Why I Believe the Bible

A friend of mine–I’m not sure he shares my views–asked me why I believe that the Bible is God’s revelation. Having typed up my answer, I decided to post it here as well:

I grew up with believing parents, and we went to believing churches. Unfortunately, the Bible was held up as authoritative more than taught or studied. In AP English my senior year of High School I was confronted with people who lived what they believed perhaps more radically than anyone I had ever met: the existentialists. Many of them were so certain that we are bubbles of nothingness on a sea of emptiness that they took their own lives. I had professed faith and been baptized when I was 7 or 8, but for the first time, I think, I was face to face with people who weren’t just hypocrites; they weren’t just flirting around with sin, either, they were rejecting the big story of the Bible and living out the implications of their rejection.

I didn’t know what to think or believe for about 2 weeks. The Lord brought me through, and I distinctly remember the day behind the high school when I prayed something like this: “God, if you don’t exist, there is no reason to live; life is just pain, and it might as well end. I can’t live without you. I need you. I want to trust you, to believe in you, to know you.” The Lord answered my prayer. I know he did: I felt a joy I could not explain, a joy whose only source could have been the Lord. And it was like a heavy cloud lifted, the sun broke through, and I felt joy and peace fuller than I’d known before.

I implicitly trusted the Bible. I had read it cover to cover my junior year of high school, and when the prophets said “Thus saith the Lord,” I believed them. The Bible formed in me, without me realizing it, the view of the Bible I still hold today. For instance, when Moses reads what he has so far to the people in Exod 24:7, the people recognize that though Moses has read this to them, it’s the Lord who spoke, and it’s authoritative: “. . . he . . . read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient'” (Exod 24:7). Gobs of texts like this one convinced me that when I read the Bible, I was reading God’s word.

I think the same thing that happened to the Israelites listening to Moses happened to me. They recognized that God had spoken, and the Spirit of God confirmed that recognition. They recognized that God was to be obeyed. I saw the same things they saw, even if I couldn’t have explained it at the time.

So going into college, the Bible had taught me what I was to think about it. I didn’t have the words or theological categories to explain it this way then, but I know I believed the Bible was God’s word. And I know that it wasn’t a result of indoctrination. It was from my reading of the Bible.

These things were confirmed as I studied and memorized the Bible in college. I remember standing in the office of one of my English profs who was incredulous that I actually believed the Bible. He said to me, “All of modern science is against you.” I responded in the language of the Bible: “If God is for me, who can be against me.” Reflecting on that since, I think the biblical authors are far more trustworthy than the modern scientists with all their scandals and sleights of hand.

At DTS we were exposed to unbelieving scholarship, but we were also exposed to believing scholarship. I get the impression that at many liberal schools, you only hear the liberal (unbelieving) side of things, and no one even bothers with the conservative (believing) scholars.

I think that my belief that the Bible is the word of God was probably most strongly challenged during the PhD program. It wasn’t challenged, though, by arguments so much as by the “peer pressure” of the academic guild. That is, the initiates in the guild weren’t producing evidence, logic, and an overwhelming case against the Bible. It was more like an unspoken entrance requirement: if you want to join the ranks of the real scholars, you can’t believe that the Bible is inerrant, and you can’t hold that the attributions of authorship are accurate. Those ideas aren’t allowed here. I actually had an editor of a semi-evangelical journal tell me that I needed to become a real scholar and stop betraying so many evangelical assumptions about the Bible in my writing.

Never, mind you, was any of this actually argued. The strongest pull seems to come from things so deeply entrenched that they don’t need to be argued.

I was disgusted by the “peer pressure” from the esteemed guild to reject the Bible. I was also enormously helped by Tom Schreiner, whose candor about these things, confidence in the Bible, and willingness to bear the reproach of the cross that attaches to believing the Bible made him a rock through the storm.

Helped through the storm by the Schreiner-rock, I began to look more closely at what I thought were the hardest cases. I was not at all impressed with the actual argument against the historical accuracy and reliability of the Bible. In fact, I think you would have to know far more than any human being could ever know to be in position to declare definitively that the Bible is in error. Would it be harsh to summarize the argument against the Bible as the whining of rebels?

So I think that too often the rejection of inerrancy is both un-historical and un-critical. It’s un-historical because it imposes on the primary sources foreign assumptions that prevent those sources from being properly understood, and it’s un-critical because the argument is so insulated by the unbelieving claque that the merits of the case aren’t ever really heard. So you have a one-sided, un-critical, un-historical, bad argument against the Bible, and this bad argument often winds up evaluating the morality of the Bible by some foreign ethic. Where did this foreign ethic get its authority? Or if it’s not ethical, it’s some “law of history”–where did that law of history get its authority?–those who reject the Bible have their own Sinai experience, it seems. And if it’s not ethics or history, it’s archeology, in which I have very little confidence. But somehow the tenuous conclusions of the archeologists with their fragmentary remains become so definitively authoritative that the Bible can be condemned as in error. I’m not buying it.

One final thought: I remember Dr. Danny Akin telling a story about how he was once asked why he believes what he believes about the Bible. I resonate with the answer Dr. Akin gave. He said that he had trusted in Jesus as his Lord and Savior and sought to be a disciple of Jesus, so it made sense to him to believe about the Bible what Jesus believed about the Bible. Jesus said God’s word is truth. He said not a jot or tittle would pass away, and that heaven and earth will pass away but his own words won’t.

The word of the Lord will stand forever.

50 Responses to Why I Believe the Bible

  1. Dan Phillips March 29, 2011 at 11:02 pm #

    Amen. Preach it, brother.

  2. Matt Damico March 30, 2011 at 9:06 am #

    Amen and amen.

