Monday, March 24, 2008

The Knowledge of God, Overcoming the Anti-Metaphysical Bias

The Knowledge of God

Overcoming the Anti-Metaphysical Bias


Nowadays, it is popular in many intellectual circles and even on the street to hold anything that is not empirically determined in utter disdain. The modern humanist believes that our five-senses and the scientific theories that we form should determine our view of the universe, not any sort of philosophy or religion which starts with “dogmatic” beliefs through which all information must be filtered. This is what is called a bias against metaphysics.

Thus, the typical anti-metaphysical belief on the street and amongst the ‘intellectual elite’ can be summed up by one unbeliever’s review of Carl Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark:

“Sagan’s brand of skepticism leads him to the conclusion that there can be no basic principles of reality known beyond the results of scientific experimentation–that is, there can be no valid metaphysics which is more than just conjecture.”1

The anti-metaphysicians usually cite the long history of metaphysical speculation followed by refutation as proof that philosophy and/or religion cannot provide answers to the nature of the universe.

The Refutation

So, before we move on to God’s existence and the necessity of special revelation, we must first overcome this anti-metaphysical bias. To this bias we answer2:

  1. Theoretical and Historical Sciences Have a Similar History: The history of theoretical and historical sciences show the exact same sequence of speculation in terms of theories followed by refutation several years later. The “accumulating knowledge” model of science is a myth as Thomas Kuhn has shown in his work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

  1. The Impossibility of an Epistemology without a Metaphysic: The bias assumes that one can have a neutral, objective epistemology without a metaphysic that it is based upon. However, this is simply impossible. How can we interpret what exists without first presupposing “the nature of existence, the sort of things that exist, the classes of existent things, limits of possibility, the ultimate scheme of things, reality versus appearance, and the comprehensive conceptual framework used to make sense of the world as a whole.”3 For instance, this empirical epistemology assumes a.) the existence of the material world, b.) the Uniformity of Nature, and c.) that the human senses and brain can accurately interpret the sense-impressions from the material world and properly integrate the things of that material world into a coherent theory. The first two seem to be trivial to the average person, but the past four centuries of philosophers have proven these to be anything but trivial.4 As to the third, it has been pointed out that if man’s senses and mind have not been purposefully attuned to his environment, then we have no reason to believe that those sense impressions accurately reflect the environment being sensed. Furthermore, ever since Darwin, it has been shown that if we assume that all that exists is the material world, then we can only assume that all of our thoughts are deterministically caused (and non-teleologically at that)! Thus, a metaphysic of naturalism (i.e. the logical conclusion of the anti-metaphysical bias) would end up being a self-defeater for the neutrality of this epistemology.

  1. The Bias is Itself a Metaphysic: The bias is itself (whether its proponents realize it or not) a metaphysical belief that assumes that the material world is all that exists, and this assumption comes prior to any empirical formulation of theories concerning reality. As the Oxford Companion to Philosophy notes:

“Opposition to metaphysics has come from both within philosophy and outside it. …This hostility is paralleled in the popular writings of many scientists, who seem to think that legitimate issues once embraced by metaphysics now belong exclusively to the province of empirical – issues such as the nature of space and time, and the mind-body problem. Such writers are often blithely unaware of the uncritical metaphysical assumptions pervading their works and the philosophical naivete of many of their arguments.”5

To quote Nietzche:

“Thus the question “Why science?” leads back to the moral problem: Why have morality at all when life, nature, and history are “not moral”? No doubt, those who are truthful in that audacious and ultimate sense that is presupposed by the faith in science thus affirm another world than the world of life, nature, and history; and insofar as they affirm this “other world”—look, must they not by that same token negate its counterpart, this world, our world?—But you will have gathered what I am driving at, namely, that it is still a metaphysical faith upon which our faith in science rests—that even we seekers after knowledge today, we godless anti-metaphysicians, still take our fire, too, from the flame lit by a faith that is thousands of years old, that Christian faith which was also the faith of Plato, that God is the truth, that truth is divine.”6

