Parsing Revelational Epistemology

Presuppositionalists tend to state that they hold to something called “Revelational Epistemology”. But what does that mean? What does that entail? In order to answer those questions, we will have to enter into modern philosophical debates to answer them. Epistemology is the study of knowledge. It deals with what constitutes(or what is the content) of our knowledge, the justification of our knowledge, and the structure of our knowledge.

The Content of Knowledge:

This is to ask for what makes up our knowledge? Do we know things because of our senses? Because of our reason? How do we acquire knowledge? The Christian recognizes that we have many different kinds of knowledge. Let’s take the basic categories of Sense perception, introspection, memory, Reason, and Testimony. We know certain things through our senses and our reason. That is only to say that we acquire knowledge through the senses and through our reason but not only through them(reductionism). I’ll be quoting the definitions for these faculties from the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy- Epistemology.

1. Sense Perception:

Our perceptual faculties are our five senses: sight, touch, hearing, smelling, and tasting. We must distinguish between an experience that can be classified as perceiving that p (for example, seeing that there is coffee in the cup and tasting that it is sweet), which entails that p is true, and a perceptual experience in which it seems to us as though p, but where p might be false. Let us refer to this latter kind of experience as perceptual seemings. The reason for making this distinction lies in the fact that perceptual experience is fallible. The world is not always as it appears to us in our perceptual experiences. We need, therefore, a way of referring to perceptual experiences in which p seems to be the case that allows for the possibility of p being false. That’s the role assigned to perceptual seemings. So some perceptual seemings that p are cases of perceiving that p, others are not. When it looks to you as though there is a cup of coffee on the table and in fact there is, the two states coincide. If, however, you hallucinate that there is a cup on the table, you have perceptual seeming that p without perceiving that p.

The Christian recognizes the use of empirical knowledge in our lives. Many prescriptions of God require empirical knowledge in order to be useful. Some Clarkians don’t get that but suppose I asked you a question. How do you know your wife isn’t a man? It helps to have empirical verification for such things. The Christian has a good grounding for sense perception. I cover that elsewhere:

A start for a philosophy of Christian science: Part 10

2. Reason:

Some beliefs would appear to be justified solely by the use of reason. Justification of that kind is said to be a priori: prior to any kind of experience. A standard way of defining a priori justification goes as follows:
A Priori Justification
S is justified a priori in believing that p if and only if S’s justification for believing that p does not depend on any experience.
Beliefs that are true and justified in this way (and not somehow “gettiered”) would count as instances of a priori knowledge.[50]
What exactly counts as experience? If by ‘experience’ we mean just perceptual experiences, justification deriving from introspective or memorial experiences would count as a priori. For example, I could then know a priori that I’m thirsty, or what I ate for breakfast this morning. While the term ‘a priori’ is sometimes used in this way, the strict use of the term restricts a priori justification to justification derived solely from the use of reason. According to this usage, the word ‘experiences’ in the definition above includes perceptual, introspective, and memorial experiences alike. On this narrower understanding, paradigm examples of what I can know on the basis of a priori justification are conceptual truths (such as “All bachelors are unmarried”), and truths of mathematics, geometry and logic.
Justification and knowledge that is not a priori is called ‘a posteriori’ or ‘empirical’. For example, in the narrow sense of ‘a priori’, whether I’m thirsty or not is something I know empirically (on the basis of introspective experiences), whereas I know a priori that 12 divided by 3 is 4.

God has made our mind and rational faculties to be able to do such abstract thinking. The issue is when you make it ultimate in your worldview as the rationalist did:

The Continental Rationalist

3. Introspection:

Introspection is the capacity to inspect the, metaphorically speaking, “inside” of one’s mind. Through introspection, one knows what mental states one is in: whether one is thirsty, tired, excited, or depressed. Compared with perception, introspection appears to have a special status.

