The Enlightenment is Dead: Chapter 2  – Killing God and Killing Knowledge:  Descartes to Nietzsche

Descartes and the Beginning of Secularism

René Descartes (1596-1650) can be given a great deal of the credit for initiating modern philosophy and modern atheism.  His philosophy marks, as those who endorse this philosophical change call it, the transition from the Age of Faith, or Age of Authority, to the Age of Reason.  Descartes wrote during the Protestant Reformation, when there was a crisis of religious authority prompted by the rejection of the authority of the Roman Catholic Church and its scholastic philosophy that merged Aristotelianism with Christianity.  Although Descartes was a Roman Catholic, like many in the Protestant Reformation, he sought to overthrow the intellectual dominance of Aristotelianism.  Like the Protestant scientists, he insisted that the material world could be described mathematically.  But his approach did more to encourage a search for a purely secular foundation for knowledge than promoting a Christianity free from Aristotelianism.    Rather than really being a move from faith to reason, the transition in thinking is better characterized as one from the autonomous authority of God’s rationality to the autonomous authority of Man’s rationality.   As I will defend more fully below, science had its origin in the Middle Ages, a product of the belief in the rationality of the Creator.  Yet beginning with Descartes, philosophers sought to justify scientific knowledge on more and more consistently secular grounds.   

Even though Descartes’ philosophy included an argument for the existence of God[1] and he was as a devout Roman Catholic, instead of assuming the Christian view that the mind of man is corrupted by sin and God’s revelation in the Bible provides certain knowledge, Descartes found the greatest certainty for knowledge in the mind of man, basing his system on the certainty of cogito ergo sum, which is Latin means, “I think [or “I am conscious”], therefore I am.”  Every other idea not deducible from that idea involved skepticism.  This led to a sharp mind/body dualism because, in contrast to the “clear and distinct” idea of the cogito, he held that our sensation of the material world is highly error-prone.  As a brilliant mathematician and father of analytic geometry, he thought that the mathematical way of thinking could solve the deepest philosophical problems.  Thus, just as his mathematical thinking involved abstract objects of geometry like perfect squares and circles, he began his philosophical thinking with clear and distinct ideas.   Even though many philosophers of our current age curse Descartes for his sharp mind/body dualism that led them down a dead-end of trying to find epistemic certainty in human thinking,[2] they at least owe him gratitude for putting the focus of modern intellectual life on man rather than God and initiating the secular trend of being skeptical of everything except the human intellect.

Descartes’ sharp mind/body dualism led him to a mechanistic view of nature.  But beyond the mechanism endorsed by other Christians in this era, Descartes held that God establishing laws of nature and putting matter into motion was enough to account for all the structures of the natural world, even if it began from a “primeval chaos.”[3]  Descartes’ contemporary Blaise Pascal complained:  “I cannot forgive Descartes; in all his philosophy, Descartes did his best to dispense with God.  But Descartes could not avoid prodding God to set the world in motion with a snap of his lordly fingers; after that, he had no more use for God.”[4]  Although Descartes held that God continually sustains creation, Pascal recognized the deistic direction of Descartes’ philosophy.[5]   It’s a view that would be compatible with Darwinian evolution.   Robert Boyle basically classified Descartes as an atheist like Epicurus for failing to recognize that God must be the source of the structures of living bodies:

I do not at all believe, that either these Cartesian laws of Motion, or the Epicurian casual concourse of Atoms could bring meer Matter into so orderly and well contriv’d a Fabrick as this World. . . .  I think it utterly improbable that brute and unguided, though moving, Matter should ever convene into such admirable structures, as the bodies of perfect Animals.[6]

As I’ll discuss below, Boyle and the other English Protestant empiricists believed in a mechanistic view of nature, but one where God’s direct design was necessary to account for complicated mechanisms like the bodies of living creatures.


Spinoza Reducing Rationalism to Absurdity

The Dutch Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) brought Descartes’ rationalism to its absurd conclusion, developing Descartes’ mathematical and geometric reasoning so that it absorbed all reality, including the empirical.  He claimed that human actions can be explained by mathematics and geometry like anything else in nature:  “I shall consider human actions and desires in exactly the same manner, as though I were concerned with lines, planes, and solids.”[7]   Spinoza reduced everything in reality, including God, to one thing, “substance,” that he also referred to as “God or nature.”[8]   Substance is his one true idea that is clear and distinct and can serve as a foundation of a deductive system, able to guide the human mind to all other true ideas.[9]  Substance is infinite, indivisible and timeless – without past, present or future.[10]  Thought and extension (physical reality) are modes of the one timeless thing, substance:  “The order and connection of ideas is the same as the order and connection of things.”[11]  By this he attempts to solve Descartes’ mind/body dualism by saying that they are the same thing.

Spinoza held that to view an object under the category of eternity is to strip away its form, even Platonic universals, so that it becomes an unrecognizable, timeless abstraction.   How can Spinoza account for the changing world of experience on the basis of a timeless substance?  How can a product of the changeless and timeless be changeable and perishable?  Although trying to be more consistently rational than Descartes, Spinoza is forced to make a distinction like Descartes’ between our knowledge of perishable, material objects and our knowledge of the eternal substance.  Knowledge of perishable objects is treated as “inadequate knowledge” that is “fragmentary and confused,”[12] unlike knowledge of substance, which is clear and distinct.  The problem with this and other philosophies known by the term “rationalism” is that to view everything as a product of a timeless abstraction entails reducing the changing world of experience to a shadow of the timeless, or an illusion.  Yet, not even the production of a changing shadow or illusion from an ultimate timeless, indivisible abstraction makes sense.  It should go without saying that this undermines the possibility of science, which depends on our ability to discover new facts about the world without destroying the reality of change in the world.[13]  I’ll address this again under a discussion of Greek philosophy below.


Francis Bacon and the English Empiricists

Rather than follow Descartes like many philosophers on the European continent, the British mainly looked to their own Francis Bacon (1561-1626), for their view of knowledge and science; and he was a proponent of empiricism.  In opposition to Aristotelians who dominated the universities in his day and spent their time refining conceptual distinctions in Aristotle’s philosophy, Bacon wanted universities dedicated to collaborative, intense empirical research so as to produce useful inventions for the betterment of mankind.  His writings inspired the formation of the world’s first national scientific institution, the Royal Society of London, in 1660.[14]

Some twentieth century philosophers like Bertrand Russell and Karl Popper have faulted Bacon for advocating the collection of empirical data without the direction of hypotheses, but that is not what Bacon taught.[15]  He describes the proper method of science as a combination of empirical data collection with the refinement of logical thinking:

Those who have handled sciences have been either men of experiment or men of dogmas. The men of experiment are like the ant, they only collect and use; the reasoners resemble spiders, who make cobwebs out of their own substance. But the bee takes a middle course: it gathers its material from the flowers of the garden and of the field, but transforms and digests it by a power of its own. Not unlike this is the true business of philosophy; for it neither relies solely or chiefly on the powers of the mind, nor does it take the matter which it gathers from natural history and mechanical experiments and lay it up in the memory whole, as it finds it, but lays it up in the understanding altered and digested. Therefore from a closer and purer league between these two faculties, the experimental and the rational (such as has never yet been made), much may be hoped.[16]

Bacon was the son of Puritans, his theology was basically Calvinistic, and a literal reading of the Bible had a strong influence on why he thought that scientific investigation was commendable and possible, as I will discuss further in chapter 6.  Historian of science Charles Webster writes that “Bacon became the most important philosophical and scientific authority of the Puritan Revolution.”[17]  Baconian empiricism was based on the biblical principles that Adam and Eve fell from their dominion over nature when they rebelled against God, but that dominion was being restored in Bacon’s day in fulfillment of biblical prophecies.[18]  Bacon taught that the motivation of science should be the Christian moral imperative of charity, relieving the suffering of humanity and even in some degree restoring the prosperity of the Garden of Eden.

Nevertheless, some have claimed that Bacon promoted a materialistic rather than theistic view of science.  Bacon insisted that scientists investigate material causes without speculating about purposes in nature, such as investigating the material causes of clouds, rather than saying the purpose of clouds is to water the earth, and even discouraging scientists from saying that the purpose of eyelashes is to protect the eye.  He acknowledged that purpose is a legitimate source of inquiry and may be intended by God, but he did not want scientists to be distracted by such speculations from pursuing their work of discovering material causes.[19]  This was in response to Aristotelian talk about final causes to the neglect of discovering material causes.  Bacon’s distinction was exploited by later secular thinkers beyond what he intended by making an absolute distinction between science (finding physical causes) and religion (finding purpose).

In the next generation, Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, and others continued the defense of rigorous empiricism in science.  They based their empiricism on the assumption of God’s sovereignty over His creation.  Because God is free to impose any laws on His creation that he desires, careful observation is required to discover those laws.  The laws of nature are not a priori, rationally necessary principles that a philosopher can deduce while just sitting in his armchair.  As Roger Cotes, a mathematician who wocked with Isaac Newton, wrote in the Preface to the second edition of Newton’s Principia:

Without all doubt this world, so diversified with that variety of forms and motions we find in it, could arise from nothing but the perfectly free will of God directing and presiding over all.  From this fountain it is that those laws, which we call the laws of Nature, have flowed, in which there appear many traces indeed of the most wise contrivances, but not the least shadow of necessity.  These therefore we must not seek from uncertain conjectures, but learn them from observations and experiments.[20]

The marriage between Aristotle and Christianity, most authoritatively defended by Thomas Aquinas, had always been one of deep conflict.  Aristotle held to a chain of being: eternal matter on the verge of non-being at the bottom of the chain, and an empty unity in the pure being of the Unmoved Mover on the top of the chain, and a gradation of being between the two, which is the world that we experience.  In contrast, Christianity teaches that matter is not eternal, only God is, and His being is distinct from His creation.  The Creator is a living, active God, one who plans every detail of the world, creates the world, and directs the course of the world according to His plan.  His plan includes every hair on your head and every sparrow (Luke 12:6-7), “having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11).  He is not an empty, static unity like the Unmoved Mover.  The Unmoved Mover does not know the world and is not the efficient cause of the world; rather, motion originates from the material world as result of lower forms desiring the Unmoved Mover.  The Unmoved Mover “moves” the world like a flower “moves” a bee, in unconscious passivity.   The world makes itself, following the model of the Unmoved Mover. The static, empty Unmoved Mover could not create the universe, could not perform miracles, could not become incarnate as a human, could not hear or answer prayers, and could not reveal knowledge to prophets.[21]

The English philosopher-scientists of the Scientific Revolution decisively broke with Aristotle in favor of the Reformation’s view of God’s sovereignty and worked out the implications of that for science.  Their understanding of the world was epoch-changing, driving the change from the Middle Ages to Modernity.

Their rejection of Aristotle and their embrace of the English Reformation’s view of the sovereignty of God led the philosopher-scientists of this era (“natural philosophers”) to revive ancient atomism, but with modifications to conform to their Christian beliefs (e.g., rejecting the animism of Epicurean atomism).  Having rejected the matter/form scheme of Aristotle, they did not regard matter as the formless, potentially intelligible part of nature.  Rather, matter is considered a fully rational building block of the universe that can be precisely measured.    Their conviction that a rational God is in control of the smallest details of His creation motivated them to break down matter into the smallest units possible to understand matter’s structure.  Rejecting Aristotle’s gradation of being and his view of four earthly elements and the fifth element of ether for heavenly bodies, they regarded all things, terrestrial and celestial, as composed of the same basic matter.  Atomism was in keeping with their new, egalitarian view of matter.

Rejecting the idea of internal principles of motion as held by the Scholastics (following Aristotle) and of intelligent spirits within matter that produce motion as held by the Hermetics, Protestant scientists of Scientific Revolution viewed motion as arising from universal law imposed by God on all matter.  Klaaren writes, “Indeed, the shift from immanent to imposed laws of nature was part of the general transition in seventeenth-century thought from an organic to a later, strictly mechanical outlook.”[22]

Bacon, Boyle, and Newton fought for empirical, mechanistic science when its victory was not yet assured over its Scholastic and Hermetic opponents, basing their views on the presupposition of a sovereign God who created the world as He freely decreed it.  They are not the empiricist philosophers usually studied in philosophy classes, but they are the ones that made the Scientific Revolution and the modern world a reality.  Christian theology contributed to the origin of modern science movement in many other ways that I’ll describe in in Chapter 6.

Newton is often associated with deism, but he believed in a God who is active in His creation and who has revealed His plans for history in the Bible.  The generation following Newton is when those calling themselves Newtonians began embracing deism.[23]  As time went on, many others referred to themselves as Newtonians or Baconians because of their commitment to empiricism in science, but their views of God were often diminished from the view that God is sovereign over His creation, as held by Bacon and Newton.  Eventually many of those calling themselves Newtonians and Baconians rejected the existence of God altogether.  When the basis for Bacon’s and Newton’s empiricism was rejected, attempts were made to justify empiricism on other grounds, but these were failures, as I’ll explain the remainder of this chapter.


The Philosophers Reducing Empiricism to Absurdity

The major proponents of empiricism that are usually studied in philosophy classes are, in historical order, John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume.  Philosophers usually see the historical order as a progression toward the reduction to absurdity of empiricism.  John Locke (1632-1704) was the son of Puritans and was a professing Christian throughout his life, although he had some unorthodox theological views.  Instead of basing his philosophy of knowledge forthrightly on God as sovereign Creator like the previously discussed philosopher-scientists, he started with human experience – sensations creating ideas on the blank slate of the human mind – as the basis for all human knowledge.  Like Descartes’ philosophy, God becomes included in the theory of knowledge later on to add some collateral support rather than being central to the origin and explanation of human knowledge.  French Lockeans in the eighteenth century such as Diderot and Helvétius were materialists who influenced the views of many scientists and later atheist thinkers such as Karl Marx.

Bishop George Berkeley (1685-1753) held the bizarre position of “immaterialism,” that there is no material world.  He believed that the assumption of a material world as the source behind our sense experience is unwarranted.  Rather, our experiences of the world are ideas given to us directly by God.  (Think of The Matrix where a computer program creates a virtual reality for people connected to it.)  A tree continues to exist when no human is perceiving it because God is perceiving it.  However, since ideas only exist in minds, the tree would only be an idea in God’s mind, which undermines the Biblical teaching of God creating a world that is distinct from Himself.  Empiricism became separated from the material world that it was supposed to be intimately tied to.  Berkeley pointed out that Locke had no basis for his distinction between primary and secondary qualities, with primary qualities existing in matter and secondary qualities existing only in the mind, based on a purely empiricist view of knowledge.  Primary qualities, such as extension, shape, and motion, are not fixed sensations but change according to the observer’s point of view.[24]

If one assumes that God has created a material world that exists independently from the human mind, then it makes sense to talk about a distinction between primary and secondary qualities of matter, a distinction between how objects exist independently of the human mind, on the one hand, and on the other hand, the effects that sensation of objects has on the human mind that go beyond the objects themselves, such as color, taste, smell, and sound.  But if sensation is made the basis for all knowledge, then such a distinction collapses.  There is nothing beyond sensation.  For Galileo, Descartes, Locke, and the English scientists of the Reformation, the real world is the world of primary qualities, the mathematically describable world.  But, as Berkeley points out, for a pure empiricist, the real world is the world as it is given in sensation, and so-called primary qualities are mere abstractions from the real world.

