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Gordon Clark’s A Christian View of Men and Things: Final Chapters

December 13, 2008

 

Here are some quotes from Dr. Clark’s chapters on Science, Religion, and Epistemology in A Christian View of Men and Things.

Science

“The conclusions of science have often been regarded with an awe that takes them for final and infallible truth–science simply cannot be wrong. The history of science, however, shows that scientific method does not invariably arrive at the truth. For example, science is indebted to Gilbert for his experiments on magnetism. He used and had confidence in the scientific method. The ancient Stoics…who declare that the Earth is a living being, he treats with scorn and derision; whereas true science can arrive at conclusions ‘not with mere probability, but with certainty.’ Now, it were as foolish as false to deny that Gilbert was an important scientist; yet his procedure did not prevent him from asserting that it is the Earth’s magnetism, its verticity, that holds it in its rotational course….He lived at an early date; scientific methodology had not yet been adequately developed; and he was handicapped by the absurdities of medieval confusion. But is it entirely certain that scientific methodology is now adequate and that scientists are no longer handicapped by post-medieval confusion?” (p. 135)

“The particular law that the scientist announces to the world is not a discovery forced on him by so-called facts; it is rather a choice from among an infinity of laws, all of which enjoy the same experimental basis….The point of all this argument is merely this: However useful scientific laws are, they cannot be true. Or, at the very least, the point of all this argument is that scientific laws are not discovered but are chosen.” (p. 139)

“Naturally a great many people, steeped in nineteenth century scientific traditions, react violently to the idea that science is all false. Did we not make the atom bomb, they say? Does not vaccination prevent smallpox? Cannot we predict the position of Jupiter and an eclipse of the Sun? Verified prediction makes it forever ridiculous to attack science. This reaction is, of course, understandable, however irrational it may be. The argument has not ‘attacked’ science at all; it has insisted that science is extremely useful–though by its own requirements it must be false. The aim nowhere has been to attack science; the aim is to show what science is….But sometimes there is an adverse reaction if it is claimed that verification never proves the truth of a scientific law. Is it worse to ‘attack’ science, or to ‘murder’ logic?” (pp. 140-141)

“There is no Science to which final appeal can be made; there are only scientists and their various theories. It was easy to show that the Science of infallible law does not exist; it was not much more difficult to show that absolute facts do not exist; it may have been a little subtle to argue that the concepts of science change with the operations; and when the methods, as opposed to the results, of science are taken as the ultimately important matter, an attempt was made to show that scientists do not agree on the methods. Furthermore, all these methods depend on faith, choice, or, as Clifford would have to say, ‘insufficient evidence.’ No scientific or observational proof can be given for the uniformity of nature, and much less can experience demonstrate that ‘the scientific method is the sole gateway to the whole region of knowledge.'” (p. 151)

Religion

“On one basis and on one basis alone is it possible to have good hope for the future, and that basis is Almighty God. Anything limiting God, whether it be something eternal or an internal given chaos, makes the future uncertain. Any conclusions based on mere empirical observation makes the future both uncertain and dismal. But if the apparent evils, which are real evils to the people of the earthly city, are deliberately chosen means to the production of good for the people of the City of God, then it is possible to look at both the past and the future with equanimity, and with logical consistency.” (p. 188)

Epistemology

“In the first place, probability without knowledge cannot be a guide for a moral life. If it were, a man might commit a most criminal act, but if he thought it was probably good he could not be blamed. And in any case, probability cannot be had unless one has truth first. . . .Accordingly, if truth is not known, there is no reason for acting in one way rather than another. Life has become meaningless.” (p. 196)

“The theory of progress holds that all theories become false. From which it follows that if progress is now the truth, it will soon not be. Perhaps it is already false.” (p. 197)

“Relativism is always asserted absolutely. If it were not intended to apply generally, it would have no claim to philosophic importance. But if it is asserted universally, then its assertion contradicts what is being asserted. An absolutistic relativism is a self-contradiction. If it is true, it is false.” (p. 199)

“A sound epistemology cannot demand omniscience or complete freedom from error: Its aim is not to show that all men or any man knows everything, but that some men can know something.” (p. 200)

“Logic, the law of contradiction, is not affected by sin. Even if everyone constantly violated the laws of logic, they would not be less true than if everyone constantly observed them.” (p. 201)

“The laws of logic may well be called more important than the propositions of mathematics and physics because logic underlies them both. In all our conversation and writing, the forms of logic are indispensable: Without them discussion on every subject would cease. . . .[W]ithout the law of contraction it is impossible to say anything meaningful. Scientists like Pearson, Carlson, or Bridgman, and liberal theologians like Brightman, may produce complicated and persuasive systems of thought, but if they claim to be empiricists, their systems contradict their epistemological principles, for if all knowledge is based on experience, there is no knowledge.” (p. 207)

“The ‘proof’ of God’s existence, which is not at all a logical demonstration, results from showing that consistency is maintained by viewing all things as dependent on God. [W]hat hypothesis provides a ground for the common possession of the categories as adequately as Christian theism does? Though the existence and nature of God is insusceptible of formal demonstration, yet if Christian theism is true, there is no mystery in the fact that all human minds use the same categories and there is no suspicion that the objective world or some Ding-an-sich escapes their necessary connections. Skepticism is ruled out and truth becomes possible.” (p. 213)

“For Christianity God is not an ideal toward which the universe is approaching; he is not the axiogenetic or axiosoteric aspect of the universal process; he does not come to completion, to consciousness, or to perfection in history; he faces no conditions which his will does not control. God is above all the Omnipotent Creator and Absolute Sovereign.” (p. 217)

“Perhaps the Harvard Report is correct when it predicts that society will never again choose Christianity as its unifying principle. But there is no other type of philosophy that has a unifying principle to offer. And a continued repudiation of Christian principles promises a future which, even more than the present, will be characterized by social instability, wars and rumors of war, brutality, and despair.” (p. 218)

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