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Empiricism: A Modern Danger Among Christians? A Refutation.

 

You might be an Empiricist if…

 

1.  You believe or use the phrase, “All truth is God’s truth” or you believe that Scripture should be “integrated” with  psychology, sociology, or any other area of knowledge.

 

2.  You “believe” that modern science can answer problems of abortion, illegitimate births, poverty, health, and other “social” problems.

 

3.  You believe that people should be counseled by psychologists or psychiatrists.

 

4.  You are not skeptical of modern medicine, or you are a strong advocate of some form of alternative medicine.  You believe that somehow abortion is a separate moral issue for the practice of medicine.

 

5.  You believe that your vision, hearing, taste, smell, and touch do not ever deceive you.

 

6.  You believe that you understand yourself, or you believe that you understand yourself better than God does.

 

7.  You believe that all religions have some element of truth, "lead to God," or benefit mankind.

 

8.  You voted for Obama

 

9.  You voted for McCain..

10.  You believe that the mind has no knowledge or categories at birth (innate).

 

11.  You believe that civil government should be involved in welfare, public education, postal service, the United Nations, Social Security, and most everything else that it does.

 

12.  You believe that music and memory are simple processes of the mind.

 

13.  You believe that “facts” are knowledge or that they are true.

 

14.  You believe that “seeing is believing,” as when Doubting Thomas touched and felt Jesus’ wounds.

 

15.  You believe that “colors” are real.

16.  You believe that all the functions of the mind are simply chemical and physical actions in the brain.

(Note: These "ifs" are used fairly loosely, but you will see their relevance in the following discussion.)

 

There seems to be a reality for everyone, regardless of their intellect, that is, what is real are solid objects.  These solid objects in themselves are what philosophers call materialism.  That is, the universe is only made up of things that I can sense: touch, see, taste, hear, and smell.  The “most real” of objects are those with which I can make contact.  I run into a wall, not just touch it—a solid, resisting object!  A hot stove will cause blisters if I touch it.  The sun will blind my sight if I look into it.  The smell of dog poop on my shoe surely gets my attention!  The taste of a lemon will pucker my cheeks.  A lightning strike within a short distance pounds my eardrums.  These events are common everyday occurrences.

 

Who would argue that these striking sensations are not “real” and constitute “reality?” This world is where we live, move, and have our being, is it not?  Most of our waking moments deal with this world.  John Frame, one of today’s great theologians, said:

 

Right now I believe that there is an evergreen tree outside my window…. I cannot imagine any epistemologist ever persuading me that my belief about the evergreen tree is false.  There must be something wrong with any theory that requires me to abandon such a belief.[1]

 

Then, there are the comments of one of the most Reformed of philosophers, Ronald Nash, with his only criticisms of Gordon Clark.

 

One major difficulty with Clark’s theory is its obvious incompatibility with all kinds of human knowledge not attainable in the way he describes.  I know, for example, that my wife exists; but I see no way of deducing the true proposition that reports her existence from anything in the Bible.  I also know that in 1948, Lou Boudreau led his American League team in batting with an average of .355.  Surely anyone who could deny that humans can know such propositions is using the word knowledge in a very idiosyncratic way.[2]

 

So, empiricism is defended by men who are solidly Reformed with strong credentials in philosophy.[3]

 

Further, we have to work to provide for our own and family’s food, shelter, and clothing.  We have to sleep to give our senses and our bodies the rest that it needs.  We use physical tools to enhance this existence.  We function where we “live and move and have our being” in this material world.

 

What Is Empiricism?  What Questions Does It Not Answer?

 

Empiricism, as philosophical defined, is knowledge that is gained through the five human senses (named above).  This definition would also include all that modern science claims as knowledge, as science is no more than structured situations in which the five senses are enhanced with sophisticated instruments.  Examples are given above.  Frame “knows” that the evergreen tree is there.  Nash “knows” his wife and “knows” the batting average of a particular person in a particular year.  Science was convinced that Newton's laws of physics were "true" until Einstein's relativity, quantum, and chaos theories. These are empirical observations and inferred conclusions or reasons deduced from them.

 

However, we immediately meet a problem with this physical universe.  Physical objects cannot answer the following questions.  Why do I, as a person, even exist?  Indeed, what am I in my most basic being?  What work should I do?  Do I work at that which will provide the most income or do I work only enough to provide my basic needs?  Do I go through life alone or do I marry?  Why should I not just steal, rather than having to work?  If I marry, should  haIve children?  Oh, what is the purpose in having children?  They are a great bother and expense!  Will I just become worm food when I die?  Or, is there the faintest hope of life beyond death? 

 

Empiricism cannot answer these questions.  No ought nor reason can be determined from what is, that is, from physical objects or persons.[4]  So, empiricism fails to answer the most important questions in life.  The physical objects of the universe, as "real" as they are, cannot prove their own reason to exist. 

