The Knowledge of God
The Transcendental Argument for God, Part II
The Necessity of Special Revelation
“No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” (John 1:18)
“I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness.” (John 12:46)
As was shown in the last lesson, unless God exists, knowledge1 is impossible. But, that still leaves open the possibility of Deism, the worldview that God created the universe and man but then walked away permanently. Thus, there was neither any interaction with human kind nor special revelation. It is functionally dualistic atheism without all of the problems associated with that view.2
Still, it remains that man would be ignorant about the nature of the universe, the nature of man and God3, the purpose of life, ethical limits, etc. In the past, deists (and others) have filled this gap with autonomous knowledge theories such as Rationalism, Empiricism, Idealism, etc. However, as it will be shown, all autonomous knowledge theories fail because they try to arrive at a coherent theory of the whole universe simply by starting with the finite mind of man instead of the revelation of the eternal God. As Cornelius Van Til said, “But to say how one fact differs from another fact in terms of the space-time continuum requires one to have some intelligible conception of this space-time continuum as a whole.”4 Man simply cannot integrate factual data from the universe that impinges upon him into a theory of reality without first knowing what reality as a whole actually is. The only worldview that can meet this criterion is one in which a Being – who transcends this reality and possesses complete knowledge of it – reveals a basic, intelligible conception of the universe, man, and God to man. In other words, man’s knowledge requires a “jump-start” from God.
Thus, the claim of this sub-argument is that unless one presupposes that man has received special, propositional revelation from God that gives man a basic, intelligible conception of the universe, a coherent theory of the space-time continuum, man, and God is impossible.5 What will follow will be a brief description of the major autonomous knowledge theories followed-up by equally brief refutations of those theories. I have already dealt with Platonism and Aristotelianism in the last lesson, and so, I will begin with the “Enlightenment” theories starting with Rationalism. [I will note again, before I begin, that I have had no formal philosophical training, and so my descriptions of these philosophies and the arguments against them may not use the proper philosophical language. I will also gladly accept correction if I have misrepresented any of the philosophies mentioned below.]
The Transcendental Argument for God’s Existence, Part II, Special Revelation
The Rationalists, such as Rene Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, and Gottfried Leibniz, believed that there were “self-evident” truths that could be deduced with certainty (such as mathematics), and from these foundational truths, all other truths could be deduced. In general, they believed that the mind was connected to all other things such that by simply reflecting upon something in one’s mind, man could come up with truth. It became evident, however, that there were many problems with this philosophy:
Evidently Not Self-Evident: As time progressed, the Rationalists began to disagree with each other over what was rational and what wasn’t. One would say that something was “self-evident”, another would disagree and call the first “irrational”, and the first would return the favor. It became apparent that what was “rational”, “self-evident”, and “intuitive” to these men was, in fact, based upon their personal, subjective, and emotive opinions.
It Destroyed Experience: To quote Cornelius Van Til:
“According to these rationalists, therefore, there was not and there could not be anything new in science.
Yet the very idea of science presupposes that genuinely new facts are discovered and that in being discovered they are not lost in a net of abstract logical relations but really add to a fund of existing knowledge. If the rationalists were right, logic itself would be reduced to an eternal changeless principle of identity. All facts would be wholly known by abstract thought thinking itself. Thus not only would there be no facts not wholly known but the idea of the “wholly known” would become an abstract contentless principle. Logic itself would become meaningless. There would be no longer any process of reasoning; such a process would be absorbed in identity.”7
It Destroyed Individuality: By connecting all minds together along with everything else in the universe, they reduced everything to a blank identity, a form of monism. They had, therefore, destroyed the self, something that was the foundation for their Rationalism.8
Without Foundation: It has been shown by mathematicians and philosophers of mathematics that mathematics is not self-consistent unless one adds certain unprovable assumptions. For example, Kurt Gödel proved that full arithmetic which utilizes both addition and multiplication is not fully consistent without the assumption of a Platonic or actual infinity. Furthermore, Descartes’ famous saying, “I think, therefore I am,” is actually faulty reasoning. As David Hume showed, all the statement, “I think” or (more accurately) “thinking”, proves is that thinking is occurring, but it does not prove that there is a unified “self” doing the thinking.
