How would you answer questions on Absolute truth outside the realm of human knowledge?

Hello :slight_smile:

A friend and I were conversing religion, and the absolute truth of Protestant christianity vs Catholicism. At the end of the conversation, he said: "We don’t know everything about everything. There is so much about the universe we don’t know, and even about life on earth. We can’t be certain that anything [principles/philosophy] on earth is true, until we have explored absolutely everything thoroughly. "

What is your take on this?

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While we can’t know everything we can still know truth. And if something is true then things that directly contradict it we know are wrong. So I don’t think one should focus so much on what we can’t know but what we can know. Otherwise everything slowly starts to become subjective. And when things become subjective that’s when people start to blur the lines between right and wrong. Just my opinion.

God Bless :slight_smile:

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Hi @ClairDeLune,

Thank you for sharing this question from your recent conversation. I empathize with your conversation partner quite a lot, agreeing that we do not (and can not) know everything about everything! As many people have said before, “We don’t even know what we don’t know!” Indeed, God and his universe are vast. But does this foreclose our ability to know truth? (And are truth and knowledge the same thing?)

These are important questions in the branch of philosophy known as epistemology. They are some of the questions that interest me most, as I often find them at the root of people’s various apologetics questions: what counts as proof? how can we know?

One of the most helpful things for me has been realizing that in Western culture (and many other places to which Western thought has been exported) our epistemology has been formed by the ethos of the Enlightenment. We hold up the mathematical and physical sciences as the ideal of knowledge. If we have trust any authority, take anyone else’s word for it, or in any way trust…then it falls short of knowledge. We think of knowledge as mathematical certainty. All variables must be known. But is everything known in this way?

It is a well-established counter to this claim that historical knowledge is not known in this way, and we believe that we can have genuine knowledge of past events. So what else is known in ways unlike science? People, for one. We do not know someone by having comprehensive schematics of their body and chemical make-up, and a catalog of their demonstrated preferences. We know them though experience, but most of who they are we have to take their word for: they self-disclose, or reveal themselves to us. Persons are simply not knowable in the same way as, say, toasters or chairs. We can analyze their organism in that way, but the person remains hidden by those means. So some knowledge is simply of a wholly different kind than what we demand of math or the hard sciences. Their method is not the ideal for all objects of study. What something is determines the methods by which it can be known (as philosophers such as Roy Bhaskar have pointed out). All this to say that certainty is a tricky word and we would do well to evaluate what we are asking for when we demand it.

If we can’t be sure of anything until we have explored everything, as your friend suggests, then we would have to remain permanently agnostic about everything. Is that a tenable position? More pointedly, is that how we really live? I would argue that it is not. Everyday we live assuming the truth of a hundred things we personally cannot prove. We actually live in state of dependent trust, despite all our big talk about thinking for ourselves and firsthand empirical knowledge. We are prone to say, “I only trust science.” But in fact, we trust scientists, because most of us are not specialists and we must take scientific findings on authority.

That has been the most significant factor in my conversations on epistemology: the realization that we all place our faith in someone. No one relies on pure and naked knowledge. Everyone trusts someone. This significantly levels the playing field in epistemic conversations where faith and knowledge are posed as alternatives. In fact, faith is prerequisite to knowledge, as St. Augustine has argued (in Against the Epistle of Manichaeus Called Fundamental and elsewhere). I believe that Leslie Newbigin is correct that the Christian aim for knowledge is not a quest for mathematical certainty (besides in math!) but for “proper confidence.” His slim book by that title is well worth reading and I highly commend it.

My thinking about the nature of knowledge and truth—especially as relates to our philosophical and religious claims—has been greatly helped by several thinkers including Augustine of Hippo, Michael Polanyi, Esther Lightcap Meek, and James K.A. Smith, among others.

Two slim reads (only 100 pages!) that are both excellent—especially for beginners on this question or those new to this perspective on epistemology:

What further questions do these thoughts on knowledge and certainty raise? How do you think your friend might respond to the idea that it really comes down to each of us choosing who we will trust?


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Hi

Thanks so much for your response. Looking at it from an epistemological point of view explains much. I’ll definitely read the books mentioned. <3 Thank you again :slight_smile:

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that’s for sure, one of the most powerful questions a person can ask. Ravi does a great job kicking that off in this video: https://youtu.be/zDKnyS09PbQ

We live in a world that seems to admire subjective Truths - I remember pondering as a kid, " What if Earth is just an atom inside a molecule of vanilla icing inside a massive cake? "

we can know somethings … for sure … and by those we can infer others are true.

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Dear Andrea
I sure appreciated the YouTube link that you gave. I finally got to it. I sure appreciate Ravi. Thanks for sharing the clip with me!
Tim

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Tim!

So glad —- I’ve bred swamped —- so forgive delays in writing —— and YES we can jump on a call.

:+1:t3: