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Argument from Insufficient Knowledge of the Bible for the Nonexistence of the God of Christianity (2005)

Horia George Plugaru

 

Introduction

In this paper I shall present and defend what I take to be a new probabilistic argument against the existence of the God of Christianity.[1] By "the God of Christianity" I mean, among other things, a deity which is omnipotent, omniscient, rational, and loving and caring towards human beings, who inspired the Bible for humanity and wants at least the vast majority of human beings to know the truth and be saved. This argument aims to show that such a God probably does not exist. After formalizing the argument, I will make comments on it and present evidence supporting it. Then I will raise and respond to various objections to the argument, explaining why these objections are unconvincing. Finally, I show that the Argument from Insufficient Knowledge of the Bible (AIK) is a new argument distinct from other arguments thus far advanced against the existence of the Christian God.

AIK Formulated

The Argument from Insufficient Knowledge of the Bible:

(1) If the God of Christianity exists, then probably all (or nearly all) human beings have an (at least) excellent knowledge of the Bible before their physical deaths.

(2) It is not the case that all (or nearly all) human beings have an excellent knowledge of the Bible before their physical deaths. (Billions of human beings had and have an at least incomplete knowledge of the Bible before their physical deaths.)

(C) Therefore, the God of Christianity probably does not exist. (From 1 and 2, by modus tollens.)

Comments on AIK:

AIK's premise (1) assumes that human beings would have an excellent biblical knowledge before their physical deaths. This presumption comes from the Bible itself, where God instructed his apostles to teach the living the Bible message. Moreover, there is no hint of a passage in the Bible which suggests otherwise. It would be very strange for God to inspire the Bible even though reading it would not aid us before our departure. If the Christian message is true, God obviously wants human beings to know the Bible message before their physical deaths.

AIK is especially forceful against fundamentalist Christianity and a particular type of liberal Christianity (call it type I). The main difference between the two is that, while the former views everything in the Bible as literally true except when allegorical intent is clear, the latter interprets many passages in the Bible--though just as important and inspired by God as the others--as symbolically true.

There is also a certain type of liberal Christianity according to which only some biblical verses are true witness to the nature and purpose of God (call it type II). Other verses are untrue and occasionally even unacceptable. As formulated above, AIK has little if any force against type II liberal Christianity; however, with minor modifications, AIK could apply to it as well. For instance, a modified AIK could claim that if the God envisioned in type II liberal Christianity were to exist, then (almost) all humans would have an excellent knowledge of (1) which verses in the Bible are true and important and (2) the content of those verses. Since these two conditions apparently are not satisfied, such a modified AIK would be a formidable argument against even this liberal form of Christianity. However, the present paper will not develop an AIK against the truth of type II liberal Christianity; that requires a separate treatment.

AIK considers "an (at least) excellent knowledge" of the Bible, rather than a "complete" or "perfect" one, because some maintain that not every single biblical verse is correct and useful. By "excellent knowledge" I mean knowledge of at least 95% of the Bible's content. Since many if not most people have never even read 50% of the Bible, it is easy to show that the vast majority of people don't know 95% of it.

But what does "knowing the Bible's content" mean? Does AIK refer only to knowledge of the words contained in the Bible, or also to understanding or interpreting them correctly? Of course, many Christians believe that the Bible's words are so clear and obvious that to simply know them is to correctly understand them. But let us assume that these Christians are wrong: the possibility of knowing (almost) all that the Bible contains does not entail understanding its contents. Either possibility does not affect AIK since most people have never even read more than 50% of the Bible; thus they cannot have an (at least) excellent knowledge or understanding of the Bible. Unless I indicate otherwise, by "knowing the Bible's content" I mean to suggest either of these two possibilities.

It also important to note that AIK does not call for memorizing (almost) all biblical verses. Certainly many people (including some atheists) think [that] the Bible is written in a beautiful poetic language, and if they are right, then perhaps knowing its verses by heart is desirable. But as far as AIK is concerned, knowing at least the vast amount of information contained in the Bible is enough, independently of the words used to convey that information.

Finally, some readers may be concerned that AIK's premises should be modified to make weaker claims in order to make them less vulnerable to objection. For example, instead of demanding excellent biblical knowledge, AIK could require only to "minimal biblical knowledge" of perhaps the central issues of Christian soteriology. But since there are many strong points supporting the present version of AIK, I prefer to leave AIK as it is. But even it AIK as it is now formulated fails, AIK remains a project worth considering.

