Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Toward a Post-Foundationalsim and Epistemic Certainty: An Appendix

Sometimes writing things out actually helps you think things through in a new way. Such was the case with my last post. And though not even my own brothers— indeed, my own flesh and blood—can find the will to plow through my epistemology posts, I can’t help but add an appendix to an already too long discussion on the post-modern critique of foundationalism.

As I noted at the end of last post, my main grievance with foundationalism has not been grounded in the post-modern critique, but rather my commitment to an Augustinian/Reformed understanding of grace. The Augustinian tradition has long recognized the total inability of man to ascend to the truth of God through natural means. I want to develop that a bit further here in relation to the post-modern critique and suggest that post-modernity, far from being a mortal enemy of the Church, has actually unwittingly become her sword.

As noted, post-modernity has seriously questioned (and some would say “shattered”) the optimism of the enlightenment. The modern age’s commitment to science and rationalism was born out a humanistic confidence in man’s natural, rational abilities. Logic and science became the ultimate means of ascertaining truth. You may recall Descartes’ attempt to access the truth of God through reason alone, beginning with the foundational truth “I think therefore I am.” Such attempts to access the truth of God through man’s natural capacities marked the modern age. But post-modernity reared its mighty head and the optimism of the enlightenment was drowned in its wake. And for this all true Christians should be grateful.

Post-modernity has rightly critiqued the naïve self-assurance of the modern age and demonstrated the impossibility of arriving at complete and total objectivity through the use of reason and science. Man, fallen and finite, simply does not posses the resources to access ultimate truth.

But the Church need not fear this critique of human ability. Never has she taught that the truth of God could ultimately discerned by natural means. God, ever transcendent and ever “other,” cannot be accessed by the natural human mind. The Church, throughout her long and varied history, has always maintained that the truth of God is accessed through divinely assisted, grace given, spiritual means. We do not ascend to God, but he condescends to us. And we access this condescension through faith, not faith as a blind leap—an unknown hope— but faith as stated here, the assurance gained through supernatural means, independent of what can be seen and discerned with our rational capacities. God, through the incarnation and the gift of the Spirit, reveals himself in ways that go deeper than the natural man. And though natural knowledge lends credence to the supernatural truth revealed by the Spirit, it is the supernatural truth alone that brings about the certainty of faith. Our spirit touches his and faith is born.

So no, we need not fear the post-modern critique. But the post-modern critique is one thing. The solution offered by post-modernity is another thing entirely. The natural mind has the power to tear down the natural stronghold of foundationalism, but it does not possess the power to reconstruct a spiritual foundation. Let us instead look to our ancients texts, our wise fathers, and the Spirit who guides us into all truth.

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