The Christian View of Knowledge Part 4, A Brief Refutation of Kant

Could our source of knowledge be a combination of Rationalism and Empiricism (and even the Bible, as well)? Could it not be possible that we learn how to build a house from our senses, we know the law of contradiction a priori, and learn of the ontological Trinity from the Bible? This sounds plausible, it may even be what many claim to hold, yet, let us examine it. Can we take a smorgasbord view to epistemology?

Immanuel Kant attempted to combine Rationalism and Empiricism in his philosophy

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant claimed our knowledge was partly derived from sensation (what he called a posteriori ) and partly from reason (a priori). We determine a house is black with our a posteriori judgment (that is, our senses). But we cannot conclude all black houses are houses from sensation alone, making the a priori form (that is, logic) most necessary. But because Kant was no lover of religion, he also made a dichotomy between the noumenal realm and the phenomenal realm. The phenomenal realm contains the objects of our sense learning (with a priori interpretation); the noumenal realm is outside our ability to reason, according to Kant. Because God is a Being in the noumenal realm we cannot learn of Him and He cannot reveal Himself to us.

Here is the rub: How did Kant determine what were objects of the phenomenal and what were not? Perhaps a chair is an object of the noumenal and what we see is really an illusion. Perhaps God is indeed within the phenomenal realm though we cannot see Him. This may seem silly to some, but on what basis? Why should I arbitrarily assent to Kant’s categories (or any one’s for that matter) and not my own? Why could I not assert a chair should belong in the phenomenal realm and God in the noumenal or perhaps even create a third realm where Kant dwells, and consequently, cannot communicate to us. This is no less arbitrary that Kant’s formulation; only less accepted, yet it’s still equally plausible.

Kant rejected the Christian view of man as created in the image of God with the ability to think God’s thoughts after Him, to know the Mind of God, and thus to think rationally about the world around us. Because of this, Kant, as Dr. Robert Reymond points out, “can provide no valid reasons why such a pre-established harmony exists. For if as he contends, knowledge is exclusively a joint product of forms and perceptions, he cannot explain how it is possible to acquire valid information about the categories which for him are purely mental”[1]

The problem with Kant’s arguments and any argument wishing to combine empiricism and rationalism is that you cannot put anything within a category without first having an idea of categorization. I may say a chair belongs in the category of empiricism because I see it, but I’ve already presupposed empiricism by saying that. Similarly, I could say the laws of Logic are innate in every man, but do I not reason this way because I cannot see how they are observed, concluding because I cannot sense them they must be innate, again presupposing empiricism. Any category will be found to have this problem; we have our way of thinking and we form a philosophy around that, or adopt someone else’s and think according to it (as it suits us). It is as the Scripture says: “we have turned every one to his own way,” (Isa 53:6) and, “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes.” (Prov 21:2)

– Ben Murch

Endnotes:

[1] Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 115

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