Stanley Fish is at it again

Shorter Stanley Fish: faith is better than knowledge.

I wouldn't have even noticed this, probably, unless I'd been visiting sitemeter and seen that a number of people visited the site in the last few hours looking at what I'd written. I guess they were looking for access to today's piece--sorry about that. But it gave me chance to see Fish defend himself, and he doesn't do a very good job of it, I'm afraid. It all comes down to this section, where he's quoting from Pilgrim's Progress:

There is, he explains “knowledge and knowledge. Knowledge that resteth in the bare speculation of things; and knowledge that is accompanied with the grace of faith and love which puts a man upon doing even the will of God from the heart.”

To have, or to be had by, this second, superior, knowledge is to have undergone a reorientation of being such that the content of both the world and your consciousness has been transformed. You now see the world as everywhere displaying the single truth of which you have become an extension. As Augustine puts in (in “The Christian Doctrine”), “To the pure and healthy internal eye, He is everywhere.” When Zach Johnson won the Masters golf tournament a week ago, he replied to a reporter’s standard questions about how he had done it by saying “Jesus Christ was with me every step of the way” (on the model of Paul’s “Not me, but my master in me”). The reporter looked unhappy and ended the interview abruptly.

The characterizing feature of the knowledge that does not save and transform – speculative knowledge, empirical knowledge, knowledge about – is the distance between the knower and the thing to be known, a distance that must be bridged by some methodological or technological apparatus. But with respect to the knowledge Bunyan and his characters celebrate, there is no distance – the knower and the object of knowledge are one – and the appearance of distance is a sign that you have joined the superficial Talkative in his ability to discourse on everything, but really know nothing. The lesson is given in Proverbs 3: “Be not wise in thine own eyes.” “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; lean not into thine own understanding.”

Emphasis mine. Now what is it that makes this secondary knowledge superior? The closest Fish comes to answering that is saying that it saves and transforms one. But transforms one into what? A magical thinker? A believer? A person who loses the capacity to doubt? Look at this passage from the third paragraph again:
But with respect to the knowledge Bunyan and his characters celebrate, there is no distance – the knower and the object of knowledge are one – and the appearance of distance is a sign that you have joined the superficial Talkative in his ability to discourse on everything, but really know nothing. The lesson is given in Proverbs 3: “Be not wise in thine own eyes.” “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; lean not into thine own understanding.”

But belief doesn't really help you to know anything. It may help you to think that you know something, it may give you confidence that you know something. Hell, there are people who believe that the earth was created in 6 24-hour days just over 6,000 years ago, and they know that because they believe, but that doesn't make their belief any more accurate.

Professor Fish can trust in the Lord all he wants, but it's not going to make his blog entries any more convincing. There's no reason that believing in religion is superior to experiential and empirical knowledge, but there are plenty of ways in which the converse is true. We benefit from them every day.

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