What Do We Know, and How Do We Know It?

by Randy Everist

From time to time I will encounter questions from perplexed Christians, challenges from skeptics, and arguments against God from atheists. I will see these things, and a majority of them suffer from a problem with their epistemology. Now this blog post I am aiming at both laymen and “veterans” to these apologetic and philosophical debates, so I need to explain what epistemology is. Epistemology is just the study of knowledge, hence this blog’s title. We want to know what we can know, and why. Most of the issues people have within Christianity have to do with a faulty notion (or perhaps faulty notions) in what constitutes knowledge. What follows are just some observations about knowledge, and while this list is not meant to be exhaustive, I do hope it will be a help to some people.

1. In order to know something, you must be certain about it.

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This is a popular-level misconception. It states precisely what it looks like: you might believe or think or wish for something to be true, but you don’t really know it to be true unless you are completely certain about it. Why is this a problem? Well, aside from the fact that it’s not quite clear what people mean by “certain,” there is another major problem: it just seems that we all take ourselves to know things of which we would not say we are certain. For skeptics, it seems they would say that we know particular truths of science about how the early universe came about (in any case, I’ve never met anyone who asserts this above criterion for knowledge and who also insists that science does not really know anything about the early universe). Yet very few scientists, if any, insist that these truths are “certain.” It is at least possible, they will admit, that they are wrong in some way.[1] For “regular” people, think about this: do you know your own name? Sure, you might think. I’ve seen my birth certificate. But are you 100% certain your birth certificate hasn’t been faked, or replaced, or altered, or is completely accurate? And besides, even if your birth certificate established certainty, are you really willing to say you didn’t know your own name prior to viewing that birth certificate? That seems crazy. Check that. That is crazy…

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Possible Worlds: What Do We Know, and How Do We Know It?