Epistemology in a teacup

Over the last couple of months I have been writing a series related to the issue of epistemology, the study of knowledge and knowing. Epistemology attempts to answer questions like: “What do we know?”, “How can we know something?”, and of course, “How do we know what we know?” When discussing issues of faith and belief, a common topic of debate between people of faith and people of science, it is important to recognize the various epistemological positions in play. The words “faith,” “belief,” “truth” and “knowledge” often have very different meanings, and as a result the conversations often become meaningless haggling (for example, read nearly any series of 20 or more comments on a blog dealing with science vs religion).

I am writing about epistemology not because I am an expert, but merely because I tend to think about these things. Over the last couple of years I have engaged a number of people in discussions concerning the relationship between science and faith, and have learned a few things along the way (including the above revelation about meaningless haggling…). For what ever reason, a few months ago I came up with the Teacup Model, which so far has proven to be fairly accurate, at least as to how I am seeing the current materialist v non-materialist conversation.

Imagine a coffee table (you can imagine your coffee table, if you’d like).  Upon the coffee table sits a teacup and saucer.  Go ahead, use your imagination.  The teacup represents reality as defined by philosophical materialism, which is essentially that which is material: that which has physical properties and that can be experienced by our 5 senses and which can theoretically be measured.  Nothing outside of the teacup can be detected or measured by scientific or mathematical methods.  To the materialist, therefore, nothing outside of the teacup exists. Those believing in God or some other kind of non-material reality are delusional, as they cannot prove by the methods available within the teacup that anything outside of the teacup exists. This position is, as defined, a self-fulfilling hypothesis.

For the non-materialists, it is fairly obvious that the teacup is not hovering in space, but is resting on a coffee table, and also sits on a saucer. They, in fact, do not stay within the teacup, but move back and forth between the teacup and the saucer.  It is quite obvious to them that the materialists are at the very least, myopic.  So, we now have two conflicting worldviews (or teacup views): one sees only what is in the teacup, the other sees both inside and outside of the teacup. For non-materialists, there are actually a number of different points of reference, depending on where you stand on the continuum of points from the inside of the teacup to the outside- and all the way out to the coffee table. Christian moderns tend to be on the inside of the teacup, but either with a view outside, or simply a belief that what they’ve been told about the outside is true.

This teacup model supports my hypothesis that a modern worldview, i.e. life inside the teacup, is not compatible with true Christianity. As John Loftus says, “I call our modern ways of thinking the Achilles’ heel of Christianity.” Although, as I’ve said before, when John says it, he is implying that modernism is both superior and correct. However, I don’t believe either; modernism is a philosophy that works akin to the soil in the path in the parable of the sower, “When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart.” (Matt 13:19)  Spending too much time immersed “in the teacup” – that is, looking at things from solely a modernist, materialist worldview – can result in blindness to things outside of the teacup. The logic that says that only the material is real seems reasonable, because by adopting a materialist, modernist worldview, all other input is discounted. The modernist worldview subjects any input, whether material or spiritual, to a rationalistic system of analysis that is only geared – at best – to deal with the material.  It is, again, a self-fulfilling exercise.

I am not for one moment saying that the teacup doesn’t exist. What I am proposing that a worldview which originates from within the teacup – that is, modernism and materialism – is inherently flawed as well as incompatible with Christianity. A proper worldview must see the teacup in its proper context; as I’ve pointed out in the past, Gödel’s Theorem (that a system cannot be properly comprehended from within the system) seems applicable to philosophical systems as well as to mathematical ones. And as Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Why a teacup?  I’m not sure; I don’t typically drink tea. However, if I had proposed a coffee cup, I would have been compelled to empty it.  😉

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    3 Responses to “Epistemology in a teacup”

    • me Says:

      Thanks Brent, for proving my point. Your conclusions are only logical, and only possible, if you presuppose your epistemology – which, by the way, you can not prove.

    • Brent Rasmussen Says:

      For the non-materialists, it is fairly obvious they imagine that the teacup is not hovering in space, but is resting on a coffee table, and also sits on a saucer. They, in fact, pretend that they do not stay within the teacup, but move back and forth between the teacup and the saucer. It is quite obvious to them They like to claim on the strength of their imaginary magical adventures that the materialists are at the very least, myopic.

      There. Fixed that for you.

    • aldenswan.com » Blog Archive » The Inane Atheists Says:

      […] atheists, it is that they are moderns (as are we all in the West).  As I’ve set forth in my Teacup Analogy, their arguments (for example, lately I’ve read a ridiculous series of posts trying to apply […]

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