  3. Chris Bruno March 30, 2011 at 11:28 am #

    Really helpful stuff. Thanks for the encouragement and reminders Jim.

  4. TPM March 30, 2011 at 4:48 pm #

    This is not a very satisfying defense of the Bible as divinely inspired. You say that the Bible itself shaped your opinions about it. I think most reasonable people would agree that there are few if any epistemic authorities that are self-authenticating. Even sense experience is defeasible in many contexts. How could such a method pick the Bible out as divinely inspired above the Book of Mormon? After all, Mormons also claim to be led directly from their study of BoM to an intuition that it is a true revelation.

    A little further down, you say “I think the biblical authors are far more trustworthy than the modern scientists with all their scandals and sleights of hand.” What is the basis for this belief? Outside their own writings you know next to nothing about the biblical authors. We know of scientists implicated in various scandals because of the abundance of first-hand evidence we can bring to bear on the case. For example, Marc Hauser’s studies of animal morality were shown to have been heavily tampered with by subsequent examinations which brought in other reports, studies and testimonies. How do we know that the biblical authors are more trustworthy? And on what subjects? And in comparison to which scientists? You lump them together as THE scientists as if they all think the same way and have the same character. This is uncharitable at best. The very computer you are using to write these posts testifies that on at least some subjects, modern scientists are extremely trustworthy.

    Speaking of the guild of liberal biblical scholars, you comment: “It was more like an unspoken entrance requirement: if you want to join the ranks of the real scholars, you can’t believe that the Bible is inerrant, and you can’t hold that the attributions of authorship are accurate.”

    You’re entitled to believe whatever you want, but can you produce a strong positive case on historical grounds that the Bible is inerrant? Certainly you can’t assume it from the outset and more or less take the stance that no conceivable evidence could overturn that judgment, as you do a little further down. And I don’t see what attributions of authorship have to do with anything, because even if the most conservative conclusions about the authorship and dating of the Gospels (for example) are established via sound historical methods, that still does not guarantee their reliability. Even the memories of eyewitnesses can and often do become distorted mere hours and days after the fact, to say nothing of decades. We could have the Gospel of Mark just as Papias reported, Mark’s transcription of what Peter the apostle preached, and we still couldn’t be sure or even reasonably confident those memories are accurate.

    “I was not at all impressed with the actual argument against the historical accuracy and reliability of the Bible. In fact, I think you would have to know far more than any human being could ever know to be in position to declare definitively that the Bible is in error.”

    You have set the bar way too high. Part of the reason why judgments of historicity are so uncertain about the Bible is because so much primary evidence is lacking. Just a couple posts ago you linked to an article reviewing a new critical biography of Gandhi. Imagine what we would think of Gandhi if all we had available was the hagiography of Romain Rolland, who called him a ‘demi-god’. You could very well argue that there is no reason to doubt the hagiography’s claims but on the other hand we wouldn’t have much reason to accept it either. There is a lack of definitive evidence contradicting the Bible, but there is also a lack of definitive evidence confirming it, if we exclude the Bible’s own self-testimony.

    “So I think that too often the rejection of inerrancy is both un-historical and un-critical. It’s un-historical because it imposes on the primary sources foreign assumptions that prevent those sources from being properly understood, and it’s un-critical because the argument is so insulated by the unbelieving claque that the merits of the case aren’t ever really heard.”

    Well what ARE the merits of the case? On what historical grounds can you argue for the divine inspiration of the Bible? Don’t accuse your critics of being un-historical when the only evidence you can give for the Bible’s authority is its self-authenticating testimony.

  5. Thnuh Thnuh March 30, 2011 at 7:55 pm #

    “The Lord brought me through, and I distinctly remember the day behind the high school when I prayed something like this: “God, if you don’t exist, there is no reason to live; life is just pain, and it might as well end. I can’t live without you. I need you. I want to trust you, to believe in you, to know you.” The Lord answered my prayer. I know he did: I felt a joy I could not explain, a joy whose only source could have been the Lord.”

    Pathetic. So you are admitting that the only reason you believe in God is because of wishful thinking? How can you stand to live that way? How can you stand that double-mindedness?

    Lots of people of all religious persuasions feel “joy” for lots of different reasons, some environmental, some chemical, etc. A subjective emotion does not prove that some entity out there really exists.

    How can you really derive any satisfaction or comfort from what you know to be a lie???

  6. Michael March 30, 2011 at 9:19 pm #

    Jim,
    I am very sympathetic to this and have a high view of Scripture myself–yet I think we evangelicals try to make the Bible a more “omniscient” authority, a sort of Cartesian certainty that opens the door for problems. How do you respond to critiques of your view given by people like Kenton Sparks in his book on evangelicalism and Scripture–namely the issue that he addresses about the evangelical premise of Cartesian certainty when it comes to the text of the Bible. Many evangelicals have lambasted Sparks, but I have found none willing to address his concerns about “certainty,” when it comes to defending the inerrancy of Scripture. Behind that question, I also would like to know how you fit in the “humanness” of Scripture–is there room in your view for the human authorship of Scripture?

    • jim March 30, 2011 at 9:24 pm #

      I haven’t read Sparks, and from the reviews I’ve seen I don’t feel a need to do so.

      On certainty, I would say that the fact that we can’t know things exhaustively doesn’t mean we can’t know them truly. Moreover, I’m inclined to go with what the Bible teaches about certainty. See esp. the latter part of 1 John 2.

      As for humanness, it’s all over the place! Consider the text I quoted – Exod 24:7 – the Israelites knew it was Moses who had written what he read to them, but they also knew that Yahweh had spoken through what Moses had written. Have you read the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy? Have you read my essay here: http://www.jamesmhamilton.org/renown/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/hamilton-sacred-text-2010.pdf?

      Blessings!

