Michael Polanyi: Unintentional Christian Apologist and Theologian
An Introduction: Polanyi and Payne
“Science” and scientitia
Emergence and Anti-reductionism
Polanyi, as apologist
notes and directives
the Christian world of the Middle Ages (not the Dark
Ages, as some would have us believe), has become the Secular and
Scientific Age of the 20th and 21st
transition began with the Reformation, Enlightenment, and the
Renaissance—very powerful forces within Western thinking that
have now become the dominant intellectualism of the entire
How we got here is far beyond the scope of
this paper, and likely, each person in this room would have
However, the thinking of Michael Polanyi addresses several
themes of Western thinking that have at least contributed to, if
not being major causes, of this Secular and Scientific Age.
Polanyi is a champion against the Enlightenment
principles of rationalism over faith, reason over tradition, and
objectivism over subjectivism. He could be a valuable ally in
Christian apologetics and perhaps even assist in our development
and understanding of theology.
What follows here is not pure Polanyi.
It is a mixture of his thinking and mine where they are
parallel and similar.
I hope that with the Scriptures and a regenerate mind
that I am able to apply his thinking more concretely and
Born 1891, died 1976.
Born in Budapest, Hungary, to a “secular” Jewish family.
The name “Polanyi” was changed from Pollacsek early in
his life. His father
constructed much of the railroad system in Hungary until
misfortune led to bankruptcy in 1899.
And, Michael should not be confused with his older
brother, Karl, who is a world-renown political economist and
Polanyi first studied medicine, graduating in
1914. His interest,
however, shifted to physical chemistry.
At the age of twenty-one, he wrote a paper on the Third
Law of Thermo-Dynamics which his professor sent to
none-other-than Albert Einstein.
“Bang-I was created a scientist,” Polanyi said.
While serving as a physician in the
Austro-Hungarian Army in
1916, he wrote a paper on the adsorption of gases as a Ph.D.
thesis which was “over the head” of his supervising professor,
but was still awarded his degree.
He moved to Berlin in 1920, working for the
Fiber Chemistry Institute, and later at the Physical and
During this time Adolf Hitler was assimilating his power
and Jewish professors
were being ostracized and worse.
Polanyi resigned in protest and in 1933 accepted the
Chair of Physical Chemistry at Manchester in England.
“He quickly established a world-famous school of physical
chemistry, forward looking and most stimulating for those in
it.” But, here
in 13 years of teaching and research… he found himself less
and less able to live in an ivory tower of scientific study,
ever more deeply concerned about the way science relates to
the rest of life, how a free society and a true practice of
science depend upon each other, and the immense evils
springing from a false scientific outlook. “I believe,” he
said, “that the doctrines derived from our erroneous
scientific worldview have in our days shattered our culture,
casting much of the world into mindless servitude, while
afflicting the rest with mindless servitude.”
In 1946, he published the small book,
Science, Faith, and Society, and with its recognition, Manchester
established a new Chair in philosophy for him without obligation
to teach. By way of
historical note, C. S. Lewis who is a common mention in the work
of ISCA and Don Williams, even as I speak, published
That Hideous Strength
in 1945. That was 70
years ago… how far we have “progressed” in that time, failing to
heed these prophets of our modern degradation.
Polanyi went on to give the Gifford Lectures
in 1951 which became his major work,
Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (as in the “critiques” of
Kant). He continued
to lecture and write, travelling the world, spending many of his
last years in the United States, and writing a number of books
until his death in 1976.
In 1972, The Polanyi Society was formed and began
publishing Tradition and
Discovery, through which international scholars continued to
develop his work, along with periodic conferences.
Many Christians have been attracted to his
work, but most have not been evangelical or Reformed, and would
not claim inerrancy.
In fact, I may be the only overtly and historically Reformed
person who is active in that group.
I would like to change that, as I think Polanyi has much
to offer, as I have said.
While there are numerous Christians in
apologetics today, I am not convinced that we are offering our
best challenges to the secular world.
One blatant example is that we allow designations, such
as “faith-group” in the public square without protest.
If I am a person of faith, with whom am I debating?
With the two-category limitation of “faith” and “reason,”
the opposition is a “person of reason.”
