Buswell vs Clark


Wayne Sparkman, director of the PCA Historical Center, has posted an interesting exchange from 1947 between J. Oliver Buswell and Gordon Clark.  Buswell, who was a former president of Wheaton College and Dean of Covenant Seminary, was also a proponent of the “classical” or the “natural theological” approach to apologetics and favors many of the arguments defended by Michael Sudduth, Paul Manata and others.  The Buswell/Clark exchange is helpful for those who seem to have difficulty distinguishing the presuppostional apologetics from the NT approach.  For example, concerning the so-called “proofs” of God’s existence Clark writes:

… Dr. Buswell said, “Dr. Clark persists in challenging the traditional evidences for the Christian view of God on the ground that they do not give geometrical demonstration.” This sentence is inaccurate. Nowhere in A Christian Philosophy of Education did I disparage Christian evidences. Chapter two attempted to forewarn some over enthusiastic Christians against pressing evidences too far and falling into a trap. If anything, my view shows how evidences are possible. They are not possible when viewed as furnishing strict demonstration. Dr. Buswell continues, “But he does not answer the fact that geometry never can demonstrate the existence of anything.” Of course geometry cannot demonstrate the existence of anything physical. It does demonstrate in its construction theorems the existence of certain figures. And these, I should hold, are just as “real” as any physical object. But all this is beside the point. My purpose in referring to geometry was not to discuss the reality of ideal figures, but to indicate examples of rigorous logical proof. The theorems of geometry are demonstrated. There is no fallacy in the argument. Given the premises there is not any theoretical possibility that the conclusion might not follow. Dr. Buswell also writes, “I deny that the traditional proofs for the existence of God ‘were supposed to start from neutral facts . . .’ . . . No competent theologian claims that any inductive argument, or any argument for any existing thing affords a ‘demonstration’ in this impossible sense.” But I believe that Dr. Buswell is mistaken on this point. I apprehend that this is exactly the Thomist or Roman Catholic position. The Roman Catholic theologians claim that it is possible to begin with the fact of motion and, without any theological assumptions, prove by strict logic that God exists. Their whole system proceeds on the assumption that all knowledge is based on sensation, that the mind has no form of its own, and is actually nothing before it thinks. Then by a process of abstraction from sensory material, theological conclusions can be obtained with syllogistic certainty. But the closer I examine the Thomistic arguments for the existence of God, the more I am convinced that the syllogisms are invalid. The more too I am convinced that the sensory epistemology underlying them is false. And the more I prefer to stress presupposition and innate knowledge rather than induction and “unprejudiced,” neutral experience.

There is also an interesting discussion of Clark’s distinction between individuals and systems.  I think this might be of particular interest to those who have had the distinct displeasure of wasting their time discussing anything with Marc Carpenter or his one “Outside the Trailer Park” follower.   To this point which was completely lost on Carpenter many years ago as I’m sure will be today, Clark writes:

In order further to elucidate, I must ask agreement to the proposition that all men are more or less inconsistent. The fact that you and I are born again Christians does not mean that everything we think is Christian truth. This should be obvious because we sometimes contradict each other. If you are right, I am wrong; and in this case what I believe is not a part of the Christian system. Hence clarity requires a sharp distinction between what a given person thinks and what the system really is. If there were no such distinction, the beliefs of anyone who called himself a Christian could be taken for Christianity. Indeed, this is the point of view that Modernism with its anti-intellectualism actually adopts. To define Christianity the modernist does not determine the exact meaning of what the Bible says; he simply notes what ideas happen to be popular in his ecclesiastical fraternity. Accordingly the point must be emphasized that a Christian, even a true Christian, and Christianity are two different things. The Christian is inconsistent. Christianity is the whole consistent truth. Similarly an atheist and atheism are two different things. Atheism, a system, is as consistent as any false system can be. But an individual atheist not only may, but does believe propositions inconsistent with his professed atheism.

For the complete exchange see:

Buswell Reviews Clark (1947)   

Clark’s Reply

Buswell’s Surrejoinder

Clark Elaborates His Approach

Buswell Sees Progress!

Clark Gets the Last Word

Explore posts in the same categories: Gordon Clark

14 Comments on “Buswell vs Clark”

  1. Steve M Says:

    Truth is always and must be consistent. Falsehood is always and must be inconsistent. As Clark points out, even true Christians are inconsistent. As we grow in our knowledge of the truth, we become more and more consistent. I don’t believe that any of us will become totally consistent in this life.

    Atheists, on the other hand, must be inconsistent. They can, at times, maintain a facade of consistancy, but at some point it must break down.

  2. Hugh McCann Says:

    There is also an interesting discussion of Clark’s distinction between individuals and systems.

    Like MODEL Natural Theology vs. PROJECT NT? ;)!

    I think this might be of particular interest to those who have had the distinct displeasure of wasting their time discussing anything with Marc Carpenter or his one “Outside the Trailer Park” follower.

    Howling, this! :)!

    ‘Though I think they’re IN the trailer park…

  3. Denson Dube Says:

    “Like MODEL Natural Theology vs. PROJECT NT?”
    Not quite! If the system is Christianity, the Word of God, it is presupposed true. Therefore, one has grounds of separating “the system” from “the person”. In NT, the status of the project itself is in question, unless of course you are Sudduth. The models proffered are in fact an attempt at constructing the project. There is no project without the models. Michael is abusing Clark with this obvious plagiarism.
    As always, thanks Sean for another excellent post.

  4. LJ Says:

    “… Marc Carpenter or his one “Outside the Trailer Park” follower.”

    So funny!

  5. Steve M Says:

    Is it true that Marc Carpenter still has a follower that he has not declared is lost?

  6. Denson Dube Says:

    Yeah! Marc carpenter!

  7. Sean Gerety Says:

    @ Steve. I don’t follow Marc’s hallucinations. Although, I’m pretty sure he’s excommunicated his dog.

  8. Hugh McCann Says:

    I believe his wife & children were excommunicated in June, thus completely purifying the church.

  9. Sean Gerety Says:

    Now he only has mirrors to contend with. ;-P

  10. Hugh McCann Says:

    And the smoke.

  11. LJ Says:

    good roast.

  12. Sean Gerety Says:

    I thought some here might be interested that Marc Carpenter’s one follower, Chris Duncan (he has posted here in the past but I banned him), contacted me last night. He was not at all pleased with the remarks here and wrote:

    You know that I think of you as an unregenerate one who makes a superabundance of swelling statements that are stripped of spine. However, this does not keep me from being concerned when tragedy strikes even one whom I count as a spiritual enemy. I went to this newly created blog of yours and was a bit surprised at the blatant sexual immorality (e.g., endorsing sexual lust (“saaaxy”) and allowing one’s daughter to wear the attire of an harlot). Are there any moral professing Calvinists around?

    Now, it’s one thing to attack a man, but to attack his critically injured daughter is quite another. This is a sick new low even coming from the one member of “Outside the Trailer Park.”

  13. […] Buswell vs Clark (godshammer.wordpress.com) […]

  14. To me Klaas Schilder’s dissertation Zum Begriffsgeschichte des Paradoxons is the most thorough discussion of the Philosophical questions surrounding the paradox by a calvinist scolar. Sofar most people have ignored the similarities between these two peculiar but very influential Calvinist philosopher-theologians.

    Additionally, Buswell’s criticism of Van Til also points to allmost identical positions on covenant theology.

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