The Christian and Non-Christian Subject of Knowledge

“With respect to the question of the subject of knowledge, that is, the place of the activity of the human personality, it may be said that here too we hold that the existence and meaning of the human interpreter must be brought into a relation of subordination to God as the ultimate interpreter.

Before the world was, God existed alone. In him, existence and interpretation are co-extensive. The Spirit of God searches the deep things of God. It follows from this that any human interpreters would have to be derivative interpreters or re-interpreters.

The interpretation that man would give to anything in this world can therefore never be comprehensive and exhaustive. This much of truth there is in the recent emphasis on the part of the men of science on the mysteriousness of the facts of the universe. However, as Christians, we hold that the reason for the mysteriousness of the facts of this universe is not that given by scientists today. Science today, in consonance with non-Christian thought in general, holds that the facts of this universe are surrounded by an ultimate void, that is, by an ultimate irrationality. We, on the contrary, hold that God as absolute Light is back of the facts of the universe. We hold that the atom is mysterious for us, but not for God.

And this accounts for the basic difference between the Christian and the non-Christian position on the question of the validity of human knowledge. Modern science is basically agnostic, while Christianity is the very reverse of agnostic. In effect, non-Christian thought argues that, because man cannot comprehend something in its knowledge, to that extent his knowledge is not true. Christians say that we as creatures do not need to and should not expect to comprehend anything fully. God comprehends fully, and that is enough for us. God’s full comprehension gives validity to our partial comprehension. The fact that we do not fully comprehend the atom should not make us grow desperate with respect to the truth of the atom. When a Christian sees the atom surrounded by mystery, he worships God; when the non-Christian scientist sees the atom surrounded by mystery, he worships the void.

As Christians then, we believe that human knowledge of the world and of God is
(a) not exhaustive and yet
(b) true

We are created in God’s image, and therefore our knowledge cannot be exhaustive; we are created in God’s image, and therefore our knowlede is true.

But now we have yet to consider the second main difference between the Christian and the non-Christian view of human reason. What we have so far considered dealt only with the metaphysics of the matter. Christians believe that man is the creature of God, while non-Christians do not. Hence Christians maintain while non-Christians deny that man must be a re-interpreter of God’s interpretation. We must now add to this that, as Christians, we believe that the human mind as it exists today should not only be thought of as derivative, but should also be thought of as ethically depraved. In contrast to this, non-Christians think that the human mind is ethically normal. Morever, those who do not believe in the sinfulness of the human mind do not believe in its created character.

…The question of true knowledge becomes a matter of life and death. Clearly, if the Christian position is true, that is, if man’s mind is ethically depraved, man will fall into eternal ruin unless he has true knowledge of God. On the other hand, granted the Christian position is wrong, it is a fact that Christians hold it to be right, and this is resented by the non-Christians. This then brings up the question of the possibility of argument between Christians and non-Christians.”

(Van Til, Introduction to Systematic Theology, 24-25)

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