Puritan Gems

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Knowledge Of God Part VI

Relativism - Truth in the mind of the beholder
“There are no eternal facts, as there are no absolute truths.” (Friedrich Nietzsche)
"...Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”" (John 18:38)
Many secularists, particularly post-moderns, have all but given up on the idea of justifying absolute truth, and thus find a home in Relativism. Like other epistemologies, Relativism takes many forms, but all share a common belief that there are no absolute truths. Everyone believes what is the case. Relativism is the ultimate result of other secular theories of knowledge like Empiricism, which cannot objectively experience the sense experiences of other people; Idealism, which cannot objectively ascertain the perception in the minds of other people; and Realism, which holds that knowledge is simply the result of impersonal material laws. Protagoras epitomizes the Relativistic worldview when he asserts that:
"Man is the measure of all things: of things which are, that they are, and of things which are not, that they are not". (Protagoras in Plato's Theaetetus, 152a)
Socrates countered Protagoras with what has been dubbed the “recoil arguments”, which shows the following problems with relativism.

1.) Relativism is self-defeating: The statement "there are no objective truths" cannot possibly be true.

2.) A relativist must acknowledge the equal validity of those who deny relativism. In other words, if everyone believes what is the case, then those who deny that everyone believes what is the case also believe what is the case. Clearly this violates the logical law of non-contradiction.

3.) Truth becomes meaningless, subject to the whims of each individual. Any truth claim becomes tantamount to shooting an arrow into a barn door and then painting the bull's eye around it. Such actions do not make one a skilled archer, but rather makes the shot meaningless.

Ultimately, no one truly lives according to the ideals of relativism. Relativism reduces all truth claims to mere belief, and really satisfies no one, including relativists. We all live our lives as if there were absolute truths, though secular worldviews either deny such truths, or show themselves unable to justify such truths.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Knowledge Of God Part V

Realism: A Mind Enslaved By Natural Forces
"...there is the in-group bias, in which we place more value on the beliefs of those whom we perceive to be fellow members of our group and less on the beliefs of those from different groups. This is a result of our evolved tribal brains leading us not only to place such value judgment on beliefs but also to demonize and dismiss them as nonsense or evil, or both." (Michael Shermer - Scientific American, July 5, 2011)
"For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him." (Colossians 1:16)
The epistemology known as Realism holds that the human mind, being part of the material world, is limited to and completely in subjection to that world. The human mind is simply part of the real universe, and thus knowledge reflects only the reality of that universe. Proponents of Realism often refer to themselves as "free thinkers", but nothing could be further from the truth. Their minds are enslaved by a naturalistic worldview, and cannot possibly fathom anything beyond that view. Of course, this fits in very well with their foundational beliefs concerning knowledge. However. naturalistic realism, with its evolutionary view of the origins of the human mind and the laws that govern that process, faces a quandary in that knowledge itself (not to mention personhood, free will, ethics, etc.) must be reduced to a material nature. Thus, aside from the failure to establish the connection between the mind and the physical universe (without resorting to alternative epistemologies), Realism also makes such ideas meaningless, leaving us with the following issues:

1. Genetic and Epistemological Determinism. (We are what our genes say we are, and we think what our neurons tell us to think). If knowledge is simply part of the material universe, then it is governed by the laws of physics and biochemistry. In such cases, free thought, rationality, or meaningful inquiry, do not exist. Every thought and action that we undertake occur in an impersonal, meaningless universe, being at mercy to the laws of physics at every point of our existence.

2. Relativism - The ideas of right and wrong, fact or fiction, are useless, since both are simply the results of impersonal material laws. Whose to say that one result is preferable to the other?

3. If knowledge is material in nature, then forgetfulness would be impossible, since matter cannot be destroyed. But people do forget, so while it’s reasonable to think that human consciousness is part of reality, there must be something about knowledge and reality that transcends mere matter.

C.S. Lewis accurately expresses the quandary for unbelievers, particularity Realists, concerning knowledge.
"If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on bio-chemistry, and bio-chemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees..." (C.S. Lewis, They Asked for a Paper - London: Geoffrey Bles, 1962, 164-165.)
Because we are all "in the world" (John 17:14-18), we are inevitable affected by the physical universe. But all men have an innate understanding that personhood transcends the physical universe. Naturalistic Realists like Carl Sagan may try to convince us that "the cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be", but they simply don't live that way. They do believe in the value of personhood, knowledge, right and wrong, free will, etc. In the end, the brute fact of the existence of the physical universe cannot account for true knowledge.

Monday, October 01, 2012

The Knowledge Of God Part IV

Idealism - The Epistemology of Autonomy
"esse est percipi" ("to be is to be perceived") - George Berkley.
"And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." (Matthew 22:37)
A popular and recent epistemology that has made inroads in the secular world is Idealism, the theory that reality is the product of the human mind, and that nothing can be known that is independent of the mind. Such a basis for knowledge is the height of autonomy, and although some Christians are drawn into some strands of Idealism, one has to wonder if these can maintain an Orthodox view of Creation. There are several subcategories of Idealism, but all of them have in common the belief that reality is dependent solely on the preception of the mind.

The human mind is indeed an awe-inspiring entity. Indeed, the most challenging study that the mind can undertake seems to be the study of itself. Seeing as how we know so little about the mind, on what authority would anyone claim that it can be the basis for reality? Idealist Immanuel Kant asserts:
"...if I remove the thinking subject, the whole material world must at once vanish because it is nothing but a phenomenal appearance in the sensibility of ourselves as a subject, and a manner or species of representation." - Critique of Pure Reason A383
However, it does not follow that, because the preception of an object exists in the mind, that existence of that same object is dependent upon the mind. Idealists assume, without any justification, that the essense of any object is only in it's perception, thus equating the separation of mind from matter with the separation of perception from existence. Of course, having the human mind as the ultimate source of reality poses several problems:

1. Idealism cannot consistently distinguish between, hallucinations, dreams and reality.

2.  Idealism can neither allow for not account for mistakes in "perception", mistaken identity, optical illusions, the sounds of the ocean inside of a seashell, etc. since reality is based upon perception. There is nothing outside of the mind by which we may validate the accuracy of our ideas, including other people's ideas.

3. Idealism cannot justify any objective truth claim, but rather results in Subjectivism in both Epistemology and Ethics (Whose mind contains actual knowledge of these things? What about minds that disagree with each other?)

As amazing as the mind is, it is not autonomous. God is sovereign over the mind (Deuteronomy 28:28, 1 Kings 3:9, 2 Thessalonians 2:11). The mind itself cannot exist unless it is created by God, and can only reason and think as a reflection of what God thinks and reasons. As fallen creatures, our minds are by nature at enmity with God (Romans 8:6-7), and thus need to be renewed (Romans 12:2). While the mind is an important means by which knowledge may be obtained, it cannot be, in and of itself, the basis for either knowledge or reality.