Okay, here's my big post on what has been posted lately on empiricism.

I want to say some things first.

I see equivocation in what Clark is saying. His definitions of empiricism and of his own view seem to continually shift. Thus, when he tries to refute empiricism, it seems that he refutes the empiricism according to the definition of the minute. This makes it very difficult to pin him down.

What I see are the following views:

(1) I can't believe what people tell me because:

(a) people lie, or

(b) people make mistakes

(2) I can't believe what I see because I can't trust my senses.

Let's look at #1 and take the example of Christopher Columbus (which isn't his real name; it's Cristobal Colon, if what the historians say is true : - )). Can I know for sure that Columbus discovered America? No, because it is possible that someone lied, and this lie was perpetuated in history books. It is also possible that someone mistakenly thought Columbus discovered America, and this mistake was perpetuated in history books. I have no problem with this.

But let's now look at #2. Let's take Columbus as an example again. Can I be sure that I read in a history book that Columbus discovered America (whether or not what I read is true)? Yes. So I reject #2. Now things like optical illusions and such are used to show that we can't always trust our senses. I agree that we can't always trust our senses, especially when certain things are constructed to deceive our senses. But when I read something, I know I've read it. How do I prove it? I have no other proof than what my senses have told me.

Why did God give us senses? In order for us to be deceived? Why do we hear, taste, touch, smell, feel? Is it to glorify God, or is it to make us doubt reality?

Clark's view is anti-Christian in the following ways: Clark's view leads to doubt. It is totally anti-assurance. Clark's view leads to non-judgmentalism. One can never know for sure that another person is unregenerate. Clark's view is anti-gospel and anti-faith. Clark cannot truly know what the gospel is and cannot truly believe anything.

Romans 10:14-15 comes in here. A person cannot CALL on someone in whom he has not BELIEVED. A person cannot BELIEVE someone of whom they have not HEARD. A person cannot HEAR about someone without PREACHING. This involves the senses. I do not believe that by "hear" is meant just the hearing of the ear; there also can be hearing of the eye (reading), hearing of touch (reading Braille), for example. Yet what does Clark believe? Does he believe that believing comes by direct revelation without hearing?

Okay, now to my responses to the posts. I think you'll find them to be like a broken record.

Samuel wrote:

<<my question:-if knowledge comes through means of sense organs,then for example Isa.6:9-10 they could not see,hear and then understand not,what happens to our senses when we understands,what is the role of senses to come to understanding ,how we perceive the things?

I hope you will get what I am asking! (both have same sense organs but unbeliever remain ignorant of truth where believer receive the truth) shall I quote from some other source rather than Clark for a while?to come to the truth one must have sense organs at least one of them?what about spirit beings and what about without a body after the death?please don't get angry on me>>

Don't worry - we won't get angry with you! I hope I understand what you're asking. In Isaiah 6:9-10, God tells Isaiah to preach as a means of hardening the reprobate. They outwardly hear and see the message, but they do not understand or know the message. So what is the physical difference between the senses of believers and that of unbelievers? Nothing! Let's take the scenario of a preacher preaching to a believer and an unbeliever. Do the believer and the unbeliever physically hear different things? No! They both hear the same words. But the words are received differently in the understanding. This has nothing to do with any difference between the persons' senses. This has to do with a spiritually enlightened mind vs. a spiritually blind mind.

Does someone need at least one of the senses in order to come to the truth? That's an interesting question. Can God preach directly to someone who cannot physically hear, touch, taste, smell, see? I think we can look to Romans 10:14-15 again. Unless there is a "hearing," there is not a believing. We can talk further about the different kinds of "hearing."

Regarding spirit beings: spirit beings still hear and still see.

Samuel wrote:

<<let me add one quote:- empiricism:-the view that all knowledge is based on or derived from experience.Empiricism has seemed attractive because it holds out the promise of a basis from which irrationality,false profundity,superstitions and obscurantism can firmly rejected.There are,however,important theoretical difficulties,since essential parts of human knowledge seem indeed to be a priori.For instance,empiricism has to account for principles of space,time and causality that seem to be necessary presuppositions for empirical knowledge and which therefore cannot themselves be based on experience.Again,an explanation has to be given of the seemingly a priori nature of truths of logic,mathematics,and even ethics. Denying innate knowledge,empiricism has to provide an alternative theory to deal with these problems. PENGUIN DICTIONARY OF PHILOSOPHY. Edited by Thomas Mautner ( pg.166/167)>>

By this definition, I am not an empiricist. But not being an empiricist does not mean that I agree with Clark.

Chris D wrote:

<<"For when nations not having Law do by nature the things of the Law, they not having Law are a law to themselves, who show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience witnessing with them, and the thoughts between one another accusing or even excusing" (Romans 2:14-15).

Regarding "the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience witnessing with them, and the thoughts between one another accusing or even excusing": Do little children KNOW that it is wrong to lie a priori? Do they KNOW that it is wrong to steal a priori? Do they KNOW stealing/lying is wrong before they actually experience being caught? As far as I am aware, a child does not walk out of store with the stolen item in his hand. Rather, the child walks out with the stolen item under his cloak or shirt or stuffed in his pockets. Yet let's say for the sake of argument that all small children without exception walked out with stolen items in their hands, and not concealed. Now if the kid tells me he did not know it was wrong to take the item, I don't "buy" his excuse anymore than he bought the item that he took without paying for.

Anyways, the point I am trying to make above is this: One does not have to first experience being caught stealing, to KNOW that stealing is wrong.>>

I totally agree. The Romans 2:14-15 is a great example. The conscience is the basis of some knowledge, and this is not experientially-based.

Chris D wrote (quoting Clark, I think):

<<There are some people who are not interested in what ancient philosophers said. They are not interested in epistemology. They are "practical." Very well, let them manufacture automobiles. They are not interested in truth and how we can come by it. But if anyone wishes to defend Christianity against its enemies, he must recognize that its most effective enemies are not auto-makers, but scientists and philosophers. Madalyn Murray O'Hair is no great threat. Aristotle, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant are. G.W.F. Hegel, Soren Kierkegaard, and perhaps Friedrich Nietzsche have done more damage than the higher critic Julius Wellhausen ever did. Therefore a serious Christian apologetic must pay attention to the strategists before mopping up the tacticians.>>

Clark doesn't recognize the real threat, which is people like him and John Robbins.

How does Clark know that Aristotle, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, or Nietzsche even existed or wrote anything? How does he know these people are a threat? Couldn't this all be a product of his imagination?

<<The greatest empiricists were the pagan Aristotle, the Roman Catholic Thomas Aquinas, and the Protestant John Locke...It is the foundation of his [John Locke's--CD] philosophy, and that foundation is that man's mind at birth is a blank...>>

How does Clark know that Aristotle, Aquinas, and Locke were great empiricists? Couldn't this all be a product of his imagination?


Christian college students often reply that God gave us sense organs and that therefore these must give us knowledge. Now, first, to have a sensation of red, or blue gives us no information as to what red, blue, or color is. Scientists used to say that they are different vibrations of a universal ether. But the ether evaporated before the twentieth century began. Other scientists maintained a corpuscular theory of light. Perhaps these college sophomores can tell us what light and color are. Their sensations are keen, aren't they?

But in the second place, if God gave us sense organs, it does not follow that their purpose is to give us knowledge. The students' illogicality arises from the unsupported notion that if God gave us sensibility, it must have the purpose of discovering truth. Well, God gave us toenails too, but not for the purpose of giving us truth. It never occurs to these students that God had a different purpose in giving us sense organs.>>

So why does Clark believe he has the sense of sight? So he can hallucinate?

And how does Clark know that "Christian college students" often reply in this way? Couldn't this all be a product of his imagination?

<<Malebranche, following Augustine, defines the purpose of sensation to be that of preserving the body from danger. Pain may warn us that something is wrong. But pain does not inform us as to what is wrong. Physicians have from antiquity always suspected that pain indicates something is wrong; but even today, with the wonderful advances in science, they will admit that they hardly know what.


...Now whether the subject be theology, morality, or plain ordinary physics, empiricism can neither produce nor justify any universal proposition. The explanation is obvious: Experience is never universal. Quite aside from the variable error involved in all laboratory measurements, a dozen or a thousand experiments never cover all the pendulums that are now, ever have been, and ever shall be. Worse, the law in physics is not true of even one visible pendulum, for physics assumes that a pendulum swings from a frictionless point, on a tensionless string, with the weight of the bob concentrated at a point. In addition to these impossibilities, a pendulum in London does not swing like one in Washington, for the latitude changes the equation. These four reasons, and there are probably others, prevent the physicist from having any logical grounds for asserting, "All pendulums...." Physics indeed has universals; not one of them is true.>>

How does Clark know these things about the different pendulums? How can he make a universal proposition that all pendulums are different or that all pendulums are not reliable?

<<But if anyone be deficient in logic and laboratory methods, history should convince him. Years ago scientists abandoned every one of Newton's laws, even the basic assumption that space and time are independent frameworks within which things move. Everything the Physics Department of the University of Pennsylvania taught me in 1921 has now been discarded. Yet even a revolution such as this is not so important as the basic principle that experience is always limited and can never be universal.>>

Why should "history convince him" of anything? Clark is using history to try to prove his point! This is hypocritical! If you can't know history, how can you use what is inherently unreliable to prove that Newtonian physics is unreliable?

<<It might also be noted that physics is the most careful empirical procedure known to man. If the extreme care of laboratory observation does not result in truth, how can the uncontrolled, inattentive experiences of daily life do better?>>

Is reading the Bible an "uncontrolled, inattentive experience of daily life"?

