How can Christians make any true claims about God

Christian systematic theology is a formal logical system of inference from a set of axioms.

Due to Godel’s Incompleteness Theorems, it is impossible to have a system in which contradictions cannot arise AND can prove every single possible statement using the axioms.

You have to appeal outside of it if you want certainty about the axioms. But where to?

They have three options:

  1. Extra-biblical personal revelation, which just makes the problem worse, and also contradicts one of their axioms that there is no revelation from God that is not the Bible (Pentecostals disagree, and I’ll deal with them shortly).

  2. The consensus of theologians, which renders truth subject to the arbitrary opinions of others, making it no truth at all, as the consensus could change.

  3. Your own personal convictions

Also, as a corollary to the first option, how can one distinguish the voice of God from their own thoughts? Your own feelings about said voice? Is that not blasphemy, claiming your (meta-)thoughts are from God when you have no evidence? At the very least it’s schizophrenia.

Ethics is the interface between mind-independent reality (if there is one) and mind-dependent impressions about said reality, and “right” and “wrong” are not mind-independent properties. If they were, you they would have an observable effect, in and of themselves. Instead, they only affect our emotional reactions to actions. Whatever “right” and “wrong” are, they probably aren’t properties of actions, since they cannot refer to anything outside of the mind of the observer.

They claim that God is the highest moral authority. Considering that what they have said is “Whatever God says is moral, is moral”, they have effectively created a higher moral authority than God --their own opinion.

In my opinion, the only reason anyone believes anything is because it satisfies their existential needs for meaning.

I really, really would like for them to be honest and say “I believe X, even though I have no way of verifying that X and X’s properties and commands are real, because X solves my problems, making me feel good, and I don’t want to feel bad.” Why is that so amazingly hard for Christians, other theists, and atheists, to say? Has it now become a sign of weakness to say “I don’t know, but I don’t care”?

How, exactly, does one’s own conviction about something become universally binding? Believing it’s true/false doesn’t make it true/false. Really, really wanting it to be true/false because the alternative makes you uncomfortable doesn’t make it true/false. A lot of other people saying it’s true/false doesn’t make it true/false.

Godel’s incompleteness theorem was originally put forward to describe a problem with axiomatic mathematics.

People seem generally convinced that math is a legitimate way of understanding the world. If the incompleteness theorem isn’t a problem for math, I don’t see why it’s a problem for Christianity.

The idea that there is no revelation from God that is not in the Bible isn’t something I’ve heard. Sure, Pentecostals disagree. But so do Catholics, the Orthodox Churches, and no doubt others. That’s half of Christendom right there.

I think you’re right that people who believe such a thing are in some pretty deep epistemic doo-doo, mainly because if you elevate the Bible to that degree, I don’t see how you can have any solid historical understanding of where the Bible came from.

The rest of your post is interesting, but covers far more ground than I’m comfortable addressing in one conversation. Welcome to ILP.

In most animals their code of conduct is set as instinct.
I am certain humans have instincts and derivatives of instincts.
They are the priorities that nature or God placed within all sentient life.
Basic values and morals = instincts.
Complex thought makes higher values and morals possible, but they are forms of knowledge also, they are natural things.

Belief is an affect. If you saw a red sky one day, you may have some doubts about it, but most likely you couldn’t help but believe in it.
Belief in an ancient text is different in some ways, but belief is quite affect oriented.

So we’ve determined that all beliefs are based on affects, which are reactions to perceptions. Perceptions are definitely not objective, since they are subjective interpretations of the external world.

I believe that the only thing one can truly know is their own internal state.

A few observations. 1) the title asks how Christians can make true statements about God, then shifts into treating Christian systematic theology as, it seems, the method through which Christians arrive at claims about God, true or otherwise. First, it very much is not how most arrive at their claims. 2) I Think the question should be How do we know their claims about God are true? For example, perhaps they are lucky and made some good guesses. The truth or falsehood is separate from methodology. 3) This becomes more relevent when Gödel is brought in since the problem he is pointing out is that some true statements cannot be proven to be so. 4) Then in a wider context, the Gödel’s ITs either apply to other belief systems - if they purport to be logical and coherent, etc. or woudl not apply since they do not make those claims. So the Christians would either be on the same ground as any other belief system as far as GITs on this issue or competing with belief systems that do not even make the claims of coherence and logic.

