Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Epistemology of Faith

"Faith is believing something you know ain't true."

"Faith takes over where reason leaves off."

"Christians don't know their theological beliefs are true, they believe them on blind faith."



Well, that's certainly one way of looking at it. But what if "taking something on faith," in the Christian worldview, is something like forming a belief upon the testimony of another? Knowledge by testimony is regarded as a valuable way to acquire knowledge. If believing something on faith -- not soteriologically speaking -- is like this kind of knowledge, then it is false to claim that when a Christian believes something on faith he believes irrationally. Indeed, believing something on faith wouldn't be to believe in the absence of evidence, but it would be to believe something on the testimony of another person. Perhaps faith is similar to this? Perhaps the oft repeated charge that believeing something on faith is irrational will be seen to be groundless?

The SEP states that,

The main epistemological problem of testimony is that an enormous number of our beliefs originate in the assertions or testimony of speakers, but our accepting or believing those assertions merely on the word of the speaker does not seem sufficient for those beliefs to be justified, warranted, or knowledge. The problem is diminished but not eliminated if it is assumed, as is standard, that the speaker is justified or warranted in the beliefs that his assertions express, and even if he knows them.


And so without confusing the de jure with the de facto, does the Christian theist who holds, say, some basic beliefs of the Christian faith -- e.g., God's existence, God reveals himself to humans via holy Scripture, Christ's divine-human nature, salvation by grace alone, -- on the basis of faith, or, the say-so or God, or, on the testimony of the word of the living God, know (say, WTB) the above Christian dogmas?

If the speaker, in this case Jehovah, is justified or warranted in His beliefs -- and surely on the Christian story God has maximal, supreme, super warrant or justification, or, fill in the appropriate terminology -- and if the Christian takes the say-so of God as a source for his/her beliefs, then isn't the Christian entitled to "know" these things?

On this theory, if one starts out trusting God, as indeed s/he should, then one never undermines the credibility of the testifier. In debates about knowledge by testimony, one can say that if the testifier has been shown to be unreliable, then that might issue a defeater for a belief you have obtained by his testimony. But, if the honesty was never called in to question in the first place, taking his word, especially about, say, the color of his mother's hair, would be quite natural. And, if his mother's hair was blonde, and that's what he told you, then you knew it. (At this point Plantinga would admit warrant, but he would say that you would have more warrant if you verified what was testified to you. I think that fine as far as it goes, but in our case, surely the word of an omniscient being who cannot lie carries more weight than my "checking up on" the testimony. My own verification would seem to be ranked lower on list of epistemic authorities in a situation like this.) So, why should we even begin the relationship with God by doubting His honesty? Thomas Reid,

"I believed by instinct whatever my parents and tutors told me, long before I had the idea of a lie, or a thought of the possibility of their deceiving me. Afterwards, upon reflection, I found that they had acted like fair and honest people, who wished me well. I found that, if I had not believed what they told me, before I could give a reason for my belief, I had to this day been little better than a changeling."


And, wouldn't knowledge gained in this kind of way -- the testimony of God -- constitute a belief that had such warrant that if you remained in the natural state of faith, i.e., trusting the word of God, taking things on His say-so, it would be a defeater-deflector for challenges to the above types of beliefs? That is, a person does not have an automatic defeater for his/her belief that God exists since the warrant of the belief that is the subject of attempted defeat is such that it deflects the defeater.

Now, if this person began to think autonomously, i.e., begin with the premise that God's say-so should be doubted unless otherwise verified (remaining unwarranted until then), then the defeaters, if not themselves defeated, would constitute defeaters for the above beliefs for that kind of person.

But, doesn't the layman Christian, who takes this roughly Van Tillian/Plantinganian approach to faith, knowledge, and warrant (in an epistemological sense, not a soteriological sense of trusting and resting in Christ alone), know the above dogmas? Furthermore, doesn't he have an automatic defeater-deflector to challenges to his faith such that if this model is roughly true, then all Christians, not just ivory tower apologists who can think long and deep about challenges to the faith, and come up with defeater-defeaters (which are needed for various situations, like the autonomous man above who may one day start to doubt Christianity because he can't defeat a defeater) who hold to something like this model can be said to "know" their core dogmas and, furthermore, not be irrational in asserting their truth?

