Empirical Religion

Experience and God, by John E. Smith (Oxford, 1968, 209 pp., $4.75) is reviewed by Gordon H. Clark, professor of philosophy, Butler University, Indianapolis, Indiana.

In the first, the shorter, the basic, and therefore the more important part of this book, the author, John E. Smith, defends the philosophy of empiricism so that in the second and much longer part he can construct an empirical religion and theology.

In defense of empiricism Smith fulminates against restricting experience to sensation and in particular against the subjective idealism that results from such restriction. Experience is encounter; it is objective, not subjective, a critical product of the intersection between reality and a self-conscious being. Experience does not reside uniquely in the person who has it. Indeed, experience is not mental at all; it has a social character. “The experience of being a self distinct from a world of events and other selves is itself an event, and one that is usually accompanied by a shock.”

I myself cannot recall any such shock. I seem always to have realized that I was not the little boy who lived next door. Perhaps before this is pronounced unusual, a poll should be taken. I remember being hit by a baseball bat at an early age, as the batter slung it aside and ran for first. The game no doubt was a social situation, but the hurt and bruise were private and individual. So, too, when smallpox may have threatened, the doctor vaccinated me, the individual; he did not vaccinate the social situation.

Then, again, even if experience is an encounter with reality, there is no guarantee that this encounter gives more accurate information than the subjective idealist would allow it. My own encounter with allegedly ...

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