In support of premise (1):

In support of AIK, Christians maintain that the Bible is a unique book that has an immense importance for us. They even claim that it is the most important book in the universe. According to them, "the Bible contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts are binding, its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable." We should "read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, and practice it to be holy" because "it contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you. It is the traveler's map, the pilgrim's staff, the pilot's compass, the soldier's sword, and the Christian's charter. Here Paradise is restored, Heaven opened, and the gates of hell disclosed."[2]

More precisely, Christians have offered the following reasons to believe that the Bible is very important for us:

A. Christians usually claim that the whole Bible should be consulted with regularity in order to avoid false teachings and doctrines. As Dr. Robert D. Luginbill writes:

It is true that taking advantage of accurate Bible teaching is an important part of the believer's spiritual growth. Indeed, that is the whole point of this ministry. Furthermore, the provision of Bible teaching is an undisputed ministry of God the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:11-16). At the same time, however, it is the responsibility of the listener to compare what is being taught with the Bible. To be sure, this should be done in a spirit of humility (as the Bereans demonstrated), but it should be done. No one who teaches the Bible should have a problem with this, for such a procedure is really the only way to keep everyone honest. As believers in Jesus Christ, we must ultimately place our faith in God and in the Word of God--Jesus, the living Word, and in the Bible, the written Word--not in man's words.... Believers have the responsibility to place what the Bible says over what people (even well intentioned and respected people) may say. Now this principle is impossible to fulfill without reading your Bible regularly. As believers, we are to "evaluate everything" (1 Thes. 5:21), "test the spirits, to see whether or not they are from God" (1 Jn. 4:1), and "assess" teaching and prophecy (1 Cor. 14:29). But how are we to do this without prior information? The fulfillment of these commands is impossible without a deep, solid grounding in the Bible itself....

And it is not just appropriate passages which must be taken into consideration. We need to have a broad understanding and feel for the entire canon of scripture, its whole woof and warp. As in the famous riddle of the blind men and the elephant, if we only have a limited view of all that is actually in the Bible, our judgment is bound to be distorted. It takes disciplined, regular reading of all the Holy Scriptures in combination with doctrinally accurate teaching to provide maximum protection from false teaching[3] [italics original].

It is important to note that Luginbill places great value on a "deep, solid" knowledge of the Bible, which is exactly what AIK claims human beings should possess if the God of Christianity exists. And since accepting false doctrines and teachings can easily lead to heresy and thus loss of salvation, A strongly supports AIK. Indeed, as Luginbill writes, "To put it simply, false teaching leads away from Christ, correct teaching leads toward Christ."[4] It is relevant that the Bible itself encourages people to verify what the pastors tell them--e.g., Isaiah 34:16: "Look in the scroll of the Lord and read." Moreover, devout Christians consider those who do not constantly read their Bibles, but merely constantly listen to preachers, to be sick and weak; they feed themselves only with milk rather than solid food (Hebrews 5:12-14). In other words, such Christians are satisfied with a very shallow knowledge of God's word, an attitude looked down upon by the vast majority of Christians.[5]

If God ensured that (almost) all human beings possessed an excellent knowledge of the Bible, they would not be so vulnerable to false teachings. Since God wants (almost) all human beings to be saved, and to know the truth (1 Tim. 2:4; John 3:16-17, 12:47), he would ensure a prevalent excellent knowledge of the Bible to prepare them to avoid false teachings, heresy, and loss of salvation.

B. The second reason is closely related to the first one. Christians also believe that the Bible offers answers to such crucial questions as: Are we all in need of salvation? What does it mean to be redeemed? Is there another way of redemption besides Jesus? What does God promise to those who believe in Jesus? When does the eternal life begin? Can anyone be sure (s)he has eternal life? Is public acceptance of Jesus important? What position should the Christian have with respect to money and wealth, abortion, animal abuse, capital punishment, divorce, hunting? And so on. The answers to these questions have an extremely important bearing on salvation. In order to know the "true" answers--and what to do and not to do to be saved--one must have a serious knowledge of the Bible.

Furthermore, the issue of salvation is a very complex matter which can easily confuse readers of the Bible. Verses like Luke 10:9 and Mark 13:30 teach that salvation is connected with belief in the coming of the kingdom of God. Matthew 5:19-20 claims that respecting every last detail of the commandments is necessary for salvation. And so on. Surely, one must have a good biblical knowledge to understand the complex and multiple requirements for salvation and how to fulfill them. For instance, in order to respect every detail of the law, one must be excellently informed about the contents of the law. John 15:25 ("this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you") requires that we know very much of what Jesus said and did so that we may be able to love others as Jesus wanted.

Furthermore, in James 1:18 we read: "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth." And in 1 Peter 1:23 we read: "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever." Christians usually interpret the latter verses to mean that one is born again by knowing the Word of God. They also believe that the Word of God (the Bible) has the power to cleanse us and make us holy: John 17:17, Psalm 119:11.

Moreover, the Bible is for Christians the only true leader: Psalms 119:9, 11, Psalms 105:2, 2 Timothy 3:15. Last but not least, it is also a weapon against sin and the Devil: Psalm 119:42; Hebrews 4:12-13.

These passages indicate that the Word of God has an immense value for Christians. Knowing it (almost) fully brings many essential advantages, including ones that have to do with salvation. For example, it answers many questions regarding salvation and helps one stay clean of sin, fight temptation, and become born again. And since losing salvation is the worst thing possible for us, having an excellent biblical knowledge is critical.

