“The Believer’s Theory Of Knowledge
I see a cow. I say it is an animal. But what is an animal? To answer that question fully I should be able to say what life is for a cow is living. I watch the cow eat grass. Does the grass live too? Yes it does. The grass grows out of the ground. Does the ground live also? No it does not. But some say that it does. At any rate I see that the lifeless is indispensable for the living. Hence I cannot say what life is unless I can also say what the ground is. I cannot really say what a cow is until I can tell what the whole of physical reality is.
But now comes a still greater difficulty. We are ourselves a part of this reality. That might seem at first sight to give us the advantage of inside view. But it would certainly have the disadvantage of only an inside view. We usually have only an inside view of ourselves. Others have an “outside” view of us. And how much more correct they usually are than we!Suppose then that there is a God. He will have the best “outside” view of us. Our idea of ourselves would be wholly wrong unless it corresponded to God’s outside knowledge of us. Thus we begin to see that if we are to have an answer to the question what the cow is we must first know all about God and man. In other words we may say that we must know all about all things if we are to know anything about anything.
We must answer then that we do not know what a cow is. But such an admission does not seem to be so serious. Even if I do not know what a cow is I can milk it anyway. But the question becomes more serious when I am asked whether I know myself. I must know a good deal about myself. There are those who claim to have an outside view of me and they say that I am a sinner and damnation-bound. Is that true? I ask them how they know? They tell me that the revelation of God tells them about it. Is there such a revelation? Perhaps there is not. But am I sure that there is not? I ought to know all about myself; that is, I must know all about what is going to happen to me in this life and in the future, if there is one, before I can be certain that those prophets of evil are mistaken. I grow desperate. I must know here and now whether I know.
In despair I look again at that revelation of which my accusers speak. The Scriptures tell me that God knows all about all things. Suppose that this claim is true, would that help me? Would that make me know all things? No, it would not make me know all things but it would help me just the same. A child does not need to know all about the road he is to travel if only his father does. So also we may say that if God knows all about all things we can know all we need to know about ourselves. If God knows all things He must have created all things. God could not know all if all were not dependent upon him. God could not know this world if his rationality were not stamped upon it. Then too all knowledge that any human being has and possibly could have must be from God. It must be true then that we are created in the image of God. God’s rationality is stamped upon me. Hence, if God exists, the knowledge that I seem to have, must be from God and therefore true.
But does God exist? We have till now been asking what would be true if God exists. Is it nothing but a fine vision that we have seen? Our answer is that God must exist or the very questions that we have asked about Him would be meaningless. We have seen that God must know all things if we are to know anything. Hence it is also true that my asking about His existence would have no meaning unless He does actually exist. In other words, I must presuppose God’s existence for my experience to have any significance. My belief in God is as necessary as breath to me; He is “nearer than hands and feet.”
The position outlined above may be called the position of faith; it is the believer’s positions. When the believer is asked to give a reason for the faith that is in him he reasons as we have reasoned above. It then becomes clear that the believer’s position is a reasonable position. It is reasonable for a mere human being to be a believer. It is very scientific to be a believer. The only unscientific position is an unreasonable position. If science today does not believe in the existence of such a God as we have spoken of we can only say that “science” is unscientific.
Faith then is not the thoughtless acceptance of something that we like to think of as true. On the contrary faith comes only in answer to fathomless agony of soul. The deepest faith is due to the deepest thought. Only when the prodigal is brought to bay will he believe.
Faith implies the recognition of God’s absolute priority and originality. Faith allows noaspect of the human personality to escape subjection to God. It does not set aside the intellect to God. It is only thus that the intellect is truly free; only thus is there an atmosphere in which it can operate. Thus too faith becomes the source of all true science.”
(Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology)