Gordon Clark’s Argument From Truth

The following is from Ronald Nash’s intro to presuppositional apologetics,  Faith and Reason.  Thanks to Joel Tay for transcribing the passage.

____________________________
The Argument From Truth

604111Theists have more resources at their disposal than they often realize.  One oft-neglected argument for God’s existence invites us to reflect about the ground of truth. So far as I know, this argument makes its first appearance in Book 2 of Augustine’s On the Freedom of the Will, written in A.D. 395.  There is at least one clue that Thomas Aquinas thought the line of reasoning sound. Its tow major modern proponents appear to be Gordon H. Clark and Alvin Plantinga. Since Clark and Plantinga present different versions of the argument, that address audiences with somewhat different philosophical interests, I am going to look at the argument from both contemporary perspectives. This makes sense because it is sometimes easier to understand a difficult argument when approaching it from two different directions.  While Clark’s presentation is simpler, it may puzzle readers who are unaccustomed to talking about truth apart from propositions, the carriers of truth.  Plantinga’s version of the argument is more in tune with contemporary way in which philosophers typically think of truth.

Clark’s Version of the Argument   

Gordon Clark’s account of the argument from truth utilizes six steps:

1. Truth Exists

2. Truth is immutable

3. Truth is eternal

4. Truth is mental

5. Truth is superior to the human mind

6. Truth is God

1. “Truth exists.” Clark establishes this point by reminding us of the self-defeating nature of any attempt to deny the existence of truth. Since skepticism is false, there must be knowledge; and if there is knowledge, there must exist the object of knowledge, namely truth.

2. “Truth is immutable.” It is impossible for truth to change. As Clark says, “Truth must be unchangeable. What is true today always has been and always will be true.” For Clark, all true propositions are eternal and immutable truths. He has no use for pragmatic views of truth that imply that what is true today may be false tomorrow. If truth changes, then pragmatism will be false tomorrow-if, indeed, it could ever be true. Truth itself is unaffected by the fact that sentences like “I am now typing” are sometimes true and usually false. Since I’ll present a rather long argument in defense of this claim later in this chapter, I’ll assume that this possible problem can be answered and move on to Clark’s next point.

3. “Truth is eternal.” It would be self-contradictory to deny the eternity of truth. If the world will never cease to exist, it is true that the world will never cease to exist. If the world will someday perish, then that is true. But truth itself will abide even though every created thing should perish. But suppose someone asks, “what if truth itself should perish?” Then it would still be true that truth had perished. Any denial of the eternity of truth turns out to be an affirmation of its eternity.

4. “Truth is Mental.” The existence of truth presupposes the existence of minds. “Without a mind, truth could not exist. The object of knowledge is a proposition, a meaning, a significance; it is a thought.” For Clark, the existence of truth is incompatible with any materialistic view of man. If the materialist admits the existence of consciousness at all, he regards it as an effect and not a cause. For a materialist, thoughts are always the result of bodily changes. This materialism implies that all thinking, including logical reasoning, is merely the result of mechanical necessity. But bodily changes can be neither true nor false. One set of physical motions cannot be truer than another. Therefore, if there is no mind, there can be no truth; and if there is no truth, materialism cannot be true. Likewise, if there is no mind, there can be no such thing as logical reasoning from which it follows that no materialist can possible provide a valid argument for his position. No reason can possibly be given to justify an acceptance of materialism. Hence, for Clark, any denial of the mental nature of truth is self-stultifying. In Clarks words,

 “If a truth, a proposition, or a thought were some physical motion in the brain, no two persons could have the same thought. A physical motion is a fleeting event numerically distinct from every other. Two persons cannot have the same motion, nor can one person have it twice. If this is what thought were, memory and communication would be impossible…It is a peculiarity of mind and not of body that the past can be made present. Accordingly, if one may think the same thought twice, truth must be mental or spiritual. Not only does [truth] defy time; it defies space as well, for if communication is to be possible, the identical truth must be in two minds at once. If, in opposition, anyone wished to deny that an immaterial idea can exist in two minds at once, his denial must be conceived to exist in his own mind only; and since it has not registered in any other mind, it does not occur to us to refute it.”

To summarize Clark’s argument thus far, truth exists and is both eternal and immutable. Furthermore, truth can exist only in some mind.

