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All roads lead to...?

Rene Descartes proclaimed "cogito ergo sum" - meaning that in his epistemology, the starting point - to validating truth, the existence of the self, and the existence of the external world and external truth - is oneself, one's own thoughts. One's self-awareness serves as the basis for deducing other truths, and in his philosophy, even for deducing the existence of God. A few problems quickly become apparent to the modern social scientist here. First, his method of deducing God's existence is forced and unnatural; it is probably not the path than anyone else would naturally and intuitively take to apprehending the existence of God. Second, his subjective approach, starting with one's own thoughts as a foundation for other truths, is tenuous, given what we know in modern psychology about cognitive biases, false intuitions, and decision making that is subject to all kinds of subconscious influences. So do we reactively take a totally opposite approach, as an empiricist might argue? Say, starting from empirical evidence from observation and/or experimentation?

When I was younger, I remember hearing the following argument from some pseudo-intellectual Christians. Starting from anything else other than God or the Bible is wrong for building an epistemology or for deducing other truth. Thus, they would prefer a presuppositional apologetics, or maybe views like those of the pseudo-intellectual Francis Schaeffer (granted, he had some good points, but his writings are rather simplistic, and gloss over numerous philosophical issues). But how do you possibly handle objections from a non-Christians who asks, "Why should we start there?" Those taking this approach fall into circularity - we start from the Bible because the Bible says the Bible is true. For matters of faith for a Christian, that might be valid, but not for epistemology or articulating a proper worldview.

I posit that any one approach alone is inadequate - the subjective rationalist approach, the empiricist approach, or the bibliolatry approach, where the Bible itself becomes venerated and pressed into roles for which God did not intend it. Something more sophisticated is needed, and though I can't articulate it yet, I would say it should meet the following criteria.

Let's say for argument's sake that all roads lead to Rome. How would we test this? I should be able to walk out my door, take the east road, and end up in Rome. Or I should be able to take the west road from my place and find myself eventually in Rome. Or via the north road. Or the south road. That would mean the roads comprehensively lead to Rome. A proper Christian epistemology, I think, should be like that. Maybe the north road is windy and bumpy, and maybe the southwest road is poorly maintained, but they take you there; though they aren't the best routes for some travellers, they take you there.

I think we ought to be able to develop a Christian worldview, whereby we can show that different paths lead to validating the existence and truth of God and objective reality, while allowing for some gray areas, uncertainties, and such - a (more or less) unified epistemology that includes the empirical, the subjective, the theological, and the biblical. This all has to be informed by modern science. The empirical has to be real with respect to what we know from biology and cosmology. The theological and biblical routes have to consider modern biblical scholarship, among other things. The subject must consider what we know now in psychology, but should also crucially consider mystical Christian experience for insights (this is one shortcoming of religious rationalists, even Descartes). Modern theology and apologetics, in their various competing camps, have erred in taking a limited, territorial approach to these problems, and have failed to present the world a coherent worldview or set of arguments for believing God.

There's a lot here to unpack, which would take at least a book to do so. But one last line of thought.

Some of the roads have probably been overtaken by weeds, and other people who don't like Rome have diverted some roads with their own paths to their own cities (say, maybe the Athenians, who want your tourist dollars instead). So the road goes toward Rome, and partially takes you there, before diverting to Athens, or Constantinople, or Basel. So it is with competing philsophical and religious traditions. Part of the right road is there - some truth is there - or else no one would find it appealing and take it, but it eventually leads you astray. Other systems contain some truth and some error. For example, C.S. Lewis pointed out that all religions share common moral teachings, and he argued that these commonalities pointed toward the truth of God, as fully revealed in Christian teaching. A well articulated Christian worldview should be able to explain this, and explain exactly how and where and why each of the other systems stand or fall in this regard.

This is pretty dense - apologies to readers. This is just me talking to myself. But I find it disturbing that the Church as a whole has not produced a complete, well fleshed out exposition of the Christian worldview, especially a complete one for modern times that addresses modern science and other fields, and that makes a good case for God, without falling into the trap of religious rationalism. That in fact is a major failing of modern apologetics - in being so defensive toward the world, we've relied on logic so much that we've produced a religious rationalism devoid of life or spiritual substance, and that does not seem appealing to the world. Even if we can give convincing intellectual answers to the world, if it is just cold religion or philosophy, it does not bring the world to Christ.


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