Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My Philosophy on Apologetics (Part I) - Using Practical Epistemology

When assessing matters of evidence, it is important that we use a realistic standard to judge whether or not something is true. I propose a standard of evidence similar to one that we use in our daily lives to assess risky situations. It is obviously the case that most things we come to firmly believe in our daily lives are merely probabilistic in the academic sense. Furthermore, we even put ourselves at great personal risk believing things that are merely probabilistic. A few examples will illustrate this point. First, I am confident enough that Julius Caesar or Tiberius Caesar existed, that I am willing to take a class on either of them. No one refuses to take a class on ancient history because they fear that the money spent on the course may be a waste, due to the fear that certain individuals may not have existed. On the contrary, we regularly risk large amounts of money depending on the truth of historical figures and the things they did. Second, I am absolutely confident that I have a girlfriend and that she is not a hallucination constructed in my mind. It is very true, that I have an extremely biased opinion about this and a very strong vested interest in her existence. Regardless of this, I believe she is real even though being wrong about her existence would be both humiliating and emotionally painful. Third, if I ask a friend to pick me up from work, and he is a trustworthy person who rarely lets me down, I can risk my reputation of punctuality at work based on his testimony. Fourth, I am confident enough that I will survive a long drive to work, even though there is a chance I may crash and die. Nevertheless, the probability I will survive is so strong that I will risk my life to do it. Furthermore, if I run into something highly complex that everyone calls information, I am perfectly justified in believing it has a personal cause, and I would take a risk based on the fact that it has an author.

This principle is the essence of a “practical epistemology.” In philosophy of religion, we can and should talk about all sorts of different possibilities. However, as far as making decisions as to what we should believe, it behooves us to not use an unnecessarily strict standard on the evidence. As far as coming to information which we should come to believe, we ought not multiply skepticism upon skepticism, when in any other field or situation the evidence regularly provides enough information for us to take a substantial risk. For example, my survival on the way to work is “merely” probabilistic in nature, but has such a high probability that I’m willing to risk my life on it. Likewise, some information in favor of Christianity is “merely” probabilistic, and people feel this is ground for an enduring skepticism. However, as important as methodological skepticism is to obtaining knowledge, there comes a point which it is no longer responsible to continue in skepticism. This is the situation many people have come to in regards to the evidence for Christianity.

Next time we will discuss the implications for "practical epistemology" and assess how the evidence for the resurrection stacks up....

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