By Roy C. Deaver (1922-2007)
[Note: This piece by my grandfather was published in the July 1977 issue of Spiritual Sword (Thomas B. Warren, editor); at the time, he was serving as director of the Brown Trail Preacher Training School. —Weylan Deaver]
It is not unusual at all in our day to hear someone say, “Yes, but we cannot know that God exists. There is no way to prove that God exists. We are compelled to accept the idea of the existence of God by faith.” In response to special invitation I had taken the men of Brown Trail Preacher Training School to Abilene Christian College for the “Preachers’ Workshop.” One of the “buzz sessions” was on “Christian Apologetics.” Of the twenty-five men present in that session twenty-two of them were students at Brown Trail. I had the opportunity of making a few remarks about the meaning and nature of faith, the meaning and nature of knowledge, and the importance of being able to prove that God is, and that the Bible is the word of God. A member of the ACC faculty responded by saying, “There is no way we can prove the existence of God.”
Then again, just this past year, I went with our students to the workshop. The first lecture of the program dealt with the problem of knowledge and its relationship to the existence of God. The speaker—a highly educated, highly trained, exceptionally capable man—emphasized over and over that there is no way to be sure; there is no way to KNOW; there is no way to PROVE the existence of God. He made brief reference to the various arguments frequently used in efforts to prove the existence of God, but he stressed that these arguments were not adequate. He repeatedly declared that “These arguments take you down to this point but from there on you have to proceed on the basis of faith.” He said that this is the case because “There is no way to really know. ”
Immediately following this presentation there was a question session. I raised my hand, was recognized, and spoke as follows: “I would like to ask the speaker one question: Are you sure about that?” He recognized immediately the force of the question, stepped slowly to the microphone, and said: “No.” This admission, of course, destroyed his entire speech. But, his answer was really the only one he could give. If he had said “yes,” he would thereby have admitted that there is some process by which one can arrive at certainty with regard to at least some points. And, if he could follow that process and arrive at certainty with regard to that point, it just might be possible that I could follow that process and arrive at certainty with regard to other points.
Too, it should be pointed out that the brother who made the speech was misusing the word “faith.” That is, he was not using the word “faith” in harmony with the New Testament usage of the word “faith.” When this brother said, “These arguments take you down to this point but from there on you have to proceed on the basis of faith” he was stressing the idea that evidence will take one just so far, and from there on he must proceed upon the basis of accepting something with regard to which there is no evidence. And, to use the word “faith” in the sense of proceeding where there is no evidence is to use the word out of harmony with and contrary to the Bible usage of this word.
Others also are guilty of misusing the word “faith.” One brother, in insisting that we cannot know but that we can establish strong probability, declares that the man of faith behaves “as if” he knew. We would be inclined to ask the question: if the man of faith acts as if he knows, when in reality he knows that he does not know, why is not the man of faith a hypocrite? Further, why is not the man of faith an agnostic? The following quotations are from men whom I love and respect—men of marvelous educational background, men who love the Lord and His word, men who are personal friends of this writer. I am listing here their statements—not to embarrass them, but to try to drive home the point that many are using the word “faith” in a sense out of harmony with the Scriptures. Note carefully: “As indicated earlier, there is not enough evidence anywhere to absolutely prove God, but there is adequate evidence to justify the assumption or the faith that God exists.” “This choice or commitment is into the realm of the subjective, to be sure, since it transcends the objective and what can be clearly proved, and thus it is a leap of faith,” “Hence, it is more reasonable to take the short leap of faith required in Christian belief than it is to take the long leap of faith that is required in atheism. Absolute, dogmatic, unequivocable, complete evidence is often not possible, but a strong presumption is demonstrable.” “The evolutionist has a faith and I have a faith. I happen to believe that my faith is the more reasonable faith.”
What is the meaning of “faith” in the Bible? How is this word used? Does “faith” (in the Bible sense) mean strong probability? Is it identical with assumption? Does it exist only in the absence of evidence? “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain,…” (Heb. 11:4). “By faith Noah…prepared an ark to the saving of his house” (Heb. 11:7). “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed to go out unto a place which he was to receive for an inheritance…” (Heb. 11:8). What does “by faith” mean in these statements? Were Abel, Noah, and Abraham guessing? Were they responding upon the basis of assumption? strong probability? acting where there was no evidence? The Bible declares: “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God,” (Rom. 10:17). Therefore, Biblical faith inherently involves; (1) the fact of the existence of God; (2) the fact of the existence of man; (3) the revealing ability of God to man; (4) the response-ability of man; (5) the testimony of God to man; (6) man’s proper response to that testimony. Faith—in the Bible sense—means taking God at His word. It means doing just what God said do, just because God said to do it. There is no Biblical faith where there is no testimony of God.
Faith does not mean absence of evidence. In fact, Biblically approved faith requires evidence. Where there is no evidence there can be no faith. God expects us to be concerned about evidence. The very existence of the Bible presupposes the need for evidence. John said, “…but these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing, ye may have life in his name” (John 20:31). We are not inclined in the least to criticize the attitude of Thomas. Rather, we have great respect and admiration for his attitude. His attitude was: “Without evidence I will not believe. Give me the evidence, and I will believe.” The Lord gave him the evidence. When Thomas saw the evidence, he declared: “My Lord and my God.”
