Notes from Greg Bahnsen’s lecture, Survey of Christian Epistemology(Plato, God’s Incomprehensibility) – 10 of 16. (see also 11 & 12)
“Anti-theism presupposes theism.” (8)
Kuyper was right in teaching that there are two irreconcilable worldviews. Warfield was right in teaching that the case for Christianity was objective and clear. We can use reason and prove the unbeliever is wrong. Van Til saw what was right and wrong in both of these. He says there are two irreconcilable worldviews. If we offer direct evidences to the unbeliever, he will reinterpret and distort everything. However, I can show him objectively and rationally that his worldview makes rationality impossible. Both apologetics and evidences aim to vindicate the Christian worldview. In the end, it is the Christian worldview that both are trying to vindicate. You cannot prove the Christian worldview piece by piece but as a whole. Apologetics warns all the other departments of what they should be prepared to defend. Your commitment to Christ must necessitate an epistemology different than they of unbelievers. Faith and reason are both united in covenantal submission to Scripture. Reason is not the foundation for our faith in God. Faith in God is not based on reason and not Scripture. All ultimate presuppositions are self-authorizing. Only the Christian self-authorizing circle is true and objective. Only the God’s eye point of view is objective. The non-believing points of view distort reality and therefore subjective. Man before and after the fall need a revelational epistemology. Special revelation is needed to interpret general revelation correctly. The unbeliever knows God in rebellion, suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. Their methods assume that God does not exist; they are not neutral. Only the Christian worldview provides the preconditions for the intelligible use of reasoning. The Christian worldview is proved from the impossibility of the contrary.
Van Til thinks that Plato is the high point of Greek thinking. Any account of human knowledge is going to have to account for unchanging universals. You must have an epistemology that has categories, laws, universals of thinking. Think about your experience. Right now I am experiencing many different faces. If I want to break this down, I get many different tones of color, geometric shapes, sizes, texture etc. I cannot say that I know I am looking at faces, unless I have a class concept. Let’s say I tell people later, I saw 50 human beings in my front row. To make sense of my experience, I must take all the particular humans and place them into a category of “human.” When I say there are 50 human beings, I am assuming there are such things as numbers. To make sense of anything, you must have unchanging categories, laws, classes etc. Plato was convinced that the object of knowledge had to be an unchanging thing. If we followed Heraclitus, and we restricted are thinking to the world of changing time and space, then we have nothing but opinion. How do you then get an unchanging object of knowledge? You must reduce the many to an unchanging one. Plato said there must be two worlds: the world in which we live and the world of intellectual objects (forms). The things in this world are physical objects, but in the world of intellectual objects, we have ideas of things. I see John, Bob and Bill, but in the other realm I see the class of “human. Plato said man’s animation was once in the intellectual realm, but now it is been entombed in a body. Man’s animation came with a memory of the world that it once knew, and now man is can know things through recollection.
The key to Plato’s epistemology is a metaphysical claim about man’s animation/soul. Without Plato’s metaphysics, he couldn’t have an epistemology.
Chapter 2: Historical Survey- A. Greek Epistemology: Its Starting Point
The Protagoras says there is a stage of learning. This stage of learning could not be the case because there is a sharp separation between the world of sense and ideas. In this case, someone who either know nothing (world of senses) or know everything (world of ideas).
The realm of ideas is impressed upon the realm of matter, but why did this happen if they are completely different. The realm of matter is changing, concrete and particular, and the realm of ideas is unchanging, abstract and universal. How did these come together at all?
“ The Cur Deus Homo problem will meet us again and again.” (32)
-The problem of the incarnation will come up over and over again. Why do the forms have incarnate existence and come in touch with the sense world?
“Even in Plato’s maturest thought as expressed in the Timaeus, there is
only a faintest suggestion of the idea that it is perhaps the soul’s function to bring
together two opposing forces in the universe, namely, spirit and matter…. the assumption on the part of the Greeks, that the mind of man is naturally sound. It is assumed that there is no reconciliation to be made between God and man. And if there is any reconciliation to be made at all, it is the mind of man that is to do the reconciling. Thus the mind of man does not need any reconciliation to God by God, but it can itself reconcile the physical universe to God. Instead of needing a Mediator, the mind of man sets itself up as mediator if there is to be any mediator at all.” (32)
-Plato said we need a mediator between the realm of ideas and form. Man’s animation/soul becomes the mediator. For Christians, the two worlds are God and creation and the mediator is Jesus Christ the God Man.
