One of the most important questions our kids will ever ask (and if they don’t, we should encourage them to!) is how do you know if something is true?

As they grow up, they will inevitably encounter the idea that empirical science is the only acceptable measure for truth. No doubt they will hear ‘show me the (physical) evidence and I will believe’ or variations of that sentiment when they attempt to share their faith. Worse still, they could be influenced by it and be blinded to truth all together.

So, I see this as something fundamentally important and I want to build into family conversations as early as possible, and to keep building on it as my son grows up. At this stage, I only just want to show him that they are many ways we can know something to be true.

Below is roughly how our conversation went  🙂

Supposed you walk into the kitchen one evening. A saucepan full of water is boiling. How do you know the water is actually, really,  boiling?

It’s bubbling like crazy and it is steaming. It’s hot. And if we measure the temperature of the water with a thermometer it would be 100°c.

How would you know who boiled it?

Ask dad or mum if someone did it. Or ask if dad saw mum did it (eyewitness account). 

How do you know why it was boiled?

Look around for clues. If there is a pack of pasta on the bench, maybe it’s for cooking pasta (but we can’t know that for sure because it could be for something else). Best thing to do is to ask whoever boiled the water what it’s boiled for!!

At the end of our conversation, my son’s first conclusion was that science can’t tell us everything! And that’s because there are things to be known beyond the limitations of science. We talked about how science is a legitimate measure to knowing truth if our inquiry is of something that is physical in nature because it is testable and the process of testing is repeatable. But some truths, such as who did it (historical) and why (purpose) are not of physical nature and we need different methods to know them.

I am looking forward to keep building his thinking tool box on this foundation.  But really,  I am just stoked that he’s convinced already that science can’t know everything!!