Five tools, three questions, two challenges, one ultimate source of truth…

 

FIVE INITIAL TOOLS AT OUR DISPOSAL

As we seek to discover, we observe that we possess basic tools useful for processing information: reason, the senses, emotion, desire/will, and instinct/innate awareness/conscience. We apply these five tools to the data, phenomena, or the things and events with which we interact. As we begin the process we aren’t certain of which tools we can trust and to what extent, but in practical terms, we can only use what we have. So we march forward. We apply our tools to our own data, first accumulating enough information in context to form an opinion, and second, by borrowing the conclusions of others to expand our access to the data and to help speed up the process. We apply the tools in perhaps a tentative way at first, then as our worldview begins to take shape, we are willing to accept a higher level of commitment.

 

THREE QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

The tools fit in three categories, and thus demand that we address three major questions if we are to have a worldview that is coherent (internally consistent and non-contradictory, as in the coherency view of truth), corresponds to reality (as in the correspondence view of truth), and is workable (as in the pragmatic view of truth). The five tools of reason, senses, emotion, desire/will, and instinct/innate awareness/conscience can be categorized as pertaining to reason, experience, and meaning. Applying these five tools to the data implies three major needs: to satisfy reason, to explain experience, and to ascertain meaning.

Satisfying reason first demands the use of reason, but also applies the other four tools to interpret the data in a way that is coherent with reason. Explaining experience first demands the use of the senses, but also applies the other four tools to interpret the data in a way that corresponds to the reality of the phenomena. Ascertaining meaning employs instinct/innate awareness/conscience, desire/will, in cooperation with reason and the senses to recognize a workable reality – a reality that can be acted upon, and with purpose. Answering these three questions give us a perspective of reality and a direction to travel. They provide the is and ought of worldview.

 

TWO CHALLENGES TO FOLLOWING THE EVIDENCE

Pre-commitment versus following wherever the evidence leads can be a significant challenge in the worldview process. Longtime atheist Antony Flew spoke of pursuing wherever the evidence leads. When he moved from atheism to a form of theism, he recognized that his former atheist views had been more of a pre-commitment than an objective consideration of the evidence.[1] Few current atheists might admit such a high level of pre-commitment, though some have been willing to admit that their atheism is indeed a faith system. Some, like Carl Sagan, have made transparent pre-commitment statements like “the cosmos is all that is, ever was, and ever will be.”[2] Statements like this step out of the scientific and move into the creedal, as there can be no verification of such assertions. Richard Lewontin maintains that there can be no “divine foot in the door,”[3] as he suggests there can’t be any consideration of a supernatural answer. Lewontin’s pre-commitment is not that different from some of the early Greek philosophers who sought to escape the pantheon and explain everything in exclusively naturalistic terms. Likewise, theist Ken Ham was steadfast that in the face of scientific evidence that conflicted with the Bible, he would defer to the Bible.[4] Arguably, there is pre-commitment on both sides of the issue, and while one’s pre-commitment may ultimately turn out to be correct, in at least some senses it makes the process potentially more difficult.

Another challenge in the process is the potential to overemphasize one tool over others, to the detriment of objectivity. For example, if one follows an interpretation of the senses over and above that which satisfies reason, or vice versa, or if one follows an interpretation that emphasizes emotion over the senses, then there may be a tendency away from objectivity in favor of personal preference. Once again, this can take us back to pre-commitment. Christopher Hitchens said often that religion was humanity’s first crack at interpreting reality. Arguably, it could be said that pre-modern thinking emphasized instinct or innate awareness over reason. Hitchens elevated the senses through science as a superior means of understanding, which represented (in my estimation) a pendulum swing too far, leading to an imbalance. In these cases, there are challenges for atheists and theists alike.

What follows is simply a brief examination of the basis of my own worldview, not necessarily in chronological order of the conclusions as I arrived at them, but in more of an epistemologically structured order, as I put the worldview basis to the test. As I am certainly not immune from these two challenges (though probably more prone to pre-commitment than imbalance), I ask the reader to judge whether or not I have been fair with the tools, the data, the questions, and the conclusions.

 

APPLYING THE TOOLS TO THE DATA, ADDRESSING THE QUESTIONS

I find myself initially in possession of five tools with which to consider three questions. How can I satisfy reason, explain experience, and ascertain meaning? Ultimately what I am after is truth that corresponds to reality, that is coherent, and that is workable – truth that is true. I begin by observing what is around me, and I see systems. Systems of life, systems of order, organized, deliberate, and highly functional systems. With the five tools, I assess these systems tentatively.

