We have lost the lesson that was learned from the mistakes of Neville Chamberlain. How long will it take for us to learn it again?
We have lost the lesson that was learned from the mistakes of Neville Chamberlain. How long will it take for us to learn it again?
I have written on the books written by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, specifically their rendering of John 1:1c, “the word was a god” when all English translations have “the Word was God” or similar. One hundred percent of the Greek scholars who publish grammar texts disagree with the Watchtower.
In a response, one commenter on this blog said the following:
I shared your point with Rolf Furuli, who has exams in Greek and Latin and has taught University courses in Akkadian, Aramaic, Ethiopic, Hebrew, Phoenician, Syriac, and Ugaritic. He had this to say:
“I think the writer has missed something here. As a scholar who has taught Semitic languages for many years, and who has University exams in Greek and Latin as well, I would say that the translation “a god” in John 1:1c is the most natural one. The reason why “God” is chosen, is theology and not linguistics. Where is the Greek scholar who, on the basis of Greek lexicon, grammar, and syntax, has shown that “a god” in John 1:1c is a WRONG translation? I would think that almost all Greek scholars would agree that on the basis of linguistics “a god” is a perfectly legitimate rendering.
Such a statement is amazing in that it is so incorrect. However, when one becomes familiar with how the Watchtower has misused quotes in the past, it becomes not so surprising.
If you are not interested in the details, now would be the time to skip down to the Conclusion.
In this post I will quote several Greek grammar texts specifically. Before I do, I must repeat the following relevant points to the Greek translation issue:
Here are the quotes from the authors of Greek grammar texts that I own or have found in local libraries:
A New Short Grammar of the Greek Testament, Robertson, A. T., and Davis, W. Hershey (New York: Richard R. Smith, Inc., 1931):
As a rule the article is not used with the predicate noun even if the subject is definite. The article with one and not with the other means that the articular noun is the subject. Thus ό θεός άγάπε έστιν can only mean God is love, not love is God. So in Jo. 1:1 θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος the meaning has to be the Logos was God, not God was the Logos. If the article occurs with both predicate and subject they are interchangeable as in 1 Jo. 3:4, ἡ ἁμαρτία ἐστὶν ἡ ἀνομία sin is lawlessness and also lawlessness is sin (a needed lesson for our day). (279)
The Minister and His Greek New Testament, Robertson, A. T. (Grand Rapids: Baker):
A word should be said concerning the use and non-use of the article in John 1:1, where a narrow path is safely followed by the author. “The Word was God.” If both God and Word were articular, they would be coextensive and equally distributed and so interchangeable. But the separate personality of the Logos is affirmed by the construction used and Sabelianism is denied. If God were articular and Logos non-articular, the affirmation would be that God was Logos, but not that the Logos was God. As it is, John asserts that in the Pre-incarnate state the Logos was God, though the father was greater than the Son (John 14:28). (67-68)
The Watchtower insists that if Jesus were to be God Almighty, the text would have to have said, in effect, “the word was the God.” Here, Robertson is saying that if the Greek were to say “the word was the God”, then it would say that the Father and Jesus are one and the same person with no distinction in any way whatsoever, a heresy taught by Sabelius and continued today by Oneness Pentecostals.
A Handbook to the Grammar of the Greek Testament, rev. & improved ed., Religious Tract Society (Piccadilly: n.p.):
206. Hence arises the general rule, that in the simple sentence Subject takes the article, the Predicate omits it. . . John i:1: θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος, the Word was God.
Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics – Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament by Daniel B. Wallace (Zondervan Publishing House and Galaxie Software, 1996):
If θεός were indefinite, we would translate it “a god” (as is done in the New World Translation [NWT]). If so, the theological implication would be some form of polytheism, perhaps suggesting that the Word was merely a secondary god in a pantheon of deities.
