Gordon H. Clark: The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God.

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“There’s real poetry in the real world. Science is the poetry of reality”
― Richard Dawkins.

This post by no means will attempt to offer a complete and thorough exposition of Gordon H. Clark’s book, “The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God”. Instead I only wish to offer a brief synopsis regarding the book in the hope that others will take the time to read it also. And although a brief synopsis will do very little justice to the brilliant musing presented within the pages, as will be shown, even a brief synopsis is devastating to those who would commit themselves to a materialistic dogmatism. But before I get ahead of myself, allow me to speak on why I think this book is worthy of every Christian’s attention.

The thrust of the book presents a crushing blow to modern and historical proponents of scientism[1]. This in itself provides a worthy reason for today’s apologists to spend a few dollars on the book. However, the true brilliance of the text, I believe, is not found in yet another one of Clark’s devastating blows to the opponents of Christianity, but is instead found in the honest reflection on the limitations and pragmatic application of science in spite of its epistemic shortcomings. Unlike Clark’s opponents, Clark presents an undergirding philosophy within the epistemological limitations of  science in the final stages of his dialectic.

Clark argues that those who adhere to the notion that science can discover natural laws and truth are misguided and, perhaps unbeknownst to themselves, far from discovering anything, have begun with axiomatic assumptions which, when examined carefully, is a completely bankrupt and untenable position.

Clark wastes no time in striking at the heart of the issue and begins his assault at the fundamentals of scientism. Clark begins by providing an ancient dilemma surrounding the concept of motion through the scope of Zeno’s paradox. In brief, Clark explains that motion is a true dilemma, which to this day, is yet to be explained. This is the case because of the following.

Motion is considered, by many, to be a change of a “thing” from one absolute point to another absolute point. That is, a thing “travels” from point “A” to point “B”. Clark, however, explains that it is impossible for a “thing” to travel from one “point” to another “point” for the following reason.

If one is to travel from, say, “point” “A’ to “point” “B”, then he must first “travel” a distance which is equal to the distance between “point” “A” and “point” “B”. That is, if someone would like to travel a kilometre, he must first reach the 500 metre mark before getting to reaching his final destination of a kilometre.  But, says Zeno, before one can reach this point, he must first travel to the quarter mark between point A and B. That is, the 250 meter mark. And prior to this, one must also reach the 125 meter mark. But, argues Zeno, this reduction in distance may go on ad infinitum. That is, one may reduce the distance required to be travelled between “point” “A” and “point” “B” down to a regress of infinite fractioning. But says Clark in unison with Zeno, how is it that one travels an infinite amount of distance between “point” “A” and “point” “B”.

Clark moves on and then begins to decimate the materialistic and naturalistic concept of “thing,” “absolute point,” and the Newtonian “law” of inertia  by introducing Heraclitean flux. That is, Clark argues that if all “things” are in motion then these “things” cannot be known. Clark espouses this position because, as Heraclitus maintained, if someone is to “know” a “thing” then this “thing” must remain unchanged, that is, if a cloud is to be “known” as a cloud then it must remain a cloud for some space of time. The cloud, or at least something about it, must remain the same and unchanged for it to be what we may name it and “know” it as. If nothing is ever at rest, and all is in eternal flux, then a “thing” cannot be named or “known”, for if that thing changes in all aspects before we can even finish the word “cloud” then it is no longer what we were naming or understand as cloud, that “thing” has passed and now before us is another “thing”. But if all is in change and if there is no constant, then how is it that one may talk of any “thing,” because it is just at the moment that we understand or speak of a thing that it has already changed into another thing, and so intelligible speech becomes impossible.

Likewise, if one is to move to “point” “B” then there must exist a point in space which does not change, that is, an absolute point within Newtonian space. But if all is in flux then it cannot be said that an absolute point in space exists. For just as the “thing” is in constant flux, so to any point in space is in constant change. And if point “B” changes to point “C” then to “D” and so on, then one cannot travel from any point in space to another point in space because neither point exists. Moreover, states Clark, if a goal is constantly moving with space then there can never exist a straight line. Therefore, concludes Clark, the idea of rectilinear motion must be dropped from science. And, since this law of inertia underpins all the Newtonian laws of science, a flaw at this point automatically reduces Newtonian physics to absurdity. And so goes Newtonian mechanistic philosophy.

And, as to deliver a death blow to mechanistic philosophy, Clark draws his readers attention to the logical contradiction associated with Newton’s “laws”. Along with others, Clark recognises that being able to determine the position and velocity of a particle absolutely from its relation to another particle, as per Newtonian axioms, coupled with the law of gravitation, which asserts that all particles are continuously interacting, creates an insoluble dilemma within Newtonian philosophy. As hinted at above, how is it that one can determine the absolute point of a particle in relation to another particle if all particles are in a constant state of flux, or as Newton would have it…

Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.” – Isaac Newton

Clark moves on and demonstrates that mathematics does not and can never discover any “law” of nature. Clark provides the example of an experiment which attempts to “discover” the boiling point of water. In summary, he asserts that due to the fact that there is an infinite amount of occasions for experiment, equations  and “conclusions” which may be produced in any given experiment, what the scientist calls a “law” is nothing more than a guess[2]. Moreover, says Clark, even this guess is not really a guess, this is due to the fact that a guess is described as a choice with the possibility of choosing the correct answer, even if it be one in a billion. But, as Clark points out, one guess over an infinite amount of choices is zero, that is, one over infinity is zero, and so there is zero chance that one may guess the correct answer and “discover” a law. Therefore, all “laws” of physics are false. In other words, says Clark, far from mathematics discovering a “law,” mathematics operates outside the realm of nature; there is an incongruence between the laboratory and nature.

