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Four Steps Backward

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
March 7, 2023 12:01 am

Four Steps Backward

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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March 7, 2023 12:01 am

In their attempts to deny the existence of God, many atheists violate basic logic--and we must be willing and able to call them on it. Today, R.C. Sproul outlines four foundations to knowledge that are necessary for any reasonable discussion.

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One of the most important aspects of the resurrection in the New Testament is that it's not that on Easter morning people came to the tomb and found the tomb empty and then therefore drew an inference from an empty tomb saying, he must be risen because we can't find him.

No, the testimony of the New Testament on Christ's resurrection does not rest upon inferences drawn from an empty tomb, but rather from eyewitness testimony. If you were to listen to the world, you would get the impression that to be a Christian, to believe in God is to be irrational, to be a non-thinker, but in reality the opposite is true. Hi, I'm Nathan W. Bingham and thank you for joining us this week on Renewing Your Mind. Becoming a Christian is not a blind leap of faith, and neither should it be in apologetics as we're giving a defense of our faith, and that's why this week Dr. Sproul has been taking us through his series Defending Your Faith, and today he's going to help us understand how we know what we know.

Here's Dr. Sproul. And we're engaged in the task of apologetics, of giving an intellectual defense of the truth claims of Christianity. One of the first things that we have to grapple with in terms of our strategy of developing an intellectual defense has to do with the science of epistemology. And I know that's a strange sounding word to many people, so I'm going to take a few moments today to explain what epistemology is and why it is so important to the whole science of apologetics. So let's put the word on the board, epistemology, E-P-I-S-T-E-M-O-L-O-G-Y. Epistemology is that subdivision of philosophy that focuses its attention on this basic question that's so important, how do we know what we know? How can we verify or falsify claims to truth?

We're dealing with this all the time. I say something to you, and you say, well, how do you know? And I say, well, I know because, and I give a defense, I give a reason, and I try to substantiate that claim by appealing to some basis of knowledge. And some people say, well, I don't believe in God because God is invisible, and unless I can see Him, taste Him, touch Him, smell Him, or hear Him, I'm not going to believe in Him. Because that person says, as far as I'm concerned, the only knowledge that is adequate knowledge is knowledge that can be tested through one or more of the five senses. Another person says, well, wait a minute, I'm from Missouri, and even if I see it, I'm not going to believe it unless you can demonstrate it to me with the kind of certainty you get from mathematics, because I know eyewitnesses to things. People are often mistaken, and they are deceived by what they think they see.

They hallucinate and so on. And so the only proof I will submit to is of the rational sort, of the formal sort, such as you get in mathematics, at the level of two plus two equals four. And so that first group of people are people who put the accent on the senses.

The second group that I've just mentioned put the accent on the mind and on the processes of formal reason. And so when we come to the question of truth, we have to say, well, what are the elements that are necessary for us to know that anything is true? Now, there have been many different approaches to this question of epistemology, and particularly as it relates to apologetics. Some people have argued that the only adequate apologetic is one that is rooted and grounded in historical information that is known through the five senses. Others say no, that's a less than adequate method. The only real way to prove the existence of God is through rational deduction.

And others say a pox on both your houses. The only real way you can know about God is through assuming it at the outset as a necessary presupposition for all knowledge and so on. And so there's a difference in the house here of what mixture of these concerns are necessary in order to establish a sound defense of the Christian faith. Now, I'm going to come at this somewhat backwards.

I'm coming at it backwards in two senses, and the first way I'm coming at it backwards is as follows. Many years ago, when I was teaching a senior-level course in seminary in Philadelphia at Temple University, I had an elective course for my students on historic atheism. And in that course, as a matter of academic requirements, I required that the students read the primary sources from the most formidable atheists of Western theoretical thought, people like John Stuart Mill, people like Karl Marx, people like Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Walter Kaufmann, and others. And as we examined the primary sources of these prodigious scholars who were atheists, we paid close attention to the way in which these opponents of theism established their negative case.

And by looking at this from the back door, I noticed a pattern emerging. And the pattern that emerged was this, that I found that virtually every one of these atheistic thinkers or philosophers at one point or another in their arguments against theism attacked one or more of four basic epistemological premises. And let me explain what they are. The four foundational principles of knowing that were attacked either in part or in whole by the atheists were, first of all, the law of non-contradiction, or sometimes called the law of contradiction.

That is, in order to destroy the case for God, some philosophers argue against the very foundational laws of reason itself, such as the law of contradiction. The second one, which was quite often attacked, as we will see later, is the law of causality, or sometimes called the law of cause and effect. And we will look separately at that element of epistemology. The third one that was attacked was what I call the principle of the basic reliability of sense perception. Now what we're talking about when I talk about sense perception is what I said a few moments ago. Our senses, our five senses, how we see with our eyes or hear with our ears or touch with our hands or smell or so on, those are the senses.

