Critical Thinking and the Veracity of the Bible

When I started my blog, one of the first posts I created dealt with critical thinking. Surprisingly, to me, I had an atheist who visited because he wanted to know what a Christian and critical thinking had to do with each other. What followed was a series of posts I did about critical thinking. That was . . . are you ready? . . . twelve years ago.

My thinking hasn’t changed about the fundamentals. I know more now, but I’m happy with this article. So I’m running it again, minus the personal references to my atheist friend who visited back then.
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A commenter once posed a question for discussion:

Given the plenitude of glaring scriptural contradictions combined with the complete lack of currently available supporting evidence for either deity or biblical veracity, is it possible to be a critical thinker and still believe in the Bible and Christianity as anything more than philosophy and parable?

It’s a fair question, but I cannot accept the “given” properties.

Before addressing that issue, let me say, I believe it is not only possible to still believe in the Bible and Christianity, such belief is the most logical outcome of true critical thinking.

To a degree, all Truth is something we must choose to believe. Think for a moment of gravity. The dictionary describes this as a force that attracts a physical body toward the center of the earth or toward another mass. I have never seen gravity, yet I choose to believe in its existence. Scientists who study such things say it exists. I have the repeated experience of seeing things fall, not rise, when I drop them. I conclude the scientists are right. This requires faith on my part, but it is not faith in a vacuum, or faith that flies in the face of the evidence. My faith in the existence of gravity is the logical conclusion a thinking person can arrive at.

As I sit here typing, I can gaze out at an overcast sky. However, I choose to believe the sky remains blue and the sun is still in place even though I can’t see either. I have multiple reasons for such belief, but for someone who would enter the discussion with the presupposition that only that which can be seen is real, nothing I said would change his mind, simply because his presupposition is wrong.

Similarly, if this discussion hinges on accepting as true the presuppositions the commenter laid out—namely that there is a plenitude of scriptural contractions and that there is a complete lack of currently available supporting evidence for either deity or biblical veracity, then this discussion can go nowhere.

Therefore, I need to address these one at a time. First, the contradictions. I agree that there are apparent contradictions in the Bible, but I disagree that there are any real ones.

At times I have said I am hot. At other times I have said I am cold. Which is true? Aren’t those contradictory? Not given the circumstances which surrounded my making the statements. So too, with the Bible. What may look like a contradiction is not when the circumstances are clarified.

As to the lack of supporting evidence for deity and/or biblical veracity, I suggest there are books and books that refute those statements.

For a cogent argument that is longer than a blog post, Josh McDowell’s The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict (Nelson Reference, 1999) or Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ (Zondervan, 1998) are clear presentations. The subtitle of the latter is telling: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus. And by “evidence for Jesus” he means evidence that Jesus was who He said He was. (He also has written a second volume, The Case for Faith [Zondervan, 2000] which might be even more helpful).

Let me give my reasons for believing in the veracity of the Bible, in no special order:

  • extra-Biblical writings reinforce the historical facts recorded in the Bible
  • archaeological findings continue to support the events of history as told in the Bible
  • science and the Bible agree, whenever the Bible speaks to the field of science (apparent “unscientific” terms do crop up in Biblical poetry, as they do in my speech when I say such things as sunset, knowing scientifically that the sun, of course, does not set)
  • fulfilled Biblical prophecy supports the Bible’s claims
  • the unity of the Scriptures—though written over centuries, by forty or so different writers, the need for and the message of redemption are consistent throughout all 66 books
  • internal evidence—the Bible’s own claim of being true, of being the Word of God
  • experiential evidence—people’s lives are changed when they believe and act upon what the Bible says

For me, this is a compelling, though incomplete, list.

Let me expand the second-to-last point: internal evidence. Much like this blog, the Bible is a text we have from the hands of a writer we do not contact directly. Most of the readers here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction have not met me. In fact, there is no compelling evidence to prove that Rebecca LuElla Miller is writing this particular post—except that I am telling you, I am the author.

Does believing me exclude critical thinking? Not in the least. There are internal evidences you can use to verify that this is in fact my writing. First, the content. Does what I am saying sound like other things I’ve written? For those who know me, is it consistent with my character? Are the facts revealed in the post consistent with reality? (For instance, in various bios I say I live in Southern California. In today’s post I mentioned that I can gaze at an overcast sky. Can both be true today?)

In the same way, critical thinking can address the claims of the Bible to be true, to be the Word of God.

