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Michael Polanyi: Unintentional Christian Apologist and Theologian: Part II – Centrality of Faith in Apologetics

 

Presented at the International Society of Christian Apologetics, Plano, TX,  March 25, 2017

 

From time to time in both academia and the public square, one hears such terms as “faith-group,” “faith-based organization,” “peoples of faith,” “the religious and irreligious,” and other similarly identifying names.  But, are these categories sufficient for discussions and debates?  If, as a Christian, I am a “person of faith,” what is the person with whom I am disagreeing or debating?

 

Not a rhetorical question… what would you say?

 

Historically, faith and reason have been contrasting ideologies.  Thus, if I am a person of faith, the other person must be a “person of reason.”  Without considering any particular concept, who has the better position from a third-party standpoint?  Reason vs. faith.  The person of reason gains the upper hand before any words are spoken.  Reason vs. faith.  The person of faith is at a disadvantage from the start.  Who would not choose a position of reason, rather than one of faith in public discussions?

 

One major problem with this dichotomy is the prevalence of false notions of what faith is.  These false notions seem at least as frequent among Christians as non-Christians.  Mark Twain, with whom I share a birth-date, said that “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”  Kierkegaard said something about “faith being a leap.”[1]  Kant found it “necessary to deny knowledge to make room for faith.”  Thus, the fuzzy nature of the dichotomy of faith and reason continues and separates common folk and academicians alike.

 

Because of this fuzziness, I believe that the most important issue for ISCA and all Christians is a more fully developed understanding of faith and reason and its application in the arena of ideas. --- Repeat. ---

 

 In today’s climate, and perhaps for 100 years or more, the natural sciences have become the standard for knowledge and truth --- from the logical positivists of Vienna to the classrooms of our schools, colleges, and universities—even Christian campuses.  This domination and worship of science is scientism with objectivist claims that purport to have all the answers to the problems of mankind.  These answers seem valid in the face of technological marvels that scientists have produced.

 

Michael Polanyi destroys objectivism and scientism, primarily in his major work, Personal Knowledge, which is the term that he gives to his method of epistemology.  While a proper understanding of faith and reason will also destroy these truth claims of science, Polanyi’s work directly attacks science, but his teachings carry over into every other area of knowledge and illuminate Biblical understanding, as well.  My focus in this paper is the application of his personal knowledge to apologetics.  Next year, if my paper is accepted, I will discuss implications for theology.

 

Biography

 

Polanyi[2] was born in1891 in Budapest, Hungary, to a “secular” Jewish family.  The name “Polanyi” was changed from Pollacsek early in his life. Michael should not be confused with his older brother, Karl, who is a world-renown political economist and anthropologist.

 

Polanyi first studied medicine, graduating in 1914.  His interest, however, shifted to physical chemistry.  At the age of twenty-one, he wrote a paper on the Third Law of Thermo-Dynamics which his professor sent to none-other-than Albert Einstein.  “Bang-I was created a scientist,” Polanyi said. He and Einstein went on to correspond with each other frequently.

 

He moved to Berlin in 1920, working for the Fiber Chemistry Institute, and later at the Physical and Electrical Institute.  During this time Adolf Hitler was assimilating his power and  Jewish professors were being ostracized and worse.  Polanyi resigned in protest and in 1933 accepted the Chair of Physical Chemistry at Manchester in England.

 

“He quickly established a world-famous school of physical chemistry, forward looking and most stimulating for those in it.”  But, here in 13 years of teaching and research… he found himself less and less able to live in an ivory tower of scientific study, ever more deeply concerned about the way science relates to the rest of life, how a free society and a true practice of science depend upon each other, and the immense evils springing from a false scientific outlook. “I believe,” he said, “that the doctrines derived from our erroneous scientific worldview have in our days shattered our culture, casting much of the world into mindless servitude, while afflicting the rest with basic confusion.”[3]

 

In 1946 Manchester established a new Chair in philosophy for him without obligation to teach. 

 

By way of historical note, C. S. Lewis who is a common mention in the work of ISCA and Don Williams, published That Hideous Strength in 1945.  That was 72 years ago… how far we have “progressed” in that time, failing to heed these prophets of the tyranny of scientism.

