by Bill Nugent
Influential Christian scholar R. C. Sproul writes of the philosopher Immanuel Kant: “The philosophical revolution created by Kant may have had a greater impact than the Copernican revolution in science and more far-reaching consequences than the American Revolution in politics” (from The Consequences of Ideas by R.C. Sproul, page 117).
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was born in Konigsburg East Prussia where he spent his entire life. He was greatly influenced by the Enlightenment philosophers Jean-Jacques Rousseau, David Hume and Christian Wolff. The Enlightenment philosophers prided themselves on their application of reason and logic to philosophy.
Kant’s writings, which caused a major revolution in philosophy, radically limited the scope or application of reason. In 1781 he published his most famous book, titled Critique of Pure Reason,which has become a philosophical classic. It was a book that essentially “flipped the table over” and set the stage for the triumph of irrationality, subjectivism and radical existentialism that prevails in philosophy and in all academia down to the present day.
The title of the book, Critique of Pure Reason, speaks volumes. The title essentially says “Let’s deny reason” or “Down with reason” or “Let’s all be stupid.” In this book Kant not only attacks the reasoning of the Enlightenment skeptics like David Hume but even attempts to upend the time tested rational proofs for the existence of God put forward by Anselm (1033-1109) and Thomas Aquinas (1226-1274).
Kant asserts that man cannot really know anything beyond what is perceived by the senses. This was a thoroughly radical notion. Kant postulated that the existence of God cannot be proven by reasoning from nature. This contradicts not only Thomas Aquinas but directly contradicts what the New Testament says in the book of Romans “For since the creation of the world His [God’s] invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20 NASB). The Bible, in this passage, asserts that God can be known by what He created. Kant claims that He cannot be known by observing the creation. Kant’s first name, Immanuel, which means “God with us” is highly ironic!
Kantian philosophy and any philosophical system based on it would also contend with the Intelligent Design Movement. The Intelligent Design Movement is a movement among scientists who maintain that modern science itself has proven that the immense complexity of nature could not have come about by chance and therefore an intelligent designer – God – must exist. For instance microbiologists have proven that single-celled life forms such as bacteria are so amazingly complex (and exhibit irreducible complexity) that they could not have formed by random collisions of atoms in the primordial soup. They must have been designed by an intelligence far beyond humans. These scientists have observed nature and by reasoning from nature have concluded that God exists.
Kant’s philosophy gave rise to agnosticism, the false notion that God is unknowable. It is interesting to note that agnosticism is based on a rejection of reason or at least a rejection of reason’s ability to solve the matter of whether or not God exists. It is agnostics and their close cousins the atheists who must deny reason and make a naked leap of faith to maintain their positions. Kant’s philosophy has led to a rejection of God in philosophy and the virtual deification of the self in the radical existentialism of our own day. Postmodern philosophy has rejected reason and embraced subjectivity and has put its faith in the human self.
Christianity by contrast is not a stand alone faith unbuttressed by reason. Christianity is a reasonable faith that is based on historical evidence written down in the Bible by eyewitnesses. Christ proved to His disciples that He had indeed risen from the dead “by many infallible proofs” (Acts 1:3.) Christ didn’t simply appear to his disciples at a great distance but He came close to them and showed Himself alive.
The word “faith” means to trust in the ability of another. We trust in Christ to save us from our sins because Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead, conquering death. Christ did not deny reason. Faith and reason go hand in hand. Reason proves to us who Christ is and what He did. Faith is a relationship word. Faith has to do with our personal relationship with Christ through whom we receive forgiveness of sins. In his denial of reason, Immanuel Kant committed grave error.