Five Examples of Placing Man at the Center (2)

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

A paradigm shift began with Immanuel Kant[1], who influenced most of the Western world to believe that our minds are the organizers and rationalizers of a reality which is unknowable “as it is.” The mind of man becomes the final adjudicator in the interpretation of the Universe. In Kant’s system, it cannot be any other way. Further, the empiricist in him put everything not open to the senses behind a cognitive wall in a realm he called the Noumenal. This noumenal realm is the place that “things as they are” (the external world) inhabit prior to being categorized and interpreted by our minds. And the only way our minds can obtain the data of the external world is through sense-experience. As Kant himself said, “All conceptions, therefore, and with them all principles, however high the degree of their a priori possibility, relate to empirical intuitions, that is, to data towards a possible experience.”[2] So sense-data are necessary for any “fact” to be presented to the mind, but once perceived that data is given form or structure by the mind.[3] The mind of man is active in interpreting the world, processing the data it receives, which means that it is mans mind that becomes the transcendental point of all knowledge. If there are noumenal data that are incapable of being presented to the mind as phenomena these may exist, but not being apprehended through sense-data, they must forever remain behind the wall in the realm of the scientifically unverifiable.[4] That is where Kant and his followers have consigned God and the spiritual.[5]

In effect, what this did was to drive God out of the objective “scientific” world and to situate Him firmly in the real yet unknowable world where He would be subjectively necessary.[6] Kant was no atheist, he believed in a god, but his faith was in little more than an ideal moral theology. Indeed, “the very word “God,” removed from the moral context that gives it life, is almost or quite without significance.”[7] Needless to say, it didn’t take long for intellectuals to apply Occam’s Razor on this unknowable god. As nothing could be said about Him, why even postulate Him? He explains nothing, so they said.[8] They still say that. Following Schleiermacher, Liberal Christianity has continued to live with Kant’s noumenal god[9]; intimidated by the supposedly fully factual and officious declarations of the scientists.[10]

Some of the problems with Kant are as follows:

Ÿ First, by making the mind of man the interpreter of reality (as it is presented to our consciousness) Kant made the mind the ultimate authority in the Universe. When one considers the problems which men create for themselves and for each other, and then remembers his temporality and smallness, this seems to be an incredible presumption.

Ÿ Blindly following Kant must lead to complete skepticism about reality since one cannot know whether objective reality exists (since it belongs in the realm of the noumenal).

Ÿ This in turn leads to a state of utter agnosticism about all truth. Logic, such as it is, cannot be grounded in “things as they are” but only in the innate categories of the mind. Science simply could not get off the ground with this system. After all, appearances can be deceptive.[11]

Ÿ If the human mind structures and organizes the phenomenal world, then things like mountains, flowers, and stars (in fact, the universe itself) are creations of our mental activity. Furthermore, before there were any humans, none of this existed because there was no mind to organize it. Is this not preposterous?

Ÿ According to Kant, we can’t know “things in themselves” (the noumenal). Therefore we cannot apply our concepts to them, since to say something about the noumenal would be to have a concept of it. But this would mean that we could not apply the concepts of one or many to these things. We could not apply the concept of space/time, or even of existence to them. We know nothing of this realm, not even its existence!

Ÿ Since none of our human concepts apply to the noumenal realm and are, in fact, mere constructions of the mind, it would mean that things like “good and evil”, “war and peace”, “living and dying” are only apparent but not real.[12]

This ends up in consummate irrationality. Man is in a dream concocted by his own mind, but he is at the center of things! “In modern science, in modern philosophy and in modern religion a would-be autonomous man wields the ‘Logician’s postulate’ in sovereign fashion denying significant reality to that which has not been trimmed on his Procrustian Bed.”[13] No one can live by taking this view seriously.


[1] Readings of Kant differ because he often seemed to contradict himself. For an evaluation of the newer reading of Kant, see Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 3-30.

[2] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, translated by E.L.J. Meiklejohn, (New York: Prometheus Books, [1781], 1990), 158.

[3] Nash, Life’s Ultimate Questions, 261.

[4] Brown, 96.

[5] Rogers and Baird, 112. They refer to “knowledge about the soul, the world [as it is], and God [as] impossible.”

[6] This is the position ‘God’ takes up in the Critique of Practical Reason.

[7] W. H. Walsh, “Kant, Immanuel,” in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 4.317.

[8] See Terry L. Miethe and Gary R. Habermas, Why Believe? God Exists!, (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1993), 97. They state: “Though Kant thought he was doing a service to Christianity, it is in his thought that we see what was used later to support the very destruction of even the possibility of knowledge of God…”

[9] I understand that for Schleiermacher “God” is accessible through a feeling of dependence, a concept absent in Kant, but the Kantian dichotomy still remains.

[10] Even today one finds Stephen Jay Gould driving a wedge between the science which deals with reality, and religion which has its remit in matters wholly personal. See Phillip E. Johnson, Objections Sustained, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1998), 76.

[11] Remember, according to Kant, scientists are not dealing with “things as they are.”

[12] These last three points are derived from an essay by Alvin Plantinga. See Rogers and Baird, Introduction to Philosophy, 117-119.

[13] Cornelius Van Til, Christianity and Idealism, (Philadelphia: P&R, 1955), 135.

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