 

Polanyi went on to give the Gifford Lectures in 1951 which became his major work, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (as in the “critiques” of Kant).  He continued to lecture and write, travelling the world, spending many of his last years in the United States, and writing a number of books until his death in 1976.  In 1972, The Polanyi Society was formed and began publishing Tradition and Discovery, through which international scholars continued to develop his work, along with periodic conferences.  The 43 years of this publication are an invaluable resource and an advance on Polanyi’s thinking.

 

A Brief Presentation of His Beliefs

 

A full discussion of Polanyi is not possible here.  Perhaps, I can give you a brief review of his methodology and anyone interested can read further.  His book, Personal Knowledge, is admittedly a difficult read, but well worth the effort.  There is probably not a better work on the limitation of scientific pronouncements and changes in paradigms over the centuries.  He is thoroughly conversant with the science of his time, to which little in the way of new discoveries have been made.

 

Polanyi “Christian” terms.  Polanyian terms have an uncanny likeness to the language of Christians:  authority, belief (faith, fideistic), tradition, beauty, calling, community, conversion, conviviality (fellowship), conscience, commitment, responsibility, doubt, hermeneutics, indwelling (tabernacling), passions, meaning, understanding, mind, language and communication, foreknowledge, religion, truth, knowledge, submission (to reality), and transcendence. Further, he has frequent mentions of Christian themes and Augustine is a central figure for his method of “believing to understand,” almost entirely exclusive of other religions.  However, he had little Christian knowledge and no commitment to a particular theology or church.

 

Polanyi’s knowledge is person-based.  It might be labeled “personalism,” but this term has gained connotations that would lead one astray with Polanyi.  If Polanyi had had Christian theological understanding, his concept would fit well with strong ideas of the “image of God” in man.  The process is this. The person has intellectual passions that lead him to be curious about something in nature.  Particular interests are individual and tacit—why does one scientist choose physical chemistry, as Polanyi did and another choose quantum mechanics?  Or, why choose the study of DNA over acceleration in sub-atomic particles?  Then, why choose a particular institution for one’s study?  Why choose a particular professor, as mentor?  Why choose a particular institution for a career?

 

One can begin to see the individuality of decisions here which carry over into the “scientific method.”  What criteria does one choose in one’s research? Why these and not others?  How broad or narrow is the study?  What measurements do I use?  Etc. Etc.  Tens, if not hundreds, of individual decisions—personal decisions—the person making judgments repeatedly.  Of course, there is a community of scientists and a tradition to follow.  But, communities are groups of persons, not some objective agency.  The scientific method, then, involves personal decisions from beginning to end that are unique to the person, as well as, persons, with whom he or she must interact in the scientific community.  And, scientific opinion is more consensus than we, and they, would like to admit.  In fact, Polanyi says that there is no consistent method by which “science” is carried out.

 

Need I mention the far-reaching and combative debate over “climate change?”  Mmmm… the climate changes from day to day, so the concept must be true!

 

Here is one example that Polanyi gives.[4]  In the study of crystals in which he worked early in his career, physical scientists began to see regular patterns and structures.  So, as they examined various samples, they began throw out those that did not fit their early theories.  Finally, they came to a beautiful description of 230 “distinctive rhythms” for crystals.  But, if they look to the side, there is this pile of crystals that only partially fit their descriptions.  What they have done is ignore realities in favor of personal theories—personal choices, personal beliefs, and personal faith.

 

But, his critique of science does not end here.  Scientific paradigms change, as noted by Polanyi and Thomas Kuhn.  There was the geocentrism of Ptolemy, then the heliocentrism of Galileo and Copernicus.  There was the mechanistic universe of Newton, and now the world of Einstein’s relativity, quantum mechanics, and chaos theory.  There was Euclidean geometry and now non-Euclidean geometry.  So, if truth is unchanging, by definition, science cannot be truth. 

 

Important caveat about the power of language. Until the 19th century “science meant the study of any subject in breadth and depth.  Thus, for Scholastics, theology was the queen of the sciences, and philosophy her handmaiden.  Scientia is Latin for the Greek term, episteme, or the study of epistemology.  What we mean today by “science” is “natural science,” the study of nature or the physical universe.  What we call “science” today was once called “natural philosophy,” a division of philosophy.  Thus, by terminology alone, natural science has gained an epistemological status that is undeserved and misleading.

