A Survey Of Christian Epistemology

반틸의 인식론


Volume 2 of the series

In Defense of Biblical Christianity

Presbyterian And Reformed Publishing Co.

Phillipsburg, New Jersey 08865


Copyright 1969

By den Dulk Christian Foundation


Preface


The first edition of this syllabus was written in 1932. The title then used was The Metaphysics of Apologetics. How ancient and out of date such a title seems to be now.

Was I, perhaps, at that “pre-historic” time unaware of the fact that Hegel had slain the Alte Metaphysik? Did I not see the drift toward the positivism of the new day?

The answer is that then, as now, I was convinced that only if one begins with the self-identifying Christ of Reformation theology, can one bring the “facts” of the space-time world into intelligible relation to the “laws” of this world. Science, philosophy and theology find their intelligible contact only on the presupposition of the self-revelation of God in Christ—through Scripture understood properly by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit.

Apologetics had always been unbiblical and therefore inadequate. What needed to be done was to point out that man himself, the subject of knowledge, must interpret himself as the creature of God, as a sinner in the sight of God, and as forgiven through the work of Christ and his Spirit. All men know God, but all men as sinners seek to suppress their knowledge of God. They do this particularly by means of their various philosophical systems. This fact must be pointed out. Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? It was not till later years that I received much help in my understanding of philosophy from D. H. Th. Vollenhoven and Herman Dooyeweerd.

The syllabus is offered in this second edition for the consideration of those who are interested in the spread of the “whole counsel of God.”



Table Of Contents



Introduction

The subject of a Christian View of Life must be studied historically and systematically in order to understand it comprehensively. If we study it thus we find that we face an ultimate choice between Christian and non-Christian epistemology. Especially because of the modern emphasis on the Immanence of God, it is necessary to become clearly aware of the deep antithesis between the two main types of epistemology.


Chapter 1

Epistemological Terminology

A preliminary survey of epistemological terminology brings out that this terminology itself has grown out of a milieu which has colored its connotation. It will not do to speak of the inductive and deductive methods as though theists and non-theists meant the same things when they use these terms. The term induction means one thing for a theist who presupposes God and another thing for a non-theist who does not presuppose God. For a theist induction is the implication into God-centered “facts” by a God-centered mind; for a non-theist it means the implication into self-centered facts by a self-centered mind. The same difference prevails in the case of such terms as analysis and synthesis, correspondence and coherence, objectivity and subjectivity, a priori and a posteriori, implication and linear inference and transcendental versus syllogistic reasoning. A non-theist uses all these terms univocally, while a theist may use any or all of them analogically.


Chapter 2

Historical Survey

A. Greek Epistemology: Its Starting Point

The question we must ask constantly is how anyone has conceived of the relation of the human mind to the divine mind. It is on this point that the greatest difference obtains between the theistic and the non-theistic position. The former cannot think of the human mind as functional at all except when it is in contact with God; the latter presupposes it to be possible that the human mind function normally whether or not God exists. For this reason it is fair and necessary to emphasize the fact that Greek speculation was at the outset antitheistic and not neutral as is often said.

It is necessary too to keep in mind that the long argument about the relation of the finite subject to the finite object is quite subsidiary to the main question of the relation of the finite mind to God.



Chapter 3

Historical Survey

B. Greek Epistemology: Its Climax

When due consideration has been given to the differences among Greek thinkers, it may still be said that they present a united front. Accordingly, we study Plato’s thought as typical of the Greek position.

There is a special value in studying Greek epistemology since it has not been brought into any contact with Christianity: antitheistic epistemology appears here without intermixture of theistic elements.

Moreover, Plato’s views may be taken as a fair sample of all antitheistic speculation to the present day. We may say that Plato first tried to interpret reality in terms of the sense world. Then he tried to interpret reality in terms of the Ideal world. Finally he tried to interpret reality in terms of a mixture of temporal and eternal categories. In this way Plato exhausted the antitheistic possibilities. Modern epistemology presents no more than variations on these themes.


Chapter 4

Historical Survey

C. Mediaeval Epistemology: Its Starting Point

As we took Plato for a representative of Greek epistemology, so we may take Augustine for a representative of early Christian epistemology.

We would note that Augustine’s thought, though in many ways Platonic, is fundamentally the polar opposite of Plato’s thought. Plato assumed that the human mind can function independently of God; Augustine held that man’s thought is a thinking of God’s thoughts after him. Accordingly, Augustine did not seek to interpret reality by any of the three Platonic methods. He sought rather to give a philosophy of history in terms of the counsel of God. Augustine found in the conception of the Trinity the union of the logical principles of identity and difference, while Plato had sought for the origin of diversity in the sense world.


Chapter 5

Historical Survey

D. Mediaeval Epistemology: Its Climax

Instead of developing further the great differences between the two main types of epistemology, Scholasticism attempts to harmonize the Greek and the theistic traditions.

The problem of the “universals” was treated by the Scholastics with an underestimation of the fact that epistemological terminology is not a neutral something. Accordingly, the main question in epistemology, i.e., that of the relation of the finite to the divine mind, was subordinated to the less important question of the relation of the finite mind to finite laws and “facts.” The result was that though there was much valuable discussion of details, the main issue between theism and antitheism was not clarified but obscured by Scholasticism. The issue remains obscure in the Roman Catholic church to this day.


Chapter 6

Historical Survey

E. Modern Epistemology: Lutheranism

The Reformation as a whole was a great advance in the direction of the clarification of the issue between theism and non-theism. This advance was possible because the theologians of the Reformation period developed Christian doctrine on its subjective side. This helped to bring Christianity into an indissoluble union with theism so that it was seen that the one cannot be defended without the other. This in turn helped to do away with the distinction between the “that” and the “what” in the field of theistic argument. Slowly it dawned on Christian apologetics that the existence of God must not be separated from the character of God, and the character of God must not be separated from the redemptive plan of God in its objective element, the Scriptures, and in its subjective element, regeneration.

