An ultimate authority… everybody has one, even though many may not even be aware of it.
When Christians and skeptics engage in discussions regarding worldviews, both sides offer their opinions, and there is generally very little agreement. Who’s right? Who gets to decide? One side might seem to have better arguments, but then, that’s an opinion as well. Do we go with whomever has the best facts on their side? In reality, we all have the same facts, but facts don’t speak for themselves. They have to be interpreted in order to give them any kind of real meaning. Let’s think about this a bit.
What’s the average distance from the Earth to the sun? About 93 million miles. That distance is the same for both skeptics and Christians. What’s the mass of an electron? It’s 9.1 x 10–31 kg. The mass is the same for both skeptics and Christians. When was the American Civil War? April 12, 1861, through May 9, 1865. Again, it’s the same timeframe for both skeptics and Christians. I think you get the point. One other example would be all of the sedimentary layers in the Earth. All people, whether skeptics or Christians, can look at the same layers and the same fossils. It’s just a “raw fact” that they exist. How they got there is another question altogether. None of us were around to see their origin. We just observe them existing in the present. As I mentioned, all facts must be interpreted in order to give them any kind of significant meaning. The way we interpret facts, however, is by using our existing worldview.
What’s a worldview? It’s basically a set of beliefs and assumptions (presupposed to be true) that we use to make sense of the world around us. Because we use our own worldview to interpret “facts,” we will naturally tend to interpret things in such a way as to be consistent with what we already believe to be true. Because of this phenomenon, the key in any discussion between a skeptic and a Christian is not so much the “facts” but the validity of the worldview being used to interpret those facts. You would certainly agree that if your beginning assumptions are wrong, you will almost always come to the wrong conclusion about whatever it is you are contemplating.
Another way of looking at all of this is that this concerns the idea of an “ultimate authority.” For Christians, the ultimate authority is Scripture. Logically, if God exists and He authored what we find in the Bible, then whatever the Bible says is true; whether we like it or not and whether we understand it or not. It’s the ultimate authority for all we think and do. Whenever an issue arises, whether it’s a question of same-sex marriage, abortion, transgenderism, etc., our first response should be to ask ourselves, “What does God’s Word have to say about this?” If someone else states they believe two men should be able to get married, you can ask them, “How did you come to that conclusion? What source of authority are you appealing to in order to justify your opinion?” In many cases they will respond by saying something like, “Well, I think they have a right to do so.” In this case, they are simply conveying what they think is fair based on their own reasoning. At this point (considering same-sex marriage), the skeptic’s “ultimate authority” becomes their own reasoning. The next two questions should be: “how do you know you can trust your reasoning? And “why should others adhere to your reasoning and not just use their own thoughts or some other standard?”
As Christians, we should not simply be sharing “our opinion” and expecting everyone else to bow to our moral superiority, but rather, pointing others to something that can be defended as being a true “Ultimate Authority.” We should further let the skeptic know that if they take issue with what we are saying, they really don’t have an issue with us directly but with the Word of God.
This all leads to an obvious question… how do we know the Bible is truly the inspired, inerrant Word of God? It’s a great question, and unfortunately, it is one that too many Christians can’t answer.
Why are you a Christian?
Because I believe the Bible.
Why do you believe the Bible?
Because I’m a Christian!
(and round and round it goes)
When further pressed as to how they actually know the Bible is from God, many respond by stating: they just know it is, they feel it is, they just believe it is, it works for them, etc. These answers really aren’t reasons and certainly aren’t reasons anyone else should believe in, including our own children (and many Christian youth walk away from their faith, because they are ill-prepared to defend the “set of beliefs” they are handed by their parents or pastor).
I have an entire presentation in which I answer this question directly, going into multiple lines of evidence that very powerfully show the Bible is exactly what it claims to be… the Word of God who not only created the entire universe but has a plan for our lives, both now and for the future. Discussing these evidences is always eye-opening and encouraging to Christians, strengthening their faith greatly. However, it can also be a bit discouraging. Here’s what I mean. While they are generally encouraged hearing that all this great evidence exists, they feel they could never remember much of it in order to effectively defend their faith when confronted by a skeptic.
Here’s the good news… there’s an even better way of defending your faith, and it doesn’t require memorizing a lot of technical facts or having advanced degrees in physics or Greek and Hebrew.
In this brief article, I will not have time to develop this in any depth. I will only be able to describe it in general terms and point you to a resource for further detail.
This is how it works in general. Everyone starts somewhere with their beliefs. It’s impossible not to. We call this our starting point or our presuppositions. These are things that can’t really be proven. If they could be proven, they would not be your starting point… whatever you used to “prove” them would be. For example, if you said idea “A” is your starting point, but you believe “A” because of “B,” you are really starting with the assumption that “B” is true, in order to prove or defend belief in “A.” (Might sound complex, but it’s really not.)
Since starting points (or presuppositions) can’t be proven, we don’t attempt to prove them, but simply “take them out for a test drive” to see how well they work when trying to explain the real world around us. Jumping to the punchline (skipping the very interesting details for now), when we do this (i.e., take various worldviews for a “test drive”), we find out that unless a person starts with the Christian worldview (that God exists and the Bible is His inspired Word), not only can you not make sense of the most fundamental things in the world around us, but you technically can’t actually prove anything!
This might sound strange, but only the Christian worldview gives us a true basis for things like why logic exists, why there is so much consistency in the physical universe that science is even possible, why “information” exists, or why there is something such as absolute morality.
I will be speaking on this topic at the Strategic Perspectives Conference in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, October 27–29, 2016. The title of my talk is “Faith is Not a Four-Letter Word.” It’s a conference you don’t want to miss! Our ministry (Creation Education Center, CECwisc.com) carries this talk on DVD, but it will be even better live. Plus, you’ll get to hear a lot of other great speakers and leave with a renewed passion for your faith and a strong desire and ability to share it with those around you! You won’t be disappointed! Hope to see you there!