Lessons in Moral Epistemology for Philosophers (Interlude II)
Rev. Steve Schlissel - May 20, 2008
“And to the immoral and wicked, each day brings into clearer relief the relationship between ethics and epistemology.”
Interesting remark. Can you expound on how epistemology and ethics are related? I have followed your stuff before and I don’t remember this emphasis. What do you mean by epistemology? Are you speaking in the Van Til vein? Or epistemology generally?
Thank you for your good question(s). I am tempted to spend the rest of this day answering you; I’m not sure if that would be immoral (wink). Let us briefly, then, dance a cha-cha in the Field of Knowledge. 1, 2, 3.
1. The Enlightenment project sought to trump God in the Knowledge Wars from the outset of the enterprise by relieving Him of any responsibility or relationship to or with our knowing of a thing or things. It actually wasn’t a great leap from our declaration of independence to our barring God from the discussions altogether. Since He had been excluded as a matter of METHOD, the method obviously presupposed autonomy and adequacy. God’s Lordship moves from Sovereign to Trusted Adviser to Hired Consultant to Who-Asked-for-Your-Opinion? The religion of Humanism has brilliantly engineered the seating arrangements for those in their theater, making it appear as if their thinking alone is uncontaminated by religious prejudice. Along with this fantasy comes its concomitant:
“Since we got here without His help (har har hardy har har), we do not need His help now, although, if He wants to agree with us and wish us well, we’ll let Him have a seatâ€”somewhere; perhaps even a seat of honorâ€”so long as He behaves. What we most certainly will not do is share our glory with another. No. This is OUR story, not His. All the evil that ever happened came about because people pretended to speak for this “God” who, by definition, cannot be wrong. To this fairytale belief must be attributed every past and present evil, including mass murder, sexual dysfunction, and insufficient parking spaces in Brooklyn. We’re not going to surrender all our gains by pretending we need Him now. That would be a step backward and worse.”
The Word once confessed to be the light in which we see light has become equated with darkness and ignorance. The light in Enlightenment was distinguished from the darkness which was from the beginning identified with the Word of God and traditions derived therefrom.
Witness the small “e” definition of enlightened: rational, tolerant and well-informed. What a set-up! That’s like an accused thief telling the court that every item found in his possession after the robbery-every item with the victim’s name etched on it-bears in itself the obvious evidence of rightfully belonging to the thief. “Of course it’s mine, your honor. The very fact that it says “from the library of Steve Schlissel” suggests that this egomaniac was jealous of my growing collection and sought to have it regarded as his by a mere engraving of his name. Not only does this prove all these etched items were mine all along, but it also makes the plaintiff guilty of vandalism for defacing my property.” Everything that can be considered as true “evidence” must pass a prior test of being regarded as vindicating the defendant. In order to be regarded as true knowledge, one needs to have begun the acquisition autonomously .
The Enlightenment project is the human-racial continuation of taking from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and by that method, bypassing (we imagine) reliance upon God. (I’m wondering if we haven’t answered your essential question, by the way, simply by recalling here the NAME of the forbidden treeâ€”KNOWING right and wrong, good and evil; in other words, the epistemology of ethics.) The underlying assumption is either a) God is not there so there’s no use waiting for instruction from Him; b) God is there but He has a serious ego problem and regards us as competitors, thus making communications from Him suspectâ€”something like the Patriots coach telling the Giants what their next play ought to be; c) He is there and He means well, but He’s a bumbling communicator and simply unable to help us sort things outâ€”His Word, variously interpreted from Day One (Six?), proves its inadequacy by that very variety. If it were REALLY God’s Word, it would pass all the tests that I’ve conjured beforehand, for, before looking or listening, I’ve firmly decided what qualities God’s Word OUGHT to have if it is indeed to be received as God’s Word. One of those qualities is convincing. If it is to be reckoned as coming from God it must have such power, pertinence and clarity as would make “misunderstanding” impossible.
All of that is merely an updated version of “The woman Thou gavest me…” It is humanity’s ace-long-out-of-the-hole. If there is a problem here, the matter of to whom responsibility can be traced, is obvious. No matter what: it’s God’s fault. The disparities which exist between His Word and our being, thoughts, and activities are only explicable on the basis of His imperfections (or His ignorance or His immorality, etc.).
Since we ARE created by the one true God, we insist that the very notion of our knowing anything independently of our Creator is manifest rubbish. Yet the devil aimed just here when seeking to remove our first parents from their created estate (i.e., in unbroken covenant with God). “Upon what basis shall you assign any particular to the category of â€˜Good’ or the category of â€˜Evil’?” (Perhaps we should note that, when ontology is added to this discussionâ€”as it must be at some pointâ€”we have completed the headings of the principal areas of philosophical concern: Being, Knowing, Right Living.)
