Why revelation fails


One of the dogmas underlying Murk’s belief system is the idea that divine revelation is required in order for us to have any knowledge of the truth, as he himself has recently shared.

I have written that to know anything a person must either know everything or someone who does who is good and shares. I cannot make this any simpler.
You cannot have any knowledge unless you are God or trust what He has revealed.

This is a false statement, since I can and do know that I exist, and I cannot be mistaken in this knowledge—if I did not exist there would be no one to make the mistake. Every one of us possesses the ability to know at least some material truth, without any need for divine revelation. But more than this, there are at least three good reasons to conclude that divine revelation is not, in fact, a reliable means of knowing the truth about the real world.

The first reason comes from presuppositionalism itself. According to presuppositionalism, there are three rules. The first two rules are as Murk has stated them above. Rule Number One states that without omniscience, we cannot directly perceive any material, real-world truth, and Rule Number Two states that any truth we possess is truth we received via divine revelation.

Now, I said presuppositionalism gives us three rules, but the third rule isn’t explicitly stated by presuppositionalists. You get the third rule by applying the first to the second. Rule Number Three states that all revelation is a lie, or at least something other than real-world truth. It cannot be truth, because Rule Number One states that we are unable to perceive truth and thus cannot perceive any revelation that is true. To trust in what God has revealed, therefore, is to trust in a lie, because if it were not a lie, we would not be able to perceive it in order to trust in it.

Trusting in a lie is certainly not a reliable means of acquiring truth about the real world. But there’s another reason why divine revelation is not a reliable source of information about the truth: God does not reveal things to us, and we’re not allowed to test Him by asking for revelation. Murk cannot receive any revelation from God that goes beyond what he (Murk) already knows or guesses. He (God) is merely a character in Murk’s imagination and can only move or speak in response to what he imagines. Murk knows this (at some level), and already has an excuse prepared for why God will never reveal anything true to him without human help.

To demonstrate, I have a piece of paper sitting beside my keyboard right now. Murk’s God will never reveal to him the contents of that paper without some kind of assistance from a real person. I could take a picture of this paper, and upload it in a password-protected zip file, and you could all download a copy so you could see for yourself what was in it when I released the password, and then Murk could try—and fail—to get God to reveal to him what was in the file. But that’s not necessary. Murk won’t ever agree to cooperate with the demonstration, because he knows that God will never be willing and able to “reveal” anything that would allow us to verify whether or not the revelation was true. Instead Murk will explain to us why it is totally unreasonable to expect God to reveal actual real-world truth under conditions that would permit us to see whether his invisible Friend really exists outside his imagination.

God does not show up in real life, and He does not reveal truth to us, and therefore we cannot obtain truth by revelation from God. We can make our best guesses, or rely on whatever seems right in our own eyes, or follow along with the opinions of our peer group, and call it trusting in God’s “revelation,” but actual, supernatural, infallible revelation directly from God is something that doesn’t happen. Even those who claim to “feel the Lord’s leading” know that it’s easy to be mistaken about what God is supposedly trying to tell you, and that you frequently have to admit that what you took to be the voice of God was really the urgings of your own heart and desires. Such self-centered superstitions are simply not reliable, which is why believers have such strict prohibitions against “testing” God by asking Him for more than what an imaginary friend could provide.

Since God does not show up in real life to reveal things to us, Murk has a fundamental and unsolvable problem. He wants to say that the only way we can know the truth is by trusting God, but in God’s absence, we don’t have that choice. Our only option is to put our trust in ordinary, fallible people, including ourselves along with preachers and those who claimed to be prophets and those who wrote the various Scriptures, and those who decided to declare some of those writings as divinely inspired truth. After lecturing us all about how mere men cannot know the truth, it turns out to be mere men who are the people Murk is really trusting. All of his arguments turn out to be arguments why he himself cannot have any good reason to trust the men who claim to be passing on revelation from God.

