Arch Model of Knowledge

I admit it. I hold seemingly conflicting data sets as true. As a result, my paradigm is constantly in flux. I’ve had to become acclimated to constant tension brought on by the conflict. It’s a pain that I would wish on everyone because the alternatives are so much worse. The graphic below depicts my understanding of the way in which people respond to conflicting data sets and the effects those responses have on them.

The stones in the left column represent data that seem to indicate a supernatural reality. The stones in the right column represent data that seem to suggest that no such reality exists. The vertical arrow symbolizes the passage of time and the red line represents the horizon of human perspective at a given moment in time.

The person in the center of the arch remains in a position to consider both data sets. Since his perspective is limited, these data can seem irreconcilable to him, but he’s unwilling to invalidate one set in favor of the other and so, he continues to hold them both in tension. As a result, his paradigm regarding reality must be flexible and inconsistent.

The people on either side of the arch have fled that tension and have chosen only to consider one data set. The individual on the left of the arch chose a religious data set. An example of those on the left of the arch might be the good folks at Answers in Genesis. They express their “faith” by casting suspicion on scientific inquiry and in doing so refuse to consider what most others count as established fact.

The person on the right side of the arch has chosen only to consider the information which comes from the scientific community. Richard Dawkins and his disciples would be an example of those who fall into this camp that we might call skeptics. While these folks seem more enlightened and intellectually honest (many call themselves freethinkers), they too refuse to address data that are inconsistent with their assumptions. For instance, I asked a British skeptic I encountered on his blog to do some primary research on supernatural experiences. I suggested that he go to his local pub and ask if anyone had had what they would consider a supernatural encounter. I hypothesized that at least 10% of a randomly selected population would answer in the affirmative and that at least 80% of those encounters would have been negative. He has yet to take me up on my challenge.

I’ve labeled the person in the middle of the arch “teachable” simply because he remains open to all of the information available to him. As an inhabitant of the middle, I must accept that there is much I don’t know. I espouse the widest paradigm I can find, which I’ve actually found to be Christianity. It is my expectation that as our horizon expands over time that the two opposing sets of data will begin to bend toward each other until they ultimately meet in one glorious keystone which I anticipate to be the return of Christ. Information coming in over the past thirty years has begun to converge according to my expectation and I’m at least relatively certain that the trend will continue.

If you’ve discovered the naivete of your previous assumptions, I’d like for you to consider that at least some of the insights your received and experiences you had as a believer are still valid even though other aspects were patently false. If you’re already a skeptic, I’d like for you to stop and ask yourself whether you’re absolutely a freethinker or just more freethinking than dogmatic people you know. I want to invite everyone into the joyful malaise of the middle way. After all, none of us has seen beyond the human horizon yet and so our treatment of data must be a function of our chosen paradigm and, until humans can see it all, that paradigm will be the product of some kind of faith.

Published by Nathan Wilkerson

Holding on for dear life.

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  1. I’m not sure if it’s a definitional disagreement but as a skeptic I am always open to receiving new information. Different evidence however has different weight. For example some that has been proven to work repeatedly and I could do myself holds more weight than anticdotal evidence that can’t be verified. If someone tells me they had a supernatural experience, I believe that is an experience they had however I don’t assume it had a supernatural cause.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and for your comment. I think you may have made my point. I didn’t mean to suggest that skeptics are not open to new information. I meant that some people only give credence to data which support their paradigm.

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