      JMH

  7. Truth Unites... and Divides March 31, 2011 at 2:33 am #

    “Would it be harsh to summarize the argument against the Bible as the whining of rebels?”

    No.

    Awesome post. Thank you for writing it.

    • TPM April 1, 2011 at 9:07 am #

      Harsh or not, it’s demonstrably untrue. Many of the pioneers of historical criticism started out as devout Christians who lost their faith slowly and agonizingly as their studies proceeded.

      • kkk April 3, 2011 at 3:42 am #

        i am sick and tired of hearing from people like you to claim that some was a former christian, yet because of his deligent either study or discoveries, he has given up thier former christian faith. I firmly believe that he wasn’t a believer at all or he might be a christian poser. Scripture clearly teaches Jesus won’t ever lose thos who believe in the Father who sent Jesus Christ.

        • Mary Halay July 6, 2011 at 3:01 pm #

          Praise God! kkk !!! 0:)

  8. steve hays March 31, 2011 at 11:56 am #

    There’s a distinction between offensive and defensive apologetics. Hamilton’s is offering a personal testimony. That’s a variant on the argument from religious experience.

    If, in fact, the Bible is what it says it is, then it’s possible, and, indeed, predictable, that many Christians will enjoy a veridical experience of the sort that Hamilton describes.

    Of course, that’s unconvincing to an outsider, but that’s true of personal, first-person experience generally. You’re an outsider to my experience while I’m an outsider to your experience. Yet first-person experience is our only port of entry to the external world. So you can hardly discount all such claims without retreating into solipsism.

    And the fact that it’s unconvincing to an outsider doesn’t mean you can’t have a veridical experience. It just means your first-person experience is inherently intransitive.

    Likewise, to say one’s experience can be veridical doesn’t imply that every ostensible experience is veridical. Hence, the comparison with Mormonism fails to undercut Hamilton’s testimony without further argument. And further argument undercuts Mormonism.

    Christian apologists often cite public evidence for Scripture. That furnishes common ground between believer and unbeliever.

    However, the reasons that Christians have for being Christian aren’t reducible to common ground, as there is something distinctive about the Christian experience. That’s something one can only appreciate from the inside.

    • TPM April 1, 2011 at 8:42 am #

      “Of course, that’s unconvincing to an outsider, but that’s true of personal, first-person experience generally. You’re an outsider to my experience while I’m an outsider to your experience. Yet first-person experience is our only port of entry to the external world. So you can hardly discount all such claims without retreating into solipsism.”

      Human beings have well-documented perceptual weaknesses in certain environments. I’m not discounting all such claims, only claims that occur in circumstances and with regard to ostensible realities that should arouse our suspicion. Just because radical solipsism fails doesn’t mean the veridicality of every Christian religious experience is established.

  9. steve hays March 31, 2011 at 12:16 pm #

    Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Christianity is true. After all, Hamilton’s critics can’t reasonably claim that there’s a standing presumption against Christianity without begging the question.

    Now, most folks aren’t intellectuals: including most Christians. Therefore, if the Christian God exists, then it must be possible to know or experience the Christian God without recourse to sophisticated arguments. Knowledge by acquaintance.

    You may deny that the Christian God exists, but if he exists, then we’d expect Christians to have the type of experience to which Hamilton bears witness.

    And by the same token, if Hamilton had a veridical experience of God, then he’s justified in believing God even if a second party who wasn’t privy to that experience may not be justified in believing God based on someone else’s ostensible experience. The subject of the experience can be warranted in his belief whether or not the same holds true for an outsider. Those are separate issues.

    • TPM April 1, 2011 at 8:52 am #

      “Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Christianity is true. After all, Hamilton’s critics can’t reasonably claim that there’s a standing presumption against Christianity without begging the question.”

      No, there isn’t a standing presumption against Christianity, but there isn’t a standing presumption for it, either.

      “Now, most folks aren’t intellectuals: including most Christians. Therefore, if the Christian God exists, then it must be possible to know or experience the Christian God without recourse to sophisticated arguments.”

      But unless we have other considerations that make the existence of the Christian God more likely, we have no reason to prefer this account of Dr. Hamilton’s
      experiences over a naturalistic alternative.

      “The subject of the experience can be warranted in his belief whether or not the same holds true for an outsider. Those are separate issues.”

      That may be true, but just because the subject CAN be warranted doesn’t say anything about the specific case. Again, there are environments and experiences in which human perception is quite unreliable.

  10. John March 31, 2011 at 12:21 pm #

    I have to admit, I’m a little confused about the push-back on this. I was under the impression that the title was “Why I Believe the Bible.” What is wrong with telling the truth about why you believe what you do? What metric might one use to discount personal experience, and what would make such a metric normative? Just wondering.

    • Ken March 31, 2011 at 2:16 pm #

      John: Knowing full well in advance that this reply will not be acceptable to the unbelieving critics and pushers-back, the answer is in Romans 1:18-20. The rebels simply will not have God in their thinking and will howl and cry whenever someone attempts to offer a reason for the hope in Christ that he has.

      • TPM April 1, 2011 at 8:57 am #

        No, the problem is that no such reason has been presented. Well, a reason has been given, but it’s not a very good one at all. I am glad to have God in my thinking if there is evidence for God that we would require in any other setting of human activity. (Note I am not offering the hollow maxim that ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’. Ordinary evidence will do nicely)

        And psychologizing can go both ways. The dogmatists simply will not have reasonable questions raised about their beliefs and will howl and cry whenever those questions are presented.

  11. steve hays March 31, 2011 at 12:35 pm #

    TPM

    “How could such a method pick the Bible out as divinely inspired above the Book of Mormon? After all, Mormons also claim to be led directly from their study of BoM to an intuition that it is a true revelation.”

