1. Michael Horton's The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way is a joy to read.
But a major weakness of Horton's is that he subscribes to Cornelius Van Til's theory of knowledge.
In following Van Til's theory of knowledge, Michael Horton has let pass an opportunity to clear-up some of the confusions in the doctrines of God, the Knowability of God and the Incomprehensibility of God.
The purpose of this post is to state and explain the confusions.
I will give examples in later posts.
2. There are two mutually exclusive views about the object of knowledge:
(a) The empirical intuition claims that all objects of knowledge are objects of perception.
(b) The propositional view claims that all objects of knowledge are truths or propositions, which are objects of conception.
These two views were part and parcel of the conflicts between Cornelius Van Til and Gordon H. Clark in the 1940s.
The conflict has become known as The Clark-Van Til Controversy.
Cornelius Van Til is ambiguous between these two views.
Following Van Til, Michael Horton is also ambiguous between these two views.
Gordon H. Clark believes in the propositional view of knowledge.
Following Clark, I also believe in the propositional view of knowledge.
In following Van Til, Michael Horton has let pass an opportunity to clear-up some confusions.
3. Following Gordon H. Clark, I believe:
(a) The object of knowledge is truth.
(b) All truths are propositional.
(c) Therefore, the object of knowledge is a proposition.
I believe we have perceptions.
I also believe perceptions are *sources* of knowledge.
But I do not believe perceptions are not the only sources of knowledge.
And I do not believe objects of perception are *objects* of knowledge.
All truths are propositional.
Some of our propositions might refer to or is about objects of perception, but the perception itself is not an object of knowledge.
We know truths and a perception in itself is neither true nor false, therefore an object of perception is not an object of knowledge.
But our interpretation of perceptions can be an object of knowledge.
We interpret a perception by making truth-claims about the perception.
A truth-claim is a proposition.
We have interpreted the perceptions truly or correctly if the truth-claims about the perceptions are true.
We have interpreted the perceptions falsely or incorrectly if the truth-claims about the perceptions are false.
4. Some confusions in the doctrines of God, the Knowability of God and the Incomprehensibility of God can be explained if it is assumed the confused take objects of perception as objects of knowledge.
If one takes objects of perception as objects of knowledge, then:
(a) God cannot be known directly through our perceptions of God because we cannot perceive God;
(b) The nature of God cannot be known through our perceptions of his nature because we cannot perceive the nature of God;
(c) The essence of God cannot be known through our perceptions of his essence because we cannot perceive the essence of God;
(d) God can only be known indirectly through his effects such as the effects of his actions; and
(e) God is knowable but incomprehensible becomes God is not understandable.
5. Visual perceptions are considered one of the most important modes of human perception.
The following Bible passage is paradigmatic in substantiating the claim that human beings cannot see God:
And the LORD said to Moses, "This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name." Moses said, "Please show me your glory." And he said, "I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name 'The LORD.' And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live." (Exodus 33:17-20 ESV)
6. Charles Hodge in his Systematic Theology gives a more philosophical explanation of why human beings cannot form a mental image of God:
It is not hold that God, properly speaking, can be conceived of; that is, we cannot form a mental image of God. "All conception," says Mr. Mansel, "implies imagination." To have a valid conception of a horse, he adds, we must be able "to combine" the attributes which form "the definition of the animal" into "a representative image." Conception is defined by Taylor in the same manner, as "the forming or bringing an image or idea into the mind by an effort of the will." In this sense of the word it must be admitted that the Infinite is not an object of knowledge. We cannot form an image of infinite space, or of infinite duration, or of an infinite whole. To form an image is to limit, to circumscribe. But the infinite is that which is incapable of limitation. It is admitted, therefore, that the infinite God is inconceivable. We can form no representative image of Him in our minds. ([1871-1873] 1981, 1:336)
7. Since human beings cannot form an image of God in our minds, we cannot have visual perceptions of God.
If we take objects of perception as objects of knowledge, then this implies that we cannot know God directly.
This is because we cannot form visual perceptions of God.