But what about those presuppositions about the veracity of the Bible that the commenter assumes as given? Held under the microscope of critical thinking, they will crumble because of the weight of the evidence.

God and Bandwagons

I have a thing against bandwagons—a term we use to denote people leaping into a suddenly faddish cause. Mostly I don’t think people who jump aboard popular crazes are using their heads, or their hearts, or their character. They are simply going with the flow.

Of course I can be wrong about that. I once declared the Beatles were a passing fad. Uh, not really! 😛

But you can see why a non-musician such as I might think so. I mean, there were countless girls at their concerts, screaming and crying, to the point that you had to believe NO ONE was actually listening to the music.

Of course, I didn’t understand about the records and radio or how revolutionary these English chaps were.

The point is, I know from that experience bandwagons may be more than faddish, but my first instinct is to suspect they aren’t.

I’m glad about that too, because I think it protects me from going along just to go along. Not that I haven’t done that on occasion. In college a friend asked me to go to a movie with her. Sure, what are we seeing? Turned out to be the controversial X-rated (since, downgraded to R) Midnight Cowboy.

Going along just to go along can lead to some places I don’t want to be.

But just recently, I discovered that, as logical as that stand is, that and the desire to fight against mindlessness, there’s a greater reason to stand against bandwagon jumping: God is against it.

At least He warns against it. I should have seen this sooner. After all, the New Testament uses the analogy of a narrow road and few who find life, but a broad road with many that leads to destruction.

In the epistles, we’re told not to be conformed to the world—no going with the flow.

In the Old Testament, God clearly told the people of Israel not to be like the nations around them—no being like everyone else.

But most recently, I read with new eyes an admonition in amongst the “sundry laws” given Moses at Mt. Sinai:

You shall not bear a false report; do not join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not follow the masses in doing evil, nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after a multitude in order to pervert justice (Exodus 23:1,2 – emphasis mine).

Jesus’s crucifixion is the perfect example of the kind of bandwagon jumping God commanded His people to avoid. I didn’t highlight the “doing evil” or “pervert justice” parts in the passage, but here’s the thing. If someone jumps on a bandwagon—goes along just to go along—he rarely is thinking about whether or not the end is evil or if justice will be perverted.

The very me-too-ism involved in getting on board a bandwagon requires a blind eye.

Seems to me we would do well to slow down and think, search the pages of Scripture, pray, and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit before we write the next scathing blog post or call the President or governor or Senator or neighbor unkind names for disagreeing with those of us atop the bandwagon.

Stretch that out to writing a vampire novel because vampire novels are selling. Or proclaiming postmodern philosophy because po-mos are the new in. As is anything Zen, or green. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point. While I might be wrong about what is or isn’t a fad, I don’t think I’m wrong about our need to turn to God before we take a position … about anything.

Published in: on September 15, 2009 at 11:14 am  Comments (4)  
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Discernment 101

I talk often about the need for discernment in our reading, but sometimes I think that term may mean one thing to one person and something far different to someone else.

I think most people agree as far as the actual definition. To discern means to perceive or to distinguish between. Of course, discernment implies a standard or some way of making a distinction.

This cover is bluer than that one. Or, That book is full of lies.

In the first, two objects are being compared to each other. In the second, the lies exist in contradiction to an understood standard of Truth.

So what does it mean for a Christian to apply discernment to what he reads?

When I advocate discernment, I have in mind the latter kind. I believe Christians should use the Bible as the gauge by which we measure truth and error, good and evil, right and wrong. A book that twists or deviates from what the Bible lays out before us is in error because the Bible is Truth.

So far, I think most people who have thought about discernment at all would agree, but here’s where I think some of us might part company. If we identify a book as containing that which is not true, what do we do?

I tend to think a lot of people would say, Stay away from that book and any such like it. For some people that may be the right move, but I don’t think that should be the blanket answer. It certainly isn’t what I’m advocating when I say we should read with discernment.

Instead, I think we should read (or watch or listen to) what is in our culture, and then point the finger at that which departs for God’s revealed truth and say, That is not true.

Understand, there are limitations to this use of discernment. Sometimes a determination needs to be made as a matter of self-protection or family-protection. When I was in college, I saw a bunch of raunchy movies that led me to the decision to put some limits on what I viewed. My choice, for me, requiring discernment.

But there are lots of other movies I’ve seen that I would go to see again, but I will cry loud and long to whoever will listen that the work of fiction contains untruth.

