Posted on Apr 9, 2012 by Tom Gilson
Last Friday I turned off the comments on the thread, “We Came to Share ‘True Reason Materials.’” The next morning I said I would re-open discussion on a new thread, and here it is. The most interesting challenge to me in that line of discussion was Erin’s in comment #85. You can read the original, so I will just outline her main points:
- Empirical testing is required to establish the truth of Christianity
- Erin seems to think I do not understand something about that: either what “empirical” means, or the importance of empirical testing
- Still she acknowledges that Christianity is believable—though not true—on the basis of the evidences I presented
- Science is the only true way of knowing because (and here I am quoting nearly verbatim):
- It is the only one that could be recreated, from scratch, and be exactly like it is today.
- It is the only source of knowledge that is completely, purely objective.
- When a scientist creates a hypothesis, they don’t try to prove the hypothesis true; they try to prove it FALSE.
- If we started all over again with a clean slate, eliminating all current knowledge, science would rise again and lead to discoveries consistent with what it has shown us this time around
- But if we started over again, Christianity would not rise again, because “there is nothing objective about it”
- Finally, referring to me, she says, ” The objective and dispassionate, detached way of looking at the world is clearly something you claim, but you do not succeed in achieving it.”
There is much here of interest, more than in most of the other comments on that thread, to be sure. I will focus on two things for now; actually just one in this post, the other will come later.
The Supposed Necessity of Objective Empiricism
Erin thinks that “science is the only true way of knowing the world.” This is problematic, for it is a claim about knowledge of the world, and it is not scientific. It’s not susceptible to testing in the laboratory, observation in the field, or controlled experimentation in any way. It is a non-empirical knowledge statement to the effect that non-empirical knowledge statements cannot be known to be true.
There are many non-empirical truths we count on. Some of them are at the basis of empiricism. The truths of logic and mathematics cannot be tested by science, for they are part and parcel of the tools of science. One’s own thoughts cannot be examined scientifically, yet surely they are part of what is true in the world. If I have a nerve pain tickling my foot (and I do, following surgery several weeks ago), I can know that without submitting to neurological tests establishing that it is true.
So someone like Erin must open the door to non-empirical knowledge; in fact, someone like Erin actually does open that door, whether she realizes it or not.
This is important to the question of Christianity because the requirement for empirical knowledge tends to translate into a requirement for testability in the material realm. That requirement tends to default to a position wherein supernatural explanations or realities are ruled out. It is a rule that typically says, “If it is not within nature, then either it does not exist or it cannot be known.” I do not know if Erin draws those close conclusions from her empiricism, but many people do.
This means that the bridge that Erin has named between “believable” and “true” may not be so uncrossable after all. It could be that Christianity is believable just because it is true, even though not all of it is susceptible to empirical proof.
There is much more that could be said about this, but my purpose here was not to write an exhaustive essay but to open up conversation once again, so I will leave it at that for now. The thread is available for discussion.