Essentials of Apologetics - Lesson 4

Faith is not Blind

In this lesson, you will review the misconception that faith is blind. Dr. McDowell debunks this idea by presenting a scriptural foundation, personal anecdotes, and biblical narratives, particularly from the book of Exodus and the New Testament. The lesson highlights a consistent pattern in which God provides evidence through miracles, imparts knowledge, and then calls for faith and action. The argument against blind faith is reinforced by examining the story of doubting Thomas, emphasizing that belief is not contrary to evidence but exists in the light of it. The lesson concludes by addressing the percentage of belief and how faith can be strengthened through various means, including the study of evidence.

Sean McDowell
Essentials of Apologetics
Lesson 4
Watching Now
Faith is not Blind

I. Importance of Apologetics and Testability of Christianity

A. Apologetics and Worldviews

B. Spiritual Quest and Christianity's Testability

C. Common Perception: Faith as Blind

1. Religion and Personal Values

2. Faith as a Misunderstood Concept

II. Challenging the Notion of Blind Faith

A. Scriptural Perspective on Faith

1. Faith Built Upon Evidence

2. Engaging with Atheist Misconceptions

3. Faith as Trust in God

B. Misconceptions within the Church

1. Car Salesman Encounter

2. Questioning Assumptions

III. Biblical Examples of Faith Grounded in Evidence

A. Old Testament: Moses and the Exodus

1. Miracles Providing Knowledge

2. Faith Resulting from Knowledge

B. New Testament: Jesus and Miracles

1. Miracles Confirming Identity

2. Thomas and the Demand for Evidence

IV. Intelligent Faith and Degrees of Confidence

A. Belief Beyond 50/50

1. Belief as a Spectrum

2. Increasing Confidence through Study and Experience

B. Faith as a Gift and Embracing Doubt

V. Faith in Light of the Evidence

A. Trusting God Based on the Evidence

1. Moral Conscience, Creation, and Historical Evidence

2. Faith Directed by Where the Evidence Points

VI. Preview of the Next Session

A. Positive Case for Christianity: Nature of Truth

B. Examining the Possibility of Knowing Truth

  • Gain a comprehensive understanding of apologetics, the theological discipline of defending the Christian faith, through a personal mall encounter that highlights the importance of being prepared to provide reasoned defenses, with a focus on biblical foundations, addressing objections, and fulfilling a ministry to those with questions.
  • This second lesson on apologetics, highlights the importance of understanding worldviews, using practical exercises and examples to illustrate how our minds shape beliefs, categorizing worldviews based on their answers to fundamental questions, and exploring Christianity's unique perspective on creation, the world's problem, and the solution through Jesus.
  • This lesson explores Antony Flew's shift from atheism to recognizing Christianity's uniqueness. Dr. McDowell provides four reasons why a spiritual quest ought to begin with Christianity: testability in history, free salvation, a livable worldview, and Jesus' central role beyond religious boundaries. The lesson includes a Q&A time reviewing Islam's view on Jesus and Darwin's evolution.
  • Debunking the myth of blind faith, Sean counters with a scriptural foundation, using personal encounters and anecdotes. Examining biblical narratives, especially in Exodus and the New Testament, reveals a pattern: God provides evidence, imparts knowledge, and calls for faith and action. The story of doubting Thomas underscores that belief aligns with evidence, not against it. The lesson closes by emphasizing faith's dynamic nature, which can be fortified through evidence-based study.
  • In this session, you'll delve into the speaker's exploration of truth, gaining insights into its multifaceted importance in various life aspects. The session highlights three key reasons for the significance of truth, introduces the correspondence theory, and underlines the implicit connection between Christianity and truth, offering a comprehensive understanding of the topic.
  • You gain a deep understanding of the distinction between subjective and objective claims in this lesson, illustrated through relatable examples like ice cream preferences. Sean communicates that subjective claims rely on personal beliefs, while objective claims are based on the external world. Overall, you will develop a nuanced perspective on truth, specifically in differentiating between subjective and objective claims, with a focus on moral values.
  • In this lesson, you will gain insights into the moral argument for the existence of God. Sean draws from a personal debate experience, emphasizing that God provides a solid foundation for moral values. Three key points are highlighted: the need for a transcendent standard for right and wrong, the role of free will in moral accountability, and the requirement for divine grounding of human value. The lesson challenges naturalistic worldviews, asserting that they fail to offer a satisfactory explanation for objective morality, ultimately suggesting that living in accordance with God's design leads to true freedom and fulfillment.
