Origins of Personal Knowledge (Tacit Integration):
Rational Arguments from Polanyi, Supernaturalism, and Orthodox
Christianity for a Christian Origin of Polanyi's Personal
and trembling. I
am fascinated with the power of tacit integration.
What is this strange phenomenon that seems to be mostly
unconscious or subconscious?
How is it that the mind not only integrates unknown
particulars into focal understanding, but does so for the most
part beyond conscious control?
I am exploring how this process may affect evangelical
and Reformed theology, but that is in progress and for another
time and place. For
now, I am concerned with the origin of this mysterious and
I present this paper in the Kierkegaardian
fashion of “fear and trembling” for a number of reasons.
First, I still consider myself a neophyte to Polanyi, and
I sit before some who have spent their lives in Polanyian tacit
I have only scratched the surface of the Polanyian written
corpus, even those writings by Christians which bear on this
paper. Perhaps I
will discover here among you or in the future, much material to
add or subtract to what I have said here.
I find the attraction of Christians to Polanyi’s thinking
quite interesting, and as I hope to present here, this interest
is only the outworking of a (super)natural coherence.
Third, as not all Polanyians agree, not all
Christians agree. I
realize where I fall in the theological spectrum is problematic
to some, and the Reformation did occur, dividing Protestants and Catholics.
One can hope, however, that Polanyian thinking may
provide a bridge to this divide.
Fourth, as any Polanyian writer knows, any paper is only
a small focal expression of “knowing more than we can tell.”
The following is therefore incomplete in the amount of
material that I could have presented, as well as, the
foreknowledge of future possibilities.
However, it is not necessarily the amount of material
that persuades another, but perhaps only one particular.
Fifth, I do not have the gift, as exemplified by Andrew
Grosso in his current reply to Walt Gulick, to softly present a
more solid position with winsome graciousness.
The first sentence in Chapter One of Michael Polanyi’s major
work, Personal Knowledge,
reads “In the Ptolemaic system, as in the cosmogony of the
Bible, man was assigned a central position in the universe, from
which position he was ousted by Copernicus.”
And the last sentence of the book reads, “And this is
also, I believe, is how a Christian is placed in worshipping
sentences that name Christianity.
And, throughout the book are frequent and often
surprising references to things and persons Christian.
Thus, Polanyi establishes an enigmatic relationship with
that religion, such that his scholars are still trying to
understand his relationship with it
Assurance of my commitment to Polanyi.
I trust that whether you agree with me or not, you will
see my love and appreciation of Polanyi’s writings and thinking
process. I began
with a study of his
normalization of natural science to the level of other forms of
knowledge—a valuable apologetic for the deconstruction of
scientism and defense of the Christian faith.
But, for me his work goes far beyond this initial
knowledge, tacit integration has the grandeur and transcendence
of Augustine’s discussion of memory in his
Confessions. Thus, the
thrill of the emergence of Magic Eye images, the amazing ability
of recognition physiognomy, the surprise of a problem solved at
unusual moments, the learning of language by a child, and
the learning of complex tasks that become rote, such as
riding a bicycle, playing a piano, or swinging a golf club.
And more; oh, so much more!
Just three months ago, I introduced Polanyi to
the International Society of Christian Apologetics presenting
not only his work for apologetics, but possibilities in Biblical
understanding and theology.
I hope to write a paper on what I call “the predication
of the person,” in which each person predicates his own
universe, as each of us differs from each other in our worldview
in minor and major ways.
When I greet you by name, I have “predicated” you into my
universe. I have
given you being and recognized you as part of my world.
I think that “bringing into one’s reality” is very
powerful and Polanyian.
In this way, a person is a “creator” in the image of God,
but one whose creation is limited by to the reality of God’s
creation and that of community
and by tradition.
So, I see profound ways that Polanyi has
already influenced my thinking and will discover even more in
the future. I will
certainly take much away from this conference in that regard
from discussions with individuals and from hearing their
Further, I recognize that one cannot indwell
another’s belief system.
This restriction has caused me great pause, as I have
worked on this paper. But, this limitation is one that is
imposed on all of us in our attempts to persuade one another.
I believe that I will find the same conviviality that I
experienced in Chicago in 2012 and welcome your feedback and
My paper has emerged.
Instead of an exploration of Christians on possible
origins of knowledge,
I have developed Polanyian, rational, supernatural, and
Christian arguments for the Person of Biblical Christianity as
the Creator of persons with tacit powers of integration.
I will briefly mention Augustine who poses one possible
means by which God provides the means for tacit integration.
Grosso on Spiritual
Indwelling, Metaphysics, and Personalism
I think that
Andrew Grosso’s paper, “Michael Polanyi Meets Abba Moses:
Embodiment, Indwelling, and Interdisciplinarity“ sets the ground
for much of what follows here.
He moves from physical embodiment to the “problem of
interdisciplinarity” which may be overcome by addressing the
“modern bifurcation of the ‘bodily and the rational” and being
willing to address ‘basic metaphysical questions.’”