To claim that at the very least it is schizophrenia would suffer the same kinds of problems. and then further… How do you know that the voice of God cannot be distinguished and whatever else is going on in the other person’s mind cannot give information they are claiming is self-evident upon exposure?

So this would include this post of yours also?

AS far as I can tell some people suffer their belief in God, so this summation is clearly flawed. And again your are claiming to know what is going on in other minds and are able to decide it should not be compelling for them. Again, this means you suffer the same kinds of hubris you are accusing them of, but added in is that you are at what is generally, by those who do not Believe in psychic phenomena, considered to be one more step remove.

If you are correct about their motivations and lack of any compelling reason to Believe, than it should be obvious. Such a statement would undermine the very motivation you suggest. And it should also be expected of mathematicians, I suppose, and also, well certainly empiricists, given all the philosophical problems with induction.

Basically my opinion is that none should say they know anything for certain, but that they believe and have good justification for the belief.

I am a Christian existentialist, and may truly be an Absurdist.

Actually, it’s not, at least not by official standards. Religious views are exempt from being considered illnesses in psychiatry. So, technically, you could add “religious” to any belief you posses and you can’t be called crazy. Religion gets away with a lot because a large majority of people are religious. It’s just unfortunate that we allow such potentially dangerous delusions for the sake of avoiding to hurt people’s feelings.

Sam Harris gave an example of a diamond the size of the fridge buried in the backyard and compared it to god. You can use all the classic excuses you use for god for the diamond “the belief in it brings our family closer”, “but if there is no diamond in the backyard that means I’ll just be an average guy who won’t even be able to buy himself dozens of sports cars”, “I wouldn’t want to live in an universe where there isn’t a diamond in the backyard”, “digging for the diamond every Sunday brings my family closer together” etc. etc.

What about personal observations?

If my few simple axioms lead to perhaps 100 observable conclusions and I observe all of those conclusions without exception nor observed contradiction, I would say that I have an extremely confident case. Upon further reasoning, if I find that it is logically impossible for any one, or certainly all, of the conclusions to occur if the axioms were not true, then I have falsified the axioms and can declare them to be fact.

I recommend you let go of that whole subjective objective duality as soon as possible.

The problem with this is that Christians give authority to long dead anonymous writers of the bible. As if they actually lived, without any proof at all.

From outside of a faith, it is quite easy to pull out the un-knowable stuff that the liars say they know as facts when we all know that they are nothing like facts.

You sound more like a Gnostic Christian than a Christian.


I am a Christian existentialist.

What does Dan mean by “I recommend you let go of that whole subjective objective duality as soon as possible”? That there is only our minds, or that we see things exactly as they are?

You can either affirm or deny perception, to various degrees. Objective thought concludes that there is non objective though. I know not all perception is right or perfect, but I generally trust my perception and try to expand upon it, instead of denying perception. It’s a matter of being more positive about life or more negative about it.

Also, I hope you don’t find the forums too disheartening or offensive.

I see now. And, no I don’t find this offensive or disheartening. I like reasoning.

Anyone seeing the Bible as authoritative, sees that the Bible does not say that God doesn’t exist. Thus all claims of God according to the Bible are true. Any Biblical religion holding their belief as basic, find argument unnecessary to confirm their belief. Your question should be directed to everyone who sees the Bible as authoritative, not just Christians. -Tuna

Okay, here’s a better communication of what I’m trying to get across:

Hey James,

A lot of theologians claim that their specific brand of systematic theology is logical. Okay, no problem with that. But they then go a step further and say every other brand of Christian systematic theology is false.

They cannot say that. Why? Due to Tarski’s Undefinability Theorem, a propositional system (such as mathematics, English, systematic theology, philosophy, and even the Universe/Multiverse) cannot define it’s own truth predicate. E.g., there is no way you can define “true in English” using English.

You have to appeal outside of it if you want certainty, let alone truth. But where to?

They have three options:

  1. Extra-biblical personal revelation, which just makes the problem worse, and renders them no better than occultists and Gnostics.

  2. The consensus of theologians, which renders truth subject to the arbitrary opinion of others, making it no truth at all, as the consensus could change.

  3. Your own feelings, which is the only practical way to resolve this.

I keep stressing to them that they claim knowledge they do not and cannot possess by their own statements, and they really base their theological opinions on their feelings. But they just cannot comprehend that.