The grammatical argument that the PN here is indefinite is weak. Often, those who argue for such a view (in particular, the translators of the NWT) do so on the sole basis that the term is anarthrous. Yet they are inconsistent, as R. H. Countess pointed out:
“In the New Testament there are 282 occurrences of the anarthrous θεός. At sixteen places NWT has either a god, god, gods, or godly. Sixteen out of 282 means that the translators were faithful to their translation principle only six percent of the time. …”
The first section of John-1:1–18-furnishes a lucid example of NWT arbitrary dogmatism. Θεός occurs eight times-verses 1, 2, 6, 12, 13, 18-and has the article only twice-verses 1, 2. Yet NWT six times translated “God,” once “a god,” and once “the god.”
If we expand the discussion to other anarthrous terms in the Johannine Prologue, we notice other inconsistencies in the NWT: It is interesting that the New World Translation renders θεός as “a god” on the simplistic grounds that it lacks the article. This is surely an insufficient basis. Following the “anarthrous = indefinite” principle would mean that ἀρχῇ should be “a beginning” (1:1, 2), ζωὴ should be “a life” (1:4), παρὰ θεοῦ should be “from a god” (1:6), Ἰωάννης should be “a John” (1:6), θεόν should be “a god” (1:18), etc. Yet none of these other anarthrous nouns is rendered with an indefinite article. One can only suspect strong theological bias in such a translation.
According to Dixon’s study, if θεός were indefinite in John 1:1, it would be the only anarthrous pre-verbal PN in John’s Gospel to be so. Although we have argued that this is somewhat overstated, the general point is valid: The indefinite notion is the most poorly attested for anarthrous pre-verbal predicate nominatives. Thus, grammatically such a meaning is improbable. Also, the context suggests that such is not likely, for the Word already existed in the beginning. Thus, contextually and grammatically, it is highly improbable that the Logos could be “a god” according to John (266-267)
A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, Dana, H. E., and Mantey, Julius R., (New York: Macmillan):
“The use of the articular and anarthrous construction of θεὸς is highly instructive. A study of the uses of the term is given in Moulton and Geden’s Concordance convinces one that without the article θεὸς signifies divine essence, while with the article divine personality is chiefly in view.” (139-140)
* * *
“The use of θεὸς in Jn. 1:1 is a good example. πρὸς τὸν θεόν points to Christ’s fellowship with the person of the Father; θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος emphasizes Christ’s participation in the essence of the divine nature. The former clearly applies to personality, while the latter applies to character. This distinction is in line with the general force of the article. (140)
* * *
(3) With the Subject in a Copulative Sentence. The article sometimes distinguishes the subject from the predicate in a copulative sentence. In Xenophon’s Anabasis, 1:4:6, έμπόριον δ ην τό χωρίον, and the place was a market, we have a parallel case to what we have in John 1:1, θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος, and the word was deity. The article points out the subject in these examples. Neither was the place the only market, nor was the word all of God, as it would mean if the article were also used with θεὸς. As it stands, the other persons of the Trinity may be implied in θεὸς. In a convertible proposition, where the subject and predicate are regarded as interchangeable, both have the article (cf. 1 Cor. 15:56). If the subject is a proper name, or a personal demonstrative pronoun, it may be anarthrous while the predicate has the article (cf. Jn. 6:51; Ac. 4:11; 1 Jn. 4:15). (148-149)
* * *
It is instructive to observe that the anarthrous noun occurs in many prepositional phrases. This is no mere accident, for there are no accidents in the growth of a language: each idiom has its reason. Nor is it because the noun is sufficiently definite without the article, which is true, as Greek nouns have an intrinsic definiteness. But that is not the reason for not using the article. A prepositional phrase usually implies some idea of quality or kind. Ἐν ἀρχῇ in Jn. 1:1 characterizes Christ as preexistent, thus defining the nature of his person. (150)
This grammar by Dana and Mantey is especially noteworthy, because the passage abover from their p.148 was cited years ago in a Watchtower publication in support of their “the word was a god” rendering. The commenter on this blog even used the same passage in Mantey’s grammar to try to support the “a god” rendering. Therefore a bit of explanation is in order.
The citation in question is the sentence on p.148 where Dana and Mantey rend a sentence from Xenophon as “the place was a market” calling it “a parallel case.” The Watchtower is wrong for the following reasons.
