Below we present an excerpt from an article by Dr. Clouser which appeared in the journal in South Africa called Koers (Online) vol.79 n.1 Pretoria Jan. 2014.   
We chose just a short selection from the article (please go and read the full article if you want!) so you could get a sample of Dr. Clouser's academic writing on the subject of self-evidence. --Bob Zomermaand

Can we know God is real?

Roy Clouser

Department of Philosophy, Religion, and Classical Studies, The College of New Jersey, United States of America


Other Christian thinkers who saw this point

Unfortunately, there are a number of prominent Christian thinkers who missed this point. Nevertheless, there is also a significant tradition of others who did not miss it. In fact, these thinkers not only recognised that New Testament writers use this third sense of 'faith', but they employed it the same way in their own writings, making clear that they use it as equivalent to sure and certain knowledge. For example:

Gregory of Nyssa:

[Faith] makes the invisible our own, assuring us of the imperceptible by its own certainty about it. (Pelikan 1992:217) (emphasis added)

Gregory Naziansus:

Faith is what gives fullness to our reasoning. (Pelikan 1992:27)

Basil of Caesarea:

Knowledge of the divine essence involves perception of its incomprehensibility, and the object of our worship is not that of which we comprehend the essence, but of which we comprehend only that the essence exists. (Pelikan 1992:302) (emphasis added)


Faith is a living, bold trust in God's grace, so certain of God's favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God's grace makes you happy, joyful and bold in your relationship with God and all creatures. The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. (Luther, 1854, 125) (emphasis added)


For faith includes not merely the knowledge that God is, but, also, nay chiefly, a perception of his will toward us. (Calvin 1953, III:ii, 6)

But the human mind, when blinded and darkened is very far from being able to rise to a proper knowledge of the divine will ... Hence, in order that the word of God may gain full credit, the mind must be enlightened ... from some other quarter. We shall now have a full definition of Faith if we say that it is a firm and sure knowledge of the divine favor toward us, founded on the truth of a free promise in Christ, and revealed to our minds, and sealed on our hearts, by the Holy Spirit. (Calvin 1953, III:ii, 7) (emphasis added)


By faith we know [God's] existence ... (Pascal 1960:93) (emphasis added)

To sum up, the term 'faith' is used in the New Testament to mean:

1. The Christian religion as a whole.

2. Taking God's promises and other revealed information on trust. This is not blind faith, however, because it is based on God's record of past covenant faithfulness.

3. Belief that God is real and offers us the gospel, in which case faith means we both 'believe and know'.

But if believing that God is the one and only divine Creator is faith in the third sense, the sense that is actually equivalent to knowledge, what is it that justifies this certainty and how do we come to acquire it?

The New Testament actually answers these questions quite clearly despite the fact that a myriad of writers on the subject have preferred to ignore what it says and to construct their own theories about it instead. (I am not suggesting that the NT actually attempts to give a full account of religious knowledge, let alone an entire epistemology. But it teaches more that needs to be included in any epistemology than the majority of writers on the subject have recognised.) The New Testament's own answer is that we know God is real by experiencing God. With the addition of this point, the third sense of 'faith' completes the project of replacing the pagan gentile outlook on religion with the Jewish-Christian understanding.6

The experience of self-evidence

Missing this point is also why Thomas Hobbes got things exactly wrong when he quipped: 'When a man says God spake to him in a dream he says no more than that he dreamed God spake to him'. What Hobbes missed is precisely that quality of an experience which philosophers have long called 'self-evidence'. That is the feature of any experience - dreams included - that can justify the person having the experience in the belief that it is communication from God.

It is a fact that believers often experience God's presence, nearness, comfort, judgement, encouragement, and the like, in a wide variety of ways, each of which includes that it is self-evident it is God who is experienced. That said, it remains true that amongst all the varied experiences, there is one particular type of experience that is primary over the others: the experience of encountering God through his word as recorded in scripture. This is the primary sense of religious experience because: (1) whether or not a person has any of the more unusual experiences (and most believers do not), every Christian experiences as self-evident that the gospel is the truth about God from God, and (2) it is scripture that provides the basis for the interpretation of the other sorts of experience.