More than this, though, the Bible cannot serve as a reliable source of real-world truth, even if we did assume that it were divinely inspired revelation. We have no reliable mechanism for knowing what its correct meaning ought to be. Everyone who reads it sees within it the confirmation of whatever seems right in his or her own eyes. A Fred Phelps reads the Bible and sees God’s everlasting hatred and contempt for anyone who falls in love differently than he does; a gay or lesbian Christian reads the same book (written by men) and sees condemnation only for those who behave contrary to whatever sexuality, gay or straight, that God created them to have. Racists see strict prohibitions against mixing the races that God created to be separate and to reproduce “after their own kind,” whereas liberals see all races as being created “of one blood,” in the selfsame Scriptures. Creationists see a literal seven day creation week which cannot be compromised without shattering the very foundations of the Gospel story of sin and redemption; theistic evolutionists see a stylized, metaphorical reference to billions of years of orderly operation of God’s natural laws.

Or here’s another example: heaven. In the Bible, there is a firmament in the skies, above the clouds. It’s a solid substance of some kind, able to retain water, with doors that can be opened to let the water fall down as rain and also to let angels (and occasionally men) travel between heaven and earth. It’s a physical place you can sometimes see into from ground level, as the martyr Stephen did while he was being stoned. It’s physically located straight up, which is why Jesus went up to get there after his resurrection, and why Christians to this day expect him to come back down again. And yet, in reality, no such place is physically present in the sky above the clouds.

For centuries, before we had the technology for manned flight into the clouds and beyond, believers understood heaven to be a real, literal, physical place. After all, the Bible revealed it, and only God could know the truth about it, right? Since people could not go up to where heaven was, our sole source of knowledge about heaven had to come from God, who has revealed in the Bible that it is a literal physical place, with literal physical doors that God opens to let the literal physical rain fall down. People just had to trust that the Bible meant what it said and just trust that what it said was true.

We know today that what the Bible says about heaven is not true, at least as originally written. Reality has given us a much more reliable revelation about what’s above the clouds, and it’s nothing at all like the glorious visions portrayed in the Bible. Christians today get around this falsification by claiming that heaven has been a “spiritual” place all along, but the catch is that divine revelation isn’t what showed us this. In order to find out the truth about what was up there in the places Jesus allegedly ascended to, we had to turn to material reality, not to the Bible.

It’s not that the Bible was unclear or vague or confusing in the story of heaven it was presenting. The language was not hard, nor was it couched in bizarre apocalyptic symbols like some other parts of the Bible. It’s easy to read, straightforward, and matter-of-fact. If there’s a drought, it’s because the doors are closed up in heaven, and you need to pray to God and ask Him to open them so that the real, literal waters up in heaven can fall down onto the dry land. Heaven is as literal and physical as the drought and the rain, plain as pie. But it turns out that even when the Bible speaks as clearly as that, you can’t be certain what the truth is unless you measure the words of Scripture against the infallible standard of reality itself. Once you obtain your truth from material reality, the glorious, literal, physical realm of Biblical heaven gets banished to the spiritual dimensions of believers’ minds.

We could give other examples as well. Isaiah supposedly prophesied to King Ahaz that a maiden would conceive and bear a son whom she would name Immanuel, as a sign that Ahaz could see, centuries before Jesus’ birth, to show that a couple rival kings would soon cease to be a threat. Nothing to do with Jesus, obviously, since it refers to events hundreds of years too early and since Jesus was named “Jesus” and not “Immanuel” by his mother. Yet Matthew tells us that this was a prophecy about the birth of Jesus, even though the only commonality between them is that both stories involve a young woman giving birth. A Jew, reading the original story, would have no clue that any future messianic birth was being prophesied, let alone a virgin birth. Even on its own terms, the Bible fails to be a reliable source of information about the real world, because it means things that have little or nothing to do with what it actually says.

Thus, Murk’s allegedly revelation-based worldview fails on all three counts. It fails because it contradicts the fundamental premise of his whole argument. It fails because God does not give us revelation (notwithstanding the superstitions, autosuggestion, and rationalizations some of us use to give Him credit that He—alas—is unable to claim for Himself). And it fails because we cannot rely on our interpretation of the stories men have written down and that other men have chosen to designate as divine revelation. Whatever anyone may believe, they have not reliably obtained it from any such “revelation.”

