What is epistemology?
Question: "What is epistemology?"
Answer: Epistemology deals with the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge. It addresses the questions, "What is knowledge?" "How is knowledge acquired?" "What do people know?" "How do we know what we know?" "Why do we know what we know?"
Epistemology is typically divided into two categories. The first, propositional knowledge, can be thought of "knowledge that" as opposed to "knowledge how." In mathematics, for instance, it is knowledge that 1 + 1 = 2, but there is also knowledge of how to perform mathematics. The second is personal knowledge. Personal knowledge is gained experientially. For example, the theoretical knowledge of the physics involved in maintaining a state of balance when riding a bicycle cannot be substituted for the practical (personal) knowledge gained when practicing cycling.
Epistemology also deals with statements of belief. Knowledge entails belief, and so one’s statement of belief cannot conflict with one’s knowledge. Conversely, knowledge about a belief does not necessarily entail an endorsement of its truth. For example, "I know about the religion of Islam, but I do not believe in it," is a coherent statement.
Belief is regarded as subjective, while truth is regarded as an objective reality, independent of the individual’s beliefs or experience. While one might well "believe" that atheism is true, such an inclination has no bearing upon whether atheism is really true. The truth stands as independent and transcendent of one’s beliefs and opinions concerning reality.
What is the foundation for epistemology? Science and deductive reason, by which means one may acquire knowledge, presupposes that the universe be logical and orderly and that it obeys mathematical laws consistent over time and space. Even though conditions in different regions of space can be radically diverse, there nonetheless exists an underlying uniformity.
The Christian—who believes in a transcendent causal reality—expects there to be order in the universe. Since the Bible teaches that God upholds all things by His power (Hebrews 1:3), the Christian expects the universe to behave in an orderly and rational fashion. Since God is omnipresent and consistent within Himself, the Christian expects that all regions of the universe will obey the same laws, even though the physical conditions of different regions of the universe may be different.
God transcends time (2 Peter 3:8). Thus, even though conditions in the past may have been different from those now, the laws of nature are not subject to arbitrary change. The Christian has a foundation upon which to base his assumption that the universe is upheld in a consistent manner, and therefore has a basis upon which to gain knowledge.
Recommended Resource: Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview by William Lane Craig & J.P. Moreland
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