Notes from Greg Bahnsen’s lecture, Survey of Christian Epistemology (Transcendental Argumentation) 8,9/16. Please see the book here.
Chapter 2: Historical Survey- A. Greek Epistemology: Its Starting Point
The reason why Van Til thinks it is so important to study Greek epistemology in terms of learning Christian apologetics is because it is only on the Ancient Greeks that we find a school antithestic non-Christian philosophy that hasn’t been influenced by Christianity. It is a pure specimen of non-Christian thinking.
“But since every metaphysics has an implicit, if not an explicit, epistemology,” (22)
Even though Greek don’t go into epistemology as a separate discussion, we can still understand their epistemology by their metaphysic.
“The specific question that we would ask then, with regard to the early Greeks, is,
“How did they conceive of the relation between the human and the divine mind?” And the point of pivotal significance in this question is, which of these two minds, the human or the divine, did the Greeks consider to be the more original and the more ultimate?” (22)
Van Til argues for the remainder of the chapter, if you look at the way in which the Greeks began their reasoning about the nature of reality or knowledge, they already have thrown away the Christian approach to epistemology.
He gives 10 different evidences that Greek were not neutral
1.No independent God
“the important point to observe is that one can nowhere find the conception of God as a self-sufficient and an absolutely independent God (in Greek philosophy)(22)
-It is not as the Greek concept of God or the gods doesn’t have something like transcendence, but for Greek philosophy, God is never uniquely transcendent. From the very outset, Greek philosophy does not begin in common with Christianity. Their god is not absolutely independent.
2. They took for granted that they could know the objective world without God.
“they took for granted that it was possible for them to know this objective world without knowing whether or not God as creator was beyond the universe. The majority, if not all, of the Pre-Socratics virtually identified God with the universe.” (23)
“The significance of the fact that Greek speculation began with a definitely antitheistic bias.” (24)
“The comparison takes for granted that the human race had never been in close
contact with a God who was nearer to them than the universe. In other words, the
comparison takes for granted that the physical facts would naturally be knowable first, and that if God is to be known he must be known later.” (24)
-The Christian story is when God helped Adam and Eve helped them understand the world. They knew God, then they new the world.
“…But this is exactly the point in dispute. If the theistic view is true, then man was
originally as close to God as he was to any physical fact. If theism is true, man once
realized that fact that the animals and the trees were known to him because God was
known to him. If theism is true, the revelation of the absolute God was everywhere found in the created universe, so that no matter where man would turn, to himself or to nature about him, he would meet God. This is implied in the idea of creation. The idea of creation carries with it a definite view of being and of becoming, the two main questions of Greek philosophy. The idea of creation makes a distinction of being between God and man. Anyone holding to the idea of creation (we speak of temporal and not of logical creation) must also hold to the idea of a God who existed apart from the world and had meaning for himself apart from the world. And this point goes counter to the first assumption of Greek speculation spoken of, that all things are at bottom one. If theism is right, all things are at bottom two, and not one.” (24)
3. They assumed reality was monistic rather than dualistic.
“If theism is right, all things are at bottom two, and not one.” (24)
-You must not think that God and man exist in the same way and that God and man are known in the same way. God is on a different level than man. His existence is not like created existence. Man has a beginning and God has no beginning. Man knows in a discursive fashion unlike God.
4. They rejected that humanity fell away from an original theism
“This truth is usually given no more serious thought than one of the myths of the Greeks.” (25)
-Most non-Christian philosophies take for granted that man is not running away from God and that man is innocent. We take for granted the fall and the non-Christian doesn’t.
5. “They assumed human predication was intelligible apart from God.”the creation idea is an integral part of the Christian theistic system of thought. We accept it because it is in the Bible, and we believe that which is in the Bible to be the only defensible philosophical position.” (25)
“Our opponents have no right to reject the creation story unless they can prove that it is not essential to Christianity or that Christianity is not the only position that makes human predication intelligible.” (25)
-We predicate when we say something about a subject.
-Let’ assume that everything in reality is the same. If so, then you cannot predicate redness of the barn, because you assume that red and barn are separate things. To predicate redness of the barn, there must be distinct things in the world. Let’s assuming that everything is different; there are no classes of things. Then you cannot say the barn is red. When you call the object a “barn” you separate it into a class of things called “barns” but if everything is different, there is no class of barn. Predication assumes there is a combo of unity and diversity. In order to do predication, you must bring together the one and the many.
