In my last post, I explained a bit about the nature of truth, and then investigated some of the distortions of truth. Today, I want to go to the next step and discuss the way we apprehend truth, answering the question, “What is knowledge?”
Knowledge is most commonly defined as Justified True Belief (or the JTB model), and each one of these words represent a crucial component of knowledge. Let’s consider each in turn, in reverse order:
Belief is required for knowledge. It would be exceedingly strange if I made the statement, “I know that it is snowing outside, but I don’t believe it.” Does it make any sense to claim to have knowledge of something that we don’t believe? (We’ll assume that by “I don’t believe it” I’m not just meaning that I’m surprised about it.)
Truth is required for knowledge. Again, it would be very odd for me to say, “I know it’s snowing outside, but it’s not true that it’s raining outside.” Can I have knowledge that something is happening when it is not truly happening? I think we’ll have to agree not.
Justification is required for knowledge. Consider the situation in which I said, “It is raining outside,” and I believe it, and it happens to be true, but it was just a lucky guess. Perhaps I had been inside all day away from windows or any other external clues concerning the weather. Can I truly claim to have knowledge? No, not without justification.
Justification concerns reasons and evidence that give confidence that our answers are not mere guesses or dumb luck, but actual knowledge. It’s not “I hope it’s true” or “I think that it’s true,” but “I know that it’s true.” This is an important part of Christian evangelism, as demonstrated by author Christian Smith in his book Soul Searching in which he reports that students who grew up in Christianity who had since abandoned belief said they did so because of “intellectual skepticism and doubt.” These students had beliefs, and they were true, but they had no justification for those beliefs. They needed to know why they believe, not just what.
Knowledge is essential for spiritual transformation. Consider Romans 12:2 – “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” We need to be able to have knowledge of the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God.
Apologetics can provide justification, which turns true belief into confident knowledge. This also helps to integrate spiritual beliefs into the rest of one’s life, as opposed to compartmentalizing “religious matters” apart from “mundane matters,” as is encouraged by modern culture. This daily integration will help provide successful navigation of and interaction with reality.
In the next post, we will talk about why people believe the things that they believe.
Comments, questions? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!
(All Scripture in this post is from the ESV translation)