“The human soul is not definitely proved to be immortal, but since it is connected with the cosmic soul as a whole, it may reasonably be expected to be immortal too.” (32)
-If the soul is connected to the cosmic soul (in the realm of unities), then why are there individual souls? How does “soulness” become many souls? The soul doesn’t solve the problem, it is an illustration of Plato’s problem of incarnation. We should have the same souls but we don’t. How and why did the soul get into the body? And how did the soul, a universal, become differentiated in its qualities? How did the soul in the other world know the forms, because the soul in the other world is also a form?
Plato firstly thinks of the soul as an empirical type of thing, but he rejected this because it wouldn’t have permanence and immortality. Then he thinks the soul as wholly other and non-temporal. If so, then how does the soul bring the two worlds of forms and matter together?
Plato brings about the Third Man Argument. You have 15 physical human beings, and add a 16th non-physical human being (the idea of human being). What unites the 15 physical humans and 16th? This would require a 17th object of some sort. If so, then you must have a greater object to unite the 17th to the 15 humans and 16th. He must answer the question what unites forms and particulars. He said that the particulars participate in the idea of their respective forms. You must then have a form of participation, but how would you unite the idea of participation? Participation would have to participate in the form of participation and so on. He ends up creating an infinite regress. When Plato finally realizes that his autonomous intellect couldn’t provide an epistemology, you listens to divine revelation. He said perhaps we can refer to mythology. He appeals to the myth of the demiurge who impresses the forms upon their corresponding material objects.
Chapter 15: The Method of Christian Theistic Epistemology
“God is completely self-conscious and therefore knows himself and all things analytically.” (173)
-Because God knows everything, then any particular thing he knows is always by analysis.
We engage in spiral reasoning rather than in a linear fashion regarding our presuppositions. We call the method of implication into the truth of God, a transcendental method. We must seek to determine what presuppositions are necessary to any object of knowledge in order that it may be intelligible to us. Only Christianity has true objectivity, while unbelievers have false subjectivity. They are distorting the world.
” Yet we hold that our reasoning cannot fairly be called circular reasoning, because we are not reasoning about and seeking to explain facts by assuming the existence and meaning of certain other facts on the same level of being with the facts we are investigating, and then explaining these facts in turn by the facts with which we began. We are presupposing God, not merely another fact of the universe. If God is to come into contact with us at all it is natural that the initiative must be with him.
And this will also apply to the very question about the relation of God to us. Accordingly, it is only on God’s own testimony that we can know anything about him.” (174)
“Our reasoning frankly depends upon the revelation of God, whose “reasoning” is within the internal-eternal circularity of the three persons of the Trinity. It is only if we frankly depend for the validity of our reasoning upon this internal circular reasoning in the triune God that we can escape trying in vain to reason in circles in a vacuum of pure contingency.” (174)
-God does not think synthetically; he doesn’t do research. For God to know, he just consults his own knowledge. God’s system of thought is complete, and every particular in it is meaningful. We must think God’s thoughts after Him, if we are to avoid reducing our thoughts to meaninglessness.
The antitheist says we can go out and learn things univocally-autonomously. They think that they can give meaning to the facts that they encounter. They bring God into the picture as an addition of everything else that they know.
There is a qualitative difference between God and everything else in the world. He is not just a quantitative addition to the knowledge that you have; He is the creator and controller of the world.
Univocal means that everything is the same. The unbeliever thinks that God and man think and learn things in the same manner. The only difference between God and man according to the univocal view is that God just knows a whole lot more and faster than man does.
Clark and Van Til Controversy
Is God’s knowledge simply a matter of knowing more, faster and consistently than man? Van Til said no. Man’s thinking is not on the same level of man’s thinking. If God thinks on a different level than man, then the Clarkians responded that we can never think God’s thoughts after Him and know the truth. Van Til doesn’t think we only know analogies, rather we know the same things God knows but with similarities and differences in terms of the way in which we know and the quality of our knowledge. God is the originator of all that is known, and we are the receiver of knowledge. God’s thoughts are the criterion and standard of knowledge, and His knowledge has no right to be questioned.
When Van Til speaks of analogical thinking, he means God and man are not subject to the same epistemological distinctions. There is a distinctive between creative thought and derivative thought. We think what God thinks, but we think of them was creatures.
