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Three Types of Religious Philosophy - by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon

Introduction to the Writings of Dr. Gordon Clark - Apologetics

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The following article is a summary of the book, “Three Types of Religious Philosophy”.


Commonly, people believe that religion has something to do with God. It also has something to do with human life and how those “lives” relate to that God. Some believe in Nirvana that disposes of both God and men, in believing in non-existence, but would be considered a religion. If there is no God in an atheistically religion is religion really about God and man? Rather, religion is more associated with how one knows what he knows in relationship to ultimate reality. This is an epistemological question about ultimate reality. God may be ultimately in reality, but that is not the basis of religion, so to speak.

There are three basic types of religious philosophy – dogmatism, rationalism, and empiricism. Dogmatism is a widely held form of religious method. Belief is determined by revelation and not subjectivism. Its basis for information is the divinely inspired sacred writings of the Bible. Rationalism determines that religion and religious knowledge can be deduced from logic alone (Anselm, Spinoza and Hegel are good examples of this methodology.) Empiricism bases all knowledge on sensation alone. (this would be seen in men like Hume, Democritus and Aristotle; where later Kant combined sensation and logic in his method). Empiricism holds nothing more than what is available to our senses.

Logically, rationalism suffers from problems surrounding the use of logic to deduce history. Empiricism suffers from subjectivity. Dogmatism is a more worthy track to follow.


Rationalism is first to be explored. Augustine says that a proposition can be probable and known to be probable, only if it resembles or approximates the truth. A person who does not know what is true cannot know what approximates it. Theories of probability must be based on the truth. Therefore the skeptic is refuted by the moral quality of his own actions. Anselm then took these ideas and formulated what is called the “ontological argument.” Later, Kant critiqued this extensively.

For Kant, an idea is a necessary conception of reason to which no corresponding object can be discovered in the world of sense. Anselm had proven that no one can state a condition that makes it impossible to cogitate the non-existence of anything. This is part of the ontological argument. Kant then attempted to show that all knowledge is divided into analytic and synthetic judgments. For Kant, all truth is analytic. If a predicate can be attached to everything without exception, it has no distinct meaning. This means that it has no meaning at all because it means everything. Others simply deny logic (like Barth and Brunner) who think it is just and necessary to believe in contradictory propositions. Logical Positivism (derivations of Fiche’s ideas) says that a sentence has no meaning unless it can be verified by sensory experience. A sentence is meaningful only if verified by sense; but how can it very itself? It is self-defeating. Also, this would do away, completely, with history that is older than anyone. All this is to say that rationalism cannot supply one with history, nor can it jump from a question of knowledge to a question of ultimate reality (Kant’s ultimate critique). There must be a revelatory foundation by which one is able to arrive at conclusions that do not have the predicate as both the subject and the predicate of the proposition.


There are two major philosophical methods in “determining” truth by sense experience: one proves on sensory data, and the other is a form of mysticism. Aquinas rejected the rationalism of Augustine and Anselm, and followed much of what Aristotle said about the nature of logic and categories. Aristotle explains cause and effect by a theory of motion – everything is in motion, and this presupposes something to be the first mover of all things in motion. Thomas Aquinas built the cosmological argument for God’s existence on this theory demonstrating that since all things move, the ultimate unmoved mover is God. Gordon Clark says that Aquinas and Aristotle, on these concepts, are wrong because of the following premise: for an argument to be true and valid the concepts in the conclusion must appear in the premises. Otherwise the argument fails. This critique, as it stands, demonstrates the folly of empiricism. Clark says that Aquinas fails because he cannot move from the unmoved mover to the Triune Godhead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit through sense experience.

Paley attempted to formulate the teleological argument demonstrating the argument that God created the universe by design, and this design proves God’s existence. David Hume counters this with proving that logical conditions for any empirical argument do not apply to dogmatism or rationalism and does not make any use of sense experience. Empiricism, according to Hume, cannot insert value into natural theology. Traditional religious values cannot be derived from empirical data. Perception cannot be grounded in sense experience. Where Paley sees a watch (in his illustration of a designer who designs a watch) Hume sees a cabbage. Sensation is never infallible because perception is subjective. Empiricism not only fails on the basics, but it cannot even prove the existence of “the self.” It cannot prove the reality of external bodies or internal selves for all is subjected to personal preference and personal experience which is different for everyone.