David Hume (1711-1776) dropped God completely from his theory of knowledge.  But he failed at rescuing empiricism from Berkeley’s claim of sensation being disconnected from the material world.  Instead of restoring the standard scientific view of a hard, material world governed by natural law, Hume reduced the world to a parade of disconnected sense impressions in the theater of the mind.  His atheistic formulation of empiricism brought British empiricism to the completely irrational conclusion that knowledge of the world and of ourselves is not possible.  When empiricism was transformed from the view of Bacon and the Christians who were early members of the Royal Society, as a tool given to man by his Creator so that man could carry out his purpose of governing the earth, into Hume’s view of empiricism as a self-sufficient source of human knowledge, it completely self-destructed.  Humean empiricism is an atheistic degeneration of the Christian empiricism that fueled the Scientific Revolution.

Hume is known by most skeptics of Christianity as the great intellectual that refuted arguments for miracles and the design argument for the existence of God through his strict adherence to empiricism.  He is less well-known for his arguments that show the bankruptcy of naturalistic empiricism. The history of philosophy since Hume is largely a record of failed attempts to save a secular view of science from Hume’s reductio ad absurdum of it. Hume demonstrated the inability of experience alone to give us knowledge of cause and effect relationships between material objects, knowledge of natural law or regularity, or any knowledge of the world at all.[25]  The Hume who is highly admired among modern academics and other skeptics is the Hume who teaches that the unbreakable uniformity of material cause and effect keeps God, miracles, revelations, and the like out of their lives and out of the universe.  Few of them are aware of the Hume who discovered that naturalistic empiricism provided no basis for a law of cause and effect.  His conclusion about the possibility of knowledge through the senses completely undermines his argument against miracles based on the alleged absolutely unbreakable uniformity of natural law.  The famed atheist philosopher turned deist, Anthony Flew, recognizes this in his 2007 book, There is a God.  He corrects his view of Hume that he expressed in his critically acclaimed book published in 1961:

Despite these commendations, I have long wanted to make major corrections to my book Hume’s Philosophy of Belief. . . .  [I]n ‘Of Liberty and Necessity’ and ‘Of Miracles,’ Hume himself was hankering after (even when he was not actually employing) notions of causes bringing about effects that were stronger than any that he was prepared to admit as legitimate.  Hume denied causation in the first Inquiry and claimed that all the external world really contains is constant conjunctions; that is, events of this sort are regularly followed by events of that sort.  We notice these constant conjunctions and form strong habits associating the ideas of this with the ideas of that.  We see water boiling when it is heated and associate the two.  In thinking of real connections out there, however, we mistakenly project our own internal psychological associations.  Hume’s skepticism about cause and effect and his agnosticism about the external world are of course jettisoned the moment he leaves his study. . .  .  There is, for instance, no trace of the thesis that causal connections and necessities are nothing but false projections onto nature in the notorious section ‘Of Miracles’ in the first Inquiry.  Again in his History of England Hume gave no hint of skepticism about either the external world or causation.  In this Hume may remind us of those of our own contemporaries who upon some sociological or philosophical grounds deny the possibility of objective knowledge.  They then exempt from these corrosions of universal subjectivity their own political tirades, their own rather less than abundant research work, and above all their own prime revelation that there can be no objective knowledge.[26]

Hume saw that with sense impressions as the ultimate basis of all knowledge, there is no unity to the world.  Knowledge of your own existence, your memories, the tree you see through the window, the apparent repetition of events that lead you to assume a law of cause and effect relationships in the material world – they are all illusions, reflecting nothing more lasting than any particular sensation that you experience.  Applied consistently, this view destroys science – and civilization.  Hume noted that, based purely on experience, nothing can be said to exist but the discrete moment.  That there are cause-and-effect relationships between various perceptions cannot be known from experience.  Any necessity that might connect various perceptions is not itself a perception.  Abstract concepts like law, logic, and identity are applied by the human mind to perceptions, but they themselves are not perceptions. They all involve continuity over time, but bare experience gives us nothing but the discrete moment.  Therefore, on a theory of knowledge completely based on experience, we can’t know anything about law, logic, and identity.  Since we have no experience of the future, experience itself provides no basis for believing that the future will be anything like the past.  Hume says that when “we form any conclusion beyond those past instances, of which we have had experience,” our reasoning has “no just foundation.”[27]  Hume resorted to custom and habit as explanations for our belief in the regularity of nature, but custom and habit themselves presuppose continuity over time and cause-and-effect relationships (a constant conjunction of perceptions causes beliefs about necessary connections), and discrete experience can provide no basis for continuity over time and causality.

Aside from Hume’s problem of explaining a rational basis for causality, his view of unbreakable causality is problematic for science as well.  Based on the view of causality that Hume uses against miracles, we should disbelieve our senses at times.  If we have seen nothing but white swans, but then see a black swan, our uniform experience should lead to us discount our observation of a black swan.  Also on this strong view of causation, laws of nature should never be revised.  Newtonian physics should never have been questioned when physicists found evidence for quantum mechanics or relativity.[28]  On the other hand, if we follow Hume’s realization that bare experience gives us no basis for saying that the future will be like the past since we have no experience of the future, then our constant experience of a person dying and then staying dead provides no basis for saying that another death won’t be followed by a resurrection.[29]

Hume’s appeal to custom and habit as the basis for belief in causation when he realized that his naturalistic empiricism failed to justify the belief involved some arrogance and historical ignorance on his part.  Contrary to his arrogant assumption, Hume’s naturalistic empiricism is not the only philosophical candidate for justifying belief in causality.  While people in every civilization believe in causation to some extent in order to function in life, and custom and habit play a part in that, it was the Christian belief in the rationality of God that served as the historical basis in Western Civilization for the scientific faith in causality.  Non-Christian cultures did not adopt a strong belief in causality apart from Christian influence, as I discuss further in another chapter.[30]

Descartes thought that he found an unquestionable truth when he said that “I think, therefore I am.”  But Hume found a way to doubt that, because knowledge of the self, the “I,” is undermined by strict empiricism.  The self is assumed to persist through great lengths of time, but there is no one perception that lasts as long as the self allegedly does.  Hume recognized the implication that, when a person sleeps, he “may truly be said not to exist.”[31]  Even while awake, each change in perception of yourself must be regarded as a completely new self.  As a consequence, not only does naturalistic empiricism undermine knowledge of the future, it undermines knowledge of the past.  Knowledge of the past depends on the continuity of memory and personal identity.  But since the discrete moments of sense experience do not provide a basis for continuity over time, knowledge of the past, including one’s own past existence, is inconsistent with the claim that all knowledge is through sense experience.  Hume’s atheism reduces to absurdity.  On the basis of it, we can have knowledge of neither the external world nor our inner selves, neither the past nor the future.  If Hume’s worldview is true, then you don’t exist, I don’t exist, nobody exists.  Hume’s view of knowledge does not allow for laws of nature, confirmation of theories by predicting future events, or repeatability of experiments.  Although Hume’s empiricism is the standard theory of knowledge held by modern atheists, it provides no basis for human rationality, science, or the advancement of civilization.

