Copyright 1995 by the CREATION RESEARCH SOCIETY (CRS), Inc.
                    HOW DO WE KNOW WHAT WE KNOW?
                      by Lane P. Lester, Ph.D.
             Creation Research Society Quarterly 32(2)
Each one of us knows lots of things. We know our name. We know our 
address. We know the sum of two plus two. We know which political 
party is best for the country... hmm. It seems that some people know 
things that are the opposite from what other people know. For 
example, many people know that evolution is the correct explanation 
for the history of life. But many other people know that *creation* 
is the correct explanation. How is it possible for different people 
to know different things? What does it mean to *know* something? 
Perhaps we could agree that to know something is to be personally 
convinced of its truth. Notice the personal element here: knowing 
something doesn't make it true; it only means that we consider it to 
be true. The fact that some people know things that are the opposite 
from what other people know means that some people know things that 
are false!
Whether true or false, how do we come to know things? There are 
really only two ways: personal experience or someone tells us.
                        PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
Each of us knows many things we learned on our own. Let me give you 
some examples of mine:
-> Stubbing your toe is painful. Knowledge like this we pick up 
early in life. 
-> Rolling through a stop sign will get you a traffic ticket. 
Actually, I had to experience this twice before I really knew it. 
-> Accepting Christ provides benefits in this life. I believe it was 
a former pastor of mine who pointed out that one of the benefits is 
that you associate with a better class of people! More seriously, I 
have the benefit of seeing my prayers answered.
-> Passing electricity through water produces both hydrogen and 
oxygen gases. Perhaps in some science class, you also performed this 
classic experiment with a battery, wires, and test tubes.
                          SOMEONE TELLS US
If you know something and you didn't experience it yourself, someone 
had to tell you. Here are a few examples: 
-> The word "cat" is spelled "c-a-t." For the most part, education 
involves someone telling you things, either orally or in print. 
-> The speed limit on the expressway is 55 m.p.h. If you don't learn 
this from the printed sign, a policeman will be glad to explain it 
to you both orally *and* in print. 
-> Accepting Christ gives me eternal life. I haven't experienced the 
full truth of this yet, but God has told me in the Bible that it is 
-> Hydrogen is the smallest element. You and I lack the equipment 
and knowledge to determine the truth of this scientific fact, so we 
have to learn it from a science book.
                    CAN YOU TRUST YOUR OWN EYES?
In general, we are more willing to believe what we learn from 
personal experience than what someone tells us. But can we always 
believe what personal experience tells us? Would anything make you 
doubt the evidence of your senses? Imagine that you are walking 
along a busy sidewalk that fronts a large park. Out in the park you 
see a flying saucer descend and land. Would you immediately begin 
exclaiming to others about your discovery? I think I would first 
glance around and see if anyone else was experiencing the same 
thing. On the other hand, if the landing craft were a helicopter, 
there would be no reason to doubt what my eyes had told me.
The general principle here is that we expect to see the commonplace 
and not the unusual. Indeed, our senses may even lie to us based on 
what we expect to be true. A good example of this comes from the 
life of Jesus when he cries out, "'Father, glorify your name!' Then 
a voice came from heaven, 'I have glorified it, and will glorify it 
again.' The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; 
others said an angel had spoken to him." (John 12:28-29 NIV)
                        WHOM DO YOU BELIEVE?
What about the things we know because someone has told us? Remember 
that we're defining "know" as "being personally convinced of the 
truth of something." Not everything that we're told is the truth, is 
it? What is it that makes you more inclined to believe some people 
than others, to add what they say to the things you know? Here's a 
short list of pairs of individuals who tell us things: 
-> casual acquaintances and best friends 
-> philosophy professors and science professors 
-> newspaper reporters and television reporters - pastors and God 
What determines how readily you would be to believe each of the 
above persons when they tell you something is true? Would you be 
more likely to believe one member rather than another in each of the 
above pairs? How long you've known the person might be one factor, 
and you would probably be more likely to believe your best friend 
than you would a casual acquaintance. In my case, there would be a 
problem because, when I was growing up, my best friend was a 
compulsive liar. A really nice guy, mind you, but he had a problem 
with the truth.