C. A third point supporting premise (1) is the Christian claim that God wrote the Bible (Deut. 18:18, Isaiah 43:1, Isaiah 51:16, Mark 12:36, 1 Thessalonians 2:13, 2 Timothy 3:16, etc.) and instructed many to spread its message all over the world. According to Christianity, the Bible is very important for us, otherwise God would not have inspired it. As a perfectly rational being, surely God would not perform such an action without a good reason. Moreover, we know that the God of Christianity is not a deity who usually shows himself or communicates with humans. Thus, the presumed divine inspiration of the Bible only accentuates its importance.

Also note the verses in Jeremiah 31:33-34 and Hebrews 8:10-11. In Hebrews 8:10-11 we read:

For this [is] the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.

Thus, according to the Bible, God intended to implant both his laws and knowledge of himself into every person's mind. Knowledge of himself likely refers to knowledge of God's character, nature, and actions in history. As Jeremiah 9:24 writes: "But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I [am] the LORD which exercise loving kindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these [things] I delight, saith the LORD." Clearly, to know all these things about God, one should know vast portions of both testaments. It is also important to understand that according to Hebrews 8:10-11, God prefers that human beings know about him through first-hand knowledge rather than from intermediaries. This strengthens the suggestion that God should just "plant" the text in our minds.[6]

D. The Bible itself says that (almost) every verse is very important and deserves to be known. In Matthew 4:4 we read: "But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." Notice here that every word of God (like food) is said to have vital importance for us. In Matthew 5:18-19 it is written:

For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach [them], the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

And Luke 21:33 says that "Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away." In addition, in 2 Timothy 3:16 we can read: "All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." Also note Psalms 119:103-104: "How sweet are thy words unto my taste! [yea, sweeter] than honey to my mouth! Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way." Thus the Bible itself declares that (almost) every single biblical word and verse is immensely important and deserves to be known.

E. The Christian God wants us to be perfect (Matthew 5:48). Presumably, a necessary condition for attaining perfection is an at least excellent knowledge of the Bible. For instance, 1 John 3:6 suggests that one who knows God does not sin: "Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him."

God also wants us to love him maximally (Matthew 22:37). As Theodore Drange says:

[L]oving God maximally (i.e., to an extent that could not possibly be increased) requires that one be aware that God loves humanity and also be aware of all the good that God has done for it. If someone were to love God but not be aware of all the good that God has done for humanity, then it would be possible for such a person to be made aware of all that good and thereby come to love God still more.[7]

In order for us to be aware of all the good that God has done for humanity, and thus fulfill his desire for us to love him maximally, it is plausible that an excellent knowledge of the Bible would be required.

F. Many Christians believe that the Bible provides strong evidence of the truth of Christianity. They affirm that Christianity "is the only religion that can prove itself, and a main source of that proof is the Bible."[8] If that's correct, then the vast majority of persons could have become Christians (as God wanted) if (almost) everyone had known the Bible.

F is only intended to be an internal critique of what many (perhaps most) Christians believe. If the Bible provides strong evidence for the truth of Christianity, why didn't God ensure that (almost) all humans would have knowledge of it, since he wants them to accept Christianity?

G. Most Christians claim that the Bible should not be quoted out of context and made to appear to teach things that actually conflict with it.[9] Thus, in order to understand the Bible's message, one must pay close attention to grammar and wording. This also calls for an excellent knowledge of the Bible. If God wants (almost) all humans to know the true biblical message, then he clearly wants (almost) all people to have an excellent knowledge of the Bible.

H. Jesus himself reportedly had an excellent knowledge of the Old Testament (OT), as Kenneth Jones points out: "Jesus perfectly knew the Scriptures and could interpret them without error. He referred to 20 persons and 19 of the books of the OT. He cited 66 times from the books of Moses, 40 times from Isaiah, 36 times from the Psalms and 26 from Daniel."[10] Since Christians usually assert that Jesus should be our model in life and that we should imitate him as much as we can, we should also know the Scriptures to an excellent degree. What's more, in the New Testament (NT) Jesus often used verses from the OT in order to fight the Devil (Matthew 4:4,7,10), emphasizing the importance of knowing the Word. Although it's not decisive, point H clearly supports AIK's premise (1).

Considering the enormous value and importance of (almost) all of the information contained in the Bible, and God's desire that (almost) all human beings know that information, it is plausible to think that an omnipotent and omniscient God would have actualized a state of affairs in which (almost) all people would know (almost) all of the contents of this book. But since very few human beings have had such an excellent knowledge of the Bible, it is reasonable to believe that the God of Christianity probably does not exist.

Objections and responses

O1: God is not able to actualize a world in which all or almost all human beings having an at least excellent knowledge of the Bible's contents.

Response:

On the contrary, an easy and extremely efficient way for God to do this is to implant the whole content of the Bible in our minds at birth (in memory). In fact, God himself intended to implant his law and the knowledge of him into people's minds, which can only strengthen my response to O1. In Hebrews 8:10-11 we read:

For this [is] the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.

See also Jeremiah 31:33-34.

