Knowledge needs a sturdy foundation by which to build upon. If the foundation is not such a structure the whole system of knowledge will collapse for it has no viable support. If all is fluidly situated upon a system of doubt, it is like a knowledge being built on quicksand. Complete incredulity lends itself to more of the same. Something needs to be stable in order to support any tools of knowing including skepticism.
At the same time there is risk in starting at something solid for that something must be presumed in order to test it as solid. For instance, in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indie is following a list of steps to make it through the booby traps unharmed. He comes upon the last step where he is standing out on the ledge of an enormous precipice and it appears there is no way to cross it. One step more and he would fall many miles to his death. He refers to his guide book and states, “it’s a leap of faith.” He then hears his father’s voice in his minds ear encouraging him to believe. He takes the risk, stepping forward his foot connects with solid ground, a path the same color as the ravine that would support his walk across to the other side. He had to take a risk to test the solidity of his path. Now, some may call this blind faith, but it was not blind. The steps he was following in his book had worked each time aiding him through the treacherous traps. If he had been skeptical of his guide book, he most certainly would not have come through the traps unscathed. Either he wouldn’t have had enough faith to try to navigate the path to the treasure, or he may have failed dreadfully in his attempt. But each time it worked, his faith was growing. The solidity of its value was not established in full until after he exercised faith. Each time, Jones was finding the value of trust, each time creating more trust leading him to the treasure he sought.
Now this does not mean to believe everything you hear or to accept all truth claims as they cannot all be true. But the reason we cannot accept them all, is because of standing in a place of knowing that there can only be one truth. We might not know that one in its totality, but we could know enough to know that that which contradicts it in a manner that would break away the foundation would not be in line with truth. The best way of determining truth, ironically, is being in truth, and working outwards. You have to test it out from inside to fully get a handle of the truth. No one can really know what marriage is about without being married. But at the same time, one need not try out adultery once they found that marriage is a better reality than cheating.
Once you have risked and your risk met with something solid and full of substance then you can start with that foundation to compare it with new ideas that come into view. If, however, you take a risk and bite into something sordid or bland and do not find the solid foundation, you back out and go another way, looking for the real and authentic foundation.
I was watching The Andy Griffith Show last night; the episode was fitting to this discussion. When I tuned in, Opie was standing in the sheriff office recounting a fantastical story to his Pa and to Barney. Opie told of a man who walked in the trees, jingled, could blow smoke out of his ears, and wore a silver hat. He said the man’s name was Mr. McPheby. Andy and Barney eyed him with faint skepticism. Then Opie pulled a coin out of his pocket and declared Mr. McPheby gave it to him. At this, Andy asked if Opie could take him to Mr. McPheby. Opie complied and they jumped in the sheriff car and headed to the trees where Opie claimed to have seen this man. Nobody was there.
Back at home, Andy has a talk with Opie and asks him to confess that this was all make-believe. Opie sullenly starts to comply with his father’s wishes, when he stops and shakes his head and says he can’t do that because it wasn’t make-believe. Opie says, “won’t you believe me, Pa?” Andy looks at him for a moment, and says, “Yes son, I’ll believe you.” He heads down stairs to waiting Barney and Aunt Bee and informs them Opie sticks to his story. Upon finding Andy was not going to punish Opie for lying, Barney asks if Andy believes in Mr. McPheby. Andy responds, “no, but I believe in Opie.” In the next scene Andy is out at the trees and hollers “Mr. McPheby” in resigned frustration. From above, he hears a man respond to his holler as he repels down from the trees jingling all the way with a silver hat upon his head. Andy happily greets the man and tells him he is Opie’s father.
You see, Andy knew that Opie’s story didn’t seem to match up with what would seem to be true, but he realized that his son was trustworthy and while all the pieces had not yet fallen into place he would trust in what he knew to be true, his son’s word. As it turned out, his faith was well placed, for his son was telling the truth all along. Rationality was not abandoned, for it was rational to believe that a boy who was trustworthy was telling the truth even though it didn’t make sense.
Scripture talks about testing things, and discerning matters, but this is done in conjunction with the real. It’s seeing what is dark because you are in the light. The way to see if something is counterfeit is to compare it to the real. You have to know what the real authentic version is in order to see if what you are beholding matches it or falls short of it. Does it have the same standard of authenticity, or is it a fake? Or maybe it’s not a fake, but a mixture of the real and the counterfeit. Or maybe it’s a distorted real. The way to pull out that real that is of substance is to have the eyes that can see the truth for they already behold the true.
When you believe you have that foundation, it is tested time and again by whether it holds against other truth claims as they come. Does it hold firm, or is it weak? Does it ride out the storms, or does it fall apart? It’s always being tested. Faith increases the more it passes the test, and decreases when it falls short. When there is a falling there needs to be reexamination of the foundation. The weakness needs to be found, is it in the foundation, or is it in the person’s own perspective of the foundation. What needs adjusting? Where is the authentic, the real?
If the whole foundation is to be rejected, what is going to be in its place? It needs to be rejected for the greater rock if the rock your knowledge is built upon doesn’t stand up to the test of life. What you believe in your head needs to converge with your heart and with your practical life. Is it philosophically sound? Is it realistic and authentic? Is it livable? This harkens back to one’s worldview. It needs a sure foundation.
Joe Boot says this of those who are ardent skeptics, “They deny Christian theism, claiming that their reason cannot accept it, while implicitly affirming that they have no foundation to do any reasoning at all.” If one’s foundation isn’t the Christian God, something else needs to be posited in His place. Never committing to any foundation of truth, always being the passive negater, does not lend oneself to a position of knowledge, but of continual skepticism. What foundation do you have to stand on that you are testing out by skepticism?
While I see the hearts of many skeptics is to find the real through skepticism, and I admire and encourage that seeking of truth, I think it difficult to find the results in which you seek by that method. Truth is most usually best found by taking risks based on reality, not unfounded leaps in the dark, but aided by reason and by faith into what may appear to be shaky ground at first to find that it is very solid indeed. If, indeed, the faith was misplaced and the ground is soggy or unstable, one merely retraces their steps and follows another path to the real.
Joe Boot also writes and I will conclude with this, “We must be willing to get to the foundations of our experience. If we remain content to decorate the interior of the house of knowledge and pay no attention to the structure and foundation stones of that house, we will find that the dry rot of absurdity and the rising damp of unexamined assumptions are fatal to the structure.”