Epistemology is the study of knowledge, its scope and limits. As taught within the field of philosophy, it tends to be simply a massaging of verbal definitions, somewhat devoid of any practical tools and suggestions. What makes it significant - in fact, urgent - to us is that Jesus repeatedly gave us the command, "Do not be deceived."1 Yet, how do we do that? What are our tools, and their limits?
Even Pontius Pilate cynically asked (perhaps only rhetorically), "What is truth?"
For most of man's history, the main issue in epistemology was reasoning versus sense perception in acquiring knowledge. For the rationalists - of whom the French philosopher Ren Descartes, the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, and the German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz were the leaders - the main source and final test of knowledge was deductive reasoning based on self-evident principles, or axioms.
For the empiricists - beginning with the English philosophers Francis Bacon and John Locke - the main source and final test of knowledge was sense perception.
With rise of modern science, empirical verification has become the primary handmaiden of what masquerades as "scientific truth."
[Ed note: As I was preparing for this month's article, I ran across one we ran last February, which fit this month's subject perfectly. I couldn't resist sharing some sections with you again...]
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The current high priests of paganism we call "scientists" actually have a rather dismal track record in their pursuit of "truth." The history of science is littered with the debris of discarded relics of what was once regarded as scientific "truth."
The Phlogiston Theory once held that every combustible substance is a compound of "phlogiston" and the phenomena of combustion was regarded as the liberation of phlogiston, with other constituents left as a residue. The Phlogiston Theory thus offered a general explanation of the chemical processes of oxidation (the "liberation of phlogiston") and reduction (the "combination with phlogiston"). This 18th century chemistry was ultimately disproved by Lavoisier.2
Aether was regarded as the element that formed the material of the heavenly spheres and bodies. This was ostensibly disproved by the famed Michelson-Morley experiment.3
The Nebular Hypothesis, the theory that the planets were formed by emanations from the sun, was first formulated by the occultist Swedenborg,4 endorsed by Laplace,5 and promoted by Kant.6 Even though it has since been shredded by the mathematics of orbital mechanics, it is still commonly taught today in astronomy classes.
Paleontology deserves no defense at all as its history is littered with deliberate frauds in support of evolutionary conjectures,7 and is further indicted by embarrassing cover-ups of the existence of ancient giants8 and the like.
Even physics, the premier of our "hard" sciences, has had its dismal episodes. The velocity of light was held to be infinite in the days of Descartes. Olaf Roemer demonstrated its finite velocity experimentally, but even this was subsequently denied by scientists for 50 years until it was eventually confirmed by Bradley. Furthermore, the velocity of light has been tenaciously regarded as constant, despite the observations by Barry Setterfield and Trevor Norman over the past several decades. Their dismissal and abuse by classical physicists continues despite the recent vindication of their insights in numerous articles in recognized professional journals.
As the first direct quotation of God in the Bible, light continues to puzzle the physicists. Is light a wave phenomenon or a stream of particles? The ostensibly schizophrenic nature of light has been the subject of much confusion. 1906, J. J. Thomson received the Nobel Prize for proving that photons are a stream of particles. In 1937 he saw his son awarded the Nobel Prize for proving that photons were, in fact, waves. In turns out that both the father and the son were correct. Furthermore, the experimental validation of the Bell Inequality established that photons exhibit a property known as "non-locality": all photons are apparently immediately connected to all other photons in the universe!9
Perhaps the most disturbing upheaval in physics has been the advent of Quantum Theory: preposterous conceptually, but validated experimentally. "Anyone not shocked by quantum physics has not understood it," claimed Niels Bohr, the highly venerated physicist.10
While the quest for understanding continues, we need to recognize that our current "scientific" track record is disturbingly bleak. If you examine the continuing articles in the vanguard of the "new sciences," it is humbling to recognize how much of our current ontological understanding of the nature of our universe are elaborate extrapolations built on disturbingly small glimpses of actual data. It appears that many investigators consistently draw vast conclusions from half-vast information!