A critic might object that my notion of engraving the contents of the Bible in the minds of newborns is unclear. As Theodore Drange asks: "What exactly would be engraved? Would it be the whole KJV translation of both OT and NT from beginning to end? If not the KJV, then which translation? What if it is unclear which language a newborn (say, an orphan) will eventually learn? Which language translation of the Bible would God have imprinted on the newborn's mind?"[11]

But an omniscient God would know what the best translation of the Bible is in each language. That would be the translation which he would engrave. As for the language of the newborn, if God has foreknowledge (as the Bible suggests), then he already knows the primary language that a child will speak. On the other hand, if omniscience does not entail foreknowledge, then God could simply wait until the child begins to learn his primary language. He wouldn't have to wait more than 5-6 years, since a juvenile is normally capable of speaking a language by then.

Note that the idea of knowing the scriptures from early childhood is found in the Bible and highly appreciated there (e.g., 2 Timothy 3:15-17). Moreover, my response does not claim that memorization of each and every biblical verse is important. If God so preferred, he could simply implant a complete knowledge of the Bible without implanting the exact form of the words used.

One might object that God is not responsible for those who willfully refuse to read the Bible and that implanting biblical knowledge into their minds would take away their freedom to make that choice. But this response is dubious because it conflicts with certain features attributed to the Christian God, such as parental care for the happiness and salvation of his children. Imagine that X is the parent of Y. Y is a heavy smoker and, while he knows that information on the grave effects of his choice exist, he willfully doesn't read them because of a prejudice. Suppose that, by the simple push of a button, X could put such information into Y's brain without forcing Y to accept it. It is reasonable to believe that if X is a good parent and cares a great deal about Y, then X would choose to push the button. Doing otherwise would reveal X's indifference about Y's fate. The same point is true for God. A caring God would ensure that his children know his message for them well, allowing them to choose between accepting him (and being happy forever) and rejecting him (and being miserable forever) in a fully informed way.

O2: If God were to implant all of the Bible's content into our minds, then we couldn't freely believe in and accept him.

Response:

But knowing the Bible does not entail accepting the existence of the biblical God. For instance, many Bible scholars are atheists (e.g., Robert Price, Dan Barker) or have other religions (cf. Acts 13:46 and Hosea 4:6). Of course, some may reply that knowing the Bible by heart from birth is such an extraordinary thing that we would easily understand it as a miracle, and thus be forced to believe that the God of the Bible exists. But many Christians believe that God frequently produces miracles, such as weeping icons, angelic public encounters, and miraculous healings. Moreover, they even point them out to unbelievers in order to convince them that God exists. Moreover, according to the Book of Acts, God himself empowered some of the apostles to perform miracles in order to convince nonbelievers to accept Christianity. So there is nothing problematic from a Christian point of view with believing in God on the basis of miracles. What, then, would be objectionable about a belief in God based on the miracle of excellent inborn knowledge of the Bible?

Even putting this response aside, God could have built our brains so that we would be incapable of concluding that he exists on the basis of having the aforementioned knowledge implanted in our memory. Even now it sometimes (perhaps often) happens that we do not see or understand obvious things. In the same manner, God could have made us so that we would never see the "obvious" truth of the idea "God exists because we have an inborn excellent knowledge of his message." It is important to understand here that I am not saying that people should never be capable of concluding that God exists; this response to O2 only requires that we are never capable of concluding this on the basis of our inborn knowledge of the Bible.

O3: God wants human beings to seek and come to an excellent knowledge of the Bible on their own. It would be too easy to have it implanted by God; human beings would not be left with much to do to earn their salvation.

Response:

According to the Bible, it is not true that under these circumstances, "human beings would not be left with much to do to earn their salvation." In Mark 16:15-16 we read: "And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." What this verse makes clear is that simply knowing the Gospel's contents is not sufficient to gain salvation. Even with an excellent knowledge of the Bible we would still have to confront evil, be generous, and so on. In fact, we often see persons who, despite having a very good knowledge of the Bible and believing in its truth, have considerable difficulty following some of its precepts (cf. Romans 2:13). A mere theoretical knowledge of the Bible is worthless. Christ is said to have declared: "blessed are they that hear the Word of God, and keep it" (Luke 11:28). Therefore, knowing the Gospel to the highest degree possible is not enough to be saved.

Sometimes proponents of O3 maintain that it would be helpful for people to approach the scriptures in a state of ignorance since there are valuable lessons to be gained in the learning process. Just as falling down a few times helps a young child master walking, "falling down" a few times can also help us master the Bible. This reply is unconvincing, however, because it suggests that learning "the hard way" is a goal in itself. But this is not so. If we could obtain an excellent knowledge of an interesting subject matter in a more efficient way (requiring less time and making us better at retaining the information) then surely we shouldn't regret learning in this way.

One theistic response is that extending my argument from biblical knowledge to all knowledge would create a simple database within our minds that would eliminate our curiosity (because we would know everything). We would have knowledge without having to learn, commit, study, etc--i.e., God would eliminate the benefits of discipline. But this response is dubious for a number of reasons. First, curiosity and discipline are not good things in themselves. For the most part they are important when we are ignorant because they give us the determination to learn more and to learn more effectively. If we already knew (to a high degree) everything that is useful to us, then curiosity and discipline would largely be unnecessary. But more importantly, AIK does not require God to give us all of the knowledge we might need, but only knowledge of the Bible. This is because, according to most Christians, the Bible is an essential and totally special book, the message of God to humanity. Thus God could let human beings gain all nonbiblical knowledge the hard way, through curiosity and discipline. If learning on our own and through curiosity and discipline is really valuable, then we would have plenty of opportunities to practice it even with an excellent knowledge of the Bible.

