Epistemology, Part Three:
Three Propositions on Rationality
It’s been a while since the second post, but the more I’ve considered these things, the more I realise just how basic they are to everything we think and believe. The term for what we’re talking about is epistemology. Epistemology deals with the very nature and basis for knowledge. Since everything we think we know is built on some epistemological basis, we would be wise to at least understand what our own epistemological basis is. A poor understanding of our epistemological base will make theological dialog frustrating at best, meaningless at worst.
To sum up part one and two, we discussed evidentialism (knowledge is justified on the basis of evidence), fideism (knowledge is justified on the basis of faith), and presuppositionalism (certain knowledge is presupposed but verified by evidence).
In order to move forward through the clutter, I’ll present several propositions which I believe follow from a basic presuppositional approach and result in a practical epistemological basis from which to operate in teaching and obeying God’s Word.
Proposition one: God is always perfectly rational.
Finite man may not always be able to comprehend God’s rationale, but that does not change the fact that God is always rational. The nature of God’s chosen method of working with and revealing Himself to man reflects His rationality. In fact, creation itself reflects the reality that God is a rational being. The laws of nature and science reflect a level of rationality that has driven man to learn and discover for millennia. Even the secular “intelligent design” concept recognises that there is deep rationale behind creation.
Proposition two: In God’s image, humans are also rational.
The world we live in generally makes sense. In fact, God is the One who created the concept of “common sense.” The fact that there are irritating aspects of life that don’t make sense only highlights the fact that so much of life does make sense. Francis Schaeffer, in his book The God Who is There, makes this point. “The Christian is not rationalistic; he does not try to begin from himself autonomously and work out a system from there on. But he is rational: he thinks and acts on the basis that A is A and A is not non-A” (124, emphasis in original).
Proposition three: Human rationality is limited both inherently and by the effects of the curse.
In other words, we are limited not only by that fact that we are fallen creatures, but even by the fact that we are creatures. There are three basic causes for the limitations of human rationality.
1) Human rationality is prone to internal inconsistencies and fallacies.
Rational conclusions are dependent on internally consistent and valid arguments, yet even the brightest minds known to man are unnervingly frail.
2) Human rationality is limited in its capacity to comprehend.
Man, as the creature, is finite while God, the Creator, is infinite. One need only study a little theology to realise that God is beyond the comprehension of man. As one man put it, “God is too big to fit into a box the size of your head.” It only takes a little honestly to admit the severe limitedness of human capacity to comprehend.
3) Human rationality operates with limited data.
The human mind is limited to the world we can see and perceive, yet there are whole dimensions which are beyond our grasp. For instance, we have only very limited understanding of the spiritual dimension which is just as real as the physical. Even in the information age, we are extremely limited in the actual data which we receive and are unable to escape the power of our perceptions and biases.
My goal above is more to present a complete system which deals with the biblical and practical data than to present an apologetic for that system. In the fourth and final post, I’ll draw some conclusions that naturally follow from these propositions. For now, it’s worth thinking these things through.