    That comparison is equivocal. For one thing, since Mormon theism is radically different from Christian theism, any theory of divine inspiration in Mormon theology will be radically different from divine inspiration in Christian theology.

    Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the Mormon pantheon exists. Even if the Mormon scriptures were inspired, they wouldn’t be inerrant, given the nature of the Mormon pantheon. Finite men evolving into finite gods.

    “The very computer you are using to write these posts testifies that on at least some subjects, modern scientists are extremely trustworthy.”

    Well, if you wish to put a cynical interpretation on their motives, we could just as well say computer science testifies to the greed, rather than integrity, of computer scientists. The profession is very lucrative. Just look at Microsoft. Or Apple.

    I’m not claiming that this is, in fact, what motivates computer science. Just pointing out your fallacious inference.

    “Even the memories of eyewitnesses can and often do become distorted mere hours and days after the fact, to say nothing of decades.”

    Of course, that’s a cliché. Sure, testimonial evidence can be unreliable. But by the same token, testimonial evidence can be highly reliable. Indeed, it’s because testimonial evidence is generally reliable that we can use that as a benchmark to test unreliable testimonial evidence.

    There’s standard criteria for sifting testimonial evidence.

    “You have set the bar way too high. Part of the reason why judgments of historicity are so uncertain about the Bible is because so much primary evidence is lacking.”

    The Bible itself is primary evidence.

    • TPM April 1, 2011 at 9:03 am #

      “Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the Mormon pantheon exists. Even if the Mormon scriptures were inspired, they wouldn’t be inerrant, given the nature of the Mormon pantheon. Finite men evolving into finite gods.”

      I said nothing about a conviction of inerrancy, only of divine inspiration, whatever the nature of the divine. But if the Mormon story is true, Dr. Hamilton’s intuition of the trustworthiness and divine origin of Christian Scripture is undercut. So what’s the point of this comment?

      “Well, if you wish to put a cynical interpretation on their motives, we could just as well say computer science testifies to the greed, rather than integrity, of computer scientists.”

      Whether they are greedy or not doesn’t matter. I wasn’t addressing their moral integrity, but their trustworthiness when it comes to the physical principles of computer science. The fact that they can make functioning computers shows that they know what they are talking about in that domain. That’s why I pressed Dr. Hamilton on his vague claim about the superior trustworthiness of the biblical authors to specify the subjects on which they are more trustworthy.

      “Of course, that’s a cliché. Sure, testimonial evidence can be unreliable. But by the same token, testimonial evidence can be highly reliable…There’s standard criteria for sifting testimonial evidence.”

      And that’s all I was asking for. Remember, my original post boiled down to the request for a positive, historically (i.e. testimonially) grounded defense of the inspiration of the Bible. If there is a case, I’d like to examine it.

  12. steve hays March 31, 2011 at 12:55 pm #

    The argument from religious experience is just a special case of the argument from experience in general. Unless Hamilton’s critics are prepared to say personal experience is inherently suspect, that personal experience can’t be relied upon to access reality–a denial that reduces his critics to windowless monads–they will have to present far more targeted objections.

    • Thnuh Thnuh March 31, 2011 at 5:15 pm #

      “that personal experience can’t be relied upon to access reality–a denial that reduces his critics to windowless monads–they will have to present far more targeted objections.”

      THere are certain types of personal experience that can be classed as unreliable and can never be taken as the foundation for a worldview, even one’s own (I acknowledge my experience could at most be the foundation for my belief in that sense).

      I mean experiences like “sensing a presence” or “feeling joy”. I feel joy some days from exercising even though my circumstances are the same as another day when I haven’t. When I was a kid I might “sense personality” in inanimate things, like the fold of a curtain at night time, or in a toy or something. So compared to physical senses like sight, these others are so highly unreliable that they should never be regarded as “veridical”, not even by the person who experiences them. I would mistrust stuff like that if I felt it, as does every normal person.

      I’m sure Jim would in other contexts. So even those who have not felt what he felt can tell him, “you would not do this in other contexts. Humans should not regard these feelings as veridical”.

    • TPM April 1, 2011 at 9:05 am #

      And I have presented more targeted objections. My claim is that human perception is unreliable in certain specific circumstances. But I would also argue that even though human perception is generally reliable in ordinary, everyday situations, it still always defeasible. My original point was that we should probably not think of any class of experience as self-authenticating, such that it could not be defeated by any conceivable evidence.

  13. steve hays March 31, 2011 at 7:08 pm #

    Thnuh Thnuh:

    “THere are certain types of personal experience that can be classed as unreliable and can never be taken as the foundation for a worldview, even one’s own (I acknowledge my experience could at most be the foundation for my belief in that sense). I mean experiences like “sensing a presence.’”

    But what if there’s a presence to be sensed? Take the sense of being stared at. Sometimes you have the sense of being stared at because…someone is staring at you.

    Sure, you can also say there are times when you merely imagine someone is staring at you.

    But in that case, it’s not the *type* of experience that’s unreliable. Rather, certain instances are unreliable. But the same can be said for sensory experience. Yet we wouldn’t say that because misperceptions are possible, the senses are systematically or even usually unreliable.

  14. John S April 1, 2011 at 9:14 am #

    We don’t hear loud and continuous calls for the atheists or agnostics demanding detailed and irrefutable, inerrant if you will, proof of their truths. Mostly because the hoi polloi like myself are as dumb as a bag of hammers and they wouldn’t, shouldn’t condescend. Just as the accuracy of the Bible is the foundation of Christian belief, so the 1st order questions of science are the foundation of scientific belief. Where did all matter come from, and from whence life? Science has proven these can’t occur by naturalistic means yet this is the foundation of their mind-numbing empire, supported by the intellectually fulfilling response ‘science just hasn’t proven it YET but it will’. For those agnostics who at least acknowledge this basic reality the question remains, why do they believe what they do. I suppose another intellectually fulfilling answer along the lines of ‘we really can’t know anything about this god or force’ so they bury their head back in science, towing the line, leaving the 1st order questions locked in the ‘do not touch’ closet until science proves the impossible. The Bible claims an answer, and a testable one at that, and I suppose that is why Christians are the only ones really pressed on this matter.

