Comparison of The Epistemology of David Hume And Immanuel Kant

Epistemological Darkness. Empirical Skepticism. In epistemology, Clark was an empirical skeptic (see Agnosticism), agreeing with David Hume. The senses deceive and cannot be trusted. Universal and necessary principles go beyond the limits of empirical experience. As Hume showed, the senses never receive impressions of a necessary connection. Nothing, therefore, can be proved empirically. Clark doubted all that his senses reported about an external world. He held that, apart from divine revelation, we cannot be sure that we exist.

Clark framed three chief objections to empiricism: First, it is impossible to discover a “necessary connection” between ideas and events. This denies causality and makes all historical and scientific investigation futile. At best, knowledge can extend only so far as what is impressed on the brain at this moment, and what traces remain at this moment of memories of past impressions. Second, the ongoing task of integrating self into one’s current environment inevitably influences perceptions and makes them untrustworthy. Memory is effectively annihilated in this process. Third, and most fundamentally, empiricism uses time and space surreptitiously at the beginning of the learning process. But accurate time-space perceptions can only come at the end of the learning process, so the mind is continually faced with information that it is not competent to judge accurately (“Special Divine Revelation,” 33).

Historical Skepticism. Clark’s historical skepticism is parallel to his empirical doubts. Thus, Clark denies the validity of historical apologetics. Even if we could know that the resurrection of Christ is a fact from empirical testimony, it would prove nothing (see Resurrection, Evidence for). “Suppose Jesus did rise from the grave. This only proves that his body resumed its activities for a time after his crucifixion; it does not prove that he died for our sins or that he was the Son of God.… The resurrection, viewed purely as an isolated historical event, does not prove that Christ died for our sins.” Historical and archaeological research are incompetent to deal with such questions (Clark, “Philosophy of Education,” 35).

Innate Ideas. Clark considered himself Augustinian in epistemology, beginning with God-given, innate ideas (see Augustine). Apart from divine illumination via innate ideas, the mind would be locked in epistemological darkness. By the light of the logos we can see the world. Clark boldly translated John 1:1, “In the beginning was Logic. And Logic was with God, and Logic was God” (cited in Nash, The Philosophy of Gordon Clark, 67, 118; see Logic). Since each human being was created by God, each person is an innate idea of God. But a person’s blank mind is not able to lift itself above its sensory context to an abstract spiritual level. So unaided, no person can know God. The theories of empiricism from Aristotle to Thomas Aquinas to John Locke, therefore, do not work (Religions, Reason, and Revelation, 135). We cannot know God, certainly not in any saving way. God, however, revealed himself in Scripture, his infallible, inerrant Word (see Bible, Canonicity of). Christianity based on this revelation is the only true religion (see Christ, Uniqueness of; World Religions, Christianity and). Christianity is known to be true because it alone is free from internal contradictions in its truth claims. All opposing systems have contradictory beliefs in one or more central teachings.

Rejection of Theistic Proof. Like most other presuppositionalists, Clark rejected the traditional proofs for the existence of God (see God, Evidence for). His reasons were much the same as those of Hume and Immanuel Kant. Since our senses cannot be trusted, we cannot begin in experience and prove anything about the world, much less about God. He referred to Thomas Aquinas’s classical apologetics as a “Christianized interpretation of Aristotelianism” (Christian View of Men and Things, 309). He found Aquinas’s arguments for God to be circular, purely formal, invalid, and indefensible (Religions, Reason, and Revelation, 35).

Norman L. Geisler, “Clark, Gordon H.,” Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 150–151.


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  3. Reflections on religion and concern with religious themes can be found in the majority of Hume s and Kant s major works. Their treatments of the subject differ significantly, but they have a few important things in common, especially on the question of how religion relates to morality. Above all, both philosophers advocate a secularized approach to moral philosophy. That is, both argue for the independence of morality from religion and the importance of keeping the two distinct. They both express deep concern about the corrupting influence of false religion, including enthusiasm and superstition . And they both seek to undermine a good deal of Christian theology, including traditional arguments for the existence of God. There are also important areas of disagreement, however. Generally speaking, Hume is far more alert to religion s potential costs, such as intolerance, violence, and distraction from whatever happiness is available in this life. Kant, by contrast, seems far more attuned to the benefits of religion, especially its attempts to address the perhaps unavoidable need for ultimate answers or consolation in the face of death and suffering.

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