  1. Assumes Immunity from Psychology in Theory Making: The bias assumes that the data gatherer and theory former are completely free from internal psychological bias. This is what is called doxastic voluntarism. It has been pointed out by philosophers of science that scientists frequently engage in ‘group-think’. Also, scientists are selective in what counts as ‘good data’ and what doesn’t, and the interpretation of that data is usually filtered through an a priori scientific theory (all resulting in circular reasoning). Lastly, the history of paradigms shows that scientists are loathe to give up their treasured beliefs and theories that they have spent so much of their time and effort on. In short, the only way to be neutral and objective in fact gathering and interpretation is to already possess knowledge of all facts and their interpretation, i.e. omniscience.7

  1. Begs the Question Against Original Sin: Apropos d., the bias assumes the antithesis of the Christian doctrine of Original Sin and especially its noetic effects. If this doctrine is true, then it follows that the unbeliever has a spiritual block in his psyche against properly interpreting the evidence. Thus, the bias begs the very question under dispute by assuming that Christianity is false from the very beginning.

  1. Properly Basic Beliefs: All humans believe in things without empirical proof for them, and in fact, we could not live without these assumptions. For instance, we assume the existence of other minds by assuming that our fellow human beings aren’t robots. Also, we frequently go on gut instinct. A trial juror who has to decide the trustworthiness of a witness’s testimony is a perfect example. In the same way, one reading the Bible and instinctually believing in its words that God exists and His crucified and risen Christ will judge the world is not at all irrational.

  1. The Use of Hypothetical Entities: Scientists assume the existence of unseen and sometimes unverifiable hypothetical entities all the time to make their theories work. A couple examples would be certain sub-atomic particles and ‘dark matter’. Science is just as much a matter of faith as is Christianity!

  1. It Cannot Account for Logic or Mathematics: The bias that only empirical findings of the changing, contingent material world can be counted as knowledge cannot itself account for unchanging, necessary abstract ideas such as mathematics and logic. Without the assumption8 of the validity of these things, science could not function.

  1. It’s Arbitrary: The bias is arbitrary. Why should we believe that the ONLY way to obtain knowledge is through empirical means? Yes, gaining knowledge through scientific means is a good source of information, but why should it be the only source?

  1. It’s Self-Defeating: The bias defeats itself. How can we know empirically that all knowledge must be gleaned through empirical means? Did some scientist put a few chemicals in a beaker, and all of a sudden the chemical reaction yielded the abstract proposition that all knowledge must be gained empirically? The abstract belief and proposition that all knowledge must be derived from empirical experimentation cannot itself be derived through empirical experimentation! Thus, the bias is false by its own standards. One might say that it is the best means of gaining knowledge, but how can you derive that abstract notion from empirical theorizing?

  1. All Other Arguments Against Scientific Realism Apply: (See the next lesson.)


Having refuted the anti-metaphysical bias, we’ll now counter-attack against this high empiricism of the modern-day humanist by refuting his stated epistemological base, Scientific Realism.


1 Gary McGath:

2 I will note again, before I begin, that I have had no formal philosophical training, and so my refutation, here, may not use the proper philosophical language. I will also gladly accept correction.

3 Greg L. Bahnsen, Pushing the Antithesis (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2007), p.118.

4 Other such presuppositions that are normally taken for granted but are very important are a.) the continuity of history (i.e. that the world isn’t five minutes old), b.) the validity of language, and c.) the very existence of the cognitive ego, i.e. yourself!

5 Ted Honderich, ed., The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), p.559.

6 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science.

7 Thus, the only Being that would have this attribute would be God.

8 And yes, these things can only be assumed to be valid but cannot be proven so. As the atheist, Bertrand Russell, himself a mathematician, wrote:

“I wanted certainty in the kind of way in which people want religious faith. I thought that certainty is more likely to be found in mathematics than elsewhere. But I discovered that many mathematical demonstrations, which my teachers expected me to accept, were full of fallacies, and that, if certainty were indeed discoverable in mathematics, it would be in a field of mathematics, with more solid foundations than those that had hitherto been thought secure. But as the work proceeded, I was continually reminded of the fable about the elephant and the tortoise. Having constructed an elephant upon which the mathematical world could rest, I found the elephant tottering, and proceeded to construct a tortoise to keep the elephant from falling. But the tortoise was no more secure than the elephant, and after some twenty years of very arduous toil, I came to the conclusion that there was nothing more that I could do in the way of making mathematical knowledge indubitable.” –Bertrand Russell, Portraits of Memory, 1956, pp.54-55.

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