Lutheranism, however, retained some of Scholastic thought and was not able, on that account, to carry the Reformation principle as far as it otherwise would have carried it. In the Lutheran conception of the sacraments the difference between the divine and the human is not clearly seen to be metaphysically absolute. Accordingly, there is in Lutheranism a remnant of impersonalism. The human consciousness is at some points thought of as being surrounded by something else than the personal God.


Chapter 7

Historical Survey

F. Modern Epistemology: Arminianism

The impersonalism spoken of in connection with Lutheranism appears more clearly in Arminian epistemology. Its theological position with respect to the human will makes it especially liable to attack from non-theistic epistemology. Instead of developing the Reformation doctrine that the human consciousness cannot function independently of God, Arminianism has to an extent compromised with the enemy on this point. Watson, Miley and Curtis maintain positions which indicate that if one yields on the non-theistic point of the independence of the finite consciousness there is no stopping till one lands in the impersonalism of “personalism.”



Chapter 8

Historical Survey

G. Modern Epistemology: Calvinism

In Calvinism the issue between theistic and non-theistic epistemology came to the clearest and fullest expression.

Calvin developed the real Reformation doctrines spoken of above. He recognized clearly that main principle that the finite consciousness must from the outset be set in contact with the consciousness of God. Accordingly, he used the “theistic arguments” more theistically than they had been used before. He did not separate the “what” from the “that.” He took into his purview the absolute God, the absolute Christ, the absolute Scripture and absolute regeneration, and maintained that all of this must be taken or nothing can be taken. He cleared Christian theistic thought from much of the Platonism that clung to it till his time.


Chapter 9

Historical Survey

H. Modern Epistemology: Antitheistic

Modern antitheistic epistemology is but a continuation of the arguments of Plato on the assumptions of Plato.

Descartes founded the whole knowledge scheme upon the independent activity of the finite consciousness in its relation to objects that are independent of God.

Kant maintained that the finite consciousness can have knowledge of the phenomenal world even if it has no knowledge of the noumenal world.

The Pragmatist school has consistently worked out the Kantian principle and has boldly proclaimed the sufficiency of temporal categories for the interpretation of reality.

The Idealist school has been inconsistent on this point, but is built upon the same Kantian presuppositions.


Chapter 10

The Starting Point Of Christian Epistemology

A. The Object Of Knowledge

After the historical survey we come to a more thetical statement. In it we must seek to bring the theistic and the non-theistic positions face to face with one another on the central issue of the relation of the finite consciousness to God.

We may begin the argument by discussing what is involved in the ordinary knowledge transaction of man. Christian theism claims that finite consciousness can know nothing about anything except upon the presupposition of the absolute self-consciousness of God. The non-theistic position holds to the opposite of this.

We try then to show that non-theism has taken its position for granted instead of proving it. In the first place non-theism has done this with respect to the object of knowledge. It has assumed the existence of the objects of knowledge and the possibility of their having a meaning apart from God. Similarly it has taken for granted that error is a natural thing, so that it cannot be said that Scripture is necessary in order that the object of knowledge may appear for what it is.


Chapter 11

The Starting Point Of Christian Epistemology

B. The Subject Of Knowledge: Extreme Antitheism

The main question in dispute between Christians and their opponents comes out most clearly when the subject of knowledge is discussed. It is then that we must give an answer to the question whether the human mind is able in itself to interpret reality.

On this important point we note that the opponents of Christian theism have taken for granted that which they ought to have proved, namely, the independence and therefore the ultimacy of the human mind. We point out this fact in the case of those who have reasoned after the fashion of Plato’s first method. Of these we mention especially the “experience” philosophers and theologians. In the second place we point out this fact in the case of those who have reasoned after the fashion of Plato’s second method of explaining reality in exclusively logical or eternal categories. B. Russell, J. E. McTaggart and F. H. Bradley may serve as illustrations here. Finally we point out this fact in the case of those who have reasoned after the fashion of Plato’s third method of reasoning. Of these Bosanquet is given special consideration because he has more fully than any other worked out the problems of logic and the theory of judgment. It appears that in its most thorough expression antitheism has taken for granted what it should have proved.


Chapter 12

The Starting Point Of Christian Epistemology

C. The Subject Of Knowledge: Milder Antitheism

There is a special reason for fearing what seem to be approaches to a theistic epistemology on the part of those whose philosophy is built upon the Idealist theory of judgment. So the philosophy of A. Seth Pringle-Pattison seems to be more theistic than that of Bosanquet. In reality it is just as antitheistic as that of Bosanquet, inasmuch as the human mind is still thought of as functioning in independence of God.

The same judgment must be passed on the methods of the philosophy of religion schools of modern philosophy. C. C. J. Webb shows that even a great emphasis on personalism does not make one a theist.

Modern psychology is also based upon the antitheistic assumption of the ultimacy of the human mind. The psychology of James Ward proves this claim.

Finally we note that even the strong emphasis upon the personality of God as maintained by such men as A. H. Rashdall, J. Lindsay, J. Royce and E. Hocking cannot place one in the theistic camp if one’s philosophy is built upon the assumption of the truth of the antitheistic epistemology.


Chapter 13

The Starting Point Of Christian Epistemology

D. The Subject Of Knowledge: Idealism And Christianity

Having begun the consideration of movements on philosophy that work in the direction of theism, we must now turn to some writers who, though building upon the Idealist system of logic, approach Christianity in the statement of their philosophy.

A. E. Taylor may be taken as an example of those philosophers who try to make room for Christianity upon the basis of the assumed correlativity of time and eternity, but who must necessarily fail because Christianity presupposes the conception of God as self-sufficient.

B. P. Bowne’s philosophy may serve to illustrate the fact that if one rejects what seems to be such a minor matter as biblical infallibility, one cannot stop till he has rejected theism as well as Christianity.


