Testing Religious Truth Claims
by Greg Koukl
How do we know whether a particular thing is true or not, especially when it comes to religious issues? Greg discusses several ways we can know the truth…and ways we can deal with those who reply “Who’s to say?”
It’s not unusual for someone to say to me, “I’d like to get together with you and pick your brain.” To this I have a standard response: “You can’t pick my brain unless you’re a brain surgeon, and only then if you use a scalpel. You can only pick my mind.”
I have to modify that a bit when I have dinner with my brain surgeon friend. We get together every couple of months. He frequently brings friends with him, generally non-believers.
The brain surgeon is a growing Christian, learning how to defend his faith and stand up for Christ. On our dinner jaunts I’m sort of the hired gun. He lobs me a softball to bring the conversation around to spiritual issues, then I respond and the conversation moves along from there. It makes for a very stimulating evening.
At our last dinner my brain surgeon friend invited a radiologist he worked with. He was a very well-trained and intelligent man, but suspicious of spiritual truth claims–an agnostic, not an atheist.
We spent most of the evening discussing whether Christianity is true or not. The heart of the radiologist’s challenge was this: How could anybody know whether a thing is true or not, especially when it comes to religious issues? I was quite surprised to hear what this otherwise very intelligent person had to say against my view.
I outlined three basic ways we know things are true. (I deal with these in detail in the Stand to Reason tape, “Any Old God Won’t Do.”) Incidentally, this is what epistemology deals with. You might have heard this twenty-five-cent philosophical word before, but not known what it meant. Epistemology deals with the field of knowledge. It answers the question: How do we know what we know? So when asked how we test religious truth claims, I give some epistemological tools. These tools are nothing fancy, nothing out of the ordinary. Basically, you respond to religious truth claims in the same general way you deal with any other claims.
The first way we know something is by authority. Frankly, most of the things we think we know we don’t know because we’ve discovered them ourselves, but rather because someone we trust told us they were so.
If I wanted to know something about radiology, for example, I’d ask a radiologist whose credentials I trusted. Even if I consulted books on radiology, it would have amounted to the same thing: taking the word of someone who was an expert in the field. I wouldn’t start from square one to rediscover radiology all on my own. I’d fall back on the books or the counsel of others who know better, and would probably be justified in believing what they had to say.
It’s interesting how people will sometimes balk at the notion of trusting an authority like the Bible, when virtually everything they think they know, they’ve gotten from some authority or another.
Think about everything you know about the past before your own lifetime…
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