  15. steve hays April 1, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    TPM

    “Human beings have well-documented perceptual weaknesses in certain environments. I’m not discounting all such claims, only claims that occur in circumstances and with regard to ostensible realities that should arouse our suspicion.”

    Which begs the question of whether “ostensible realities” like God, angels, demons, prophets, &c., belong to the suspect category.

    “Just because radical solipsism fails doesn’t mean the veridicality of every Christian religious experience is established.”

    A straw man argument since my contention wasn’t predicated on the veridicality of “every” Christian religious experience. Try again.

    “But unless we have other considerations that make the existence of the Christian God more likely, we have no reason to prefer this account of Dr. Hamilton’s experiences over a naturalistic alternative.”

    i) Even if that were the case, so what? My experience needn’t count as evidence for what you ought to believe. But it can still count as evidence for what I ought to believe.

    Suppose, for the sake of argument, that a dreamer has a prophetic dream. It’s very specific. And it comes to pass. The dreamer has reason to take that seriously.

    Now, if the dreamer tells you about his dream, you’re in a different situation. Should you take his word for it? That depends. It depends, in part, on whether you know him to be honest and clearheaded.

    Since you didn’t have the dream, you don’t have the same type of warrant that he does. But your doubts don’t justify his doubting the experience.

    “That may be true, but just because the subject CAN be warranted doesn’t say anything about the specific case. Again, there are environments and experiences in which human perception is quite unreliable.”

    Those clichés don’t favor atheism over theism.

    “No, the problem is that no such reason has been presented. Well, a reason has been given, but it’s not a very good one at all.”

    A good reason for whom? It may not be a good reason for you, if you aren’t party to the experience, but it may be a perfectly good reason for the subject of the experience.

    “I said nothing about a conviction of inerrancy, only of divine inspiration, whatever the nature of the divine. But if the Mormon story is true, Dr. Hamilton’s intuition of the trustworthiness and divine origin of Christian Scripture is undercut. So what’s the point of this comment?”

    If (arguendo) the Mormon scriptures were inspired by fallible gods, then the Mormons scriptures would be unreliable. So it generates an internal dilemma. If they testify to fallible gods, then why believe their testimony?

    “Whether they are greedy or not doesn’t matter. I wasn’t addressing their moral integrity, but their trustworthiness when it comes to the physical principles of computer science. The fact that they can make functioning computers shows that they know what they are talking about in that domain.”

    Yet you also cited examples of scientific fraud. So your examples cancel each other out.

    “Remember, my original post boiled down to the request for a positive, historically (i.e. testimonially) grounded defense of the inspiration of the Bible. If there is a case, I’d like to examine it.”

    What are you asking for, exactly? A bibliography?

    “My claim is that human perception is unreliable in certain specific circumstances. But I would also argue that even though human perception is generally reliable in ordinary, everyday situations, it still always defeasible.”

    If human perception is “always” defeasible, then how can you detect misperception? What’s your standard of comparison? How can one defeasible perception correct for another defeasible perception?

    • TPM April 1, 2011 at 10:57 pm #

      “Which begs the question of whether “ostensible realities” like God, angels, demons, prophets, &c., belong to the suspect category.”

      I think if human cognitive faculties could reliably track such realities, there would be a lot more consensus about the contours of those realities and how we interact with them.

      “A straw man argument since my contention wasn’t predicated on the veridicality of “every” Christian religious experience.”

      True, but you did respond to my caution by insisting that I couldn’t deny the veridicality of ALL personal experiences. But I don’t see how that would make Dr. Hamilton more justified in holding to his apparently self-authenticating experience with the Bible.

      “Even if that were the case, so what? My experience needn’t count as evidence for what you ought to believe. But it can still count as evidence for what I ought to believe.”

      It may count as SOME evidence, but surely is not the only or the most important portion of the relevant evidence. True, Dr. Hamilton’s self-authenticating experience with the Bible is SOME evidence in favor of its veridicality. But that evidence must be weighed against other considerations, including claims to self-authenticating experiences that imply metaphysical realities contradictory to Dr. Hamilton’s.

      “Those clichés don’t favor atheism over theism.”

      I’m not arguing for atheism. My original point was simply that Dr. Hamilton had not given very good reasons for believing in the divine inspiration of the Bible.

      “If (arguendo) the Mormon scriptures were inspired by fallible gods, then the Mormons scriptures would be unreliable. So it generates an internal dilemma. If they testify to fallible gods, then why believe their testimony?”

      All that matters here is the source of the message and what it implies about ultimate realities, not the specific content of the message. An untrustworthy message from a god is still a message from a god, and if the Mormon is correct about the source of his intuition concerning the origin of the MoM, that refutes Christian metaphysics.

      “Yet you also cited examples of scientific fraud. So your examples cancel each other out.”

      I cited successful cases of detecting scientific fraud to show that, unlike those cases, we have little evidence outside the Bible to determine whether the biblical authors were trustworthy or not. If all you had to go on were the papers of Marc Hauser himself on moral behavior in primates, would you have been able to detect that the results had been tampered with?

      “What are you asking for, exactly? A bibliography?”

      That’s a good start. Books, articles, etc. arguing for the reliability of the Bible on the basis of the standard criteria for evaluating testimony.

