A Puritan Prayer - Repentance

Tim Challies posted the following prayer here.

O God of Grace,

You have imputed my sin to my substitute, and have imputed his righteousness to my soul, clothing me with a bridegroom’s robe, decking me with jewels of holiness. But in my Christian walk I am still in rags; my best prayers are stained with sin; my penitential tears are so much impurity; my confessions of wrong are so many aggravations of sin; my receiving the Spirit is tinctured with selfishness.

I need to repent of my repentance; I need my tears to be washed; I have no robe to bring to cover my sins, no loom to weave my own righteousness; I am always standing clothed in filthy garments, and by grace am always receiving change of raiment, for you always justify the ungodly; I am always going into the far country, and always returning home as a prodigal, always saying, “Father, forgive me,” and you are always bringing forth the best robe.

Every morning let me wear it, every evening return in it, go out to the day’s work in it, be married in it, be wound in death in it, stand before the great white throne in it, enter heaven in it shining as the sun.

Grant me never to lose sight of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the exceeding righteousness of salvation, the exceeding glory of Christ, the exceeding beauty of holiness, the exceeding wonder of grace.


The Bible as God's Word

Some internet debate opponents accuse me of circular reasoning. The statement I am accused of making goes like this: The Bible claims to be God’s Word so it is God’s Word. That is “begging the question,” where the conclusion is true only if the premise is true. However, the actual argument put forth by Christians is linear and logical. In bullet point form, it goes like this:

• The Bible is good history (The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell).

• We can trust what the Bible says about Jesus because it is based on eyewitness testimony (Luke 1:1-4, 2 Peter 1:16, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Richard Baukham). The lives of these eyewitnesses were radically changed by what they saw (Jesus and the Victory of God by N, T,. Wright).

• Jesus claimed to be God. He said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Thomas said, “My Lord and my God,” and Jesus did not correct him (John 20:26-31).

• Jesus worked miracles and proved Himself to be God (John 14: 9-11).

• Jesus affirmed the truth of God’s Word. He said, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). He said, in prayer to God, “Thy word is truth” (John 17:17).

• Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to help the apostles remember and truthfully relate the events in the Bible (John 16:13-15).

• We have a Bible we can trust. It gives us God’s truth and equips us for faith and service (2 Tim. 3:15-17).

The basic tenor of this argument is taken from two sources, When Skeptics Ask by Norman Geisler and Reason to Believe by R. C. Sproul.

As R. C. Sproul pointed out in a recent lecture, if we have established that the Bible is God’s Word, every other issue becomes a matter of “exegesis,” deciding what the Bible says on the issue at hand.

I would love to see your comments on the general approach, the specific points, or the things I have undoubtedly left out.


Thought Processes

How do we know what we know? How do we know what is true? How do we evaluate one idea against another? How do we interpret the information our senses provide us? What do we see? Hear? Touch? Smell? Taste?

These questions fascinate me. I first began to ask questions like this as I studied Human Factors Engineering (HFE) in graduate school. HFE is a branch of engineering that studies how a human being interacts with their environment, usually with respect to how we obtain information and how we perform work. We looked at basic types of mistakes that people make, the way we obtain information from our senses, the way we process that information, the way we decide to act, and the way we activate machine controls to act on that processed information. The field includes ergonomics, but it includes much more than that.

One of the things we learned right off the bat was that the way we interact with our environment is a process. Think of a black box with arrows going into the left side for what goes into the process (inputs) and arrows coming out of the right side for what comes out of the process (outputs). The box itself is a set of steps that are followed in sequence on the inputs to reach the outputs.

I had never thought of knowledge being the result, or output, of a process until those classes. I began to read widely on the subject, both within my field and outside it. I came across the branch of philosophy know as epistemology very quickly. According to Wikipedia, epistemology is “the branch of philosophy that studies the nature, methods, limitations, and validity of knowledge and belief.” This field fascinates me, and I plan to pursue an education in philosophy as my time and resources allow.

The thing that interests me at this point is the skepticism many philosophers have with regard to knowledge. Wikipedia defines philosophical skepticism as a field that “poses the question of whether knowledge, in the first place, is possible.” I find it amazing how many modern or post-modern philosophers do not believe we can find knowledge about the outside world at all. From Hume’s skepticism with regard to sense perception and empirical knowledge to Reid’s reaction to Hume, the field is amazing to me.

I do not want to go too far into the issue, but I do want to point out something. I have been taught to see knowledge and rational thought as processes, and I believe that they are. Any process that reaches an organized output requires someone to set it up and keep it going. From assembly lines to creation itself, processes require a processor. A process must be designed, or it does not lead to purposeful outcomes. That includes the process of knowledge and the process of thought.

As John M. Frame puts it here:
Apologists have often noted that we could not know the world at all unless it had been designed for knowledge. If the world were nothing but matter, motion, time, and chance, we would have no reason to think that the ideas in our heads told us anything about the real world. Only if a person had designed
the world to be known, and the human mind to know it, could knowledge be possible…without God the data of our experience suggesting order and causality are unintelligible…So if creation presupposes God, even the denial of creation presupposes him …

We cannot deny that logic reflects reality or that knowledge is possible. Any such denials are forced and temporary. R. C. Sproul and Norman Geisler both argue this persuasively, as if it needs to be argued. Frame puts it this way: “You can’t question logic without presupposing it; you can’t argue against the primacy of logic without presupposing it as primary.”

