Puritan Gems

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Knowledge Of God Part III

The Failure of Empiricism
“Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe." (John 20:24-25)
“To be radical, an empiricism must neither admit into its constructions any element that is not directly experienced, nor exclude from them any element that is directly experienced.” - William James response to Empiricist William Clifford
As we have seen so far, Christianity is a revealed religion. All knowledge that men may obtain, whether it be about God, or about the natural world, is based in some way on revelation. This is not to say that all of man’s knowledge is a direct revelation from God, for then man’s knowledge would be infallible. But without Divine revelation, man has no real basis for claiming to know anything. In rejecting the necessity of Divine revelation as the basis for knowledge, secularists have offered a few alternative epistemologies. The first and most popular of these is Empiricism, the idea that all truth claims must be validated by sense experience (See Thomas above). Most scientists fall into this category, though they cannot consistently do so and adequately perform their jobs.

Now Empiricism is a valuable tool that God has given us. We do use sense experience to validate truth claims. In fact, God uses Empiricism to give us faith, which comes by “hearing” (sense experience) the Word of God (Romans 10:17). However, according to radical Empiricism (Empiricism as the basis of knowledge) as held by William Clifford, nothing can be considered true unless it is validated by sense experience. "It is wrong always", Clifford asserts, "everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient [empirical] evidence." This leads to all sorts of difficulties in attempting to justify truth claims.

1.) Empiricism is self defeating: The statement “all truth claims must be validated by sense experience” cannot be validated by sense experience, and therefore cannot be a valid truth claim.

2.) Empiricism cannot objectively experience the sense experience of other people, and thus leads to Relativism. In that same line of though, it must be noted that the radical Empiricist will arbitrarily accept the sense experience of his peers that share his naturalistic worldview, but will reject the sense experiences of Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-13) or the Apostles (Acts 2:32, Acts 3:15).

3.) Empiricism cannot justify inference or any type of inductive reasoning. God’s providence is the only rational basis for belief in the uniformity of nature (Hebrews 1:3), and thus Induction. In Empiricism, however, we are limited to knowing only that which we can experience, and therefore cannot establish any universal law or truth, since that would require universal sense experience.

4.) Empiricism cannot justify past or future truth claims. For example, a consistent Empiricist cannot claim to know that George Washington was the first president of the United States, since he has no way to justify that claim through sense experience. He must resort to the historical record. Now many Empiricists would claim that relying on written historical records does fall within the realm of Empiricism. But while Empiricism may accept such truth claims, they cannot consistently justify them by the same standard which they will justify everything else. Thus they will arbitrarily attempt to delineate between “myth” and “history”, the latter being that which agrees with their naturalistic worldview. (i.e. They will accept the historical account of George Washington’s presidency while rejecting the historical account of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.)

While Empiricism is a valuable God-given tool for us to obtain knowledge, it fails by itself to be a valid basis for knowledge, since it requires an a priori knowledge of the validity of sense experience. Thus Empiricism cannot function as a stand-alone epistemology.