A Valid Epistemology - RR101E10

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Professor: Rushdoony, Dr. R. J.
Title: A Valid Epistemology
Course: Course - Epistemology
Subject: Subject:Philosophy
Lesson#: 10
Length: 0:29:20
TapeCode: RR101E10
Audio: Chalcedon Archive
Transcript: .docx Format

This transcript is unedited. It was:
Archived by the Mt. Olive Tape Library
Digitized, transcribed, and published by Christ Rules
Posted by with permission.

[Rushdoony] Serve Thee in time, and to live with Thee forever more in eternity. We thank Thee our Father, that our days are numbered by Thy grace and by Thy providential care. And so we thank Thee for our time together, for one another, and for our common faith and our joy in Thee. This is Thy doing in our lives and we thank Thee for Thy grace. Bless us and prosper us in Thy service, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

For a limited time this afternoon, we shall tie a few things together and make a few concluding observations with regard to epistemology. We dealt, the latter part of yesterday’s session, with the flight from reality. Let me add just a humorous footnote to that, there is a story (how true it is we don’t know) from Chinese history concerning a main emperor. And what one part of his realm, there was a river known as “the wild one”, which was consistently leading to trouble because every winter and spring there were very, very heavy floods in the area. And it was proposed that they have a flood prevention program with various dams and dikes. But the emperor, who was a relativist, and for whom the outward world was not very real, he was a product of the epistemology of the day, came up with a far better idea and proceeded with his solution. He said, let us change the name of the river from “the wild one” to “the peaceful one”, and so it was done. This very often is the way modern man operates, certainly in our politics we pass laws just as this emperor changed the name of the river, thinking that by an act on the statute books, we will alter reality. [00:03:11]

Of course, Christian epistemology does not annihilate...[edit]

Of course, Christian epistemology does not annihilate intelligence, nor human experience, and it is this that is one of the telling aspects of a Christian epistemology. We have seen, in the past two weeks, that the epistemology of modern man does annihilate intelligence, it does render invalid human experience, it cannot account for the ordinary aspects of man’s being. One of the significant facts in recent years is that historians have increasingly been denying that there can be any logic to history, and as a result, they are destroying the writing of history. I may have cited the statement of a historian at a major Western university who a couple years ago, came to class at the beginning of semester in the fall. It was a large class because it was a required course for all students, and he began by saying as a radical modern, there is no such thing as history. The idea of history; a plan, a purpose, a sequence of meaningful events, was a myth. And so the first thing one would have to understand as they approached the subject of history was that it did not exist; that there is no plan, no pattern in the events of man’s life and past. But, he says, since the board of regents of the University of California are paying me a relatively good salary to teach you history, we will proceed now with our history course. With that kind of mentality, you can see why you have had what you have had in recent years; the student revolution, its flight from reality further, the dropout mentality. And while that aspect of it is over, the sense of meaninglessness and despair has only increased. The epistemology of modern man has annihilated intelligence and human experience. And so, you have the call by some historians now that epistemology concern itself with the problem of history, and try to rehabilitate the possibility of history. A very interesting book in this area, which is definitely non-Christian, but very worthwhile, is Fisher’s Historical Fallacies. The fact that some churchman unfortunately try to begin on alien presuppositions, makes the position of the church all the more tragic. Because they, in abandoning the basic presuppositions of Christian orthodoxy, are surrendering the faith. Two ultimates cannot coexist, and if you abandon as your ultimate the sovereign God and His infallible Word, and try in any respect to begin in terms of autonomous man, you will (because no man can serve two masters) ultimately find yourself in the enemy’s camp. Thus, when these inconsistent churchmen have introduced autonomous man into their doctrines, they have effectually eliminated God. As Van Til has written, and I quote, “Basic to the doctrines of orthodoxy is its conception of the absolute personal God. For Brunner, however, the idea of an absolute God is and must be nothing but a limiting conception. ‘For our knowledge, the Absolute is no more — though also no less — than a necessary limiting conception.’” Unquote. [00:08:17]

The statement from Brunner about God being a limiting...[edit]

