Are you sure? Sure, I'm sure!
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Topic: Knowing and Being Right

What is Knowing?

by Darrel Cline

When I was in college, I used to get up every other Sunday morning at 4:30 to drive 200 miles to preach in a small, rural church. After church we would usually go to someone's house for dinner and a good afternoon visit. Then, in the evening, we would hold services again. Then we would drive back to the school, arriving about 1:30 a.m. There were several times on those long Sundays when I was so tired driving home that my eyes would play tricks on me. As I was driving down the Interstate, those big green signs on the side of the road would suddenly move over in front of me and turn into the back end of a semi-trailer. I would jerk my foot off the gas and hit the brakes, only to find that there was nothing in front of me. That's what is called being tired. But, it also shows how a person can't always trust the eye-brain combination which gathers and interprets data in view of some kind of life-affecting decision.

In another article (007), we used this reality of deception at the sensory level (hearing, feeling, seeing, smelling, tasting) to raise an important question: Can we know anything? In this article I would like to explore that question. The purist in agnostic philosophy would say, "I don't think we can know anything for sure". But, purists in almost every branch of philosophy are out of touch with reality. Reality says that we can and do know a lot of things...things which we base decisions upon everyday to our advantage. For example, we know that if our child is playing on the highway and gets hit by a truck at 55 mph, we are going to suffer a great deal of pain. So, we do what we have to do to keep the kids off the highway until they are old enough to be careful.

But, the real issue is what is knowing? We said before that knowing is simply being sufficiently assured of the truthfulness of our grasp of certain facts that we are able to decide what to do when decision time comes. Thus, knowing is simply a matter of believing at a level of assurance that enables us to make decisions without hesitation. Because we believe that our child will be seriously injured (or killed) if he/she gets hit by a truck, we know. If we do not believe, we cannot know.

Now, there are several sources of faith. If we experience a certain pattern enough times, we begin to believe in the consistency of the pattern. Once we believe in the consistency, we move into knowing. But, experience has many sides. One side is our own sensory experience--what we feel, hear, see, taste, and smell. Another is our rationality--our ability to make logical deductions, or to think. And another is our willingness to trust others to tell us the truth. Most of the time, all of these sides are involved in our knowing.

This series of articles began with a series of questions. Can a person be a Protestant and go to heaven when he dies? Can a person be a Catholic and go to heaven when he dies? Can a person be non-religious and go to heaven when he dies? Is there a heaven? What about Hell? The point I want to make in this article is that these particular questions eliminate several of the sides of knowing. Which ones? We will tackle that in the next article.

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This is article #008.
If you wish, you may contact Darrel as darrelcline at this site.