TRUTH and FAITH:

 

How Credible is Christianity

In an Enlightened Age of Science and Reason?

 

 

By John Ed Robertson

 

 

April 10, 2005

 

 

 

 

 

Contents

 

 

 

      Introduction:  Identifying the Three Key Questions

 

I.    The Nature of Truth:  Determining What Truth Really Is

 

II.    The Search for Truth:  Choosing a Final Authority

 

III.   The Content of Truth: Evaluating the Credibility of Christianity

 

1.      Science and Faith

2.      A Personal Note

3.      The Question of Origins: How Did We Get Here?

4.      The Resurrection:  Did Jesus Christ Really Rise from the Dead?

5.      Sources:  Is the Bible Reliable?

6.      Is All This Too Good to Be True?

 

IV.  The Challenge to Truth: Addressing the Question of Pain and Suffering

 

      CONCLUSION

 

      BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

 

© 2005 John Ed Robertson


 

INTRODUCTION: Identifying the Three Key Questions

 

One of the most interesting questions in the Bible was voiced by a Roman Governor: “What is truth?”  Pontius Pilate posed this question in response to an equally interesting statement made by Jesus Christ: “For this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”  Although we don’t know the tone of Pilate’s voice, it’s reasonable to suppose that it was injected with a certain amount of cynicism, and if we are right, Pilate would be right at home in the 21st century.  One of the dominant characteristics of our age is the considerable cynicism about the existence of any objective, universal truth that is always true for everyone, everywhere.  So much like Pilate, the post-modern, post-Christian western world poses this question more with a cynical sneer than a genuine inquisitiveness.

 

For those who believe the Christian faith and who therefore affirm the existence of an objective, universal truth, they will find their claim inevitably confronted by three very legitimate questions raised by people who do not share their Christian faith:

 

1.      How can one believe that only Christianity is true in this enlightened age of tolerance?  This is a question that has to do with the nature of truth as we will see.

 

2.      How can one believe that Christianity is true in this enlightened age of science and reason?  This is a question that has to do with content of truth.  Another way to ask this question is: “If truth exists, how does one find out what it is?”

 

3.      How can one believe in an all-loving and all-powerful God when there is so much evil and unjust suffering in the world?

 

The third question is often a personal question as much as it is a theoretical one.  That is, those who ask this question have often suffered for no apparent reason.  Or, perhaps, someone they love has suffered in the same way.  Often those who ask this question need empathy in their suffering more than they need philosophical answers about the nature and content of truth.

 

The first question has to do with the nature of truth, and the second has to do with the content of truth.  The second question about whether or not Christianity is true assumes that some things are true and others are not, in other words, that the law of non-contradiction applies.  Simply put, the law of non-contradiction says that if propositions A and B contradict one another, only one, at most, can be true.  They could both be false, but they can’t both be true.  This is the nature of truth assumed in the world of science, as we will see.

 

The first question which has to do with the nature of truth, however, tends to contradict the law of non-contradiction in that it implies that two contradictory propositions can both be true.  This question reflects the post-modern idea that reality is created as much as, or even more than, it is discovered.  For example, when someone asked Jacques Derrida, arguably the world’s foremost post-modern philosopher, if he believed in the existence of God, he replied: “Look at all the people who believe in God.  Therefore, God exists, even if He doesn’t exist!”  In other word, belief creates reality.  This is the quintessential post-modern idea, and it trivializes truth claims by reducing them to just one among many “truths.”  This is often expressed as: “There are many truths.  You have your truth and I have mine.  Your truth is true for you, and mine is true for me.”  For this reason, it will be helpful, perhaps, to examine the nature of truth, especially in the world of science.

 

 

 

 

I.  THE NATURE OF TRUTH: Determining What Truth Really Is

 

The fundamental question posed by post-modernity is whether or not there is any universal, objective philosophical truth that is always true everywhere for everyone.  The fundamental assumption of modernity was that there is such a universal truth, and we can find it by human reason alone.  The problem was that philosophers never could agree on what it was, so that by the mid-19th century philosophers like Nietzsche and Hegel began to question whether such a thing as a universal, objective philosophical truth even existed.  This idea “hit the streets” in the 1960’s in the U.S. with the anti-Vietnam war movement, and has being formalized by post-modern philosophers like Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Jean-Francois Lyotard and Richard Rorty.  In other words, the nature of truth has been called into question by post-modernity.

