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GODFAITH.TXT : EPISTEMOLOGY OF RELIGIOUS BELIEF

Re: THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH AND THE GOOD FAITH OF CATHOLIC FUNDAMENTALISM

By: John Paul Jones
At: 1998
To: whomsoever

"....the Spirit is truth." John I, The Holy Bible

I. Basic Tenets of Good Faith

"Truth? What is that?" So asked Pontius Pilate, as though his despair of knowing the truth wasn't the perfect excuse to avoid looking for the truth that stared him in the eyes. That is, Pilate's question was rhetorical, or so I'd wager, for to to the question, "What is truth?" Pilate's unspoken reply, in effect, might be construed to mean: "Jesus only knows, but he ain't telling." That is, Pilate was expressing the age-old skepticism and relativism prevalent today, which holds that it's naive to think we can know "the truth," much less any objective "truth."

Or should we suppose that Pilate's question was sincere, that he was asking Jesus to engage in a rational discourse about the nature of truth? Not likely, I think, and in any case, Jesus evidently didn't think so, because, in the face of Pilate's question, Jesus remained silent, knowing, perhaps, what I can only surmise: namely, that Pilate was not expressing a desire to know the truth but the cynical and skeptical belief that objective truth cannot be known.

Against the skepticism, relativism, and subjectivism which weaken faith in our capacity to know objective truth, the following reasonings are proposed.

There's a general consensus in epistemology, the branch of philosophy which concerns itself with the nature, source, and criteria of knowledge, that to know something, three conditions must be met:

1) it must be believed. 2) it must be true. 3) the person who believes it must have good or conclusive reasons to believe it.

Most of the controversy seems to surround the third condition, because there's disagreement as to what can be rightly construed as conclusive evidence or whether "true belief with good reason" is sufficient. In any case, according to the rules of rational inference (logic), we have good reason to believe a proposition if a sound argument can be constructed to establish it, where an argument is sound if and only if each premise is true and the logic valid. The logic is said to be valid just in case the conclusion must be true if each premise is true.

Assumed:

Q: We know some things.

R: To know something, it must be believed. S: To know something, it must be true. T: To know something, we need conclusive reasons to believe it.

Given these assumptions, it can be soundly reasoned, I think, that faith in God, or, if you prefer, faith in the truth, remains, as always, not only a form of knowledge but a needful condition of knowledge, not only rational but a necessary condition of rationality, and not only a good faith but a needful condition of good faith, and as such, it's shared, more or less, to a greater or lesser degree, in one way or another, by all people in all ages in all cultures.

By 'faith in the truth,' I mean to say the belief that

1) the truth exists. 2) the truth can be known or believed. If faith in truth is a form of knowledge, then, for each proposition entailed in faith in the truth, each condition of knowledge must be met.

I. Faith in the truth as a form of knowledge:

A) that 1) truth exists and 2) truth can be known

1) Truth exists:

If we know some things, truth exists. We know some things. Therefore, truth exists.

In other words, by the second condition of knowledge (S), if we know something, it must be true, and if it must be true, then presumably, truth exists if we know anything. This does not delve into what, exactly, truth is, for the point is simply that, whatever truth is, it is if we know anything.

Extreme skeptics, though, would deny the second premise. But to do so is to implicitly admit that one doesn't know what one is talking about, for presumably, if we can't know anything, the skeptic can't know what he's talking about.

2) Truth can be known or believed:

If we know anything, truth can be believed. We know some things. Therefore, truth can be believed.

That is, by the first condition of knowledge (R), if we know something, it must be believed, and by the second condition (S), it must be true, so if we know anything, it follows that truth not only exists to be believed but can be believed, because it is believed insofar as we know anything.

B) that 1) we believe that (truth exists) and 2) we believe that (truth can be known or believed.

1) we believe that (truth exists).

Presumably, if we believe that various things are true, we believe, also, that truth exists, in some sense, to be known or believed.

2) we believe that (truth can be known or believed)

Presumably, if we believe that we believe anything that's true, we believe that something true can be believed.

C) that we have good reason to believe that 1) truth exists and 2) truth can be known or believed.

If the absurdly simple arguments above are sound, we have good reason to think that 1) truth exists, and 2) truth can be known or believed.

The arguments above are sound.

So we have good reason to believe that truth exists and that truth can be known or believed, i.e., faith in the truth is a form of knowledge.

II. That faith in the truth is a necessary condition of belief.

A) to believe something, we must believe that (the truth exists):

To believe something is to believe it on the condition that one thinks it is true, for I cannot now believe something I now think is false.

I cannot now believe something is true if I now believe truth does not exist, i.e., if I believe nothing is true.

