Reasoning in a Circle

“Once again, we are faced with the undeniable fact that our worldview is rooted in faith. Each one of us assumes the ultimate metaphysical yardstick by which we measure any claims made about reality. Both the Christian and Non- Christian have their presuppositions. Every person’s worldview is built upon some set of non-negotiable assumptions. There are no neutral presuppositions. The criterion we use to judge whether or not another view is true is contained within our present worldview. Those who hold non-Christian presuppositions will embrace an authority other than the Bible by faith.

Many people insist that there is a logical problem with Christian believers operating upon the basic assumptions that God does in fact exist and that the Bible is His authoritative Word. After all they ask, do not these assumptions beg the very questions under consideration? Do Christians reason in a circle if they assume Christianity is true in order to prove Christianity is true?

There is no question that Christianity does, in fact, presuppose God’s existence as described within the Bible to try and make a case for the truth-claims found within those very same scriptures. But one must not forget that this is true of all other worldviews as well. It is no more illegitimate for the Christian to presuppose God’s existence than it is for the non-Christian to assume his non-existence.

Everyone accepts certain starting points in their thinking. Our presuppositions establish the boundaries of what we consider to be possible. They set the limits of what we will accept as evidence for proof or reject as non- evidence. Christians presuppose biblical truth as the ultimate standard by which they test other views. This is simply being consistent with the Christian belief system, since the Bible claims to be the authoritative Word of God.

Man is not permitted to test God’s Word with his finite reasoning. (Deut. 6:16) Since God’s Word is ultimate authority then scripture can only be tested with other scripture. Obedience to scripture’s mandate requires Christians to exercise faithfulness in their reasoning. We must assume that God exists as revealed in the Bible, and then measure its claims against its own authority.

This circumstance is not unique to Christianity. Everyone claims to know whether something is true or not by measuring it against some kind of assumed standard within their existing belief system. For example, empiricists believe that knowledge is derived from experience, whether of the physical senses or mind. This is why the empiricist will accept scientific investigation as a valid method to prove that something is real. Rationalists, on the other hand, assume that human reason alone serves as the ultimate standard for knowledge. The rationalist will point to knowledge of logic, mathematics, and ethics to show that knowledge can be obtained apart from experience. In each case the individual’s worldview determines the standard used to truth-test other views. Everyone is in the position of assuming an ultimate standard in order to prove that self-same standard.

Ultimate standards are self-attesting. Ultimate standards for truth must be permitted to stand (or fall) on their own. There is no logical problem with Christians accepting the authority of the Bible upon its own testimony as God’s Word. If the Bible is God’s very own Word then His Word would be the ultimate standard for truth and there could not possibly be any other authority used to test it. Lesser authorities cannot be used to test greater authorities.

Whether one’s theory of knowledge is grounded in demonstrative reasoning, common sense, or something else, this, and not scripture becomes the ultimate authority of the one who adheres to it. It becomes more sure than the sure Word of God. The scripture teaches us that scripture itself is to be our authority (2 Pet 1:19,21; 2 Tim 3:16,17; 1 John 5:9; 1 Thess 2:13). If scripture is the final authority, and if one proves the authority of scripture on the basis of something else other than scripture, then one proves the scripture is not the final authority. In other words, to prove the authority of scripture on something other than scripture is to disprove scripture.

If it is wrong for Christians to presuppose what the Bible claims to be then it is just as wrong for those who hold contrary views to arbitrarily adopt standards they assume are self-validating. Worldviews are not neutral and everyone who judges the Bible’s credibility will scrutinize it with the basic beliefs contained within their own worldview. So if each of us regard the presuppositions within our worldview as ultimate then those presuppositions will have to justify themselves in the end.

Christianity’s truth-claims ultimately rest upon the authority of the scripture itself. The Bible must stand on its own testimony. The fact that one’s belief system may allow for historical accuracy in some parts of the biblical record does not prove the Bible is the very Word of God. Even if every natural detail of the Bible could be corroborated with extra-biblical, historical or archeological evidence there still would not be any way to empirically authenticate all of its metaphysical assertions or justify the writers’ interpretations. To prove certain isolated biblical facts does not validate biblical Christianity as a belief system. Only by taking the whole Bible (including its integrated history-theology) and demonstrating it to be the absolute standard necessary for interpreting all of reality (as it claims) can it be proven true.

When it comes to their ultimate standards, both the Christian and the non-Christian reason in a circle. It is critical to understand, however, that “Christian circularity and non-Christian circularity are radically different. The former provides the fulfillment of man’s purpose on earth, and the latter throws the unbeliever into a whirl of inconsistencies and self-contradictions.”

Indeed, it is the case, as many will be quick to point out, that this presuppositional method of apologetics assumes the truth of scripture in order to argue for the truth of scripture. Such is unavoidable when ultimate truths are being debated. However, such is not damaging, for it is not a flat circle in which one reasons (i.e., ” the Bible is true because the Bible is true”). Rather, the Christian apologist simply recognizes that the ultimate truth – that which is more pervasive, fundamental, and necessary – is such that it cannot be argued independently of the pre-conditions inherent in it. One must presuppose the truth of God’s revelation in order to reason at all – even when reasoning about God’s revelation. The fact that the apologist presupposes the Word of God in order to carry on a discussion or to debate about the veracity of that word does not nullify his argument, but rather illustrates it.

It is not possible for anyone, including Christians, to lay aside their most basic beliefs while attempting to justify their most basic beliefs. Everyone has certain fundamental beliefs they will not lay aside, even as they attempt to justify those very same beliefs. The Bible is presented to man as the self-attesting, self-authenticating Word of God. This assumption is at the very heart of Christianity’s theology and defense of the faith. The Word of God stands upon its own authority.”

(Farinaccio, Faith with Reasons)

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