Chapter 14

The Starting Point Of Christian Epistemology

E. The Subject-Subject Relation

If it is true that the difference between Christian and antitheistic epistemology is as fundamental as we have contended that it is, and if it is true that the antitheist takes his position for granted at the outset of his investigations, and if it is true that the Christian expects his opponent to do nothing else inasmuch as according to Scripture the “natural man” cannot discern the things of the Spirit, we must ask whether it is then of any use for the Christian to reason with his opponent.

The answer to this question must not be sought by toning down the dilemma as is easily and often done by the assumption that epistemological terminology means the same thing for theists and non-theists alike. The answer must rather be sought in the basic concept of Christian theism, namely, that God is absolute. If God is absolute man must always remain accessible to him. Man’s ethical alienation plays upon the background of his metaphysical dependence. God may therefore use our reasoning or our preaching as a way by which he presents himself to those who have assumed his non-existence.


Chapter 15

The Method Of Christian Epistemology

After we have asked the question whether Christians should seek to reason with non-theists, and have answered that question in the affirmative, we must now ask how Christians should argue with the opponents.

Our answer must once more be that the method of reasoning employed must be consistent with and flow out of the position defended. Non-theists always reason univocally. Christians must always reason analogically. They may and must use the same terminology as their opponents, but while using this terminology they cannot afford to forget for a fraction of a second the presupposition of the absolute self-consciousness of God, which alone gives meaning to the terminology they employ.

If this fundamental canon of Christian reasoning be always kept in mind, we can begin reasoning with our opponents at any point in heaven or earth and may for arguments sake present Christian theism as one hypothesis among many, and may for argument’s sake place ourselves upon the ground of our opponent in order to see what will happen. In all this it will remain our purpose to seek to reduce the non-theistic position, in whatever form it appears, to an absurdity. In our preaching we say that those who do not accept Christ are lost. Our reasoning can do nothing less.


Chapter 16

A Sample Of Christian Argument

It was useful to seek to apply the method of reasoning discussed in the previous chapters to the various schools of philosophy about us. However, since we have constantly sought to bring out that all forms of antitheistic thinking can be reduced to one, and since the issue is fundamentally that of the acceptance or the rejection of the concept of God, it may suffice to apply the analogical method of reasoning in an argument with those who hold to the “scientific method” of the day. That scientific method is agnostic. It claims to be willing to accept any fact that may appear, but unwilling to start with the idea of God.

Reasoning analogically with this type of thought, we seek to point out that it is psychologically, epistemologically and morally self-contradictory. It is psychologically self-contradictory because it claims to be making no judgment of any sort at the outset of its investigation, while as a matter of fact a universal negative judgment is involved in this effort to make no judgment. It is epistemologically self-contradictory because it starts by rejecting theism on the ground that its conception of the relation of God to the universe involves the contradiction that a God all-glorious can have glory added unto him. By this rejection of God, agnosticism has embraced complete relativism. Yet this relativism must furnish a basis for the rejection of the absolute. Accordingly, the standard of self-contradiction taken for granted by antitheistic thought presupposes the absolute for its operation. Antitheism presupposes theism. One must stand upon the solid ground of theism to be an effective antitheist.

Finally, agnosticism is morally self-contradictory since it pretends to be very humble in its insistence that it makes no sweeping conclusions, while as a matter of fact it has made a universal negative conclusion in total reliance upon itself. The “natural man” is at enmity against God.



Introduction


What we are concerned with in this syllabus is, first of all, a broad survey, and secondly, a method of defense of the Christian philosophy of life. We shall not attempt to give the survey first, and the defense afterward. On the contrary, we shall try to make the defense as we make the survey, and make the survey as we make the defense. We shall have to approach the matter of a Christian world-and-life view from an historical point of view.

Yet after we have dealt with our subject historically, we must deal with it systematically. Only after we have gained a survey of the field by an historical review, are we in a position to deal more systematically with any subject. The real point of the problems of philosophy that confront the human race today cannot be understood if they have not been observed in their growth. The problems of philosophy are today more pointed and more specific than they have ever been. But we cannot deal with the more pointed and the more specific until we have dealt with the more general. On the other hand, our final interest is very definitely in the systematic development of our subject. We do not study history just for the sake of a certain amount of interesting information. As Christians we have a very definite philosophy of history. For us history is the realization of the purposes and plans of the all-sufficient God revealed through Christ in Scripture. And if this is the case we are naturally persuaded that in history lies the best proof of our philosophy of human life. The core of our system of philosophy is our belief in the triune God of Scripture, and in what he has revealed concerning himself and his purposes for man and his world.



1. Divisions Of The Subject


We shall deal with our subject in two main divisions; the first is epistemology, and the second is metaphysics. In these two divisions the various divisions of any system of philosophy can be treated. Every system of philosophy must tell us whether it thinks true knowledge to be possible. Or if a system of philosophy thinks it impossible for man to have a true knowledge of the whole of reality or even of a part of reality, it must give good reasons for thinking so. From these considerations, it follows that if we develop our reasons for believing that a true knowledge of God and, therefore, also of the world, is possible because actually given in Christ, we have in fact given what goes in philosophy under the name of epistemology. It will then be possible to compare the Christian epistemology with any and with all others. And being thus enabled to compare them all, we are in a position and placed before the responsibility of choosing between them. And this choosing can then, in the nature of the case, no longer be a matter of artistic preference. We cannot choose epistemologies as we choose hats. Such would be the case if it had been once for all established that the whole thing is but a matter of taste. But that is exactly what has not been established. That is exactly the point in dispute.