 

Before examining the nature of truth, we should acknowledge that Christians have often come across as arrogant in their insistence on absolute truth.  This is repulsive to many who do not share their belief in absolute truth, not because of the nature of the absolute truth itself, but because of the absolute certainty with which many Christians express it.  This is perceived as arrogance leading to intolerance or even violence, as in the events of September 11, 2001.  Many people lump Christians who insist on absolute truth with absolute certainty into the same category as the 9/11 hijackers.

 

For this reason, universal truth is perhaps a better term.  In addition, those who believe in universal truth need to hold that conviction with a certain humility and not be like a particularly arrogant Christian about whom Winston Churchill once remarked, “There, but for the grace of God, goes God!”  In response to the idea that there are many truths and “Your truth is true for you and mine is true for me”, one can respond, “There is only one truth, but no one holds it perfectly.” 

 

This is precisely the view held by most men and women of science.  Underlying the development of science is the conviction that a universal, objective truth exists and is always true everywhere for everyone.  Science argues that we are getting closer and closer to this objective truth, but we are not there yet.  It was once believed, for example, that Newton’s laws of motion and universal gravitation were exactly correct, but Einstein’s theory of relativity demonstrated that Newton’s laws were only approximations that become increasingly inaccurate as we approach the speed of light.  Since very few of us have traveled at anything near the speed of light, Newton’s laws are “close enough for government work” for most of us!

 

Science is thus guided by the conviction that the universe is coherent, that “God doesn’t play dice with the universe,” as Einstein put it.  Scientists believe in the existence of universal, objective truth about the physical universe, and they believe that truth that can be discovered and verified by the scientific method.  Moreover, non-scientists share this conviction about the physical universe.  It is common sense that the law of gravity applies to everyone whether or not they believe in it.  Not even Jacques Derrida would have flown in an airplane designed by an engineer who did not believe in the proven principles of aerodynamics, nor let himself be operated on by a surgeon who didn’t bother to “scrub in” because he didn’t believe in the existence of germs.

 

Scientific research, therefore, consists in searching for objective, universal truth which is always true everywhere for everyone.  The earth revolved around the sun long before Copernicus figured it out, and universal gravitation was a fact long before Newton understood it.  Science assumes that objective universal truth exists and that this truth is coherent and dependable, independent of any and all ideas about this truth.

 

With the advent of modern physics, however, several misunderstandings spread among the general public, such as:

 

a)     Einstein’s theory of relativity has shown that truth is relative.

b)     Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle proves that nothing is certain and that we can’t know anything with certainty.

c)      Thomas Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions has shown that we can create a new reality by a “paradigm shift”.

 

  1. Einstein never said that truth is relative.  To the contrary, he firmly believed that nature is coherent and that scientific truth is objectively true for every observer.  He believed that nature was not capricious (“God doesn’t play dice with the universe”).  The term “relativity” comes from the fact that he discovered that the laws of Newton were only approximations who are increasingly inaccurate when a particle approaches the speed of light.  It is much more complicated than that, of course, but suffice it to say that Einstein believed firmly in an objective, universal scientific truth which is always true.

 

  1. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle doesn’t say that everything is uncertain but rather that there are some absolute limits to our knowledge.  For example, he showed that one cannot determine the exact position and the exact velocity of an electron at the exact same time.  There is always a level of uncertainty determined by Planck’s constant (6.63 divided by 10 to the 27th power).  Actually his principle applies to all objects, but the uncertainty is so small that it is only significant for objects the size of an electron or smaller.

 

An illustration of how this works would be the presidential election in Florida in 2000.  The margin of error in the Florida election was no greater than normal, but the margin of victory was so small that the margin of error became significant.  No one ever worried about “hanging chads” before, because the margin of victory was always thousands of times greater than the margin of error.  In 2000, however, the margin of victory was as small as, or even smaller than, the margin of error, so it was impossible to know who really won, even if we had recounts for the next 100 years.

