Space as Non-reality: An Alternative to Kant

From Epistemics of Divine Reality (2007) by Domenic Marbaniang

The distinction between a priori and a posteriori knowledge that between analytical and synthetic judgments once established, Kant easily proceeded to show that the quality of a priori did not just belong to analytical judgments but to some synthetic judgments too. Since these synthetic judgments like “2+2=4”, “Every effect has a cause”, and “Bodies occupy space” contained, according to Kant, predicates not contained in the subject, they meant added information; in other words the possession of knowledge a priori. According to Kant, then, these a priori data formed the conditions according to which all other empirical data were interpreted and understood by the mind. The world as one sees or perceives as a result is nothing but what the mind determines it to look as. Space and time are not objective realities but subjective forms of intuition in which all data is arranged by the mind. Thus, the mind is not able to conceive of anything apart from space and time.

But what if space is not a form of intuition but a mere negation of objects? According to this view then, space would mean nothing. Consequently, once one knows what something is, then its negation becomes readily evident. This doesn’t require any a priori knowledge of the negation equaling a synthetic judgment. The negation, in accordance to the rational principle of the exclusive middle, is of analytical nature. Once it is known that A=A and not non-A it immediately follows that something is either A or non-A. In the same manner, once through experience something is known, its negation, namely, nothing also is known.

It can, consequently, be postulated that space is the negation of substance, of reality, of being; thus, space is nothing, unreality, non-being. Consequently, one does not see things in space but things alone and their negation, viz., space. Things do not occupy space. For then, what does space occupy? Things negate space, i.e. nothing. Thus, infinity may be predicated of space in the same manner that infinity is predicated of zero. Once this is established, the question whether the universe is finite or infinite becomes unnecessary; for it is empirically evident that it cannot be materially infinite though it may be spatially infinite. But to say space is infinite is not making a positive assertion of some existent thing but stating a negation. It simply means that things negate space and where there is no thing seen, there is nothing (i.e. space) seen. And nothing (zero) is intensively (by divisibility) and extensively (by multiplicity) infinite. Thus, space can be infinitely divided and multiplied; yet, it amounts to nothing for it is nothing.

In this manner, space ceases to be a subjective condition of perception. It is simply the apprehension of non-reality.

© Domenic Marbaniang, 2007

Also see "Space as Negation of Being"

Later Quotes & Entries
Nonbeing is one of the most difficult and most discussed concepts. Parmenides tried to remove it as a concept. But in order to do so he had to sacrifice life. Democritus re-stablished it and identified it with empty space, in order to make movement thinkable. (Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be, 32)

March 11, 2016. Excerpts from Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions (1954),  360-377
It is indeed an exacting requirement to have at all to ascribe physical reality to space. and especially to empty space. Time and again since remotest times philosophers have resisted such a presumption. Descartes argued somewhat on these lines: space is identical with extension. but extension is connected with bodies; thus there is no space without bodies and hence no empty space. The weakness of this argument lies primarily in what follows. It is certainly true that the concept of extension owes its origin to our experiences of laying out or bringing into contact solid bodies. But from this it cannot be concluded that the concept of extension may not be justified in cases which have not themselves given rise to the formation of this concept. Such an enlargement of concepts can be justified indirectly by its value for the comprehension of empirical results. The assertion that extension is confined to bodies is therefore of itself certainly unfounded. We shall see later. however. that the general theory of relativity confirms Descartes' conception in a roundabout way. What brought Descartes to his seemingly odd view was certainly the feeling that, without compelling necessity, one ought not to ascribe reality to a thing like space, which is not capable of being "directly experienced."
When a smaller box s is situated, relatively at rest, inside the hollow space of a larger box S, then the hollow space of s is a part of the hollow space of S, and the same "space," which contains both of them, belongs to each of the boxes. When s is in motion with respect to S, however, the concept is less simple. One is then inclined to think that s encloses always the same space, but a variable part of the space S. It then becomes necessary to apportion to each box its particular space, not thought of as bounded, and to assume that these two spaces are in motion with respect to each other.
Before one has become aware of this complication, space appears as an unbounded medium or container in which material objects swim around. But it must now be remembered that there is an infinite number of spaces, which are in motion with respect to each other. The concept of space as something existing objectively and independent of things belongs to pre-scientific thought, but not so the idea of the existence of an infinite number of spaces in motion relatively to each other. This latter idea is indeed logically unavoidable, but is far from having played a considerable role even in scientific thought.
In the previous paragraphs we have attempted to describe how the concepts space, time, and event can be put psychologically into relation with experiences. Considered logically, they are free creations of the human intelligence, tools of thought, which are to serve the purpose of bringing experiences into relation with each other, so that in this way they can be better surveyed. The attempt to become conscious of the empirical sources of these fundamental concepts should show to what extent we are actually bound to these concepts. In this way we become aware of our freedom, of which, in case of necessity, it is always a difficult matter to make sensible use.
In accordance with classical mechanics and according to the special theory of relativity, space (space-time) has an existence independent of matter or field. In order to be able to describe at all that which fills up space and is dependent on the coordinates, space-time or the inertial system with its metrical properties must be thought of as existing to start with, for otherwise the description of "that which fills up space" would have no meaning." On the basis of the general theory of relativity, on the other hand, space as opposed to "what fills space," which is dependent on the coordinates, has no separate existence.
Thus Descartes was not so far from the truth when he believed he must exclude the existence of an empty space. The notion indeed appears absurd, as long as physical reality is seen exclusively in ponderable bodies. It requires the idea of the field as the representative of reality, in combination with the general principle of relativity, to show the true kernel of Descartes' idea; there exists no space "empty of field."


Brain Science and Conscious Reality (Philosophy of Science)

Modern studies in functions of the human brain have revealed that memory, understanding, reasoning, and imagination are all functions of the brain. Different parts of the brain are seen to possess different functions. The upper part of the brain, cerebrum, is associated with voluntary and conscious properties; the lower part, cerebellum, is associated with unconscious properties.[1] The cerebrum is divided into two hemispheres: the left and the right. The left brain functions are number skills, written and spoken language, reasoning, scientific skills, and right-hand control. The right brain functions are insight, 3-D forms, art awareness, imagination, music awareness, and left-hand control.[2] Damage to any part of the brain can result in an impairment of the particular function associated with that part. Obviously, such a view of brain has led to several philosophical problems like the identity and reality of self, the survival of self, the epistemic certainty of matter-generated ‘truth’, and the possibility of immaterial consciousness.

In his essay, The Story of a Brain,[3] Arnold Zuboff discusses the problems associated with reducing conscious experience to neurophysical processes. He first constructs  a fictional case in which  a man’s brain is removed from his rottening body and kept in a special nutrient bath connected to some machine that could induce in the brain experiences identical with reality. For instance, to produce an experience of a pond-hole experience, the hypothesis would be: ‘The brain lying in its bath, stripped of its body and far from the pond, if it were made to behave precisely as it naturally would under such pond-hole circumstances, would have for the young man that very same experience.’[4] The first of the problems faced was when the scientists found one morning that the brain of their friend had been split into its two hemispheres by the watchman in his drunkenness. After much discussion, it was finally agreed that the two hemispheres need not be connected at all inorder to restore the normal pattern: each hemisphere in a separate bath could be induced to produce the patterns similar to the connected state; thus, it was opined, the left hemisphere would be induced to behave in a way similar to its receiving impulses from the right hemisphere, and so vice versa. Thus, actual causation was no longer required for the production of the man’s experience of self and the world. And so, separation of the brain hemispheres, it was thought, would not destroy the identity of the self in experience. Later, the problem took a new turn when one scientist replaced a damaged neuron with a fresh one; which brought to surface the assumption that a change in neural identity would not affect the experience of personal unified identity and experience. The whole problem tends in the way to the conclusion that if computers with functions similar to brain could be constructed, then two or three or more computers (without even being synchronized) could be programmed to produce patterns that would give rise to all such computers experiencing a unified self without even knowing what they are in reality and experiencing something quite different from what they really are.

In his paper, The Matrix as Metaphysics,[5] David J. Chalmers revisits the above problem with reference to the movie The Matrix, at the beginning of which Neo ‘thinks that he lives in a city, he thinks that he has hair, he thinks it is 1999, and he thinks that it is sunny outside.’ However, in reality, ‘he is floating in space, he has no hair, the year is around 2199, and the world has been darkened by war.’ In fact, ‘Neo's brain is located in a body, and the computer simulation is controlled by machines rather than by a scientist.’

This matrix hypothesis, according to Chalmers, should be taken seriously. First of all, as Nick Bostrom suggested, it is very well possible that, in future history, technology will evolve that will allow beings to create computer simulations of entire worlds. In a vast number of computer simulations it is possible that there may well be many more beings who are in a matrix (computer simulation of world) than beings who are not. In that case, ‘one might even infer that it is more likely that we are in a matrix  than that we are not.’ In fact, it is impossible to know whether we are or are not in a matrix already. The consequences of such a hypothesis are very serious. In Chalmer’s own words:

The Matrix Hypothesis threatens to undercut almost everything I know. It seems to be a skeptical hypothesis: a hypothesis that I cannot rule out, and one that would falsify most of my beliefs if it were true. Where there is a skeptical hypothesis, it looks like none of these beliefs count as genuine knowledge. Of course the beliefs might be true … but I can't rule out the possibility that they are false. So a skeptical hypothesis leads to skepticism about these beliefs: I believe these things, but I do not know them.[6]

Chalmer’s solution to the problem is by showing that the matrix hypothesis is not a skeptical hypothesis but a metaphysical hypothesis. For this he takes help from the creation-hypothesis model that sees this world of experience as created by a being or beings, the computational-hypothesis model that sees computational reality as underlying simulated reality, and the mind-body hypothesis that sees mind and body as separate but interacting realities. As a metaphysical hypothesis the Matrix Hypothesis implies the existence of the external world which is the source of the inputs for simulation of reality. The matrix world is relatively real. However, it may be objected that a simulated world is not real. To this Chalmers replies that it is still clearly possible that a computational level underlies real physical processes. Thus, what is experienced within a matrix also would be reality.

The matrix problem is all dependent on the assumption that conscious reality is determined by the brain. Of course, there are evidences that seem to support this supposition. However, since they are all empirical they are not decisive, being open to falsification. It is very well possible that the assumption that equals brain with mind is false. In that case, the matrix hypothesis would lose ground. Moreover, the matrix hypothesis permits infinite spirals of matrixes. For instance, it is possible that four scientists invent a matrix in which there are four scientists who in turn within that matrix invent a matrix in which are four scientists and so on ad infinitum. However, an infinite spiral of matrixes is a finite impossibility for, with respect to the second law of thermodynamics, there is a limit to useful energy. It may be objected that this sense of a law of thermodynamics is ‘programmed’ into our brain and not really true. In that case then, man himself could not come to know the truth by himself. But if man cannot come to know the truth by himself then how can he know that the proposition ‘man cannot come to know the truth by himself’ is also true? Thus, in order for truth to exist, humans must be free from the deterministic clog of simulators or matter-conditioned consciousness such as the brain.

In that sense, then the Biblical view of man as created in the image of God as a rational, moral, volitional, and spiritual being does better to not only save the phenomena but to also render humans responsible for their choices and actions.

[1] “Brain,” Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia (Microsoft Corporation, 2001)
[2] Ibid.
[3] Arnold Zuboff, “The Story of a Brain,” The Experience of Philosophy, pp. 382-389
[4] Ibid, p. 383
[6] Ibid.

© Domenic Marbaniang, Philosophy of Science, 2006

Metaphysics of Science: Ultimate Reality

The major challenges to the problem of reality in modern physics have come from the theory of relativity and the quantum theory. The philosophical importance of both of their results will be overviewed here in order to appraise their contributions to metaphysics.

2.2.1. The Theory of Relativity. The theory of relativity is a theory of space, time and motion. Albert Einstein (1879-1955) published his paper on the special theory of relativity in 1905, in which he mathematically proved that motion is relative and not absolute. For this he assumed that light has a constant velocity that is never relative to any moving body. This, however, was not just an hypothesis for its factuality was proved by the Michelson-Morley experiment that the velocity of light was never affected by the velocity of the moving body emitting the light itself.[1] Another important principle on which the theory is based is that: a coordinate system (that with reference to which motion is measured) that is moved uniformly and in a straight line relative to an inertial system is likewise an inertial system.[2] Consequently, there is no way to detect absolute motion since the laws of physics are the same in all inertial systems and the coordinate system itself is an inertial system. But then how is it possible for the velocity of light to be constant, then?

According to Einstein, the special theory of relativity finally succeeded in reconciling both the priniciples logically by a modification of kinematics – i.e., of the doctrine of the laws relating to space and time.[3] The contancy of time was ensured by the elasticizing and relativizing of space and time. Thus, in an inertial system moving relative to a coordinate system, the velocity of light emitted from it will appear to be constant; however, the space-time phenomenon of the inertial system will appear to have warped from the coordinate system’s point of view. This space-time distortion is not merely mental but physical.[4] The time of the moving object runs slower in relation to that of the coordinate system. Similarly, the time of the still object runs faster in relation to that of the moving object. To illustrate this, to a passenger in a train, a light beam emitted from a source on to a mirror vertically opposite to it would take exactly the same time (say 2) as the distance (say 4) divided by the speed of light (say 2) to be reflected back. To an outsider in a system relatively slower to the moving train, the velocity of light being constant, the light beam would have to traverse a longer distance diagonally (say 6) and therefore would take (say 3) time to be reflected back. This means that what is (2) to the passenger is (3) to the outsider. This implies that for the passenger time is slower than for the outsider, though from his perspective his time appears to be normal while the outsider’s time (as represented by his clock) seems to run faster. The theory of relativity thus also came to see events as occuring not just in a three-dimensional space but in a four-dimensional space-time. The implications for space were that the moving object appears to have increased in its size in the direction of its motion to the coordinate system. On the other hand, to the moving object the coordinate system decreases in size.

In 1915, Einstein published his general theory which dealt with the problem of gravity. In it Eintein, suggested that gravity was not a force like other forces, but was a consequence of the fact that space-time is not flat but curved or warped by the distribution of mass and energy in it. He went to suggest that the Newtonian notion of gravity as a force is useless. Bodies do not follow orbits because of being acted upon by gravitational force; intead, they follow the nearest thing to a straight path in a curved space, which is called a geodesic. A geodesic on the two-dimesional surface of the earch is called a great circle and, though circular and curved, it is the shortest path between two points. A geodesic in four-dimensional space-time is the shortest path between two points in space-time; however, bodies following it appear to take a curved path (orbit) in three-dimensional space.[5] This space-time warp theory had several implications as predictions. One prediction was that light-rays travelling geodesic paths (shortest paths) would appear to be curved near massive objects, e.g., a star, in space. The prediction was proved true by an observation of an eclipse in 1919. Another prediction was that time should appear to run slower near a massive body like the earth where the force of acceleration is great. This was tested in 1962 using a pair of very accurate clocks mounted at the top and bottom of a water tower.

According to Russell, the philosophical consequences of relativity are not so great as is supposed.[6] Russell may be right in many ways. For instance, the theory does not affect the rationality of logic. In fact, the logical attempt to reconcile conflicting principles produced the theory. However, the results of relativity do have some philosophical consequences for the conception of the universe. For instance, the warping of space-time seems to go against the common-sense view of space and time. It shows that time is not absolute but part of the physical universe, is ‘elastic’ and can be stretched or shrunk.[7] The same is also true of space. For epistemology, this only shows how experience can alter a rationally axiomatic geometry of space devoid of the dimension of time. It cannot just be assumed that the understanding of what a straight line is a priori has nothing to do with experience; for, relativity shows that such Euclidean conception recieves radical alteration in consideration of moving bodies and an empirical hypotheses such as the uniformity of physical laws and the constancy of the velocity of light.[8] Obviously, geometry cannot be cosmically successful without the inclusion of experience.

The association of space and time with mass and energy raises several metaphysical questions. Is reality one or many? Is there a singular coordinate system that includes all these inertial systems? Is that coordinate system inertial or uninertial? If it is inertial, then it can only be so in relation to some other coordinate system which doesn’t qualify it as an overarching coordinate system as such? But if it is uninertial, then is it infinite or finite? Further, in what way can space and time be applied to the concepts of immaterial beings like spirits? In what way can it be said that God is eternal: as enduring in time or as being timeless, since time is related to mass and energy? Is there a rational (or empirical?) justification for applying such concepts to God? Such are questions that the theory of relativity raises against metaphysics.