The effect of Hume’s philosophy on himself was despair, ignorance, and “the deepest darkness,” not intellectual enlightenment. Hume lamented that the “cold, and strain’d, and ridiculous” conclusions of his philosophical reasoning gave him “philosophical melancholy and delirium,” tempting him “to throw all my books and papers into the fire, and resolve never more to renounce the pleasures of life for the sake of reasoning and philosophy.”[32]  To quote Bertrand Russell again, in terms of modern atheist philosophy of knowledge, which largely follows Hume, humans cannot know anything whatsoever:

That scientific inference requires, for its validity, principles which experience cannot even render probable is, I believe, an inescapable conclusion from the logic of probability. . . .  To ask, therefore, whether we “know” the postulates of scientific inference is not so definite as it seems. . . .  In the sense in which “no” is the right answer we know nothing whatsoever, and “knowledge” in this sense is a delusive vision.  The perplexities of philosophers are due, in a large measure, to their unwillingness to awaken from this blissful dream.[33]

Furthermore, Hume recognized that it does no good to claim that nature is “probably” orderly because that claim begs the question; probability itself assumes order.[34]  We can calculate the probability that a certain number will be rolled with dice only because we do not live in a world of chaos, in which dots might appear, disappear, or become unicorns rather than dots with each roll.

While modern intellectual secularists see Hume as their hero, decisively refuting Christianity with brutally consistent logic and an unshakable adherence to scientific empiricism, the truth is that Hume’s destruction of naturalistic empiricism displayed the irrational implications of secularism.  Subsequent philosophy has largely been footnotes to Hume, a series of failed attempts to overcome Hume’s destruction of the secular justification of scientific knowledge (and ethics, as I’ll discuss in the second section of this book).  Bertrand Russell acknowledges this:  “Hume’s philosophy, whether true or false, represents the bankruptcy of eighteenth century reasonableness. . . .  The growth of unreason throughout the nineteenth century and what has passed of the twentieth is a natural sequel to Hume’s destruction of empiricism.”[35]


Kant’s Failed Attempt to Save Science from Hume’s Failure

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) realized that Hume had demonstrated that strict empiricism failed to allow for knowledge and science, and he saw the need to “save science”[36] from Hume’s skepticism:  “I openly confess, the suggestion of David Hume was the very thing, which many years ago first interrupted my dogmatic slumber, and gave my investigations in the field of speculative philosophy quite a new direction.”[37]  Kant’s solution to Hume’s failed attempt to account for science based on strict empiricism was to embrace the psychological origin of causation and declare it sovereign over the world.  The autonomous human consciousness imposes order on the unstructured sensations.  There are no laws of nature external to the human mind; rather, the human mind is the lawgiver of the universe, exclusively imposing the laws of nature on sensations:  “Thus the order and regularity in the appearances, which we entitle nature, we ourselves introduce.  We could never find them in appearances, had we not ourselves, or the nature of our mind, originally set them there.”[38]  And also, “Thus understanding is something more than a power of formulating rules through comparison of appearances; it is itself the lawgiver of nature.”[39]  The laws of nature, then, become completely subjective.  Cause, space, time, and even existence are nothing but organizing forms imposed by the mind on sense impressions, not part of the world beyond the human mind.

Kant says that “Thoughts without content are empty, intuition [i.e. perception of material objects] without concepts are blind.”[40]  As a solution to the empty concepts of rationalism and the blind sense perceptions of empiricism, he proposes a third way to account for human knowledge by having the autonomous human mind combine the empty unity of pure thought with the blind content of sense perception.  His attempted solution to the problem of knowledge is like trying to add two zeros together and expecting to get a positive number.[41]  It amounts to combining a blank and chaos to produce the intelligible world that science studies, what Kant called the “phenomenal” world.  Neither a blank unity nor a chaotic diversity can be an object of knowledge.  Therefore, Kant’s approach amounts to claiming that the irrational produces the rational.  Kant himself was clear that the pre-rational “noumenal” realm, which includes 1) the “things-in-themselves” that cause sensation and 2) the unity of pure thought that organizes sensations, is unknowable.[42]  Yet, Kant’s very explanation of his philosophy requires him to make knowledge claims about these noumena.  Given that he says that existence is imposed by the human mind on phenomena, he cannot say that the noumenal exists.  Likewise, he says that causation is imposed by the autonomous mind to form the phenomenal world, therefore his philosophy forbids the noumenal from causing anything; and yet he also holds that sensations and the unity of consciousness are caused by the noumenal realm.  Kant’s philosophy of knowledge is self-refuting.

Kant claims that the “transcendental unity of apperception” (which I’ll refer to as the “transcendental ego”) is the unity of consciousness that stands behind the experience of self-consciousness, the “I think.”  The transcendental ego is the ultimate source of the order and structure that is imposed on the sensations, which have no structure. Kant regards the transcendental ego as an immutable, pure unity,[43] without any of the “manifold” of “matter” that is supplied by sensation,[44] much like Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover, but each person gets/is his or her own Unmoved Mover.  Whereas Aristotle claimed that form and matter combined out in the world to form the intelligible world, Kant claims that form and matter combine in the autonomous human mind, with concepts supplying the form and sensation providing the matter to form the intelligible world within human consciousness.[45]  And similar to Aquinas’s claims that the Unmoved Mover can be thought but not known because it is a pure form,[46] Kant claims that the transcendental ego (and everything else in the noumenal realm) can be thought but not known:  “[T]hough we cannot know these objects as things in themselves, we must yet be in a position at least to think of them as things in themselves; otherwise we should be landed in the absurd conclusion that there can be appearance without anything that appears.”[47]  Kant couldn’t escape that absurdity.  Kant (with Aquinas) is trying to have his cake and eat it too by claiming that we can think of something that we can’t know.  There is no content to the transcendental ego to know since it is a pure unity in the noumenal realm.  Since there is no content to know, it cannot be thought.

Kant observed that “it still remains a scandal to philosophy and to human reason in general that the existence of things outside us . . . must be accepted merely on faith, and that if anyone thinks good to doubt their existence, we are unable to counter his doubts by any satisfactory proof.”[48]  Kant thought that his approach succeeded where empirical idealism (such as Berkeley’s view) failed because Kant required the existence of an external world to produce sensation.[49]  Although Kant believed in such a world, his commitment to consistency with the principle of the autonomy of the human mind logically excluded it.  Since his external world of noumena is unknowable, non-existent, and impossible to speak of without falling into self-refutation, his hoped-for success was an illusion.  Such are the philosophical quagmires that people unavoidably fall into when they make the mind of man rather than the mind of God their ultimate foundation of knowledge.

