God, Revelation & Authority Vol. 1, Chapter 18

Posted: February 26, 2011 in Uncategorized

Henry continues to unpack the philosophical idea of apriorism, (i.e., that something can be known without experiencing it), as opposed to empiricism, which insists that nothing can be said to be true unless it is tested by a scientific method.  Such a debate may seem to be nothing but an academic exercise for nerds like me but such is not the case. 

Recently, some of the new atheists have argued that philosophy is a waste of time and that science is everything.  In other word, they are arguing for empiricism over and against apriorism.  These new atheists argue that unless you can subject the hypothesis of god to a lab test than any talk about the divine is pure nonsense.  Do you now see why this debate is timely and important?

But all this begs the question of which approach to apriorism because there isn’t just one.  As Henry laid out in the last chapter, there are three general possibilities: the philosophical transcendent, the theological transcendent and the philosophical transcendental.  In chapter 18, Henry begins to analyze the first of these three options.

Philosophical transcendent apriorism dates back at least to Plato.  The great Greek thinker rejected empiricism because he didn’t believe experience could produce a uniform definition of justice, beauty, etc.  Plato built his apriorism on 2 foundations–there exists a supernatural mind and we have vague recollection of a previous existence in which our souls lived in communion with this mind. 

Henry argues the one of many problems with Plato’s theory is that it doesn’t leave room for a sufficient doctrine of sin. Yet, despite its weaknesses, Plato’s philosophical approach to apriorism has been very influential even touching the great Christian scholar Anselm.

Anselm was, of course, the father of the ontological argument.  Anselm reasoned that, if such a being fails to exist, then a greater being—namely, a being than which no greater can be conceived, and which exists—can be conceived. But this would be absurd: nothing can be greater than a being than which no greater can be conceived. So a being than which no greater can be conceived—i.e., God—exists.

If you don’t get it just take a few more runs through it and eventually it will hit home.  I didn’t get it first time either. 

The important point is that, like Plato, Anselm believes that there is something within us apart from Scripture that can lead us to the divine.  Henry argues that the reason this is philosophical apriorism rather than theological apriorism is that one cannot tell where general revelation ends and special revelation begins.  Such a universal idea dilutes the necessity of Scripture and therefore is a weakness. 

More on philosophical apriorism as we hit chapter 19 this weekend.  Stay tuned.

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