Friday, February 23, 2007

Rationalism and Empiricism

Disclaimer: I want to state first I am a novice on this topic.

In the last few days I have been listening to hours of lectures (yes hours) by Gordon Clark. (Not to be confused with singer from the Scottish band the Bay City Rollers). This was an amazing fellow, with a great wit, intellect and knowledge I can only hope to attain in my life. He was still lecturing at age 95 and was very lucid in his speaking. If you don’t know who he is check out this small bio here.

As I listen to him he ran through dozens if not more theologians and philosophers who all dealt in the area of thought and/or reasoning. Gordon is very much a rationalist in his thinking and built great ideological rebuttals against many other views of thought and thinking.

Yet, as I listen I noticed not just with GC, but with many others he quoted, a dogmatism that seemed to be too “either/or”… It seemed one had to choose between either empiricism or rationalism… Clark as I said leaned heavily on the rationalist side and built strong arguments against empiricism.

That is all well and good and I suggest reading him… yet I seem to disagree with the notion one must choose one over the other… and with the "Postmodern" leanings I have, it seemed as if one could choose both/and.

Let me explain.

Gordon Clark states that the image of man is not in that man looks like God… meaning that the dust of the earth made in human form does not mean that is what God looks like… and has Gordon states “God is Spirit”. I do agree with that to a degree, yet he then asserts that the image in the ability to rationalize thought and that is what separates us from the animals. Again, I do agree with this somewhat. I tend toward that it is more about our vocation and purpose that we are "God's image".

Yet, the short coming seems to be this. That God created man from the dust of the earth and then breathed his life giving Spirit into man, and man became a living being. Clark here asserts that it is that man became a rational being at this point and in that bears the image of God… but back up the boat a bit here….

It is in the organics of the brain that thoughts are created… and a brain without thoughts is… well… dead. So it seems that one must be in relation to the other in order to function as a whole…

Man is a being because he has both a body and is able to think… one cannot be separate from the other. We can think in image and relate that in words…in fact I often think more in pictures in my mind and then translate them into words to communicate my thoughts.

The polarization that either/or is where the relational factor seems to break down, and if one does follow through logically to the end, one will assert as Gordon did that one could literally translate John 1:1 as “In the beginning was Logic, and Logic was with God and was God.”

I do think that Gordon was trying to convey that Jesus is literally the words (logos) of God and the Word (Logos) of God as in one lecture I believe he said that one cannot separate these from each other. With that I see that one cannot separate the organic (empiricism) from the logic (rationalism) without doing damage to both any more than one can remove the thoughts from a persons brain without hurting the person and losing the thoughts. Granted on can unite the thoughts and the physical and as I am use the body to convey the thoughts in words by typing them out.

How this work out in theology is like this.

In God (The Speaker) were His Thoughts, which became manifest in creation itself. Later at the specific time the Incarnation of Jesus, who was the Physical manifestation of God’s thoughts came to be. God’s literal Thoughts that brought creation became a man and part of creation itself. Kierkegaard would say the incarnation was a contradiction that could not be explained but just accepted as the infinite could not be both finite and infinite at the same time… but Jesus had a temporal body of clay… like us that died and was raised imperishable. The contradiction is only that before the incarnation Jesus appears to have a heavenly body as He appears in the OT pre incarnationally. The lack of contradiction comes as Jesus existed as the thoughts of God in the Words spoken… which later took on flesh. It now has continuity as the Word must have the physical to be relational.

Interestingly in all of this I also found that the idea of the “conversation” that is the main thrust of emerging, is that thoughts without the mouth to speak or some other physical media are in a way not able to exist. They depend on the mouth to speak, the hand to write or what ever way the information that is trying to be conveyed can be transported.

(A side note on this is NASA is doing cutting edge studies on the theory of information. The theory simply overstated is that everything that exists is information or in a sense can be broken down to bits as in binary code… everything is a 0 or 1)

It is the idea that the conversation started at creation and God transferring from creation to the promises to Abraham, to choosing the Jews, to literally becoming flesh… all transferring information as to Who He is. It is in the relationship God had with Abraham, Moses, and The Hebrews, and now with Jesus that He transfers this info to us now.

