Greg Koukl Comments on How You Know Things

During the 2013 SALT conference, Greg Koukl was speaking on the topic of “Any Old God Won’t Do”.  It was basically an argument against pluralism.  During the second half of the talk he started to explain 3 ways that we know things:

  1. Reflection (Coherence of the view or internal consistency)
  2. Observation (Does it match up with the world as I experience it)
  3. Authority

I think he did a great job of diffusing arguments against the last one – Authority.  He started off by pointing out that the skeptic would be thinking, “OK, here we go… Now you’re going to start quoting the Bible to me.”  But then Greg goes on to assert that most of what we know, we know because someone told us.  He cites 3 examples:

  1. That water boils at 100° Celsius or 212° Fahrenheit at sea level.
  2. That the earth goes around the sun.
  3. That atoms have a nucleus.

He then says “But none of you, I presume, ever did the work to discover [these things].  You’re not astronauts, you didn’t boil the water – you could’ve done that, but who does that?  …  but you believe all these things to be true and I think they are true, but you believe them to be true because someone told you!”

Consider what would be involved in actually doing the water boiling experiment that he spoke about.  Think about how you’d still have to trust authoritative information from other sources (experts) even in the process of performing that experiment.  For example, you’d have to trust that the thermometer works.  How is it that we know the thermometer is reporting the correct temperature?  What about the water?  How do you know that it is pure H2O?  If you got the water from the tap, you don’t know that?  To be absolutely sure, you would have to run some kind of chemical test on the liquid to make sure it is water!

Greg then goes on to say, “Most of what you think you know, you know because of some authority who is in a better position to give you accurate information”.  I think you could go on with numerous examples of this.  J. Warner Wallace does a great job with this line of reasoning as well in his article “Jesus Is A Myth, Just Like President Kennedy” as does the Alicolnist movement.  Also, in his excellent book “Unsilenced: How to Voice the Gospel”,  James Boccardo says in answer to the question “You’ve Never Been to Heaven or Hell, so You Can’t Tell Me about It!”,

It seems like we’re out of options here.  Unless, of course, we ask the person the same kind of question.  Ask him if he has ever been to Afghanistan.  Maybe Alaska?  No?  How do you know Afghanistan is even a real place?  Sure, people have told you about it.  Maybe you’ve seen a map or a TV show about it.  The problem I throw back at the person is this:  You’ve never been there either.  We all know there are camera tricks and maps that have been wrong.  You just trust someone else to tell you about these places; you’re doing the same thing that you’re accusing me of.  I trust what the authors of the Bible tell me about life after death.  You trust someone else to tell you about Afghanistan of Alaska.

So, these are all great points.  We can’t all have absolute, personal knowledge of everything we believe.  We all must, at some point, trust others, who are in a position to know, that the thing we believe is really real.

This video is well worth the ~43 minutes to watch it.  He gives a lot of great examples, arguments and tactics in

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