P1. If no one has comprehensive knowledge of the universe, then no one can have any knowledge of the universe.
P2. Only God could have comprehensive knowledge of the universe.
P3. We have some knowledge of the universe.
C: Therefore, God exists.
This modern view is based on the assumption that man is the ultimate reference point in his own predication. When, therefore, man cannot know everything, it follows that nothing can be known. All things being related, all things must be exhaustively known or nothing can be known. (Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology, p. 163.)
Now what is the purpose of measurement? Observe that measurement consists of relating an easily perceivable unit to larger or smaller quantities, then to infinitely larger or infinitely smaller quantities, which are not directly perceivable to man. (The word “infinitely” is used here as a mathematical, not a metaphysical, term.) The purpose of measurement is to expand the range of man’s consciousness, of his knowledge, beyond the perceptual level: beyond the direct power of his senses and the immediate concretes of any given moment. Man can perceive the length of one foot directly; he cannot perceive ten miles. By establishing the relationship of feet to miles, he can grasp and know any distance on earth; by establishing the relationship of miles to light-years, he can know the distances of galaxies. (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, pp. 7-8)
Here too every non-Christian epistemology may be distinguished from Christian epistemology in that it is only Christian epistemology that does not set before itself the ideal of comprehensive knowledge for man. The reason for this is that it holds that comprehensive knowledge is found only in God. It is true that there must be comprehensive knowledge somewhere if there is to be any true knowledge anywhere but this comprehensive knowledge need not and cannot be in us; it must be in God. (Van Til, The defense of the Faith, 41.)
Kant made much philosophical hay from the conviction that our minds play more than a merely passive role in gaining knowledge of the world. This seems intuitively right: our judgments about the objects in our experience are not simply “given” to us by way of the stimulation of our senses, but are shaped by a considerable raft of a priori concepts concerning the fundamental structure of reality — logical principles, causal relations, metaphysical necessities, notions of self, and so forth. (IKTG, p. 23)
1) perception is the base of all knowledge; 2) valid concepts are formed from perception by an objective process. (Harry Binswanger, How We Know: Epistemology on an Objectivist Foundation, p. 58.)
The primacy of perception leads to a wider point: knowledge is essentially “bottom-up,” not “top-down.” Conceptual knowledge is acquired by building up from perceptual data. (Ibid., p. 371.)
Man is born tabula rasa: his consciousness is only a potential – until it is actualized by input to his sensory organs. The fetus in the womb does not have any theories, thoughts, concepts, or even percepts. An infant born without any senses would never be conscious. A boy may dream that he is driving a car; a fetus cannot. Even to dream about cars, one must have perceived them (or have been told about them by someone who has perceived them). Directly or indirectly, perception of cars is necessary to remember cars, imagine cars, form the concept “car,” make propositions about cars, draw conclusions about cars, or develop the field of automotive engineering. (Ibid.)
Explicitly, Plato. Implicitly, every Rationalist philosopher, every theologian, every believer in God, Allah, or Vishnu, every advocate of some realm that is neither perceivable nor logically derivable from perception. In other words, the bottom-up nature of knowledge has been rejected, in theory and in practice, by 99 percent of mankind, including the majority of the leading figures in the history of philosophy. (Ibid.)
What reason is there to think it true? To my knowledge, Van Til never explains the argument for [P1] in any detail, but the idea seems to be that unless one knows everything about the universe, the interrelatedness of the universe means that whatever reasons or grounds one has for one’s beliefs the possibility remains of some fact coming to light that radically undermines those reasons or grounds. Indeed, for all we know (or think we know) that possibility could be a significant probability — but whatever the case, without comprehensive knowledge we will always end up peering into darkness at the boundaries of our purported knowledge. The probability that what we don’t know will support rather than undermine what we think we do know is, as Plantinga might say, inscrutable. Ignorance seems to have an unsettling infectiousness about it. The very fact that we are ignorant about those areas of which we are ignorant means that we do not know how they bear on everything else — and thus how everything else may depend on them. The old adage “what you don’t know can’t hurt you” may reflect an admirable optimism, but on sober analysis it couldn’t be more wrong. (IKTG, p. 20.)
God, of course, is immune to such worries. Knowing everything in the nature of the case includes knowing how one’s knowledge of one fact bears on one’s knowledge of another fact. Furthermore, if God exists, then presumably he is able to so arrange things that the noetic faculties of human beings function in such a way as to implicitly take into account all that God alone knows. The idea is not that each one of us has an exhaustive knowledge of the universe tacitly built, as it were, into our cognitive apparatus. Rather, it is that — to use a motoring metaphor — we have been given reliable vehicles and set off in the right direction on accurately signposted, well-constructed and well-connected roads. Or as Van Til remarks: “My unity [of knowledge] is the unity of a child who walks with its father through the woods.”(Van Til, Why I Believe in God.) (IKTG, pp. 20-21.)
