Without fail, every time I go to Walmart I encounter the same experience. I pick items off the shelf and the cashier lets me purchase them. I may have gone yesterday, today, and may go tomorrow; every time the employee will accept my money in exchange for goods. I can be confident that in the years to come Walmart employees will continue to act the exact same fashion. Not a single one will tell me they will not let me purchase toothpaste, chips, or a new shirt. I do not actually know anyone who works at Walmart, so my knowledge is not based on knowing individuals. I do not know their names, their faces, nor anything about their personal life, but even without this knowledge I can foreknow my future experiences at Walmart. I know the future.
Although human beings are free, actions can be predictable. It is not as if Walmart hires robots or androids. Walmart does not hypnotize employees. Walmart does not even hold a gun to their employee’s heads. Walmart incentivizes free will people to act rationally. I can be confident in Walmart employee collective actions, not because I foreknow every single minute action in the future, but because I know the character of the owners of Walmart. The interesting thing is that it does not particularly matter who owns Walmart, I know their character without knowing the individuals. I even foreknow future actions of unknown individuals (future owners and employees of Walmart), many of whom are not yet born.
This knowledge does not make me very powerful. This knowledge does not make me omniscient in any sense of the word. But I know the future none-the-less. The standard definition of knowledge is a “justified true belief”. The same standard which I can say “I know I am currently wearing pants”, “I know that if I tickle my daughter she will laugh”, and “I know that I was once a baby”, is the same standard which I can say “I know that if tomorrow I walk into Walmart, no employee will stop me from handing over cash in exchange for merchandise.”
Now critics can try to be clever. They always try. They say “You do not know that for sure. The world might end tomorrow.” The funny thing is that they are always wrong, and I am always right. But using extreme hypotheticals, the Augustinians open themselves up to claims that they are nihilists. Their definition of knowledge seems to be a 100% certainty without possibility, no matter how slight, of error.
By the Augustinian standard of “knowledge” I do not know I was once a baby. Maybe I am some programed robot or phantasm in a dream that only thinks I was once a baby. Maybe also, I do not know my daughter will laugh when I tickle her. Maybe my daughter is merely a figment of my imagination. I may be highly schizophrenic. Maybe the pants I am wearing are an elaborate mirage induced by crazy scientists messing with my brain.
When critics claim I do not know the future by citing absurd hypotheticals (which never materialize) they undermine the case for knowing anything at all. They make themselves into nihilists, all in the effort to paint an unbiblical picture of God. The Augustinian standard of “knowing” is downright absurd and untenable for rational conversation.
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