Epistemology is the study of how a knower can know things. It is a study of both the learner (the subject) and the learned topic (the object.) Epistemology is both subjective and objective. Science, on the other hand, is simply concerned with the learned topic, or the object, and hence we say that the goal of science is to be purely objective via data presented. Scientia is Latin for “knowledge.” Science is the mind’s conformity to reality, not to an agenda. This also presupposes that the mind, via the five senses, can actually grasp objective truth. Properly speaking, there is no room for a political agenda or even relativism in true science.
Although St. Zechariah (the father of St. John the Baptist) was certainly not a relativist with a political agenda, we can grasp a little bit of the difference between epistemology and science by the respective reactions of Zechariah and the Blessed Virgin Mary to the Archangel Gabriel at the arrival of the news in regards to miraculous births. What is a miracle? I recently gave a sermon here including the quote from St. Thomas Aquinas that miracles are events “which are wrought by Divine power apart from the order usually observed in nature.” (Contra Gent., III, cii.) In other words, God occasionally functions in ways that are above (not against) the natural patterns of nature that He Himself sustains. Notice that St. Thomas’ answer also presupposes that ancients knew how to read things accurately that were “observed in nature.” For example, ancient Jews knew that babies normally came about from a man and a woman and ancient Christians knew the difference between sleep and death, pace Monty Python’s “not dead yet” business that we all knew were a joke (but after 4+ decades of heresy at the Biblicum most priests don’t realize those classes are jokes in rejecting of miracles in favor of seeing ancients as doofuses.)
But ancients were not doofuses, and this is seen in the thoughtful (but different) reactions of Zechariah and Mary to the miraculous news brought to them by the Archangel Gabriel. In Luke chapter 1, St. Gabriel brings them both news (at different locations and different times) of two miraculous conceptions, one to an older couple and another to a 14 year old girl involving a virginal conception that would include no man. These were different but nearly concurrent miracles that would rock their respective lives forever. Notice their reactions to their coming miracles:
And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.—Lk 1:18-20
And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.—Lk 1:34-35.
Notice that both of these take place in the same chapter of St. Luke. I must admit that growing up, I used to think it was a little unfair that Zechariah got punished for questioning an angel whereas the Immaculate Virgin Mary got blessed for questioning an angel. But as I studied Scripture more, I saw that the answer to this problem lies not in how they asked, but what they asked. Let’s look at the Latin and Greek after the English:
St. Zechariah in verse 18: How shall I know this?=Unde hoc sciam ego?=Κατὰ τί γνώσομαι τοῦτο;=Kata ti gnosomai touto?
St. Mary in verse 34: How will this be?=Quomodo fiet istud?=Πῶς ἔσται τοῦτο;=Pos estai touto?
Notice that Zechariah asks a subjective question of epistemology: How shall I know this?
Notice that Mary asks an objective question of science: How will this be?
Notice that for Zechariah, the center of the question is himself.
Notice that for Mary, the center of the question is reality itself.
Now, before we go further, we must admit that Zechariah is actually Saint Zechariah. He is a canonized saint, and although he was briefly punished by muteness from the Archangel for a momentary lapse of faith, he recovered faith and now enjoys the beatific vision of the Blessed Trinity forever in heaven, even enjoying a supreme crown of being the father of the arguably the greatest saint besides Mary and Joseph (St. John the Baptist.) Thus, comparing modern man to him (and ancient man to Mary) in the rest of this blog post (and part 2) must be blunted by the fact that he is a supremely great saint who probably enjoys a level of glory higher than any of us will see in heaven. Thus, I mean no blasphemy against him in comparing modern man’s epistemology to Zechariah. (However, it will not be hard to see that the Blessed Virgin Mary stands as a supreme example of how ancient man actually did science better than modern man in his unending superstitions falsely labeled “science” that will prove to be epistemologically worse than the so-called “dark ages.”)
So again, while recognizing that St. Zachariah is a canonized saint (and I never want to blaspheme the saints—yes, the saints can be blasphemed on a lower level than God) there is something to be said for the fact that Zechariah’s question was self-centered: How shall I know this? Mary, although the purest human person that ever walked this green earth, actually knew that babies normally come about with the help of a man…and yet she knew she had taken a vow of perpetual virginity. So, how could these two realities (notice this word: realities) be worked out scientifically in reality?
Mary’s search for reality (not a concern for her own brain) is evidenced in the question: How will this be? In other words, it has nothing to do with Mary—at least little to do with herself in her own supremely humble mind before the Mystery. Her question is that of a good scientist: Purely objective with nothing subjective. The “this” of her question refers to a pregnancy, a physical reality. It does not refer to a subjective or self-centered approach to an epistemology of how I can know this. The future tense of her question “will be” is also the future tense in the Greek, for it is something that has been prophesied, but has not yet come to be. Mary is bringing around her vows of faith to a revealed truth, just like a good Jew or a good Catholic should always do. This is one of a billion reasons that the angel calls her blessed (the first reason being the Mother of God, then her Immaculate Conception, then her Perpetual Virginity.)
On the other hand, Zechariah, in a moment that would not be called his finest, wants to know how he, himself, in his own brain will know about the birth of John the Baptist. (Zechariah, come on, man! You know this because an angel with supersonic, radiating glory is appearing to you in the temple! That’s how you know this!)
It is not so much that Mary now represents science and Zechariah represents religion, but rather that modern man has lost his true scientific outlook in favor of politics and a self-centered epistemology. This is where the analogy of Zechariah breaks down. But the analogy of Mary as the great seeker of truth stands strong here: A classic scientist actually believes the mind can grasp reality! So did Mary! Contrast this to how the mealy-mouthed, modern epistemologist is never sure of anything. (Such a one is frequently heard whining, “At the scene of a crime, there are a dozen stories, but nobody’s can be trusted. Alas, we can never know what happened.”)
Descartes and Kant were the epistemological juggernauts of the 17/18th centuries that got the ball rolling for “enlightenment” man to doubt if he could actually trust his five senses in any approach to reality. Next week we are going to see that the outcome of this doubt now entails an insanity that not even Descartes and Kant would have imagined: Those who currently believe in climate change and evolution, preborn babies not being defined as babies, boys being defined as girls—and vice versa—all claim to be worshipping an idol of science. But, in fact they are not even worshipping science. They are worshipping a superstitious replacement for both science and religion, deceived as they are by real-live demons who wish to promote population control under the pretense of anti-eugenics as they promote nothing but racism and eugenics of the poorest on the planet. Next week, although demons can’t be proved, we’ll see some new evidence against the so-called “science” they are promoting among their rich mignonettes on earth, and why they care little for true science and greatly for political agenda.