 

So, empiricism fails as a philosophy of life.  It fails as the ultimate epistemology to know purpose and meaning.  While the “what” may be answered, we are left with when, where, how, who, and why?  Actually, only the “why” seems to remain.  The when, where, how, and who will be determined by the why.

 

So, Where Does the “Why” Come From?

 

Do modern philosophers have the influence that is credited to them?  It would seem doubtful, as few people read them.  What about the influence of academia?  Professors teach college students.  College students have no perspective on life: they have barely begun their journey through it.  But, they do go out into the “world,” a few become leaders in society and civil government, or at least becomeparents who influence their children. 

Who or what, then, influences others?  “Facts” sometimes do.  For example, there are the “facts” of global warming or its denial.  There are the “facts” of plenty of oil, if drilling is done in the right places.  There are the “facts” that we are polluting our planet and more drilling will accelerate it.  There is the "fact" that "civil government is here to help (save?) us.  There is the "fact" that civil government should provide public education.

 

How are facts analyzed?  Facts are evaluated with parameters that are not found empirically.  Dewey et al planned to subvert the American educational system.  It was not really a philosophical movement—it was a plan to control the minds of future generations.  What influenced Stalin, Pol Pot, Hitler, and other murderous dictators?  They could not have achieved what they did without considerable help, that is, a corresponding zeitgeist, at least within enough military officers and their men to command and continue in power.  Such widespread evil cannot not exist in one man—he must have the assistance of armies—armies made up of individuals who must, for whatever reasons (fear, agreement, “go with the flow, etc.) enable him to accomplish his destructive intentions. 

 

Ultimately, everyone acts according to what they think will be for their own good or that of their family--sometimes called "happiness" in historical philosophical terms.  Then, how many act according to what will be "best" for their culture, nation, or world?  For what did the Covenanters die?  They died for freedom to worship according to their Biblical understanding.  Why did people die during the French Revolution—for their belief, as idealistic and hedonistic, as it was?  They died for their idea of freedom (which was actually slavery and murder.)  People are willing to die for their ideas—ideas have consequences!

 

Some theorists state that three to ten percent of (vigorous) activists can influence, or even change the direction of a society or nation.  If one allows for an opposing three to ten percent, then 80 to 94 percent of people just muddle along and follow these leaders. By contrast, the American colonies were perhaps 70 percent Calvinistic, even though they were of differing denominations: Presbyterian, Episcopalian, and Congregational.  God can start a revival and a reformation anywhere and anytime that He chooses, as He did with the Great Awakening in America in the 18th century.

 

The “Facts” of Empiricism

 

Empiricism is necessary. The empirical world is where we live.  We have to plan, based upon the weather, the place of solid objects that we have to go around, the likelihood that the sun will rise tomorrow, etc.   But, as we have already presented, empiricism does not explain ultimate things or ethics.

 

Empiricism is difficult to deny.  Idealists claim that everything that is real exists in the mind.  I have difficulty with that.  If I pound my head against the wall, it hurts.  A solid head is pounding a solid wall.  Automobile crashes are sometimes grisly, as as are the casualties in war.  And, if one survives these injuries, one may be crippled for life.  Crashes and crippling are very "real.I have to live in my body, and others have to live in theirs.  Don’t talk to me of all these results just being “in my head.”  Solid objects and bodies are just too real!

 

Then, there is a reality beyond my immediate presence. I cannot see the Eiffel Tower, but it exists.  In sparse deserts or dense jungles, no person is there to see anything.  Yet, if a person goes there, the dirt and the animals and the plants are there.  If things exist only in minds, how can they be there until someone arrives?  No one sees the other side of the moon, but it is “attached” to the side that we can see.  Of course, these things exist in God’s mind, but then there is the problem of how my mind perceives God’s mind when I go to those places where I have never been before.  Idealism does not seem reasonable, either.  No, it is too much to accept that things and people only exist in mind or minds.  (See the realities posed in the introductory paragraph.)

 

General and Special Revelation

 

The failure of empiricism to answer the serious questions of life is also the problem of general revelation (nature) and the need for special revelation (the Bible).  Empirical observation of the universe (general revelation) reveals both grandeur and ugliness; tremendous power that can create or destroy; rain that can water flowers and crops or bring a flood that destroys lives and people; a sun that provides warmth but will kill a person with sufficient exposure; the tenderness of a mother with her child and the cruel death of millions by dictators.  General revelation cannot explain these contrasts.  Special revelation can and does.

 

General revelation (GR) seems to have, what I would call, a “functional role.”  While GR does not discover “truth,” it has great applicability in man’s world.  One does not have to know the “why” of gravity or any of the other “laws” of the universe in order to send astronauts to the moon and back.  Most medications in medicine that “work” cannot be explained as to “why” they work.  How electricity “works,” is not understood, but its use in modern times is surely one of mankind’s greatest “helps” to his existence.  We could say, then, that scientific study of GR is the means by which God has provided for man’s Creation Mandate (Genesis 1).  It can and should be used in this way.  But this empirical methods does not determine truth or right and wrong.  It must be used as God intended it.

