Archive for the ‘epistemology’ Category

Inform or Inflame?

August 24, 2010

A partial truth can be more damaging than an outright lie.  I have had conversations with people who had a small piece of the truth, but that piece had been taken out of context, or misapplied for the express purpose of provoking an emotional response.  Emotions can be powerful motivators to get a response, but it might not be the right response.

It would be best if we responded with both reason and emotion.   In fact, perhaps we should take a lesson from Mr. Spock, and allow reason to guide our decisions, free from the entanglement of emotion.  Once a decision is reached, then our emotions can come on board.

Be careful of the sources of information.  They may be telling the truth, but is it the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?  Or are portions of truth being used to manipulate a response that is desired for reasons unknown to the recipient?   We are responsible for our actions, and we should be careful of the informational sources that guide our decisions.

Who’s to Judge?

March 17, 2010

I believe…

Whatever I believe to be true is an expression of my own judgement.  I accumulate information, determine it’s credibility, interpret and apply what I have judged to be worthy of inclusion.

I believe in God.

I have been told that He exists.  I have accepted it as true.  I have thought about it, evaluated the information and come to the conclusion that I believe that God exists. 

I am passing judgement on the existence of God.

I read the Bible. 

I have accepted that the Bible is the Word of God.  I have been told that it is the Word of God.  I have thought about it, examined the claims, and judged that it is the Word of God.  Even after that acceptance, I must read it, interpret it, and apply it to my life. 

I am exercising judgement on the Word of God.

Isn’t this backwards???

If God exists, then ultimately, He will judge me. 

If the Bible is God’s Word, then my life will be judged by what that book contains.  

Who is to Judge?

Whose judgement will be final???

Logic, Reason, and Rhetoric

February 8, 2010

I am starting to think that everyone should take a course in logic.  This is not just because I teach logic, but because I am amazed at how commonly fallacious arguments, and weak arguments, are used to convince people to accept certain positions.   

People like to think that they have  good reasons to hold their positions.   They have listened, maybe, to what others have had to say, and are persuaded to believe in something that sounded good, or right,  to them.

Rhetoric, as I am using the term, means using persuasive language or techniques to get people to agree with your position.  Effective rhetoric may use logical reasoning, but it often involves fallacious reasoning, and emotive language.  People are persuaded to believe that something is true, using manipulative tactics.  Sometimes this is unintentional, and sometimes, the individual employing the tactics knows exactly what they are doing. 

If people were trained to recognize good arguments they would be less likely to be persuaded by manipulative tactics, and we would have more rational debates, less shouting matches,  and maybe come to better decisions.

I’m not going to hold my breathe.  I suspect that many people won’t even read this article, after they look at the title.


Partial Truth

November 9, 2009

Do you know everything? 

There may be a few people who act as if they know everything, but I suspect that all of us, if we are being honest, and are not delusional, would acknowledge that we do not know everything.

We must accept that we know only a part of the truth. 

Since we only know in part, it stands that our knowledge is incomplete.  Since our knowledge is incomplete, we should be willing to listen to others who may know something that we do not know.  Unless, of course, we have no desire to add to our accumulation of truth.   

Once we have become willing to listen to others then we have a new challenge.  That challenge is to be able to discern what is true, and what is false. This is far more easily said than done.  Certainly not everything that others tell us is true.  They too, have only a part of the truth. 

For today, I would simple encourage everyone to be willing to admit that we don’t know everything, and that we can learn new things, sometimes from surprising sources, it we are open to listen to others in our continuing search for truth.

Beyond Words

September 3, 2009

“The spirit may grasp truth that breaks beyond the barriers of human language.”

Last night in Bible study, one of the older members of our congregation, (She is 97!) commented that the topic was so deep that she was having trouble expressing what God was saying to her.  After the study was officially concluded, we were still sitting around talking and the line that I wrote above, came to me and I quickly got up wrote it down on the board so that I wouldn’t forget it. 