<<...One is at a loss in arguing against this position. Induction is valid because science uses it, and science uses it because it is valid. We argue that logical positivism is irrational because it claims to establish universal laws on limited observations; and logical positivism argues that we are irrational because we use necessary inference. Now necessary inference does not produce as much truth as most people want. But unnecessary inference arrives at no truth at all...Logical positivism cannot conclude that all robins have red breasts just because two or three on the lawn do.>>

Yet how does anything get classified? How does Clark classify anything? Would Clark say he knows that all robins have red breasts? What if one of the essential parts of a definition of a robin is that they have red breasts? Doesn't the definition then constrain what one counts as a robin?

<<...However, Feigl makes his point incontestable. His choice of induction, as a choice, shows that any system must have a starting point. If a system has no starting point, it cannot start, nicht? But a starting point cannot have been deduced or based on something prior to the start, for nothing is prior to the start, n'est-ce pas? Every system, therefore, every attempted system, must have an original, undeduced axiom. Our dear friend Aristotle noted this, for he argued that if all propositions had to be deduced, they would regress to infinity, with the result that nothing could be deduced.>>

I agree.

<<Since even Communism cannot prevent one from choosing whatever principle seems best to him, the Christian will choose the God of truth, or, if one prefer, the truth of God. He then proceeds by deduction, that is, by the law of contradiction, for the law of contradiction is embedded in the first word of Genesis. Bereshith, in the beginning, does not mean half-way through. That is to say, Scripture throughout assumes the law of contradiction, viz., a truth cannot be false. Since deduction is necessary inference, no further deduction--let alone induction--can disprove what has already been proved. Accordingly the knowledge possible for human beings consists of the axioms of and the deductions from Scripture. We can indeed entertain opinions about Columbus, and by accident or good luck they may be true; but we could not know it. Our dear pagan Plato, at the end of his Meno (98b) declared, "That there is a difference between right opinion and knowledge (ortheme) is not at all a conjecture with me, but something I would particularly assert that I knew.">>

But how does the Christian choose the God of truth or the truth of God? How does he know what the first word of Genesis is? Is it through some kind of mystical mind-meld? Or is it through the sense of sight? Without the fact that our senses can be trusted when we come to read the Word of God, one cannot proceed!

Chris D wrote (quoting from Robbins):

<<Scripturalism does not mean, as some have objected, that we can know only the propositions of the Bible. We can know their logical implications as well. The Westminster Confession of Faith, which is a Scripturalist document, says that "The authority of the holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is Truth itself), the author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the word of God" (emphasis added). By these words, and by the fact that the Confession begins with the doctrine of Scripture, not with the doctrine of God, and certainly not with proofs for the existence of God, the Confession shows itself to be a Scripturalist document.

Continuing with the idea of logical deduction, the Confession says: "The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men."

Notice the claim of the Confession: "The whole counsel of God" is either expressly set down in Scripture or may be deduced from it. Everything we need for faith and life is found in the propositions of the Bible, either explicitly or implicitly. Nothing is to be added to the revelation at any time. Only logical deduction from the propositions of Scripture is permitted. No synthesis, no combination with unscriptural ideas is either necessary or permissible.>>

So does Robbins believe that every true proposition can be logically deduced from Scripture? And does he reject every proposition that cannot be logically deduced from Scripture? I'm not talking about things that are CONTRARY to Scripture, but just propositions that cannot be logically deduced from Scripture. Can the proposition "All working Hewlett Packard LaserJet Printers contain lasers" be deduced from Scripture? If not, then is it not true? Is it to be rejected? Is this proposition something that Robbins would call "empirical"?

<<Logic -- reasoning by good and necessary consequence -- is not a secular principle not found in Scripture and added to the Scriptural axiom; it is contained in the axiom itself. The first verse of John's Gospel may be translated, "In the beginning was the Logic, and the Logic was with God and the Logic was God." Every word of the Bible, from Bereshith in Genesis 1 to Amen in Revelation 22, exemplifies the law of contradiction. "In the beginning" means in the beginning, not a hundred years or even one second after the beginning. "Amen" expresses agreement, not dissent.>>

How does Robbins know that the Bible contains Bereshith and Amen?

<<The laws of logic are embedded in every word of Scripture. Only deductive inference is valid, and deductive inference - using the laws of logic -- is the principal tool of hermeneutics. Sound exegesis of Scripture is making valid deductions from the statements of Scripture. If your pastor is not making valid deductions from Scripture in his sermons, then he is not preaching God's Word.>>


<<It is in the conclusions of such arguments, as well as in the Biblical statements themselves, that our knowledge consists.>>

ALL of our knowledge, or just Biblical knowledge?

<<Some will object, "But don't we know that we are in this room, or that 2 plus 2 equals four, or that grass is green?" To answer that objection, we must define the words "know" and "knowledge."

