Of Science and Faith: How Do We Know?

Introduction

It was said by theologians in the Middle Ages that philosophy is the handmaiden of theology. It is recognized that philosophy generated religious movements and Christian theology, in particular, was forged on the anvil of clashing philosophical movement. While we are admonished by Paul not to be swayed by the philosophies of men (Col 2:8), it is precisely in observing where people have been led astray with philosophy that we have learned what the scriptures do not mean.

In this light, it is helpful to understand philosophy so as not to be held captive by it. And it is in the study of philosophy that we learn that there are helpful categories for helping us understand the Bible correctly. In this series, I will talk about the central categories that help give us a foundation for understanding. Then I will discuss at least one of the philosophical systems that are leading people astray today.

Of Science and Faith

How Do We Know?

Perhaps the most foundational area of philosophical thought is epistemology. The word epistemology literally means the “study of knowledge” and it deals with theories of how we know things. Epistemology is the answer to the question, “How do you know?”

I say it’s likely the most foundational area of philosophy because no matter what else you claim to be true in philosophy, or otherwise, you must be able to answer the question, “How do you know?” If you don’t have a good answer, you will have trouble persuading thoughtful people that what you say is true.

John’s first letter is an excellent book for learning about Christian epistemology. While the primary epistemological focus in on assurance of salvation, it is instructive on how we know not only that we have eternal life, but also how we can test the spirits as it were. I’ll leave an in-depth study for another day, but ask you to read through the book of 1 John and pay attention to the passages that talk about how we can know. Pay attention to what we can know and the prerequisites for knowing it.

A verse from the Old Testament that discusses how we get from knowledge to understanding is Proverbs 9:10:

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. (ESV)

I’ll credit Dr. Sam Waldron for the exegesis I’ll summarize here:

The LORD, Yahweh, is a reference to the God of the Covenant and by extension God’s immanent nature. That is to say that he is involved in our lives. As a Hebrew couplet, this meaning is held both in contrast with and in parallel to the designation “Holy One”. The word for Holy One is “Qedoshim” and refers to God’s transcendent nature. That is to say that he is above and separate from his creation. It is precisely in this dual nature of God that we can have certainty in objective truth although we must apprehend it subjectively.

The prerequisites are important. First we have “the fear of the LORD”. This is a reference to the realization that God is Creator and intimately involved in his creation such that we are powerless against him. He is to be feared, but also that he alone is to be trusted. Until we come to a place that we internalize this trust, we cannot claim true wisdom. Wisdom, of course, is the result of fearing the LORD.

The other prerequisite is knowledge of the Holy One. This is not all knowledge, but it is some particular knowledge. There are some who doubt the existence of a God that transcends the physical world. But inasmuch as we are given knowledge of him, and in parallel with the first line of the couplet to fear him on account of this knowledge, we can have insight or understanding.

The idea of a transcendent God begs the question that he is of a different type of stuff than we are. I will discuss this in the next article.

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7 comments

  1. cmunzo

    The idea that we are powerless and should fear a deity is the root of a lot of resistance to faith. How can you have absolute trust in yourself if you are powerless and trust in God if he is to be feared? There is resistance to this idea expressed as discomfort in the mind at the thought. Then we have to try to rationalize it. But wouldn’t it be inane to make yourself ok with this? Does it bring joy to the mind and soul? Maybe the premise is wrong. Maybe we fear each other and apply it to God because he is not stopping us from hurting ourselves or each other. But what if he is a pacifist type and has been trying to reason with what appears to be insane people via testaments, Buddhist ideas- every bit of knowledge in this area that has been passed to us. The only emotion God can match us on is Love, joy, appreciation. Those are what we sense in these bodies as his energy. We exist after the bodies die and sense energy differently, but his is always positive. We created the desire to be in bodies to experience ourselves as separate beings. It is through these bodies that we hurt each other and create fear of each other. Without these bodies we cannot hurt another.

    • parsonsmike

      cmunzo,

      It seems clear to me that you have no idea of the foundation of faith. You can’t trust what you don’t know. So naturally there is a resistance to faith for those who do not have certain [even if particular] knowledge of God. Fear then is a proper respect for the place position and power of the One True God.
      Since you know Him not, you can only flounder around as one in the dark. But if you desire to know the One True God, He has revealed Himself most fully in His Son Jesus. Read of Him in the Bible, especially the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Come back and we can discuss what you have read and hopefully answer any questions that you have.
      May He open your eyes to His glory,
      mike

      • parsonsmike

        cmunzo,
        Yes it is. a.discussion.
        You shouldn’t have absolute trust in yourself. You did not form yourself, yet you were formed. You do not control the influences upon you. You do not determine how long you live. Etc. Etc.
        We disagree on things. I am responding to you and a discussion ensues when you respond back.
        As to you not floundering, do you know God?

  2. Pingback: Of Science and Faith: Substance | SBC Open Forum
  3. Pingback: Of Science and Faith: Resuming the Series | SBC Open Forum

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