Do Christians Beg the Question? by Justin Day
October 30, 2008, 8:00 am
Filed under: Thought Initiative

by Justin Day

Why do you believe the Bible to be the infallible Word of God? For centuries, Christians have been accused of committing one of the main logical fallacies when forming doctrine on scripture. Many non-believers have claimed that Christians beg the question when justifying our belief in Holy Scripture. Begging the question is a logical fallacy in which the proposition to be proved is assumed in one of the premises.

The primary justification, for most Christians, for the belief in scripture’s infallibility is 2 Timothy 3:16 or the multitude of fulfilled prophecies within scripture. If scripture is God-breathed, as 2 Timothy says, then it is infallible and trustworthy. The claim against this reasoning, however, is that when we appeal to scripture to justify the proposition that scripture is true, we are assuming the very thing we are trying to justify. In other words, aren’t we begging the question by saying “I believe the Bible is Word of God, because the Bible says it’s the Word of God.”

If the Bible is the basis of our worldview, then this seems to present a problem for Christians. What do you guys think?

(1)Is our belief in the infallibility of the Bible and, thus, our entire worldview based on a logical fallacy? If it is, does it matter? Does a fallacy necessarily imply falsehood?

(2)Are any or all other worldviews also based on some sort of circular reasoning or is the Christian worldview alone on this?


19 Comments so far
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I would be interested to see more about (2)…

Comment by yipeng

1) Yes, I do believe that Christianity is committing a circular argument and does violate the logical fallacy of ‘begging the question.’

I believe that a test and measurement of truth is that it is necesarily circular. Read this in the same way that all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares. All truth is circular, but not all circular things are truth.

2) All epistimological intentions and extensions are circular in some way. Logic itself is circular. How can one prove the validity of logic without using logic?

In the end, all worldviews are circular, even those that claim ignorance.

Comment by Jonathan Kelfer

To tack onto my previous comment an appology: I was not intending on answering this question, but since nobody else would take a stab at it, I decided to.

Sorry Justin, feel free to ignore my comment/delete it if you so desire to.

Comment by Jonathan Kelfer

No apology necessary, I’m glad you added to the post. Anyways, that’s very similar to my thoughts on it, Kelfer. I think that every worldview has at least one belief that is just assumed (philosophers call these basic beliefs), and I would just contend that the basic belief for Christians is that the God of Christian theism exists.

The reason that I think that all worldviews must have a basic belief that is just assumed is the infinite regress argument. If one has a belief (let’s call it B1) and someone contends that all beliefs must be verified with evidence, then there will be an infinite regress of necessary evidences to prove the truth of B1.

In other words:
When B1 must be backed with evidence for it to be true, then so must the evidence (E1) for B1. But then E1 must have evidence for its truth (E2), and so on and so on until you never have a justified belief.

Now the problem with just resting with the infinite regress argument and just saying that we have this basic belief and we’re completely justified in it, is: If we can do this for God’s existence, why couldn’t a non-believer just assume things that would make an atheistic worldview coherent (laws of logic are justified, the universe behaves in a constant uniform pattern, God doesn’t exist, etc.) and be just as justified in their worldview as we are in ours?

Any thoughts?

Comment by Justin Day

Wow…I think I follow your argument, but it is just a little over my head to try and create a proof for belief, lol. I think this is what makes everything about Christianity so beautiful, it requires faith. There really is no evidence or reason for faith; it exists outside of our finite understanding. But where it stems from is our assumption that there is a solid and absolute truth that exists, in our case that would be the existence of an active and living God that lives in eternity.

So this truth, this God, which we represent as “B1”, requires no evidence, it requires faith, which its understanding happens to, in my opinion, exist outside of reason and outside of logic. Essentially, logic and reason exist only within the finite, it is our attempt to understand the infinite, which cannot be understood. So in a way logic and reason actually constrict and bind the infinite so that our finite minds may be comfortable in our understandings.

