Saturday, May 28, 2005

Toward a Post-Foundationalism and Epistemic Certainty: Part III

Well let's just get it over with, shall we? If you've followed Part I and Part II, you'll know that I am attempting to argue for certainty within a post-foundational epistemology. After beginning this series I came across this post, which is far more insightful than anything you'll read concerning this topic here, and is far more effective than my own attempt (at least I think that it is--I can barely understand half of it). At any rate, I was encouraged to discover that I am not the only one suggesting that certainty and authority can be achieved in a post-foundational context.

But on with my juvenile attempt. As you may recall, I am arguing for full and meaningful certainty -a level of certainty that though acknowledging the theoretical possibility of being mistaken, views such possibility as so beyond the pale of reason or likelihood that it has no pragmatic bearing on how one lives his life or make decisions. In my mind, this is the level of certainty within in which we comfortably live and confidently make decisions. And as I noted previously, certainty is achieved to greater or lesser degrees depending upon one's existential experience with a given data set. The more data I receive in support of a thing, the more certain I become as to its reality. At some point a threshold is crossed wherein the data becomes so compelling that I can say with meaningfulness, "I am certain that such and such is true" (e.g., I am certain I am a male, not dead, etc.).

Assuming the validity of the above, I would suggest that the same full and meaningful certainty is possible regarding the reality of the resurrected Christ--the center of the Christian religion and the supreme object of our faith. But I do not believe that such certainty is ultimately derived through the apostolic witness (as detailed in the Scripture), as foundationalism would tend to suggest. As I understand it, Christian foundationalist epistemic structures tend to look toward the text and historical evidence as the primary data that brings about certainty--thus the heavy emphais on apologetics in contemporary evangelicalism. But the post-modern critique (which I don't fully understand) argues that such avenues will always be insufficient (thought not completely devoid of merit). Historical data simply can't be emperically and scientifically verified. It short, nothing of the past can be proven for it doesn't exist to be observed in the present, and is therefore always interpreted through the lens of the historian's own individual baggage. This doesn't render historical evidence completely meaningless, but it does suggest that historical evidence cannot be the sole ingredient in establishing certainty. It is supporting (circumstantial) evidence, but does not suffice to make the case. And as to text--the text is simply our primary source of historical evidence, so the same critique applies.

No. If we would arrive at certainty it must be through some other means. I would suggest that it is one's own personal encounter with the risen Christ that the required (see here and here) certainty of faith is achieved. In other words, we do not believe simply because the apostles experienced Christ. We believe because we too have met the risen Christ, in the here and now, and have touched his spirit with our own. Like Job we can now say "before my ears had heard of you--now my eyes have seen you." The object of the Chrisitan faith is not a set of propositions or dogmas, or even an ancient text. The object of our faith is the living and present second member of the Godhead, ever imminent and eternally incarnate. We do not simply know things about him, we know Him. Indeed the union of Christ to the Christian is so deep and existentially meaningful that it is typified by the sexual union that exists between a husband and wife. We become convinced therefore, of the reality of Christ's resurrection because we ourselves have met him, because he has, as Calvin said "deigned to make us one with Him." In this way certainty is born. As the old hymn goes, "You ask me how I know He lives... He lives within my heart."

There is more to the whole post-modern critique than what I have mentioned above, but my hesitancy with the sort of foundationalism described here isn't born out of the post-modern critique, but my reading of the NT through the lense of Augustine and Edwards (and to a lesser extent Calvin and Luther). For both Augustine and Edwards, the heart of sinful man is darkened and unable to percieve the the compelling spiritual evidence that calls forth the reality of Christ. Thus, though man is free in his will to repent, he sees no compelling reason to do so. Only when irrevocably confronted by the Spirit of the risen Christ is the darkness dispelled and the mind illuminated to the excellency of the Son (and the spirit thus freely and infallibly inclined to submit). Thus for both Augustine and Edwards, more than natural evidence is required for achieving the certainty of faith. Though all of the natural creation testify to the reality of God, the minds of men are cold and dark. But our minds, dark and finite, are lesser--Christ in his glory is infinite and greater, and the former must bow before the latter when the two become one.

Perhaps we spend so much time bolstering our faith with this, because we have experienced too little of this. May God take pity on the hearts of men, that our darkness may be swept away by the light of his ever present beauty, revealed infallibly through his Spirit. For then, and only then, will we be certain that He lives.

2 comments:

Kyle said...

I just found your blog through The Harbinger. I approach these issues from a context of literary studies, though my work is very grounded in historical evidence as well. One slight correction that I think might be in order is to the range of data that is questioned in the postmodern critique. You say:

"But the post-modern critique (which I don't fully understand) argues that such avenues will always be insufficient (thought not completely devoid of merit). Historical data simply can't be emperically and scientifically verified. It short, nothing of the past can be proven for it doesn't exist to be observed in the present, and is therefore always interpreted through the lens of the historian's own individual baggage."

A more postmodern epistemology would assert that *every* truth claim falls victim to one's own interpretive baggage, even data that can be empirically and scientifically "verified." Science doesn't get a free pass just because it operates in the present (though I agree that its knowledge may still operate differently than historical knowledge in a postmodern matrix). Scientific results must still be interpreted through our own biased lenses. I would suggest that science's successes have much less to do with objectively describing the world than with its own pragmatic effects. Rorty at one point refers to scientific language as words we have devised with each other to cope with the world around us, not as objectively true descriptions of what actually exists.

Gerald said...

Thanks for the clarification Kyle. After I had written the post, I began to wonder about that very thing. It seemed to me that perhaps my summary of pomo epistemology still relied too much on modernity--in the way that you noted. Your correction has been duly noted and appreciated.