  • Explore the Christian view on the soul, diving into its significance through moral law and beauty. Analyze arguments supporting its existence, like its role in free will, using analogies. Address contemporary debates on gender and transgender issues, suggesting a dual human nature. Incorporate biblical references, evaluating flawed arguments and introducing stronger ones. Discuss practical implications for personal well-being. This lesson explores the soul's concept from a Christian standpoint.
  • Gain insights into the intricate relationship between science and faith, exploring arguments for God's existence, the concept of fine-tuning in cosmology and biology, and the conclusion that the fine-tuning of the universe and DNA's information complexity point towards a fine tuner and an author of life, offering compelling evidence for the existence of God.
  • In this exploration of miracles, the lesson shifts from discussing God's existence to questioning divine revelation, challenging skeptics to reconsider their worldview and illustrating the philosophical underpinnings of miracles, ultimately emphasizing an open-minded investigation and hinting at a compelling case for theism and Christianity with overwhelming evidence for miracles.
  • You will gain a comprehensive understanding of near-death experiences (NDEs) and their potential as a compelling apologetic tool, exploring evidentiary aspects, transformative impacts, objections, and the significance of information unattainable by natural means in supporting the case for an afterlife and the soul.
  • Dr. McDowell reviews the overwhelming evidence of the resurrection and the significance of the resurrection.
  • In this lesson, you will gain insight into the historical evidence supporting the resurrection of Jesus, including the crucifixion, discovery of the empty tomb by women, early and multiple accounts of Jesus's appearances, and the transformative impact on the disciples, ultimately challenging alternative explanations and asserting the resurrection as the most reasonable conclusion based on historical facts.
  • Exploring the Bible's trustworthiness through the character and copy tests, this lesson establishes the reliability of the New Testament by highlighting the writers' honesty, the disciples' willingness to endure hardships, and the exceptional proximity and quantity of early manuscripts.
  • In this lesson, you will gain a thorough understanding of the New Testament's reliability through an exploration of its extensive manuscript evidence, addressing skeptics' concerns about variations, and highlighting corroboration from external sources such as historical records and archaeology.
  • In this lesson, you will gain an understanding of the problem of evil and suffering, exploring its intellectual and emotional dimensions, drawing on personal experiences, historical perspectives, and a philosophical approach, and laying the groundwork for a more in-depth exploration in the next session.
  • In this lesson, you will learn of the logical problem of evil, exploring the philosophical challenge to God's existence posed by the coexistence of omnipotence, omnibenevolence, and evil, while examining the limitations of God's power, the compatibility of free will, and the unique Christian perspective emphasizing the redemptive nature of the incarnation and the cross in addressing the problem of evil.
  • Gain insights into responding to objections in apologetics, including addressing conflicts between a loving God and hell, defending the Bible against contradictions, clarifying misconceptions about God's stance on homosexuality, explaining the concept of the Trinity, and attributing natural evil to the brokenness of the world due to sin.
  • Gain insights into a personal and relational approach to apologetics by understanding that everyone is an apologist and theologian, as the lesson, through anecdotes, underscores the importance of discerning underlying questions, emphasizing active listening and probing inquiries to address the genuine needs and heartaches beneath surface-level queries.
  • Gain insights into effective spiritual conversations by asking four key questions: understanding beliefs, exploring reasons behind them, finding common ground, and navigating areas of disagreement, with an emphasis on listening and fostering genuine understanding.

In this day and age, it is critical that followers of Jesus know how to think clearly and biblically about their faith and how it intersects with and often contrasts with how the world thinks. These areas include one's worldview, the fact that faith is not blind, why the truth matters, why seeing design in creation points to a designer, and evidence for the soul, resurrection, and the Bible. How can God allow evil, and how do we talk with skeptics? Dr. McDowell discusses these topics and others in this easy-to-understand course on apologetics.

