Evidence for Agnostics: Epistemology is Everything

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

Mr. Cronin has studied on a graduate level in education at Harvard University and at the University of Connecticut, in leadership at Columbia University and in theology at Regent University and Holy Apostles College and Seminary. He also writes regularly for The National Catholic Register and appeared on EWTN’s The Journey Home with Marcus Grodi following his 2007 reversion to the Catholic faith from atheism and evangelical Protestantism.

Evidence for Agnostics: Epistemology is Everything

This is the second article in a new nine-part series entitled “Evidence for Agnostics.” New articles in the series will be published each Monday.

Many modern people are functional agnostics.  And, they usually come in two varieties, though many oscillate between agnosticism and atheism.  “Hard” agnostics believe that they can’t know that God exists, and “soft” agnostics think that they simply don’t know that God exists.  

Some agnostics often oscillate between these two types depending on the variability of their confidence level on any given day.  And for some, their confidence can take them all the way to atheism, at times.

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But, regardless of the variability between these beliefs and the shifting confidence that may accompany them, these three categories have a common concern and a crucial complaint that is both fair and just, according to the demands and rules of basic rationality.  For given the scale and substance of the crucial question about the existence of God, evidence should be rigorous and comprehensive.  After all, the questions of God’s existence and God’s nature are truly life’s biggest questions, even according to many agnostics and atheists. 

For the question of God’s existence is not a matter of belief.  It is and always will be a matter of fact first, before it can become a matter of belief.  For belief follows fact.  And, we cannot believe God into existence.  We have to know that He exists, so we can believe.  And, the primacy and precedence of facts first before faith is why most agnostics cannot or will not change their agnostic ideas and commitments.

While agnostics of all varieties insist God doesn’t exist or they can’t know that God exists, the real problem for agnostics truly hinges not on the absence of evidence, but on what constitutes evidence, evidence that is crucial and irrefutable.  And, that is why they constantly appeal to the evidence of science.  For they believe science is the only valid way to know.  The only way anyone can know anything.

For they only recognize science as the sole source of certainty, the only source for facts and truth.  And this position is really about how we can know.  How we are capable of knowing.  How we can validate what we know and what we don’t know.  How we can definitively prove to others what is factual and actual, what is real and what is true.

But, these explicit and implicit agnostic assertions about science are really based on what they think constitutes valid evidence.  And that implicitly raises two crucial questions.  First, what is science and its method for knowing?  And secondly, is science the only way to know?  And exploring these questions is a field of study called epistemology, whose core questions are how can we know and to what degree can we know.  For all these assertions about evidence and science is really just a philosophical question, the crucial question in the field of “epistemology.”

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And, it is just here that agnostics’ real questions about God’s existence and His nature are foundationally answered.  For their primary objection to God’s existence is really about the very nature and power of science, though they often appeal to specific scientific facts too.  Yet, it is just here that their argument’s fatal flaw is revealed.  Not in the specific scientific facts to which they appeal.  But in their very reliance on science itself.  For they do not understand the nature of science, nor the source of much of its explanatory power.

First of all, most agnostics appeal to science as if it were a pure method for knowing.  But actually, science is a composite way of knowing.  It is not a unitary method.  For it relies on reason and logic from its conceptualization to its empirical methods to its many applications.  Reason guides its very methods, as well as its verifications, replications and applications.  For science is a methodological application of reason and logic to the material things and forces of the material world, to its matter and energy in time and in space.

So, reason is really the fundamental way we know and the means by which we are able to conduct sound scientific research and effective and efficient scientific applications.  For reason is the heart and soul, the essence and substance of science.  Both pure science and applied science.  But, the intangible, mental nature of reason and its power and discernment are crucial to the conceptualization and the conduct of science in theory and in practice. 

Yet reason’s very nature and its power and discernment are absolute insurmountable realities and incontrovertible evidence that our universe is more than just matter and energy, time and space, more than just the material of the physical world.  For reason is a mental power, an intangible process of proof and discernment as science and its many accomplishments glaringly demonstrate.  And, that is the real problem for agnostics and atheists.

For that is a flagrant contradiction and a fatal flaw to their insistence on scientific materialism.  For if there is nothing beyond the physical world of matter and energy, time and space, how can mental realities such as reason, inductive and deductive logic and common sense be explained? And, how can agnostics and atheists use the powerful tools of reason without explaining their origin, nature and power?  For science is impossible without reason.  And reason’s very existence must be explained and justified. 

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Yet, they ignore reason’s reality and the problems it raises for the scientific method and to a realistic and workable cosmology. But, oddly though, that is exactly what they do.  For they ignore these realities.  Or, they fail to truly grasp the comprehensive materialistic conclusion of their epistemological belief that science is the sole path to certainty.  

While this may seem a bit esoteric and obscure, the reality of reason is truly a first order principle that must be understood, accounted for and integrated in any attempt to formulate an accurate philosophy and a factual worldview.  For such foundational issues such as an intangible epistemology affect a host of other issues.

It affects theological possibilities and a great many philosophical issues.  For such an intangible order is not explainable neurally, biochemically or scientifically other than to establish that there is neural activity and this is where it takes place.  For it takes place in the neurons of the human cortex.  But its location fails to explain reason’s inherent order and its universality by which we can detect and determine degrees of deviation from right reasoning and even the essence and accuracy of our scientific discoveries and their applications and utility.

Not only are these implications crucial, but reason’s very nature, order and power can alter almost every other foundational idea and belief.  Ideas and beliefs about God.  Ideas and beliefs about the meaning and purpose of the cosmos and human life.  Ideas and beliefs about what is true, what is good and what is beautiful.  And this why each of us must get our first principles right. 

For if those crucial core ideas are even slightly off, the whole superstructure of thought and practical living will be off kilter.  For even a slight degree of variance at this level of thought creates even greater variance on the more practical, cultural and personal levels of life and living.  And, as any builder will tell you, if the foundation of any building is even slightly out of plumb and level, these errors become more magnified as the whole structure rises, unless some corrective action is taken.

In the world of science, an epistemological mistake such as scientific materialism is an error whose magnitude goes well beyond the intellectual boundaries of philosophy and theology.  These errors invade many aspects of our individual and collective lives.  For metaphysical mistakes have an almost limitless effect, that is often more implicit. 

That is why we have to get this right.  That is why we have to seek a harmony of science and philosophy, a harmony of science and theology.  For this harmony is inherent in the very nature of reason, logic and commonsense.  And, it is endemic to science, if science is properly understood and its rigor is understood without exaggeration. 

So, let’s turn next to the unity of science and philosophy and explore how this is even possible.  For they both teach us truth.  And they both testify to their inherent harmony, mutuality and complementarity.  And, we will see this through the mutuality of reason and science, a harmony that could only be intentional. 

For science is impossible without reason.  And reason is an intangible order that must be

explained.  And, you can’t have science unless you can explain the existence, order and power of reason and its many manifestations.  And, that is why there is an inherent harmony between science and philosophy.  For they are both based on reason and grounded in rationality.  An intangible order and power explainable only by an intangible mind that theists call God.

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