Why Christians Should Shun Epistemological Autonomy

Something about professing Christians willingly espousing epistemological autonomy has always irked me. I always wonder what the motivation is for adopting such a stance. A few things come to mind. However, I believe such a view is always borne out of a faulty view of God. Professing Christians may say things like “God is necessary for knowledge because without Him we wouldn’t exist; however, we don’t need to know God to know things”. It seems to me that Christians that take such a stance either have not appreciated the interdependence of epistemology and metaphysics, leading them to understand the metaphysical implications of an autonomous view of epistemology, or they have such a low view of God that they do not care about such metaphysical consequences. 

It should be noted that intellectual autonomy and epistemological autonomy are two different things. Intellectual autonomy is simply thinking for one’s self. Everyone human has intellectual autonomy and should strive towards it. Epistemological autonomy, however, is different. Epistemological autonomy is the view that knowledge of the world is possible without reference to the revelation and providence of the triune God of Scripture. Epistemological autonomy holds that we need not take God into consideration when constructing an epistemology and that man is self-sufficient when it comes to gaining knowledge. 


What Christians who take such a stance have failed to realize is that a self-sufficient God and self-sufficient man cannot co-exist. Either one submits to the self-sufficiency of the other, or the self-sufficiency of both is destroyed. This is where the failure to understand the interdependence of metaphysics and epistemology shows up. Perhaps the Christians who hold to the self-sufficiency of man in epistemology do not think it is a problem because it does not affect the metaphysical self-sufficiency of God. But it does.


If man’s mind is self-sufficient when it comes to knowing reality then it follows that God’s interpretation of reality is not authoritative. If God has authoritatively and comprehensively interpreted reality as a whole, then man must consult God’s system of knowledge in order to properly interpret and know the facts. If man is autonomous and can know reality without consulting God’s system, it follows that God and man approach knowledge in exactly the same way. They are on level playing field, so to speak, when it comes to knowing. Neither one can speak authoritatively to the other. This essentially destroys the Creator/creature distinction. God’s knowledge may be larger in scope and quantity, but ultimately God must gain knowledge the same way man does—by “synthesis”, looking outside Himself and into the facts. God’s knowledge ceases to be constructive. 


This destroys God’s aseity. God is no longer self-sufficient or self-contained. He is on the same metaphysical plane as man and is engulfed by a Reality that is greater than Himself. God essentially becomes like a mentor, teacher, or expert. He may know things we don’t, but only because He has discovered them from a world of facts that is independent of both of us. This is not the God of Bible who’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts. By holding to epistemological autonomy we get a God who must learn. His learning may be timeless, or he may be able to learn everything, but he must still learn. He must do so because the world of facts is independent of him. More precisely, the instantiation of facts are logically prior to God’s knowledge. 


In the end, one must make a choice—a self-sufficient man or a self-sufficient God. If one is to hold to what Scripture teaches, I think the choice is obvious.

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