If something like this model is accurate, and surely it needs to be developed as the above is just rough thoughts and chicken scratching, then if the Christian story is true, and something like the above epistemology of faith is true, then Christians are rational in their beliefs, and are not affected by certain defeaters to certain core Christian beliefs. Wouldn't the atheologist need to disprove Christianity and a model of this kind before they could call the Christian in the pew, say, Sophie the washwoman, irrational? If a model of faith had close similarities with the respected notion of knowledge by testimony, then wouldn't the pejorative 'blind faith' be seen to be nothing more than that? A pejorative. Isn't the atheist, in most cases, simply begging the question against a Christian epistemology when he says we are irrational in our beliefs that we say we know by faith? Anyhow, rough thoughts, as I said....

16 comments:

  1. Paul I enjoyed and appreciated your post, you began with:

    ”Well, that's certainly one way of looking at it. But what if "taking something on faith," in the Christian worldview, is something like forming a belief upon the testimony of another? Knowledge by testimony is regarded as a valuable way to acquire knowledge. If believing something on faith -- not soteriologically speaking -- is like this kind of knowledge, then it is false to claim that when a Christian believes something on faith he believes irrationally. Indeed, believing something on faith wouldn't be to believe in the absence of evidence, but it would be to believe something on the testimony of another person. Perhaps faith is similar to this? Perhaps the oft repeated charge that believeing something on faith is irrational will be seen to be groundless?”

    This is a very good point, biblical faith involves reliance upon the integrity and faithfulness of God. The Lord constantly challenges His people to trust Him based upon his “track record”. That “track record” is the overwhelming and continuous evidence of His character and trustworthiness. In the case of the Lord he is **the** person whose testimony can be, and ought to be trusted. So biblical faith is never without reason, without evidence, without basis as the nonbeliever claims.

    ”If the speaker, in this case Jehovah, is justified or warranted in His beliefs -- and surely on the Christian story God has maximal, supreme, super warrant or justification, or, fill in the appropriate terminology -- and if the Christian takes the say-so of God as a source for his/her beliefs, then isn't the Christian entitled to "know" these things?”

    Right, God is the ultimate and best person to trust when it comes to **testimony**. What He says is always true and can be completely counted upon. It is interesting and we should challenge the nonbelievers on the testimonies that they put their trust or confidence in. We can contrast God who is supremely faithful and worthy of trust with anything or anyone that they put their trust and confidence in.

    ”In debates about knowledge by testimony, one can say that if the testifier has been shown to be unreliable, then that might issue a defeater for a belief you have obtained by his testimony. But, if the honesty was never called in to question in the first place, taking his word, especially about, say, the color of his mother's hair, would be quite natural. And, if his mother's hair was blonde, and that's what he told you, then you knew it. (At this point Plantinga would admit warrant, but he would say that you would have more warrant if you verified what was testified to you. I think that fine as far as it goes, but in our case, surely the word of an omniscient being who cannot lie carries more weight than my "checking up on" the testimony. My own verification would seem to be ranked lower on list of epistemic authorities in a situation like this.)”

    Our “own verification” may be less important than God’s trustworthiness, but it is not an either/or situation. Yes God trust in the testimony of God is totally warranted, but at the same time, the Lord sometimes invites verification (to Thomas after the resurrection, check out my hands . . .; the apostles could point to scripture and prophecy as verification of both the actions of ministry and their own ministry. So Yes it starts with trust in the Lord first, but at the same time, God invites verification of His trustworthiness and the fact He always tells the truth.

    ”And, wouldn't knowledge gained in this kind of way -- the testimony of God -- constitute a belief that had such warrant that if you remained in the natural state of faith, i.e., trusting the word of God, taking things on His say-so, it would be a defeater-deflector for challenges to the above types of beliefs?”

    I would think so.

