Notes from Douglas WilsonIn this segment from our debate in the fall of 2008, the late Christopher Hitchens asks me why I kept saying things like “God wants . . .” How on earth could I possibly know something like that?
The question at root is one of epistemology. Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that asks how we can know that we actually know anything. And, trotting briskly on the squirrel cage run we have climbed on, when we finally answer the question of how we know things, we can then be asked if we are sure we know that.
There are three basic approaches to this question. One is called rationalism, with claims to knowledge based on objective reason. The second is called empiricism, with all knowledge derived out of experience. The third, embraced by Christians, is an epistemology of revelation: We know what God wants because he made a point of telling us. We know because he wrote a book.
“Belief in God’s revelation does not exclude reason or experience—rather it creates an appropriate place for them.Now of course it should be noted that belief in God’s revelation does not exclude reason or experience—rather it creates an appropriate place for them. After all, when I have read the Bible, I think and reflect on what I have read, using reason. Not only that, but in reading Scripture I have the physical experience of holding the Bible in my hands, and having light rays bounce off the page toward my eyes, which are experiences. In all this, I am assuming (believing) that I live in a universe in which the Creator of it speaks. If he is speaking, I don’t have to make him heard—he does that. What I must do is take my fingers out of my ears and stop humming the national anthem.
Now of course, a talented unbeliever (like Hitchens) is going to try to push all of this back one step. How do you know God wrote a book? And the answer to that is . . . well, I have read it. Of course, that reply might well remind Hitchens of the time Mark Twain was asked if he believed in infant baptism. He replied with something like, “Believe in it, sir? I have seen it done with my own eyes!”
In this clip, I mentioned to Hitchens that all finite creatures think axiomatically. We all have a starting point, and that starting point is not our destination. We do not reason toward our axioms; we reason from them. They are the ground beneath our feet. They are our foundational assumptions, our staring presuppositions. I mention the basic one in this segment when I referred to Francis Schaeffer’s book He Is There and He Is not Silent. God is not the ultimate mime.
God has spoken, first, in the created order. The heavens declare God’s majesty. He has spoken, secondly, through his apostles, prophets, visionaries, and martyrs. We have their accounts in Scripture, the only ultimate and infallible book in the world. And lastly, God has spoken to us through his Son, our Lord Jesus.
This is where I begin my journey. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov. 1:7). And to fear the Lord means listening to him when he speaks.