Faith does not in all cases mean the absence of literal sight. Sometimes faith is clearly contrasted with sight (as in 2 Cor. 5:7), but there can be faith where there is sight. The Lord said to Thomas: “Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed.” Many more of the Samaritans believed on the Lord because of His word (John 4:41). The fact of their seeing Him did not preclude their believing on Him. There can be faith where there is no sight. The Lord said to Thomas: “…blessed are they that have not seen, and yet believed.”
Neither does faith mean the absence of knowledge. It should be shouted from the housetops that Biblically approved faith does not rule out knowing. Paul said, “being therefore always of good courage, and knowing that whilst we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord…” (2 Cor. 5:6). How did Paul know? “For we walk by faith, not by sight,” (2 Cor. 5:7). Here is knowledge which is the product of faith. Many of Samaria who believed on the Lord said to the woman: “Now we believe, not because of thy speaking: for we have heard for ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world” (John 4:42). These said, “We believe” and “We know.” Faith does not preclude knowledge, and knowledge does not preclude faith. Peter said to the Lord, “And we have believed and know that thou art the Holy One of God” (John 6:69). Paul said, “…for I know him whom I have believed…” (2 Tim. 1:12).
Can we know that God exists? The basic question underlying this question is: Can we know anything at all? For, if it is possible to know anything, then it is possible to know that God exists. Can one know anything? Is a normal human being capable of really knowing anything? To answer this question we must come to a knowledge of what “knowing” means. (Interesting sidelight: Is it possible for one to come to a knowledge of what knowing is? Would it be possible for one to know that it is impossible for one to know?)
The answer to this question (Can we know anything?) involves the whole field of study called epistemology. Epistemology is that field of study which deals with the origin, nature, methods, and limits of knowledge. The human being, in two basic ways, comes to have knowledge. We come to know (learn) by experience, and we come to know (learn) by contemplation. Knowledge which comes by means of actual experience is placed under the heading of SCIENCE. Knowledge which comes by means of contemplation is placed under the heading of PHILOSOPHY. The knowledge which comes by experience may be: mathematical, physical, biological, or social. If the contemplation is about the universe it comes within the realm of metaphysics. If the contemplation is about conduct, it comes within the realm of ethics. If the contemplation is about the beautiful, it comes within the realm of aesthetics. If the contemplation is about correct reasoning (the principles of valid reasoning), it comes within the realm of logic. This reasoning involves two kinds: inductive and deductive.
The Empirical philosophers insist that only real knowledge is that which comes by means of the physical senses. The Existential philosophers insist that there is no way that one can really know anything. We are insisting at this point that though it is certainly true that there is knowledge which comes by means of the physical senses, it is also true that there is knowledge which comes by means of contemplation. We are insisting that it is possible for one to know and to know that he knows by working (in thought) according to the demands of the principles of correct reasoning.
It is generally recognized that 7 x 7 gives 49. The “49” represents a conclusion arrived at by contemplation. But it is possible for us to know (and to know that we know) that 7 x 7 gives 49. Likewise, if one places a dime in an envelope, and then places the envelope in a trunk—we can know where the dime is. We can know that the dime is in the trunk. And, this knowledge we have by contemplation, rather than by sense perception. If it is the case that all men are mortal beings, and if it is the case that Socrates was a man, then we know that it is the case that Socrates was a mortal being. I recently said to my students: “If it is the case that the accute accent can stand on either of the last three syllables of a Greek word, and if it is the case that the circumflex accent can stand only on either of the last two syllables of a Greek word, and if it is the case that the grave accent can stand only on the last syllable of a Greek word—then it is the case that if the third (the antepenult) syllable of a Greek word is accented that accent will have to be the accute. And, you can know this, and you can know that you know it.”
The “law of rationality” holds that “We ought to justify our conclusions by adequate evidence.” Adequate evidence absolutely demands certain conclusions. We are not talking about assumptions. We are not talking about guesses, or speculations. We are speaking of that conclusion which is absolutely demanded by the evidence at hand. And that conclusion which is demanded by the evidence is a matter of knowledge. It is “knowledge” just as much as is the case with regard to sense perception. It is evidence at hand. And that conclusion which is demanded by the evidence is a matter of knowledge. It is “knowledge” just as much as is the case with regard to sense perceptions. It is this kind of knowledge in particular that we have in mind when we emphasize that we can KNOW that God exists. It is this kind of knowledge which is compelled by consideration of the facts: there can be no effect without an adequate cause; there can be no law without a lawgiver; there can be no picture without a painter, no poem without a poet, no design without a designer, no thought without a thinker, no engineering without an engineer, no chemistry without a chemist, and no mathematics without a mathematician.
It is not the purpose of this article to discuss in detail how we can know that God exists, but rather to declare emphatically that it is a fact that we can know that God exists.
Perhaps it should be pointed out that so far as concerns those who love, believe and respect the Bible there should be no problem on this point. For, the Bible frequently and emphatically declares that we CAN and that we MUST know God. The Lord said, “And this is life eternal, that they should know thee the only true God, and him whom thou didst send, even Jesus Christ” (John 17:3). John said, “I have written unto you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning” (I John 2:13, 14). In fact, in the book of First John the writer uses the word “know” (in some form) twenty-four times. Those who insist that we cannot “know” would do well to study carefully John’s writings.