The Christian Theory of Knowledge (Part 1)

These are excerpts that I gathered from Chapter 2: The Christian Philosophy of Knowledge of R.J. Rushdoony’s book on Van Til’s apologetic entitled, By What Standard. I will be posting the excerpts of the entire chapter in separate posts.

These are excerpts that I gathered from Chapter 2: The Christian Philosophy of Knowledge of R.J. Rushdoony’s book on Van Til’s apologetic entitled, By What Standard. I will be posting the excerpts of the entire chapter in separate posts.

“he (Descartes) acted as though he were in effect a new-born babe or a visitor to this world, ie., without presuppositions, having no knowledge of anything except himself and under necessity of ascertaining the nature of a strange new world. Is such a procedure philosophically valid? Is it at all possible to ask how we know without having previously presupposed what we know? Descartes began with the presupposition of the autonomous human reason; for him, God and the world were problems, but he himself was not…Descartes’ procedure is still basic: he defined and identified man in terms of himself, without reference to any outside fact or being, and then proceeded to define the world and God in terms of autonomous man. In terms of this procedure, Kant and existentialism became inevitable; autonomous man became the basic principle of definition and identification, and both God and world were relative to man. The self-contained and sovereign God, together with His eternal decree becomes anathema to man. God exists, for the neo-orthodox theologians, in terms of the divine-human encounter, and they oppose the orthodox idea of the self-contained and triune God…Existentialism thus indentifies God in terms of His relation to man and manifests hostility to the idea of a self-contained ontological trinity. God is thus permitted little or no independent existence and is reduced to an existentialist relationship to autonomous man. Theology is accordingly dialectical, conversational; God speaks and acts, but exhausts Himself in His acting and speaking, in His relationship to man. The existentialist can therefore agree that “God was in Christ” exhaustively because relationally.”
-pg. 8-9

“How did theology and philosophy enter into so perverse a position? The absurdity of Descartes’ starting point gives us a clear indication of this. When Descartes began by asking, “How do we know?” and answered by declaring his point of origin to be “cogito ergo sum,” I think, therefore I am, he had already presupposed what we know. The orthodox Christian, who begins with the doctrine of the Triune God as taken from the infallible Scriptures, is assumed to be prejudiced and ignorant, in that he has already assumed all that supposedly needs proof. But the modern man who begins with his own autonomous nature and establishes his reason as the unprejudiced and valid interpreter of God and the world has in fact assumed far more. If God did indeed create heaven and earth and all things therein, then nothing can have any meaning or interpretation apart from God. Inasmuch as all things came into being by virtue of His sovereign decree, all things have meaning only in terms of His eternal counsel. The only true interpretation of any fact, including man, is in terms therefore of God the Creator and providential Controller. The orthodox Christian position, as upheld by consitent Calvinism, is that God is the Creator and therefore the interpreter: therefore, the only possible point of origin or departure is the triune God and the infallible Scriptures. If man is the interpreter, as modern philosophy and theology maintain, then all things, including God and the world as well as other men, have their being existentially, not independently, and constitute a relation to and an encounter with the autonomous man. Thus the Christian theory of knowledge rests on the Christian theory of being, and the non-Christian theory of knowledge rests on a non-Christian theory of being. As Van Til has observed, “our theory of knowledge is what it is because our theory of being is what it is. As Christians we cannot begin speculating about knowledge by itself. We cannot ask how we know without at the same time asking what we know.”
-pg. 9-10

“Autonomous man assumes that the interpretation of reality is his function without reference to God, and therefore proceeds to compare his ideas with reality. Historically, this process has been worked out in Descartes, Berkeley and Hume to the conclusion that man never knows reality except by his ideas of reality. The question then arises, “is there any valid reason for believing that as I think so reality is?” The Kantian answer is determinative of modern philosophy: things-in-themselves can never be known. Our knowledge is confined to phenomena, things as they appear to us, never reaching th thing in itself. The question, “Is the structure of my thought a correct account of the structure of the world?” is dropped as an impossible one. Whitehead declares, “We must not slip into the fallacy of assuming that we are comparing a given world with given perception of it. The physical world is, in some general sense of the term, a deduced concept. Our problem is, in fact, to fit the world to our perceptions, and not our perceptions to the world.” There is in this position a seeming and deceptive humility which is in actuality a perverse pride. Man’s insistence that he has no valid knowledge of reality is in itself, his attempts to eliminate causality, order and design while assuming them at every turn, constitute an attempt to resist any interpretation other than that of autonomous man.”
-pg. 10


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