Can We Know That God Exists?
"Can we know that God exists? The basic question underlying this question is: Can we know anything at all? For, if it is possible to know anything, then it is possible to know that God exists. Can one know anything? Is a normal human being capable of really knowing anything? To answer this question we must come to a knowledge of what 'knowing' means. (Interesting sidelight: Is it possible for one to come to a knowledge of what knowing is? Would it be possible for one to know that it is impossible for one to know?)
The answer to this question (Can we know anything?) involves the whole field of study called epistemology. Epistemology is that field of study which deals with the origin, nature, methods, and limits of knowledge. The human being, in two basic ways, comes to have knowledge. We come to know (learn) by experience, and we come to know (learn) by contemplation. Knowledge which comes by means of actual experience is placed under the heading of SCIENCE.Knowledge which comes by means of contemplation is placed under the heading of PHILOSOPHY. The knowledge which comes by experience may be: mathematical, physical, biological, or social. If the contemplation is about the universe, it comes within the realm ofmetaphysics. If the contemplation is about conduct, it comes within the realm of ethics. If the contemplation is about the beautiful, it comes within the realm of aesthetics. If the contemplation is about correct reasoning (the principles of valid reasoning), it comes within the realm of logic. This reasoning involves two kinds: inductive and deductive.
The Empirical philosophers insist that the only real knowledge is that which comes by means of the physical senses. The Existential philosophers insist that there is no way that one can really know anything. We are insisting at this point that though it is certainly true that there is knowledge which comes by means of the physical senses, it is also true that there is knowledge which comes by meansof contemplation. We are insisting that it is possible for one to know and to know that he knows by working (in thought) according to the demands of the principles of correct reasoning.
It is generally recognized that 7 times 7 gives 49. The '49' represents a conclusion arrived at by contemplation. But it is possible for us to know (and to know that we know) that 7X7 gives 49. Likewise, if one places a dime in an envelope, and then places the envelope in a trunk--we can know where the dime is. We can know that the dime is in the trunk. And, this knowledge we have by contemplation, rather than by sense perception. If it is the case that all men are mortal beings, and if it is the case that Socrates was a man, then we know that it is the case that Socrates was a mortal being. I recently said to my students: 'If it is the case that the accute accent can stand on either of the last three syllables of a Greek word, and if it is the case that the circumflex accent can stand only on either of the last two syllables of a Greek word, and if it is the case that the grave accent can stand only on the last syllable of a Greek word--then it is the case that if the third (the antepenult) syllable of a Greek word is accented that accent will have to be the accute. And, you can know this, and you can know that you know it.'
The 'law of rationality' holds that 'We ought to justify our conclusions by adequate evidence.' Adequate evidence absolutely demands certain conclusions. We are not talking about assumptions. We are not talking about guesses, or speculations. We are speaking of that conclusion which is absolutely demanded by the evidence at hand. And that conclusion which isdemanded by the evidence is a matter of knowledge. It is 'knowledge' just as much as is the case with regard to sense perceptions. It is this kind of knowledge in particular that we have in mind when we emphasize that we can KNOW that God exists. It is this kind of knowledge which is compelled by consideration of the facts: there can be no effect without an adequate cause; there can be no law without a lawgiver; there can be no picture without a painter, no poem without a poet, no design without a designer, no thought without a thinker no engineering without an engineer, no chemistry without a chemist, and no mathematics without a mathematician."
"We Can Know That God Exists"
Spiritual Sword (Vol. 8 No. 4, July 1977, pp. 42-43)