 

Polanyi’s Tacit Powers

 

From Polanyi’s perspective, intellectual passions are mysteriously attributed to a cosmic “organizing principle” that are present in a rudimentary fashion in lower and higher animals.  From our perspective, these powers are reflected in the imago Dei of Genesis, Chapter One.  But, as Christians we often do not appreciate these faculties sufficiently nor their tacit, and subconscious  nature.

 

Physiognomy.  Probably at this very meeting, you have met someone and said, “I recognize you, but do not remember your name?  If I asked you how you remembered that face, I doubt that you could tell me.  How is it that our “subconscious” mind can remember the intricate details of a face, but not remember a simple name.  My name is two short syllables, but my face is quite complicated, as is yours.  Yet, we recognize faces far more readily than we remember names.

 

Problem solving.  Who of us has not tried to understand or solve a problem, only to leave its direct consideration, and as we fall asleep, or wake up during the night, or are otherwise distracted, suddenly find the solution?  Have you worked on a crossword puzzle, not finding a particular word, taken a break, and when you come back, “Voila!,” it comes to mind? 

What is going on?  How can we solve problems without a direct focus on them?  What is this independence of mind that allows such a phenomenon? 

 

Generative language.  Noam Chomsky and others have shown that a child advances beyond his experience in the nuance of language.  In other words, the child begins to use language in syntax, grammar, etc. in ways which he has not experienced.  Thus, he is able to advance beyond his “learning.”  He does not “go to school for this learning; it is an innate ability.  How is he able to learn grammar in the first place?  This learning of language is not something that the child works at, as he or she does later in school.  This is innate, the powers of the soul at work subconscious or unconscious to the child.

 

No “primitive” languages.  It was once thought, consistent with evolutionary theory, that man began to communicate with grunts and groans, one syllable sentences, and “evolved” into the complex languages that we speak today.  But, language among so called “primitives” is quite complex, especially spoken with all the various sound adjustments of which human being is capable.

 

Riding a bicycle.  Have you ever thought about the intricate physics of riding a bicycle?  As a four-year old, I learned to ride a bike that I could hardly hold up when stationary.  I had had no physics classes or lessons on the vestibular system and the brain that controls balance.  What is this complex system within a person that allows learning intricate and complex skills.  Throwing and hitting a baseball, hitting a golf ball, driving a car, becoming an accomplished pianist, etc. 

 

Magic Eye.  Computer generated images are now presented by which one presses his nose to the picture, and as an image begins to form, can pull the picture away and see in varying degrees of clarity, an image that can be studied in some detail, even while roving one’s eyes over it.  There is no conscious effort to form the image. In fact, a conscious effort may hinder the unconscious effort for the image to appear.  It is not really magic, but it is surely a fascinating phenomenon.  Again, it is not a conscious process, other than setting boundary conditions.

 

There is much more to Polanyi’s idea of person knowledge, but basically what we know explicitly flows from what is implicit or tacit—thus, tacit knowledge is his term for the basis of all knowledge.  Thus, “we know more than we can tell.”  Every thought is grounded in prior tacit knowledge of which we cannot fathom the whole.  But, this idea is not new.  Both the pagan Plato and the great theologian Augustine postulated “anamnesis,” that students are not taught, but they discover.  What they know is already present within them.  The teacher is only a guide.  How else can a student say, “I understand,” if that knowledge were not already present within him?

 

Well, your own understanding may be spinning right now at this admittedly mysterious process.  I only direct you back to the examples that I have already given.  Polanyi destroys the notion that natural science posits truth, much less morality and ethics.  And, he is not alone.  I direct you to dozens of other philosophers of science who have written against scientism and objectivism.  I chose Polanyi because of my tacit and passionate identity of his ideas coherent with my understanding of the Christian faith.  What we must understand is that the natural sciences are as much based upon faith as is any other field of knowledge.

 

Faith, Belief, and Generic Faith

 

One definition of faith that I use is “the ability to make a decision and act without knowing everything or without being omniscient.”  This is pure Polanyi, although he did not define faith in this way. The study of faith has been a 30-year journey for me.  It started with Jesus’ statement to a few persons that He had healed, “Go your way, your faith has made you whole.”  How is one’s own faith sufficiently powerful to heal severe disease or disability?  The answer led to my definitions of faith being presented here.

