How Can We KNOW Anything?

 

What does one do when expected to provide answers to the big questions in life?  Can we be sure of any answer? Are there many answers? Does it matter whether there are answers at all?

One of the commentaries on our current culture lies in the fact that we seem adrift philosophically, at war with ourselves emotionally, and at war with each other ideologically. We seem to be benevolent with differing opinions, but merciless with differing convictions. So how do we answer our children’s sincere uncertainties?

To respond with “That’s just the way it is,” or “Because I said so” or even “I don’t know” is to involuntarily give an answer whether we mean to or not. “That’s just the way it is” or “Because I said so” both could be understood to mean “You don’t need to know” or worse, “I don’t like you to ask questions.” Both responses declare DON’T ASK WHY!

A dismissive “I don’t know” could leave the child ambivalent about your trustworthiness or even whether there is an answer at all. Maybe a better way to say it is “I don’t know, but let’s try to find out together,” or “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out for you and we’ll talk again. OK?” It takes time to answer questions. But it’s time well spent.

Sometimes the answer, and the lesson, are both beyond a child’s ability to fully comprehend, but trust in truth and what’s right–even if hard to understand–is in itself a life lesson. Be cautioned, however, to never underestimate the ability of a child to understand the basics of life, integrity, reality, and yes, even death.

We have to be honest. Sometimes it’s us, the adults, in the scenario who don’t know the answer. But this doesn’t mean there is no answer, that it’s wrong to wonder and search, or that we’re deficient in some way. It simply means there is more to learn and explore…and ultimately share with our progeny.

Greater minds than mine have long sought answers to the big “Whys.” A cursory search of Wikipedia tells the story of philosophers–many you may have studied– whose ideas ring through the ages and have woven into our lives with no realization of their origins.  Here are a few examples. See if any of any of these sound familiar.

“I’LL BELIEVE IT WHEN I SEE IT.”  Four hundred years before Christ arrived on earth, a teacher named Plato–himself a student of Socrates– debated with his own student Aristotle over the meaning of knowledge. Plato defined knowledge as Justified True Belief and declared that it was discovered through thought and ideas. Aristotle vehemently argued that knowledge could only be discovered through observation of things. (Aristotle’s idea echoes in our phrase “I believe it when I see it.”) Plato was a teenager when Jeremiah the Prophet died and was thought to have met and been influenced by him in Egypt. Though seeing is not always believing, knowledge is gained by thought and observation in tandem.

“I FEEL SO SURE…THEREFORE IT MUST BE TRUE.” A thousand years after Plato, Rene Descartes, a Frenchman, declared that all philosophies prior had to be discarded and reality discovered afresh.  He experienced a vision that convinced him that his life’s mission must be to find the one truth that left no room for further investigation…leaving no more Whys. Science! Math! Philosophy! All left him with more questions. Finally, one day, he realized that reality existed because he could think it. “I think. Therefore I am.” He also wrote, “Of all the ideas that are in me, the idea that I have of God is the most true, the most clear and distinct.”

IS IT REALITY or A VALUE (an idea)?   Another hundred years passed when a Scotsman, David Hume, offered that our knowledge was tainted by reason because only concrete reality could be trusted (cue Aristotle here).  This philosophy became known as Hume’s Fork.  He believed we must separate FACT and VALUE. That only FACT was reality. VALUE wasn’t to be trusted.

Allow me to invite you to do a little personal experiment.  Mentally–or better, on paper–draw a line down the middle of a page. Title the left column “FACT.” List a few items in reality below it. (i.e. earth, body, air, etc.).  Label the right-hand column “VALUES or ideas” and beneath that a few obvious items such as Santa Claus, the Tooth fairy, Nirvana, etc.   Now, with pen in hand, choose which column fits the following entries: Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or the Bible. Unsettling, isn’t it, the effect ideas have had?

WE ARE ANIMALS, AFTER ALL. A hundred years more passed after Descartes, giving time for the world to develop the ideas that what mattered was reality and that the “myths” of religion held no value. A German boy named Charles lost his mother at the age of 8. She was a devout Christian. His father was religious but argued over doctrine. Young Charles was sent away to boarding school after his mother died. Disillusioned by religion, he chose to learn all he could about the world and how it worked. He wrote his ideas in a book called The Origin of Species where he supposed that all of life on earth had evolved from a single life form escaping from a primordial soup of chemicals, changing, adapting through time until every living thing we see today came to be. Darwin expected that more fossil finds would prove his theory by uncovering transitional creatures that existed between species.  It’s been over 150 years and there has been no verified, proven existence of even one; nevertheless,Darwin’s idea continues to be clung to in academia….in hope, I think, that it will be true that we don’t need God to provide our answers. Frankly, some don’t want to hear many of God’s answers.  After all (they say), as animals, we have no choice but to follow our instinctual inclinations in survival of the fittest, domination for success, satisfaction of all appetites, and consider all other animals as equal to ourselves. This leads to the acceptance of human abortion and the denunciation of hunting or consuming animals.

“WHATEVER….” Friedrich Nietzsche was fifteen years old when Charles Darwin died. He’d lost his dad at the age of 5 and his younger brother only six months later. Friends of his father paid for him to go to boarding school at the age of 10. However, Fredrick didn’t do well and stayed in trouble until graduation. College was different. He immersed himself in the writings of the ancients as well as his contemporaries, finally concluding that there was no hope for humanity because EVERYTHING was driven by a will to power. He declared that God is dead and there existed nothing other than what you could see or touch.  Man must either overcome his humanity or else become an apathetic creature who has no great passion or commitment, who is unable to dream, who merely earns his living and keeps warm. At the age of 44, Nietzsche collapsed into a state of insanity and was cared for by his aging mother, and after her death his sister. Nietzsche lived consistently with his beliefs.  He saw no hope for humanity, no reason for existence, and no desire to live. After his death, his sister published his works, adding her own perception of prevailing German politics, creating the doctrine that influenced a young boy named Adolf Hitler, only a toddler the day Frederick died. History would have been much kinder had Adolf and others–rather than subscribe to the teachings of this troubled thinker–chosen to follow the teachings of a Man whose life defined history with good and remains the centerpiece of time itself, Jesus Christ.

WHY IS ALL THIS IMPORTANT FOR US HERE?

BECAUSE IDEAS HAVE CONSEQUENCES and, once their fruits are revealed, you can recognize the origin of many morally illogical ideas your children WILL BE introduced to. The idea that we are “born in the wrong body” stems from the idea that God isn’t real and the Bible isn’t trustworthy and personal feelings rule in all situations. The penchant for death pacts, the sense of hopelessness, the rise in violence in our children are the out-workings of Nietzsche’s disillusionment. His conclusion that all of reality is driven by the Will to Power feeds our current self-centered culture’s disgust for all things Christian, Democratic, American, or any call to excellence or moral discretion, declaring that it’s all just a play for power.

BECAUSE CHILDREN ARE BRILLIANT. They deserve to have discussions with you. At school, educators deem 5th graders competent to study pre-algebra, the periodic table, American History and the character of her citizens, and to consider the meaning of Anthropomorphism. They are capable of weightier discussions than we give them at home or even in Bible classes.

So learn with us. Then talk with your children and when they ask Why, tell them you’re glad they asked. Their question is important and you will find an answer.  Then search, ask, and learn and love your child enough to keep that promise.

Author:

I am a mother, grandmother, nanny, and writer—with a passionate concern about children, all children. With the help of my son Travis (who has a graduate degree in apologetics) I hope to share some thoughts that will be helpful to all who have the same concern.

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