“If the first verse is true the rest of the Bible is at least believable.” That is a phrase often used by Christian apologist and radio show host Frank Turek. I have worked this idea into a very robust and widely useful philosophical point in defense of the Christian faith.
I think Turek was getting at a statistical expectations point. Let’s say there is a particular source which makes claims with a particular rate of truth. All rates of truthful claim making must fall somewhere between 0 and 1. Before the first claim is made we expect a 50% rate of truth because we lack information. Let’s say we here its first claim and find it to be true. When it makes its second claim we should expect the rate of truth from that source to be between .5 and 1. Why? Because from a total of two claims at least one claim will be true and at most two. The rational thing to do would be to place a 75% expectation of truth at this point, because that is halfway between .5 and 1. Under the rational theory of statistical expectations then we should expect the second claim to be true because we find the likelihood of the statement being true greater than the likelihood of the statement being false since the two possibilities are mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive which implies that (Expectation of false)=.25, (Expectation of true)=.75
If the first verse is true then any other particular verse in the Bible should be expected to be more likely true than untrue. Since the collection of all particular verses in the Bible should therefore be expected to be more likely true than untrue, it may be said that the Bible, which is simply the collection of those verses, is expected to be more likely true than untrue. The Bible is not infinitely lengthy. So while the effect of only one verse may be small on the overall expectation, it is nonetheless mathematically real. It may not fall within a particular person’s significance level, but in the absolute sense it is meaningful. In fact, we don’t even have to prove that the first verse is true! We just have to show that it is more likely to be true than false and the whole argument still stands.
What this means is that if we can convince a person that Genesis 1:1 is true then we shift the burden of proof to them, since it has already been established that the Bible is more likely true than false. Fortunately, Genesis 1:1 is very easy to prove when we take it alone. This is because no theology has been yet developed. This frees us to create our own theology and definitions. When done correctly it only takes one obvious assumption to prove Genesis 1:1.
Genesis 1:1 says “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
1) Define God as the creator of the heavens and the earth.
2) We observe the earth exists in our present time. This implies that the earth was created at a finite time. Define this time as the beginning.
3) We have established that God created the earth in the beginning, but did he create heaven?
4a) We have no way of knowing what the heavens are in the context of only a single verse. Because we cannot determine whether or not the statement “God created the heavens” is true, give it a 50% chance of being true. Under this scenario there is a 75% chance that Genesis 1:1 is true.
4b) Let us define heaven as something which we know exists for the same reasons the earth exists and was created at the same time. For example the sky, the surface of the earth, or space outside of earth. Under this scenario there is a 100% chance that the verse is true, but it requires us to be consistent with our theology of heaven across all verses.
In conclusion I think this a valid method to start a discussion of the reliability of the Bible in a way that shifts the burden of proof from the Christian to the opponent from the start. Furthermore, the statistical rate of truth, or mathematical trust, of the Bible is an alternative approach from the inerrancy claim, yet it is compatible with inerrancy. It may be a method which is more acceptable to the Biblical opponent and therefore may provide a better starting point for building that trust, as the Bible is read verse by verse, up toward full trust. This avoids many of the problems with convincing a nonbeliever of inerrancy first.
See the following article and video on what Genesis 1:1 means by “heavens” for a bonus round of education on this argument:
Lastly, please remember that I would never advocate that anyone’s complete theology or understanding of Christianity ever be built solely on one verse, for many of the same reasons pointed out here.