As you can see, then, on this view an experience isn't religious only if it is miraculous or very strange. Rather, a religious experience is any experience that generates, deepens or confirms a religious belief. The question that is always posed by critics is whether such experiences not only generate but can justify that belief. The answer I'm proposing is: Yes, if the belief generated is experienced as a self-evident truth.

Both the Old and the New Testaments speak of just such experiences, and do so by using the same visual metaphors for self-evidence that philosophers, mathematicians and logicians have long used. The Psalmist remarks upon the experience of seeing the truth when he says 'in your light we see light' (Ps 36:9), and 'your light is truth' (Ps 43:3). This is continued by the New Testament's talk about 'the light of the gospel' shining in our hearts (Jn 1:6-9; Acts 26:17, 18; Rm 11:8, 10; 2 Cor 4:4, 6; Eph 5:8, 9; 1 Pt 2:9) and about our hearts having been previously 'darkened' because we were born 'blind' to the truth about God (Mt 13:13-16; 15:14; Mk 8:17, 18; Jn 9:39). Most telling of all is the expression St Paul uses in Romans 1:21 and Ephesians 1:18, where he speaks of our being 'enlightened' by the Holy Spirit so that we 'see' God's truth with 'the eyes of our mind' (the term in Greek is actually 'heart' not 'mind').

Paul doesn't explicitly use the expression 'self-evident' here. But by insisting that people come to know God when his Spirit opens their hearts so that they 'see' for themselves the truth of the gospel, he is using the same language that the leading thinkers of the Pagan world had used for centuries to talk of beliefs that are self-evident and therefore self-justifying. At the same time, he and other New Testament writers transformed the scope of what had been allowed as self-evident in the pagan philosophical tradition. Instead of self-evidence being confined to truths of mathematics and logic (and a few metaphysical principles), the New Testament writers take it to refer to all the varied experiences by which human beings encounter God, including those by which 'his Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God' (Rm 8:16).

At this point some readers may be tempted to object to identifying any type of religious experience as self-evident. It may seem to them that self-evidence is a highly abstract idea that arose in the context of such lofty endeavours as mathematics, logic and philosophy. For that reason it could seem highly artificial to introduce it into the sweaty realm of actual lived experience - and religiousexperience at that!

However plausible this objection might at first appear, it actually gets things backwards. If we have learned anything from Wittgenstein, it should at least be that the experience of certainty that needs no justification is part of our everyday lives. It is an experience that first arises in our lived engagement with the world around us, and not in the context of abstract theorising. As he says in On certainty:

358. Now I would like to regard this certainty, not as something akin to hastiness or superficiality. But as a form of life. (That is very badly expressed and badly thought as well.) 359. But it means that I want to conceive it as some-thing that lies beyond being justified or unjustified; as it were, as something animal. (Wittgenstein 1972:46e, 47)

My point is that those engaged in theoretical enterprises recognised in them states of affairs that had a certainty like that of their pre-theoretical experience. They borrowed the idea of that certainty, re-christened it 'self-evidence', and then attempted to kidnap it by declaring it to be solely the property of abstract truths. The New Testament position concerning the certainty of the experience of God therefore returns that experience to its pre-theoretical home ground. My proposal, then, is that this transformed idea of self-evidence is therefore the right way to understand the Jewish-Christian talk about God opening a person's heart so that the person 'sees' the truth of God's word. And the New Testament's talk about God removing a person's spiritual blindness so that he or she can 'see' the gospel to be true means that it becomes self-evident to that person that the gospel is the truth about God from God. Thus, when a cluster of scripture teachings is experienced in this way, that is equivalent to hearing God speak.

It is this position that should be taken as the New Testament's answer to the usual sceptical questions about the more unusual experiences mentioned above. They are often attacked as being pathologies such as hallucinations, etc. The proper reply to these attacks concerns itself with the self-evidence of the beliefs conveyed, and ignores the debates about the state of the experiencer. Debates over whether the experience was veridical or not go nowhere: those who deny God's reality will never admit that any such experiences really come from God, whereas those who believe in God because of such experiences will never be shaken in their conviction that they came from God. The position developed here circumvents these debates.

This position should also be viewed as the New Testament's reply to such sceptical questions as, 'How did Abraham (or Moses or Jesus) know it was God who was talking to him?' And it also answers the question how we can know the Bible is the record of the covenants God made with human beings. In each case the beliefs in question are justified by the experience that it is self-evident that it is God who has made himself known.

