Notes from Greg Bahnsen lecture, Seminary Apologetics: Epistemological Issues: Knowledge — Part I.
Epistemological is the subdivision of philosophy that is concerned with the theory of knowledge. The apologetical discussion with unbelievers eventually centers around epistemological questions. Apologetics entails the apologetic of one’s epistemology. Both believer and unbeliever operate with epistemological convictions about truth, evidence, proof, belief etc. The unbeliever will say that he does not believe the claims of Christianity are true or that he knows that Jesus did not resurrect. Likewise, believers make use of epistemological notions such as, “we believe that Jesus rose from the dead. I know that my Redeemer lives.” Not only do we find epistemological disagreements between schools of thought and individual philosophers, there are significant disagreements between Christians and non-Christians over crucial epistemological matters. In light of the biblical teaching about the intellectual renewal of the believer (Romans 12:2) and in light of the biblical teaching of the pervasive depravity of the unbeliever (Romans 8:7; Eph. 4:17-19). The philosophical discord over the fundamental issues in epistemology should not alarm us. The apologist must not naively take for granted that everyone takes a common view of evidence, logic, knowledge, reason etc., yet in apologetics we are dealing with these concepts. If everyone held these common views, basic philosophical or religious views could be readily settled simply by making sure everyone has the same raw data available. However, disputes continue because people disagree over more fundamental epistemological issues, which determine what counts for raw data. People are divided in the Bible concerning what is truth (John 18:28), what is believable (Acts 26:8), reliability of the senses (Matthew 28:17), the difference between knowledge and pseudo-knowledge (1 Tim. 6:20), between wisdom and folly (1 Cor 1:18-29), between the evidential values of miracles (Luke 16:31). From reading our Bibles we should know that the fundamental differences between believers and unbelievers are epistemological.
The word “epistemology” derives from the Greek word “episteme” and the other Greek word “logos” meaning a reason concerning knowledge. Epistemological is the theory of knowledge. What do people ordinarily mean when they say that they know something?
To “know” is used in a variety of ways due to the various kinds of objects to be known.
Types of Knowledge
1. Knowing (Propositions) truths/facts/claims: “He knows that the car needs repair.”
2. Knowing (as having ability) how: “He knows how to fix the car.”
3. Knowing persons: “He knows Bill the auto-mechanic.”
Knowing How and Knowing Persons cannot be reduced merely to the first type of knowing. The intended sense of Knowing That is not always intended to be reduced to intellectual knowing. Ps. 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” This implies intellectual knowledge, intimate knowledge and ability to submit your will to God. We cannot think that skill and personal relationship can be divorced from the first sense of knowing. For example, knowing how to fix the car, assumes knowing about parts of the car. Also, knowing George Bush assumes knowing facts about him.
The discussion that we have about knowledge is going to focus on the intellectual sense of knowing, since it is part of the other types of knowledge.
All instances of knowing are a sub-class of instances of believing. It makes no sense to know something to be true without believing it to be true.
Kinds of Belief
-disposition to act: Did you believe it was cold outside? Yes, you had the disposition of putting on your coat.
-differing degrees of confidence: opinions, convictions
-some beliefs are spontaneous, others are derived by mental investigation
-some beliefs are subject to voluntary control, while not so for others: I can choose to believe certain things, but for others things I just can’t help it.
-not all beliefs are given personal avowal
-some beliefs have big consequences
-some beliefs are normative by governing our behavior
-some beliefs cannot be corrected
-some beliefs are maintained only by effort
-some beliefs are irrational
-some beliefs are held inconsistently
Belief: a positive cognitive attitude toward a proposition (an action guiding mental state on which a person relies whether intermittently or continuously) in his theoretical inferences or practical actions and plans.
-positive cognitive attitude: it is a way of being situated towards the world. It is an attitude of a cognitive nature. The situation is one of affirmation. A proposition is distinguished from another is the proposition that he believes. I may have the same positive cognitive attitude toward “strawberry ice-cream is good towards “it is cold outside” but these are not the same beliefs, because the propositions believed are different.
-action guiding mental state: I have a state of mind that guides my actions. I rely on that sometimes briefly or a long-period of time in my theoretical inferences and my practical actions and plans. “I believe it is cold outside because I put on my coat.” I can also believe it is cold outside because it is winter.
-Belief is distinguished from merely entertaining a thought because a positive attitude and it is relied upon.
-The actions consequent of a belief are not always of all three kinds. There are some beliefs that are too painful to assert.
-A belief does not always need to manifest itself.
-Even when a belief is in its active mode, that beliefs activity can be a periodic activity
-In the Bible knowledge is not separated from belief. (Titus 1:1)
-Knowledge entails belief (1 John 4:16)
-belief is a positive attitude (Hebrews 11:1)
-belief toward a proposition read or heard (Romans 10:14)
-belief can be a datable event
-belief can be continuing state of mind (Rom. 10:13)
-belief can be temporary (Heb. 10:35)
-we believe that faith is a enduring state of mind when it comes from God, when it doesn’t come from God it comes from human imagination which doesn’t last
-belief can carries different degrees of confidence
-belief can be unshakeable
-belief can express itself in mental inferences (Heb 11:3), in verbal remarks (Romans 10: 9-10), practical behavior (James 2:14-20)
-belief can be exercised because it is morally obligated for us, since God tells us to believe in Jesus.
