To my teachers –Dr. Agustin Rodriguez, Mr. Eduardo Jose Calasanz, Mr. Roy Allan Tolentino, Dr. Mark Joseph Calano, Mr. Marc Pasco, Dr. Remmon Barbaza, Dr. Oscar Bulaong and Ms. Jackie Jacinto –for the many questions they have answered and left unanswered.
“I know one thing: that I know nothing.” - Socrates
Various religious beliefs claim to have some image of God. The Judaic tradition, for example, views God as the Creator and Lawgiver, the genesis and supreme ruler of everything that came to be. Christianity, on the other hand, has a more complex and personal understanding of God; the Christian tradition names a Trinitarian God of love that is composed of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Other major religious groups such as Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, including minor denominations, have their own images and names for God as well. Since time immemorial, mankind across different cultures and traditions has posited the existence of and believed in a divine being. However, despite the multitude of beliefs regarding God, the epistemological question still remains: is belief in God, regardless of religious tradition, certain and justified in the first place? If I believe in God, can I also claim that I know Him?
Two opposing stands have tried to answer the question regarding the epistemic status of belief in God. Evidentialist theories regarding God emphasizes on the necessity of the evidence for God’s existence. Evidence here means the different reasons or grounds for believing in something. Evidentialism claims that God cannot be proven conclusively due to the lack of reasons or grounds for His existence. And even if He were to exist, belief in God would remain irrational and unreasonable due to the insufficiency of evidence or argument for His very existence. The evidentialist line of thinking consequently implies that it is impossible to possess knowledge of a divine being. On the other side of the debate, theistic evidentialism assumes that belief in God is rational because there is enough evidence to ground it. Cosmological phenomena, religious feelings and theistic arguments, among others, are assumed to be enough grounds for God’s existence. Because there is sufficient evidence for God, theistic evidentialists argue that it is perfectly reasonable or justified to believe in Him. This also implies that God can be proven and is knowable. Applying the contemporary epistemological definition of knowledge as justified true belief can further shed light on the philosophical merit of the two contradictory perspectives regarding God’s existence.
The framework of the traditional analysis of knowledge (TAK) that is central to contemporary epistemology states that for a propositional statement p to be considered as a genuine piece of knowledge, it must satisfy three conditions. First, person S has to believe p; belief here encompasses hesitant acceptance to strong conviction. Second, the propositional statement must be true; that is, it must be in accordance with the actual state of affairs in the world, i.e. the way things are. This second condition only necessitates that the correspondence theory of knowledge be satisfied. Lastly, TAK entails that S is justified in believing p; that is, the person must have sufficient reasons for believing the propositional statement. Several modifications of TAK have been proposed by contemporary epistemologists; however, the three conditions will be sufficient for this discussion, given that the essence of knowledge as justified true belief still remains despite those modifications. To prove through the traditional analysis of knowledge whether it is possible for a believer to know God, the following conditions must be satisfied:
The conditions can also be re-formulated to accommodate what a particular religious belief or individual claim to know about God. For example, knowing God might be equivalent to satisfying the following general conditions:
Assuming an outsider’s point of view, it would seem that the first condition is easily satisfied by the believer. The believer is a believer precisely because he believes in God in the first place; it is inherent in his designation as a believer to accept the propositional statement that God exists. In the second formulation, the believer also accepts that God indeed is x. Therefore, the first condition is easily met. However, the application of the traditional analysis of knowledge becomes problematic when the other two conditions are examined. The truth value of the propositions seems to rely on a proof for the existence and nature of God; if it can be proven that God is true, or if it can be proven that God is so and so, then the second condition is satisfied for the believer. The justificatory status of the propositions also remains questionable; it is difficult to evaluate whether the reasons for believing God exists or that God is x are sufficient enough to conclude that God indeed exists as x. For example, take a common believer from the Judeo-Christian tradition that satisfies the first condition and accepts that a Trinitarian God exists. His reasons for believing so may include one or more of the following: his upbringing in a Roman Catholic community, the Church doctrine and traditions, his personal religious experience, his utmost reverence for Pope Francis, etc. Some would argue, particularly those who are the most demanding for evidence, that some of his reasons are not sufficient to ground his belief in God and that consequently, his reasons for believing cannot prove that God indeed exists. On the other hand, the reasons mentioned above might be sufficient for the said believer to conclude that there is a God and that this God is Trinitarian in nature. With these considerations, it seems that the pursuit for the answer to the question whether God is knowable has reached a dead end. If God’s existence and nature cannot be epistemologically confirmed in the sense of justified, true belief, where does this lead the believer? Is the multitude of religious experience then nothing but futile belief in some divine being that might not even exist?
