Epistemology is Everything

Please do not let this title fool you. I am not literally asserting that the discipline of epistemology is literally everything. Relax, my friends, it’s just a title. Or is it? (Pun intended). I was engaging in a miniature exchange with a bare theist (God exists but we don’t know who He is) and when I asked the question “How is knowledge possible?” He (as they usually do) asked me if the question was a trick question or a joke. As a philosopher in training, I do not ask those kinds of questions in that particular light. I do not make a small issue of epistemology nor should anyone. The absurd notion that we are living in a post-epistemological age – that we can simply shove that subset of human inquiry under the rug and take the nature of knowledge for granted is an implicit yet forcefully guarded epistemological statement in and of itself. The person I was speaking to remarked, “Philosophy cannot be applied to science.” My mental jaw dropped. To assert that a well-respected discipline such as the philosophy of science has no place in “exact-science” is in itself a statement pertaining to the philosophy of science which is a type of discipline of philosophy! How could a person be so metaphysically stunted?! That is the straw-man that many students of “exact-science” (exact according to whom?) make of my discipline, whether or not they are Christians.

Even more spellbinding is the notion that philosophy is not compatible with the Bible. That would also be a philosophical statement. Amateur thinkers and modern sophists will often think that the whole arch-discipline of Philosophy is to be equated with Greek speculation alone and nothing else. They will try to (rightfully) guard the Bible from that lofty ghost of Aristotle who obscured the reality of sola scriptura for centuries under the guise of Roman Catholic Scholasticism. To affirm sola scriptura / tota scriptura is itself a Philosophy, and my epistemological axiom “The Bible is the word of God written” employed by Gordon Clark and a host of others since then is part of the fruit of the great Reformation. I will admit, however, that the hot issues of the early 20th century differed from those of the Reformation, but nobody can state with any intellectual integrity that “justification by faith alone” is only an issue of the past – an epoch that is no longer relevant today. The infallibility and inerrancy of the Scriptures along with justification will always be real and present issues because they lie at the heart of Christianity. But we have deviated from my original topic. Or have we? For those who are not quite clear what epistemology is, it is a discipline within philosophy that asks: “Is knowledge possible? If so (or since so) what makes it possible and for whom? What are the limitations of knowing anything at all (any fact) and what is the warrant or justification for a particular belief? The gentleman with whom I spoke stated that epistemology has been widely regarded to be an “unsolved issue.” How does he know? Why is it an unsolved issue? What does the word “unsolved” mean? (The philosophy of language also has to answer to epistemology. Everything answers to it). He would not discuss this. Instead, he randomly began to spout some facts about this and that without a system of thought to account for those same facts. He was not aware that for every scientific “fact” that he typed, there had to be a cogent and comprehensive network of presuppositions to make sense of them. But why the double standard? Why do his “facts” have to be true and my epistemological inquiries “unsolved?” What kind of comprehensive worldview is this person embracing that would support the statement that what science “says” (whatever that means) is a fact (what is a fact?) but what the epistemologist says is “unsolved?” On what basis can one make such a claim?

One cannot. The Bible would never support such a statement. Unsolved? It’s a mystery, isn’t. We “know” that some object falls (due to the “laws” of acceleration) at a rate of 32 feet per second per second, but by golly if I simply ask “how does one account for this,” they say “that’s unsolved! It’s a mystery! We don’t know! Stop the philosophy because we are dealing with the “real” facts!” Their intellectual condemnation is just. What needs to be asserted here is that the scientific method operates under an epistemology called rational empiricism. It is a mix of some type of rationalism (that reason alone can account for a belief) and empiricism (that sense experience can account for knowledge). It includes a great deal of induction (reasoning from the particular to the general) and deduction (reasoning from the general to the particular). It can employ syllogisms (premises with a conclusion) and abductive reasoning, which attempts to arrive at a conclusion from a hypothesis that one has constructed. That is a great deal of the epistemology of the scientific method. It is simply taken for granted that this is possible and thought systems are rarely examined because one figures “if I can see the object falling, then it must be falling because I am watching it fall.” (And people accuse Scripturalists of reasoning in a circle)! I will not attempt to refute either rationalism or empiricism in this blog post, but I will ask for a favor. When you think of a fact, do not think of it simply floating around in a vacuum. Think of how you are arriving at the fact and what tools or machinery or system or foundation you are using to be able to construe that fact. Then we can talk about how “unscientific” the Bible is (whatever that means). It is also important to note that I am not pitting the false dilemma of Science vs. the Bible. There is no such thing as that dilemma – that false dichotomy that has seemed to dominate western thought for centuries. The exact sciences have absolutely no bearing in and of themselves to stand alone and are in need of a worldview to support them.

Felipe Diez III
Minister_of_Music@yahoo.com

 

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About lalvin1517

I'm married with two children and pastor McCall Baptist Church in McCall, Idaho.
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4 Responses to Epistemology is Everything

  1. This is very good indeed. Very timely for me also reading this after reading so much G.H. Clark. Epistemology is everything. Great post.

  2. Anonymous says:

    It's Felipe, thanks bro :). Where do I contact you now?

  3. Awretchsaved says:

    awretchsaved@gmail.com

    I should be back soon (whatever that means). 😉

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