Saturday, September 19, 2009

Baseline – What Man Has Known From The Beginning (The History of Epistemology! - Part 2)

In this series, we explore epistemology, or “How do we know what we know?” I think such a question is as relevant as ever, especially given our culture’s fairly recent leanings toward postmodernism – the belief that traditional norms should be abandoned in favor of abstractness. Josh McDowell defines postmodernism as “a worldview characterized by the belief that truth doesn’t exist in any objective sense but is created rather than discovered.” In other words, a postmodernist would claim that truth is a variable, and that it is relative to each individual who attempts to discover it. In the postmodern world, there is the potential for more than one truth.

Is truth relative, or is it an absolute? And does it matter? Read on…***************************************
In any good measurement system, there must be a reference point. The definition of an “inch” cannot be allowed to vary over time, or we would have to start changing things like mountain elevation signs, tape measures, student rulers and the labels on your socket set every time a new definition came out. To be sure, we all understand that there needs to be a “truth” about exactly how long an inch should be, and this definition needs to remain unchangeable. This reference point is often called a “baseline”, and represents the starting point to which you must return to make sure that you stay on the right track.

In the Christian worldview, the reference point is the Bible and the baseline for truth can be found in John 18:37. When questioned by Pilate about whether or not he was a king, Jesus said,

“You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
To which Pilate, like many postmodernists today, gives his standard reply – “What is truth?"

For many, accepting Christ as the ultimate authority becomes a difficult concept to accept. Human pride and the desire for self-rule take over. We don’t like to be told that we are not the final arbiter of our destiny, or that we don’t know everything. From the modernist point of view, man should be able to understand truth over time through experimentation, science and personal discovery. And yet, Jesus maintains that he alone holds the truth – even if we have not yet grasped the entire concept.

The Bible expands on this idea in Romans chapter 1, where we see that the knowledge of God is “innate” – that is, God’s nature is intrinsic and inborn into each person. Verses 18 through 20 tell us,

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
It’s interesting that the Bible tells us that this innate knowledge can be seen in “what has been made”. This actually agrees with the portion of the modernist view which says that truth can be discovered by science and experimentation. The Bible tells us that, properly interpreted, scientific discoveries will point to God, not away from Him. In fact, it is true that most molecular biologists are convinced that God designed biological processes, rather than these processes evolving on their own – because the complexity of biochemical reactions is irreducible to individual evolutionary steps. The thousands of perfectly coordinated and intertwined steps had to happen all at once - in one created effort – or not at all (see Michael Behe’s excellent book Darwin’s Black Box if you want to read more).

Let me be clear – unless you can genuinely say that Jesus Christ is the source of truth for you, you are basing your reference point on something else – something which is false. Notice that I don’t equivocate and say that your reference point is “wrong for me” or “wrong for some, but possibly right for you”. That would be a postmodernist reply, just as Pilate gave to Jesus. The very purpose of having an absolute truth is that it must apply to everyone. And it does, whether a person chooses to believe in it or not.

Next in the series...

Back to the start of the Epistemology series…

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