The Two-Book Fallacy? (Or Barth and Fundamentalism Together!)

Someone recently pointed out an article to me on the topic of creation and Scripture called “The Two-Book Fallacy” by Jason Lisle, a director at the Institute for Creation Research.  In the article, Lisle very clearly and very firmly says that the Reformation teaching of God’s “two-books” is fallacious and unbiblical.

In other words, Lisle argues that Christians should not call creation one of God’s books because it doesn’t say anything with words and propositional statements.  Further, Lisle doesn’t like the two book view because some people use it to defend evolution or an old earth.  Still further, he writes, “Interpreting the Bible in light of some other ‘book of God’ is a distinguishing characteristic of cults.”

Lisle also says that nature “is not a book or record that contains propositional truth,” and that rocks or fossils “don’t literally mean anything because they are not statements made by an author who is intending to convey an idea.”  In other words, nature doesn’t tell us anything because it doesn’t use words or grammatical phrases.  “The primary purpose of nature is not to teach, but to function.”

Though Lisle attributes the two book view to Francis Bacon, it is actually used in the Belgic Confession (1561) which was written well before Bacon lived:

“We know [God] by two means: First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most elegant book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many characters leading us to see clearly the invisible things of God, even his everlasting power and divinity, as the apostle Paul says (Rom. 1:20).  All which things are sufficient to convince men and leaven them without excuse.  Second, he makes himself more clearly and fully known to us by his holy and divine Word, that is to say, as far as is necessary for us to know in this life, to his glory and our salvation” (BCF 2).

I’m not going to give a full review and critique of the article here.  However, let me encourage you to read it (HERE), check out yesterday’s blog post (HERE) and also consider these responses:

1) Referring to creation/nature as a “book” is an analogy based on clear Scripture teaching.  For example, Psalm 19 says that the heavens “declare” God’s glory (cf. Ps 8), Romans 1 says that God has revealed his divine attributes clearly in creation (cf. Acts 14:17).  Solomon tells us to go to the ant and consider its ways (Prov. 6:6).  This also has to do with the fact that all humans (who are created beings) are made in God’s image with a sense of the divine (Ecc. 3:11, Rom. 1:18ff, 2:15).  It is an example of biblicism to say the term “book of nature” is unbiblical.

2) Denying that nature contains truths, facts, and information about God the creator is a denial of general revelation reminiscent of Karl Barth (“Barth” and “fundamentalism” together!?).  Lisle is essentially saying that God only reveals himself in words and propositional statements.  To be sure, God does reveal himself using words, but the Bible also describes God revealing himself in and through nature.  Consider (along with the above Scripture references) the OT stories of when God (extraordinarily) revealed himself in the storm, whirlwind, fire, earthquake, and other theophanies.  Indeed, God is sovereign in such a manner that he can and has revealed himself in creational ways.  I’m wondering how creation scientists can study rocks and fossils and make scientific conclusions if, as Lisle says, “they don’t mean anything.”  Isn’t Lisle sawing away at the tree branch on which he is sitting?  (As a side, consider how, in church history, general revelation has functioned in apologetics – could there even be Christian apologetics if God didn’t reveal himself in creation?)

3) Just because some have supposedly used the two book view to prove evolution doesn’t make the view wrong (I believe this is called the Domino Fallacy in logic).  And hinting that the two book view is wrong because cults interpret the Bible in light of some other “book of God” is also poor logic (I believe this is called the Faulty Analogy  – it’s like saying Christians shouldn’t use the KJV because Mormons often use it).

I suppose this article is one of the many reasons I’m not a fundamentalist and why I am instead Reformed.  Based on Scripture, I’d say the Belgic Confession is right and this article is wrong.  In fact, if you read the article carefully, you’ll notice (ironically) that the author didn’t use Scripture to make his point for Scripture and against general revelation!

It is true that the book of general revelation does not tell us about our guilt, God’s saving grace, and our response of gratitude, but that doesn’t mean we should deny the fact that God reveals himself in nature.  Denying general revelation is a very dangerous move in Christian theology; it’s not a trivial matter!   I’ll end with these great words by Herman Bavinck:

“Whether God speaks to us in the realm of nature or in that of grace, in creation or in re-creation…it is always the same God we hear speaking to us.  Nature and grace are not opposites: we have one God from whom, through whom, and to whom both exist.