5. “Truth is superior to the human mind.” By this, Clark means that by its very nature, truth cannot be subjective and individualistic. Humans know certain truths that are not only necessary but universal. While these truths are immutable, the human mind is changeable. Even though beliefs vary from one person to another, truth itself cannot change. Moreover, the human mind does not stand in judgment of truth: rather truth judges our reason. While we often judge other human minds (as when we say, for example, that someone’s mind is not a keen as it should be), we do not judge truth. If truth and the human mind were equal, truth could not be eternal and immutable since the human mind is finite, mutable, and subject to error. Therefore, truth must transcend human reason; truth must be superior to any individual human mind as well as to the sum total of human minds. From this it follows that there must be a mind higher than the human mind in which truth resides.

6. “Truth is God.” There must be an ontological ground for truth. But the ground of truth cannot be anything perishable or contingent. Since truth is eternal and immutable, it must exist in an eternal Mind. And since only God possesses these attributes, God must be truth.

“Is all this any more than the assertion that there is an eternal, immutable Mind, as Supreme Reason, a personal, living God? The truths or propositions that may be known are the thoughts of God, the eternal thoughts of God. And insofar as man knows anything he is in contact with God’s mind. Since further, God’s mind is God, we may… say, we have a vision of God.”

Therefore, When human beings know truth, we also know something of God’s nature. There is a sense in which all knowledge is a knowledge of God.

-Ronald Nash, Faith and Reason, p. 161 – 164

* For Clark’s argument see A Christian View of Men and Things 

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23 Comments on “Gordon Clark’s Argument From Truth”

  1. LJ Says:

    This argument, as ALL theistic arguments, “proves,” if it does indeed do that, only the existence of a god of some sort. The one true and living God, the Triune God, is revealed in Scripture alone and cannot be proved by arguments independent of Scripture.

    The “supreme being” proved in the argument may be called G-O-D, but if “it” is not the Trinity it is an arbitrary name only.

    Didn’t Clark imply as much in God’s Hammer? Quoting Barth:

    “Significant knowledge of God cannot be had, argues Barth, if “we reserve the question to which the doctrine of the Trinity is the answer (namely, Who God is) and deal first with his existence and his nature, as if this That and What could be determined otherwise than on the presupposition of the Who” (Church Dogmatics, I, 345). On the next page he continues, “If we do not know God in the way in which he reveals himself as the one, namely, distincte in tribus personis, the inevitable result is that nudum et inane duntaxat Dei nomen sine vero Deo in cerebro nostro volitat” (Calvin, Institutes, I.xiii.2). Or, in English, if we do not know God as one substance in three Persons, the inevitable result is a blank, empty name floating in our brains without any idea of the true God.”

    Excerpt From: Clark, Gordon. “God’s Hammer: The Bible and Its Critics (Gordon Clark).” The Trinity Foundation. iBooks.
    This material may be protected by copyright.

    LJ

  2. David Reece Says:

    He is assuming the biblical definition of God when he makes his argument. One of the hidden premises in this is the definition of God.

  3. Steve M Says:

    Christ’s claim “I am… the truth…” is a claim of deity. This is a very interesting post.


  4. Nash is attributing to Clark what can only be called an “ontological” argument for God’s existence. Clark would have rejected that view as the “rationalist” failure. Reason can never lead to the truth. Clark’s starting point Scripture and, therefore, all we know about God is deduced from Scripture, not reason apart from Scripture. Scripture, being a rational revelation, allows us to make deductions about truth, logic, and God. It is therefore the logic embedded in Scripture that tells us that man is the image of God, i.e. the rational soul is the image and likeness of God, who is a spiritual Being. I don’t disagree that Clark made the above deductions but I would argue that Clark starts with Scripture, not the ontological argument. The three classical arguments for God’s existence all fail, although AFTER we accept the axiom of Scripture the arguments can make sense to the Christ but only as presuppositions, not as logical proofs for God’s existence.

    Charlie


  5. Forgive the typos…. “to the Christian….” And “Clark’s starting point is Scripture …”

  6. Sean Gerety Says:

    Not sure why you think the above is a form of the ontological argument, other than the word is present. I don’t see anything that even approximates the idea that God is a being than which no greater can be conceived.

    Check out A Christian View starting on page 318 under “A Theistic World.” I think Nash does an excellent job delineating Clark’s argument there.

  7. Denson Dube Says:

    These arguments, at best, show that a Christian is not talking nonsense when they believe and talk about the God of scripture. They are ad hominem. I consider them a demonstration of the rationality and coherence of belief in God. However, the God of scripture has to reveal Himself and make Himself known to the sinner.

    Denying the truth is self refuting. The skeptic says “There is no truth.” But this proposition has to be true for the skeptic to register his point, which the skeptic intends to deny. When the God of scripture says he is truth, this is neither a nonsense proposition nor a metaphor, but literal. Truth is the first principle. Epistemic logic condemns the unbeliever who denies the God of scripture.