In the second place, every system of philosophy has a theory of metaphysics. The term metaphysics is often used to define a rather narrow discipline in the field of human knowledge. The term is then used in distinction from psychology, physics, etc., to indicate that in metaphysics we deal with the most ultimate concepts of reality only. In distinction from this narrow use of the term metaphysics, there is a broader use. In that broader sense we employ the term in this syllabus. We mean by metaphysics, then, a complete theory of reality. The mistake should not be made, however, of thinking that we shall attempt to give a detailed philosophy of all branches of human knowledge. On the contrary, as the word metaphysics suggests when used in the narrower sense, we shall have to do only with the most ultimate concepts of human thought. We shall even limit ourselves, almost exclusively, to the concept of God. But the definite understanding will be that our concept of God has specific implications for every branch of human knowledge. Therefore, when we have established our belief in the Christian conception of God, we have, in principle at least, also established our belief in a definite theory of the universe and of man. This point is forgotten again and again in our day. People all too thoughtlessly accept theories of man and of the universe that are altogether out of harmony with their own theory about God. They forget that a Christian conception of God demands a Christian conception of the universe.

It should be noted further that, as in epistemology so in metaphysics, the matter of a choice comes up again. We shall find that the Christian theory of metaphysics is the only one that really takes the matter of metaphysics seriously. For the others it has really become a question of taste. The one takes to one type of thing, and the other takes to another type of thing, they say, and it really does not make much difference which one you hold to. The conviction at the basis of such an attitude must be that it is rationally impossible for man to have any knowledge of ultimate things. It will be necessary for us to insist that our opponents make reasonable to us this claim that man can have no knowledge of ultimate things. Unless they are able to do this they have no right to their attitude of carelessness. So then, we are necessarily led once more into a dialogue.

We may further observe that in these two divisions of epistemology and metaphysics we deal from a philosophical point of view with that which theology deals with from a theological point of view. The six divisions of systematic theology—theology, anthropology, Christology, soteriology, ecclesiology, and eschatology—are all included in our theory of reality or metaphysics. Philosophy deals with no concepts that theology does not deal with. It is but a matter of terminology. We emphasize this point because a minister of the gospel should not be in jeopardy every hour lest his theological structure crumble to the ground because of advances in the fields of science and philosophy of which he knows nothing or very little. He should rather realize that in his presentation of biblical truth he has dealt with all the concepts that any human being can possibly deal with. Not as though he can pose as a scientist or a philosopher in the technical sense of the term. It is not necessary for him to be able to do so. He has a right to feel confident that there are no unknown trenches from which the enemy may suddenly pounce upon him. Now this is exactly what may be one of the chief benefits of a course in metaphysics for a theological student. In it he ought to learn that his opponents have exhausted themselves in trying to find a solution for the problems with which he is dealing, and have found no such solution. He ought to see the limits of their thought. He ought to examine the tools with which they labor. He ought to survey the field upon which they operate. If he does this thoroughly he will return with confidence to the propagation of his own position, or if he should feel inclined to reject it, he would at least do it intelligently.


Chapter 1:

Epistemological Terminology



1. Revelation


According to Scripture, God has created the “universe.” God has created time and space. God has created all the “facts” of science. God has created the human mind. In this human mind God has laid the laws of thought according to which it is to operate. In the facts of science God has laid the laws of being according to which they function. In other words, the impress of God’s plan is upon his whole creation.

We may characterize this whole situation by saying that the creation of God is a revelation of God. God revealed himself in nature and God also revealed himself in the mind of man. Thus it is impossible for the mind of man to function except in an atmosphere of revelation. And every thought of man when it functioned normally in this atmosphere of revelation would express the truth as laid in the creation by God. We may therefore call a Christian epistemology a revelational epistemology.



2. Analysis And Synthesis


We must now seek to define this revelational epistemology more closely by relating it still more definitely to the conception of him who gives the revelation. The all-important question is what kind of a God reveals himself. Pantheistic thinkers also speak of God revealing himself and might therefore also speak of a revelational epistemology if they desired. But for the sake of clearness, the term revelation should really be reserved for biblical thought. According to this view God has been, and is, eternally self-conscious. There is no fringe of ignorance or darkness in him.



3. Correspondence


It is this concept of a completely self-conscious God that is all-important in epistemology. This appears at once from the implications of such a concept for the fact of human knowledge.

True human knowledge corresponds to the knowledge which God has of himself and his world. Suppose that I am a scientist investigating the life and ways of a cow. What is this cow? I say it is an animal. But that only pushes the question back. What is an animal? To answer that question I must know what life is. But again, to know what life is I must know how it is related to the inorganic world. And so I may and must continue till I reach the borders of the universe. And even when I have reached the borders of the universe, I do not yet know what the cow is. Complete knowledge of what a cow is call be had only by an absolute intelligence, i.e., by one who has, so to speak, the blueprint of the whole universe. But it does not follow from this that the knowledge of the cow that I have is not true as far as it goes. It is true if it corresponds to the knowledge that God has of the cow.

From this presentation of the matter, it is clear that what we mean by correspondence is not what is often meant by it in epistemological literature. In the literature on the subject, correspondence usually means a correspondence between the idea I have in my mind and the “object out there.” In the struggle between the “realists” and the “subjective idealists” this was the only question in dispute. They were not concerned about the question uppermost in our minds, i.e., whether or not God has to be taken into the correspondence. We may call our position in epistemology a Correspondence Theory of Truth, if only we keep in mind that it is opposed to what has historically been known under that name.



4. Coherence


In opposition to the historical correspondence theory of truth there arose in the Kant-Hegel tradition the so-called Coherence Theory of Truth. The Idealists argued in the way that we have argued above about the cow. They said that true knowledge cannot be obtained by a mere correspondence of an idea of the mind to all object existing apart from the mind. The mind and the object of which it seeks knowledge are parts of one great system of reality and one must have knowledge of the whole of this reality before one has knowledge of any of its parts. Accordingly, the Idealists said that the thing that really counted in knowledge was the coherence of any fact with all other facts. To know the place of a fact in the universe as a whole is to have true knowledge. This position, as we shall see more fully later, approaches, in form, what we are after in our position. Yet it is only in form that it approaches our position. That this is true can be seen from the determining fact that the Absolute to which the Idealist seeks to relate all knowledge is not the completely self-conscious God of Christianity. We cannot prove this point here. We only state it as our conviction here in order to clear the ground. The Absolute of Idealism, we believe, is not really an absolute because he exists as merely correlative to the space-time world. Accordingly there are new facts arising for him as well as for us. God becomes a primus inter pares, a One among others. He can no longer be the standard of human knowledge.