In this move, Grosso states that “his studies encourage a
rereading of Polanyi, one focused on the expansive and
integrative nature of his efforts.”
This move is variously labeled as “embodied cognition,”
“embodied mind,” “mind/body identity theory,” and “embodied
simpler terms, my understanding of what he is saying is that
Polanyians may have overemphasized indwelling the body, as
opposed to indwelling the ideas of the mind; that the mind is
the greater substrate for indwelling, than the body.
perspective… evades the pitfalls of materialist reductionism,
avoiding as it does the inconsistency of attributing the
emergence and purpose of meaning to deterministic and
mechanistic impersonal processes and the tendency to associate
cognition with brain states…. and affirms the possibility of
developing a metaphysical account of action, meaning,
understanding, and reality.”
“We may find it
useful to distinguish between embodiment and corporality.
The latter, it seems is a necessary condition for the
former, but does not itself provide a sufficient account (Ed:
Leibniz, “sufficient reason”) of the former…. Our corporality
establishes the ‘boundary conditions’ … ‘boundary conditions”
… that result in
higher levels of embodiment and thus involve us in
successively higher levels of reality.”
reasoning and much that I have left out, Grosso cites David
Nikkel’s contention that “metaphysical reflection is
‘inevitable’: any account of experience or knowledge will
necessarily carry metaphysical ramifications.”
scholars who embrace ecological account of the knowing and being
of human persons are skittish about the prospect of affirming
the possibility of transcendent or divine forms of personhood….
Polanyi’s thought necessarily tracks in a decidedly
personalistic direction, one that is very much open to the
possibility of affirming our capacity to speak meaningfully of
the reality of divine personal being.”
My Apology Begins in Polanyi and “Person”
Personal knowledge seems deficient without origin in a
powerful, creating being—a Person.
Polanyi’s origin of knowledge is in the particulars of
tacit knowledge in the person and the power to integrate them.
But, there is a prior question that must be asked, “How
the person and his particulars find their ontological presence?”
Yes, Polanyi denies the random nature of evolution,
positing an “organizing principle” or “cosmic field”
to account for the
achievement of man from the first, one-celled living organism?
But, what is the evidence for this “cosmic field?”
Is this accounting not a transcendental argument from
empirical evidence, that the phylogenetic ascent to man
necessitates an unseen
intelligent, directing force in the cosmos?
Is this position not a cosmological, religious one that
requires strong faith or at least an existential leap?
Why posit something previously unknown when traditions
provide all sorts of explanations of origins?
For that matter, where does matter originate?
If the Big Bang, then where did the material for this
We have big bangs today, most notably nuclear explosions.
These “bangs” are intricately engineered by some of our
most brilliant “minds.”
While big bangs occur in nature, they are only possible
where matter and boundary conditions exist.
Further, all the big bangs that have ever occurred have
only produced chaotic disorder, not the orderly “anthropic”
universe so precisely defined that it
not only survives without
further intervention, but carefully provides the conditions for
an intricate variety of plant and animal life on planet earth.
How does ontology produce this complex epistemology?
There are huge leaps of faith here: the origin of matter,
the development of life from non-life, and the
human mind with its self-consciousness, conscience, memory,
speech, and communication.
By simple contrast, what is
belief in the God of the Bible as Creator of these things?
It would seem that a creating Person who claims to have
made persons in his own image is strikingly correspondent to
these realities, providing a coherence to the whole.
In a real sense, every person
begins his ontology with one of two choices: there was a First
Mover or there was not.
This starting point is a metaphysical choice that is made
without evidence. No
proof of either position is possible, as Polanyi has
demonstrated so definitively.
So, rationally neither choice is more valid than the
other until one begins to interpret reality and discovering
which choice corresponds best to it.
But, what is clear is that
speculates about metaphysical origins, even the physicalists.
Metaphysical origins are inescapably religious, as they
posit realities beyond the empirical investigation of persons.
So, even the devout atheist is religious, as he has made
a metaphysical decision that is religious by denying religion.
He is also religious in his ethics: his desire that
people behave in a certain way.
Some summary arguments in addition to the above.
(Above.) A personal
creator would seem to both correspond and cohere to the
personal knowledge of
Polanyi. I would
think that a personal creator is both logical and reasonable,
virtually almost demanded.
The power of tacit integration is awe-inspiring and the
more that one understands it, the more doubtful it seems that it
could have originated in a cosmic Big Bang and a subsequent
Andrew Grosso has argued for this connection.
(Above) The appeal to an “organizing principle” or
“cosmic field” is a transcendental argument.
That is, a recognition of a supernatural, directing agent
that is sufficient to cause Polanyi to reject soundly tradition
Can his “organizing principle” account for tacit
knowledge and personhood?
It does not seem so, as an unknown entity can provide no
Polanyi’s surprising mentions of Christianity give one
pause to accept his full endorsement of physicalism.
What the objectivism of the Enlightenment most clearly
rejected was Medieval Christianity.