The process of logical thinking and the process of arriving at knowledge from our senses both require a designer. We need a designer who possesses creativity and intention. We need a designer that does not change his thinking himself. If his thinking process changed, then our process of logical thinking would change as well. Going back to Frame’s writings: “Logic, the laws of nature, and the laws of morality make no sense unless God is presupposed.”

We are left with what one internet apologist states well: “The Absolute God with an absolute mind, has conceived of the logical absolutes. They are a reflection of His mind.”

May we stand in awe of the unchanging, clear-thinking, purposeful, powerful God of the Bible!


Logic, Thought and Steven Hawking

Hawking and Mlodinow’s book The Grand Design is fascinating. It is a look into theoretical physics that I appreciate.

One comment on page 180 seems to be getting all of the press: “Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to envoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.” This problimatic statement is seen as a major victory for atheism. But, I note the comment on page 181: “…perhaps the true miracle is that abstract considerations of logic lead to a unique theory that predicts and describes [the universe].”

Note the reference to logic.  The abstract laws of logic shape the way all of us think. Take one for instance: the law of non-contradiction.

It says that something can not be both A and Non-A at the same time, in the same relationship, and in the same sense.

This law cannot be denied. To deny it is to affirm it. If you say, “The law of non-contradiction does not apply,” you could mean, “The law of non-contradiction does indeed apply.” The meanings would be the same. Gordon H. Clark explains:

If the law of [non] contradiction is curbed, then a collection of letters, w-a-t-e-r, can mean not only sulfuric acid, but also at the same time and in the same sentence, tree, stone, Arcturus, the preposition because, and the cow jumped over the moon, ad infinitum…A word that means everything means nothing. (as quoted here)
This law of logic, which leads to all the others, is undeniable because to question it is to invoke it. That is the only way we can think.

How would an atheist account for these laws?

These abstract laws are not the result of observable behavior of objects or actions. We do not observe the laws of logic occurring in nature. They are not open for scientific exploration and study. We assume that logic’s laws work in order to evaluate scientific evidence. Using science to prove that logic works would be viciously circular.

They are not evolutionary in origin, either. Evolutionary processes governed by natural selection would not necessarily lead to the truth about our world. Natural selection would only encourage behavior that would lead to survival. We could not be certain our beliefs about the world were true, only that they let us live in any given situation. It does not matter whether we believe the tiger could eat us or that we believe that tigers look better from a distance, as long as we run fast, we live.

A Christian can account for the laws of logic by stating that they come from God. God has originated the laws of logic because He thinks logically. The laws of logic are a reflection of God’s mind. They do not change because the God whose thinking they reflect does not change. As Michael Butler puts it:

…the atheistic worldview does not comport with the principles of logic. If atheists were consistent with their worldview, they would give up on logic and rationality altogether. But since they do behave rationally (at least some of the time) this shows that they are borrowing capital from another worldview…Christianity allows for abstract and universal laws. Abstract because the Christian worldview teaches that more things exist than material objects. Thus it makes sense for there to be abstractions. Moreover, the universality of logic is possible because it is grounded in the character of God. God is by nature logical. And this all-powerful, all-knowing God orders all things…

I do not find an adequate explanation for logic and rational thought outside God. Literally, logical thinking drives me inescapably to God’s existence.
Hawking and Mlodinow also employ the laws of science to develop M-theory. The basic uniformity of nature, that things in the future will happen as they have in the past, is a requirement for any kind of knowledge based on scientific experimentation.  But how can we be sure?

I know the future will be basically consistent with the past with respect to physical laws because the God who upholds those laws does not change.

To return to Michael Butler:

That the uniformity of nature is compatible with the Christian worldview is easily proven ... God, who is providentially in control of all events, has revealed to us that we can count on regularities in the natural world. The Bible teaches that God providentially causes the harvest to come in due season, for example. Because of this regularity, we can be assured that scientific endeavors will be fruitful. Thus, far from presupposing the falsity of Christianity, science would be impossible without the truth of the Christian worldview.

How could an athiest be sure that nature will behave the same in the future as it has in the past?  I have no idea.
Hawking and Mlodinow, with their insistence on the use of the laws of logic and their mention of universal physical laws, have not weakened my faith in God. They have affirmed it.


Hawking and God

I checked a copy of The Grand Design by Hawking and Mlodinow out of the library yesterday. After all of the fuss around the internet and in the media, I had to have a look. (See articles here, here, here, and here.

From what I have read on the subject so far, I have two basic questions for Hawking and his proponents.

You have said that something comes from nothing. The cat is out of the bag. You have finally admitted your position. This is a violation of the most fundamental law of science: “Out of nothing, nothing comes.” Positing that the universe follows certain laws does not help because those laws describe the way the universe behaves. How do you have laws to describe what does not exist?

What if we grant your argument? What if the universe came into being because it follows strict natural laws? Where did those laws come from? The best explanation for laws like that is design. The universe behaves in a predictable fashion because God designed it that way.

It seems Hawking is left with more questions unanswered than answered.

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