Clark Not-So-Quick-Quote

This past week I read a piece over at the Aquila Report concerning Mark Driscoll’s rejection of the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. That lead me to reread Gordon Clark’s discussion of eternal generation in his monograph on the Trinity.  And, that lead me to today’s Clark “Not-So-Quick-Quote” which has absolutely nothing to do with the eternal generation of the Son.  What really tweaked my interest, and what will probably drop this blog’s readership to zero,  is Clark’s brief “philosophical elucidations” which undergirds his entire discussion of the Trinity.

Years ago (and I do mean years) when I was a first year college student, I was very interested in taking every philosophy course my small university had to offer.  My goal was to see if my new found Christian faith, as fragile as it was, could stand the withering attack of the “philosophers,” or, more precisely,  the philosophy professors.  I even had one professor in a 300 level history of philosophy course announce on the first day of class that his goal was to shake us all from any remaining belief in God.  Pretty bold.  Interestingly, and as an aside, his main tool in that effort was David Hume, which, interestingly enough, is a central figure Clark uses, at least negatively, in support of Scripturalism.   Go figure.

Admittedly, not all my philosophy profs were quite that militant, but I remember early on being immediately attracted to Plato as I saw in his philosophic Realism an interesting, albeit warped, Pagan resemblance to Christianity; far more so than anything I ever saw in Aristotle (despite Thomas Aquinas affectionately referring to Aristotle as “The Philosopher”).   Even Socrates’ allegory of the cave has some parallels to Christianity.  Consider for example Peter’s description of Scripture as “the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:9).   As some might recall, for Socrates only the philosopher can, and after much strain and struggle, ascend from the cave in order to peer into the true light of Ideas and be freed, if only momentarily, from the world of shadows.  In Christianity every Christian can and is freed from the darkness and the shadows of this fallen word by coming to the true light of Christ revealed in Scripture.

With that brief introduction out of the way, here is a selection from Clark’s “Philosophic Elucidations”:

The philosophy used here is first of all a form of Realism.  There are several kinds.  In the 1930’s there was a sort of materialistic realism. But whatever the variety, realism is such because it asserts a knowledge of the “real” object, and not a sensory or other type of representation of it.

Nearly all empiricists assert or imply that the real object never enters the mind and cannot be known [think too of Kant’s Ding an sich – SG].  Berkely was an exception. The usual notion is that the human mind takes a photograph of what is “out there,” with the obvious result that the object itself is unknowable.

Realists claim that the mind grasps, gets, has, knows the real object, though of course the real objects are not spatial or physical.  Plato called them Ideas, eternal and immutable. Although the present treatise is as realistic as it could be made, it differs from Plato in that Ideas are replaced by propositions.

The reason is that a single X can neither be known nor expressed.  The best we do with human beings is to use proper names: John Doe, Bill Smith, and George Washington.  But there are not enough proper nouns to supply each person with a unique name.  My wife and I knew three girls named Helen Andrews.  For this reason computer-minded bureaucrats give us numbers: Good morning, Mr. 376-598024.  But there is nothing in the number, nor in the name either, that describes the person to us.  The name George Washington tells us nothing about anybody.

This is also true of an isolated Aristotelian concept and of an allegedly physical thing.  Suppose I meet a friend on the street and greet him with the single word “cat.” My astonished listener is likely to reply, “What?”  A single noun, all by itself, and a single Platonic Idea as well in isolation, has no meaning. But if one should say, “the cat is black,” the proposition conveys a meaning.  It may be true, or it may be false, but it is not meaningless.

Now, the Bible is largely a series of propositions.  There are of course some interrogatory sentences, and a few exclamations.  But the Bible is largely propositional.  One or two of my critics have suggested that God does not think in propositions.  Where in the Bible, one may ask, is such a suggestion hinted at?  If God does not think in propositions, where did all the Biblical propositions come from? If God does not think in propositions, how could he ever know that “David was king of Israel”? The Bible teaches that God is truth; and a single word, without unexpressed connotations, can never be true.  A single word has no meaning. Truth is always a matter of the relationship between a subject and a predicate.

Scripture says that God is a God of knowledge.  That God is truth is one of Augustine’s most fundamental theses.  The opposing view gives us only a photograph taken by a defective lens, and to make it worse it gives us no method of judging the accuracy of the photograph.