What about those two professors? If a science professor told you 
something about science, and the philosophy prof told you the 
opposite, you'd be more likely to believe the scientist, wouldn't 
you? So here's another factor in our willingness to believe what 
we're told: the expertise of the person making the statement.
Ah, but what if two equally knowledgeable people tell you opposite 
things, what then? This is a dilemma with which I often have to deal 
in questions about the creation/evolution controversy. Sure, I'm a 
scientist, but I certainly don't know all of science! My specialty 
is genetics, and I've never even had a course in geology. How do I 
evaluate the competing claims of evolutionist geologists and 
creationist geologists? Sometimes I have to choose on the basis of 
philosophy rather than science: I choose to believe the Christian 
rather than the atheist. This is not as nonrational as it may first 
appear. We all live our lives based on some set of assumptions of 
what is true, and that set of assumptions affects our decisions 
about many things. A person with a false philosophy will be drawn 
infallibly into false conclusions about important matters.
The pair of reporters in our list brings us to the question of how 
does the fact of something being printed affect our willingness to 
believe it? It seems that we're more ready to believe something 
that's printed than something that is just spoken, so the newspaper 
reporter might get more credibility than the TV journalist. Of 
course, Peter Jennings does look awfully sincere!
Seriously now, does something being printed mean that it is more 
likely to be true? Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. Sometimes all it 
takes to get something published is money. We need a healthy 
skepticism for both what we hear and what we read.
                     SCIENCE - A WAY OF KNOWING
Science is a very important way for coming to know things. Some of 
this scientific knowledge can come from personal experience, but 
almost all of it will come from being told by someone else. Even the 
science a scientist knows has come mostly from being told: through 
periodicals, books, meetings, etc.
Even though the achievements of science today seem very modern, the 
modern way of doing science actually started in the 1600s. Although 
it's not mentioned much and maybe hard to believe, most of the 
founders of modern science believed in a personal God who had 
created the universe. Their belief that the Creation was the result 
of intelligent design gave them confidence that they could study it 
and discover truth about it.
Because science is such an important path to knowledge and because 
science is so intimately associated with origins, it's important to 
understand something about it. Plainly stated, science proceeds by 
*making* and *testing* hypotheses. Scientists observe things, and 
then they try to explain their observations. Those explanations are 
called hypotheses. A hypothesis is a tentative explanation for 
observations, an "educated guess."
Making hypotheses about things is only the first step; much more 
difficult is the second step: testing hypotheses. The scientist has 
to design an experiment that will indicate whether the hypothesis is 
correct or not. Let's look at an actual example.
European eels reproduce in the Sargasso Sea, a part of the Atlantic 
Ocean. They migrate to freshwater streams where they spend most of 
their lives.. How do they find those freshwater streams from the 
ocean? Some scientists hypothesized that the eels are able to sense 
the chemical composition of freshwater. They designed an experiment 
to test that hypothesis, using bottles of water leading through 
tubing to a separate box for each bottle and then to a common box. 
Each bottle held a different kind of water: tap, distilled, salt, 
fresh (from a stream). Baby eels were placed in the common box from 
which they could swim through the tubes to one of the boxes holding 
a particular kind of water. The eels showed no preference for tap 
water over salt, but most of them swam into the box that contain 
natural freshwater. These results supported the hypothesis that the 
eels are able to detect the chemical nature of freshwater.
There are hundreds (thousands?) of scientists studying origins: the 
origin of the universe, the origin of the earth, the origin of life, 
and the origin of species. Surely, the study of origins is 
scientific! Isn't it? Well, it depends on what you mean by science. 
If you mean the kind of science done by those studying the eels, the 
answer is no.