      “If human perception is “always” defeasible, then how can you detect misperception? What’s your standard of comparison? How can one defeasible perception correct for another defeasible perception?”

      Human perception is always defeasible, but it is not always defeated. We can use perceptions that have not (yet) been defeated to evaluate other perceptions about which the jury is still out. Of course there’s no guarantee that those undefeated perceptions will not be defeated in the future. But that’s just the human condition for you.

  16. steve hays April 2, 2011 at 9:51 am #

    TPM

    “I think if human cognitive faculties could reliably track such realities, there would be a lot more consensus about the contours of those realities and how we interact with them.”

    Well, that’s circular inasmuch as people like you typically take ostensible experiences of that sort, not as evidence that there’s something to it, but as evidence that human cognitive faculties are unreliable in that regard.

    “But I don’t see how that would make Dr. Hamilton more justified in holding to his apparently self-authenticating experience with the Bible.”

    You’re confusing a justifiable belief with the justification of said belief. If I know something, then I’m justified in what I know whether or not I engage in a process of formal justification.

    “It may count as SOME evidence, but surely is not the only or the most important portion of the relevant evidence. True, Dr. Hamilton’s self-authenticating experience with the Bible is SOME evidence in favor of its veridicality. But that evidence must be weighed against other considerations, including claims to self-authenticating experiences that imply metaphysical realities contradictory to Dr. Hamilton’s.”

    You keep confusing a veridical experience with a veridical claim. If someone has a veridical experience, then, by definition, someone else can’t have a contradictory veridical experience. If someone has a veridical experience, then that experience is itself self-authenticating. The fact that someone else may be self-deluded about his experience doesn’t cast doubt on a genuinely veridical experience.

    You need to distinguish between first-order knowledge (what I know), and second-order knowledge (how I know).

    “My original point was simply that Dr. Hamilton had not given very good reasons for believing in the divine inspiration of the Bible.”

    You keep repeating that claim without drawing elementary distinctions (see above).

    “All that matters here is the source of the message and what it implies about ultimate realities, not the specific content of the message. An untrustworthy message from a god is still a message from a god, and if the Mormon is correct about the source of his intuition concerning the origin of the MoM, that refutes Christian metaphysics.”

    If the message is about the source, then you can’t make that cut-and-dried distinction.

    “I cited successful cases of detecting scientific fraud to show that, unlike those cases, we have little evidence outside the Bible to determine whether the biblical authors were trustworthy or not.”

    If you always demand “outside” evidence, then that only pushes the question back a step. Why disbelieve biblical witnesses, but believe extrabiblical witnesses? If you don’t believe a witness, then why believe a witness to a witness?

    “That’s a good start. Books, articles, etc. arguing for the reliability of the Bible on the basis of the standard criteria for evaluating testimony.”

    Does that mean you haven’t acquainted yourself with the other side of the argument? If so, then aren’t your objections premature?

    “Human perception is always defeasible, but it is not always defeated.”

    In what respect is a correct perception defeasible?

    • TPM April 3, 2011 at 10:00 am #

      “Well, that’s circular inasmuch as people like you typically take ostensible experiences of that sort, not as evidence that there’s something to it, but as evidence that human cognitive faculties are unreliable in that regard.”

      Not at all. The suspicion that human faculties may be unreliable in these circumstances emerges quite reasonably from the contact between people who have widely varying accounts of the sacred. Have people from two different cultures describe a tree in the forest, and while there may be a different metaphysical background to their descriptions, you quickly see that they are talking about the same thing. This is not true of people’s descriptions of religious entities. I certainly do not start by assuming that these experiences are unreliable.

      “You’re confusing a justifiable belief with the justification of said belief. If I know something, then I’m justified in what I know whether or not I engage in a process of formal justification.”

      I’m a math teacher. If you wrote down only the final answers to problems on a math test, without showing how you got your answer, you would only get half-credit, if that. Insistence that you don’t have to show your work because you ‘know’ the right answers would get you nowhere.

      “If you always demand “outside” evidence, then that only pushes the question back a step. Why disbelieve biblical witnesses, but believe extrabiblical witnesses? If you don’t believe a witness, then why believe a witness to a witness?”

      My goodness, it’s always an either-or with you. When presented with two accounts of the same event, the historian will compare them by various means to see which is more likely to be correct. There’s no a priori outcome here. For example, in comparing Luke to Josephus. I don’t automatically assume that where the two historians clash on the activities of Theudas, for example, that Josephus is write and Luke’s wrong. But without other accounts to compare to we have no way of deciding one way or the other. Why do you think we have websites like factcheck.org, and how do they work? Because we often can’t simply take people’s word for something, and to test whether they are telling the truth we have to compare their statements with other accounts and evidence. Where that is lacking, we have to be less confident in a person’s statement, unless we have already found through other independent checks that that person is trustworthy.

      I’ve read some defenses of biblical reliability by people like Habermas and Blomberg, but I’ve been underwhelmed by their reasoning. In one recent book by Blomberg he argues for the authenticity of one bundle of verses on Jesus’ teaching by pointing to the “tightly knit outline of the passage.” (Contagious Holiness, p.156) Or he defends the authenticity of the feeding miracles by pointing to the “distinction in the locations…combined with the obscurity of geographical references” (p.110) as somehow supporting the conclusion that Jesus was actually involved. To which I can only respond, “em, what?” Can you point me to works by Christian historians who actually employ standard criteria for checking testimony instead of whatever slight, irrelevant strand of reasoning will get them the conclusion they want?

