Clark and His Critics (ed. Ronald Nash)

Discussion in 'Book Reviews' started by BayouHuguenot, May 14, 2019.

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  1. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    This book is both an expansion upon and condensing of Clark’s earlier A Christian View of Men and Things. It highlights key points made in that foundational work, and in allowing other scholars to critique Clark, it lets Clark clarify his main argument. The formatting of the book is both clever and confused. It highlights key sentences in the margins, and the margins are wide enough for notes. But the actual structure of the book is left unexplained.

    Section one is Clark’s Wheaton Lectures, outlining his thoughts in A Christian View of Men and Things. The next 280 pages are critics’ responses to these lectures.

    Clark’s Views in a Nutshell

    I am not going to outline the whole book, but rather focus on the issues that drew the most attention.

    (1) Aristotle’s problem of individuation (pp. 31ff). If things are simply aggregates of other things, then what is the primary individual? If matter is simply pure potentiality, then it is nothing. Clark brings it to a point: “Which then is the individual: rock, mountain, or range? The question is embarrassing, for the identification of individuals cannot be made on the empirical basis Aristotle adopts” (Clark 31).

    (2) I think Clark created problems for himself on science. He should have said that scientism cannot justify itself and left it at that, rather than banking all on operationalism.

    (3) The Axiom of Revelation: So what’s Clark actually saying here? Is he saying (3a) we can only know what can be deduced from the Bible (which is what Mavrodes claims Clark says) or is he saying (3b) that the Axiom makes knowledge possible? The former is indefensible. That latter just might work.

    Let’s go to Mavrodes’ essay while we are at it. Mavrodes claims Clark holds to (3a). Clark rejects this. I tend to side with Clark, though Clark’s later disciples do hold to (3a). But Mavrodes goes beyond that, though. On Mavrodes’ outlook, it’s hard to see why he would hold to the truthfulness of the Bible. It got so bad that another critic of Clark, John W. Montgomery, actually took the time to rebut Mavrodes on the canon.

    The other two important essays are the ones by Montgomery and Nash. Nash tackles Clark’s epistemology and Montgomery his view of history.
  2. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)


    Would you say that we can come to know that anything is true outside of Scripture? Can we arrive at any truth apart from Scripture?

    It seems even pagans can know 1+1 = 2. But do we need a proof from Scripture for it to be true? Does the Bible have to prove that 1+1=2?
  3. alexandermsmith

    alexandermsmith Puritan Board Sophomore

    Who's side are we on in the Clark/Van Til debate?

    Has anyone read Douma's biography of Clark? I have it on my bookshelf to read.
  4. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    The question is too vague. As it stands, I can know e =mc2 without reading the Bible. If someone asks, but can you justify that on non-biblical grounds? Well, that's a different question and a good epistemologists can reverse the whole thing and ask "Well, can you justify your justifications?" That leads to a vicious infinite regress.

    I hold to natural law, so I believe we can know things apart from Scripture.
  5. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Clark was wrong to hold to univocal knowledge. Van Til was wrong to say that our thoughts never coincide with God's thoughts (which if consistent is pure skepticism).

    Clark is the better writer by far.
  6. alexandermsmith

    alexandermsmith Puritan Board Sophomore

    So the solution is analogical knowledge, is that right? Is there a writer on this issue that gets it just right?
  7. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Most of the Reformed tradition held to analogical knowledge. That sort of fits with the archetypal/ectypal distinction. The point was to deny that we can know God "as he is in himself," which I am not even sure what that kind of knowledge would look like.

    Clark thought that analogies ended in skepticism, and Van Til didn't really help the argument when he said our knowledge never coincides with God's (which means, necessarily, that we can't know anything. Since God knows everything, and our knowledge never intersects with his, then we know nothing).
  8. alexandermsmith

    alexandermsmith Puritan Board Sophomore

    So would you say, then, that Van Til took the analogical argument too far (by saying that our knowledge never coincides with God's) but that Clark was fundamentally in error to argue for the univocal point of view? Does that mean that Clark rejected, wholesale, the analogical argument?
  9. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    That is correct. To be fair to Van Til, he backed off of that extreme language later on. This is a case of where both sides failed to really draw from the historic Reformed position. Clark thought all analogical reasoning was disguised Thomism.
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  10. alexandermsmith

    alexandermsmith Puritan Board Sophomore

    Kinda sounds like the sort of debate that ends up causing more confusion than it does clarify and kinda didn't need to be had in the first place. Maybe I'm wrong.
  11. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Yeah. Both sides were at their worst and it had the bad effect of making Clarkians hate Van Tillians and the OPC for the last half century. That's a shame, too, because it made Van Tillians ignore Clark's writings, which are usually pretty good.
  12. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    When Van Til said that our knowledge never coincides with God's, he was saying that epistemology is never separable from ontology. If there is a coincidence in thought, a single point of univocity, then right at that point there is also a univocity of being. Van Til was completely correct on this point, and did not exaggerate at all. All human knowledge is ectypal, and that is ALL that Van Til was saying.
  13. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    I know that's what he meant, but that wasn't immediately evident in the trial, which is why I pointed out that CVT backed off that extreme formulation later on.
  14. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    I, for one, do not happen to think that the earlier statement was extreme. I appreciate most of what Clark was saying, and certainly don't discount the rest of Clark, and possess most of his books (and my father was his best friend), but I don't think he understood what was at stake in this particular debate. The Creator/Creature distinction is one that Clark verbally affirmed, but did not do so consistently. A single point of univocity in knowledge represents a violation of the Creator/creature distinction. That this does not devolve into skepticism is because God has prevented it with his revelation. Analogical truth is still truth, even if it is always ectypal in our case. This is what the post-Reformation tradition universally affirmed.
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  15. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    It's been a while since I looked at the document, but the way CVT phrased it wasn't glossed with respect to univocity, but to knowledge in general.
  16. RWD

    RWD Puritan Board Freshman

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