2.2.2. The Quantum Theory. Also known as quantum mechanics in physics, quantum theory is related to the physics of subatomic particles and phenomena that are considered to be the building blocks of material reality. Two important foundations of quantum mechanics are the postulations of Max Planck (1858-1947) and Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976). Another important physicist in the development of quantum mechanics was Erwin Schrödinger (1887-1961). In fact, Heisenberg and Schrödinger get the credit for the origination of the quantum theory, though in very different mathematical formulations.[9] Planck postulated in 1900 that energy can be emitted or absorbed by matter only in small, discrete units called quanta. In 1927, Heisenberg formulated the uncertainty principle which states that the position and momentum of a subatomic particle cannot be specified simultaneously.[10] This is so because it is only by shining light on a particle that the future position or velocity of the particle can be known. However, it needs the light of a short wavelength to measure with precision the position of the particle. However, the smallest amount of light, according to Planck’s theory, was a quantum. This quantum of light (as pack of energy behaving like a particle) would disturb the particle and change its velocity in a way that could not be predicted. Moreover, the only way for the light to be of shorter wavelength is for the quantum to be of a higher energy. But the larger the amount of energy, the greater the disturbance of the particle and the amount of uncertainty. This means that the more accurately one tries to measure the position of the particle, the less accurately its velocity is measurable, and vice versa.[11]

The quantum theory that was formulated on the basis of this uncertainty principle saw particles as no longer having separate, well-defined positions and velocities that could not be observed; they had a quantum state, which was a combination of position and velocity.[12] Quantum came to see particles such as electrons having wave properties, depending on how one chose to observe it. A particle seen as a wave, obviously, has no particular point of location. In this way quantum mechanics introduced an unavoidable element of unpredictability or randomness into science. There is no deterministic reason why a certain particle, say an electron shot from the rear electron gun on to the screen, should follow a particle path to a particular point on the screen. A number of different paths can be predicted for it despite the target of the gun. This unpredictability meant that the universe at the subatomic level was not deterministic. Particles could pop into existence out of nothing without specific causation.[13]

All this, obviously, has a number of philosophical implications. The first to be tackled is the law of non-contradiction. How can something like light be both wave and particle? Obviously, it can either be a wave or a particle: not both at the same time? Further, what does it mean that the measuring system determines whether something, say an electron, appears to be a wave or a particle? Does it mean that phenomenon is determined by intention or that reality is something quite different than what is given in phenomena as appearance? Another important point for philosophy is the breakdown of cause and effect in atomic systems. Classical physics left no room for freewill; however, the new mechanics is seen as a science that frees the future from bondage to the past. As J. J. G. McCue saw it, ‘No murderer can plead Newton’s Laws as the cause of his crime, nor can any physicist, however skilled at calculation, tell for certain which assemblage of particles will win the next Presidential election.’[14] Finally, the theory makes it possible that the universe originated by itself out of nothing. It doesn’t need a Creator. However, in order for that to be the laws of quantum physics must precede it. ‘Quantum physics has to exist (in some sense) so that a quantum transition can generate the cosmos in the first place.’[15] Thus, the cosmological problem of philosophy seems to be inescapable despite the development of the new physics.

[1] Bertrand Russell, ABC of Relativity, 5th rev. edn. (London: Routledge, 1997), p. 29
[2] Albert Einstein, “What is the Theory of Relativity?” Ideas and Opinions (New Delhi: Rupa & Co, 2002), p. 229
[3] Ibid, pp. 229-230
[4] Bertrand Russell, ABC of Relativity, p. 148
[5] Hawking, A Brief History of Time, pp. 32-33
[6] Bertrand Russell, ABC of Relativity, p. 148
[7] Paul Davies, “Time,” The Experience of Philosophy, 2nd edn. (eds. Daniel Kolak & Raymond Martin; Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1992), p. 91
[8] Cf. Albert Einstein, “Geometry and Experience,” Ideas and Opinions, pp. 233-246
[9] Stephen T. Thornton & Andrew Rex, Modern Physics (Fort Worth: Saunders College Publishing, 1993), p. 208
[10] “Quantum Theory,” Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia (Microsoft Corporation, 2001)
[11] Hawking, A Brief History of Time, pp. 58-59
[12] Ibid, pp. 59-60
[13] Paul Davies, “Is the Universe a Free Lunch,” The Experience of Philosophy, p. 429
[14] J. J. G. McCue, The World of Atoms (New York: The Ronald Press Company, 1956), p. 478
[15] Paul Davies, “Is the Universe a Free Lunch?” The Experience of Philosophy, p. 430

© Domenic Marbaniang, Philosophy of Science, 2006

Living Reality (Metaphysics of Science)

Evolutionism concerns the problem of the origin and nature of living reality. Evolutionism, in science, refers to the theory that ‘the many complex organisms now existent descended or evolved from relatively fewer and simpler organisms.’[1] The hypothetical nature of evolutionism, despite accruement of evidences in support yet inability to verify in prediction or through experimentation, has led some to label it as being not a scientific theory but a philosophical one.[2]

Supposed evidence for organic evolution comes from comparative anatomy, study of vestigial remains, embryology, blood and fluid tests of animals, examination of fossils, study of geographical distribution, domestication and experimentation, and classification.[3]

The theory of evolution doesn’t simply end at ‘the fewer and simpler organisms’. The ultimate problem is how life itself originated. The religious or purely philosophical answers do not concern scientific metaphysics. However, though evolutionism has been labeled sometimes as religious and sometimes as philosophical, its claim to an empirical scientific methodology, generally allots it a place in physical anthropology. According to Duane T. Gish, the General Theory of Evolution is the ‘theory that all living things have arisen by naturalistic, mechanistic processes from a single primeval cell, which in turn had arisen by similar processes from a dead, inanimate world.’[4]

Critics of evolution theory have pointed out that it fails to meet the criteria of a scientific theory. To Gish, for instance its failure consists in not being observed, not being subject to experimentation, and assuming the form of non-falsifiability.[5] Further, a verifiable prediction on the basis of evolution theory has never been successfully made and verified because an adequate theory to explain the mechanism has never been given. In fact, in order for such a theory to even exist, evolution must be first observed, which has never been the case. Therefore, evolutionism cannot be regarded as science, at least in the sense in which all other scientific theories are concerned. However, as relevant to the subject and science and also philosophy, the fundamental assumptions of evolutionism need to be examined.

Evolutionism assumes that life is material. In other words, life is all about a right arrangement of atoms and molecules. On the basis of this assumption, it is supposed that a mixture of certain gases, energy, and water could have given rise to certain organic substances, like amino acids (the building blocks of proteins, including the all-important enzymes that control the chemical processes of life), and purines and pyrimidines (the building blocks of RNA and DNA).[6] Consequently, the sea would have become a ‘soup’ of prebiological organic compounds which would become conducive to the generation of some kind of a replicator that played a crucial role in the development of cells and the origin of life. What all these substances and replicators are is unknown to science. How all this happened is unknown to science. However, evolutionists seem to be sure that though they are not sure how this all happened, they are at least sure that it has so happened, although they have never observed it happening. Such kind of an approach seems to be too superstitious to some. But all of this proceeds out of a materialistic outlook that not only looks at the world as a machine but also looks at the organism also as a machine. Life, then, is not some spiritual element within the organism. It is simply the animation or growth caused in a material body due to some programmed materials that chanced to happen at random. The strength of belief in evolutionism despite such uncertainty in providing adequate scientific explanations cannot qualify evolutionism as a philosophy, which seeks not mere speculation but argument and reasoning to establish the absoluteness of truth. Consequently, theories that are based on evolutionism also may be as unreliable as evolutionism since it itself stands on uncertainty.

[1] Milton D. Hunnex, Chronological and Thematic Charts of Philosophies and Philosophers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), p. 17
[2] Harry Rimmer, The Theory of Evolution and the Facts of Science (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1935), p. 18
[3] Titus, Smith, and Nolan, Living Issues in Philosophy, p. 33
[4] Duane Tolbert Gish, “Creation, Evolution and Public Education,” Philosophy and Contemporary Issues, 4th edn. (eds. John R. Burr & Milton Goldinger; New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1984), p. 458
[5] Ibid, p. 459
[6] “Evolution,” Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia (Microsoft Corporation, 2001)

© Domenic Marbaniang, Philosophy of Science, 2006

Epistemology of Science (Philosophy of Scientific Knowledge)

Epistemology of science is that branch of philosophy of science that concerns the study of the nature and scope of scientific methodology, scientific knowledge, and scientific language.

1.1. Scientific Methodology

It is evident that science has existed since time immemorial. History bears record of great scientific accomplishments that humans have achieved in past three millenia. However, the modern generation has witnessed a greater rapidity of scientific progress than previous generations. Moreover, there has also been considerations about scientific research and methodology. This has also given rise to several problems in the epistemology of science.