And I right now am seeing this gentleman over here in the first row, and I am having a perception of him through my eyes. That's a sense perception. And though I may be deceived, and he may be a Fig Newton of my imagination, I still have a basic trust in the basic reliability of my senses.

I don't have to believe in the perfect reliability of my senses, but at least they are basically reliable. And so that's the third principle. And the fourth one, which may sound very strange and arcane to you, is what I call the analogical use of language. Now I'm going to take the time to develop each one of these four and demonstrate why they are so crucial to any serious defense of Christian truth claims. But all I'm doing at this point is saying that by the back door, by looking at the critiques offered by the most formidable opponents of Christianity and of theism historically, what I've said is that the pattern that emerges by atheists or from atheists is that they will negotiate usually one and usually more than one of these four principles of knowledge. And the reason I want to list them at that is that I try to encourage Christians who are seeking to defend the Christian faith to be very careful at this point in developing their own defense of Christianity that they never negotiate any one of these four principles because if they do, they are giving ground that may be fatal to their case to the non-believer. And I also have to add, as an aside and as a parenthesis, that there are many Christian apologetic systems out there that in fact do negotiate one or more of these premises or principles, which I think is a very serious error in their approach to apologetics.

Now I said that there were two backward ways in which I sought to establish these non-negotiable principles of knowledge, and one was by the inductive process of examining historic atheists and see how they proceed, see what their assumptions are in their development of their arguments and see whether those assumptions are in fact sound. The other premise that I adopted was to look and see what epistemological premises are assumed and used regularly by sacred Scripture, because in the final analysis, it is the Scripture that is our final authority as Christians. And the Bible, though it is massively concerned about truth and about ultimate truth, is not a technical textbook on epistemology. The Bible doesn't give us a philosophical analysis of how rationality relates to sense perception or how sense perception relates to the analogical use of language. We don't get that kind of stuff in the Bible. And yet as we examine the Scriptures and how the Scriptures proceed, we see that there are certain assumptions, or what I'm going to call here, presuppositions, prior assumptions that the Bible makes in communicating its content to whomever hears it.

And those assumptions or suppositions are suppositions that come from God Himself that I assume, therefore, are built in to the creature as God has made the creature as a thinking creature, as a sensing creature, as a communicating creature, and so on. And we see, for example, that in the Bible there is a tacit assumption of the validity of the law of non-contradiction, because it is assumed that truth is not contradictory and that there is a discernible difference between obedience and disobedience, between righteousness and unrighteousness, between Christ and the Antichrist. And therefore, we are held accountable by our Maker, for if God tells us to do A, that that means we are not allowed to disobey that by doing non-A. That is, we are not permitted to behave in a manner that contradicts what God commands or contradicts what He forbids. So that in order to be obedient to the Word of God in the first instance, one has to operate within the framework of the law of non-contradiction. For without the law of non-contradiction, not a sentence in Scripture would ultimately be intelligible. Now, I'm going to try to demonstrate that further in our next session.

But for now, again, we're just doing a reconnaissance over the landscape here to show you the basic premises that you ought never to negotiate. Now, what about the law of causality? Is that assumed in sacred Scripture? Well, every time an appeal is made, for example, in the Bible to the evidential value of a miracle, there is the assumption of the reliability of the law of causality. If Jesus says to His disciples, if you don't believe My words, believe Me for My worksake. Or when Nicodemus came to Jesus at night and said, teacher, we know that you are a teacher sent from God, or you would not have been able to do the works that you do. Now, what Nicodemus was saying is that I'm connecting the dots here, I'm saying that there has to be a supernatural divine cause behind the works that you are performing, or those works could not be done. And I happen to think that Nicodemus was reasoning in a sound manner at that point. But again, when the Bible says, look, here's the miracle, Christ comes out of the grave, the dead rise, and we are supposed to draw conclusions from that of a divine cause for the resurrection. If we say that anything can cause anything, or that anything can happen even without a cause, then the evidentiary value of the resurrection, or any of the miracles of Christ, or any of the miracles of the Old Testament saints would have no value.

So that from page one in the Scripture to the end, there is this assumption of the law of causality, which again, I will develop more fully in a separate lecture and show how the law of causality is so vital to Christian apologetics. Third, the basic reliability of sense perception. Again, even if we grant that we can be deceived with our senses, St. Augustine, for example, used a famous example to illustrate the limits of the reliability of sense perception with his famous bent-or analogy.

The bent-or analogy was taken from those who used oars in their vessels that they would take out on the lake, rowboats as it were in antiquity, and you've all been in rowboats, where you put your oar in the water in the middle of the noonday sun, and you look down into the water where you can see the blade of the oar beneath the surface of the water, and from where you're sitting, it looks as sure as anything that the oar is bent because of the refraction of light and so on. And so from your perspective, sitting in the boat, and if you didn't know anything about the laws of light and refraction and all that sort of thing, you would come to the conclusion that you had a bent-or. And that's the way in which our sense perceptions can deceive us. I look at this audience that is here today, and if I put my thumb up in front of my eye like an artist who is measuring perspective and distance and so on, and I close my left eye and put my thumb in front of my right eye, and I see the gentleman in the back row, and I see that my thumbnail now conceals his whole head, I could come to the conclusion that that's Tom Thumb back there in the back row, that his head is not as big as my thumbnail.