    There is a less popular result from epistemic logic called Fitch’s Paradox of Knowability(http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/fitch-paradox/). It says, if all truths are knowable in principle then all truths are in fact known. This is a demonstration of omniscience which I as a Christian ascribe to the God of scripture.
    The unbeliever calls it a paradox because he denies the God of scripture who is all truth.


  8. Sean, you misunderstood what I meant. I am not saying that “Clark’s view” is an ontological argument. I am saying that Nash is misrepresenting Clark’s view as a form of the ontological argument. I listened to a couple of Nash’s lectures in Sermon Audio or someplace and it seems to me that he rejected Clark’s presuppositionalism. Charlie


  9. Clark does not begin with reason. He begins with Scripture and then deduces everything from that axiom. That’s where Nash’s analysis fails. Nash nowhere even mentions Scripture in that passage. I haven’t read the book in question so I cannot say if he mentions Clark’s view in greater detail elsewhere. Logic is embedded in Scripture and we deduce that the architecture of God’s mind is logical from the rational revelation we have in Scripture. We do not deduce God’s rationality from our own rationality. Quite the opposite. We deduce that man is the image and likeness of God from the fact that God reveals Himself in Scripture as rational and logical. God’s image is Logic. (John 1:1; Hebrews 1:1-3).


  10. Special Divine Revelation as Rational The handiwork and the glory of God displayed by the heavens and the firmament have been called general divine revelation. In this category one may also include the constitution of human personality, for man himself is a creation of God and in some sense bears the marks of his Creator. This “light of nature, and the works of creation and providence, do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet they are not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation.” It is thus that the Westminster Confession briefly warns us that general revelation is inadequate. This inadequacy is partly a result of the noetic effects of sin, but there is a prior and inherent inadequacy as well. Inadequacy of General Revelation The beclouding effects of sin upon the mind as it tries to discover God and salvation in nature may best be seen in the divergent results obtained among the pagan religions. The ancient Babylonians, Egyptians, and Romans looked on the same nature that is seen by the modern Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist. But the messages that they purport to receive are considerably different. This, which is so evident when these faraway religions are mentioned, holds true also within Western civilization. What the humanist and logical positivist see in nature is entirely different from what the orthodox Christian believes about nature. Even if the humanist professes to discover in experience certain moral ideas and spiritual values that are at least superficially similar to those of the Bible, it can well be supposed that he actually learned them from his Christian heritage and not from an independent study of nature and man. The kindly atmosphere of humanitarianism is notably absent from societies to which the Christian message has not been taken. The existence of divergent concepts of God, of moral ideals, and above all, of schemes of salvation, show the power of sin in the mind of man; but they also show the inherent inadequacy of general revelation.

    Gordon Clark (2011-07-02T18:48:21+00:00). God’s Hammer: The Bible and Its Critics (Gordon Clark) (Kindle Locations 1191-1208). The Trinity Foundation. Kindle Edition.

  11. Sean Gerety Says:

    @Charlie. Fair enough. However, I do think Nash presents a very fair summary of Clark’s points in the section from A Christian View I cite above.

    FWIW I agree with Denson and that Clark’s argument is not so much a proof (although the conclusion does follow from the premises) as it is an ad hominem argument.


  12. Here is where Nash’s analysis is off: “6. “Truth is God.” There must be an ontological ground for truth. But the ground of truth cannot be anything perishable or contingent. Since truth is eternal and immutable, it must exist in an eternal Mind. And since only God possesses these attributes, God must be truth.”

    Absolute truth depends on logic and since God IS logic, there is no higher truth than God himself. This is a form of the ontological argument. HOWEVER, Clark NEVER bases his theology on reason or rationalism per se. He presupposes the AXIOM: Scripture ALONE is the Word of God. Unless we begin with Scripture EVEN claiming that God IS Truth or Truth IS God is a meaningless statement which begs the question. Only by beginning with Scripture do we have a basis for deducing truths about God. God must be truth because Scripture says He is. Sola Scriptura. WCF Chapter 1:1.