One could argue that this particular rejection was the
greater error than objectivism
per se, as many have argued that the predictable, patterned nature
of Christianity was necessary to the achievements of modern
How can one trust thinking that is produced by an unknown
“cosmic field” which has communicated no purpose and meaning to
being human and to our history.
Polanyi needs a more specific ethical system than that
which is inherent in personal knowledge.
What does one do with the evil in our world?
It cannot be given the
freedom for which Polanyi argues.
It must be met with justice and force of arms.
Where does one find this justice?
If knowledge is personal, how is it that “universal
intent” arises out of the individual?
If knowledge is sufficiently personal, how is it that one
believes that everyone must believe as he does?
Why makes the person want to limit or change the beliefs
While there is a reality “out there,” my own tacit
knowledge determines what it is.
How is it that I (and others) can fully endorse Biblical
Christianity, while others believe exactly the opposite?
How can Polanyi’s epistemology decide the issue?
If Polanyi’s discovery is true, it is false because it
will be forever discovering.
We will never know the reality that is “out there.”
It will always be waiting to be discovered.
If there is an endpoint to discovery, then Polanyi’s
process is false, because discovery ends.
As I am working here on this paper, my process of
discovery is to counter many of Polanyi’s ideas.
How can such a reasoning process attempt to oppose
itself? Could we
discover that Polanyi was wrong about everything that he
where would Polanyians be?
Polanyi claimed “objective reality,” but if that reality
can never be discovered, then it is not objective; if it can be
discovered, then discovery is ended.
Can it be that Polanyi’s epistemology is only applicable
to science, that is, the “natural” world?
Science is really “natural science,” a reduction in
wording that is as dangerous as reductionism
per se. Biblical
Christianity claims the objective standard of the Bible in its
historical claims and in its description of the Trinity outside
How is it that “foreknowledge” can exist in the person?
How can a person “know” what he is going to discover?
This reality seems a greater leap than Polanyi’s “cosmic
field.” On this subject, Joan Crewdson,
in her Tradition and Discovery article, “A Theory of Personal Language and
Implications for Logos
“God (is) our
uncreated Source and Goal… that ultimate personal ‘Reality,’
whose meaning is inexhaustively reflected in and through His
How can fallibilism provide the necessary coherence for
it to function heuristically?
How can the imprecision of words actually communicate,
and quite often, communicate substantively?
Is there not the need for a background
logos that is
comprehensive in its assistance to the communicative process?
George Steiner writes, “Any coherent understanding of
what language is and how language performs, that any coherent
account of the capacity of human speech to communicate meaning
and feeling is, in the final analysis, underwritten by the
assumption of God's presence.”
How can a person be called without a “Caller?”
I suggest God as the Caller, “ For
we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God afore prepared that we should walk in them.”
The following are
not any particular order of importance of sequence.
These are summary statements without much commentary.
A metaphysical, speculative starting point is
inescapable, as one accepts or rejects non-physical origins:
either there is eternity of matter or an eternal creator of
is a time, entropy defying characteristic without explanation in
the material universe.
No cosmology can be verified empirically.
If the universe is “winding down” as the Second Law of
Thermodynamics states, then it will come to an end.
An end counters the eternality of matter.
That which is eternal has neither beginning nor end.
An eternal creator seems the more logical, as matter must
come into being.
Human thinking virtually
demands a starting point.
We intuitively look for cause and effect.
The appearance of the simplest structure, e.g., a bird’s
nest, crudely constructed,
a simple hut on a beach, argues for a creating mind and
body. That is,
structure argues for the presence and action of a mind: animal,
human, or supernatural.
Why should living “ structures” not have a creating mind?
The universe is expanding into … what?
There is no natural explanation for this phenomenon,
while there would be an explanation in a supernatural mind which
can create a universe without limits, as the mind is unlimited
in what it is able to imagine—truly a Polanyian perspective!
Why is the universe the way that is and not another?
Even within evolutionary theory, there is an orderliness
to phylogenetics that refutes itself.
The naturalistic fallacy states that naturalism cannot
decide moral issues. “There is no ought from an is.’
Richard Dawkins is consistent when he says, “The universe
we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if
there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good,
nothing but blind, pitiless indifference…”
How does one explain
Why do we think so differently?
How can genetic variability explain both survival and
is individuality necessary for survival?
It seems that one would need to posit a consciousness of
persons as a society that is somehow able to reflect this idea
If naturalism and evolution are true, why should we trust
our judgments? How
can trustworthy reasoning “evolve” from random events.
If one gives the most minute direction, such an a “cosmic
field,” to evolution, he has posited a “supernatural mind.”
Even fourteen billion years in insufficient to account
for the complexity of an animal or human body, as mathematicians
Matter cannot account for mind.
What is emergent or supervening properties but man’s
observations of processes that are unexplained by inherent
How does life come from non-life?
How can inorganic
materials attain the properties of life, such as, reproduction,
mobility, recycling of chemicals within itself, develop senses
that respond to outside triggers, and much more?
