Thursday, May 28, 2009

Epistemic Certainty - Competing Warrants

I really don't Mr. Manata's fascination with Sudduth.

Sudduth's fundamental problem in his attempt to bolster his thesis that "theistic belief (and belief in other theological propositions) is not epistemically certain" is his essential relativism. This is seen in his frequent appeals to consensus authority at critical junctures ("Most accounts of epistemic certainty are tied ..." "A baseline requirement is typically that ..." "It is generally held that these sorts of beliefs have ...").

I understand, of course, that Sudduth is writing to the academic crowd: a crowd in which such consensus appeals will be well received (and are even standard fare). Such an approach, however, is at odds with a Christian (i.e. Biblical) view of truth. The truth (including the truth about how we know and are certain of the truth) is not determined by what most people accept, what is typically thought to be necessary, or what is generally held in the world.

No, truth is an objective reality and it is communicable reality. Scripture informs us plainly that God conveys truth to us in Scripture (John 17:17 Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth."

We can know the truth. (see, for example, 1 Timothy 4:13 "Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.") Of course, knowledge is not bare coincidence of our mental state and the objective reality of the truth.

Instead, knowledge is belief that rests on a proper foundation. This is not really disputed. What is disputed, evidently, is what constitutes certainty.

Certainty is connected with the foundation for the belief. People assign their own rankings for what constitutes a good foundation for belief, and this is reflected in the Sudduth article that Manata posted. It is also observed in popular culture. Thus, it is a joke when one of the Marx brothers asks, "Who are you going to believe, your own eyes or me?" It is a joke, because (of course) the person is going to believe his own eyes rather than the man.

This popular ranking, however, is flawed. Our Grandmother Eve is a perfect example: she ranked the word of the serpent over the word of God as a foundation for belief. As her children, we have often made similar mistakes.

As a matter of objective fact, however, God's word is the most sure foundation upon which belief can be based. Can this be shown to the satisfaction of every atheist, gnostic, Romanist, or Mormon? Not necessarily. If Eve before the fall could be deceived, even more so men who are fallen can (and frequently are) deceived - and furthermore their minds are darkened.

But this inability of proof to the satisfaction of the skeptic does not negate the objective reality of the solidity of revelation. As a matter of fact, not opinion, God's word is truth and God cannot lie. Furthermore, God conveys truth to men. Thus, when God conveys truth to men (whether it be in propositions provided innately to man or propositions provided in Scripture) such truth has better warrant for belief than the testimony of our own eyes, even while it informs us of the general reliability of our senses.

Sudduth's article fails because it fails to recognize (at least explicitly) that the issue is a battle of warrants, and that in the battle of warrants, there is (and can be) no stronger warrant than divine revelation. As such, it is divine revelation (even though it is widely rejected) that brings epistemic certainty.


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