O4: The Bible is not that important. Human beings can be saved even without reading it, so there is little point in holding that God has to ensure that (almost) all people know (almost) all of the Bible.

Response:

First, as shown in subsections A and B, salvation is a rather complex issue, and the danger of accepting heresy is a serious one. Thus it is hard to see how people could acquire accurate information about salvation outside of the Bible. Though some would suggest that direct personal revelation is an alternative source, many Christians would disagree: "No one today has access to divine truth by means of any personal interview with deity. God does not speak in dreams, visions, or by a supernatural illumination of the Holy Spirit. Objective revelation has been made known through the completed Bible, and men will only be exposed to the message of the Scriptures as we distribute the sacred volume and proclaim its saving message."[12] Kenneth Jones concurs:

All that we need to know about God is in the Bible. Today God does not speak to us through visions, dreams and prophets anymore, like in the past, but 'at the ending of these days, he spoke through the Son' (Hebrews 1:2). We have today something that the Church in the time of Paul did not, namely, the complete Bible. The Primary Church did not lack the teachings of the NT, because it had prophets who received revelations directly from God via the Holy Ghost. When the Scriptures were finished however, direct revelation has ended, and God is revealing himself now only in his Word. God's servants of today are spreading God's messages based only on the Word of God.[13]

The reasons presented by Jones are credible. Indeed, the Bible itself claims that it contains everything we need to know for our spiritual guidance, suggesting that it is perfect or complete and any added word would amount to heresy. (See, for example, Deuteronomy 4:2: "Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish [ought] from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you." Also note Proverbs 30:5-6: "Every word of God [is] pure: he [is] a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.") Thus, according to the Bible, it is pointless to argue that God still uses direct revelation to communicate with human beings, as no essential information is excluded from the Bible. And even if we assume that God does communicate with human beings directly, there is no reason to think that he provides them with essential information absent from the Bible. Therefore, whatever God supposedly directly reveals to people today would still be biblical knowledge. But the crucial question remains: Why didn't God make sure that (almost) every human being has excellent biblical knowledge in the first place? And why are there so many people who do not have an at least mediocre knowledge of the Bible's contents?

Setting this point aside, in Acts 13:46 we read that "It was necessary that the Word of God should first have been spoken to you. Since you thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles." This obviously means that spreading God's word (the whole Bible, not simply "the Gospel message") is a necessity. Thus, it is implausible to argue that humans could be saved without knowing God's word. It is hard to see why spreading the Word across the world would be a necessity if people did not need knowledge of the Bible in order to attain salvation.

Moreover, even if knowing the Bible to an excellent degree is not necessary for salvation, it is clear that it is very important. According to 1 Timothy 2:4, "[God] will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth." Since this suggests that God wants us to be saved and to know the truth, the two are different and apparently both are extremely important. Thus knowing the Bible's content is a very good thing in itself even if it is not a sufficient condition (and perhaps not even a necessary condition) for salvation. As pointed out in subsection D, (almost) every biblical verse is of great importance. In subsection E it was argued that God wants us to be perfect and to love him maximally, but this is hard to do without knowing the Bible to a great extent. There are other important gains from knowing the Bible, as John Stott writes:

The Word of God is just as essential for our spiritual life as food is for our bodies. Life and health are literally impossible without It. Through His Word, God plants in us spiritual life (Jacob 1:23, 1 Peter 1:23-25). By the same Word He teaches us, guides us, feeds us, supports and strengthens us. Indeed, only through His Word can man reach maturity and become 'thoroughly furnished unto all good works' (2 Timothy 3:17).[14]

All these points suggest that God would very much want (at least) the vast majority of people to know the Bible very well before their physical deaths, even supposing that they could be saved without it. Therefore, even if O4's basic idea is correct--that people could be saved without knowing the Bible--Christians still owe us an explanation for why God does not make sure that (almost) everyone has an excellent knowledge of the Bible. After all, he wants this very much and there does not seem to be anything holding him back from actualizing this situation. Thus AIK's (1) would pose a strong threat to Christian theism even if O4 were correct.