It is our contention that only the Christian can obtain real coherence in his thinking. If all of our thoughts about the facts of the universe are correspondence with God’s ideas of these facts, there will naturally be coherence in our thinking because there is a complete coherence in God’s thinking. On the other hand we hold that the Idealistic coherence theory of truth cannot lead to coherence because it omits the source of all coherence, namely, God.

In a way it might be well for us to call our position the Coherence Theory of Truth because we claim to have true coherence. Whether we call our position a correspondence theory or whether we call it a coherence theory, we have in each case to distinguish it sharply from the theories that have historically gone by these names. Accordingly, the determining factor must be a consideration of that which is most fundamental in our theory of correspondence or of coherence. Now this depends upon the question whether we have God’s knowledge in mind first of all, or whether we begin with human knowledge. For God, coherence is the term that comes first. There was coherence in God’s plan before there was any space-time fact to which his knowledge might correspond, or which might correspond to his knowledge. On the other hand, when we think of human knowledge, correspondence is of primary importance. If there is to be true coherence in our knowledge there must be correspondence between our ideas of facts and God’s ideas of these facts. Or rather we should say that our ideas must correspond to God’s ideas. Now since we are dealing with opponents who speak of human knowledge almost exclusively, we can perhaps best bring out the distinctiveness of our position by calling it the Correspondence Theory of Truth. An additional reason for this choice is that at the present time the old correspondence theory has pretty well died down, leaving the coherence theory in control of the field. Hence we have the advantage of a different name from the current name, since we are interested in making it clear that we really have a different theory from the current theory.



5. Objectivity


Another term that needs description before we can proceed with our historical survey is that of “objectivity.” In ordinary speech we understand by an “object” anything that exists “out there,” that is, independently of the human mind. We then claim to have objective knowledge of something if the idea that we have in our minds of that thing corresponds to the thing as it exists independently of the mind. We may have false ideas about a thing. In that case we say that it is only subjective and does not correspond to reality. The controversy between Berkeley and his opponents hinged on the point whether or not there are objects “out there” to which our knowledge corresponds. Berkeley said that to be is to be perceived. He said, therefore, that all knowledge is subjective only. His opponents maintained the contrary. Johnson is said to have tried to refute Berkeley by kicking against a stone.

The coherence theory of truth implied a new conception of objectivity. For it, objectivity no longer was the correspondence of an idea to a certain object supposed to exist in total independence of the mind. For it, objectivity meant a significant reference to the whole system of truth. One would have a true idea of a cow not by having a replica of the cow in one’s mind, but by understanding the place of the cow in the universe.

Now it will be readily understood that as far as the form of the matter is concerned the Christian conception of objectivity stands closer to the latter than to the former position. For us, too, the primary question is not that of the out-thereness of the cow. What we are chiefly concerned about is that our idea of the cow shall correspond to God’s idea of the cow. If it does not, our knowledge is false and may be called subjective. But the exact difference between the Idealistic conception of objectivity and ours should be noted. The difference lies just here, that, for the Idealist, the system of reference is found in the Universe inclusive of God and man, while for us, the point of reference is found in God alone.

When therefore we examine the various epistemological views with regard to their “objectivity,” we are interested most of all in knowing whether or not these views have sought the knowledge of an object by placing it into its right relation with the self-conscious God. The other questions are interesting enough in themselves but are comparatively speaking not of great importance. Even if one were not anxious about the truth of the matter, it ought still to be plain to him that there can be no more fundamental question in epistemology than the question whether or not facts can be known without reference to God. Suppose for argument’s sake that there is such a God. And surely the possibility of it anybody ought to be willing to grant unless he has proved the impossibility of God’s existence. Suppose then the existence of God. Then it would be a fact that every fact would be known truly only with reference to him. If then one did not place a fact into relation with God, he would be in error about the fact under investigation. Or suppose that one would just begin his investigations as a scientist, without even asking whether or not it is necessary to make reference to such a God in his investigations, such a one would be in constant and in fundamental ignorance all the while. And this ignorance would be culpable ignorance, since it is God who gives him life and all good things. It ought to be obvious then that one should settle for himself this most fundamental of all epistemological questions, whether or not God exists. Christ says that as the Son of God, he will come to judge and condemn all those who have not come to the Father by him.



6. Method


Finally we must discuss the question of method. At this stage we are interested only in seeing what sort of method of investigation is involved in Christianity. At the outset it ought to be clearly observed that every system of thought necessarily has a certain method of its own. Usually this fact is overlooked. It is taken for granted that everybody begins in the same way with an examination of the facts, and that the differences between systems come only as a result of such investigations. Yet this is not actually the case. It could not actually be the case. In the first place, this could not be the case with a Christian. His fundamental and determining fact is the fact of God’s existence. That is his final conclusion. But that must also be his starting point. If the Christian is right in his final conclusion about God, then he would not even get into touch with any fact unless it were through the medium of God. And since man has, through the fall in Adam, become a sinner, man cannot know and therefore love God except through Christ the Mediator. And it is in Scripture alone that he learns about this Mediator. Scripture is the Word of Christ, the Son of God and Son of man. No sinner knows anything truly except he knows Christ, and no one knows Christ truly unless the Holy Ghost, the Spirit sent by the Father and the Son, regenerates him. If all things must be seen “in God” to be seen truly, one could look ever so long elsewhere without ever seeing a fact as it really is. If I must look through a telescope to see a distant star, I cannot first look at the star to see whether there is a telescope through which alone I could see it. If I must look through a microscope to see a germ, I cannot first look at the germ with the naked eye to see if there is a microscope through which alone I can see it. If it were a question of seeing something with the naked eye and seeing the same object more clearly through a telescope or a microscope, the matter would be different. We may see a landscape dimly with the naked eye and then turn to look at it through a telescope and see it more clearly. But such is not the case with the Christian position. According to it, nothing at all can be known truly of any fact unless it be known through and by way of man’s knowledge of God.