With reason I think that these systems must exist, that they must have come from somewhere, and that there is a destination ahead. I think that they are discoverable, and that they are material for more thought and consideration. With the senses I can observe and interact, I can connect with systems and comprehend them on several levels, providing more data for my reason to consider. With emotion I see elegance and beauty in the systems – they are much more than cold realities. They are warm, alive, and reflective of something pleasing and endearing. There is not merely impersonal, there is personal. With desire and will I recognize that there is something meaningful about these systems that I want to engage and understand. I desire to be, and to use the tools I have to investigate and to discover. With instinct/innate awareness/conscience I sense that there is something (or someone) behind the systems, that there is some purpose for them, and that I have some accountability for how I interact with them.

When I put these five together, I arrive at these tentative ideas: there is a personal reality with which I can interact, with which I am (at least) basically equipped to interact, with which I want to interact, and with which I am accountable for how I interact. In short: there is what I can sense, but there is also more. The obvious implications to me include: existence, personality, design, power, otherness, and beauty. These are attributes I must explain if I am to have a satisfying worldview.

In my sensory experience, when I see systems come to exist at the hands of people, I reason that they all have common characteristics: (1) they are all designed intentionally, (2) they are made by someone, (3) they all serve a purpose, and (4) they can be functional or broken. From an innate awareness, I assume the same thing of the natural systems I observe. There was intentional design, by a designer, for a purpose, and the design may or not be working. With emotion, I am struck by the significance of the implications, and with desire and will I want to know more of this design and designer – both on a cognitive and personal level.

To consider that there is a design, a designer, purpose, and functionality initially satisfies reason, provides explanatory value for experienced phenomena, and implies a potentially discernible meaning. To deny any of these four implications would be to put remarkable strain on credulity, based on my application of the tools so far. There is, of course, need for further explanation than simply these generalities in order to ultimately satisfy the three questions, so the quest is not done, but it has begun. But we can go little further than these first rudimentary steps with the five tools, as their scope is limited. (Incidentally, the acknowledgment of limitation is not a call for the discontinued use of the five tools in the pursuit of truth, just a recognition that there is something more needed.)

 

THE LESS LIMITED TOOL

After initial assessment of my own data, I begin to assess the data of others, through their tools. I consider writings of science and history, and recognize that there is value in the thoughts of others, but I am still looking for something more broadly explanatory and reliable. At this point, I open the Bible. Initially, I read it simply as a source of information. I know nothing yet of inspiration, inerrancy, or infallibility. I am simply reading. I discover in its pages that the book affirms the five tools, the three questions, even the challenges, and ultimately provides answers to the three great questions of worldview.

The book affirms that I have reason and am supposed to use it (Is 1:18, Rom 12:3), that the senses are useful tools (1 Cor 12:16-18), that emotion is an important part of personality (e.g., the Psalms), that desire and will can be good sources of initiative (2 Thes 1:11, 1 Tim 3:1), and that there is an innate awareness of reality, truth, and God (Ecc 3:11, Rom 1:19). The book also affirms that reason is limited (Rom 1:22), the senses can deceive (Gen 27, Jer 17:9), emotions can get out of hand (Prov 14:29-30), desire and will can be misplaced (Jam 4:1-5), and conscience can be violated (1 Tim 4:2). The Bible affirms both the usefulness of the five tools and their limitations. The implication is clear: it is with caution that one should rely on these tools in forming a worldview, yet, they are ours and with purpose.

Still, the Bible offers itself as a sixth, and far less limited tool. Proverbs 1:7 and 9:10 describe the fear of the Lord essentially as the beginning of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. Further, the assertion is that the fear of the Lord is ascertained through the word of God (Prov 2:6), and there are many internal implications and claims that the content of the Bible is the word of God (e.g., Mt 14:13, Lk 11:51, 16:16, 24:44, Rom 3:21, 2 Tim 3:16, Rev 22:16-18). The Bible makes the claim of being effective where the other five tools are ineffective. In particular (for this context), the Bible addresses the three great questions of satisfying reason, explaining experience, and ascertaining meaning.

The Bible claims to begin the path for the proper use of reason, offering a superior wisdom (1 Cor 1:21-31, 2:10-16, Jam 3:13-18) and a comprehensive epistemology. It presents an explanatory model, accounting for human experience and a robust metaphysic (Prov 3:19-20, 4:20-27, Lk 24:27, Jn 1:18, Acts 11:4, 17:3, Col 2:2-3). Finally, the Bible claims to be a road map for purpose and meaning in life (Ecc 1-12, Jn 17:3, Jn 20:30-31, Rom 12:1-2) with well-grounded ethics and socio-political implications.