Some proponents of O4 maintain that nature itself is powerful evidence in favor of the existence of God and of his good character. But this reply is unconvincing, as Pink notes:

Though the creation bears unmistakable testimony to the existence of its Creator, and though sufficient is revealed of God through it to render all men "without excuse" (Romans 1:20), yet creation does not present a complete unveiling of God's character. Creation reveals God's wisdom and power, but it gives us a very imperfect presentation of His mercy and love. Creation is now under the curse. It is imperfect because it has been marred by sin. Therefore, an imperfect creation cannot be a perfect medium for revealing God and hence, also, the testimony of creation is contradictory.[15]

Jones agrees that nature cannot, by itself, reveal God's nature: "The creation of the Universe does not reveal who is God nor his character, thoughts, works or acts. The people who had a revelation only from nature did not know the living, true God, because they turned to idolatry, worshiping idols of bronze, iron, wood and stone.... What a confusion!"[16]

Therefore, all that observing nature could do is provide evidence for some sort of creator of the world. This is awfully incomplete and cannot even begin to approximate the complexity and richness of the knowledge contained in the Bible concerning God. The same is true of ways of drawing people closer to God, such as through suffering. Even if suffering does indeed make some people take refuge in [belief in] God's existence (assuming that it doesn't have the exact opposite effect, of creating the impression the God is nonexistent[17]), knowing the Bible would greatly improve their knowledge about God. So why would the Christian God allow this situation? Why doesn't he ensure that (almost) all human beings have the complete package of information concerning who the true God is? As pointed out repeatedly, we have excellent reasons to think that the Christian God would strongly prefer that people have very good biblical knowledge rather than being fairly ignorant of the Bible. Since this would be true even if human beings could be saved without knowing the Bible, O4 has yet again proven to be a weak objection to AIK's first premise.

Occasionally proponents of O4 point out that before the Bible was written down and the various books assembled together, no printed book was available and very few people could read written manuscripts anyway. Religious doctrines propagated by preachers talking to people in groups. There was no such thing as "the Bible" until many centuries later. Thus, these proponents argue, knowing the Bible apparently was not important to God.

But such historical facts only support AIK's second premise. If God existed before the Bible was composed, these historical details should not have occurred. Moreover, most Christians claim that (almost) all biblical verses were inspired by God and that the Bible confirms their position. Why would God inspire those verses if knowing them was not important? Was he bored? Didn't he have better things to do? On the other hand, if those verses are indeed important, then why didn't God ensure that (almost) all people would know them? Even if only 50% of the Bible was inspired by God, then God should have ensured that (almost) all people would come to know at least 50% of it without any intermediaries, in the most efficacious way possible. Otherwise God's rationality is hard to defend.

In sum, O4 is unconvincing for at least three reasons. First, since the Bible first appeared, there apparently has not been any direct revelation from God, making it implausible that salvation could be possible without knowing the Bible, especially given the complexity of the matter. Second, there are biblical verses that insist that knowing the Bible is a necessity, implying that human beings cannot be saved without knowledge of the Bible. And third, even if knowing the Bible is not essential for salvation, AIK's first premise remains true: Christianity holds that God wants us to know his word very well and there are no obstacles preventing God from ensuring that we possess that information.

O5: In the Middle Ages the Catholic Church opposed mass reading of the Bible. The Church also opposed the original mass printing of the Bible. It was an offense even to own a copy of the book. Thus, it is not clear that everybody knowing the Bible is a good thing.

Response:

The Catholic Church's policies here have no biblical support. There is nothing in the Bible to suggest that God finds it undesirable for the majority of people to know the Bible very well. Moreover, the medieval Church was primarily concerned in maintaining worldly power by keeping people in a state of ignorance in order to manipulate and exploit them (especially for financial gain). Protestants are right to argue that, according to the Bible, reading and knowing the Bible is very important for the individual, and theological knowledge is not the privilege of the clergy. For this is the Bible's message. Verses like 1 Peter 2:9-10 and Revelations 1:6, 5:9-10 suggest that every Christian is a priest. Therefore, the distinction between the clergy and the laity loses much of its importance, making it implausible that theological knowledge is meant only for the former.

O6: Jesus did not command (or advise) people to evaluate the correctness of what they are taught. He said "blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (John 20:29). Therefore, people should simply listen to whatever preachers are telling them and not verify that information with the Bible. In other words, the Bible is useless as long as priests and preachers exist.

Response:

The appeal to John 20:29 is extremely problematic. As Theodore Drange writes,

The message here may not be that God wants people to believe things without any evidence whatever. It may be, rather, that there are other forms of evidence than seeing, such as, for example, the testimony of friends. Perhaps God is simply indicating that he approves of belief based on the testimony of others. Note that, earlier, the resurrected Christ had upbraided some of his disciples for not trusting the testimony of other disciples (Mark 16:14). His words to Thomas may have been just a continuation of that theme.[18])

Thus it is not clear that Jesus encourages people to believe things without evidence here. And in any case, it is hard to believe that he would want people to accept whatever the first preacher who came their way told them about him and his father. Remember that in the New Testament, particularly in Acts 17:11, people who verify what they are being taught are treated as positive examples of believers: "Now the [Bereans] were more honorable in character than the people of Thessalonika, for they received the Word with great enthusiasm, while examining the scriptures for verification of what [they were being taught]."[19]) The Old Testament also encourages people to verify what pastors tell them, as in Isaiah 34:16: "Look in the scroll of the Lord and read."

What's more, in John 14:23 Jesus "answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." But to be certain that one knows Jesus' words, one should read the New Testament carefully (if the NT accurately records his words, as Christians presume). Hence, on Christianity, it is implausible to think that Jesus didn't want people to read the New Testament, or was indifferent about the importance of reading the Bible.