Murk’s real trust is in himself, in his own ability to hear the “voice of God” and in his own insights into what the ambiguous and contradictory words of Scripture “really mean.” Guided by the opinions and feelings and superstitions of men, which he also trusts, he imagines that whatever seems right in his own eyes is “revelation” from God. And then he lectures the rest of us about how foolish we supposedly are for trusting in the integrity of reality itself rather than following his example of trusting in men who, by his own rationalizations, should never be trusted.

Comments

  1. MedMarine says

    Great post! What has always seemed to me to be the simplest answer to Murk’s line of reasoning is to point out the existence of uncontroversial knowledge that is clearly not revealed through the Bible. Structural engineering perhaps, or maybe chemistry. Find something the presuppositionalist knows that came from a human source (say, the knowledge that adding sodium hydroxide to a strong acid will both neutralize the acid and make the solution very hot), and ask him how he knows it. Every time I’ve tried this I’ve just been met with cold silence and a change of subject.

  2. iplon says

    Fantastic post. It really covers the biggest problems that everyone for some reason fails to point out with presuppositionalism.

  3. jonP says

    Even those who claim to “feel the Lord’s leading” know that it’s easy to be mistaken about what God is supposedly trying to tell you, and that you frequently have to admit that what you took to be the voice of God was really the urgings of your own heart and desires.

    I like to call this god’s signal-to-noise ratio problem. If it is difficult to distinguish the signal coming from god from your own thoughts, then god must have a very low SNR.

  4. grumpyoldfart says

    I enjoyed that post.

    Murk says:

    You cannot have any knowledge unless you are God or trust what He has revealed.

    Sounds like a kid in the schoolyard: “I’m the king of the castle and you’re the dirty rascal.

  5. Nazir says

    Hi there. This is a nice website. Its good to see open minded persons.. But may i add something Mr.Duncan.. i agree there are quite a lot of weird or inaccurate things in the Bible. I am not defending It but i want to clarify something..here you are talking about the “Actual” Bible! For decades it has evolved through lots of revisions etc.. We have copies of millions of copies nowadays! If you search for the “Original” ones, you would certainly see a radically different story. (Dead sea scrolls for exp). So i’m sure it is humans fault rather than God’s fault that results in people’s increasing rejection of the sacred scriptures.
    Cheers.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      And in much the same vein, it’s not Zeus’s fault that people no longer believe in Greek mythology. People are responsible for the contents of whatever writings they decide to hold as “scriptures.” It’s not fair to hold “gods” responsible for things they did not do. But on the other hand, it can sometimes be useful to point out to believers what the gods have not done—for example, their failure to provide us with accurate, up-to-date, and reliable revelation. It may help to remind people where the boundaries are between myth and reality.

    • JonP says

      Having the orginal texts is irrelevant to the problem posed in the post.

      “You cannot have any knowledge unless you are God or trust what He has revealed.”

      This statement is demonstrably false, independent of the details in the bible stories.

    • hexidecima says

      Nazir, you be sure to tell us what the “original ones” are and where they are. The dead sea scrolls are just as full of nonsense as the NIV or KJV.

      Poor poor God, can’t do a thing against those puny humans, eh? Not much of a god.

  6. Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc says

    Their presupposition that god isn’t lying always seems to sink this argument before it starts.

    Eminently demonstrated by their own holy book.

  7. wholething says

    We can know that we exist because if we did not we couldn’t wonder whether we exist. We still can’t have absolute certainty that we are not just the brain in a vat. But the presuppositionalist god cannot know with absolute certainty that it is not just a brain in a vat either. If the god doesn’t know that then it doesn’t know everything so it cannot know anything, according to presuppositionalist “logic”.

  8. sumdum says

    Nazir, let’s for a moment indulge your hypothesis and say the original scriptures contain 100% truth. How do we verify this? The only way is to investigate reality for ourselves, gather the facts and then compare scripture to observed reality to see if it’s correct. But why not cut out the last step? If we can observe reality and gather the facts of what is real, no extra steps are required.

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