Guest Post by Exrelayman
It seems to me that there are three approaches to certainty. These would be, science, philosophy, and faith. I will delineate what I mean by these terms and discuss their relative merits and weaknesses. I recognize that my use of these terms may not accurately reflect how someone else thinks about them, but I have tried to think clearly. How well I have succeeded in this I leave to the reader.
Faith basically means accepting that which cannot be investigated, that which you do not choose to investigate, or that which has been investigated with results contrary to the proposition accepted by faith. The strength of faith is that it requires little work to attain. You simply accept what you have been told, or accept that your own thinking about the matter is sufficient and true. A weakness of Biblical faith is that great apologetic effort is required to protect faith from facts (some support of this contention to follow). Another weakness of Biblical faith is that the emotions of hope and fear are used to inculcate and reinforce it, emotions being less reliable means of knowing than reason. A weakness of faith in general is that a bias is established in the mind in favor of the proposition believed, clouding judgment. So that, as is often observed, the person attached to a faith proposition tends to seek information confirming the bias, and downplay information that disconfirms it. Faith often attempts to use the other approaches to certainty for confirmation, but generally misuses them because of the bias faith entails.
Philosophy is simply thinking more in-depth about things than accepting what you are told, or believing your first thought about the matter in question. It uses logic and constructs arguments (in the logical sense, not the disagreement sense, although logical argument often is used in disagreement arguments!). Philosophy thus has the merit of using logic and order to organize the thinking. But philosophy as generally understood (or misunderstood) means thinking about things without empirical testing. Some will object, and say science is a branch of philosophy. This may well be technically true, but my usage here reflects a rather common view of philosophy: sophisticated thought not necessarily grounded in the tangible world. It is stronger than faith by virtue of using the tools of rationality, but weaker than science by being divorced from empirical confirmation.
Science is basically applied common sense. It should thrive in Missouri, the ‘show me’ state. It recognizes that we all have biases, and strives to minimize their effect using investigation and logic. (Of course science doesn’t do this, men thinking scientifically do.) Thinking in a scientific manner means subjecting the mental model to empirical test. It is thus stronger than philosophy (as used herein) by virtue of seeking confirmation in the real world. One observes some aspect of reality, or some proposition. One thinks, ‘how can I go about learning why that phenomenon occurs, or whether that proposition is true’. The thinking will then consist of, ‘If X is true, I would expect Y’. Examination of the real world seeks to observe Y or ‘not Y’. There cannot be certainty about X. Finding Y offers confirmation of hypothesis X. Finding Y repeatedly, while never finding ‘not Y’, is greater confirmation of X, but always some miniscule possibility of a ‘not Y’ result remains. Thus all knowledge is provisional, with the level of confidence proportionate to the amount of evidence. While this is true, vast, overwhelming quantities of evidence support most established science, so that withholding belief in well established science is not reasonable. Out on the frontiers of science, there is less confidence because the evidence is less.
But nota bene: in science, ‘not Y’ results have equal power and serve to disconfirm proposition X. More investigation is then indicated to attempt to learn if this investigation is flawed, or proposition X is flawed. One application of this principle to the faith proposition that there was a Christ who was crucified and resurrected approximately 30 AD is as follows. Earthquakes, and the resurrections of many dead saints are said to accompany this occurrence. If X is the proposition that these things occurred, then Y would be the expectation that they are so remarkable that some contemporary non-Christian historian or writer about natural phenomena would have noticed them and written about them. Since we in fact have ‘not Y’, proposition X has disconfirming evidence and is questionable. Though this be but one example (brevity for the sake of a blog post), instances of disconfirming evidence to Bible story elements are plentiful, to the extent that belief in the Bible as a reliably true document is not reasonable. The more so, as incredible rather than credible stories are predominant.
In recognition of many such weaknesses in Biblical accounts, and in response to enlightenment thinking, some Christians have resorted to ‘metaphor’ and ‘allegory’ to exculpate Bible elements that are clearly contradicted by real world observations. They then are apparently Godlike in their ability to rightly discern what is metaphor and what is not. The fact that other equally sincere and equally intelligent Christians divide the Word differently, so that Christianity disintegrates into myriad sects and factions, troubles them not. Those more scientific and skeptical entertain the proposition X, that if the Bible were a revelation of a God who wanted us to understand it and worship It, then Y, it would be clear and understandable, as evidenced by the one united church. We see instead ‘not Y’, another disconfirming evidence.
We thus observe that science works, and that as more and more scientific study is conducted on the world around us, hypotheses converge into one theory accepted by the vast majority of scientists. While as more and more people perform exegesis (or eisegesis) on the Bible, division of thought, and more and more sects, ensue. This is in contrast to the results of the most effective approach to knowing.