The anthropic principle, that is, the finely tuned
universe that supports life, defies probabilities.
As Alvin Plantinga asks, “How would that explanation (of
four aces and one wild card) play in Dodge City or Tombstone?”
Again, to posit chance or something unknown defines (sic-defies)
There is no empirical evidence for a transition from one
species to another.
Zillions of experiments with the Drosophila fly have only
produced a wide variety of … Drosophila flies!
There are other
arguments, but these will suffice for “reasonable and rational”.
I have another paper online that goes into much more
detail about these matters.
Christian and “Religious”
Atheism has always been a
Even today when most scholars would agree that this belief
system is on the rise, less than twenty percent are atheists,
and even fewer, convinced atheists.
So, the nature of man is to be religious, even to believe
in the supernatural.
While truth is not established by
vox populi, it seems
inescapable that man is by nature a religious person.
While one could claim that we are moving towards
irreligion, that conclusion would be considerably premature, as
Malthusian and global apocalyptic scenarios have always been
proven false in the “real” world.
So, as a thought experiment,
let us assume that man is supernaturally religious and that he
was sufficiently concerned to choose the best religion to hedge
his bets on future possibilities.
One’s thinking might go something like this.
Christianity is the most prevalent religion, but Islam is
There are only a dozen or so “major” religions and surely one of
them is the true one.
Well, what evidence is there for one religion over
one could look at history and social conditions produced by
these religions. The
oldest religion seems to be Hinduism, but under its belief
system is a horrid caste system and they have been unable to
feed or educate themselves until well into the 20th
century. What about
“religion of peace” spread by military conquest with over 1200
attacks and battles killing millions of people and subjugating
Today, it carries out its
jihad by terrorist bombings around the world.
By extreme contrast,
Christianity produced freedoms and economic expansion in the
West that has been unprecedented in history.
While these achievements have not been without blemish,
they are real and substantial.
The very fact of our freedom to meet here today is a
product of Christian influence.
Could we meet in Arabia or any other Muslim country for
such free discussion as we are having here?
Could our women participate freely as they do here?
I realize my review here is
so superficial as to be almost inane, but these are historical,
social, and political realities.
As orthodox Christian influence wanes, Western
achievements also wane.
More than one conservative economist has demonstrated
that the answer to poverty is personal discipline that achieves
education, marriage, and getting a job.
Government welfare to the amount of 50 trillion dollars
since 1960 has only made worse all the problems that it has
Other Christian Arguments
In my ruminations concerning epistemology over the past
year, learning from Augustine, I have repeatedly thought of the
significance of “authority.”
One could argue that much, if not most, of our tacit
knowledge resides in hidden authorities: our own personhood, the
teachings of our parents and early schooling, as well as later
education both formally and informally.
Within this posture, the Bible makes startling claims,
such as “Thus says the Lord,.”
‘I (Jesus) and the Father are One,”
and “I(Jesus) am the way, the truth and the life; no man comes
to the Father but by me.” At first
glance, and even deep study, the Bible is claiming to be the
To say less, is to pick and choose arbitrarily what the Bible
does and does not say.
Historical evidence for the resurrection.
(a) The number of New Testament documents (if interpreted
as any other of that time period).
(b) The change in the Apostles from cowering fear to
vigorous preachers willing to die for their faith.
(c) The millions of conversions in history and the modern
world in all sorts of cultures and belief systems.
Many of these occurred from those trying to destroy
Christianity or held positions totally opposite to its belief
After 2500+ years, philosophers disagree on origins.
Most of the world’s peoples have believed and continue to
believe in supernatural origins.
Not only is Christianity the most prevalent belief, but
it has the strongest arguments for belief.
Pascal’s wager… The reward of Christianity in eternity is
worth the commitment in time and “sacrifice.”
Christianity produced the only free and tolerant society
(not perfect) of which Polanyi dreamed, primarily in the United
States (mostly founded on Christian principles) and to a lesser
extent, Europe. As
this Christian heritage wanes and is pushed back, social fabrics
are being rent asunder.
There is an
interesting story by a Chinese think tank., The Chinese Academy
of Social Sciences. This Chinese academic research institute, in
the late 1990s concluded:
“We were asked to
look into … what accounted for the success and pre-eminence of
the West all-over the world.
We studied everything we could from the historical,
political, economic, and cultural perspective.
At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful
guns that we had.
Then we thought it was because you had the best political
system. But in the
past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your
culture is your religion: Christianity.
That is why the West has been so powerful.
The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural
life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then
the successful transition to democratic politics.
We don’t have any doubt about this.”
The epistemology of the Greeks was unable to overcome
multiple gods and human and animal sacrifice.
Christianity virtually ends such practices wherever it
goes in history and in the present.
In the first three
centuries anno domini,
Christianity set the standard for family love, coherence, and
responsibility to each other, as well as life-risking social
These “non-supernatural” qualities grew Christianity to
its dominant position in the West and
in major ways of which
most Christians are mostly unaware.
