Gordon Clark and the “Proofs” for God’s Existence

In chapter one of his book A Christian View of Men and Things, Gordon Clark brings up the discussion of the traditional “proofs” for God’s existence (e.g., cosmological, teleological, ontological, etc). He writes:

To one who has just begun to philosophize and who wishes to defend theism, it might seem most natural to prove the existence of God right at the first… But are the arguments valid? Some people maintain that they are; but even if they are, the more they are studied, the harder it becomes to state them in an unobjectionable form… [If] there is a valid inference from the world to God [vis-à-vis the cosmological argument], the god so proved can be assigned only those qualities sufficient to produce the observed effects. Such an argument might prove the existence of a very powerful god, but it could not prove the existence of an omnipotent God. (Introduction)

I remember well sitting in my first undergraduate course in doctrine and having to memorize the historical proofs for God set forth by Aquinas and others; yet even then, they did not sit right with me. At best, they could set forth a case for a creator, designer, or other, but they failed because they cannot prove Yahweh, the One True God presented in Scripture. They fall short in this regard. Clark quotes Hume to this end:

A body of ten ounces raised in any scale may serve as a proof that the counterbalancing weight exceeds ten ounces, but can never afford a reason that it exceeds a hundred. (An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section XI)

To be certain, evidence of the One True God’s existence is found in nature. The Apostle Paul tells the reader of Romans as much: [God’s] invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made (1:20). This is what we refer to as general revelation: the non-verbal disclosing of God’s existence and perfections to all people by means of nature.

This is problematic for two reasons. First, that same passage in Romans also says that man in his natural state suppresses the truth: For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them (vv. 18-19).

Second, we cannot know more than what the created world tells us. Existence and identification are two separate entities, and the identification of the One True God can only be found in Scripture. Try as we might to identify God through these proofs, the ultimate authority — the Word of God — is ultimately the only authority. At some point, the unbeliever will need to choose to either believe Scripture or not.

Often the reason for these proofs is said to be for the sake of the unbelieving atheist, but the atheist is right in rejecting these “ways” to proving God’s existence. Even if they proved the existence of God, belief in the propositions found in Scripture are still necessary for eternal life. The redemptive work of the second Person of the Trinity is only revealed to us in Scripture, and must be accepted on the basis of its testimony alone. Either way, knowledge of Scripture is paramount, and we are dependent upon the Holy Spirit to illumine Scripture to us.

Clark concludes his discussion of these proofs with the following:

[C]riticism is also directed against the validity of any inference from effect to cause — a matter that was granted for the sake of argument — will be even less easy to place confidence in the proofs of God’s existence. The more the arguments are studied, the less valid they seem. Because of this, the argument for a theistic worldview cannot begin with the traditional proofs of God’s existence. These proofs are seen to raise many questions; and if they should be valid they could not be shown to be valid without a great amount of prior discussion of metaphysics, epistemology, and other elements of a well-rounded system. (Introduction)

The final sentence is most crucial in any dialogue. A great deal of talking past one another happens because our epistemologies — our understanding of knowledge and how we obtain it — differ. To the believer, Scripture should permeate our worldview. We should be reasoning from the Scriptures, for those words alone bring life. Scripture should be the basis and foundation of all that we do, and we would do well to let God do the talking through His Word.


on the hermeneutics of suspicion…

In preparation for a class on philosophy that I will be teaching next semester, I have been reading Ronald Nash’s Life’s Ultimate Questions (along with this and this, as well).  In his first chapter on epistemology, Nash discusses the idea of the “hermeneutics of suspicion.”  He writes:

Postmodernists regard texts as attempts by powerful people to impose their will upon the weak and powerless.  A text represents a hidden agenda.  Not only must we look beyond the apparent meaning of a text, but also we must dig deeper and uncover the relationships of power that make up the culture.  Postmodernists do this by means of what they call “subversive readings.”  Reading a text does not mean seeking out its objective meaning, which is something that cannot be done anyway.  Rather, the postmodernist seeks to uncover what the text is hiding.  Deconstructionists break down the text; they deconstruct it in order to uncover the relationships of power hidden beneath the text. (p. 234, emphasis mine)