 

  1. Thomas Kuhn wrote one of the most significant books of the 20th century, because he showed that science was not as coldly objective as it pretends to be.  He showed that science advances not only by rigorous application of the scientific method, but also by intuitive leaps which he called “paradigm shifts”.  A paradigm shift allows us to see realities which have always existed, but that we could not see because of a faulty paradigm.  For example, perhaps Copernicus said to himself one day, “What if the earth revolved around the sun?”  Or perhaps Newton suddenly realized that all objects attract one another by the force of universal gravitation.  In any event, neither of them invented a new reality by their respective paradigm shifts; they only discovered a reality which had always existed.

 

Many believe that Kuhn said that we can create a new reality by a paradigm shift, but that isn’t what he said.  A paradigm shift doesn’t change reality; it only changes our perception of reality.  In other words, reality is objective, but our perception of it is subjective.  Scientific truth exists independently of any and all ideas about it.

 

But how does all that apply to philosophical truth?  Is there an objective, universal philosophical truth, and if so, how would one go about finding it?  The history of philosophy is the history of the search for this kind of truth, but philosophers have never been able to agree on what it is, which is why post-modern philosophers say that there is no one universal truth for everyone, but many truths established by sincerity of belief.

 

One problem, of course, is that it is much more difficult to test philosophical ideas than scientific ones.  The scientific method consists of forming a hypothesis and conducting experiments to prove or disprove the hypothesis.  If the hypothesis succeeds in predicting without fail the results of numerous experiments, the hypothesis is accepted to be true.  Unfortunately, it is much more difficult to test philosophical hypotheses than scientific ones.

 

In addition, there is a problem of objectivity.  It is pretty clear that a scientific experiment can be conducted objectively; the problem is to do a broad enough range of experiments to ensure that the results are universal.  But what experiment could be conducted to prove the veracity of a philosophical proposition?  We can test it in our personal lives, but others could say that our conclusions are subjective.  In fact, this is why many say, “To each his own truth”.  Since the only way to test a philosophical proposition is by personal experience and because the interpretation of the results is necessarily subjective, many have a hard time believing in the existence of a universal philosophical truth.


 

II.  THE SEARCH FOR TRUTH: Choosing a Final Authority

 

Historically, in the west at least, there have been two “authorities” in the search for universal philosophical truth: divine revelation and human reason.  Up until the scientific revolution and especially the Enlightenment in the 18th century, the “final authority” in determining truth was divine revelation.  Over the past 500 years and especially the past 200 years, however, human reason has dethroned divine revelation as that final authority.  In fact, human reason was even pronounced the “state religion” in France during the French Revolution, although Napoleon reversed some of this trend ten years later.  As we have seen, human reason failed to establish a “one size fits all” universal truth, which is why post-modern philosophers have, in effect, replaced human reason with the autonomous self as the final authority, which eliminates the possibility of a universal truth which is always true for everyone (“You have your truth and I have my truth.  Your truth is true for you and mine is true for me.”).  In other words, universal truth doesn’t exist and everyone is free (and obligated) to find his or her own truth.

 

As a matter of fact, Solomon made a very similar criticism of the ability of human reason to discover universal truth 2500 years before the advent of modernity!  He wrote:

 

“'Look,’ says the Teacher, ‘this is what I have discovered: adding one thing to another to discover the scheme of things – while I was still searching and not finding.’”  Ecclesiastes 7:27-28a

 

“When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe man’s labor on earth – his eyes not seeing sleep day or night – then I saw all that God has done.  No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun.  Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning.  Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it.”  Ecclesiastes 8:16-17

 

These two statements summarize the futility that Solomon experienced in searching for truth using human reason as his final authority.  The phrase “under the sun” appears 26 times in the book and the word “vanity” (also translated “meaningless”) appears 39 times in the book.  He therefore concludes the book by suggesting that we reconsider divine revelation as the final authority in the search for truth:

 

“The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails – given by one Shepherd.  Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them.  Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.  Now all has been heard, here is the conclusion of the matter:  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”  Ecclesiastes 12:11-14

 

By “firmly embedded nails,” Solomon is referring to divine revelation (“given by one Shepherd”), suggesting that divine revelation is not exhaustive (all truth has not been revealed) but that it is true.  Moses put it like this:

 

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”  Deuteronomy 29:29

 

After Solomon has spent 11 ˝ chapters searching for truth “under the sun” (an image that suggests using human reason as the final authority), he suggests divine revelation as a more reliable authority in this search.  Why does he make such a claim?  How can we know that divine revelation even exists?  The answer is that we make that choice by faith, which begs another question:  How can one live by faith in an age of science and reason?  And the answer to that question is one that most don’t acknowledge: we all live by faith, either by faith that divine revelation is the final authority, or by faith that human reason is the final authority, or by faith that the autonomous self is the final authority.  The real question is which one is most reliable, and to answer that question, we need to address the question of the content of truth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

III.  The Content of Truth:  Evaluating the Credibility of Christianity

 

 

1. Science and Faith

 

How can one believe that Christianity is true in this enlightened age of science and reason?

