Monday, March 18, 2013

Dangers of Requiring Complete Knowledge

The Lack of Knowledge
A while back I wrote a post regarding our lack of complete knowledge and how, rather than being a bad thing, it is actually a good thing. I've also written regarding the fact that our knowledge will never be complete, which is something that we must get used to and be comfortable with.

This is true regardless of which worldview that one holds. However, many people act as if they require complete knowledge and understanding of a worldview before they decide to accept it as true. They argue that since they do not want to blindly accept a worldview that may be false, they must not accept a worldview unless they have certainty that it does not contain any falsehoods. On the surface, this is being quite careful. But we must remember that while we are investigating one worldview, we are holding another- that we are not investigating (maybe we haven't ever, maybe we have in the past). I have heard it commonly put that "the skeptic must be skeptical of his skepticism" to avoid being dishonest. Even skepticism must be investigated and justified, though.

This Requirement Applied in Crime Investigations
However, this doesn't really come up as an issue until someone possesses much evidence for the truth of the worldview that they are investigating but still do not accept it, due to some unanswered questions or some mystery that they want prior to acceptance. In chapter 6 of his book "Cold-Case Christianity" homicide detective J. Warner Wallace (of and Stand to Reason) compares this situation to his own investigations of crime scenes:
When we have overwhelming evidence pointing in a particular direction we may have to get comfortable with the fact that there is some ambiguity related to other items at the scene (pg 104).
Wallace goes on to explain that every detail of a crime cannot necessarily be known, neither will the detective be able to make sense of every item present, but that does not prevent the detective from concluding from the majority of the evidence at the scene that a crime took place, what crime took place, and who committed the crime. These are all sufficient for a jury to convict a criminal. The jury doesn't need to know every minute detail. If that was the standard for conviction, then every criminal would walk; they would commit more crimes, and conviction would fail again for the same reason, and the cycle would begin again. This is not a wise requirement for investigating crimes, and neither is it a wise requirement for investigating worldviews.

Even though we may not be able to make complete sense of every little detail of a worldview, if the majority of the evidence points to one worldview and against the others (including the one that the skeptic currently holds), then the evidence at hand is sufficient to conclude that the worldview is correct. When that is granted, then the person is free to commit their lives to that worldview. There are two major advantages to accepting the worldview at this point:

Consequences For This Requirement
First, if the worldview holds that consequences are eternal for not accepting its truth, then the sooner the skeptic accepts it, the better (since time of death is rarely chosen). With a crime, the consequences of such a requirement will end for the members of the jury when they die (naturally or unnaturally- perhaps at the hand of the suspect they released due to their unwise requirements for conviction), but the consequences of such a requirement will never end. Of course, depending on the worldview that is true, we may or may not be conscious to experience those consequences.

This is not a scare tactic (an unjustified use of fear to persuade), but a genuine concern that the skeptic should desire to avoid the consequences if not accepted. It is similar to my seeing the skeptic walking across the street and listening to their music with headphones, unaware that a car is careening out of control toward them. I could simply not say anything because I don't want to upset their blissful stroll or offend them. Or I could scream at them to get out of the way, or even run at them and push them out of harm's way. By taking action in response to a known danger for someone, instead of idly watching, that person would be able to escape certain death. Fear was involved- in me and my trying to make the person aware, but that fear in me and my attempt to project it to them was justified.

If You Just Accept...
Second, sometimes to properly understand certain things in a worldview, I would just need to accept the worldview, then it would make sense. Proponents of other worldviews tell me this all the time. They are essentially saying, "Think like me, and you won't have a problem." I have found that in many cases, that is, in fact, true. When one accepts the cores of many worldviews, they "can" "make sense" of reality. I put those in quotes because, so far every one of them require sacrificing either the existence of logic or the ability to trust that our brains can function according to logic.

The point is that when we accept a worldview as true, and we begin to understand the foundations of reality and how different aspects of reality are connected logically to one another, some of our questions will be answered. Unfortunately, a lot of times, answers lead to many more questions, but that only spurs us to learn more about reality. This time, we have the correct worldview as a foundation to do these further investigations. There are certain things that will not make sense until we realize that a certain worldview is actually true.

Lest We Forget...
When a person accepts a worldview as true and they begin their investigations of details, they move into internal debates regarding further details about reality. However, they cannot forget the danger of this requirement for certainty. When we know that we hold the correct worldview, in general, it is tempting to think that we hold the correct worldview, in detail, also. Lest we forget and return back to the same requirement for changing the details of our worldview: the existence of hell, for instance, is debated internally among Christians, and that doctrine holds eternal consequences. Another internal debate that is quite hot (even on this blog) is the age of the universe. It has consequences for successful evangelism which has dire eternal consequences if hell exists. (See my commentary on the recent Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye debate.)

We all like to believe that we are being careful when we investigate other worldviews. We want to make sure that we are not blindly accepting something false, so we test claims against reality. But we inevitably find something that we can't understand or have questions we cannot get answered. But we cannot allow those few to outweigh the rest of the evidence that we have. If we do, then we are taking a stand against the majority of evidence (not opinion) in favor of a few unanswered questions. It is wise that we not require complete knowledge and understanding before accepting a worldview as true, when we have tons of evidence of its truth. If we grant that it is okay to accept a worldview as true without complete knowledge and understanding, we then have the advantage of understanding reality from within the worldview and possibly getting many of our questions answered.

If you have been presented with the evidence that Christianity is true, but have some lingering questions that are holding you back, I encourage you to take the dive. You can't experience the water to its fullest until you get off the diving board- those questions are likely to be answered. But even after that, more will come and you will be on an adventure to not only know about your Creator and His creation, but His love and his mercy. By accepting Christianity, you are not accepting an idea or a proposition, you are accepting a Person. And He will take your knowledge and understanding deeper than you ever dreamed possible.

Links included in this post that are not explicitly labeled:
You Don't Know Jack, But Its Okay
Filling In The Gaps
Book Review: Cold Case Christianity
Fear-Mongering Christians
Book Review: Agents Under Fire
Internal Debates and Apologetics
Is Heaven Eternal?
Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye: The Aftermath

See Also:
"Prove Everything, Or You've Said Nothing"- by Tom Gilson

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