 

Words That Are Synonymous or Associated with Empiricism

 

I have noticed in philosophy that there appears to be more divergence that there actually is.  By putting terms together that are synonyms or approximate synonyms, one may be better able to get an idea of the application of a term.  Empiricism is the overwhelmingly predominant philosophy of our day, even among most Christian, including those of "academia.The following are synonyms or approximate synonyms of empiricism:

 

Naturalism, science, scientism, scientific naturalism, idealism, realism, scientific realism, evidentialism, existentialism, subjectivism, experientialism, perception, scientism, logical positivism, nominalism, universals, sensation, materialism, physicalism, essence, object, real, substance, being, evolution, humanism, secular humanism, secularism, conceptualism, phenomenalism, Instrumentalism, operationalism, functionalism, pragmatism, and monism. 

 

This list is not presumed to be complete nor are all the words considered to be precise synonyms.  The reader can make his own evaluation about how each is relevant to the other.  But this sort of linking of words could greatly simplify philosophy (and theology, for that matter), if it were presented occasionally.  Whether philosophers intend it or not, they obfuscate their writings by an endless stream of new terms to demonstrate the nuances of their positions.  Too often, they also fail to define their terms, and when they do, they do not use them consistently.  If philosophers are not precise in their language, how can they expect us to take them seriously.  Language, communications and logic should be their basic tools!

 

The Newborn Baby Cries, “I am cold!”

 

As a physician, I have delivered a number of babies.  Unless there is some serious problem at birth, they all scream once they are out of the womb?  Why?  How do they know to scream?  Well, likely they scream because the room is cold.  They have gone from a 9-month existence in a cozy incubator of 98.6 degrees to one that is about 65 degrees.  They are soaking wet from the amniotic fluid.  If you have ever gotten out of a hot shower and stood in a room of that temperature, it is quite a shock!  The baby screams—so what?

 

Simply, how does the baby know how to scream?  It was just born.  By the concept of tabula rasa, they should not know anything.  Yet, this simple act carries considerable knowledge.  While perhaps not a conscious thought as will come later, the baby reacts to extreme discomfort to cry? Now, to cry it must detect a cold sensation on its skin, and then coordinate the breathing in of sufficient air by depressing its diaphragm, then use the large muscle of the diaphragm in the opposite direction to force that air back out through its vocal cords that will result in a cry.  How does it know to do that?  Instinct?

 

Well, instinct is not really an answer, it is just another name that the baby knows how to cry-scream.  The knowledge is already there at birth—it is innate (intuitive, a priori).  The baby also has considerable other knowledge.  It knows discomfort from comfort; it knows how to suckle as his mother’s breast.  Later, it will manifest other motor skills.  It will learn to crawl when everyone else it sees is walking.  It will begin to remember things like its mother’s face, faces of family members, and eventually to talk.  A baby does not “learn to talk” empirically.  It cannot visualize the connection between the vocal cords and the brain of another person to know how to make sounds.  It has the innate knowledge that himself is able to speak, as it observes others speaking. 

 

Papers and books have been written about what a baby is able to do in its first year of extremely rapid changes.  However, at this point I only want to posit that a baby is born with innate knowledge—an amazing and extensive knowledge that will allow it to become educated and grow into an adult with similar abilities as all other adults.  This knowledge includes categories, such as those named by Aristotle, Kant, and 20th century psychologists.  However, I am not sure that a particular list of categories is important.  What is important is that innate knowledge, including at least the ability of formulate categories, is inescapable.

 

Babyhood and Beyond: The Mind and Computer Memory

 

Consider a computer disk (CD).  If you find one laying on the floor, you can slide it into a computer drive to see what is there.  You find that it contains a great deal of information.  How did that information get there?  It was placed on the disk when something was copied to it.  Even as we look it over, we could add more knowledge ourselves (if the disk is not full—here the analogy fails as the mind is never full).  So, with this disk there is the knowledge already present and additional knowledge that may be added.