O7: God has one or more good reasons to let many of us to come to an incomplete knowledge of the Bible, but we cannot understand his reasons because of our limited minds.

Response:

Supposing that theism is true, God could have unknown reasons for creating human beings with an excellent knowledge of the Bible, reasons that we cannot understand with our limited cognitive abilities but which could be understood by God. So the possibility that God has unknown purposes for allowing human beings to have insufficient biblical knowledge is counterbalanced by the possibility that he has unknown purposes for allowing us to have an excellent knowledge of the Bible. Thus O7 does not pose any significant problems for AIK. We cannot say whether O7 is correct, and an objection which may or may not be correct has no strength.

Putting that response aside, we must ask ourselves what O7 suggests. Is it probable, or merely possible, that God has such a reason? If it is probable, O7 would be successful only if the arguments for God's existence were excellent. If we had very convincing reasons to believe that God exists, then maybe we could say in the face of arguments like AIK: "God probably has a good reason to permit this state of affairs." But it is not at all clear that theistic arguments are really that strong. Not even many theists would affirm that they are. As Keith Parsons put it: "Alvin Plantinga expends vast labors of modal logic to argue that theism is no less rational than atheism. Richard Swinburne devotes his enormous expertise in Bayesian confirmation theory to the claim that God's existence is rather more likely than his nonexistence."[20]) Similarly, if a surgeon saves 30 patients out of 100 when statistics show that typically 60 out of every 100 patients undergoing the same procedure are saved, we would only be entitled to say that the doctor has a good explanation for his failures if we had excellent evidence of his competence. Otherwise, the most plausible explanation would be that the doctor is simply incompetent. On the other hand, if we say that it is only possible that God has such an unknown purpose to permit insufficient biblical knowledge, then O7 amounts to saying that it is only possible that AIK fails. But it is clear that an argument cannot be attacked only on the grounds that it is possible for it to fail.[21]

Is AIK A New Argument against the Existence of the Christian God?

AIK is different from the argument that it is unfair of God to damn people who've never even heard of the Bible, while at the same time saving those fortuitous enough to have discovered it:

a. AIK refers to those who never discovered the Bible before their physical deaths as well as those who were aware of it but did not know it completely or at least to a very high degree. Thus AIK is much broader in scope.

b. AIK is not based on the differences between those who have heard of the Bible and those who have not. Rather, it is based on a similarity between them: the fact that the vast majority of people who've ever lived have only had an insufficient (if any) knowledge of the Bible. Moreover, AIK does not aim to show that the Christian God probably doesn't exist because of the unfairness of requiring an excellent knowledge of the Bible in order to obtain salvation. Rather, it aims to show that the Christian God probably doesn't exist because it would be irrational for him to actualize widespread ignorance of the Bible: he wants (almost) all human beings to know at least the vast majority of the Bible, nothing holds him back from actualizing this state of affairs, and yet, inexplicably, he doesn't actualize it.

In order to clarify the distinction, we can stipulate that AIK could proceed from the assumption that absolutely all persons in history have heard of the Bible and even been aware of some biblical doctrines. Although this is contingently false as a historical matter, such an assumption would have no effect on AIK if it were true.

AIK is also distinct from Theodore Drange's Argument from Nonbelief (ANB)[22], as AIK claims that the Christian God probably does not exist given the enormous number of persons who do not have an excellent knowledge of the Bible. Unlike ANB, AIK does not require a large number of unbelievers. Of course, AIK is nevertheless compatible with nonbelief on large scale.

AIK also differs from Drange's Argument from Confusion (AC). AC is formulated by Drange as follows:

(A) Christians are confused in that:

1. They disagree with one another about important doctrinal issues such as God's nature, God's law (e.g., which kinds of killing, if any, are within the law), the role of sacraments, the requirements for salvation, the role of the Roman Pope, the place of Hebrews and the nation of Israel, the sequence of end-time events, the status of the Bible, and so on. The list goes on and on.

2. The Bible contradicts itself on these doctrinal matters, is exceedingly unclear in many important places, and contains errors which make it appear to be a merely manmade work.

3. Different copies of the Hebrew and Greek biblical manuscripts say conflicting things. Even the biblical canon involves disputes and is apparently arbitrary.

4. There is no objective procedure for settling any of the many disputes, especially since the original manuscripts of the Bible have been lost, and there has been no public declaration from God that would resolve any of them.

(B) If the God of Christianity were to exist, then he would love all Christians and want that love to be reciprocated. He would also strongly desire that, here on earth, Christians become aware of, and be clear about, those aspects of his nature and system of governance that have importance to their lives.

(C) Hence, if that God were to exist, then he would prevent Christians from becoming confused in their beliefs about his nature and system of governance in ways that have importance to their lives and that interfere with them coming to love him.

(D) But Christians have not been prevented from becoming confused in those ways. The forms of disagreement and confusion mentioned in premise (A), above, are of the sort in question.