But if it be readily granted that a Christian begins with a bias, it will not so readily be granted that his opponents also begin with a bias. Yet this is no less the case. And the reason for this is really the same as that given above in the case of the Christian. We may again illustrate with our telescope analogy. The antitheist is one who has made up his mind in advance that he will never look through a telescope. He maintains steadfast in his conviction that there are some facts that can be known truly without looking through a telescope. This much is implied in the very idea of starting to see whether there is a God. It will be observed that even to say that there are some facts that can be known without reference to God, is already the very opposite of the Christian position. It is not necessary to say that all facts can be known without reference to God in order to have a fiat denial of the Christian position. The contention of Christianity is exactly that there is not one fact that can be known without God. Hence if anyone avers that there is even one fact that can be known without God, he reasons like a non-Christian. It follows then that such a person in effect rejects the whole of the Christian position, the final conclusions as well as the starting point. And that means that such a person has at the outset taken for granted that there is no God in whom alone “facts” can be known. In other words, such a person has taken for granted that God is at least not such a “fact” that he is related to every other “fact” so that no other fact can be understood without reference to the “fact” of God.

It was needful to make this point that every human being must necessarily begin with a “bias” clear, at this stage, because it is often assumed that the real difference between the traditionally Christian position and the ordinary philosophical and scientific methods exists in the fact that the traditional position alone is prejudiced, while all others are open-minded. It was necessary, too, to emphasize the universality of “prejudice” at this point because it will thus become clear that when the Christian and his opponent use the same terminology they do not mean the same things. Both speak of inductive, deductive and transcendental methods, but each of them presupposes his own starting point, when he uses these terms, and the fact gives these terms a different meaning in each case. It follows from this too that what the Christian is opposing is not these methods, as such, but the anti-Christian presuppositions at the base of them.



7. Knowledge


Which method fits with a certain system of thought depends upon the idea of knowledge a system has. For the Christian system, knowledge consists in understanding the relation of any fact to God as revealed in Scripture. I know a fact truly to the extent that I understand the exact relation such a fact sustains to the plan of God. It is the plan of God that gives any fact meaning in terms of the plan of God. The whole meaning of any fact is exhausted by its position in and relation to the plan of God. This implies that every fact is related to every other fact. God’s plan is a unit. And it is this unity of the plan of God, founded as it is in the very being of God, that gives the unity that we look for between all the finite facts. If one should maintain that one fact can be fully understood without reference to all other facts, he is as much antitheistic as when he should maintain that one fact can be understood without reference to God.



8. Implication


From this conception of knowledge it will appear which method a Christian would naturally be bound to use. That method we may perhaps best designate as the method of implication. What we seek to do in our search for understanding the universe is to work ourselves ever more deeply into the relations that the facts of the universe sustain to God. That is, we seek to implicate ourselves more deeply into a comprehension of God’s plan in and with every fact that we investigate. Suppose that I am a biologist, studying the color of certain frogs. In order to do so, I must seek to know all about flogs in general. I must have some conception about the species as a whole, before I can intelligently study the individual. Or if I am studying some animal about which no information is available from the records of science, it is still necessary that I have a theory about animal life in general, in order to engage in fruitful research. Thus in starting any investigation the general precedes the particular. No one without any general notion about animal life would ever think of investigating a point of detail. Then when I continue my investigation, I must seek to relate this particular frog to other frogs, then the frogs to other animal life, and then animal life as such to human life, and human life to the conception of God that I have. Now this approach from the bottom to the top, from the particular to the general is the inductive aspect of the method of implication. The greater the amount of detailed study and the more carefully such study is undertaken, the more truly Christian will the method be. It is important to bring out this point in order to help remove the common misunderstanding that Christianity is opposed to factual investigation. That the opponents of Christianity are still seeking to spread this misunderstanding may be seen, for instance, from such a book as that of Stewart G. Cole, The History of Fundamentalism. Throughout the book it is stated time and again that the believers in the traditionally Christian position are opposed to the spread of the knowledge of all the facts discovered by science. Now it were a great deal better for Liberalism itself if it were willing to fight openly and admit that the whole fight is one about two mutually opposite philosophies of life, instead of about the hiding or non-hiding of certain facts.



9. Deduction And Induction


Then, corresponding to the inductive aspect of the method of implication is the deductive aspect. We may define this as the control of the general over the particular. Our conception of God controls the investigation of every fact. We are certain, as certain as our conviction of the truth of the entire Christian position, that certain “facts” will never be discovered. One of these, for example, is “the missing link.” The term “missing link” we take in its current meaning of a gradual transition from the non-rational to the rational. As such, it is an anti-Christian conception, inasmuch as it implies that the non-rational is more ultimate than the rational. At least the anti-Christian wants to leave the question of the relative ultimacy of the rational to the non-rational an open question, while the Christian can never afford to do this. For the Christian, it is a settled and not an open question. And this difference between the Christian and his opponents comes to the lore in the method of investigation of facts. The anti-Christian holds that any sort of fact may appear. He thinks this to be one of the most important requirements of a truly scientific attitude. On the other hand, the Christian holds that no fact will appear that could disprove the ultimacy of the fact of God, and therefore of what he has revealed of himself and his plan for the world through Christ in the Scriptures. We may illustrate this point by the example of a mathematician who finds that three points are related to one another by the arc of a circle. Then when he proceeds to draw the circle he follows a definitely “prescribed” course, even if he has made no mark on his paper yet. If it is the circle that relates the points, and if the circle exhausts the relation of the points, the mathematician cannot reasonably expect to find other points on a tangent to the circle that are nevertheless related to the points of the circle. Now we may compare the circle of the mathematician to the Christian concept of God. We hold that the meaning of any one finite fact is exhausted by its relation to the plan of God. Hence this same thing will hold tot any two or three facts. And it follows that no other facts can stand in any possible relation to these facts unless they too are related to this one comprehensible plan of God. In other words, only Christian facts are possible. For any fact to be a fact at all, it must be what Christ in Scripture says it is.

