The Knowledge Problem within a Secular Worldview

C.S. Lewis described his first meeting with one of his early professors, “Knock” Kirkpatrick, in his book Surprised By Joy. Lewis had made a simple comment where he referred to an area as being “wilder” than he expected and unexpectedly Kirk challenged him on that statement. Kirk asked on what grounds could Lewis defend what “wildness” was and then went on to confront Lewis on his inability to ground any of his knowledge. Lewis wrote “It had, heaven help me, never occurred to me that what I called my thoughts needed to be based on anything.”1 The line of thought used to critique Lewis back then is still a problem for the secular world today.

One of the difficulties with maintaining a coherent secular worldview is that within the typical secular framework there is little, if any, way to ground knowledge. Until one is able to prove that knowledge is finite and not infinite one can never really know if what they know is actually true. If one claims to have truth but does not claim to have infinite knowledge, or access to an infinite source of knowledge, one can never fully assert that they have arrived at a complete truth claim. Without a sufficient undergirding for knowledge one is always just one discovery away from overturning everything that they had previously “known”. As I’ve mentioned before, consider how the Theory of General Relativity overturned Newtonian Physics and how we now know that there are issues with General Relativity. In a universe that appears infinite, from the microscope to the telescope, the odds of a secular arrival of truth seem rather bleak. I believe this is one of the reasons why skepticism comes to dominate the secular intellectual environment.

Here we have a great contrast within the Christian worldview. It is a bit nuanced as Christians by no means believe that they have complete truth (in an absolute grasp of all knowledge kind of way) and in fact, if they know their Bibles, they will certainly believe otherwise. (I Cor. 13:9, Deut. 29:29) Yet, in contrast to a secular understanding, Christians do have an epistemological grounding for the infinite knowledge problem. As the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it in Chapters 2.1 and 2.2: “There is only one living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection…. His knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent of His creatures.”2 From a Christian perspective God is infinite and has all knowledge and because He has revealed that knowledge to man, humanity now has a grounds for pursuing knowledge as it coheres with His revelation. For instance, a Christian can assert, without skepticism, that the universe or environment is ordered as God’s special revelation declares that they are and then the Christian can observe those realties with confidence. Secular epistemology does not allow for such confidence. Such a person could observe that the universe or environment appears to be ordered, yet they cannot ground that observation completely as they lack sufficient knowledge that could overturn such apparent observation. (consider possible metaphysical or quantum mechanical chaos theories that could be created)

This is not necessarily an argument for Christianity, nor does it prove Christianity true in and of itself, yet it does show the coherence that a Christian worldview provides when it comes to the pursuit of knowledge that I believe the secular narrative lacks.

Citations:

  1. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/course/theology-of-c-s-lewis/#the-life-and-apologetics-of-lewis ; (18 min-22min)
  2. Confessing the Faith: A reader’s guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chad Van Dixhoorn, 29, 33 (The Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA, 2014)

 

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