The “We Now Know That” Tactic

Have you ever been talking to a skeptic when they say “ Yeh, but we now know that.” What I mean is that you can be talking about a variety of issues about the existence of God such as:

  • The Origin of the Universe
  • The Mathematical Fine-Tuning of the Universe
  • The Terrestrial Fine-Tuning of Planet Earth
  • The Biological Fine-Tuning of Complex Life on Earth
  • The Informational Fine-Tuning of the DNA molecule
  • The Origin of Mathematical Laws
  • The Origin of Physical/Natural Laws
  • The Origin of the First Cell
  • The Origin of Human Reason
  • The Human Consciousness
  • The origin of Objective Morality
  • Miracles
  • The Resurrection of Jesus
  • The Reliability of the Bible

In many cases, skeptics will say, “Yeh, we now know that there are many universes out there, or we now know that David Hume showed miracles aren’t possible.” Or, “we know that evolution can explain the complexity of life and why humans are moral creatures.” I could go on and on.

Remember, a belief is said to be justified when a person fulfills his or her duties in acquiring  and maintaining a belief. Or, a belief is said to be justified when it is based on a good reason/reasons or has the right grounds or foundation.

But the problem with the “we know that” tactic is a similar way of saying the individual has some sort of airtight proof for their position. In other words, they’re making a knowledge claim and in many cases, they think there are no defeaters to their claim. Remember that there are two kinds of defeaters: rationality defeaters (that provide grounds that undermine the rationality of a basing a belief on certain grounds) and knowledge defeaters (that provide grounds that undermine the legitimacy of a claim to knowledge on behalf of a belief based on certain grounds- see The Waning of Materialism, edited by Robert C. Koons and George Bealer, OUP, 2009).  Or, let me put it another way: in order for the individual to have certitude,  it must meet the following criteria:

(1)  It cannot be challenged by the consideration of new evidence that results from improved observation

(2) It can’t be criticized by improved reasoning or the detection of inadequacies or errors in the reasoning we have done. Beyond such challenge or criticism, such judgments are indubitable, or beyond doubt.

Hence, a judgment is subject to doubt if there is any possibility at all (1) of its being challenged in the light of additional or more acute observations or (2) of its being criticized on the basis of more cogent or more comprehensive reasoning.

Guess what? Most of our claims (both theists and skeptics) never reach the level of certitude. Now  this doesn’t mean that there is no justification for Christian theism. But in most cases our judgments are not indubitable, or beyond doubt.The same goes with the claims of most skeptics. Part of the challenge lies in the fact that many people don’t have a background in epistemology which is the study of knowledge. In the end, in many cases, rather than clinging to the ‘we know that” tactic, skeptics are better off saying “Let me offer some reasons for why I’m not a theist.”

Just some food for thought.

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4 thoughts on “The “We Now Know That” Tactic

  1. Elliot George July 31, 2015 / 5:33 pm

    This is an excellent example of the ‘strawman’ debating tactic: misrepresent your opponent’s position and then attack it!

    Educated non-believers do NOT claim ‘We now know that’. On the contrary, they admit that the explanations are unknown at present.

    So the claim of ‘certitude’ is very much on the side of believers who assert, without evidence, to ‘know’ the answers to questions of origins, etc.

    • chab123 August 1, 2015 / 12:16 am

      Hi Elliot, you really can’t speak for every unbeliever. I am speaking from my on personal experience. I have done alot of ministry on a large campus and elsewhere and have seen this happen quite a bit. Notice I said both the unbeliever and don’t have certitude. That will be it.

      • Elliot George August 1, 2015 / 2:53 am

        I did refer to ‘educated nonbelievers’ but, here’s a question: instead of attacking imaginary positions allegedly held by nonbelievers, why not set out your own reasons for belief?

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