I think it is naively thought that this is an infallible mechanism for truth. That I have a self-awareness that cannot be wrong is naive. Whether it be a person messing with your mind or your own self-deception that is occurring. This faculty is unique because it comes from our first-person viewpoint that we have that no other human could have. Further input on self-deception:

The Crucial Concept of Self-Deception in Presuppositional Apologetics

The Noetic Affects and Effects of Sin and Grace

4. Memory:

Memory is the capacity to retain knowledge acquired in the past. What one remembers, though, need not be a past event. It may be a present fact, such as one’s telephone number, or a future event, such as the date of the next elections. Memory is, of course, fallible. Not every instance of taking oneself to remember that p is an instance of actually remembering that p. We should distinguish, therefore, between remembering that p (which entails the truth of p) and seeming to remember that p (which does not entail the truth of p).

The memory is an important faculty and I hope you don’t forget that. God has made us to remember his words and to apply it to our life.

5. Testimony:

Testimony differs from the sources we considered above because it isn’t distinguished by having its own cognitive faculty. Rather, to acquire knowledge of p through testimony is to come to know that p on the basis of someone’s saying that p. “Saying that p” must be understood broadly, as including ordinary utterances in daily life, postings by bloggers on their web-logs, articles by journalists, delivery of information on television, radio, tapes, books, and other media. So, when you ask the person next to you what time it is, and she tells you, and you thereby come to know what time it is, that’s an example of coming to know something on the basis of testimony. And when you learn by reading the Washington Post that the terrorist attack in Sharm el-Sheikh of July 22, 2005 killed at least 88 people, that, too, is an example of acquiring knowledge on the basis of testimony.

We have knowledge of many issues from testimony. We trust many sources for information we could never acquire. Those often come from Doctors and Scholars. In virtue of their testimony, we may know things like a man murdered another or in various historical studies of the ancient world relies on testimony. This ties into Revelation which itself is a testimony from God.

What is Knowledge?

Knowledge has been clasically defined as Justified True Belief but like everything in philosophy it has been challenged. This definition comes from Plato but it has been challenged by Edmund Gettier. These are called “Gettier cases” in which someone has warrant or justification for a belief, but it turned out that what they had justification was faulty but as a matter of luck it turns out being true. This usually is followed through by multiple examples. Suppose we were on a bench and a white dog was on a hill in the distance and behind this white dog was a sheep. You begin to think that a sheep is on that hill because you saw the dog. So, you seem justified in your belief and it is true. But did you really know that a sheep was on the hill? The easiest way to deal with the Gettier problem is to deny that epistemic luck ever grants sufficient justification for the claim being claimed by the proponent cases of Gettier problem.

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy- Gettier Cases

Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy- Epistemology (What is Knowledge?)

The Gettier Problem

Types of Knowledge:

We often discuss three kinds of knowledge. Those being Propositional Knowledge, Procedural Knowledge (Know-how), and Knowledge by Acquaintance. Propositional knowledge is the knowledge of a truth “I know that Paris is the capital of France”. Procedural “Know-how” knowledge is to know how to do something “I know how to start a fire”. Knowledge by Acquaintance is to know persons or of objects “I know Dave”. Further reading:

Dr. Vern Poythress- Redeeming Philosophy(pg. 205-207)

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Epistemology-Types of Knowledge

Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – Knowledge How

Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy- Knowledge by Acquaintance vs. Description

IEP- Knowledge by Acquaintance and Knowledge by Description

Inferential or Non-inferential:

We purport to know things, but do we have to go through a chain of reasoning to know everything or do we know things immediately? Do we know God through an inferential chain or Non-inferentially? We know things like the sensation of pain though non-inferential means or seeing an object. While we know other things through inferential knowledge. The Revelational Epistemologist knows God non-inferentially. This is stated here:

Knowledge of God

Blank Slate or Innate knowledge:

This idea goes back to John Locke’s idea of the Tabula Rasa. Reformed Christians have taught that knowledge of God is innate. That we have innate categories given by God to understand and organize the facts of this world. The rejection of that notion makes the human mind unable to process knowledge. Steve Hays wrote in an article entitles “Why you can’t use logic to prove God” this:

But that can’t be the basis of knowledge all the way down. You can’t derive a concept of numbers from observing physical objects, for unless you already have numerical concepts to work with, you can’t group physical objects numerically. Numbering objects requires a numerical preconception. You can’t bootstrap logical or mathematical knowledge from sensory perception. You can’t group five apples by number unless you recognize that they comprise five apples, and you’re not going to arrive at that classification by staring at some apples with a blank slate mind. It takes knowledge to learn. It takes some prior knowledge to acquire additional knowledge. An initially empty mind has no frame of reference to evaluate sensory input. The mind of the percipient must have a logical structure which enables it to organize or reorganize sensory input. An inbuilt classification-system.