 

Every Christian knows the centrality of faith in the Bible.  It is surprising, then, how poorly it is understood.  This understanding can be greatly advanced with the idea which Abraham Kuyper introduced to me—that of “generic faith.”  Every action that we take is by faith.  Did you have absolute certainty that the car or airplane that brought you here would not crash?  Did you know for certain that you would not have a severe illness away from home?  Were you certain that your alarm clock would go off on time or that your electricity would not go off.  You have faith in the food that you eat, the doctor that you see, your spouse, etc., etc.  Every decision that leads to action is an act of faith—the same methodology that operates as believing faith for the Christian.

 

Another definition of faith that I use is “the decision to act, based upon what is known to the person, that has a hoped-for result—the outcome of which is determined by reality.”  The “hoped-for result” is largely, but not entirely, determined by the truth of the knowledge whereby the decision is made.  Faith in airplane travel is very safe… but planes do crash. Cars are relatively safe, but they crash.  And, faith in modern medicine, my own field of life-long study, is more problematic that most of you can guess.  But, I only tantalize you with that mention.

 

So, life is full of uncertain and unpredictable events.  Praise God that it is mostly uneventful, but disease and disasters do occur. The actions that we take “by faith” will usually occur as we had hoped and planned, but sometimes the unexpected happens… sometimes just an inconvenience and sometimes disastrously.

 

So, this ability to act on incomplete knowledge is generic faith.  It does not differ in form and process from Christian faith.  We act with incomplete knowledge expecting a particular result.  Now, this method is not to diminish the promises of God.  However, such promises are general, not specific.  We cite Romans 8:28 that “all things work together for good,” but that may include various disease and disasters that are not predictable.  God’s work with each individual is unique.

 

Concerning Apologetics

 

So, what does generic faith have to do with apologetics?  Just this.  Hardly any philosopher, theologian, or lay person will claim to know everything.  That is, they will not claim to be omniscient.  That claim and its identity as faith is the apologetic position that I am advocating.  Surely, if one does not know everything, then they may be missing some important truth that is vital to understanding ourselves and meaning in life.  Polanyi’s epistemology is fallibilism which is defined by the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy as:

 

The doctrine … that it is not necessary that beliefs be certain, or grounded on certainty.  We may justifiably rest content with beliefs in circumstances in which further evidence, forcing us to revise our opinion, may yet come in.  Indeed, since this is always our position, unless we settle for it, we shall be driven to skepticism.[5] … and paralyzed by inaction.

 

The well-known philosopher, Thomas Nagel, denounces

 

The bizarre view that we, at this point in history, are in possession of the basic forms of understanding needed to comprehend absolutely anything.  I believe that the methods needed to understand ourselves do not yet exist.”[6]

 

I will not belabor this position with additional quotes, although I have referenced many on my website, www.biblicalphilosophy.org. 

 

So, the question is, “Do you think that anyone with whom you might debate would claim to know everything?  I doubt it.

 

So, what we must do is label this lack of omniscience as a “faith-position.”  Everyone is operating theoretically and practically on the basis of incomplete knowledge.  In that position, one can only act by faith, hoping for a desired outcome that will be determined by reality.

 

Synonyms. The more common term that I am labeling as “faith” is presuppositionalism.  Thus, one’s lack of omniscience is overcome by reliance upon one’s presuppositions.  But, there are many terms for presuppositions.  These would include foundational beliefs, axioms, basic beliefs, presuppositions, conditional beliefs, preconditional beliefs, premises, assumptions, biases, prejudices, preconceptions, partiality, predisposition, predilection, maxim, truth, justifications, epistemology, cosmology, attitudes, dispositions, predispositions, ontology, basic values, “antecedent sympathies” (Fennell), intellectual passions (Polanyi), tacit beliefs, “ungrounded intellectual preferences (Fennell), contingent propositions (Ed), “comprehensive self-understanding” (Fennell), prior commitments, —to name a few.  

 

As an aside, I have come to believe that identifying synonyms is a key to a greater understanding of epistemology and of all knowledge.  In writing, we are taught, and I have consciously done so here, to use synonyms to give variety of expression and avoid boredom for both the writer and reader. 

 

Almost everyone agrees that our thinking is determined by presuppositions or one of its synonyms.  Thomas Howe in his book, Objectivity in Biblical Interpretation, writes.