1.1.1. The Problem of Induction. Francis Bacon (1561-1626), regarded as one of the pioneers of modern scientific thought, in his Novum Organum, laid down principles for an empirical method of science that emphasized induction through observation and experimentation.[1] According to Bacon, hypothesis follows empirical observation and determines the method of experiment which in turn verifies the hypothesis giving rise to ‘axioms’ that guide further research.[2] Bacon’s inductivism greatly influenced the development of empiricism. However, philosophers soon saw the problems therein. In his An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748), David Hume (1711-1776) questioned the assumptions of induction. According to Hume, all induction is based on a presupposition of the notion of causality. Predictions are made on the assumption that all reality is connected and causally related. In all reasonings related to fact, ‘it is constantly supposed that there is a connection between the present fact and that which is inferred from it.’[3] Causal relations are either near or remote, direct or collateral. For instance, heat and light are collateral effects of fire, and the one effect may justly be inferred from the other. However, Hume goes on, the knowledge of causal relation is not a priori but ‘arises entirely from experience, when we find that any particular objects are constantly conjoined with each other.’ Thus, causal relations are not necessary relations but only arbitrary ones. One sees a succession of things and by custom and habit imposes causal relation between them. There is no reason to suppose that a particular  effect will always of necessity follow a particular event, eventhough experience shows that as happening. Thus, there are no rational grounds for induction. Hume further questions the assumption of induction that all nature is uniform. But, one’s observation of a succession of events in the past may not guarantee the same if the belief in the uniformity of nature turns to be false. In fact, there is no a priori basis for assuming the uniformity of nature apart from some probable psychological inclination.[4] Can one be sure that induction itself will continue to be reliable in the future? According to Peter Lipton, ‘The nub of the problem is that the claim that induction will be reliable in future is itself a prediction, and so could only be justified inductively, which would beg the question.’[5] Thus, scientific prediction on the basis of induction has no absolute grounds.

Several attempts to solve Hume’s challenge have been made. However, the only possible answers seem to be those in which it has been attempted to demonstrate the scientific method as not being inductive but deductive. In other words, the problem of induction is solved by doing away with induction itself. Two chief answers suggested were by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)and Karl Popper (1902-1994). In his Critique of Pure Reason (1781), Kant attempted to ground the scientific method rationally in his theory of the categories of understanding. According to Kant, the mind is not a blank slate on which experience writes information. For if that is true then no geometrical or scientific knowledge would be guaranteed. According to him, the forms of intuition, viz., space and time and the categories of understanding, like quality, quantity, and relation, are the means by which the mind arranges the influx of random data to facilitate understanding. Thus, some knowledge is always innate. The fundamental principles of science, like the law of conservation and causality, which are assumed in any scientific research are not obtained from experience but constitute the a priori knowledge of human understanding.[6] Therefore, causal relations, according to Kant, are necessarily imposed by the human mind and constitute the rational basis of scientific research. Thus, causal relations are not induced but deduced from the fundamental principles of human understanding. Without such fundamental principles no scientific research could be possible. Karl Popper’s deductive interpretation of the scientific method proposes the falsification principle according to which scientific theories are hypothesis from which can be deduced statements testable by observation. if the appropriate experimental observations falsify these statements, the hypothesis is refuted. If a hypothesis survives efforts to falsify it, it may be tentatively accepted.[7] Thus, a good theory, according to Popper, would make a number of predictions that could in principle be disproved or falsified by observation.[8] However, no scientific theory can be conclusively established for there always remains the probability of falsification. This probability, however, doesn’t undermine the value of a scientific theory, for it is no longer seen as derived from experience but  logically deduced from a hypothesis. Both Kant’s and Popper’s views seem only to advance the view that science has no method by which it can come to a certainty of scientific knowledge. Kant’s phenomenalistic interpretation of noetic-mechanics leads to the view that scientific research is more an idealistic one than a realistic one. Scientific investigation cannot go beyond the categories of the mind. Therefore, no matter what the external world is like, it will only be seen as the categories allow them to be seen and not as the things are in themselves. On the other hand, Popper’s view gives scientific research a pragmatic tinge.  Nothing can be conclusive in science, since the probability of falsification always prevails. A science that assumes unfalsifiability is bad science. However, Popper’s theory cannot be ignored. History of science has shown that theories have to be regularly revisited to explain newer discoveries and problems. Science as an empirical study that seeks universal knowledge will always involve a high degree of probability for humans are not omniscient with relation to space and time.

1.2. Scientific Knowledge

By ‘scientific knowledge’ is meant the body of scientific theories, explanations, and laws. The problem of scientific knowledge is related to the nature of scientific knowledge and its relation to truth and reality.

1.2.1. Scientific Explanation. By ‘scientific explanation’ is meant a statement that explains phenomena in scientific terms, i.e., on the basis of scientific theories and assumptions. There have been mainly three approaches to scientific explanation: the inferential view, the causal view, and the pragmatic view. The Inferential View. According to this view, an explanation is a type of argument, in which statements expressing laws of nature occurring form the premises, and the phenomenon to be explained forms the conclusion. The premises may also be statements that describe antecedent conditions.[9]

According to the deductive-nomological model of inference, advanced by Hempel and Openheim (1948), a scientific explanation is a deduction of a description of the phenomenon to be explained from a set of premises that includes at least one law of nature.[10] The content of the explanation must be empirical, meaning that it must be logically possible for an observation-statement to contradict it.[11]

There are at least two problems related to the inferential view: the problem of asymmetry and the problem of irrelevance. The problem of asymmetry is that, contrary to the postulation of the inferential view, scientific explanation and prediction are not symmetric. For example, using the laws governing weather patterns, storm formation, and the effect of air pressure on the behavior of barometers, one can predict that when a barometer falls a storm will soon follow. Similarly, one can also predict that when a storm is approaching, the barometer will fall. However, neither of these are explanatory, since both are explained by antecedent atmospheric conditions.[12] The problem of irrelevance is that this model permits irrelevant information to play the role of explanation. For example, from the premises ‘All men who take birth control pills do not get pregnant,’ and ‘John takes birth control pills,’ one can infer that ‘John will not get pregnant.’ However, the argument doesn’t constitute an explanation since John will not get pregnant whether he takes the pills or not. Though the former premise doesn’t appear to be a law, yet in science regular observation of phenomena lead to generalization of law; therefore, the use of such a premise to represent  a law is not unjustified. The Causal View. According to this view, an explanation is a body of information about the causes of a particular event,[13] which also involves the events causal history. However, the causal view faces the problem of sufficient causal explanation. For instance, in events where any of the available laws may be applicable, as in the expansion of a gas container to which Boyle’s or Charles’ or the Pressure law is applicable, any of the laws could be explanatory though not necessarily constituting a causal explanation. Further, in cases where certain laws are explained by other laws, for instance in Newton’s explanation of Kepler’s laws of ellipses by deriving them from his own laws of motion and gravitation, the inference model seems to better suited than the causal one.[14] The Pragmatic View. According to this view, an explanation is a body of information that implies that the phenomenon is more likely than its alternatives, where the information is of the sort deemed ‘relevant’ in that context, and the class of alternatives to the phenomenon are also fixed by the context.[15] Accordingly, an explanation is an answer that provides relevant information that favors the event to be explained over its alternatives, as determined by the context, based on interests of those involved.[16] Subjective interests define the contextual requirements of explanation. Thus, explanation is something relative to the subjective interest; the explanation is ‘explanatory’ to someone. The explanation tells why a particular event is more likely than its alternatives. However, since the why-question is relative to the subject who asks it, the answer is only ‘explanatory’ relative to that subject. The subjective context of the why-question consists of the presuppositions of the subject, the criterion of relevance assumed by the subject, and the alternatives known to the subject. The scientific explanation only tells why one alternative is more likely to happen over the other alternatives. This assumes the contextual relativity and subjectivity of scientific explanations. Scientific explanations, thus, serve pragmatic cognitive interests of the subject.

1.2.2. Theory-Reality Connection. One problem of the epistemology of science is to ascertain in what way scientific theories are related to the objective world itself. Two main theories in this connection are realism and instrumentalism. Realism. Scientific realism is the view that scientific theories reveal the hidden structure of the world.[17] Consequently, the acceptance of a scientific theory involves the belief that it is true.[18] Scientific realists do not claim that all current science is correct; however, they hold that scientific theories have approximate and substantial truthfulness and believe that future progress in science will lead to theories much closer to the truth. In other words, science is able to give a true and real picture of what reality is like in itself. Contrary to this assumption, Kant had argued that what reality is in itself cannot be known since all sense-impressions are acted upon by the forms and categories of the mind; consequently, space, time, causality, quantity, etc., are all mental impositions on reality. Therefore, nothing of reality can be known since one cannot go beyond one’s mind. However, to scientific realism such agnosticism and skepticism regarding knowledge is unacceptable. It sees in science an optimistic hope for progress of genuine knowledge regarding the world. Instrumentalism. According to scientific instrumentalism, scientific theories are not descriptions of the invisible world but instruments for predictions about the observable world.[19] The relation of a scientific theory to objective reality is with reference to utility. What concerns a scientific theory is not to tell what reality is like, but to be able to make predictions about the observable world. Some instrumentalists believe that scientific theories are similar to the circuits in an electronic calculator; they help make predictions but tell nothing about the world. On the other hand, a modern school of instrumentalism, known as constructive empiricism, holds that scientific theories do purport to tell something about the world; however, the only goal such theories serve are to make predictions. Scientists are not required to believe those theories to be true reflections of reality as it is. What ultimately matters is utility.