There is also the problem of the origin of the (unknowable) noumenal self, the transcendental ego, the principle of unity in human experience that produces (causes!) the phenomenal experience of self-consciousness.  It was not created by the Christian God in Kant’s philosophy.  The abstract unity of the self somehow comes into existence out of the chaos, out of the noumenal realm of unrelated particulars.  Cornelius Van Til compared the futile attempt of philosophers like Kant trying to explain human rationality on the basis of the irrational to a man made of water, trying to escape an infinite sea of water, on a ladder of water:

Suppose we think of a man made of water in an infinitely extended ocean of water.  Desiring to get out of water, he makes a ladder of water.  He sets this ladder upon the water and against the water and then climbs out of the water only to fall into the water.  So hopeless and senseless a picture must be drawn of the natural man’s methodology based as it is upon the assumption that time or chance is ultimate.  On his assumption his own rationality is a product of chance.  On his assumption even the laws of logic which he employs are products of chance.  The rationality and purpose that he may be searching for are still bound to be products of chance.[50]

And then this immutable, abstract unity of the autonomous human self that somehow arises from chaos can only be a finite unity:

Kant’s phenomenal realm is but an island, and that a floating island on a bottomless and shoreless sea. After all, the human mind can furnish at most a finite schematism or a priori. We do not admit that the human mind can furnish any a priori at all unless it is related to God. But suppose for a moment that it could, such a schematism could never be comprehensive.[51]

Even if the unity of the autonomous human mind could arise out of chaos, it suffers from solipsism – in a world by itself, unable to know any other minds that might have also arisen from the infinite, irrational chaos that surrounds everything.  I have a unity of consciousness, but you are a synthesis of my transcendental ego that imposes the laws of nature upon the world.

And yet, even to state his philosophy, Kant had to make a universal negative claim about the existence of a vast, admittedly unknowable noumenal realm.  It amounts to a universal claim that there is no Creator God as described in the Bible – no God that has rationalized all the facts prior to man’s contact with the facts.    Although Kant presented himself as a kind of defender of the faith, claiming that “I had to deny knowledge to make room for faith,”[52] the only “faith” allowed by his philosophy is an appeal to the irrational; whereas Christian faith in God is an appeal to the absolute rationality of God.  By excluding all knowledge prior to its original production by the autonomous human mind, Kant kept an all-knowing God that created the world out of the picture – out of human experience of the physical world and excluding the possibility of propositional revelation coming to man from God.

The exclusion of God by attempting to establish human autonomy, which requires stripping the universe of ultimate rationality, results in the common problem among atheists of making self-refuting statements, such as making the absolute statement that there are no absolutes and the universal claim that we can’t know universals.  As observed by William F. Buckley, Jr., “Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views.”  In an ultimately meaningless universe, all views equally valid because all views are meaningless, hence we get liberal relativism and support of viewpoint diversity (even if the viewpoints contradict each other, because there is no logic in a meaningless universe).  But liberals still want to claim to have discovered some true things about the universe (including that it is meaningless), which entails contrary views being false.  Liberals, indeed, want to regard their views as the most advanced in history and thus unquestionable by any rational person.   They are absolutist about their relativism.   As put by the ever-quotable G.K. Chesterton, “The special mark of the modern world is not that it is sceptical, but that it is dogmatic without knowing it.”[53]  Because atheism involves trying to justify human knowledge in an ultimately non-rational world, atheism is trapped in an irresolvable dialectic tension between such dualities as rationalism and irrationalism, unity and diversity, absolutism and relativism.  Trying to be more consistent in their atheist philosophy cannot resolve the contradiction in their thinking but only display it more clearly since it is inherent in their view of rationality.  Universals are an unavoidable aspect of language, but atheists cannot account for them because they deny a universal Mind.  I will explore this further when I defend Christianity in Chapter 5.

Kant’s arguments against the classic arguments for God’s existence (ontological, cosmological and teleological)[54] largely follow from his epistemology.  Given the failure of his epistemology, his arguments against the arguments for God’s existence fail as well.  Since Kant can’t (if you’re British, make the same sound twice), allow for knowledge of empirical objects that exist apart from the human mind, neither can he allow for a God that exists apart from the mind of man.  Since causality is nothing more than a concept projected by the human mind, Kant can’t allow for causality to prove the existence of a God that is anything more than a projection of the human mind.  God can no more exist outside the human mind than space can (and space can’t, according to Kant).[55]  We need the concept of God, Kant explains, to properly understand the necessary unity of all phenomena; but since all necessity is imposed by the human mind, so is the idea of God.  God serves as a “regulative principle of reason” not a “constitutive principle.”[56]

We should also recognize that Kant made the same mistake that Hume did in assuming that belief in a universal law of causation that can be described with mathematical precision is a universal trait of the human mind.  They both failed to recognize that it was the Christian belief in the rationality of God that served as the historical basis in Western Civilization for the scientific faith in universal causality.  Philosopher R.G. Collingwood observes that the failure of philosophers to recognize the Christian origins of belief in mathematically precise causality is common from Kant into the twentieth century (when Collingwood was writing).  With respect to early twentieth-century philosopher Samuel Alexander, Collingwood says that he,


. . . was too much under the influence of eighteenth-century thinkers [and thus] constructed his metaphysics  on the assumption that all human beings everywhere and always accepted what Mill calls the law of universal causation, and for that matter everything enunciated  in Kant’s ‘System of Principles.’ . . .  For in point of fact the Kantian ‘principles’ are nothing more permanent that the presuppositions of eighteenth century physics, as Kant discovered them by analysis.  If you analyse the physics of to-day, or that of the Renaissance, or that of Aristotle, you get a different set.[57]

Kant has been criticized for making Euclidean geometry an a priori, necessary aspect of rational minds, which was shown not to be necessary by the later development of non-Euclidian geometry based on curved space.  Kant has been defended on that point with the claim that Euclidean geometry was merely an illustration that he used.  Regardless of the merits of that defense, Kant definitely saw universal causality as necessary to science, and thus made it a universal aspect of how all rational minds function, even though it is really only an aspect of how minds influenced by Christianity function.


The Miracle of Mathematics Applying to Matter

Modern scientists have sometimes noted the “unreasonable” order of nature, reducible to mathematical formulas that humans can understand.  Eugene Wigner, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and mathematician famously said,


. . . [F]undamentally, we do not know why our theories work so well. . . .  The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve.  We should be grateful for it and hope that it will extend, for better or for worse, to our pleasure even though perhaps also to our bafflement, to wide branches of learning.[58]

In his famous book A Brief History of Time, physicist Stephen Hawking asks a similar question, “What breathes fire into the equations?”:

Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing? Is the unified theory so compelling that it brings about its own existence? Or does it need a creator, and, if so, does he have any other effect on the universe? And who created him?[59]

Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman also remarks:

The fact that there are rules at all to be checked is a kind of miracle; that it is possible to find a rule, like the inverse square law of gravitation, is some sort of miracle. It is not understood at all, but it leads to the possibility of prediction — that means it tells you what you would expect to happen in an experiment you have not yet done.[60]

Likewise, Albert Einstein remarked that “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.”[61]  In a letter to a long-time friend written on March 30, 1952, he notes how the comprehensible nature of the universe is inconsistent with atheism; one should rather expect chaos, although he wants to make clear that he hasn’t converted to traditional religion in the weakness of his old age:

You find it strange that I consider the comprehensibility of the world (to the extent that we are authorized to speak of such a comprehensibility) as a miracle or as an eternal mystery. Well a priori one should expect a chaotic world which cannot be grasped by the mind in any way.  One could (yes one should) expect the world to be subjected to law only to the extent that we order it through our intelligence. . . .  By contrast, the kind of order created by Newton’s theory of gravitation, for example, is wholly different.  Even if the axioms of a theory are proposed by man, the success of such a project presupposes a high degree of ordering of the objective world, and this could not be expected a priori. That is the ‘miracle’ which is constantly reinforced as our knowledge expands.

