Those Christians who reject the biblical timescale or who embrace evolution often defend their position using the two-book fallacy. They claim that nature is essentially a 67th book of the Bible, and equally authoritative with Scripture. Consequently, they argue that we must interpret the Bible in light of this “book of nature.” They might also argue that nature reveals that the world is billions of years old, that all life has evolved from a common ancestor, that stars formed billions of years before earth, and so on. And they interpret Genesis to match this so-called natural/general revelation.
The problems here are numerous. First, these Christians are confused about what general revelation is. General revelation is not man’s beliefs about nature, such as the age of the universe or the history of life on earth. Rather, general revelation is what God has revealed about Himself to everyone. This includes the knowledge that God exists, is the Creator, is powerful, glorious, righteous, and is angry at us for violating His high moral standard (Romans 1:18-20, 2:14-16, Psalm 19:1-6). We call this general revelation because God has revealed this to everyone at all times. We may also call it natural revelation because God has constructed our mind and senses so that when we look at nature we instantly recognize it as the creation of the living God (Romans 1:19-20). All people recognize the world as God’s creation, though many people suppress that truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18).
This stands in contrast to special revelation – when God communicates to human beings using language. The Bible is special revelation. It is not general because not all people have read the Bible. Special revelation is propositional; it is comprised of meaningful sentences in human language and has been codified into a book. Conversely, general revelation is not propositional.
General revelation is not the same thing as science. The methods of science have allowed us to discover that atoms are made of protons and electrons, but this is not general revelation because it is not known to all people at all times. That comets orbit the sun in elliptical paths is not general revelation, because not everyone knows this. These kinds of scientific conclusions are not general revelation, and it would fallacious to refer to them as such.
Furthermore, the scientific method is not infallible. Scientists often draw incorrect conclusions from their observations of nature. So if correct scientific conclusions are not general revelation, how absurd would it be to refer to incorrect conclusions as general revelation on a supposedly equal footing with Scripture? Those Christians who employ the two-book fallacy are tacitly putting the fallible opinions of fallen men on the same level as Scripture. They then distort the clear teaching of Scripture to match secular beliefs.
Another obvious problem with the two-book fallacy is that nature is not a book. We can study rocks and fossils and draw conclusions from them. That’s fine. But rocks and fossils are not a book, and we cannot read them like we would read a book. Language has the unique ability to communicate concepts with clarity unmatched by any non-linguistic medium. This was the main point of the article I wrote years ago, posted here.
I recently came across an article that someone had written in response to mine. The author (Shane) apparently did not read my article carefully because his response is mainly a straw-man fallacy: an argument against a misrepresentation of my position. Namely, he falsely suggests that I deny natural revelation. Of course, my article teaches the opposite; natural revelation does exist, but is less clear than the propositional truth found in God’s Word. Here are Shane’s comments along with my response.
> 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.
Shane is off to a bad start. The two-book fallacy is not a Reformation teaching at all. The early reformers would have repudiated the idea that general revelation has the propositional clarity of the Bible. Indeed, the thrust of the Reformation was sola scriptura, in contrast to the Roman Catholic teaching that the Church was equally authoritative. The reformers understood that God has revealed Himself through nature – as do I. But natural revelation is non-propositional, hence not a book in the literal sense. The pioneers of the Reformation would be very disappointed indeed to learn that one Pope has been replaced with another: man’s fallible understanding of nature (which is not the same thing as natural revelation).
> 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.
Correct. The dictionary defines ‘book’ as “a set of written sheets of skin or paper or tablets of wood or ivory.” The universe God created does not fit this definition, and hence is not a book.
> Further, Lisle doesn’t like the two book view because some people use it to defend evolution or an old earth.
No. I don’t “like the two book view” because it is fallacious. Nonetheless, such fallacious thinking can lead to any number of false views – including evolution, an old earth, or anything else for that matter. Once people elevate man’s understanding of nature above God’s Word, any errant theology can result.
> Still further, he writes, “Interpreting the Bible in light of some other ‘book of God’ is a distinguishing characteristic of cults.”
Many cults, such as the Mormons, do accept the Bible as God’s Word. But they interpret the Bible in light of another book. That’s what makes them a cult. The idea that we should interpret God’s Word in light of man’s understanding of nature is very similar. Shane doesn’t seem to like that fact. But it remains a fact nonetheless.
> 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.”
Does Shane disagree? If so, would he be willing to show me some rocks and fossils that can literally talk and write? I would love to see that.
> In other words, nature doesn’t tell us anything because it doesn’t use words or grammatical phrases.
If Shane means “tell” in a literal sense, then this is true; nature doesn’t use language to literally tell us anything. However, I suspect Shane is implying that I’m claiming that we can’t learn anything from non-linguistic observations. If so, then he has severely misrepresented my position. Not everything I know has been learned by linguistic communication. I can learn about the universe from observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. But nature is still not a book. Hence, to call it such is still fallacious.