Thus, it is evident that the epistemic problem of scientific knowledge is related to the wider problem of knowledge itself. Its solution depends on questions like: Can reality be known? Is knowledge rational or empirical? Is truth relative or absolute? To realists the predictive success of scientific theories demonstrate the genuineness of the theories; however, to instrumentalists the predictive successes only prove that the theories have been useful, and nothing else.

[1] “Francis Bacon, 1st Baron Verulam and Viscount St Albans,” Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia (Microsoft Corporation, 2001)
[2] Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy, 2nd edn. (New York: Pocket Books, 1961), p. 133
[3] David Hume, “There Are No Possible Grounds For Induction,” Classic Philosophical Questions, 7th edn. (ed. James A. Gould; New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992), p. 316
[4] Shyam Kishore Seth & Neelima Mishra, Gyan Darshan (Allahabad: Lokbharti Prakashan, 2000), p. 222
[5] “Philosophy of Science,” Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia (Microsoft Corporation, 2001); also see Hume, “There Are No Possible Grounds For Induction,” p. 322
[6] Immanuel Kant, “The Copernican Revolution in Knowledge,” Introduction to Philosophy (ed. Louis Pojman; Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1991), p. 145
[7] “Sir Karl Raimund Popper,” Microsoft  Encarta Encyclopedia (Microsoft Corporation, 2001)
[8] Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time (London: Bantam Books, 1988), p. 11
[9] Lyle Zynda, Introduction to the Philosophy of Science: Lecture Notes (Princeton University, Spring 1994;
[10] “Philosophy of Science,” Microsoft  Encarta Encyclopedia (Microsoft Corporation, 2001)
[11] Lyle Zynda, Introduction to the Philosophy of Science, Lecture 2.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Lyle Zynda, Introduction to the Philosophy of Science, Lecture 4.
[14] Lyle Zynda, Introduction to the Philosophy of Science, Lecture 6.
[15] Lyle Zynda, Introduction to the Philosophy of Science, Lecture 2.
[16] Lyle Zynda, Introduction to the Philosophy of Science, Lecture 6.
[17] “Philosophy of Science,” Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia (Microsoft Corporation, 2001)
[18] Lyle Zynda, Introduction to the Philosophy of Science, Lecture 17.
[19] “Philosophy of Science,” Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia (Microsoft Corporation, 2001)

© Domenic Marbaniang, Philosophy of Science, 2006


Theology of Revelation in the Bible

A study of the Bible shows that authentic revelation is chiefly verbal. By this is not meant that visions, dreams, theophanies, miracles, and spiritual understanding have not been means of divine communication. What is meant is that revelation comes in an authentic, reliable, and knowable form only through verbal communication. Even in visions, dreams, and supernatural phenomena what ultimately constitutes revelation is verbal testimony.

8.1. General Revelation Vs Revelation as Verbal Testimony

Nature cannot be revelatory of God in the same way that a watch is revelatory of a watch maker. Still in the case of the watch, one can have no idea of the specific watch maker, unless first of all he already knows the watchmaker or the watchmaker has inscribed his name on the watch. As far as nature is concerned, for some it may point to a Creator initially, but if the reasoning is taken to its logical conclusion then an entanglement in cosmology and ontology only proves to be a rational vexation. Reason cannot bridge the gap between necessity and contingency, infinity and finitude, immutability and mutation. This is evident from a study of religious theologies all over the world.

Man confronts nature in the same manner that he confronts any object of the world. Of course, nature bears marks of great design and intelligence. But as Hume and others noted, it also bears marks of imperfection in the sense that it is uncertain how one can proceed from nature towards the knowledge of a perfect and infinitely wise Lord. Secondly, it is even impossible to know from nature itself whether this designer is eternal (if the concept means anything empirically speaking) or temporal.

Psalm 19, 148, Acts 14: 17, and Romans 1: 18-32 are testimonies of believers in God. In the Psalms the poetical language involves nature into worshipping God; it must not be interpreted as proof for divine reality. That men all over the world have a knowledge of God’s goodness and justice (Acts 14: 17; 28: 4) doesn’t mean that primitive man, after the evolutionary model, bereft of even a primitive notion of God, saw in nature the face of God. Why not suppose that a preacher like Noah had instilled such knowledge in his descendents? Missionary anthropological studies show that the Biblical accounts of creation, fall, and divine wrath over all the earth in the form of flood, are found in different cultures of the world with some mingled anticipation of a Savior even.[1]

8.2. Revelation as Verbal Testimony

The Bible begins with God. God is not proved but assumed. The assumption is not hypothetical but final. ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ The Bible begins with a God who acts, creates, names, and blesses. God’s revelation began with speaking. The revelation of God was doubted by speaking. Truth and falsehood are the concern of revelation. Jesus himself, the revelation of God in flesh, came to bear witness to the Truth, even as the Scriptures testify of Christ.[2] Without the verbal testimony of Scriptures and the verbal testimony of Christ there is no way to see how men could have come to a faith in Christ. Of course, the testimony was attested by signs and wonders. But in its own communicative form, revelation is verbal. The words are the central part of the revelation of which supernatural events are only peripheral.

This doesn’t mean that God does not communicate through the Spirit in the event of prophecy or the word of wisdom or the word of knowledge. It only means that such communication can only be ‘profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness’ if it is verbally communicated. The attestation of the preacher’s consistent life-style,[3] of the Spirit’s continuing attestation through supernatural intervention,[4] and the pragmatical outworking of the propositions[5] do not constitute revelation but only aid the crediting of divine revelation. Believing in Jesus is not separable from believing his word.[6]

8.3. Jesus Christ and the Verbal Testimony: Finality of Revelation

In the prophetic word of Jesus Christ is the finality of divine revelation. As far as encounter with God himself is concerned, without doubt in Christ dwells ‘the fullness of the Godhead bodily.’[7] But that fullness of glory has not yet been manifest to mankind. To men Jesus appeared as an ordinary man.[8] Men caught a glimpse of his glory on the Mount of Transfiguration.[9] But he is yet to be revealed in the fullness of his glory.[10] Presently, the only way to see Christ is through the Scriptures[11] until his final unveiling. Thus, Christ is the finality of the empirical, incarnate,, and salvific revelation of God, the Word made flesh.[12] Without doubt, similarly, the Bible (the Old and New Testament) is the finality of the rational, inscribed, and salvific revelation of God.[13] In the Bible one sees with spiritual eyes the Truth of God.

The Bible is the perfect record of the prophetic word in its final form. The Old Testament is the record of God’s prophetic word by the prophets to our fathers (Hebrews 1:1); the New Testament, the record of God’s prophetic word by his Son Jesus Christ in its finality (Hebrews 1:2). The finality of the prophetic word of Christ was not completed at his ascension but in the complete unveiling of the mystery of His will, as related to the Church, to the apostles by the Spirit of Christ,[14] whereby it was completed, sealed, and secured.

8.4. The Nature of the Written Testimony

8.4.1. Spirituality. The Bible is Divinely-Humanly spiritual. It is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3: 16) and came not by the will of man ‘but holy men of God spoke moved by the Holy Ghost’ (2 Peter 1: 20, 21). Thus, though the Bible is also human, it is not carnal. The written word is spiritual[15] because it is generated by the will of the Spirit of God. Therefore, the humanity of Bible doesn’t imply its frailty. The Bible as spiritual is also perfect. In the same manner that the Son of God as the Son of man was blameless, the word of God as written by human authors is also blameless.

Further, since the Bible is spiritual its message is also spiritual. Though it is rationally understood, its deeper truths cannot be comprehended except through an understanding of spiritual categories through experience and practice characteristic of an obedient and devoted walk in the Spirit.[16] Obviously, if the spiritual categories themselves are not understood, a rational analysis would only prove futile. As Wittgenstein saw it, the meaning of a word depends on how it is used in its own context, the language game; one cannot understand it unless one enters that form of life. The Bible is the basis for true and genuine spiritual experience. Any spiritual experience that conflicts with the Spirit-inspired prophetic word of the Bible is false.[17]

8.4.2. Authority. The Bible is the only authoritative guide to an experiential knowledge of the living and personal God, his heart and his mind. As authoritative, the Bible is  perfect and inerrant, for it is the speech of God himself. Thus, a reference to the Scripture is a reference to the final authority of divine word. The Scripture is not God, but the testimony of God. The Spirit of God is the authority behind it. Even the human author has no authority over it, far be the interpreter. When revelation is understood, man becomes responsible and is left with no excuse.[18] The Scripture as the prophetic word of God is the irrefutable proclaimer of all that man needs to know from God. The Scripture not only has a hindsight, insight, and foresight of divine will, it also declares that will to historical man.

