In the last few days, as I’ve been packing boxes at Mum’s, I’ve been thinking about the faith, belief, knowledge discussion we were having before I went away. I still agree that these are three different things, but I still think that it is too narrow a definition of knowledge to insist on confining it to something that relies on empirical evidence, and I still think that the kind of heart knowledge (or realm of meaning knowledge, or iceberg thinking knowledge) that I’ve been trying to describe is poorly represented by the term belief.
I think I’ve got an illustration that might help to show what I mean. I have a husband that I love dearly, and he loves me and wishes only the best for me.
The second part of that sentence is a statement of belief: I believe that my husband loves me. I have reasons for my belief, but the evidence that forms part of those reasons could be interpreted in other ways. For example, he may treat me with affection because he has been programmed to do so, or because behaving in the ways he does brings him rewards. but I don’t think this is true; I think he loves me.
The last part of the sentence is a statement of faith: I have faith in his good will toward me. Again, I have reasons for my faith, but it is, none the less, faith – a decision on my part to interpret whatever he does in the light of my belief in his love.
The first part of the sentence is a statement of knowledge. It is knowledge in two different ways; one of which you can share as knowledge (through empirical proof), and one which you can only share as belief. First, I know I have a husband. I could imagine a scenario in which that knowledge was wrong (perhaps because I was delusional, or dreaming). But I don’t give any credence to such scenarios. The existence of my husband is – to me – a matter of knowledge. You’ve never met him, and can choose to think I’m lying or wrong. However, if your view on the matter was sufficiently important, I can provide empirical evidence for the truth of my knowledge by arranging for you to meet him. Second, I know I love my husband. In this second case, I could offer you various forms of evidence, but you might choose to interpret that evidence to mean something else. For you, my love for my husband is, and must remain, a matter of faith or a matter of belief. But just because you can’t share my knowledge doesn’t change the reality that for me my love for my husband is a matter of knowledge.
Finally, there is the question of truth. Where do faith, belief, and knowledge intersect with truth? I believe that the statement I made about my husband is true, every bit of it. It is a truth – the parts I can prove, and the parts I can’t. It is not, of course, more than a tiny fraction of truth.
I believe that – as Mulder says – the truth is out there. Sometimes, we may come close to apprehending truth in some way or another – some aspect of it, in any case. Mostly the human condition has to manage on small fractions of truth made up of a mixed up soup of faith, belief, knowledge, hope, and miscomprehension. I suspect that anyone who thinks that they know the truth – about God or anything else – has an inflated view of their own capacity and a deflated view of the scope of the question. The best I can hope for is to know a truth or two or three. And to keep on learning.
Thank you, by the way, for your good wishes and prayers for my Mum. She is much improved; so much so that the specialist we saw last Friday used the ‘m’ word. They made them tough in the 1920s.