Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What Would it Take to Disprove Your Faith?

One of my favorite things to do is to write cross references in books to other books that address the same question. One of those questions that I’ve referenced between a few books is something along the lines of “What kind of evidence would it take for you to abandon your faith or the Bible?” Here are three different answers that I’ve found over the years.

In a debate between Terry Miethe and Anthony Flew on the existence of God Miethe says the following:
“While a study of Prof. Montgomery (in a class on analytic philosophy), I remember asking Montgomery Prof. Flew’s very question: ‘Dr. Montgomery, you agree that empirical evidence should be allowed to count for or against claims to truth in religious matters. What would be for you damning evidence against the Christian faith?” Montgomery answered: ‘If they produced the body of Jesus.’ (Does God Exist: A Believer and an Atheist Debate, p. 48)
Clark Pinnock in his book The Scripture Principle says
“The Scripture principle could be overturned for me, as it has been for others, if it came to seem contradicted by the facts, broadly speaking. In particular, if its central message should prove to be unreliable and incredible and fail to mediate to me the presence of the absolute Savior, I would have to sadly abandon my confidence in the Bible.” Losing confidence in the Bible and losing faith in God are two separate things for Pinnock. (The Scripture Principle, p. 136. Pagination is for the first edition.)
Finally, I’ve always been intrigued by this response from John Frame. Again, Frame is responding to Flew's question although in a different context.
“Can any Christian believer offer a straightforward answer to Flew’s concluding questions, ‘What would have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for you a disproof of the love of, or of the existence of, God?’ Our first impulse is to say with the apostle Paul, ‘If Christ hath not been raised, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.’ The Resurrection shows that God does make a difference! Disprove the resurrection, and you disprove God. The Resurrection (but of course not only the Resurrection!) demonstrates the great difference between God and no-God. What would have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for you a disproof of the Resurrection? Do we have a clear idea of how the Resurrection may be falsified? Paul appeals to witnesses, but the witnesses are dead. What if a collection of manuscripts were unearthed containing refutations of the Christian message by first century Palestinian Jews? And what if these manuscripts contained elaborate critiques of the Pauline claim in 1 Cor. 15, critiques backed with massive documentation, interviews with alleged witnesses, etc. And then: what if the twenty-five most important New Testament scholars claimed on the basis of this discovery that belief in the physical Resurrection of Christ was untenable!? Would that be sufficient to destroy our faith in the Resurrection? It would be hard to imagine any stronger sort of ‘falsification’ for any event of past history. And I don’t doubt that many would be swayed by it. But many would not be. I for one would entertain all sorts of questions about the biases of these documents and those of the scholars who interpreted them. I would want to check out the whole question myself before conceding the point of doctrine. And what if I did check it out and found no way of refuting the anti-Resurrection position? Would that constitute a disproof? Not for me, and I think not for very many professing Christians. We all know how abstruse scholarly argument can be; there are so many things that can go wrong! In such a situation, it is not difficult to say ‘Well, I can’t prove the scholars wrong, but they may be wrong themselves.’ And if the love of Christ has become precious to me, and if I have been strongly convinced that the Bible is his word, I am more like to believe what he says in 1 Cor. 15 than to believe what a lot of scholars say on the basis of extra-biblical evidence. Could we ever be persuaded that the Resurrection was a hoax? Perhaps; but such a change would be more than a change in opinion; it would be a loss of faith. In terms of Scripture, such a change would be yielding to temptation. For our God calls us to believe his Word even when the evidence appears against it! Sarah shall bear a son, even though she is ninety and her husband is a hundred! God is just, even though righteous Job must suffer! The heroes of the faith believed the Word of God without the corroboration of other evidence: they walked by faith, not by sight. As long as we remain faithful, God’s word takes precedence over other evidence.” (God’s Inerrant Word: An International Symposium on the Trustworthiness of Scripture ed. by John Warwick Montgomery, pp. 162-163, emphasis his)


Scripture Zealot said...

Hi, Could you talk about how you keep track of these cross references?

Louis said...

Hi Jeff,

There's no real secret. It's just a matter of memory. When I read something and realize I've read something similar I can generally trace it back to the book. Since I highlight and leave marginal notes in most of the books I read I can find where it is in the book. I then write in the margin something life "cf. God's Inerrant Word, Montgomery p. 150" I will make a similar note in the other book. I used to think I shouldn't mark up my books so much. Now I never regret it. It will probably frustrate whoever inherits my library but I love it. My most recent cross reference was in the book Entrusted with the Gospel ed. by Kostenberger and Wilder in the essay by Marshall where he responds to a criticism made of him by D. A. Carson. Marshall does not name but Carson but I recognized the reference so I put in the margin "cf D. A. Carson's Commentary Survey 6th edition, p. 123" and in Carson's book I put "cf Marshall's response, Entrusted w/Gospel ed. Kostenberger/Wilder, p. 274." If the margin is too small (and it sometimes is) I'll put "see note #" and in the back of the book I'll put the reference.

Thanks for asking.

Scripture Zealot said...

I can't rely on my memory that well, especially for general topics. I have a personal wiki and plan on adding subjects that I've noted in commentaries and put the references all in the wiki. Otherwise it doesn't do my much good to write something at the top of a page and then not remember which commentary it was in.