(Another guest post from the ever-popular DTE! Enjoy.)
Epistemology is a problem for Christians, a very serious problem. Epistemology, simply put, is the study of answering the question: “How do you know?” That simple question, though, puts the Christian upon the horns of a dilemma.
The Christian has the same tools as the atheist to acquire knowledge, senses and reason. The Christian also has a revelation, the scripture, all of which, according to the scripture, is god-breathed. Unfortunately, when the Christian applies her or his senses to the bible she or he can make no sense of it. Reason precludes it., as the god-breathed scripture contains many paradoxical statements, conflicting accounts and even a formal contradiction or two. Invariably, it also has god-breathed commands that the Christian does not wish to obey and god-breathed revelations of God that the Christian does not want to worship. However, the Christian cannot reject the revelation entirely, as it is the only reason to believe certain things that she or he does hold dear.
Still, the god-breathed scripture cannot answer many fundamental questions about those very things that the Christian holds dear. For example, what exactly did God say immediately following Jesus’ baptism? When exactly did John Baptizer know that Jesus was the messiah? What exactly happened on the morning of the resurrection?
If a Christian cannot know, per the bible, what God said about Jesus, after all, is God’s self-breathed revelation sufficient to believe anything contrary to senses and reason? The Christian must answer that question, as science tells us things that contradict the god-breathed scripture, and tells us those things with reams of evidence.
Of course, the Christian can simply dismiss science and embrace the god-breathed revelation in its place, but that leaves her or him with the problem of not knowing what God said at Jesus’ baptism.
A bigger problem for the Christian is that some science is so useful that no Christian would reject it, despite what the God-breathed revelation might say. What Christian does not use prayer only as an addition to the science of medicine? Which Christian does not trust DNA fingerprinting and maternity testing, rather than casting lots? Is there a Christian that claims demon possession, rather than seeking medical help for the disturbed or seizure-stricken? Put simply, what Christian does not summarily dismiss the bible and its god-breathed teaching, choosing senses and reason when it makes pressing real-world sense to do so?
Unfortunately, when the matter is not as immediately pressing-creationism, resurrection, or Noah, rather than death, conviction, or insanity-when the issue does not immediately risk the Christian’s welfare or that of those she or he loves, the Christian will reject senses and reason for god-breathed revelation. It matters not that the revelation is equally ridiculous to casting lots, praying instead of going to the doctor, or casting demons out of an epileptic. Nor does it matter that senses and reason give sound reason to reject the “revelation” as mythology. The Christian dogmatically embraces some parts of the bible despite being able to answer the simple question with an ounce of consistency, much less integrity, how do you know?
So, back to the horns of the Christian’s epistemological dilemma: The Christian has a revelation that she or he will neither dismiss nor embrace in whole, a revelation that he or she cannot know by the empirical and rational methods that she or he trusts in the most important areas of life. Thus, the Christian has faith in some of the god-breathed revelation, but not all. She or he has faith in some science but not all.
Because of the god-breathed revelation, the Christian simply cannot both live in the world and consistently answer the fundamental question, “How do you know?”