Can You “Know” Anything?

Postmodernism has been the subject on my mind this past week. I have been analyzing my thoughts and have found that I have been affected much more that I would care to say. Today’s culture is definitely postmodern, holding to the idea that truth is relative and it is impossible to know anything for certain. Therefore we resort to experiences and feeling above fact and seek what is subjective (however you interpret something) above what is objective (something that is certain, aside from your opinion).

America, especially the West Coast, is very postmodern in thinking. History is of little value and facts are wasted on us. But the problem is that this view misses the obvious–we are a product of our history. Past experience leads future decisions (unless we ignorantly wish to forget the past). And that facts control our thinking and our trust depends on such things–we sit in chairs because they have proven themselves trustworthy. But more importantly, our education system depends on empirical (absolute) facts, and science is finding out time and again just how exact these facts are. Math is dependent on a right answer (making another wrong) and physics is not just a big mystery (even if it appears so!).

Why do these standards not translate into the world of emotion and feeling? Why do we not treat decisions about God (his likelihood and the consequences) in the same way we do math questions?

The question I pose to you is this: Can we as human, finite beings, know anything for certain?


Apply the idea of a math equation. 2+2=__. The first grader looks at this like one would look upon an alien who has just landed in the back yard. This is “Greek”. The teacher says that the “2” is just as if you had two apples in your hands. “If you take two more apples, how many will you have in the end?” The kid will, hopefully, say “four”, and the teacher will smile and nod. Why is that answer right? Because the teacher said so? Of course not. Is the answer right because the child understood the concept? No. So what makes 2+2=4? It is based on the empirical fact that when matter is quantitative, it has size. Math puts numbers to matter, in a sense; it divides it up into sections and gives it names “1, 2, 3” and so on. I know this is abstract.

Now, if the teacher was all-knowing, they could tell you that 2+2=4 and you would believe them simply on the basis of them telling you so. If the child was all-knowing, his answer would be true simply because he spoke it. If he said it was 5, then it would be five, because he was all-knowing. Obviously though the premise is wrong, neither are all-knowing. The child is finite and so is the teacher, the fact lies in the concept that lies behind the equation.

Hang in there and apply this concept to real life:

A postmodernist will ask me: “Is there a God?” I will answer “Yes”.

“Why?”

“Because the Bible says so.” a classic defense. But not as ill-founded as you might think.

Now if I had said “Because I know it is true,” that would imply that I was all-knowing.

What if the kid answering the math question had said “Five!” The teacher might ask: “Why do you say that?” Could he answer, “Because I said so”? That would be foolish. Or what if the child had answered, “It doesn’t matter.” That would be implying that he was all-knowing as well, and it would be prideful. He is telling the teacher that the fact that understanding “2+2=4” is completely unnecessary for his life. But what if Einstein had said that? Could he perceive that he would one day become a great physicist? If he had left math as a child and pushed aside the question “2+2=__” then he would’ve never accomplished what he did.

So that makes the point, we are finite human beings. Empirical facts must 1. come from somewhere else/some place other than our minds, or else 2. it does not exist at all.

If truth doesn’t exist at all, then how do science and math work? Do they have any value to our lives? Of course not! This is absolutely ludicrous.

Do you want a fact? Truth exists, whether you like it or not.

“Now that’s intolerant and arrogant!” a postmodernist will reply.

Not at all, it is the logical conclusion. The fact that I think, that I am now writing, that the world is spinning, and that you are reading are empirical facts that there is truth.

The bigger question is then: If truth exists, and it must come from outside ourselves, where can truth be found?

This is a mammoth question, one that has stumbled all the great philosophers for all of history. As we look back, history has been a “hit and miss” search by mankind for truth, to find out where it comes from and who put it into place, if he exists.

Plato, the greatest of Greek philosophers, knew this full well and this was part of his brilliance. Through logical deduction he favored the idea that there was a god, someone who both created and ordered the world, and that he was invisible, that is, outside our finite minds and world (another dimension, if you will). This led him to hope (all he could really do) that this invisible god would send a Logos, a “word or revelation”, to mankind to let man know what his purpose was on earth and what his duty was on it. Christ’s disciple played off of this idea in John 1:1-3, 14, and 18:

In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him (the Logos)…and the Logos became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…No one has ever seen God; the only God (referring to the Logos, Jesus Christ, v. 1, 17), who is at the Father’s side, he (Christ, God’s Son) has made him (the invisible God) known.

In saying this, John declared that the Word from God that was hoped for by Plato had appeared in human form, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ claimed to be God and claimed to speak directly for God. The book of John is the testament of his disciple towards his authenticity.

So when the postmodernist first asked, “Do you believe in God?” I responded yes based on the assertion by Scripture, and I would base my answer on a statement like the one made by John. But my answer is dependent on the truth of John’s answer, here in John 1. How do I know his statement is empirical fact? He claimed that Christ was God himself, and if this is true, then whatever Christ said about God was empirical fact. Why? Because if Christ was God, he was all-knowing.

Can you or I know Christ is God, for certain?

No, that would be claiming to be all-knowing, as a finite being. The question is not, “am I sure if this is an empirical fact?” but instead, “is this an empirical fact?” Facts speak for themselves, after all. No one has to prove 2+2=4 and not 5. The equation answers to no one, and it is not up for debate!

Let us consider. Make this an empirical fact: Christ is God.

Now, this is a hypothesis. How do you test something to be wrong? You put it into the “fire” as it were, and test its authenticity. After all, Newtonian Physics was debunked by the Theory of Relativity. What if the evidence points to Allah being the only God? Or what if there are multiple gods? Perhaps there is no God?