I believe that God communicates to us in a variety of ways.  God will utilize the natural means of verbal communication, such as reading, dialogue, and rational thought; but additional truths are grasped by an internal comprehension,  a revelation on a spiritual level, which allows us to understand, but that may be difficult to express.  These truths have a profound impact on how we comprehend the things of God, and of the world, and even though our attempts to put them into words are only partially successful; they enrich our lives, and our cognition of metaphysical reality.

How Do We Know The Truth?

August 20, 2009

“You can’t believe everything you read.” 

Except this blog of course, I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth… unless of course I am confused, have my facts mixed up, bad memory, wrong information and so on.  OK, at least I promise not to intentionally lie, but you don’t necessarily know me, so does my word mean anything?

We know our own experiences.  Whether those experiences are remembered and interpreted correctly are another issue.  Sometimes people who were at the same event have different recollections of what happened and what was said.  So our collection of remembered data is relatively sound, but not absolute.

Things that we can see at the moment can be pretty certain.  Unless we are having a temporary, or even not-so-temporary break with reality caused by drugs, fatigue, mental illness or other factors.  Still, for most of us we can believe our senses, unless, of course we are deceived by a magician, or illusionist, or a quick talking con man.

Still for the most part, we can know a good deal about the world by our accumulation of assorted experiences.

We can also know what we hear from other sources.  The only problem with that is that we are relying on our sources to relay accurate information. 

Sources are not always accurate.

Now if we have multiple sources, or if our sources have been credible and reliable in the past, then we can become more certain of our knowledge.

What happens when our sources disagree? 

We evaluate our information by number of sources, reliability of sources, and how well the information meshes with the rest of our understanding of reality as we know it.

Good luck with that.

Jesus said that he is “The way, the truth, and the life..”

and that “we shall know the truth, and the truth shall set us free.”

In Proverbs it tells us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

I believe that through my faith in Christ I can have a knowledge that is secure.  I have a firm foundation upon which to build my life-view.  Once you have The Cornerstone, the rest can be built up.  If I occasionally have to take out a section, and rebuild, that doesn’t shake my world.  I don’t always have to be right, as long as I know The Truth.

A Mixed Breed

March 17, 2009

I was baptised, confirmed and became a member of an ELCA Lutheran church.  Then I attended an independent pentecostal church, then went to an Assemblies of God college, back to the Lutheran church, attended a Methodist church for a while, then an Assemblies of God, back to the Lutheran church; while finishing school at the A/G college, then on to Lutheran seminary, then credentialed and serving in A/G churches.  Finally, I finished a Masters degree in pastoral studies at a Catholic university.  Religiously, I guess you could say, I am a mixed breed. 

I teach philosophy at a community college.  I am a dualist, in regards to metaphysics.  In epistemology, I accept some things from a rationalist view, some things from an empiricists view, some things from religious revelation, and  I am skeptical about quite a few things.  In ethics, my approach is sometimes, teleological, sometimes deontological, sometimes, virtue, sometimes caring.  I guess I am a mixed breed philosophically.

When I exercise, I do a variety of things.  I run, swim, bike, and practice martial arts.  I do some weightlifting.  I do some power lifting, some Olympic lifting, some body building, some conditional training.  I do some of a lot of things.  I am not very good at any of it.  I guess that I am a mixed breed when it comes to exercise. 


When it comes to food, I like Chinese, Mexican, Italian, German, American, and I am willing to try almost anything.  I like food of all types.  I guess I am a mixed breed when it comes to food.

Musically, I enjoy Contemporary Christian and classical.  Musically, I am not as mixed as in other things, but I still do appreciate a variety of different styles within the Christian context.    

I guess that I am just a mixed breed.

Or maybe I’m just mixed up.

Christmas, the Bible and Truth

December 24, 2008

Christmas, the Bible and truth.

There are several approaches in epistemology for determining truth value. (Epistemology is the section in philosophy that deals with issues of knowledge and truth.)

