‘But…but…I JUST KNOW!’

September 27, 2015

A common reaction from those challenged to provide us with evidence that there are fairies at the bottom of the garden, or that the dead walk among us, or that God exists is to say 'But...but...I just know!' Defenders of these beliefs often believe they have some sort of special, direct awareness that allows them to know these things. Many who believe in God suppose they have a sort of God-sense or sensus divinitatis by which God reveals himself to them. Psychic Sally and others who believe the dead walk among us believe they have a spirit sense by which they can sense the presence of, and even communicate with, the deceased.

 

Now, interestingly, some popular views in epistemology allow that they might 'just know'.

 

Consider the kind of 'externalist' theories of knowledge which say that, in order to know that so-and-so is the case, it is sufficient that, say, your belief be true and that it be hooked up to the state of affairs that makes it true in the right sort of way. What is 'the right sort of way'? Well that depends on the precise theory of knowledge in question, but a common suggestion is that your belief must be produced by a generally reliable belief-forming mechanism. Sight, memory, and so on are thought to be such reliable mechanisms for forming true beliefs.

 

So, for example, I believe there's an orange on the table in front of me. Now suppose that my belief is brought about by an orange on the table via a reliable belief-forming mechanism, such as sight. Then I can know there's an orange there.

 

Now notice that on such 'externalist' theories, there's no requirement that, in order to know there's an orange there, I must know my belief is produced in the right way sort of way. I don't need to know anything about sight or its reliability or its role in producing my belief in order to know there's an orange before me. Just so long as my belief is produced in the right sort of way, I can know.

 

But of course such theories open the door for those who suppose they 'just know' that God exists, that the dead walk among us, or that fairies exist to say, 'Me too!' The spiritualist can say, 'It just really seems to me the dead walk among us, and if they do - if my belief really is produced by some sort of reliable spirit-sense - then I know the dead walk among us.' And the religious person can say, 'It just really seems to me that God exists, and, if he does and if he is revealing to me his presence by some sort of reliable sensus-divinitatis or God-sense, then I know that God exists.'

 

How should we respond to this sort of claim? It can be tempting to say 'But, where's your hard evidence to support these beliefs? If you can't present it, you really shouldn't believe!' However, this sort of 'evidentialist' view is also now rejected by many epistemologists. Surely, if it really seems to me that I ate toast for breakfast, then it's reasonable for me to believe I did even if I can now provide no evidence at all that I did (the washing up is done and all the evidence is gone). Indeed, surely I still know I had toast for breakfast even if I can't point to any supporting evidence. All that's required is that my belief be produced by my reliably-functioning memory. But then similarly, surely someone could reasonably believe, and indeed know, that God exists even without evidence? This is currently a popular line of thought among Christian philosophers and apologists (example).

 

I think a better response to those claiming to 'just know' God exists or that the dead walk amongst us is to point out that there is good evidence these beliefs are false. But even if there weren't good evidence these beliefs are false, saying 'I just know' won't do once it has been pointed out to the subject that there is good evidence that their belief is not a product of a reliable mechanism. If I seem to remember having toast for breakfast, it's reasonable for me to believe I did. But it's no longer reasonable for me to believe I did once it is pointed out to me that I have been given a drug that often causes false breakfast memories. Then I should no longer trust my memory. It would be unreasonable for me to continue to believe given only my apparent memory.

 

But now there is plenty of evidence that we human beings are highly prone to false beliefs in invisible beings (ghosts, gods, fairies, spirits, sprites, etc.) when those beliefs are based on such subjective experiences. This evidence should lead those who believe in gods, ghosts and so on to no longer trust their subjective experiences of such things. Those that continue to believe on that basis do so unreasonably. Saying, 'But...but... I just know' is, in this case, irrational. It remains possible that they do still know (if their belief is produced by a reliable god- or spirit-sense). But it's no longer reasonable for them to suppose they know.

Comments:

#1 Philip Rand (Guest) on Monday September 28, 2015 at 5:04am

Of course it is “reasonable” for them to suppose they know…

You just have to use your “mirror” technique and answer these two questions that the religious person poses to you (“yes” or “no” answer to each question is sufficient):

1/ Is God not known in the sense of a real thing?

2/ Is God unknown in the way a real thing is known?