The statement from Brunner about God being a limiting concept is from his The Philosophy of Religion. But when man, as autonomous man, approaches the world, he ultimately dwells in an empty and meaningless universe, as we have seen. Spengler saw this, and in his book The Decline of the West, he wrote, and I quote, “The individual may act morally or immorally, may do good or evil with respect to the primary feeling of his culture, but the theory of his actions is not a result but a datum. Each culture possesses its own standards, the validity of which begins and ends with it. There is no general morale of humanity.” Unquote. So that, for Spengler, there is ultimately no right and wrong, no truth and error, and about all he can do with history as he approaches it, is to classify it, not in terms of some objective reality, but the idea of reality that men have had. So in terms of these ideas of reality that men have had, he says, there has been this kind of trend, this kind of trend, but none of these of course have any reality. But in Christian epistemology, man lives by the absolute, the infallible Word of God. God is not proven, but is the ground of proof, and we approach all reality and are able to prove all things in terms of the Word of God, in terms of the fact that there is a God. As Van Til says, we do not go to the Bible instead of Africa, but we go to Africa with the presuppositions of the Bible in our hand, in our mind, and we are thus able to understand reality and study the animal world, for example, in terms of the fact that there is a God-given order, a God-given structure, so that facts have their meaning because God has created all things and undergirds all things. This Christian approach, for those of you who have a background of philosophy, is not a priori, nor a posteriori, because both approaches have to deal with the world of time, that you are examining before or after in terms of the something derived from this world. The Christian approach is theistic, it is transcendental argument. It demands that all foundations be examined in terms of God and His Word. Christian epistemology says that there is no neutrality, that all men as they approach facts approach them either as covenant keepers or covenant breakers. Either in terms of the fact that God created all things or in terms of the fact that autonomous man lives in a world of brute factuality; there can be no neutrality. It is a significant fact that in the modern world, two philosophies deny the idea of neutrality. They were Marxism and Nazism. They denied it, but they did not replace it with anything. They came to recognize very clearly in their thinking that man’s claim to be objective and for him to have a neutral position with regard to anything in this world, was an impossibility. But they could not substitute for it, anything that was tenable and valid. They could not give the world a meaning. All they could say is that man is not neutral with regard to this world of brute factuality. So they have, in a sense, aggravated man’s problem while they have recognized the fact that man is never neutral. Then again, from the standpoint of Christian epistemology, there is no priority of time to eternity, again the doctrine of creation undergirds our epistemology, then again the doctrine of the Trinity is basic to it. I’m hurrying through some very important {?} because our time is limited and I would refer you on these questions to my book The One and the Many, where I deal with them at some length, and in the chapter on the Athenasian creed, I do deal with the significance of the Trinity, as well as in all of The One and the Many. Moreover, a Christian epistemology holds that man is at normal noetically. When he comes to knowing something, there is an abnormality that characterizes man. Just as now, because of the passage of time, I must wear glasses, because if I take my glasses off, things that are near become blurred, and I must wear glasses to correct my vision, so man, because he is a fallen creature, is noetically abnormal. And as a result, he must see all things in terms of the Word of God. The fallen man is at war with God, and only by grace will man know truly. And the redeemed man sees things now truly because he sees them in the light of God, in Thy light we shall see light, and in terms of the Word of God. [00:15:21]

We must hold, therefore, that there is a unity of the...[edit]

We must hold, therefore, that there is a unity of the intellectual and the soteriological approaches to the Triune God. Now that’s a mouthful, but let us explain it briefly. It means that man comes to God by faith, we know God, not because we sit down and say as fallen creatures {?} I’m going to seek to understand what God is about. No, we come to God by faith, through His sovereign grace. So too, when we deal with the theory of knowledge, there is not another way. Remember, as Anselm said, I do not understand that I may believe, I believe in order that I may understand. Dr. Van Til, in commenting on the unity of the intellectual and soteriological approaches to the Triune God say, “If one maintains that he can approach Christ of his own accord even if he is a sinner, he may as well say that he can approach the Father too. And if one can say that he knows what the fact of sin means without the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, he may as well say that he can know other facts without reference to God. In fact he may as well say that he can know any and every fact without reference to God. If one fact can be known without reference to God there is no good reason to hold that not all facts can be known without reference to God. When the elephant of naturalism once has his nose in the door, he will not be satisfied until he is all the way in.” Unquote. So that, this epistemology is, in terms of the Protestant principle, that just as our redemption is by faith, so our knowledge is by faith. In every area, we begin with a sovereign and His infallible Word. We are not Protestants where we are dealing with our salvation and then we abandon the Protestant Biblical presupposition in every other field. This is Romanism, and this is why the modern Arminian is ultimately implicitly Romanist in his presuppositions. For those of you who are interested in pursuing the subject of how the charismatic movement is implicitly Romanist, there is a periodical in your library, Present Truth, which has a series of articles on this subject; the implicitly Romanist position of the Jesus movement, the charismatic movement, and other such movements. The Arminian seeks to know man and the world and knowledge apart from God, and thus he attributes to man powers which belong properly only to God, and he sees the world not under God’s control, but ultimately as mans’. But nothing is independent of God, and therefore certain things follow for knowledge. To cite Van Til again on this point, “If the Persons of the Trinity are representationally exhaustive of one another, human thought is cast on representational lines too. There would in that case be no other than a completely personalistic atmosphere in which human personality could function. Accordingly, when man faced any fact whatsoever, he would ipso facto be face to face with God. It is metaphysically as well as religiously true that man must live and cannot live but Coram Deo always. Even the meeting of one finite personality with another finite personality would not be truly personal if there were an impersonal atmosphere surrounding either or both of these personalities. What makes their meeting completely personal is the fact that the personality of each and of both is surrounded by the personality of God. Hence also every personal relationship between finite persons must be mediated through the central personality of God. Hence also every personal relationship among men must be representational of God. Every act of a finite person must in the nature of the case be representational because the only alternative to this is that it should be completely impersonal. We may even say that every act of the infinite personality of God must be representational because the only alternative to it would be that it should be impersonal. The Trinity exists necessarily in the manner that it does. We have seen this is to be so because the principles of unity and diversity must be equally original. Accordingly, when we come to the question of the nature of finite personality it is not a handicap to finite personality to think of itself as related in some way to the personality of God. On the contrary, the Triune God of Scripture, the internally complete personality of God, is the very condition of its existence. A finite personality could function in none other than a completely personalistic atmosphere, and such an atmosphere can be supplied to him only if his existence depends entirely upon the exhaustive personality of God.” [00:21:37]

