Whaddya know? I mean really, really know. What do you know for sure?
Philosophers get into really arcane discussions of knowledge and what it is. If you boil it all down and simplify it, this is what you get: Knowledge is a bunch of facts and data gathered through personal experience or reason. A bunch of facts and data gathered through personal experience or reason.
F’rinstance, you don’t know how to ride a bicycle until you do it. The mental and physical knowledge needed to ride a bike is not available any other way except through direct experience. Someone could tell you about centrifugal force and how to pedal and how to turn by leaning, but you can’t know any of that until you do it.
This kind of knowledge is utterly reliable, because you’ve experienced it. It happened to you. You were there. You know. I know I put on a shirt this morning because I was there and I experienced it.
Knowledge is also acquired by reason. F’rinstance, I know that six times eight is forty-eight. I know that because I inferred it from my experience in learning addition. I put two cupcakes on the kitchen table and then I put two pancakes on the table. And then I counted what was on the table and realized I had four cakes.
It wasn’t long before I devised multiplication. And that’s how I know that six times eight is forty-eight. I never put six groups of eight things each on the table and counted them; it wasn’t necessary. I reasoned my way to the knowledge that six times eight is forty-eight.
Bottom line: Knowledge is acquired through experience and reason. But I know more than just what I’ve experienced or reasoned. At least I say I do. I know that Poland is east of Germany, but I haven’t been there. I’ve been to Germany, even been to East Germany, but not Poland. So how do I know that Poland is east of Germany?
Well, I really don’t know it. I believe it.
Belief is our faculty for accepting facts and data without evidence and acting on it as if it were knowledge. In simple terms, belief is knowledge without evidence. Belief is critical for our life, though. We can’t really get through the day without belief.
F’rinstance, Do you know who the Governor of Tennessee is? Of course you do. You know it’s Bill Lee, even though you never met him, did not personally verify the election results, and were not present when he was sworn in. But all that can be checked and it will be shown that Bill Lee is a real person who actually got more votes than his rival and was properly sworn in. So you believe it, and therefore you know that Bill Lee is the governor.
Faith is a type of belief. Faith is belief without the possibility of evidence. Suppose I tell you that there is a pizza in Poland. You could believe me, but you needn’t take it on faith. If you doubted me, you could travel to Poland to check it out. There is the possibility of evidence.
However, if I say that there is a pizza on the dark side of the moon, if you choose to believe me, then you would have to take it on faith, because there is no possibility, in our lifetime, that you could travel to the moon to check it out.
I mention faith, because it’s easy to develop faith in an unexamined and unquestioned source of information. Knowledge comes to us whether we want it or not. But we choose to believe this or that. We choose what to put our faith in.
We need to be honest with ourselves about how we come to have faith. Do we really look at our experiences from different perspectives? I think we don’t always check out something new from all angles. I think we too often land on the explanation that matches our world view. And we should be honest about that.
We must be honest with ourselves. How do we come to believe what we believe? Do we allow our beliefs to evolve? Or, do we drink from the same well every day and harden our beliefs?
I don’t think that all our beliefs are as hard as Gorilla Glue. Maybe some are and maybe others are not.
Beliefs can and should evolve, but getting them to do that is very hard work. It’s nice to have a place like church where the hard work can be done in the company of others.
Next time, I’ll write about a way to examine issues of faith from four safe perspectives: Scripture, tradition, reason and experience.