And thus we get to the beautiful part, faith. The infinite can only be understood and accepted through faith, and by doing so we forgo actually understanding it. And that it requires trust. To the Christian these things are received and given to us by God’s unfailing grace. To the unbeliever this seems circular, this seems like a logical fallacy, but what is it really? It is a finite mind understanding that logic and reason (as we know it) lie outside the infinite (or maybe inside?) and thus cannot comprehend the fullness of truth without relinquishing logic and reason.

And to answer the question last asked, anyone could assume something, make a “circular” argument and be temporarily content within that argument. But are they justified? No. That is because their “B1” is not the ultimate and absolute truth that we know as our triune God. And thus their “B1” requires evidence and fills out the equation you presented us with, Justin. But the Christian’s truth, our God requires no evidence, He is.(John 8:58) And that is it, He simply is, nothing more is needed.

Comment by Tyler Thayer

I’m interested in knowing if you were to recommend THREE Knox County churches, which would they be and why?

Comment by CS

My head hurts.

Comment by Chris Trump

Justin, thanks for these posts! These have been great questions and have really made me and others think! Also, thanks for your humble presentation and responses!

My thoughts (for what they are worth!):

1) Yes, it is based on a logical fallacy, when posed this way. Yes it matters for how we engage un-believers and Materialists/Naturalists. No, a logical fallacy doesn’t imply falsehood.

2) All worldviews are based on some type of “circular reasoning”, as defined here. Everyone has certain assumptions/presuppositions that create the foundation for the rest of their worldview.

For example, a naturalist would say there is no God and would argue against this by appealing to laws of logic and nature (how we got to this discussion in the first place, I guess). The big question is how do they account for a law of logic or laws of nature? Where do they come from? How can you prove a law of logic or nature, something that isn’t tangible, then turn around to Christians and say we are absurd believing in an intangible God? Maybe a better way to evaluate a worldview is to judge how internally consistent it is. If a worldview violates one of its own presuppositions, why should anyone find it convincing? If you assume there is no God or ability to prove the immaterial, how can you turn around and then use immaterial things (law of logic/nature) to view the world?

Food for thought: What about a theory of information? How can a non-Christian worldview account for the inability for anyone to have an original thought or idea? All thinking and imagining we do is derivative in nature. That is, we think and conceive only what we have seen, heard, or experienced in life. We are therefore limited by the information we have received from the world around us. Where have all of our ideas and thinking come from? How did the first idea or piece of information come to be and who communicated it and to whom? How do you account for intelligence and communication?

Any thoughts? I have more, but they probably won’t amount to much!

Comment by Kevin Shipp

Great conversation. Sure, any book claiming something about itself is circular. But, no, I don’t believe it matters for 2 reasons. 1- Every worldview has a logical fallacy of some sort. We’ve all heard someone say that claiming there is no absolute truth is an absolute truth, so even that claim is circular. No worldview is perfect logically. 2- Every worldview requires some faith, even the scientific evolutionist or the humanistic Marxist or the pagans who practice magic. They all have faith, just in different things. Tyler is right on that faith takes over where logic stops. So, let someone say that Christianity is built on bad logic. Jesus can save people who make logic their god. I’d argue Christianity isn’t just a worldview anyway; it is much more than that. Thanks for the interesting read.

Comment by chrisgraves

Kevin, thanks for the comment. I wanna pose the same question to you that I did to Kelfer. If we can just presuppose God’s existence and be rational, why can’t non-believers simply presuppose things like uniformity of nature, laws of logic, etc. and be rational?

Maybe I’m thinking about this wrong, but it seems to me that if we can just assume God’s existence and be rational in belief, we would have to extend that rationality “across the board” so to speak. I think if we can just presuppose God and believe in Him, non-believers can just presuppose contra everything the Bible claims against them and be rational.

In other words, if we can just assume God and be rational, why couldn’t they just claim that the universe is an entirely closed system which has existed forever. Then at one moment 13.7 billion years ago the universe began to expand. Then ,through a process of slow evolution, life began to exist and eventually life as we know now it exists. Also, there is no such being as God and everything operates uniformly and the laws of logic happen to exist as entities somehow tied within the natural world.

Why couldn’t they just presuppose that and be rational if we can assume God and be rational?

Comment by Justin Day

Tyler, you said it well. Faith is the most humbling thing on earth for someone who idolizes their reason. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” – James 4:6

Comment by Justin Day

@ CS:

“I’m interested in knowing if you were to recommend THREE Knox County churches, which would they be and why?”

1.)Cornerstone Church of Knoxville
2.)Fellowship Church
3.)Redeemer Church of Knoxville

Because they preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ according to the Scriptures.

Comment by Squatty

I think I have an answer, but also I have more questions than answers, so my answers may not be that good!!!

I don’t think I am advocating appealing to reason or rational proofs as a good way to argue for the validity of our claims. And I am not saying that we should try to prove our worldview using non-Christian rules of reason or logic.

As far as the way we communicate our worldview to a world that is largely Materialistic(naturalistic), we can come to them and not necessarily prove our worldview by logical or rational discourse, but we can show that their worldview isn’t any more logical or reasonable than ours. Then, we might have an opportunity to communicate our worldview more specifically by presenting them with Scripture. It is through scripture alone that God will, by His Spirit, bring forth faith, making their wills willing to turn from their sin and place their hope in Christ for salvation. This faith will come in no other way. No amount of evidence will ever birth faith in someone. It might convince them for a moment to listen to the Gospel preached, and for that, evidence has value. But only God by His Spirit, working through the proclaimed word will make a person willing and able to confess that God is true and flee to him for salvation.

Here’s what I was getting at about a theory of information: God has spoken. In fact, this is how he has revealed himself in the universe. He spoke to create, he spoke through prophets, and then finally through His son. All mankind has been a receiver of communication from God, first by the world around them, and then by the conscience within them, even though that conscience is marred by sin. The reason we have all kinds of different religions and philosophies is because every one of us, born in sin and opposed to God, are unwilling to and refuse to correctly interpret this information communicated from God. People can live their entire lives, receive all of this information and even memorize the Bible and never rightly interpret it and believe it and live for it. It takes a supernatural occurrence, an invasion of God’s Spirit in our hearts to make us willing and able to rightly interpret all that God has been saying. When this happens, we see our sin, God’s holiness, and his wonderful provision of a Savior in Jesus. We get conquered and that’s it!

Now, pick me apart! HAHAHA

Comment by Kevin Shipp

“If we can do this for God’s existence, why couldn’t a non-believer just assume things that would make an atheistic worldview coherent (laws of logic are justified, the universe behaves in a constant uniform pattern, God doesn’t exist, etc.) and be just as justified in their worldview as we are in ours?”

My reply would be that Christians are not rational (if one is using worldly rationality) in believing in God, but nor is anyone else. So, I am not stating that it is rational (again in the classical sense) to be a Christian, but that it is impossible to be rational. Human beings are not rational creatures even though we think that we are, this is the nature of sin: to be deceptive.

As for the notation of rationality, in order to be rational one must have true knowledge and reason. If either or both of those aspects are missing or incomplete, a person or thing cannot be rational. As far as being epistemically justified, one must go further than an a priori argument (which is arbitrary at best). In order to be epistemically justified, either:

1) A person must know everything.
2) A person must be told at least one truth from a trustworthy source that knows everything.

In this way, rationality is possible because a person can have true knowledge even if they do not know everything. But, even in this state one can still miss the mark of rationality due to darkened reason.

The thought behind this argument lies in asking two questions:

1) What is epistemic justification?
2) What is rationality?

If rationality is the efficient apportionment of knowledge (i.e. reason applying knowledge) towards appropriate ends, then one must have perfect knowledge and perfect reason in order to be rational. Without assuming that one is rational (which assumptions are awfully dangerous), it is not possible to know that one is rational without one of the aforementioned conditions taking place and that is merely to meet the condition of having true knowledge. The same would have to take place for true reason as well.