Arbitrary: How could they have possibly come to possess the knowledge that all of reality was connected through minds? Didn’t they come to believe that based upon speculation?
Empiricism was the opposite of Rationalism. Instead of believing that everything shared one mind, the empiricists, such as John Locke and George Berkeley, taught that every person was a wholly separate individual whose mind is a tabula rasa, or “blank tablet”. Thus, all knowledge comes through sense perception instead of internal reflection. With this reductionistic epistemology, one of its exponents, David Hume, quickly dissembled it, sending it into the abyss of utter skepticism:
Facts Without Any Relation to Each Other: If knowledge comes only through sense-perception, then all our minds consist of is a list of raw data without any connection between one data point and another. Thus, no complete theory of reality could be formed, and without a complete theory of reality, nothing could be said of reality at all because no one could know what reality really is!
No Universals, No Knowledge: Without logic and mathematics being presupposed10, man’s thinking and reasoning processes cannot function, and so, knowledge would be impossible.
Causation Questioned: Once sense-perceptions became discrete events recorded by a “blank slate” without connection between them, there was no reason to believe in the law of cause and effect.11
Everything is Equally Possible: Without having a complete theory of the universe, no one could know what was probable and what wasn’t. To quote Van Til again:
“Grant an infinite number of possibilities, to begin with, as an absolutely pure empiricism must presuppose, then there is an infinite number of improbabilities to cancel every infinite number of probabilities. That is, there is no probability at all. Such is Hume’s argument. Hume is right when he says again and again that “an entire indifference is essential to chance.” The idea of a law of chances is, strictly speaking, a contradiction in terms. It is to this position of total indifference with respect to the future that anyone embracing a pure empiricism is driven.”12
Thus, they destroyed science, the very mode of knowledge which they wanted to use exclusively.
Goodbye Self!: If our minds are simply “blank slates” passively taking in information, then there is no reason to believe that we are unified cognitive egos. That is, as Hume pointed out, the “self” would just be a “bundle of perceptions”, a bunch of thoughts without connection or purpose.
Most Arguments Against Scientific Realism Apply: (See my lesson, “A Refutation of Scientific Realism”.)
Immanuel Kant was a philosopher from Prussia who taught that both the Rationalists and the Empiricists were wrong and that both of their extremes would lead to the destruction of experience. He criticized the Rationalists for believing that everything could be known from innate ideas and the Empiricists for believing that the mind was a blank slate. Instead, he believed that no knowledge could be gained without sense-perception, but he also said that the mind imposes concepts such as space, time, quantity, quality, relation, and modality. Greg Bahnsen further explains:
“These mental impositions are “transcendentally” necessary – that is, they are presupposed for the intelligibility of any experience. Thus, “the understanding is itself the lawgiver of nature”; man’s active mind provides the order and regularity necessary for rational and scientific knowledge is only of things as they appear to us (phenomena), rather than of reality as it is “in itself” (noumena). In the very manner that Kant “saved science” (rendering all rational knowledge phenomenal only), he left plenty of room for a realm that transcends the mind’s activity, namely the noncognitive and nonrational experience of human freedom and moral obligation.”14
Thus, Kant banished metaphysics, including God, into the realm of the unknowable.
Anti-Metaphysics is Itself a Metaphysic: “If man is autonomous, then he acts as autonomous when he is engaged in intellectual interpretation. That is to say, in assuming man’s autonomy Kant virtually takes for granted the essentially legislative character of human thought.… On Kant’s view man’s autonomous intellectual activity can tell us what ultimate reality cannot be. And to say what ultimate reality cannot be is, in effect, the same as to say what it can and must be. Kant’s rejection of metaphysics simply leads him to the adoption of a new metaphysics.”15
All Knowledge Becomes Personal: If every mind imposes order from itself upon the world without any presupposed rational origin of those minds, then it follows that every mind would impose different orders upon reality. Thus, all ‘truth’ would be person-specific and relative. This applies especially to science, the very thing Kant was trying to save, since it was reduced to psychology.