And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham….[19]

The authority of Scripture also implies that it is infallible. Unless it is infallible, it can have no complete authority. Partial infallibility means partial authority, total infallibility means total authority: the Bible is decisive in all areas of the believers life. What about the discrepancies then? The question to ask is, are the discrepancies by the Spirit or by the copyists or by the bias of the interpreter? The alternative would be to say that the revelation of God was infallible but the inscribing of the revelation along with the record of other details by humans is fallible. This assumes that God is not interested in writing his word; he is only interested in speaking his word or displaying himself to men. But, if God is anything serious with the communication of his word and if his word is crucial to man, then there is all reason that he ensures the rational finality of it in its written form – to the words themselves and not just the thoughts. It is even more amazing that God should choose to mix his revelation with the lies of men, though unintentional. Christ’s testimony that ‘Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled’[20] proves that the inscribed words themselves are important. Therefore, Scriptural infallibility and inerrancy cannot be compromised without damage to the character of God himself. And there is no absolute and undefeatable reason for rejecting Scriptural infallibility and inerrancy.

8.4.3. Testimony. The Bible is the written testimony of God. It is not an end within itself. One cannot believe the word without faith in the speaker of the word.[21] The Testifier cannot be separated from the testimony.[22] The person of God himself is behind the word. It is God’s word. The experience of God in spiritual experience of prayer, spirit-empowered ministry, spirit-filled living, and spiritual battles with the kingdom of darkness are inseparably connected to the testimony of the word. Where this connection is uncertain, the experience itself is doubtful; for God’s word is true. It cannot be doubted, for it is the hearing of his word that generates faith.[23]

Thus, it may be concluded that the Bible is the verbal, rational, spiritual, final, and authoritative testimony of all that God wants man to know for life, divine fellowship, and salvation. The Biblical testimony is not exhaustive information about the world. It is inscribed guide to make one wise unto salvation and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.[24] However, the word is unprofitable unless it is mixed with faith,[25] ultimately faith in God himself.[26]

[1] Cf. Don Richardson, Eternity in their Hearts, rev. edn. (California: Regal Books, 1984)
[2] John 18: 37, 5: 39
[3] 1 Timothy 4: 12; Matthew 7: 15-20
[4] Mark 16: 20; Hebrews 2: 3,4
[5] John 15: 7
[6] Psalm 106:24; John 2:22; 4:50; Acts 4:4; 13:48; Ephesians 1:13
[7] Colossians 2: 9
[8] Isaiah 53: 2; Mark 6: 3
[9] 2 Peter 1: 16-17
[10] 2 Thessalonians 1: 7-10; Matthew 24: 30
[11] 1 Peter 1: 8
[12] 1 John 1: 1-3; 3: 2; John 1: 14; 1 Peter 1: 23
[13] Matthew 5: 17-19; 2 Timothy 3: 16, 17
[14] John 14: 17; 16:7-13; Ephesians 3: 2-11; Revelation 1: 1-3; 22: 17-21
[15] Romans 7: 14
[16] 1 Corinthians 2: 13, 14; Hebrews 5: 14
[17] 1 John 4: 1, 2; 1 Timothy 4: 1-3
[18] John 15: 22
[19] Galatians 3: 8 (KJV)
[20] Matthew 5: 18
[21] Mark 5:36; Luke 8:12; 8:13; John 5:38; 17:20; Acts 15:7; 1Thessalonians 2:13
[22] John 15: 22, 23
[23] Romans 10: 17
[24] 2 Timothy 3: 16, 17
[25] Hebrew 4: 2
[26] Psalm 78: 22; John 20: 31

© Domenic Marbaniang, Theology of Revelation, 2006


Emil Brunner (1889-1966): Theology of Revelation

Emil Brunner sees revelation as not contained in some objective and controllable text or system. To him revelation is the event of divine-human encounter.

3.1. The Meaning of Revelation

To Brunner, revelation always means that something, unusual and particular, is made known.[1]

3.1.1. Biblical revelation is the unexpected ‘disclosure’ of God in an unconditional form. One could not have expected along any rational line that God should love, and give his love to a sinner.[2] In revelation, one encounters God himself and not some set of abstract ideas.

3.1.2. Since revelation is not by human efforts but given by God, God becomes the Lord over the believer in revelation. Man cannot be called master of the revelation; he could never have known it. It is God who reveals; it is God who is Master.[3]

3.2. General Revelation and Natural Theology

According to Brunner, the teaching of general revelation very clearly given in the Bible. However, while the Bible teaches a general revelation, it does not teach ‘natural theology.’[4] The Bible denies the possibility of a theologia naturalis as the basis for a complementary theologia revelata.

3.2.1. The sinfully corrupt nature of man is unable to see God’s revelation in nature. In fact, man suppresses any such revelation and misinterprets it into the vanity of idolatry. Sin has a cognitive significance; it prevents the knowledge of God.

3.2.2. However, general revelation serves the purpose of indicting man. Only through it, says Brunner, can man be addressed as sinner.

3.2.3. Brunner says that man’s ‘natural knowledge of God’ as seen in religions, has been possible only because of the revelation in the creation; however, it is also seen in its distorted and idolatrous form because of the pervasive presence of sin.[5]

3.2.4. Only when the eyes of a sinner are opened by the particular historical Word of God is he able to see what God shows him in his revelation in creation. [6]

3.2.5. Man can study nature and know a great deal about it. Thus, the sciences are possible independently of the knowledge of God. However, when it comes to the knowledge of God, man is impaired by his sinful infection.[7]

3.3. The Word of God and the Bible

According to Brunner, the Bible must not be considered to be the objective Word of God. Such a view of Scripture is contrary to the spirit of grace. By assuming the Bible to be a collection of divine oracles, men considered themselves to be in possession of God’s Word.[8] Thus, men considered that the Bible as revelation was under man’s discretion of interpretation. This kind of a view regards revelation as a thing to be mastered and is bereft of an encounter with the Lord. This kind of a knowledge of things leaves no essential change in the knower since it is nothing different from natural knowledge. It leaves a man as solitary as ever.[9] But in revelation, since God makes himself known to the believer, the believer is no longer solitary, the knowledge of God creates community. The knowledge of revelation does not add to one’s knowledge; it transforms the person.[10] In the divine-encounter that constitutes revelation, God steps into the solitariness of the ‘Thou-less’ I as the Thou and brings man into a genuine I-Thou relationship.[11]

The Word of God, thus, is not the words of the Bible. The lifeless rigidity of the written word assumes an ‘objective immobility’ that is similar to the Mosaic ‘tables of stone’. The oral word is more closer to the Word of God than the written word. For the oral word, says Brunner, is ‘personal and mobile in character, controlled by the freedom of the Spirit.’ He continues that ‘the Lord Himself did not leave behind Him any written or dictated lines’ and ‘so far as the original twelve Apostles are concerned, it may be that we have no authentic writing of theirs.’[12] Brunner goes on to say that the Church of Christ was not based upon a written word, but upon an oral word. The dogma of the canon is not final and infallible; it is possible and right continually to re-examine it, test it, and revise it. Unless this is done the rigid lifelessness of traditionalism and bigotry that is both unscientific and impersonal could hamper even the progress of science.[13]

To Brunner, the doctrine of the divine infallibility of Scriptural texts is a clear parallel to the doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope.[14] It is, therefore, imperative that genuine Bible faith be accompanied by Biblical criticism. An orthodoxy that excludes Biblical criticism is only self-damaging.

3.4. The Word, the Proclamation, doctrine, and Faith

Brunner contends that the primary commission of the Church is not doctrine but proclamation.[15] Though proclamation must always have a doctrinal content, it is itself something other than doctrine. Proclamation is faith-awakening, faith-furthering, faith-wooing address. The proclamation of the Word of God is not the same as clarification of Biblical concepts or completeness of catechetical instruction, none of which may evoke faith. The proclamation that seeks to initiate faith is a form of the Word in human speech which is vastly different from the doctrinal presentation. It must be learnt again from those who have worked in the sphere of missions and classic evangelization. However, the Church will first be able to learn it when it has discerned as error the false identification of doctrine and the Word of God.