> “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:
Straw-man fallacy. I never claimed Bacon was the first to espouse such a view. I only claimed that he did espouse such a view – which of course he did.
> “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).
Notice that the Belgic Confession does not state that nature or natural revelation is a book, and therefore does not commit the two-book fallacy. Rather, it uses a simile – a figure of speech – to compare nature to a book only in the limited sense that we can learn about God from both. Recall that a simile compares two unlike things using “like” or “as.” Furthermore, I actually agree with this portion of the confession as written, because it states (in a somewhat poetic way) that God makes Himself known in nature, but more clearly and fully by His Word. This greater clarity is achieved because (unlike nature) God’s Word is propositional truth: it is a book. This in fact was the main point of my original article. I suspect anyone reading my article without an axe to grind would see that.
> I’m not going to give a full review and critique of the article here. However, let me encourage you to read it, check out yesterday’s blog post and also consider these responses:
1) Referring to creation/nature as a “book” is an analogy based on clear Scripture teaching.
Really? Where does the Bible ever call creation/nature a book?
> For example, Psalm 19 says that the heavens “declare” God’s glory (cf. Ps 8),
They do. But they don’t do it with literal words in a book. For this reason, God’s Word is superior. If Shane had read the entire 19th Psalm, he might have realized this. Beginning in verse 7, the Psalmist shows the superiority of God’s special revelation to His general revelation. Indeed, the best things in nature do not compare to the righteous judgments found in God’s Word (Psalm 19:9-10).
> Romans 1 says that God has revealed his divine attributes clearly in creation (cf. Acts 14:17).
Certainly. But where does it call creation a book? That’s the point that Shane is supposed to be making if he wants to refute my article. Anything else would be utterly irrelevant.
> Solomon tells us to go to the ant and consider its ways (Prov. 6:6).
And where does Solomon refer to nature as a book? These verses do not remotely support the point that Shane is attempting to make.
> 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).
Again, God has revealed Himself in nature – but that doesn’t make nature a book.
> It is an example of biblicism to say the term “book of nature” is unbiblical.
No, it is an example of a logical application of careful exegesis. Namely, natural revelation is non-propositional. Books (by definition) are propositional. Therefore, natural revelation is not a book. This is an AEE-2 (Camestres) categorical syllogism, which is valid.
> 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!?).
Shane has made several mistakes here. First, he hasn’t defined his main terms; this makes it very difficult to evaluate what he intends. For example, do I deny that “nature contains truth and facts?” Words like ‘nature’, ‘truth’, and ‘facts’ have multiple definitions, so the answer depends greatly on this. If we take nature to mean all creation, then of course nature will contain facts and information, because books contain information and are part of creation. If we take nature in the sense of natural as opposed to artificial, and thus excluding books, then we need to know which definition of ‘truth’ is in play.
Does Shane mean ‘truth’ in the propositional sense, as used in logic: “a judgment, proposition, or idea that is true or accepted as true” or “the body of true statements and propositions”? If so, then the non-propositional world does not contain truth. But if ‘truth’ simply means “the property of being in accord with fact or reality” then it does. Similarly “fact” is used in both a propositional and non-propositional way.
The primary definition of ‘information’ is “knowledge obtained from investigation, study, or instruction.” Now, does the natural world outside of thought and literature have knowledge (true, justified, belief)? Of course not. Rocks don’t know anything. Information requires a mind. We might gain knowledge by studying nature, and pass that along as information. But knowledge/information is not a substance found in the inanimate world of nature.
Finally, a denial that the natural world contains (propositional) information is certainly not a “denial of general revelation” because general revelation is non-propositional.
> Lisle is essentially saying that God only reveals himself in words and propositional statements.
False. This is a blatant straw-man fallacy, and directly contradicts what I wrote in the article. In my opening paragraph I state: “After all, the Scriptures teach that God’s attributes are clearly seen in nature (Romans 1:20).” Since nature is non-propositional, and since God is revealed in nature, it follows that God does reveal Himself in non-propositional ways.
Shane has missed the main point of the article. God has revealed Himself in nature as well as in His Word. But only God’s Word has the clarity of propositional truth. Therefore, it would be ridiculous to reinterpret God’s clear and infallible propositions to match (fallible) manmade propositions obtained from observations of nature.
> To be sure, God does reveal himself using words, but the Bible also describes God revealing himself in and through nature.
Sure. In my article, I cited Romans 1 in support of natural revelation.
> 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.
Actually, these all fall under special revelation because God spoke to specific people at specific times, now recorded in His Word. Natural revelation refers to what all people can learn about God from our observations of nature – His power, glory, etc. (Romans 1:18-20, Psalm 19:1-6).
> Indeed, God is sovereign in such a manner that he can and has revealed himself in creational ways.
