Apologetics to the Glory of God

An Informal Introduction to Covenantal Apologetics: Part 18 – Starting point of knowledge.

By C.L. Bolt

If we are going to be able to think about anything at all then we have to start somewhere. The question becomes where we should start in an epistemology and why we should start there. When we speak of an epistemology we are mostly speaking of a structure or program explaining what we can know and how we can know it. If we do not know where to begin with an epistemology then we do not know how to answer the challenge of skepticism that we discussed in the previous part of this introduction. Without a solid starting point for knowledge or thinking we might ask ourselves whether we can know or think anything intelligibly at all.

There are some things we must believe before we are able to make sense of anything at all. Everyone has things that he or she thinks are true. For example, you may think that there is a computer in front of you right now. Maybe you are not on a computer, but access the Internet through some other mobile device. You may even be reading this after having printed it. None of that matters. The point is that you believe you are reading this right now. If I were to ask you about why you believe this, you would appeal to something else to explain your belief. Perhaps you would mention that you see the text in front of you. If you were pressed further, you might mention that you believe you see the text because you trust your senses to be reliable. You may be pushed for a further response and say that you think your mind is able to correctly interpret what your senses are telling it.

So, if I were to ask you about C, you would appeal to B. If I wanted to know why you believed B, then you would appeal to A. This could go on for a long time, but it cannot go on forever. Everyone has to stop somewhere. Eventually you will reach your highest authority and be unable to go any further back. There is always a highest court of appeals.

Some people take their highest court to be their own reason; their thought processes are said to be the final authority. Why do these people take reason to be their highest authority? Is it because their reason tells them to? This, of course, is circular reasoning. This final authority, or highest court of appeals, is accepted on faith.

Some people take their highest authority to be the senses. If the highest court of appeals is the senses, then there is nothing else to appeal to higher than the senses. The reliability of the senses will have to be accepted on faith.

The same holds true for every final authority. There are some things we have to believe before we can make sense of anything else. Some people accept their reasoning on faith. Some people accept their senses on faith. There are other positions as well.

As Christians we take as our presupposition the truth that God has revealed Himself to us through the Christ of Scripture. From this faith commitment we are able to derive an entire system of knowing other things. We are not just limited to what can be known in Scripture, but rather are able to take the principles taught in Scripture as a basis for knowing everything else we are able to know as well.

It is worthwhile to point out that some things must be believed before anything can be thought or known, but it is not correct to think that the Christian does this in the same way as the unbeliever. The skeptic is going to point out that the highest court of appeals for the person who accepts reason or the senses on faith is not really reason or the senses at all. Rather, the unbeliever is placing an irrational, or at any rate non-rational blind trust in some arbitrarily chosen structure or tool of alleged knowledge. If the unbeliever is going to make a leap of faith from the very beginning of attempting to answer the skeptic, then the unbeliever places his or whole entire program in the care of an empty faith. There is no reason for placing faith in one starting place rather than another. The whole resulting epistemology is arbitrary since the starting point is arbitrary. There is also inconsistency between supposedly taking something to be the starting place according to reason, evidence, etc. and yet holding onto that starting place by faith. Again, an arbitrary, blind, empty faith becomes the true starting point for the unbeliever and the basis for every other thought and knowledge claim.

Meanwhile the Christian accepts faith as a reasonable and justifiable starting point for knowledge. The faith of the Christian is not arbitrary, blind, or empty, but placed in God and His revelation because of the authoritative nature of the God who speaks it. Denying this starting point results in futility of thought as can be shown by direct appeal to Scripture and through the illustration of the impossibility of the contrary. There is content to the Christian’s starting point of faith, and faith is in no way inconsistent with the claims of the Christian worldview, but rather a welcome part of it as a starting place for knowledge and thought. The non-Christian simply cannot say this, and so finding and explaining a starting point for knowledge in an effort to answer the skeptic becomes a serious problem in and of itself.

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