3.5. Critique

3.5.1. Brunner’s insistence on the separation of doctrine from the Word of God gives rise to some problems. Of course, doctrine is nothing but an interpretation of Scripture. The Bible is not a textbook on systematic theology. It is a Book of sacred history, songs, proverbs, letters, and prophecy and the Bible is an open book of God to man. However, the Word of God doesn’t just reveal God, but also something ‘about’ God – which constitutes doctrine. An undervaluing of doctrinal integrity can lead to doctrinal relativism. And such relativism is also furthered by the insistence that the Word of God is not equal to the text of Scripture.

3.5.2. Brunner’s acceptance of general revelation, yet rejection of natural theology, and connecting of human responsibility with general revelation doesn’t seem to be justified, since the failure to know God through general revelation, according to his theory, is not volitional but natural. However, if choice and will are not implied then responsibility also cannot also be implied.

3.5.3. Brunner’s equaling of the doctrine of Scriptural infallibility with the infallibility of the Pope forces a false connection. The testimony of Scriptural infallibility is derived from Christ himself (cf. Matthew 5: 18). But the doctrine of Papal infallibility is not derived from Christ.

[1] Emil Brunner, Revelation and Reason (tr. Olive Wyon; Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1946), pp. 23, 26
[2] Ibid, p. 29
[3] Ibid, p. 26
[4] Ibid, p. 65
[5] Ibid, p. 74
[6] Ibid, p. 76
[7] Emil Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption, Dogmatics: Vol. II (tr. Olive Wyon; Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1952), pp. 26-29
[8] Emil Brunner, The Divine-Human Encounter (tr. Amandus W. Loos; Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1943), p. 31
[9] Ibid, p. 88
[10] Brunner, Revelation and Reason, p. 27
[11] Brunner, The Divine-Human Encounter, p. 88
[12] Brunner, Revelation and Reason, p. 126
[13] Cf. Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption, p. 28
[14] Brunner, The Divine-Human Encounter, p. 172
[15] Ibid, p. 174

© Domenic Marbaniang, Theology of Revelation, 2006


Karl Barth (1886-1968): Theology of Revelation

For Karl Barth divine revelation is Christ and Christ alone. Apart from the revelation of God in Christ, mankind has no hope of in any way coming to a knowledge of divine reality. There are various themes connected to the development of this kind of a theology of revelation.

2.1. Propositional or Personal Revelation?

For Barth revelation is not proposition but personal. Revelation is not about creeds but of God himself. One is not called to confess the faith of the Church but called to believe and confess God Himself.[1] Revelation is not an objective something out there. It is something that happens.[2] To Barth, revelation is a concrete, not abstract, knowledge of God and man in the event brought about by the initiative of a sovereign God.[3] Only in the Incarnation does one encounter the Word of God as the Revelation of God himself. The knowledge of God is grounded in God himself, not in nature, history, or human words.

2.2. The Rejection of General Revelation and Natural Theology

According to Barth, there are two possible approaches to the knowledge of God: the anthropocentric approach and the Christo-centric approach. In the anthropo-centric approach that constitutes anthropological theology, man is the ‘centre and measure and goal of all things.’[4] Such theologies proceed from man towards God. Anthropological theology is religionistic and humanistic. Such anthropocentrism assumes that God can be known on the basis of a general revelation in creation, human history, or in the human consciousness.[5] This theologia naturalis is to Barth the very opposite of divine grace.[6] As a matter of fact, as a theology detached from the revelation in Jesus Christ, it is only profitable to the theology and the church of the antichrist.[7]

2.2.1. For Barth revelation is redemptive in nature. To know God is to be related to him in a salvific experience.[8] This kind of relationship can never be effected by recourse to a theology that is based on nature or history.

2.2.2. Secondly, Barth sees divine revelation as grounded in God himself and an act of grace. To think in terms of reason as able to discover for itself a revelation out there is to discredit the value of grace.

2.2.3. Finally, for Barth revelation as personal cannot be apart from an encounter with the Living God in Jesus Christ. As personal it can only be responded to in the person of Jesus Christ. Nature, obviously, has no personality; therefore, it cannot reveal God himself to man.

2.3. The Threefold Form of the Word of God

According to Barth, the Word of God is the Word preached, the Word written, and the Word revealed.

2.3.1. The Word Preached. To Barth, the Word of God is God Himself in the proclamation of the Church of Jesus Christ. The proclamation of the Church is pure doctrine, says he, when the human word spoken in it in confirmation of the biblical witness to revelation offers and creates obedience to the Word of God.[9] Preaching is the human attempt to humanly express divine revelation to contemporary men. For Barth, all such preaching must be subservient to the Word of God attested in Holy Scripture and to nothing else.

2.3.2. The Word Written. For Barth, since the biblical writers of the Old and New Testament are ‘called directly by the Word to be its hearers, and they are appointed for its communication and verification to other men,’ they occupy a place of special authority in the church. The Bible contains the testimony of the primary witnesses to God’s revelation; it itself is not the primary form of revelation. This human and fallible witness of the prophets and apostles becomes the Word of God to people by the continuing revelatory ministry of the Holy Spirit.[10]

2.3.3. The Revealed Word. For Barth, the primary form of revelation or the Word of God is the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. The Word of God, the Revelation of God, cannot be distinguished from the Person of Jesus Christ, neither can it be differentiated from the reconciliation that took place in Him. Thus, to say revelation is to say ‘The Word became flesh.’[11] Of course, the whole Word of God in Christ is to be seen in relation of the history of Israel to the history of Jesus Christ and vice versa. However, it is only in Jesus that one can encounter the true God.

2.4. Critique

2.4.1. Barth’s assumption regarding revelation as personal and not propositional leads to the encounter theory. If propositions are of no value, then only testimonies of encounter matter. However, if Barth proves to be wrong and propositions are also of value, then revelation cannot be limited to the testimonies of divine encounter. This assumption of Barth also leads to the discrediting of the Creation account, the account of the Fall, and events of which the writers themselves could not have been eyewitnesses, and therefore, such as could only be propositionally communicated. But this, Barth rejects. It must be understood, however, that the significance of Christ can only be rightly estimated with reference to several other propositions regarding the history of humanity, the condition of man, the need of salvation, and the eschatological direction of the world.

2.4.2. The distinguishing of the anthropological from the Christological gives a valuable insight into the epistemics of divine reality. Naturally, the anthropological begins with man and ends with man, as is manifest in popular mythology and nature deifying theologies. However, the revelation in Christ reconciles man to God for in Christ one meets not only the perfect man but also the true and living God. In Christ transcendent and immanent reality, immutable and mutable reality, infinite and finite reality, and necessary and contingent reality come into a harmonious unity in plurality. Thus, Christ is the anticipation of reason, the harmonizer of the heart, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

[1] Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction (tr. Grover Foley; Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963), p. 99
[2] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985), p. 185
[3] David L. Mueller, Karl Barth (Texas: Word Books, Publisher, 1972), p. 62
[4] Ibid, p. 51
[5] Ibid, p. 86
[6] Ibid, p. 88
[7] Emil Brunner & Karl Barth, Natural Theology (London: Geoffrey Bles: The Centenary Press, 1946), pp. 74, 128
[8] Erickson, Christian Theology, p. 163
[9] Mueller, Karl Barth, p. 59
[10] Ibid, p. 57
[11] Ibid, p. 55

© Domenic Marbaniang, Theology of Revelation, 2006

Theology of Revelation: Charles Hodge (1797-1878)

For Charles Hodge philosophy, science, and theology are not at variance with each other. Therefore, the Scriptures must be interpreted in accordance with established facts.

1.1. The Possibility and Necessity of Supernatural Revelation

Hodge contends that supernatural revelation is both possible and necessary. Contrary to the deistic concept of a distant and removed God, the ‘Bible reveals a God who is constantly and everywhere present with his works, and who acts upon them, not only mediately, but immediately, when, where, and how He sees fit.’[1] Therefore, it is also possible for God to reveal himself to man.

The necessity of supernatural revelation is something felt and anticipated by man. Humans have questions concerning the origin, nature, and destiny of man which reason and philosophy is not able to satisfactorily resolve. Therefore, revelation is necessary and anticipated.

1.2. The Role of Reason in Revelation

1.2.1. Reason Necessary for the Reception of Revelation. Revelation as communication presupposes the capacity to receive it. Unless intellectually apprehended, truths cannot be received as objects of faith.[2] Such intellectual apprehension constitutes knowledge but not exhaustive understanding. We must know the plan of salvation; but no one can comprehend its mysteries.