First, note that the paragraph is talking about “the subject in a copulative sentence.” The subject in the passage in question is the Word, while God is the predicate. So Mantey is making a point about logos, not theos. Second, saying “the place was market” is not typically meaningful in English, while “the word was God” is a meaningful sentence. Third, the paragraph is making a point about “the other persons of the Trinity is implied in theos” which is in direct disagreement to the Watchtower. Fourth, the rest of the quotes from Mantey’s grammar show that the book disagrees with the Watchtower.
Fifth, Mantey clarified exactly what he meant in his letter to the Watchtower:
Your quotation from p.148 (3) was in a paragraph under the heading: “With the Subject in a Copulative sentence.” Two examples occur there to illustrate that “the article points out the subject in these examples.” But we made no statement in the paragraph about the predicate except that , “as it stands the other persons of the trinity may be implied in theos.” And isn’t that the opposite of what your translation “a god” infers? You quoted me out of context. On pages 139 and 140 (VI) in our grammar we stated: “without the article theos signifies divine essence . . . theos en ho logos emphasizes Christ’s participation in the essence of the divine nature.” Our interpretation is in agreement with that in NEB and the TEV: “What God was, the Word was”; and with that of Barclay: “The nature of the Word was the same as the nature of God.
For the complete letter, see here.
Sixth, lest there be any doubt about what Julius Mantey meant about the Greek grammar of John 1:1, he was interviewed by Walter Martin and said this:
MARTIN: In John 1:1, the New World Translation (NWT) says that “the Word was a god,” referring to Jesus Christ. How would you respond to that?
MANTEY: The Jehovah’s Witnesses have forgotten entirely what the order of the sentence indicates – that the “Logos” has the same substance, nature, or essence as the Father. To indicate that Jesus was just “a god,” the JWs would have to use a completely different construction in the Greek.
MARTIN: You once had a little difference of opinion with the Watchtower about this and wrote them a letter. What was their response to your letter?
MANTEY: Well, as a backdrop, I was disturbed because they had misquoted me in support of their translation. I called their attention to the fact that the whole body of the New Testament was against their view. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is glorified and magnified – yet here they were denigrating Him and making Him into a little god of a pagan concept.
MARTIN: What was their response to what you said?
MANTEY: They said I could have my opinion and they would retain theirs. What I wrote didn’t faze them a bit.
MARTIN: I don’t know whether you’re aware of it, but there is not a single Greek scholar in the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. I did everything I could to find out the names of the translating committee of the NWT, and the Watchtower wouldn’t tell me a thing. Finally, an ex-JW who knew the committee members personally told me who they were, and the men on that committee could not read New Testament Greek; nor could they read Hebrew; nor did they have any knowledge of systematic theology – except what they had learned from the Watchtower. Only one of them had been to college, and he had dropped out after a year. He briefly studied the biblical languages while there.
MANTEY: He was born in Greece, wasn’t he?
MARTIN: Yes, he read modern Greek, and I met him when I visited the Watchtower. I asked him to read John 1:1 in the Greek and then said, “How would you translate it?” He said: “Well, ‘the word was a god.”‘ I said: “What is the subject of the sentence?” He just looked at me. So I repeated, “What is the subject of the sentence?” He didn’t know. This was the only person in the Watchtower to read Greek and he didn’t know the subject of the sentence in John 1:1. And these were the people who wrote back to you and said their opinion was as good as yours.
MANTEY: That’s right.
Therefore it is quite clear what Dana and Mantey’s Grammar meant about definite and indefinite articles in Greek, and it disagrees with the Watchtower.
Walter Martin claimed he met former members of the Watchtower who give him five known members of the Watchtower committee that wrote the New World Translation. They were Nathan H. Knorr, F. W. Franz, George D. Gangas, Milton G. Herschell, and A. D. Schroeder (Jehovah of the Watchtower, Martin and Klann (Minneapolis: Bethany, 1974), 176.
The following are all the English translations I currently have, excepting loose paraphrase versions.
NET Bible: “the Word was fully God.”
Darby Bible: “the Word was God.”
Lexham: “the Word was God.”
