This Is Apologetics: an Argument from Certainty

Here’s a really compelling argument I heard once from Sye Ten Bruggencate about why we need to presuppose the Bible as revelation from God in order to think that we can know anything at all for certain. It’s slightly modified, but I think it still works.

The Problem with Knowing Things 

If I were to ask you how you knew something, some proposition, that you believe to be true, you would give me a reason for how you know it. Let’s call the thing you know, A, and let’s call the reason you know it (your support for A), B. Now suppose I asked you how you knew B (I’m asking you to support your support for knowing A). You would give me reason as your basis for knowing B. Now, like a curious toddler with a twinkle in his eye, trying to get the goat of an adult, let’s say I continued to ask, “And how do you know that?” I would be asking you to follow the chain of supporting propositions up, link by link, until you got to the top of your knowledge, so to speak. How long would I have to keep asking–and how long would you have to keep providing support for your knowledge?

The answer, of course, is forever.

To Know Anything, You’d Have to Know Everything…

There could never be an end to your need to support your knowledge claim with a claim of prior knowledge. Now here’s why this is a problem. For every proposition you believe to be true–every you claim to know–there is an infinite number of propositions you have to know (B, C, D, E and so forth) in order to have certainty. That is, if you go down far enough, eventually you will get to a supporting proposition that you just don’t know. That’s okay–you’re not all-knowing. No big deal, right?

No, actually this is a big deal.

The fact is, unless you know every supporting proposition, for everything you think you know, then you don’t really know anything at all. One of the supports you’re counting on–one of the links in the chain of knowledge, upon which every single proposition you think you know hangs, might not be true at all. And since every other support after it relies on that proposition that isn’t true, then every support would turn out not to be a support at all, and that thing you think you know–well, you really have no reason for believing it at all. Doesn’t mean it’s not true, only that you can’t say you really know it.

As it turns out, in order to know anything for certain, you have to know everything. And since none of us knows everything, then none of us can know anything at all. Now, you might say, “I can know things–just not for certain!” But if you don’t know something for certain, then you only think it, you don’t know it.

…Or Have Revelation From Someone Who Does.

There is a way out of this problem of the infinite regress–the need to know everything in order to know anything. And that way out is this: if you have revelation from someone who does know everything. Such a person, provided he could be trusted, would be an infallible starting point for knowledge.

If you haven’t guessed where I’m going with this yet, I’m getting there now: this is exactly what we have in the Bible. In Scripture, the God who knows everything, and who can be trusted to tell the truth, reveals knowledge to us. In fact in Scripture God has revealed a fully cohesive and comprehensive worldview that makes sense out of the entire universe in a coherent way.

The Bible begins–first book, first chapter, first verse–with, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” There’s the starting point for knowledge. There’s the sensible basis for cosmological intelligibility (a world we can make sense of) and human rationality (minds that can make sense of the world).

The Basis for Knowing Is Also the Goal of Knowing. 

So there is a basis for certain knowledge: the all-knowing God has faithfully communicated to us in the Bible, and in the Bible he has given us reason to believe we can have knowledge. In fact, God wants us to have knowledge. According to the Bible, the greatest knowledge we can have is intimate knowledge of God. The Bible’s message is that knowing God is what we were created for; it is truly the goal of knowing.

Our problem is that we are sinful–we daily choose to suppress and avoid the knowledge of God in order to pursue our own ends. This sin compounds upon itself, and as it grows the prospect of knowing the holy God intimately becomes more and more frightening. So the suppression and avoidance grows more and more. Left to our own devices, we would avoid God forever, suppress knowing him entirely, and reject him and his goodness. We would be completely consumed by sin and–because we’d be avoiding the God upon whom knowledge rests–we would go deeper and deeper into ignorance. This horrible existence would extend even after death, culminating in an eternity of rejection of God and being rejected by God, experiencing his wrath for our sin in hell.

To solve that problem and rescue his people from that terrible destiny, God sent his Son, Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate communication of who God is and what he is like. Jesus took God’s rejection for his people on the cross, so that everyone who trusts in him will be saved from the consequences of their suppression and avoidance of God and given eternal life. And that eternal life is bound up with knowledge–true knowledge of the world and deep, intimate knowledge of God. Jesus himself says that the definition of eternal life is to know the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom God sent (John 17:3). To know God and his life is to know him as your Creator, Savior and Lord. True knowledge, therefore, begins with believing that you are known by the one who knows everything.

When God says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7) and about Jesus, that, “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in him” (Colossians 2:3), he is speaking literally. Knowledge with any degree of certitude must begin with the presupposition that God exists, he can be trusted, and he has revealed himself in the Bible–the Bible that leads inevitably to the conclusion that Jesus is Lord and Savior.  If you aren’t certain you know him, you can repent and receive Him today–and I would highly recommend it!

^This is apologetics.

Further study: 

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