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No such thing as brute facts

Yesterday Dave Bish linked to my post called "We all have our creation stories."   It's about reversing a common misconception. We think of scientists as dealing in the realm of observable, testable fact but theologians deal only in the realm of unsubstantiated stories.  In fact, all cosmology/physics/astronomy/biology tells stories.  And theology is truly science.  Indeed Queen of the sciences.

Anyway it led to a very small conversation about 'facts' and 'faith'.  Here's what I reckon: there's no such thing as brute facts.  There are no such people as unbiased observers.  There are no such perspectives as neutral perspectives.  There are no such tools of enquiry as impartial methodologies.  Facts and faith go together.  Observations require interpretation.  It all depends on the story you are inhabiting.

Which means that as we engage non-Christians with the facts of revelation (e.g. Jesus is risen) we tell it the way the bible tells it - i.e. "according to the Scriptures."  From within our gospel story, from within the world of the bible, this fact makes sense.  From within a rationalist world-view the fact doesn't fit anyway.  But the good news is we're inviting people into a realm, a kingdom, a Person even.  Irreducibly we're asking them to switch allegiances.  It would be good to make that clear from the outset.

Anyway, here's an interesting clip where Tom Wright speaks of engaging an atheist with the facts of the resurrection:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0Dc01HVlaM&feature=player_embedded]

Source: Mark Meynell

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0 thoughts on “No such thing as brute facts

  1. Gav

    Yes there are facts we can investigate! :) That kind of logic suits me.

    I'm reading a book at the moment called "Who Moved The Stone" by Frank Morison. He started out to write the book to disprove the resurrection, he was an investigator or something, and he ended up being converted due to the facts that could bring him to no other conclusion: ' The third day He rose from the dead.'

  2. glenscriv

    Hi Gav,
    That book was a real blessing to me too. And the way that verse goes on makes all the difference: "He rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures." (1 Cor 15:3). Without the bible's story, the resurrection is just a freaky occurence. With the bible's interpretation of things suddenly we see it's the vindication of God's Son, the fulfilment of the Scriptures, the defeat of all powers opposed to God, the forgiveness of sins, the firstfruits of the new creation, etc, etc. Within the story the facts make sense.

    Hi Dave,
    Thanks for the encouragement. It's always frustrating with blogs that your new stuff is always burying older (usually better) stuff! Hope you're not wasting too much time in my archives though! :)

  3. Bobby Grow

    Glen,

    I certainly agree with the power of 'worldviews' and the need to engage in an abductive comparison between said worldviews in order to understand the significance of say the resurrection.

    But I am also an 'critical realist' in the sense that I believe, as T. F. Torrance speaks of in his book "The Ground and Grammar of Theology," that there is an objective reality to be 'known' that transects all worldviews. Torrance of course appeals to Einstein's theory of relativity, which undercuts the dualistic metaphysic that Kant and thus post-Kantian metaphysics has offered the world at large. He then of course applies this kind of 'objectivism' or 'realism' to the Christian faith, and the claims that it makes about reality . . . so that the 'worldviews' that, out of hand, reject the claims of Christ are relativized by the huerism that Einstein offers; in other words the 'quirkiness' of their worldviews is undercut by the fact that even the universe cries out against their worldviews (from within their worldview).

    Okay, that was way abstract, but it is therapeutic for me to rant every now and again ;-) . . .

  4. glenscriv

    Bobby - this is really helpful and a glaring omission from how I presented things in this post. It's not just a case of 'you've got your story, I've got mine.' The universe cries out Jesus is Lord even within their own worldview. I must do more thinking on this.

    Thanks!

  5. Pete Myers

    Glen, I'm not sure I understood the position you were laying out in your post correctly...

    I'm a presuppositional apologeticist. I'm not quite sure then if I agree, or disagree, or wholeheartedly agree with some of, but have some reservations about what you said.

    So, in my view, the universe has an objective truth, reality and unity, because it's been made, and is sustained by the living God. Much of this unity and truth is discernable by the human being, because, the creation is a general revelation of God.

    However human beings are limited and finite. Because we're finite, and God is infinite, we can't possibly claim to know everything there is about God, or the universe (a finite revelation of the infinite God). But furthermore, because I'm limited, I can't possibly claim to know *anything* for sure... the minute I work something out, I have no idea if there won't be some more evidence hiding behind a star somewhere that proves my entire theory wrong.

    In this sense, I can't know "facts". Kuhn makes this case in his book on the philosophy of science "The logic of scientific revolutions", where he cite by way of example that while Newtonian physics is a good approximation of a special case of General Relativity, the two systems are incompatible. Therefore Newtonian physics is useful, but, "not true" in a strict sense.

    However. If there was an infinite, omniscient, and truthful being who told me some truth. Then, even though I couldn't "check up" on the veracity of what it said, I could still know truth as a finite creature. So, I'm a rigorous postmodernist until God tells me what to believe.

    This is, of course, further complicated by sin. And Bavinck makes a really interesting point, that, is similar to the commenter above - if people's clambering after truth is based on the general revelation, then while they may deny the being behind it that gives the creation it's unity, and while their philosophical basis for knowing will always be inconsistent, something of their understanding will in some way be an anticipation of God in his fulness - and ultimately of the person of Christ in particular.

    The classic way of approaching a conversation with this in mind, then, is to first show a non-Christian how what they think and believe actually doesn't stand up on it's own two feet (it never can with a prior presuppositional committment to independence from the living God). Then to demonstrate how whatever it is they feel close to, or to have gotten hold of, only makes sense if we begin reasoning from the God who is - Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

    I think that Frame's perspectivalism is a far more consistent and thorough working out of the same principles.

  6. glenscriv

    Hi Pete,
    From memory we've had some very similar conversations in the past. I'm certainly sympathetic to presuppositional apologetics / John Frame. I'm no evidentialist, that's for sure.

    My only fear with presuppositionalism is that it doesn't take the noetic effects of sin seriously enough. We're blind, dead, as lost in ignorance as we are in sin. Therefore to claim that the unregenerate glean certain consistencies in general revelation is one thing (analagous to the claim that the unregenerate are often 'moral'). But I think any attempt to co-ordinate that with gospel truth - as though the general is a stepping stone to the special - is parallel to a synergism of nature and grace. Which I want to avoid like the plague.

    So you say:

    "The classic way of approaching a conversation with this in mind, then, is to first show a non-Christian how what they think and believe actually doesn’t stand up on it’s own two feet (it never can with a prior presuppositional committment to independence from the living God). Then to demonstrate how whatever it is they feel close to, or to have gotten hold of, only makes sense if we begin reasoning from the God who is - Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

    I wonder though, do you really mean that last sentence? If so, then why don't you actually begin reasoning from the triune God? Know what I mean? Why do you have a 'first' step, showing from their own worldview that they're inconsistent etc? If you really mean what you say about 'beginning' why not just proclaim the gospel?

    Know what I mean? So I think we have a lot of agreement, but I'm just wanting to say 'Don't bother with step 1 - just do step 2'.

    Glen

  7. Haha

    Grown-ups with imaginary friends are stupid. You christians-paulists keep on waiting for you messiah. There is a saying in estonian: Lootus on lolli lohutus. Roughly translated: hope is comfort for the stupid.

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