But if anyone assert that it is completely wrong to begin with realistic epistemology, one need only recall that nominalism provides no basis for federal headship and the imputation of righteousness and justification by faith.  It provides no basis for talk about the human race.  In nominalism there is no human race.  In order to have any Christian doctrine at all, universal propositions are necessary and indispensable. (The Trinty 126-129)

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


  1. I’ve always struggled with this. “Real objects are not spatial or physical.” Does this mean that *nothing* is spatial or physical? If so, these words are meaningless. If the mind is a collection of propositions, what is the fleshly tent? Is it not also just another collection of propositions?

    What is the difference between (pardon my terminology; I simply do not know what other words to use) material and immaterial things?

    What about a proposition that is false? Does that proposition not actually exist? But all things exist, as Clark pointed out.

    Obviously, I am (for the moment) hopelessly confused on this point.

  2. Steve M Says:

    Patrick

    If your confusion were actually hopeless, you would be denying that you are confused and touting your confusion as the epitome of orthodoxy.

  3. LJ Says:

    Patrick: Obviously, I am (for the moment) hopelessly confused on this point.

    Good. The more confusion in your mind the more spiritual you become. Pretty soon you can be a Methodist 🙂

  4. Gus gianello Says:

    Patrick,
    —————
    I’ve always struggled with this. “Real objects are not spatial or physical.” Does this mean that *nothing* is spatial or physical? If so, these words are meaningless. If the mind is a collection of propositions, what is the fleshly tent? Is it not also just another collection of propositions?
    —————

    It is not objects that are real nor Plato’s ideas but propositions. You can know divine propositions and their logical implications–nothing else. I cannot know my wife. She is not in the Bible. Of course I am using the word “know” and the word “knowledge” in it strictest sense, as justified true belief. It is justified because it is revealed, it is true because that revelation is infallible, and it is belief because I must give mental assent. And we can add that it most also be propositional because there can be no knowledge with predication of infallible revelation. This Scripturalism.

    The reason Scripturalism is Christian Realism is that biblical revelation uses universals to predicate inclusions and prohibitions. Universal affirmatives and negatives denies induction–which is reasoning from the particular to the general. We can only deduct not induct. We can argue from a universal premise to a universal conclusion, that’s it. Therefore Scripturalism must be realistic and not Nominalistic. We do not believe that particulars can be known. Clark was constantly criticized for claiming that he did not know his wife. Scripturalism is counter intuitive and fully Scriptural. That is why his use of David Hume & arguments against Evidentialism and Empiricism are so devastating.

    Furthermore, the usage of scientific terminology such as material/immaterial betrays a naive capitulation to materialism. The Bible says visible or invisible. The body is not material it is visible. Over 90% of our bodies are made up of subatomic space. There is no reason why we ought to be able to touch anything.

    I suggest you read, “science and the belief in God” and that you familiarize yourself with the laws of Logic by reading Clark’s book. If you don’t know the difference between a subaltern, a contrary and a contrareity you need to read Clark’s book.

    Hope this helps to turn the utter confusion into just a dense fog.

    A brother in Christ,

    Gus Gianello

  5. Sean Gerety Says:

    Nice job Gus. JR was once flayed as a “heretic” by materialist Vern Crisler for not being willing to say that bodies are made of matter. Ironically, I’m thinking it’s Crisler who is flayed today as his hero, M. Sudduth, is now prancing around in a white robes playing bells at the San Fran airport while trying to grow a topknot. 🙂


  6. Gus, thanks for trying, but I’m still confused.

    1. Clark refers to propositions as “real objects,” but you say that objects are not real.

    2. Substituting the terms “visible and invisible” for “material and immaterial” doesn’t help. It hasn’t defined anything, just changed the word. I already assumed material/immaterial weren’t great terms, but you knew what I was talking about. Defining “visible” and “invisible” in a literal sense only leads to more confusion. Is Mt. Rushmore visible or invisible? I can’t see it.

    3. What’s subatomic space? Like, what is it *really*?

    4. I probably should read those works you recommended.

  7. LJ Says:

    Patrick wrote: Is Mt. Rushmore visible or invisible? I can’t see it.

    Ok, I’ll take a stab at this. In fact, GHC used a mountain, Mt. Blanca, in one of his books (can’t remember now which one, maybe An Intro to Christian Philos?) to illustrate his point. You ask about “seeing” Mt. Rushmore? Now, is Mt. Rushmore Washington’s nose? Is it the chunk of granite the nose is carved from? Is it the grain of compressed rock that makes up the granite? Is it the so-called “atoms” that make up the grain? Is it the boulder on the west slope that you can’t see right now, etc., etc.

    What “Mt. Rushmore” is, is the question. What is a “face?” Is it the eyes, the eyebrows, the nose, the lips … So do you really see a “face” or do you see individual things that make up the “idea” of “face?” Do you see Mt. Rushmore or do you see the individual things that make up what is the “idea” Mt. Rushmore?

    Now I may be confusing philosophical categories and making a mess of what could be a decent explanation by someone else. But I’m sitting here at my desk at work going broke so I figured I might as well go for broke!

    Cheers 🙂

    LJ

  8. Louis Breytenbach Says:

    Gus,
    Your comment:

    “It is not objects that are real nor Plato’s ideas but propositions. You can know divine propositions and their logical implications–nothing else.”

    I also need a little help.
    In Gen 2.7 I find the following proposition: “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”
    Was Adam mistaken when he later said of Eve: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh: she shal be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Verse 23).
    Also, creation ex nihilo implies that nothing existed before God spoke the world into being.
    What then is it that God created? If it is not matter, then what?
    Thank you,
    Louis Breytenbach

  9. Louis Breytenbach Says:

    Gus (and Sean),
    May I add: I fully aggree that the Bible only speaks about vissible::invisible. But what is it that we now see in the proposition stated in Hebrews 11.3: “Through faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are vissible”
    Thank you again for your time.
    Louis

  10. Cam Porter Says:

    Patrick,

    Regarding the “realness” of objects and knowledge concerning them, I think – and others can correct me if I’m off – that the thrust of Clark’s statement above is not some weird rejection of the reality of a sensory understanding of objects spatially or physically (some “Baptised Descartesianism”), but, *in the context of rejecting existentialism*, arguing that the reality and understanding of an object is arrived at not by virtue of the relationship between an autonomous human subject and that observed object (or the result of the examination), but by virtue of (to paraphrase Clark) objective propositions concerning it.

  11. Steve M Says:

    God, who is truth itself, is incorporeal. He is not spatial or physical. Does this mean He is not “real”? There are both true and false propositions. Both may be objects of belief, but only true propositions are the object of knowledge. Knowledge of what is not true is not knowledge at all. Truth or falsity are attributes of propositions alone. A proposition is the meaning of a declarative sentence. No meaningless thing qualifies as a proposition. If the mind “knows the real object” which is “not spatial or physical” this real object must be truth. What does truth smell like? What does it taste like? What does it feel like when you touch it? What sound does it make? What color is it? Is truth “real”?

    Christ said to the Father in a prayer for his people “Your word is truth”.

    Gus said, “You can know divine propositions and their logical implications–nothing else.”

    Patrick asks if “Real objects (of knowledge) are not spatial or physical.” Does this mean that *nothing* is spatial or physical?” I think it means that whatever is spatial or physical is not an object of knowledge.

    That makes perfect sense to me, but maybe I am the one who is hopelessly confused.

  12. Louis Breytenbach Says:

    Steve,
    Do you not think that the Devinly revealed proposition: “The LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground…” renders true knowledge about a physical and spatial living being, and therefore that I might have true knowledge of man in so far as, and to the extend that God chose to reveal this proposition and many others in his Word? I maintain that I have true knowledge of the objects of God’s creation since God, who is Truth, revealed it in the various propositions of the Creation acount.
    Louis.

  13. Sean Gerety Says:

    Louis, you can only know that God formed man from the dust of the ground because God has revealed it. Which, I believe, is your point. You certainly can’t arrive at that knowledge from studying either the ground or dust, which was Clark’s point. 🙂

  14. Steve M Says:

    Louis, you wrote, “I maintain that I have true knowledge of the objects of God’s creation since God, who is Truth, revealed it in the various propositions of the Creation acount.”

    What is the object of your knowledge? Is it the propositions or the spatial and physical entities?

    The propositions reveal truth. Apart from the propositions, do the spatial/ physical entities reveal truth?

    Is truth an attribute of something other than propositions? If so, please explain. I would, however, appreciate it if you would do so without using propositions. That would certainly clarify the point at issue.

  15. Louis Breytenbach Says:

    Steve,
    I think Sean has answered for me.
    Of man it is predicated that he was formed of the dust of the earth (in Hebrew the predicate is stated adverbially).
    The predicate states a fact about the creature man.
    I belive that I know the absolute truth (even if only in this respect)about the object “man” because, and only because God has revealed that much in his Word.

