In The Christian Religion in its Doctrinal Expression (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1917), E. Y. Mullins spends a great deal of time discussing knowledge and how one knows, with a keen interest to demonstrate that his view of that experience is crucial in ones epistemology is correct. While he is not hostile to the scientific method, he does spend some time critiquing it. Here he, in a way that would sound strangely familiar to those critiques of “modernism” several years later, writes of the folly in assuming that the scientist is “disinterested” in his subject matter:
It is not correct to assume that the absence of ” interest” is the best condition for finding the truth. Recent discussions of theories of knowledge show that interest is a necessary condition for its discovery. Our struggle for life in all its forms,our reactions upon the world in the pursuit of our vital needs, are our chief sources of knowledge. The man of science is not detached from “interest” in a realm of “pure thought.” There is no such thing as pure thought, that is, thought detached from feeling and desire. The true scientist is passionately and enthusiastically devoted to the ideal of truth because for him such devotion is the chief value of the life of research. As his passion and enthusiasm wane, he is likely to be a decreasing value for scientific progress. He has a very great personal interest in his life pursuit (85-86).
Later he addresses certain objections to the proofs of God’s existence. One of these objections is that the proofs of God are offered with too much of subjectivity by its proponents to be of any value. Mullins replies,
It is always possible for the objector to bring the charge of subjectivism against any proof of God s existence. Man finds what he looks for because he wants to find it, not because it is there. It has been expressed thus : If many grains of wheat are thrown promiscuously on a table, you can, by picking out some grains and leaving others, produce any pattern or spell any word you desire. You can make the grains spell God or atheism. So you can manipulate the facts of nature and experience. But this objection is more formidable in appearance than in reality. It overlooks the other truth. You can just as easily manipulate the grains of wheat so as to spoil what is already there. The man who refuses to see is quite as subjective as the man who claims to see. The Christian has had both forms of experience. Once he was blind, now he sees. This is a form of certainty unknown to the objector. The charge of subjectivism may be brought by any objector to any conclusion in any sphere. All the data which we handle in our reasonings must pass through the human mold, Our intellect impresses its forms upon all facts, just as a dipper shapes the water it takes out of the bucket. But all truth becomes truth only on the supposition that our reason gives us reliable information. The fact that reason is satisfied and a religious need is met surely cannot be justly held to discredit it. It is rather the strongest of proofs that it is true. And when a form of experience like the Christian’s, which belongs to a great order of experience running through nearly two thousand years, and embracing millions of other Christians, and which can be scientifically analyzed and explained when such an experience is under consideration the charge of subjectivism loses all its force. If the experience were merely individual and exceptional there would be some point in the objection. But not otherwise (135-36).
It may be true that Mullins emphasizes “experience” too much in his theology. Yet one can appreciate his early critique of the scientific method and its illusion of objectivity before the post-modernists (such as Thomas Kuhn) were really on the scene. Please do not misunderstand me; E. Y. Mullins is not a post-modernist (!), but his critique of the myth of objectivity is one I nonetheless appreciate.