Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Can You Trust Your Senses or Your Logic?

This is quite the interesting question. If we can't trust our senses and/or our logic then we're in deep trouble. We would not be able to trust anything that we experience (not to mention the entire scientific enterprise), nor would be able to trust that we would be able to find any form of truth.

I'm going to look at three different worldviews and what they say about this. Let's start with the eastern worldviews.


Hinduism, New Age
All eastern thought teaches right off the bat that the world is nothing but an illusion and nothing we experience can be trusted to be true. What's more is that if I were to believe that, I would also have to believe that the person telling me this is an illusion too. Why should I trust the word of an "illusion"? Not only that, I should not trust the logic I used to conclude that I shouldn't trust the "illusion". Eastern thought is not very compelling for someone that is looking for truth, because it basically teaches that truth cannot be known, no matter how hard to try to find it.

Naturalism, Atheism
Naturalism is quite deceiving when it comes to this question. Naturalism relies on our senses and logic to form its worldview, but at the same time defeats the reason to trust our senses and logic. Naturalism relies on the theory of Evolution for the emergence of man, his senses, and his logic. Evolution is strictly concerned with survival not truth. With senses that are tuned (by natural selection) for survival, we cannot trust them to provide us with truth. That is not to say that everything we experience and discern is false, it is just to say that Naturalism demands that we can't trust that it is true.

Christianity
There's a couple of ways to look at this question from the Christian worldview.

The first is what is referred to as "Total Depravity of Man" (will be discussed in a later post). If misunderstood (as is the case for many Christians), this doctrine states that when Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden, that sin entered the world and clouded man's judgment of everything, so that it is impossible for him to know or find truth. The only way for man to discern truth is by God's Spirit, which man must accept first. My concern with this is that if man cannot discern truth without God's Spirit then how can man recognize God's Spirit as the Truth? If this doctrine is adopted, then even Christianity undermines man's ability to know truth.

The second is to see that The Fall in the garden clouded man's heart rather than his mind. Man can experience and discern truth. As long as man is truly searching for truth, then he will find it. What keeps people from recognizing ultimate truth and its implications is the clouding (hardening) of his heart by his sin against God. If people are willing to follow the evidence where it leads, they can find the ultimate truth (Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life).


The reason that I bring up this topic is two-fold:
1. The Christian worldview is the only of these that allow for man to actually know truth. So many Naturalists claim that their worldview is superior to Christianity because they are more "scientific" and Christianity is based on "blind faith". When the opposite is actually true. The reason they can get away with this is because many Christians hold the first view that I presented, thus have no way to rebut the Naturalist.

2. The Eastern/New Age view of truth makes no sense. If it is true, we have no reason to trust that it is and we also have no way of finding out until we die, and even then some of the eastern religions teach that we won't learn anything, we'll just be thrown back into this world of "non-knowledge".

So, the Naturalist is living inconsistently, and the New Age believer is living in denial. Christianity is the only one that offers consistency and confidence in knowledge of truth. In fact, Christianity even takes it a step further and explains why people accept the other two options; even though they lead to logical absurdity and inconsistency.

For more about how to discern truth within the Christian worldview, see my post "Nature vs Scripture".

I also recommend:

Online Articles
Alvin Platinga's essay "Evolution vs. Naturalism".
Kenneth Samples' article "Darwin's Doubt".
Kenneth Samples' article "Do False Beliefs Promote Survivability?"

Books
A World of Difference- Kenneth Samples
Come, Let Us Reason- Norman Geisler

Podcasts
Just Thinking
Let My People Think
Straight Thinking
Stand to Reason

17 comments:

  1. I call Strawman on the Hinduism section.

    One of the main themes in Hinduism is that the physical world is an illusion and the goal is moksha, liberation from the illusionary world. Christians also believe this world is temporal, and they desire to unify themselves with the Eternal in the same way that Hindus believe this world is temporal and impermanent, and desire to unite atman with Brahman.

