Re: Calvinistic Epistemology

From: D. F. Siemens, Jr. (
Date: Fri Dec 20 2002 - 13:52:16 EST

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    Responding to your Thu, 19 Dec 2002 00:27:18 -0700 "Terry M. Gray"
    <> post. The problem I see with the expressions
    of Calvinistic epistemology is that they put a blanket over the whole
    area of possible knowledge. Were they to restrict "right thinking" to
    matters of theology, there would be less of a problem. But, even there, I
    note that unbelievers can understand the nuances of theology very well.
    In other words, there is a difference between knowledge and faith. This
    is equally evident among believers, who clearly trust God's grace but
    "know" some things which are false. I know this, not because I perfectly
    hold the truth, but because different believing individuals insist on
    contradictory statements, one of which must be false.

    In your statement I find some confusion. E.g., in the second paragraph of
    your Chapter 5:
    > Practically speaking, it is probably the case that this approach to
    > science/faith issues works most of the time, however, it seems to
    > me
    > at this strikes at the heart of a Biblical and Reformed view of
    > knowledge. In the work of Cornelius Van Til there is a sustained
    > critique of this way of thinking about science. Van Til argues that
    > the fundamental starting point for all knowledge is the knowledge
    > of
    > God and the proper creaturely response to that knowledge. Every
    > fact
    > of science is either interpreted rightly, acknowledging God as
    > creator, or wrongly, denying God as creator. In other words, "there
    > are no brute facts". Consequently, when the unbelieving scientist
    > (or
    > any unbeliever, for that matter) claims some knowledge, because it
    > denies the most fundamental aspect of that creaturely knowledge,
    > the
    > knowledge of God, Van Til would say that it is not true knowledge.
    This conflates different senses of "know," which are differentiated in
    many languages (cf. _kennen/wissen_, though the matter is more
    complicated than this). "Knowledge of God" is primarily _kennen_, whereas
    scientific knowledge is _wissen_. This runs through the quotation from
    Van Til. Since it is obvious that one's logic, math, observational
    competence, creativity, etc., are not improved by faith, "common grace"
    is called in. Further, the denial of radiological dating by a devout
    Christian does not make it "true science."

    There is _wissen_ of God, at its best the theology, Christology and
    pneumatology part of systematic theology. But this is not salvific.
    Faith, the gift of God, produces a personal relation with the deity which
    is spiritually transforming, not intellectually perfecting. Only in the
    resurrection will we know as we are known.

    I think the problem I see springs in large measure from the way "total
    depravity" is perceived. "Depravity" is a moral, not an epistemological
    term. Applied to knowledge it produces nonsense.

    I recognize Augustine's _credo ut intelligam_. Faith in certain
    principles, like "the world is understandable," is foundational to
    science. Asked why this is true, Christians reply that the omniscient,
    omnipotent deity created it and us so. But this belief does not make them
    better scientists than those who claim it is because the identity of
    _deus sive natura_ makes it so; or that it is because the properties of
    mind impose that order; or that it is just dumb luck or that only this
    kind of universe could produce life.

    The point of my original facetious post is that Calvinistic thought has
    collected a mass of accretions, patches upon patches, which make the
    terminology idiosyncratic. I contend that the biblical foundation needs
    to be restated without the gobbledegook. But, after centuries of Dutch
    tradition, this is probably too much to hope. (Still, I dare not be too
    hard on the Dutch, since half my ancestors had origins in Friesland.)

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