There are three sorts of cognitive states: knowledge, opinion, and ignorance. Ignorance is simply the lack of ideas. Complete ignorance is the state of mind that empiricists say we are born with: We are all born with blank minds, tabula rasa, to use John Locke's phrase. (Incidentally, a tabula rasa mind - a blank mind - is an impossibility. A consciousness conscious of nothing is a contradiction in terms. Empiricism rests on a contradiction.)>>

Thus I would not be an empiricist by this definition.

<<At the other extreme from ignorance is knowledge. Knowledge is not simply possessing thoughts or ideas, as some think. Knowledge is possessing true ideas and knowing them to be true. Knowledge is, by definition, knowledge of the truth. We do not say that a person "knows" that 2 plus 2 is 5. We may say he thinks it, but he does not know it. It would be better to say that he opines it.>>

That is absolutely ridiculous. And, although this may seem like a little thing, it has implications for the gospel. Can a person KNOW that He has the Word of God, or does he must "opine it"?

<<Now, most of what we colloquially call knowledge is actually opinion: We "know" that we are in Pennsylvania; we "know" that Clinton - either Bill or Hillary - is President of the United States, and so forth. Opinions can be true or false; we just don't know which. History, except for revealed history, is opinion. Science is opinion. Archaeology is opinion. John Calvin said, "I call that knowledge, not what is innate in man, nor what is by diligence acquired, but what is revealed to us in the Law and the Prophets." Knowledge is true opinion with an account of its truth.>>

So Robbins cannot know for sure that he is in Pennsylvania. He cannot know for sure where he is. He cannot know for sure that he isn't in some cryogenic state and is just dreaming about writing this.

<<It may very well be that William Clinton is President of the United States, but I do not know how to prove it, nor, I suspect, do you. In truth, I do not know that he is President, I opine it.>>

What about those who are around the President or the President himself? Can they KNOW Bush is the president, or do they just opine it? And then, if someone around Bush knows he is the president and tells someone else (e.g., the press), and that knowledge gets to me, am I just opining it?

<<I can, however, prove that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. That information is revealed to me, not by the dubious daily newspaper or the evening news, but by the infallible Word of God. The resurrection of Christ is deduced by good and necessary consequence from the axiom of revelation.>>

Here's the crux of the problem. How can Robbins PROVE that Jesus Christ rose from the dead if he cannot trust his senses to give him any knowledge? How is this information revealed to him? He says "by the infallible Word of God." How does he know that what he is reading is the infallible Word of God? He would say that it claims to be, and he receives it by faith. Yet how does he know that it claims to be? He READS it. He uses his SENSE OF SIGHT to read that the Bible claims to be infallible. I don't see how he can get around it.

Chris D wrote (quoting from Clark):

<<The subject of this afternoon's lecture is "How We Know" or perhaps, "How We Know God."

The basic question in the philosophy of religion is, How can we know God? Charles Hodge and Louis Berkhof devoted some sections of their volumes to this question. And, for that matter, it goes back to the very dawn of Christian theology. The Jewish philosopher, Philo, who had a number of things to say about the Logos, was struggling with its difficulties in the very years that Jesus was walking around in Palestine.

In very recent days the question has been rephrased. Instead of asking whether we can know God and how we can know God, the philosophy of language analysis has asked, How can we talk about God? Language is supposed to be an evolutionary development out of the practical needs of survival and is, therefore, inadequate and inapplicable for theological matters. In fact the main body, not all, but the main body of language philosophers, especially in their earlier works assert that language about God is meaningless. Not only do the secular empiricists make this claim, Wittgenstein, A.J. Ayer, and the logical positivists, but also the liberal theologians of the neo-orthodox school - in more polite terminology, no doubt -- but yet they accept essentially the same viewpoint.

While the question of how we can know God is the fundamental question in the philosophy of religion, there lies behind it in general philosophy the ultimate question, How can we know anything at all? If we cannot talk intelligently about God, can we talk intelligently about morality, about our own ideals, about art, politics - can we even talk about science? How can we know anything? The answer to this question, technically called the theory of epistemology, controls all subject matter claiming to be intelligible or cognitive.


The present lecture will canvas three such theories and will emphasize their implications for religion, Christianity, and God. The first of these three is empiricism.

The theory of knowledge that presumably accords best with common sense is the theory that we learn by experience. We learn that bees sting and rattlesnakes kill through our perceptions of pain. We learn that roses are red and violets are blue by the sensations of sight. All our knowledge comes through sensations. This type of epistemology is not merely the theory most in accord with common opinion, it is the view of distinguished philosophers also, among whom are such famous thinkers as Aristotle, Aquinas, and John Locke. These three men, among others, tried to explain how we perceive a chair, how a law of physics can be discovered, and finally how, by complicated arguments, we could prove the existence of God.>>

Sigh. Again, how does Clark know that this is the view of Aristotle, Aquinas, and Locke? Isn't he merely OPINING it?

