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Rationalism and God

By R. J. Rushdoony
March 01, 1998

Rationalism is either indifferent or hostile to history, and some historians see history as irrational. This judgment is revealing, because for them all things are divided into either the rational or the irrational, as though the universe can be so divided. Reality, though, is not limited to these two categories, nor is rationality the criterion by which reality is to be judged.

The problem with rationalism is apparent in many scholars, and an example of it is Etienne Borne, a French Roman Catholic scholar. His study of Atheism is a curious one in that atheism is discussed in non-Biblical terms. There is thus no discussion of Psalm 14:1, "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good." Psalm 14:1 tells us, first, that the fool is a vile person, the meaning of nabal. He is contemptible in his person and in his thinking. Second, the fool is a corrupt man whose works are abominable. For Borne, however, as a professor of philosophy, the atheist is not a fool but a thinker facing valid problems. Paul tells us, "the carnal mind is enmity against God: For it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Rom. 8:7). Is the atheist a sinner in theology but an earnest and sincere doubter in philosophy? Can he be God's enemy, despising God's law, and yet a careful and unbiased reasoner in philosophy? Rationalism apparently lacks "common sense"!

Of Hegel, Borne wrote,

But Hegel did not do what he set out to do. He claimed to be writing a fifth gospel, that of pure reason, substituting the God of the philosophers and the scientists for the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, for the God felt in the heart. [Etienne Borne: Atheism, p. 44. New York, NY: Hawthorne Books, 1961]

This is as close as he comes to seeing the clear antithesis between rationalism and Christianity. Borne recognized that for men like Auguste Comte the death of God meant the freedom and true birth of reason (ibid., p. 111). Borne, like modernist Protestantism, assumes the autonomy of reason as the critical judge of all things.

Now a curious fact accompanies all theories of the autonomy of reason as the judge of all things. Whether in the thinking of Auguste Comte, with his humanistic "church," or with Roman Catholicism, or modernist Protestantism, there must be a strong church because there is at best a very weak "God." For most humanists, their church is the state or the school.

Borne, in discussing St. Thomas Aquinas, noted,

But for him, the most scientific of theologians, the simple fact of atheism is itself sufficient to establish an important preliminary conclusion: God is not immediately knowable in and for himself, for if God were immediately evident there would be no atheists. A stricter philosophical argument confirms this commonsense inference. (ibid., p. 21)

This is an amazing statement. Psalm 14:1 makes very clear that the atheist is a base and contemptible person. Psalm 19 tells us of the inescapable knowledge of God, for, as v. 1 declares, "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork." St. Paul in Romans 1:18-22 tells us that the knowledge of God is inescapable knowledge which men suppress in their unrighteousness, because they are evil. The Bible never argues for the existence of God because it is much more inescapable than the knowledge of the sun.

We must therefore insist, as against the rationalists, that the existence of God is not a matter for proof but the very ground for all proof and for all reason. To begin with rationalism and the "proofs" of God is to substitute an imaginary god for the living God.

But all too many theologians and philosophers bypass the Bible to give us a god that satisfies the criteria of autonomous man and his rationality. They bypass the God of Scripture because he is totally alien to the god of reason. If man is ultimate, and if his reason is the arbiter of reality, a basic premise of rationalism, then man is the judge over all things, and no authority can be claimed for anything contrary to autonomous reason. There is a vast difference between reason under God and autonomous reason. But man is a creature of God, and he is not nor can be autonomous. Moreover, as a sinner, man has a vested interest in making himself autonomous, and his reason the judge. Rather than facing the Judge, man claims to be his own judge! Autonomous man insists that the God of Scripture does not exist, and he offers the world a better god. The Bible, God's revelation, becomes an account of man's development in his awareness of being. The religious experiences of the prophets of old were supposedly colored by their cultural limitations, and by their lack of scientific and philosophical maturity and knowledge.

Moreover, the rationalist will make no note of the noetic effects of sin. Man can make his own norms and standards, and these are best corrected by man, not by God.

All this means that the religion of the tempter, Genesis 3:5, is replacing the revelation of God Himself. Man prefers his own versions of revelation, and he is determined to be judge over God than to be judged by him.


Topics: Philosophy, R. J. Rushdoony

R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965.  His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.”  He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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