Scripture Refutes Empiricism [Gordon H. Clark]

empircality[The following is an excerpt from Dr. Gordon H. Clark’s article titled How Do We Learn? You can find the original article, in its entirety, here.]

Now, it seems to me that even the skimpy material in Genesis is sufficient to refute empiricism with its blank mind. First, since God is a God of knowledge, eternally omniscient, how could a being declared to be his image and likeness be a blank mind? Even apart from the explicit statements in the New Testament, Genesis says that God commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply. Since at that time they had no sensory experience of other people, must they not have had some innate intelligence to understand this command? Of course, an empiricist might insist that they had learned the meaning from observing animals. But this assumes that a fair length of time intervened between the creation of Adam and God’s imposition of the obligation. One can better suppose that God gave instructions to Adam more immediately. This is rather obviously true of Genesis 2:16, 17. The command was given only moments after the creation. Of course, such a command was not a priori knowledge, but the intellectual equipment to understand it was.

There is more, too. Adam not only understood the command: He understood that it was God who gave it. Are we supposed to believe that he laboriously worked out the cosmological argument, including the physics that underlies it? And did he derive the concept of moral responsibility from his sensations? Though the account is brief, it seems that Adam knew he was obligated to worship God and obey him. But empiricism’s cosmological argument is surpassed in its fallacies by the impossibility of deducing moral evaluations from factual premises, even should these premises be true. If an empiricist insists that the Genesis account is too brief to support such an interpretation, we can at least rely on the Pauline epistles. Genesis is not the only book in the Bible.

A subsidiary point is Cain’s fear of punishment after he had murdered Abel. Evidently God had given Adam and his boys what we call the sixth commandment. They must have recognized this as a moral imperative. But is it at all possible to develop the idea of a moral imperative by watching trees grow in a garden? Note the point: The commandment itself may not have been innate, but the idea of morality must have been or the import of the commandment could not have been understood. Sensation at best might possibly give some factual information; but though this would be knowledge of what is, empiricism can never produce acknowledge of what ought to be.

Universal Propositions

Underlying all these details of both physics and morality lies the necessity of universal propositions. Not only are murder and idolatry wrong, but the laws of physics are asserted as applying universally. They are not supposed to have any exceptions. Physics is the clearer example. The law of the pendulum, to take an elementary example, is that the period of the swing is proportional to the square root of the length. The law asserts that this is true of all pendulums, all that exist now, all that have existed in the past, and all that will exist in the future. The law is a universal proposition; that is, it has no exceptions. Clearly this law cannot have been deduced from experiment or observation, for no one has observed all present pendulums or all past pendulums, and no one has observed any future pendulums. Hence empiricism can never justify any law of physics. If, now, sensory experience cannot justify a knowledge of natural phenomena, how could it possibly be of any use in theology? The principles of theology are all universal propositions. Of course theology includes certain historical statements such as “David was king of Israel,” and this does not seem to be a universal. Actually it is, for David as the subject term is a class by himself, and all of that class is a king of Israel. But aside from propositions with individual subjects, the principles of theology-which give meaning to the historical events-are plain, ordinary universal statements. They cannot therefore be based on observation. For that matter, God cannot be observed.

Soli Deo Gloria



Some Notes on Scriptural Epistemology [Recap on Pts. 1-5]

A Recap of the Foregoing Posts

The foregoing material is not complete, but serves as a foundation for clearly articulating the epistemology assumed and taught in the Scriptures. So far we have seen that God is the teacher of all men. We have seen, moreover, that man acquires knowledge via immediate impartation (e.g. Adam, Eve, Noah), but also upon the occasion of God or man having met some previously defined/declared/agreed upon condition. The knowledge gained in this way is still immediately imparted, nevertheless, being not the result of repeated experiences (i.e. induction) nor a deduction (though it is possible to validly infer the knowledge they acquire).

Knowledge is strictly limited to propositions, as demonstrated above. What is knowledge, then, according to the texts with which we’ve already examined? True propositions revealed by God upon occasions known either (a.)entirely to himself or (b.)known to others. Knowledge can also be understood to be true propositions revealed by one human party to another upon the meeting of some condition. There is no non-propositional knowledge, then, according to the texts so far examined. Rather, the word yada’ is used in reference to other non-intellectual phenomena only in a secondary sense whose meaning is dependent upon the primary intellectual sense of the word.

In the next series of posts, I hope to delve into this topic more deeply.

Here are the links to parts 1-5.

1. Some Notes on Scriptural Epistemology Pt. 1

2. Some Notes on Scriptural Epistemology Pt. 2

3. Some Notes on Scriptural Epistemology Pt. 3

4. Some Notes on Scriptural Epistemology Pt. 4

5. Some Notes on Scriptural Epistemology Pt. 5

Soli Deo Gloria