Faith is not Blind
Sean McDowell
Lesson 4
Essentials of Apologetics

So far we've been talking about the importance of apologetics, looking at different worldviews, why a spiritual quest should begin with Christianity. One of our four points is that Christianity is testable. Now, in your minds, possibly a lot of Christian's minds and non-Christian, you think testable, that's weird. We can test things in science. We can test things in history, not the same way, but we consider the facts. Isn't religion more about your personal values and your feelings and your community? Without realizing it, we often place religion in the category of just something we value that gives us purpose, but not something that's true or something that's false. Hence, the most common adjective we use for faith is that faith is blind. That's exactly right.

Now, before we start to lay out a positive case step-by-step for the truth of Christianity, it seems like we need to pause and consider the idea that faith is blind, because if you think faith is blind, you might think this entire endeavor of trying to show that it's true is misguided. Let's walk through scripturally what scripture says about the nature of faith.

About four or five years ago, I had a public debate with an atheist and it was up in the northwest, and what was fun about this is we were each invited to come up with two common misconceptions we think the other side has and then without knowing what they are, present them live and discuss and debate it. One of my points is I said, "Please stop saying that faith is blind. Spread the word to the atheist community for me that we don't think faith is blind." I said, "Now, with that said, there's a lot of Christians that contribute to this, so I understand why you might think faith is blind, but faith is not blind. It's built upon the evidence."

Now, this atheist started to push back and he started to say, "Wait a minute, I don't buy the evidence. It's not good." And we started debating the evidence. Later I looked back and I thought, "Wait a minute, I missed the point." Once he started debating the evidence, he was conceding that Christianity is a matter of the evidence. I should have stopped and said, "We can debate the Bible, we can debate God later. It sounds like you're conceding my point that faith is not blind."

But this isn't just outspoken atheist YouTubers and authors. It's amazing how many people within the church and people you run into have this idea. My wife and I bought a car a number of years ago and we were out test-driving this car and of course, our car salesman was asking us questions. "So how long have you two been married? Do you have kids? What's your job?" And I said, "Well, I teach..." Sometimes I'll say, "I teach apologetics." Sometimes people don't have a clue what that means, so I'll say, "I teach theology and philosophy." And I said, "Yeah, I teach theology and philosophy at a school called Talbot School of Theology at Biola." And he said word for word, I wrote it down, he goes, "Interesting. It's fun to discuss the big questions that no one has an answer to."

Isn't that interesting? Right away, instead of saying, "We do have an answer, you're wrong," I responded by asking a question. And by the way, what does that reveal about him? He thinks there's answers about historical questions. He thinks there's answers about mathematical and scientific questions, but when it comes to religion, it's all subjective and it's personal and we can't know the truth. If you have faith in one religion, your faith is blind. Instead, I asked the question back, I said, "Well, that's interesting. How do you know that no one has the answer? How do you know that? I mean, Jesus seemed to think he had the answer. Are you right and is Jesus wrong? I'm just curious." And we had a little bit of a conversation.

Now, I'm not trying to nail somebody there. That's not the point. I wanted a good deal on the car also, I'm not a fool, but I just asked questions and engaged. But what that revealed to me is the moment he said that, I'm thinking, "What does this tell me about his assumptions?"

Well, if we go back to the scriptures, I think it's very clear that faith is not blind. I think a better definition of faith is trusting God in light of what we have reason to believe is true. Faith is a kind of trust in God, not in spite of the evidence, but in light of the evidence. Faith is not believing God in spite of the evidence. It's a direction and a step towards God because of the evidence.

Now, that doesn't mean we have a hundred percent certainty. One of the big confusions I see is people think knowledge requires certainty. That's not the case. You can know something without certainty. In fact, the book of Ephesians talks about Paul says, "Know this with certainty." If he says, "Know this with certainty," it implies you can know something without certainty. Knowing something requires justified confidence but not necessarily certainty.

One mistake is to say that faith is blind. The other mistake to say is that faith is required to having a hundred percent certainty. Both of those are mistakes. Rather faith is trusting God in light of the evidence. You might be 60% sure God exists, you might be 98% sure. Faith is what goes beyond that, where we actively step out and trust God, even though we may have questions, even though we may have doubts.

