How Do You Know?

I’ve been taking this online class,  Intro to Philosophy, which is quite fascinating! The first week dealt with the obvious question, “what is philosophy?” and then the second week was on epistemology. Or, the question, “how do we know what we know?” Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with the question of knowledge. The lesson was quite basic and didn’t get into a lot of areas that I would have loved to hear about, but the lectures did confront the question of radical skepticism. As in the first week, when I realized that by the accepted definition of philosophy, I am pretty much constantly doing philosophy, this week I realized I commonly engage in radical skepticism. When I’m doing nothing and just letting my mind wander, I frequently wrestle with the questions, “what if none of this is real? What if this is a dream? What if this is an artificial projection that doesn’t really exist?” I guess being a fan of science fiction, it is natural for me to wonder if the world around us is just an illusion, and that somehow we’re fooled into believing it is reality. To put this in technical terms, radical skepticism presents scenarios that are impossible to disprove. For instance, perhaps this reality is just part of someone else’s dream, and it doesn’t exist in reality. I am, along with everyone and everything, just part of a dream. There is absolutely nothing I could say to disprove this suggestion. Now the point of radical skepticism is not to argue that this scenario is likely or even remotely probable. The point is that I cannot prove it false. And if I can’t prove it false, then how much can I really know? My inability to disprove such a scenario calls into question my basic assumptions about my existence and the reality of this world. If I can’t prove that this world isn’t just an illusion, how I can know anything for sure? Radical skepticism has deep implications for our lives, it isn’t just some ivory tower speculation which makes no real difference. If we can’t know the world is real, then how we can know anything? And how can anything else have meaning, if we can’t determine reality?

As I’ve mentioned before, something I love about philosophy is how well it demonstrates the viability of Christianity. One minute I am questioning reality and my very existence, which leads to asking, “then, why does anything matter?” But as soon as I confront radical skepticism with the truth of God, the doubts are gone, and suddenly I’m no longer on the brink of nihilism. Because God’s existence gives stability to everything else. Because God created us, we exist. “Within Him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17.28) So, even if one said that this world is an illusion, just a dream, God would essentially be the dreamer of this dream, and consequently it would be real. Yeah, that sounds a bit weird, but it makes sense in my mind. I guess, it is like in The Silver Chair where the Puddleglum confronts the Witch, who is the ultimate skeptic in this story. Puddleglum responds to her skepticism with this, “Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things–trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones…That’s why I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t an Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.” Christians can face the world’s radical skepticism and nihilism with boldness, because our confidence in reality comes not from ourselves, but from God.

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