A Lesson in Epistemology

I love football. It is a game of symmetry, complexity, and strategy, much like Chess, except it involves really big men knocking the snot out of each other instead of skinny nerds moving pieces on a board. In the world of sports, there is no greater excitement than a big football game coming right down to the wire (Texas vs. USC, for example).

On top of all that, football has instant replay, which proves that our culture has not completely capitulated to postmodern nonsense. I can imagine a group of postmoderns watching a pro football game together. Let’s say their names are Sky, Aeon, and Ripcord (their parents were hippies, okay?). At some point in the game, a coach throws out his red flag, indicating his desire to challenge the previous call that had been made. The official then takes two minutes to review the play on instant replay and decide if the call should stand or be reversed. Imagine the dialogue during these two minutes:

SKY: What does it matter what the replay shows? The camera doesn’t have an omniscient perspective.

AEON: Yeah. In fact, there are several cameras out there, which together form the camera community, the context of which determines the guiding narrative for itself, but not for other communities, such as the officials’ community. The officials must use their own guiding narrative in conversation with one another.

SKY: And even then they have no right to make judgments that are binding on the players and coaches, which form communities unto themselves. Those yellow flags are so judgmental. I mean, if grabbing a guy’s face mask is okay according to the norms of your community, then who is this striped bozo to say it’s wrong? Why must the officials, under the tyranny of instant replay, seek to impose their own metanarrative on everyone else?

RIPCORD: Hey, we’re out of beer.

AEON: I know what you mean, man. Why stop the game in order to try to get at what “really happened” out on the field. There is no “really happened” to get at. The officials create reality when they call it, but it is a reality that is only normative for themselves, not for the players, and not for you or me.

SKY: Instant replay is so irrelevant. Why should we pretend that there is somehow a “better call” that could have been made for any play? I hate football.

RIPCORD: Guys, still out of beer.

AEON: I hate it too. Let’s watch something else. Oh! I think The Book of Daniel is on.

SKY: No, sorry. It got canceled. It’s on NBC, remember? Shows on NBC get canceled.

AEON: Oh, yeah.


SKY: Wanna go see Brokeback Mountain?

AEON: Again? Well, okay.

[They both exit, leaving Ripcord alone with his empty beer cans. The two minutes are up, and the official indicates that after further review, the call has been overturned.]

RIPCORD: I need more beer.

The fact that officials in the NFL and the NCAA still rely on replays to show them what really happened indicates that they believe that objective reality exists, and that it can be known. Of course, cameras don’t show everything, and sometimes they don’t show enough to offer a confident verdict in either direction. But it is indisputable that they often provide enough information to enable the officials to make a better call or to confirm the call that had already been made.

I don’t like it when games are constantly interrupted by the review process. That’s why I like the NFL’s limited challenge policy. But as long as instant replay is used to determine how some plays will be called, we are still living in a world in which at least some people believe objective truth can be known. No one claims that it can be known exhaustively (that is, apart from omniscience), but then exhaustive knowledge is not necessary for true knowledge. I don’t have to know absolutely everything about Vince Young’s game-winning touchdown against USC to know that he did, in fact, run in a game-winning touchdown. I don’t have to interpret that bit of knowledge in conversation with my community. Nor is it “absolutist” of me to claim that it really happened and that anyone who says otherwise is wrong.

Epistemology, to my thinking, has a lot to do with common sense. Postmodernism, while it has helped us recognize our limitations and contexts, is ultimately an epistemology that has abandoned common sense. You won’t get very far in life without that. And you certainly won’t have any tolerance for instant replay.


9 Responses to “A Lesson in Epistemology”

  1. Craig Says:

    Dear Aaron,

    We get your point. We guess objective reality does exist in the game of football and can be known so instant replay should be used. But why do you presume we are watching football?

    We watch soccer. And go for long walks and hang out in coffee shops and wonder aloud what we did to you to make you so hostile to our way of thinking.

    Sky, Aeon, Ripcord.