<<However plausible this theory may be, it raises some exceedingly difficult questions. For the moment let us set aside the complexities in trying to rise from fleeting sensations to the knowledge of the incorporeal and eternal God. Instead, let us first attend to the most simple parts of empiricism.

Let us start with the red of a rose and the blue of a violet. First, a description of sensation will show that it does not give knowledge so readily as common sense imagines. Not everybody sees roses as red and violets as blue. There are some people who we say are color blind, and there are degrees of color blindness. It is difficult to tell what is color blindness and what are color illusions. The real color is very hard to settle upon. The condition of the organ, the eye, a disease, temporary sickness, a headache or extreme sensitivity change our color sensations.

Let me give you one little example. If you would take a course in art, oil painting, you might take a square of canvas and put some color paint on the top half of it and another color on the bottom. It could be red and blue or any two colors you wish just so long as they're different. And then after they have dried, take a brush full of gray paint and just bring it down vertically over the two parts of the square and you will see that that one stroke of brush has put two different colors on the canvas, the color of the gray at the top is not the color of the gray at the bottom half of the canvas. So the color that you see depends on the background against which you see it. And since there is always a background, you never see anything as it is all by itself.

I could also mention some optical illusions: the Texas rancher who was sure he was seeing a mirage and drove his pick-up truck into a lake. Some of my friendly opponents try to meet my argument against empiricism by claiming that I merely parrot the ancient skeptics. I'm afraid of two things: The ancient skeptics didn't know anything about Texas, and, in the second place, if I am parroting the ancient skeptics, that is not a sufficient answer to their arguments.

Take one thing that certainly the ancients didn't know. Get a nice piece of bristle-board cardboard and paint one-half of it with black India ink. Leave the other half white and then put little swiggles of black on the white half. Then get something that will rotate at about 500 revolutions a minute, and what color will you see? Will you see black? Will you see gray? Well, if you haven't done this experiment I'm pretty sure you just don't know. I'll tell you: You'll see purple; you'll see red; you'll see green; you'll see some sort of brown. You will see all these colors just from a mixture of black and white, and this gives you considerable difficulty in trying to say that you see the color of anything at all or to paraphrase a little bit from Augustine, there is nothing given (das Gegebenes, if you know the German technical term), nothing given in sensation without intellectual interpretation.

And just to protect myself from these people who think I'm as old as the Greek skeptics - I am getting a little ancient, but I'm not quite 2,000 years old, I guess I'm about 95 or something like that - but I was traveling along the road from St. Louis to Indianapolis on one occasion. This was before the interstate was there, and as I looked ahead, I saw a small truck standing by a barn. This was approximately 1,500 or 2,000 feet ahead of me. And it wasn't a passenger car, it was a truck because the front and the back were both vertical. There was the truck standing by the barn. Now as we drove along - and going at 75 m.p.h. you cover a few feet pretty quickly - this truck suddenly became a mailbox on a post. Now was it a truck or was it a mailbox? Well, that depends on how far away from it you are. And time forbids the multiplication of such examples. Suffice it to say that they soon become overwhelming. You have trouble with sensation. You can never rise to perception, and, oh my, the empirical theory is pretty terrible.>>

So here are some examples in which a person's sense of sight is deceptive. But will he then take the leap and say that when he opens what he thinks is the Bible, his senses could be tricking him? Could he be deriving doctrines from the Bible that aren't really there?

<<In the second place, this empirical theory, after making such a poor beginning with sensation, requires a theory of images to account for the retention of knowledge after the sensation has stopped. When you talk about the sensation, when it is gone, and you have an image that is retained, there are other difficulties. If perception is an inference from sensation, and images follow the perception, how can one determine when the inference is valid?

At one time, I inferred that I saw a truck. Another time, a few minutes later, I inferred that I saw a mailbox. But how do you tell whether either inference is valid? And then in the second place, some people, especially scientists, not artists, but especially scientists, don't have any images. And that's a difficulty I don't see how the empirical philosophy can ever overcome. They seem never to have thought of the existence of such people. Thomas Aquinas and David Hume, best known for their theories of images, just seem to believe that all people have images. But that isn't so. There are some people, and I know one fairly well, who have no images at all.>>

How does Clark know that his visual image of words in what he thinks is the Bible is valid?

<<Now, third, even for people who have visual or auditory images, the formation of concepts by abstraction, as Aristotle and Locke require, is impossible for reasons I won't go into. And if Bishop Berkeley did nothing else, at least he clearly showed that empiricism cannot allow or justify abstract concepts.>>

How does he know that Aristotle and Locke require this?