NCV: “the Word was God.”
KJV: “the Word was God.”
NKJV: “the Word was God.”
ISV: “the Word was God”
Douay-Rheims: “the Word was God.”
Young’s: “the Word was God.”
TNIV: “the Word was God.”
NIV (1984): “the Word was God.”
NIrV: “the Word was God.”
HCSB: “the Word was God.”
NRSV: “the Word was God.”
NASB: “the Word was God.”
ASV: “the Word was God.”
ESV: “the Word was God”
NJB: “the Word was God.”
WUESTNT: “the Word was as to His essence absolute deity”
CEV: “The Word was with God and was truly God.”
This shows twenty versions, most translated by many language scholars on a committee, which all agree. I have found no English versions outside of Watchtower publications that hold to their rendering of John 1:1. Even if we toss out the few that are not common, the remaining represent the bulk of language scholarship for the modern era.
We can solidly make the following conclusions:
Since the Watchtower tends to play games with quotations, there is a good summary of statements by various authors that they sometimes quote. You can find it here.
The discerning Bible student will do well to steer clear of Watchtower teachings and publications.
In honor of independence day, I offer the following quotes are from Great Quotations (CD-ROM) by William J. Federer. This book seems to have been renamed American Quotations. It is merely a large collection of quotations given without comment.
Virginia, Second Charter of (May 23, 1609), granted by King James I, stated:
Because the principal Effect which we can expect or desire of this Action is the Conversion and reduction of the people in those parts unto the true worship of God and the Christian Religion.
And forasmuch, as it shall be necessary for all such our loving Subjects, as shall inhabit within the said Precincts of Virginia, aforesaid, to determine to live together, in the Fear and true Worship of Almighty God, Christian Peace, and civil Quietness, with each other, whereby every one may, with more Safety, Pleasure, and Profit, enjoy that, whereunto they shall attain with great Pain and Peril.
Harvard University (1636), founded by the General Court of Massachusetts only sixteen years after the landing of the Pilgrims.
The Rules and Precepts observed at Harvard, September 26, 1642, stated:
Let every Student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the maine end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternall life, John 17:3 and therefore to lay Christ in the bottome, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and Learning. And seeing the Lord only giveth wisedome, Let every one seriously set himself by prayer in secret to seeke it of him Prov. 2, 3.
Every one shall so exercise himselfe in reading the Scriptures twice a day, that he shall be ready to give such an account of his proficiency therein, both in Theoreticall observations of Language and Logick, and in practicall and spirituall truths, as his Tutor shall require, according to his ability; seeing the entrance of the word giveth light, it giveth understanding to the simple, Psalm, 119:130.
New England Confederation, Constitution of the (May 19, 1643), was the first document in America where colonies united themselves. The colonists of New Plymouth, New Haven, Massachusetts & Connecticut, covenanted together, stated:
Whereas we all came to these parts of America with the same end and aim, namely, to advance the Kingdome of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to injoy the liberties of the Gospell thereof with purities and peace, and for preserving and propagating the truth and liberties of the gospell. …
And whereas in our setting (by a wise providence of God) we are further dispersed upon the sea coasts and rivers than was at first intended. …
The said United Colonies for themselves and their posterities to jointly and severaly hereby enter into a firm and perpetual league of friendship and amity for offence and defence, mutual advice and succor upon all just occasions both for preserving and propagating the Gospel and for their own mutual safety and welfare.
The Colony of Maryland required the every governor annually take an oath that they would not:
By themselves, or indirectly, to trouble, molest, or discountenance any person professing to believe in Jesus Christ, for or in respect of religion; and if any such were so molested, to protect the person molested, and punish the offender.
Pennsylvania, Great Law of (December 7, 1682), the first legislative act of Pennsylvania, stated:
Whereas the glory of Almighty God and the good of mankind is the reason and the end of government, and, therefore government itself is a venerable Ordinance of God. … [let there be established] laws as shall best preserve true Christian and Civil liberty, in opposition to all unchristian, licentious, and unjust practices, whereby God may have his due, and Caesar his due, and the people their due, from tyranny and oppression.
