Jul 31, 2021

Relying on Our Senses Makes Us Less Certain, Not More

3 Min Read

The more we rest our knowledge on what we experience through our five senses, the less certain our knowledge can possibly be. In this brief clip, R.C. Sproul explains why we must limit how much we rely on empirical observations in our pursuit of truth. Today, watch the entire message for free.


How can I ever know with certainty that all men are mortal? Well, you can say we can have a nuclear war, and every person that is now alive in the universe is annihilated, and I, I alone am left. Now, I can come to the conclusion that everybody who’s ever lived has died. So, I now know for sure that all men are mortal. What’s wrong with that picture? Maybe I’m the singular exception in all of human history. And maybe I am not mortal. The only way that I can know for sure that all men are mortal is posthumously. See, that’s the limit of induction. We can never have a fully exhaustive collection of individual examples. But we don’t need to wait to examine every squirrel or every human being before we have a working knowledge of universals, or what we call scientific laws. If we once arrive at a certain number of examples that prove to be true individually, then we universalize or generalize. Now, there’s a reason why I am backing up and going through all of this. What was motivating the thinkers in the 17th century was, “I want to get to that realm of knowledge that’s absolutely certain, 100% certain, no ‘plus or minus 3%.’” And the empiricists come along, and they say, “The only place you can find 100% certainty is in the formal realm of reasoning of the relationship of different ideas to each other.” But how does that get you to the real world? It doesn’t. And so, the empiricists like John Locke are coming along and they are saying with their “tabula rasa” concept, saying, “No, no, no. The only way we know anything initially is by having an experience of it. We see it, taste it, and touch it. We’re from Missouri. We’re from the Show-Me State. Don’t just theorize about these things. Give me empirical evidence that such-and-such a thing is true.” Now, that’s part of the framework and fabric of our culture today, isn’t it? We hear this all the time: “Don’t talk to me about what you believe in God, and all of that sort of thing, and these rational arguments that you give for the existence of God—I want to see Him. I want to hear Him. Show me the money. Show me the Deity. Because if I have an empirical perception of it, then I know for sure.” Well, unfortunately, the more your knowledge rests upon sense perception, the less certain it can possibly be, because of this problem and because of the limitations involved in looking at each and every possible example. So, Empiricism is always limited by the finite samples that we have to study and is always vulnerable and exposed to the possibility that the next discovery will present a gigantic anomaly. An anomaly is something that doesn’t fit the pattern. An anomaly is something that can’t be explained by the system. When you have too many anomalies coming, you have to throw away the system and create what we call a whole new model or a whole new paradigm. You’ve heard the expression “paradigm shift,” which means a shift in the model, a change in the model. Paradigm shifts in science are driven by anomalies: things that don’t fit the old model, that say that we’re going to have to broaden that model or scrap part of the model and come up with a new model that will help us get a handle on reality.