Doxastic voluntarism and Doxastic involuntarism:

The issue of Doxastic voluntarism is whether we choose what we believe or not. I think we choose to believe certain things and we don’t choose to believe other things. Suppose that I said, “I believe the Ravens are the best football team”. It doesn’t seem that I couldn’t have chosen the Eagles or some other team. Suppose you hit me with your fist to my face. I don’t get to choose whether I’m in pain or not.

Doxastic Voluntarism

Knowledge as ethical:

Epistemology is an inherently normative area of inquiry. While we think of norms as that directing us to right action. Epistemology has norms that direct us to right thinking. Christianity can account for the normativity it takes to have an epistemology. Dr. James Anderson unpacks these thoughts:

So a third ingredient is needed for knowledge, an ingredient commonly labeled ‘justification’ or ‘warrant’. (For consistency’s sake, I will hereafter use the term ‘warrant’ to refer to this third ingredient.) Contemporary epistemologists have vigorously debated precisely what constitutes ‘warrant’, but fortunately there is no need to take sides in these debates in order to defend the point I want to make here. For there is a common intuition behind all analyses of warrant to the effect that a true belief must be formed or held in the right way, or in an appropriate way, in order to count as knowledge. A warranted belief cannot be formed or held in just any old fashion. There are right or appropriate ways and there are wrong or inappropriate ways. As an example, suppose I come to believe that it is raining outside; suppose further that it is, in fact, raining outside. If this belief is formed on the basis of perception (e.g., I can see and hear the rain through an open window), then the belief is very likely warranted; but if this belief is formed on the basis of a superstitious conviction that it always rains on the days I forget to bring my umbrella, then the belief will not be warranted. The difference is that in the former case the belief is formed in a fitting or appropriate manner, while in the latter case it is not.
Careful reflection on the concept of knowledge in general, and on paradigm cases of knowledge, make it clear that this notion of ‘epistemic rightness’ or ‘epistemic appropriateness’ is an essential feature of knowledge. But observe that this notion is clearly a normative one: it pertains to how beliefs ought to be formed or held (in order to count as knowledge), rather than how beliefs are formed or held. It is not a descriptive notion, but a prescriptive one. It implies that there are epistemic norms which determine (in part) whether or not one’s belief that p is actually knowledge that p.
That the concept of knowledge has an essentially normative aspect, and thus there are such things as epistemic norms (if there is such a thing as knowledge), is a point widely recognised by contemporary epistemologists. For example, Jaegwon Kim writes:
[Epistemic] justification manifestly is normative. If a belief is justified for us, then it is permissible and reasonable, from the epistemic point of view, for us to hold it, and it would be epistemically irresponsible to hold beliefs that contradict it. . . . Epistemology is a normative discipline as much as, and in the same sense as, normative ethics. (Kim, 1988, p. 383, emphasis original)

These ideas are found here:

The Theistic Preconditions of Knowledge: A Thumbnail Sketch

If Knowledge, then God.

Absolute Personality

The Justification of our Knowledge:

The issue of justification is what is a major topic in philosophical circles. Where is the source of justification? What kinds of justification can we have?

Internalism and Externalism:

Here are standard definitions of the terms:

1. Internalism-
Roughly, an internalist is one who holds that the sole factors that justify a belief are “internal” or “cognitively accessible” to the believing agent or subject. These factors are various mental states (experiences, sensations, thoughts, beliefs) to which the agent himself has direct access by simply reflecting on or being aware of his own states of consciousness. Justification is grounded in what is internal to the mind of and directly accessible to the believing subject. They are factors the subject can be aware of by simply reflecting upon himself. For example, Ashley’s having a red sensation confers some justification on the belief that there is a red object in front of her and the red sensation itself is internal to her—it is a state of consciousness to which she has direct access. An externalist is one who denies internalism, that is,who affirms that among the factors that justify a belief are those to which the believing subject does not have or does not need to have cognitive access. For example, an externalist could hold that among the things that justify a belief is the causal process that caused the belief to be formed—light waves reflecting off of objects and interacting with the eyes and optic nerve in the right way—even though this causal process is entirely outside of the subject’s awareness. So far, internalism was defined as the view that the sole justifying factors of a belief are those internal to the subject. And this is, indeed, the standard way of defining internalism. However, it is possible to make a distinction between strong and weak internalism.