Why does experience have to be logical? Is it acceptable to believe whatever one desires? Is logic expendable? Historically, irrationalism was a reaction against Hegel’s modified rationalism. Hume had reduced empiricism to skepticism, and Kant tried to rescue a role for sensation by appealing to a priori forms in the mind. Although Kant thought God was unknowable, he allowed man to have a certain kind of faith based on morality. Hegel, though, knew there was problem in creating an unknowable God, but at the same time has a basis for truth. He said that sensation is something that begins in the mind, not in the thing in itself, and so reestablished rationalism. But knowing that rationalism is already an impossible form of epistemology, irrationalism was accepted as truth. This is where Kierkegaard comes in.

Kierkegaard said that the rationalism of Hegel was based on empty universals, therefore, truth resonates from the individual when the individual experiences truth subjectively. This raises a problem for the validity and truth of historical events. Is it possible to have an eternal happiness based on historical knowledge (i.e. the Biblical narratives of the Gospels)? Kierkegaard thought that biblical narratives, and other sundry chapters in the bible were irrelevant to truth since faith is not the result of scholarly study but of personal ideals. Faith does not need the bible or scholarly study, Gordon Clark says in jest, just like a girl in love does not need a respectable boyfriend. Kierkegaard critiques Hegel in saying that this is not demonstrating an objectivity to truth, rather, he is trusting in chaotic skepticism. An absolute system is not unchanging Truth, since, for Hegel, truth is what it is in the moment, and changes through history. This is chaos. But Kierkegaard is as dialectical and skeptical as Hegel is in positing truth in the individual existentially. Reason, he says, is as illusionary as sensation. He says that knowing something is true only harms faith, which should be free as a sensation. However, as any would rationally see, this is absurdity at its finest. No one, at any time, would be able to communicate anything to anyone for everyone’s “faith” would be based on non-knowledge of non-universal belief. Here, Kierkegaard repudiates the laws of logic. In doing so, he becomes a solipsist without admitting it.

Karl Barth, after Kierkegaard, picked up this absurdity on truth to continue skepticism and irrationality formed into neo-orthodoxy. Neo-orthodoxy makes accusation such as, “God’s word is not a thing to be described, nor is it a concept to be defined. It is neither content nor idea…[nor] a fixed total of revealed propositions.” (Church Dogmatics, I, 1, Pages 156-55). If this is true, then his sentence falls under the same rubric. The fatal flaw in Barth, as with Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard and others who misrepresent the law of non-contradiction or discard it is that logic is overthrown. Logic can never be overthrown since intelligible conversation and writing would be impossible without it as a universal axiom. In essence, nihilism is the meaning of empirical philosophy and irrationalism.


Since rationalism, empiricism and the absurdity of irrationalism all fail on various points, the final method to evaluate briefly is dogmatism. The best way of escaping dogmatism is to commit suicide. Now, this is not recommended, but when one considers the other option of living in a meaningless world with a meaningless existence trying to formulate ideas that have no meaning, then suicide, as Hamlet contemplated, is the best option. A rational life requires a purpose. This “purpose of life” is set dogmatically by God, the sovereign ruler of the universe who determines all his creatures and their actions.

Reality is based on truth, and truth is based on propositions. Propositions must be stated, for objects in and of themselves are not propositions to be believed. For example, Jesus Christ, cat, house, river plane, etc. are not propositions, but objects. “Jesus Christ is God,” is a proposition to be believed. Every biblical proposition speaks about a thought, object or reality in some way. In importance, the Bible speaks about ultimate reality. But one must choose to read the Bible over the Koran, or the Satanic Bible. Why would one choose one over the other?

One cannot make inductive choices and find himself on the side of “right” with any certainty. All inductive choices are ultimately fallacies because observation of a part is not observation of the whole. One needs to observe the whole to conclude correctly. For example, Genesis should not be thought about apart from the Gospel. The Gospel has much to say about Genesis. In studying, one should desire to have a systematic grasp of the whole to determine its parts. If then, a book, such as the Bible, is part of the revealed will of the omniscient, omnipotent God, then men have a basis for reality that encompasses the whole of the universe since God’s knowledge is complete. Thus, His word can be trusted. Unless one chooses dogmatism first, then they are left with choosing skepticism in all its forms. Other books, such as the Koran as self-defeating and contradictory in its nature, cannot surpass the non-contradictory nature of the Bible. Such is the case with every man-made book that claims divine inspiration. None of them match up to the contest of philosophy. Only the Bible continues to answer the laws of non-contradiction without contradiction. God then causes one to choose the Bible over the Koran by regeneration (a subject for another topic). This is not given to all men, but only some men, so only some men will choose the Bible over the Koran based on true faith and belief. Others may do their study and may see the logical and moral inconsistencies in the Koran, but still, such discovery is still left up to the God of dogmatism.

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