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What If Christianity Can’t Be Proven? An Intriguing Parable About Three Guys on the Trail for Truth

Once upon a time there were three men by the name of Eliot, Elwin, and Elmer. One Spring these three men decided, each on their own, to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT). None of the three had ever previously hiked the trail, nor had they ever met one another before the hike began. But early that April, as the story goes, they departed from the trail’s southern terminus, Springer Mountain, in Georgia. Day after day they hiked, progressing slowly but steadily through the Southern and mid-Atlantic states and, finally, the Northeast. One of the men carried a compass and, whenever they came to an AT sign, would always take a reading. As they progressed, all three noted that the compass always indicated that they were traveling north or northeast.

One evening in an overnight shelter, the three men became engaged in a long and intense discussion about matters of faith. Eliot claimed to be a Christian, but Elwin said he was an agnostic. When Eliot asked him why, Elwin replied that he figured there just wasn’t enough evidence to know for sure what was true about life, and that until there was, he was inclined to just remain uncommitted. Elmer said that his search had revealed that no religion could be proven, so in the end he had come to the conclusion that it didn’t make much difference what one believed. “To each his own,” he said. “I’ve personally been into Zen and Dianetics, but right now I’m exploring New Age thought. All religions probably lead to the same end anyway. And if you’re happy, that’s what counts. Nobody can prove that they have a claim to truth, so I say go for whatever feels best.”

Over the next few weeks the subject resurfaced occasionally. Eliot repeatedly tried to demonstrate to his new friends that even though Christianity was a faith system, it was an intelligent faith system. “Faith and reason can go together,” he insisted. “You go as far along the road of reason as possible toward a unified explanation of what life is all about, and then you wisely invest your faith on the basis of the best circumstantial evidence available. Most courts in our country operate on the exact same principle or there’d never ever be any judgments made. Just because you can’t completely reason your way to Christianity doesn’t mean you need to reject reason out of hand. Why not act on the basis of what you do know to be true?” Eliot went on to say that his own years of searching for truth had made it clear to him that Christianity is by far the most reasonable faith system ever proposed in the long history and experience of humankind. Elmer and Elwin, however, remained unconvinced.

Eventually, in mid-October, the three came through Monson, Maine, the last supply stop on the AT short of The One-Hundred Mile Wilderness and their final goal-Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park. Then, approximately five days out of Monson, they arrived at a juncture in the trail unlike any they had previously encountered-a three-way fork that split the path in three separate directions. A large post stood nearby on which an AT sign had obviously been hanging. But today no sign was in sight. After checking his compass, Eliot informed the others that the trail on    the right headed northeast, that the trail on the left hooked around horseshoe style and headed south, and that the middle trail headed in a generally westerly direction.

For over two hours the men sat and discussed their options.  Eliot said, “Look, fellows, for over six months now this trail has been heading north-northeast. I think we should take the trail to the right which continues to head northeast. But Elwin said, “No way, man. Unless we can verify for certain that the right fork is indeed the Appalachian Trail,  I ain’t goin’ nowhere!” Elmer, after deliberating for a few additional minutes, said, “Well, the way I figure it is, since we really can’t prove any of these trails are the Appalachian Trail for sure, one guess is as good as another. Besides, I’ve noticed that the trail to the left heads downhill. So I believe that’ll be the one for me.” Whereupon he stood up and, smiling broadly, headed out.

For further reading: Evidence for Faith, John Warwick Montgomery, ©1991 Probe Ministries; The God Who Is There, Francis Schaeffer, Crossway; Evidence That Demands a Verdict and More Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell; Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Peter Kreeft, ©1994, InterVarsity Press