Christians often tell us that they have a special kind of epistemology which gives them a conduit to some divine truth, to which we mere mortals are not privvy. These kinds are usually one of three: Biblical infallibility, “divine intervention” (miracles) and divine revelation. I have already discussed the absurdity of the belief in an infallible book, but this is more of an epistemic look at the question.
There are three major reasons why any Christian epistemic standard is necessarily flawed.
1. All such standards are circular, as they assume the existence of God in order to prove the existence of God.
This one is pretty obvious. To believe in the Bible as infallible, in divine intervention, or in divine revelation, you already need to believe in God. Not only that, but you need to believe in a set of equally absurd propositions about God. To accept the Bible as an epistemic standard, for example, we would need to justify propositions such as:
* I believe that God exists.
* I believe that God can, and does, intervene in the universe.
* I believe that God can speak to human beings.
* I believe that God cares about human beings enough to communicate to them. I believe that humans can understand God and write his words in a book.
* I believe that I can make the difference between a communication from God and one from Satan (e.g.).
In fact, this list more or less also applies to “divine revelation” and “divine intervention”, unless we’re talking about the naturalistic arguments, in which case only the first two points would apply.
One can counter-argue that, as long as one believes in God, these methods make sense. But this is not sufficient. One must also believe in 2, 3 and 4 in order to accept the method. The end result of this is tautological: what you get from using the method is more or less already contained within its premises. Same for the naturalistic arguments also.
2. They contradict the contingent nature of the theistic worldview itself. The theist must either accept our epistemic playing field or lose by default.
To claim that there is such a thing as a Christian epistemology is self-contradictory, because the Christian worldview is contingent on the will of God. What does this mean? Well, take the example of the Bible. To accept the Bible as infallible, I must necessarily assume that it will remain true for all time. This is an assumption that, given the contingency of the information given in the Bible, I simply cannot make.
This must be true even in supposed historical matters. Suppose the Bible says that at a certain year, the Jews conquerred this or that other region. Well, surely God has access to the entirety of spacetime, that is, if omnipotence means anything at all. And if this is so, then it can also make it so that the Jews are defeated when trying to effect said conquest. Thus God can make even a historical matter contingent. But even if we exclude such cases, there is still plenty of information which either should be true today, or is supposed to come true in the future, which God can change.
The obvious Christian reply to this is that God does not lie. The equally obvious atheistic reply to this is to point out that there is no possible means for the Christian to know such a thing. It is entirely possible that God is deluding the Christian in believing that it does not lie. Once you accept that God is omnipotent, the only consistent course of action is to systematically cast anxiety on all the laws of nature and psychology.
More simply, no epistemology can hold in the Christian worldview, because the worldview by definition excludes the possibility of knowing anything with any certainty whatsoever. If the uniformity of nature is an illusion (as the Christians like to remind us regularly), then everything we know is an illusion.
The same thing holds true for the other two epistemologies. Suppose someone tells me that he knows predestination is true because he received a divine message. Well, omitting all the problems discussed in the first point, and therefore assuming that he is right, he would still have to explain to us why he thinks that God would hold true to his promise. If someone makes a naturalistic argument by pointing at some law of nature, we would have to ask him why he believes in such a law in a contingent universe. Something that is contingent cannot have any laws.
3. Demonstrating that another epistemic standard is valid is impossible without the use of reason. Only reason is derivable from foundational principles.
Reason is composed of the senses, logic, and concept-formation. Any other epistemology must rely on these three methods in order to even exist. So the fact that their results conflict with the results of reason means that they are contradictory.
Let’s start with the Bible again. To know that the Bible even exists, I need to be able to perceive it in some way, preferably through sight. I need to be able to understand the words logically (although they may not make logical sense), and I need to know what the concepts in it mean. So on the way to making a dogmatic statement about Jesus or the end of the world or whatever, the Christian has already validated reason in its entirety. So he has confirmed the validity of reason in order to completely deny the validity of reason. This is a blatant contradiction.
Now, a Christian may argue that his epistemologies are in fact not contradictory to reason, but complementary to reason. But it is hard to see how two completely opposite conclusions can be complementary. If reason tells us God does not exist, and his epistemology tells us it does, then it hardly befits him to claim that reason is impotent in that area. He can try to argue rationally, which brings him to our level, but arguing from his own epistemology will do him no good.
The other epistemologies suffer from the same problem. If one believes in receiving divine revelation, he must receive such a revelation in some comprehensible form. Such a form must be perceived, it must be logically perceived, and its conceptual contents must be understood. Divine intervention also proceeds in the same way.
What does this imply? Does it mean I believe that Christians cannot know anything inherently? Not really. After all, they do imitate us, like the good monkeys that they are. But unless they can justify a Christian epistemology, they are stuck with the unpalatable conclusion that they are stealing our knowledge in order to deny it.