Book review: How Do We Know? An Introduction to Epistemology
by James K. Dew Jr. and Mark W. Foreman
How do we know what we think we know? Dare we claim to know anything at all about God, or can we speak only about what we believe? Is it time to throw up in our hands and give in to postmodernism?
Don’t buy this book looking for an argument for the existence of God. That’s not the focus. This is a very good introduction to epistemology, with only a light Christian tint. Until the final pages, little is said about knowledge of God, and when we do get to the topic of divine revelation (for that is our primary means of knowing anything about God), the argument for why the Bible story of Jesus is reliable history is unfortunately too brief to be helpful.
Instead, the book hopes to introduce its readers to the philosophy of epistemology–that is, the study of the nature and limits of human knowledge. Dew and Foreman are both associate professors of Philosophy. They start out with the long-standing definition of knowledge as Justified True Belief (JTB), provide a few counter arguments to show the inadequacy of that definition, and then lead into some of the deeper issues. What is truth? Where does knowledge come from? Do we really need justification? How and why do we believe? Does “revelation” count as knowledge? (This may be the most important question in the book for Christians.) And how certain can we be?
These topics are deeper than they sound, but you don’t need any background in philosophy to follow the discussion. If the book sounds dry, it’s not. I confess an interest in this discipline, because it’s not uncommon at all for two people to claim to know contradictory facts, judging themselves to be 100% certain of their knowledge, which only highlights how fallible we humans are. When the topic turns to religion, we affirm our “knowledge” with even more certainty.
In the end, certainty is less attainable than we imagine, and not as necessary as we might think. Most of the really interesting things we believe are things that we could possibly be wrong about.
Strongly recommended especially if you are new to the topic.
IVP Academic, 2014, 174 pages