Monday, August 27, 2007

on epistemology

In our first class, we talked about ologies (e.g., biology, archaeology, psychology, and, my personal favorite, oology, which surprisingly is not the study of the letter o but actually the study of eggs). In particular, we raised the question, In what sense is theology an ology especially in comparison with the various scientific ologies. Is it an ology at all? My argument was yes, in this sense, that all human knowledge represented by the different ologies and their differences with respect to their different methods and different views on what counts as evidence, all human knowledge is based upon a single epistemological principle, namely, the nature of an object determines the means by which it can be known, its nature determines the means by which we can study it. As I have been reading and listening to Wright, I have noticed recurrent references to this fundamental epistemological axiom. In one of his recent talks on the resurrection (which can be downloaded as an mp3 here), Wright states that
Thomas-like faith in the risen Jesus transcends but includes what we call history and what we call science. Faith of this sort isn't blind belief which rejects history and science nor is it simply, which would be much safer, a belief which simply inhabits a totally different sphere, oh you can do your history and science down there and from time to time you escape into this other area called faith, and then you go back to and fro. No. This kind of faith, which is in fact like all modes of knowledge, defined by the nature of its object, is faith in the creator god, the god whose has promised to put all things to rights at last, and the god who as the sharp point between those has raised Jesus from the dead within history, leaving as I said, evidence that demands an explanation from the scientist like everyone else (49:10–50:00).
Of course, this epistemological principle does not tell you how to proceed with a given inquiry only that one's methods and views must submit to the nature of the object under investigation, but it does seem to me to get at the heart of the question concerned with the status of different modes of knowing and different types of knowledge — subjective vs. objective, or the language Wright prefers, namely, private vs. public.

So the question that one asks at the beginning of any investigation, be it theological, historical, or scientific, is, "Given the nature of the object, how then are we to proceed?" Of course, this involves one in a process of hypothesis, testing, and verification since many of our questions are concerned precisely with uncovering the nature of the object in question, with attempting to ascertain its inner logic, rationality or essence, that is, its logos (from where we get -ology). In other words, we often don't know what the nature of the object is, and so we begin by testing out our best guesses. In this course, we are not going to start from scratch; we are not, as it were, going to reinvent the wheel. Instead, as we look at the Christian Story in the Old and New Testaments, we are going to reflect upon that story from within the framework of a Trinitarian-Incarnational framework. In effect, we are going to see how orthodox Christianity has gone about the doing of theology, that is, has attempted to ascertain the logos of God.

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