Though all our knowledge begins with experience, it does not follow that it all arises out of experience.”
According to Kant, there are two kinds of knowledge.
A priori knowledge — Things known by reason alone, independent of experience.
A posteriori knowledge — Things known by means of experience. This is what we call empirical knowledge.
In our modern world we are somewhat Kantian, often without even knowing it. We make much of experience. We also make much of reason. We tend to think of the mind as that which shapes our sensory experience.
Like Kant, many moderns see the mind as a filter, an organizer, and an enhancer of experience. In Kant’s day, this was revolutionary thinking. Kant turned epistemology inside-out by theorizing that objective reality depends on the mind instead of the other way round.
For me, I see reason and experience as merging, the a priori and the posteriori as enmeshed. I don’t think that they operate independently, ever. Reason shapes experience, experience shapes reason, what is true comes to us out of the entanglement of the two. There is no pure reason and no pure experience — we operate with an enmeshed epistemology.
Yesterday I spent the day rewriting my Cat, a Christian catechism for kids. As I wrote, in answer to the final question of the Cat, ‘How do we know all this is true?” I heard a knock on the office door. There was a man there, who often comes to the church for food, who wanted to volunteer.
He told me, “I want to work. I like to work. Do you have any work I can do?”
I did. It just so happened that the we needed to fill a hole, with dirt, an old driveway, taken out, in our new courtyard construction project, a small piece left over, untouched by the bobcat, needing some shovel and wheel barrow work. I got him started working and went back to my work.
I wrote in the Cat, “We know what is true by our experience, and by the experiences of others, and by our own thinking and judgments and by what we read in the Bible, that is, revelation.”
Kant believed that revelation was possible, but that for any given revelation we couldn’t be sure it is revelation.
I differ. So did Pascal. He saw revelation as a valid way of knowing. So do I, and it can be tested, with reason, and with experience.
In Psalms 104: 27-28 the author writes,
“All creatures look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. …”
How does this writer know this? By experience, by reason and by revelation — as one process. He sees creatures with good things, he defines what a good thing is by his reason, he hears in his mind God telling him that He provides for his creation, and so he communicates his reason, experience and revelation to us in the Psalm. We compare that with our sense of revelation, our reason, our experience. We compare, and test and determine truth.
A man, at a door, on a day, exactly when help is needed. A scripture, telling me this is what God does. From this and in this all I see, experience, reason and revelation mixed to help me concluded, that God satisfies us “with good things.”
I sit in my office. A man appears at my door and asks to do a good thing for me. Is this coincidence? I remember that I recently asked God to help me with this very thing. I read in scripture that another man, the Psalmist, thinks God provides us with good things. I have myself been often provided with good things in life. The evidence of experience, my reason and what I have read that was revealed to another person — these three combine to cause me to determine, “I am being helped.” I conclude that this isn’t chance, luck or coincidence.
A man has work to do, good; another man needs meaningful work, good; a space is beautified, a barren patch of land is turned into a garden, good; a people trying to represent God to the world are helped, good; connection exists between heaven and earth, very good.
Reason and revelation combine in me to say that if there is a God, and he loves me, and if he created a beautiful world out of love for me, then it would follow that he would continue to love me and to help me bring more beauty and justice and goodness to that world.
Epistemologically, I live in one world, the world of reason and experience and revelation. I live in one house, all the rooms are connected, it is a single thing.
I am confident in how I know what I know.