Clarity in Epistemology, Theories of Truth, Precision in Communication, Facets of Reality, and More Photos of Food
In between the innumerable barbecues (the English sort requiring shielding with brollies from the London rain) and having people round for dinner, have been pondering the necessity of clarity in thinking about things and precision in communication. (The Tutor first raised it when we were chatting a few months ago about the setting up of apprenticeship schemes in churches. Female Tutor thought this was one of my (very few) strengths, i am not so certain as most of this blog demonstrates… Was also talking about this with Online Bookshopkeeper and wife last month.)
Clarity in Epistemology
Possibility of Clarity
But before we even consider the subject, the question should surely be whether there is even the possibility of epistemological clarity*, both for the unbeliever with his unregenerated mind and for the believer living in this fallen world?
One of the most common presuppositions in modern thinking is that the human mind and all it generates (theories in various sciences, humanities) should have the utmost claim to the authoritative interpretation of reality. But if Scripture is right**, human brain power cannot be the ultimate in the process of evaluation, because it is corrupted by sin:
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s decree that those who practise such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practise them. (Romans 1:18-32)
- If God has established objective reality (“truth”), and
- humans because of their refusal to acknowledge God as God by worshipping him or thanking him,
- have suppressed the truth about God, then
- they have become so corrupted in their thinking that they are unwilling and unable to know the truth and act accordingly.
This is why Jesus didn’t say that we just need to try a little harder to be good or to turn over a new leaf, but that we need to be born again to see the kingdom of God (John 3:3) – we need a whole new existence.
For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:9b-18)
However, as human theories in the sciences and humanities attest, mankind has not been completely blinded to the truth. We have still been made in the image of God (though now flawed), have still been allowed to live in God’s world, and can still observe, dimly, consistencies in the way the world works and, with what we have termed as chemistry, physics, biology etc, have attempted to categorise and explain these consistencies and so predict the outcome of things.
The sad fact is that in our arrogance, we assume that this common grace, this cataracted view of reality should then be the basis on which we judge God. We are ignorant that we are like blind men feeling bits of an elephant.
Fundamental to all human thinking, whether in the sciences or in economics or philosophy is that which we call logic and reasoning. However even these are merely epistemological theories following the use of the human mind or human perceptual apparatus. While it is possible that the existence of synthetic a priori stuff or observable phenomena may point to the self-consistency of the Creator, our theories about them cannot limit him, since he alone has established reality and we are merely poor half-blind observers of it. Good try, Descartes, Kant et al.
Further, in logic theory, most science is based merely on inductive reasoning – that is, that its conclusions are merely possible or probable, given the truth of the premises. So its conclusions are actually a not-completely-adequate subset of a not-completely-authoritative theory. To base one’s evaluation of the truth on “what science says” is therefore quite erroneous.
Even further, the scientific method is only one of many ways that humans have come up with to acquire knowledge and analyse the truth. We do not consider the truth in a court of law or in a history book (or even in a newspaper) by requiring similar empirical or measurable evidence.
So then, clarity. There is a sense in which we can and should engage people’s minds in pointing them to the truth. Jesus, the prophets, and the apostles all used language and argument to communicate the truth.
Wonder how many apologetic strangleholds can be broken (humanly at least) by attending to, and interacting with, the other party’s theory of truth. Most of the time, the other party relies on some background in his thoughts but is not yet aware of (i) his truth presuppositions; and so (ii) the diverse methodologies proposed by humans for determining the different sorts of truths. For example, he may assume that all truth must be proved by the narrow epistemological method that pertains to proof of scientific hypotheses, and so neglect the whole school of historiography and historical method in determining the veracity of an account of an event in the past.
But ultimately of course, a change of mind that comes with re-birth, is the work of the Spirit, who is likened to the wind – it blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes (John 3:8).
Precision in Communication
There is a need for clear thinking in the minds of believers too in their theology and doctrine. (For further discussion.)
Additionally, since we should already be of the same mind, there should be precision in our communication with each other (as well as in apologetics of course). How many good-faith arguments (cf. bad-faith trolling) might have been nipped in the bud by parties:
- having clarity on the exact definition of terms used in the argument – most of the time i find i have been arguing at cross-purposes with someone because we’d neglected to first lay out the contents of the package we called “faith” or “gospel” or “God’s sovereignty” or “reading the Bible for ourselves”;
- not succumbing to the false bifurcation that so besets so many political rallies; humbly considering that differing views may be complementary rather than contradictory.
Note that none of this suggests that reality is relativistic (in the sense that there is no objective reality, or that such objective reality cannot be determined). Rather, it wonders whether objective reality is so faceted and our human understanding so limited that the same thing needs to be described in several ways that are complementary and not contradictory to each other. We should not quarrel over the priority of one Scriptural facet over another, if Scripture itself does not prioritise one over the other.
*disregarding for the moment questions as to the absolute value of clarity
**how a fallen mind can establish this is a whole other discussion, Münchhausen et al
For own reference, currently reading:
Vern Sheridan Poythress’ Logic
Vern Sheridan Poythress’ Symphonic Theology