Home > apologetics, Bible Study, John, S. Lewis Johnson > To Whom Shall We Go? The Presuppositions of Science

To Whom Shall We Go? The Presuppositions of Science

October 8, 2012

From S. Lewis Johnson’s observations concerning John 6:67-69, Peter’s confession “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have  the words of eternal life,and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”:

Shall we go to science?  The world today thinks of science as a neutral endeavor, but it’s not a neutral endeavor.  It begins with presuppositions.  People like to think well in religion you take things by faith.  But in science you deal with facts.  How foolish.  How foolish.  Let me just for a moment tell you why science is a faith endeavor just as much as spiritual things are a faith endeavor.  Science is supposedly grounded in the scientific method of observation, hypothesis, and conclusions.

Seven presuppositions in science:

  1. The universe can be understood by rational procedure.  Where has that ever been proved?  That’s never been proved.  That cannot be proved.  That’s a presupposition.
  2. Order exists in the universe and is discernable.  That’s a presupposition.  That’s never been proved.  That cannot be proved.
  3. That nature behaves in the same way whether we observe it or not, another presupposition.
  4. The phenomena that we observe here and now are valid there and then.  That’s a faith presupposition.
  5. The human mind is able to form descriptive concepts of the universe.  That’s a faith presupposition.
  6. That a direct correct correspondence exists between the events of the universe and man’s sensory brain responses.  That’s a faith presupposition.  That’s never been proved.
  7. That the scientist’s fellow workers do and report their work honestly; that’s been disproved many times.

Science is a faith endeavor.  When we say — religion we take by faith, science we look at facts — who is fooling who?  The scientists, if they have that idea, are the ones who are living by faith.  Shall we go to science built on induction?  You can never know anything from induction.  In fact science has done such a great job of propaganda that people say the way to study the Bible is by inductive Bible study.  Would anybody question that?  Well they ought to.  You can never know anything by induction.  You can never actually know anything by induction.  In the first place you can never know you have all of the facts necessary for the induction.  You can never know that your hypothesis is the hypothesis that explains the facts as you see them.  So, you can in never know that your hypothesis is the only possible hypothesis.  You can never know anything by induction.  People ought to know things like this, but they don’t, unfortunately.

Finally, a great illustration from the life of a chicken:

the man who fed a chicken everyday throughout its life, at last wrings its neck instead — showing that more refined views as to the uniformity of nature would have been useful to the chicken.  An induction of the facts would not have helped him a great deal when he lost his neck.  Shall we go to science?

  1. October 8, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    Some excellent lessons there.

  2. Ron Smith
    October 8, 2012 at 10:00 pm

    This is so good! Thanks for this one.

    This reminds me of something Gordon H. Clark said that has stuck with me more than anything else I’ve read by him and I have read a bunch of his books.:

    “BY SCIENCE (empiricism), YOU CAN ‘KNOW’ NOTHING!”

    See the last paragraph in this article and you will understand why that statement is so true.

    Dr. Clark and Dr. Johnson were good friends. There used to be some lectures given by Clark at Believers Chapel but are no longer there. I wish they would put them back up.

    • October 9, 2012 at 7:37 am

      Thanks, Ron. I hadn’t heard of Gordon Clark before, but see from searching the transcripts that Dr. Johnson mentioned him several times. That’s great to know, the influence Gordon Clark had on SLJ in reference to understanding of science.

      • Ron Smith
        October 9, 2012 at 1:58 pm

        There is a short biography of Gordon Clark here along with a list of mp3s: http://www.monergism.com/directory/link_category/Audio-and-Multimedia/Speakers-Lectures-and-Sermons/Gordon-H-Clark/

        I just listened to the one entitled, “Empiricism”. Very good with classroom discussion.
        John Robbin’s (deceased) Trinity Foundation publishes all of Clark’s books and there are lots of articles by him on the site. http://www.trinityfoundation.org/ Click “Review archives” in the upper left hand corner for a list.

        John Robbins has an article about Clark that includes the controversy surrounding him located here:
        ” An Introduction to Gordon H. Clak”: http://www.trinityfoundation.org/journal.php?id=192

        I love to read him. He makes you think. Sometimes though, he way over my head. He taught philosophy for many years and was a Calvinistic, premil (non-dispensational) theologian. Strongly presuppositional in his philosophy and his axiom upon which he based all was, “The Bible is the Word of God and inerrant”.

      • October 9, 2012 at 11:26 pm

        Wow, Lynda, if you can help me find links to his reference to Gordon Clark that would be helpful!

    • October 9, 2012 at 11:24 pm

      Hey Ron,
      While I have benefited from Clark’s insight that he provide in refuting materialism and empiricism, I do think we have to be careful of his Scripturalism (that you can only know things in Scripture, and that’s it). What I enjoy the most from Clark is his EX LEX approach to the problem of evil.

