Copyright © 1996, by John Lankford, Fort Smith, Arkansas

     A major question in the study of evidences is the use of reason and the scientific method, but a discussion of certainty is also in order.


     The scientific method is a means of finding truth, primarily by the inductive method. Specific facts are gathered and from them a basic conclusion is tentatively drawn. This conclusion is then tested by new facts and can be modified. When independent lines of evidence coincide with each other, then the conclusion becomes firmer. In the assembling of facts, patterns, or lines of thought or action are observed.

     In reality, the scientific method is used daily by everyone. You used it while reading the last sentence. The words were assimilated as individual units of thought and then assembled into a group, thereby producing a specific idea. Reading requires the use of the inductive method.

     Another example of the inductive method of reasoning occurs when one visits the doctor. He takes the blood pressure, checks the body temperature, listens to the heartbeat and looks inside the ears. Then he draws a reasoned conclusion based on the evidence. The doctor does not take an infinite number of readings. A few readings is all he needs to draw a sound, probable conclusion. That conclusion is what is termed "the truth." Based on this truth, the doctor prescribes a medicine that the patient takes. The patient takes the medicine because he or she trusts the ability of the doctor to analyze and see patterns in the data.

     A third example deals with the doctrine of Christ. To find out what the New Testament writers believed about the deity of Jesus, a person looks at all the passages relating to the question. Then by careful analysis of each, the researcher sees if a pattern of thought emerges. Upon doing this, it is found that Jesus was believed to be the unique Son of God, one in mind with God. This conclusion can be tested by looking at the testimony of early church writers. The writings of the early Christians are used corroboratively and not authoritatively. Did they see Jesus this way? The answer is that they did see Jesus uniquely as the Son of God, and this further firms up our conclusion.

     The design argument from the natural world for the existence of God is based upon reason. Again, facts are gathered, and a conclusion is reached. Clearly, the evidence best supports the conclusion that all that we see in the world about us could not be the result of chance acting alone.


     An implication is to say something without explicitly saying it. For example, when the New Testament tells us that the disciples ate breakfast (John 21:14), it is clearly implied, although not explicitly stated, that the food went into their mouths and stomach and was metabolized. If the doctor tells his patient that he has the flu, it can be inferred that fever is present or soon will be. When it the Scripture says Phillip preached Jesus to the eunuch and the eunuch responded by asking to be baptized in water, it is implied that to "preach Jesus" includes water baptism. In the field of evidences, when all the interworkings of the cell are studied and a clear design or organization is observed, then it is necessarily inferred that it could not have come about by accident -- a designer is behind it all.

     Implication and inference are wrapped up in the basic act of reading. Words do not speak. They are symbols that stand for ideas. The idea must be inferred from seeing the symbols. People who want to downplay inference simply have been in the sun too long. For anyone who is so bent against inference, try this experiment: The doctor looks you in the eye and says "You have liver cancer." What does that imply? No person, upon hearing these facts, negates the importance of inference. You start getting in line for chemotherapy, don't you?


     There is something called "negative evidence." It simply means that a particular thesis is not supported by data. This negative evidence speaks loudly. The doctor again: "There is no evidence for cancer." Does that say something? In the field of geology, there is no evidence for transitional forms in the fossil record. Does that tell us anything? In cult studies, many people have tried to show that New World archaeology vindicates the history set forth in the Book of Mormon, but all efforts have failed to produce anything. Many researchers in the area were so stunned by this negative evidence that they left the Mormon Church. It must have said something to them.

     In Christianity, no evidence exists, for the first few centuries after the apostles, that Christians understood baptism to be anything but immersion. No evidence can show that sprinkling or pouring was ever used for baptism. Does this speak to us? Neither is there any evidence from the New Testament writings on the future primacy of Peter or the perpetual virginity of Mary. These ideas are absent and are no more a part of Christianity than Mormon New World History is part of true history.

     Consider this: one of the cornerstones of Christian evidences for the Resurrection is that no one found the body of Jesus. Negative evidence speaks. What is not there is significant.


     Everyone wants certainty. However, a measure of uncertainty is always carried along with whatever is done or interpreted. For example, the doctor who gives me the diagnosis of liver cancer would readily admit to a chance that his diagnosis could be wrong. Suppose he acknowledges a one percent chance of error. Do I start getting my affairs in order, or not? Do I start thinking seriously about eternity or not? Yes to both of these.

     Sane people go with what is most probable. The preponderance of evidence determines our actions and thoughts. No one rejects a 99 percent certainty to accept a one percent uncertainty. Most people will go with much less. An 80 percent chance of liver cancer is enough to send most folks looking for their burial policies.

     How can we be more certain? One way is to let independent sources look at the same data and see if the same conclusions are reached. For example, Christians have always used the design argument to validate a creation perspective. But when non-Christians such as Robert Jastrow, Fred Hoyle, Paul Davies and other eminent scientists look at the same data and likewise conclude that things are too complex to have just happened, then the force of the argument increases. In fact, it is far more solid than its opposite, chance.

     The principle of independent support can also be applied to the field of New Testament doctrine. For example, when scholars without an ax to grind testify that baptism in the New Testament was immersion, although their particular theology allows otherwise, we are on solid ground in believing and teaching that immersion is the gospel pattern.


     To hear talk these days you would think that a method exists to determine truth without using human reasoning. This is nonsense. Human reasoning, by the inductive method, is all we have. It is simply the act of putting two and two together or adding it all up. How many times have we said, "That doesn't add up"?


     This article has tried to show that the inductive method, which gives us reliable conclusions when the scientific process is used, is a valid way, the only way, to find "truth" from Scripture, science, and everyday life. Just because errors in reasoning can occur does not mean we throw out reason. You do not throw away the hammer because sometimes you miss the nail.

Having first appeared online as part of the Web site of the West-Ark church of Christ, the above article was featured in the Gospel Advocate magazine, Vol. 140, No. 1, January 1998, pp. 35-36.

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West-Ark Church of Christ