Saturday, June 19, 2010

Can You Trust Your Senses and Reasoning?

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. (Due to the desire to be brief, this post is in no way a comprehensive or nuanced understanding or treatment of these worldviews or the challenges I raise.) Let's start with the eastern worldviews.


Eastern Worldviews
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. Each eastern religion has its own nuances of the ontology (ultimate reality), but they all end with the universe we experience being ontologically unreal or illusory. 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 you try to find it (which is a truth in itself).

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- we must be skeptical of what we perceive and skeptical of any reasoning we use to form a conclusion. Of course, we also must be skeptical of the reasoning behind our skepticism...and skeptical of that reasoning. The skepticism of skepticism continues to the point that we must be skeptical of everything, including this very statement.


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

The first comes from a misunderstanding of the "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 trustworthy? As Christians we believe that many different spirits can and do testify to their own claim of truth. We must have a way to test the claims of the spirits for truth before we trust them. If the doctrine is adopted with this misunderstanding, then even Christianity undermines man's ability to know truth with any level of certainty (including The Truth).

The second is to understand that The Fall in the garden clouded man's heart rather than his mind and his heart (the mind's clouding is indirectly done by the heart- see below). 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 (see James Speigel's book The Making Of An Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief). 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 "heart" and the "emotions" are understood in Christianity (and probably most other cultural settings) to be the same thing. I discuss the direct clouding of the emotions and indirect clouding of the mind a bit more in my Psychology Class Series.


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 or another illusory world.

So, the Naturalist is living inconsistently, and the Eastern 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

1 comment:

  1. "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."

    If you consider Buddhism, Confucianism, or Daoism to be "eastern thought" - none of them teach that the world is nothing but an illusion.

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