By those designations, I have lost the argument before it
What does Polanyi say?
He says that science, even the so-called “hard” sciences
are based in personal faith, thus his major work,
and his book already mentioned,
Science, Faith, and Society. As
C. S. Lewis has done, Polanyi’s work is a clarion call that
positive science is a “hideous strength” against the culture and
worldview of Western Civilization and its foundations in
Biblical doctrine and
tradition. Thus, the
necessity of our conference, “Apologetics in An Increasingly
Hostile World.” How
has this “hideous strength” been allowed to progress to the
point that evangelical Christians are threatened physically and
legally by the civil government itself?
Darkness is extinguishing the light.
Satan appears to winning… or, has God just withdrawn His
favor and “given us over to our wants and desires?”
Well, as Pogo said,
“We have met the enemy
and he is us.” I
won’t repeat what I hope has been said many times at this
conference, but I will say a few things about the current state
(1) I was recently reading Bart Ehrman, who opposes much of what
we believe, but he made the observation from his many speaking
engagements that Christians were thoroughly familiar with the
Harry Potter series, yet quite superficial in their knowledge of
Scripture and theology.
(2) I saw a recent study that a large percentage of
evangelical pastors were afraid to preach on subjects that he
thought that his congregants did not want to hear?
I suspect that they did want to hear; that his fears (for
the most part) were unfounded.
estimate by Christians in philosophy is that one-third of all
philosophers in both secular and Christian colleges and
universities identify themselves as Christian.
I ask, where are their voices?
(4) As a physician, I have been involved in the study of
psychology and psychiatry for 45 years.
Most “counseling” (psychotherapy) today by Christians is
mixed with secular thinking, in spite of Biblical counseling
having been established for almost 50 years.
If you examine the degrees on most Christian campuses,
you will find the faculty who teach their courses have mostly
secular degrees and little Bible-theological training.
I could go on and on with such denials of our faith, but
that is enough for now.
Studying Polanyi could strengthen each of these areas and
more, if we choose to think through all that he has sais.
Science: the Power of Words
word, “science.” Modern discussions demonstrate the bias
that has been given to
current discussions, both common and academic.
We say “science” as short-hand for “natural science.”
While this shortening seems innocent, it masks
significant issues in epistemology.
An earlier name for natural science was natural
philosophy, even well into the 19th century.
It was a branch of philosophy, carrying all the vagaries,
speculations, and substantial disagreements of philosophy that
are well known today.
One must enter the community of philosophers of science
to see these substantial falsehoods and disagreement.
For example, The
End of Science by John Horgan is a of notable philosophers
and scientists across a broad spectrum of beliefs in natural
science and philosophy today.
Further, the word, “science” is short for the Latin,
scientia, which has a
long and more general background.
For example, the “sciences” among the Middle Age
Scholastics were medicine, law, and theology.
And, theology was
“queen of the sciences!”
Further back, Augustine of Hippo used the term
scientitia, as he
discussed his considerations of epistemology.
By an historical and grammatical reduction and sleight of
hand, natural science has replaced this broader concept of
science which had been defined as a serious and systematic study
of any subject.
By this, perhaps unintentional but nevertheless
misleading, misdirection, natural science has gained a
independent claim to knowledge and truth that is entirely and
completely unwarranted either in its philology or its definition
within a history of language and epistemology.
Initially, there was
episteme of the Greek philosophers, obviously the root of
Plato described in his divided line, a process whereby opinion (doxa)
could be advanced to faith (pistis),
then to understanding (dianoia),
and finally to truth or knowledge (episteme).
(Greek) became Latin
scientitia with the change of the universal language of the
West from Greek to Latin.
Thus, from the beginning of Western scholarship,
“science” had a much broader usage
and claim to true knowledge than is present today.
This broader application has been lost with the reduction
of “natural philosophy” to “natural science” to simply
change has given additional false credence to natural science in
today’s world. This
reduction hurts the idea of Biblical Christianity, as knowledge
and truth. This
elevation of science as the only source of knowledge is one for
Christians in scholarly pursuits to challenge and overcome.
Polanyi’s system can be of great help in this regard.
