“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  — Isiah 55:9.

“And the Lord said unto me: These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all.”       — Abraham 3:19.

“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” — James 1:5.

“And behold, O Lord, in them there is no light; whither shall we steer? And also we shall perish, for in them we cannot breathe, save it is the air which is in them; therefore we shall perish.

And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: Behold, thou shalt make a hole in the top, and also in the bottom; and when thou shalt suffer for air thou shalt unstop the hole and receive air. And if it be so that the water come in upon thee, behold, ye shall stop the hole, that ye may not perish in the flood.” — Ether 2:19-20.

Epistomology is “a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge.”  Part of it is a discussion of  how we know things, or what to believe.

There are eight basic methods of knowing what to believe:

  • Empiricism – believe it because you know from scientific experimentation.
  • Revelation – believe it because it is revealed from God.
  • Reason – believe it because it makes sense through logic and thinking.
  • Aestheticism – believe it because it is beautiful.
  • Historicism – believe it because of historical study.
  • Pragmatism – believe it because it works in a given situation.
  • Credentialism – believe it because an expert in that field says that you should.
  •  Mandarinism – believe it because an ‘official’ said you should.

I’d like to add two more to this list:

  • Trustism – believe it because the person who has told you is trustworthy and is otherwise knowledgeable about it.   One example of this is in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe where Lucy and Edmond have gone through the wardrobe into Narnia and have returned.  Lucy is excited and is telling her older siblings about Narnia and Edmond lies about it.  Professor Kirke explains that because Lucy always tells the truth and Edmond does lie that what Lucy has said must be true.  (It also probably helped that Professor Kirke had already been to Narnia and in his allegorical part as Adam brought the White Witch/Satan into Narnia in The Magician’s Nephew.)
  • Canonism – believe it because it is scripture from God.  This is really an extension of Revelation, but still worth noting.

As there are several competing ways to determine what to believe, as a practical matter we must seek out what is the best way to know what to believe because our actions are always an extension of our beliefs.  Even if we do something bad it is at least because we thought it was an OK idea at the time.

The primary and best way to know what to believe is Revelation.  There is no better source of knowledge and it always has a reason or purpose behind what is revealed.  Elder Dallin H. Oaks (1) wrote about eight purposes of revelation “to testify, to prophesy, to comfort, to uplift, to inform, to restrain, to confirm, and to impel.”

The other methods of what to believe have their place and are proper methods for exploring knowledge, laws of nature, and other things.  The biggest problem that the world has with regard to truth is that science is the new king.  Empiricism has won the day in many hearts in popular culture, if it can’t be observed, weighed, measured, calculated, evaluated, tested, or otherwise empirically defined then it does not exist.  One question for people who think that way: How do you know that someone loves you?  Is love real?  It cannot be scientifically defined and scientists need some love now and then too.

It is important for any thinking or religious person to consider our sources of knowledge and to evaluate which sources are primary or secondary or even tertiary.  In a world with confusing and contrary messages a person must decide what sources of information they will follow.

Comments Welcome

(1) Dallin H. Oaks, The Lord’s Way [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1991], p. 24.

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