Epistemology And Faith
You should think about things worthy of thinking about. One of the things you can think about that will be worth your time is the question: “How do we know what we know?” It’s an old question, one that dates back to the ancients. And just so you know, there is a name for such contemplations. It’s called epistemology. For the thoughtful, which is to say, for those who think about things deeply, it will ever be a question worth pondering.
The word science is an epistemological word in its own right. It means “a state of knowing,” and it employs methods to help us distinguish between what we might assume and what we know. That kind of science is what brought us cellphone-sized computers, the existence of which, by the way, I am old enough to remember a time when they didn’t exist, which perhaps gives me more reason to marvel over them. But because Man has learned a little bit about a few things he can begin to marvel a little too much over his accomplishments and then perhaps begin to think that he knows a lot more than he actually does. His supposed great leaps in knowledge, therefore, can blind him to his actual poverty when it comes to knowledge. F. A. Hayek put it this way in his book, The Constitution Of Liberty:
Ever since the beginning of modern science, the best minds have recognized that “the range of acknowledged ignorance will grow with the advance of science”. Unfortunately, the popular effect of this scientific advance has been a belief, seemingly shared by many scientists, that the range of our ignorance is steadily diminishing. . .
A truly thoughtful person understands that one of the things that new knowledge reveals is the utter extent of our actual ignorance. Man’s history is filled with bad thinking based on what he was sure he knew when the reality was that he was in error. We can see this in the study of the history of science. For a time, in more recent history for example, doctors practiced a thing called bloodletting. This was a practice of “bleeding” patients to get the sickness out of them. For the scientists immersed in that time, I’m sure it all seemed reasonable based on what they thought they knew. It was, after all, science. I’m sure doctors were taught all about the life-saving advantages of this bloodletting in medical school. I’m also reasonably sure that anyone who questioned such a procedure would have been ridiculed for doubting such an old and accepted practice. These scientists did not know that they did not know and presumed to know something to be true that wasn’t. My father used to say, “It’s what I learned after I knew it all that counted most.” The same has been true for me. It’s one thing to be ignorant, but worse to be ignorant of our ignorance, but it’s another thing altogether to be arrogantly ignorant of our ignorance. The Bible says that knowledge puffs up. It makes Man proud. But knowledge, properly handled, ought to make us humble.
With this in mind, consider one of the deepest questions a man can ask himself: “How did I come to be?” The answer to such a question has profound consequences no matter how someone comes about it. There is an answer acceptable to Man in these days that displaces a creator, but what do we really know concerning that answer? As it turns out, not much. It’s based on made-up stories of how it could have happened and then called science. That kind of science doesn’t, however, give us marvelous cellphones. Made-up stories do not constitute science, they constitute assumptions which are then believed by faith and presented as scientific facts. But these assumptions are anything but “facts” which is evidenced by the constant discarding and revising of those “facts” as new discoveries become inconsistent with old assumptions. No, the reality is that one must rely on faith to answer this all-important question.
And, although faith is required regardless of how one answers this question, there are insights available to us which can be drawn from the present. We can gain this insight by asking another question: “What can we know about the ramifications of the answers to these questions?” We need no faith to discover these answers, only observation skills and an open mind, for indeed they are omnipresent and are logical. We need only to be honest with ourselves. We can know, for example, that if Man, by happenstance, evolved from meaningless cosmic dust into sacks of chemicals, blood, flesh and bones, and those chemicals react in ways that make him ask questions like “How did I come to be?” then the questions are ultimately as absurd as the man asking them. For if man came from nothing meaningful, and if he will be returning to nothing meaningful, then it logically follows that there is no ultimate meaning in anything those chemical reactions do in the meantime. Knowledge itself would, in fact, be meaningless. And whether these sacks of chemicals attempt to create meaning, or they instead do something else, like go on a killing spree just for the fun of it, in the end, either way, it is still meaningless. We can know this. It is not logical to deny it.
But Man is insistent that he does have meaning, even if there’s no reasonable reason to have it. But what does that matter? His insistence is inconsistent with his knowledge of reality, which we know is nothing more than meaningless chemical reactions carrying on between a given set of ears.
If a man who possesses a desire to remain alive goes to bed knowing that the building he is in is on fire, then his actions are not consistent with his desires and knowledge. In the same way, if a man knows that his existence is ultimately meaningless, and he continues to insist that it isn’t, he, again, is being inconsistent with what he knows. If the man in the burning building remained and burned up, or he fled to safety, it would make no difference. Everything he does, thinks, and says is meaningless, for the thoughts that caused his actions are nothing more than chemical reactions brought about by the happenstance arrangement of non-thinking, unfeeling, and impersonal cosmic dust. It is of no consequence that the interactions of these particles call those same interactions life. It is still meaningless.