  3. October 9, 2012 at 6:21 am

    Epistemology…the philosophy of how we ‘know’ things is in view here. Adopting any particular view can be called faith. Having studied the history of science as well as observing it for at least 50 years, I can assure you of two things:
    1. Scientific theories change over time…take the expanding universe which was preceded…in my lifetime…by a steady-state theory and a cyclic theory.
    2. People in the scientific community are just as prejudiced as anywhere else and exclude those who are not of the same ‘faith.’

    • October 9, 2012 at 7:38 am

      Yes, very true points about man’s “science” faith.

    • October 10, 2012 at 3:48 pm

      Amen. Two important truths you stated there brother.

  4. October 9, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    Thanks, Ron, good information. I read through some of that introduction/bio on Clark; great to find out a little more about him. From a little googling I also found some people claiming that Clark, at least in his later book, was some type of Nestorian — from various blog posts. What are your thoughts regarding that?

    • Ron Smith
      October 9, 2012 at 5:32 pm

      I saw that about Nestorianism. I’m sure I’ve known in the past what that is, but I learn stuff and forget it about as soon. I don’t know. He’s been accused of many things including hyper-Calvinism because he didn’t believe in “the free offer” as taught by John Murray and Ned Stonehouse in the OPC. Van til tried to get him kicked out of OPC, but it failed. He also holds to a different view of “saving faith” than what most reformed people do. He’s very nuanced. He believed in preaching the gospel to everyone, but that’s not what the OPC’s view of free offer is. If you want to see that view, I’m sure it’s online. [Majority & minority report: http://www.opc.org/GA/free_offer.html%5D

      They believe, like Al Martin, Erroll Hulse, etc that 2 Peter 3:9 teaches that God earnestly desires the salvation of every human that ever lived even though he didn’t elect all and the non-elect are never saved. S.L J., John Gerstner, Gordon Clark and others did not believe that. I agree with SLJ’s side. The other side says Calvin was on their side. The “free offer” people have God with two conflicting wills, Usually when I ask a Calvinist if he believes in the free offer, they say they do. That is, until I tell them that the meaning is that God desires the salvation of men that do not ever get saved. Then they say that they don’t believe that.

    • October 9, 2012 at 11:41 pm

      Gordon Clark’s last book was “The Incarnation,” a work in which he wrote 40 something odd pages and then he died. John Robbins finished it with a few added pages if I remembered. It’s probably the most disturbing book I’ve read by him; in this book he tries to work through the issue of what we mean by persons, substance and nature when we talk about the incarnation of Christ. I think this was not Gordon Clark at his finest. I did not think the direction he took was helpful…he ended up surveying what people mean by substance and person throughout the history of western philosophy, and I think this ended up committing a word study fallacy that we would want our preachers avoid (trying to read different meaning of something back into the past meaning of a word); he could have spent more time with situating the usage of terms historically when the church first start employing them; and while I benefited from his critique in realizing we need to be nuance and careful of words we use in theology and the importance of definitions, at the same time i can’t help but to be disturbed that his proposal causes more problems than it solves: He even said in his book that if others calls him a Nestorian, he’s okay with it; Clark ends up defining person as a composite of characteristics, but how do we distinguish that from nature? This definition makes nature and persons indistinguishable. I think there’s more that could be said, but I hope you, Ron Smith don’t see this as an attack but a brother’s legitimate concern.

  5. October 10, 2012 at 7:54 am


    Wow, Lynda, if you can help me find links to his reference to Gordon Clark that would be helpful!

    Jim, if you do a google site search at google.com — “Gordon Clark” site:www.sljinstitute.net — 12 results show up, where Dr. Johnson mentioned Gordon Clark in his sermon transcripts.

    Search results link tinyurl: http://tinyurl.com/9jtluct

    Most of these were in his 1 Corinthians series, which I haven’t listened to yet (early to mid 1990s, a few years after Clark’s death), referring to Clark’s “little book on 1 Corinthians.” SLJ also described Clark as a philosopher and sometimes mentioned Clark’s biography/background; mentioned that Clark had been at Believers Chapel; and shared a few things from Clark’s commentary on 1 Corinthians. A few times SLJ also mentioned things that Gordon Clark had said at Believers Chapel, such as:

    “Gordon Clark who was, as many of you know, here in Believer’s Chapel. For some meetings on one occasion, Dr. Clark has pointed out that it’s entirely possible for some of the students who are studying in our institutions to be actually disobedient to the word of God and opposed to the word of God and yet understanding it better than those who believe it as true. He gives an illustration of a student in class who gave the best answer concerning the nature of justification by faith. But the whole semester he had fought against the doctrine and still was fighting against it, but he was a careful student. And so he understood the grammatical statements of the word of God, but he just did not believe that they were true, the things that were said.”

    • October 10, 2012 at 3:47 pm

      Thank you Lynda for this. I’m pleasantly surprised, honestly! With all my concern with Gordon Clark I do want to say that Gordon Clark’s work has been tremendously helpful in my Christian thought life (I’ve spent more time in Clark’s work than Van Til’s work if we want to go by page counts).

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