At this point, it might be useful to ask whether the epistemological questions “Is belief in God justifiable?” or “Is God knowable?” have a place in the realm of religious experience. A completely different side of the debate, known as reformed epistemology, has admitted that the conflict between evidentialism and theistic evidentialism is unresolvable precisely because the two conflicting sides are trying to answer the wrong question. The answer that reformed epistemology gives to the abovementioned questions is that religion is not an epistemological structure in the first place. This particularly means that to believe in God does not necessitate evidence for God; it is perfectly rational for a reformed epistemologist to believe in God without having proofs for his belief.
Is there merit to this perspective? In the medieval Christian context, God has been particularly named as that than which nothing greater can be thought: a supreme being who is the ground of everything that is. This particular understanding of God leads to chain of religious implications. For one, it implies that God transcends what the believer claims to know about Him: God is Deus semper maior. If a believer is asked to describe God and gives several qualities or designations as an answer (e.g. God is the powerful Creator, or the just Lawgiver, or the loving Christ), he would fail to give an all-encompassing definition precisely because reason dictates that God is beyond those descriptions. His nature as God strikes as incomprehensible and unknowable: being greater than anything that can be thought of, God cannot be contained within the boundaries of finite human intellect. This humble realization, in turn, would imply that God could not be subjected to mere analysis as if His being were a natural object or an artificial machine.
This medieval understanding has influenced modern and contemporary Christian philosophy. Paul Ricoeur, in his phenomenology and hermeneutics of Christian religion, has explained that religious experience does not follow as question-and-answer structure; rather, religious experience is call-and-response relationship between God and His believer. It does not seek to ask questions and demand answers from God; instead, God calls a community of believers into believing, and this community only responds to this call by believing. Being the origin and ground of all that is, God initiates the possibility of religious experience of the believer and not the other way around. Because of this particular understanding of religious experience, Ricoeur has implied that religion is not fundamentally epistemological at its very core. To know God means to fully comprehend his incomprehensible being; since that would be contradictory and impossible, the believer is thus led to the humility of accepting that it is not possible to claim that he knows God. Rather than a solid epistemic foundation, the believer only needs, in the words of Søren Kierkegaard, “a leap of faith” that does not demand any evidence or justification to believe in God. Rational belief in the divine, in other words, does not need a justificatory status or proof. Applying the traditional analysis of knowledge, therefore, becomes irrelevant when seeking to understand the existence and nature of God.
Is it possible then to re-formulate the use of the traditional analysis of knowledge to accommodate what St. Anselm, Ricoeur and the reformed epistemologists have articulated about God? Certainly. By recognizing the boundaries of epistemology in terms of making religious claims, a more humble formulation of the previous conditions can be made:
The three conditions are easily satisfied. By reflecting on the capacity of his mind, the believer realizes that God is beyond what his mind can think about. While it may be perfectly reasoned out that God possess a certain set of characteristics, the believer also confronts the truth that God is not and is beyond a mere set of characteristics. Of course, careful reflection, using the arguments presented above, would reveal that God is indeed beyond the limits of human knowledge; the second condition is therefore also unquestionable. The believer needs not to look beyond himself to be justified in believing the re-formulated propositional statement. Admission of humility and limited human intellect, along with the realization of God as Deus semper maior is enough justification to believe that God is beyond the limits of human knowledge. Therefore, what the believer can only be certain about is the fact that his finite intellect cannot know God in the sense of fully comprehending His being beyond the limits of human knowledge. The humble believer can only be confident in knowing that he cannot know God.
