The college basketball season is reaching March Madness and millions of people will join in the annual ritual of filling out brackets. Some will play for money, others for pride, but the point is the same to win. Everyone has their own method for picking the games, some try to analyze the teams, others choose based on mascots, team colors, or favorites (for example, my wife picks Duke to win the championship every year!).
But before we can all waste countless hours examining the bracket, a committee will enter a room and decide which 65 teams will have the chance to win the coveted National Championship. They will justify their decisions with acronyms like RPI, SOS and DIFF but all the decisions also include the eye test – when I watch this team play do they look like what I think a good basketball team should look like. The hard part, however, is everyone forms their own opinion on what a good basketball team should look like. The question then is, do we use analytics to support what we already know as true or do we use analytics to determine if whether or not what we see is true?
Thus, March Madness led me to think about about how we as humans come to understand anything because it seems that in all forms of acquiring knowledge the eye test has its place.
For example, scientific discovery is based on the scientific method. To oversimplify, it involves three stages: hypothesis, testing, analysis. In this scenario, the hypothesis is the eye test, it is an assumption based on experience about what is true and what is false. The hypothesis is then tested to see if the results support or deny the assumption. Finally, the analysis is when the hypothesis is confirmed or denied based on the results of the testing. The objectivity of science (though I think we can agree science is not always objective) is based on the assumption that the hypothesis must be confirmed by the testing. The hypothesis comes first but the testing is meant to be the controlling factor in making the decision. In other words, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
Philosophical inquiry also has a similar method for testing propositional knowledge. Propositional knowledge is knowledge that involves truth. For example, there is performative knowledge (e.g. I know how to cook, I know English) that only assumes our ability to perform something without questioning the truth of the object (e.g. is what I do really cooking? or if there even such as thing as cooking?). Propositional knowledge on the other hand makes a truth claim (e.g. 1+1=2) which requires verification. To verify propositional knowledge the basic formula is:
Someone knows that ‘Concept A’ is true if and only if
- Someone believes that Concept A is true
- Someone is justified in believing that Concept A is true
- Concept A is true
In this method, belief is the eye test or the hypothesis. It comes first, but it requires justification. That is, it must be tested to see if belief matches reality. Only if belief matches reality, if Concept A is true, can it be considered knowledge.* Thus, much like in scientific knowledge, ‘objectivity’ in philosophical inquiry is grounded in the assumption that all knowledge must be proven for it to be true.
Hermeneutics, or more generally the art of interpretation, also has a similar theory for acquiring knowledge. Paul Ricoeur describes the process of interpretation as a dialectic between explanation and understanding, but Heidegger noted that the process actually begins with preunderstanding not explanation. Preunderstanding, the eye test, is an initial guess (sometimes more educated than others) at meaning that allows the process of explaining and understanding to begin. It is the starting point that further examination then uncovers as true or false. Although this particular theory of hermeneutics is not as interested in objectivity as science might be, it still follows a similar method of determining the truth or understanding.
Christianity has a similar understanding of acquiring knowledge captured in the phrase ‘Faith Seeking Understanding’. In this way, Christianity has understood knowledge as the act of faith, the eye test, being confirmed through understanding, the analytics. Faith, what we believe, is examined through the study of scripture, personal and communal experiences of God, and supplementally through the study of science, philosophy, etc. In this sense, faith and thinking critically are not in competition but rather work together as guides toward understanding the infinite God in more faithful ways.
Yet, within certain strands of Christianity to subject faith to any testing is seen as wrong. Hebrews 11:1 is often paraphrased in these arguments to prove that faith is believing in what we can’t see, or in other words faith is blind. But, I’ve written this way too long blog post to argue that blind faith is not real faith. Faith is not based in the yet to be determined, but in the real, faithful actions of God. We believe in our future resurrection because of a past resurrection. We believe God will provide for his people, because of his history of provision. If what we believe cannot be verified by testing then what we believe is surely blind but it is not real.
Therefore, test your faith to see that it is real because God is not afraid of us using the mind he gave us. Boldly ask the Holy Spirit to ‘be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect’ (Rom 12:2).
Finally, back to your brackets… based on my scientific testing you might as well pick by colors or mascots because I lose to my wife and sons (ages 7, 5, 4) every year.
*For simplicity, I am not mentioning the difference between a priori knowledge and a posteriori knowledge as would be included in most philosophical discussions.