And they also cannot accept the fact that they could be wrong. They cannot comprehend that the question of whether we and the Universe has meaning is undecidable, because all religions and Christian systematic theologies cannot be all true, yet a) they can all be false, and b) you have no way of knowing (not merely believing, but properly justifying it as well) which one is true because you cannot go to any higher authority to arbitrate. There is this impenetrable glass ceiling limiting our knowledge.

A lot of theologians like to treat the Bible as if it is somehow outside the Universe/Multiverse, and is magically exempt from the laws of logic. Evidentiary arguments cannot provide certainty, as they are based on induction, and induction cannot be proven valid using deduction, and using induction to prove induction falls into the same trap.

And a lot of them like to ask the question of “well, where did the laws of physics and logic come from then?”. These are descriptive laws used to explain stuff, not prescriptive laws like a penal code.

Seriously, this whole “I trust the Bible, not my own reasoning” nonsense must stop. If you are making statements about and analyzing the Bible, you are trusting in your own reasoning. It’s the only thing we have, and it’s truth is undefinable and undecidable as well.

They like to say that “Oh, you just want to be outside God’s moral authority.” Actually, considering that you have effectively said “Whatever God says is moral, is moral,” you have just created a higher moral authority than God-- your own.

Also, I am a weak relativist: some laws are absolute (this one being one, another being “right = happiness on some level”, wrong = “suffering on some level”), some laws are relative, and we have no idea which ones are which, because we are not infallible, let alone omniscient.

The question of whether this Universe/Multiverse and our lives have objective meaning is undecidable. Meaning we cannot know whether it has meaning (and if it does, which meaning, as at most one meaning can correspond to our observations) or not.

There is a fundamental contradiction between our search for meaning to satisfy our existential needs, and our inability to find an objective one in the universe and our lives, if one can even be found.

There are four options:

  1. Physical and/or psychological suicide, which is cowardice of the most extreme level, and denies that we need meaning, one term of the contradiction
  2. Use religion and spirituality to provide meaning, thus denying that we can’t find meaning, and to decide the other term of the contradiction. This is philosophical suicide.
  3. Nihilism is to deny that we can find meaning, still deciding the other term of the contradiction; also philosophical suicide.
  4. Accept this contradiction, but live in spite of it.

Morality is non-cognitive; it is simply a code word for your emotional reactions to an action, object, or idea. However, from my observations, one general principle holds: Happiness produces positive emotional reactions, while suffering produces negative ones. But you, and only you, can define what makes you happy, and what makes you suffer.

You are finite yet unbounded. You have to be strong and create our own meanings for yourselves, and only yourselves. Yet always remember that your meaning has no relation to the open question of whether the universe has meaning or not. Hope has no meaning, fear has no meaning, except to yourself. You must live without appeal, without resignation.

These theologians have completely removed the need for faith, and are emotionally-attached to their specific brand of systematic theology, because they seem to be incapable of analyzing something from someone else’s perspective, even though while it is difficult, it can be insightful.

Anti-intellectualism is rampant within the Church. When I come to the conclusion using all my tools available that I cannot and do not know which systematic theology has the best correspondence to reality, if any of them can and do, and simply decide to pick Christian existentialism, I get condemned. But when someone else simply picks the version of systematic theology their local church group uses, they aren’t.

Wow, not only is modern-day Christianity xenophobic with outsiders, it’s even xenophobic within itself. And intellectually-dishonest. You subscribe to a specific theology because you want to, and there’s no escaping from that.

Nobody likes admitting the terrifying concept that they might not be able to know anything about the external world using only their sensory and intellectual faculties, and all they have to fall back on is their desires.

This Christian metal song almost perfectly captures my belief about the field of systematic theology:
Tell me your misery
Give us the antidote
I heard the voice of change
Behind a vacant note
All this tearing apart
Without a reform
Call it what you will
I’m not afraid to say
I’ve heard it all
Connection lost
We’re standing by
Artificial light!
You sell a fix
For our defect
And all we find is
Artificial light!
Doesn’t break the model
I can’t feel it in my bones
Nothing shattering my world
We want a real cure
Not idle sympathy
The dark consuming light
That you have failed to be
No, it’s not enough
I resent this deprivation
Your remedy
Is not a weapon
To slaughter the sorrow
It’s just to keep you from feeling alone!
I’ve heard it all
Connection lost
We’re standing by
Artificial light!
You sell a fix
For our defect
And all we find
Artificial light!
Doesn’t break the model
I can’t feel it in my bones
Nothing shattering my world
Doesn’t break the model
I can’t feel it in my bones
Nothing shattering my world
I’ll never see
What they see in you
Doesn’t break the model
I can’t feel it in my bones
Nothing shattering my world
Doesn’t break the model
I can’t feel it in my bones
Nothing shattering my world

“Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions to be destroyed” --Friedrich Nietzsche

We as Christians should stop apologizing to the world, each other, and ourselves for our faith, and just live it.

