Now how do I know that?

Christian Apologetics UK

On occasion it would be very convenient if human beings could read minds,
perhaps when interrogating crime suspects or when waiting for the moment to ask a girl out on a date. On balance, however, it’s probably a good thing that they can’t. Aside from laying bare all our deepest hopes and the ideas we’d never speak aloud, it would completely devastate a good game of chess.  Ah well, such is fantasy. As fantasy, it cannot serve as a neat little answer to a more fundamental question: how do we know things?

Some things, of course, we know because our senses tell us. We feel a switch flick beneath our fingers and see the room be bathed in light. While philosophers argue about the trustworthiness of our senses, broadly speaking we all agree that they’re normally reliable.

That said, there are some things that we know even though our senses cannot tell us. For example, I cannot taste that no fact and its opposite can be simultaneously true. I cannot smell that two premises related in such and such a way must lead to a given conclusion. These are are the basic building blocks of logic, not derived from aroma or any other sensation, but from their own necessity.

A third category of knowledge pertains to the internal state of our minds. I am aware that the light is on because my eyes detect the photons streaming from the bulb. However, how do I know that I’m aware of that fact? This knowledge is information I have privileged access to, being rather close friends with my brain. Other information in this category might be the knowledge of how much I love someone or what I intend to do about it(the obvious thing: I’m off to Oz to see a man about some courage).

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Finally, I have information of a form that my senses could have had access to were circumstances different, but circumstances weren’t feeling so kindly. It is possible that the entire population of Japan could line up in front of me so I could see them and count them, but instead I’ve resorted to asking Google. Apparently there are about 128 million of them, so counting could have taken me rather a long time.

This is roughly how I find out most of my facts about the world; whether through blog posts, books, letters, hand signals, or plain old talking, information is transferred from another sentient brain into my own.

There is a rather peculiar tendency these days to suggest that the only really reliable source of information is science. In essence, that means taking in information through our senses (such as touching the hot plate) or setting up a known chain of equipment which gives output for our senses (such as pressing a thermometer against a hot plate). If we’re sufficiently rigorous and carefully set up repeat experiments, that can provide an amazing amount of very reliable information. No reasonable human being would be anti-science.

However, three of the four kinds of information I mentioned above are completely inaccessible to our senses…

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Christian Apologetics UK: Now how do I know that?


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