Difference between "epistemological" belief and "theistic" belief



This question might sound odd, maybe because of lack of better phrasing, maybe because it's simply odd thinking, but I think there's something really interesting here.

The epistemological stages mostly contain as first step "belief" in the knowledge (e.g. in order to "know" a dog you first need to believe it exists, or if you think about a sentence - "the sun shines" - you first need to believe it to be true). That seems like a very "basic" level of "belief" (it might even need a different term).

Would we consider a belief in God an epistemological belief (as in, that belief is the first part in a series of steps to epistemologically check such statement as "God exists"), or should it be considered a belief in some different system, one that would perhaps not consider "knowledge" of the object, one that does not require justification for it?

Sorry for the convoluted question, I'm still wrapping it around my head and I'm not sure how exactly to ask it, putting it here so you can tackle me and help me to better phrase this question.

Yechiam Weiss

Posted 2018-04-19T08:50:18.300

Reputation: 3 468

To think of a sentence one does not need to believe it is true. Otherwise, we would be incapable of lying or uttering sentences that are not truth-apt. And one can certainly find differences of emphasis between epistemic and religious beliefs. For one, the former are not primarily used as markers of cultural identity (but could be in principle). Indeed, the very adjectives indicate a difference in the purpose of use, knowledge vs religion. – Conifold – 2018-04-19T21:33:29.183



Epistemology considers 2 things: what you know and how you know it.

So when considering a belief in the existence of a "god" we must ask "How do you know that?".

We start our existence with no knowledge or very little knowledge. We must make many assumptions when we learn new things. We can be most sure about direct knowledge, but in order to function we must make many assumptions about things we can't verify, and reconcile mistakes later.

If you read in a science book that "a divalent bond is a chemical bond that involves sharing electrons between atoms", you may believe it, and then if someone says "that's wrong, that's a covalent bond, divalent means something else" you now have conflicting knowledge. So you must try to resolve this conflict and determine which is more likely. You may check some more sources and eventually decide that 1 or the other is more likely.

Does "god" exist? Well, there are a few reasons to think it does, but many more reasons to think it doesn't, so a rational person will either decide that "god" does not exist, or decide that they don't have enough information to decide either way.

Epistemology is about considering why or how you have that belief, and reconciling contradictions accurately. When someone clings to a belief that is contradicted by reality, that is a delusion.


Posted 2018-04-19T08:50:18.300


Thanks, your review of epistemology is correct. But, it misses the point of the question. What I'm asking is not how to checki "God exists" claim in epistemology, but if it even needs (or should) be considered in the epistemology research, as this belief, contra to many "regular" beliefs, doesn't necessarily claim to provide objective fact that "God exists", but rather many times stays in the single stage of "belief" (meaning, it doesn't necessarily ask for justification for itself, which is one of the most important steps of epistemology, if not the most important one). – Yechiam Weiss – 2018-04-19T11:33:31.333

There are not "epistemological beliefs" and "non-epistemological beliefs". Epistemology is just a way to study beliefs. As for whether 1 belief or another should be checked: If you care about the truth, then every belief should be reconsidered, especially when it is contradicted. And the more fundamental a belief is, the more important it is to check it, because a core false belief will cause many more false beliefs. – None – 2018-04-20T07:22:47.303


Together with Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig identifies belief in God as "properly basic", like the belief that "I have a head" or "I left the keys in the dresser."

He does not go on to say that any properly basic belief is therefore true and indefeasible. Maybe you changed your routine and left the keys on the kitchen table!

But there is greater warrant for the belief that "I have a head" than the belief that "I left the keys in the dresser", since it would be harder to defeat.

elliot svensson

Posted 2018-04-19T08:50:18.300

Reputation: 4 000

This seems very much like vonjd's answer. I'd ask you too if you'd consider "certainty" of the claim to be the same for claim such as existence of God and "I left the keys in the dresser" - and note, I'm not asking if they're on the same level of certainty, but if such sense of certainty can even be provided for the both, and not only for the latter. – Yechiam Weiss – 2018-04-19T14:30:12.730

William Lane Craig doesn't seem interested in certainty but in warrant. Warrant is something accessible to evidence and logic, as well as the testimony of a witness. There's no warrant to believe that the keys are in the dresser once you have spotted them somewhere else. – elliot svensson – 2018-04-19T14:35:11.580

So the warrant is greater for "I have a head" because you constantly notice it. That's nice, but it still seem to me like it won't be able to apply properly (or rightfully) to "God exists". Unless taken in the concept of miracles as proof of God, but that's a very limited scope of the claim. – Yechiam Weiss – 2018-04-19T16:56:37.797

Craig claims that "believing God exists is properly basic" in order to show, with Alvin Plantinga, that "there is no good reason to think Christian belief is unjustified, irrational, or unwarranted unless it can be shown that Christian beliefs are false." https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/question-answer/belief-in-god/ The evidences for this warrant he calls "experiences" which "serve as triggers for the operation of this innate, God-given faculty which forms belief in God". Th experiences will be highly individual, as with other properly basic beliefs such as what I had for breakfast.

