Partial Knowledge Can Still Be True Knowledge

Stand to Reason Blog, 10 Dec 2010

Sometimes, when arguing that the universe requires a self-existent first cause, I’m told by Christians that I ought not argue the way Aristotle did because his god, the Unmoved Mover, was an idol and not the true God.

Here are some words from R.C. Sproul responding to this charge (transcribed from Sproul’s lecture, “God of the Bible vs. God of Philosophy“):

What I hear from people objecting to our labors to construct the self-existent, eternal being is that that only gets us to the First Cause, and to the God of the philosophers, and it doesn’t get us to the God of the Bible, therefore the approach is false, and what we come out with is false because it is not the complete picture. It’s only a partial picture of the true God.

Now, the question is this: Do we have to have a comprehensive knowledge of God in order to have true knowledge of God?…If indeed we would have to have a total, comprehensive picture of God in order to have a true understanding of God, then this would only mean…that we have no true knowledge of God. Because we certainly don’t have a comprehensive knowledge of God. In other words, what I’m saying is, even if our knowledge of God is partial, that does not mean that it’s untrue. It is true as far as it goes, and even though we grant that what we’ve achieved so far in our reasoning process is only to get to a self-existent, eternal being, that that certainly is part of what the Bible reveals to us about the character of God. Because whatever else the Bible reveals about the nature of God, the Bible certainly teaches that He is eternal, that He is self-existent, and He is the One who is the Creator of all things.

Now at that point, Aristotle says “yea, and amen.” Is Aristotle wrong? No. And the fact that a pagan philosopher agrees that there has to be a self-existent, eternal being does not vitiate the truth of the Christian claim. In fact, it agrees with it. And we’re saying, yes, we agree with Aristotle in the sense that there has to be a first cause, and that that first cause has to be self-existent, and that that first cause has to be pure actuality, and that first cause has to be pure being, and that that first cause has to be eternal. We say, thank you very much, Aristotle–you agree with us, we agree with you, on this cardinal point, which is only a partial point of our knowledge of God. But it is a crucial portion of our knowledge of God because, ladies and gentlemen, it is precisely this aspect of the Christian understanding of God that is constantly under attack by atheistic systems of thought…And so I think there’s great value in establishing that not only faith but reason, as well, demonstrates the logical necessity of having a self-existent, eternal being.

Posted by Amy Hall at 03:30 AM in AA:Amy, Apologetics | Permalink

4 responses to “Partial Knowledge Can Still Be True Knowledge

  1. I guess the only thing I would say is that it doesn’t matter so much what the pagans believe, whether it be true or not, for us to verbalize or to even defend our faith based upon what the Bible says about God. It says He is eternal. We should have a way to be able to verbalize that in a way that reaches our audience…at the moment. If the audience is 5 years old, the verbalization will be a bit different than if you are talking to people who are well versed in the propaganda of evolution or even non-christians with intelligent design. People who believe in intelligent design for instance will want to attribute the designer to a multitude of Gods or aliens or something and stop there. They don’t go any further. We however, should be able to go further using their own arguments in alot of cases to tell the truth about God as the uncaused first cause.

    I think of Paul, who spoke to a religious people…who told them about the Unknown God. He spoke to their level. A way that they could understand. So I would say I just don’t have a problem with being able to speak intelligently to a pagan about my christian beliefs in a way that they can understand as long as no compromise is made on my part, like agreeing with things that are not true just to make nice conversation.

    Acts 17:22-24

    22Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.

    23For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.

    24God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;


  2. Communicating at the level of the hearers is critical and Paul did it well, At the same time, we can know what God permits us to know, which is not everything. Some I talk to seem’ to want to be able to everything about God and expect us to be to explain it all, or they won’t consider Him. I think that’s just another tactic in the ‘supression of truth’ Romans speaks of.

    In my small mind, that speaks to the issue of God’s sovereignty in opening hearts and ears to hear and receive the message.


  3. “Some I talk to seem’ to want to be able to everything about God and expect us to be to explain it all, or they won’t consider Him:…

    Hey, we must be talkin’ to the same people!!! 🙂

    Definitely speaks fo God’s sovereignty.


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