James Porter Moreland; William Lane Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Kindle Locations 1870-1881). Intervarsity Press – A. Kindle Edition.

An externalist is one who denies internalism, that is, who affirms that among the factors that justify a belief are those to which the believing subject does not have or does not need to have cognitive access. For example, an externalist could hold that among the things that justify a belief is the causal process that caused the belief to be formed—light waves reflecting off of objects and interacting with the eyes and optic nerve in the right way—even though this causal process is entirely outside of the subject’s awareness.

James Porter Moreland; William Lane Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Kindle Locations 1875-1879). Intervarsity Press – A. Kindle Edition.

Doxastic vs Nondoxastic theories

Revelational epistemology is contrary to internalism. Man’s mind is not the sole source of the justification for a claim. Jimmy Stephens argued that here:

Internalism and Humanity

The clever opponent objects that the revelational epistemologist can’t escape his own objection to internalism. They presume that how could we know the revelation of God through the corrupt human mind? This is known as the “Bottlenecking objection”. The issue I think is threefold: It assumes that the mind plays a part in the justification that God is the necessary precondition of intelligibility, but the mind only in the externalist scheme that the revelational epistemologist is presenting provides the belief to which God is the sole justifying agent. This is where the second problem arises of not looking at Christianity as Holistic. It doesn’t leave man on his own but all the other things are true in the Christian view that is being left out. The last issue is that the objection would necessitate fallibilism. We will see the problems with that in a moment.

Infallibilism and Fallibilism:

Fallibilism is the epistemological thesis that no belief (theory, view, thesis, and so on) can ever be rationally supported or justified in a conclusive way. The issue with fallibilism is whether fallibilism can ever be rationally supported or justified in a conclusive way. If it can, then it is false. If it can’t, then we have then we have conclusive knowledge that we can’t.

We believe that God caused beliefs are infallible and that the scriptures give us an infallible warrant. Other beliefs are fallible and could be mistaken. The memory of milk in my fridge is not the same belief that God created the heavens and earth.

The Structure of our Knowledge:

This is about how all our beliefs are interrelated with one another. Some think we start with foundational beliefs and infer to non-foundational beliefs. Some think beliefs are justified if they cohere with a set of beliefs.

Coherentism and Foundationalism:

Are we coherentist or foundationalist? I suppose we are closer to coherentist, but we wouldn’t maintain that a belief is solely justified by it’s relationship to another belief. I also suppose that we don’t start with all beliefs being the same. These are both narrow reductive views of justification. Some beliefs are of different importance. We have God as our ultimate authority and we have ourselves are proximate starting points. Instead of a foundation or a web, we think it is more like a room. A child’s playroom in which knowledge is like the various toys and so forth. Without the light, none of the toys would be useful and the light bulb represents the Christian God and the light rays his revelation.

Van Til and Common Grace

“Start with”


Standford- Epistemology

Coherentism in Epistemology

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About TheSire

I'm a Christian, Trinitarian, rational scientific anti-realist, Baptist, Van Tilian, Covenant theology, Inerrancy, Substance dualist, Classical theist, Protestant, Reformed, and a particularist. Here is a place where I take information from many different sources and place them in a useful format. My influences are Steve Hays, Dr. James Anderson, Dr. Greg Welty, Dr. Vern Poythress, Dr. John Frame, R. C. Dozier, Dr. Greg Bahnsen, Ronald W. Di Giacomo, R. C. Sproul, Dr. James White, Dr. Paul Helm, Dr. Jonathan Sarfati, Paul Manata, Turretinfan, Milton Friedman, James A. Gibson, and others. " You're one of the most intricate thinkers I know so if you believe something I would like to understand why and be challenged to think about it." Tyler Vela I'd like to thank Vincent Ransom for the profile picture.

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