About two decades ago, astronomers began to recognize that the movements of celestial objects throughout the universe evidenced the existence of some kind of "dark" matter: mass (or energy) that was not visible to their telescopes, but clearly present in their gravitational effects. There have been a number of conjectures regarding the possible nature of this invisible "dark matter," but all of them have eluded any empirical validation.11 What is particularly astonishing about this "dark matter" is that it apparently constitutes about 95% of all the matter in the universe! It is disturbing to realize that all that we know about atoms - the electrons, protons and neutrons, etc. - is but a small fraction of the physical reality around us. A very small sample indeed.
And now it has been discovered that our understanding of the much-celebrated DNA is on the same frail, shaky foundation.
The science community has seen some major milestones in recent years, including the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the famed double helix and the Human Genome Project completing its "final draft" of the DNA sequence for Homo Sapiens. The code sequences in the DNA molecule have begun to unlock the mysteries of life itself.
The proteins that make up the many mechanisms within the living cell are manufactured in four steps: First, an enzyme docks to the chromosome and slides along the gene, transcribing the sequence on one strand of DNA into a single strand of RNA. Next, any introns - the non-coding parts of the transcript - are snipped out, and the rest is spliced together to make a piece of "messenger RNA."12 (See chart)
The RNA message then moves out of the nucleus to the main part of the cell, where molecular machines translate it into chains of amino acids which become the proteins required. (See chart.) Finally, each protein chain twists and folds into its intricate and unique three-dimensional shape.
The non-coding parts of the DNA, the "introns," have been regarded as "evolutionary junk," and are so designated in current textbooks. What is shocking is that this "junk DNA" constitutes 98% of the DNA! Some humility seems to be called for. Again, it appears that we have hardly scratched the surface...
Hiding behind the basic DNA sequence are at least two layers of information beyond the traditionally recognized genes. One layer is woven throughout the vast "non-coding" sequences of DNA that interrupt and separate the genes. These have previously been written off as irrelevant because they yield no proteins, and have been widely dismissed as vestiges of "millions of years of evolution," etc. Now scientists are beginning to suspect that much of what makes one person, or species, different from another are the variations hidden within our "junk" DNA.
Beyond the specific DNA sequence itself is another layer of information in the chromosomes: "Epigenetic marks, embedded in the mlange of proteins and chemicals that surround and support the DNA, operate through cryptic codes and mysterious machinery. Unlike genes, epigenetic marks are routinely laid down, erased, and rewritten on the fly."13
As biologists sift through the novel kinds of active RNA genes from among the long-neglected introns and intergenic stretches of DNA, no one can yet predict where it will all lead. What was once condemned as junk (because it was not understood) may turn out to be the very basis of human complexity.
What is astonishing - and disturbing - about the process of contemporary science is that its practitioners obstinately cling to their evolutionary premises - a context that continues to be brutally assaulted by the evidence. Calls for evidence-based education are dismissed as heretical by the Praetorians of the current priesthood running the government schools.
An Inescapable Conclusion
What is even more remarkable than the myopia of the biologists is this: that as scientists scan the heavens with their radio telescopes in the hopes of receiving communication signals as evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence, they remain oblivious to the implications of the multilayered error-correcting digital codes already discovered within the human genome! Here is an information system that continues to challenge our understanding, and yet they still insist on willfully ascribing it all to the unaided interaction of random processes!
Peter was indeed correct when he called them "willingly ignorant":
For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
2 Peter 3:5-7
The Psalmist gasped more tellingly:
When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him?
Psalm 8:3, 4
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The Flight From Materialism
Whether disillusioned by the self-imposed blinders and myopia of contemporary "science," or frustrated by the moral bankruptcy of our unbridled materialism, it shouldn't surprise us to find increasing numbers of desperate people seeking "answers" outside the pale of natural phenomena and pursuing the supernatural. The anguished plea of the disenfranchised now begs the question, "Is there anyone out there?"
This leads, ironically, to mysticism as the illusive refuge of the uninformed. This departure from empirically verifiable foundations is not only foolish, it is far more dangerous than one can possibly imagine.
In our next article, we will explore the contemporary resurgence of ancient mysticisms, including Gnosticism and the Hebrew Kabbalah, which are gaining popularity in certain circles. Stay tuned.