There lies the weakness of the positivists and professional atheists who are elated because they feel that they have not only successfully rid the world of gods but “bared the miracles.”  Oddly enough, we must be satisfied to acknowledge the “miracle” without there being any legitimate way to approach it.  I am forced to add that just to keep you from thinking that–weakened by age–I have fallen prey to the parsons.[62]

Many other experts have made the similar observations about the “miracle” of math applying to the material world.  Here are two more examples, the first by physicist Remo J. Ruffini, and the second by science journalist Timothy Ferris:[63]

How a mathematical structure can correspond to nature is a mystery.  One way out is just to say that the language in which nature speaks is the language of mathematics.  This begs the question.  Often we are both shocked and surprised by the correspondence between mathematics and nature, especially when the experiment confirms that our mathematical model describes nature perfectly.[64]

If the prospect of a dying universe causes us anguish, it does so only because we can forecast it, and we have as yet not the slightest idea why such forecasts are possible for us.  A few figures scrawled on a piece of paper can describe the rate the universe expands, reveal what goes on inside a star, or predict where the planet Neptune will be on New Year’s Day in the year A.D. 25,000.  Why?  Why should nature, whether hostile or benign, be in any way intelligible to us?  All the mysteries of science are but palace guards to that mystery.[65]

The quote above by Remo J. Ruffini that “the language in which nature speaks is the language of mathematics” is derived from Galileo’s famous statement that “Mathematics is the language with which God has written the Universe.”   Galileo was not shocked and surprised about a correspondence between mathematics and nature because he believed in God.

The abstract concepts of mathematics are discovered by the human mind, but mathematics would not be universal and necessary if their origin were finite, contingent human minds.  Therefore they have a quality of independence from the human mind.  The phenomena of the natural world, we find, conform to these mathematical concepts that have a quality of independence from the human mind.   And nature does not conform to the order that just any human mind imposes (e.g. Ptolemy’s mistaken view of celestial orbits), but only the minds trained in mathematics and careful observation.   This doesn’t make sense in terms of Kant’s philosophy of the autonomous human mind imposing the laws of nature on an irrational chaos that gave the human mind its birth.  It does make sense in terms of a common origin for the mathematical concepts and the phenomena of nature that are independent of the human mind, but also connected to the human mind, namely in terms of an absolutely rational Creator who made humans in His image.[66]  But I’ll get to more details on that later.


Sartre Reducing Kant’s Autonomous Mind to Absurdity

Fast-forward in the history of philosophy to the twentieth century when Jean-Paul Sartre asks, what is consciousness in a world without God?  His conclusion:  It’s a spontaneous nothingness, an absurdity.  The permanence of individual objects of experience is an illusion of the words we apply to changing experience.  Even permanence of the self is a construct of the descriptions that we and others apply to us from which we construct our self-image.   He basically exposes the impossibility of Kant’s attempt to create permanence through a transcendental ego that arises in a world without God, so Sartre ends in the same place as Hume had ended, with a world of disorganized experience.  Sartre’s conclusion about epistemology parallels his conclusion about ethics – that there are no rules except the rule that we are free to make our own rules.  Applied to scientific knowledge, this means that there is no regularity to nature; humans freely and arbitrarily impose whatever order to nature that they choose.  However, each individual human has that freedom in an irresolvable competition with other humans who are imposing descriptions of the world that conflict with each other; hence, “Hell is other people.”  Each person is a finite god trying to act sovereignly in the world but frustrated by competing gods trying to do the same, which makes all other people devils.[67]  Kant was right that there must be a permanent ego that unifies the deliverances of the senses in order to make sense of knowledge.  But Kant can’t make sense of a permanent ego because of his commitment to human autonomy.


Hegel’s Attempt to Universalize Kantianism

Kant tried to solve Hume’s skepticism about knowledge of the world, but his approach created a new skepticism about our ability to know the “noumenal” world, the world in itself, as it exists outside our minds.  G.F.W. Hegel (1770-1831) tried to solve Kant’s skepticism through overcoming his noumenal/phenomenal distinction by positing that concepts are out in the world, not just in the human mind.  Hegel had to put Aristotle’s form/matter scheme back out into the world given that Kant’s philosophy failed by putting the form/matter scheme completely inside the autonomous human mind.

Because concepts are out in the world, Hegel says that, “What is rational is real, and what is real is rational.”[68]  This statement could be made by other rationalists like Plato, but with a meaning different than Hegel’s. Plato saw the Ideas as static and standing apart from the world of change, which was illusionary, so that the empirical world is not the real and the rational but only the transcendent Ideas are real and rational; whereas Hegel was intent on explaining the world of change as rational.  The world is the development of mind (“Geist,” as Hegel calls it).  This is the rationale behind his dialectic method, often described as a process of thesis, antithesis, synthesis (although Hegel himself did not use these terms).  On this view, a particular concept, the thesis, is seen as true at a particular time in history; then it is contradicted by another concept, the antithesis; but then the prior views are replaced by another concept that integrates to some degree the previous views into a higher realization of truth, the synthesis.  This synthesis becomes the new thesis, and the process continues.  The apparent contradictions encountered in the course of experience and history are overcome by the dialectic process, thus accounting for the rationality of experience and history.  The ideal toward which this process moves is the Absolute, in which all the diversity in history is related to the universals.   Hegel also calls the Absolute a “concrete universal” because it integrates all the diversity and unity of history.

But Hegel’s goal of rationality, like Kant’s and Aristotle’s philosophies, undermines itself with a fundamental irrationality.  The dialectic process begins with the concepts of Being and Nothingness, which synthesize into Becoming.  Being, Hegel admits, has no content because it is an empty unity; thus “Pure Being and pure nothing are, therefore, the same.”[69]  History, then, begins with nothingness, with no rationality; but it somehow becomes something rational – diversity of content with unity.[70]  Furthermore, the Absolute is an ideal toward which history is moving as the human race gains knowledge of the world; but it’s not a present reality or a future reality that is ever achieved.  The non-rational is ultimate in the world, not the rational.  Even if limited rationality could have arisen, complete rationality is never achieved.  Rationality is always an island in an infinite sea of the non-rational.  Although Hegel tries to achieve some stability to human knowledge by saying that the prior stages of knowledge are integrated into the later stages, there is no basis for saying that humanity possesses the truth about the world at any point in history because absolute truth is not present at any point in history.  Like Kant and Aristotle, Hegel is still trying to combine the two irrational elements of pure diversity and pure unity to produce the intelligible world through the autonomous human mind, but collectively rather than individually.

Why would history, originating from the void, be moving toward absolute truth?  Why would there be a telos, a purpose, to history?  On what basis can we say that apparent contradictions in history and experience can be logically resolved, even though humans don’t have the knowledge to resolve them at a particular point in history?  That history is moving toward the ideals of rationality and morality makes sense if an Absolute God created the world and is directing history toward the ideal goal.  Hegel, who studied theology before he studied philosophy, tries to merge Christian eschatology with German Idealism.[71]  It does not turn out well.  German Idealism is a degeneration from Christianity, not an advancement.  Hegel strips from the Christian idea of historical progress the only concept of ultimate reality, the biblical God, that can serve as a basis for faith in the progress of history.[72]  God is stripped of transcendence and placed completely within the world, being most fully expressed in humanity as it grows in knowledge over the course of history toward the goal of absolute knowledge.  Karl Marx later picked up the idea of historical progress from Hegel to create what has been called the Last Great Christian Heresy.


