Thursday, February 18, 2016

Heidegger: A Philosopher’s Failed Attempt to Ground Knowledge Outside God

Philosophy is a very complex field. The critical component can produce despair, darkness, gloominess, and downright frustration. Nothing is safe from criticism and challenge. Everything has to be qualified and defined and re-qualified and re-defined ad nausea it seems. Here, the simplest belief will be challenged and subjected to more criticism than one could possibly imagine. No assumption is safe. Everything must be justified, and therefore, defended. On the flipside, the constructive component of philosophy has had more attempts than there are seemingly, grains of sand in the oceans and beaches combined, to satisfy man's quest for truth, for knowledge, for meaning.

Martin Heidegger is one philosopher among an endless stream of the history of philosophers to throw his hate in the ring. Heidegger’s influence on philosophy, both critically and constructively, is profound. As is the case in many, if not most philosophies, Heidegger’s aim was to answer the skeptical challenge to human knowledge. At the very heart of epistemology is the skeptical question of the existence of an external world and how a human subject could ever have access to such a world. If human beings are trapped within the confines of their mind, it is only reasonable, or so it seems, to ask how a human subject, trapped in the world of thought, could ever transcend that world to access an external world. How does the human mind process information and data about objects outside itself? This question, Heidegger thinks, uncritically accepts the Cartesian notion of that the world consists of mind and matter. This means that the skeptical challenge is operating on the assumption of Cartesian epistemology. This epistemology is something that Heidegger challenges. The reason for such a challenge is that Heidegger believes that Cartesian epistemology fails to adequately answer the skeptic’s challenge. If Heidegger is successful in constructing an epistemology to replace Cartesian foundationalism, he has a chance to undermine the skeptic’s challenge at its most basic level. And if Heidegger can undermine the skeptic, it means he can provide ground for human knowledge.

Heidegger’s most significant work in this endeavor is known as Being and Time. The basic issue is that Heidegger objects to making epistemology the prime starting point. After all, how we know is much to do with what we are. Heidegger argues for the primacy of metaphysics over epistemology. For the presuppositional apologist that follows Van Til, this sounds very familiar. True knowledge is understanding the world as God understands and has created it. Van Til begins with the Creator/creature distinction and develops his epistemology in accord with his metaphysic. 

Epistemology must be grounded, after all, in something. We may ground it in the experience of the individual, or the cognitive processes of the human mind, or the transcendent God of Scripture. But, we we are to avoid skepticism, we must ground it somewhere and whatever we ground it in, that ground must provide adequate stability to stave off skeptical challenges. This grounding led Heidegger to ground knowledge in his complex idea of Being. Over the course of his life, Heidegger made several attempts to account for intelligibility and its grounding in Being apart from God. For the sake of simplicity, I will spare you the complexity of Heidegger’s concepts of Dasein, Anyone, and language. My point is much more basic than that. In the end, Heidegger’s project ended in failure because of the circularity involved in attempting to ground knowledge in Being. Man cannot inform man of what man is without stepping outside of himself and conducting an evaluation on himself. But since such an undertaking is already colored by man’s bias, his being what he is as a result of his existence within a context, within time, it is impossible to avoid the circular nature of Heidegger epistemic aspiration. What sort of thing is evaluating this other sort of thing simply cannot be known if knowledge the thing itself is both the evaluator and the thing being studied! The impossibility of shedding prior knowledge in order to account for prior knowledge is simply impossible if knowledge is grounded in the finite knower. Heidegger spent a lifetime trying to succeed where no man ever has. Despite his many excellent contributions to philosophy, his failed to accomplish his goal: provide for human knowledge apart from the God of Scripture.

Heidegger’s aim is very basic: he desires to ground human knowledge on a foundation precludes the transcendent, self-contained, ontological Triune God of Scripture. He rejects the view that the beginning of knowledge is the fear of God. He rejects the view that all the riches of wisdom and knowledge are deposited in Christ. There is a problem of what is termed reflexivity in Heidegger. If it is the case that culture and history determine our sense of what it is to be, then our idea of Being and Time must also be the products of history and culture. If it is not the case that culture and history determine our sense of what it is to be, then Heidegger’s project collapses. This is where every attempt to ground human knowledge in anything other than God ends: collapse, and complete failure.

It was not the aim of this post to cover the fine and complex details in Heidegger’s philosophy. My aim was to show that Heidegger’s philosophy, like every other pagan philosophy fails to provide for the intelligibility of human experience, and in this case, the human experience of knowledge. It is the fear of God alone that is the beginning of all knowledge and wisdom. Christians would do well to keep this in mind when engaging the culture evangelistically and apologetically. Our answers to the pagan are not designed to satisfy the pagan. They are designed to satisfy God.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I don't need a text. First, Heidegger was defending the possibility of knowledge over against skepticism. Second, Heidegger did not ground knowledge in God. Therefore, Heidegger grounded knowledge in Being. Knowing for Heidegger is a mode of "Being-in-the-world." For sure it is more complex than my blog can get into, but essentially, Heidegger does not ground knowledge in God and the only other option is to ground it in human beings, regardless of what that may look like, and that is the problem. And that is why Heidegger's project failed and that is why every attempt at non-Christian approaches to knowledge fail.