That no person, now or at any time hereafter, Living in this Province, who shall confess and acknowledge one Almighty God to be the Creator, Upholder and Ruler of the World, And who professes, him or herself Obliged in Conscience to Live peacably and quietly under the civil government, shall in any case be molested or prejudiced for his, or her Conscientious persuasion or practice.
Nor shall he or she at any time be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious worship, place of Ministry whatever, Contrary to his, or her mind, but shall freely and fully enjoy his, or her, Christian Liberty in that respect, without any Interruption or reflection.
And if any person shall abuse or deride any other, for his, or her different persuasion and practice in matters of religion, such person shall be looked upon as a Disturber of the peace, and be punished accordingly.
In February of 1776, John Adams, George Wythe, and Roger Sherman, all signers of the Declaration of Independence and office holders in early government, comprised a committee responsible for establishing guidelines for an embassy bound for Canada. Their instructions stated:
You are further to declare that we hold sacred the rights of conscience, and may promise to the whole people, solemnly in our name, the free and undisturbed exercise of their religion. And. … that all civil rights and the right to hold office were to be extended to persons of any Christian denomination.
Federer’s book has many more of such quotes, and is a great read and history lesson.
Question: Some people believe God created the world in six literal days. Others believe in an old-earth view, with a “big bang.” Is it possible to reconcile old earth and young earth views? Also, why is it easier to believe in an “uncaused Cause” than a “big bang”? We don’t see examples of either one of those things in life. Aren’t they both pretty much statistically impossible?
Response: This question is actually several questions which we will try to take one at a time.
First, the questions assume that an old earth view does not include God creating the world in six literal days. Actually, there are several factors which are all independent of each other:
Most young earth creationists derive their view of a young earth from following the genealogies in the Bible. As we have shown elsewhere, we can safely conclude that we are not on firm ground trying to determine the age of the earth strictly from the Biblical genealogies, and this can be demonstrated by the evidence directly in the Bible. See here for more detail.
Second, No. 3 does not contradict either No. 1 or No. 2. Logically, how the world began is not necessarily impacted by how long ago it happened. Obviously, a very young earth is not compatible with a very slow creation, but it is not true that an old earth makes a rapid creation impossible. Rather, it could be that the world was created quickly, but a long time ago.
Too many Christians assume that how long ago the world began necessarily determines whether the creation event happened quickly or slowly, or whether it began with what we now commonly call a big bang or some other event. These factors are independent of each other.
Third, the big bang is not incompatible with special creation by God. As Christian Frank Turek has said, “I do not have a problem with the big bang. I just know Who banged it.” As a general idea, the idea of a rapid expansion of matter from a small point aligns with both a big bang and Genesis 1:1.
Fourth, several areas of evidence that we see in the world around us lead us to hold that the world is a very old place. While I do not claim expertise in the technical sciences, it seems to be a solid conclusion that an old earth is supported by good evidence in geology and astronomy. When we combine this with the inability to determine an age of the earth from the Bible (see link above), we conclude that from the standpoint of Biblical orthodoxy, both an old earth and young earth views are compatible with scripture. Again, how long ago the world began is distinct from how it began or how fast or slow it began initially.
Fifth, from a doctrinal and theological perspective, the question is not how long ago the world was created, but rather whether Adam was a literal human or a figurative literary device. For more detail, see here and here. If Adam is a figurative literary device, we have great theological problems in the New Testament, including Romans 5 and elsewhere. By contrast, as long as Adam is the actual first human, how the world was created and how long ago it happened are much less important.
Sixth, from a perspective of minimal facts to be a Christian, one could be wrong about all of No. 1, 2, and 3 above and still be a Christian. That is, as long as one holds that God exists and directed all events, including Jesus dying and rising again, then he could be wrong about many things in theology and science. Even if one were to deny the historicity of Adam, they can still maintain that God exists and the Bible is true, as many people do.
