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Origins of Personal Knowledge (Tacit Integration):


Rational Arguments from Polanyi, Supernaturalism, and Orthodox Christianity for a Christian Origin of Polanyi's Personal Knowledge


Fear 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 wonderful phenomenon.


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 integration!  Second, 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. 


PK and Christianity.  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 God.”  Bookend 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 function.  Concerning 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 presentations


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 personal discussions.


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.’”[1]  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 phenomenology.”  In 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. 


Grosso continues:


The “ecological 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.”[2]


“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.”[3]


From this 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.”


(While some) 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.”[4]


My Apology Begins in Polanyi and “Person”


Person creating 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 did 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?[5]  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 singularity originate?  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.[6] 


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 everyone 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.

1.  (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 “vestigial slime.”  Andrew Grosso has argued for this connection.[7]

2.  (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 evolutionary claims. 

2.A.  Can his “organizing principle” account for tacit knowledge and personhood?  It does not seem so, as an unknown entity can provide no meaning.

3.  Polanyi’s surprising mentions of Christianity give one pause to accept his full endorsement of physicalism.

4.  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 science.[8]

6.  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.

8.  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?

9.  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 of others?

10.  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?

11.  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.

12.  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 believed?  Then, 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.

13.  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 of history.

14.  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 Theology, concludes  “God  (is) our uncreated Source and Goal… that ultimate personal ‘Reality,’ whose meaning is inexhaustively reflected in and through His ‘Word.’”[9]

15.  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.”[10]

16.  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.”  (Ephesians 2:10)


Rational Arguments


The following are not any particular order of importance of sequence.  These are summary statements without much commentary.


1.  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 matter.  Eternality is a time, entropy defying characteristic without explanation in the material universe.  No cosmology can be verified empirically.

2.  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.

3.  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?

4.  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!

5.  Why is the universe the way that is and not another?  Even within evolutionary theory, there is an orderliness to phylogenetics that refutes itself.

6.  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…”[11]

7.  How does one explain individuality?  Why do we think so differently?  How can genetic variability explain both survival and individuality?  How 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 in genes.

8.  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 have calculated. 

9.  Matter cannot account for mind.  What is emergent or supervening properties but man’s observations of processes that are unexplained by inherent natural properties.

10.  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?

11.  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?”[12]  Again, to posit chance or something unknown defines (sic-defies) human rationality.

12.  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.[13]


Christian and “Religious” Arguments


Atheism has always been a minority position.  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.[14]  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 rapidly growing.  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 another?  Perhaps, 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 Islam?  This “religion of peace” spread by military conquest with over 1200 attacks and battles killing millions of people and subjugating entire nations.  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 addressed.


Other Christian Arguments


1.  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,.”[15] ‘I (Jesus) and the Father are One,”[16] and “I(Jesus) am the way, the truth and the life; no man comes to the Father but by me.”[17] At first glance, and even deep study, the Bible is claiming to be the ultimate authority.  To say less, is to pick and choose arbitrarily what the Bible does and does not say.

2.  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 system.

3.  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.

4.  Pascal’s wager… The reward of Christianity in eternity is worth the commitment in time and “sacrifice.”

5.  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.”[18]


6.  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.

7.  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 charity.[19]  These “non-supernatural” qualities grew Christianity to its dominant position in the West and  in major ways of which most Christians are mostly unaware.

8.  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 morality.

8.  I would argue that the freedom and success of the Western world, and the United States in particular, is inescapably linked to Christianity.  Rodney Stark, a social scientist, has written a book, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success.  He argues


 “Christianity 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.”[20]


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 traditions.  And, without America, the West would not have won World Wars I and II.  American  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.


9.   The 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 Loneliness.”  His 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.[21]  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.[22]  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 category.  These include murder, assault, misdemeanors, felonies, and speeding tickets.  More 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 families.

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.[23]  So, empirical studies do validate transcendental truths whether positive or negative.


10.  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 government.


11.  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 numbers.


There are other arguments, but these are enough to establish points of reference.


A Brief Note about Christian Orthodoxy


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 Reformation.  That 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.[24]  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 universal intent.

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.”[25]

Then, there is the bold declaration by the lady of whimsy herself, Dorothy Sayers, in her succinct statement of the Nicene Creed.[26]

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,[27] 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 agreed-upon books.[28]  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 traditions.  The 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).[29]  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.”[30]


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 believing community.  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 abandoned lightly.”[31]  I would state more strongly on this last point… “which cannot be abandoned without losing that which is truly Christian in form and substance.”


Inescapable metaphysics.  “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 thought.”[32]


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.[33]  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.