There must be physical and rationalization or we get forms of twisted doctrine ranging from Barth to MacArthur… which seem to be on either side of the either/or argument which is more often of not, on different playing fields and seem to talk right past each other in their attempt to show each other wrong.

One can learn of God through some art form, or by reasoning. Yet there is one key missing in the pure rationalist ideas of thought… and that is the Person of Jesus. One must be known by Jesus in order to know Jesus. Much of he lectures I listened to seemed to assume that it is we who must come to know God… by rationalistic thinking, while the bible teaches it is better to be known by God than to have knowledge by itself it must have the irrational emotion of love.

1 Corinthians 8:1-3 ... We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God. (NIV)

Love can be thought of as a commitment… but that seems a bit too scientific and lacks the reflection of something deeper people seem to truly be seeking. I am committed to my wife… yet, in that by words, it may comfort her some, but by a touch and a kiss I convey without words the emotional side of love.

To reduce love to a rationalistic view misses the deep almost un-expressionable thing that love is. That is why love is often better left to the artists and impressions to convey than to simply define in some scientific terms.

Again I can tell my wife I love her with words but I had to physically go and get a marriage license to show my love… even more stand in front of family and friends and before God and take vows (words again). It is in the action that I am also showing my love for my bride of 22 years.

I will wrap this up with James 1: 23-25

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it--he will be blessed in what he does.” (NIV)

We need to be hearers and doers… if we are just rationalists and do nothing; it will not matter as nothing will change. But to put feet to our thoughts, that is when things happen.


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JP Manzi said...

All I can say is, I am glad that I have found your blog again. I have not spoken to you in well over a year and am glad you are still blogging. I do not remember how we "met" but we exchanged many emails.


iggy said...

As I recall...

We debated a bit about whether baptism was essential to salvation... (grin)

I am glad to see you are back to blogging. I missed your views on things. I hope to get you back in the blog role again...

Funny thing is I could not get into Larry's blog for some reason so i think I removed him from the blog roll... it seems that today I was able to access his blog again without being invited to join.

I pray that the last year was truly a good growing time and that the Lord has enriched and energized you beyond measure.


JP Manzi said...

Yes, you are right, it was about baptism...I still forget how we got hooked up..was it another blog?

I realize now where baptism is in Gods Story. I also realize the black or white question of whether its essential or not is simply asking the wrong question.

iggy said...

It was on your old blog... (and I thought I was the old guy with alzheimer's! LOL!)

I am glad you are back and blogging again. You always had something good to say.


Mike Messerli said...

and, ultimately...isn't that the quest of the emergent movement? To find a relationship with God that actually connects with the life I'm living? To put feet to your faith?

It's a "rediscovering" that is needed every other generation it seems.

good thoughts, Iggy. thanks.

Peter said...

Interesting post.

As I read it, I saw a similarity with the way that some people think that if they have the Holy Spirit they don't need the written word and vice-versa.

The idea that the two are independent of each other and that we can take one and not the other is nonsensical.

We were created as integrated beings who have the ability to both pass on acquired knowledge and learn from our own experiences.

To try to separate the two is to deny who we are and how we were created and is also to fall into folly.

I am constantly discovering how naive I am. I had never considered the possibility that people would be either rationalists or empiricists. How can people deny one half of their being that way?

Thanks for the great post in the subject.

iggy said...

I think is some cases people create straw men to make themselves sound smarter than they are...LOL! (I may fall into that myself I am sure)

Gordon Clark's teachings are very good, yet it seems that so many theologians would fall into all or nothing... I am all right and they are all wrong... or I am right and they are all wrong but close!

I just could not buy that we are all "rational" and that God is all "rational". If the definition is the strict definitions that are so often set out in our own ideas of knowledge.

I see God as as an integrated Being... the Bible a integrated message of 66 books and over 40 authors... there is poetry, prophecy, history and even some science if one looks... yet there is not one "right" way to convey the message of salvation.

My first thought that it being all "rational" seemed that we need the physical to manifest the invisible... The invisible God had to become flesh... so to say all that is real is rational... well wreaked of Gnosticism to me.

Anyway, as i stated I am just a novice in this study but I do find it fascinating and hope to be looking more into the different ways of learning transferring knowledge.