I will leave the testing up to you. Test the Bible, test it’s authenticity. Why has it been the most sold and read book in the history of mankind? Textual critics say the Bible is about 99% free of error. The next best historical book? The Koran–it lies at about 60% (and was written over 1,000 years after the last book in the Biblical canon!

Evidence, check the evidence. Just like with a math problem. You do three pages of work on one problem and circle your answer. Only a fool leaves it at that. Check it over! Put the Bible under fire, I dare you! In the 1800’s, the french philosopher Voltaire predicted Christianity and the Bible would disappear in 100 years. Shortly after his death they were printing Bibles like mad from his mansion!

I believe that Christ is God, and that Christ is the only way to heaven. Why? Because I trust in the Bible.

My faith is not based on my assurance, or my intellect. I am not 100% sure that Christ is God, I am not 100% sure that the Bible is God’s way of speaking to man. I am not even 100% sure that there is a God. And so I have put fire under my feet to find out if what I have been standing on is made of wood or stone, hay bales or castle walls.

It is not me who is stating the empirical fact, all I am doing is standing on one. The Bible is God’s Word, and nothing has ever defeated that or convincingly made me believe I am wrong. What about you? What are you standing on?

Just like Christ told Peter: “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

What have you put your faith in? Can you make such a claim and live up to it? Christ has.

Advertisements

10 thoughts on “Can You “Know” Anything?

  1. WOW! You’re mind is working! Great thinking, although for me it was hard to follow on one quick reading; just like with books of Francis Schaeffer, I need to go back more than one time.

    May the Lord use you in apologetics.

  2. Except this argument will never work on a post-modernist:) I don’t think the thinking of the past centuries was any better or worse than post-modernism. In fact, post-modernism opens people up to the possibility of something divine, something that cannot be proved empirically (i.e. God). So instead of pushing back against the post-modernism that has often been labeled by Christians as negative, try working with it.

  3. Ivy,
    To a certain point you can work with Post-modernism, and it is wise and useful to do so. They are more open to the supernatural because Modernism has been abandoned. But at the same time Postmodernism is flawed at it’s core, because truth does exist, and it is empirical. There is truth in Math and Science just as there are empirical facts in Religion–God. The question is not, is there a God? All people must admit to it, we are born and we die knowing there is a God, even Dawkins knows this. The question is not if he exists, but if he exists, what does he look like? What are his expectations of me? That is where truth cuts and hurts. God has told us that “all have sinned and fall short of [his] glory…” But he also has told us that we are saved through Christ alone, and this is exclusive and “intolerant” to Postmodernists. The Gospel and Truth will never be able to work with the current philosophy of mankind, be it Platonic Philosophy or Modernism. They are incompatible with God because his “ways are higher than man’s”.

  4. “Empirical facts must 1. come from somewhere else/some place other than our minds, or else 2. it does not exist at all.”

    I understand this, but I wonder how it is possible to receive or observe these “empirical facts” or the world outside of the mind, without influence or refraction by the mind.

    I can’t see something without the light passing through my imperfect, corrective lens dependant eyes, and because of this everything is blurry.

  5. David,
    Sorry for taking to long to respond.
    Bias is something we have to live with, we cannot see or think objectively. Our views of the world we are in is changed by the culture we grew up in, our personality, our education, our personal agenda, etc.
    Augustine struggled greatly with this, how can we prove anything? He said truth is like the paddle of a boat, straight and sturdy. But when put in the water it changes in shape and becomes movable and malleable. But has the oar changed? Of course not, it remains sturdy and straight.
    The first thing to recognize is our difficulty in assessing and diagnosing what is and is not truth. But I will agree with Augustine also that God has put into man the ability to put their faith in God, even when reason seemingly breaks down. But I, like him, have found the God of the Bible to be a “straight oar” as it were, when tested. I have found that the Bible is exactly what it says it is, even when it may seem otherwise at times.
    A distinguishing quality of truth is that it remains so each time it is tested, even under the worst of circumstances. The Bible has been attacked more than any other book in history, and it has 5,000 years of antiquity seemingly “working against it”. But still it comes forth as the shinning revelation of God, whether or not man is willing to put their faith in it.

  6. However, when you talk about there being empirical truth in religion as there is empirical truth in math and science, that’s a false analogy. You cannot measure faith nor can you measure the realm of the super-sensuous with the same tools by which you would measure something firmly rooted in the necessary like math or some branches of science.

  7. Israel,
    You are right. The spiritual world, as it now stands, cannot be quantitatively known or added up. My point is not that there is no empirical truth tho. Because just as there is truth in math or science, there is also truth in the spiritual realm. Before physics and even simple math, this was largely unknown, but developed with time. Even in science there are many things we simply cannot know as empirical facts. Not long ago people thought the speed of light was a constant, e=mc2. Recently it has been proven that light can reach near-infinite speed, and it explains why we can see star-light when the earth is only 7,000-10,000 years old (depending which scientist you ask).
    Empirical facts exist, the problem lies not with it, but with us. Just because I can’t prove God doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist, that would be idiotic. Neither can a scientist explain to you why a nuclei holds together when everything in it literally wants to “blow-up”. Fancy words don’t prove anything, they don’t show the why.
    So I would put forth that perhaps empirical facts are more difficult to see and defend than we think. And the spiritual world holds the same qualities, I would say, even if they are even more abstract to us, for now.
    Thanks for you comment though, I appreciate it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s