That’s it. R. C. Sproul is officially not a philosopher. He continues to demonstrate an inability to understand what other people are saying just because he doesn’t agree with it.
In Sproul’s rendition, Immanuel Kant taught that knowledge comes from experiences and experiences come through our senses, so that our knowledge is limited by what our senses are capable of. (I am trying to summarize the noumenal and the phenomenal; forgive my hack job.) This is the modern philosophy almost universally agrees on; the reality we talk about can only be the reality that we perceive, and all of our perceptions are subject to mistakes and errors. Therefore what we say about reality we can never say universally or absolutely, since we cannot perceive universally or absolutely.
Now Kant, according to Sproul, did not at all mean that universals or absolutes cannot exist, but that when we talk about them we must go beyond reason, that is, beyond our perceiving, thinking, and concluding. With respect to God, his existence, while real, cannot be observed through anything natural–eyes, ears, brains–if he exists as a supernatural God.
Sproul said that this contradicted the writing of the apostle Paul. (Any time someone tells you that something is simple they are probably trying to force you to accept some unjustified connections; Sproul his disagreement with Kant was a simple matter of believing the Bible.) According to Sproul, Paul (and, he says, Thomas Aquinas) teach that the supernatural God is revealed through the natural. To quote, “His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead.”
But Sproul is confusing the results with the methods. I do not deny that God is evident to all, and revealed in his own creation. But is this by logic? Do you hear the sun? Do you see the voices on the other side of the wall? Is the knowledge of God coming to us by the power of our brains?
Kant, and post-modern, relativist philosophers who have built on him, make valid critiques of human knowing. Everything that a man knows of himself comes through his senses, which are not reliable; everything that he concludes depends upon his understanding, which is not complete. Therefore man, from his own intelligence, cannot make conclusions that are absolute and true. Amen.
This does not mean that nothing is absolute and true. It does not mean that man cannot know of things that are absolute and true. It only means that if man has such knowledge, he has not got it by his own powers.
Reason requires predicates. To say “That is a car,” you must first have some idea of what a car is. We look at the Mt. Rushmore and say “Man must have done that” because of our predicate knowledge of what man can do and what can be found where man has done nothing. But what of the mountain itself–not its shaping, but the mass itself? We do not conclude that man put the mountain there so he could shape it. We reject out of hand that man had anything to do with getting the mountain there, and only conclude that he shaped it.
There are other rocks that are shaped in such a way that we think a man must have shaped them, but none did. Our conclusions can be false.
In the last year or so I have had several christian philosophers trying to convince me (via recording) of how thoroughly rational my faith is: Del Tackett, Jason Lisle, and now R. C. Sproul. They all generally seem to say such things as this: When we see a mountain we know that God must have made it. We know it was not made by a man. It could have been made by some other thing (say an extra-terrestrial alien), but then something had to make that other thing.
We have this assumption that everything has a cause because we currently see everything having a cause. The entire universe is in motion–it is, in fact, “going downhill”, and it can’t just spontaneously go up, so it must have started higher up on the “hill.” And if it just suddenly appeared there with a big bang, the question becomes: what happened to all the other bangs? The little tiny ones and the medium sized ones and all of that? If an entire cosmos can bang into existence, smaller things should be banging away all the time. (There is some evidence of this with subatomic particles, but it leaves the question of the medium-sized ones open.)
So the great conundrum is this: either the universe is not entirely consistent, because it began with a great big irregular bang but has continued in a regular fashion after that, with no more banging, or else there was something else that caused the bang. You could call that God, and you could say that something else cause him or it, but then that would be God. You could say that everything is going in some kind of cosmic circle, so when it winds down it goes bang all over again; but once more, that is not consistent with how everything we observe now works. Any one particular thing or system of things is winding down and requires outside power to re-set it.
So: the consistency of the universe was set in place by something that is not consistent with the universe.
The Christians are telling me that this is rational proof of God. But it isn’t. I agree that it is proof of God but it is not rational; there is no logical requirement to call it God nor indeed any rational basis to say anything about it. Conclusions require predicates; “That is a car” means that you know what a car looks like ahead of time. “That is God’s doing” means that you know ahead of time what God’s doing looks like.
Classically, it goes like this:
All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
We already know what a man is and we already know what mortal means, so we can understand the original argument. If we didn’t know any of those things ahead of time we would have to reduce our argument down to the basics, like this:
Not much of an argument, is it? If we have to start with the basics then we really can’t reason at all. So the Christian philosophers are saying that,
Everything in the universe has a cause.
Only God can cause the whole universe.
Therefore, the whole universe is caused by God.
But first we have to know what the universe is (which we only know through our faulty senses) and what God is. Otherwise, our argument is just
And so it must be. Immanuel Kant and the post-modernists and relativists and sinners and liberals (in descending order of vileness, of course) are all right to say that man cannot know anything universally or absolutely or rationally, and least of all God.
The Christians are still right to say that there are absolute truths and we can know them in a meaningful way and we can learn about God using reason. It just can’t start with reason; it can’t start with man.
God is not rationally consistent. He is consistent in himself, yes, but in talking about the origin of the universe we have already figured out that it is not consistent. It was not; it was. That’s not consistency. God does not fit inside of reason, even though reason fits inside of God. If you have got those Russian dolls that stack up inside each other, God is the biggest one and reason is a smaller one.
So it is not correct to say that Immanuel Kant is contradicting the Apostle Paul. He may have meant to, but saying that God is not deductible by the human mind is not necessarily the same as saying that God is not known. You don’t hear the sun, but you still know of it. God is revealed in his creation, but not altogether by your brains. It requires your spiritual organ to see him; which you have; you cannot excuse yourself by saying that your brains could not deduce God.