 

In examining the nature of truth in the previous section, I used science to support the idea that truth is objective, independent of man’s ideas about truth.  In addition, we saw that non-scientists share this view of truth in the physical universe, and it is worth repeating the thrust of the argument:

 

Science . . . is guided by the conviction that the universe is coherent, that ‘God doesn’t play dice with the universe’ in the words of Einstein.  Scientists believe in the existence of universal, objective truth about the physical universe, truth that can be discovered and verified by the scientific method.  Moreover, non-scientists share this conviction about the physical universe.  It is common sense that the law of gravity applies to everyone whether or not they believe in it.  Not even Jacques Derrida would have flown in an airplane designed by an engineer who did not believe in the proven principles of aerodynamics, nor let himself be operated on by a surgeon who didn’t bother to “scrub in” because he didn’t believe in the existence of germs.

 

Some (especially some scientists) might cry “Foul!” at the use of science to buttress the Christian idea of the nature of truth on the basis that scientific theories must explain by  using natural law.  In other words, only naturalistic explanations should be permitted by science.  Since Christianity contains supernatural elements, some consider that it is forcibly unscientific, at least by this naturalistic definition of science.

 

For example, in the debate over the teaching of intelligent design (i.e. creation) alongside evolution in the public schools as an alternative theory of origins, secularists have argued that intelligent design is not scientific.  The primary argument against intelligent design can be summarized as follows: “Scientific theories must explain by natural law.  Because design or creationist theories do not do so, they are necessarily unscientific.” 

 

This raises an important question:  What is the purpose of science?  Is it about finding natural materialist explanations or accurate explanations?  One can argue that limiting the field of possible explanations to only natural materialist ones is a truncated view of science, which is supposed to consider all the possible explanations of a particular phenomenon.  If intelligent design is a possible explanation, it should be considered alongside evolution and then either accepted or rejected based on the scientific evidence available.

 

In addition, it can be observed that “common descent” (better known as evolution) does not explain natural laws either, but by postulating a hypothetical pattern of historical events that, if actual, would account for a variety of presently observed data.  Common descent is therefore no more “scientific” than intelligent design by this definition of science.

 

Christianity is admittedly a supernatural religion.  The Gospels record 35 specific miracles that Jesus performed.  In addition, there are accounts of several miracles performed by the apostles in the book of Acts and by prophets (in particular Elijah and Elisha) in the Old Testament.  Is Christianity therefore incompatible with science by definition?  I would argue that it is only incompatible with a truncated view of science that admits only naturalistic explanations.  Science that is open to all possible explanations in its search for accurate explanations is not by definition incompatible with Christianity.

 

In his book Modern Physics and Ancient Faith, the physicist Stephen Barr tackles this question head-on.  He writes:

 

“I should emphasize that this book is not about proofs.  The materialist’s story had a moral, but it did not constitute a proof of materialism.  There was no experiment that proved that only matter existed, nor was there any calculation that proved that the universe had no purpose.  Nor did the materialist really ever claim that there was.  What he claimed was that there were two pictures of the world, the religious and the materialist, and the progress of science has revealed a world that looks more and more like the materialist picture.  It was a question, in other words, not of proofs but of expectations.  Science, it was claimed, had fulfilled the materialist’s expectations and confounded the religious believer’s.  In this book, I am making the same kind of claim, but in reverse.  I am claiming that, on the critical points, recent discoveries have begun to confound the materialist’s expectations and confirm those of the believer in God.”