 

“The notion that presuppositions and preunderstanding constitute the very possibility of understanding is a pervasive perspective among those who discuss the question of objectivity….  It is universally held that interpretation necessarily involves the presuppositions and preunderstanding of the interpreter…. The fact of preconditions seems to be self-evident and undeniable.”  Cite footnote

 

In fairness to Howe, he argues that objectivity is possible, but here he is stating what already exists.  Belief in prior beliefs is virtually universal—it does not have to be postulated.

 

So, one of my own presuppositions here is that everyone operates from presuppositions (or choose your synonym) which may also be called a faith-position.  This belief counters Howe and others (even at this conference) who would argue for an objectivist position.  But, I offer two more arguments in support.

 

Thomas Nagel wrote a book on objectivity as The View from Nowhere.  That is, an objectivist view would remove the person.  Without the person, there is no knowledge.  Knowledge can only be held by persons.  There is always a personalist dimension to knowledge which I am calling a faith position.

 

Faith and fingerprints.  Here is a truth that few recognize and express.  It is somewhat disturbing.  No two people in this room have the same generic or Christian beliefs!  No two people in the world have the same generic or Christian beliefs.  As with the scientific community, we all belong to a particular sect, church, or denomination with whom we have fellowship.  And, there are some 30,000 groups that claim to be “Christian.”  For the most part, we do not face this reality, as we should.  What does it mean for the future of Christianity?  Perhaps, I will give that talk next year.

 

A greater witness is that of Scripture.  The entire population of the earth is divided into two groups:  those of “light” and those of “darkness.”  Believers and unbelievers, regenerate and unregenerate.  One could argue from Acts 17 and I Corinthians 1, 2, and 15 that the Apostle Paul’s most basic epistemological presupposition is that of Christ’s resurrection.  And, for that premise, the truth of Scripture is foundational.

 

Abraham Kuyper in his encyclopedic attempt in the 19th century named a “two-fold starting point” of what we call “inerrancy of Scripture” and palingenesis or regeneration.  That is, a person must be “born-from-above” as his most basic epistemological stance and educated by the Holy Spirit through Scripture. 

 

Finally, the ultimate grounding of all knowledge is a Person.  The ultimate in objectivity lies in a subjectivity of God Himself! 

 

An Aside on Starting Point

 

Starting point can be used in three ways.  First, it is simply where one starts to think.  For example, a close friend or relative dies suddenly or tragically, causing reflection about meaning in life, truths, or other philosophical or religions matters.  It might be a college freshman in his first ethics or philosophy class.  This definition of starting point, then, would be any stimulus that causes one to think more deeply or concretely than ever before. 

 

But, starting point can also mean foundational belief.  What are one’s beliefs that control all other beliefs?  Polanyi would say that these can never really be known.  I would differ with him to some extent on this concept.  I would agree with him that these beliefs lie within the person, even that they are the essence of the person. 

 

Third, starting point can mean the common area of language in which we communicate.  We can “start” our conversations on what seems to be common ground.  But, communication (based upon grammar and sentence construction) presupposes the starting point of God and His Word.  Naturalism cannot explain ideas, concepts, and reasons which are not physical properties.  Remember that the Bible states clearly that there are two epistemologies: that of light and that of darkness!

 

 

Presupposition of Language in Communication

 

For the most part, few grapple with our “faith” in language and our ability to communicate with each other.  Even those postmoderns who call themselves “deconstructionalists” use language to communicate their unbelief in language!  But, when one examines language closely, its complexity becomes apparent.  Noam Chomsky has written about how children have the ability to transcend their experience of language with nuances that they have not encountered.  Every word has many definitions that may not all be listed in any dictionary.

 

For example, a “dog” may be a four-legged creature, a derogatory term for another person, a failed experiment, a broken machine, a troubled life, a disheveled appearance, a lucky person, a gripping tool, fogbow (arc of light in a fog),  a failed play, extreme tiredness, and a simple comedy (“dog and pony”) show.  Maybe this paper that I am giving!  That is 13 different uses of one word.  There are estimates of 3000-50,000 words that we use in common discourse… many more in scholastic pursuits. 

 

Further, consider inflection in speech.  A lover may say to his loved one, “You dog,” as a term of endearment!

 

Now, consider the complexity of individual persons: their familial background, their 16+ years of education, their variety of acquaintances, and various experiences that all contribute to the words that they use.

