Sunday, 3 July 2016

Is Quoting the Bible Arguing in a Circle?

Preaching the Gospel through apologetics is my life goal (1 Peter 3:15).

However, in all the years I have studied Christian apologetics, I have to come identify some really weak arguments, both for and against Christianity. A few examples have been presented in this article: Touche

Today I am going to discuss an argument that I previously considered to be weak (in that it apparently was a logical fallacy), but now it makes sense to me.

Before moving forward, let me explain what a logical fallacy is:

 ...'logical fallacies are arguments where the conclusion does not follow from the premises'(Source)  One of the most common logical fallacies made in religious discourse in 'arguing in a circle': Circular reasoning (circulus in demonstrando) – when the reasoner begins with what he or she is trying to end up with; sometimes called assuming the conclusion.'

For example, do we prove the existence of God first and then prove miracles (as, for instance Dr. William Lane Craig does in his debates), or we use the miracles of Moses and Jesus as evidence for the existence of God?

Does not the latter begin with the assumption that the Bible is true in what it says, and this assumption is used as proof?


I have read many books on apologetics that extensively quote the Bible to answer criticisms. From the top of my head I can think of Josh McDowell’s ‘Answers to Tough Questions’

But is an approach justified?


This is the question that has caught my attention for the last few days, maybe because of my research for a ministry event I just participated in.

It was a friendly debate on the topic 'Infant vs. Adult Baptism-Which one is Biblical?'

I defended Adult Baptism, and one of the many points I argued was that no one is born a believer.

Even if you were born to Christian parents, attended Church since childhood, and got educated in a Christian school, you are not a true believer until you confess Jesus to be your personal Savior and Lord out of free will. 

I base this on the following verse:

12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1)

Hence, according to the Bible itself, there is no difference between a person born in a Christian household and one who is not unless there is a genuine conversion of the heart (being born again).

In other words, a true Christian is the one who has come to realize (and not assume) the trustworthiness of the Bible through regeneration.

This is the book that condemns all men as sinners, who can only hope to find salvation in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And by accepting his sinful nature and bowing down before the Lord, a Christian has experienced the truth of the Bible in his life.

What I am trying to say is that Bible is evidence in itself, and thus to quote it cannot be called a circular argument, at least not always.

Of course, personal spiritual experiences still remain subjective and can be claimed by other religions as well, but there is a difference when a Christian quotes the Bible. 

Objection!
What if a Christian converts to Hinduism? Is his recital of the Gita evidence for the truth of the Hindu faith? If not, why not?

Answer:
For one thing, at least the Gospels claim to be written for the express purpose of being used as evidence for the truth claims of Christianity (Luke 1:1-4, John 20:30-31)

I hardly doubt that any other religious scripture subscribes to the same purpose for their writing. But the Bible does.

This means that while non-Christians are free to read the Bible for research and personal study, some portions of it (the 4 Gospel accounts and Acts) have been written to convince them of the truth of the Christian faith.

And even though we can’t wholly rely on internal evidence, there are times when quoting the Bible backs a solid argument.

Consider the following examples:

Canon
When you read books skeptical of the Bible, or even fiction works like ‘The Davinci Code’, you will see the claim repeated over and over that Constantine arbitrarily selected the books of the New Testament at the Council of Nicaea (AD 325), and the Church subsequently accepted them as such.

However, even a cursory reading of the New Testament reveals that such is not the case. In fact, most books of the New Testament were in circulation since the 1st century and enjoyed widespread acceptance in the nascent Christian communities.

Peter declares that St. Paul was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 3:15-16). Paul in turn quotes the Gospels as the Word of God (1 Timothy 5:18)

Read more about the internal evidence of the Christian canon here

 Authorship


Irenaues and Papias state that Mark wrote what Peter narrated to him. 1 Peter 5:12-13, written by Peter hint at the fact that he used associates to have things written and Mark was one of these associates. Moreover, this may explain the differences between the writing style of the 1st and 2nd Peter (i.e. the first one written by Silas while the other one penned by Peter himself or still another associate)

 Dates

My limited knowledge of comparative religion compels me to believe that apart from the Bible, no other religious scripture provides us clear-cut clues about the era in which it is set. 
  

But look at how Luke introduces Jesus to us:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. (Luke 3)

All of the people mentioned here can be found in the records of the Jews and Romans, which does help to estimate a timeline of Jesus Christ.

Here are some more examples of how the internal evidence of the Bible helps make sense of the external (hence together forming a solid argument): Studying Jesus#2-Dating the Gospels



The Element of Embarrassment


They say history is written by the conquerors. Is it?

When one reads the Bible, he can find a lot of embarrassing stuff which could have been easily removed had the Jews and Christians where tampering with text. For example, prophets were committing grave sins and the disciples of Jesus running from Him at the time of His arrest. 


Why would Jews themselves write that we made a calf to worship while Moses was gone? Does it make sense?

The very existence of statements such as Jesus, whom we believe to be God, not knowing the date of Judgment day (Matthew 24:36) shows that we are not reading the ‘conqueror’ version of history.  

The bottom line is that quoting the Bible in discussions with non-Christians doesn’t always mean that we are committing the fallacy of circular reasoning. 

Of course, I have been familiar with the argument from personal experience since 2006, since I was first introduced to Dr. William Lane Craig.

Despite being one of leading Christian intellectuals in the world today, he never denies the importance of a personal religious experience.

“…you can know that God exists wholly apart from arguments by having an immediate experience of him. Philosophers call this a ‘properly basic belief’….

I’ve had such an experience. God invaded my life as a sixteen-year-old, and for more than thirty years I’ve walked with him day by day, year by year, as a living reality in my experience. This is the way people in biblical days knew God. As John Hick wrote: ‘To them God was not a proposition completing a syllogism, or an idea adopted by the mind, but the experiential reality which gave significance to their lives’”

However, he is quick to add atheists can make similar claims to reject the existence of God.

“…in that case, the Christian should do whatever is feasible to find common ground, like logic or empirical facts to show in a noncircular way whose view is correct’ (The Case for Faith pg 114-115)”

I’ll end with a verse that captures what I tried to convey in this post:

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” Revelation 3:20






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