 

Another eminent scientist who has written on the subject of the relationship between science and Christianity is Dr. Henry F. Schaeffer, whom U.S. News and World Report has speculated to be a five-time Nobel nominee in chemistry.  In his book, Science and Christianity: Conflict or Coherence? Dr. Schaeffer shows that science and Christianity are compatible, and agrees with Dr. Barr that “recent discoveries have begun to confound the materialist’s expectations and confirm those of the believer in God.”

 

So how can one believe that Christianity is true in this enlightened age of science and reason?  Now that we have argued the validity of using the same approach scientists use, we can address questions such as:

 

a)     What credentials back up the claims of Christianity?  Is there any good evidence to support it?

b)     How can we know that God even exists?

c)      How do you reconcile faith with the fact that the Bible is full of errors?

d)     Hasn’t evolution shown that the Bible is unreliable? 

e)     How can one believe in miracles in an age of science and reason?

 

These questions boil down to three critical issues, which we need to address in order to answer the question of Christianity’s credibility:

 

a)      The universe and the human race exist and they exist in their present form and complexity.  Where did they come from?

b)      Did Jesus Christ really rise from the dead?

c)      Is it reasonable to believe that the Bible is a reliable document?

 

As noted before, Christianity is a supernatural religion, which causes some difficulties in an age of natural explanations for many phenomena which were imperfectly understood in the past.  There are two statements in the Bible, however, which, if believed, reduce the other supernatural events in the Bible to mere details:

 

a)     “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1

b)     “On the third day, he [Jesus Christ] rose from the dead.” I Corinthians 15:4

 

If one believes these two statements, the other miracles recounted in the Bible are not difficult to believe.  Since they recount the two foundational supernatural events, I will treat each of them in detail.  Finally, I will consider the question of the trustworthiness of the Bible as an authority in the search for truth.


 

2. A Personal Note

 

Before going any further, I should admit that these questions are more than merely academic to me.  I became a follower of Jesus Christ as an electrical engineering student at the University of Louisville.  After graduation, I went into the Navy, where I worked as a nuclear power engineer for 6 years.  I was surrounded by some very bright scientists and engineers, but I never doubted for a moment the truth of Christianity, partly because it just made perfect sense to me as an engineer and partly because of the way it had changed my life.  After 6 years of working as an engineer in the Navy’s nuclear propulsion program, I left engineering to join the staff of a Christian organization and began working with midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy.

 

During the first 13 years of my Christian experience, whenever my faith in objective truth was challenged, my “fall-back” position was that I knew it was true because it had changed my life.  Many would say, “That’s just psychological!  It changed your life because you believed it was true.”  To that I would reply, “Well, you didn’t know me before.  Nothing that was merely psychological could have changed my life the way faith in Jesus Christ has.”  Even my friends would occasionally chime in, “Yeah, you didn’t know him before!”

 

One day, however, after I had been a believer for thirteen years and a missionary for four years, I found myself wondering, “What if it is just psychological?  How can I know for sure if Christianity is objectively and universally true?”  At first I hoped that these questions would simply go away, but I soon realized that I would have to deal with them.  For the next several months, I devoted all the time and energy I could to reading and studying in pursuit of answers to questions like those above.  The two sources that were probably the most helpful were the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible and the book He Is There and He Is Not Silent by Francis Schaeffer.  The remainder of this section is, by and large, what I found.

 

 

 

3. The Question of Origins: How Did We Get Here?

 

The universe in general and human life in particular exist, and they exist in their present form and complexity.  How did they get here?  There are three possibilities:

 

a)     Necessity:  The laws of physics and chemistry made the appearance of life inevitable, and the laws of biology (i.e. natural selection) made the evolution of human beings inevitable.

b)     Chance:  Statistical mechanics, then quantum mechanics, led many scientists to conclude that chance could not be eliminated.  Reduced to two chemical-type equations:

Matter + time + chance yielded life.

Life + time + chance yielded human life.

c)      Design: The universe, from hydrogen atoms to human beings, was created by an infinite-personal Creator.

