Saturday, March 24, 2012

What It Means to Be Sure About God

I considered a more technically accurate title to this: The Epistemological Duality of Theology. "Epistemology" is a philosophical term that refers to theories about how we know things. That’s the big word you need to know, to don’t get scared away. Read on. This information provides some background understanding for the next article I will post.

Epistemology is an important thing to think about. If you want to believe some philosophical idea to be true you have to talk about how you know it in the first place.

Non-theological epistemologies often focus on the single track of how we know something as though knowing it makes it true. If it's not true, then you don't know it. If you know it then it's true. That’s almost an oversimplification of it. It’s what we more commonly call relativism. Sometimes non-theological epistemologies consider that something can be true whether we know it or not. So the debate in non-theological circles centers on whether what we know determines its truth or whether truth determines our ability to know it.

These are just two sides of the same coin. They all consider something to be known as unable to reveal itself. Our perception is what is important. Even if something is true, if we can’t perceive it there’s no way we can talk knowledgably about it because we can’t know it. That’s the nature of non-theological knowledge.

Theology involves the consideration of a truth-giver. So it has two tracks to understanding knowledge: revelation and assurance. Revelation is that which the truth-giver gives us to know, particularly about himself. Assurance is our ability to know that it is true. If you deny the former, then your theology devolves into non-theological philosophy. In other words, you end up denying a truth-giver.

Up to now, I have only referred to theology in the general sense. It's true of any theological system. It's true of Islam, Hinduism, etc. For the most part, although belief in a divine creator requires a dual epistemology, religions have to develop this epistemology outside the revelation. The only religion that doesn’t have to do this is the one that is true. The reason is because if a system of theology seeks to justify a revelatory epistemology from a God that doesn’t exist, then they lack the necessary revelation to do so.

However, the religion whose God truly exists is self-revelatory. That is to say, worshippers know that they have revelation from God because He reveals Himself to them in such a way as they have a means for perfect assurance that the revelation is true. On the surface, this appears as circular reasoning. However, knowledge that has been revealed doesn’t come from a belief in revelation. Rather, a belief in revelation comes from knowledge having been revealed.

The interesting thing about revelation is that it doesn’t discount obtaining knowledge through other than revelation. So there is a dual nature to theological epistemology.

I’ve already mentioned the false revelation of false religions and the assurance of true religion. In the next article, I will talk about one way to use this knowledge to determine what the true religion is.

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