Seventh, as to whether it is possible to reconcile old earth and young earth views, several have given detailed explanations trying to reconcile them. For one noteworthy example, see Dr. Sarah Salviander over at sixdayscience.com. For a good example of those who hold that special creation of Adam could have happened a long time ago, see Dr. Hugh Ross and his team over at http://www.reasons.org
An Uncaused Cause vs. a Big Bang
As an introduction, we need to first give a short explanation of an uncaused cause. Some proofs for the existence of God hold that effects cannot generate themselves and therefore need causes. We cannot go backward in a sequence of causes forever since an actual infinite is impossible. Therefore there must be a first cause, and this first cause is uncaused. For more explanation, see here and here.
As to the statistical probability of an uncaused cause existing, an uncaused cause is inevitable and necessary for the following reasons:
This is a necessary conclusion, not a contingent one, and statistical probability has nothing to do with it. There must be a first, uncaused cause. Even many atheists believe that something is uncaused and eternal, they merely say that it’s the matter in the universe, not God.
So the question was whether it is easier to believe in an uncaused cause or a big bang. As we have shown, a big bang is compatible with the Biblical account of creation. The question seems to pose the two against each other, which is not necessary. The cosmological arguments for the existence of God do indeed conclude that God is an uncaused cause, but this has nothing to do with whether or not there was a big bang. The two are not exclusive. We hold to both an uncaused cause as the origin of the universe, and a big bang, because the evidence and reason points to both.
As to whether they are statistically impossible, both claim to be one-time historical events. From a purely mathematical perspective, any one-time historical event would have the same statistical likelihood as any other: in all the moments of history, they only happened once. Further, theists often pose to atheists the argument against the statistical probabilities of such things as unguided processes producing a habitable planet, DNA molecules, and the platypus. Many things are so statistically improbable as to be unreasonable that they happened by unguided natural forces, yet the atheist simply scoffs and responds with the fact that the event is here, so however improbable, it happened.
Further, as to any natural forces producing a big bang, the physicists do not seem to have any solid clues as to what may have come prior to the big bang to produce it. Therefore it is pure speculation to propose any theory of whether or not the big bang was an inevitable result of natural forces. Without such, probabilities are meaningless.
In the end, the claims in the Bible about God creating the world are proven true and trustworthy. Further, none of the questions in the original query are essential in the sense that being wrong about them would disprove God or the truth of the Bible.
Question: 1) How much of a person’s identity is uniquely God-given, and how much is merely a combination of genes and environmental factors? Also, 2) how do we know that a human is not merely a highly sophisticated animal?
Response: These questions seem to imply that if we can fully explain a person based on DNA and environmental factors, we have no need for God. We know this is not true, for if God does not exist, then only matter exists, shaped by pure chemistry and physics. In such a world there would be no abstract thoughts such as the questions given in this post. In a purely material world, we would be the result of natural forces, never able to overcome the external forces that shapes us. But our experience and our reason tells us this is not true. (For longer explanations of this, see here and here and here. )
Further, the biggest assumption in the first question seems to be built upon an either/or fallacy, namely that personality is either given directly by God or it is genetic and environmental. Personality could very well be developed by God using genetics and environmental factors. Certainly a Biblical case could be made that God uses circumstances to develop a person’s character, test one’s faithfulness, and teach us that He is dependable and wise. Theologians refer to God’s providence, which is where He works out situations through circumstances to achieve His will and His purposes. So we are safe in concluding that God brings experiences into our lives to shape us.
But Christians are more than that. The New Testament tells us that we are regenerated, that “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17). As new creatures in Christ we have new desires, new purposes, new goals. Many Christians can give testimony that the Bible is correct in that in the new birth, they have a change of direction, a new set of wants and desires.
How much is genes and environment versus direct intervention of God? The apostle Paul tells us even he had a struggle between the old and the new. Paul gives a vivid description in the last part of Romans 7. As Christians, we are both our old self and our new, awaiting the ultimate day when we are redeemed both in body and soul.
As to humans and animals, we know that humans are highly sophisticated animals. The point is that we are not merely and only sophisticated animals. We are told this in the Bible when it says that we are created in the image of God. Animals follow instinct and do not have control over their passions without external training by people. As Vernon McGee once said, if we ever see a monkey on his knees in repentance, then we can take them more seriously as compared to humans.