  2. Myles Says:

    one question: can you know everything about the flag being thrown? or about aeon or ripcord or sky? you know what is observable, and then based on your own experience, you believe about sky, rip, and aeon. objective reality consists of being able to know all the facets, which is why the scientific approach was so dominant in the Enlightenment.

    the instant replay, however, is more a testimony to the perspective. one coach sees something that another does not, or one official wants to overturn another. the instant replay comes in and becomes an arbiter between varying conceptions of what was seen–mind you, neither ref is wrong insofar as both have seen the game, and both have watched players and plays, but one has not seen a particular part of the game as pertains to the rule book.

    however, not even the replay can tell you everything objectively, if by objectively, we mean exhaustively. the value of the replay is the augmenting of limitation of various perspectives at particular points, pointing to the fact that some vantage points are better than others, but none are perfect.

    with regards to objective reality, then: if the replay is not exhaustive (i.e. able to tell me everything about the play), how can it be objective, if to be objective is to know the object that is seen, which implies that one’s position as a subject is stable? Refs move, players shift, Romo throws an elbow. things change, and thus, perspectives on the same game change.

    And what happens when the replay is “inconclusive”?

    this is not to say that what you’re calling objective reality does not exist, but that we have to approach it differently than saying that “everyone can see it”, which is patently false. I’ve started reading the Institutes, and Calvin makes the same claim in the first two chapters concerning God, which I’ll be interested to see how it plays that out.

  3. Aaron Says:

    Dear Sky, Aeon, and Ripcord,

    You shouldn’t have to wonder what you did to make me so hostile to your epistemology. You should know what you did. You came along, in the footsteps of Kant and other Enlightenment thinkers, and put yourself and your “community” at the center of all knowledge. Your unbelief pours out of your inability to see that God, who exists and rules all things, guarantees our ability to know objective reality and receive real, true, binding revelation from him. You made yourselves into little gods and then threw your hands up in despair when you realized that if you were, indeed, gods, you didn’t have much to offer, but oh well, that’s the way things are.

    I really do appreciate the fact that you were able to pull a reductio ad absurdum on the Enlightenment guys. Doug Wilson has said that a reductio is when you get into some other guy’s car and drive it into a tree. But the problem is, that’s all you do: drive other people’s cars into trees. You have never given us another means of transportation. I mean, your tricycle with one of the wheels missing will only take me in circles around my “community,” and that is no substitute for a good car.

    So, thanks for wrecking the Enlightenment vehicles. I’ll be sure not to get into them again. But instead of putting God at the center of your epistemology, you left yourself there, just like Kant and company did. Postmodernism is simply modernism with experience.

    Enjoy your coffee.


  4. Craig Says:

    Uh, we don’t know what the hell you just said. But thanks for caring enough to say it. And, uh, we’re sorry for wrecking your vehicle?

  5. Myles Says:

    crap, craig! i KNEW it was you that borrowed the Land Rover! i want my keys back!

  6. Aaron Says:

    Hey, don’t worry about the car. I got a good deal on a Revelational Foundationalism model at the Calvin dealership in Geneva. It’s a first century model, but is still in excellent condition.

    And I’m taking this metaphor way too far.

  7. Adam Phelan Says:

    I’ll stay out of continuing the metaphor, and also qualify this by saying I only know you through this blog, but your post does seem mean spirited. I think you’re trying to be funny, but the names, the Brokeback Mountain and the Book of Daniel jokes just seem like unfair generalizations.

    The flippant use of the word community does bother me. If there is one thing I value about community, it’s that doing theology in a community means the same people who hear me make sweeping comments about how to solve all the world’s problems also seem me get ticked at the guy in front of me in line at the Kroger who’s taking two hours to fish out the correct change from his pockets. It’s a nice way to keep me humble.

  8. Aaron Says:

    Oh, I don’t disparage community at all, nor do I advocate doing theology outside of community (as though that were even possible). Community is definitely necessary for knowledge and theology, and I am sorry if my post led you to believe that I think otherwise.

    I use the word flippantly because the word “community” has been elevated in postmodernism as an arbiter of truth. It has, in essence, been turned into a god. Individual communities determine what is normative and what is not, and no community has access to any transcendent truth that is normative for all communities.

  9. Aaron Says:

    And let me add that the names and stuff are reflective of what I, in my imaginative way, think postmoderns COULD be like. Actually, I don’t know anyone who is really and truly “postmodern”. I know many people who flirt with postmodernism, who praise it continually and never critique it, but who are still, at the end of the day, not totally immersed in it. I don’t believe a consistent postmodern could be a Christian at the same time.

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