    ”But, doesn't the layman Christian, who takes this roughly Van Tillian/Plantinganian approach to faith, knowledge, and warrant (in an epistemological sense, not a soteriological sense of trusting and resting in Christ alone), know the above dogmas?”

    In scripture the Lord often says things like, what really counts is to know Me (and implied in those kinds of statements is not to merely know about Him in an intellectual sense but to trust Him).

    ”If something like this model is accurate, and surely it needs to be developed as the above is just rough thoughts and chicken scratching, then if the Christian story is true, and something like the above epistemology of faith is true, then Christians are rational in their beliefs, and are not affected by certain defeaters to certain core Christian beliefs.”

    What do you mean by model?

    “Wouldn't the atheologist need to disprove Christianity and a model of this kind before they could call the Christian in the pew, say, Sophie the washwoman, irrational? If a model of faith had close similarities with the respected notion of knowledge by testimony, then wouldn't the pejorative 'blind faith' be seen to be nothing more than that? A pejorative. Isn't the atheist, in most cases, simply begging the question against a Christian epistemology when he says we are irrational in our beliefs that we say we know by faith? Anyhow, rough thoughts, as I said....”

    I think that getting the Atheist in the position where he has to examine the trustworthiness of God and His statements and His actions, in order to show that the believer is not placing their trust in a reliable source is precisely where we want them! In order to do so, they would have to literally get into scripture in order to evaluate the trustworthiness and “track record” of God. And in my mind, getting the nonbeliever to directly deal with scripture is a good thing. We want them to be testing scripture, checking it out, because Scripture is infallible, self-attesting, and the Holy Spirit uses scripture to effect change in people’s hearts.

    So Paul how are you going to develop your “model”?

    Robert

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  2. Hi Robert,

    Thanks for the comments.

    I am just starting to do an in depth study into the epistemology of testimony and how I can use insights there and apply it to "believing something on faith."

    As I continue I'll add further comments, but I plan on this taking some time, since it delves into so many other areas (both theological, philosophical, and apologetical). I do have some further thoughts, but they're not even ready to become a "chicken scratch" post.

    I mainly wanted to throw this out there and see what kinds of comments I might get so as to help me in my thinking.

    So, thanks for the encouragement to continue to build me "model"! :-)

    ~PM

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  3. Paul,

    Nice post. I'm actually interested in the epistemology of testimony myself. I'll post something more substantial when I get back from what I'm about to do. But, I would recommend the Sosa/Lackey book on testimony. Lackey has some nice things about testimony. I'm not sure if I agree with it, but it's pretty good. I'm a non-reductionist as was Reid, Codey, etc. Bauckham relies heavily on Codey which I had some criticisms of. Also, what do you think of the Bayesian approach? Finally, I attended an epistemology of testimony conference here in Rutgers and there is a study that young children are good consumers of testimony, that they are not as gullible as we think they are.

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  4. Paul wrote:

    ”I am just starting to do an in depth study into the epistemology of testimony and how I can use insights there and apply it to "believing something on faith."”

    Have you read much of Reid? He has some good stuff on testimony and he influenced Plantinga. Have you read Plantinga’s warrant series, he also is helpful on the place of testimony on warranted beliefs. Another place to study the role and nature of testimony is the work of Christian lawyers/apologists. Simon Greenleaf wrote “the Testimony of the Evangelists” where he brings up what lawyers look at in indicating reliable testimony. John Warwick Montgomery has also written some things related to testimony and how lawyers evaluate it. So check out the lawyers in your research as well.

    ”As I continue I'll add further comments, but I plan on this taking some time, since it delves into so many other areas (both theological, philosophical, and apologetical). I do have some further thoughts, but they're not even ready to become a "chicken scratch" post.”

    I will look forward to seeing this in the future.

    ”I mainly wanted to throw this out there and see what kinds of comments I might get so as to help me in my thinking.”

    If you ask some specific questions I might be able to say more, but I just wanted to encourage you to pursue it further.

    ”So, thanks for the encouragement to continue to build me "model"! :-)”

    Your welcome, if I encouraged you in your pursuit then I was successful. Tell me us what you think of Reid and Plantinga after you’ve read them where they talk about testimony.

