Monday, August 10, 2009

Systematic Java: How do we know anything at all?

Here are some talking points from last night's Systematic Java discussion. Next time (9/23) we will talk about whether belief in God is a justified belief, and whether it can be known with any measure of certainty. We will meet at 7:30 at Tate Street Coffee. See the Facebook event page to RSVP.


· Truth used to be understood as a single circle, encompassing all knowledge.

· Around 1500 AD, the circle split, and there developed what we call “the two-circle concept of truth”.

o One circle is the realm of “religious truth,” or “faith.”

o The other is the realm of “reason” or “science.”

o The “two-circle” concept is what we call modernism.

§ Modernism dominated intellectual history for 500 years.

· In the middle of the 20th Century, people began to reject modernism in exchange for what has come to be known as postmodernism.

o Postmodernism recognized that by separating the “two circles” of faith and reason, modernism had made it impossible to have universal, absolute truth.

o Under postmodernism, truth becomes relative to the individual, the culture, the location, or the time period.

o In postmodernism, something can be “true for you, but not for me.”

o Postmodernism dominated for 50 years, and is still prevalent in the minds of most people, though it has fallen out of vogue in the intellectual academy, because it is an impossible system.

§ The hard sciences realized that there must be absolute truth.

· The collapse of postmodernism is good news/bad news for the church.

o The world is looking for a way to unite the “two circles” again, and to find a universal absolute.

o However, they want to find one that matches their atheistic, naturalistic, materialistic presumptions.

· Is knowledge important?

o The world we live in requires us to know some things for certain.

o Our beliefs are interconnected, like a web.

§ Hence, we refer to a “web of beliefs.”

o We live in an information age where we are bombarded with messages, and must have some means of discerning which is presenting accurate information.

· What is knowledge?

o A justified true belief.

§ It begins with belief.

· Something can be true and justified, but if it is not believed it cannot be said to be known.

· Belief can be true and not justified.

· Belief can be justified and not true.

· To be knowledge, a belief must be true and justified.

· What is truth?

o Is truth absolute?

§ Does it remain constant from knower to knower?

§ Truth is either absolute or it is not.

· To say that there is no absolute truth is to make an absolute statement that one intends to be received as true, yet which denies absolute truth.

o This is referred to as self-defeat, a fallacy, or just plain nonsense.

§ Truth must be absolute!

o Do all people think truth is absolute? No!

§ Skepticism

· You can either never know anything for certain, or never be justified in claiming to know anything for certain.

· Skeptics help us raise difficult questions, prevent naïveté, and provide sufficient justification.

§ Subjectivism

· I am the sole determiner of truth in my world.

· A statement is true if I like it or if it matches my adopted criteria for truth.

§ Relativism

· Truth is relative to person, place, time, etc.

· “True for you but not for me.”

· There are situations where truth is relative.

o “Hail fell from the sky yesterday.”

§ This is a relative truth. It did not hail everywhere.

§ For this statement to be absolute it must be indexed.

· Hail fell in some parts of Kernersville, NC around 4pm, June 7, 2005.

· There are other situations where truth is not relative.

o Human beings can jump off buildings and fly by flapping their arms.

o There is a God.

o I exist.

§ These statements are either universally true or false.

§ Coherence

· A statement is true if it fits in my web of beliefs, or if it fits with the beliefs of my community.

o But who says my web or my community is right?

§ This is a relativistic, subjective approach that may have no grounding in reality whatsoever.

§ What if I am mentally incompetent? What if my community is an asylum?

§ Pragmatism

· Truth is what is useful, helpful, or what works in a given situation.

o Again this is relativistic and subjective.

o The belief that murder is morally good may be useful or helpful in a given situation.

§ Correspondence

· The statement is true if it corresponds to, harmonizes with, resonates with reality, and rings with what is really there.

· “A statement is true if and only if it either says of what is that it is, or says of what is not that it is not.”

· What do we mean when we say we believe something?

o God, the Bible, Jesus Christ, Salvation, Heaven

§ Are we making statements of absolute truth?

§ Are we claiming that these are justified, true beliefs?

§ Are we claiming that these things correspond to reality?

§ Or are we making statements that we understand are skeptical, subjective, relativistic, coherent, or pragmatic?

Belief Formation

· We assert that knowledge is “justified true belief.”

· What is belief?

o As a noun, a belief is a statement that has some truth value.

§ “There is a God.”

· This is a belief.

o As a verb, belief is a state of mind concerning some proposition.

§ “I believe there is a God.”

o We have beliefs about beliefs, and we should be careful to believe our beliefs.

§ Sadly, many Christians know what their “beliefs” are, they just don’t believe them.

· Where do beliefs come from?

o Some seem to be “just there,” that is, they are innate.

§ A newborn seems to already hold the belief that the mother’s breast will provide nourishment.

o Some beliefs are adopted.

§ They are assumed because they are passed on to us from people we deem trustworthy and knowledgeable.

o Adopted beliefs will be challenged at some point.

§ At the point of challenge, one of three things will occur:

· The adopted belief will be abandoned in favor of the new information.

· The new information will be ignored.

· Effort will be made to synthesize the adopted belief and the new information.

o Can a person will themselves (make themselves) believe or disbelieve something?

§ Is there volitional control over belief formation?

§ There will always be other factors involved in belief formation.

§ I cannot just “decide to” or “make myself” believe something without already having been inclined to believe it on some other basis.

· A person who just “decides to” believe in God, or “makes him/herself” believe in God, is no more convinced of God than they were before.

§ Belief Happens!

· As information we deem credible influences us to think in a certain way about a certain matter, belief occurs within us.

o For beliefs to form, information must be processed by the mental faculties (“the belief factory”).

§ You can’t have beliefs “about nothing”; they must be based on information.

§ The “belief factory” must be in proper working order.

§ Information comes through experience, sense perception, and rational thought processes.

§ Information is evaluated on the basis of one’s web of beliefs and “cumulative force of life.”

· This includes age, maturity, personality, past experiences, personal choices, and the influence of the Holy Spirit.

§ Information can be accepted, rejected, or synthesized.

· How did we come to our beliefs about God, the Bible, Jesus Christ, Heaven, Hell, Salvation?

o Are these innate beliefs? No.

o Are they adopted beliefs? In most cases, yes.

o Have they been challenged?

o When the challenge occurs, what will happen?

o What do we expect to occur when we share these beliefs with others?

o How should this understanding affect our evangelism?

Justification of Beliefs

· In John 20:19-29, Thomas was looking for justification.

o He sought justification through sense experience (see, touch).

o Others would believe on different justification.

· How do we test the truth of beliefs?

o A balanced approach takes into consideration that sometimes different methods of justification are more appropriate or necessary than others.

o An understanding of the following is helpful as well:

§ First Principles

· Ideas that are innate, present from birth, either in the form of information or “categories” or information.

§ Adopted Beliefs

§ Belief Conservation

· The tendency to hold on to what we believe unless presented with strong evidence to the contrary.

§ Critical Realism

· We have the right to believe that things are what they seem, but we must recognize that we may not always see things perfectly or understand things correctly. So, we dialogue and exchange ideas with others in hopes of driving one another closer to the truth.

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