  So you've talked to lots of [i]theologians[/i], and they don't comprehend that they could be wrong, and they've never heard of the very common skeptical/pluralistic argument you're making that we can't know we're right about stuff because others disagree? 

  That can't be right.  When you say 'theologians' are you sure you don't mean 'people on YouTube' or 'this guy I know'? Because actual theologians will know Philosophy 101 type stuff. 

Yeah, again I’m skeptical that you mean the same thing as I do when you say ‘theologians’. Like who?

And again, you haven’t addressed my previous objection- you compare systematic theology to mathematics, and say that your uncertainty problem applies to mathematics just as well. Last time I checked, mathematicians and engineers aren’t exactly pulling their hair out worrying that maybe 2+2 isn’t 4 after all, and that they have no way to prove the multiplication table with certainty. If what you’re really saying is that a systematic theologian can be no more certain than a mathematician, I have to say that’s not a very worrisome criticism.

Well, that would be their first mistake.

And their second.

Emm… sounds like Tarski’s mistake.

What if I can do that?

Now you are conflating truth with usefulness.

Many ontologies can be completely true although very different, yet many of those can be completely useless. More often, almost always, they are of limited use. The theory of Relativity has limited use, but within that use, it is completely true. If you delve into the construct of the universe deep enough, in order to form a true ontology, one must give up on Relativity.

Similar can be said concerning Physics ontology vs Spiritual ontology. When one delves deep enough into what causes people to behave as the do, one must give up on Spiritual ontology in favor of Physics ontology.

But the reason Physics, Spiritualism, and Relativity are used, despite not being entirely true, is that the universe is so complex that one must temporarily ignore finer details in order to handle larger and far more relevant trends of behavior.

Usefulness is the concern, not precision in truth. When something becomes useless due to imprecision, then a more precise understanding is in need and adopted (usually with resistance because everyone keeps claiming that their prior ontology was absolute truth in order to get over the prior ontology insisting on the same).

Thus the theologian claiming that his understanding is “logical” begs to be burned in the cauldron of logical debate. And by insisting that the others are false, is the pot calling the kettle black.

But note that I have not said that any particular spiritual theory is not logical, merely that it is highly unwise of a theologian to proclaim that it is.

Can you, in this discussion? :sunglasses:

Can you entertain the notion that what you just said is actually false? I provided a short scenario that would imply that your assessment, although common, is not necessarily true.

That would be a different group of theologians, although those arguments still involve logic in an attempt to disclaim logic (always seemed a silly argument to me).

Well granted, but then again, when one cannot reason very well (like approximately 6.5 billion humans), what do you think would happen when they go on insisting that they are right and everyone else is wrong?

At some point, and always to some degree, if there is no faith in what others have said, there is nothing but chaos unto extinction. So the issue isn’t one of whether to have faith in what someone else said, but rather WHEN. There is an answer to that, but its long and for perhaps a different thread.

You, like so very many others around here, seem to be stuck on this idea, “We cannot know”. I can tell you why so many people have that on their minds, but I have yet to find a single person who can logically defend the notion. And here you are saying that people should use their reasoning “because they cannot know”. It seems to me you are suggesting tht people just continuing doing exactly what they have always been doing, much like the Nietzschian insisting that people try to be dominant, not realizing that he is saying that only because his dominate wanted him to say it and uses it to ensure that the current dominate remains the dominate.

In short, you seem to be giving a self-defeating argument, much like someone say, “Never believe what anyone says to believe”… Umm… does that include the one who said that? Or “Always question everything!” … and does that include questioning whether to question everything?

…good point. :sunglasses:

I am saying to always questions everything, including this. Don’t be quick to close off your mind.

My issue is people building castles in the air that they have no way to be certain they correspond to reality, AND then claiming that ONLY this castle can correspond to reality, and everything else is useless.

If they claim that the castle is important to your eternal soul, they better be sure beyond a doubt that what they say is correct.

And I mean pastors by theologians. Although some academic theologians are pastors.