But again, that's a matter of perspective and depth perception that we learn to adjust for all the time. And all that does is indicate the limits of sense perception. There are sounds out there that my dog can hear that I can't hear. But nevertheless, you know, those sounds are there. Of course, you have the old argument that the philosophers make, if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make any sound?

Or the even more modern version of that philosophical conundrum is that if a man says something in the forest and there's no woman there to hear him, is he still wrong? This has to do with the basic reliability of sense perception. Well, you see, if our senses are basically unreliable, then we could draw no true conclusions from what we observe or what we hear or what we handle.

And this, of course, would be the end of the physical natural sciences that we are dealing with today that rely so heavily upon sense perception. And of course, science has long been well aware of the limits of sensation and limits of sense perception. That's why some of the greatest breakthroughs in the scientific world have come through improved equipment that extend our ability to perceive, such as the microscope that makes us see things that are invisible to the naked eye and make us aware of all kinds of things that are really there that are invisible to the naked eye. But once we place them under the microscope, we see what was previously unseen.

Likewise, the telescope has radically changed our perception of the vastness of the universe because things that could not be seen by the naked eye are now clearly perceived through the use of that machine or that instrument that enhances our sense perception. But this is what the writers of the New Testament, Peter, for example, have already mentioned said, brethren, we declare to you not cleverly designed myths, but we declare to you what we have seen with our eyes and what we have heard with our ears. One of the most important aspects of the importance of the resurrection in the New Testament is that it's not that on Easter morning people came to the tomb and found the tomb empty and then therefore drew an inference from an empty tomb saying, he must be risen because we can't find him. Because there would be other alternative explanations for a missing body, and certainly the last one you would reach reasonably would be that he had been raised.

No, the testimony of the New Testament on Christ's resurrection does not rest upon inferences drawn from an empty tomb, but rather from eyewitness testimony. We have seen him, and that's why we declare these things to you as eyewitnesses. And so the Bible appeals constantly to the basic reliability of sense perception in order to make its case about reality. Finally, is this very arcane idea of the analogical use of language. Now, that may sound a little bit technical, but it's simply taken from the word analogy. And we know what an analogy is.

I trust that something is like something else, and we point to similarities between two things in order to describe them. And the reason why this is so important is that many people argue that because God is different from us ultimately, that any attempt that we have to speak about Him must be so much mumbo-jumbo because human language is never adequate to describe or to speak meaningfully about a transcendent being. In fact, this has been the focal point of much of the criticism against Christianity in 20th century philosophy, arguing that religious statements don't tell us anything about external reality, they just tell us about ourselves.

They are only emotive statements. They describe our emotions, our religious feelings, but they have no counterpart in objective reality because language, human language, is inherently incapable of rising above the realm of humanity to speak meaningfully about a transcendent being. And so if Christianity is going to survive these attacks that come at the basis of language, we have to be able to construct some point of analogy, some sense in which God is like us in order for there to be meaningful discourse about Him.

That's why, for example, in the very beginning of the Bible, it is asserted that God creates man in His own image and in His likeness, that there is an analogy there between the Creator and the creature that makes discussions about Him possible. Well, we'll look at each one of these individually in the days to come so we can explore more fully how important each is to the defense of the Christian faith. Isn't it encouraging that we don't need to be afraid of scientific or rational scrutiny of the Christian faith, but the very things that the world, the enemy, seeks to use to oppose Christianity actually support and prove the reality of the Christian faith. This week on Renewing Your Mind, Dr. Sproul is going to continue taking us through the art and the discipline of apologetics in his series Defending Your Faith. But I would encourage you to respond today to request the entire series.

In total, it's 32 messages across 11 DVDs. Not only will Dr. Sproul make the case for the existence of God, he's going to think through things like, why are there atheists? Have you ever wondered why there are atheists when the Bible says that everyone believes there's a God? When you make your gift today at, not only will we send you the complete DVD set, we'll give you digital access to the audio and the video, as well as a digital study guide. So make your donation today at or by calling us at 800-435-4343. Having grown up as an atheist, I can remember as a new Christian having so many questions about the Christian faith and how it's possible that a thinking person could be a thinking Christian. And I wish I had a series like Dr. Sproul's Defending Your Faith back then. So I commend it to you and encourage you to request your copy at Tomorrow, Dr. Sproul is going to demonstrate how logic is not in contradiction with Christianity and how the Word of God itself is not irrational. So I look forward to you joining us tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-07 06:31:45 / 2023-03-07 06:40:14 / 8

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