Must You Believe It?
THE 12-year-old student was struggling to grasp the basic principles of algebra. His teacher presented the class with a seemingly straightforward algebraic calculation.
“Let x=y and let them both have the value of 1,” he began.
‘So far so good,’ thought the student.
After four lines of what looked like logical calculation, however, the teacher produced a startling result: “Therefore, 2=1!”
“Disprove that,” he challenged his bemused students.
With his very limited knowledge of algebra, the young student could not see how to disprove it. Every step in the calculation looked perfectly valid. Should he, then, believe this strange conclusion? After all, his teacher was much more versed in mathematics than he was. Of course he should not! ‘I do not have to disprove this,’ he thought to himself. ‘Common sense tells me that this is absurd.’ (Proverbs 14:15, 18) He knew that neither his teacher nor any of his classmates were going to exchange two dollars for one!
In time the algebra student did find the flaw in the computation. Meanwhile, the experience taught him a valuable lesson. Even when someone with vastly superior knowledge presents a carefully crafted and seemingly unassailable argument, a listener need not believe a foolish conclusion simply because he cannot disprove it at the time. The student was actually following a very practical Bible principle found at 1 John 4:1—not to believe too quickly everything you hear, even when it appears to come from an authoritative source.
This does not mean that you should stubbornly stick to preconceived ideas. It is a mistake to close your mind to information that could adjust mistaken views. But neither should you be “quickly shaken from your reason” in the face of pressure from someone who claims to have great knowledge or authority. (2 Thessalonians 2:2) The teacher, of course, was merely playing a trick on his students. Sometimes, though, things are not so innocent. People can be extremely “cunning in contriving error.”—Ephesians 4:14; 2 Timothy 2:14, 23, 24.
Are Experts Always Right?
However knowledgeable they may be, experts in any field may have conflicting ideas and shifting opinions. Take, for example, the ongoing debate in medical science on something as basic as causes of illness. “The relative importance of nature versus nurture in illness forms the fabric of heated debate among scientists,” writes a professor of medicine at Harvard University. Those in what has been called the determinist camp believe strongly that our genes play a decisive role in our susceptibility to various diseases. Others, however, contend that the environment and life-style are the major factors in human pathology. Both sides are quick to cite studies and statistics to support their case. Nonetheless, the debate continues.
The most renowned of thinkers have been proved wrong again and again, even though what they taught seemed at the time to be beyond dispute. Philosopher Bertrand Russell described Aristotle as one of “the most influential of all philosophers.” Yet, Russell also pointed out that many of Aristotle’s doctrines were “wholly false.” “Throughout modern times,” he wrote, “practically every advance in science, in logic, or in philosophy has had to be made in the teeth of opposition from Aristotle’s disciples.”—History of Western Philosophy.
“The Falsely Called ‘Knowledge’”
The early Christians likely met many who were disciples of the noted Greek philosophers, such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Educated people of the day regarded themselves as intellectually superior to most of the Christians. Not many of Jesus’ disciples were considered “wise in a fleshly way.” (1 Corinthians 1:26) In fact, those schooled in the philosophies of the day thought that what the Christians believed was simply “foolishness” or “sheer nonsense.”—1 Corinthians 1:23; Phillips.
If you were among those early Christians, would you have been impressed by the persuasive arguments of the intellectual elite of the day or overawed by their display of wisdom? (Colossians 2:4) There would have been no reason for that, according to the apostle Paul. He reminded Christians that Jehovah views “the wisdom of the wise men” and the “intelligence of the intellectual men” of the day as foolish. (1 Corinthians 1:19) “What,” he asked, “have the philosopher, the writer and the critic of this world to show for all their wisdom?” (1 Corinthians 1:20, Phillips) Despite all their intellectual brilliance, the philosophers, the writers, and the critics of Paul’s day had produced no real answer to mankind’s problems.
So Christians learned to avoid what the apostle Paul said were “the contradictions of the falsely called ‘knowledge.’” (1 Timothy 6:20) The reason that Paul called such knowledge ‘false’ is that it lacked one crucial factor—a source or reference from God against which their theories could be tested. (Job 28:12; Proverbs 1:7) Lacking that, and at the same time being blinded by the archdeceiver, Satan, those clinging to such knowledge could never hope to find the truth.—1 Corinthians 2:6-8, 14; 3:18-20; 2 Corinthians 4:4; 11:14; Revelation 12:9.
The Bible—An Inspired Guide
The early Christians never doubted that God had revealed his will, purpose, and principles in the Scriptures. (2 Timothy 3:16, 17) This protected them from being ‘carried off as prey through the philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men.’ (Colossians 2:8) The situation is the same today. In contrast with the confusing and conflicting opinions of men, God’s inspired Word provides a solid foundation on which we can base our beliefs. (John 17:17; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Peter 1:21) Without it we are left in the impossible situation of trying to build something solid on the shifting sands of human theories and philosophies.—Matthew 7:24-27.
‘But wait,’ someone might say. ‘Is it not true that the facts of science have shown the Bible to be in error and therefore no more dependable than the ever-changing philosophies of men?’ Bertrand Russell claimed, for example, that “Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo had to combat Aristotle as well as the Bible in establishing the view that the earth is not the centre of the universe.” (Italics ours.) And is it not true that today, for example, creationists insist that the Bible teaches that the earth was created in six 24-hour days, when all the facts show that the earth itself is billions of years old?
Actually, the Bible does not say that the earth is the center of the universe. That was a teaching of church leaders who themselves did not adhere to God’s Word. The Genesis account of creation allows for the earth to be billions of years old and does not limit each creative day to 24 hours. (Genesis 1:1, 5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31; 2:3, 4) An honest appraisal of the Bible shows that while it is not a science textbook, it certainly is not “sheer nonsense.” It is, in fact, in complete harmony with proven science.*
The “Power of Reason”
Although many of Jesus’ disciples were simple men and women, possibly with limited education, they did have another God-given asset at their disposal. Regardless of their background, all were endowed with reasoning power and thinking abilities. The apostle Paul encouraged his fellow Christians to make full use of their “power of reason” to “prove to [themselves] the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”—Romans 12:1, 2.
With their God-given “power of reason,” the early Christians saw clearly that any philosophy or teaching that was not in harmony with the revealed Word of God was useless. In some cases the wise men of their day were, in fact, “suppressing the truth” and ignoring the evidence around them that there is a God. “Although asserting they were wise, they became foolish,” wrote the apostle Paul. Because they rejected the truth about God and his purpose, “they became empty-headed in their reasonings and their unintelligent heart became darkened.”—Romans 1:18-22; Jeremiah 8:8, 9.
Those who assert that they are wise often come up with conclusions like “There is no God” or “The Bible is not to be trusted” or “These are not the ‘last days.’” Such ideas are just as foolish in God’s eyes as concluding that “2=1.” (1 Corinthians 3:19) Whatever authority people may arrogate to themselves, you do not have to accept their conclusions if they contradict God, ignore his Word, and violate common sense. In the final analysis, the wise course is always to “let God be found true, though every man be found a liar.”—Romans 3:4.
For details, see the books The Bible—God’s Word or Man’s? and Is There a Creator Who Cares About You?, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
[Pictures on page 31]
In contrast with the shifting opinions of men, the Bible provides a solid basis for belief
Left, Epicurus: Photograph taken by courtesy of the British Museum; upper middle, Plato: National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece; right, Socrates: Roma, Musei Capitolini