Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Terminology Tuesday: Epistemology

Epistemology: The branch of philosophy concerned with questions about knowledge and belief and related issues such as justification and truth. Some conceive of epistemology as an attempt to refute skepticism, the denial that knowledge is possible.

One of the major debates in epistemology is that of internalism versus externalism: Must the basis or ground that warrants a belief be internally accessible to consciousness? Another major debate is foundationalism versus coherentism: Are some beliefs "properly basic," or are all beliefs based on other beliefs in an interconnected web?

Some philosophers of religion have argued that critiques of religious belief as unreasonable are grounded in faulty epistemologies, theories of knowledge that if applied to fields other than religion would make knowledge impossible in those other fields as well.1

1. C.Stephen Evans, Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), pp. 39-40.


sola dei gloria said...

Many of the books and articles that I read on religious epistemology don’t seem to do the bible justice. I personally have adopted a “presuppositionlist” approach to apologetics because without the bible (The word of God) as you starting point, you don’t have much to stand on.
Scripture is the best source of “religious epistemology”.

“Therefore behold, I will this once cause them to know, I will cause them to know My hand and My might; And they shall know that My name is the LORD.” (Jeremiah 16:21).

The Lord is the cause of their “knowledge” that he is Lord.

A good preacher, apologist, teacher should be able to make a relationship between person’s circumstances and what God is trying to reveal to them.

Ex N1hilo said...

Colossians 2:2-4 (ESV) that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.

John 1:9 (ESV) The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

If, as these passages indicate, Jesus Christ is the source of all knowledge and wisdom, then any epistomology that fails to acknowledge Him as such will not be able to account for knowledge. For this reason Rationalism, Emipiricism, and Pragmatism fail. All knowledge comes through revelation.

Benjamin said...

Ex N1hilo, I'm not exactly sure how your conclusion " For this reason Rationalism, Emipiricism, and Pragmatism fail." follows from those other statements. Secondly, you can't claim that you've proven a point when you haven't clearly defined certain terms. For example, you didn't precisely define what you meant by "source" with respect to knowledge. If you mean that God is the foundation for any possibility of knowledge -however different forms it comes in - then I would agree entirely given that for any knowledge to exist, there has to be a transcendent Mind who is supremely intelligent and possesses exhaustive knowledge. So in that sense I'm in complete agreement with you.

What I don't think is true is that truths, relevant to the Person and natures of Christ, are indeed the source, root, or foundation for all knowledge. For example the knowledge that there is an external world real objectively to me is true independent of a truth that applies to Christ. That doesn't mean it's superior to Christ, it's just a different category of knowledge.

Moreover, there's a qualitative distinction we need to make here. A certain kind of knowledge or philosophy if you will, that has naturalistic elements in it is going to run contrary to a philosophy that is geared towards theism and belief in Christ. It is the anti-ness of a secular philosophy that makes it rejected by Christians, NOT that it doesn't explicitly bring out certain spiritual truths.

One common blunder I see with Christians today is the assumption based on what's unbiblical, extra-biblical, and biblical. People just don't carefully define their terms and end up thinking they've won a debate on an issue. Just because a certain idea is NOT in the Bible per se doesn't make it AGAINST what the Bible TEACHES. That's an argument from silence and really not the best argument to rely on to make a certain point. Second, nor the fact that something is IN the Bible therefore makes it something the Bible teaches. Lastly, what should people mean by "Biblical"? Well I can think of a few ways. First, it's Biblical if it is BASED on what the Bible TEACHES on something. Second, it's Biblical if it is TAUGHT in the Bible as such. Now some people think that just because there are other works outside the Bible and some take those works to be credible ways of understanding the Bible, then therefore THOSE people are in error is crazy. There are SO many things the Bible touches on and affirms and alludes to that aren't per se TAUGHT by Scripture. The Bible alludes and affirms scientific, moral, historical, aesthetical, and philosophical truths in a lot of places. But that doesn't make the Bible a book of those categories. So my curiosity is, why do some people think that it is doing DAMAGE to Scripture if we use things outside the Bible to understand what is IN the Bible? It's beyond me.

I agree with you that pragmatism, in its strict form, and empiricism are to be rejected as epistemologies :-). Nice chatting with you man.

Ex N1hilo said...


Thank you for considering what I posted and responding to it. I agree with most of what you have written, but I would like to clarify a couple of things regarding what I said and where I may be in disagreement with you:

1) I do not reject all the work or thinking that has been done by philosophers who hold to the epistemologies in question. What I am trying to say is that, as systems, they are incomplete. They fail to account for knowledge at the most basic level, because they disregard the One who possesses all knowledge, and who makes it known to us. Every true belief human beings hold was first in the mind of God, who used the rational faculties and senses He gave them, and the world in which He placed them, to communicate it to them.

2) Although I recognize that there are some important things we can learn from Gordon Clark with respect to epistemology; I reject the aspect of his philosophy that is known as “Scripturalism.” Clark taught, as far as I can understand it, that the Bible is the only source of knowledge that human beings can have. In his view, only propositions explicitly stated in the Bible and propositions deduced by valid reasoning from such statements constitute knowledge. This is an extreme view that I suspect you would not be able to find in any theologian or philosopher prior to Clark; and one that is contrary to explicit statements of Scripture itself.

Contrary to common misconception, this was not the view of Van Til nor of those who have continued in his tradition. Nor is it my view. Rather, it is my conviction that all that we see, hear, touch, taste and smell, along with our faculties of reason and of language, and of emotion, and of conscience, and the world in which He has placed is, are part of God's communication to us, and we can and do know things through their agency. Although, of course, God's special revelation holds a privileged place above the rest (a place which it is becoming increasingly popular among Christians to deny).

I think the statement that I would most strongly disagree with is this. You wrote:

For example the knowledge that there is an external world real objectively to me is true independent of a truth that applies to Christ.

Christ made that world. Christ provides you with the sense organs and nervous system by which you experience it. Christ gave to you the rational faculties whereby you consider that this external world exists. Christ Jesus is the Creator of the knowledge of the external world that exists within your mind. It has everything to do with Him.


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