Phenomenalism, Positivism, and Queen Victoria

In the next couple of posts I shall be mostly pinching some great ideas and snippets from Andrew Wilson’s book If God, Then What? It was released earlier this year and is a brilliantly winsome and astute example of apologetic writing. With a blend of great stories and illustrations, along with a keen wit and intellect he provides a compelling case for the veracity of the Bible’s story. Early on in the book he addresses the thorny issue of how we know things (epistemology for the boffins). He outlines a couple of theories. The first one is phenomenalism. This is the idea that we only experience phenomena not reality. I cannot know I’m drinking orange juice – I just experience wetness and coldness, bitter and sweet flavours. The second theory of knowledge is positivism. That is to say the only things we can truly know about are those things which we can prove by empirical investigation. But, as Wilson points out, most of the stuff we believe doesn’t fit into either of those categories. Do I believe in Queen Victoria? Yes, but I haven’t felt her (ooh-eerr) or empirically verified her existence. Statements such as “I love you”, “One Direction suck”, “Knowledge must be provable” are completely unprovable in phenomenalist or positivist terms. Most of the things we believe are held on the basis of a whole load of aggregate information and experience which we deem best explains the point under consideration. Have I seen God? Nope. But I have a whole load of data which leads me to believe that if I’d been around Jerusalem a couple of millenia ago I would have.

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