    Hindus generally acknowledge three epistemological methods: pratyaska (direct perception), anumana (inference), sadba (revealed knowledge). Like Christianity, Hinduism uses deductive reasoning. Why is this? Because when you make unprovable metaphysical claims, inference alone (perception and reasoning) is not enough.

    St. Thomas Aquinas, a pre-eminent scholar within Christiandom, recognized the value of perception and reasoning - but even he admits concepts like the Holy Trinity require more than induction, they require Revelation.

    The epistemological methodology is not so different between Christians and Hindus; however, the contents of their revealed scriptures differ greatly.

    http://www.hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/h_maya.asp

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  2. Samuel,
    If the universe is an illusion, and our senses are part of the illusion, how can we trust that our senses are giving us what accurately reflects the reality?
    Is an illusion that perceives an illusion, not a deeper illusion?

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  3. I don't know the full depth of Hindu epistemology.

    I think the jist of the idea is that conventional reality is an illusion. It is impermanent and not really real. Remember the movie "The Matrix"? Same idea. Hinduism has revelation and spiritual practices aimed at awakening and liberation. Bindi's aren't just decorative.

    I would seek out Hindu sources for a better understanding as I don't have a solid grasp on their philosophy. I will try to check out some Hindu epistemology when I have time, but the link I provided is decent.

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  4. Since you acknowledge that Hindus believe we live in an illusion and everything we experience is an illusion, is it safe for me to assume that you (or Hindus) believe that an observation with an illusion (eyes, for instance) of an illusion (the universe) can produce what is not an illusion?

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  5. EPISTEMOLOGY SIR!

    That's why Hindus have revelation and practices to obtain enlightenment to see the world as it really is.

    They aren't saying your pratyaska is going to perceive true reality; in fact they agree with you that it won't. Hence the need for revelation and spiritual practice to awaken the spiritual eye.

    I merely made the point that the epistemological method of Hinduism is similar to Christianity in that they are deductively oriented and rely upon Revelation; rather than being inductive and independent from Revelation to make sense.

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  6. Are you saying that if the Christian worldview is true, people cannot rely on their senses to discern reality and must rely solely on the Bible?

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  7. The problem is in the adverbs.

    If the Christian worldview is true, people MUST rely on the Bible or the revelation found within it to find the truth.

    The reliance is not SOLELY, but revelation is necessary.

    People cannot discern the nature of God without revelation. Aquinas makes this clear, for example "the Trinity" is something Christians get exclusively from revelation.

    The religion depends on revelation to make sense. Without the Bible, Christianity would not make sense.

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  8. "People cannot discern the nature of God without revelation."
    I guessing that you are talking about special revelation (the Bible, in the case of Christianity). I make a case against this claim in my first comment on the post "Who Created God" on April 13th. Nature reveals much about God's nature. However, He has given us special revelation (the Bible) to fill in what nature has left out.

    "Without the Bible, Christianity would not make sense."
    Could Christianity still be true if the Bible did not exist?

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  9. When I say the Bible, I mean the multitude of myths, stories, and revelation provided through the Isrealites and the early church. I am not referring to the book at Wal-Mart that sells for $10 in a variety of versions but the very contents in that book.

    And I still stand by the fact that people cannot discern God's nature without revelation. Many metaphysical axioms are purely arbitrary and they could go either way. A finite being could create an infinite universe, an infinite beign could create a finite universe. Christianity chooses the latter. Neither models are very sound logically because they lack a means of explaining how something unchanging can create something that changes, or how something that changes can create something unchanging - but that is irrelevant because the metaphysical axioms postulated simply go around the need to explain causal continuity.

    I also wonder how your conception of time as having a finite beginning really compares with modern conceptions of time in quantum physics.

    As to the last question,
    If those myths, stories, and revelations did not exist - it would be irrelevant if Christianity were true or not because it would be meaningless. It would make no sense outside of the context of the story provided by revelation.

