Thursday, December 20, 2007

Letters to a teenage skeptic, #4

This is a continuation of Letters to a teenage skeptic, #1 , #2 and #3.  See also #5.


My beloved Son,

In response to my question: Do you agree that there is a difference between truth and belief (the latter is subjective, the former is not)?

You said:
If I understand this question correctly, I do believe there is a difference between truth and belief. What one believes is not necessarily truth, although it may be. The thing is one can never know. I can assume you may use miracles to prove the existence of god, and my opinion about those is that god performs miracles to prove to us that we don't know squat about this earth compared to what he/she knows.
The part I'd like to address is "one can never know." If you are saying what I think you are saying, then you contend one can never know truth with any degree of certainty. In other words, you assert the thesis, "It is certain that nothing can be known with certainty." Thus, although one might think 2+2=4, you cannot know that this is true with certainty. Is that your claim? If so, I disagree.

I've been studying math, science, philosophy, and theology long enough to know that some things are "demonstratively certain".  Just because I am not perfect doesn't mean that I cannot be certain that 2+2=4, or that one cannot demonstrate the certainty that 2+2=4, or that it is equally certain that 2+2=5. As an analogy, although my eyesight is not perfect, that doesn't mean that I can't see some things quite clearly so as to have some level of certainty about what I do see.

If the thesis ("it is certain that nothing can be known with certainty") is true, then how do you know it is true?  Isn't the thesis a self-refuting thesis?  If you continue your thesis to its logical conclusion, then nothing can be known, we are always in doubt, and even our own existence cannot be known to be true, even our doubts must be doubted. Do you doubt your own existence?

Let's clarify some terms...

Doubt = state in which the mind is suspended between two contradictory propositions and unable to assent to either of them.

Assent, therefore, is the removal of doubt. When we assent to things that are "certain" in our mind, then we know longer have doubt.

Perhaps what you intended to say is that some things about reality are "incomprehensible" to human nature.  I agree. However, that does not imply that all things are incomprehensible, nor does that imply that we cannot know without a doubt some elements or characteristics of the incomprehensible things, based upon the available evidence.

Not all things are "demonstratably certain," nor do they need to be to be believed without a doubt. Our conclusions can be an assent based upon the preponderance of evidence. We can and must draw conclusions based upon the preponderance of evidence, even though human reasoning can be flawed. To do otherwise would be detrimental to maturity, growth, and living one's full potential.

Love and God bless,


See Letter's to a Teenage Skeptic, #5