 

What is a prerequisite for a disk to retain knowledge?  It must be formatted—it must have a structure that allows information to “stick” to it—to be retained for future retrieval.  Some philosophers have postulated the human mind as a tabula rasa—a blank slate at birth upon which the empiric process through the senses gains knowledge over one’s lifetime.[5]  These philosophers did not know about computer disks, but such modern day knowledge was not necessary to understand that a mind had to be “formatted” (have innate structure) in order to retain anything brought to the mind for the senses.  Then, “something other” than the senses had to tell the mind what to do with the information once it arrived in the mind.  That is, what information to acknowledge, record, meditate upon, or consider in any other way.[6]

 

(This “something other” is not directly the discussion at hand—refutation of empiricism is.  Yet, with empiricism gone, what is a source of knowledge?  We have just seen that innate knowledge is one source.  We have posited some forms of innate knowledge, but have not even made an attempt to be explain or discuss how extensive this knowledge might be.  That discussion is beyond my intent here—but it needs to be done sometime.  Where else might knowledge come from?  Traditionally, sources of knowledge have been empiricism, rationalism, innate, and belief.  There are problems with all of these.  Rationalism is not so much a source of knowledge, as reasoning from what is already known.  Belief is entirely subjective, as the believer chooses what to believe on whims, “evidence,” testimony, correspondence, coherence, and pragmatism.  All these directions are too much for the present matter.  I will continue with empiricism and take up the problem of knowledge in these other areas soon.  I have formulated some ideas on epistemology here: Knowledge: A New Look at an Old Subject.)

 

Perhaps you are starting to get the picture.  Learning through empiricism is impossible without innate knowledge and the structure that knowledge requires for it to be retained (remembered) and categorized (universals recognized).  Look up from this page.  What do you see?  You will see a large number of objects (particulars), but an almost unlimited number of characteristics of those objects (universals).  Now, observe what you see: a window, a chair, a file cabinet, a rug, a picture on the wall, the ceiling, etc.  Now, look more closely at one object—I will choose a chair.  What size is it?  Shape?  Does it have rollers or fixed legs?  What fabric does it have?  Does it have arms? Is it an “easy” chair or a desk chair?  What color is it?  How are you able to focus on one particular object or any one of its characteristics?  The decision to focus your mind on an object, even to consider its finest details is a decision not based upon empiricism.  In fact, empiricism makes no decisions.  Think of a microscope or telescope.  Both have images (information, knowledge) pass through them, but nothing is retained.  The senses only transport information to the mind/brain.  And, empiricism cannot tell you when and for what to use them.

 

OK, you want to stop reading now?  You want to go to the refrigerator and get something to eat?   Why?  What would make you stop reading to get a snack?  Hunger?  Well, what makes you decide that satisfying hunger is a priority over reading?  You say that you learned to satisfy your hunger from experience (experientially, empirically).  Well, why do you get up at this particular moment?  Why not wait a little longer—you will not die of starvation to wait—you may not even be uncomfortable to wait?  Why now?  Your experience cannot answer that question for this moment.  Likely, in the past you have snacked when you were extremely hungry, only mildly hungry, or even when you were already full from a Thanksgiving meal.  Why, then?  Why, now?  Empiricism cannot answer those questions.

 

Memory is impossible with empiricism alone.  OK, I see the chair.  I go to bed, get up, and see the same chair.  But how do I know it is the same chair?  I have to remember it from the day before.  Empiricism can account for my seeing the chair each time, but what enables me to remember the chair from the day before?  If an image is presented to a blank surface (tabula rasa), what causes it to “stick” so that it can be retained later?  A blank piece of paper can be used as a camera to face our “chair”, but it will not record it.  An image of a chair, however, can be recorded by a digital camera because it has the structure (the formatting).  Unless something has the structure to record images, they are not retained.  Unless the mind/brain has the structure to record (“remember”) images, it is not able to do so.  The mechanism to record has nothing to do with images presented to it by sensory data—it is a structure that is innate. 

 

Not only must a mental picture be retained, it must be “recognized” to be the same image or a different image that was seen at another time.  Even with images placed side by side, universals and particulars determine whether that image is recognized as the same of different from a previous one.  Empiricism only “sees” or “hears,” it neither records nor compares and contrasts.

 

Empiricism is cacophonous, not musical.  A melody is made up of individual notes that have a particular sequence and variation in pitch.  Empiricism only allows a momentary hearing of individual notes.  By the occurrence of the next note, the previous one is gone.  In order to have a tune, one must remember the immediately prior notes and compare and contrast them, several at a time, to discern the tune.  Imagine the complexity of a symphony—how would simple observation of individual sounds and notes be put together on an empirical basis alone? 

 

Empiricism cannot form a conclusion, that is, become "science."  All objects, when dropped, fall to the floor or ground.  We have seen that empiricism cannot “remember” from one object to the next—much less can empiricism infer that all objects will fall, if dropped.  Empiricism only observes, it cannot project into the future what has happened in the past.  Those events have not yet happened to be observed!  Then, how can empiricism discern that all objects on earth should fall, if dropped.  Even greater, how can empiricism conclude that objects dropped on Mars or any other planet will “fall.”  Empiricism can only “know” what is presented by the senses—the senses have not been to all parts or the earth, much less to the ends of the universe.  Empiricism cannot explain why objects float in space and do not fall.