    Charlie


  13. I have read Christian Philosophy and A Christian View of Men and Things. I know that Clark argues along the lines that Nash shows above. My point, though, is that truth begins with the rational revelation in Scripture, not the other way around. Peace… Charlie


  14. Also, for what it’s worth, I have been reading the KJV since I was 8. The plain meaning of the Scriptures refutes Pentecostalism and all other irrational and experiential religion. I don’t know how I got caught up in that junk. I was seriously confused when I read Louis Berkhof’s Systematic theology and discovered the doctrine of “common grace” and the “free offer” there. It sounded like Arminianism to me. The Van Tilian theology of paradox is confusing because it is itself confused. It was like turning on a light bulb in my brain when I discovered Gordon H. Clark’s Scripturalism. Forgive the analogy:) While I prefer to work things out for myself, I do appreciate your blog and the Trinity Foundation. I’ve been walking and listening to Robbins’ and Clark’s lectures for some time now.

    I’m no expert in logic. But I have read Clark’s book on logic recently. Some of the exercises were beyond my time and patience. I’ll have to go back and re-read the book and give it another shot later:)

    I think the bottom line is that even a plow boy can read the Bible and understand the plain texts. The perspecuity of Scripture is a non-negotiable doctrine.

    Also, I had Dr. Jerry Walls for Christian philosophy class when I was a student at Asbury. Walls studied under Alvin Plantinga at Notre Dame. Walls gave us an overview of foundationalism. Foundationalism is really just a complicated rehash of the ontological argument, in my opinion. And it took me awhile to connect the dots, but Jerry Walls’ critique of compatibilism and advocacy for libertarian free will comes straight of Plantinga’s own views. For that reason, I think Plantinga is more in line with Rome than with Geneva. It should not be a surprise that Arminians think papists are great. Plantinga is supposed to have come from a Dutch Reformed background I think. Unfortunately, it must have been a liberal one–pelagian.

    If you think Westminster Seminary PA is bad, you ought to check out the so-called “Evangelical” Wesleyan seminaries. They are worse. Ironically, Asbury was established in reaction to modernism in the 1920s. As far as I can tell, the seminary is now blatantly neo-orthodox.

    Charlie

  15. LJ Says:

    ” … Clark’s argument is not so much a proof (although the conclusion does follow from the premises) as it is an ad hominem argument.”

    Yes. The Van Tilians like to trot out the so-called TAG (transcendental argument for the existence of God) and praise CVT as some ground breaking apologist originating its use in presuppositionalism. But TAG’s like all theistic arguments are only as good as their ad hominem success. Meet an educated unbeliever and they’ll emasculate the argument; “god” is not GOD.

    The one true and living God of the Bible cannot be proved by argument and demands that his Word be believed as the presupposition of all arguments, indeed, as the beginning of all thought.

    I’m open to criticism here since I’m no expert on these things. But after reading Clark, Van Til, and many others I’m convinced Clarkian presuppositionalism is the ONLY method that is Biblical, and all theistic arguments fail.

    LJ

  16. LJ Says:

    I didn’t know where else to post this but I had to share that I just got an autographed copy of Thales to Dewey last night at church. GHC signed it in 1957. A kid I’m friends with bought it on Amazon and when I saw it was signed by GHC I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

    Hey, I just thought, it’s got Clark’s DNA on it, right? I wonder if I cut the signature out and put it under my tongue I’ll get smarter?

    🙂

    LJ

  17. Sean Gerety Says:

    Very cool. If you can, post a pic. 🙂

  18. LJ Says:

    Will do. I’ll take a pic tonight.

  19. LJ Says:

    I’m learning how to do this from an iPad and lets see if it works …

    Then …

    LJ

  20. LJ Says:

    I tried to put a link to the pics of Clark’s book from my iPad. It says its awaiting moderation. The pics are jpeg … whatever that means.

    LJ

  21. Sean Gerety Says:

    Very cool. Thanks for posting.

  22. wishwon Says:

    I wish that Clark’s presentation of the argument was presented and not Nash’s. It’s not that Nash was wrong, It’s just that this argument is isolated from the rest of the book. This has caused some confusion I see in these comments. For example, right before the argument is presented, which is immediately under the title “A Theistic World”, Clark says:

    “In addition to the argument concerning a priori categories to make learning possible, another condition is requisite that would be difficult to defend except on a theistic basis. Obviously if skepticism is to be repudiated and if knowledge is a reality, truth must exist.”

    He then enters into his argument. Basically he argues that truth is a very difficult thing to defend without God, not that “since we have truth, we therefore have God.” He is saying that without bases for truth, we have no bases for knowledge, and if we have no bases for knowledge, then we are reduced to scepticism. Truth, therefore, can be defended “on a theistic basis.”

    Hope that clears things up a bit.


  23. […] is necessary. Ronald Nash wrote a good summary of Clark’s “argument from truth,” transcribed here (it should be read to grasp the full meaning of below). Readers well-read in Hoppe and Mises will […]


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