 

The first two explanations are obviously naturalistic explanations and the third is a theistic, (i.e. supernatural) explanation.  If we do not arbitrarily eliminate the third explanation on the basis of it not being a naturalistic explanation, which of the three best explains what we can observe?  I would suggest that the third explanation, intelligent design, best explains what we observe in nature, for the following reasons:

 

a)      The Second Law of Thermodynamics.  According to this law, things left to themselves always go from order to disorder and that entropy (i.e. randomness) always increases.  This is a powerful argument against both necessity and chance.  Any engineer who has ever tried to make anything happen in the real world is intimately acquainted with the Second Law of Thermodynamics.  Left to themselves, things do not go from disorder to order, yet evolution insists that they do, or at least they have done so in the past.  As noted above, even naturalistic science (statistical mechanics and quantum mechanics) has concluded that chance could not be eliminated, and therefore that necessity alone is inadequate to explain our origins.  To believe that chance is responsible for the complexity of the physical universe and human existence in the face of the Second Law seems to require more faith than intelligent design does.  For example, some have likened it to the probability of 500 monkeys producing the works of Shakespeare by randomly typing on 500 typewriters or a tornado passing through a junkyard and assembling a Boeing 747.  It is theoretically possible, but highly unlikely.

 

b)      Irreducible Complexity. This law is defined as a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, and where the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning.   The human eye, for example, is an example of irreducible complexity.  Irreducible complexity is a real problem for naturalistic evolution, because an irreducibly complex system cannot just evolve.  One example would be the necessity for fish to develop lungs in order to evolve into birds.  If they developed lungs before leaving the water, they would drown, but if they left the water before developing lungs, they would do what fish do when they are pulled out of the water, i.e. die.

 

c)      The Anthropic Principle.  The universe appears to have been “fine-tuned” to make it hospitable to human life.  For example, there are over 30 physical constants that, if any one were slightly modified, would make human life impossible.  Scientists have calculated the probability of human life coming to be by chance alone to be on the order of 1 in 10 to the 150th power.

 


 

4.  The Resurrection:  Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?

 

Why would anyone believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ?  We can see two reasons:

 

a)             The credibility of the eyewitnesses.  Most of those who claimed to be eyewitnesses of the risen Christ were persecuted and some were even martyred for sticking to their story.  Some would argue that men have always been willing to die for something that they believed to be true, even if it wasn’t.  The problem with that is that if the resurrection were not true, these guys would have known it.  In fact, they had a hard time believing it themselves.  As Charles Colson has put it:  “Men may be willing to die for something they believe to be true, but they won’t die for something they know to be false.”

 

b)             The life of Jesus Christ, and the phenomenal claims He made about Himself.  In John 5:18, for example, it says that the Jews “tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God”.  Most men would bend over backwards to clear up a misunderstanding that was causing people to want to kill them, but Jesus then goes on to talk about all the ways in which He is equal to the Father in the next 29 verses.  He not only left their impression that He was claiming to be the Son of God intact, He reinforced it significantly.  In another place, He said “I and the Father are one”, which caused the Jews to want to stone him. (John 10:30-31)

 

If His claims were not true, either He knew they were false, in which case He was a fraud or He was deluded, in which case He was a lunatic.  A simple reading of the Gospel accounts is sufficient to see that His life directly contradicts those two possibilities.  

 

 

 

5.  Is the Bible Reliable?

 

There are many reasons for believing that the Bible is at least as reliable as any other book from antiquity.  According to Nelson Glueck, a well-known archeologist, “No archeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference.”  The manuscript evidence that we have substantiates that the Bible we have today is faithful to what was originally written.  For example, our present-day New Testament has been translated from hand-written manuscripts dated from the third and fourth centuries.  By contrast, the oldest manuscript we have of Caesar’s Gallic Wars has been dated at 900 AD, and no one questions its authenticity.  Extra-Biblical accounts, such as that of the Jewish historian Josephus substantiate many of the details of the life of Jesus.  In addition, the fulfillment in the life of Jesus of hundreds of Biblical prophecies concerning the Messiah attests to the authenticity of the Bible.

 

Most significantly, perhaps, is the fact that the Bible has unbelievably accurate insights that explain life and the world around us the way they really are.  The Bible does indeed “tell it like it is” when it comes to human nature.  When I interpret the world around me and my life in light of the Bible, it makes sense.  In his book The God Who Is There, Francis Schaeffer has an excellent illustration of how this works.  Imagine that you found a book out of which a chunk had been cut so that all that remained was the bottom one inch of each page.  Although it would be impossible to reconstruct the book from these fragments of text, there could be no doubt that they were the product of an intelligent being.  Now, imagine further that a pile of fragments of pages were found in the attic, and that it turned out that each of these fragments fit with one of the one-inch fragments of pages that we had in the beginning, so that when placed properly, they told a coherent, even riveting story.  There would be little doubt that these fragments were the missing parts of the book, and that the two sets of fragments had a common author.