As I see it, lies are immediately disarmed once they are identified as lies. Lies can only hurt if they slip by and people believe them. Consequently, to stay away from all fiction or from fiction that is clearly from a secular point of view, means I can’t stand up and say, Do you see the lies here?

If Christians don’t do that, then who will?

Published in: on July 31, 2009 at 11:15 am  Comments (7)  
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God and Fiction – A Look at The Shack, Part 8

Regarding theology in The Shack by William P. Young, Lizard Eater, a blogger who describes herself as one who had been “on the journey to ministerial life (to be a Unitarian Universalist minister)” says the following:

I was expecting a fictional depiction of standard Protestant dogma — think Godspell, not Jesus Christ Superstar — and instead … huh, he’s talking about universal salvation. Huh, that’s pretty panentheist. Hmmm.

So my question is, How is it that a universalist has no problem identifying Mr. Young’s theology but so many evangelical Christians seem blind to it?

I already identified other possible reasons this story resonates with some Christians in Part 3 of this series, but that still doesn’t explain why so many are missing the parts of the book that contradict Scripture.

In part I think the answer lies in the fact that readers read expecting to find what they are looking for. A few months back, for instance, I mentioned in my review of Blaggard’s Moon that I thought a certain character in a certain part of the book served as a type of Christ. Great … except when the author, George Bryan Polivka, commented, saying he never intended that character to serve as a type of Christ. Why did I see it? Because I was looking for it. In the reverse, I think we can miss things we are not looking for.

However, I think the other part of the answer lies with what and how Mr. Young wrote. One technique he used is Character Shock. I described this earlier in one of my comments. It works like this. At statementss that seem plainly in conflict with truth, the main character of the story, Mack, reacts as the reader might be reacting, but he reasons that his thinking is a result of his religious conditioning. Essentially he’s talked himself—and at the same time, the reader—into keeping an open mind.

Here’s the example I used in the comment:

“Jesus, as a human being, had no power within himself to heal anyone.”

That came as a shock to Mack’s religious system.

Another technique is to embed truth with error and vice versa. Here’s an example of this:

[Jesus is talking] “I am the best way any human can relate to Papa or Sarayu.” (p. 110)

If Jesus is the best way, by implication there are other ways, though not as good.

Compare that to the Bible:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” (John 14:6)

The implied lie in The Shack is of itself harder to recognize than a boldface lie (e.g. There are more ways to God than through Jesus). But when the line is couched in a paragraph that contains apparent explanation or clarification, then it becomes even harder to recognize. Here’s the rest of that paragraph:

“I am the best way any human can relate to Papa or Sarayu. To see me is to see them. The love you sense from me is no different from how they love you. And believe me, Papa and Sarayu are just as real as I am, though as you’ve seen in far different ways.”

While the first line contradicts Scripture, clearly the rest of the paragraph does not.

So how do we know we’re to understand Mr. Young as saying there are other ways to God when he says Jesus is the best way as opposed to the only way? Mr. Young makes the same point using different words in other places in the book. Here’s the part that our universalist friend quoted that gave her an understanding of his theology.

[Jesus talking] “Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions. I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous. Some are bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved.” (p. 182, emphasis mine)

Once again this speech contradicts what Jesus says in John about no one seeing or knowing the Father apart from the Son—there is no transformation into sons and daughters of God apart from Christ.

Another technique Mr. Young uses to blur the lines between truth and error is to introduce a contradictory thought, then change the subject. Here’s one example:

[Jesus is talking] “Submission is not about authority and it is not obedience; it is all about relationships of love and respect. In fact, we are submitted to you in the same way.”

Mack was surprised. “How can that be? Why would the God of the universe want to be submitted to me?”

“Because we want you to join us in our circle of relationship. I don’t want slaves to my will; I want brothers and sisters who will share life with me.”

“And that’s how you want us to love each other, I suppose? I mean between husbands and wives, parents and children. I guess in any relationship? (pp. 145-146)”

And the conversation continues about human relationships before moving on to the nature of good and evil, with no other discussion about God submitting to man.

Well, what about that line? Does God submit to man? What does Scripture have to say?

That’s the question we have to continually ask if we are to be discerning readers. If we are to sort through the hodge-podge of ideas Mr. Young presents as true and dodge the techniques that obfuscate more than illuminate. Which statements are true, and which aren’t? Only the discerning reader knows for sure! 😉

Series continued in Part 9.

Published in: on June 4, 2009 at 12:59 pm  Comments (8)  
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