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics II.75.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

22 thoughts on “The Two-Book Fallacy? (Or Barth and Fundamentalism Together!)”

  1. Please correct me if I am wrong-

    The way I understand it, general revelation (call it a book or not) is what is discussed in Romans 1, “so that they are without excuse.” Special revelation comes to us through God’s Word. Nature teaches us that God exists, among other things, while the Word clarifies, expounds, and further teaches.

    It’s plainly silly to me to deny general revelation. I think that instead of doing this (if that was his intent), Mr. Lisle could have rather said something like, “General Revelation cannot contradict Special Revelation, as they are both revelations of the same God.”

    It seems almost impossible to me that Mr. Lisle would deny general revelation…

    I like ICR and AIG in many ways, but they need to be careful when saying things like this.

    I understand the desire to cling to God’s word, and it is good, but this article takes things a little too far, in my opinion. This is especially true in the implication that “two books” idea inevitably leads to errors. To me, a person who believes in general and special revelation, nature screams out the necessity and reality of a creator. Mr. Lisle’s comparison is sort of like other folks’ common practice of breaking the so-called “Godwin’s Law” (See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin's_law ) to discredit evolution via ad hominem associations with Hitler and the Nazis.

    Thanks for this piece, and please, correct me where I am in error.

    AP

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      1. AP: I think you’re right on.

        In fact, I’m still so surprised this author denies general revelation that I’m thinking he may just have his terms or categories mixed up; or perhaps he isn’t very well informed on what general revelation actually means. I’m not being sarcastic; perhaps he meant to speak against the naturalistic theology of the enlightenment/rationalist thinkers (though it doesn’t seem so).

        However, I would say that denying general revelation is far, far worse than believing in an old earth!

        shane

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  2. Great post Shane! It’s actually kind of surprising to me to see someone from a creationist organization attacking general revelation like that, since as you mentioned, it seems to be part of their whole apologetics approach in the first place!

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  3. Shane: I don’t know about the “Domino Fallacy”, but this does seem to be an example of guilt by association, i.e., the association fallacy.

    “An association fallacy is an inductive informal fallacy of the type hasty generalization or red herring which asserts that qualities of one thing are inherently qualities of another, merely by an irrelevant association. The two types are sometimes referred to as guilt by association and honor by association. Association fallacies are a special case of red herring, and can be based on an appeal to emotion.” See Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Association_fallacy [accessed 10 JAN 2013].

    Arctic Pilgrim and Patrick: Having read his article over several times I would not conclude that Jason Lisle is denying general revelation as you seem to have done in your comments above. He is clearly distinguishing between the inspired written record containing propositional truth, and the unwritten and nonpropositional communication of nature. He definitely objects to referring to both as “books” since this seems to blur the distinction between that which has been written and is propositional, and that which is neither. However, it may be premature at this point, within the limited context of that brief article, to conclude that there is an outright denial of general revelation per se by this author involved in the objection that is his focus.

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    1. That sounds right – the association fallacy – thanks JTJ!

      And it is true that Lisle was speaking mostly about the term “book;” however, at the outset of the article he really ties the two-book view with natural/general revelation. He talks about the two books, then mentions how this view teaches “we can learn about God through both Scripture and science – the systematic study of nature.”

      Later in the article, however, he says that nature does not have meaning because it does not contain word-filled statements. He basically says that nature does not communicate anything to us because it is not propositional, as if propositional speech is the only way God reveals himself. I do believe his words are a denial of general revelation (even if not on purpose).

      Anyway, as I said in an earlier comment, perhaps the author has his categories/terms messed up, or perhaps he doesn’t understand the doctrine of general revelation. Either way, the article is an example of poor theology at best.

      Thanks for the kind tone of your comments; my response is meant the same way.

      shane

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      1. Yes, I noticed how he opened himself up to that misunderstanding. It would certainly have been helpful if he had been careful to spell out how nature is still “revelation” while not being “special” or “propositional”.

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  4. All the above comments seem to be on the right track in asking for some distinctions and clarifications to be made; the simple use of an analogy (two books) can of course be the on-ramp to roads going in several directions, so condemning it outright is premature and confusing. The Creation Science people sometimes seem to have but one string on their harp–more power to them for, in the face of darwinian arrogance, keeping the intellectual windows open, but bene docet qui bene distinguit–he teaches best who makes the most careful distinctions–and before warnings are issued, there must be thorough understanding of the position in our sights.