Therefore, to believe something, I must believe that truth exists.

B) To believe something, we must believe that (truth can be believed or known).

To believe something is to believe it on the condition that one thinks it is true, for I cannot now believe something I now think is false.

We cannot now believe something is true if we now believe that truth cannot be believed or known, i.e., that nothing believed is true.

Therefore, to believe something, I must believe that truth can be known or believed.

C) If the last two arguments are sound, then belief requires faith in the truth.

III. That faith in the truth is a necessary condition of knowledge.

A) Belief requires faith in the truth. Knowledge requires belief. Therefore, knowledge requires faith in the truth.

If knowledge requires faith in the truth, then if we don't have good reasons for our faith in the truth, we don't have good reasons to believe anything, because the propositions of which faith in the truth consist are premises of every argument, albeit usually unspoken and unconscious assumptions. For every argument tries to establish that each premise is true, which is a futile or erroneous premise if truth does not exist or cannot be believed.

IV. That faith in the truth is universal:

A. Belief requires faith in the truth. We all believe some things. Therefore, we all have faith in the truth.

B. Knowledge requires faith in the truth. We all know some things. Therefore, we all have faith in the truth.

In other words, assuming that all people have beliefs, we can infer that all people in all ages in all cultures believe(d) in truth, whether consciously or not.

V. That faith in the truth is a necessary condition of rationality.

A. Though there is disagreement among epistemologists as to what rationality consists of, it is agreed that, whatever knowledge, skills, or dispositions are required, rationality must be "truth conducive," which is to say, it must be such that it is conducive to believing truth rather than falsehood. Obviously, if faith in truth is a necessary condition of knowledge, then it's likely a necessary condition of rationality, also, but that will not be assumed but argued as follows.

It's been observed by Alston, a contemporary American epistemologist, in his book "Epistemic Justification," that one can seek knowledge or pursue truth earnestly but fecklessly, sincerely but superstitiously, honestly but irrationally. For example, an tribal African aborigines engaged in say, astrology or bone reading, may be earnest in his pursuit of knowledge, and what's more, due to no fault of his own, may lack whatever skills, knowledge, or habits of thought are required for rationality, as Westerners perceive rationality, but because this lack of knowledge is due to no fault of his own, but as a consequence of circumstances beyond his volitional control, his irrationality is not blameworthy. Or, in Alston's words, the aborigine would be 'deontologically justified' but not 'epistemically justified,' provided that he seeks truth as best he knows how.

That is, though his methods are unscientific and may violate the rules of rational inference, as described above, and though, therefore, his mode of seeking knowledge may not be altogether conducive to arriving at true conclusions, he nevertheless has not violated his perceived duties in forming beliefs or acquiring knowledge, but rather, in his eyes, he is fulfilling those duties. So, in Alston's words, he's "deontologically justified." In other words, his methods may not be truth conducive, yet his intent may be.

That is to say, as I would describe the situation, the aborigine may be honest but irrational, for honesty is not measured by how much we know, or by our methods of acquiring knowledge, but rather by how hard we try to know, and presumably, the motive, attitude, disposition, or desire to know truth is itself truth conducive, albeit no guarantee of establishing or discovering truth. After all, we can imagine a person, say, a Harvard Phd, who has whatever knowledge, skills, or intellectual habits are required for rationality, but who, for whatever reasons, chooses to not apply them, in which case, though he has the ability or potential to think rationally, he does not do so.

So, I distinguish between rationality and honesty,-- just as Alston does--though he uses different terms, and clearly, intellectual honesty, which is the desire, motive, attitude, or inclination to discover or know truth is a necessary condition of rationality, for rationality, it's agreed, must be truth conducive, and presumably, in order to apply whatever skills or knowledge are entailed in rationality, we must have some motive, desire, or inclination to do so, and since honesty, or as I prefer to call it, the spirit of truth, provides, or consists of, just such a motive, I infer that honesty is a necessary, though not sufficient, cause of rationality.

In other words, rationality requires honesty, as the case of the Harvard professor demonstrates, but intellectual honesty does not necessarily require rationality, as the case of the African aborigines illustrates. That said, we can reason as follows:

Honesty requires faith in the truth. Rationality requires honesty. Therefore, rationality requires faith in the truth.

The first premise of this last syllogism is true, I think, because if, per impossibility, we didn't believe that the truth exists, we would have no motive to seek it, and if and insofar as we don't believe that the truth can be known or believed, we will likewise lack the desire or inclination to know or believe the truth. For in either case, the acquisition of knowledge will seem vain or futile. That's one reason, among many, I think, why it says in the Bible that those without faith cannot please God. To lack faith in God is to lack honesty, the spirit of truth. For according to the Bible, God is the truth, and if so, then to lack faith in God is to lack faith in truth. In other words, as St. Anslem said, we must believe first (have faith) so that we can understand. Without faith in truth, we lack the desire to understand or see clearly, which is to suggest, we reason in bad faith.