Quotes unexpectedly mentions God, Augustine often,
authority, belief (faith, fideistic), tradition, beauty,
calling, community, conversion, conviviality (fellowship),
conscience, commitment, doubt, hermeneutics, indwelling (tabernacling),
passions, meaning, understanding, mind, language and
communication, centrality of the person, foreknowledge,
religion, Christianity (only “religion” that he discusses),
truth, knowledge, and transcendence.
Tacit Knowledge and Tacit Integration
We must now recognize belief once more as the source of all
assent and intellectual passions, the sharing of an idiom
and of a cultural heritage, affiliation to a like-minded
community; such are the impulses which shape the nature of
things on which we rely for our mastery of things. No
intelligence, however critical or original, can operate
outside a fiduciary framework.
Man is made in the image of God,
imago Dei. We say that
God is three persons in one essence.
Thus, man is person created in the image of the persons
of God. Polanyi’s
system—I think that he would cringe to hear it called that—but
system is shorter than personal epistemological method, so I
will use system.
Perhaps, examples are the best introduction, rather than a
system is called tacit knowledge and the process, tacit
integration. It is
sometimes described as “from” “to,” as in from particulars to
Subconscious problem solving.
Who of us has not tried to understand or solve a problem,
only to leave its direct consideration, and as we fall asleep,
or wake up during the night, or are otherwise distracted,
suddenly find the solution?
Have you worked on a crossword puzzle, not finding a
particular word, taken a break, and when you come back,
“Voila!,” it comes to mind?
What is going on?
How can we solve problems without a direct focus on them?
What is this independence of mind that allows such a
generated images are now presented by which one presses his nose
to the picture, and as an image begins to form, can pull the
picture away and see in varying degrees of clarity, an image
that can be studied in some detail, even while roving one’s eyes
There is no conscious
effort to form the image. In fact, a conscious effort may
hinder the unconscious effort for the image to appear.
It is not really magic, but it is surely a fascinating
it is not a conscious process, other than setting boundary
Probably at this very meeting, you have met someone and said, “I
recognize you, but do not remember your name?
If I asked you how you remembered that face, I doubt that
you could tell me.
How is it that our “subconscious” mind can remember the
intricate details of a face, but not remember a simple name.
My name is two short syllables, but my face is quite
complicated, as is yours.
Yet, we recognize faces far more readily than we remember
Everyone is familiar with the subliminal nature of
advertising. Do you
know that women have never been shown drinking alcohol or
smoking a cigarette.?
If one plays a musical instrument, one isolated note at a
time, no music is forthcoming.
In fact, there is only noise, even if pitched precisely
to the vibratory frequency of the notes.
Even when notes are struck, they must have a rhythm,
cadence, volume, etc., or there is still only noise.
The human mind without working at it hears ‘music” in all
parameters within which it must exist to be called and heard as
In speaking, listening, writing, or reading, there is no
conscious focus on particular words, only on the meaning of the
words. In fact, one
may hear a formerly unknown word, get its meaning in context,
without interruption of the flow of words and meaning.
As Polanyi illustrates, if we focus on individual words,
meaning is lost, and what the one person is saying loses
a bicycle. Have
you ever thought about the intricate physics of riding a
bicycle? As a
four-year old, I learned to ride a bike that I could hardly hold
up when stationary.
I had had no physics classes or lessons on the vestibular system
and the brain that controls balance.
What is this complex system within a person that allows
learning intricate and complex skills.
Throwing and hitting a baseball, hitting a golf ball,
driving a car, becoming an accomplished pianist, etc.
Experiments have been done in which varying symbols are
presented to subjects and after one in particular, they would be
shocked. They would
anticipate the shock after the particular symbol, but
consciously they could not identify the symbols which caused
them to anticipate the shocks.
Noam Chomsky has shown that a child advances beyond his
experience in the nuance of language.
In other words, the child begins to use language in
etc. in ways which he has not experienced.
Thus, he is able to advance beyond his “learning.”
He does not “go to school for this learning; it is an
way, life, free, I, man, me, Father, comes, but… “I am the way,
the truth, and the life, no man comes to the Father but by me.”
We do not read words, we read meaning.
But, we go through this process with language.
We all know John 3:16, “For God so loved the world…”
We say that but what does it communicate?
Who, what is God?
Every time that we read those there words, we do not stop
and analyze them.
Their focal, tip of the iceberg, understanding hides a lifetime
of study and reflection.
We carry on casual, and sometimes scholarly,
conversations without reviewing all the words that we use.
Have you ever been surprised as some personal action?
A driver cuts you off in traffic?
A child breaks your concentration?
A waiter is slow in her service?
You meet someone quite familiar, and forget his name?
Or, worse, some sin just seems to spontaneously occur.
Do not you know yourself after decades of experience?.
Subconscious skills and conscious ones.
Knowing a physiognomy is subconscious.
Learning an intricate skill is at first conscious, and
Perhaps, then, the latter can help us understand Polanyi’s idea
We “screen out” unwanted noise by focusing on task at
hand, not by focusing on the noise.
Conservation, communication, talking to another.
Not attending to words, but to meaning.
If focus on a word, lose meaning.
probe (blind person) which has no feeling.
Attending from the feeling to the meaning.
Anticipation of solving a problem.
Augustine asked, “Does the teacher teach or the student
learn?” If the
student does not already know, how can he learn?
How can the scientist investigate without knowing where
he is going? In the
19th century, scientists investigated the problem of
How can a pile of hay and manure generate maggots, worms,
and other forms of life?
Were they already there or did the chemical nature of
that mixture generate living organisms?
How does not find out?
To investigate, one has to formulate possibilities.
(1) If life is already present, one has to find the
smaller forms that become larger forms.
(2) If spontaneous, one has to determine what are the
numerous conditions that allows this spontaneity.
But, the problem cannot be solved without knowing at
least one of the answers.
One cannot know unless he can predict the outcome.
The problem does not solve itself, the persons gathers
data, formulates a question, formulates the possibilities, and
formulates who to study it.
Who, what is this person that recognizes a problem and
goes about solving it.
Why is he even interested.
Hundreds and thousands of farmer never went even thought
about the situation.
What is it about the person that would make him a scientist?
Polanyi’s solution is in what he calls tacit integration—what C.
S. Peirce might call abduction.
Polanyi often uses “imagination.”
The Idea of Generic Faith
Every action that you have ever taken was done in faith.
You set your alarm clock
believing that you set it correctly, that the electricity would
still work in the morning, that you would hear it and get up,
that the clock would keep accurate time, etc.
Most of you have experienced failure set the clock
correctly, not heard it go off, had the battery fail, etc.
You had faith that I would be here, that I
would speak on the subject announced, that I could talk, that it
might be interesting, etc.
All the while, the opposite might be true.
How many have had faith in a friend, male or female, that
ended in disaster, whereas at one time you thought that the
relationship would last your lifetimes.
We think and we act hundreds of times a day,
assuming certain events will happen and that people and things
We never know for sure.
That is one
definition of faith; it is a gift of God to be able to act
without being omniscient.
Faith is the ability to make a decision and act upon it with being
That is one of my definitions.
Or, from another perspective,
faith is the means by
which knowledge becomes action.
That is, one is sufficiently “sure” or “certain” to the
extent that he or she is willing to act, to commit oneself to
the ontology of his world.
Faith transforms what is in the mind into action.
On a practical basis, one only has to know enough to
act—to make a decision in the situation.
But, let’s look more closely at the process.
(1) I make a “decision.”
(2) That decision is based upon knowledge which may be
immediate or studied, as we have seen.
(3) I have a certain expectation from that decision.
I expect my alarm clock to go off.
determines whether my expectation comes true.
Yes! My alarm
clock goes off.
More seriously, I decide to get married.
I have a certain knowledge of my future spouse.
But, there is the reality that happens.
Sometimes, the couple are “happily married” for life with
only a few bumps along the way.
Sometimes, disagreements shortly end in divorce.
Decision based upon knowledge, action, Reality.
Even more seriously.
I hear knowledge that Jesus Christ offers me salvation.
I decide that
his offer is not for me.
I go to Hell.
Decision based upon false knowledge with horrendous Reality. Or,
I decide for Jesus
Christ and go to Heaven.
Decision, knowledge reality.
Thus, an alternative
definition of faith is to
act according to immediate or studied knowledge with a certain
expectation that will be proven true by the Reality of future
Doubt and skepticism are not privileged.
Polanyi has 20 pages in his book,
demonstrating that any doubt to one’s current belief system is
merely the authority and faith-knowledge for a differing system.
Doubt and skepticism are given a privileged status in the
public square, and even in academia, but it is not more and no
less a differing opinion to one’s own.
Oftentimes, the credulity of what presents itself as
doubt comes from a weaker position of authority and knowledge
that the position that it challenges.
Emergence and Anti-reductionism
“A whole is greater than the sum of its
parts.” A machine is not the sum of its parts, but transcendent
of their particulars.
The same is more so with living cells, tissues, organs,
and the whole organism.
What is an atom without its constituent parts in
molecule. If atoms
are mostly space, how does one get hardness?
How do poisons of sodium and chloride become the
taste-enhancer of the world?
How does a cell communicate and mediate all its parts?
How does a Swiss watch with all its little wheels “tell
time?” Who could
predict the power of a three-part wheelbarrow?
God hidden in plain sight.
Emergence is the Spirit of God at work.
How is it that great powers exist in lesser
While emergence would not rank in the category of miracles,
it would rank in the area of common supernatural phenomenon.
Christians have adopted the mechanistic worldview too
easily. We need
to allow the supernatural work of God back into our world.
Beyond physical and chemical properties.
A Swiss watch has a property that is not dependent
upon its material properties.
One could examine the working parts of such a watch
and not discover what its purpose is.
The same for any machine.
Even more so for living cells, tissues, organs, and
organism. At the
pinnacle of this emergence is self-consciousness and
Persons. You are sitting
in a café, having a meal with a friend.
An acquaintance joins you.
The whole atmosphere, and in particular, the
conversations has changed.
same is true of situation.
I change with my environment: admiration of a view
from a mountaintop; reading in my cozy chair; talking with
my wife; etc., etc.
There is really no such thing as an individual—it is
always a person in relationship.
Desert island. You were
brought up by persons and educated by them.
They still affect who you are.
Then, there are those persons that you left behind.
You still influence them; they may even be looking
for you! In
addition, there is your relationship with the things on the
island with you: tools, shelter, food sources, weather,
Team sports. How is it
that some teams “jell” and others do not?
Some championship teams have not had super-stars.
And, you change one player, and the whole team
Noosphere. Coined by
Teilhard de Chardin, it is the idea of a collective mind of
the entire human race from the first thinking man to every
person who will ever live on planet earth.
Polanyi as Apologist: Unregenerate and Poor Theologian
His work is anti-Enlightenment, a rare stance
in academic discussions today.
In fact, the sub-title of his major work,
Personal Knowledge, is
Towards a Post-Critical
Philosophy, the “critical” being indentified with Kant’s
As Kant tried to make room for faith (which ultimately he did
not accomplish), Polanyi’s philosophy was centrally and fully
Polanyi, the person is his own faith-based system, even in the
so-called “hard sciences.”
This position seems to contradict what we have
all heard about the “scientific method,” which if not
infallible, certainly the
way to obtain knowledge.
Well, quite simply personal decisions are made throughout
the entire process: the
person proposes an hypothesis, the
person determines how
he will study it, the
person determines how he will study it, the
person determine what
he will measure, etc. etc.
The person or
persons make decisions at every point in the process,
including conclusions and application.
Certainly, an area of science has certain parameters to
follow, but persons
choose within those parameters.
They are acting on their faith in themselves and their
Polanyi even discusses the “calling” that scientists have.
Their work flows out of who they are as “persons with
intellectual passions” for their work.
Here is one example that Polanyi gives.
In the study of crystals his former area of expertise,
physical scientists began to see regular patterns and
structures. So, they
would throw out those that did not fit their theories.
Finally, they came to a beautiful description of 230
But, if they look to the side, there is this pile of
crystals that only partially fit their descriptions.
What they have done is ignore realities in favor of
theories—personal choices, personal beliefs, and personal faith.
as faith-based can be seen throughout the scientific
logical positivists of the 20th century claimed that
the empirical or scientific knowledge was the only knowledge
However, this proposition itself is not provable by the
Kurt Gödel demonstrated with his incompleteness theorems that
“proofs” were limited to their own systems even in mathematics,
the most “objective” of sciences.
Science has undergone dramatic and
There was Euclidean geometry, now non-Euclidean geometry.
There was the orderly universe of Newton and Kessler, but
now the disorder of force fields, Einstein’s relativity,
Heisenberg’s uncertainty, Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, chaos
theory, and the observer effect in quantum physics—to mention
only a few. What is
dark matter? Black
holes? Into what
does the universe expand?
What is the nature of quantum entanglement?
area in which modern science has hurt Christians and the Church
severely is psychology.
Polanyi has warned that while the “hard sciences” are
faith-based, biology and other “soft sciences” are much more so.
He saw how easily psychiatry could be made an instrument
of the state. In
American, we are close to that, but we already have
psychologists and psychiatrists as our “modern priests,” who are
called in to “help” in disasters and tragedies.
This very place where we are meeting faced a tragedy in
1977 when a dam, high up in the hills, broke and flooded the
government sent psychologists to help the survivors” but they
found that those who had suffered loss of loved ones… “were in
better mental health than the other communities we studied, who,
for the most part were not hit as hard.”
But, influence of secular psychology among
Christians and churches goes way beyond grief counseling.
Almost every Bible college, university, and seminary
campus today has psychologists with far greater training in
psychology than in Biblical counseling.
This invasion has taken place because Christians have
swallowed two lies.
First, they have swallowed the lie of science as truth, and
second, they have swallowed the lie that the “soft sciences”
have the same scientific base as the “hard” sciences.
Polanyi’s system is an equalizer.
As a philosophy of science, it destroys any “objective
truth claims” that science may make.
Second, it levels the playing field in demonstrating that
all knowledge in based in personal bias and prejudice.
That knowledge is not subjective and relativistic because
it must be challenged by a community of judges and the real
world about which that knowledge speaks.
the intellectual world, the high standard is “peer-review.”
While Polanyi does not discuss this term directly,
possible because it is a later term of the 20th
century, but this idea of “peer-review” for him is community
review or community standard.
Which carries more prestige, “peer-reviewed” or
Of course the former, but the agreement within this group
is hardly monolithic?
We Christians are aware of the myriad of believing
communities, should we expect the scientific world to be so?
We are not battling the whole scientific world as
Christians, but only a vocal few who control their world and the
media that represents them.
Polanyi believes that his system provides a basis for politics
that allows the freedom of individuals, and particular
scientists, to pursue their calling with responsibility and
risk. I believe that
he overstates his case and his is a weak argument, but
nevertheless any ally in politics that allows maximum freedom of
all peoples under its sway is to be welcomed.
Polanyi’s Own Incompleteness
ideas. (1) Idea
of revelation of God’s Word.
(2) Religion, as worship only.
(3) Origin of mind (“organizing principle”).
(4) Heaven and hell.
(5) Transcendent, supernatural being?
(6) Conversion vs. regeneration.
(7) Superficial knowledge of theologies.
(8) (Perhaps) the explicit over implicit in Christian
faith. (8) Personal
universe, created by God.
(9) Certainty of Biblical faith.
(10) (Perhaps) have more “reason” to understand faith.
Anyone reading Polanyi will easily recognize
his genius, and that to call him a polymath, is truly accurate.
However, his own theological understanding remains a
worldview is limited to a physical, material world.
For example, he dearly denied that evolution can explain
the highly organized structures and emergent properties that are
found in the higher animals and man.
He uses the term “organizing principle” to designate how
higher forms or life could have achieved their complex levels.
However, other than some vague references to “God,” he
never speculates on any supernatural elements.
The physical universe is sufficient to explain all that
There has been much speculation about his
personal beliefs about God, salvation, and theological matters.
I will not go into those, as others have more insight and
knowledge about Polanyi’s thinking here.
Curiously, his discussions about religion were always
limited to Christianity, never mentioning other possible
religions. He had a
certain fondness for Christian worship, almost seeming (to me)
to limit Christianity to that formal practice only.
Having grounded his epistemology in a material
person, he could not allow supernatural explanations or
His epistemology would not allow
God speaking in special revelation.
It would not allow the Bible as we know and defend it.
Because the Bible was not received as
knowledge, special knowledge from God, Polanyi was weak in
understanding the nature of evil.
Repeatedly, he advocated freedom in scientific pursuits
and in society in general, but he did not recognize that the
freedom of the West which allowed the development of science was
grounded in freedom from sin in the individual and the restraint
that (more or less) Christian governments had on evil.
“The premises of science on which all scientific teaching and
research rest are the beliefs held by scientists on the general
nature of things”
Note carefully “premises,” “beliefs,” and “nature.”
Cornelius Van Til has said that natural revelation must
be studied though the lens of special revelation.
Knowledge, then, “flows” out of who and what a
person is. It is
conditioned by his being and his cultural tradition.
He finds community with those of a like mind.
In fact, he is a member of a number or traditions and
communities. Can he
change? Is he
programmed or predestined to be what he is?
Polanyi never addresses this issue directly.
He is profound in his advocacy of the freedom of the
person, but this freedom seems to be more consistent with the
kind of freedom that is described in the Westminster Confession
of Faith in the Chapter on “Free Will.”
While the Confession is only concerned with the will as
it concerns salvation, as we have seen, the process
of faith is the same for all actions, whether religious
For me, as a person of Reformed faith,
Polanyi’s account of the person’s being determines who he is and
what he does, as God has predestined him.
Those not Reformed can find “freedom” within Polanyi, but
I think that that understanding would not be consistent with
Polanyi’s ideas of vocation, foreknowledge, intellectual
passions, talents, and education in a language idiom and
Imago Dei. Also, I think
Polanyi’s concept of the person and his relationship to reality
illustrate mean being created
God predicated the
cosmos. By our being,
passions, vocation, education, etc., we predicate a
cosmos. All that we do
as persons brings us closer or further away from God’s
cosmos. In fact, the
unregenerate person cannot predicate the real universe.
The scientist cannot predicate a universe of both random
events and evolution and the orderliness that he finds in his
Summary Notes and
(perhaps) directions for study
1. All knowledge is
faith-based, that is “personal” or from a “fiduciary
framework” (in Polanyi terms) through the “power of tacit
integration.” This understanding prevents a privileged
epistemological status for (natural) science.
The person as a predicatory center.
Every person predicates a
the extent that our worldview corresponds to the real
as specified by God’s Word, we know Him and His
cosmos. We are
“metamorphosed” (transformed, transfigured) by “the renewing
of our minds” (Romans 12:2) or “indwelling” (Polanyi.)
A. “Faith-groups” – not!
Christians, especially those in scholarly pursuits, should
not allow the designation of “faith-group” to go
Generic faith. The
mystery should be taken out of the process of faith.
We live by faith in every action that we take.
Christian need to study other Biblical words, “love,”
“truth,” “hope,” etc.
Christian faith is living by Biblical knowledge.
C. The Bible is the only
“objective” source of truth.
All other knowledge is personal and/or belonging to a
is every evidence that Christians do not study their Bible
and their theology.
Thus, a sound
hermeneutics is needed.
D. “Provability is weaker
than the notion of truth.”
Proof is always
within a system.
Classical foundationalism has been soundly
E. Tradition in science.
Tradition is as important in (natural) science, as
much as in other authority or epistemology.
There are no universal laws that govern it.
Imago Dei and “person.” The person is the central thinking and
acting agent. He
acts according to his being and within his communities.
He is both free to act as an individual, but within
the boundary conditions of his communities.
Implications for the Trinity are beyond the scope of
this paper, but many ideas could be derived from Polanyi
with application towards the Trinity.
Objectivity does not exist.
Knowledge is only held and believed by
persons. Subjectivity is
avoided by community and knowing the real and the Real.
H. Only one absolute: God
Neither the Scriptures, nor the Ten Commandments are
absolute, as they must be interpreted.
For example, being “pro-life” is consistent with the
death penalty for certain crimes.
Regeneration (“born of the Spirit,” John 3) divides the world into
Those who claim light over darkness.
J. Empiricism (induction,
scientific method) is a logical fallacy by its
limitation of a fraction of the universe.
