ontology and epistemology
Last week, I was having a conversation with a friend about apologetics, and I mentioned that I wasn't 100% certain that Christianity was true. She was surprised by that. For some strange reason, every time I said, "I am less than 100% confident that Christianity is true," she heard me say, "I am confident that Christianity is less than 100% true."
The reason I'm writing this blog is because I had a conversation last fall with somebody who had this same misunderstanding. In both cases, I had a really difficult time explaining the difference in a way they could understand. I figured since two people who don't know each other both had the exact same misunderstanding, the fault must be with me. I just want to throw out some thoughts on the subject, though.
I think the confusion comes in not distinguishing between ontology and epistemology. Epistemology has to do with our knowledge or belief about something. Ontology has to do with the thing itself. There is a difference between reality and our beliefs about reality. Reality is some particular way, and whatever way it is, it is 100% so. My beliefs about reality, however, may not be based on conclusive evidence. Many of my beliefs about reality are based on probabilities.
If there are cookies in the cookie jar, for example, then it's 100% true that there are cookies in the cookie jar. But that doesn't mean everybody knows for sure that there are cookies in the cookie jar. A person may suspect there are cookies in the cookie jar, because he smells cookies in the air and figures somebody must've recently baked some and put them in there. But it's also possible that cookies were baked and eaten, and there are no cookies left. But that's unlikely since there's only one person living there. So this person believes there are cookies in the cookie jar, but there's room for doubt. Their belief that there are cookies in the cookie jar is less than 100% certain.
When I say I'm not 100% certain that Christianity is true, all I'm saying is that I'm fallible. I could be wrong. Christianity is either true or it's not true, but I can't know with absolute certainty which it is. David Hume once said that a wise man proportions his beliefs to the evidence. The stronger the evidence, the stronger we should believe. I'm pretty confident that Christianity is true, but it's possible that I'm mistaken.
Whether I believe something or not has nothing to do with whether it's true or not. A thing can be true even if I think it's false. A thing can be true even if I don't know whether it's true or false. A thing can be 100% true even if I only suspect that it's probably true.