Historically, there have been three areas of philosophy that philosophers have debated over, and these areas can be illustrated with three questions: what is the nature of reality (metaphysics); how do we know what we know (epistemology); and what is the proper way to live (ethics).
The modern era has been defined as one of science. It is supposedly an enlightened age. History is said to have moved out of the “dark ages” that followed the dousing of the light of classical civilization (Rome) and into a Renaissance (1300 to 1600 AD) when the candle was re-lit. From out of the Renaissance, which rediscovered and emphasized the extension of Roman culture (pagan humanism), came the birth of rationalism that led to the Enlightenment (1600 to 1800 AD).
This is the traditional view of history, anyway. What is omitted is the rise of Christianity as Rome collapsed around the early Church. Rome’s culture collapsed under conflicting tensions as it tried to sort out whether determinism (fate) or cosmic purposelessness lay hidden behind the nature of reality, a tension that manifested itself in its disintegrating political order. Its worldview was incapable of making sense of the world and so failed to sustain itself through history (see Christianity and Classical Culture, by Charles Norris Cochrane).
A DIFFERENT VERSION OF HISTORY
Christianity provided the solution that paved the way for decentralization and the growth of liberty throughout the medieval ages. It provided a concept of absolute and unchanging law and justice that maintained social order and stability and gave dignity to the human condition. It provided hope for a future which was based on the promise of a just and righteous God who decreed all things which come to pass; the evidence of this remains behind in the form of the great cathedrals which took hundreds of years to build which only a long-term vision of victory could sustain. The foundation of a reality under God’s personal control created confidence in the long-term predictability of nature which gave birth to the developments which eventually became modern science (see The Road of Science and the Ways to God by Stanley L. Jaki).
This is not the version of history taught in public schools (not even as a brief parenthesis) because they are run by humanists, and humanists are hostile to the Christian worldview. But the humanists have been successful in wresting control of the interpretation of history, science, art, literature, and everything else away from Christians. They infiltrated the Christian institutions that most profoundly influenced culture — the churches, the universities, and the courts — and slowly transferred legitimacy away from the Christian worldview to their own. They did this in the same way that a thief steals someone else’s name through identity theft and then proceeds to commit acts of fraud.
The thieves, in seeking to remove all evidence of God from their lives, emphasized one of the standard areas of philosophical investigation over the others, and in doing so managed to elevate it above the others. Appealing to the intellect and the merits of rational thinking, they promoted science as the one true way of gaining knowledge. They elevated epistemology in order to diminish the importance of metaphysics.
They were clever. Favoring epistemology over metaphysics allowed them to smuggle in an unargued bias against the existence of a reality beyond that which is detectable by human senses while managing to create an air of sophistication around them in the process. It fools the weak-minded. It presumes that you can decide how you will gather information, how you will go about “knowing”, without first having any preconceived notions about the nature of reality to begin with.
DRESSED UP TO LOOK IMPRESSIVE
The brilliance of this ruse is that it perpetrates, with a superficial legitimacy, the idea that we can inspect the nature of reality neutrally by using the tools of science. If God is truth, and if science determines what truth is, then science should be able to detect God if he exists. Of course, as we have come to learn, humanistic science continues to remain blind to God and the supernatural. Surprise, surprise.
That’s why, over this long span of history (though most significantly in the last 250 years), philosophical discussion has moved away from metaphysics with a tendency to dismiss its importance altogether. The standard procedure has become one in which we first settle our epistemology: that is, how we go about determining truth and knowledge. Then, once we have determined the limits of human knowledge and settled the method by which we go about attaining that knowledge, only then is it permissible and proper to use that method of knowing to inspect the nature of reality in an unbiased fashion to sort out fact from fiction.
This situation lends itself to a great analogy (thanks, Dr. Bahnsen). Suppose you are tasked with building an apple-sorting machine. You don’t know anything at all about apples. You don’t know what makes a good apple good or a bad apple bad. You couldn’t pick out a good apple from a bad apple. But you want to build a machine that will sort the good apples from the bad. What are the chances that you’re likely to succeed?
Most likely, zero. Only if the universe is truly random might there be some small probability that you’ll be randomly successful.
YOU HAVE TO KNOW TRUTH BEFORE YOU CAN DISCOVER MORE OF IT
Now, despite what everyone (especially tenured, Ph.D-holding professors) likes to say, if you don’t know something about the nature of the universe and reality to begin with, of the difference between truth and error, you can’t devise a method of separating true conclusions about reality from false ones. You can’t develop an epistemology to sort fact from fiction because you don’t know what fact or fiction look like.
If you assume that matter is all there is, then your method of gaining knowledge will overlook the invisible.
And so, contrary to common thought, you can’t devise an epistemology without already knowing something about the nature of reality, truth, and error to begin with. Everyone begins with a certain view of reality, and from there they devise their theory of knowledge. They either don’t realize it, or they won’t admit it.
Science rests upon the presupposition that the laws of logic are independent of individuals and culture and remain the same throughout time and space. How can you say that you have developed science first without first understanding that logic doesn’t change? If logic changed ever, there’d be no need for science because science couldn’t tell us anything useful.
So, by adopting “science” as an epistemology, you are already announcing your presuppositions about at least a portion of the nature of reality. You can’t claim that you are pretending to be neutral about the nature of reality.
No one is neutral in their approach to reality and life. No one has a neutral epistemology. No one is looking from an “unbiased” point of view at brute “facts” that lead them kicking and screaming to the truth.
Facts and evidence are interpreted in terms of one’s underlying presuppositions about reality. No one is neutral in their reasoning because they are, at bottom, committed to those presuppositions.
So, where does that leave us?
It leaves us asking the question “What conception of the nature of reality makes sense out of the universality of the laws of logic, the uniformity of nature, morality, human dignity, cause-and-effect, and the very foundations of science, truth, proof and knowledge?”
The greatest philosophical minds in history have failed to answer this question. No matter which network of presuppositions they adopt to try and make them all comport with each other and also with what we know and observe about reality, they always fail. The presuppositions always contradict themselves.
Perhaps the greatest humanist philosopher was Plato. And the best he could do when asked to justify his explanation of the realm of the Form was to come up with a myth, a story, to explain how it might have come about.
When it comes to deciding what to believe about the nature of reality, it comes down to only two choices: to trust in the speculations of men, or to trust the Word of the transcendent authority whose knowledge and wisdom go beyond human experience. For the Christian, Scripture tells us that unbelievers, cursed by God and swimming in sin, are hostile to God. They are, in principle, opposed to his authority. Left to their own devices, they will come up with an endless supply of possibilities except one: the Christian conception of reality.
And yet, to assail the Christian worldview they must secretly assume the presuppositions of the Christian worldview. They simply do so without giving thanks to their creator. The fact that their own professed worldview is incoherent and doesn’t make sense out of reality, coupled with the fact that they will reject the Christian worldview which is coherent and does make sense out of reality, reveals their ethical rebellion against God.