The correspondence theory states that truth is determined by whether or not empirical facts can verify claims.  Atheists and Christians have argued for a long time over the conclusions of this approach.  Of course, as a Christian I believe that the Bible is true and I have not personally seen anything that satisfactorily contradicts that claim.  The eternal nature of some of the claims of scripture will have to wait for eternity for verification.

The coherence theory evaluates the cohesiveness of a group of claims to determine truth. (kind’ve like how we can catch a person in a lie.)  For me, and for millions of others,  the Bible is a cohesive truth.  It is internally consistent, which is remarkable since it is written by so many different people over such a length of time.  It is also consistent with its application to life.  It fits together with my understanding and my experience very well.

The pragmatic theory states that something is true, if believing it to be true “works”.  Again for myself, and for millions of others the Bible works.  Millions of people live better lives because of their belief in the Bible as the word of God.

The concept of truth as a social construct is yet another approach.   This theory states that truth is determined by ones culture, or society. ( I personally do not accept this basic concept of truth, but if I did, it could apply to the Bible.)  There are millions of people who for thousands of years have believed the Bible to be true, therefore in this approach the Bible is true.

As we celebrate Christmas, we can believe that the biblical story is true.  Jesus  was born of the Virgin Mary.  He is the Son of God.  Immanuel, God with us.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

The Hermaneutical Circle

September 10, 2008

Your response to the title of this post might be “The What?” since hermaneutics is not a word that is used very much outside of Bible colleges and seminaries.  The hermaneutical circle is a Bible study method that I was introduced to over twenty years ago which I consider to be worth sharing.

Basically, it states that our study of Scripture goes through a cycle with four stages.

1.  Read and study the scripture.

2.  Formulate an understanding of the scripture.

3.  Experience life.

4.  Reflect on how your understanding of scripture fits your life experiences.

Repeat the process. 

Now you might say that our life experiences should not affect our interpretation of scripture.  What I am saying is that our experiences can cause us to reevaluate our understanding of scripture.  Sometimes we will modify what we believe and sometimes we will not.  The constant process of study, formulation, experience and reflection will cause us to refine and substantiate those things that we hold to be true.  It is a lifelong process which partly reflects the ongoing transformational work of God in our lives.

Trusting Our Source

August 28, 2008

How do we know what is true?  Can we believe everything that we read, or see on TV, or hear from other people?  How do we know what to accept as “true”  and when do we reject something as “false”.  

Our own senses can sometimes be mistaken, our own memories may be faulty, people whom we know and trust, and who even have the right information, may have difficulty communicating that information.  Some people intentionally lie or mislead.  Others may have good basic facts, but draw erroneous conclusions due to incomplete information, or faulty reasoning. They honestly and sincerely report these conclusions as true. 

Our facts may be accepted as true with different degrees of certainty.  For example, it rained this morning.  I am certain this is true because I heard the rain, saw the rain, and was out in the rain.  Unless I was dreaming, or somehow delusional, it rained this morning.

When we are relying on the testimony of others for our information we have to ask whether the source is trustworthy.  The tabloids at the checkout stand are not as reliable as the morning paper, but even the papers may use erroneous sources or present biased information.  Over time we will learn how much we can trust our sources.  If our sources give us information that proves to be incorrect then we know that in the future we cannot trust them fully.  On the other hand, as they establish a reputation for accuracy we can place more trust in the information they convey.

If our information is based on observation followed by drawing conclusions we have to again ask ourselves whether the person making the conclusions is trustworthy.  A friend of mine is an excellent mechanic.  If I tell him about symptoms that my car is having and he tells me what the problem most likely is, I know from previous experience that he is probably right.  ( I might add that he generally says that “it might be.. or it sounds like… ” because he has found that there may be various causes for certain symptoms. )  He has earned my trust by establishing a reputation for accuracy.

It is good to gather information from a variety of sources and it is good to learn that not all sources are equal.  How do we know what is true?  Do we trust our source?