6. “The assumption at the basis of this objection is that the Greek mind was the normal human mind. Yet this is not the case if the Christian theistic interpretation as a whole is tenable. In that case the Greek mind was a manifestation of the human mind as it has become abnormal through sin.” (28)
-How do you know that the unbeliever is not being neutral? They don’t begin with acknowledging that they are sinners with their minds affected by God.
“Hence a true theist is always a missionary, even when engaged in the most “abstruse” speculations about eternal things. A Christian will engage in no speculation. He has no “metaphysics” as metaphysics is usually understood. He does not even start his thinking with God as his master-concept in order to deduce his “system” of truth from this master concept. His thinking is always and only an attempt to integrate the various aspects of biblical teaching. In doing so he is deeply conscious of the fact that every “concept” he employs must be limited by every other “concept” he employs, and that therefore his “system” is an effort to restate in his confession the truth as it is in Jesus.” (26)
-apologetics is evangelistic, exegetical and Christian theism is defended as a unit.
“If there is an absolute God, neutrality is out of the question, because in that case every creature is derived from God and is therefore directly responsible to him. And such a God would not feel very kindly disposed to those who ignore him.” (26)
“To be nontheistic is to be antitheistic.” (26)
-VT doesn’t allow for neutrality (agnostic).
“Before Eve could listen to the tempter she had to take for granted that the devil was perhaps a person who knew as much about reality as God knew about it. Before Eve could listen to the tempter, she had to take it for granted that she herself might be such an one as to make it reasonable for her to make a final decision between claims and counter-claims that involved the entire future of her existence. That is, Eve was obliged to postulate an ultimate epistemological pluralism and contingency before she could even proceed to consider the proposition made to her by the devil. Or, otherwise expressed, Eve was compelled to assume the equal ultimacy of the minds of God, of the devil, and of herself. And this surely excluded the exclusive ultimacy of God. This therefore was a denial of God’s absoluteness epistemologically. Thus neutrality was based upon negation. Neutrality is negation.”
-Eve should have thought of everything in submission to God. Satan comes along and says ” you won’t die.” When Eve listened to Satan to be the judge, that’s when she became antagonistic to God.
-Neutrality is denying God’s claim upon us.
“When Eve listened to the tempter, she therefore not only had to posit an original
epistemological pluralism, but also an original metaphysical pluralism. She had to take for granted that as a time created being she could reasonably consider herself to be sufficiently ultimate in her being, so as to warrant an action that was contrary to the will of an eternal being. That is, she not only had to equalize time and eternity, but she had to put time above eternity. It was in time that Satan told her the issue was to be settled. He said that it still remained to be seen whether God’s threats would come true. The experimental method was to be employed. Only time could tell. This attitude implied that God was no more than a finite God.” (26)
“Anyone rejecting the Genesis narrative must also be prepared to reject the idea of an absolute God. The history includes the philosophy, and the philosophy includes the history. Or we may say that those who reject the Genesis narrative begin their investigation of Greek philosophy with a definite antitheistic bias. It is only because they are themselves not neutral, that they claim the Greeks to have been neutral.”(27)
“the amazement with which the average student of philosophy or science looks at you if you dare to tell him that, according to your conviction, neutrality is not only undesirable but impossible, is sufficient proof that he has never questioned the reasonableness or the possibility of neutrality.” (27)
-unbelievers can’t account for why people make mistakes
“Antitheistic thought identifies sin and finite limitation. It takes for granted that because man is a limited being he could not at once have a satisfactory knowledge of God. Consequently the many mistakes man made in his search for God are not regarded as sinful but as entirely normal…
“His finite limitations in no way prevented him from having such adequate knowledge. The very possibility of error presupposes the existence of truth.” (28)
-Moral perversity accounts for error, not finitude.
“it follows that the responsibility rests upon those who wish to claim a neutral starting point for the Greeks that they first disprove the whole of the theistic position.” (28)
“And that which it has to say ought to be refuted by a reasoned argument, instead of by ridicule and assumption.” (28)