The only belief system that political correctness does
not tolerate is conservative, that is, Biblical Christianity.
This is a reverse argument, as the target of the dominant
philosophy that is eroding Western standards of decency and
I would argue that the freedom and success of the Western world,
and the United States in particular, is inescapably linked to
Stark, a social scientist, has written a book,
The Victory of Reason: How
Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success.
and its related institutions are directly responsible for the
most significant intellectual, political, scientific, and
economic breakthroughs of the past millennium.
Christian theology, Stark asserts, is the very font of
reason. Among the
world’s great monotheistic traditions, Christianity alone
embraced logic and deductive thinking as the path towards
enlightenment, freedom, and progress.”
In one direction, the world has recognized
this achievement, as American has attracted immigrants by the
millions. In the
other direction, English (despite the protests of progressives)
has become the lingua
franca and other cultures have copied American life in
almost every way.
The first forty-nine of the first fifty colleges and
universities in the United States were found by Christian
without America, the West would not have won World Wars I and
aids the rest of the world in far greater amounts that
most other nations combined. And, these achievements are only a
small review of American achievements.
empirical link of values with Christian ethics.
Many people may not realize the link between traditional,
Biblical values and empirical studies.
For example, the book,
The Broken Heart, by
James J. Lynch discusses “The Medical Consequences of
statistics show a remarkable, and sometimes, extraordinary
benefit of being married vs. never married, divorced, and
widowed in such areas as high blood pressure, heart disease,
cancer, cirrhosis, renal failure, severe accidents, psychiatric
disorders, and many, many more medical problems.
While sexually transmitted diseases is epidemic in the
world, they do not exist among those who are celibate as single
persons and the married who are sexually faithful.
The average life expectancy of homosexual men is 42
years, if they do not contract HIV/AIDS.
If they do contract the disease, it is 39 years.
In a survey of anti-social behavior and criminal
activity, homosexual men score higher, and sometimes many
multiples higher, than heterosexual men in almost every
include murder, assault, misdemeanors, felonies, and speeding
homosexual men murder each other than are murdered by others.
Hundreds of studies confirm the advantages of children
raised by the traditional husband and wife, as two-parent
Again, only a few statistics are cited, but
there is a vast scientific literature that vividly demonstrates
the health of individual, family, and society by
traditional, Biblical values.
So, empirical studies do validate transcendental truths
whether positive or negative.
No conflict in governing spheres.
Only the Bible is a complete guidebook for avoiding
conflict among all fields of authority: the individual, family,
society, and civil government. Unfortunately,
many Christians do not understand this unity of spheres of
Polanyian values are found in local churches: community,
mutual help, conviviality, prayer, counseling, fellowship,
teaching, family, values, meaning, blending of professionals,
blue collar, and even the poor; all age groups, from the
pregnant to the elderly and dying.
While this community is
not perfect, there is hardly anything like it in quality or
There are other arguments, but these are
enough to establish points of reference.
A Brief Note about
It is obvious that
all Christian beliefs are not the same from Karl Barth to Paul
Tillich to John Paul II to Billy Graham to Cornelius Van Til.
However, if there are no core beliefs to define
Christianity, then it is meaningless by any standard.
It can be whatever anyone wants it to be.
What is orthodoxy? I
have spent almost the entirety of my spiritual, Christian life
in the community of the Presbyterian and Reformed—the most
conservative of the Christian traditions that emanated from the
tradition can in many ways be seen to be the anathema of the
Polanyian tradition, as we are a community vitally concerned
with “objective” theology.
Becoming a Polanyian has been an exciting, but also
challenging adventure, wedding these two concepts in a dialectic
that does not compromise either.
So, what I present here is somewhat in transition, but
definitive enough for me to state more than tentatively with
Amazingly, my first witness to the core of
Christian belief is an avowed atheist.
In an interview with a liberal minister, Christopher
Hitchens stated emphatically:
“I would say that if you don’t believe that
Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose
again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven,
you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.”
Then, there is the bold declaration by the
lady of whimsy herself, Dorothy Sayers, in her succinct
statement of the Nicene Creed.
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of
all things… And in the only-begotten Son of God, by Whom all
things were made. He
was incarnate; crucified, dead and buried; and rose again… I
believe in the Holy Ghost, the lord and giver of life… And I
believe in one Church and baptism, in the resurrection of the
body and life everlasting.
Now, to these I would add subscription to the
Apostles Creed and the complete Nicene Creed which are believed
by all major branches of Christianity.
To these doctrines, or “the drama of dogma” or “creed
over chaos,” as Sayers would say, I would
add three others, perhaps the second dependent upon the first.
First, the Christian faith is dependent upon a very
serious commitment to the authority, completeness, and
understanding of Scripture as an objective standard of 66
Second, and necessitated from the preceding, is the
ontological position that God created all that exists.
God is eternal, not the natural world which even
scientists say had a beginning and will eventually end.