But can we trust the Bible as a legitimate and reliable source? Let’s return to the five tools: reason, the senses, emotion, will, and innate awareness. The Bible as an authentic and authoritative source satisfies intellectual consideration in at least five ways. (1) In comparison to other works of antiquity, the manuscript evidence for the authenticity of the Bible far exceeds any other.

nt-reliability

(Table 1 compares the Greek New Testament with a number of other ancient texts.[5])

While there are certainly variants between different manuscripts of the same passages, the variants ore most often very, very minor, and do not typically impact the meaning. (2) The relatively small number and degree of variants is an evidence for careful transmission of the text, and a reliable process that largely has been faithful in preserving the text. (3) The unity and continuity of narrative and themes of the Bible is more indicative of a central authorship than simply a collection of generally related books. The Biblical themes are tightly wound and consistently presented throughout. Further, (4) there is a traceable higher criticism pedigree connecting each book – there is not just unity in the narrative, but there is a viable connectedness in authorship, all centrally revolving around the person of Jesus (we will get back to Him in a moment). Finally, (5) the amount of prophecy fulfilled and the detail of those fulfillments are at least curious if not utterly convincing.

The Bible does appeal to the senses to affirm its authenticity. One writer appeals to the reader to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps 34:8). In that sense one might recommend the Scriptures, suggesting that they are “sweeter than honey” (Ps 19:10), and that the ways therein are pleasant, peaceful, and bring happiness (Prov 3:17-18).

The Bible presents itself as soothing to the emotions. It is to be treasured, brings joy, and gives occasion for delight. It presents itself as an object of desire (Prov 3:15). Finally, it presents itself as true, appealing to an innate awareness that it is indeed true (Ecc 3:11, 1 Jn 2:20-21, c.f., Ps 14:1).

Ultimately, though, the question is a historical and personal one revolving around Jesus. He is recorded as having asked the greatest question in Matthew 16:15: “Who do you say that I am?” That is the question we all must answer. If He is who He is recorded to be, He is the Creator who brought the cosmos into existence. As such He has the rights of ownership and it is fitting that all His creation should be accountable to Him. If He is who He is recorded to be, then He provides the greatest evidence for the Bible’s authenticity. He acknowledged the veracity of the Hebrew Bible (Lk 11:51, 24:44), and He commissioned His followers to bear witness of Him (Jn 15:26, 16:13, Acts 9:15) – many of them did so in the writings of the Greek New Testament, in a process Peter describes in some detail (2 Pet 1:20-21). If He is who He is recorded to be, then the Bible is worthy of our reliance as the epistemological basis of our worldview, and as the source for the rest of our worldview as well.

 

CONCLUSION

I have tasted and discovered that the Lord is indeed good. I continue to appreciate the Bible, as I find it intellectually satisfying, sufficiently explanatory of experience, and fitting the needs and designs of emotion, will, and conscience. The Bible addresses great questions of life in a coherent, way that corresponds to what I observe through experience in reality, and it does so in a way that soothes emotion, will, and conscience by providing clear meaning and purpose. I find that the Bible does not at all inhibit learning and discovery. Rather it is the slingshot that propels me to seek and discover what He has done and who He is. It is the very catalyst for my pursuit of a truthful worldview. It informs disciplines of study, it does not obfuscate them. At the core of any worldview is its basis for truth, knowledge, and certainty. The Bible provides an elegant, wondrous basis, setting our courses of study with joy and purpose. The Bible guides and oversees the other tools we have been given, so that we are not without help along the way. He is, He always was, and He always will be. And He revealed Himself first through His cosmos (Gen 1, Rom 1), then through His word (2 Tim 3:16), and ultimately through His Son (Jn 1:18, Heb 1:1-2). We can know Him (Jn 17:3), and walk with Him (Jn 15:4). Ultimately, that is what the Biblical worldview is all about.

 

 

[1] Antony Flew, There Is A God: How The World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (Harper One, 2008).

[2] Carl Sagan, The Cosmos (Ballantine Books, 2013), 1.

[3] Richard Lewontin, “Billions and Billions of Demons,” in The New York Review of Books, January 9, 1997, viewed at http://www.nybooks.com/articles/1997/01/09/billions-and-billions-of-demons/.

[4] Bill Nye vs. Kan Ham Debate, February 4, 2014, viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6kgvhG3AkI.

[5] Chart by Clay Jones and Bill Pratt, viewed at http://www.toughquestionsanswered.org/2012/12/11/how-do-other-ancient-texts-compare-to-the-new-testament/.

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