The late Dr. Richard Bliss, a great educator, explained the 
distinction better than anyone else when he coined the word 
"operation science" to contrast with "origins science." Operation 
science is what is done when scientists are trying to learn how 
something works, how it "operates." They can gather observations, 
make hypotheses, and test those hypotheses with experiments. 
Scientists who study origins can also gather observations, such as 
studying the stars or collecting fossils. They also can make 
educated guesses about what those observations mean in terms of 
origins. But, with few exceptions, they cannot design experiments 
that will determine what happened in the prehistoric past. This is 
the same problem faced by the forensic scientist. He or she can 
gather clues: fingerprints, bloodstains, fibers, etc. Using that 
evidence, it is possible to suggest what took place, but there is no 
experiment that can be done to determine whether or not that 
suggestion is correct.
So while scientists can provide us with valuable information about 
events that happened a long time ago, they cannot provide us with 
answers that are as final as those about things taking place today. 
Because of that uncertainty, we can expect the philosophy of a 
scientist (Conservative Christian, Liberal Christian, Orthodox Jew, 
Reformed Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Atheist) to affect the conclusions 
they'll make. Whom will you believe?
                          FURTHER READING
_Creation Research Society Quarterly_, Creation Research Society, 
P.O. Box 969, Ashland, OH 44805-0969, $20 per year, $15 for 
students. The Creation Research Society is the international 
creation organization for scientists and those interested in 
science. Articles  range from general interest to highly scientific.
_Acts and Facts_, Institute for Creation Research, Box 2667, El 
Cajon, CA 92021, donations appreciated. News about ICR, a group of 
creation scientists. Includes articles on Biblical and scientific 
_Creator_, His Creation, P.O. Box 785, Arvada, CO 80001, donations 
appreciated. Fine little newsletter including excellent materials 
for children.
_Discovery_, Apologetics Press, 230 Landmark Drive, Montgomery, AL 
36117, $11 per year. Brief but beautiful 7-page "monthly paper of 
Bible and science for kids." Packed with good stuff.
_What Is Creation Science?_, Henry M. Morris and Gary. E. Parker, 
Master Books. Good overview of the creation-evolution controversy.
  The following are available from the Creation Research Society:
_Starlight and Time: Solving the Puzzle of Distant Starlight in a 
Young Universe_, D. Russell Humphreys, Master Books. An exciting new 
model for the origin of the universe, which denies neither the 
observations of scientists nor the truth of the Bible.
_Science and the Bible: 30 Scientific Demonstrations Illustrating 
Scriptural Truths_, Donald B. DeYoung, Baker Books. An excellent 
tool for anyone wishing to demonstrate both scientific and 
scriptural principles.
_Creation Scientists Answer Their Critics_, Duane T. Gish, Master 
Books. Creationism's most outspoken proponent examines the claims 
and writings of creation's most vocal critics. 
                +   Creation Research Society   +
                +        P.O. Box 969           +
                +    Ashland, OH 44805-0969     +
                +            USA                +
                + (e-mail: CRSnetwork@AOL.com)  +
Copyright 1995 by the CREATION RESEARCH SOCIETY (CRS), Inc.
This data file is the sole property of the Creation Research
Society and may not be altered or edited in any way.  It may be
reproduced only in its entirety for circulation as "freeware." 
All reproductions of this data file must contain the copyright
notice listed at the beginning of this file [i.e., "Copyright 
This data file may not be used without the permission of the
Creation Research Society for resale or the enhancement of
any other product sold.  This includes all of its content with
the exception of a few brief quotations not to exceed more than
500 words in total.  If you desire to reproduce fewer than 500
words of this data file for resale or the enhancement of any
other product for resale, please give the following source
credit:  Copyright 1994 by the Creation Research Society, P.O.
Box 376, Chino Valley, AZ 86323.
file: /pub/resources/text/crs/crsq: 32_2a.txt

Back to Index