 

This is the case of Christianity.  In this image, the mutilated book corresponds to the universe and the human race in its current state, and the fragments of pages found in the attic are the Bible, by which God speaks to man in an intelligent manner, not only with respect to “religious” truth, but also concerning the cosmos and history, domains susceptible to verification.  The world around us and the human race in their current abnormal state are inadequate in and of themselves to make sense out of our existence, but they are important in understanding that the Scriptures, by which God speaks to man, are what they claim to be.  In other words, when I interpret my humanity and the world around me in light of the Scriptures, they make sense.  Without the Scriptures, they don’t.

 

 

 

6.  But Is It Too Good to Be True?

 

That’s a good question—one that many people ask, and one that was at the origin of many of my own doubts.  I began to wonder whether the Gospel claim—that I could be restored to a personal relationship with God solely by believing in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the ultimate solution for my own sin and guilt—was simply too good to be true.  In the final analysis, however, I realized that the alternative was “too bad to be true,” because life ultimately has no meaning if man is autonomous in the universe.  To put it another way, human reason is inadequate to discover the ultimate meaning of life, so either God must reveal the meaning of life to us or we must live without ultimate meaning.  The book of Ecclesiastes was written to show the “vanity” (or futility, a word which appears 39 times in the book) of searching for ultimate truth and meaning “under the sun” (meaning using human reason as my ultimate authority in my search), a phrase which appears 26 times in the book.  The author concludes:

 

“Look, says the Teacher, this is what I have discovered, adding one thing to another to discover the scheme of things – while I was still searching but not finding –“ (Ecclesiastes 7:27-28a)

 

“When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe man’s labor on earth – his eyes not seeing sleep day or night – then I saw all that God has done.  No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun.  Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning.  Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it.”  (Ecclesiastes 8:16-17)

 

The author of Ecclesiastes (King Solomon) was one of the wisest men who ever lived, yet he says that he was unable to find life’s ultimate meaning and purpose, using human reason as his ultimate authority.  He concludes by returning to divine revelation as his ultimate authority in the search for truth, as we saw in an earlier article on “What Is Truth?”

 

“The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails – given by one Shepherd.  Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them.  Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.  Now all has been heard, here is the conclusion of the matter:  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”  Ecclesiastes 12:11-14

 

In conclusion, we can believe in the objective truth of the Christian story based on three things:

 

1.         The intricate design that we see in nature is best explained by the objective existence of a Designer.

2.         The historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

3.         The trustworthiness of the Bible, which explains life and the world around us in ways that make perfect sense.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IV.  The Challenge of Truth:  Addressing the Question of Pain and Suffering

 

How can one believe in an all-powerful and all-loving God when there is so much evil and suffering in the world?

 

This is a difficult question to answer, not because there are no answers, but because it is often both a theoretical question and a personal question.  It is difficult to answer with both lucidity and sensitivity, and to give a theoretical answer to someone who is suffering can be very insensitive and even cruel. 

 

There are at least four kinds of suffering:

 

a)     Suffering that results from our own bad choices, such as bankruptcy resulting from extravagant spending or addiction resulting from substance abuse. 

 

b)     Suffering that results from the bad choices of others, such as being a victim of crime or an accident caused by a drunken driver. 

 

c)      Suffering that is common to the human condition, especially sickness.

 

d)     Suffering that doesn’t make sense:

 

a.      Either because it seems so random and capricious, like natural disasters or losing a child to illness or accident

 

b.      Or because it occurs in spite of good choices, such as rebellious teenaged children of loving, conscientious parents or the failure in business of an honest, hard-working business person.

 

Of these four kinds of suffering, the easiest to explain theoretically is the first, but that can be little comfort to the person experiencing it.  Although this kind of suffering may be relatively easy to understand for an unaffected bystander, it is still very painful for the person experiencing it.  In fact, being angry with oneself for the bad choices that brought about the suffering can significantly aggravate it.

