Monday, 2 August 2010

The Problem Of Revelation

One claim that some make is that absolute truth can be obtained through revelation. Thus if The Bible says that Adam was made from dirt and Eve from one of Adam's ribs, and The Bible is the revealed truth of God, then Adam and Eve must have existed as it is stated in The Bible. God is the only one who can know what happened because God was the only observer who was there, and God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent. Sounds at least like a valid argument, even if you reject the premise.

I have a problem with this line of argument, however, not from the problems of a possibility of revelation but the ability to discern between revelation and perceived revelation. I'd express it in the following way:
  1. If an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent deity could exist, then such a being has the power, knowledge and moral character to give absolute knowledge to any individual
  2. Any revelation of absolute truth would be accompanied by absolute certainty
  3. An individual can have absolute certainty they have had a revelation of absolute truth without needing a revelation
  4. Since one can feel certain they have had a revelation without needing revelation to take place, revelation cannot be trusted
  5. Therefore, revelation cannot give absolute truth

While I don't think (1) is actually possible, it's the premise by which revelation is based. (2) can be justified along the same lines, that God could make someone feel absolutely certain that they have had a revelation. The mental state of certainty must be possible (3), so even without actual revelation one could think with absolute certainty they have had one (4), thus even with the premise of God revelation cannot give that absolute certainty (5). Simply put, we as observers don't have the ability to distinguish between revelation and the belief of revelation.

Historically speaking this should come as no surprise. People from different times, places, cultures and beliefs have claimed the ability to glimpse the divine. Even in modern times there's the secular equivalent that is the alien abduction. Whether it's aliens or gods, the problem is that people can be so sure they have had this experience that it makes it impossible to tell whether someone genuinely had the experience or just the perception of it.

3 comments:

Robert Hagedorn said...

The exegesis for the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Genesis makes us nervous. Why? Because the sin Adam and Eve committed was anal sex--the mystery Augustine almost solved 1600 years ago. (He thought their sin was normal penile/vaginal sex!) For more information google "WikiAnswers-What is wrong with Robert Hagedorn's Blogs"

Richard T said...

The bible would agree with you that the heart can lie to you, therefore what revelation you are "given" may not be true. So Christians are called to judge what is given by revelation against what has been revealed in the bible. So Christians definitely say it can happen but also have reasons for disagreeing with someone who have said they have divine revelation.

Kel said...

This stemmed from an exchange I'm having with an apologist who is trying to use revelation as a means of gaining absolute knowledge. These are the grounds to which I disagreed.