– elliot svensson – 2018-04-19T17:09:57.413

@elliotsvensson Why is the belief "I left my keys in the dresser" regarded as properly basic? Certainly a belief like "there is an external world containing such things as 'keys' and 'dressers'" is a properly basic belief, but I'm a little puzzled at why the former belief is regarded as properly basic. – Eli Bashwinger – 2018-04-19T22:21:10.723

From the aforelinked Q&A by William Lane Craig: "Reformed Epistemologists like Plantinga don’t offer any criterion of proper basicality. Plantinga eschews any search for such a criterion and suggests that if we want to see which beliefs are properly basic, the best we can do is just take an inductive survey of our beliefs, and he insists that the theist will include belief in God among such beliefs, even if unbelievers do not. So Reformed Epistemology is not self-refuting, since it doesn’t offer any criterion of which beliefs are properly basic." – elliot svensson – 2018-04-19T22:39:33.453

@elliotsvensson I like this direction. But without a criterion of proper basicality, and also what provides us with a "good enough" warrant (which, when you look at it closely enough, might lead to the same place as "certainty"), the use of Reformed Epistemology is questionable. – Yechiam Weiss – 2018-04-20T08:43:37.200


I don't know if I understand your question correctly but I give it a try anyway.

In my opinion everything is a belief, that includes scientific "knowledge". The only thing that differentiates it is the degree of certainty we put on those beliefs. For example I would put a very small amount of certainty on the idea of an benevolent omnipotent god but a high degree of certainty on the idea that gravity "works".

To arrive at those degrees of certainty we can use certain methods like e.g. the scientific method which seems to work pretty well. Some people use "faith" as an epistemological method but obviously this method is not very reliable because with faith you can arrive at all kinds of highly contradictory results whereas with the scientific method you can observe some kind of convergence.

There are many good references, I give you two as a starting point:


Posted 2018-04-19T08:50:18.300

Reputation: 931

This is a reasonable line of thought, but I'd like to question it. My question lies in this thin line that one of its important derivatives is "certainty". Do we (should we?) put ideas such as gravity and God in the same system such that we take "certainty" as something that's considered the same for both ideas? In other words, can we say, using the same term, that gravity has "high degree of certainty" and God has a low one? Can we take these two ideas under the same roof of "degrees of certainty"? – Yechiam Weiss – 2018-04-19T09:07:28.347

I would argue yes, because at the end both are statements about the world which are either true or false. Yet we will never know the ultimate truth 100%. – vonjd – 2018-04-19T09:14:41.447

I'm confused by the idea that we have to believe a dog exists before we can know it does. – None – 2018-04-19T09:42:49.920

@vonjd so you're saying that basically belief in God is reasonable as much as belief that a dog exists? I like this direction, just want to know if that's where you're headed. – Yechiam Weiss – 2018-04-19T11:07:21.377

@PeterJ: The only thing that is 100% certain and therefore "knowledge" is cogito ergo sum. Everything else are beliefs with different degrees of certainty. – vonjd – 2018-04-19T11:16:16.497

@PeterJ consider my answer to a question about epistemology that look a bit through the basic steps of classic epistemology. Note that "belive it exists" doesn't necessarily comes before an objective observation, but before we can attempt to claim it as existent.

– Yechiam Weiss – 2018-04-19T11:17:18.080

"A dog exists" and "God exists" are both beliefs. I would put a very high degree of certainty on the first and a very low on the second statement. The reason is that there is lot of evidence for dogs and no clear evidence for God. – vonjd – 2018-04-19T11:18:15.747

@vonjd which is also a thought that makes you think that maybe God existence shouldn't be considered in epistemology, because for many reasons the search for "evidence" in questions like "God's existence" is simply null. You may actually claim that it's also true for "normal epistemological beliefs", but that may be far-stretched and a bit beyond the current discussion. – Yechiam Weiss – 2018-04-19T11:36:52.820

@YechiamWeiss: So where should those questions then be considered? – vonjd – 2018-04-19T11:56:37.677

1@vonjd that's a good question, and one that I don't have any concrete and clear answer to, but the one system that I think gives a better direction is perhaps phenomenology. – Yechiam Weiss – 2018-04-19T11:58:49.180

@vonjd - I would strongly disagree about knowledge. It would be possible for most people to know that dogs don't really exist if they worked at it. But this is not the place. – None – 2018-04-19T12:20:12.937

@YechiamWeiss: ...and, thinking about it, of course also metaphysics. – vonjd – 2018-04-19T13:14:22.963


epistemological - Knowledge obtained through empirical observation theistic - Knowledge obtained through revelation

The birth of science and the foundation of holding theories by excluding other ideas, has led to the label epistemological

The use of religious books, teachers, where ideas are transmitted by dictation and experiences which cannot be verified, tend to be call theistic.

This definition works for some ideas quite well. epistemological - Evolution theory, studies of biological life, the universe.

theistic - Islam. The Koran, the haddith.

I had a long conversation with muslims who basically defined truth as anything confirmed in the Koran, otherwise it was unimportant or a lie.

Evolutionists hold their theories must be reflected in modelling the development of existance and life through steps of experiment, which will be shown at some point in the future.

Now these are extremes, and much of peoples views are a mixture of the two because of the limitations of either approach. Metaphysics is the theory of things that cannot be experimented on. So the existence of a star outside our solar system, can only be looked at, so is beyond our ability to interact with, while a physical object we can touch and experiment on, is within our grasp.

Some theoretical physics of multiple universes is a metaphysical proposition because there is nothing we can do to decide either way.

Or definitive statements about the past, are propositions, which have less validity the further we go back.

Theism is limited by the type of material the theists have and how it relates to other means. For instance, did Jesus live? It is not that difficult to show he was a historical character who taught what the christians claim. Whether you believe the miracles etc. they had the impact on peoples lives which changed history. But this is about authority through concept and emotional and spiritual exploration and experience, which is often subjective and varies between individuals. It does though add up to knowledge, but on a different foundation.

This is how I would divide the two areas of knowledge.


Posted 2018-04-19T08:50:18.300

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