This is the main point in dispute between Christians and non-Christians. The difference between the two does not only appear in the interpretation of facts after they have been found, but even in the question what facts one may expect to find. And it does not go without saying, as is all too often assumed, that the non-Christian is right in looking for any kind of fact. If the Christian position should prove to be right in the end, then the anti-Christian position was wrong, not only at the end, but already at the beginning.

From the description given of the deductive and the inductive aspects of the method of implication, it will now appear that what has historically been known by the deductive and inductive methods are both equally opposed to the Christian method. By the deductive method as exercised, e.g., by the Greeks, was meant that one begins his investigations with the assumption of the truth and ultimacy of certain axioms, such as, for example, that of causal relation. The question whether these axioms rest in God or in the universe was in that case not considered to be of great importance. Not as though the question was not raised. Plato did consider the question whether God was back of the ideas or whether the ideas were back of God. Yet this question was not given the importance that we give to it. We must put the point more strongly. The question was, in effect, given the wrong answer. It was assumed that the true, the beautiful and the good rest in themselves, and that God is subordinate to them. For us the question is all-important. If the axioms on which science depends are thought of as resting in the universe, the opposite of the Christian position is in effect maintained. The only rationality they know of in the universe is then the mind of man. Hence the alternative may be stated by saying that according to the Christian position, the basis of human investigation is in God, while for the antitheistic position the basis of human investigation is in man.

Similarly with the more modern method of induction. What is meant by induction as a method of science is the gathering of facts without reference to any axioms, in order to find to what these facts may lead us. Many scientists claim this method to be the method of science. But we have already seen that the usual assumption underlying this method is the antitheistic one, that there may be any kind of fact. Hence the difference between the prevalent method of science and the method of Christianity is not that the former is interested in finding the facts and is ready to follow the facts wherever they may lead, while the latter is not ready to follow the facts. The difference is rather that the former wants to study the facts without God, while the latter wants to study the facts in the light of the revelation God gives of himself in Christ. Thus the antithesis is once more that between those for whom the final center of reference in knowledge lies in man, and those for whom the final center of reference for knowledge lies in God, as this God speaks in Scripture.

Accordingly, we pay scant attention to the historic quarrel between the apostles of deduction and the apostles of induction. Our quarrel is not with either of them in particular but with both of them in general. To us the only thing of great significance in this connection is that it is often found to be more difficult to distinguish our method from the deductive method than from the inductive method. But the favorite charge against us is that we are still bound to the past and are therefore employing the deductive method. Our opponents are thoughtlessly identifying our method with the Greek method of deduction. For this reason it is necessary for us to make the difference between these two methods as clear as we can.

From our discussion it will also appear that even the method of implication, as employed by Idealistic philosophy, is quite the opposite of ours. Here especially it is of paramount importance to distinguish clearly. We have purposely chosen the name implication for our method because we believe that it really fits in with the Christian scheme, while it fits in with no other scheme. Hence we must take particular pains to note that the method of implication as advocated especially by B. Bosanquet and other Idealists, is really as fundamentally opposed to our method as is the method of ancient deductivism and of modern inductivism. The difference is once more that we believe the Idealists to have left God out of consideration.



10. A Priori And A Posteriori


Closely related to the terms inductive and deductive are the terms a posteriori and a priori. The literal meaning of these terms is “from that which follows or is subsequent,” and “from that which is before,” respectively. An a posteriori method is one that is practically identical with the empirical or inductive method. The a priori method is usually identified with the deductive method. We need only observe that a priori reasoning, and a posteriori reasoning, are equally anti-Christian, if these terms are understood in their historical sense. As such they contemplate man’s activity in the universe but do not figure with the significance of God above the universe.



11. Transcendental


One more point should be noted on the question of method, namely, that from a certain point of view, the method of implication may also be called a transcendental method. We have already indicated that the Christian method uses neither the inductive nor the deductive method as understood by the opponents of Christianity, but that it has elements of both induction and of deduction in it, if these terms are understood in a Christian sense. Now when these two elements are combined, we have what is meant by a truly transcendental argument. A truly transcendental argument takes any fact of experience which it wishes to investigate, and tries to determine what the presuppositions of such a fact must be, in order to make it what it is. An exclusively deductive argument would take an axiom such as that every cause must have an effect, and reason in a straight line from such an axiom, drawing all manner of conclusions about God and man. A purely inductive argument would begin with any fact and seek in a straight line for a cause of such an effect, and thus perhaps conclude that this universe must have had a cause. Both of these methods have been used, as we shall see, for the defense of Christianity. Yet neither of them could be thoroughly Christian unless they already presupposed God. Any method, as was pointed out above, that does not maintain that not a single fact can be known unless it be that God gives that fact meaning, is an anti-Christian method. On the other hand, if God is recognized as the only and the final explanation of any and every fact, neither the inductive nor the deductive method can any longer be used to the exclusion of the other. That this is the case can best be realized if we keep in mind that the God we contemplate is an absolute God. Now the only argument for an absolute God that holds water is a transcendental argument. A deductive argument as such leads only from one spot in the universe to another spot in the universe. So also an inductive argument as such can never lead beyond the universe. In either case there is no more than an infinite regression. In both cases it is possible for the smart little girl to ask, “If God made the universe, who made God?” and no answer is forthcoming. This answer is, for instance, a favorite reply of the atheist debater, Clarence Darrow. But if it be said to such opponents of Christianity that, unless there were an absolute God their own questions and doubts would have no meaning at all, there is no argument in return. There lie the issues. It is the firm conviction of every epistemologically self-conscious Christian that no human being can utter a single syllable, whether in negation or in affirmation, unless it were for God’s existence. Thus the transcendental argument seeks to discover what sort of foundations the house of human knowledge must have, in order to be what it is. It does not seek to find whether the house has a foundation, but it presupposes that it has one. We hold that the anti-Christian method, whether deductive or inductive, may be compared to a man who would first insist that the statue of William Penn on the city hall of Philadelphia can be intelligently conceived of without the foundation on which it stands, in order afterwards to investigate whether or not this statue really has a foundation.

It should be particularly noted, therefore, that only a system of philosophy that takes the concept of an absolute God seriously can really be said to be employing a transcendental method. A truly transcendent God and a transcendental method go hand in hand. It follows then that if we have been correct in our contention that Hegelian Idealism does not believe in a transcendent God, it has not really used the transcendental method as it claims that it has.

Now at this juncture it may be well to insert a brief discussion of the place of Scripture in all this. The opponent of Christianity will long ago have noticed that we are frankly prejudiced, and that the whole position is “biblicistic.” On the other hand, some fundamentalists may have feared that we have been trying to build up a sort of Christian philosophy without the Bible. Now we may say that if such be the case, the opponent of Christianity has sensed the matter correctly. The position we have briefly sought to outline is frankly taken from the Bible. And this applies especially to the central concept of the whole position, viz., the concept of an absolute God. Nowhere else in human literature, we believe, is the concept of an absolute God presented. And this fact is once more intimately related to the fact that nowhere else is there a conception of sin, such as that presented in the Bible. According to the Bible, sin has set man at enmity against God. Consequently it has been man’s endeavor to get away from the idea of God, that is, a truly absolute God. And the best way to do this was to substitute the idea of a finite God. And the best way to accomplish this subordinate purpose was to do it by making it appear as though an absolute God were retained. Hence the great insistence on the part of those who are really anti-Christian, that they are Christian.

It thus appears that we must take the Bible, its conception of sin, its conception of Christ, and its conception of God and all that is involved in these concepts together, or take none of them. So also it makes very little difference whether we begin with the notion of an absolute God or with the notion of an absolute Bible. The one is derived from the other. They are together involved in the Christian view of life. Hence we defend all or we defend none. Only one absolute is possible, and only one absolute can speak to us. Hence it must always be the same voice of the same absolute, even though he seems to speak to us at different places. The Bible must be true because it alone speaks of an absolute God. And equally true is it that we believe in an absolute God because the Bible tells us of one. 1{ 1 In some of his recent publications—particularly in his work De Heilige Schrift, 1966–1967—Dr. G. C. Berkouwer warns orthodox Christians against having a formal view of Scripture. He stresses the fact that the content of biblical teaching and the idea of the Bible are involved in one another. It is this point that the syllabus made in 1939.}

And this brings up the point of circular reasoning. The charge is constantly made that if matters stand thus with Christianity, it has written its own death warrant as far as intelligent men are concerned. Who wishes to make such a simple blunder in elementary logic, as to say that we believe something to be true because it is in the Bible? Our answer to this is briefly that we prefer to reason in a circle to not reasoning at all. We hold it to be true that circular reasoning is the only reasoning that is possible to finite man. The method of implication as outlined above is circular reasoning. Or we may call it spiral reasoning. We must go round and round a thing to see more of its dimensions and to know more about it, in general, unless we are larger than that which we are investigating. Unless we are larger than God we cannot reason about him any other way, than by a transcendental or circular argument. The refusal to admit the necessity of circular reasoning is itself an evident token of opposition to Christianity. Reasoning in a vicious circle is the only alternative to reasoning in a circle as discussed above.

In a rough general way we have in this chapter sought to define the terminology to be used, and have therewith also sought to give something of a preliminary outline of the Christian epistemology. It was necessary that we should do this before entering upon our historical review so that we might have some standard by which to judge of history. For even those who begin with the avowed purpose of letting history produce its own standard, have in reality begun with a philosophy of history, namely, one that maintains that history is in itself apart from God able to produce such a standard. Beside this, it was necessary that we should justify our choice of historical material. We have said that, for us, the question of the place given to the concept of God determines the value of a theory of epistemology. Hence it is this question chiefly that we seek to answer in our historical survey. But our opponents will think such a procedure an evident token of perdition. To them the question of the position is not of primary importance. Accordingly, even this is a controversial point on which one has to take sides at the outset. It is in itself a merit to become aware at the outset of the intensely controversial character of every effort at constructing a life-and-world view.



Chapter 2:

Historical Survey:

A: Greek Epistemology: Its Starting Point


From a general point of view Greek philosophy always remains important. It is there that the human mind has for the first time given systematic expression to its deepest thought. Accordingly, any individual seeking to acquaint himself with an understanding, even of modern philosophy, can well afford to spend a good share of the time at his disposal on Greek philosophy.

From a more definite point of view, Greek philosophy is important to the student of Christian theism. 1{ 1 We now allow the terms theism, Christian theism, and the like to stand as they were used in the “first edition.” They then stood for what God in his revelation through Christ in the Scriptures tells about himself and his plan for man and his world.} In Greek philosophy, and in Greek philosophy only, has the antitheistic mind fully expressed itself without the intermixture of semi-Christian elements. It is of course true that the most comprehensive expositions of antitheistic thought are found in such modern philosophers as Kant and Hegel. But it remains a fact that in these and in all other writers an influence direct or indirect is felt that is foreign to the genius of antitheistic thought. Hence the pivotal importance of Greek philosophy for our purpose.

Still more important does Greek philosophy become for us if we remember that one of the points of hottest debate between the theist and the antitheist is the question of a starting point. Now it is in Greek philosophy alone that we can observe the way in which all antitheist begins his investigations in the field of epistemology.

We are, moreover, especially fortunate in the fact that Greek speculation came to one grand expression in the philosophy of one or two men, Plato and Aristotle. By common consent no greater minds than these have arisen in the history of the human race. These men have faced all the fundamental questions of epistemology. Thus we may claim to have been fair to the whole antitheistic position if we have carefully investigated what these men have said about the subject. The germs of all future antitheistic thought are found in Plato and Aristotle.

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