<<My fourth objection to empiricism, and if you've been counting them up, it may be the fortieth, empiricism cannot produce norms of any kind. It cannot produce moral and religious norms because at the very best, empiricism can only tell you what is. I don't think it tells you even that little, but that is all that empiricists can legitimately claim to do. They cannot tell you what ought to be because you cannot get an ought out of an is. And this applies not only to moral and religious norms, but to the very basic logical norms without which speech and understanding would be impossible.

The logical norms are universal truths. John Dewey says that logic has changed and will change in all its parts including the law of contradiction. But if evolutionary theory implies the rejection of logic, then evolutionary theory has not been established by logic and every statement is both true and false, and therefore nonsense.>>

How does he know that John Dewey says this?


Well, that leads us to the second type of epistemology, which we shall call irrationalism. I think I've gotten there pretty fairly. It is surprising enough that some secular philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche, John Dewey, and Freudian psychologists reject the law of contradiction, but it is more surprising that some professing Christians, professing Christians, hold similar opinions.>>

How does he know this?

<<The anti-logic movement within the visible Christian church seems to have originated not with ancient Tertullian, one of whose phrases has been misquoted and misinterpreted, but has originated with the nineteenth-century theologian, Soren Kierkegaard, the father of neo-orthodoxy, or, as it is sometimes called, dialectical theology.

Soren Kierkegaard insisted that in order to be a Christian, it is necessary to believe contradictions. His chief example is the doctrine of the Incarnation. In the Incarnation the eternal God entered history and became a temporal human being. Now we understand and it is obvious that the eternal can never be temporal. What is temporal has had a beginning before which it did not exist. What is eternal had no beginning. Obviously, therefore, a being that had no beginning cannot have had a beginning. What has always existed cannot now come into existence. But to be Christians we must believe that this logical impossibility has occurred. We recognize and understand the absurdity but we must believe what is absurd because Christianity is itself irrational and absurd.>>

How does Clark know that Kierkegaard insisted this?

<<At this point it is natural to wonder how our salvation and everlasting blessedness can be guaranteed by absurdity.>>

Yet this is what Clark and Robbins are doing.

<<Can contradictions do what historical information cannot do? Soren Kierkegaard insisted that our salvation does not depend on any historical information. How then can it depend on absurdities? To this question Kierkegaard has an answer. Since we must believe the absurd, says Soren Kierkegaard, and not rely on intelligible historical information, it really makes no difference what we believe. The what is unimportant. All that counts is the how.

This point he stresses in his famous illustration of the orthodox Lutheran and the pagan Hindu. Many of you know it but I'll repeat it. The orthodox Lutheran had a correct understanding of God. He was straight in his theology but he prayed in a wrong spirit and hence he was not praying to God. But the Hindu who had never read John Calvin or Martin Luther either, had a totally incorrect idea of God. However, since he prayed with an infinite passion, he was praying to God, and the Lutheran wasn't.

This illustration might have been a good one had Kierkegaard intended to commend sincerity and condemn hypocrisy. Christ would have condemned a hypocritical Lutheran as much as he condemned the hypocritical sons of Abraham whom he met during his lifetime. But hypocrisy is not the point of this Hindu illustration. Kierkegaard intended to convince us that it makes no difference what a man believes. Only the how, the passion, is of value. It is far from clear, however, that Christ, in condemning any sort of hypocrisy, would commend Hindu idolatry. Kierkegaard's illustration means that a Hindu idol is a full replacement for Jehovah. And what might have impressed Soren Kierkegaard more strongly, it also follows that logical and rational philosophy, which he hated, is as good as his own irrationalism. If it makes no difference what you believe, you might as well be a rationalist.>>

Yet Clark and Robbins would not apply this to universal atonement advocates.

<<Although Kierkegaard's main disciples, Karl Barth and Emil Brunner, and Rudolph Bultmann, too, in a certain way, although his main disciples retain their faith in paradox and absurdity, they seem to make some effort to disguise the futility of believing contradictions. The infinite passion of Kierkegaard becomes, in their theory, Encounter, the encounter that Barth and Brunner proclaim. Men become Christians by having an encounter with God. Of course, this encounter neither contains nor is produced by any historical information. The Resurrection was not a dated event that occurred three days after the Crucifixion. It is an existential experience in men today. For that matter, the written Gospels contain little or no accurate history. They are all fables like Aesop's. Aesop's fables are unhistorical, literally false, but existentially true. They are good descriptions of widespread human traits, and for the neo-orthodox, so are the Gospels. But the encounter can do what history cannot. There is no need to surmount two thousand years of history and find events that happened long ago. Easter happens now, and the encounter cancels the time span and makes us contemporaneous with Christ.

If it sounds absurd to say that we can abolish two thousand years just like that and return to the first century, or to bring Easter into the twentieth century, if it sounds absurd to say that we today can be contemporaneous with Christ, so be it. Christianity consists in contradicting ourselves. Nothing intelligible can be said of God.

