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THEOLOGY > Man > Crown of Creation > Innate Knowledge 


By innate knowledge is meant the knowledge, concepts, forms, or universals that are an essential and intrinsic part of the makeup of the mind, and by which man processes that which he studies and experiences. Without this rational framework, knowledge would be impossible, for data could not be incorporated into the mind nor processed by the mind. Man is born with this framework—part of the Imago Dei—hence, the two words, “innate knowledge.”

Innate knowledge validates the field of epistemology, which is the study of how man can know. Unless man has a framework by which to comprehend, analyze, and organize facts and thoughts there can be no knowledge. This is to affirm that the universals must be in place for the particulars to make sense. And it seems inconceivable to speculate that man has the capacity to formulate the universals from the particulars; in other words, man cannot establish absolutes—something or Someone outside of man must provide for man a normative framework. God has done this for man, and it is known as “innate knowledge.”

Throughout history it has been suggested that man is born as a tabula rasa (Lat., “blank slate”), a concept with roots reaching back to Aristotle, developed by Aquinas, and later popularized by John Locke in an Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). According to this perspective, man’s mind is a blank at birth and is filled with data through the experiences of life and the information received via sensory perception. Empirical information becomes the building blocks of knowledge and the means by which man reflects upon the knowledge communicated from that which surrounds him. As a core of information is gained from experiences, some sort of framework develops that is used to process additional information. The universals, therefore, are developed by the individual from the particulars.

Contrary to the above thinking, man is endowed with an intellectual or rational structure which makes learning and reasoning possible. Man is gifted by virtue of his manhood, the Imago Dei, with this intellectual and rational composition, which enables him to assimilate knowledge and to critique the knowledge that is gained. This framework is composed of the universals or intellectual concepts that are valid and are utilized in everyday life, whether one realizes they exist or not.

Several points can be made in support of the idea of “innate knowledge.”

One, innate knowledge is consistent with the Christian worldview. Every discussion is either in terms of God or man, and with the issue of innate ideas the situation is no different. To begin with the God of the Bible, rather than with humanistic assumptions, has definitive implications and inevitably leads to certain conclusions, one of which is innate knowledge.

It is not inconsistent with a Theistic worldview to entertain the possibility that man at birth has the framework for the acquisition and assimilation of knowledge. Man is made programmed, ready to function in God’s world. Though innate knowledge has non-Christian roots, that historical fact does not dictate that the concept is inconsistent with the worldview of the believer. Innate knowledge does not contradict the essence of the Christian worldview and, therefore, can be entertained as a concept that contributes to a proper epistemology.

Two, Scripture supports the concept of innate knowledge:  

Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion (Gen. 1:26);

But there is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding (Job 32:8);

He has set eternity in their hearts (Eccles. 3:11);

men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18);

what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them (Rom. 1:19; NASB, “that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them”);

although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God (Rom. 1:21);

they did not like to retain God in their knowledge (Rom. 1:28);

knowing the righteous judgment of God (Rom. 1:32);

who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them (Rom. 2:15);

having their own conscience seared with a hot iron (I Tim. 4:2);

their mind and conscience are defiled (Tit. 1:15).
The above verses teach that man’s mind contains certain concepts, spoken of as: “image,” “likeness,” “eternity,” “truth,” “what may be known,” “God,” and “law,”; this is part of the compositional nature of man. Also the verses teach that man’s mind, that is, his reasoning ability, has been impacted by the Fall. What was placed in his “heart” is clearly known and understood, but that knowledge is “suppressed” and is not “retained,” so that the mind and conscience have become defiled and do not function properly. The point is that man has the wherewithal to reason, but his reason is flawed because of the contamination of sin (see: Status of the Image).

Three, man is made in the image of God. A basic question would seem to clarify and determine the issue: If man is made in the image of God, then how could man be made with a blank mind? God’s mind is not a tabula rasa and has never been a tabula rasa, for His mind is filled with infinite knowledge.

And belief in the immediate creation of man by God in His image surely has implications for the state or content of Adam’s mind at the point of his creation. It is inconceivable to accept Creation and also to accept the fact that man was created with a blank mind, with neither knowledge nor intellectual framework for processing knowledge. Surely, if man bears the image of God, then man’s mind initially and consequently was and has never been a blank slate.

While it may be debatable as to what constitutes the innate knowledge (such as: concept of causality, idea of ethical values, belief in Deity, concepts of rationality, capability of learning, language concepts), it must be accepted from the direct teaching of Scripture and the indirect assumptions made from Scripture that man has some sort of intellectual framework at birth, which is utilized throughout life in the learning and reasoning processes. This internal intellectual framework is common to all people, regardless of race or sex. It is part of what it means to be human—to be made in the image of God (see: Image of God).

Four, Adam recognized God immediately. Another consideration is that at the moment of his creation, man surely must have recognized and known who God was. When God spoke to him he heard and understood, knowing that it was his Creator speaking to him.

Recognition of God did not follow a period of philosophical speculation concerning proofs for the existence of some higher power, and then reflection on the fact that the higher power must be personal. God did not need to introduce Himself to Adam; at the point of his creation Adam knew God. For Adam to recognize God meant that Adam recognize his accountability and responsibility to God, and this entailed certain concepts or an intellectual framework that would make it possible (see: Intellectually Astute).

As with Adam, so it is with man presently, there is a recognition of Deity, even though in his state of sin man does not have a personal knowledge of the God of the Bible. To be man is to have knowledge of God; the knowledge is not probable but certain, not a possibility for man but a reality for man. The reasoning and arguments of man do not destroy this knowledge, for the knowledge is an integral part of every man. And it has been there “since the creation of the world” (Rom. 1:20). Man may deny it; man may reject it; but the knowledge remains. “Knowledge of God is both inescapable and universal” (Rushdoony, Biblical Philosophy, 74). Reymond speaks of this God-knowledge as “innate theism” (A Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 143).

Five, Adam instantly understood God’s communication with him. In addition, at the moment of Adam’s creation God communicated with him giving to him commands, both negative and positive. How did Adam process the information if his mind would have to be developed via experiences which would take some amount of time? In other words, how did Adam understand what “fruitful and multiply” meant if his mind had no framework by which to process the commands given by God? Certainly, at the point of creation, God was able to communicate with man and man had understanding of God’s communication.

In commenting on the command not to eat of the Tree of Life, Clark commented: “Such a command was not apriori knowledge, but the intellectual equipment to understand it was” (Biblical Doctrine of Man, 22). Adam understood the directions God gave to him regarding the tree; the ability to do so was part of his nature.

Six, there is a practical use of innate knowledge. It is seen in the following ways:  

* it serves as a framework for the processing of information or facts; this is the basis for science and the discovery of the secrets of the universe.

* it serves as a framework for making decisions regarding the ethical part of life, choosing between right and wrong; Empiricism may serve to inform what is but it can never provide a normative ought; the subjective can never establish the objective; man must have some sense of the right.

* it serves as a framework for the question of worship, for in the framework is the Theistic inclination, the awareness of a greater Power; God did not need to introduce Himself to Adam—Adam immediately knew God and recognized Him as God (see: Innate Knowledge of God); sensory experience cannot establish the existence of God, much less the type of God who is. There are no evidences of God that can yield scientific proof for His existence; there are arguments that are compelling, perhaps, and that reinforce a personal conviction, but arguments based upon evidence cannot establish a universal (see: Proofs of God's Existence).

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