Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Burden of Proof

The person whose comments follow asked me to "prove" Universalism to him using only biblical support (no emotional, philosophical or logical reasoning). I responded to his post saying a couple of things: 
  1. I don't understand why it's important to "prove" it only biblically
  2. I can't prove much of anything to anybody (I'll clarify this later)
Here is his reply back to me.  Truth Defender writes:
One other thing: you mentioned that it is impossible to prove the existence of God. This must mean that to you Christianity (as well as the belief in anything at all, including God) is just a blind leap of faith. Let me get this straight, and I'm not meaning to sound condescending (it is hard to tell with no facial expressions behind the typing), but you say
that it is an impossible task to prove universalism, and that it is an impossible task to prove the existence of God; this sounds all too much like postmodernism with a small twist. On what basis aside from an emotional one do you hold your belief (from your post, "I used to believe that only Christians would go to heaven (as much as I HATED to
believe that)" - caps added)?
First, I want to say thanks to Truth Defender for coming back. It's nice to have your feedback. I will attempt to clarify what I believe since I didn't lay it out in complete detail before.
"Proving" things is a matter of degrees. Once you get outside of mathematics, it's nearly impossible to prove anything to a certitude because we each can set up the hurdle for "proof" as high or as low as we like. In my years of observing people, I have observed that people set the hurdle high for things they don't want to believe and lower for things they do want to believe. I have spent my time trying to "prove" to atheists what is clearly obvious to everyone else- that there is a G-d. Now, how we define G-d is debatable. Whether G-d is personal or impersonal is debatable. Whether G-d is good or not may be debatable. But, there is and must a First Cause. The evidence of the universe makes it almost impossible to believe that G-d is not intelligent at at least "transpersonal" (to borrow a term from Marcus Borg). But, to deny the existence of G-d is beyond comprehension to me. Yet, people do and say His existence has not been "proven". There are people who think the Holocaust didn't happen in spite of mountains of evidence. And so on and so on. So, while I'm not saying that "all truth is relative" or that there is nothing that we can really know (I'm not that deep philosophically), what I am saying is while I can provide people with a mountain of evidence, both biblical, philosophical, logical and otherwise that Universalism is true, people can always say "You haven't proven it to me.". Unless someone has an open mind and is willing to honestly explore the truth of universalism, he can deny it as long as he likes. Even just sticking to the Bible, using poor translations and not having a proper historical perspective, one can use the Bible to "prove" that not only will G-d send a few people to Eternal Conscious Torment, He's going to send the vast majority to ECT.
To answer the second question put forth above, "On what basis aside from an emotional one do you hold your belief.", a part of the answer is contained in the document I attached to the response to Truth Defender's first post. The document contains (among other things) 100 verses that suppor the idea of Universalism. Universalism was the prevailing doctrine (or at least a major doctrine) in the early church (I've posted on that before and will post a long article on it later- written in the 1800s, BTW, this is not some New Age thing). Thomas Talbott wrote an excellent scholarly book on Universalism. Randy Klassen has written another excellent book. Not to discount emotion, BTW. If your heart tells you a loving G-d wouldn't condemn billions of His children to Eternal Conscious Torment, is that a bad thing to consider? It's not the sole reasono why I believe in Universalism. But, I'm not going to pretend it didn't have anything to do with why I never felt comfortable with the idea of ECT. It's just wrong. My G-d given sense of right and wrong tells me so and I'm not ashamed to admit that.
Truth Defender continues:

Also, you said, "Hopefully, my friend would at least admit that UR is a reasonable possiblility." It seems to me that reason and logic have no place for your belief if it is an impossible task to logically,reasonably, and Scripturally prove universalism, much more the existence of God. You said, "I'm not sure why philosophical reasoning or emotional reasoning would be out-of-bounds since God gave us mind and hearts to use to explore him and his universe." I agree, as long as this reasoning is coherent and not contradictory to Scripture.
According to the Holy Spirit in 1 Peter 3:14-16 we should "always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you."
Please don't misunderstand what I said. I didn't say there is no reason apart from emotional to believe in Universalism. I have given a list of websites that support the idea, I have listed books you can read and I have provided a document that has snippets of things I've collected over the year or so I've been studying this. I still hold to what I said about "proving" Universalism (or a lot of other things) scripturally because you (or anyone else) can set the bar as high as you like and can move it, if you like. If we could "prove" things scripturally and it were inerrant, infallible, etc. we wouldn't have tens of thousand of Christian denominations. We'd have one. I did a Google on this. The estimates on Christian denominations are at 20,000 on the low and and over 30,000 on the high end (and rising).
BTW, you quote one of my favorite scriptures. When I had my Christian apologetics website (about a decade ago), this was my tag line. I agree with you wholeheartedly and if I weren't prepared to give a reason for my hope, I wouldn't have started this blog. I don't claim to have all of the answers and I have a terrible memory. But, hopefully, I can point you in the right direction to do your own research.
Truth defender concludes:
I will read your document and respond soon. Thanks for giving me your time in this discussion. Also, my wife tells me that my typing sometimes comes off as rude; but know that I am not meaning to sound arrogant or rude in any way. I am actually smiling. haha!
You don't sound arrogant or rude to me at all. I think you feel you are "defending the truth" and I admire people who stand up for proper orthodoxy. I also feel honored that you found me worthy of engaging. I'm looking forward to hearing more from you once you've had a chance to check out the document.

1 comment:

Rick Harper said...

Hey Brian, unfortunately, I have only just begun studying your document on universalism. I will be working on it for the next few days. I will try to respond to it in segments instead of posting one large response.

Sorry for taking so long; I've been unbelievably busy. I've been anxious to get started reading your document.