Third, there must be
distinctives in the individual life of a Christian that
contrasts him or her with secularism and all other faith
Bible speaks only of two realms, “light and darkness,” and two
“ways” of life: that committed to Christ and His commandments,
“If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
Commandments go far beyond the Ten Commandments, as the
Jews have traditionally counted 613 in the Old Testament and
Christians can cite at least as many in the New Testament.
All these comprise a way of life for the Christian
believer and a standard for the world to follow.
Thomas Morris who taught at Notre Dame for 15
years and has written prolifically to scholarly and
non-scholarly audiences, writes in
Philosophy and the
Christian Faith to these issues.
False notion of philosophical atheism.
“I must confess to never having seen in the writings
of any contemporary theologian, the exposition of a single
argument from either Hume or Kant, or any other historical
figure, for that matter, which comes anywhere near to
demolishing, or even irreparably damaging traditional theistic
metaphysics, historical Christian doctrine, or the epistemology
of what we might call ‘theological realism,’ the construal or
theology as a discipline whose intent is to represent religious
realities as they, in fact, are.”
Complete authority of Scripture.
“The Christian faith has been traditionally understood to
be rooted in the entirety of the canonical scriptures, as well
as in the creeds, confessions, and conciliar decrees of the
Any Marcionite picking and choosing of favorite sources is
unacceptable… this is a fundamental orientation of the Christian
church throughout the centuries, and one which cannot be
I would state more strongly on this last point… “which
cannot be abandoned without losing that which is truly Christian
in form and substance.”
“And yet all too often, the resulting reflection (on the
dismaying fact of theological disputes that lead to ‘theological
anti-realism’ has not been free of metaphysics at all, but
rather has been constrained by a naturalistic or materialist
metaphysics alien to the gospel and the whole body of Christian
I am not here to
offend anyone, but “Christian” has become all too loosely used
in both common and scholarly parlance by both professing
Christians and non-Christians.
If Christianity is true, and God died in the manner
described historically, then Christianity is a serious business.
If it is not true, then why use the term Christian at
all? Let us all use
the label secular humanist or whatever other label that you
choose, but let us not be “loose” about what Christianity claims
to be. If
conviviality is not about truth, and Christianity claims truth,
then our time here is of little use.
An example of conversion.
Many scholars argue that one is Christian if he or she
grew up Christian, Muslim, Jew, or another religion.
However, Christianity boasts thousands of conversions,
many dramatic and beginning in those diametrically opposed to
its beliefs. One
example is Rosario Butterfield.
I have recently read the autobiography and Christian
regeneration of Rosario Butterfield, perhaps as unlikely a
person to be converted as could be imagined.
She was a lesbian in a committed relationship and tenured
faculty at a secular university, specializing in literature and
women’s studies. She
was a leader in the LGBT community, faculty advisor, and
confidant to many individuals in that belief system.
Yet, she is virtually now in agreement with the
fundamentals and ethics of a strongly conservative, reformed and
presbyterian denomination, married to one of its pastors.
She is very clear in her testimony that God sought her
and changed her, as she was a far from God in her commitments as
she could be.
regularly in Polanyi’s writings, so I turn to him for a possible
explanation of how the God of Christianity might create
particulars in the mind that allows for the amazing process of
No figure looms larger in Western history.
Any scholar in history, philosophy, or theology will
study and wrestle with Augustine’s thought.
Polanyi limited his comments on Augustine to his
“believing in order to understand,” and on this proposition I
will comment later, but he wrote 230 books on a variety of
subjects, as many of you are aware, and many Polanyians are
scholars of Augustine.
His theory of
illumination is at the center of his epistemology.
It is based primarily upon the Gospel of John 1:9,
“(Christ) was the true Light which, coming into the world,
enlightens every man.”
John 1:1-18, of course, is the
logos being mostly
translated “word” but in the Greek has a wide range of meaning:
account, speech, reason, computation, explanation, ration, law,
principle, hypostasis, and much more.
Beginning with Heraclitus,
logos played a major
or minor role among the various Greek philosophers.
I am not sure that we moderns can grasp the powerful
statement in that intellectual atmosphere when the Apostle John
stated in the Prologue to his gospel,
“The Word became flesh
and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
In all the meanings of
logos, no philosopher
had postulated the logos
becoming human, and later being discovered to be one of
Trinity co-equal with God, a central doctrine of orthodox
postulated that this logos
made knowledge (“light”) possible in
Christ taught truth within every man; that teaching was
no so much learning, as recognizing the truth within.
His analogy was the light of the sun in our experiential
world illumines all the objects upon which it shines.
The objects are not the light, but they are revealed by
the light. There is
an element of Plato’s
anamnesis in that the knowledge is already there and leaning
is coming to recognize that which was already present, as an
This knowledge is “true, a
priori, certain, and immutable.”
“The ideas are ‘above’ the mind in the divine
Nonetheless somehow our mind must be joined to them.”
How do we
understand Augustine here?
If this illumined knowledge is true and eternal, how do
we humans, even committed Christians get it so wrong, so often?
Frederick Copleston and others argue convincingly that
Augustine’s concept is not ontologism—“the soul’s immediate
intuition of God.”
Ronald Nash states that “No other important aspect of
Augustine’s philosophy has proved so difficult to understand and
I believe that
Polanyi’s ideas of tacit beliefs may illumine Augustine’s
illumination and is a project that I have recently begun.
been fair in their reference to Augustine?
Most assuredly, they have in the necessary priority of
“believing in order to understand.”
And, they have been faithful in the truth value of
authority and tradition.
However, is it impossible to separate Augustine from his
own context of personal sanctification and study and that was
his primary commitment, as well as his commitment to Scripture.
It seems more than a little misrepresentation to cite
Augustine as an authority for Polanyi and not acknowledge the
influence of his personal faith.
With Paul the Apostle, he claimed “faith, hope, and love…
(and) the greatest of these is love.
To be consistent, surely an exploration of the idea of
love in the Scriptures would be equally or more important in
Augustine and Reason
discussion of the role of faith, Augustine always recognizes the
importance of reason.
We need to be able to reason about and understand, at
least to some extent, what it is that we are believing.”
I want to
elaborate on the importance of reason which I think is
inherently and fully Polanyian.
Yes, our ultimate epistemological grounding is in
But, Polanyi allows for both validation and verification, as
well as, conversion and “breaking out” which are inherently
rational processes. When one factors in the complexity that is
known from linguistic studies, its reasoning is highly complex,
even if mostly subconscious and unconscious.
Thus, “believing to understand” is virtually impossible
with reason accompanying it.
Along this line of thinking, the great error of the
Enlightenment was not the advocacy of “reason”
per se, but a blindness to the fact that scholars and others adopted
the belief that reason
could begin with itself.
But, there are only two most fundamental starting points
of belief: in naturalism or supernaturalism.
Thus, the Enlightenment was primarily a rejection of
anything supernatural, specifically Christianity which had
dominated Western thinking.
I would even contend that that this rejection was the
great error, not critical thinking
It was a shift of belief from a Christian starting point
back to a major Greek starting point that “man is the measure of
Secondarily, they erred in not understanding that belief in
human reason was a faith position.
Both errors continue this profound dichotomy today whenever one
speaks of faith vs. reason and persons of faith vs. persons of
Our own John
Apczynski has written:
“This was a
hierarchical world, with the highest reality purely spiritual.
It was the revolutionary otherworldliness of Ambrose’s
sermons that probably first stirred Augustine to begin to see
the limits of his materialistic conceptions of the divine and
the need to seek for something more.”
There was “higher reason” which was also “eternal
reason.” There was
“lower reason” that knew “corporeal reality
in light of these eternal
reasons. (My italics.)
Sayers, faith and action.
“What we in fact believe is not necessarily the theory we
most desire or admire.
It is the thing that, consciously or unconsciously, we
take for granted and act on.
Thus, it is useless to say that we believe in the
friendly treatment of minorities, if in practice I habitually
bully the office clerk; our actions clearly show that we believe
in nothing of the sort.”
I have presented
what I and others think are strong arguments for the reality of
There is more empirical evidence than one might readily imagine,
when one considers the effect of various supernatural religions
on the history of the world.
In addition, there are transcendental arguments of
varying reasonableness, and even Polanyi cannot avoid the
necessity of that position.
For me, the
orthodox Christian perspective gives a correspondence and
coherence to Polanyi’s work that is more reasonable that any
other supernatural system.
I consider Michael
Polanyi as a prophet sent by God to correct positivism,
scientism and objectivism.
He and Christianity form a wonderful and exacting
coherence from my perspective.
I can only offer my analysis to you as my personal
beliefs in the spirit of conviviality and discovery for your
Origins of Personal Knowledge –Addendum after posting
has no chance.
What is chance? The
chance of a roulette wheel?
The chance of a game of cards?
The chance of each of us being in this room?
A roulette wheel has 38 or 39 slots.
A deck has fifty-two cards.
The likelihood that all of us should be in this room is
almost infinitesimal, given the likelihoods of our even being
born and the complexity of our lives and the cosmos in which we
live. These, odds,
especially with the roulette wheel and the cards, are
mathematically calculable, but what about pure chance—the chance
that the universe came into being and that the evolution of man
came about by chance?
Suppose a marble sits on a table.
What will happen to it by pure chance?
it rolls that is the force of gravity.
If something else moves it, that is a directed force.
The marble will never move unless acted upon by some
But, how can the marble get there in the first
manufacture and its placement on the table were the actions of
Without those, the marble would not exist,
Without directed forces, nothing would exist.
The atoms of which all matter is composed is a balance of
forces; it is not a chance occurrence.
Pure chance is non-being; nothingness.
“Nothing comes from nothing; nothing ever could.”
Thus, there is no rational basis for “chance” in
evolution, so Polanyi
invented his “cosmic field.”
Thus, we have been deceived by those who advocate
“chance” in evolution because pure chance is non-being.
Absolutes seem to be a nasty word in modern scholarship,
political correctness, and the academy.
The force with which this position is held is
demonstrated in its own performative contradiction.
“There are no absolutes.”
What, if anything, is that declaration, but an absolute?
And, little attention is paid to its import.
If the proposition negates itself, then the contradictory
is “There are absolutes!”
But, going further logically, there can be only one
absolute by definition of what an absolute it.
An absolute is omnipotence—nothing can overcome it.
But raw power just destroys, so it must be a directed
can only be controlled by omniscience.
So, the union of omnipotence and omniscience is
Any meaning or end that may be proposed requires these
The intended purpose can only be brought about, if it is able to
meet all challenges that stand in its way.
The only guarantee that any goal can be achieved is
omnipotence and omniscience.
So, if there is an Absolute, we should be about the task
of finding it or him or them.
Polanyi speaks of the objectivity of personal and community
discovery, “establishing contact with a hidden reality.”
In evangelical theology, that objectivity is the
investigation of “natural revelation” or “the book of nature.”
That is, God has revealed His “godness” and his “power”
in nature (Romans 1:18ff), and He has given us the resources to
Evangelicals also speak of a second source of
objectivity—“special revelation,” as the sixty-six books of the
Bible that historically, traditionally, and by creeds that
are accepted as orthodox beliefs by the three major
divisions of Christendom. Thus, the Bible is the book of
theology in which we
also seek “objectivity in the sense of establishing contact with
a hidden reality.”
The difference in the two “objectivities” is that the latter
becomes the lens for the former.
While each contributes knowledge about the other, special
revelation always takes precedence and governs the investigation
of the book of nature.
delivered at the Annual Polanyi Meeting in association
with the American Academy of Religion, November 17,
published as, "Michael Polanyi and the Ecological Turn:
Embodiment, Personhood, and Interdisciplinarity".
Tradition and Discovery 40:3 (2013-14): 36-48.
“Polanyi uses the term “cosmic field” as the
unsuspected lure for transcendence that is found
in both morphogenetic and noogenic activity.”
Aaron Milavec, “Polanyi’s ‘Cosmic
Field’—Prophetic Faith or Religious Folly?,” “Third
Draft for Polanyi Conference, 2008, p. 8.
This paper may be found in a Google search on The
Polanyi Society website.
come to think of supervenience or emergence as “God
hidden in plain sight.”
Since physical properties cannot explain these
phenomena, there must be something “supernatural” to
example, Stanley Jaki and Alfred Whitehead.
Discovery, 17(1-2):21-22, 1990-1.
(Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 3.
River Out of Eden,
(London: Phoenix Press), 133.
Plantinga, “Methodological Naturalism.”
This article can be easily found on a Google
recognize that some “religions” do not include the
supernatural, such as Buddhism and Confucianism.
In fact, there is poor agreement on what is and
is not a religion.
Repeatedly throughout the Old Testament, e.g., Exodus
4:22, Joshua 24:2, I Samuel 10:18, I Chronicles 7:14,
and Isaiah 7:7.
Aikman, Jesus in
Bejing: How Christianity Is Transforming China and
Changing the Global Balance of Power, (Washington,
D.C.: Regnery Publishing Company, 2006), 5.
The Rise of
Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement
Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World
in a Few Centuries, (New York, NY: HarperCollins
York, Random House,
2005), back cover.
NY: Basic Books, 1977.
Cameron, The Gay
Nineties: What the Empirical Evidence Reveals about
Homosexuality, (Franklin, TN: Adroit Press, 1993),
Koenig, Michael E. McCullough, and David B. Larson,
Handbook of Religion and Health, (New York, NY: Oxford University
I do not agree with this objectivity in theology,
both as a Polanyian and in my best hermeneutical
Whimsical Christian, (New York, NY: Collier Books,
titles among her essays are “The Drama Is in the Dogma”
and “Creed or Chaos.”
prefer to say “inerrancy,” as defined by the Chicago
Council on Biblical Inerrancy of 1978, but that term
might carry too much baggage in this context.
This position would also believe in an
“objective” source of truth which is anathema to
Polanyi’s epistemological concept.
(Added after submission.) There is the objective
world of reality that is material and the objective
reality of the Word (Scripture)—both of which must be
the very idea of the impositions of
and “law” is almost sufficient to separate the sheep
from the goats.
Dame, IN: Notre Dame Press, 1988,
Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s
Journey into the Christian Faith, (Pittsburgh, PA:
Crown and Covenant Publications, 2012).
Apczynski, “Polanyi’s Augustinianism:
A Mark of the Future?,
Discovery 20:1 (1993-94): 27-40.
History of Philosophy: Medieval Philosophy, (New
York, NY: Doubleday, 1950), 60, 63.
Nash, The Light of
the Mind, (Lima, OH: Academic Renewal Press, 2003),