Blogs vary from the fun to the gravely serious, and sometimes on this blog I set out an idea or an argument about which I have confidence and sometimes I put forth an idea to generate conversation that I’d like to participate in. Today I do the latter. My big question is this: When we claim to have certainty about our faith are we actually claiming a kind of justification by works — a work called reason? In other words, if we say we have certainty about our faith are we basing our faith upon our ability to construct an argument?
I use a simple example and then I want to explore a few points and hear what you have to say. I have hope today that some philosophers will weigh in, correct what I have to say if it needs it, and help us all.
My example: I think I can say with reasonable probability, approaching certainty at the historical level, that Jesus died. At some level, since my belief (that he died) is justifed (by an assortment of evidence and arguments) I am confident to the point of near-certainty that Jesus died.
But, can I be “certain” that Jesus died for my sins? Or is that something I believe in because of an assortment of things, not the least being Holy Spirit conviction, Jesus’ own words, the testimony of early Christians, and my own experience of forgiveness. Is Jesus’ dying for my sins something about which I am certain or something in which I believe, a kind of belief that may well give me utter confidence but which cannot attain the level of certainty?
Now put this another way: Does faith describe what can’t be certain but only what requires trust in God? For, if it is certain, it is no longer faith but reasonable argument. (This is where a justification by works might come in.) Are then certain kinds of claims for certainty some kind of semi-Pelagianism?
Here is how I understand the terms I have used:
Belief is a cognitive state in which one takes a proposition or a person to be true (or false).
Knowledge is a belief that is justified by argument and reason.
Certainty is knowledge or belief about which one has no doubts. What some hold as certain (they have no doubts or have worked beyond doubts) others hold as knowledge and/or belief.
Rational is something that is logically consistent with one’s premise, and it may also describe something that is discovered by intuition rather than sensory or empirical proof.
Things get muddled in our world.
1. Many believe certainty has to be empirically demonstrable. I know of no better term than empirical certainty. That water vaporizes under heat.
2. Many believe certainty applies also to what is rationally demonstrable. That if God is Love, then God (by necessity or God denies Godself) loves you and me. Let us call this rational certainty.
3. Many believe certainty also applies to what one believes but is incapable of empirical demonstration and which is experienced as utter confidence on the basis of personal, spiritual experience. Let us call this religious certainty.
4. Some postmodernists believe certainty is unattainable unless it describes an individual’s own confidence in his or her own constructed world, whether individualistically or communally or linguistically.
5. Some believe in a person and belief in that person inspires confidence.
6. Some believe that all forms of knowledge and certainty are ultimately derived from something or someone in which or whom we believe. Thus, all knowledge is faith-based or faith-shaped.