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Friday, April 25, 2003

Apologetics without Epistemology?

Consider Plato's Meno. In it, Socrates argues that since it is conceivable that we might be the sort of creatures that receive a kind of pre-aquaintance with the eternal forms before birth and need only to recall them now, we ought not be discouraged by what may be a false dilemma between either already knowing the truth or not being able to know the truth, which in either case would mean that all our philosophical reflection would be worthless. This classic example illustrates Iris Murdock's point that metaphysics can be a guide to ethics, including the ethics of belief policies. Given western thought's inability to recover from Descartes' Demon hypothesis, it doesn't seem that metaphysics may ever lead to justified beliefs about the way the world is. But even if that is true it can beused to help make important decisions, including religious decisions as for example in Pascal's Wager and SK's "Religion B".

The same might be said about the various ways Christian Dogmatic theology traditionally relies on speculative metaphysics to present a coherent, unfalsified statement of biblically mandated beliefs. It may be impossible to establish whether a Christian system of a naturalist system is really rationally to be preferred. This, however, may not necessarily prevent such considerations from supporting a solid decision about where to put one's faith. One important strength about this is that it shows that doctrine really plays an important role in the Christian life after all even when it cannot be verified. It still plays a necessary role in motivating the Christian Faith in practice.

So maybe the best thing to say, however ironic, is that apologetics doesn't require epistemology. I can defend my faith without having to prove that it's true. This can be a viable strength in a sophisticated academic culture were epistemology is seen to be a bankrupt project, to be replaced by either metaphysics or politics. (e.g. Buddy: "How do you justify your beliefs? Dusty: "Sorry, but I don't do epistemology.")

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