“All men by nature desire to know.” The curiosity of a child comes immediately to mind thus proving Aristotle’s statement. I would be quick to add, “Most men do not desire to know how they know.” We just “know”. We know a variety of things, both to our benefit and to our detriment. Some things we think we know but are merely a matter of opinion or preference. Other things we may think, are a matter of opinion, but may really be a matter of knowledge. How do we tell the difference? Is it even possible to tell the difference? If it is not possible to tell the difference then the only things that we truly can know are those things that experience tells us. And all other things that are not a matter of experience become opinion.
The study of how we know what we know is called epistemology. The study of epistemology asks questions like where do I get my knowledge, and how is it derived? Those who have bothered to ask the question, how do we obtain knowledge, have observed that knowledge is obtained through experience, reason, and revelation. Not all have agreed on the three modes of reception; while in our culture it is fashionable to reject anything can be known at all. Knowledge itself is difficult to define, books have been written through the ages on the subject. But for our purpose we shall define it as that which coheres with reality and corresponds with reality. The denial of knowledge therefore results in contradiction in some way. We may not know this contradiction but if we hold a belief that is against reality then that belief cannot be considered knowledge, although we may hold it to be so. For instance if I believe there is a parrot on a perch next to me, can that belief be considered knowledge? Only if in fact there is a parrot on a perch next to me. This belief corresponds with reality and does not contradict other circumstances; it has coherence. But what do you do with the belief, “Humans have value”, that intrinsic value which cannot be separated from the individual? That type of value that the framers of the American Constitution labeled “inalienable”? Is this knowledge or is it just a belief? Is this a moral claim or a preference claim? If all knowledge is gained from experience than this supposed moral claim is in fact a preference claim and nothing more.
I submit that most people, in our culture, believe that knowledge is derived from experience. This is so because revelation and reason have been abandoned and experience has replaced both. Revelation is knowledge that is handed down to us by God himself. We could experience this revelation as Moses did in the bush that burned, or it could be handed down through the concept. Concept is found in the Word. And the Word is knowledge. Following this syllogism, therefore concept is knowledge. The written word is the chosen media by which our Creator uses to reveal Himself to his creation. This is why a conceptually literate society is required to fully understand and know who we are and more importantly who He is. A culture that believes knowledge is derived from experience will not and cannot have an accurate view of human value because “value” cannot be experienced. Value needs to be revealed.
To illustrate this Professor Richard Dawkins, in Science and Spirit, makes, what is to some, a startling admission:
“….there was a well-known television chef who did a stunt recently by cooking human placenta and serving it up as a pate, fried with shallots, garlic, lime juice and everything. Everybody said it was delicious. The father had 17 helpings. A scientist can point out, as I have done, that this is actually an act of cannibalism. Worse, since cloning is such a live issue at the moment, because the placenta is a true genetic clone of the baby, the father was actually eating his own baby’s clone. Science can’t tell you if it’s right or wrong to eat your own baby’s clone, but it can tell you that’s what you’re doing. Then you can decide for yourself whether you think it’s right or wrong.”
C.S. Lewis said, “There is nothing so self-defeating as a question not fully understood when it is fully posed.” What Lewis is saying is that there are hidden assumptions behind some questions and statements that, upon examination, implodes upon itself much like a building with a faulty foundation falls.
Ignoring the sensational content of the quote and focusing on the epistemology, what Dr. Dawkins is saying here is that science can’t tell you what to do, therefore do what you want. Notice the arrogation of the absolute smuggled in while denying that absolute. He is absolutely right in the first instance, science can’t answer moral questions, but, more importantly, implicit in the statement is this: Since science can’t tell you, there isn’t anything else that can tell you either, therefore you do what you want. He is denying absolute morality while at the same time instructing us to follow our emotion as science informs it. Has Dr. Dawkins paused long enough to ask himself the question, how is it, that on the one hand, he is able to adopt a privileged position of authority, and then on the other hand, deny any privileged position of authority exists? What gives him the right to assume the absolute and then use that authority to tell me what to do?
In the Gospels, Jesus Christ answers a question put to him by a lawyer. The exchange can be found in Matthew and Luke:
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Jesus makes a connection here that is sometimes lost on the hearer. If you love God, you will automatically love man. One cannot deny the second commandment, loving man, and affirm the first commandment, loving God. And at the same time one cannot reject the first commandment and retain the second.
This second point can be inferred from Dawkins’ chatter: the denial of the absolute will result in the destruction of man. The absolute is defined as an unchanging frame of reference, nothing can be added to it nothing can be removed from it, it is inviolate. Dawkins assumes there is no absolute. When this assumption is made our theory of knowledge is changed and with this theoretical change the practical follows. If there is no absolute then values derived from that absolute are transient; i.e. they are relative to the individual that holds them. There is no absolute standard by which to judge an action as right or wrong. Everything is up for grabs including mankind. We can give value to life and say eating embryos or placentas is “wrong”, or we can define life as valuable only if it provides some economic benefit or utility. This is precisely what has happened with our constructions. We have denied the absolute and that denial results in the destruction of man. Once the Creator is rejected, if we retain any value at all, it is only because it benefits those who are defining it. Jesus loves me this I know because the State tells me so?
Who Gives Us the Right?