1. Knowledge of the fact that there is a reality. Consider Objectivism’s initial axiom, existence exists. This is the fundamental recognition, in the form of a conceptually irreducible primary, of the fact that there is a reality. It does not state what reality consists of (such discovery comes later), nor does this recognition entail the presumption to know everything that exists. It is simply the recognition that things exist. Now what kind of new fact could possibly challenge this knowledge? Facts are entities in actual contexts, so any new fact would have to be something that exists. Thus it is logically impossible in the most extreme sense that a new fact could come along and disprove the recognition that things exist. On the contrary, every new fact we discover only positively reinforces the recognition that existence exists. Quite simply, the axiom of existence is immune to Van Til’s confused analysis.
2. Knowledge of the fact that existents have a nature. This is the Objectivist axiom of identity. This is the fundamental recognition that to exist is to be something specific, to have a nature. If A exists, it must be A. Now what kind of new fact could possibly challenge this knowledge? For it to be a fact, it would have to exist (see above) and thus it would have identity; indeed, by calling it a fact, we would be granting that it has identity. Plus, to suppose that it could pose a challenge to any premise or belief, it would have to have a nature of some sort, otherwise it could not be said with any veracity to pose any kind of challenge at all. But if this new fact exists and thus has a nature, it would only confirm the knowledge of the fact that existents have a nature rather than challenge it. The axiom of identity is thus immune to Van Til’s muddled analysis.
3. The knowledge that one is conscious. This is the Objectivist axiom of consciousness, the fundamental recognition (even if only implicit) that when one has awareness of objects, he is conscious of something. So what could possibly challenge this knowledge? Any new fact, far from posing a challenge as we have seen above to the knowledge that existence exists and that existents have a nature, would have to be known in order for it to be regarded as challenging any of our knowledge, for regarding is a type of conscious activity. But if we knew of this fact, then it would yet again confirm our knowledge that we are conscious, and this knowledge itself would prevail unscathed. So as with the axioms of existence and identity, discovering new facts can only positively reinforce the axiom of consciousness, not challenge it. The axiom of consciousness is thus also immune to Van Til’s addled analysis.
4. Many facts pertaining to man’s nature are likewise immune to challenge by the worry of some alleged new fact coming to light. For example, the fact that man is a living organism. What alleged new fact could possibly challenge this? Blank out. Or consider the fact that man requires values in order to live, including food and water. What alleged new fact could possibly challenge this? Blank out. Or how about the fact that man’s consciousness is capable of acquiring and retaining knowledge in conceptual form? What alleged new fact could possibly challenge this? Blank out. There are more facts, such as the fact that man must act in order to acquire those values which his life requires, that man can procreate, that man must use symbols in order to communicate abstract ideas to other men, that man can achieve his goals if he uses his mind properly, etc. What alleged new fact could possibly challenge any of these items of knowledge? Blank out. Then there are facts which are now in the past, such as the facts that I was born into a family with three older siblings, that my father was a businessman, that my mother was at one time a school teacher, that one of my sisters was involved in a harrowing car accident in 1980, that my other sister graduated from UCLA, that I have traveled in Asia, etc. Navel-gazers can delight themselves with concocting “possible world” scenarios in which some imagined fact comes along and topples all of these actual facts, but I’ll gladly pit reality against their imagination any day of the week.
P1a. If no one perceives everything that exists, then no one can perceive anything that exists.P2a. Only God could perceive everything that exists.P3a. We perceive some things.Ca: Therefore, God exists.
P1b. If no one has awareness of everything that exists, then no one can have awareness of anything that exists.P2b. Only God could have awareness of everything that exists.P3b. We have awareness of some things.Cb. Therefore, God exists.
For those who do not see the inherent circularity here, think of it this way: the argument clearly grants legitimacy to the notion ‘God’ when in fact this is the very thing the apologist is essentially called to defend. He’s assuming what he needs to prove in the first place and what the Objectivist critique calls squarely into question. Where did he get the notion ‘God’ and to what does it refer? How does he validate this notion? What method of validation does he use to ensure that what he calls “God” is not a notion that’s intermingled with the product of imagination? By what means can a human being, given the nature of his consciousness, have awareness of what the believer calls “God,” and how can we be certain that the believer’s own imagination is not playing a functional role here? The apologist’s beloved argument nowhere comes close to acknowledging these concerns as legitimate issues of inquiry, let alone addressing them. And yet, since human beings do have the capacity to imagine whatever they choose as something that “transcends” the reality we perceive and the experience we enjoy firsthand, the intrusion of imagination into these matters is something from which the apologist, given his outward expressions for concern for truth, would, one would think, seek to safeguard his argument. But he doesn’t!