One last consequence: on this position, belief in God's reality is not a theory, and therefore needs no proof. Whatever we experience as self-evident doesn't need proof; it is theories - educated guesses - that need evidence and proof.

Two Christian writers who have seen this point

I have already taken note of the way many writers have preferred to ignore what the New Testament has to say about the grounds for belief in God when constructing their theories of religious belief. But I will now quote two thinkers who did not ignore the New Testament on this topic, but captured and expressed its teaching beautifully. One of these is a theologian and Protestant; the other is a scientist and Catholic. The first is from John Calvin:

As to the question, How shall we be persuaded that [scripture] came from God ... it is just the same as if we were asked, How shall we learn to distinguish light from darkness, white from black, sweet from bitter? Scripture bears upon the face of it as clear evidence of its truth as white and black do of their color, sweet and bitter of their taste. (Calvin 1953, I:vii, 2)

... [unbelieving] men think that religion rests only on opinion and, therefore, that they may not believe anything foolishly, or on slight grounds, desire and insist to have it proved by reason that Moses and the prophets were divinely inspired. But I answer that the testimony of the Spirit is superior to reason. (Calvin 1953, I:vii, 4)

... Scripture, carrying its own evidence along with it, deigns not to submit to proofs and arguments, but owes the full conviction with which we ought to receive it to the testimony of the Spirit of God .... (Calvin 1953,I:vii, 5)

Such, then, is a conviction that asks not for reasons ... a knowledge which accords with the highest reason, namely, knowledge in which the mind rests more securely than any reasons ... I say nothing more than what every believer experiences in himself though my words fall far short of the reality. (Calvin 1953, I:vii, 5)

The second is from Blaise Pascal (1960):

We know truth not only with the reason, but also with the heart. It is in this latter way that we recognize first principles, and it is in vain that reason, which has no part therein tries to impugn them ... For the knowledge of first principles - for example space, time, motion, and number, [is] as sure as any of those procured for us by reason. And it is upon this knowledge of the heart and instinct that reason must rely and base all its arguments ... Those, therefore, to whom God has imparted religion by intuition are very fortunate and very rightly convinced.7 (p. 22)

So we may perfectly well know that God exists ... by faith we know his existence; in the light of glory we shall know his nature. (p. 93) (emphasis added)

These two writers make essentially the same point: The truth that God is real and has made covenant promises to human beings can be known by direct experience. Calvin holds that once the Spirit of God removes the blindness of a person's mind, seeing the truth of the gospel is analogous to the self-evidence of normal sense perception. Pascal, on the other hand, calls the experience an 'intuition' of truth and compares it to recognising the self-evidence of 'first principles' (axioms).

Keep in mind that for these thinkers, as for the New Testament writers, belief in God is not knowledge merely in the sense of intellectual assent. The experience of 'seeing' the truth about God is the result of the work of God's Spirit performed in the heart of the enlightened person where 'heart' is used in the biblical sense of that term. For Bible writers, I remind you, 'heart' does not refer to emotion rather than intellect but to the central unity of a human being. So whereas you or I are used to speaking of head knowledge as opposed to heart knowledge and use such expressions to mean intellect as opposed to feeling, the Bible writers speak of the human heart as the unity of intellect, emotion, will, talents, dispositions and all else that makes up a person.8 For this reason, when the heart is enlightened, the intellect sees the truth 'with the eyes of the heart' and so knows God, whilst the emotions are turned towards God in love, and the will is inclined to please him. This is why enlightenment by God's Spirit is called 'conversion' - the re-direction of the whole person. The whole person was lost to the sin of belief in a false god, and the whole person is now initiated into the process of being restored to a proper relationship with the true and living God. This is never merely intellectual, but is seated in the deepest dispositions of the heart - the centre of human existence. To sum up once more:

1. Faith that God is real and has made covenant promises to human beings is not a matter of trusting a promise, let alone blind trust; rather

2. It is self-evident knowledge acquired by direct experience, which is why

3. Faith that God is real and offers us the gospel is neither a theory nor in need of proof.

4. Faith in God, by contrast, goes beyond knowing God is real. It is taking God at his word concerning the promises and other truths he has revealed, and results in striving to obey his commandment to love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbour as ourselves.



Modifié le: mardi 12 mai 2020, 16:23