In a forthcoming paper, I defend the view that knowledge does not require believing on the basis of evidence. In other words, I argue against what I call the “Evidence Thesis”, which states:
(Evidence Thesis) S knows that p at t only if S believes that p on the basis of evidence at t.
How does the evidence thesis relate to evidentialism, formulated and defended by Earl Conee and Richard Feldman? Well, their view is about epistemic justification, and it states that the doxastic attitude one is justified in having is the one that fits the evidence. Evidentialism is a popular view, and we can see that it is distinct from the evidence thesis. However, VERY MANY evidentialists endorse the evidence thesis. So do VERY MANY internalists. On the other hand, almost no externalist will endorse the evidence thesis. So long as one’s true belief was produced in the right way (e.g., by a reliable process, with safety, with sensitivity, by properly functioning faculties, by an exercise of the right sort of ability, etc.), the belief counts as knowledge. Despite the fact that some people seem to presume the truth of the evidence thesis, we can see that a great many theories of knowledge (the externalist ones) entail that it is false. And I argue that it is false in my paper. So, my argument both provides support for the many externalist theories of knowledge and also gives many evidentialists and internalists a reason to revise their views.
In this post, I want to try out a counterexample against the evidence thesis.
Suppose God exists. (Even if God doesn’t exist, we can use God in a counterexample against the evidence thesis.) God knows all true propositions; God does not believe propositions on the basis of evidence; therefore, the evidence thesis is false.
When I first reflected on God’s knowledge, as pertaining to the evidence thesis, I was inclined to think that God did not believe truths on the basis of evidence. It’s not that God is appeared to bluely when looking at the earth and, on that basis, believes that the earth is blue. God just knows and believes (without requiring extra perceptual evidence) that the earth is blue. To use some other examples, God just knows and believes (without requiring extra evidence) that 1+1=2, that there are exactly 14,000,000 angels, or that Cain sinned. God does not need an a priori insight, or it does not need to seem to God that these propositions are true.
That was my pre-theoretical understanding. But it’d be nice to have some arguments, and they don’t clearly go one way or the other for me. I suspect that most evidentialists and internalists would just say that God does know those propositions on the basis of evidence. I’d deny it and tell them so. And then we’d sit there staring at each other, unhappy that the other person is unconvinced. (In fact, this has happened to me, on two separate occasions, with different internalists!)
So, here are some questions that I’d like to ponder and get readers’ reactions to:
1) Are there are any theological reasons to hold one view over the other? Is there evidence from Biblical, Quranic, Jewish or other possibly revelatory texts?
2) Does God believe some propositions on the basis of other propositions that God believes (or on the basis of God’s other beliefs)?
3) Does God gain perceptual knowledge on the basis of perceptual experience (or a sense datum or being appeared to a certain way) in the way we do? (I recall reading Anthony Kenny saying that the medieval philosophers dealt with this question. Any help from them?)
4) Does God gain memorial or a priori knowledge on the basis of intellectual or memorial seemings?
5) Is it plausible to believe that God could have all these perceptual experiences and intellectual and memorial seemings all at once?
Then again, I think Alston didn’t even think that God knows individual propositions, but I don’t think I ever understood his view. Anyway, any thoughts on (1) – (5) are welcome!