This is another in a series of questions about the existence of God.
Question: How are human beings more than just matter? At what point is the mind more than artificial intelligence can imitate, given the rapid progress of technology?
Response: While artificial intelligence (AI) will inevitably get more and more lifelike, it will never replace the human mind. Even though AI may get so good to where we may not distinguish between the machine and a human, there will always be great differences.
I can program a computer to talk to me when I arrive home from work. I could make it say “Welcome home dear. I have missed you. I love you.” But the computer would not have truly missed me, for it was only saying what it was programmed to say. It does not truly love me as a family member would. The voice on my phone right now can tell jokes, but it does not get the humor. It is only doing what someone programmed it to say.
Here’s another way to try to explain the problem. John Searle devised an illustration that has come to be known as The Chinese Room. Here is Searle’s summary of the illustration:
Imagine a native English speaker who knows no Chinese locked in a room full of boxes of Chinese symbols (a data base) together with a book of instructions for manipulating the symbols (the program). Imagine that people outside the room send in other Chinese symbols which, unknown to the person in the room, are questions in Chinese (the input). And imagine that by following the instructions in the program the man in the room is able to pass out Chinese symbols which are correct answers to the questions (the output). The program enables the person in the room to pass the Turing Test for understanding Chinese but he does not understand a word of Chinese.
In the Chinese Room, Searle seems to demonstrate to us that thinking and experiencing is more than mere mental processing. A computer can translate language, several online translators show that. But the computer doesn’t really understand, does not have consciousness, does not think of itself as an “I.” The person in the Chinese Room can match symbols and correctly follow the rules, but has no idea of whether the symbols are Chinese or Martian, or know whether he is answering questions about cooking or car repair. The person is correctly answering the questions, but doesn’t really understand the meaning. Our universal experience of thinking tells us that there is something more to answering questions than merely following programming rules. A computer can follow programming rules, but it’s not thinking in a human sense of the term. A supercomputer does not truly have self-consciousness, does not think of itself as an “I.”
These examples show that no matter how good the AI gets, it will never be the same as a human mind. In such things as mathematics, love, and justice, we recognize that there is something more than mere mental processing, something more than merely working out a pre-programmed problem. When my phone tells a joke, we realize that humor is more than the pure sound waves of the words. When we listen to music, we do not hear a series of frequencies in sequence. Rather, we hear a tune that is connected and flows. We know there is something more there than sound frequencies.
Further, we know that some things exist beyond mere AI. If God does not exist, than all that does exist is ultimately physics and chemistry. The universe, with us included, are merely complex machines, molecules in motion following natural laws such as electromagnetism and motion. Yet things like mathematics, love, and justice are real things that actually do exist. If God is not real, then pure atheistic materialism is true, and all that exists is matter, then justice and love are not real, for neither are material.
It gets worse for the atheist materialist, for if all that exists is matter, we would not have even developed the concepts of non-material things. The ideas would have never arisen. Indeed, as The Chinese Room shows, even meaning would not exist. Yet they have, therefore a purely materialistic worldview becomes untenable. This is why some Christian thinkers maintain that if God does not exist, then all meaning is lost and the world becomes absurd. Yet we know that meaning exists and justice is desired by people. Therefore something exists beyond pure materialism. This we call God.
This is another in a series of questions about the truth of Christianity.
Question: Why do we believe that Christianity is the only way, as opposed to other religions? People in other religions, such as Buddhism or New Age, claim to have found peace in their lives, to have had spiritual experiences, and even to have experienced the miraculous. Could other religions and beliefs be true?
Response: First, we must understand the nature of truth. A fundamental principle of all reason is that if two things are contradictory, they cannot both be true. They could both be false, or one be true and the other false, but two conflicting facts cannot both be true. If we were to hold that contradictory things can both be true, we would have nonsense.
The sentences “The ball is red” and “The ball is not red” are contradictory. A ball cannot be red and not be red in the same sense at the same time. If they were, then we would have nonsensical statements and we would not be able to tell whether or not the ball was actually red.
