Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Knowledge, Faith and Will

Kyle writes about the concern which his stance against the possibility of having certain religious knowledge has caused in some quarters:
If I’m less than certain in my religious faith, is my faith then weak or in question? In forsaking any certainty, do I risk forsaking my faith?

At the risk of sounding coy, I must confess the answer to these questions is possibly. Anyhow, I have two reasons for why I have no religious certainty and why I don’t think such certainty is really possible.

First, the basis of my religious knowledge—my knowledge of revealed truths—is the say-so of self-defined religious authorities—authorities who claim, without proof or conclusive evidence, that they speak for God. I believe them to be divinely inspired, at times, but neither they nor I can prove this for certain.

Second, what I call my religious faith may be something other than religious faith, either in part or in total. ... I cannot dismiss the possibility that my faith isn’t something otherwise than a response to a revealing God. It’s possible that what I call my faith experiences are the result of digestion, bodily chemistry, neurosis, the fear of death, or the desire for meaning. Because I do not know myself with certainty, I cannot know my faith with certainty. I cannot say for sure what it is.
This strikes me as conflating faith and knowledge, when it seems to me that in fact they are rather different things.

Knowledge is subject of all the limitations of evidence which Kyle points out. After all, I am not entirely sure in my knowledge that Kyle exists. Sure, I remember a long-haired guy who walked around Steubenville at the same time I was there and wrote his thesis on Tolkien as literature -- but it could be that all this in my mind is merely the result of the pokings of Cartesian demon who is intent on spicing up my otherwise drab existence by inserting the illusion of a person like Kyle.

But at a certain point -- even knowing that I have less than absolute certainty about my evidence -- I make a choice to believe that Kyle exists. I don't have to do this. I could, I suppose, refuse to make a decision as to whether or not Kyle exists -- kind of like how I might refuse to make a decision as to whether there was a real being of some sort whom the ancient Greeks worshiped under the name of Apollo. Or I might hold that Kyle exists, but hold it rather hesitantly and refuse to take any actions or risks that would depend on Kyle definitely existing. (Like, say, lending him money.)

However, while the firmness with which I placed faith in Kyle's existence might depend on the extent to which I felt I had firm proof of his existence, the who aren't necessarily connected. I could refuse to believe that Kyle existed even in the face of overwhelming evidence (say, his whacking me about the head with a toy light saber) or I could insist on believing that he existed even if he refused to give me any evidence of his existence (say, if he never responded to my Facebook friend request).

Bringing the discussion back from Kyle to God, it seems to me that Kyle's friends need not necessarily fear that Kyle will "lose his faith" (i.e., decide not to believe in God) because Kyle finds that he does not have firm knowledge of God's existence -- because Kyle can choose to believe (firmly or not so much so) in God's existence irrespective of any doubts he may have of the firmness of his evidence for God.

Similarly, when someone asks Kyle if he is certain in his religious faith, it seems to me that the question is not, "do you have complete certainty of God's existence" (something which, it seems to me, is not possible in this life) but rather, "Are you likely to choose to stop believing in God." This is a question, thus, about Kyle's actions, not about his knowledge.


Unknown said...

Isn't the distinction between moral and metaphysical certitude applicable here? We have very little of the former in most aspects of life -- as your examples indicate -- but plenty of the latter, as your examples again indicate.

bearing said...

It might help, too, to think of the difference between doubt and denial.

Kyle Cupp said...

Fine remarks, Darwin. The difference between faith and knowledge is precisely what I mean to highlight.

BTW, my stated inability to say that "I know that I know that God exists" has given pause to people close to me.