Clark Not-So-Quick Quote

I realize that it’s back to back Clark Quick Quotes (can you really get enough), but I was recently in a very short and not very productive discussion/debate with one of the more thoughtful Vantilians I’ve met and never got around to sharing this excellent quote from Clark below.  So I thought I would do so here.  I should add that by “thoughtful Vantilian” what I mean is that he, among other things, rejects VT’s indefensible rejection of any univocal point of contact between God’s thoughts and man’s and even agrees with Clark that the conclusions of inductive arguments are not cognitive; i.e., they don’t provide knowledge.  Yet, in spite of the significant common ground I have with this particular Vantilian, and given his rejection of most of Van Til’s epistemological errors, he still maintains that sensation is a medium by which we come to know any number of things and that sensation plays a role in the acquisition of knowledge.

Now, while it may be the case that we were simply talking past each other, most who are familiar with Clark will immediately recognize that Clark was a thorough going anti-empiricist and assigned no role whatsoever to sensation in the acquisition of knowledge.  For whatever reason this is an unfathomable position to the minds of many who believe that sensations, whatever they may be, are reliable and are means to knowledge.  Admittedly a common problem, but not a view that should be associated with Clark.  I mean, how many times did Clark have to address in one form or another the question, “don’t you know you have a bible in your hands?”  Among a number of other references where Clark answers this objection, I pointed out Clark’s reply to Robert Reymond in his posthumously published, Clark Speaks From The Grave. In response to this reference, and after insisting that he was completely familiar with Clark’s reply to Reymond, my interlocutor replied:

Clark’s writing the book actually presupposes that he believes that the senses play a role in knowledge acquisition! His issue with the role of sensory perception was that it is not what some make it out to be. It’s a medium and no more. Again, I’ve pointed this out above so I won’t rehearse it again here. Even if we disagree on Clark, you might want to decide for yourself whether your senses played any role in your salvation. Remember the verse: “How can they hear without a preacher?” Did your ears or eyes play no part in your coming to know your savior lives?

Of course Clark argued the exact opposite in the above mentioned book and instead argued that seeing and hearing in Scripture are not the result of having one’s retinas stimulated or eardrums tickled, but rather seeing and hearing are metaphors for understanding and belief. Matthew 13:13 and John 8:47 are just two of a dozen or more examples that support Clark’s theory. The road to Emmaus provides another interesting example as does Peter’s confession Matthew 16.

Another example from Clark own ink scratchings is his response to George Mavrodes’ criticism concerning the question, “don’t we have to read our bibles”:

The substantial question is how do we know the contents of the Bible. If Louis XIV or my wife could be replaced with an imposter twin, then maybe the Bible in my hand is a cunningly devised substitute. Mavrodes lays this on rather heavily, and I am glad that he does. So few people are willing to give the point any serious attention. He also mentions, and I wish he had discussed, solipsism; there are also the skeptical arguments of Carneades and Aenesidemus; and as well Descartes’ omnipotent deceptive demon. In fact, until these arguments are successfully circumvented, no one has a firm basis on which to object to my general position. If anyone tries to avoid this material and, relying on common opinion, charges me with paradoxes, he has failed to grasp even the first point.

I recommend the entire discussion which can be found on the sidebar of the Trinity Foundation website since both Mavordes objections and Clark refutation of Mavorades are excellent and touch on a recurring theme raised by Clark’s critics.  With all this as the backdrop, and since I didn’t have my copy of Clark Speaks From the Grave handy, and since it was clear that the discussion wasn’t progressing in any fruitful manner, as a matter of fact it was clear that he wanted to end it and accused me of not advancing the argument and even misrepresenting Clark, I decided to publish the quote from Clark Speaks From the Grave here.  Enjoy.

The main and more philosophic reply to [Robert L.] Reymond’s widely accepted view, that sensations must play a role in the learning  process, is directed against two words, “sensation” and “role.” Clark’s reply to both is the same, viz., they convey no meaning. Like nearly, one could say all, Clark’s empirical critics within the evangelical movement, Reymond  refuses to define sensation. If it be defined as Aristotle and John Locke defined it (though these two did not completely agree) there is no such thing. Augustine made that quite clear. We never see a poem with our eyes nor do we ever hear a tune with our ears. A single note may be a  sensation, but it is not a tune. In ordinary parlance we must hold in mind, remember, compare, judge a series of notes in order to “hear” a tune. Similarly, no one has ever see a tree. Since Clark was so deeply influenced by Augustine, his critics are remiss in not meeting Augustine’s position. For that matter they take no notice of the Hegelian Brand Blanshard. This anti-Chrisitian Hegelian Professor of Philosophy at Yale University, a truly brilliant scholar, restricted the occurrence of sensation to the first few months of infancy. No adult ever had a  sensation. If, however, Reymond accepts Kant’s view of sensation, and continues consistently,  God becomes unknowable, or at best a regulative or heuristic principle, not a constituent of the universe. That is to say, “God” is a method of pursuing knowledge, particularly ethical knowledge. God is not three Persons, nor even a thing to be known.

Clark likewise objected to the term “role”.  Reymond left it utterly vague. One could say that eating food plays a role in the learning process, since if one starves to death he can no longer learn. Most college students would say, contrary to Augustine’s De Magistro, that the college professor plays a role in their learning process, if even a minor role. But what role? Then too, remember how sensation or perception played a role in Plato’s theory. As one sees a harp and is reminded of a certain musician, so when one sees a crude square drawn in the sand, one remembers the perfect square in the World of Ideas. Sensation is thus a stimulus to reminiscence. Is this what Reymond meant?  Hardly possible. Then, what role? In the  intellectual arena an empiricist is under strict obligation to show how sensations produce   knowledge. That is what empiricism is.

Explore posts in the same categories: Gordon Clark, Theology

3 Comments on “Clark Not-So-Quick Quote”

  1. qeqesha Says:

    As Clark also put it, “If you do not know WHAT the role of the senses is in the acquisition of knowledge, you do not know that there is a role”


  2. magma2 Says:

    Do you know where you found that quote?

  3. qeqesha Says:

    I can´t remember but I think it was on a tape!

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