Augustine and Illumination


Augustine appears 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 tacit integration.  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 doctrine[34]; 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 Christianity.


Augustine postulated that this logos made knowledge (“light”) possible in every man.  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 “interior truth.”  This knowledge is “true, a priori, certain, and immutable.”[35]  “The ideas are ‘above’ the mind in the divine intelligence.  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.”[36]  Ronald Nash states that “No other important aspect of Augustine’s philosophy has proved so difficult to understand and to explain.”[37] 


I believe that Polanyi’s ideas of tacit beliefs may illumine Augustine’s illumination and is a project that I have recently begun.


Have Polanyians 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.[38]  To be consistent, surely an exploration of the idea of love in the Scriptures would be equally or more important in citing Augustine.


Augustine and Reason


“Throughout his 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.” [39]


I want to elaborate on the importance of reason which I think is inherently and fully Polanyian.  Yes, our ultimate epistemological grounding is in personal beliefs.  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.


(An aside.  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 per se.  It was a shift of belief from a Christian starting point back to a major Greek starting point that “man is the measure of all things.”  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 reason.)


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.”[40]  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.”[41]


Conclusion: consider supernatural realities.


I have presented what I and others think are strong arguments for the reality of the supernatural.  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 reflection.



Origins of Personal Knowledge –Addendum after posting


Chance 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?  Nothing.  If 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 directed force.


But, how can the marble get there in the first place?  Its manufacture and its placement on the table were the actions of directed forces.  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.  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 power.  Omnipotence can only be controlled by omniscience.  So, the union of omnipotence and omniscience is absolutely necessary. 


And, thus telos.  Any meaning or end that may be proposed requires these two “omnis.“   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.


The objective Word.  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 investigate it.


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.



Reference Notes

[1] Paper delivered at the Annual Polanyi Meeting in association with the American Academy of Religion, November 17, 2012.  Later published as, "Michael Polanyi and the Ecological Turn: Embodiment, Personhood, and Interdisciplinarity". Tradition and Discovery 40:3 (2013-14): 36-48.

[2] Ibid., 5.

[3] Ibid., 7

[4] Ibid., 11

[5] Added after posting.  “Polanyi uses the term “cosmic field” as the unexplicated and  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.

[6] I have 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 explain them.

[7] Grosso, 10.

[8] For example, Stanley Jaki and Alfred Whitehead.

[9] Tradition and Discovery, 17(1-2):21-22, 1990-1.

[10] Real Presences, (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 3.

[11][11] River Out of Eden, (London: Phoenix Press), 133.

[12] Alvin Plantinga, “Methodological Naturalism.”  This article can be easily found on a Google search.

[14] I 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.

[15] 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.

[16] John 10:30.

[17] John 14:6

[18] David Aikman, Jesus in Bejing: How Christianity Is Transforming China and Changing the Global Balance of Power, (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing Company, 2006), 5.

[19] Stark, 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 Publishers, 1996).

[20] (New York, Random House,  2005), back cover.

[21] New York, NY: Basic Books, 1977.

[22] Paul Cameron, The Gay Nineties: What the Empirical Evidence Reveals about Homosexuality, (Franklin, TN: Adroit Press, 1993), 54ff.

[23] Harold G. Koenig, Michael E. McCullough, and David B. Larson, Handbook of Religion and Health, (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001).

[24] Added after posting.  I do not agree with this objectivity in theology, both as a Polanyian and in my best hermeneutical understanding.

[26]The Whimsical Christian, (New York, NY: Collier Books, 1987), 29-33.

[27] Ibid. Chapter titles among her essays are “The Drama Is in the Dogma” and “Creed or Chaos.”

[28] I would 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 interpreted. 

[29] Indeed, the very idea of the impositions of  “commandments” and “law” is almost sufficient to separate the sheep from the goats.

[30] Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame Press, 1988,  3-4.

[31] Ibid., 5.

[32] Ibid, 7.

[33][33] The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into the Christian Faith, (Pittsburgh, PA: Crown and Covenant Publications, 2012).

[34] Crewdson, op cit.

[35] John Apczynski, “Polanyi’s Augustinianism:  A Mark of the Future?, Tradition and Discovery 20:1 (1993-94): 27-40.

[36] Frederick Copletson, A History of Philosophy: Medieval Philosophy, (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1950), 60, 63.

[37] Ronald Nash, The Light of the Mind, (Lima, OH: Academic Renewal Press, 2003), 93.

[38] I Corinthians 13:13.

[39] Apczynski, op cit.

[40] Apczynski, op cit.

[41] Sayers, 30.


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