As you can see, the question from the beginning has been, “Whose knowledge is true, adequate and comprehensive enough to make Law?” If we speculate about knowledge as if it were distinct from, or unrelated to, Law, we would be engaging in the definitive act of futility: abstracting. God’s knowledge, for us, is no merely theoretical thing, but as intimately related to the what and ought of all, as the Holy Spirit is to the Father and the Son. These may be distinguished. They may NOT be separated.
God demonstrates His right to be the sole Lawmaker by creating the universe. This gives Him a distinct advantage over all competitors’ claims to equal adequacy. You will no doubt recall how this was the focus of God’s rebuke to Job and Co. “Did you make the world? Why then do you talk as if you did?” Until we create ex nihilo, we are doing nothing except playing catch-up (even though, ironically, playing catch-up puts us further and further away from God). The only proper response to the Word of God is to shut the mouth, bow the knee, open the ear. Even kids in the Bible know that. Little Sammy said it all: “Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.”
Okay, quickly. Number 2 in our discussion about the unbreakable bond between knowledge and ethics would concern the skepticism and cynicism that has engulfed us. The greater our claims to infallible, autonomous knowledge, the deeper the skepticism that characterizes the daily lives of ordinary people. At the beginning of the 20th century, Western Civilization did not believe (as Hebrews 11 describes it). At the beginning of the 21st century, we disbelieve. An interesting byproduct of our disbelief has been the tyranny of the experts. This glorious human race that knows so much by itself that it doesn’t have need of a god, this same race daily becomes more insecure about anything and everything it thinks it knows. Just as God is boxed out of the legal, educational, and entertainment spheres, so also is knowledge gained by generational experience considered worthless.
There are few areas untouched by this pathetic slavery to experts, but one standout area that has provided the most compelling proof that moderns don’t know their tuchases from their elbows is child-rearing, particularly pedagogy. It’s enough to know that it worked for a thousand years to disqualify it for continued use. The tried and true is, for that reason, regarded as false. If a method successfully prepared literate and thoughtful citizens since 1776, it is sure to be scrapped in favor of the novel, the inane, or the insane. When it comes to modern school policies, from the rejection of phonics to the subjective “rightness” of wrong answers in mathematics, parents who follow the “experts” can count on just one thing: that their children will be ignorant and morally degenerate when they complete the requisite 12 years of preparing for four more years of drunken parties and STD’s.
(How should we rank our collective response to AIDS when evaluating the quality of particular evidences which illustrate and prove the inextricable bond between ethics and epistemology? It must be near the top, no? We KNOW, beyond a doubt, we KNOW the answer available to EVERYONE, which, if accepted and adopted, would provide a virtual guarantee that you would NOT get AIDS. [We are aware of the statistically miniscule likelihood of accidental contagion, but even that small group would be made smaller by the large-scale doing of deeds in keeping with repentance.] Yet, because the solution involves self-control and moral living, it is rejected out-of-hand. We have made the decision that we must NEVER instruct our youth that there are inescapable consequences attached to certain behaviors and choices. We have nationally accepted the fact that the truth is of no value in combating the so-called “plague of the 21st century.” Sufferers in the Great Plague that decimated Europe would have regarded it as nothing less than a complete miracle-by marrying as virgins and then remaining faithful to your respective spouse, you will successfully escape “the plague.” Yet moderns regard that price as insufferably high. It is rejected before it is proposed.)
Any alien peeking into the homes of today’s Yuppy parents would think that no preceding generation had ever had children, so entire is their reliance on new methods of child-rearing. Spanking? Abuse. Forbidden socially, soon by law. Yelling? Out. Displeasure? Debatable. That this radical fear of punishing is cause-effect connected to the guilty consciences of this generation of parents is not discussed. It is simply assumed that effective discipline is equivalent to barbaric discipline. These moms and pops are enlightened! What’s enlightening is to hear the names the three and four-year-olds call their parents in public spaces whenever the little wretches hear that most hated of all words (“No”).
3) A third area you might want to consider in assessing the relationship of knowledge and morality is that which is suggested by God’s bringing of judgment upon willful sinners to “believe the lie.” As an exercise, why don’t you write a brief essay drawing out some implications? God punishes improper responses to His Word by binding His enemies to false beliefs and false explanations of things. What does that imply about what we “know”â€”if anything? Please do write a piece, short or long, then send it along to me as an encouragement by which I can know that my reply justified the time put into it. Or else I’ll feel guilty. Let’s figure stuff out together. Waddayasay?