    Robert

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  5. Apolonio,

    I have the Sosa and Lackey book but have only glanced at it, dipping in here and there. I also have the Coady (I think that's what you meant by "Codey") book. I have given that the same treatment as the above. I know there is much to say about this, and surely my post had some huge holes and things that would need to be addressed, but my purpose was to give the *general direction* I was heading. I will, and do, have modifications and nuances of my own. Anyway, I look forward to your thoughts.

    Robert,

    I have read all of Plantinga's Warrant Trilogy (and parts of it over and over). I generally like what he has to say about testimony. I have some thoughts of my own and some disagreements, but that's for another time. One thing I'm trying to do is give an answer to some who have critiqued Plantinga's theory of knowledge by saying that he and other Christian philosophers may be warranted in their beliefs, but not the Christian in the pew - given that they cannot defeat the myriad defeaters. But, if he 9and others) are generally right about the place testimony has, and some of the other thoughts on testimony are valid, then the Christain in the pew has a defeater-deflector and is not in need of a defeater-defeater. So, that's kind of where I'm heading. And, btw, I've read some of Reid on this, but not nearly what I need to to be able to work this out in gthe fashion I'd like.

    ~PM

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  6. P.S.

    Apolonio, good comment about children. This has a place in my thinking as well. It's interesting to discuss warrant and testimony by juxtaposing the testimony the parent gives a child about Santa's existence (if you are inclined to allow them to believe such a thing) and when he trains and disciples his child and teaches him about God's existence. Anyway, I'm going to start to stray away from my desire to not get into too much detail on this issue.

    P.P.S. Robert, yes, I plan on reading the things lawyers have to say re: testimony

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  7. Paul,

    Melissa Koenig was the one who researched the issue of children. You should check her out.

    Now as to your post. I think you should limit the discussion to epistemic justification rather than knowledge. Knowledge by testimony is much harder to tackle just because there is the Gettier-type criticsm. Also, the way you spoke about God speaking to us, it does assume God's existence, something which many would obect to. Rather, I think the way you should go is when you speak in a conditional way: if God exists, then person S is justified by believing in God through testimony. Or, even if we take away the conditional, we are really speaking of justification rather than truth.

    Now here is something interesting. If God speaks to you, is it necessary that you will have knowledge? I think it is necessary that you will have epistemic justification, but what about knowledge? Can there be a Gettier type of criticism here?

    Here are some more interesting things. Do we have to know that the person is reliable in order to be justified? Well, it depends on what view you have. But, what would be a good condition for reliability? What about: if it would be improbable for person S to make up X, then it is likely that if person S believes X, then he must be telling the truth. I think you know where I am going with this, which is, the criterion of dissimilarity that is used for the NT, for, say, the resurrection. But of course the principle above seems to be false. It needs to be refined.

    Now, what about the Christian in the pew? Are they justified even if they cannot defeat a potential defeater? The answer is yes. Their degree of justification may not be strong, but it is nonetheless justified if their belief was formed virtuously. They may lack, say, reflective justification, but they can still have animal justification. Take the issue of disagreement (this is the paper I have been working on). S doesn't have a reason to prefer her insight over A's insight. They both have the same evidence and have fully shared their evidences. Can S still be justified even though she doesn't have a reason to prefer her own insight? Yes, if her belief was formed virtuously (reliably, proper function, fill in whatever view you have).

    By the way, I would suggest to **not** consult lawyers stuff on this. I think it would be more interesting if we take a look at the normative question here.

    Anyway, I'd be interested in what your view on testimony is. Maybe we can write a paper together for publication. I can even ask some of my professors to take a look at it here in Rutgers.

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  8. Paul,

    Here is a very good paper by Koenig on children and God. **Excellent** research:

    www.gse.harvard.edu/news/features/harris/harriskoenig2005.pdf

    Children are not as gullible as we think they are. They know the difference between prayer and wishes, for example. And so on. I'll let you read it. In other words, when Jesus said only children can come into the kingdom of God, He was not saying you have to be a dumbass and be gullible. Enjoy!