However, precisely because all people do have some faith in the truth, all people, the African aborigine no less than the Harvard Phd, are capable of honesty or dishonesty insofar as they are faithful or unfaithful to their most profound and enduring faith; namely, faith in the truth, which, as I see it, is faith in God.

On on the other hand, because it is possible, and in fact, common, for people to hold other beliefs or doctrines which are logically inconsistent with their faith in the truth, e.g., extreme skepticism, which holds that knowledge is impossible, or cultural relativism, which holds that there are no universal or objective moral imperatives, it is possible for a person to be more or less lacking in honesty or in faith in the truth, albeit never altogether lacking, because, as Polayni said, "Any attempt to deny the existence of truth is self-contradictory, because it's an attempt to establish an important truth." Presumably, if mystics can know that reality, or our perception of reality, is illusory, they must have some truth, or some standard of objective truth, by which to measure or detect the decetion and demonstrate that their conceptual relativism is sound.

So, there you have my absurdly simple arguments for holding that faith in the truth, or as I prefer to say, faith in God, is not only a form of knowledge but a necessary condition of knowledge, not only rational but a necessary condition of rationality, not only a good faith but a necessary condition of good faith, and what's more, as a necessary condition of belief, and therefore, of knowledge, this faith is universal or catholic, shared to a greater or lesser degree by all people in all ages in all cultures.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * END OF ESSAY * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Sources:

Alston, William P. (1989) Epistemic Justification: Essays in the Theory of Knowledge, Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London

Basil, Mitchell (1981) The Justification of Religious Belief Oxford University Press

Kneale, Martha and William (1962) The Development of Logic Clarendon Press, Oxford

Kalish, Donald; Montague, Richard; Mar, Gary (1980) Logic: Techniques of Formal Reasoning, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

Polyani, Michael (1946) Science, Faith, and Society, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London

Cornford, Francis M. (1957) Plato's Theory of Knowledge: The Theatetus and the Sophist of Plato, Macmillon Publishing Company, New York

Runzo, Joseph; Ihara, Craig (1986) Religious Experience and Religious Belief: Essays in the Epistemology of Religion, University Press of America, Inc.


END NOTES:

Though certainly fundamental and foundational, this faith in the truth is not fundamentally Protestant and should be distinquished from "Christian fundamentalism", or what is sometimes called "Protestant fundamentalism", which is the doctrine allegedly described by Bouyer in his book, "The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism", where he writes: "a Protestant doctrine that restricted all communication from God to man to the letter of the Scriptures, so hardening the religion of the Word into a religion of the book." The Protestants, however, would likely object to this, because they clearly believe that God can communicate directly or indirectly via other means, e.g., through dreams, but what they do believe, if I understand them correctly, as it was described to us by Marylyn Hickey, is that communication from God via any other means, e.g., via dreams, visions, or alleged modern-day prophets, must be tested, confirmed, and evaluated in light of Scriptures. In any case, what we have described herein is not be confused with the dogma of Sola Scriptura, or what is sometimes erroneously called "Christian fundamentalism". How can the dogma of Sola Scriptura be fundamental to the Christian faith if most of the Christian world, i.e., Catholic Christianity, rejects this doctrine as false and unscriptural?

In contrast, insofar as the faith in truth as here defined is universal as a necessary condition of any particular or diverse faith, it's truly fundamental. Christianity is not unique because it adheres to this faith, of course, but it is unique because it alone can justify this faith and give it religious fervor. As Neitzsche observed, the scientific faith is a metaphysical one that's based on the faith of Christianity, which was also the philosophical faith of Plato; namely, that God is truth, that truth is Divine. In rejecting occult dualism, which holds that both good and evil, truth and lie, are necessary, and therefore good, it alone among diverse faiths sanctifies and deifies truth as the transcedent and holy God of Israel and Savior of the world: "I am the way, the truth, and the life", claimed Jesus Christ.

This may raise questions in the minds of Christian readers insofar as they might wonder if it isn't idolotry to deify an attribute of God. For truth, they would argue, is only one among many attributes of God, and it would be wrong to try to make this quality into the Supreme Being. We might put the question this way: Is truth God? No, they might argue. Yet, as this is far beyond the scope of this essay, I simply raise the question and leave it to the reader to ponder: God is truth, but is truth God?



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