Now one of the consequences of the modern epistemology...[edit]

Now one of the consequences of the modern epistemology is not only that it has an impersonal universe because it has no personal God, but also that it of necessity must depersonalize all reality and ultimately man, so that the characteristic of non-Christian thought is its abstractness. If you regard human consciousness itself, as modern man does, as no more than an epiphenomena, something that is seemingly there but is not truly there, and you are going to understand man in terms of drives, and in term of stimuli and response, and if we are basically impersonal, then you will (as the behaviorists like Skinner) ultimately drop the word ‘consciousness’ and ‘mind’ out of your vocabulary. Increasingly, in more and more psychologies today, the word ‘mind’ and ‘consciousness’ is not used, in fact, it’s almost a cardinal offense ever to speak of them because their view of man abstracts personality, purpose, meaning from the universe. And today, as scientists deal with even the idea of drives, or as scientists deal with the probability concept, some of the newest studies that they are producing attack the idea of probability, not because they want to get back to an idea of causality, but because even probability suggests somewhere a Mind in the background, and they are going to abstract it totally from reality. As a result, they get a picture of reality progressively which is more and more unreal. They live in a world they cannot account for and which they must progressively deny. And thus it must be our position to confront them with the Word of God, to declare to them that their position is ultimately one of absurdity. As Van Til has said, “The kingdom of God must built upon the destruction of the enemy.” It is our purpose therefore as Christians, to unmask the impotence and the emptiness of the enemy’s position, and to confront him with the sovereign redeeming God who alone cannot only save man, but knowledge and science and every area of life, restoring to them their true meaning. Our time now is virtually up, we have just a minute or two left and if there are one or two quick questions we will try to cope with them. Yes?

[Audience member] Can you suggest a book or series of books that attack a Skinner’s basic premise, a Skinner’s response, his basic determined, psychological determined.

[Rushdoony] Skinner’s

[Audience member] Right, but I’ve been looking at {?} all kinds of holes that you’re poking here. I’m looking for something that attacks the basic flaw in {?}

[Rushdoony] Yes. I don’t know offhand what there is that has been done. I have a chapter on J.B. Watson in my Messianic Character of American Education, but I don’t remember what I said frankly, and how much I dealt with the premises of his behaviorism or its relationship to education. There is a pamphlet out by Schaffer you might check on, but there hasn’t been much done by it and something should be done because the experimentation in this area is becoming grimmer every day. It has only been in the last few years that they have told us how much they have been doing. You know Delgado of Yale has been working with actual implants, not only in the bull in Spain, which has gained attention, but it has been admitted that they have actually been working with the electrodes in the brain in mental institutions, so that they are going very far with this and there should be a serious attempt to reckon with it, but I don’t know of any.

[Audience member] It seems to me that there has been no effort to push him back {?} Schaffer didn’t {?} I can’t find, I’ve looked several places.

[Rushdoony] Yes, I don’t know of anything frankly, and it should be done, it should be done. If we can find someone who could take the time to go through the very massive volume of behaviorist literature which is around us now, it would well be worthwhile, because one of the most significant facts is this, if you go out for a job in industry today, you face a barrage of tests which are behaviorist, they’re designed and developed by Skinner. On top of that, Skinner’s ideas and his experiments are heavily financed by the federal government. So, there are people in high places who see the future, your future and mine, in terms of Skinner. Well, yes one more question.

[Audience member] You mentioned that {?} coming out?

[Rushdoony] Yes, these lectures? Yes, they will be typed out within the month, and they will be out perhaps by the end of the year or early next year, depending on how soon the printer will get them out, and I can give you the title if you want to watch for it, because I think I have it here. Yes, the title will be The Word of Flux: Modern Man and the Problem of Knowledge, The Word of Flux: Modern Man and the Problem of Knowledge. Well, I must now end the class because I have a plane to catch and it won’t wait for me. So thank you very much for your very wonderful attention. I have thoroughly enjoyed being with you these past two weeks.

[End of Tape]