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  9. Apolonio,

    Speaking of knowledge is where I want to go. That it's harder to show is good given that I like a challenge. So, I think I'll stay in the frigid waters. :-)

    I speak of God's existence because I'm showing that the atheists objection actually assumes the non-existence of God. I'm kind of doing what Plantinga is in his WCB. That is, "If this model is correct, then Christians know the great truths of the Gospel." This is why I said that thing about confusing the *de jure* with the *de facto.* So, you must first defeat the existence of God before proving Christians are irrational for believing P on faith. To say that Christianity is irrational for believing P on faith, is to attacks (a) a straw man and (b) make an objection that only has force if God doesn't exist.

    Yes, obviously I'll have to address Gettier-type criticisms.

    Your claims about the Christian in the pew are of course interesting, and all that can be delved into, but those comments go beyond the scope of this entry.

    Btw, without giving up my secret identity, I don't think you'd want me to write a paper with you on this. But, Lord willing you'll see more from me on this in the "paper quality" format down the road. Until then, thanks for the comments!

    ~PM

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  10. paul,

    well, if you have a theory of knowledge that fulfills the Gettier conditions, let me know because you'll probably be the first one! even plantinga's warrant theory has some gaps. the internalist/externalist debate is pretty much fought out and there's still no winner. alston even gave up on epistemic justification.

    as for plantinga, suppose we take:

    If God exists, then belief in God is probably warranted.

    However, if we grant that's right, it doesn't follow that you need disprove God's existence in order to show that Christians are irrational in their belief. Take:

    If Apolonio Latar is reading X, he's probably doing his homework.

    Does that mean that in order to see whether the consequent is true, we must first settle the truth of the antecedent? No. You can find other ways where you can know whether or not Apolonio is doing his homework. In other words, the truth of the antecedent might be a sufficient condition for the consequent, but it's not a necessary one. Same with the above with God. Whether or not God exists, one can find out if belief in God is warranted or not.

    I also think you can think of ways where God exists and belief in God is probably not warranted so I won't give examples.

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  11. Apolonio,

    I'll be defending the common sense and pre-philosophical belief that we can aquire knowledge by testimony. There's also downsides to rejectibg knowledge by testimony. So, the critic won't remain unbloodied in that fight. In fact, the cost might be too high.

    I know Plantinga's theory has some gaps, most things do.

    And, I'm not defending belief in "God," but, rather, all the *other things* entailed by the worldview. And, I'm sure you know that I'm referring to the well known fact that objections against rational theistic beliefs assumes the falsity of theism whereas the arguments would fail if theism were true. So, that's what I find going on in the "faith is believing what you know isn't true" type quips.

    S, I don't deny that there have been some valid de jure objections, but most, and this is one of those cases, confuse the de jure with the de facto.

    So, the conditional is more like this:

    If my model (which includes God's existence), or something similar, is correct, then your particular objection fails.

    So, I think your objections are too abstract and you're missing the point of what I'm trying to do.


    ~PM

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  12. You wrote, “If believing something on faith -- not soteriologically speaking -- is like this kind of knowledge…”

    I’m not sure why you seem to differentiate between an epistemic sense of faith and a soteriological sense of faith (if I’m even understanding you correctly). Would you mind elaborating?

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  13. saving faith is receiving, trusting, and resting in Christ alone for the salvation of your soul. I wanted to distinguish that from believing some doctrines "on faith."


    So, that a man is "justified by faith" seems to be different than saying, "I take X to be the case on faith."

    There is overlap, and obviously the distinction would need to be discussed. But, I find that when, say, an atheist charges a Christian for believing a theological claim "on faith" he doesn't have the extra-nos view of "saving faith" in mind.

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  14. Thanks for the reply. Yes it would be nice to see some discussion of the distinction and overlap of epistemic faith and soteric faith.

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  15. Paul, I'm not sure if you'll see this post but I am curious if you have read Gordon Clark's book, What is Saving Faith? If I understand him correctly, he argues, both philosophically and exegetically, that saving faith is a subset of epistemic faith. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on the book (if you have read it). Thanks.

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