Thoughts on Reason, Revelation, and the Bible
Over the last several days, much discussion has ensued on this blog (and on my other blogs) touching upon the subject of the source of our Founders political beliefs and therefore, the ideological foundations of our government. In my last two posts, “Reason v. Revelation?” (parts one and two), I showed the quotes from our Founders themselves, which show that our Founders venerated the teachings of Scriptures (even though not all the Founders agreed with everything in the Bible), and viewed the Scriptures as the ultimate authority of law. They relied upon reason, yes; and they observed the law of nature. But as Sir William Blackstone succinctly put it, “DIVINE PROVIDENCE, which, in compassion to the frailty, the imperfection, and the blindness of human reason, hath been pleased, in sundry times and diverse manners, to discover and enforce it’s laws by an IMMEDIATE AND DIRECT REVELATION. The doctrines thus delivered we call the revealed or divine law, and they are to be found ONLY IN THE HOLY SCRIPTURES” (emphasis added). (1)
Any critical mind would ask in objection to Blackstone’s statement: “How can valid revelation be discovered and false revelation be rejected apart from reason? It is stupid just to blindly accept any statement just because it wears the label ‘revelation.’ ”
This question has much truth. Many people throughout the ages, and even up to this present time, have been led astray by false religions because the religious leader claimed to have a divine revelation from heaven. Many pagan religions rely upon the ignorance of masses in order to accumulate large followings. But perhaps many people would have known the truth, if they had simply thought things through rationally for themselves, instead of placing blind faith in a religion of which they had no proof. Students of history have observed the tragic outcomes of the abuse of “divine revelation,” and several have concluded that everything must pass the “smell test” of human reason, so that the truth will be known, and falsehoods avoided.
This sounds like a rational proposition. However, there is one logical problem with this prescription for the human problem of determining truth:
Absolute truth cannot be discovered by reason alone. Men do not just reason, without making assumptions upon which to base their reason. One cannot determine the dimensions of an object without having a system of measurements. Reason is like a ruler; but the ruler is not a ruler unless it bears the markings of the measuring system its user recognizes. Just as the use of the ruler is reliant upon a basic system of measurements, so the use of reason is reliant upon a set of basic assumptions.
An understanding of this concept is essential. Throughout history, intellectuals have observed and scrutinized pieces of data, and come up with different conclusions. Why is this the case? Men have made different assumptions, and reason in different manners, and therefore, though they do reason, they come to different conclusions. Sometimes these conclusions are not easy to reconcile!
The set of assumptions that men make, and which form the basis of their reasoning, is called a “basic belief system.” The basic belief system is often heavily grounded in one’s religion (one’s outlook on himself, the world around him, and his responsibilities to whatever was ultimately responsible for his existence). Religion, then, forms the basis of reason. Ah, but wait! What is to check the accuracy of one’s religion? “Reason, of course!” one might say. True. One must have a reasonable religion. But that still does not negate the fact that one reason’s on a basic belief system. We “reason” so as to calculate mathematical equations based upon the assumption that 1×1=1, or that 7×0=0. Perhaps our rational faculties cannot comprehend every detail of why this is so, but when the mathematical equations based upon those assumptions are put into practical use, they always serve a valuable purpose, and they always work.
In the same way, religion is somewhat assumptive, but not necessarily blindly assumptive. For example, the Christian religion believes that there is one God who created the world, that He created the natural systems and organisms around us for our benefit, and that He is a good and just God. Our reason cannot comprehend Him, though we can discover that He exists with our reason (if we are willing to be honest and admit His existence). We do not see Him, cannot feel Him, or most of the time audibly hear Him. Our minds cannot comprehend everything in His nature; nor can our reason discover why He does everything that He does. But we have just as much a reason to trust in God and commit ourselves to Him, as a little infant does his mother, even though he does not understand everything about his mother. It is reasonable to make the logical assumption that God, who created this world and ourselves out of nothing, knows far more than we do. Throughout history, He has given us innumerable proofs of His goodness and faithfulness, and therefore we can trust Him when He says things that we may not understand or comprehend with our logic. If one acknowledges God’s existence because of his own logic, but places his logic on an equal level with God, that man serves his own limited brain, and not God, and therefore is guilty, in God’s eyes, of idolatry. Deists are not the true disciples of God therefore, because although they acknowledges that He exists, they shut out all ways for Him to communicate with them, His own creation. Their brain, therefore, is their source of truth and morality, and although some of their postulations may be true, yet they shall always be limited from understanding the most important truth, which is only revealed clearly and explicitly in the Scriptures.
This of course, brings up the question of the validity of the Bible. There are many portions which seem “unreasonable,” such as the Trinity, the birth of Jesus by a virgin, His miracles, resurrection, and so on. But such accounts are not unreasonable at all. We cannot fully comprehend them with our reason, but (I appeal to my previous statement) it is perfectly rational to make the logical assumption that a God who made this world and the laws by which it operates (this fact CAN be confirmed by the observation of nature coupled with reason) can 1) supersede those laws of nature, 2) create the X-chromosome out of nothing that it took for Jesus’ birth, 3) cause Jesus to rise from the dead, and 4) exist in an essence that cannot be fully comprehended by the human mind.*
*Dr. D. James Kennedy quotes a distinguished theologian, who compares the Trinity to the “trinity” of time, in his book Why I Believe. This passage is truly fascinating, and I think gives much clarity to the theological dispute over the Trinity.
The Bible has never been debunked scientifically, historically, logically, or in any other way. These fields have only corroborated what the Bible says (and some of these fields owe their very progress to the Bible, such as in the case of science). Many atheists and skeptics who have searched out the Bible, in an effort to disprove it or look for errors have not only become Christians, but defenders of the faith. Among these people are Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel, both of whom have published books on this subject. If the Bible, then, has been found to be true to such an astonishing degree, even though some questions to minor details still remain, why then, can we not trust it as the word of God? Here are philosopher John Locke’s words on the subject:
The holy scripture is to me, and always will be, the constant guide of my assent; and I shall always hearken to it, as containing infallible truth, relating to things of the highest concernment [sic]. And I wish I could say, there were no mysteries in it: I acknowledge there are to me, and I fear always will be. But where I want the evidence of things, there yet is ground enough for me to believe, because God has said it: and I shall presently condemn and quit any opinion of mine, as soon as I am shown that it is contrary to any revelation in the holy scripture. (2)