Epistemological inquiry is the first step in developing a worldview. Determining how we can know with certainty is a necessary exercise, and requires that we identify the source of authority upon which the worldview is grounded. For example, Hume’s empiricism presupposes the human sensory apparatus as the ultimate source of authority upon which his worldview is built. Those things which can be ascertained by the human sensory apparatus include “the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world,” and can be grasped by “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing [their] systematic study.”[1] Incidentally, this is the commonly held definition of science – an intellectual and practical study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world.

On the other hand, Descartes’ dependence on the human reasoning apparatus as the best vehicle for deriving knowledge appeals to much the same pursuit – an intellectual (first) then practical (second) study of that which can be discerned by the human reasoning experience. Descartes’ rationalism interprets knowledge as being deducible from intuited principles or from innate knowledge or innate concepts. Because this knowledge is derived from intuition or innate knowledge or concepts, it is superior (more certain) to that which can be derived by experience, and thus governs the practical pursuit of observational experience.

In science, observational experience is necessary, and thus Humean empiricism expresses itself in scientific inquiry. Also the Cartesian rationalist’s reliance on the logical faculties of the human reasoning apparatus and on the resulting skepticism regarding the reliability of simply experiential observations provide a guiding and necessary light to scientific pursuit. Consequently science represents a synthesis of empiricism and rationalism, and appeals to adherents of both epistemologies as the ultimate measure of truth and knowledge.

Still, it is important to recognize that science does not compete with Biblical epistemology, but rather complements it. Science is only potent in particular contexts. It is abundantly descriptive of life, but doesn’t decipher the origin of life. It measures functions of mind, but doesn’t help us understand the derivation of mind. It does not comment intelligently on whether or not the will is free, nor does it shed light on the interaction problem – how the material and immaterial intersect, or if there is even such an intersection. The limits of science can extend only as far as the human sensory apparatus and the human reasoning apparatus intersect. As long as those who would pursue science acknowledge that limitation, the pursuit can be engaged with requisite humility, and resulting conclusions can be completely compatible with a Biblical worldview.

Components of WorldviewThe conflict between science and the Biblical worldview arises when it is assumed that the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world is all that exists. That assumption demands that science is the only reliable vehicle for deriving truth and knowledge. On the other hand, where it is acknowledged that reality extends (or, at least, could possibly extend) beyond the physical and natural world, there is a humility that calls for more comprehensive tools of measure that reach beyond simply the reasoning and experiential apparatus.

This is where Biblical epistemology fits. This is why the Proverbist exhorts that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov 1:7a), that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Prov 9:10), and that “the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth comes knowledge and understanding” (Prov 2:6). The Proverbist recognizes that reality extends beyond the natural, and ultimately that the understanding of reality is rooted in God (as Creator), rather than simply in the experiential or in reason.

How can one determine whether it is more warranted to understand that reality does or does not extend beyond the natural realm? Materialism suggests that all that exists is physical. Dualism acknowledges that immaterial exists alongside immaterial. Idealism asserts that everything is immaterial. Still, in all three of these philosophies of mind there can be an underlying assumption that whether material, immaterial, or some combination of the two, these comprise the natural realm and reality does not extend beyond the natural realm.

In expressing his understanding of reality, Bertrand Russell referred to neutral monism,[2] the idea that there is only one substance, and rather than being material or immaterial it is neutral – or neither. Yet one of the assumed weaknesses of Russell’s view is that it implies an inherent component of mind in everything – this is perhaps another way of saying there is a spiritual component to the natural world – and of course, such a state of affairs would be threatening to any non-theistic worldview. Russell concludes in favor of the metaphysical, acknowledging that he did “not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one [could] prove that there is not a God.”[3] While Russell concludes that God cannot be disproven, he suggests that the existence of the Christian God is as unlikely as the Homeric gods, and thus concludes in favor of a popular atheism.[4] Still, Russell warns that he does “not think we should go in for complete skepticism, but for a doctrine of degrees of probability.”[5] Russell’s idea of probability is a mean’s of recognizing whether or not a concept has warrant (or merit).

For sake of argument, let us assume Russell’s non-dogmatic stance, and consider some probabilities – first from the physical realm and then from the conceptual:

 

  • What is the likelihood that life in the universe independently stemmed from non-life?
  • What is the likelihood that irreducible complexity (such as is in the human eye) arose from simplicity without divine aid?
  • What is the likelihood of the earth’s placement in the solar system and its resulting ability to sustain life?
  • What is the likelihood of present conditions having been in place for the duration of time necessary for macroevolution to take place?
  • What is the likelihood of universal mathematical principles existing and how do these principles intersect with the natural realm?
  • What is the likelihood of laws of logic being derived from the random chaos of a big-bang style of origin event?

 

Either we are incredibly and unimaginably lucky, or there is something beyond the natural realm as we understand it. Science is not a vehicle equipped to tell us which is more likely. As Russell asserts, there seems little warrant to dismiss metaphysical possibilities. While probability and improbability are not in themselves absolute proofs that God exists, the Biblical epistemologist would argue that God’s existence is known and evident, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power, and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made…” (Rom 1:20).

In Acts 17:22-34, Paul addresses the people of Athens. Appealing to their metaphysical sense, he proclaims to them the truth about the things of which they have suspicions but are uncertain. Paul begins by assuming the existence of the Biblical God, and then explains that God created (17:24), He is sovereign and superior to His creation (17:24-25), He has reached out to have relationship with His creation (17:27-30), and humanity is ultimately accountable to Him through Jesus Christ (17:31).

Russell and other philosophers offer an uncertain narrative. Scientists speak of the origin of life as “detail that is almost certainly forever lost to history.”[6] Some wonder how chemistry made the first transition to biology, and laud science as “making an honest effort to solve life’s mystery instead of blaming it all on God.”[7] In considering this we should beware the false dichotomy that we either do science to solve the mysteries of life, or we acknowledge that God is at the root. “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter” (Prov 25:2). The Biblical epistemology advocates doing science, but recognizes the limited scope of authority that science possesses. “He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end” (Ecc 3:11). These words are not intended to dissuade investigators from searching, nor scientists from discovering, but they are intended to remind us that there is a significant degree of humility needed in the pursuit of knowledge. These words, along with those of Romans 1:18-20, warn us of the danger of unwarranted belief that would lead the lover of wisdom away from the One who would be the Object of our affections.

 

 

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[1] “Science” in Oxford Dictionaries, at http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/science.

 

[2] Bertrand Russell, The Analysis of Matter (London: Routledge, 1927), 141.

[3] Bertrand Russell, “Am I an Atheist or an Agnostic? A Plea For Tolerance in the Face of New Dogmas” 1947, viewed at http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/russell8.htm.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Robert F. Service, “Researchers may have solved origin-of-life conundrum“ in Science Magazine, March 16, 2015, viewed at http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2015/03/researchers-may-have-solved-origin-life-conundrum.

[7] John Hogan, “Psst! Don’t tell the creationists, but scientists don’t have a clue how life began” in Scientific American, February 28, 2011, viewed at http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/pssst-dont-tell-the-creationists-but-scientists-dont-have-a-clue-how-life-began/.

 

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