Human Autonomy & The Nature of Truth

What is truth? It is a question which bears unparalleled philosophical implications and one which has spanned the centuries of human thought and intellectual endeavor. Scripture tells of Pontius Pilate asking this same philosophical question before the crucifixion (John 18:38). Can one know truth? Is it absolute? A critical analysis reveals its nature and relation to biblical apologetics.

Skepticism is the prevailing view of Western Philosophy. The basis of skepticism rests upon two principles (1):
  1. "There is no such thing as certainty in human knowledge."
  2. "All human knowledge is only probably true, that is, true most of the time, or not true."
Though modern academia and prevalent societal thought pretends (intentionally or not) that skepticism is a relatively new and sophisticated epistemological system of thought, it actually originates in fourth century B.C. Greece (and most likely well before that). Many religions rely on such a relativistic view of knowledge and truth (Buddhism for example). Evolutionists claim that morality is determined by the culture one lives in, and that the nature and reality of ethics can be perceived and implemented at the discretion of the individual as he/she sees fit.

Such perception of knowledge and truth is in sharp contrast with the Christian worldview. The Christian worldview asserts that there is absolute truth, and that "the truth will set you free" (John 8:32). Rather than the belief that man cannot ultimately know anything, Christianity teaches that there is absolute truth and absolute knowledge. God is the sustainer of all, upholder of His Creation (i.e. Colossians 1:17). Through supernatural and natural revelation, we can understand and examine the world because of his direct influence in sustaining the universe.

According to skepticism, then, man can no nothing. Knowledge is impossible, truth is unknowable, existence non-meaningful, and reason irrational. Christianity, in contrast, shows that knowledge is possible, that absolute truth is within one's grasp, existence is meaningful since God exists, and reason is rational because we are created in the image of the utmost-rational God. It can thus be concluded that for the unbelieving "skeptic", their worldview is one of ultimate irrationality, whereas the Christian's is one of ultimate rationality.

Christian apologist Cornelius Van Til's "two-circle" diagram (see here) is one of the most simple (yet inherently complex) analogies of the conflict of worldviews ever crafted. According to John Frame, one of Van Til's students:

"Van Til ... always taught that a Christian worldview should be represented by two circles (for Creator and creature), clearly distinct from one another, with the larger one (representing God) on top. One circle alone referred to the non-Christian worldview, in which man and God (if he exists) are on the same level, part of one reality." (2)

The two-circled illustration represents the Christian belief in an absolute, ultra-rational Creator - one who is the source of absolute morality, science, existence, contingencies, abstract and physical - all that is real and perceived real, thought and non-thought. All facts, laws, universals, and aspects of being are derived from God, defined by God, and exist because of God - without Him, they are nothing. Man, the creature, is created in the image of God (i.e. Genesis 1:26) and can reflect the Creator finitely (that is, on a creaturely level) in all aspects of his existence. He is like God, but not God. In His image, but not of His self. When man appeals to that which he does not know, he appeals to the One greater than Himself: God. His Faith is in God, which is the ultimate rationality. Man is to, as Van Til and Greg Bahnsen commonly say, think God's thoughts after Him.

The single-circled illustration represents the non-Believer belief that the creature is on par with the Creator - that is, if such a supreme exists - and is of and sustains itself. The standard for morality, science, existence, and rationality is subjective and relative - its origins reside in itself for their definitions. Reason increased man's knowledge, which is the non-Believer's ultimate appeal to that of the unknown. The non-Believer's faith for the mystery of existence lies in the ultimate non-rationality. For the non-Christian, science, morality, philosophy, reason, and even the perceived self can and will substitute for God.

The difference between the Christian and the non-Christian worldviews is radical in their opposition: the Christian worldview is on of ultimate rationality; the unbelieving worldview is one of ultimate irrationality. This antithesis is both significant and unavoidable by their very natures. According to Cornelius Van Til, the difference is "the most fundamental antithesis conceivable in the field of knowledge", and "[t]he very foundation of all Christian theology is removed if the concept of the ultimate rationality of God be given up" (3).

The philosopher is posed with a serious dilemma: which worldview is correct? Which accounts for our understanding of the universe and human existence? Which makes human experience intelligible? What is truth? If the philosopher answers like that of a modern skeptic, he cannot answer this question. Whatever he answers in regards to his pondering of reality cannot be known because, according to skepticism, there is no such thing as certainty in human knowledge. Ironically, he cannot even determine if his explanations for his worldview's perceptions are true, because truth is relative. At best, the philosopher's conclusions are merely subjectively true, true to him at least. The philosopher's worldview contradicts and refutes itself on the basis of its own premises. It is clear that, if his worldview is true, it is impossible to know anything, and even that is only somewhat (or relatively) true.

