Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Babel Fish, God, and Faith

"Hebrews 11:1 says, 'Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.' Knowledge. Assurance. Confidence. These are elements of faith. What gives us knowledge, assurance, and confidence? Reasoning through the evidence." ~ Melinda Penner, "Faith and Reason"

In honor of Towel Day, I would like to take a look at the Babel fish argument from Douglas Adams' entertaining and nerdy book, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. If you have not read it and you like sci-fi, I would definitely recommend it. It is a classic.

In the book there is a creature called the Babel fish. Adams describes this amazing creature for us:
The Babel fish is small, yellow, leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the universe. It feeds on brain wave energy, absorbing all unconscious frequencies and then excreting telepathically a matrix formed from the conscious frequencies and nerve signals picked up from the speech centres of the brain, the practical upshot of which is that if you stick one in your ear, you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language: the speech you hear decodes the brain wave matrix.
Adam's goes on to say, "Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mindbogglingly useful could evolve purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God." Wait! The non-existence of God? Yes, that is what he wrote, and he describes his argument in the form of a conversation with God that goes like this:
"I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."
"But," says Man, "the Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED."
"Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
Now, Adams might have been joking (I doubt that), but if so, that has not kept others from seriously using this argument in an attempt to prove God does not exist. We must ask, then, is that reasoning really valid? The key is the assertion that is made about God: "I refuse to prove that I exist, for proof denies faith." Is that really true? Is faith a blind belief in something with no evidence for that something? Is that what God wants us to do? Does He want us to look around and say, "I see no proof for His existence but I am going to believe anyway. Look at the strength of my faith!"? Is that Scriptural? Not hardly. That is not at all Scriptures view of faith:
  • He. 11:1 -- "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." I start with this because it is the closest thing to an explicit definition of faith given in Scripture. Faith is assurance and conviction of something unseen. As the above quote points out, assurance and conviction do not come from a denial of proofs and evidence; proofs and evidence are precisely how we get assurance and conviction. All of the biblical people mentioned in the following vv. of He. 11 did not just blindly believe in God. God had shown (proved) Himself to them, their families, and their people in many ways. Their faith rested on that evidence.
  • Jb. 12:7-8 -- "But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you." Job does not tell his friends to irrationally believe in God. Job says to his friends, "Look to nature and you will see 'the hand of the LORD'."
  • Ps. 19:1 -- "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork." The heavens declare and the sky proclaims, i.e. they give evidence and proof of God and His work. God designed the universe to show that He exists and to display His glory to man. The Belgic Confession (a classic Reformed confession of faith) tells us that we know God by two means (two "books") and then states, "First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: his eternal power and his divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20."
  • Ps. 97:6 -- "The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory." There it is again: "The heavens proclaim" and "all the peoples see." See, i.e. belief in God is not blind.
  • Ro. 1:20 -- "For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." Paul tells us that God is clearly perceived in nature. Why? So men are without excuse in their unbelief, i.e. there are clear reasons to believe God exists and God has purposefully placed them there so men are without excuse. The Westminster Confession of Faith (another historic Reformed confession of faith) states at its very beginning, "[T]he light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable..."
  • Lk. 1:1-4 -- "Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught." Luke did much research in order to create an orderly account of Jesus, using evidence from eyewitnesses in order that Theophilus may have certainty. Luke's intention in writing his gospel was for his readers to see the evidence and be certain of the truth of the gospel.
  • Jn. 20:30-31 -- "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." Like Luke, John wrote his gospel so that his readers could have evidence (proof!) of the things that Jesus did and from that evidence believe.
Neither God, Scripture, nor historic Christian thought claims that God refuses to prove that He exists because that would somehow deny faith. Neither God, Scripture, nor historic Christian thought claims that faith is blind or that proof denies it. The situation is quite the opposite actually: faith is based in sound evidence from the historical witness, the Scriptures, and nature. Because Adams' key assertion is invalid, the whole Babel fish argument fails.

Here are a few good articles written by Stand to Reason on faith:
Finally, faith is involved in scientific inquiry just like it is in religious belief. Do not be duped into thinking that science is all objective reason with no faith and that somehow makes it superior to Christian belief. I have written about that here, here, here, and here.

By His Grace,

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