Brunner very explicitly states, and this is a verbatim quotation, "God and the medium of conceptuality are mutually exclusive." To give another quote verbatim, "All words have only an instrumental value. Neither the spoken words nor their conceptual content are the Word itself, but only its framework." You will find this in the English translation on page 110 of Wahrheit als Begegnung. Truth is unimportant, for Brunner says, and this is another verbatim quotation, in the English edition, page 117, and in the German edition, page 88, "God can speak His word to man even through false doctrine." It doesn't make any difference what you believe. You must believe it passionately.>>

How does Clark know that these are verbatim quotes? What if Clark had been there when Brunner made these quotes? Could he say for certain that Brunner made these quotes? No, because it would be based on his experience, and experience cannot be trusted.

<<This is the natural outcome of replacing logic with paradox. When the law of contradiction is deliberately repudiated, the distinction between truth and error vanishes. The words God and Satan mean the same thing. A minister may preach that Christ atoned for sin and in the same sermon also maintain that Christ did not atone for sin. Not only does this make all preaching futile, we can't even invite a person to lunch, for when I say, Have lunch with me, I also say, Don't have lunch with me. Lunch and no lunch are the same thing unless they are logically different.>>

Agreed. Yet the blind Clark did not see implications of this for universal atonement advocates.


Now to the third type of epistemology, which I will give the unpleasant name of dogmatism. To avoid the utter ignorance of skepticism, and to escape the insanity of irrationalism, one must seek a secure refuge in a third possibility. It could be called rationalism if the word were not confused with Hegelianism on the right or Deism on the left. It could equally well be called dogmatism unless the popular opprobrium thereby incurred is too much for it to bear. A more recent term is presuppositionalism. Take your choice. The name is relatively unimportant, unlike Hebrew names used to be. The name is relatively unimportant if the details are understood.

The argument is that every philosophy must have a first principle, a first principle laid down dogmatically. Empiricism itself requires a first non-empirical principle. This is particularly obvious in that most extreme form of empiricism called logical positivism. To say that statements are nonsense unless verifiable by sensation, is itself a statement that cannot be verified by sensation. Observation can never prove the reliability of observation. Since, therefore, every philosophy must have its first indemonstrable axiom, the secularists cannot deny the right of Christianity to choose its own axiom.

Accordingly, let the Christian axiom be the truth of the Scriptures. This is the Reformation principle of sola Scriptura. Evangelicalism historically meant two things: It meant justification by faith alone, of course, but it also meant the scripture alone - sola Scriptura and sola fide. Faith alone, scripture alone. These were the material and the formal principles of the Protestant Reformation, and anyone who denies either of those two has no historical business calling himself an Evangelical.

The principle is sola Scriptura. This is a repudiation of the notion that theology has several sources such as the Bible, tradition, philosophy, science, religion, or psychology. There is but one source, the Scriptures. This is where truth is to be found. Under the word truth there is included, in opposition to irrationalism, logic and the law of contradiction. Whatever contradicts itself is not truth. Truth must be consistent, and it is clear that Scripture does not both affirm and deny an atonement. God is truth. Christ is the wisdom and Logos of God. And the words he has spoken to us are spirit and are life.>>

And here we go again ... how can Clark believe that the Christian axiom be the truth of the Scriptures if he can't be certain what the Scriptures are?

And on and on we could go. I think you get the point. Clark and Robbins say they totally reject the view that knowledge can be gained by the senses, yet they talk about Scripture as if they gained knowledge of Scripture apart from the senses. It doesn't make sense. In fact, it is the contradiction that Clark and Robbins claim to eschew.


Gordon Clark:

<<The question therefore is, how can one come to know even a little truth, even a much less important truth than God is love? How is learning possible? Can anyone discover that Columbus discovered America? Is it possible to recognize a tree? Who can ascertain that table salt is sodium chloride? What means and methods are necessary to conclude that two plus two is four, if such is really the case?

After an extra-curricular lecture to a group of college students, one of them insisted that he could easily do geometry--though he had never had geometry in his incompetent public high school--simply by drawing a line on the blackboard. The poor boy did not know that a chalk line is not a line, but a three-dimensional object. At least a physicist would call it such. Ipso facto the student did not know what a line is. He thought he could see one; but everyone ought to see clearly that no one can see a one-dimensional something. How then can a student ever learn geometry? Neither can anyone see, hear, taste the number two. In a moment it may become evident that trees and rocks are equally visible. Of course this last statement seems queer, incredible, and utter nonsense; but let us consider the arguments of some philosophers who have tried to base knowledge on sensation.>>

