image Do you have a good grasp on reality?  Can we really grasp the whole of reality?  That was a central tenet of the Enlightenment and its error as well.  Dinesh D’Sousa in his book, What’s So Great About Christianity, states that this period’s fallacy “holds that human reason and science can, in principle, gain access to and eventually comprehend the whole of reality,” (pg. 173).

This is not the case.  Scripture tells us that the Jewish priests and temple servants when making sacrifices in the temple could not experience reality – They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, ‘See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain,’ (Hebrews 8:5, ESV).

D’Sousa supports this with a sound philosophical argument that atheists have not really been able to dispute.  This argument was given by product of the Enlightenment, 18th-Century Prussian philosopher Immanuel Kant.  In his Critique of Pure Reason; Kant argues that there is a much greater limit to what we as human beings can know.  He states that human reason asks questions that it is not capable of answering.  In order to be reasonable, Kant claims, we must investigate reason’s own parameters.

D’Sousa summarizes Kant’s premise:

… all human knowledge is based on our experience.  We gain access to reality through our five senses.  This sensory input is then processed through our brains and central nervous systems.  Think about it: every thought, even the wildest products of our imagination, are exclusively based on things that we have seen, heard, touched, smelled or tasted.  If we imagine and draw creatures from outer space, we can give them four eyes and ten legs, but ultimately we have no way to conceive or portray them except in terms of our human experience.  It is an empirical fact that our five senses are our only lenses for perceiving reality, (pg. 174).

Kant follows this up with a startling question – how do we know that our human perception of reality corresponds with reality itself?

We don’t because we are bound to our five senses.  17th Century English Philosopher John Locke, D’Sousa notes had pointed out that material objects seem to have two kinds of properties – primary and secondary.  Primary properties would be what it is the object itself.  Secondary properties are in us.  He gives the example of an apple – it’s mass and shape are a part of the apple – a primary property.  But the redness of an apple, it’s aroma and the way it tastes, and feels on our tongue are not in the apple – they are secondary properties.  “They are in the person who sees and smells and bites into the apple,” (pg. 175).

We don’t receive reality directly, but instead it is filtered through the lens of our senses.

In a nutshell, Kant’s argument is that “we have no basis to assume that our perception of reality ever resembles reality itself.  Our experience of things can never penetrate to things as they really are,” (pg. 176).

In this life anyway.

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  1. So true! We must have faith in reason for us to say that reason is the only means to knowledge. But then reason isn’t the only way to knowledge because we had to have faith in order to come up with that premise. So it’s contradictory to say that reason is the only means to knowledge.

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