See the source image

Concerning knowledge, there are truth claims people believe they know and things they do not know. There is a problem concerning knowledge if people ask themselves what it means to know something and the difference between knowing and not knowing something.  It is therefore insufficient to claim knowledge when one is not aware of what they do not know. Anyone who states a truth claim attempts to persuade someone of something a person believes in their mind as truth. Knowledge in itself becomes the vessel, medium, or tool used to discover what truth is. Knowledge is used analytically and is concerned with articulating what people believe in their minds as truth. Frequently, people practically use the word knowledge loosely in their vocabulary. Assertions and propositions are used as verbs claiming to know something as a truth claim. If a person is wrong about an assertion or proposition, according to justified true belief doctrine, the person did not have knowledge of the matter in its entirety. Primarily, the purpose of this essay is to examine the theory of knowledge and justified true belief. Secondly, to consider if justified true belief applies to the existence of God. The proposition “I know God exists” is analyzed for rationality, and what worldview is more reasonable to account for the logic within the structure of justified true belief as it applies to the proposition of the existence of God.

Assertions and propositions are similar in that they both have the capacity to declare something as true. The difference between the two is that an assertion puts forward a statement as true, while a proposition also can put a statement forward as true, but its content is open to truth and falsity (Blackburn 34, 387). For example, an assertion carries the expectancy to be true, while a proposition carries suggestion, supposition, or consideration as truth.  Analyzing knowledge requires an acknowledgment of necessary conditions that are sufficient for propositional knowledge. Propositional knowledge examines the knowledge within a proposition. For example, if Alexander the Great knows Aristotle is a philosopher, Alexander the Great has knowledge that Aristotle is a philosopher. Essentially, analyzing knowledge is the attempt to answer the question of what it takes to know something. At this point, it is important to understand a critical distinction between propositional knowledge and knowledge of how, where, when, and acquaintance. Particularly, propositional knowledge is not concerned with how, why, where, when Alexander the Great knows Aristotle. Instead, it is concerned with knowledge of the proposition itself or the subject. The sentence structure is as S knows that P. Alexander the Great is the subject (S) while knowing that Aristotle is a philosopher is the proposition or (P). 

            Traditionally, the conditions of knowledge are relatively basic, containing two conditions:

“(1) p is true

  (2) S believes that p” (Hetherington 445).

In this structure, the proposition is true if the subject believes it to be true. On the other hand, if the subject does not believe the proposition to be true, it follows according to the two conditional standards that the proposition is not true. The problem with the two conditional standards is that it is vulnerable to subjectivity. The subject may believe the proposition as truth when the subject claimed as knowledge is objectively false. The subject may also believe the proposition as false when the subject denies the knowledge in the proposition is objectively true. Philosophers realize the mind’s vulnerability to believe error as accuracy. Each person is responsible and must examine why they believe what they believe. Regardless of one’s conclusion, each person remains with the quizzical question of how do I know? On the issue of knowledge, Russian – American writer and philosopher claim that “since man is not omniscient or infallible, you have to discover what you can claim as knowledge and how to prove the validity of your conclusions” (3).

            Philosophers have developed another set of conditions for knowledge called justified true belief (JTB) with three components instead of two, which is as follows:

“(1) P is true;

  (2) S believes that p;

  (3) S is justified in believing that p” (Ichikawa).

Most twentieth-century philosophers follow the three-component formula as a starting point to understanding what knowledge is in reality. The three components are also considered as the three conditions. These conditions, truth, belief, and justification, are necessary conditions in propositional logic. Epistemologists may agree that if a conclusion is false, the assertion or propositions is not knowledge. For example, during the 2020 elections, one may say, I know Trump will win. The result is Biden won, and it no longer makes sense to state someone knew Trump would win in 2020; therefore, there was and is no knowledge in the assertion “I know Trump will win in 2020.” Knowledge is valid if and only if the conclusion is true. Knowledge is a noun that, in everyday practical speech, is used loosely. Consequently, without consideration, people usually use knowledge terms overconfident and realize, in the end, they were wrong about their assertions or propositions.

The second condition seems simple to understand. The general principle in the belief condition is that the subject can only know what the subject believes. Therefore, if the subject does not believe the assertion or proposition the subject is claiming, that subject’s failure to believe prevents proper knowledge. Nonetheless, mere belief is not enough to claim knowledge. Using the earlier election example, believing Trump would win the election did not mean he would win. Neither that the believer knows that he would win. The point is no matter how depth the measure of belief is, the proposition was wrong in the end. No matter how much ambition was in the belief, there was no knowledge since the result was contrary to the subject’s belief. In short, if the proposition is false, yet the subject believes it to be true, in reality, there is no knowledge or truth in the proposition.

The final component is the justification condition. Justification is a necessary condition to defeat a lucky guess or accidentally arrive at a true belief. For example, suppose the subject is gambling at a casino and is rolling the dice. The subject at the casino believes the slot machine will provide a winning jackpot. By chance, the subject pulls the lever and wins the jackpot, and the subject’s belief is true. But, unfortunately, the subject’s belief is baseless and provides no justified reason for why the subject believed the subject would win. The subject’s belief was a mere guess and not knowledge. As a reminder, the justification condition is introduced to assure that the subject’s belief is not valid by accident or luck.

What must justification consist of? Ph.D. Matthias Steup writes, “it may be thought that S‘s belief is true not merely because of luck if that belief has a high objective probability of truth, that is, if it is formed or sustained by reliable cognitive processes or faculties” (SEP). Following Steup’s logic, it is reasonable to assert that objectivity and reason are high qualities of the JTB process, especially in the justification condition. For example, a subject proposes knowledge of being burnt if the subject places its hand over the fire for an excessive amount of time. There exist objective factors in this proposition. Factor one; fire is objectively hot. Never under any circumstance is a flame cold.  Factor two; people are vulnerable to the sensation of pain. Although levels of pain are subjective, pain itself is a mutually universal sensation. It is probable that the subject has experienced being burnt by fire or heat and thinks if the subject places its hand over the fire, it will burn the subject. This example reveals objectivity and reason, which lead to all conditions of JTB. The subject believes the fire will burn, and the belief is justified based on high objectivity and sound reason. The end result is true and reveals the subject had acquired knowledge.

Some modern epistemologists believe that JTB is inadequate to determine knowledge. However, most may agree that the three conditions are necessary for knowledge yet are not necessarily sufficient on a case-by-case basis. The reasoning for the proposition against JTB is based on demonstrations revealed by Edmond Gettier. For example, consider a man and his son are driving through the country and stop for a break. While resting, they notice several items in their view, such as; a tractor, a horse, a combine, a silo, and a barn. The three necessary conditions of JTB are apparent. Moreover, they both notice items they are familiar with through past experiences; therefore, it is acquired knowledge to know what a tractor or barn is. Concerning the tractor, they see the tractor and believe it’s a tractor, and in fact, it is a tractor that equals a JTB. However, unknown to them, the locals set fake barns throughout the county with only one actual barn remaining (Turri 247-259). Since they did not know about the fake barns, they could have easily mistaken one of the fake barns for an authentic barn, but they recognized the true barn accidentally. Epistemologists would not consider this case a JTB but a Gettier case, which defeats a JTB.

Gettier cases reveal the justification condition susceptible to human fallibility. Moreover, they reveal that even seemingly justified beliefs result in lucky guesses that are incompatible with knowledge. The intent of some epistemologists is not to refute JTB but to modify and repair it. Principally, it is critical to find a way to exclude lucky guesses to determine actual knowledge. One of the methods explained by American Philosopher Linda Zagzebski is adding a fourth justification which becomes JTB+X. The fourth condition prevents the original justification condition from becoming Gettiered. The fourth condition is necessary as Zagzebski cleverly explains that “as long as the property that putatively converts true belief into knowledge is analyzed in such a way that it is strongly linked with the truth, but does not guarantee it, it will always be possible to devise cases in which the link between such a property and the truth is broken but regained by accident” (69).

Since justified true belief is applicable to determine knowledge, is it only applicable to propositional logic, or is it applicable to belief systems such as worldviews or religious beliefs? For example, is it justified as knowledge to assert or propose that one knows God exists? The complexity perhaps is that someone is claiming knowledge of something that is not tangible or metaphysically obvious to the senses. Philosophy of religion offers some insight through the school of Reformed epistemology (RE) as it concerns itself with the theory of knowledge relating to the belief in God. Although reformed epistemology is contrary to evidentialism, that belief in God is justified by evidence alone; RE goes beyond physical evidence into the realm of metaphysics and epistemology. Thus, for example, RE believes knowledge of God is universal and innate within all people. Although scriptural reference is available, RE are inspired by the writings of 16th century reformed theologian John Calvin who wrote that “there exists in the human minds and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of Deity, we hold to be beyond dispute, since God himself, to prevent any man from pretending ignorance, has endued all men with some idea of his Godhead . . . so thoroughly has this common conviction possessed the mind, so firmly is it stamped on the breasts of all men. Since then, there never has been, from the very first, any quarter of the globe, any city, any household even, without religion, this amounts to a tacit confession, that a sense of Deity is inscribed on every heart” (ICR).

Based on Calvin’s writings and reformed epistemologists, a presupposition for RE is that knowledge of God is innate. At this point, some may consider this a ridiculous concept since RE are arguing for knowledge of an immaterial existing being. But is it genuinely far-fetched since many immaterial ideas such as truth, beliefs, logic, reason, and morality are irrefutably accepted? Truth, logic, reason, and morality are arguably innate faculties of the human being and are used and accepted as existing immaterially daily to our convenience. These are innate faculties all have knowledge of; not just knowledge, but innate knowledge. The casing point is that innate knowledge is possible. Not only possible, but innate immaterial innate knowledge is possible; therefore, excluding the possibility that an immaterial being exists, such as God, is not an invalid idea. Neither is the idea that if God exists, He imparted an innate knowledge of Himself in every human, considering the rationality provided by Calvin and reformed epistemologists.

