Thursday, February 28, 2008

more on faith and knowledge...

Browsing through blog entries on religion and philosophy (which I am prone to do from time to time :-D), I came across the following question: Is faith preferable to genuine, well-grounded knowledge? The writer suggested that although faith may be shown to be preferable to doubt, it cannot be shown to be preferable to knowledge. I found one person's response quite intriguing (he argued that faith is preferable to knowledge, because genuine knowledge is deterministic and cannot be rejected by anyone, and faith offers the opportunity for free choice, and hence contains a value that knowledge lacks), but I am not going to discuss that particular hypothesis here.

So, which is better - faith or knowledge? Is it even possible to say? Of course, as one who appreciates Kierkegaard, my interest was piqued, and so I've decided to ponder this a bit. My own response stems from my understanding of SK's description of faith as having its value in "the strength of the absurd." What I mean is this:

I would suggest that faith and knowledge are not two competing epistemological categories, but rather are complementary categories, which together provide a more complete picture of the limitless array of experience available in the universe. It is also important to note that faith is NOT necessarily better than knowledge, since faith is dependent entirely upon that in which the faith has been placed. Faith in something that is unreliable is worse than no faith at all. However, it is precisely the nature of faith that this paradox will exist: We are at a loss to rationally resolve whether or not our faith has been placed in a reliable source of faithfulness. This is why SK speaks of faith being grounded in the strength of the absurd. But what is this strength? How can we call it strength? Isn't relying upon the absurd a weakness? And doesn't that make knowledge better?

At the very least we can say that faith which is placed in a reliable source would be better than knowledge, since it would provide us with a connection to information/experience (revelation, as it is called) that is beyond the human capacity for knowledge. This would certainly be of great value, and presents the potential strength of faith. But how can we determine whether such a connection is even possible, for surely if it is not, then there is no need for, or strength in, faith?

There is an assumption here that must be dealt with first. The assumption is that there is nothing beyond the human capacity for knowledge. In other words, the modern presupposition underlying many epistemologies is that knowledge is the ONLY viable category for experience. Once you've experienced something (or rationally verified it), you know it. The assumption is that there is no other way to relate to reality. But those of us who rely upon faith claim that this modern assumption is false.


We must also deal with two competing assertions: the first is that all the possible information/experience in the universe is knowable, and will eventually be known by human beings (assuming the race isn't destroyed first). the second is that some information/experience is not and will never be knowable by human beings. This is not viewed as a negative necessarily, but rather as a self-evident truth which is grounded in human finitude. Note that neither of these views is exclusive to theism. However, it seems that in most cases, theists tend toward the latter view (since they hold some things to be only knowable by God), while non-theists tend toward the former view (spurred on by the ever-widening vast quantity of knowledge already available to humans). So which one is right? More to come...

2 comments:

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