Q and A with Dr. Craig: Does Knowledge Require Certainty?

by William Lane Craig

Dear Doctor Craig,

I have been studying the defense of the Christian faith for the better part of six months now. I acknowledge the fact that six months is not a vast amount of time; however there has been one idea that I have not been able to surmount or give a dispute when brought up in conversation or debate. Many people, some Christians included, plead intellectual ignorance as it applies to knowing anything about life, the universe, or logic. They state that since every possible option has not been explored that nothing can be said for certain. Since nothing can be said for certain, all of the premises that you pose may seem true to us, but we cannot say they are absolutely true. If they cannot be proven absolutely true, then there is no reason to believe them, and the argument dies right there.

It is becoming increasingly frustrating and disheartening to begin to speak to someone based on logic that is accepted and proven, and then be stopped before a discussion can even begin. For instance in the Kalam Cosmological Argument, the first premise states “Everything, that begins to exist, has a cause.” But many people question that premise due to the fact that we humans have not traveled the extent of the universe to conclude that premise. Because we have not explored the possibilities of the rest of the universe, it is impossible to base something off of an idea that may or may not be true in the whole universe.

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I am sure that you have heard this before in debates, this idea of uncertainty of anything. I am very unsure of how to proceed in talking to people when they think this way. What advice would you give for responding to these objections? – Christopher

Dr. Craig answers:

The folks you mention, Christopher, are victims of an unjustified and ultimately self-defeating scepticism.

Notice that they equate knowledge with certainty. If you’re not certain that some proposition p is true, then you do not know that p. But what justification is there for that assumption? I know that I have a head, for example. But I could be a brain in a vat of chemicals being stimulated by a mad scientist to think that I have a body. Does this mere possibility imply that I do not know that I have a head? If your friends answer, “Yes,” ask them for their justification for thinking that knowledge requires certainty. Anything they say, you can reply to by asking, “Are you certain of that?” If they say, “No,” then they don’t know that knowledge requires certainty. If they say, “Yes,” then it’s not true after all that we can’t know anything about life, the universe, or logic…

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