 

Similarly, the second type of suffering is relatively easy to explain theoretically, but that is even less comfort to the victim.  Even though one can readily see that this is a result of the sinfulness of man, it doesn’t alleviate the victim’s suffering.

 

The third and fourth types of suffering are obviously the most difficult to understand, because there seems to be no reason for them.  The Bible does not ignore this problem.  Perhaps the best example of this is the story of a man named Job, who lived over 1500 years before Jesus Christ.  The Bible says that Job was “blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil”.  Nevertheless, God allowed Job to suffer as few men or women have before or since, losing both his wealth and his children.  Job is left to ask the question we all ask when we suffer for no apparent reason: “Why?  What did I do to deserve this?”

 

The story goes on to recount how Job has three friends who come to “comfort” him, but they aren’t much help.  In effect, they insist that Job is really suffering because of his own bad choices, and all he has to do to turn the situation around is to ‘fess up.  This only intensifies Job’s suffering.  In fact, the term “Job’s counselors” has become a euphemism for people who respond insensitively and simplistically to the suffering of someone else.  At the end of the story, God gives His evaluation of their “comfort’ by saying, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right as my servant Job has.”  Whatever else we might say about God’s dealings with evil and suffering in the world, this makes it clear that He does not respond to it simplistically or insensitively.

 

Since each situation is unique, it is not possible to give a “one size fits all” answer to this question.  Nevertheless, there are a few things we can say that can give us some of the elements of an answer to our specific situation:

 

1.      We need to recognize that if God were to deal decisively with evil in the world, He would have to deal with us as well.  As Alexander Solzhenitsyn has said, “The line between good and evil in the world is not a line that separates good people from evil people, but a line that goes right through every human heart.”  Part of my heart is on the wrong side of that line too.

 

2.      God understands unjust suffering very well, because His Son, Jesus Christ, suffered unjustly.  In fact, the Bible says that Jesus’ heart was totally on the right side of the line mentioned by Solzhenitsyn, and yet He suffered the death of a common criminal.

 

3.      God understands and empathizes with our suffering.  He does not take it lightly, nor does He give simplistic answers.  “For He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds, curing their pain and their sorrows”, according to the Bible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CONCLUSION

 

When Pilate asked the question, “What is truth?” he probably had little idea just how important a question he raised, though he was most likely very uncomfortable with Jesus’ claim that prompted the question:  “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”  Over the centuries, Jesus has been summarily dismissed as a liar or a madman, or simply as just a good man (an ironic assessment, since if his claims are not true, he was most likely a liar and possibly a madman, and anything but a good man).  But if these arguments about the nature and content of truth hold water, his claims can’t be dismissed that easily.  At the very least, he deserves a good hearing from “everyone on the side of truth.”


 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

a)      Barr, Stephen; “Retelling the Story of Science”; First Things; March, 2003 www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft303/articles/barr.html

b)      Barr, Stephen; Modern Physics and Ancient Faith; Notre Dame Press

c)       Behe, Dembski, Meyer; Science and Evidence for Intelligent Design in the Universe; The Proceedings of the Wethersfield Institute; Ignatius Press

d)      Glynn, Patrick; God – The Evidence; Forum – Prima Publishing

e)      Lewis, C.S.; Mere Christianity; Collier Books, Macmillan Publishing Co.

f)        McLaren, Brian; Finding Faith; Zondervan

g)      Schaeffer, Francis; He Is There and He Is Not Silent; Tyndale House Publishers

h)      Schaeffer, Francis; The God Who Is There

i)        Schaeffer, Henry F.; Science and Christianity: Conflict or Coherence? University of Georgia

j)         Strobel, Lee; The Case for Faith

k)      Strobel, Lee; The Case for Christ

 

 

 

John Ed Robertson

Wayne, PA

March 2005

 

 

This article is the compilation of three articles that originally appeared separately.

 

John Ed Robertson formerly worked as a nuclear power engineer and is now serving as a Regional Field Leader with the Navigators, an interdenominational Christian organization whose focus is on helping those with questions about Christianity figure out not only what Christianity means but also what it means to live out the Christian faith as a follower of Christ.  John Ed is a highly respected writer and thinker, and his articles have a wide circulation.

He can be reached at jnrobertson@ix.netcom.com.