The Nature of Knowledge
Knowledge of God is a rational event (Torrance 11). It is knowledge in the proper sense of the word, understanding knowledge to be a “conscious relation to an object which we recognize to be distinct from ourselves but toward which we direct our thought as something intelligible and ascertainable” (13).
Open and closed concepts:
A closed concept is something we “can reduce to clipped propositional ideas. An open concept is a reality that keeps on disclosing itself to us in such a way that it continually overflows all our statements about it” (15).
Classical mechanics is similar to closed concepts. Their field is delimited by what is perceptible. Objectivity is thus bound to a certain causal determinism (295).
Theological concepts are open-ended toward God.
We must keep knowing and being together
Three Moments in the nature of knowledge
(1) God reveals himself to us in Jesus Christ in the media of our own creaturely existence and contingency (46).
(2) Christ’s work reconciles man and delivers him from his epistemological self-enclosure and restores him to true objectivity in God.
(3) Jesus provides us full and adequate reception of the truth (50).
The Interaction of Theology with Scientific Development
Theological science has God as its object, but not God in the abstract. It deals with the heavenly father who enters into loving communion with his children (56).
Change in the doctrine of God
Medieval theology held to Aristotle’s unmoved mover. This view of impassibility led to creation being seen as only objects of the eternal knowing and willing of God. This fit in with a hierarchy of being which made it hard to deny the eternality of the world.
Nature, as a result, “was impregnated with ultimate causes” (60). You could read an eternal pattern of it. That sounds good, but it left little room for the “contingency of nature,” making modern scientific experiments difficult. As Francis Bacon pointed out, this overemphasis on final causes diminished the importance of physical causes.
Nature and Grace
The medieval world saw the nature sacramentally: we look through it to eternal realities. This means, sadly, that nature has no scientific value in itself.
Knowing the Phantasms
Medieval Roman theology saw an active and passive intellect. When I look at an object (species), I form an intelligible impression or phantasm (77). This might be inevitable to an extent, but what happens is that the phantasm forms a wall between my mind and the object.
The nature of scientific activity
Methods of Knowledge
Aristotle: science is characterized by unity and plurality (108). Problem of one and many.
Descartes: scientia universalis. Apply geometry to all other special sciences. This led to a sharp distinction between observation and thought
Husserl: epoche, disconnecting phenomena from the objet, in order to acquire clear grasp of it. It is a suspending of judgment. Does not imply Cartesian doubt.
The object of scientific theology is God in His Revelation (131). “We know only as we are known….knowledge of God entails an epistemological inversion in the order of our knowing, corresponding to the order of the divine action in revealing Himself to us.”
God as object is still “the indissoluble Subject.” “He is the Lord of our knowing even when it is we who know, so that our knowing is taken under command of the lordship of the Object, the Creator Himself. We can only follow through the determination of our knowing by the Object known who yet remains pure Subject” (131-132).
God as Subject does not dissolve into subjectivity (as we understand the term). Torrance: “The order is in the Object before it is in our minds, and therefore it is as we allow the Object to impose itself upon our minds that our knowledge of it gains coherence” (138).
The Nature of Truth
The Truth of God
Truth: the reality of things as they necessarily are, and as they ought to be known and expressed by us (142). Yet it is not purely intellectualist. We must avoid reducing truth to ideas and the reduction of truth to statements (142ff).
Truth as Personal Being. Jesus as Truth is incarnate. This Truth is in identity with the Being and Act of God (144).
Calvin: Christ is clothed in his gospel (Inst. 2.9.3). Christ does not come to us apart from his own self-revelation in word and deed (Torrance 146). Since Truth is both Being and Act, he communicates and interprets Himself.
Knowledge of God: it is given to us in this Man, Jesus, but we do not leave this Man behind when we know him in his divine nature (149).
Jesus as concrete universal: he is the eternal Son but in concrete terms (182). When we know a concrete universal, we are not beginning with abstractions, but rather “with a focal awareness of it in its own power and wholeness, aided by analogical reasoning that directs us away from symbolic formality to what is concretely real and self-evidencing” (243).
Thesis: “theological statements have a reference beyond and above themselves, and are not true in themselves but have their truth beyond them” (183). This is basically correct. A true statement about the Trinity is not the Trinity. To miss this point is to affirm nominalism. This is like Wittgenstein’s observation that we cannot produce a picture of the relation of a picture to that which is pictured” (Tractatus 4.01ff).
N.B.: “Knowledge is real only as it is in accordance with the nature of the object, but the nature of the object prescribes the mode of rationality we have to adopt towards it in our knowing” (198).
Problems of Logic
Problem: What is the relation of knowledge or speech to being (204)?
The Logic of God
The Logic of God is the eternal Logos in the flesh. Torrance: “Knowing the truth involves on our part a corresponding movement in space and time, a dynamic, living, active relationship…with the Truth increasingly, so that there can be no genuine knowing the Truth or speaking the Truth without doing the Truth” (209).
This chapter is probably the most difficult in the book. Torrance explores numerous themes in philosophy of mind, mathematics, and logic. Many of these discussions are quite fascinating, and Torrance’s grasp of the literature of mid-20th century philosophy of mind discussions is nigh encyclopedic. Unfortunately, I think he attempts too much. One point of interest, however, is his use of Godel’s incompleteness theorem.
Every system is necessarily incomplete since it contains within it propositions or sequences that are not definable from within the system. This is why mathematics must always resort to another form of rationality: that of language. We are always moving between different logical levels. For example, Aristotelian logic is workable to an extent, but it has to be transcended. Something similar is at play with the dynamic between Euclidian and non-Euclidian geometry.
There is the natural logic of everyday speech. Then there is the meta-language of symbolic logic, which then gives rise to a meta-meta-language. This top-tier language is useless for communication, but quite powerful in pursuing deductions (259).
This might be a way to save Kierkegaard’s poorly-phrased “leap of faith.” In these logical systems one must always take a “trans-logical step” (261).
Bonhoeffer’s Apollinarianism: he desired to maintain the independence of the Lordship of God as subject. Insists that knowledge of God is possible “only if God is also the subject of the knowing of revelation since, if man knew, then it was not God that he knew” (Act and Being, 92). This is Apollinarian when applied to the humanity of Christ (Torrance 292 n1).
Subject, Object, and Person
Torrance gives an illuminating account of how the concept of person has shifted over the centuries:
Patristics: he actually doesn’t define it here, but you can piece it together from his other writings.
Augustine: the person is realized in the interior of the soul.
Boethius: the person is a logically derived concept from a specific philosophy. The idea of substance is now a logical subject.
Descartes: the subject is now split off from the object and person is now self-consciousness.
More Biblical Notions of Person
Richard of St Victor: Person is ontologically derived from the Trinity. (Ironically, for all of Richard’s rejection of the Greek term hypostasis, he comes to about the same position with person being a unique entity).
Duns Scotus: Active agent, voluntary object of thought.