  17. Joshua Wooden April 3, 2011 at 2:16 am #

    I’ve just finished carefully reading the article all the way through. I wanted to make sure that my response was both fair and accurate.
    I agreed with Dr. Hamilton at points, but I think that his article was incomplete at other points and unfair altogether at others. I liked his personal story, and I can find similar parallels to my own experiences. Before going on, I want to state where I am coming from, knowing that might shed light on my own review of Hamilton’s article. I am born-and-raised in Orange County, California, considered by many to be the birthplace of modern Evangelical Fundamentalism and a huge contributor to the early momentum of the Religious Right (for a useful book on that topic, I highly recommend Suburban Warriors: the Origins of the New American Right. It can be found in Google Books here: http://books.google.com/books?id=9a1yiZm1z2oC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Orange+County+the+birthplace+of+modern+evangelical+fundamentalism&source=bl&ots=yMJbQ9tTgc&sig=qHPnYvsEjpLnwQt2CZ_PK5yQyUI&hl=en&ei=0wWYTf-mD8zpgAfDi52uCA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CCYQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q&f=false). I am raised in a conservative Republican, Evangelical family, in a church of the same persuasion. The word “liberal” was used in my home, school and church, dismissively, as though it was good enough to say that something was “liberal” in order to not give it a fair hearing (though nobody would say this; it was simply assumed).
    I say all of that to say this. For my own part, Hamilton is probably correct in his assertions that liberals can be dismissive of people who believe the Bible is God’s Word, but the reverse is equally true, and equally unfair. There are many who dis-believe that the Bible is God’s Word with no argument, and there are also many who believe that the Bible is God’s Word without argument. Both are foolish. Both are ignorant.
    When he says, “I get the impression that at many liberal schools, you only hear the liberal (unbelieving) side of things, and no one even bothers with the conservative (believing) scholars,” I think he is being unfair, and he seems to be unaware of the conservative institutions who do the exact same thing (http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2010-04-09-IHE-evangelical-endorsing-evolution-forced-out09_ST_N.htm, or try this one: http://blog.beliefnet.com/jesuscreed/2010/04/the-end-of-reformed-old-testam.html).
    Furthermore, Hamiltion seems to be implying in the quote above that because conservative institutions read believing and un-believing scholars that his education is more well rounded and fair-minded then liberals who only read liberal scholars (a caricatured view of liberalism; one that, by-the-by, liberals believe in turn about conservatives. And they may be just as correct depending on the institution in question). However, this overlooks the reality that many conservatives and liberals alike don’t read with the intention of being enlightened (because they think that they already are), but with the intention of refuting people whom they disagreed with to begin with. This strangely reminds me of a quote by Andrew Lang (talking about statistics, but equally applicable for our own purposes): “He uses [education] as a drunken man uses lamp-posts… for support rather than illumination.”
    My point is to say this: I applaud Dr. Hamilton’s faithfulness to God’s Word as God’s Word, but I think he is sorely misguided to pit this against liberalism as though conservatism isn’t equally guilty (and sometimes more) of the same attitude, posture, or mentality (whichever you prefer), then what this article seeks to criticize.
    Also, when he says, “I was disgusted by the ‘peer pressure’ from the esteemed guild to reject the Bible,” I am sure there is truth to this statement. But I’m equally certain, that there are many Christian scholars who keep from saying things they truly believe about the Bible because of the “peer pressure” that exists in liberal circles. Hamilton’s remark leaves little room for those who genuinely believe what they say, and say what they believe, quite apart from any perceived peer pressure.
    Finally, when Hamilton says that arguments against inerrancy are “un-critical because the argument is so insulated by the unbelieving claque that the merits of the case aren’t ever really heard,” I have to say, I suspect there are many good arguments by Christian scholars who don’t believe in inerrancy, but don’t speak up for fear of being repressed through the peer pressure Hamilton endured in turn.
    I do agree with Hamilton’s last remark, however (being that it is a Biblical one): the Word of the Lord will most certainly stand forever. Let’s just pray that it is able to do so without conservatives having to stereotype liberals in order to affirm ourselves in it.

  18. Fred Butler April 4, 2011 at 12:41 pm #

    Jim writes,
    I actually had an editor of a semi-evangelical journal tell me that I needed to become a real scholar and stop betraying so many evangelical assumptions about the Bible in my writing.

    “Scholars” like them are a dime-a-dozen and those folks are a bunch of blowhards, anyways.

    You’re scholar enough for me.

    • TPM April 4, 2011 at 5:49 pm #

      ““Scholars” like them are a dime-a-dozen and those folks are a bunch of blowhards, anyways.

      You’re scholar enough for me.”

      And then you wonder why Christianity is associated with anti-intellectualism so often? When you dismiss anyone who disagrees with you as ‘dime-a-dozen blowhards’?

      I happen to think from this blog that Dr. Hamilton is a decent scholar. But so are many liberal scholars. How many of them have you actually studied instead of taking your evangelicals’ scholars word for it that there’s nothing to their arguments? How many times have I read in some apologetic hack-job that “As Richard Bauckham has shown, the Gospels are eyewitness reports and completely reliable…” and wondered where the references were to the devastating critical responses to Bauckham in the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus vol. 6 (2008), and especially Judith Redman’s critique of his use of psychology in “How Accurate Are Eyewitnesses in JBL vol.29 (2010). No, you’re content to be lazy and let others do your thinking for you.

      • Fred Butler April 6, 2011 at 7:40 pm #

        And then you wonder why Christianity is associated with anti-intellectualism so often?

        So says one of the penny-a-dozen blog commenters of the skeptical variety I read on practically every blog I visit.

        When you dismiss anyone who disagrees with you as ‘dime-a-dozen blowhards’?

        Because they are dime-a-dozen and they are blowhards. It has nothing really to do with them disagreeing with me. And I am amazed how easily skeptics are bedazzled by these blowhards that they call their re-treaded arguments “devastating.”