“If men are dead in their sins and trespasses they are dead epistemologically too, and no demonstration of health will do any good, but only the gift of new life. Accordingly, we must reason in such a way that the Holy Spirit can give life through our reasoning as an avenue.” (175)
“The necessity of reasoning analogically is always implied in the theistic conception of God. If God is to be thought of at all as necessary for man’s interpretation of the facts or objects of knowledge, he must be thought of as being determinative of the objects of knowledge. In other words, he must then be thought of as the only ultimate interpreter, and man must be thought of as a finite reinterpreter. Since, then, the absolute selfconsciousness of God is the final interpreter of all facts, man’s knowledge is analogical of God’s knowledge. Since all the finite facts exist by virtue of the interpretation of God, man’s interpretation of the finite facts is ultimately dependent upon God’s interpretation of the facts. Man cannot, except to his own hurt, look at the facts without looking at God’s interpretation of the facts. Man’s knowledge of the facts is then a reinterpretation of God’s interpretation. It is this that is meant by saying that man’s knowledge is analogical of God’s knowledge.” (176)
“the point of contact that we may presuppose is that man, as a matter of fact, never exists in such independence as he thinks he does. He remains accessible to God always It is this that gives us courage to proceed.” (176)
-the unbeliever is not autonomous as he thinks he is, so he is always accessible to God
“When we approach the question in this way we should be willing to start anywhere and with any fact that any person we meet is interested in. The very conviction that there is not a single fact that can really be known unless it is interpreted theistically gives us this liberty to start anywhere, as far as a proximate starting point is concerned. If we thought that the fact of God’s existence had no significance for physics, we would have to seek to bring our opponents at once into contact with the more specifically religious problem. But that is exactly what we need not do. We can start with any fact at all and challenge “our friends the enemy,” to give us an intelligible interpretation of it.” (176)
“Since the non-theist is so heartily convinced that univocal reasoning is the only
possible kind of reasoning, we must ask him to reason univocally for us in order that we may see the consequences.” (176)
“We may, to be sure, offer to him at once a positive statement of our position. But this he will at once reject as quite out of the question. So we may ask him to give us something better. The reason he gives for rejecting our position is, in the last analysis, that it involves self-contradiction. We see again as an illustration of this charge the rejection of the theistic conception that God is absolute and that he has nevertheless created this world for his glory. This, the non-theist says, is self-contradictory. And it no doubt is, from a non-theistic point of view. But the final question is not whether a statement appears to be contradictory. The final question is in which framework or on which view of reality—the Christian or the non-Christian—the law of contradiction can have application to any fact. The non-Christian rejects the Christian view out of hand as being contradictory. Then when he is asked to furnish a foundation for the law of contradiction, he can offer nothing but the idea of contingency.” (176)
“What we shall have to do then is to try to reduce our opponent’s position to an
absurdity. Nothing less will do. Without God, man is completely lost in every respect, epistemologically as well as morally and religiously…
But we must point out to him that upon a theistic basis our position is not reduced to an absurdity by indicating the “logical difficulties” involved in the conception of creation. Upon the theistic basis it must be contended that the human categories are but analogical of God’s categories, so that it is to be expected that human thought will not be able to comprehend how God shall be absolute and at the same time create the universe for his glory. If taken on the same level of existence, it is no doubt a self-contradiction to say that a thing is full and at the same time is being filled. But it is exactly this point that is in question—whether God is to be thought of as on the same level with man. What the antitheist should have done is to show that even upon a theistic basis our conception of creation involves self-contradiction.”
“We must therefore give our opponents better treatment than they give us. We must point out to them that univocal reasoning itself leads to self-contradiction, not only from a theistic point of view, but from a non-theistic point of view as well. It is this that we ought to mean when we say that we must meet our enemy on their own ground. It is this that we ought to mean when we say that we reason from the impossibility of the contrary. The contrary is impossible only if it is self-contradictory when operating on the basis of its own assumptions. It is this too that we should mean when we say that we are arguing ad hominem. We do not really argue ad hominem unless we show that someone’s position involves self-contradiction, and there is no self-contradiction unless one’s reasoning is shown to be directly contradictory of or to lead to conclusions which are contradictory of one’s own assumptions.” (177)
“Similarly, if we reason when we place ourselves upon our opponents’ position, we cannot for a moment do more than argue thus for “argument’s sake.” (177)
“since the Trinity is the conception by which ultimate unity and
diversity is brought into equal ultimacy, it is this conception of the Trinity which makes self-contradiction impossible for God and therefore also impossible for man. Complete self-contradiction is possible only in hell, and hell is itself a self contradiction because it feeds eternally on the negation of an absolute affirmation.” (178)
“if he continues to regard Christianity as one hypothesis among many, it is a foregone conclusion that he will not accept this hypothesis rather than another. And if he did accept Christianity as the most likely hypothesis, he would not be accepting Christianity, but a substitute for it. To reason about anything as an hypothesis for the explanation of any fact or facts means that there may be other hypotheses that should eventually prove to be true. And if it is conceivable that an interpretation other than God should finally be given for the facts of the universe, then it is also true that these facts are now considered as being apart from God.”