Has epistemology then led the believer to doubt or indifference? It seems that by asking epistemological questions and answering that belief in God’s existence and nature is unknowable and outside the realm of epistemological evidence, faith has turned into a dark cloud of uncertainty. If it is impossible to know God, why should the believer even believe in Him? What is the implication of this humble epistemological realization to our faith?
In The Value of Philosophy, Bertrand Russell talks about the purpose and the value of philosophical questioning. He describes philosophy as a loving search for knowledge, a search that entails a certain “seeking” or “striving.” Heidegger, who traced philosophy to its ancient Greek origins, also described the same thirst for wisdom. Etymologically speaking, philosophy is rooted in the Greek words philein and sophon, which loosely means “to love” and “the totality of being.” Philein, in particular, is to be understood in the sense of homologein, which means to “speak as one.” Philosophy, therefore, is to speak as one with the totality of being. However, in the course of the history of ideas, this unity with the sophon had been lost. Consequently, philosophy as truth-telling, as speaking one with the sophon, shifted to become a yearning to re-unite with the sophon, the gathering of all being. This yearning eventually became a characteristic of philosophical thought: a perpetual search for a lost unity by asking questions about the sophon. This yearning that is inherent of philosophy, insofar as it cannot be satisfied nor quenched, keeps philosophy alive and burning. The value of philosophy, therefore, lies in the unanswered questions and in the Socratic realization that “I know that I know nothing.” In the words of Russell, “The value of philosophy is, in fact, to be sought largely in its very uncertainty.” And this uncertainty is something to be endured and confronted with, if we are to aim for the ultimate end of philosophical questioning, which is, again according to Russell, a good life characterized by “an enlargement of the Self” and “greatness of the soul.” The realization that we do not know leaves a room for possibility, a room to continue seeking for answers, a room to strive for more.
And that might also be the value in the realization that we do not possess a comprehensive knowledge of God. Religious experience, like philosophy, does not need to strive for definite answers, because to possess definite answers means putting an end to the very essence of religious experience. In the most ironic way, man’s lack of knowledge leads him neither to doubt nor indifference, but to a more genuine kind of knowledge: that what he knows about God does not and will never suffice. The uncertainty that lies in religious experience gives the believer enough space to allow his faith to grow and blossom into its fullness. Precisely because he knows that he does not know, the believer continues to seek and strive for a deeper personal understanding of God, and in the process, deepen his faith in God also. And because God will forever transcend man’s knowledge and understanding, this seeking and striving becomes an infinite search for answers that will never be answered. The value of religious experience, therefore, as in philosophy, does not lie in knowing God, but in knowing that what I know about God is never enough.
 Jonathan L. Kvanvig, “The Evidentialist Objection,” American Philosophical Quarterly 20 (1983): 47.
 Kelly James Clark, ed. Readings in the Philosophy of Religion. 2nd ed. (New York: Broadview Press, 2008), 187.
 Richard Feldman, Epistemology. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003),15.
 Alvin Plantinga, Reformed Epistemology in A Companion to Philosophy of Religion. 2nd ed. (Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), 674.
 Ian Logan, Reading Anselm’s Proslogion: The History of Anselm’s Argument and its Significance Today. (Surrey, UK: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2009), 25-58.
 Daniel L. Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology. 2nd ed. (Cambridge, UK: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), 26.
 Jean-Louise Chrétien, The Call and the Response, trans. Anne A. Davenport. (Bronx, NY: Fordham University Press, 2004), viii.
 Paul Sands, The Justification of Religious Faith in Søren Kierkegaard. (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2004), 67.
 Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965), 153-161.
 Martin Heidegger, What is Philosophy? trans. Jean T. Wilde and William Kluback (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1956), 49.
 Russell, The Problems of Philosophy, 156.
 Ibid., 159.