Can Our Biased Minds Know Anything?

William Lane Craig recommends reading Stuart Hackett’s The Resurrection of Theism: Prolegomena to Christian Apology, which is a defense of rational Christian apologetics against traditional arguments against the possibility of knowing that God exists. Due to this recommendation, I own a copy of this (relatively) expensive book.

At the beginning of the book, he addresses a common argument against the ability for us to obtain “rational objectivity.” Perhaps you haven’t had many discussions with people who deny that we can really know anything. But it’s not as rare as you might believe. I’ve met many people, usually college undergraduates, who deny that we can objectively know anything.

At the beginning of his book, Hackett addresses this view, though he refutes it to show that Christian apologetics are not pointless as a result of not being able to obtain a rational objectivity about the truths of Christianity. He writes:

Against such a view of the role of apologetics the objection is frequently brought that rational objectivity is impossible for real men and that therefore the whole enterprise we attempt is merely a glorious dream….Indeed, if rational objectivity were really not attainable, even this judgment itself, that we are conditioned by our beliefs, would fall short of rational objectivity and would therefore be eliminated by its own assertion. (7-8, emphasis mine).

Maybe you’ve heard someone express skepticism about religious or ethical claims on the grounds that we are so culturally conditioned that we cannot know anything about religion or ethics. But if cultural conditioning prevents us from knowing things about God or morality, wouldn’t we also be prevented from knowing that our cultural conditioning prevents us from knowing things about God or morality? In other words, if being culturally conditioned affects our ability to know about God and ethics, why wouldn’t our cultural conditioning affect our ability to make a judgment about the very possibility of knowledge? Our cultural conditional affects everything, even our philosophical judgments.

So one must either be skeptical about everything (even about whether cultural conditioning affects our ability to know things about God and morality) or accept that our cultural conditioning doesn’t prevent us from knowing some things. Very few people I meet are willing to be skeptical about everything. I’ve only met one person who would not state that rape, genocide, or slavery is morally wrong.

So Hackett’s argument would prevent such people from denying rational objectivity.

What if someone were willing to accept that we could not obtain rational objectivity, even about the proposition that we cannot obtain rational objectivity?

Then, by his own admission, the strength of his viewpoints are undercut by his cultural conditioning. If he really thinks that one’s cultural conditioning is so strong that it undercuts the possibility of knowledge, then, since both you and he are culturally conditioned, your position is no stronger or weaker than his. You can listen to his arguments and carefully consider them, but you should ultimately realize that his viewpoint undercuts the ability for him to weigh the arguments about the discussed issue. Every argument and every viewpoint given, whether by you or him, is so culturally conditioned (in his own position) that they carry no argumentative weight. They only display each of your cultural conditioning. A true giving and weighing of evidence and arguments is impossible.

While a conversation can occur, a true rational discourse about the topic is impossible.

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