The mere philosophical assumption of knowledge being a justified true belief is also not a good measure of epistemic rationality. This is due to the fact that justification requires a prior knowledge to compare incoming propositional knowledge to. The reconcile this, some posit the a priori knowledge argument, but how does one know that a priori knowledge is true? From this stance, considering contemporary logical propositions, it is impossible to be epistemically justified and it is impossible to know anything at all due to the arbitrary irrational standpoint of a priori knowledge. From this stance of epistemic rationality, it is impossible to be logical and because everyone must in some way succumb to it, no person is rational in themselves. Add sin to the equation and I hope that you get the grim picture. The only rational being in the Universe that meets condition 1 of the earlier epistemic qualifications is God who is the only one who can apportion this to creatures. In this way, it is impossible to logically defend Christianity, but it is fully rational to believe it due to the nature of true a priori thought. But, it is still more dangerous to assume that even Christians are rational, because they are still shot through with sin and their reason is still darkened.

So how do I back that up rationally to others? I can do my best with an appeal to experience, but, it is logically impossible. That is what the Holy Spirit is for.

I appologize for the long post.

Comment by Jonathan Kelfer

Kelfer, thanks for the comment (although it is a little off the topic). First of all, when I used the word “rational” in these posts, I was actually meaning “justified” in the philosophical sense. Since most people aren’t nerds who read philosophy, I just used rational in the popular usage, which is synonymous with “justified.”

Anyways, you make the statement that to be epistemically justified we would either(1)have to know everything or (2) be told truth from (1). The kind of justification you’re talking about is known as skepticism and I think you’re the only Christian in existence to think of justification in such terms.

If it were the case that (1) were true, then no one would know anything…at all. Just as Thomas Reid pointed out, no one lives like this. No one lives as if we don’t know anything. It’s just common sense that we actually do know things.

Here’s a proposition: (1)Are you a brain in a vat that’s getting neurologically stimulated to experience what you’re experiencing (including your experience with God) or (2) is the world as you know it real?

According to your theory of justification, we could never know which one was true. Do you honestly think that’s the case? Be honest.

Comment by Justin Day

In very certain terms, I think that it is impossible for one determine that we are not brains in a vat and that it is impossible to know that the world around us is real. This is the same thing with the justification of the existence of other minds.

Although one can appeal to intuition, that is nothing but an ethos argument and is not convincing. The same thing to be said about sweeping statements about “people” not living or doing certain things. Considering the nature of sin, I am unimpressed by what people happen to do or who happens to do it for whatever reason. Hypothetically, every single person could agree on one thing and still be wrong.

In view of this, the only way that a human can operate is by having some element of trust in some belief despite a lack of evidence towards that end. This is Christianity: faith that Christ died for my sins and that I have been saved from the wratch of God and get to enjoy God forever instead.

Do I know this? No. I trust that God is no liar and I trust that the Christian faith is not the sum of a great number of hoaxes of historical proportions. I have enough evidence to believe Christianity over anything and everything else and to trust Christ, but, in the end it comes down to faith. Let me ask you two questions:

1) Do you know that God exists or do you have faith that God exists? How? Why?
2) Do you know that God is not a liar or do you have faith that God is not a liar? How? Why?

Comment by Jonathan Kelfer

I realized I never answered your question: I am not a philisophical skeptic. I believe that knowledge can and does exist, but it is not attainable without help.

A philosophical skeptic (if they were truely a skeptic or a ‘radical skeptic) would state that they didn’t know that they could or could not actually know something.

My position is not such.

Comment by Jonathan Kelfer

Kelfer, this is going on a one way train to nowhere. A discussion over theories of justification is way off topic, and more importantly, it’s probably not gonna give fruit to either of us.

If I ever end up writing a thought initiative on skepticism, or even epistemology in general, you’re more than welcome to bring this stuff up. But for now, I think it’s better that we cut if off here.

Comment by Justin Day

You are right, I am sorry about not being discerning in the matter.

Comment by Jonathan Kelfer

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