 

So, what do we generally think of language?  We assume… we presuppose its simplicity, when it is extremely complex.  This starting point makes our apologetic task almost impossible.  Our opponents have assumed that the possibility of communication without understanding how it is even possible, illustrating Romans 1:18.. that they suppress the truth in unrighteousness.  Even Nietzsche recognized this truth is his statement, “We have not got rid of God because we still believe in grammar.”

 

Faith and Reason Examined Briefly

 

Another difficulty in apologetics is the confusion of faith and reason.  We are back to “faith-groups,” as a division in epistemology.  But, faith and reason are not at all different.  Augustine of Hippo said that “I believe in order to understand.”  But, what many people do not know is that he went on to argue for a reasoned faith.  So, one cannot be isolated from another.

 

 Reason, as in the application of inference in abduction, induction, reduction, and deduction, never starts with a “blank slate.”  Polanyi discusses a “from-to” dynamic.  We reason from subsidiary, tacit knowledge to concrete, focal knowledge.  But, reason cannot start with A Blank Slate.[7] must be knowledge from which to be reasoned.  Abduction explores all the knowledge available to a person to link heretofore unlinked bits of knowledge.  Induction explores what is present from experience or experiment and infers universals from nominals.  Reduction attempts to break down existing concepts into smaller parts.  Deduction reasons from a major and minor premise to a conclusion.  All four processes start with knowledge and postulate a new understanding from what was originally known.

 

Senses as conduits only.  So, the largest question in the universe of epistemology is, “Where does the starting knowledge come from? Or, when does a person begin to “know?”  Well, a newborn child “knows.” He or she knows how to suck, cry when in discomfort, recognize another human being’s embrace, and more.  More importantly, it has the senses by which to receive new information.  I have mentioned how the complex development of language is innate to the child!

 

And, here is where a very common error is made.  Senses are only physical entities of the transmission of data.  Nothing could be more erroneous than “Nothing is in the intellect that was not first in the senses.”  Take a look at telephone or cable lines.  Do you seen knowledge?  Looking at a bare wire reveals nothing except the wire while it carries thousands of messages—knowledge from persons to persons.  What does it take to “see” or “read” this knowledge—a particularly designed receiver.  Human senses are the same.  What I visualized is transmitted to a “particularly designed” receiver that interprets the “particularly designed” transmitter.

 

What do you see now?  Most of you see and hear “me.” Why?  You desire to hear me… I do not think that you so much desire to “see” me.  You have focused your mind on my reading.  Yet, there are many other things to look at.  If you look outside, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of images.  Why look at one or several instead of everything else?  Why?  Personal choice and focus—the working of the individual mind.

 

Taking some leaps…

 

What I have presented is brief and inadequate, but then a book or longer treatise would be insufficient.  What I want to present is that every individual—every person—reasons from his personal data set—knowledge.  Polanyi’s personal knowledge or better, the image of God’s mind in man’s mind in individual persons.

 

Everyone reasons from personal knowledge—knowledge and abilities that are innate and then  expanded with life experience and held passionately.  Ah, passion!  Why does what I  am presenting here have my passion?  Others are presenting their passion.  Why does my passion differ from theirs?  Ice cream flavors, car designs, pretty flowers, vacation spots, hair color, etc. etc.  Individuality.  Personal knowledge, personal passions.  We are all unique, but we all acquire knowledge and reason by the same methods.

 

The Apologetic

 

Thus, my apology is that every person can only reason by personal faith.  There is no “view from nowhere,” as Nagel has extensively discussed.  But, every person has a different knowledge base from which he seeks communities of like mind.  Every scientist has individual passions and knowledge from which he reasons. 

 

So, if we can only get our opponents or just those to whom we would evangelize to admit that they do not know everything, then the knowledge of Christianity ought to at least get a significant hearing.  The only way the skeptic can justify his position is that he knows everything and thus can denounce some things.  But, he cannot know everything.  Thus, he does not really “know.”

 

For personal faith, no one person knows everything, but we know the Person that knows everything.  Thus, if he has spoken, and He has in the Scriptures, then if we “know” what He says, then we know truth.