The Relative Law of Non-Contradiction: “Kant argued that since it is the thinking subject that itself contributes the categories of universality and necessity, we must not think of these as covering any reality that exists or may exist wholly independent of the human mind. By using the law of non-contradiction we may and must indeed determine what is possible, but the possibility that we thus determine is subjective rather than objective. It is a possibility for us.… The validity of universals is to be taken as frankly due to a motion and a vote; it is conventional and nothing more.”16
The Phenomenal Self: “The “phenomenal” self is the self as it must appear in our experience of it. But this apparent self is the projection of the organizing activity of the mind – that is, the product of a “noumenal” self which is “in itself” free and undetermined. In the nature of the case, this noumenal self could not be rationally understood or interpreted (by the categories of understanding imposed by the active mind). It is a “transcendental unity of apperception,” a mere place-marker for one’s mental activity. In the “transcendental dialectic,” Kant discussed the “psychological paralogism” (or fallacy) that there is a substantial self, with continuing personal identity, that does the thinking.”17
Modern Idealism was the philosophy of choice for many, if not most, philosophers at the beginning of the twentieth century, but now, it is dead as a movement. Like Rationalism, the Idealists taught that all particulars are a form of a single mind transcending individual reality “coming in degrees to perfect self-consciousness.”18 Therefore, all of reality is unified and rational19, and so, the gap between the noumenal and phenomenal realm disappears. However, any statement about reality is only a partial truth seeing that it comes from a limited perspective, only a part of the perfect consciousness. Thus, any attempt to gain systematic knowledge is doomed a priori.
Changing Reality, Changing Truth: Because Idealism locates reason and truth immanently in changing reality (and not transcendently as in the Triune God of Christianity), reason and truth both change along with reality. Thus, ‘truth’ is in total flux, and knowledge becomes impossible.
Subjective Truth: If man’s knowledge is simply a part of the perfect consciousness and thus a limited perspective of the whole, then every man’s view of reality will be different but still equally valid. ‘Truth’ would be relative.
Reality an Illusion?: In order to avoid (1), some Idealists made time an illusion, and so, the universe was made non-temporal or unchanging. In that case, all of our sense-experiences would be illusory, and we would be reduced to bland abstract logic.
No Self: As a consequence of either Idealist route (i.e. 1. or 3.), all cognitive egos are absorbed into one great monistic reality, and so, the self is an illusion. It is either an illusion in constant flux or a changeless abstract illusion but an illusion nonetheless.
Arbitrary: How could they have possibly come to possess this knowledge that reality was Idealistic? Didn’t they come to believe that based on speculation? Why should we not believe in pragmatism, Idealism’s arch-enemy instead?
1 Again, warranted true belief.
2 Of course, many modern deists 1) substitute the belief that God specially created man for some sort of non-teleological evolution and 2) possibly deny the existence of man’s soul. In these cases, (1) would functionally be dualistic atheism *with* all of the associated problems and (2) would functionally be materialism with all of its problems.
3 This would especially include the belief that He has left man alone after creating him.
4 Cornelius Van Til as quoted in Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1998), p.382.
5 This is not to say that autonomous man can’t make one up. That happens all the time. However, such a conception of the universe would be arbitrary.
6 Here, I refer to Enlightenment Rationalism.
7 Cornelius Van Til as cited in Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1998), p.335.
8 Descartes once said, “Cogito ergo sum,” I think, therefore I am. His own existence was “proven” from the rational deduction of him thinking (though, see the next point).
9 Here, I am referring to Enlightenment Empiricism.
10 And as I showed above (see “Rationalism”, Argument 4.), yes, they do have to be presupposed.
11 For a further discussion of this subject and its problems for non-theists, see James N. Anderson’s “Secular Responses to the Problem of Induction”.
12 Cornelius Van Til as cited in Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1998), p.343.
13 The length of this description could never do justice to Kant’s philosophy, and so, for a lengthier description, see here or read Greg Bahnsen’s work, Van Til’s Apologetic, pp.343-358.
14 Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1998), p.344, ftnt.170.
15 Cornelius Van Til as cited in Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1998), p.345.
16 Cornelius Van Til as cited in Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1998), p.346.
17 Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1998), pp.350-351, ftnt.177.
18 Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1998), p.359, ftnt.189.
19 In fact, according to Idealism, reality is reason itself!