Archimedes of Syracuse

Your Archimedean Point

23 centuries ago the great philosopher and mathematician Archimedes of Syracuse became famous for his extraordinary technical knowledge. One of his most impressive inventions involved building a system of levers which sunk invading Roman ships. Not surprisingly, this master of levers famously said, “Give me a place to stand and I will lift the world.” To this day philosophers often refer to the most certain piece of knowledge in a person’s worldview as their Archimedean Point, because the rest of a person’s knowledge will pivot on this information.

This brings us to an important question that every Christian needs to ask, namely, what am I most certain of? At first glance most Christians will reflexively say the Bible. But more traditional branches of the Church such as Catholics, Anglicans, and the Eastern Orthodox will also want to include the larger category of “tradition”. Likewise, those influenced by Charismatic and Pentecostal theology will add personal experience. These are three very different answers, one focusing on the external and objective text, another favoring historical precedent, and the final favoring the individual’s mystical encounter with God.

Perhaps most importantly, we need to remember that as Christians all of these things must play a role in how we think. Any faith devoid of personal experience replete with worship, prayer, meditation, or perhaps even dreams and visions runs the risk of dead orthodoxy. There is little point in endlessly repeating rituals that no one understands nor feels impacted by. But by extension, Christianity is more than a collection of experiences. If this were not so there would be little difference between Christianity and powerful music (although God certainly uses music to reach His people) or hallucinogenic drugs (so called “gods” might talk to you if you take these… but probably not the ones you should be communing with).

Reference to the Archimedean Point has become more common in Christian circles in recent years due to the rise of presuppositional apologetics. Thinkers like Greg Bahnsen, Cornelius Van Til, Francis Schaeffer and Gordon Clark all use the concept in one way or another, although they do not necessarily always use the term. Likewise, the Dutch Reformed Church which these men built on heavily used the concept since Abraham Kuyper.

But thinking through where one finds ultimate certainty is useful for more than just apologists. There are few exercises both more challenging and rewarding for a person to do then to ask what does their worldview hinge upon, for that is where the Christian should find their God. It is extremely unlikely that all Christians will agree over what portion of their certainty should stem from one method or another of finding God, but every Christian should place God at the center of their worldview. Whatever else we may agree or disagree on, the existence God should be the thing of which we Christians strive to have assurance.

Jake Akins