This Time It’s Personal

Those who “freed science from Moses” rejected true science.

One of the most underrated aspects of theology is the importance to God of legal witness. Not only is it rarely spoken about in evangelical circles but it is rarely mentioned as an answer to the scientistic objections of the day.

The first legal witness was supposed to be Eve’s song of triumph over the defeat of the serpent. The second was to be the double witness of Cain and Abel after Cain ruled over sin. Instead, there was a deathly silence in the Garden, and the witness of blood crying from the ground in the Land.

The concept of a double witness, that is, a corroborated story, is a common one in the Bible. Not only is the Law itself a double witness (two tablets) but the Law is given twice (two sets of tablets, then Moses giving and re-giving the Law). One wonderful example is Saul’s failure to heed the words of Samuel. When things began to fall apart, Saul consulted a witch who raised up the spirit of Samuel, who told Saul exactly what he told him when he was alive.

“If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead…” (Luke 16:31)

In his recent book, A Shot of Faith [to the Head], Mitch Stokes had me cheering when he brought to the fore the importance of witness to our understanding of faith.

Even if we grant that evidentialism is false and concede that we don’t—indeed cannot—have arguments for all of our beliefs, there’s still a vast difference between science, say, and belief in God. Science earns its knowledge through honest toil, whereas religious beliefs are gotten on the cheap—by a mere blind leap. Faith is too easy, according to Christopher Hitchens, too facile:

If one must have faith in order to believe something, or believe in something, then the likelihood of that something having any truth or value is considerably diminished. The harder work of inquiry, proof, and demonstration is infinitely more rewarding, and has confronted us with findings far more “miraculous” and “transcendent” than any theology.

And even if it turned out that what we believe by faith was true, whatever pleasure we gained from that fact would be a stolen one.

This supposes, of course, that Hitchens knew what faith is and how it differs from science. The difference between science and faith is fairly clear from his comment. When he used the terms “proof,” and “demonstration,” he meant—if he many anything specific—argument or inference. Believing by way of an argument is considerably more reliable than believing without one.

Naturally, that’s entirely wrong. It’s old news (to you now) that many of our most important and reliable beliefs are held on the basis of experience, not by way of “proofs” or “demonstrations.” Like everyone else, scientists need noninferential basic beliefs. So, lack of evidential support (i.e., the presence of basic beliefs) isn’t the difference between faith and science.

What is the difference then? And more pressing, what exactly is faith? …

Hitchens and other atheists would doubtless agree with Archie Bunker: “Faith is something that you believe that nobody in his right mind would believe.” Or maybe they think, as Mark Twain did, that faith is “believing what you know ain’t so.” But, not surprisingly, we find a slightly different view of faith when we look at Scripture.

Take, for example, the Bible’s portrayal of Abraham. The substance of Abraham’s faith was that he simply believed what God told him, despite the apparent improbabilities (Romans 4; Hebrews 11:8-11). Biblical faith is taking God at His word, trusting what He says. Faith is believing God’s testimony.

And this is the sense of “faith” that John Locke used in the original context of evidentialism. For Locke, faith is “the assent to any proposition, not thus made out by the deductions of reason, but upon the credit of the proposer, as coming from God in some extraordinary way of communicating.” Faith, again, is believing something on the say-so of God himself, rather than by way of an argument (i.e., rather than “by the deductions of reason”). Although I might be able to impressively argue that Jesus is the Son of God, if I believed this doctrine only by way of my arguments, I wouldn’t be simply taking God at his word. I wouldn’t believe by way of faith, but, rather, by way of reason…

We can now define “faith” as follows:

Faith is believing something by way of testimony. [1]

So, atheists insist on an “impersonal” universe due to lack of evidence of a personal Creator, yet this is exactly the point. We are called to believe the witness of the prophets and apostles, and of Christ and His Spirit, precisely because the nature of reality is personal. The rejection of the Bible is a personal slur against God, who not only speaks but is the truth, and can swear only by Himself because there is none greater. Atheism thus rejects the testimony, the “legal witness,” and demands impersonal evidence. Scientism objectifies everything in Creation and then seeks to objectify God. The problem is not a lack of evidence at all. There is plenty. The problem is personal—a hatred of God and His Words.

What it boils down to is this: God deliberately hides Himself from the disobedient, as He hid himself from Saul. Those who will not hear will never see. Those who “freed science from Moses” condemned true science. [2] When they do see, it will be because it is too late. This is the substance of Jesus’ testimony before the High Priest, and it is the pattern of events in the first century (the apostolic witness):

But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that “by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” (Matthew 18:16)

Now after the three-and-a-half days the breath of life from God entered them [the two witnesses], and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” And they ascended to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them. (Revelation 11:11-12)

It will be the same at the Last Day, only worse. Christopher Hitchens rejected not only Moses, but also the Christ who rose from the dead, testified, ascended to heaven and testifies now by His Spirit.

“Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men.” (Matthew 12:31)

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[1] Mitch Stokes, A Shot of Faith [to the Head], pp. 29-31.
[2] See Charles Lyell’s Hidden Agenda.

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