The Preconditions of Knowledge

Expanding my study of Christian Epistemology I’ve started reading a number of thinkers beyond Gordon Clark, on whom I am writing a biography.  Included in my recent readings have been Cornelius Van Til and John Frame who each put emphasis on the Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God (TAG).

The TAG attempts to prove God’s existence by the impossibility of the contrary.  Specifically, they argue, the God of the Bible is a necessary precondition for intelligibility of the world.  Without God, who brings order to the world, one could not have knowledge at all.  Thus, they believe, ALL non-Christian philosophies are self-defeating.

I’m not convinced of the validity of the TAG.   Although certainly SOME non-Christian philosophies are self-contradictory, I do not know that ALL of them are.  Furthermore, proof of the TAG seems to only give us Theism and not Christianity itself.  Van Til made a further argument supporting the existence of a trinitarian God, but even if that were proven we only have trinitarian theism, not Christianity. Rather, I’m convinced to have Christianity, we must have the Bible itself.  It is the Bible, as our epistemological given, that gives us Christianity. It is the validity of the Bible, not TAG that we should start with.

But, all of this makes me think, “what are the preconditions of knowledge?”  Before I read Van Til, Frame, and others more thoroughly, I want to give a stab at what I think the answer might be.

1. Something other than the knower must exist to be known about

2. The knower must himself exist

3. A process must exist by which to distinguish truth from falsity.

4. As a corollary to 3, truth must exist.

Any philosophy that rejects one of these tenants would be self-defeating.  It would eliminate it’s own preconditions of knowledge. Certainly there are philosophies that reject 4), that truth exists.  Those can be easily rejected.  However, most all would accept 1 and 2 and claim an answer for 3.  It is 3, the process by which we distinguish truth from falsity that is really the critical question of epistemology.


About douglasdouma

I am a husband to beautiful wife, an ordained minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church - Hanover Presbytery, and founder of Sola - Appalachian Christian Retreat ( In addition to blogging at this site I am the author of The Presbyterian Philosopher - The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark (Wipf&Stock, 2017) and compiling editor of Clark and His Correspondents: Selected Letters of Gordon H. Clark (Trinity Foundation, 2017). I have a bachelor degree in mechanical engineering (University of Michigan), a master's in business administration (Wake Forest University) and a master of divinity (Sangre de Cristo Seminary). I'm an avid hiker, having completed a northbound thru-hike of the Appalachian trail in 2013 and the first 500 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2016.
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6 Responses to The Preconditions of Knowledge

  1. Josh Jackson says:

    How does Nietzsche’s “God is Dead” stack up?

    • douglasdouma says:

      I’ve read Nietzsche, but certainly am not an expert. By “God is dead” I’m assuming he means”God doesn’t exist.” For Nietzsche, since there wasn’t a God there also isn’t a lawgiver, and thus man can do whatever he wants. Nietzsche’s ethics are the proper logical conclusion of atheism.

      Christians who focus on the “preconditions of knowledge” argue that, in fact, God’s existence is a precondition to knowledge. Without God (or some other ordering, orderly, principle) there is no reason why we should think the world makes any sense at all. And if the world doesn’t make any sense, then neither does the phrase “God is dead”, or any of man’s thought for that matter, make any sense.

      • Josh Jackson says:

        I read a little about this guy…
        Rubenstein represented that radical edge of Jewish thought working through the impact of the Holocaust. In a technical sense he maintained, based on the Kabbalah, that God had “died” in creating the world. However, for modern Jewish culture he argued that the death of God occurred in Auschwitz. Although the literal death of God did not occur at this point, this was the moment in time in which humanity was awakened to the idea that a theistic god may not exist. In Rubenstein’s work, it was no longer possible to believe in an orthodox/traditional theistic god of the Abrahamic covenant. Rather, God is a historical process.

        *I don’t subscribe to these thoughts, just trying to help form the counter-arguments to the provable point we’d both like to witness!

      • douglasdouma says:

        I just find that writers like Nietzsche are writing for shock-value. I don’t think they have any strong arguments. The world just isn’t going along according to their own conception of God (that God wouldn’t allow Auschwitz) rather than the Biblical conception of God (that he punishes evil, sometimes allows evil for his own purposes, and has in general “struck a curse on the land” for man’s fall into sin).

      • Josh Jackson says:

        I’ve heard people say, “A life unexamined is a life unworthy of living.” I wonder what & where the separation of life & knowledge happens. I also wonder about the psyche of those who claim they are god!

  2. Jimmy Jose says:

    Wow… Thanks bro… This snippet is worth thinking through…. Seriously I am eagerly awaiting to read your bio on Clark, presupposing that good material for thinking as you just mentioned above and the simplicity of language with accurately describing the concept will be there…. Seriously praying that God blesses you to do well and pls do release it on kindle platform too…

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