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  10. Let me rephrase my question. Could something have actually happened, even if there is no written record of the event? Since there is no written record of the event, does it follow that the event is meaningless?

    Is quantum physics limited by the 11 space/time dimensions of the cosmos required for Big Bang cosmology and predicted in M theory (the most popular theory that unites special relativity and quantum mechanics)?

    What does this tell us about our ability to trust our senses and reason from any of the three worldviews in the original post?

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  13. I deleted the previous two comments because I want to get back to my original comment.

    I called strawman on the representation of Hinduism. I appealed to another blogger, who is well-studied in Hindusim, to clear up the confusion.

    This is his explanation of how Hinduism perceives reality:

    http://hinduexpressions.blogspot.com/2009/04/is-world-illusionary.html

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  14. Here's an excerpt from that link:

    “According to the non-dualist school…Brahman is the only reality that exists and our universe is only an experience without an actual creation….Due to the presence of maya (illusion), beings consider themselves the doer and owner of objects and creator of stuff that just exists. All names and ties to the world, which are labeled “untrue” according to this philosophy, are supposedly imagination-borne. Through illusion on our minds, the untrue appears to be true, and we find ourselves separate from Brahman. Once a soul gets realized, all the unreal perception vanishes and we find that the universe is Brahman as well [not a total void].”

    Let me sum this up, to make sure I have it correct.

    Pre-"realization" we believe the world around us to be true reality. But it really isn't, due to maya clouding our vision. Post-"realization" we believe that what what we thought to be real, but was mistaken, actually turns out to be correct. But with one twist: I, in essence, am the keyboard I am typing on right now (Brahman being all connecting factors).

    Reality and truth can only be known with any confidence by those who's souls have been realized. Yet, how can they know that their soul needs realization if what they experience is understood to be untrustable?

    How is this different from the incorrect view from Christianity that I provided? Are you willing to call a "strawman" on that also?

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  15. I'm not well versed enough in Hinduism to really go into detail; it's an ancient, ancient, ancient faith (probably the oldest surviving one today) with many different philosophical schools.

    I think the mainstream Christian, and the one that is logically valid is that: a) we can induce some things from nature; but b) for utlimate truth we must rely on revelation [where deductive reasoning begins and inductive reasoning ends].

    That is why revelation and theology are so important in Hinduism; just as they are in Christianity. I mean, can you really inductively get at the Trinity? As far as I know, no, you cannot. Things like the Trinity must be arrived at through revelation.

    I would suggest directing those questions to a knowledgable expert in Hinduism; there is a Hindu temple in the OKC area, and there is also that one Blogger I posted a link to. Huston Smith might also be a good resource.

    I think the question of how does one know their soul needs realization is akin to the Christian-framed question, how does one know one is a sinner in need of redemption? Without the revelation found in Christian theology, the idea of being a sinner (transgressing against God) and needing to be redeemed by God do not make sense without the Christian theology. They cannot be arrived at inductively.

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  16. My point is that if you cannot trust anything that you experience, how would you know that the revelation is trustworthy (you experience the revelation via senses clouded by maya).

    There is no reliable starting point to test the revelation in Hinduism, therefore there is no reason that one should trust that it is true (I'm not saying that it isn't true, just that there is no gounding to believe that it is).

    That is my only claim from this post- you can't trust your senses or logic to find reliable truth if you start with the Hindu worldview.

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  17. "My point is that if you cannot trust anything that you experience, how would you know that the revelation is trustworthy (you experience the revelation via senses clouded by maya)."

    Again these questions should be directed to someone knowledgable in Hinduism.

    But, there is a broad brush stroke of difference between "My point is that if you cannot trust anything that you experience" and not being able to trust ones senses or logic.

    I don't think anyone in Hinduism claims that one cannot trust their logic, just that it is not sufficient to find ultimate truth. I don't think that differs much from Christianity as I've said before.

    And both Christianity and Hinduism will admit the senses can be deceiving.

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