradictory. This is a more serious challenge, because two contradictory statements cannot both be true—even in principle. If the Bible actually endorsed two contradictory statements, then necessarily one of them would have to be false, and the Bible could not be totally inerrant. In reality, most alleged contradictions turn out to be nothing of the kind. They simply reveal that the critic does not truly understand what a contradiction is. A contradiction is “A and not A at the same time and in the same relationship” where A is any proposition. To contradict is to both affirm and deny the same proposition. And this is not the nature of most alleged biblical contradictions. (See the contradictions series on the Answers in Genesis website for more information on this.) Here’s an example:
The fact that Christ has two genealogies is not contradictory. Indeed, all people have (at least) two genealogies—one through their dad, and one through their mom. Some people have more than two because their biological father may not be their legal father. The fact that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but is nonetheless “of Nazareth” is no contradiction since Jesus did grow up in Nazareth. The fact that Matthew 8:28 mentions two demon-possessed men does not contradict the fact that Mark 5:2 and Luke 8:27 chose to mention only one of the two. Perhaps one was much more violent than the other; in any case, there is no contradiction.
Amazingly, when the critic asserts that the Bible contains contradictions, he has unwittingly refuted his own position, and has demonstrated that the Bible is true. The reason is this: the truth of the Bible is the only cogent reason to believe in the law of non-contradiction. Virtually everyone believes in the law of non-contradiction. We all “know” that two contradictory statements cannot both be true. But have you ever thought about why this is?
The law of non-contradiction stems from the nature of the biblical God. God does not deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13), and all knowledge is in God (Colossians 2:3), thus true knowledge will not contradict itself. The law of noncontradiction (as with all laws of logic) is a universal, invariant law because God Himself upholds the entire universe (Hebrews 1:3), and God does not change with time (Hebrews 13:8). We know these things because God has revealed them in His Word. Thus, the Bible is the only objective basis for knowing that the law of non-contradiction is universally and invariantly true in all situations.
Therefore, when the unbeliever applies the law of non-contradiction, he is implicitly standing upon the Christian worldview. Even when he argues against the Bible, the critic must use God’s standard of reasoning in order to do it. The fact that the critic is able to argue at all demonstrates that he is wrong. God alone is the correct standard for reasoning because all truth is in Him. We must therefore start with God as revealed in His Word in order to have genuine knowledge (Proverbs 1:7), whether we admit this truth or suppress it (Romans 1:18). So while it may seem at first that we do not need to believe the Bible in order to put gasoline into the car or to balance our checkbook, implicitly we must indeed rely upon the Bible. Without God as revealed in the Bible, there would be no rational basis for the laws of logic upon which we depend in order to function in our everyday life.
Since rationality itself stems from the nature of the biblical God, it follows that the Christian worldview is necessarily rational. This isn’t to say that all Christians are rational all the time. We do not always follow God’s standard in practice, even though God has saved us by His grace. Nonetheless, the Christian worldview as articulated in the Scriptures is fully logical and without error. This must be the case since the Bible is the inspired Word of the infallible God. It also follows that non-biblical worldviews are inherently illogical; they deny implicitly or explicitly the revelation of the biblical God in whom are deposited all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3).
Although non-biblical worldviews may have “pockets” of rationality within them, they must ultimately appeal to Scripture as a basis for laws of logic, which they then deny as the one and only inspired Word of God. So not only is the Christian worldview logical, it is the only worldview that is ultimately, consistently logical. The Christian has faith—he believes in things (such as the accounts of Scripture) that he has not personally observed by sensory experience. But he has a very good reason to believe in the Scriptures; the biblical God alone makes reason possible. So a good reason for my faith is that my faith makes reason possible.
The unbeliever must use Christian principles to argue against the Bible. The fact that he is able to argue at all proves that he is wrong. The non-Christian does not have a good reason for his beliefs. He has a type of faith, too, but his faith is “blind.” He is without an apologetic (a defense of his faith) such that he has no excuse for his beliefs (Romans 1:20). In the essay, “My Credo,” Cornelius Van Til cogently argued that “Christianity alone is reasonable for men to hold. It is wholly irrational to hold any other position than that of Christianity. Christianity alone does not slay reason on the altar of ‘chance.’ ”
Yes, the Christian worldview is logical. But what’s more, only the Christian worldview is logical. Competing systems of thought cannot account for laws of logic and their properties, the ability of the human mind to access and use laws of logic, or the moral obligation to reason logically. Such truths are entirely contingent upon Almighty God as objectively revealed in the Bible.