The Christian has no such problem of accounting for reality. The Christian's perception of universals, laws, morality, uniformity, past and future contingencies, reliability of the senses, human knowledge, and truth can be verified by his Faith in the ultimate rationality: God. God is the source of all - including man's ability to reason. Man can trust that he can be rational and perceive truth because God is rational and absolutely true. Subjectivism is replaced with objectivism, relativism with absolutism, skepticism with rationalism. Instead of appealing to a faith in reason, the Christian appeals to a faith in the Creator. The difference between the two is paramount.

As Greg Bahnsen, Christian apologist, says, "The Christian worldview is true because of the impossibility of the contrary" (4). If the unbeliever's worldview is correct, it would be impossible to know anything. But we do know something. The very fact that one can ponder these epistemological and metaphysical questions shows that knowledge can be attained (or at least pursued). The non-Believer presupposes the Christian standard of rationality to account for his/her worldview. It is epistemological trespassing, worldview hijacking, and philosophical theft. But, from a biblical perspective, such makes sense. The Apostle Paul tells us that all have knowledge of the Creator and are suppressing the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18-32).

And yet the prevalent philosophy of modern thought is that of skepticism. Man is running away from God, not towards Him. As Christians, we are called to be apologists, defenders of the Faith (i.e. 1 Peter 3:15). God calls the world's wisdom "foolishness" (1 Corinthians 3:19-20) and to beware of "philosophy", "vain deceit", and "traditions of men" (Colossians 2:8). The Christian is to wear the armor of God (i.e. Ephesians 6:10-18), taking every thought captive and bringing it to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

It is clear that the Christian worldview and the non-Christian worldview are opposite to each other at nearly every fundamental point. Their epistemological approaches differ right at their foundations: God's Word or Man's Reason. Human autonomy, that is man's philosophically rebellious independence from God, fails in all respects to make sense of its own existence. Claiming to be wise, the non-Christian is a "fool" (i.e. Romans 1:22; Psalm 14:1). The non-Christian is without excuse, and it is a willful rejection and suppression of the truth that is the cause of such inconsistency (i.e Romans 1:18). Creation is bares the fingerprints of God - His revelation is delivered to man both naturally and supernaturally. This reveals that such rejection of God's Word and sovereignty is a conscious moral choice, and thus a sin. The Christian must be a light in this fallen world (i.e. Matthew 5:14), the salt of the earth (i.e. Luke 14:34), not of the world (i.e. Romans 12:2), and stand upright by the strength of God for the defense of the Faith (i.e. Jude 1:3). But the Christian must never forget his role during his apologetic. As Greg Bahnsen once said (quoted loosely and not cited): "It is not our job to change people's hearts - that's the Holy Spirit's. It's our job to close their mouths."

What is truth? Jesus Christ: the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). Absolute. Objective. Authentic.


1) Hooker, Richard. "Skepticism". Washington State University. 14 Jul. 1999. Online. Accessed 17 May 2011.
2) Frame, John, Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought.
Qtd. from: Warren, Michael H. "Van Til Diagrammed". Christian Civilization. 22 Nov. 2009. Online. Accessed 17 May 2011.
3) Van Til, Cornelius, An Introduction to Systematic Theology.
Qtd. from: Ibid (#2).
4) Bahnsen, Greg, The Heart of the Matter.
Qtd. from: "The Impossibility of the Contrary". Truth for Homer. 30 Mar. 2010. Online. Accessed 17 May 2011.


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Comment by Tony J. Bowe on June 3, 2011 at 5:08pm
Buddy - Precisely. The worldview of "skepticism" is self-contradictory. As Dr. Van Til put it, it truly is, like all other non-Christian worldviews, a worldview of irrationality. As you pointed out, the skeptic "certainty" principle of "no certainties" is assuming the very thing which their worldview cannot account for (and the biblical worldview can) - the ability to know anything. It truly is worldview hijacking - epistemological theft.
Comment by Buddy Helms on June 3, 2011 at 1:39pm
This is a principle?  "There is no such thing as certainty in human knowledge."  Here is the wisdom of man.  This is a self-negating statement.  Are they certain of this?  How can they claim to offer a certainty, when they state that there is no such thing as certainty?  Does one plus one not always equal two?  Skepticism is a philosophical view that there basically are no answers.  It's like Grandma Ivy sitting in her rocking chair in "Pure Country" saying, "There are no answers, only the search."

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