Look up in any textbook.
K. Doubt and skepticism not
Doubt is merely another expression of another’s faith
against one’s own present or established faith.
L. Ideals of science:
beauty, symmetry, rationality, aha!, excellence,
appreciation, simplicity, harmony, predictability,
discovery, knowing the real world, etc.
M. No absolute standard in
There is no fixed rule whereby new challenges are acceptable
to the scientific community.
Faith and reason parts of a whole.
A statement of faith or belief must be grammatically
Reason assists faith to be coherent and not irrational.
O. Individuality of belief.
As unique as fingerprints, although not as easily
Predestination. How do
Polanyi’s ideas of ‘intellectual passions,” “calling,” and
personal responsibility cohere with a Biblical idea of total
predestination, as presented in the Westminster Confession
of Faith, Chapters 3 and 5?
Unity within diversity?
To what extent does Polanyi’s concept of personal knowledge
bring unity and diversity within evangelicalism?
At minimum, it should caution us about our
Can we get outside our idioms, e.g., the Azande of
The answer seems doubtful, but we should perhaps at least
Truth. Is truth
according to Polanyi.
Jesus, as person, said, “I am the
the truth, and
the life….” Do a
Biblical concordance study of the word, “truth.”
Identify “truth” with the “knowledge” of
Frame, Poythress, and others.
Frame’s triad and Poythress’ “Symphonic
Are they onto something?
T. Sermons on the Person or
Persons of God!
Who, what do we worship?
Are Christians soaked in “milk,”
without going on to meat?
Theodicy. God is a
Person; “All things work together for good…”
Even Hell, as Don Williams is presenting at this very
We should not separate “doctrine” and “practice.”
As Calvin said, our faith is dependent upon whom we
think God is, and who we think that we are.
“Ideas have consequences,” said Richard Weaver.
2. “Science” has been
abbreviated from “natural science.”
The etymology of “science” and
episteme are one
and the same.
“Science” is the detailed study of any subject, thus, the
“science of theology.”
A. Personal universe.
We should see the Person of God in every detail of
God created everything as personal, speech acts. He
spoke and it was!!
E.g., the universe is not a frigid, dangerous place
but we are “underneath His sheltering wings.”
Creation expresses passion, “It groans” (Romans 8).
B. Free society.
Polanyi’s writings may be used to argue in this direction.
The freedom of scholars to fulfill their calling and
be responsible to their foreknowledge.
To become “society of explorers.”
C. Restore a Biblical idiom
Methodological supernaturalism, instead of methodological
More or less equivalence in words is confusing in
scholarly and intellectual discussions, unless they are
recognized as synonyms.
E.g., truth and knowledge, faith and reason, love and
good works, faith and works, etc.
4. Stronger arguments in
Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, Polanyi’s
faith-system, Kuhn’s paradigms, etc. See my list here:
5. Read Augustine’s
Everything that a person is is because of his or her memory.
Also, “do this in remembrance of Him.”
6. The Bible, as revelation,
is foreign to Polanyi’s system.
For him, all knowledge is based in tacit integration
of the person.
The Bible would be a source external to the person and more
authoritative than personal knowledge.
7. Psychology of the mind.
I would like to see more interest among evangelicals
and the Reformed investigating how the mind functions.
This area has been left to the secularists for too
starting point was knowledge of God and knowledge of man.
It seems that Bible-believers have far out-paced
their knowledge of God over that of man, but both can be
Plantinga has written a delightful two-part paper on
“Methodological Naturalism’ on the Calvin College
Plantinga has written a delightful two-part paper on
“Methodological Naturalism’ on the Calvin College
several biographical sources here.
Revived, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing
Company, 1985, 2-3.
and Protestant Thought, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans
Publishing Company, 1986), 168.
clearly presented in his Divided Line in
”Psychologists Baffled by Toccoa Survivors,”
Macon (GA) Telegraph and News,
November 5, 1978, cited in Jay Adams,
More Than Redemption, Phillispburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1979,
Faith, and Society, Chicago, IL:L University of
Chicago Press, 1946, 11.
Plantinga has written a delightful two-part paper on
“Methodological Naturalism’ on the Calvin College