Epistemology and Certainty   Leave a comment

parallel-lines

Above:  Parallel Lines

Image in the Public Domain

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

How do we know what we know?  We can be certain of some propositions, but how so?

I have liked to say that, for me, human depravity is not a matter of faith but of objective reality confirmed by observation, history, and journalism.  The underlying assumption of that statement is that perceiving objective reality does not require faith of any variety.  Lesslie Newbigin‘s argument against that assumption has occupied my thoughts today.

St. Clement of Alexandria, the Pioneer of Christian Scholarship, argued against those Christians who thought that they did not need pagan knowledge, specifically, Greek philosophy–especially Platonism.  He replied by saying that Greek philosophy paved the way for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  A millennium later, in the 1200s, Sts. Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas argued for the compatibility of faith and reason–specifically, the philosophy of Aristotle, with some elements of Platonism.  These three saints, all of them great intellectuals, assumed that faith and reason were separate.  In the twentieth century, however, English Presbyterian Lesslie Newbigin, picking up on St. Augustine of Hippo, argued that all certainty hinges on faith, and that the sole basis of proper Christian confidence and certainty is Jesus Christ.

Let us consider, O reader, the example of Euclidian geometry.  It relies upon certain assumptions, upon which other assumptions depend.  This does not mean, of course, that Euclidian geometry is inaccurate.  The only question is one of how we perceive it.

Newbigin objected to St. Clement of Alexandria’s claim that Greek philosophy functioned as a prologue to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  To say that the truth of the Gospel depends upon anything else, Newbigin argued, is to make that thing more important than the Gospel.  He found examples of this in Roman Catholicism, conservative Presbyterianism, and much of Christian apologetics.  Newbigin also objected to the claim that faith and reason are separate.  He wrote that all certainty is a matter of faith, for we all assume that x, y, and z are accurate and that the world operates in a certain way.

The categories in my head come mostly from Thomism and the Enlightenment.  In Thomism I, an intellectual, find affirmation of the inclusion of true knowledge, regardless of its origin, as compatible with Christian faith.  From the Enlightenment  and the Scientific Revolution preceding it I receive modernism (as opposed to postmodernism) as a way of knowing much via evidence and observation.  As pastors and priests have taught me, there are two kinds of knowledge–that which we can know via observation and hard evidence and that which we can know only via faith.  But what if this assumption is wrong?  What if we know only by faith and the issue is by which kind thereof?  What if all certainty is a matter of faith?

If so, I can change my mind.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 25, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM HILEY BATHHURST, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JAMES OTIS SARGENT HUNTINGTON, FOUNDER OF THE ORDER OF THE HOLY CROSS

THE FEAST OF PETRUS NIGIDIUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN EDUCATOR AND COMPOSER; AND GEORG NIGIDIUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SQUANTO, COMPASSIONATE HUMAN BEING

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

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

%d bloggers like this: