An Illustration Designed to Awaken Awareness of Epistemological Uncertainty
You and I are sitting at a restaurant table. As a Christian, I am faced with the task of demonstrating to you the truth of my religion. Perhaps you need to be persuaded because you do not believe that we can know which religion is correct. Or perhaps you believe in a different religion. At the least, you certainly reject the idea that Christianity is the only true religion. And even more, you are offended that Christians so audaciously claim that they alone have the truth.
Let’s put Truth in a cup. Pretend that the empty cup on the table beside us contains the essence of reality— unadulterated Truth. Whatever Truth may be is in that cup. Now we seal the cup, so that neither of us can see it, and we begin to guess the answer to the question "What is Truth?" Our task, then, is to guess what is in that cup.
Here is how we will go about it: We will each explain what we believe to be the Truth. We will take those beliefs about Truth and will each place them in our own separate cups. When we finish filling our cups with our beliefs, we will open the Truth Cup to see which, if either, matches the Truth.
So we fill our cups. My beliefs are traditional Christian beliefs, and I place them in my cup. Perhaps your beliefs are somewhat agnostic, but you do believe that it is everyone’s responsibility to be moral and treat others with respect. Or maybe you don’t. Regardless, your beliefs, whatever they may be, go into your cup.
Before opening the Truth cup and making our comparison to see who is correct, there are several important things to note about the nature of what is in our cups:
1. We cannot change what is in the Truth cup. The truth is not influenced by what we believe. We can grunt and moan and believe with all the faith we can muster and not alter religious reality one iota. That indeed is assumed in the very definition of reality. Reality is what is, and is not merely what we think it is or what we want it to be. So what we have placed in our cups cannot in any way change what is in the Truth cup.
2. It is impossible for both of us to be right. How do I know that? Because when I compare what is in my cup with what is in your cup, I see that my cup contains the belief that Christianity is the only true religion and that all others are false religions. Your cup on the other hand contains a belief that says that I am wrong and have no right to be so close-minded. So we see from the start, without even opening the Truth cup, that both of them cannot be correct. They are both mutually exclusive.
3. Both of us could be wrong. Of course, it is possible that neither of our cups matches what is in the Truth cup. In that case, we should both commit to changing what we believe to match the truth when it is revealed to us. Only a fool would hold onto old beliefs that he or she knows don’t match what is in the truth cup.
4. One of us might be correct, and the other wrong. Once again, only a fool would hold onto old beliefs that he or she knows don’t match what is in the truth cup. The loser must either ignore the Truth or accept it by bringing his or her beliefs into alignment with the Truth.
It is possible that you do not agree with these four assertions. If that is the case, the we will place your disagreement in your cup, and I will place these beliefs in mine. We will then compare them to the Truth in the cup beside us.
Now at this point, we should both come back to the reality of the situation and acknowledge a very real problem with our method. After all, we are just pretending. We are sitting at a table in a restaurant and are staring into some cups imagining that we have life’s ultimate answers mixed up in our soda. Finding out who is correct is not so simple as taking the lid off the cup on the table beside us. In reality, the only way we can know the Truth is if somehow it is revealed to us. Revelation is essential. Our choice is to either have it revealed, or live our lives with no confidence whatsoever that we possess the Truth.
The next question for both of us is, "To whom or what will we go for this revelation?" That’s a hard question, isn't it? It must be someone or something that demonstrably, certainly, and absolutely knows what is in the Truth cup and is capable of and willing to reveal it. Either that, or we are left to play the Truth Cup game with that person or thing as well and ultimately must move on to a greater source. Or perhaps we are left to just make stuff up and then place our faith in it as if we knew it were true.
To whom or what will you go to for this revelation? Does this source demonstrably, certainly, and absolutely know what is in the Truth cup? Is this source capable of revealing it? Is this source willing to reveal it? Do you know that you can you trust your source? Or are you placing your faith in made-up stuff? You may not believe that I should trust my source. However, on what grounds do you assert the certainty of your knowledge?