But, dear children, Man does not know from where he came as Man counts knowing. In the grand scheme of things, Man fares much better when he is humble concerning what he thinks he knows. He should be content that no matter how much he knows, in reality, he knows very little, and for the knowledge that lies beyond his grasp, he must resort to faith. And this is what we know concerning faith, that it is a man’s faith that informs him on his origins, whether that faith is placed in men, called “scientists,” or in religion. But make no mistake, don’t be misled, in the end it is faith no matter what name Man hangs on the door of it, and no matter how arrogant, puffed up and proud the man is who insists that it isn’t faith. Man cannot prove that he is anything more than evolved matter, much less prove that he is evolved meaningful matter. It can’t be done. The belief in evolution is a religious belief, and you ought to always consider it as such. Furthermore, this religious belief is the basis for the state-sanctioned religion of your time and place: Secular Humanism. Don’t be fooled, It takes faith to believe and live according to Secular Humanism, and given the unreasonable nature of this religion, it requires even more faith than faith in a creator. I say unreasonable, not only due to the complexities and nature of the creation, complexities that, to the open-minded person are impossible to just happen by mere chance and circumstance, but also due to the unreasonableness of the suggestion that chemical and electrical impulses within certain pieces of matter can make that matter somehow ultimately meaningful.
Please don’t misunderstand me my dear children. Faith is not a bad thing, rather it’s epistemologically necessary for our existence. The more you know, the more you ought to know that you do not know, which ought to humble you. Beyond what we really and truly know, we are dependent on faith. Never mind the “god of the gaps” argument that suggests that Man actually knows a lot, and to fill the “gaps” in that knowledge he feels the need to appeal to some sort of deity. This argument is based on arrogance and pride. The reality concerning the extent of our knowledge is actually the other way around. The ignorance we have doesn’t constitute gaps in our knowledge; the knowledge we have constitutes gaps in our ignorance.
This discussion leads us now to an epistemological question concerning our knowledge of what exactly is good and evil. In answering this question we can again look to the observable present for more irrefutable knowledge for those brave enough to note it. We know that the existence of good and evil is a given at this very moment in the minds of all, with the possible exception of only a very few who understand the ramifications of ascribing our existence to mere meaningless happenstance.
But if we are meaningless bags of chemicals, then how and why did that happen? But before you even attempt to answer that “how” and “why,” remember that it doesn’t even matter how and why if we are bags of chemicals; because nothing matters. Nothing can matter. Everything is meaningless, even all the hows and whys we can ponder. For the electrical and chemical impulses carrying on within the cosmic dust that makes up your mind and causes it to ask “how” and “why” doesn’t matter any more than the “answers” those same electrical and chemical impulses provide.
Even the atheist will bring evil to bear in his argument against the existence of God. But his arguments are self-defeating, for if he can’t make an argument for the ultimate meaning of the mere matter that he supposes us to be, then how can it make any difference what happens to that mere matter during its meaningless arrangement in the forms that are us? The atheist must rely on his faith that there is such a thing as a universal and objective good in order to use the existence of evil as an argument against one’s faith in the existence of our creator.
That brings us to the real issue. Man’s problem isn’t ultimately with faith but with sovereignty. Man is in a state of rebellion against God because it is God who determines good and evil and Man doesn’t like that. Man wants to declare himself righteous simply by being the arbiter of what defines righteousness. (Isa 5:20)
It is entirely reasonable, on the other hand, to have faith that God has already declared what is righteous. Such a faith simply admits that God gave a law unto Man. (Rom 1:19) Once you know God’s law, you can know that Man, including you, rebelled against it. (Rom 3:9-18) You must then have faith that God loved the world in such a way that he gave His only Son to redeem rebels like us while maintaining consistency with His justice. (Rom 3:26) You must have faith that God poured out the wrath that you deserve on His Son instead. (Rom 3:25). And you must have faith that His Son, Jesus, rose from the dead. (1 Cor 15:17) Having faith in these things then leads us into a life that is not only consistent with what we know, but it is also not meaningless. We can say that, no matter what our lot, which God in His providence bestows on us, “It is well, it is well, with our soul.” (Eph 2:10)
It is by faith that we are saved. (Eph 2:8) And it is by faith that we live. Think about these things: Good and evil exist. All men are by their nature rebellious against their creator. Man is accountable to his Creator for his actions. We can escape that accountability by hiding ourselves in Christ through which we have access to joy in this life and hope for the life that is beyond the grave. We do not have to be slaves to sin. We are able to forgive. We can do all these things through Christ who is in us. Life has purpose. This is both reasonable and consistent, and it is faith.
It has been my prayer for you since you were very young that God would have mercy on you and save you from His wrath. It remains my prayer today. I pray also that you would be wise in the fear of the Lord, and that you would not presume to know things that cannot be known as man counts knowing, and which set themselves up against the knowledge of God.