      • Matthew April 7, 2011 at 1:14 pm #

        TPM –

        Recommendation: there is another way to quiet a nagging conscience. “Fine sounding” arguments will never suffice. God’s gift of faith (in in Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savoir alone) does.

        Why believe all Scripture to be divine? Because…the ‘risen’ Jesus Christ says so.

        You should be wrestling with such claims…they don’t fit with “your” mindset, even though they do speak to (echo the judgments of) your conscience.

        Matthew

  19. Chaplain Kathleen April 4, 2011 at 5:16 pm #

    I was raised in a home without God, but full of hypocrisy nonetheless. (Christians don’t have a monopoly on that product.) We were taught to look good to the outside world, while hiding shameful abuse on the inside.

    The first non-hypocrites whom I ever met, ironically, were Hare Krishnas. We were staying at a rented beach house, and I fled every morning on the first jitney bus, walking the boardwalk or hiding out in the library till the last return trip at 2:30 a.m.

    While wandering the boardwalk, I ran into some unusually-dressed people; they told me that they had left their homes and families behind to serve their god fulltime. The concept was enchanting to me, if not the actual dogma; for the next three decades I studied comparative religion and became the kind of liberal “christian” minister who denied the truth of the Bible and encouraged my flock to “follow their bliss”.

    One day I floated the idea of actually studying the Bible. At the time, I was a youth pastor and very active in interfaith projects. I wondered why my supervisors disdained the idea of exploring Christianity — after all, we claimed to be a Christian denomination. I went ahead anyway, and was convicted of my sin about halfway thhrough the gospel of Luke. A week later, after expressing my concerns rather gently to my pastor and bishop, I was relieved of my youth pastor position; within a month I had been defrocked.

    Nowadays I do nursing home chaplaincy, both because it is a non-church setting where I can use my knowledge and faith to evangelize those who do not know the Lord and the Bible truth, and because it’s the last stop before the afterlife for so many liberal “christians” of the middle and upper classes.

    Let God be true, and every Christian a hypocrite… actually, I don’t mean that, but it does express the reality of us sinners, saved by grace and yet never truly expressing the great salvation that we have undeservedly received.

    • jim April 4, 2011 at 5:28 pm #

      Wow! Praise the Lord for his work in your life and the power of the word. May the Lord continue to bless you,

      Jim

  20. Justin Garcia April 4, 2011 at 8:02 pm #

    We have to remember that certainty is a state of mind. There is a logical kind of certainty that derives from language but that in itself does not prove anything outside its premises. Then there is the subjective kind of certainty that I mentioned above. This is not invalid but simply not inclusive of others. For example; intuitively, Einstein already knew his theory of relativity was true before he proved it to others. He was “certain” and yet others still had to be shown if he was to be believed. And he eventually did. We can also be certain about things that aren’t true. So how do we solve this dilemmna? That is the question. It is a question of epistimology. I for one, prefer the Van Tillian method, which was borrowed from Immanual Kant.

  21. Paul April 4, 2011 at 10:36 pm #

    This is a totally naive and largely dishonest presentation of a very intricate problem. Just sit down a read the gospels, or Kings-Chronicles. It won’t match up. Admit it, re-engineer your understanding of revelation and leave an exploded theory behind.

  22. steve hays April 5, 2011 at 3:56 pm #

    TPM:

    “Not at all. The suspicion that human faculties may be unreliable in these circumstances emerges quite reasonably from the contact between people who have widely varying accounts of the sacred. Have people from two different cultures describe a tree in the forest, and while there may be a different metaphysical background to their descriptions, you quickly see that they are talking about the same thing. This is not true of people’s descriptions of religious entities. I certainly do not start by assuming that these experiences are unreliable.”

    Actually, most religious adherents don’t claim to be in direct contact with the divine. More commonly, a religious founder claims a numinous encounter. Religious experience is then mediated via a sacred text, or oral stories, or rituals, or the community of faith.

    So it’s not as if most religious adherents are even claiming to describe their immediate experience of the divine.

    Therefore, you’re analogy is fatally disanalogous.

    “I’m a math teacher. If you wrote down only the final answers to problems on a math test, without showing how you got your answer, you would only get half-credit, if that. Insistence that you don’t have to show your work because you ‘know’ the right answers would get you nowhere.”

    Well, as a math teacher you ought to know that great mathematicians like Andrew Wiles, Henri Poincaré, and Paul Cohen can intuit the solution before they can formally prove their solution. Likewise, Newton and Leibniz were winging it with their intuitive grasp of calculus. The loose ends had to be tied up later by patient, plodding mathematicians.

    Same thing with a great chess player’s sight-of-the-board (e.g. Capablanca). Likewise, great physicists have physical intuition.

    So, basically you’re telling us that if you had a precocious math genius in class, you’d flunk him.

    “My goodness, it’s always an either-or with you. When presented with two accounts of the same event, the historian will compare them by various means to see which is more likely to be correct. There’s no a priori outcome here. For example, in comparing Luke to Josephus. I don’t automatically assume that where the two historians clash on the activities of Theudas, for example, that Josephus is write and Luke’s wrong. But without other accounts to compare to we have no way of deciding one way or the other.”

    We already have that. Take the synoptic gospels. According to the conventional solution to the Synoptic Problem, Matthew and Luke made use of Mark. So we can see how Matthew and Luke handle primary sources. And their redaction of Mark is extremely conservative. They don’t take great liberties with Mark. They’re very faithful to that source.

    I’ll revisit your bibliographical request later when I have the time.

  23. steve hays April 6, 2011 at 9:43 am #

    TPM:

    “Can you point me to works by Christian historians who actually employ standard criteria for checking testimony instead of whatever slight, irrelevant strand of reasoning will get them the conclusion they want?”

    I’d have to know how you define “standard criteria.”

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