Later on in the chapter, he recounts this anecdote.  He does not cite its author; rather, he says that the author wishes to remain anonymous.  He prefaces the scenario thus:

So far as I can tell, the people who utilize the hermeneutics of suspicion operate on the far left of culture.  Never once, so far as I know, has the hermeneutics of suspicion ever been applied to a liberal.  If the tables were turned and the hermeneutics of suspicion were applied to the practitioners of the method, the result might go something like the following:

Either deconstructionists are among the dumbest people ever to get university teaching positions, or there is something sinister going on.  But deconstructionists are not dumb, though at times they can put on a convincing act.  So what are they really up to?  As we learn from the hermeneutics of suspicion, whatever a text is hiding has to do with power, never with truth.  It hardly seems a coincidence that many deconstructionists are Marxists.  Naturally, this does not mean they are Marxists in any sense that the historic Marx or even Lenin would approve.  Marxian deconstructionists recognize that most nontrivial sentences in the writings of Marx and Lenin have been falsified.  They know that Marxian economics is a fraud.  After years of watching Russian and Chinese and Cuban leaders impoverish every citizen in their nations, except the rich and powerful people at the top, we know that no Marxist cares about poor and oppressed people.  Their entire program is keeping the power they have and smuggling as many American dollars as they can to their Swiss bank accounts.

As for Marxian intellectuals in America, the name of their game is also power.  They know that deconstructionism is bunk.  The real purpose of the deconstructionist power brokers is to separate as many Americans as possible from their families and from their literature and traditions.  If we cannot know the meaning of any text, then we cannot know the meaning of the Bible, including the Ten Commandments.  Neither can we know the meaning of the United States Constitution or any other text that might sustain social order or provide meaning and direction to life.  Once students become alienated from their families, their religion, their values, their traditions, they will be like lambs prepared for the slaughter.  And when that day comes, who do you suppose all the people with empty heads and empty chests will look to for their orders?  They will look to the deconstructionist, marxian, power-seeking professors who introduced them to the mysteries of a world without meaning.  The real name of the deconstructionist game is not meaning or truth; it is power, raw political power. (p. 240-1, emphasis mine).

Wow…  wow.  Now, this book was published in 1999, and there’s no indication as to when the anecdote was written, but it’s eerily predictive of the situation we find ourselves in today.  While it is the name of the game throughout the world, it is pitiful that it is also true of America, as well.  What is the liberal agenda but to expand the welfare state, ever-widening the parameters of who qualifies, so as to make more and more people dependent upon their government?  To propagate and exploit racism and sexism in order to be the lords and protectors of those in the “minority?”  To appoint judges to lifetime positions that believe the Constitution is a dead document, and must be interpreted (or even replaced) by international law and custom (here’s looking at you, Sotomayor [Ms. Wise Latina Woman] and Kagan [deciding cases you helped defend in your previous position]).  And to what end?  Has poverty and homelessness gone down?  Is the family the central unit of society?  Does Obama, or Pelosi, or Miss Sheila Jackson-Lee, or Maxine Waters, or Harry Reid really care about citizens?  Not in the least!  It is all about having the power, being looked upon as the saviors of the “squandered.”

It’s incredible how the destruction by postmodernism is so predictable; and yet, blind eyes are turned at the will and the whim of those in power and in the media.  And it all starts with a philosophical idea.  As much as I attempt to shy away from political discussion in the classroom, I dare say this philosophy class would be a time to have this discussion in the classroom.  Not only is postmodernism destroying Christianity, but it is destroying our country, as well.  I look forward to this discussion.  And I look forward to voting for someone — the only one — who would fight for traditional family values and the freedom upon which this country was founded.