-To say that a proposition is true can be interpreted to mean 1) what is the case 2) what conforms to the facts 3) or is correct
-Differing theories of truth are not necessarily in conflict with one another, because they are addressing different questions. Some theories of truth address “what is the nature of the property that we call ‘truth’?” (the correspondence theory). Other theories ask “what is the evidence for the presence of that property? (coherence and pragmatic theory). Other theories ask “what is the logical structure of those sentences that use the term ‘truth’?” (semantic and performative theory). These theories of truth are not in conflict because they do different things.
Correspondence T: what corresponds to the facts
Coherence T: something is true if it fits into a coherent theory
All the theories of truth have their drawbacks
The correspondence theory either rests on a crude and unworkable metaphor or it speaks of correspondence with abstract entities which cannot be explained and individuated without reference to true propositions.
-either rests on a crude and unworkable metaphor that true sentences parallel or picture the extra-mental world. Do sentences picture the extra-mental world? “Does this sentence look like a red corvet?”
view #2: between a sentences and an abstract entity (states of affairs/facts): A fact is not something that you can touch.
-when I say truth is the property of a statement corresponding to an abstract state of affairs, how can I explain that correspondence between a verbal expression and an abstract state of affairs? Unless I know how to individuate states of affairs. To individuate means to separate and to discern to see the difference between one thing and another. How do you individuate between different states of affairs? Any attempt to individuate states of affairs will require you to refer to true propositions. One of the things that individuates the state of affairs is truth. Correspondence theory states that a proposition is true when it corresponds to a state of affairs. It must be a true state of affairs. This theory requires you to know what truth is before you define it.
def: a proposition is true when it coheres with all other beliefs that we hold
-it assumes that a proposition is true when it coheres, because two different propositions that conflict with one another can’t both be true
-relies on the premise that two inconsistent premises cannot both be true
-the difficulty is that you must know what truth is before you can state of coherence theory of truth
def: true sentences are corroborated by their practical results.
-if a sentence whose meaning is the practical effects, if that sentences helps me to be helpful, then the sentence is true
-this presupposes we know in advance what results should be truly expected, however, this would mean we already have a theory of truth
For ex. “I believe that I am in the Rock Mountains.” A practical effect is that if I go outside I’ll see bears. How do I know that that is truly what is to be expected if I am in the Rocky Mountains? I’ll need to already need to know what is true to test the propositions.
-on this theory, we need to use a formal language, we must distinguish between the object language and the meta-language in which we speak of the truth of the object language.
-this would make our theory unworkable in the natural languages of English, German, French where truth claims are normally debated
-a sentence is true is to perform the action of offering personal re-assurance regarding it.
-When I say, “This sentence is true” I’m not ascribing a property to it, I’m just saying, “Go ahead and believe it.”
-this notion is unhelpful. What does it offer re-assurance of? It is linguistically inaccurate. We don’t use “truth” in that re-assuring way.
-”Every statement made by Napolean was true.” In this way, I am ascribing a property to the statements and I cannot be properly rephrase by saying “Every statement made by Napolean, I confirm it.”
-truth is whatever conforms to God’s mind
-this accounts for the Bible applying truth to the facts
-it is also accounts for what is eternal and absolute: sometimes the Bible tells us that God himself is truth-Jesus is the truth, way and life
-it accounts for truth being ethically right
We said that for someone to know a proposition, two conditions need to be met. The person must believe the proposition and it must be true. However, this would be inadequate. Truth beliefs can sometimes be arrived at by invalid means such as false premises. Suppose that Sam believes that in 1985, the initials of the president of the United States were RR. Sam believes this claim because he believes that Roy Rogers was president in 85. People would believe the initials to be true, but o one would credit Sam for believing this to be true. If Sam looks at a broken clock with moment the clock is pointing at the right time, Sam doesn’t gain knowledge of what time it is. Sam does not have good reason for believing it is true, because the clock is broken. What if Sam miss-remembers the testimony of a liar. The liar says, “we are not going to meet at the store tonight.” Sam forgets and drops the word “not” out of it and goes to the store that night. If you miss-remember the testimony of a liar, so that what you believe happens to be true, would we say you knew they were going to meet that night? No. In all these cases, Sam’s beliefs are based on false reason.
If you are going to have true knowledge, you must have a belief that is true and be substantiated by adequate grounds. Knowledge is justified true belief. By justified, the person needs good reasons to believe the proposition to be true. When and how are claims that we make well founded? What is the source of reliable beliefs? How do we know that we know?
It is one thing to have good evidence, it is another thing to give the evidence to others. People often know more than they are able to say. Sometimes this is because a person is unquestionably in a position to know maybe unable to formulate for himself a reason for believing something, yet the judgment that is held by this person has a risen from a perception of relevant factors and not some mystical fashion. Sometimes you can have a reason for what you believe, but not being able to state the reason. Having evidence for a proposition is having a belief that is used to support a further belief.