Epistemology, Part One:
An Introduction to Evidentialism
Recently I’ve been studying something called evidentialism. I have to admit that I’m learning this from the ground up, but I thought I’d put what I’m learning here in order to help me sort out my thoughts. Also, some of you may be able to give me feedback that would be helpful in the development of my thinking on this.
I’ll start by defining evidentialism. “Evidentialism is a theory of justified belief according to which belief in the truth of a proposition is justified only when the believer’s entire body of evidence tends to support that belief. Evidentialism’s approach to justified belief is marked by its appeal to evidence. In a sense, evidentialism holds that belief is only as sound as the evidence upon which it is founded.” (www.wikipedia.com)
In other words, if you can’t prove something, you have no right to believe it is true, or at least you have no right to argue with someone else that it is true.
Next, here’s a definition of fideism. Fideism “holds that religious beliefs cannot be justified by rational means, but only through faith.” (www.abdn.ac.uk/philosophy/guide/glossary.shtml)
In other words, there is no use trying to come up with rational arguments for what we believe is true. We simply read the Bible and whatever it says, we believe.
That done, the question quickly arises: which is right?
On one hand, we know that evidentialism must never cause us to violate clear statements of truth from Scripture. On the other hand, if God is a consistent being (and His perfection and immutability argues that He is) than everything in Scripture will line up with fully discovered and rightly understood evidence. Of course these conditions can never actually fully occur in a fallen planet.
On the other hand, we know that fideism is appropriate when there is an apparent contradiction between, for instance, science and the Scripture. The danger in rejecting science based on Scripture is that it is so easy to have a poor understanding of the true meaning of Scripture. Galileo was severely attacked by the Catholic Church for daring to hold that the sun was the centre of the universe, not the earth. The theologians of the day had come to the unquestioned conclusion that since man lived on earth and earth was the centre of God’s working with man, that earth must be the centre of the universe. The problem is that their poor interpretation of Scripture (which obviously seemed extremely plausible at the time) was wrong.
Hopefully I’ll be able to discuss two important forms of evidentialism in a future post. Feel free to jump into the discussion and teach me what you know on this topic.