 

Empiricism can say nothing about supernatural reality.  By definition, empiricism can say nothing about what cannot be sensed.  By definition, then, “supernatural” is beyond the senses.  Yet, no true Christian would deny the reality of God.  More so, they would aver quite strongly that God is the ultimate reality.  But “God is a spirit” and cannot be sensed. 

 

Now, many Christians have argued that they sense Him in the Bible.  That is, with their eyes they see words on the pages of the Bible that talk about God.  But that claim is seriously naïve to any philosophical consideration.  Words on a page in the form of a declarative sentence are formed by a mind that has written them.  The senses of the person writing them do not form the words nor do they arrange the words on the page—his mind/brain does.  Then, the senses of the reader transfer that declarative sentence into his own mind.  Reading is a communication of mind to mind.  There is no knowledge generated by the senses.  They only transmit the symbols that comprise the thought.  The symbols are not the thoughts.

 

Empiricism is the exact opposite of faith.  Faith is opposite to the old phrase, “Seeing is believing.”  Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).  “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).  “For we walk by faith and not by sight” (II Corinthians 5:7).  Seeing or sight is perhaps the most common and pervasive empirical method. 

 

But some might claim that the disciple, Thomas, believed because he saw Jesus’ wounds.  Even with Thomas, empiricism (sight) alone did not cause belief.  Thomas’ could have only concluded from Jesus’ wounds only that he had somehow survived the crucifixion, that he was still mortal, and would die again.  But, what did Thomas exclaim?  “My Lord and My God.”  How did Thomas conclude from physical wounds to a transcendental, supernatural, spiritual concept of “My Lord and my God.”  That conclusion required much more knowledge than simple observation of physical wounds.  It required conclusions from all that Jesus had said during His ministry with them along with Old Testament prophecies and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  It also required the “gift of faith,” otherwise Thomas could have boasted about His great conclusion (Ephesians 2:8-9). 

 

A Summary of the Flaws in Empiricism

 

1.  Empiricism provides only sensations that without innate categories and storage ability for that information to “stick” to some substrate and be organized on the basis of universals and particulars, knowledge cannot occur.  Empiricism does not tell me what a “tree” is or what is “green.”  Something innate makes categories, and amazingly those categories correspond to those of almost all other people!

 

2.  Empiricism can say nothing about what is right and wrong.  It only presents information and situations—it cannot say what to do with that information or whether any action is right or wrong.  The evergreen tree is “there”—why is it “there” and what do we do with it? 

 

3.  Empiricism is sometimes unreliable, as in optical illusions.  All empirical processes must have at least some degree of suspicion that they might not be presenting  information that has "certainty.". 

 

4.  Empiricism presents information that is highly, if not entirely, subjective and conditional.  What shade of green is the evergreen tree?  Is it green to a blind person?  Is it green to a colorblind person?  Is it green in twilight?  What, then, is green?  Then, how do we know that we are all seeing the same sensation "green?"

 

5.  Empiricism cannot establish what is normal.  Is the evergreen tree green because most people who see it think that is green?  Then, “normal” becomes the majority vote.  Is that how we want to establish what is real? 

 

6. Empiricism is unable to recognize either universals or particulars.  Innate categories of the mind/brain allow the focus on particulars and classification of universals. 

 

7.  Empiricism provides no means for memory.  There has to be a “recording camera” to retain images.  And, there has to be a mechanism to compare and contrast images on two separate occasions to “recognize” that they are the same.

 

8.  Empiricism does not allow for musical composition and understanding.  Something other than the notes themselves must formulate a sequence that we call rhythm, tunes, and music, that is, memory of one note or several at at time in sequences of time.

 

9.  Empiricism cannot form a conclusion about any “sensed” events, whether random or consistent.  If I walk into my garage and see a flat tire on my car, that visual data alone does not tell me that I cannot drive my car and that I must get it fixed before I can go anywhere.

 

10.  Empiricism cannot investigate the supernatural realm, arguably the most important area of study if there is any meaning beyond the “observable.”  God is a Spirit, and thus by definition, cannot be seen, felt, or touched.

 

11.  Empiricism relies upon “images,” but Francis Galton (1822-1911) has demonstrated empirically that a “good number of highly educated scholars and statesmen have no imagery.”[7]  There are two refutations here.  (1) If a “good number” of people have no imagery, they could have learned nothing according to the empirical theory of knowledge.  (2) If empiricism refutes itself, how can it be a basis for knowledge? 

 

What’s the Big Deal?  So, Empiricism Has Flaws

 

The big deal is that empiricism dominates the lives of Christians in this modern era.[8]  We have seen that Ronald Nash is willing to disagree with his good friend Gordon Clark on this one issue.  We have seen that John Frame “knows” that the evergreen tree is outside his window.  We seem to function daily on the basis of empiricism where we “live and move and have our being.”  Oops!  I just added another dimension—literally, another dimension—a supernatural one. 

 

Materialism[9] (physicalism, naturalism, scientism, humanism) dominates and saturates the thinking of our age.  Charles Darwin provided a mechanism to leave God out of the picture.  Today, the theory of evolution dominates every area of study: the natural sciences, medicine, psychology, genetics. sociology, economics, history, criminology, penology, education, art, politics, civil law, and virtually all other categories.. 

 

And, Christians largely are also empiricists.  Yes, they have fought against evolution.  Yes, they have fought against abortion.  But even in these areas they often fight empiricism with empiricism.  We have “creation science,” but what is it but another form of science.  All science is necessarily empirical by definition.  So, creationists have designed a science that they think “fits” with the Bible.  But even they do not agree among themselves.  All science involves interpretation of empirical evidence.  Christians interpret it one way; humanists interpret it another way.  Young earth creationists interpret it one way, and old earth creationists interpret it another way. It is not the facts that differ, but their interpretation. 

 

We also have “Christian” education.  But this education is remarkably similar to “secular” education.  Many (most?) Christian schools seek accreditation by secular bodies.  Their teachers are trained in secular colleges and universities.  Seminary students are required to have several years, if not a degree, in some institution of higher learning, most of which are secular.  They are indoctrinated in naturalism, that is, empiricism--a world of study without God.

 

There is “Christian” psychology.  Here, these “professionals” are trained in secular institutions and licensed by secular states and institutions.  Rarely, do they have equivalent training in the Bible and theology.  What does that imbalance say about the importance of each area?

 

Here is not the place to present the flaws in all the areas of worldview that Christians have erred.   However, I have definitively described more than 20 areas of knowledge and scholarship from a Biblical perspective on my website, “The Biblical and Christian Worldview for the 21st Century,” at www.biblicalworldview21.org.

 

But it is the place to show that empiricism dominates the thinking of Christians.  Perhaps, if more Christians understood that empiricism utterly fails as a philosophy of knowledge and of sound thinking (epistemology), they will be more willing to consider that their approach to these areas of knowledge may need re-thinking.  Of course, elsewhere I have argued for the centrality of the Bible in all matters.  Taken together, the philosophical and Biblical argument is considerable, if not beyond refutation!

 

What, Then, Is the Place of Empiricism?

 

Certainly on an everyday basis empiricism functions well.  (On this basis, it has been called "operationalism.") When Frame considers his evergreen tree, most people will recognized it as such and not begin to “prove” that it is not really what it seems to be.  He may ask people to admire its beauty.  He may use it for an illustration in his classroom for his excellent lectures or writings.  He made observe that it needs fertilizer.  He may have it cut down to replace it with flowers.  But he should consider, more than he has stated here, that there are serious problems with “knowing” that the evergreen tree is there.  While that image is functional, it is a representation of reality that is a tenuous, nay an impossible, basis for truth.  I have listed ten major problems with empiricism.  While these may seem remote to the simple statement about an evergreen tree, they become eternally important concerning issues of truth.

 

Death may be observed to occur to a person.  But as we have seen, empiricism cannot make the conclusion that every person will die.  Empiricism cannot make any conclusion at all.  So, the most important issue facing man—his mortality—cannot be known empirically.  Worse, if a person could know about his mortality, empiricism could not tell him what it means or even whether he should be concerned about it.  But every man is concerned about death!  Why?  He “knows” that every person dies.  He “knows” that bad things, even eternal things can happen after he dies.  He even knows about Heaven and Hell.  But none of these things has he observed, that is, known empirically!  He knows them intuitively or has “learned” them from other people.  Even the pure "naturalist" knows that his life will end!

 

I am trying to paint as strong a picture of the limits of empiricism because it must be destroyed as a basis for truth in order for the full application of Scripture (special revelation) to be known and applied on planet earth.  All science is based upon empiricism, but it is not science that forms the conclusions.  The statement of the American Academy of Pediatrics that spanking is a terrible thing to do to a child is not based upon empiricism but the beliefs of the governing body.  The decision of the American Psychiatric Association in 1973 to make homosexuality “legitimate” had nothing to do with any scientific studies—it was merely the vote of a board pressured by homosexual activists.  In fact, scientific empiricism cannot determine what studies itself will pursue—those with money, political, and social persuasion determine what studies are done.

 

The place of empiricism is simply to provide information to the mind for its decisions that have to be made.  It is only a means to present information to the mind for decisions about value and ethics.    Empiricism never provides for how that information is analyzed and used.  The place of empiricism is functional—providing information to enhance the decisions and efforts of everyday life.  Empiricism can provide the information for the implementation of The Creation Mandate—when guided by Biblical ethics.  Empiricism provides the information—Biblical ethics evaluates its utility and consistency with the Word of God.  Pediatrics can determine what antibiotic to use in ear infections, but it cannot tell parents how to raise children.  Psychology may develop techniques for interacting with counselees, but it can never establish what is right and wrong behavior.  Philosophy can challenge us that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” but it cannot determine what behaviors of that life are honoring to God and neighbor.

 

What Are the Dangers of Empiricism?

 

I set out to demonstrate that empiricism is faulty as a means of “knowing”—that empiricism is not a means to truth.  In this process, I have actually gone beyond my original intention to the extent that empiricism gives no knowledge at all.  Going back to the computer analogy, the pixels on a screen are not knowledge—they represent possible knowledge to be assembled by the mind.  Software, that is, programming, determines which pixels get on the screen, and software determines what is done with that information.

 

Our minds, software and hardware, must make sense of the sensory images presented to it.  Our minds actually determine what is presented to our minds—review above how we focus on particulars and universals.  Then, we determine what we will remember, and what we will not.  After a particular moment, we have to “remember” those images, but memory is not something that empiricism does.  We compare and contrast—again, not a function of empiricism.  And what we do with that information—the right and wrong, ethics—certainly does not come from empiricism.

 

Empiricism, then, is no more than a feeder system—a camera that feeds the mind various sensory input of sights, sounds, smells, taste, and bodily sensations via the skin.  It is our minds that makes decisions about this information. 

 

Some Practical Applications of Destroying Empiricism

 

The focus of everyday events becomes not “what I see,” but what is right or wrong about the information that is presented to my mind.  Every day events become moral or ethical decisions.[10]  The importance of Frame’s evergreen tree is not whether it is “there,” but its relevance to moral decisions—what is to be done with it?  The importance of Nash’s wife is not so much whether she is “there,” but his ethical responsibilities towards her.  And, what significance is a batting average—very little in the grand demonstration of God’s Providence.

 

On a different level, Christians’ reliance on empirical studies alone needs to come to an end!  Christians in psychology, medicine, philosophy, sociology, economics, politics, and other disciplines must not equate Biblical truth with empiricism.  When one sees that empiricism cannot determine truth, then the proposition, “All truth is God’s truth,” as it is almost always intended in reference to empiricism, is seen to have holes the size of moon craters and without meaning at all. 

 

Then, this conclusion should cause Christians in these fields to study the Bible more than they study empirical studies.  Yes, they will need to know the empirical studies of their field to interact with others there, but they will realize where truth actually comes from.  Virtually all matters of policy and application are not made based upon empirical studies, but the preferences of individuals and groups in those fields.  (See the illustrations given above.) 

 

Television and “surfing the net” are empirical "feeders" of information that is organized into its being antithetical to the truth of Scripture.  Yet, how many hours do Christians feed their minds with “the world, the flesh, and the devil.”  And, somehow they expect to overcome this knowledge with sitting in Sunday School, a momentary “quiet time,” and preaching that they mostly do not retain, study, or reflect upon? 

 

Empiricism is the “world, the flesh, and the devil” whether on an everyday level or on a “professional” level.  It is the enemy of God’s truth.  Yet, many if not most, of His people continue to worship at its altar.  Some of the best minds in Christendom worship at its altar.  If Christians who are philosophers and theologians recognized this reality, then they could alert laymen to its dangers.  A revival and reformation could be started.  The Word of God, the 66 books of the Protestant Bible, is truth, not empiricism.  The sooner that we recognize our error, the sooner that Christianity can be advanced.

 

Empiricism and Apologetics

 

Empiricism in apologetics is evidentialism.  For example, there is considerable empirical (evidential) data (facts) for the validity of the Scriptures.

 

1.  Its virtual universal acceptance as truth by Christian churches (except for those of liberal persuasion who should not claim the name “Christian.”

 

2.  The virtual agreement of 66 books of the Protestant Bible.  While anti-Christians point out “inconsistencies” and “contradictions” in the Bible, these are mostly fabrications and mis-interpretations.  One cannot find just two scholars who agree on everything, much less over 40 authors over more than 2000 years!

 

3.  The large number of Old and New Testament documents that are highly consistent and date back closer to the time of Christ than other documents of historical value.  If one accepts that Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Julius Caesar, and others lived and that we have “knowledge” of them, consistency would require that the Biblical accounts be accepted, as well.

 

4.  Jesus could not have done and said the things that He did unless He was whom He said that He was—the Son of God and a Person of equal standing with God Himself.

 

5.  The only reasonable interpretation of Jesus’ disciples’ response to His resurrection is that it happened the way that the Biblical accounts said that it did. 

 

6.+ Many other “evidences” could be named.