(E) Therefore, the God of Christianity does not exist.[23]

Because AIK makes no reference to biblical inconsistencies and the like, it is clearly separate from AC. AC requires the existence of such contradictions to succeed, as indicated by its premise (A). But AIK could just as well be neutral about whether there are any biblical contradictions. Their existence, or lack thereof, is irrelevant to AIK.[24]

Conclusion

According to both Christians and the Bible, the Word of God has an immense value and importance for us. Hence we would expect that God, wanting what is best for us, would ensure that (almost) everybody would know the contents of this book before the their physical deaths. In this paper I have argued that there are no undesirable consequences, from the Christian God's point of view, for ensuring that (almost) all human beings have an excellent knowledge of the information contained in the Bible.

Since the Christian God wants us to know the Bible's content, and it would not be problematic for him to let (almost) anyone know it, it follows that the actual lack of biblical knowledge among most human beings is best explained by the probable nonexistence of the God of Christianity.

 


NOTES

[1] I am indebted to Paul Draper, two anonymous Secular Web reviewers, and especially to Theodore Drange for their invaluable suggestions on earlier versions of this paper. I also thank Keith Augustine for formatting my paper and giving it a suitable form for publication.

[2] "The Most Important Book in the Universe." http://www.jesus-is-lord.com/Bible.htm.

[3] Robert D. Luginbill, "Read Your Bible: Protection against Cults: A Basic Christian Right and Responsibility." http://www.ichthys.com/readBible.htm.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Hosea 4:6 emphasizes the importance of biblical knowledge for salvation: "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children." Thus, the knowledge of God (probably meaning his nature, his deeds, etc.) is a condition for salvation.

[6] Some Christians might insist here that God does, via the Holy Spirit, plant the knowledge essential for salvation in the minds of those who seek after Jesus. One problem with this suggestion, however, is that we do not have good reasons to believe that the Holy Spirit is indeed planting knowledge into anyone's mind. See Michael Martin, "Craig's Holy Spirit Epistemology," /library/modern/michael_martin/holy_spirit.html.

[7] Theodore M. Drange, "The Arguments From Evil and Nonbelief." /library/modern/theodore_drange/aeanb.html.

[8] "How Do You Know The Bible Is True?" http://www.clarifyingchristianity.com/b_proof.shtml.

[9] A. L. Barry, "What About the Bible?" http://www.lcms.org/graphics/assets/media/LCMS/wa_Bible1.pdf.

[10] Kenneth Jones, "The Bible, the Word of Truth," trans. into Romanian by Olimpiu S. Cosma. Agape, 2003, p. 28.

[11] Theodore Drange, private correspondence.

[12] Wayne Jackson, "Seven Important Truths Concerning the Bible." Christian Courier: Archives, March 2, 2000.

[13] K. Jones, ibid., p. 10.

[14] John Stott, "Understanding the Bible," trans. into Romanian by Mirela Rădoi. Romanian Aid Fund, 1993, p. 203.

[15] A. W. Pink, "There is a Presumption in Favor of the Bible." http://www.fundamentalpreaching.com/.

[16] K. Jones, ibid., p. 5.

[17] For a good analysis of the relevance of suffering to belief in God, see Michael Martin's "Human Suffering and the Acceptance of God," /library/modern/michael_martin/suffering.html.

[18] Drange, "The Arguments From Evil and Nonbelief." /library/modern/theodore_drange/aeanb.html.

[19] Consider what Luginbill has to say about these verses in "Read Your Bible: Protection against Cults: A Basic Christian Right and Responsibility," http://www.ichthys.com/readBible.htm.

[20] Keith Parsons, "Is Non-Christian Thought Futile?" /library/modern/michael_martin/jones-parsons-martin/parsons.html. For numerous professional criticisms of many theistic arguments see the Secular Web's library: /library/modern/theism/arguments.html. Keep in mind that in order to substantiate my response to O7, all I need to show is that the arguments in favor of God's existence are not excellent, not necessarily that they have zero credibility.

[21] Some sophisticated Christian theologians might appeal to Stephen Wykstra's position in defense of one form of O7. Briefly, Wykstra emphasizes the claim that God's purposes are beyond human understanding. See, for example, his "The Humean Obstacle to Evidential Arguments from Suffering: On Avoiding the Evils of 'Appearance'," International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 16 (1984). However, Wykstra's position has numerous criticisms. Some of these are presented by Theodore Drange in his Nonbelief and Evil: Two Arguments for the Nonexistence of God, Prometheus Books, 1998, pp. 205-211.

[22] Drange, "The Arguments From Evil and Nonbelief."

[23] Theodore M. Drange, "The Arguments from Nonbelief and Confusion for the Nonexistence of God," /library/modern/theodore_drange/drange-wilson/drange1.html.

[24] AIK is also related to J. L. Schellenberg's argument from divine hiddenness, but it is not simply a species of it. But if AIK were just a species of Schellenberg's argument, that would not detract from its importance. For instance, Richard Schoenig's argument from unfairness is a species of the argument from evil and yet is a respected and well-known argument. See Schoenig's "The Argument from Unfairness" in Impossibility of God, ed. Michael Martin and Ricki Monnier, Prometheus Books, 2004).


Copyright ©2005 Horia George Plugaru and Internet Infidels, Inc.

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