Of these innate immaterial ideas, consider the laws of logic. They are necessary for any assertion, argument, or proposition to carry any meaning. So, for example, in the law of non-contradiction, a statement such as “God is an immaterial existing being” could also mean “God is not an immaterial existing being.” Without the law of non-contradiction, any statement could have an opposite or arbitrary meaning. Without the laws of logic as a whole, meaning and knowledge become impossible to receive or articulate. But why are the laws of logic relevant to the idea of innate knowledge of God’s existence? The answer is because these ideas inevitably lead to a belief or a worldview. The proposition that knowledge of God is innate and a justified true belief stems from a biblical worldview, compared to those who deny the proposition and accept a non-biblical worldview.

            Consider the following deductive argument based on biblical principles:

  1. Through the bible, God reveals Himself.
  2. God reveals Himself as a logical being.
  3. The laws of logic exist as a reflection of how God thinks.
  4. God created humans with the capacity to think according to the laws of logic.
  5. Logic and its laws are innate in all humans, evidenced by their way of thinking.
  6. It logically follows that God’s knowledge is innate and transcendent to all humans.

This rational structure also creates accountability for a belief system of the laws of logic. This reasoning creates an absolute standard as a basis for justifying the existence of the laws of logic; otherwise, how does one account for the existence of the laws of logic without an absolute standard? Without a universal standard, an explanation for the existence of the laws of logic is arbitrary. Without God as the absolute standard for the laws of logic, one may find it necessary to deny immaterial existence or appeal to some form of skepticism. The other option is to implicitly borrow or steal from the biblical worldview to account for the use of the laws of logic to make a case against God’s existence or that belief in God is irrational. In this case, believing the existence of God is an irrational idea; what is meant is, that knowledge of God’s existence is not a justified true belief.

Nevertheless, if what is necessary for a justified true belief in the existence of God or to propose that someone knows God exists are the three necessary conditions; truth, belief, and justification, then by the reasoning mentioned in this essay, all conditions meet the standard. Corresponding with Steup, a high degree of objectivity and reason justify the truth that God exists as the absolute standard of immaterial ideas such as knowledge and logic. Therefore, those that propose they know God exists should not consider their statement irrational but instead should consider it a justified true belief; congruent with the position of Dr. Deane Peter Baker’s interpretation of American Philosopher Alvin Plantinga “If the A/C model is true, and God has in fact installed in us a sensus divinitatis, then holders of such beliefs are justified in their beliefs because they violate no epistemic duties in doing so, and their beliefs are also warranted because they are the result of a properly functioning epistemic faculty that is aimed at truth” (78).

It is impractical to assume one can communicate without truth claims. One of the problems that lead to some believing there are no truth claims stems from the attempt to define knowledge. Within the theory of knowledge, epistemologists attempt to reveal how many suppose they have knowledge and truth when in reality they may not. Without analyzing knowledge, it becomes difficult to analyze one’s beliefs in the form of introspection. Everyone who communicates using truth claims believes they have truth in their mind, not realizing what they claim as knowledge is inaccurate. The study of metaphysics and epistemology have become instruments to discover what conditions are necessary to define knowledge and attain truth. Necessary conditions for knowledge exist, and modern epistemologists systematically use the doctrine of justified true belief to assure someone has justifiably acquired knowledge without accident or chance. Explicitly, JTB applies to assertions and propositions concerning God’s existence or knowledge of God. Knowledge of God is, therefore, a justified true belief.

Works Cited

Blackburn, Simon. Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. Oxford University Press. Oxford. 2016.

Print.

Hetherington, Stephen. Metaphysics and Epistemology: A Guided Anthology. John Wiley &

Sons. West Sussex. 2014. Print.

Rand, Ayn. Philosophy: Who Needs It. New American Library. New York.1984. Print. Ichikawa. Jenkins, Joshua. “The Analysis of Knowledge.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

2017. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/knowledge-analysis/.

Steup, Matthias. Epistemology. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2020.

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epistemology/#KnowFact.

Turri, John. “Is Knowledge Justified True Belief?” Synthese, vol. 184, no. 3, 2012, pp. 247-259.

ProQuest, https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/is-knowledge-justified-true-belief/docview/1111803075/se-2?accountid=8289, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11229-010-9773-8.

Zagzebski, Linda. “The Inescapability of Gettier Problems.” The Philosophical Quarterly

(1950-), vol. 44, no. 174, [Oxford University Press, University of St. Andrews, Scots Philosophical Association], 1994, pp. 65–73, https://doi.org/10.2307/2220147.

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion Book One: The Knowledge of God Naturally

Implanted in the Human Mind. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. https://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.iii.iv.html.

Baker, Deane-Peter. “Plantinga’s Reformed Epistemology: What’s the Question?” International

Journal for Philosophy of Religion, vol. 57, no. 2, Springer, 2005, pp. 77–103, doi:10.1007/s11153-004-1681-8.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s