These, and other arguments presented by Clark[3], lead him to the conclusion that science and nature operate on two different planes, that is, physics operates upon axioms that do not exist in nature. For this reason, Clark concludes that science, and more specifically, “physics”, is epistemologically inept and therefore is completely incompetent, both positively and negatively, to make any theological or metaphysical pronouncement. In other words, far from what the belligerent clergy of scientism would have us believe, science has no say on ethics, ontology or epistemology either for the right or the left, in fact, those evangelists and apostles of dogmatic materialism (such as Dawkins) are reduced to absurdity, and therefore, have no opinion. Perhaps it’s time others, like Clark, begin to point out that the emperor has no clothes on.

Clark continues though, and in so doing he offers an alternative use for science based upon a logically developed syllogism. And this, I believe, is where Clark truly shines. Clark maintains that physics can neither provide assertion for or against in the field of truth, instead it can only act as an agent of man for the domination of nature. That is, although science can neither prove or disprove anything, it can still be instituted in a pragmatic sense. In fact, Clark highlights that some of the most helpful solutions to modern day problems have come through “scientific” blunders. Contrary to Bridgman’s skepticism drawn out from his operationlism[4], Clark suggests that science cannot say that things may be known or if things may not be known, and so too Bridgman’s conclusion falls short of the reality, that is, that science has no say in any propositionally formulated truth. Instead, Clark offers an alternative, Clark suggests that operationalism be instituted as the best possible philosophy by which science may operate, but within it’s true restrictions, that is, scientists should be content to work within its limitations. This includes science being regarded as a method in which man may dominate nature, and a limitation in which science does not seek to be regarded as a general theory of epistemology. Instead, man may use the a prioris of the laboratory to meet his needs and wants physically through the manipulation of nature, but he may never use scientific axioms to satisfy man’s cognition.


[1] I say scientism here due to the fact that science is founded upon a priori dogmatics and not upon “evidence”. This will become more clear later in the post.

[2] This is known as the fallacy of induction. David Hume is a prominent philosopher renowned for his critical thinking on the subject. For more on the fallacy of induction see my post, The Failure of David Hume’s Philosophy of Knowledge.”

[3] Clark makes the point of detailing the different axiomatic assumptions scientists begin with and the contradictory nature of conclusions drawn from these differing axioms, thus demonstrating that science does not “discover” laws but instead begins with a priories. Clark also shows how modern technological advancements have only sought to demonstrate that science acts upon assumptions and not upon “empirical evidences”. And so, Clark correctly concludes that scientists, far from being empirically founded, are dogmatic and begin with presuppositions.

[4] Operationalism is the theory that scientific terms are defined by the experimental operations which determine their applicability.

7 comments

      1. I think I have read nearly every book, and most essays, GHC ever wrote. Since I’m blessed with only average intelligence it took me YEARS to get up to speed to understand what the great man was saying. I had to read Clark with his book in one hand and a dictionary in the other; but it’s been edifying to say the least.

        I enjoy your posts. The hypercalvinism one was on target. Please keep up the good work!

      2. Thanks for the positive feedback LJ!

        It is taking me some time but I am getting to the same stage where I am coming to the conclusion of Clark’s works. He is such a gift from God and has taught me so much where others have fallen so short. I am always so amazed at the breadth and depth of his knowledge.

        I too have had many occasions where I have had to take moments to google a certain idea/phrase/term Clark uses. It is well worth the effort though, isn’t it?

        What was the most influential book of Clark’s you have read, and how come?

        What other authors have been influential in your life?

      3. The first was PREDESTINATION and I have to rate it #1 since it motivated me to read more of his works and opened my eyes to a supralaps view of the decrees. A CHRISTIAN VIEW OF MEN AND THINGS gave me the tools for apologetics and sparked an interest in studying philosophy, of which I was ignorant. So those two I guess I hold in the top spots.

        Reymond and Calvin are my favorite systematic theologians. I have also benefitted a great deal by reading many of the old Princeton theologians especially Warfield and Machen, and of course many of the Puritans. I could go on but it’d sound snobby 🙂

        Bedtime on the Left Coast …

        Blessings,
        LJ

      4. Predestination is a gold mine and every Christian does themselves a favour in reading it. A Christian View of Man and Things was so helpful in really grasping the Clark’s position as a system/whole. Both are such fantastic reads.

        I really appreciated Clark’s Thales to Dewey, it was such a refreshing experience to reflect on so many philosophical systems from a Christian perspective. I have Reymond’s systematic theology and am yet to read it, looking forward to digging in.

        I recently read Paul M. Elliott’s book Christianity and Neo-liberalism, it was a fantastic read and really captures the dangers of paradox theology well while offering a solid apologetic. Also Paul Helm’s “Eternal God” was magnificent. I am also currently exploring New Covenant Theology through the likes of Reisinger, White, Moo, Zapel and Wells. It has been a real humbling experience and they each make some extremely strong arguments for the position.

        Anything from Reymond you would recommend? I only have his systematic theology at the moment.

        In Christ,
        SD

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