 

Now, the question that the evidentialist must face is, “Why do not all people accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior?”  Virtually everyone accepts historical accounts of other persons and events of history readily and without question.  They accept modern “facts” on evidence that does not begin to approach the evidences that I have named.  So, why to some “believe,” as Doubting Thomas did, and others do not?  What is it within the person that causes him to believe?  Every person has the same evidence—the same “facts.”  What causes a person to move momentarily without any change in his knowledge, before and after, from unbelief to belief?  It cannot be “evidence” or any form of knowledge because that did not change.  Can “evidence” be the “straw that breaks the camel’s (unbeliever’s) back (unbelief)?  Why do some people “believe” on a little evidence, while others require a large amount of evidence?

 

The only answer can be that an outside agency must convince them that such evidence is true and a matter to which they should commit their lives forever.  This change from within is consistent with all the above that empiricism never determines truth.  It is not the evidence that convinces, but the work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life (John 3:1-17).  The “wind”—Holy Spirit “blows” where He will—not according to evidence.  In regeneration, He gives the desire and the ability to know that Scripture is truth.

 

Subjectivism and Predestination: Do You Want to Go There?

 

We have arrived at a place that many will not want to go.  Indeed, I may not have made a good argument to get here.  However, for those who are with me, so far, let see what we can conclude.  Empiricism is only a technical mechanism—the senses providing pixels of random images that the mind organizes, stores, and uses according to innate and learned knowledge.  These same pixels are organized, stored, and used differently from one person to the next—including decisions for or against Christianity.  If the same  information is available to everyone, it is the subject that must be different.  That is, each person is different.  Each person “organizes, stores, and uses this information.  But how can it be that each person is different? 

 

That each person is different can only be explained by each having a different “nature and nurture”—neither of which is chosen by the individual.  People, including professional philosophers, are always trying to get around logic.  The postmodernists state, “There are no absolutes,” which is self-refuting.  The Neo-orthodox do not like the Jesus who says that you must be “born-again,” so they invent some sort of “personal encounter” that is supposed to be more real than Jesus propositions and their logical derivations.   Material behaviorists preach human revisionism when their own logic can only conclude that nothing they say really matters.

 

Logically, predestination is inescapable.  Logically, there are only two kinds of predestination: Personal and impersonal.  Logically, only Personal predestination is possible, only a Person can have purpose.  A universe with an almost infinite order of complexity is only possible by a power that has the ability to create such diversity.  And, since we have seen that the universe is random nonsense without the interpretation of mind, a Mind with almost infinite power must have created persons and the universe. 

 

Thus, we arrive at theism as the only logical possibility—a Person (Mind) that is capable of creating human minds and the universe in which it resides.  So, all that is left in our empirical journey is to decide which brand of theism “fits” the logical mind best and maybe it is a "perfect" fit.

 

Augustine had already made this conclusion in his De Magistro.  Christ is the light; he teaches all men, regenerate and unregenerate (John 1:9).

 

Questions for Empiricists

 

Endnotes


[1] Frame, KOG:106

[2] Nash, POC: page?

[3] This statement is not totally accurate, as both Frame and Nash criticize empiricism elsewhere in their writings.  However, without qualifications in statements, such as, those that I have quoted, readers can read too much into them.  Also, that these two men would make these statements in the context in which they did does demonstrate a considerable affirmation of sense experience.

[4] “Ought” implies a necessary end, a goal, a finished or completed desired state.  That raises a legitimate concern for research for the whole point of research is openness to follow the results of the evidence. This is perhaps the cornerstone concept for evolutionary science. “Man” is not a defined entity.  All we can do, according to this line of reasoning, is state the pathway the human species has followed up to this point of its evolution.  Introducing  categories of good or bad and the ethical “ought” according to some end product (like pre-fallen Adam or Christ as Man) is to run the risk of losing one’s openness to read the results as they really are, that is, to ignore evidence that does not fit with your preconceived idea. We need to be able to demonstrate that scientific research can be valid (and open) not just with a biblical concept of Man but also and much more importantly that empirical research cannot and does not really exist outside of that framework.  The evolutionist’s horror of our point of view is the energy that drives their ridicule.

[5] John Locke was the first philosopher to suggest this concept.  While it is not much discussed in philosophy, tabla rasa vs. innate knowledge (and to what extent) is a major area for philosophy to consider.

[6] I am not endorsing “evolutionary psychology,” which attempts to explain man’s knowledge and behavior.  It work, however, does provide empirical evidence that empiricism cannot account for man’s knowledge and behavior.  Scripture is the true explanation.

[7] Gordon H. Clark, Clark Speaks from the Grave, (Jefferson, MD: The Trinity Foundation, 1986.  Although the book is attributed to Clark, John Robbins is actually the author of it, as he uses Clark’s writings to refute certain authors and positions.

[8] You may prefer “postmodern,” but that is merely a label.  I will discuss the problem that I have with any focus on postmodernism elsewhere in this book.

[9] See all the synonyms above.

[10] I know that some writers distinguish between “moral” and “ethical,” but I do not.  The “mores” of a society are not important—the ethics of God’s Word are ultimately important.

 


 

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