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  5. Shane,

    Denying that nature contains truths, facts, and information about God the creator is a denial of general revelation reminiscent of Karl Barth (“Barth” and “fundamentalism” together!?).

    This is not exactly what Barth would say, at least not without some important points of clarification. True, nature does not “contain” truth about God, as if we could read the nature of God off of nature, apart from the lens provided by special revelation (Scripture). Barth does indeed reject that understanding of natural theology. However — and this is a big however — Barth is unequivocal that nature does indeed witness to the glory and beauty of its Creator. Hence, we find Barth’s discussion of “little lights” in creation and his famous account of Mozart’s music, plus his exegesis in CD II.1 of the well-known nature Psalms. Moreover, the whole point of CD III.1 — that the covenant is the form of creation and creation is the material of the covenant — is to underscore Barth’s thesis that nature presupposes grace (not the reverse). This ordering of nature and grace can only be known through covenant relationship with God, but this reveals the truth of nature (its origin in the divine good-pleasure) that is otherwise hidden outside of the covenant.

    Also, it is important to recognize that, for Barth, we do have the ability to discover certain immanent truths of creation (e.g., how the human respiratory system works) without reference to the divine covenant. Nature is “trustworthy” in this sense, and our empirical senses are basically trustworthy. By contrast, fundamentalism today is increasingly declaring that nature cannot be trusted (geological data, astronomical data, genetic data, etc., which converge in a basically old earth and evolutionary consensus). Al Mohler has made several statements in this regard, e.g.:

    Nature lies to us?

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    1. As a Reformed Southern Baptist, I am very surprised that Mohler holds such a position. It is quite disturbing. I sincerely hope that my brethren on this post will not lump us all together on this issue! Romans 1, as well as other scripture mentioned already by others, is very clear on this issue, and, to be blunt, I would think Mohler should know better.

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  6. Kevin: thanks for the thoughtful comments.

    I used “reminiscent” in the line quoted above on purpose: generally speaking, Barth denied general revelation as Reformed theology defines it (or, to put it differently, Barth didn’t discuss revelation in a confessional Reformed way – i.e. I.2.1). Of course, there are nuances and such – I realize that, so I didn’t equate this article’s (poor) theology with Barth’s theology. I simply inferred that a denial of general revelation reminds me of Barth.

    And thanks for the Mohler link; that’s upsetting. I agree with your critique.

    shane

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    1. Yeah, I assumed that you were aware of the nuances. I just wanted to make sure and clarify for other readers. I enjoy the blog, Shane. Keep it up!

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      1. Thanks Kevin; glad for your notes. And we’re interested in any more you find out or have to say about Mohler and the like talking about creation/nature in such a negative way (per your link/blog above).

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        1. Hey Shane,

          Here is another instance demonstrating Mohler’s epistemology:

          http://dogmatics.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/yes-evolution-again/

          And I followed this post with another, clarifying my point of opposition:

          http://dogmatics.wordpress.com/2011/01/14/its-not-about-supernaturalism-my-ultimate-salvo-against-creationism/

          While I was a student at RTS (!), before transferring to another seminary last year, Al Mohler came to our campus and gave the spring lectures. The whole lecture was one long diatribe against “naturalistic” modernism and “accommodationism” in evangelical circles. I was horrified that he was taken seriously and warmly embraced. It is a crass fundamentalism, and a few of my fellow students recognized it as such (but we were a very small minority). And we wonder why 80% (probably more) of evangelicals lose their faith after high school…especially if they go to college. Mohler would have us choose between his crass fundamentalism and Bultmann’s demythology — as if everything is reducible to these two positions, based upon a consistent “worldview.” That’s nonsense. And I say that as a rather conservative guy and as someone who is quite comfortable with the previous generation of evangelical leaders (Stott, Packer, Roger Nicole, etc.). Hence, I still identify as “evangelical,” but people like Mohler are making it really hard!

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  7. I agree that the clarification about Barth is helpful; most explanations about Barth have to be fairly nuanced, since he wrote so much about so many things over and over, often qualifying his earlier positions.

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