There are two kinds of people. The first kind are people who want to believe what they want to believe because it justifies some behavior or because they have some emotional attachment to believing it. The second kind are people who really do want to believe what is true, but still struggle against believing what they want to believe that isn’t true. There may be the rare third kind who have it all together, but these would be extremely rare. D.A. Carson might be in that boat.
But if someone truly desired to know truth, then I believe it is possible to get very close. Without quantifying that, I’ll use the ideas that I set up in my last article as the foundation for developing a basic method.
Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason has what he calls “The Columbo Tactic” based on the style of the old Columbo character played by Peter Falk in the TV show of the same title. The method that I propose is similar.
In the last article, I talked about the singular nature on non-theological epistemology and the dual nature of theological epistemology. The difference was in the fact that someone who believed in a god would have to conclude that in order to know god, he would have to reveal himself. The question then remains, how do we know which of all the gods people worship in the world is the true one?
If there are people who are concerned only with believing what they want to believe, then we know that these people do not espouse knowledge that they gained from outside themselves. They may say things that they learned from others, but they choose to acknowledge this on their own accord. They have no assurance.
People who espouse a god will typically claim some divine assurance that what they believe is true and that the knowledge they have was revealed by that god. All but one religion would have some false assurance of this, so one cannot rely solely on the testimony of others. That doesn’t mean that testimony cannot be an indicator of truth. It means that it isn’t a reliable source of assurance.
So if the true God reveals Himself, then we can be sure that He would make it plain to those to whom he chooses to reveal himself. Psychologically speaking, some doubt may be necessary in order to pull this off. So the presence of some occasional doubt isn’t an indication of a lack of assurance. The true indicator of receptivity to true revelation is the desire for truth over and against what you otherwise want to believe.
What I propose as the method of apprehending truth in light of this desire, is to simply ask yourself some questions:
1. Why do I want to believe what I believe? (This speaks directly to motive.)
2. How do I know what I know? (This reveals false motives of which we are not consciously aware.)
3. In what way does God make His true revelation distinct from all other false revelation?
These kinds of questions should be asked of all things we know or desire to believe. Answering honestly will eventually result in knowing the truth. Self-delusion, particularly more elaborate ones, may result in the same thing. However, self-delusion hardly produces honest answers.
(For atheists, honest answers to numbers 1 and 2 will produce the presupposition of a God who reveals Himself necessary to ask question 3.)
I’ve already mentioned doubt. Occasional doubt can be a good thing. But if asking results in the loss of faith, then one had no faith in what was true to begin with.