Internet user Nocterro has requested that we discuss the three topics of the reliability of Scripture, the self-deception of atheists, and the presupposition of God in Nocterro’s reasoning. Scripture is reliable and is the source of my claim that Nocterro believes both ‘God exists’ and ‘Nocterro does not believe that God exists’. Scripture is also the source of my claim that Nocterro presupposes God in order to reason at all. Here I will offer a brief defense of each of these three claims with the recognition that each subject is massive enough to deserve much more detailed discussion than what I am able to produce here. Nevertheless, I offer this piece in hopes that initial objections will be answered and readers will have a basic framework with which to approach each topic more fully.
The nature of the disagreement in this instance is presuppositional. Nocterro has called into question some of the most basic commitments of my worldview. There is, however, no reason that I know of to do this. Likewise there are no means that I know of by which this may be done. Nevertheless Nocterro will strive to interpret evidence such that it provides reasons for rejecting Christian claims and he will do so through alleged autonomy as he presupposes that there is human intelligibility apart from the revelatory Word of God.
Beliefs should be understood within the broader context of their respective worldviews. Incredulity is a fallacious rather than valid response to any given claim insofar as incredulity itself is offered as an argument. If Nocterro at any point chooses to dismiss my claims, worldview, or argumentation upon the basis of incredulity then he ceases approaching the topics in question in a rational manner. Since beliefs are to be understood within the broader context of their respective worldviews the attempt to dismiss a claim from a position external to the worldview from which it originates is irrelevant to the tenability of the given claim.
In order to argue for my presuppositions I will begin the program of showing that Nocterro’s atheism fails to account for the preconditions of rationality that are needed for even engaging in a discussion like this. Thus in the context of this discussion Nocterro must presuppose my worldview in order to make sense of the discussion itself.
Reliability of Scripture
From the providence of God and the results of textual critical science it can be known that we currently posses substantially correct transcriptions of the autographa of Scripture. Nocterro must assume from the outset of the discussion that God has not spoken clearly and that He has not provided us with an adequate means of learning what He has said if Nocterro is to call into question the reliability of Scripture. Since he does call into question the reliability of Scripture, and since it will be argued that doing so destroys intelligibility, Nocterro carries a burden of proof with respect to his own worldview.
Scripture claims that it is the Word of God.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
2 Tim 3:16-17 (ESV)
Rejection of this claim results in absurdity. This will be argued momentarily.
Scripture promises in Isaiah 40.8 and other passages that the Word of God will abide forever. Through His providential control God brings it about that this promise is fulfilled. The providence of God provides for accuracy in copying so that the Bible does not become so corrupt as to be unintelligible with respect to communicating what God intends for it to communicate concerning salvation, right living, and other doctrine.
While there are minor flaws in the copies we have of Scripture, what we do possess can be known to be both accurate and sufficient in the important doctrinal matters it addresses. Notice that the presence of textual corruption does not overturn the claims which have been made nor is the need for textual criticism dismissed. Textual criticism serves to confirm what we already know to be the case in terms of the reliability of Scripture. Those who reject the reliability of Scripture may be doing so upon the basis of the presence of alleged corruption that those who accept the reliability of Scripture are already fully aware of. Beyond this, the results of textual criticism will be interpreted in light of the worldview one adheres to.
It is a plain teaching of Scripture that people are capable of being self-deceived.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
James 1:22 (ESV)
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
1 John 1:8 (ESV)
Self-deception is also observable in ‘extra-biblical’ human experience; a person may know that she has cancer and deny that she does. Believers can likewise be guilty of self-deception as evidenced by both James and John having written these words to believers.
The Apostle Paul makes the claim that everyone knows that God exists but suppresses it in unrighteousness.
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Romans 1:18-23 (ESV)
αποκαλυπτεται γαρ οργη θεου απ ουρανου επι πασαν ασεβειαν και αδικιαν ανθρωπων των την αληθειαν εν αδικια κατεχοντων
διοτι το γνωστον του θεου φανερον εστιν εν αυτοις ο θεος γαρ αυτοις εφανερωσεν
τα γαρ αορατα αυτου απο κτισεως κοσμου τοις ποιημασιν νοουμενα καθοραται η τε αιδιος αυτου δυναμις και θειοτης εις το ειναι αυτους αναπολογητους
διοτι γνοντες τον θεον ουχ ως θεον εδοξασαν η ηυχαριστησαν αλλ εματαιωθησαν εν τοις διαλογισμοις αυτων και εσκοτισθη η ασυνετος αυτων καρδια
φασκοντες ειναι σοφοι εμωρανθησαν
και ηλλαξαν την δοξαν του αφθαρτου θεου εν ομοιωματι εικονος φθαρτου ανθρωπου και πετεινων και τετραποδων και ερπετων (NA 26)
In past discussions on this site Nocterro has implied that my interpretation of this passage is incorrect. If he chooses to follow through on this implication and use a similar line of argumentation he will need to show where I have in this opening statement interpreted the passage above, why my interpretation is incorrect, and what alternative interpretation is correct.
