Russell and Duenes

Francis Schaeffer: How We Know

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schaefferFrancis Schaeffer’s stuff on epistemology has been absolutely riveting. In He is There and He is Not Silent, he writes a chapter called, “The Epistemological Necessity: The Problem.” I’ve been reading and re-reading it in order to make Schaeffer’s thoughts my own.

He begins by defining the term: “Epistemology is the theory of the method or grounds of knowledge – the theory of knowledge, or how we know, or how we can be certain that we know.” He then makes the bold contention that “[e]pistemology is the central problem of our generation; indeed, the so-called ‘generation gap’ is really an epistemological gap, simply because the modern generation looks at knowledge in a way radically different from previous ones.” This may sound like the cold and abstract musings of a speculative philosopher, far distant from the average middle-class “Joe” among the masses. But is it?

The word “epistemology” by itself might be a turn-off, but that needn’t deter us. Any word can become part of the common parlance of a culture or subculture if it achieves a certain notoriety and usefulness. Get to the meaning of the word, and one immediately begins to see the overwhelming impact on modern life and thought. Schaeffer is certainly right when he asserts that “these things are not just theoretical in their effects . . . They are not abstract. They are changing our world . . . What is left is cynicism or some mystical leap as to knowing. That is where modern man is, whether the individual man knows it or not.” (emphasis mine).

Consider the number of Hollywood films in recent years that exploit our current “cynicism” or skepticism about “knowing” what’s real; Inception and the Matrix films come to mind as particular examples. In public life, we have a current U.S. President who apparently sees no problem in writing an autobiography wherein he describes his relationship with certain other people who, in reality, never existed. He’s not alone in this. This matters not, apparently; and given Schaeffer’s emphasis on our epistemological “lostness,” should come as no surprise.

The modern emphasis on “science,” as the only proper basis for directing human affairs, has everything to do with epistemology, or how we “know anything.” For according to Schaeffer, the scientistic worldview, which dominates our schools and cultural institutions, provides modern man with the only kind of “knowing” we can have, namely, mathematical knowledge that reduces man to a Darwinian machine. Our day-to-day politics, television, movies, books, blogs, and spiritual lives are shot through with assumptions about “how we know what we know,” or more accurately, the assumption that we “really can’t know” anything for sure, beyond a few bald mathematical facts.

But this is just the start of Schaeffer’s chapter.



Written by Michael Duenes

December 2, 2014 at 7:56 pm

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