Establishing the Boundaries of a Biblical Worldview

Gordon H. Clark

Philosopher Gordon H. Clark says in one of his lectures: “There are complications. And if you want to learn the subject you have to learn the complications, that’s what the subject is. And if you don’t want to learn the subject, well go out and play golf. I don’t know why anyone would want to do so, but apparently some do.” Too many critics of Van Til have failed to learn the complications, and thus don’t know the subject matter.

How can man’s knowledge coincide with God’s? God knows the end and the beginning, and His sovereign purpose from all eternity in the creation of every fact. Man’s knowledge can never coincide with that. Not only does man have no ability to know anything exhaustively, he can never know anything creatively as God does, nor absolutely, nor in any other way have a coincidence of content. The difference between God and man cannot be bridged by the mind of man.

Rushdoony, R. J. (1994). Systematic Theology in Two Volumes: Volume I (189–190). Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books.

At this point we must pause to clarify the logic both of this particular situation and of experimental verification in general. A simple argument of verifica­tion proceeds as follows: the given hypothesis implies certain definite results; the experiment actually gives these results; therefore the hypothesis is verified and can be called a law. Obviously, this argument is the fallacy of asserting the consequent; and since all verifica­tion must commit this fallacy, it follows that no law or hypothesis can ever be logically demonstrated.

It seems, however, that hypotheses can be logically proven false. The argument would go: the given hy­pothesis implies certain definite results; the experiment actually gives a contradictory result; therefore the hy­pothesis is false. Obviously, this is the perfectly valid argument of denying the consequent. So it would seem that although laws can be proven false, they can never be proven true.[1]

The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God

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Footnotes    (↵back returns to text)
  1. Gordon H. Clark, The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God (Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, [1964] 1977), p. 73.↵back

Comparison of Aquinas and Van Til on “Analogy”

The above sketches of Thomas Aquinas’ doctrine of analogy and Cornelius Van Til’s doctrine of analogy reveal that they are widely divergent. This difference is seen first of all in their respective presuppositions.

(1) Aquinas presupposes a partial autonomy of human reason, that man may know some things about himself and the world whether God exists or not. Van Til in presupposing only the God who has revealed himself in Scripture considers man to be completely dependent in his knowledge on divine revelation both general and special.

(2) Aquinas believes that all knowledge begins in sense experience, functioning quite apart from revelation. Van Til holds to the validity of human sense experience but only because by revelation man is known to be God’s image-bearer, the finite reinterpreter of the facts of the created sense world. Even sense-knowledge, therefore, functions in the context of revelation for Van Til. (3) Aquinas presupposes that being exists as a scale so that all creatures below God are involved to some extent in non-being as well as being. But for Van Til, there exist only two levels of being, the uncreated and the created, and on this created level the existence of an ant or a flea is as much genuine existence as that of man. Van Til considers such a polarization between being and non-being an inevitable conclusion of non-Christian thought.

In their views of the nature of analogy, Aquinas and Van Til also diverge. The basic difference is that for Aquinas analogy purports to be a middle way between univocal and equivocal predication of names or words to subjects. This is not the case for Van Til. For him analogy applies not to terms, but to the overall process of human thought: man is God’s created analogue in both his being and his knowledge. Man can know because as the image of God, he is ordained to mirror in a finite way God’s infinite knowledge of all things.

In conclusion, it must be adjudged that Aquinas and Van Til have quite distinct concepts in mind when they use the word “analogy.” Clark is guilty of the fallacy of equivocation in charging Van Til with the skepticism which is entailed by the Thomistic doctrine of analogy. On the other hand, it might be well if Van Til were to modify his terminology so as to eliminate the possibility of confusion. Instead of speaking of man’s knowledge as being related by analogy to God’s, it might be said that man’s knowledge bears an image-relationship to God’s knowledge, or that man’s knowledge is reflective of that of God.[1]

Footnotes    (↵back returns to text)
  1. Gilbert B. Weaver, “Man: Analogue of God” in E. R. Geehan, Ed., Jerusalem and Athens: Critical discussions on the theology and apologetics of Cornelius Van Til. 1971 ( Nutley, NJ: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1971), pp. 326-327.↵back

I believe that Clark’s problems with empiricism that lead him to reject senses as untrustworthy can be answered by many of the subsidiary axioms of biblical revelation. How does he justify the validity of the law of contradiction? It is implicit in propositional revelation, he claims. For “David” to mean anything, it must also not mean “non-David.” He also goes to some length in replying to Nash, who asks him to demonstrate the legitimacy of deducing the mathematical equation, two plus two is four, from Scripture:

. . . Scripture does indeed teach a bit of arithmetic. Numbers, additions, and subtractions occur: after Judas hanged himself, there remained eleven disciples. Multiplication occurs and there are divisions by five, seven, and ten. If now, mathematics can be logically developed out of its principles, then mathematics can by “good and necessary consequence” be deduced from Scripture. (Festschrift, p. 468)

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The question has been asked, Why does a stone fall; what makes it fall; and what makes it fall faster? The usual answer is, the law of gravitation. This law as applied to freely falling bodies is that the body falls with an acceleration of thirty-two feet per second per second. Now, to substitute the law itself for its name, the question, Why does a stone fall? is answered by saying that it falls because it falls with an acceleration of thirty two feet per second per second. But how does a statement of the rate of the fall explain what makes the stone drop in the first place, and how does the rate, ever so carefully measured, explain what makes the stone fall constantly faster? Does it not become clear upon reflection that the law of gravitation is not an explanation? It explains neither the fall of the stone nor the revolution of the planets.

Here we begin to see how the details of science and the principles of philosophy become intertwined and even confused. Galileo and Newton by their great geni­us worked out their respective laws in strict mathe­matical form. This was science. Let no one under­estimate its importance! Of course not; we resolve never to underestimate the importance of science—if only we can find out what that importance is. We have arrived at the scientific law of gravitation, or, at least, Newton arrived there for us; but now we are asking, and even Newton himself began to ask, about its signi­ficance. This is not science; it is philosophy. Let no one underestimate the importance of philosophy!

The philosophy of science, in distinction from sci­ence itself as ordinarily understood, must consider the significance of scientific law. Does science explain any­thing? Must we not go beyond science, and if we do not care for occult qualities, must we not like Newton, explain the origin (at least) of the solar system as the result of a Supreme Intelligence? Must we not proceed from physics to metaphysics? Surely we want to know more than the path of the planets and the acceleration of a freely falling body. Facts such as these are interest­ing and important. But a statement of fact is not an explanation: it is the very thing that needs to be explained.  Viewed in this light, science explains nothing.

But a statement of fact is not an explanation: it is the very thing that needs to be explained.

Well, then, this light, some scientists contend, must be the wrong light. The true light, they say, is that science explains. Since, obviously, science does not ex­plain what makes a stone fall, these men conclude that the wrong question has been asked. Explanation must be defined by what science can do; what science cannot do is not to be called explanation. Any question science cannot answer, whether it have the semblance of science like the cause of a body’s fall, or whether a fortiori it be an ultimate metaphysical question such as the exist­ence of God, is not a proper question. One should not ask these questions. One should ask only questions sci­ence can answer. And there is such a question. Science may not be able to explain what makes a body fall, but it can answer, and can answer with amazing mathemati­cal precision, how a body falls: with an acceleration of thirty-two feet per second per second. Science answers how. Any other question is nonsense. Explanation is description.[1]

Footnotes    (↵back returns to text)
  1. Gordon H. Clark, The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God (Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1964), pp. 41-43.↵back