1.2.2. Reason as Judge of Revelation’s Credibility. Christianity doesn’t demand faith in the impossible. By ‘impossible’ is meant that which involves a contradiction. Scripture itself recognizes the prerogative of reason. The prophets rationally disproved the doctrines of the heathens. Moses taught that the previous, duly authenticated revelation from God must not be contradicted by any other. For any conversation to be meaningful, the laws of reason must stand.

1.2.3. Reason as Judge of Revelation’s Evidences. Faith without evidence is either irrational or impossible. Reason must therefore judge the evidences though in accordance to their own nature. For instance, empirical truth needs empirical evidence, mathematical truth needs mathematical evidence, and moral truth needs moral evidence.

1.3. Revelation and Philosophy

Though theology and philosophy occupy common ground, for theology the authority of the Bible is higher than that of philosophy. The authority of the Bible determines the acceptability or unacceptability of philosophical conclusions. Thus, so far as these philosophical ‘speculations agree with the Bible they are true; and so far as they differ from it, they are false and worthless.’[3] If the Bible teaches that God is a person, then the philosophy that teaches that an infinite being cannot be a person is false. If the Bible teaches that God creates, controls, regenerates, then the philosophy that forbids the assumption that He acts in time, is false.[4] However, since theologians are not infallible, theological modifications are expected.

1.4. General Revelation and Natural Theology

According to Hodge ‘the most obvious and the most effective’ arguments in support of the truths of natural religion are not drawn from external nature but from the constitution of man’s own nature.[5] However, proofs for the existence of God are relative and what may be conclusive for one may be powerless for the other.

Hodge quotes several Scriptures, like Psalm 19: 1-4, 94: 8-10, Acts 14: 15-17, and Romans 1: 19-21, to prove the Scriptural warrant for natural theology.

However, by nature of what the Scripture teaches about sin and salvation, it may be understood that natural theology is insufficient to salvation. Natural theology tells nothing about the wrath of God and the conditions of salvation which can only be known from Scripture.

1.5. The Authority of the Scriptures

To Hodge, the Scriptures as verbally and plenarily inspired contain all the extant revelations of God designed to be a rule of faith and practice to the Church.[6] Therefore, only the Word of God has authority over the people of God. The Bible is the Word of God.

However, the Bible is a plain book that is intelligible by the people. Therefore, all people have the right, and are bound to read and interpret the Bible for themselves, so that their faith may rest on the testimony of the Scriptures, and not on that of the Church.[7]

1.6. Critique

1.6.1. Hodge rightly sees that reason of itself is not able to provide the answers to the questions related to ultimate existence itself. Thus, apart from supernatural revelation there is no way one can have a true knowledge of God, the world, and salvation.

1.6.2. Hodge insists that something about God can be known from nature. However, it only seems more probable that a philosophical analysis of nature only tends in the direction of polytheism or monism. Hodge himself notes that reason has led ‘led the great body of those who know no other guide, into what has been well called, “The Hell of Pantheism.”’[8] In view of this, then, it isn’t clear how he goes on to prove the existence of God based on the classical arguments.[9]

[1] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), p. 36
[2] Ibid, p. 49
[3] Ibid, p. 58
[4] Ibid, p. 58
[5] Ibid, p. 22
[6] Ibid, p. 182
[7] Ibid, p. 183
[8] Ibid, p. 37
[9] Ibid, pp. 204-217

© Domenic Marbaniang, Theology of Revelation, 2006


Chronological Snobbery

Chronological snobbery, a term coined by friends C. S. Lewis and Owen Barfield, is a logical argument (and usually when thus termed, considered an outright fallacy) describing the erroneous argument that the thinking, art, or science of an earlier time is inherently inferior when compared to that of the present.


The form of the chronological snobbery fallacy can be expressed as follows:
  1. It is argued that A implies B.
  2. A implies B is an old argument, dating back to the times when people also believed C.
  3. C is clearly false.
  4. Therefore, A does not imply B.
Source: Wikipedia

Examples of chronological snobbery used against Christianity:

1. The Bible is an old book, and so is outdated and not applicable for modern society.
I once heard this classic answer to this: The sun is very old as well, but its light and heat is still fresh every morning. And, someone else replied, "What about oxygen? It is an old thing as well!"

2. The modern scientific world cannot accept the postulates of the Biblical "mythical" world. Rudolf Bultmann tried to reshape theology to suit what he considered to be modernity, because he thought that the Biblical world was completely different from our present world. Is it? Has human nature changed any bit? He denied the Virgin Birth, the historical relevance of Jesus, and the resurrection of Christ. He said that we live in an age when people no longer believe in demons and spirits. Well, that is not at all true. The science of Bultmann's day or place may not have thought of these; but the American Society for Psychical Research had already been documenting evidences on this line. Of course, the demons have been driving human minds to several false conclusions; but, Bultmann's attempt towards demythologizing just on the hypothesis of a modern world of science, was certainly too presumptuous. It was like a frog in a well thinking that the well was all the world of experience that was possible, and every other example of experience was a myth. And, now there are undeniable proofs for the historicity of Jesus and existential proofs for the resurrection of Christ (If He had not resurrected, why would the apostles be willing to be martyred, as were 11 of them, for a purportedly false message?).

Chronological snobbery is attitudinally colored. The child thinks that he doesn't need to listen to the father anymore, because he knows better. The old mind-set is false, he thinks; and so, there is rebellion and disobedience. But, what comes after is not necessarily better and truer than what came earlier. Such is only the delusion of evolutionary thinking. There are some basic truths that can never be changed. We still need food, water, and air. We still need God and His Word. Anything else is only suicidal.

The Logic of Faith-Life

"building yourselves up on your most holy faith"  Jude 20

In Galatians 3, Paul asks the Galatians how it had happened that they had begun in faith, in the Spirit, but now had been bewitched to end up in the flesh. These believers had not been careful to continue in their faith. Their life had failed to logically relate to their original faith.

Historically, the Crusades and the Inquisitions were examples of the Church failing in the logic of Faith. In the personal Christian life, when the believer fails to derive his principles of practice from the originality of Gospel faith, his faith-life has run a shipwreck.

It's like the Christian in Bunyan's Pilgrim Progress who is detracted from the path of the Cross by the Worldly Wiseman.

In the case of the Galatians, it was the Judaizers who tried to introduce Jewish rituals and rites as mandatory into the Church.

If we have begun our Christian life in faith, we can only grow if we keep ourselves in that faith. If we have believed Christ for the salvation of our souls, isn't it much less if we stop believing Him for everything else? For, if I can believe that I am forgiven by the blood of Jesus and have been saved from sin and eternal punishment and that I have been accepted as a child of God, I should also be able to believe with the same logic of faith that He is able to provide for all my needs, He desires to answer all my prayers, He is ready to help me in time of need, He has provided all things necessary to live a godly and righteous life in the midst of this corrupt world, He is there with me no matter what situation I go through, He gives me divine health and delivers me from all sicknesses, He strengthens me with His might to serve Him with wisdom and power, and He will be glorified in every situation of my life. My faith-life is a like a structure of faith-acts built one upon each other.

Every time I approach His throne of Grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:16), He gives grace to help in my time of need. My faith-acts are only made possible because of His grace that is fresh every morning, and my life is built of layers of grace upon grace (John 1:16). We do not need to resort to the natural ways of the world. God has called us to a life of supernatural living. However, it is important that we also pay close heed to the Truth of God declared in His Word and do not become presumptuous in our faith. Because, faith that is not connected to His Word is like casting anchor in the wind. But in Christ Jesus all the promises of God are signed with a "yes" (2Corinthians 1:20). If we have called Christ as the Lord of our life, we must also live our lives as conforming to the nature of our Blessed Lord, who lives and reigns forever. And, He is Victor in all things, and nothing is impossible for God.

To grow in faith means to grow in the knowledge of Christ, who is the Person and the Subject of the Revelation of God in the Written Word; to grow in our relationship with Him. It is only they who build themselves up in the faith of Christ (untouched by the filth of worldly philosophy, faith, or wisdom) who can say with Paul:
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Gal 2:20)

Let's make no decision after the flesh, but let's live by the faith of God. And, may the Lord be glorified in all our decisions.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I come now to Your throne of Grace seeking mercy and forgiveness for my unbelief. I submit my heart's request before Your feet. Thank You for all that You have given me, are giving me, and are going to give. The storms may rage and the winds may declare this is impossible, but I trust in You, O God of gods; for by Your one command the storms will subside and the winds give way to Your purposes. May Your blessed and righteous will be accomplished over Your servant's life. May Your scepter bear rule over every avenue of my life. Lord, thank You for meeting all my needs according to Your riches in glory. In submission to Your will, I pray in Your Glorious Name, Amen!

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