Take for example the following:
1. “Contradictory things can both be true”
2: “Contradictory things cannot both be true”
1 and 2 are contradictory statements. If 1 is true, then 2 would have to be true also, since it is a contradiction of 1. But if 2 is true, and it says 1 is false, then 1 would have to be false. Holding both of these to be true, in the same sense, is nonsense. In reality, 1 is false and 2 is true.
Therefore if we are going to have meaningful statements and be able to communicate in any reasonable fashion, then we must hold that contradictory things cannot both be true.
So take, for example, different religions. Islam says that Jesus was not God, did not die on a cross, and did not rise from the dead. Christianity says Jesus was God, did die on a cross, and rose from the dead. Both of these cannot be true.
Buddhism and most New Agers deny that there is a God who is distinct from the universe, deny Jesus is the one God, and deny that all people will spend an eternity as their distinct selves in either heaven or hell. Christianity affirms all these things, and has a similar contradiction with all religions that deny that there is one true God. The following cannot both be true:
1a. There is one true God.
1b. There is not one true God.
Anyone who would say that both of these are true is a person who is talking nonsense and not giving meaningful sentences. If one of these sentences is true, the other must be false. Therefore if Christianity is true, then all religions that deny Christian thought are false. Of course, the opposite is also true: If a religion is true that denies Christianity, then it is true and Christianity is false. Contradictory things cannot both be true.
Second, the question implies that if a person has a significant spiritual experience, then the experience gives credibility to the truth of the religion or belief. This is a false idea. We can commonly find people who claim contradictory things based on their experiences. Jews place a lot of credence on the validity of their traditions, which are experiences that give them a great sense of peace and meaning. Mormons claim to base truth on an internal witness of the Holy Ghost. Even secular people have had significant psychological events that shape their lives. What are we to do with these experiences?
We do not deny people’s experiences, but we do not base the truth of external reality on an internal experience. I may genuinely have a significant experience, but whether or not any external fact is true is not impacted by my experience. I may have a life-changing experience, but 2+2 still equals 4, the oncoming train and I cannot both occupy the same space, and gravity applies whether or not my experience says it does not. So we do not doubt experience or feelings, but we cannot base our decisions about reality on feelings.
Third, what about miracles? Have non-Christian religions had miracles that would validate them?
Well, no, not really, not in the same sense as Christianity. The most prominent, of course, is Jesus rising from the dead in front of many doubters, speaking to 500 people at once, then eating and being physically handled by skeptical people. Many, if not most, of the supposed miracles from other religions are either clearly myth or can be shown to be false with some investigation.
Next, often these questions are thrown around as generalities without specifics. Without a specific, credible claim, the question as stated is not giving any evidence that there are such miracle claims. Hypothetical miracles for the sake of argument do not prove anything.
What if there was another religion’s miracle claim that seemed to be genuine? Even if we encountered such a thing, we would have to look at what message was being given. If the message given by the miracle worker was contradictory or did not align with what we know about reality, we can still reject it. If a person worked a miracle and then told us the moon is made of green cheese, we could still reject it because we know it is not true. Likewise, if Joseph Smith claimed to have seen miracles, but gives a message claiming that God was once a sinful man before he became God, we can reject such claims outright, regardless of any miracles. An eternal God cannot have a beginning or He would not be eternal. One cannot be created then become uncreated. Therefore we know Mormonism is false, regardless of whether Joseph was actually part of a miracle.
Fourth, we can apply this principle to good works also. Although the question does not mention good works, many people seem to think that if a religion promotes good causes, it must be a good religion. Many think that if a religious person feeds the poor, heals the sick, and promotes peace rather than war, then the religion must be true. While all those things are commendable, good works do not attest to whether or not the religion is true. Again, even followers of contradictory systems often support good works, but the contradictions nevertheless exist. Although it is good to feed the poor, doing so does not suddenly make a false religious claim to be true.
So if Christianity is true, all other non-Christian teachings must be false. There is not space in this one post to demonstrate that the whole of Christianity is true, but the rest of this blog shows reasonable demonstrations that God exists, the Bible is true, and Jesus was who He claimed to be. He is therefore worthy of our trust.