Epistemology in Faith [ironic, isn’t it?]

So, why do we believe things? I mean spiritual things–and not in a secular sense of questioning why there is religion. I mean, what is it that we base our faith on? Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge, its presuppositions and foundations, and its extent and validity [dictionary.com]. Yes, it is ironic to apply a philosophy of examining knowledge to a construct that, on its face, denies knowledge. In Hebrews, it says faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
But we often use rhetoric to describe spiritual testimonies that imputes knowledge. "I 'know' God lives," or "I 'know' the Bible is the Word of God." These are common statements one might hear in a Christian setting. Though 'know' is often the verb of choice, I don't think this is what they are meaning. It seems counter to the concept of something hoped for. At the same time, it doesn't seem like it is a belief that is blind. There is 'evidence' of things not seen. It seems that many of us base our spiritual 'knowledge' on 'evidence'. What kind of evidence?

Why is it that JudeoChristian world has no problem with a man going up into a mountain [by himself], and returning some 40 days later claiming to have spoken with God [face to face]. Further, this person says that God wrote 10 commandments into stone with his finger. As a Mormon, I believe in this account. I believe the Bible to be 'true'. But I also believe that the same God appeared to Joseph Smith in a grove of trees in 1820, and that he was later commanded to translate an ancient record engraved on golden plates. Why is it that the former is so awe-inspiring and accepted, while the latter is cooky-talk? What is the evidence? Both men purported to see God, face to face. Both have produced some tangible thing to be reviewed. Both had miraculous successes and some stumbles. Why is one a prophet and the other someone people dismiss as the founder of a cult? What is the evidence?

The argument that the fact that Moses' account is true because it is in the Bible is problematic on some pretty obvious levels. Imagine you are in the wilderness with Moses, you have no Bible and you have to determine whether this guy really talked to God or is loony. I would argue that relying on the assertion that something is true if it is in the Bible only gets you to the point where you have to ask "How do I know if the Bible is true?" You're at the same point. You have to make a decision on the veracity of an assertion, but that assertion lies in a spiritual realm–not the traditional epistemological arena we're accustomed to. There is no scientific way to determine whether a spiritual assertion is true. Main stream Christians often point to archaeology. Whoopdy do. That only establishes the historicity of an account, not the divinity of an assertion.

My own personal opinion is that this 'evidence' talked about in Hebrews transcends, but doevetails with, our epistemological methods we're familiar with as residents of planet earth. It transcends them in that they are insufficient to assess a spiritual assertion [this is precisely why the things of God are foolishness to 'learned' men….always learning and never understanding]. It dovetails with them in the sense that we use more remedial types of learning to arrive at a point where spiritual learning can take place.

Published in: on April 29, 2006 at 8:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

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