What do you know?
In an opinion piece1 published on the New York Times website, dated 26 March 2016—the day before Easter Sunday—William Irwin, professor of Philosophy at King’s College, contends that certainty about the existence of God is impossible. Instead of certainty, Irwin promotes “a state of doubt, uncertainty and openness about the existence of God.” He argues that “the question may be fundamentally unanswerable” and that “it is impossible to be certain about God.”
If God exists, continues Irwin, he “does not make it easy. God, if he exists, is … the hidden God.” Therefore, “there should be no dogmatic belief. The believer should concede that she does not know with certainty that God exists. There is no faith without doubt.” To claim certainty is arrogance. Belief in the resurrection, for example, is nothing more than a “leap of faith.” But doubt is a good thing, he says. It is commendable. “Rather than seeking the security of an answer, perhaps we should collectively celebrate the uncertainty of the question.”
The timing of the article—published the day before Easter Sunday—was surely no accident. Irwin would have us consider the existence of God and come away with a commitment to non-dogmatism. He wants theists and atheists alike to admit that they must doubt their respective positions on the question of God.
Every Christian probably has moments of doubt. There may be fleeting periods, or perhaps more extended periods, when our minds are plagued with doubt about our salvation or the truth of the Christian claim. Our sinful flesh will sometimes lead us to question our faith. But while this is sometimes our experiential reality, the Bible approaches the question of God with absolute certainty, and encourages believers to do the same.
The Bible assumes from the very outset that God exists (Genesis 1:1), and Paul tells us that God has left evidence of his existence in creation (Romans 1:18–25; cf. Psalm 19:1–6) and the human conscience (Romans 2:11–16). This self-explanatory nature of this evidence may be suppressed, but it is available nonetheless. And so it is only the “fool” who will claim that God does not exist (Psalms 14:1; 53:1).
But there is a greater witness than creation or conscience to the certainty of the God question, and that is Scripture itself. Scripture encourages us that we can believe its testimony. The Gospel of John, for example, was “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” (John 20:30–31). John was an eyewitness to the events that he recorded, and therefore “we know that his testimony is true” (John 21:24). John’s first epistle was written so “that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). Scripture is unequivocal; we can know that the things of which it tells us are certain. And we can know that because Scripture is revelation from God himself. Because Scripture comes from the very one to whom it bears witness, believing what it tells us is a matter of certainty, not of reasonable confidence.
Sadly, Irwin’s article makes absolute sense from an unbelieving worldview. If you reject the doctrine of revelation—that God has revealed himself to us in his word and in his Son—then all you can do is hedge your bets on one side of the equation. Without revelation, we would all live in a state of perpetual uncertainty.
But because God has revealed himself to us, our faith rests in that which is certain. God has revealed certain truths to us in Scripture, and we are responsible to affirm them with certainty. Remove Scripture, and all you have are the relative merits of belief and unbelief. But, in Scripture, these things are written so “that you may know.”
- William Irwin, “God Is a Question, Not an Answer,” http://goo.gl/CrIJB2, retrieved 7 April 2016. ↩