I cannot know for sure that Columbus discovered America as recorded in my high school history text book. However, I sense some hypocrisy in Clark already. I know by faith the Jesus ate fish as recorded in the Bible. But how do I know that the words I am reading in the Bible are not some visual hallucination? How do I know that I'm not dreaming when I am reading what I think is the Bible? How do I know that when I see the word "fish" with my sense of sight, it corresponds with an actual word "fish" in the Bible? How can Gordon Clark know anything? How can He know the truth of the Word of God? And in the non-Bible realm, how can Clark know that he lectured to a group of college students? How did he know that one of them insisted that he could easily do geometry? How did he know that this student never had geometry in high school? How did he know that this student did not know what a line is? I mean, Clark puts these things forth as fact, not as speculation or conjecture, yet would Clark say he is 100% CERTAIN that he lectured to a group of college students? If not, then putting this forth as fact is actually a lie. How does Clark know with 100% certainty that he did not merely dream about lecturing to a group of college students or even being a college professor? How does Clark know with 100% certainty that he was not deluded and just imagined or hallucinated the whole encounter with the student?

John Robbins calls himself a "Scripturalist." Yet his view that one's senses can never be trusted and that one never gains knowledge through the senses is actually anti-Scripturalist. A true Scripturalist is one who believes that God's Word that is PREACHED and READ and HEARD is the means of gaining knowledge.

Here are some of the truths that the view of Robbins denies:


If I think I am reading the Bible, how do I know that I am really reading the Bible? How do I know I'm not reading Dante's Inferno and just imagining that I'm reading the Bible? How do I know I'm not in a cryogenic state and am just dreaming that I'm reading the Bible? How do I know I'm not hallucinating? How do I know that when I'm reading the words of the book in front of me that I think is entitled "The Holy Bible" that I am not mistakenly reading what is not actually written? How do I know for sure that Genesis 1:1 says, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth"? How do I know it doesn't say, "In the beginning Satan created the heavens and the earth," and my sense of sight is misleading me into thinking the print says "God" instead of "Satan"? After all, according to Robbins, you can't trust your sense of sight, as shown by optical illusions. What if the Bible is just some big optical illusion? The certainty of the Word of God is destroyed.


If God's Word is not certain, then no doctrine contained in God's Word is certain. Thus, the essential gospel doctrines are not certain. How do I know for sure that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone? How do I know that God promises His people salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ alone? According to Robbins, it might all be an illusion, a dream, a delusion, a hallucination, a mistake, a misreading. The certainty of gospel doctrine is destroyed.


If essential gospel doctrines are uncertain and one's senses can never be trusted, then I can never be certain when I judge someone to be unregenerate based on what he confesses. How do I know that the confession I'm hearing or reading is a true confession? If I think someone is confessing belief in universal atonement, how do I know I'm not just hallucinating or imagining what that person said? How can I trust my sense of hearing, since hearing can be misleading? How can I look at a television preacher who I think is saying, "Christ died for every one of you who is watching this, and now all you need to do is ask him into your heart," and know that what I'm hearing is actually what he is saying? But suppose what I am hearing is correct -- that the preacher actually did say that. How can I be certain that this man is unregenerate, since I cannot be certain about any essential gospel doctrine? How do I know for certain that "Christ died for every one of you who is watching this, and now all you need to do is ask him into your heart" is heresy, since God's Word, and thus gospel doctrine, is uncertain? The certainty of judgment is destroyed.


If I can never trust my senses and God's Word is not certain, then how can I be certain that I am saved? What if the Bible really says that only people who shave their heads are saved, and I have mistakenly read that those who trust in Christ alone for their salvation are saved? What if I am an unregenerate person who is just dreaming I am saved? What if I am an unregenerate person who is schizophrenic and who is deluded into thinking I am saved? If I can't trust my senses regarding what God's Word says, and I cannot trust my senses regarding my place in this world, then where is my assurance? How do I know I'm not mistaken about my spiritual state? The certainty of assurance is destroyed.


If I can never trust my senses, then where is the place of preaching? If I am the preacher, how do I know that what I am preaching is the Word of God, if I do not know what I have read in my sermon preparation is really the Word of God or if it is some product of my imagination or hallucination or dream (or just a mistake in what I've read)? If I am listening to a preacher, how do I know that what I am hearing is actually what the preacher is saying, since what I think he is saying might be a product of my imagination or hallucination or dream (or just a mistake in what I've heard)? The certainty of preaching is destroyed.


The view of John Robbins (which came from the view of Gordon Clark) is damnable. It destroys the certainty of the Word of God, the certainty of gospel doctrine, the certainty of judgment, the certainty of assurance, and the certainty of preaching. It hacks down the very foundations of Christianity. God gave us senses as a means through which to obtain truth. And true Christians are CERTAIN that what we are reading is the Word of God, are CERTAIN of essential gospel doctrine, are CERTAIN when we judge those who confess a false gospel to be lost, are CERTAIN that we are saved, and are CERTAIN that preaching is a means of conveying the truth.

"Then faith [is] of HEARING, and HEARING through the WORD OF GOD." (Rom. 10:17). I'm CERTAIN that this is the truth.

To God alone be the glory,

Marc D. Carpenter


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