 

Insofar as we have opportunity, we cannot allow the term “faith-group” to stand.  As far as epistemology is concerned, if we do, we have lost before any debate has begun.  We must demonstrate that everyone argues from incomplete knowledge, as do we.  We must demonstrate that the term “religion” is imprecise and useless.  Belief in Christianity is a belief competing against all other beliefs, not just what we call “religions,” but Marxism, communism, socialism, fascism, mercantilism, positivism, scientism, and all other –isms. 

                                

We have allies in the secular realm like Polanyi, Nagel, Christian Smith, and in one degree or another, philosophers of science.  We can use them and Scripture to challenge our opponents on the basis that it is our faith against their faith.  It is not faith vs. reason, else on a worldly level, we lose before we have started.

 

The End

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Resources

 

Clark, Gordon H.  Faith and Saving Faith.  An exploration of the history, epistemology, and theology of faith and saving faith.

 

Machen, Gresham.  What Is Faith.  A theological exploration of faith.

 

Mitchell, Mark T.  Michael Polanyi: The Art of Knowing. An introductory work for Polanyi’s biography and metholology.

 

Polanyi, Michael.  Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy.  Polanyi’s magnus opus.

 

Polanyi, Michael.  All his other books with their various emphases.

 

Scott, Drusilla.  Everyman Revisited: The Common Sense of Michael Polanyi.  A good, thorough introduction to Polanyi’s thought by a Christian.

 

Smith, Christian.  Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture.  Perhaps, the most thoroughgoing, secular apologetic on “belief” as the inherent nature of human “animals.”

 

The Polanyi Society.  www.polanyisociety.org Vast treasure house of online issues of Tradition and Discovery, the periodical dedicated to advancing Polanyi’s thought.

 

Additions

 

Bible hermeneutics

1.  “Thus says the Lord.”  Special revelation. 

2.  Light and darkness… regenerate and unregenerate—two epistemologies.  Oppositions: world, flesh, and devil. 

3.  Creation by God—general revelation.  Heaven and hell.

4.  Epistemology of the cross (I Corinthians 1)

5.  Concept of truth.

6.  Principles of worldview in every area.

7.  The Bible is authoritative on every issue to which it speaks.

8.  Ethics and morality.

9.  Faith is the epistemological basis.

10. Basic principles of epistemology, ontology (cosmology), and morality/ethics.

11.  The Hebrew Bible precedes in history the Greek philosophers (and gods). Yoram Hazony.

12.  Analogy of Scripture.  Scripture is its own best interpreter.

 

Varieties of apologists.  It seems that every person within classical, evidential, and presuppositionalists have their own unique “presuppositions!”  “I suspect that ‘hard’ presuppositionalists are in the minority.”

 

Philosophers: no agreement 2500+ years.

 

What is the “reality” that everyone functions within?

 

Presuppositionalism—two or more kinds. (1) Presuppose that there is no “neutral” ground in epistemology, ontology, and ethics. Presuppose the Biblical ground  of these in an argument.  (2) The system of epistemology that states that everyone has presuppositions.  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  Created by God.  First skill of a philosopher should not be philosophy, but theology—Biblical knowledge.  “No morally neutral ground.” 

 

Specious or sound reasoning from diverse and inherent beliefs.  The Azande.  30,000 or more “Christian” sects.  How one can take a premise and use all sorts of false reasons to justify his or her beliefs.  Someone has estimated over 1000 informal fallacies and that does not include formal fallacies!

 

Justified true belief.  One of the most common approaches to epistemology… how to get from “belief” to knowledge (truth).

 

Faith definitions.  (1) The ability to decide and act without being omniscient. We trust what we “think” we know.  (2) The decision to act according to some form of knowledge with an expected result but yet to be encountered by reality.  (3) One’s words and actions.  That is, one’s faith is known by what one says and does.  Pure thought is less reliable in knowing one’s faith because we live in a physical world. 

 

 



[1] Actually, Kierkegaard is widely misinterpreted here, as “the leap” was one cause by God Himself, not at the initiative of the person.

[2] I used several biographical sources here.

[3] Drusilla Scott, Everyman Revived, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1985, 2-3.  Quotes are her citations of other sources.

[4] Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge, 43-48.

[5] Simon Blackburn, Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd Edition, Revised, “Fallibilism,” (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2008), 130.

[6] Nagel, Thomas.  The View from Nowhere, (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1986), 10.

[7] See Steven Pinker’s A Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature.


 

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