In past discussions on this site Nocterro has implied that self-deception is in some way contradictory. Self-deception involves false propositions that are fully and genuinely believed in. Belief might be defined here as a positive attitude of the intellect and/or attitude which is expressed through various means. Believing some proposition entails that the proposition is seen as being evidenced and reliable which can result in mental, verbal, or bodily action. Belief is persistent, intentional, causative, and guiding. Thus the beliefs of an individual can be determined on the basis of the results of the beliefs though this is not a perfect way to determine what they are. Beliefs can also be mistaken.
Nocterro adheres to a first-order belief that God exists but this belief causes him some discomfort (speaking very loosely) which motivates him to deny this belief. Not only does Nocterro bring himself to deny that God exists, he brings himself to deny that he believes that God exists. The belief “Nocterro does not believe that God exists” is a false second-order belief about the first-order belief “God exists”.
This may be determined not just by working through Scripture, but as already mentioned, through observing the results of beliefs Nocterro holds. Both the first and second order beliefs concerning God that Nocterro holds evidence themselves in various ways. Nocterro believes in God but does not willingly admit that he believes in God due to his false belief that he does not believe in God.
It is worth noting that the second-order belief mentioned influences the way that Nocterro interprets evidence. Nocterro suppresses the truth in unrighteousness. This feat is accomplished through rationalizing away evidence of the existence of God, ignoring obvious points, dodging anything which might challenge his anti-Christ presuppositions, etc. (It would not surprise me if he smirks at the description of his presuppositions as “anti-Christ” upon reading it, though he does so without good reason.) In other words, Nocterro must fight hard in order to sustain his belief that he does not believe in God. He is thus morally responsible for this unrighteousness.
Nocterro believes that God exists yet is motivated by the consequences of this belief to suppress it such that through the rationalization of evidence Nocterro brings himself to the false belief that Nocterro does not believe in God. He is non-contradictorily self-deceived.
Something like justification or warrant is required in order for someone to have propositional knowledge. Nocterro has implicitly and explicitly assumed before that one should not just believe anything one wants. This is to say that beliefs should come about and be held in a proper manner. There are right and wrong ways to go about believing.
From what I have gathered Nocterro holds that one should have evidence for thinking that a belief is true and worthy of acceptance. Yet there are cases in which people can have evidence for beliefs that just happen to be true but not by virtue of the evidence that the people base their beliefs upon. For example, the clock may read 4:35, it may be 4:35, and a person may believe it is 4:35 upon the basis of this evidence, but the clock is broken. Further, according to Nocterro’s view consistently applied one must have evidence for believing evidence for believing evidence ad infinitum. This would entail that no beliefs are ultimately justified.
What is required for propositional knowledge is some sort of objective epistemic normativity. However, nothing like this is available to Nocterro. Given his anti-theistic worldview, Nocterro cannot posit the notion of right or wrong ways that beliefs should either come about or be held and hence his position is reducible to absurdity. Some type of epistemic warrant must be accounted for in Nocterro’s view of the world because of the need for warrant in knowledge. There is no absolute person or persons on an atheistic view which provides an account for epistemic normativity. The possibility of even being able to have this discussion entails that atheism is false.
The character and command of God and His having created us in His image and obligated us toward Him provides for the epistemic normativity necessary to right belief. Thus in the context of this discussion Nocterro must either presuppose the existence of God or relinquish the ability to argue his case. He opts for the former in requesting discussion on the three claims and in doing so evidences that Scripture is reliable and that he believes in God.
To summarize very briefly:
- God has providentially controlled the transmission of Scripture such that it accurately communicates what He intends and this accuracy has been further confirmed through textual criticism. The Bible claims that it is the Word of God and rejection of this claim leads one to absurdity in his or her reasoning.
- The Bible teaches that everyone believes in God howbeit not in a saving manner. Those who deny that God exists or deny that they believe God exists nevertheless believe that God exists but are motivated through concerns such as sin and judgment to suppress their belief in God through a belief about their belief which is the belief about themselves that they do not believe that God exists. That those who deny that God exists nevertheless believe that God exists may be shown through an appeal to Scripture and/or through the God-denying individual’s belief that human experience is intelligible, since the intelligibility of human experience presupposes God.
- Epistemic warrant is in some sense necessary for human intelligibility yet it is foreign to an atheistic worldview while the Christian worldview provides for epistemic warrant. Thus insofar as an atheist believes in or acts as though there is such a thing as human intelligibility he or she borrows from the Christian worldview. The atheist is in this manner shown to believe in God.
There is hope in Christ Jesus. Those who turn from their sins and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God will not be cast away. Even those so self-deceived as to pronounce that there is no God will be saved should they repent from their sins and trust upon the living Christ. In accordance with the Scripture defended here, Christ Jesus was born under the law in order to redeem those under the law. Jesus lived a perfect life of obedience and died upon the cross for sins. The sins of those believing in Jesus were placed upon Him on the cross and the wrath of God was poured out upon Him. His righteousness is imputed to those believing. People are counted righteous before God through faith in Jesus, not through any works of their own. Christ Jesus died for sins, was buried, and was raised in accordance with Scripture. My hope and prayer is that Nocterro would relinquish his would-be autonomy, turn from his wickedness, and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. Believers would happily welcome Nocterro’s coming to rejoice with us.
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Romans 5:6-11 (ESV)