Yes – just as I stated in my article.
> 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?
No. We can learn from nature without nature being propositional. Does Shane really think that all knowledge is gained by hearing propositional statements? We don’t need to hear the proposition “things fall down” in order to form that proposition in our mind from observations of nature. But Shane’s mistake is apparently the idea that only propositions can be studied. That just isn’t so.
The way scientists learn about nature is by observing patterns, and creating propositions that describe the patterns seen in our observations. These manmade propositions are fallible, and subject to revision on the basis of future observations. Therefore, manmade propositions that summarize our understanding of nature are not on the same level as God’s authoritative Word. That is the main point hammered out in my article. Shane completely missed it.
> (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?)
The point is moot because God has revealed Himself in creation (Romans 1:18-20). But this natural revelation is non-propositional. Therefore, when we create propositional statements about God based on our observation of nature, these statements are not infallible, and must be checked against the objective standard of God’s Word.
> 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).
Shane commits another rather absurd straw-man fallacy. Nowhere does my article suggest that the two book view is wrong because it leads some to believe in evolution. The two book view is wrong because nature is not a book. Theistic evolution is merely one error of many that spring from fallacious reasoning.
> 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).
Ironically, Shane here commits the fallacy of false analogy (while incorrectly claiming that I was doing that). The reason is clear: he says that the argument is like saying Christians shouldn’t use the KJV because the Mormons often use it. But the KJV is not a distinguishing characteristic of a cult. That is not all KJV readers are cultists, and not all cultists are KJV readers. But the idea that some other book is on the same level of the Bible is a distinguishing characteristic of a cult. If a person holds some non-Bible book to be on the same infallible level as Scripture, that person is a cultist, because Christians hold to sola scriptura.
> I suppose this article is one of the many reasons I’m not a fundamentalist and why I am instead Reformed.
This is another place where Shane would have benefitted by defining his terms. ‘Fundamentalist’ has taken on a number of meanings. Historically, a fundamentalist Christian is defined as one who holds to the five fundamentals of the Christian faith: (1) biblical inspiration and inerrancy, (2) virgin birth of Christ, (3) Christ’s death on the cross as atonement for sin, (4) Christ’s physical resurrection, (5) The historical reality of Christ’s miracles. It seems to me that a Reformed Christian ought to hold to those. In any case, a Christian should not subjugate God’s Word to any other standard. It is very disappointing to see Christians accept secular opinions about nature as “general revelation” and then use these to override the clear meaning of the Scriptures.
> Based on Scripture, I’d say the Belgic Confession is right and this article is wrong.
Actually, the Belgic Confession is in agreement with my article. Neither refers to nature as a book that is supposedly propositional and on equal footing with God’s Word, both acknowledge the existence of natural revelation, both affirm that the clarity of Scripture is superior to general revelation.
Also, notice Shane’s comment “based on Scripture.” But where is his scriptural support? Where does the Bible claim that natural revelation is a book, as clear and propositional as Scripture?
> 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!
Straw-man fallacy. Since I am all for general revelation (and so is the Bible) of course I wouldn’t use Scripture to argue against general revelation. On the contrary, I used Scripture (Romans 1) to refer rightly to general revelation in my opening paragraph. Shane just hasn’t read the article carefully at all, and is arguing against a position I don’t hold. But if Shane wants Scriptures that show the superiority and clarity of God’s Word over general revelation, I’d suggest Psalm 19, especially verse 10 where God’s Word is shown to be better than the best, most desirable parts of God’s world.
> 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.
There is no “book of general revelation.” That was the point of the article. General revelation exists, but not as propositional statements; hence, it is not a book. Furthermore, Shane is mistaken if he thinks that general revelation “does not tell us about our guilt.” The Bible says that it does (Romans 1:18-20, 2:14-16).
> Denying general revelation is a very dangerous move in Christian theology; it’s not a trivial matter!
Shane again totally misrepresents my article, as if I were somehow against general revelation. The very opening paragraph in my article states the exact opposite. Rather what I am against is people putting their manmade propositions derived from observations of nature, and then claiming that such opinions are “natural revelation” and on the same level as God’s clear Word. That is the two-book fallacy.
> 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.
If Shane disagrees with my conclusion that words are far superior in communicating truth than rocks and fossils are, then I would ask him to reply using only rocks and fossils – no words please. On the other hand, if Shane writes a reply using words, then he proves the truth of my original article.
I’ll end with these great words by Jesus Christ:
And He answered and said to them, “And why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER,’ and, ‘HE WHO SPEAKS EVIL OF FATHER OR MOTHER, LET HIM BE PUT TO DEATH.’ But you say, ‘Whoever shall say to his father or mother, “Anything of mine you might have been helped by has been given to God,” he is not to honor his father or his mother.’ And thus you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’” [Matthew 15:3-9]