Although visual perception is only one mode of human perception, the conclusion is generalized to all modes of human perception: human beings cannot have any perceptions of God whatsoever.
8. Let's explain the terms "nature" and "essence".
The usual way to talk about the possession relation between an object and its properties is:
(a) An object exemplifies a property; or
(b) A property is exemplified in (or by) an object.
Other terms for "exemplify" are "instantiate" and "exhibit".
The nature of an essentialist claim is that an object necessarily or essentially possesses a property.
An object essentially possesses a property if:
(a) The object could not be the self-same object and could have lacked the property; or
(b) Under no possible circumstances could the object failed to possess the property.
9. Following Alvin Plantinga, I define the terms "nature" and "essence" thus:
(a) "The nature of an object can be thought of as a conjunctive property, including as conjuncts just those properties essential to that object." (1980, 7n1)
(a) An essence of an object is a property (or group of properties) that is essential and essentially unique to that object. (1974, 70)
10. Both nature and essence are properties.
A property is an abstract object that has neither spatial nor temporal location.
Abstract objects are objects of God's conceptual thoughts.
Since space-time comes into existence at the moment of God's creation and since God thinks before creating his creation, therefore God's thoughts have neither spatial nor temporal locations.
Therefore, as objects of God's conceptual thoughts, abstract objects too have neither spatial nor temporal locations.
Since abstract objects have neither spatial nor temporal locations, we cannot form perceptions of them through our perceptual faculty.
If all objects of knowledge are objects of perception and if we cannot perceive an abstract object, then we cannot know an abstract object.
Since a property is an abstract object, therefore we cannot know a property.
Since nature and essence are properties, therefore we cannot know nature and essence.
In particular, we cannot know either the nature of God or the essence of God.
The conclusion that we cannot know either the nature of God or the essence of God is based on the empirical intuition: the claim that all objects of knowledge are objects of perception.
11. The doctrine of the Knowability of God is the claim that it is possible to know God.
The doctrine of the Incomprehensibility of God is the claim that it is not possible to completely or exhaustively know God.
If we take objects of perception as objects of knowledge, then God cannot be comprehend in the sense that we cannot understand God.
If we cannot see God and form an image of God in our minds and if all objects of knowledge are objects of perception, then our minds is a blank with regards to God.
How can we understand what we cannot see and perceive and is a blank in our mind?
If one takes objects of perception as objects of knowledge and we cannot form an image of God in our minds, then:
(a) in the nature of the case, God is not understandable;
(b) in the nature of the case, God is incomprehensible; and
(c) in the nature of the case, God is not knowable.
Is it any wonder that those who accept the empirical intuition and reject the propositional view of knowledge have proclivities for mysticism and intuitive knowledge of God?
12. Charles Hodge is surely right when he writes in Systematic Theology:
The word, however, is often, and perhaps commonly, used in a less restricted sense. To conceive is to think. A conception is therefore a thought, and not necessarily an image. To say, therefore, that God is conceivable, in common language, is merely to say that He is thinkable. That is, that the thought (or idea) of God involves no contradiction or impossibility. We cannot think of a round squares, or that a part is equal to the whole. But we can think that God is infinite and eternal. ([1871-1873] 1981, 1:336-37)
13. The propositional view of knowledge interprets the doctrines of the Knowability and Incomprehensibility of God very differently from the empirical intuition.
If one takes truths or propositions, which are objects of conception, as objects of knowledge, then:
(a) God can be known directly through truth-claims about God;
(b) The nature of God can be (partially) known through truth-claims about his nature;
(c) The essence of God can be (partially) known through truth-claims about his essence;
(d) God can be known indirectly through truth-claims about his effects such as his actions; and
(e) God is knowable but incomprehensible means we can know some, but not all, truths about God.
Hodge, Charles. [1871-1873] 1981. Systematic Theology. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Horton, Michael. 2011. The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan.
Plantinga, Alvin. 1974. The Nature of Necessity. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
Plantinga, Alvin. 1980. Does God have a Nature? Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Marquette University Press.