Epistemic Humility

Posted in Uncategorized by chamblee54 on August 28, 2011

Andrew Sullivan had a post today with the lurid title Do Atheists Understand Christian Arguments? And Vice Versa?. The post reported a study, which was filled with semantic nonsense. However, it did use the phrase Epistemic Humility. Pictures today are from XXX, and are probably more fun than the text.

Perhaps a definition of terms is in order. The Free Dictionary says
“Phrase not found in the Dictionary and Encyclopedia. Please try the words separately … Epistemic: 1. (Philosophy) of or relating to knowledge or epistemology 2. (Philosophy / Logic) denoting the branch of modal logic that deals with the formalization of certain epistemological concepts, such as knowledge, certainty, and ignorance [from Greek epistēmē knowledge]” Humility “The quality or condition of being humble.”
The first response from Mr. Google was Lambeth 1998 and Epistemic Humility. This was at a wonky facility called The Anglican Scotist. They do serve up a definition of EH. I.
“What is epistemic humilty anyway? According to the doctrine of epistemic humility, Christians cannot have absolute certainty about anything in their dogma outside a minimal core, the kerygma. On everything else, they should always remain open to correction and reversal–in particular correction, that so far as they can know, is intended by God.”
PG is already getting nervous. He feels that practice is more important than belief. He also has little patience with the little intellectual worlds that some religions build for themselves. Third, he does not have a clue what kerygma is, or whether it is curable.
The Free Dictionary says that kerygma is
“The proclamation of religious truths, especially as taught in the Gospels.” … “the essential news of Jesus, as preached by the early Christians to elicit faith rather than to educate or instruct.” This sounds like something else that you have to understand, in order to understand the rest of the message.
Perhaps the true course of action can be found at The Kerygma Program. This is a proprietary venture.
“Adult Bible Studies with a Difference … Kerygma is REALLY THERE for you! … You get more than bible study resources from Kerygma. You get a partner … Whether by phone or email, or in person, a Kerygma consultant is there for you. We will come to you! Face-to-face brainstorming sessions with your Committee can provide a pivotal moment in decisions that will affect the life and vitality of your congregation for years to come. Get ready to think BIG!”
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy presents something called Humility Theory. This is based on a story about Socrates. The story is that Socrates interviewed some of the smart people of his day. Many of them were smart, but many claimed to be smarter than they really were. Socrates decided that the true wise person is the one who is aware of how much they do not know. This gives us
Humility Theory 2 (H2): S is wise iff S believes S does not know anything.
PG has noticed how learning about a subject makes you aware of how much there is that you don’t know. The admission of ignorance is often the first step to knowledge. There is also the matter of boasting about knowledge. While this is not always a sign of ignorance, it is usually very annoying. And lets not even consider those who boast of being a “humble servant”.
Rankin File is written by a University chaplain named Steven Rankin. (Is it time for a moratorium on questionable puns as blog titles?). His contribution to the EH discussion is Epistemic Humility and the Force of Ideas. A key sentence is
“Christians of all stripes (especially Christian college and seminary professors who don’t recognize that they’re doing it) make the mistake of confusing the force of an idea with coercive tactics in arguments.” The ideas here are presented from a Christian POV.
This view is seen here.
“Coercive tactics sometimes fly under the flag of “informal fallacies” in logic. When I think I can undermine your idea by making a reference to something about you personally – the charge of “homophobe” is a classic example on a very contentious topic – it’s called an informal fallacy (ad hominem attack), but it is also a power move. Another one is “fundamentalist” (or “liberal”).”
Name calling is a sure way to degenerate a discussion of ideas. What is noteworthy here is his first two choices … homophobe and fundamentalist… are likely to be used against a Christian. It is the third insult… liberal… which would be used by a Christian, against someone who disagrees with their ideas. It is presumably included here for “balance”.

Mr. Rankin ( apologies if he has a PhD) tips his hand later in the essay.
“What about when an idea that I hold as fundamentally true, say, that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh and the Savior of the world, is considered exclusionary (here’s the power) by someone who doesn’t believe that idea? If I insist that Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father, what about people who don’t agree?” This sentence is vigorously disputed by many people, PG included. And yet, Mr. Rankin sees it as kerygma, a fundamental truth. It is as if he is wearing red glasses, which turn everything red is his path white. Everything he sees is filtered through this concept.
Jim Manzi was a key figure in an earlier discussion of Epistemic Closure. He ventures again into epi land with this piece, Jim Manzi on the Stimulus and Epistemic Humility. This feature was written by Reihan Salam, and deals with the economic stimulus. The ideas here are rather horrifying, and have little to do with online Bible study programs.
Stand to reason blog chimes in with an exciting title, Epistemic Humility or Intellectual Instability?
“If you are consistently changing your beliefs, one of two things (or possibly a combination) is happening. Either, 1) you’re constantly getting a flood of new information that forces you to reevaluate (which happens in science, but not usually in theology), or 2) you didn’t think very carefully about your convictions the first time around. There is little virtue in saying, “I’ve changed my theology many times over the last few years.” This isn’t humility; it’s instability. ”
If religion were an intellectual affair, rather than an emotional one, this might make sense. In the Southern Baptist tradition, ten year olds are routinely pressured to “make a profession of faith”, be baptised, and go to heaven when they die. These children do not have the emotional or intellectual capacity to
“think very carefully about your convictions the first time around.”
Some of the comments to this post are fun, and are a good way to wind up this feature. If you google “epistemic humility”, you can read much more about this *fascinating concept*. ” i was christian and became agnostic. i dont recommend it to anyone – it sux. … which one “sux”–being a Christian or an agnostic……? … Now I understand why folks become agnostic. It saddens me. “

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: