“Listen to your father who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old. Buy truth, and do not sell it; buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding.” – Proverbs 23: 22-23 (ESV)
In my previous post, I argued that “truth” had become an idol — a fetish — a substitute for genuine transcendent Truth, and for authentic spiritual development. I also cautioned against the folly of succumbing to confirmation bias. I hope you’ll read it if you haven’t already.
In this post, I’d like to offer some additional thoughts on what philosophers call the problem of epistemology — that is, How do we know what we know?
Begin at the beginning
If you’re a regular reader here, you may have noticed that I have interspersed original posts in this ongoing series on Identity, Stimulation, and Security with updates and re-posts on subjectivity and worldviews. These were important refreshers, as they will help to illuminate what I want to say here.
If you have identified your worldview, and you have a biblical worldview, you already have a grasp on the foundation question of origins. Where did we come from? If you believe in a divinely created and purposeful cosmos, you have a framework for accepting knowledge — of true and false, good and evil, right and wrong — as a given. If an infinite, personal god, who is present in his creation and yet distinct from it, created the world and everything in it, the existence of knowledge and truth would seem to follow as built-in attributes.
Said another way, if humanity exists and humanity has an awareness of a personal (as opposed to impersonal) creator god, that god must be relational in his personhood, and therefore knowledge is a gift a relational god would give to creatures made in his image.
Life is but a dream?
I always enjoyed the movie The Matrix. Scratch it deep enough and I think it tells a story of redemption, despite its superficial Buddhism. And don’t we all want to believe there is more to this life than what our senses perceive — that somehow, we can level up and overcome the limits of our mortal existence.
Tesla and Space X CEO and founder Elon Musk asserts that he believes we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation a la The Matrix. And he’s not alone. A California professor of cognitive science explains his view that reality is nothing close to what we perceive in this article published in The Atlantic.
This is not a new phenomenon. Hinduism teaches that reality is maya — illusion. But I am aware of far more people subscribing to this view and to its corollary that nobody can truly know anything than at any other time in my life.
Once you rule out objective reality as a valid explanation…
If one subscribes to the postmodern assumption that there is no such thing as objective reality, and if one is willing to be honest, one will arrive at some uncomfortable conclusions.
First, if objective reality doesn’t exist or is otherwise unknowable, one must conclude that he is on his own. He can not place faith in the existence of his dearest friends, his loved ones, or his own life. Given the obvious relational bent of humanity, and the relative rarity of hermits, this existential aloneness will strip a man of hope.
Second, because it’s all imaginary, logically morality would no longer be binding in any meaningful sense. If the only reality is what occurs within the walls of my skull, why would I deprive myself of any pleasure, or give a thought to any consequence of my actions.
I think very few people actually believe this to the point they are willing to take it to its logical conclusion. And this indicates that narcissism and/or solipsism don’t account for the world we have. Scientific observation and measurement based on physical and material laws of nature show us that there is a verifiable and consistent physical reality that we inhabit. It isn’t all in our heads. If we each had the ability to configure our respective physical and moral universes, rocks might sink in my world, and be lighter than air in yours. But we all know this isn’t the case.
I read and enjoy Dilbert creator Scott Adams’ writing. His thinking has influenced the way I view persuasion in politics, among other things. Although I admire him a great deal, I disagree with his view that our world is illusory. Again, this is a matter of worldviews. Adams is a materialist, and I believe our cosmos is a strict system, presided over by its creator. Both hypotheses are difficult-to-impossible to disprove. However, the presence of physical laws and their repeatability when tested, gives my hypothesis the edge.
Is it possible your “facts” are untainted? How do you know? And if all before us is illusion, why can’t we choose to abolish sickness, suffering, and death? Either there is objective external reality, or we’re piss-poor gods. If there were no such thing as objective external reality, why is there so much “out there” that troubles you?
Imagination has a dark side
No barrier vs deception
What does the Bible say?
Consider again the example of Jesus. A significant part of His earthly ministry was teaching. If the world is a computer simulation, and knowledge is impossible, why would God incarnate waste His time trying to teach?
Then how should we live?
In Eugene Peterson’s modern-language translation of the Bible, The Message, 2 Timothy 4:3-5 reads like this: