Does Belief Require Understanding?

Imagine going to the library at a university with a nuclear physics program and picking up a copy of a peer-reviewed journal in nuclear physics. I’m assuming that you, the reader, are like the 99.99999% of the population by having no ability whatsoever to understand anything in that journal. Unintimidated by the subject matter, you browse the table of contents and randomly pick an article. You try to read it, but discover that there are literally no nouns or verbs in the article you understand. Other than words like “if,” “then,” “and,” or,” and “but,” you have literally no idea what any of the other words mean. Now suppose you have it on good authority that the article does, in fact, make at least one empirical claim, albeit one that requires a Ph.D. in nuclear physics to understand. Call that claim ‘C.’

If you have no ability whatsoever to understand anything in the article, is it possible for you to believe C?

What does this have to do with the philosophy of religion? Well, if belief requires understanding, then it seems to me that this has potentially interesting consequences. For example, consider the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. On the assumption the doctrine is coherent, it seems to me that many people, including many Christian theologians and philosophers, agree that the doctrine of the Trinity is hard to understand. And that makes me wonder. Out of all the people who claim to believe the doctrine of the Trinity, how many even understand it?

I am not sure what, if anything, is the ultimate significance of this point. But I don’t think I’ve run across this point in the philosophy of religion literature. (If I’m mistaken, I’d welcome any points to writers who have discussed it.)

About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.


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