Now, how can I say this scripturally? Well, let's go to an example from the Old Testament, also an example from the New Testament. Take the book of Exodus for example. If you look at the first chapters in Exodus one through six, you have the story of Israel is now in the land. I'm sorry, the Israelites are now trapped in Egypt. They have escaped because of what we read in Genesis and they've survived. Hundreds of years have passed, and now God is raising up Moses to be a deliverer to free the people. They're in Egypt, they're being held as slaves, and God raised up Moses as a deliverer.

Now, does Moses show up and say, "Hey, trust me, I speak for God"? Yes, but what does he couple with that? He does miracles and gives signs so the people have confidence that Moses actually speaks for God. Now, they have to trust God through Moses, right? They might not have a hundred percent certainty, but God does signs in part to show Pharaoh in a sense in the people to back down who the one who God is, but also to show the people of Israel that the God of Israel is the one true God and that they can trust Moses.

If you actually read Exodus seven through 12 and then extend it to 14 where they go through the Red Sea, you'll notice a certain pattern that emerges in the text. You know what the pattern is? Number one, God does a miracle. Number two, it gives the people knowledge. And then number three, they're called to trust God in light of what they know to be true. A miracle or a sign was given, gives the people knowledge, and then they're called to act in a way that trusts God. Now, you can go back, this is your assignment tonight. Go back and look at Exodus seven through 12 and ask yourself, "How many times is this pattern repeated?" But I'll show you just a couple to point this out.

This is in Exodus chapter seven, verse 17. Exodus chapter seven, verse 17. It says, "By this, you shall know that I am the Lord." Notice by this, you shall what? Know that I'm the Lord. "Behold the staph is in my hand. I will strike the water that's in the Nile and it shall turn to blood." You notice the pattern here, Moses does a miracle, namely puts his staph in the water, turns to blood. And what results from the miracle? They will have knowledge that the God of Israel is the one true God. As a result of that knowledge, what are they supposed to do? Listen to and obey and trust God through Moses. The miracle gives them knowledge.

I'll give you another example of one of my favorite stories in the Bible involving the frogs. I mean, you cannot read this. It's obviously tragic, but there's a level of humor here that God is going to send frogs all through the land, in their houses, in their kneading bowls. When they're done, there's piles of all these frogs. If you don't think God has a sense of humor, you just haven't read this passage. And he also created the duck-billed platypus, but I digress.

Notice what it says. Moses comes to Pharaoh and he says, "When would you like the frogs gone?" Now, if they're all over the land in the sense they're terrorizing you, any normal person would say either yesterday or right now. What does Pharaoh say? He says, "Tomorrow." What is this telling us about the story? It's not that big of a deal. You haven't broken me yet. I have bigger concerns, but okay, tomorrow get rid of it. This is a glimpse in the pharaoh's heart, but what you might not have read in the story is what Exodus eight 10 says. "And Pharaoh said, "Tomorrow."" Moses said, "Be it as you say so that you may, what? Know that there's no one like the Lord our God." And then he says, "Let our people go." Do you see the pattern? A miracle is done to give the people knowledge, and then in light of that knowledge and truth, obey and act differently.

One more example that I'll just point out, but I think you're getting the point, is in Exodus chapter nine. We looked at seven, eight, and now nine. Moses says, "The thunder will seize and there will be no more hail so that you may know that the earth is the Lord's." He sends these plagues down and he's asked to remove the plague. He says, "I will remove them by God's power and authority, so you may know that the God of Israel is the one true God. Now let my people go. Listen, obey." A miracle was done to give a confident knowledge and a confident faith. The pattern is evidence or miracle, knowledge, faith. Miracle, knowledge, faith.

Now, skip forward we will for sake of time to Exodus chapter 14. We've had the Passover, we've had all 10 plagues, they fled out and now Egypt's army, Pharaoh's army of Egypt follows them. And what happens when they get to the Red Sea? It's amazing how many people miss this. Exodus 14 31 says, "Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians. They saw God's power with their eyes. The people feared the Lord and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses." What happened? God splits the Red Sea, sends an east wind. Miracle because of not only how vast it was, but the exact timing. They see the miracle and what happens? They fear God and as a result they believe. God did miracles so the people will believe.

