10 Reasons to Reject Scripturalism – Response Part 4 of 10

By C.Jay Engel and Luke Miner

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.

Objection 4

The internalist constraint on knowledge is in conflict with Scripturalism and yet is regularly employed by Scripturalists in arguments against non-Christians. The internalist constraint on knowledge – that is, the idea that someone must know how he knows p or that he knows p, in order to know p – is neither a proposition of Scripture nor validly deducible from propositions of Scripture. Although Scripturalists ought to reject this non-revelational epistemological principle on the basis of their Scripturalism, they regularly employ it to argue that no one can have knowledge apart from assuming the Christian worldview. (That is, they believe that failure to answer: How do you know that? is sufficient to defeat non-Christian claims and challenges on a variety of topics.)



While we have no doubt that there are Scripturalists who believe that we must know how we know something in order to know it, we do not think this is what most Scripturalists believe.  So, this objection does not strictly apply to many of us.  Moreover, all presuppositionalism, not just Clarkian presuppositionalism, operates on the assumption that some propositions must be presupposed, taken as axioms, taken as starting points.  For known axioms, it is impossible to justify that we know them, for as soon as we justify these axioms, they become non-axioms by definition.


What differentiates true belief from knowledge is some sort of justification or account.  From this, one might leap to the conclusion that to have knowledge, one must be able to personally provide such an account.  This is a leap.  A belief may be justified because it was obtained through a process guaranteed to exclude error.  The belief may be justified while the believer is totally unaware of its justification.

Scripturalists believe that much of our knowledge comes from the illumination of the Holy Spirit through the reading of, meditating on, and preaching of the Scriptures.  If the Spirit reveals a proposition to my mind, I know it.  I have acquired this belief through an infallible method.  However, I may not know that I did. I may not even know why I believe it.  Who can prove that the Spirit illuminated them?  Hardly anybody.

Another method by which Scripturalists believe knowledge may be obtained is by deduction from known premises.  Even here it is not clear that the Scripturalist may know that he knows something.  If one knows that David was a king of Israel and that Absalom was his son, he may deduce the proposition:  Absalom was the son of a king of Israel.  If he has deduced this validly and if his premises were known, he has added to his knowledge.  But can he know that he has deduced this validly?  It is not at all clear that he can.  But, if he can, then we might ask him how he knows he knows he deduced this validly ad infinitum.

This “knowing that you know” is sometimes called certainty.  That certainty of knowledge is required for knowledge is not the view of all Scripturalists.  This may be proven by quoting a prominent Scripturalist when the question was put to him.

Q: Ok, my problem is that if, it seems to me that if you’re going to be uncertain of something then you’re a skeptic. So unless you’re saying that we all must be skeptics, and if I understand your writings correctly, it is only in the system of faith that has come out of the Reformation, or the Scriptures, that we have any certainty that we can have certainty of knowledge, that we can know truth.

Gordon Clark:  You said two things. One of which I sorta agree with and the other I don’t. As I just finished saying, certainty doesn’t impress me. Because, as I say, I just used a facetious example, but you can think of all sorts of examples of people being certain of the most ridiculous things. But as a matter of truth, that is quite different. I am interested in truth, I am not interested in certainty. That is just a psychological quirk. And furthermore, as I have said, the problem of apologetics is to present a detailed system of truth. So that it all fits together. I don’t say that a person can achieve this perfectly. I’m quite well aware of that. We all make mistakes. But our aim is to produce an intelligible system. And this requires axiomatization in my opinion. And the axioms themselves are the teachings of Scripture. So I would be interested in truth in the insisting on absolute unchangeable truth. But people have been certain that the moon is made of green cheese

And later in the recording

Q:  If certainty is an unimportant issue then it seems to me that your objection of skepticism [to other systems] is a meaningless objection.


Gordon Clark:  No, because skepticism is a position which says that no knowledge is possible at all.


Q: But if you can’t know that you have truth knowledge [sic], then what’s the point of it?


Gordon Clark: Because you still know the truth.


Q: But you don’t know that you know the truth. You’re not certain of it.


Gordon Clark:  Do you know that you know that you know that you know?[1]


It is certain that there are many other places in Clark’s writings and lectures where he points out the certainty is irrelevant to knowledge.  However, for this short post, let these suffice to show that the objector has misunderstood mainstream Scripturalism.







[1] A Contemporary Defense of the Bible around 1:25-1:30.  Or see the transcript here.

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  • Steve M

    The objector certainly has me beat if he knows not only every proposition of scripture, but also every possible deduction that can be made from every possible combination of those propositions. My hat is off to him if he really does know all that. That is definitely more than I know.