Nietzsche and the Absurdity of Human Reason in a World Without God

The philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), represents the disintegration of European philosophy up through the end of the nineteenth century.  Nietzsche holds that all facts are interpreted facts, and he concludes from this that there is no truth.  Late-twentieth-century post-modernism has come back around to this view, as I discuss below; and Nietzsche has become popular in philosophical circles again.  But since there is no truth, scientists are not discovering anything true about the world.  Cause and effect, regularity in nature – these are all illusions created by words:

In “being-in-itself” there is nothing of “causal connection,” of “necessity,” or of “psychological non-freedom;” there the effect does not follow the cause; there “law” does not obtain.  It is we alone who have devised the causes, sequence, reciprocity, relativity, constraint, number, law, freedom, motive, and purpose; and when we interpret and intermix this symbol-world, as “being-in-itself,” with things, we act once more as we have always acted – mythologically.[73]

Since all facts are interpreted facts, scientific knowledge is not the universal, objective standard that can unify all people in all cultures, as modernists have naïvely believed it could.  Every person is isolated in the ghetto of his own mind and culture.  Since there is no objective standard of measurement, there is no such thing as progress, scientifically or morally – just competition and survival.  Some survive better than others, but, Nietzsche said, degeneration inevitably follows.[74]  Nietzsche adopted the old, pre-Christian, anti-scientific view of cyclical time, in which any progress eventually reaches a maximum, after which degeneration inevitably follows, in endless cycles.[75]  As I discuss below, Christianity had introduced the linear view of time to the world, providing the optimism necessary for science that progress can always increase in history.

Nietzsche’s relativism follows from his materialism.  Truth and falsehood are not properties of matter but of propositions, so if only matter exists, no propositions exist, including the proposition that materialism is true or that matter exists.  Materialism is mindlessness.  All interpretations, all propositional statements, are equally mythological.  It’s a view that is self-refuting, which Nietzsche was honest enough to acknowledge:  “Granted that this also is only interpretation – and you will be eager to make this objection? – well, so much the better.”[76]  Nietzsche observed that the use of meaningful language requires the existence of God:  “I am afraid we cannot get rid of God because we still believe in grammar.”[77]  The “symbol-world” of language resists reduction to materialism.  In a materialistic context, human rationality is a tragic mistake, a disease, produced by evolution:

They found themselves clumsy in obeying the simplest directions, confronted with this new and unknown world they had no longer their old guides – the regulative instincts that had led them unconsciously to safety – they were reduced, were those unhappy creatures, to thinking, inferring, calculating, putting together causes and results, reduced to that poorest and most erratic organ of theirs, their “consciousness.” . . .  But thereby he introduced that most grave and sinister illness, from which mankind has not yet recovered, the suffering of man from the disease called man, as the result, as it were, of a spasmodic plunge into a new environment and new conditions of existence, the result of a declaration of war against the old instincts, which up to that time had been the staple of his power, his joy, his awesomeness.[78]

Human rationality is a brief, meaningless, wretched absurdity in the history of the universe:

In some remote corner of the universe, poured out and glittering in innumerable solar systems, there once was a star on which clever animals invented knowledge.  That was the haughtiest and most mendacious minute of “world history”–yet only a minute.  After nature had drawn a few breaths, the star grew cold, and the clever animals had to die.

One might invent such a fable and still not have illustrated sufficiently how wretched, how shadowy and flighty, how aimless and arbitrary, the human intellect appears in nature.  There have been eternities when it did not exist; and when it is done for again, nothing will have happened.  For this intellect has no further mission that would lead beyond human life.  It is human, rather, and only its owner and producer gives it such importance, as if the world pivoted around it.  But if we could communicate with the mosquito, then we would learn that it floats through the air with the same self-importance, feeling within itself the flying center of the world.[79]

This is one of the more consistent pictures of human rationality in the context of atheism that has ever been presented by an atheist.  Human rationality is an alien absurdity in the materialistic worldview.  It is not a picture that promotes human rationality against the irrationalism of religion; rather religion is irrational in the sense that it supports the idea of human rationality, which must be an illusion in terms of the materialistic worldview.  Atheist support for human rationality must come from an irrational leap of faith.  As Herbert Schlossberg explains the dilemma of modern atheism, “Since its naturalism is irreconcilable with its anthropology, it confers special status on human beings by the irrational process of mystification.”[80]

[1] He argued that a finite mind would be inadequate to be the cause the idea of an infinite being, therefore God must be the cause of the idea of God in the mind of man.  Descartes also endorsed the ontological argument, that existence is a perfection, therefore a supremely perfect being must have existence.

[2]  As expressed, for example, by Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press, 2009), chapter 1: “The Invention of the Mind.”

[3]  René Descartes, Principles of Philosophy, Part 3, § 47. Descartes says things could have begun from chaos and developed into our present world, but he affirms that in fact everything was created as mature as depicted in Genesis 1.

[4]  Blaise Pascal, Pensées (1669), §2, No. 77.

[5]  See Aram Vartanian, Diderot and Descartes: A Study of Scientific Naturalism in the Enlightenment (Princeton University Press, 1953).

[6] Robert Boyle, The Origine of Formes and Qualities (According to Corpuscular Philosophy), 2d ed. (Oxford:  Ric. Davis, 1667), pp. 102-04.

[7] Baruch Spinoza, Ethics, tr. R.H.M. Elwes, Part III, preface.

[8]  Ethics, Part IV, preface.  Spinoza is often referred to as pantheist, meaning “all is god.”  But his god is impersonal and non-transcendent.  Whereas a Christian, on the basis of a personal Creator distinct from His creation, can say that God can conceive of something and choose to wait to make it a reality at a later time, Spinoza’s premise of impersonal rational necessity leads him to say that everything that could possibly exist does exist necessarily. Ethics, Part I, Prop. XXXV.

[9]  Baruch Spinoza, One the Improvement of the Understanding (Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect), tr. R.H.M. Elwes (An Electronic Classics Publication), §42,  See Robert J. Roecklein, Politicized Physics in Seventeenth-Century Philosophy: Essays on Bacon, Descartes, Hobbes, and Spinoza (Lanham, MD:  Lexington Books, 2014), p. 184.

[10]  Spinoza, Ethics, Part I, Prop. XX, and Part II, Prop. X.

[11]  Ibid, Part II, Prop. VII.

[12]  Ibid., Part II, Prop. XXIX.

[13]  See Van Til, The Reformed Pastor and Modern Thought (Phillispburg, NJ:  Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1980), pp. 107-08.

[14]  Charles Webster, The Great Instauration:  Science, Medicine and Reform 1626-1660 (London: Duckworth, 1975), p. 515.

[15]  See Zagorin, pp. 90ff; and Peter Urbach, Francis Bacon’s Philosophy of Science (LaSalle, IL:  Open Court, 1987, pp.134-43.

[16]  Francis Bacon, Novum Organum, Book I, §XCV, pp. 131-32,

[17]  Webster, The Great Instauration, p. 25.

[18]  Novum Organum, Book II, §LII.  Also see his Valerius Terminus: Of the Interpretation of Nature.

[19]  Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning (1605), Book III, p. 509,

[20]  Quoted in Klaaren, Religious Origins of Modern Science, p. 158.

[21]  See my blog posts for more on this:  “Beware Greeks Bearing Gifts:  Part 2 of a Review of J.V. Fesko’s Reforming Apologetics,”; “A Thomistic Transcendental Argument that Needs Van Til,”; “The Scope and Limits of Van Til’s Transcendental Argument:  A Response to John Frame,”

[22]  Klaaren, Religious Origins of Modern Science, p. 173.  See this book for further support for these points.

[23] Margaret C. Jacob, “Christianity and the Newtonian Worldview,” in God and Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter Between Christianity and Science, ed. David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers (University of California Press, 1986), p. 246-47.

[24]  George Berkeley, A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, § 11.

[25]  David Hume, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, chs. 4-7.