Now, I appreciate the movie Prince of Egypt. I appreciate anytime there's a major emotion picture that tries to broadly be faithful to biblical narrative. But what's really interesting is there is a song that Miriam sings as they're leaving Egypt. If you've seen the cartoon or you can picture it, they're in Egypt, they're leaving and the people are giving them wealth and silver and jewels and other treasures to leave, and the song says this, "Miracles will happen when you believe." If you notice the pattern, miracles happen when you believe. Is that the pattern of Exodus? If we were waiting for the Israelites to first believe and then God did miracles, they might still be in bondage in Egypt.

Now, God does at times do miracles because of our faith, but the grounding of their faith was the God who revealed himself through all the plagues, splitting the Red Sea. Did a miracle, not because they would believe, but because this was his chosen people and he wanted to establish their exodus on a supernatural miracle. Biblical pattern is miracle or evidence which leads towards knowledge, and then because of that knowledge, God asked for belief or action or faith.

Now, if you actually read the story in Joshua where they walk through the Jordan River, I won't go through, but you can see the same exact pattern. God stops the flow so the people may know and then follow and be obedient. But you also see this interestingly enough in the New Testament. My favorite stories about this is in Mark chapter two. In Mark chapter two. If you have a Bible would be a good time to pull it up. Let's walk through the story in Mark chapter two, verses one through 10. And it's a famous passage that you're familiar with where Jesus in a sense heals the paralytic.

You know what's taking place in this story. It's early in the ministry of Jesus. He's starting to do miracles, starting to make his name known. In Mark chapter two, if you can't find it, it's right after Mark chapter one. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Mark. When people don't laugh, that makes me very nervous.

Mark chapter two, it says this, "And when he, Jesus, returned to Capernaum," which is on the Sea of Galilee, "After some days it was reported that he was at home and many were gathered together so that there was no more room even at the door and he was preaching the word to them." By this stage of Jesus' ministry, word is spreading. He's having a level of fame. People just want to hear and see him teach. It says, "And they came, bring it to him, a paralytic carried by four men." Now, the untold heroes in this are the unnamed four men who cared more about getting their friend to Jesus than what Jesus could do to them.

It says, "And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him. When they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."" Now, did they bring the paralytic to him first to get his sins forgiven? And the answer is probably no. He's called a paralytic to indicate the disability he was experiencing and he wanted physical healing.

[inaudible 00:16:42] now, some of the scribes were sitting there questioning their hearts, "Why does this man speak like that? He's blaspheming. Who can forgive sins but God alone?" By the way, Mark is making it very clear that Jesus believes he speaks in God's stead with God's authority. "I can forgive if you offend me, but if this man may believe he was paralyzed because he had sinned against God, the only one who can forgive is God." And Jesus stands there and says, "Your sins are forgiven," as if he's speaking in God's place. Who is he claiming to be?

And then it says, "And Jesus perceiving in his spirit that they question within themselves said to them, "Why do you question these things in your heart?" What is easier to say to the paralytic? Your sins are forgiven, or to say, "Rise up, take your bed and walk?"" But notice a pattern. This is verse 10, but you may know that the son of man has authority and earth to forgive sins. He said to the paralytic, "I say to you, rise up. Pick up your bed and go." And he healed him. Why did he heal him? So the people watching may know. He's not calling people to blind faith. He's not saying, "Following me is believing something you just can't know." He publicly does a miracle, says, "Pick up your mat, rise and walk," as evidence of his identity as the son of man, which we learn at the end of Mark is not a claim to be human. It's a claim to be the divine figure from Daniel chapter seven.

The biblical pattern is God does miracles as a form of evidence to give knowledge and then our belief and faith and fear in God comes out of the knowledge that God has given us. Now, right now, immediately [inaudible 00:18:34] thinking, "But wait a minute, what about doubting Thomas? Didn't Jesus castigate Thomas for demanding evidence?" If that's how you interpret the story, I would invite you to read it more closely. Notice, Jesus appears to the other 10, because Judas was gone, without Thomas and they all tell Thomas, "Hey, we've seen Jesus." Doesn't believe him unless what? See the spear wounds in his side, nail marks in his palms. He doesn't believe him.

And then I think it's eight days later, Jesus shows up to Thomas indoors and what does it say? And of course Thomas at this point is like, "Okay, I get it," because Jesus is like, "Touch my side, touch my hands." Thomas is like, "Okay." And he actually says, he says, "My Lord and my God," which is the climax of the book of John, he wasn't saying, "Oh my God." That's not what he was saying. He's directing at Jesus, "My Lord and my God," because as John 1:1 starts out with, he is God in human flesh.

