Science in Christian Perspective



Robert D. Knudsen, Ph.D.

The Resurrection of Theism

From: JASA 11 (September 1959): 15-16.

The philosophy of our time is largely distrustful of.cognitive reason and sceptical as to the possibility of gaining absolute cognitive truth. For instance, Pragmatism sought a new concept of truth. Truth is not given statically for theoretical thought to apprehend; the truth of an hypothesis is its "cash value" in the solution of problems. Certain Existentialists have gone even farther. For Heidegger even the pragmatic viewpoint is the expression of the rational, technical attitude toward the world, a decadent attitude in which there is a forgetfulness of the truth of being. Being can appear to us only in a way that differs essentially from the conceptualizations of cognitive reason.

Give it enough time, however, and the worm will try to make his about-face. An evangelical writer, Stuart C. Hackett, has written a vigorous book, The Resurrection of Theism (Chicago: Moody Press, 1957), in which he strongly affirms the power of reason and the possibility of gaining absolute certainty.

Hackett's main purpose in this volume is to establish a philosophical foundation on which he can rehabilitate the rational proofs for the existence of God. The establishing of these proofs, in turn, is to form the basis for an entire system of apologetics, which is to appear in subsequent volumes.

The philosophical foundation on which Hackett wishes to build his philosophical edifice he calls rational empiricism. Following Kant he says that experience is possible only because the mind of man is outfitted with synthetic apriori categories, which are then filled with the material of sense experience. Before even the child can begin to count, for instance, its mind must have the (not necessarily conscious) idea of unity.

Having established rational empiricism to his satisfaction and having proved contradictory or meaningless its alternatives, Hackett proceeds to discuss the classical arguments for the existence of God. There is a traditional presentation of the cosmological and teleological arguments. In line with his rational empiricism, however, Hackett will not allow the validity of the completely apriori form of the ontological argument. As his basic approach Hackett accepts an ontological argument like that of James Orr in his Christian View of God and the World. In conclusion he enters into a more detailed criticism of objections to the theistic proofs.

Not only is Hackett's book vigorously reasoned, it is unreservedly rationalistic. Theism is brought again and again to meet the test at the bar of neutral human reason. Its alternatives are formulated so they can be shown to be self-contradictory or meaningless. The triumphant march of reason is supposed to establish with apodictic: certainty the existence of a most real being with intelligent purpose and government.

Apart from its merits or demerits, such an approach is refreshing. It would cut in one blow through the relativism, irrationalism, and even nihilism that has plagued our Western philosophy and brought it into crisis. Even a philosophical giant like Husserl sought in his rationalistic phenomenology to overcome the crisis of philosophy. Hackett is no phenomenologist, and he gives little indication of having written with the crisis of Western thought in mind; nevertheless, it is refreshing to see a bold attempt to give us again a hold on the truth. In discussing this attempt, we shall limit ourselves to a few observations.

One might agree with Hackett that there is a transcendental apriori; but the question still remains as to what kind it is. Like Kant Hackett derives the categories of thought from the forms of logical judgment. By way of contrast, Herman Dooyeweerd also says that there is a transcendental apriori; but it is not logical in character. Abstract-logical concepts like "unity" can have their meaning only on the basis of the various modal aspects of reality, only one of which is the logical. "Unity", for instance, has its original sense only in the mathematical aspect of reality. Otherwise it appears in an analogical sense, as "social unity", "aesthetic wholeness", etc. Dooyeweerd ranges the logical aspect beside the other aspects of reality, which are not logical in character and which resist inclusion in the logical concept. Continuing the comparison, Dooyeweerd therefore holds that ontology is basic to epistemology. In contrast, Hackett affirms that epistemology is basic to ontology. To my mind Hackett should not complete his system without having grappled with the problems raised by such a prominent evangelical thinker.

I would also bring up questions concerning Hackett's view of God as the ens realissimum, the most real being. Does not such a view imply that there is a graded hierarchy of reality, from the least real to the most real? Is not such a view meaningful only on what has been called "the great chain of being"? If so, does one not have to ask concerning the basis or criterion for this gradation? In Hackett's thought, for instance, God is the most simple, most unchanging, etc. Does not such a view do despite to the reality of God's creation, and also the sovereignty of God?

With reference to the last point we find that Hackett's rationalism lands him in a thoroughgoing univocism. The sythetic apriori with which the human mind is outfitted are the forms of rationality as such. As categories of rationality itself they are supposed by Hack ett to hold for the mind of God as well as of man (p. 55). Must we hold, then, that the sovereign God must think causally? Does this not make God subject to the

law? By his language Hackett suggests this when he says that God is the complete rationalization of the absolute good (p. 233). Would it not be in the interests of preserving both the sovereignty of God and the reality of God's creation if we should accept Calvin's dictum, Deus legibus solutus est?

Westminster Theological Seminary
Chestnut Hill
Philadelphia 18, Pa.
August 14, 1959.