[26]  Anthony Flew, There is a God:  How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (New York, NY:  Harper One, 2007), pp. 57-58.  For a detailed criticism of Hume’s argument against miracles, see John Lennox, God’s Undertaker (Lion Hudson, Kindle Edition, 2011), ch. 12.

[27]  David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 91.

[28]  James N. Anderson, David Hume (Kindle Edition), loc. 1662.

[29]  Ibid., loc. 1706.

[30]  See page 75, below.

[31]  A Treatise of Human Nature, p. 252.

[32]  David Hume, Treatise on Human Nature, ed. L.A. Selby-Bigge (Oxford:  Clarendon Press, 1951; first published in 1739), p. 269.

[33]  Bertrand Russell, Human Knowledge:  Its Scopes and Limits  (New York: Clarion Books, Simon and Schuster, 1948),  xv-xvi.  Quoted in Greg Bahnsen, “Pragmatism, Prejudice, and Presuppositionalism,” Foundations of Christian Scholarship, Gary North Ed. (Vallicito, CA:  Ross House Books, 1976), p. 243.

[34]  David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, IV.32.

[35]  Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy (New York, NY:  Simon and Schuster, 1945), pp. 672-73.

[36]  This is Will Durant’s characterization of Kant’s purpose, widely acknowledged as accurate:  “To put these threads of argument together, to unite the ideas of Berkeley and Hume with the feelings of Rousseau, to save religion from reason, and yet at the same time to save science from skepticism – this was the mission of Immanuel Kant.”  Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy (New Rev. ed., New York: Garden City Publ., 1933), p. 285.

[37]  Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (The Open Court Publishing Company, 1902), p. 7.

[38] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, tr. Norman Kemp Smith (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1965), A 125.

[39]  Ibid., A 126.

[40]  Ibid., B 75.

[41]  Cornelius Van Til, Christian-Theistic Evidences, (Phillipsburg, NJ:  Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1978), p. 87; and An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ:  Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1974), p. 20.

[42] Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, A 352, A 494/ B 522.

[43] Ibid., A 107, A 132.

[44]  Ibid., B 135.

[45]  Ibid., A 42/ B 59-60.

[46]  Aquinas says, “Reason cannot reach up to simple form, so as to know ‘what it is;’ but it can know ‘whether it is.’” Summa Theologica, 1a.12.12.  Also see Summa Contra Gentiles, 1:14.2.

[47]  Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, B xxvii.

[48]  Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, (Preface to the Second Edition) B XL, note.

[49] Ibid., B 519 – B 520.

[50] Cornelius Van Til, Christian Apologetics, p. 63.

[51] Cornelius Van Til, Christian-Theistic Evidences (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1978), p. 37.

[52]  Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, B xxx.

[53]  Illustrated London News (March 15, 1919).

[54]  I don’t subscribe to the classic formulations of the ontological, cosmological, and teleological arguments as presented by the likes of Anselm and Aquinas, but I do believe that necessary existence, cause, and order can be used to prove God’s existence, as I explain further in Chapter 5.

[55]  Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, A 619, B 647

[56]  Ibid., A 619/ B 647, A 620/ B 648.

[57]  R.G. Collingwood, An Essay on Metaphysics (Mansfield Centre, CT:  Martino Publishing, 2014 [1939]), p. 179.

[58]  Eugene Wigner, “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences,” Symmetries and Reflections:  Scientific Essays (Cambridge and London:  The MIT Press, 1970) p. 237.

[59]  Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time, p. 232.

[60]  Richard Feynman, The Meaning of it all (London, Penguin, 2007), p.23; quoted in Lennox, Gunning for God, p. 34.

[61]  Albert Einstein, “Physics and Reality”(1936), in Ideas and Opinions, trans. Sonja Bargmann (New York: Bonanza, 1954), p. 292.

[62]  Albert Einstein, Letters to Solovine:  1906-1955 (New York, NY: Philosophical Library, 1987), p. 131.  Einstein did not like the idea of a personal God.  He was a follower of Spinoza’s pantheism.   See Norman L. Geisler, “Einstein, Albert,” in Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), p. 214f.; and Max Jammer, Einstein and Religion: Physics and Theology (Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press, 1999).

[63]  For additional quotes on this issue, see “Mathematics,” at Atheists Confess:  We Can’t Make Sense of the World,

[64]  Remo J. Ruffini, “The Princeton Galaxy,” interviews by Florence Heltizer, Intellectual Digest, 3 (1973), p. 27; quoted in James Nickel, Mathematics:  Is God Silent? (Vallecito, CA:  Ross House Books, 2001), p. 209.

[65]  Timothy Ferris, The Red Limit:  The Search for the Edge of the Universe (New York:  William Morrow, 1977), pp. 217-18; quoted in Gary North, Is the World Running Down?:  Crisis in the Christian Worldview(Tyler, TX:  Institute for Christian Economics, 1988), p. 13.

[66]  James Nickel, Mathematics:  Is God Silent? (Vallecito, CA:  Ross House Books, 2001).

[67] See W. T. Jones, Kant to Wittgenstein and Sartre:  A History of Western Philosophy (New York:  Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1969), pp. 418-46.  Regarding Sartre’s argument against the existence of God, like Kant, Sartre attempts to wield universal and unchanging laws of logic to make, as Cornelius Van Til puts it, an “a priori universal negative judgment about all possible reality, to the effect that God cannot exist.” And like Kant, this an impossible attempt of a consciousness rising into existence as foam upsurging from an shoreless, bottomless sea of chance to relate to a priori, universal, unchanging laws of logic.  Cornelius Van Til, The Apologetic Methodology of Francis Schaeffer, conclusion to chapter 3 and conclusion to chapter 4, in C. Van Til & E. H. Sigward, The Pamphlets, Tracts, and Offprints of Cornelius Van Til (Electronic ed.) (Labels Army Company: New York, 1997).

[68] G.F.W. Hegel, Philosophy of Right, translated by S.W Dyde (Kitchener, Canada:  Batoche Books Limited, 2001), p. 18.

[69] Hegel, Science of Logic, Vol. 1, Bk. 1, §134.

[70] See Cornelius Van Til, The New Modernism: An Appraisal of the Theology of Barth and Brunner (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company 1947), p. 51.

[71]  Hegel would not object to saying that he borrowed from Christianity because he regards Christianity as the stage of history that is nearly as advanced as the next stage of history, the stage of Philosophy. See Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, §50, at  In the dialectic process, the new synthesis contains what was good about the previous stage of history.

[72]  For the biblical origin of the idea of historical progress see below, pp. 103 and 124.

[73]  Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future, tr. Helen Zimmern (Mineola, NY:  Dover Publications, 1997), p. 15.

[74]  By valuing survival and the rise of the “superman,” Nietzsche is engaging in the common fallacy of modern evolutionists who reject objective morality but still treat survival as a value, as I make mention in my companion essay on ethics.

[75]  Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, tr. Walter Kaufman (New York:  Vintage Books, 1974), pp. 273-74 (§ 341).

[76]  Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, p. 16.

[77]  Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, tr. Richard Polt (Indianapolis, IN:  Hackett Publishing, 1997), p. 21.

[78]  Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals, tr. Horace B. Samuel (Stilwell, KS: Publishing, 2007), pp. 76, 77-78.  This translation has “formidableness” rather than “awesomeness,” but I like “awesomeness” better, which is used in another translation.

[79]  Friedrich Nietzsche, “One Truth and Lie,” in The Portable Nietzsche, tr. Walter Kaufmann (New York, NY:   Penguin Books, 1977), p. 42.

[80]  Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction:  Christian Faith and its Confrontation with American Society (Nashville, TN:  Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983), p. 84.

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