You will find the solution does in fact make the position “reasonable”.

This is because if [2] is denied [1] cannot be admitted either.

Therefore, in admitting [1] but denying [2] you are wrong…it is a “reasonable” position.

#2 Stephen Law on Monday September 28, 2015 at 10:17am

eh?

#3 Philip Rand (Guest) on Monday September 28, 2015 at 10:37am

Think…

You are an atheist… therefore the answer to [1]must be “No”... surely you can see the logic?

Likewise…[2] must be “No” as well…

I am just using your “evidence” criteria, i.e. real things and mirroring it…then if you look at both answers you get a paradox in your answer… jeezzz…it should be pretty trivial…

Are you really serious you can’t see this? 

Let alone understand it?

No wonder Heythrop college is closing…

#4 stephen law (Guest) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 at 12:34am

Please spell it out for us dunderheads.

#5 Stephen Law (Guest) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 at 12:36am

It seems to be a combination of pomposity and opacity.

#6 Philip Rand (Guest) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 at 5:35am

Very well…as I wrote we use your “mirror” technique, right?

So, let’s take my first post and “mirror” it to “reflect” what you would say to a religious person.

Your questions would reflect all you have written in your article (so it is easy to summarise)...

Now, what you would do is ask two questions of the religious believer:

1/ Is God known in the sense of a real thing?

The religious person would answer “Yes”.

Then you would ask:

2/ Is God known in the way a real thing is known?

The religious person would answer “No”.

Then you would say:

“You are being irrational!

If God is known in the sense of a real thing, then you should also say that God is known in the way a real thing is known.

So, what you say is irrational, namely [1] That God is known in the sense of a real thing, but not [2] known in the way any other real thing is known.

If [2] is not admitted [1] cannot be admitted either.

In admitting [1] but denying [2] you are irrational.”

The first post, i.e posed by the religious believer to the atheist follows exactly the same pattern (I could go into the same explanation as this one…but that should not be necessary)...they are both “mirror-image” reflections of each other just like a real mirror…

Therefore, if they are mirror images…then the religious person’s position is reasonable…it has to be because it is the “mirror-image” of your own position.

I am pompous because…my tells me I am eccentric…really what she means is that I am autistic…

My view is that I am an arsehole…but that’s because I drive an AUDI…my problem is that I am more interested in philosophical research rather than supporting a particular view… for me this is very important.

And remember this… J.S. Mill in his “System of Logic” came to this conclusion:

“All empirical arguments beg the question.”

#7 Stephen Law (Guest) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 at 6:10am

I wouldn’t say the religious person is being irrational simply for answering ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to your respective questions (if the latter means ‘known in the way other real things are known’, which it seems it does).

#8 Philip Rand (Guest) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 at 6:22am

Ah… but the interesting thing to note in both cases…is that both the atheist and the religious person would say that the opposing position is “wrong”... each position being based on “reason”... that is the interesting finding…

Of course, it is a simple model… but then a philosophical solution (if there is such a thing) should be homespun and ordinary…that is if it is to be correct…

#9 Stephen Law (Guest) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 at 10:37am

You tell me I’d say religious were irrational for answering yes and no to your respective questions. I point out I wouldn’t say that. So you got that wrong then. I’ll stop there.

#10 Philip Rand (Guest) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 at 11:21pm

Your response is even more interesting…

Aspect-blindness… That’s the whole point and proves my model…

As you wrote, you would not say the religious is being irrational… they are being “reasonable”...

Which means that your final statement in your articles:

“But it’s no longer reasonable for them to suppose they know.”

Is wrong! 

Because, you have stated above that the religious persons responses are NOT irrational, therefore they are reasonable…just like the Atheist’s responses to his questions!

The mirror-technique is indeed quite useful…think about it…

#11 Philip Rand (Guest) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 at 11:33pm

You see, when the Atheist answers the religious persons questions…the responses the Atheist “must” commit to are wrong (from the religious persons aspect)...one could say “reasonably wrong”

Similarly when the religious person answers the atheists questions… the responses the religious person “must” commit to are also wrong (from the atheist aspect… one could say “reasonably wrong”

What the model clearly shows are different “aspects” of the G-d issue…

A bit like the Wittgenstein duck-rabbit picture…

It is an interesting question…

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