I’m probably going to upset some of my church-going friends when I say this, but I’m not an advocate for blind faith or blind acceptance of the faith of my parents. When it comes to my personal and my loved one’s potential eternal resting place, I want to base my belief on the closest thing to certainty of truth as possible.
But given so many choices, how do you test religious truth claims? Common sense says you test religious truth claims in the same way you test other claims. You start with the authority and credibility of its proponents, then you measure how those claims correspond to the reality of the world you live in, and finally you look for the best evidence available to confirm or reject the claims. For example, when I began to write this blog, I didn’t start from ground zero – I went to a source that I trust, the “Stand to Reason” website and I found an article entitled “Testing Religious Truth Claims:” Much of what I state in the paragraphs below was formulated in that article.
Authority: If I wanted to know something about information technology for example, I’d ask an IT expert. I wouldn’t start from square one to rediscover it all on my own. Why re-invent the wheel? I’d fall back on the prior research of others. I find it amazing how people will sometimes hesitate to trust an authority like the Bible, when virtually every bit of knowledge and every concept they hold dear can be attributed to one authority or another. We trust the words of other people whose opinions we value and whom we consider reliable. The reliability and credibility of the authority is the key issue.
I think a good case can be made that Jesus was that kind of authority. Not only did He make certain claims about the nature of the universe, about Himself, and about God; but He then worked miracles, cast out demons, raised the dead, predicted his own crucifixion, death and resurrection, and then self-consciously raised himself from the dead. And even those who are skeptical of His claims and the associated evidence would have to acknowledge that nearly every major religion in the world (and even many non-religious people) adopt Jesus as their role model for some major doctrine or issue they’re promoting. So I think He’s earned the right to speak authoritatively about spiritual things and life in general.
Correspondence to reality: When we say that a thing is true, we mean the thing itself corresponds to the way the world really is. Simply put, if you know what a lie is, truth is just the opposite. Hinduism, for example, says the world is an illusion. We’re not real. God is just dreaming about us and we are part of that dream. Our “salvation” involves transcending the illusion to get back to the godhead. Now I have to ask myself, “Is that claim true?” I don’t think so! My own cursory examination of the world seems to indicate that I’m real and the world is real. I live my life as if it were real. I experience the world firsthand. I don’t even know how I’d know if I were just an illusion. The whole claim is nonsensical. For me to claim that I know I don’t exist is self-contradictory. If the foundational tenet is false, then everything built on top of it begins to crumble, including all of its texts and things like the concept of reincarnation.
Christianity and Judaism take the real world seriously and don’t dismiss it as an illusion. This is why modern science was birthed in the West and not in the East. Since this religious claim corresponds to the way we discover the world to be, it’s evidence that Christianity and Judaism are true, at least at this point. And there are other claims biblical theism makes that correspond to the world as we seem to discover it: things like (1) intelligent design, (2) that the world and mankind were created for a purpose, (3) principles of cause and effect in the creation/evolution dilemma and (4) that most individual and organizational interactions are based on intentions not accidents.
The Biblical worldview clearly doesn’t match certain philosophies people hold about the world, but it does seem to match the world itself. This is evidence that those philosophies which don’t correspond to the world are falsified at that point, and Judeo-Christian thought is affirmed at that point.
Evidence: And finally you look for evidence that either confirms or denies the truth claims of the religion and its sacred texts. And we have reams of that in documents of antiquity, in archaeological finds, in eye witness accounts of Biblical events by both Christian and non-Christian writers, in scientific findings, etc. The Bible is the book that says “Let’s look at the evidence, weigh it and draw reasonable conclusions based on what we know, not on what we don’t know.” Jesus, Paul, Peter, and the prophets of old all were not afraid to say, “Come let us reason together. Come consider the evidence and its common sense implications.”
To demand evidence and an adequate cause for every effect we observe is a scientific approach to understanding the universe we live in. Maybe something else was responsible for the universe and not God. One could postulate lots of different scenarios. Who’s to say it wasn’t a principle or force that we don’t know about that was responsible for everything? Of course, it’s fair to raise the question, but the question itself doesn’t count as evidence. Yet that seems to be the way some treat it. But you can’t just invent all kinds of theories that lack actual evidence against the Biblical view. They’re speculative. They’re rabbit holes that simply distract from an alternative explanation that some don’t like because it doesn’t accommodate their lifestyle.