In the prior post I mentioned three criteria for evaluating religious truth claims: coherence, explanatory ability, and evidence.
These criteria, however, are mere concepts. They don’t do any work in themselves. A crucial question then is, What is our part? What is our personal responsibility for properly utilizing the three criteria?
I’d like to suggest that our part in handling the criteria for truth has to do with intellectual virtue.* It’s about cultivating habits of the mind, somewhat similar to moral values, that enable us to acquire true beliefs and knowledge.**
First Intellectual virtue: love of truth. It’s virtuous to be more committed to truth than to useful fictions. We won’t lie to ourselves. We’ll work hard to overcome our biases. We’ll love the facts of a matter more than a beneficial outcome. We’ll read widely, evaluate fairly, listen with an open mind.
Second intellectual virtue: honesty. Truth-seeking isn’t just about the evidence itself, but how we handle the evidence. Do we allow the data to shape us or do we shape (“reinterpret”) the data to fit our own agenda?
Third intellectual virtue: epistemic courage (courage in acquiring knowledge). We’ll care more about truth than what our peers and critics think of us. We’ll go against the grain when necessary. My friend Lindsay once said, “We are not infallible in our judgments. We have something to learn from the other side.” In today’s contentious environment around politics and religion, it takes courage to even say something like that.
For the seeker of religious truth, these virtues (and others that could be named) help us properly handle the data and arguments for and against any truth claim.
For Christians, “virtue” means considering scholarly arguments against our positions on politics, race, and theology. (Additionally, for academic types such as myself, it means studying the works of educated opponents of the faith, such as atheists.)
For seekers of religious truth, exercising intellectual virtue means reading the best accounts of each religion and considering them fairly. I tried to do this with Mormonism, as told in the prior post, by actually visiting the Mormon institute and interacting with its professors.
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* In philosophy this is called “virtue epistemology,” meaning, sticking to certain values as we develop our beliefs and knowledge.
**I’m indebted to Professor David Clark at Bethel Seminary, St. Paul, MN, for suggesting this set of intellectual virtues.