"But then Jesus, have you believed because you have seen me?" "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." Is Jesus saying, "Thomas, you demand in evidence. Don't demand in evidence. Blessed are those who simply believe valid evidence," and the answer is no. Thomas was given evidence. Number one, he had the predictions of Jesus. Mark eight, nine, and 10 make it clear that Jesus predicted he was going to die and come back. That's a piece of evidence. Second, he had the firsthand testimony of all of his other 10 buddies who said, "We've seen the risen Jesus." Unequivocally, that's good evidence.

Jesus is not saying, "Blessed are those who just believe without evidence." The whole book of John is that God has given signs and evidence so you can have an intelligent faith in Jesus. He's not saying, "Blessed are those who believe without evidence." He's saying, "Thomas, you've been blessed with physical evidence of seeing me in the flesh in the way people in the future will not." It's not evidence versus no evidence. It's a different kind of evidence that Thomas was given that you and I may not have. Hence, the book of John was written to record the kind of miracles so we can have evidence but a different kind of evidence that this is true.

Friends, Christianity does not invite blind faith. It invites an intelligent faith. It's a trust in God, not in spite of the evidence, but in light of the evidence. Questions you might have about the nature of faith or blind faith or any of the passages we looked at?

I heard someone say that you only need 51% assurance to be confident in [inaudible 00:21:45] a hundred percent of everything. What do you think about that? Where would the percentage be confident?

Now, is belief 51% in favor of something? I don't know if we're thinking of the same person, but one of my professors and colleagues at Biola, JP Morlin, would frame it that way. He'd say, "If you're 50/50, you're agnostic on something. If you're 51%, you believe it's true, but that's a very, very weak belief." But that's belief. That might be the kind of belief that says, "I believe, but help me with my unbelief." I actually find this to be a very helpful way of thinking about belief in general.

As I look at my life, certain things historically, I believe with more confidence than other things. Certain things relationally I believe with more confidence than other things. Certain things scientifically and even certain things in terms of my faith make more sense to me. I think that's helpful. The question is how do we go from 51% to 60 to 70 to 80%? And there's a lot of ways to get there. Confessing our sins, practicing the Christian faith, hanging out with Christians with faith, but also studying the evidence and seeing why it's true can help give us more confidence.

I used to beat myself up because I looked at a friend who just seemed to be as close to 100% faith as you could get and I was like, "Man, I wish I had that kind of faith." He lost his job and I'm like, "What are you going to do?" He goes, "God will provide." I'm like, "How do you know? Maybe he wants you to suffer." He's like, "Sean, God has this." And of course he got a job. I just question things, but then it hit me one day. I was like, "He doesn't write six or 700 page books examining the evidence for Christianity because he's not plagued by questions. He has the gift of faith. He's able to contribute to the body of Christ in a certain way that's different from my own." I've actually come to look at my doubts and questions as a gift, as hard as they are sometimes, as opposed to something that's a plague. But I think that's right. If you're 51% there, you're there. Give yourself grace, but then ask the question how you can increase and grow in your knowledge. Love that. One more question. Go.

What do you mean by faith is trusting God, not in spite of evidence, but in the light of the evidence? What's the difference?

What do I mean by belief in God in light of the evidence instead of in spite of the evidence? In light of the evidence is indicating that we trust God because God has made himself known. God has made himself known in our moral conscience, tells us there's a moral law. Creation tells us there's a creator. The historical evidence of Jesus, the evidence for intelligent zine, the evidence for the Bible. I don't believe in God in spite of what you might say, some people would say the lack of evidence. I believe in God in light of where the evidence points.

I'm trying to compare and contrast. When some people say, "Faith is blind, you just believe in God in spite of the evidence," I say, "No. Faith is intelligent. It goes beyond the evidence," but it's not against the evidence. It's not without evidence. It's in the direction the evidence is pointing. Because of God's grace, I think he's given us sufficient evidence. Those with eyes to see and ears to hear, God has sufficiently made himself known. Great question. In our next session we're going to start to make the positive case that Christianity is true by looking at the nature of truth. Is there such a thing and can we know it?