EmpiricismThose who subscribe to empiricism believe that we should not believe the truth of some X based on a competent authority.  We are only justified in believing some X if we have empirically verifiable evidence supporting the truth of X.  It goes without notice that this principle itself is not empirically verifiable, and thus empiricism is self-refuting as a complete theory of knowledge.  But let’s ignore the man behind the curtain for a moment, and explore other deficiencies in an empirical epistemology.

In his book, A Universe from Nothing, physicist and empiricist Lawrence Krauss describes the state of the cosmos in the distant future.  Due to cosmic expansion, in two trillion years all of the evidence for the Big Bang (cosmic microwave background, redshift of distant objects/the Hubble expansion, and the measurement of light elements in the cosmos), and all 400 billion galaxies visible to us now, will no longer be detectable via empirical methods.  Worse yet, all of the evidence for the dark energy that caused the cosmic expansion will be gone as well.  For scientists living in that day, all of the empirical evidence will point to a static universe inhabited by a single galaxy that is no more than a trillion years old (based on the ratio of light elements at the time).

What should these future scientists do if they happen to come upon a cosmology textbook from the 21st century claiming that the universe was created in a hot Big Bang 14 billion years earlier (which would be make the universe more than double the age our future scientists would have calculated based on the amount of light elements in their day), and the universe contains hundreds of billions of galaxies, and hundreds of trillions of stars?  None of this could be verified empirically, and these claims would actually contradict their own empirical investigation of the universe.  Would they be justified in believing what we said about the universe?  Would they be justified in ignoring their own observations in favor of ours, or would they be foolish to listen to ancient claims from people far less intelligent than themselves?  Given an empiricist epistemology that focuses on empirical verification before accepting a truth claim as true, I don’t see how they would be justified in believing such things about the universe.  And yet, if they rejected these claims on the basis that they were not able to personally verify these ancient claims empirically, they would be led to reject the truth in favor of falsehoods.  Such is the deficiency of an empiricist epistemology.

I find application to this scenario in the resurrection of Jesus.  Those who witnessed the life, death, and resurrection of Christ appealed to empirical evidence for their claims, and yet, similar to those scientists living two trillion years from now, it is beyond our ability to empirically verify their evidence today.  Like the future scientists, however, this does not make it irrational for us to believe in the resurrection of Jesus.  We believe in the resurrection based on the testimony and evidence supplied to us by those who were in a position to receive the evidence when the evidence was available, even though we are not able to verify that evidence empirically today because it is no longer available to us, just like future scientists should believe in the cosmology described by today’s scientists based on the evidence they acquired when such evidence was available, even though future scientists will not be able to verify that same evidence empirically in their own day.

Epistemological verificationism is a valid epistemology that is capable of justifying many true beliefs, but it is not the only valid epistemology.  An exclusive appeal to epistemological verificationism will, at times, lead one to reject the truth (e.g. all of history would have to be rejected).  We need to be open to the truth claims of those in a position of authority to know the truth, even if we are unable to empirically verify their evidence in our own day.