  16. Steve M Says:

    Louis

    Sean said, “Louis, you can only know that God formed man from the dust of the ground because God has revealed it.”

    You are apparently contending that Sean has somehow answered my subsequent questions for you. I don’t disagree with what Sean wrote, but I fail to see how either what he wrote or what you just wrote even responds to the questions I just asked, let alone answers them.

    Some things are predicated of man in propositions set forth in Scripture. Is the “absolute truth” (is there any other kind?) that you know (the object of knowledge must be truth) an attribute of the propositions from which you learned this information or is it an attribute of the spatial/physical entity of which you claim “knowledge”?

    My contention is that truth or falsity are attributes of propositions only. Only propositions are either true or false.

    If you are not going to answer my questions, just say so. Please don’t write something which pretends to be a response, but ignores what I have asked.

  17. Louis Breytenbach Says:

    Steve,
    So I flunked your test. However, I did not ignore what you have asked neither did I pretend to respond. Be it that my attempt seems foolish to you, I did both.
    However, I stand by my confession: I know that man was created from the dust of the earth. How? Because the Bible tells me so.
    Cheers.

  18. Steve M Says:

    “However, I stand by my confession: I know that man was created from the dust of the earth. How? Because the Bible tells me so.”

    Louis, in the declaration above, do you mean “man” in the sense of Adam (a man) or in the sense of Mankind?

  19. Sean Gerety Says:

    Steve, IMO you’ve misunderstood Louis and you two are basically in agreement. FWIW, I didn’t even think you were really asking question and were instead being rhetorical. So to answer your questions:

    “The propositions reveal truth. Apart from the propositions, do the spatial/ physical entities reveal truth?”

    No.

    “Is truth an attribute of something other than propositions?”

    No.

    🙂


  20. Wait a sec. Are we saying that there are non-propositional “spatial/physical entities”? I thought I was saying that a while back in another conversation, and someone said something about Kant’s “thing-in-itself.”

  21. Steve M Says:

    Sean

    I may well have misunderstood Louis, but I thought he was claiming as objects of knowledge spatial/physical entities rather than propositions. I did intend the questions as rhetorical, but that is because I thought the answers were obvious (by the way, they were the ones you gave). I did not get the impression that Louis agreed with the answers you just gave.

  22. Steve M Says:

    Patrick

    You ask, “Are we saying that there are non-propositional ‘spatial/physical entities’?”

    I am not sure who “we” are, but I said earlier:

    [Patrick asks if “Real objects (of knowledge) are not spatial or physical.” Does this mean that *nothing* is spatial or physical?”

    I think it means that whatever is spatial or physical is not an object of knowledge.]

    I added (of knowledge) to your question because, if you read the full sentence from Clark, those are the “real objects” on which he opines.


  23. Steve M., in the past conversation, I said something along the lines of, I do not think a chair. I think propositions about that chair. I know that chair propositionally, that is, via propositions.

    I was thinking of the chair as being a spatial/physical object which is therefore not an object of knowledge itself.

    This view was criticized (I can’t remember by who) as being too similar to Kant’s “thing-in-itself” which would actually lead to the impossibility of knowing the chair, and actually divorced propositions from the “true reality” of the material world.

    I don’t think that was quite what I intended to do. I did not intend to suggest that somehow the “material/spatial/physical/visible world” was somehow a deeper, unknowable, foundational reality. On the contrary, the world was created by the Word – propositions are the foundation. I only meant to distinguish a chair from a proposition. One is an object of thought, the other is an object of sitting in.

    This has implications for mind/body relationships. A mind is a collection of propositions. A body is a fleshly vehicle/tent/whatever that is somehow joined/associated/united/pick-your-term to a human mind.

    I am not now saying anything different from what I said before, so I am wondering if there is anyone in this discussion who would take issue with the view I just provided. My knowledge of Kant is lacking, so I would not be able to actually know if I am echoing him or not. I’m also not necessarily being dogmatic or even trying to defend this position; I’m just putting my current understanding out there in case it needs to be corrected.

    Thanks to everyone for the discussion 🙂

  24. Steve M Says:

    Patrick

    I think you are not as confused as you claim to be.

    I have also enjoyed the discussion.


  25. Steve M., I hope that is the case. On a related note, do y’all have a favorite term to describe the relationship between mind and body? I keep using “associated,” despite admitting it is vague and does not describe the association.


  26. […] Clark Not-So-Quick-Quote (godshammer.wordpress.com) […]


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