What Is Knowledge?

By Elias Ayala
(M.A.T & MDiv)

The business of apologetics involves making claims to knowledge. Christians defend the “truth” of their worldview and along with that are claims that we “know” certain propositions are true. We claim that truth about reality is knowable. We claim that its true that the opposite of true is false. We claim that it is “true” a theistic God exists. We claim that it is true that there is good evidence for this claim. We claim that it is true that objective moral values and duties exist, and these categories are not based upon subjective preference. We believe that it is true that if God exists, miracles are possible. Furthermore, we believe certain truths concerning the Bible. We believe the Bible is the Word of God. As a piece of history, we believe that the Bible is historically reliable. We believe what the New Testament affirms about the Person and Work of Jesus of Nazareth. We believe that it is true that the historical person Jesus, rose from the dead thus vindicating his claims to deity. In essence, we believe that the Christian worldview is “true”.

However, claiming that a belief is true does not make it true. But the point is that as Christians, we make many “truth” claims. The claims themselves do not necessarily imply that we have “knowledge” about the truth of these claims. And so we are brought to the main question: What is knowledge, and how does one attain it? In philosophical terminology, such issues bring us into the category of epistemology (one’s theory of knowledge: What is it? How do we attain it, etc.). Before we concern ourselves with knowledge and knowledge acquisition, we must first establish that truth about reality is knowable. This is not to say that one can have knowledge of every aspect of reality. Indeed, I can readily admit that there may be aspects of reality that are beyond our capacity to know or comprehend. I am not suggesting the possibility of omniscience on the part of finite beings. But what I am suggesting is that we can know certain aspects of reality in the sense that our knowledge of those aspects are properly called knowledge because our belief about those aspects are in fact true, and we have adequate justification for believing it to be true. Thus, I am operating under the assumptions that 1) There is truth 2) Truth about reality is knowable and 3) knowledge includes not only a true belief, but true belief with adequate justification.

So without demonstrating the truth of every proposition laid out in the first paragraph. I affirm that the Christian worldview is true in the sense that what it affirms corresponds to reality. Those aspects of reality pertaining to what is affirmed by the Christian worldview can be known, in the sense of having a justified true belief about them. However, what gives a “belief” that is true (i.e. Corresponds to reality) adequate justification? For one can hold to a belief that is false, and in such a case the person does not have “knowledge” concerning that belief. Or, a person can have a belief that is true, yet still not have knowledge of that belief since the person lacks justification.

What do I mean by justification? “Justification (or warrant) for a belief amounts to something like this: one has sufficient evidence for the belief, one formed the belief and maintained the belief in a reliable way, or one’s intellectual and sensory faculties were functioning properly in a good intellectual environment when he formed the belief in question”. The Christian claim is that the claims of the Christian worldview meets these requirements such that it is warranted to claim that we know them to be true. This is not to say that such claims must be known with mathematical certainty. One does not need mathematical certainty in order to have knowledge. Nor does “certainty” necessarily pertain to knowledge. Certainty is a description of one’s psychological state that has no bearing on “truth”. One can be “certain” about the truth of some proposition, but such a person can be wrong. Certainty does necessarily imply knowledge. What is required for knowledge is that one holds to a belief that corresponds to reality, and the person has adequate justification for holding that belief. One’s certainty or lack thereof may fluctuate from time to time not diminishing the fact that the justified true belief is still constituted as a genuine article of knowledge.

As this relates to the claim that the Christian worldview is true, we need to remember that by making such a claim, we have not demonstrated the truth of the claim, and therefore, the Christian must be well versed in the reasons, evidence, and arguments for the truth of his perspective. At this point however, it is important to recognize that while our reasons, evidence, and arguments (if valid) provide justification for our beliefs, the truth of our belief (in say, God exists) is not “based” upon the arguments themselves.

At this point I think it is important to point out the difference between “knowing” Christianity to be true, and “showing” Christianity to be true. The way that we “know” Christianity to be true is through the inner witness of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:16). Without getting into the issue of the proper basicality of beliefs, let me just mention in passing that if belief in God is properly basic, then it is possible to be warranted and/or justified in holding to said belief independent of argumentation. (See the work of Philosopher Alvin Plantinga for information on Properly Basic Beliefs). Argument and evidence while not the “basis” for our knowing Christianity to be true, supplement the inner witness of the Holy Spirit and provide extra warrant and/or justification that can be presented to the skeptic for the truth of our belief.

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