Collect of the Day
O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Saturday, March 05, 2011
[The following is the continuation of The Answer given by Dr. Gordon H. Clark and his supporters to The Complaint by Dr. Cornelius Van Til and his supporters. The Answer will be given in installments as time permits. To read the pdf image file click on the links. The following is installment one of the chapter on incomprehensibility. See Part One and Part Two.]
Clark's Answer to Van Til: On Incomprehensibility: Part Three
The most plausible passage that the complainants cite in support of their position is Isaiah 55:8, 9. If their doctrine is not found here, it is difficult to see where in Scripture it may be found. The passage is: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith Jehovah. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” At first glance this passage may seem favorable to the position of the complainants. It seems to teach that we cannot think God's thoughts—we cannot even think God's thoughts after him. But since, as has been seen, this idea is not supported by the other passages cited, one should be wary of jumping to the conclusion that it is inescapably taught here. The context of these verses aids in understanding the prophet's meaning. In a wonderful passage commanding the wicked to return unto the Lord, the promise is held out that God will abundantly pardon, “for my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are you ways my ways.” The point is that man would say that the wicked should never be pardoned, or could never be pardoned. That is the way a man would think. God, however, thinks differently. He knows something that man does not know. God knows that he will send his Son to bear the penalty of sin, so that justice and mercy may meet. Thus God's ways and thoughts with reference to salvation were as different from man's as heaven is high above the earth. The significance of the verses therefore lies in a comparison between human thoughts about salvation and God's thoughts about it. God had plans about sending a substitutionary Saviour, which were not revealed to man, and those plans were so wonderful that there was no comparison with earthly standards. Of course there are two levels indicated in this passage: on the divine level there is rational knowledge, while on the human level are ignorance and false ideas. There are two levels, to be sure, but not two levels of knowledge. One should therefore hesitate to claim that this passage teaches that the “gulf which separates divine knowledge from human knowledge” is unbridgable by God if he chooses to bridge it, for in the case in question as a matter of fact he did bridgge it in sending the Saviour. Now we can see and understand partially, at least, but nevertheless truly, the reason by God could pardon repentant sinners in the Old Testament dispensation. We conclude therefore that even this most plausible passage cited does not really support the complainants' position regarding the incomprehensibility of God.
Brief reference should be made to certain passages which among many others more pointedly support Dr. Clark's contention that God is truly knowable insofar as he reveals himself to man. John 17:3 says, “This life is eternal that should know thee the only true God, and him whom thou didst send, even Jesus Christ.” Knowing God is said to be the essence of eternal life. No limits are placed on the amount of knowledge man may have about God. Other verses teach that man can know only what the Son reveals, but the assumption is clear that the Son can reveal to his people whatever he chooses. And it is assumed that such knowledge is true and valid for both God and man. Doubtless it would be only such knowledge as a creature could comprehend, but no limit is set for the comprehension of revealed truth. The manner of God's knowing would of course be different, and would eternallly remain incomprehensible to man, but there is no evidence that there are any items of knowledge about God which God could not reveal to us, did he choose to do so.
The second passage is John 7:17: “If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching whether it is of God.” Here we have described the true way to true knowledge of God-revealed doctrine. Willing to do God's will is the way of knowledge of God's revelation. Certainly knowledge of God-revealed truth is here set as a goal before the man who wills to do God's will. Man may never reach the goal of perfect knowledge of revealed truth, but no barrier of mystery is here “set forth in divine revelation that” is “quite beyond the powers of the finite mind to comprehend.” On the contrary it is implied that there are no such barriers in revealed truth for the one who wills to do God's will.
The third passage is: “Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning” (Romans 15:4; cf. 1 Corinthians 10:11). Insofar as God has revealed truth to man he clearly intends man to strive to understand God's meaning. The Presbytery finds nothing in Scripture implying that God places a different meaning on a proposition from that which he intends man to understand. When Scripture says, “Ye shall know the truth” (John 8:32), certainly the assumption is that it it the same truth for both God and man. When Christ told the disiciples “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13), he certainly implied that under the Holy Spirit's guidance man can investigate all revealed truth, and the assumption seems to be that the Holy Spirit could, if he chose, reveal any particular truth to man. That is not to claim that man can sometime in eternity become omniscient by the comprehension of one truth after another as God reveals them to him. Man's knowledge would always be temporar, and could never include either the immediate, intuitive knowledge of God, or the knowledge of all the relationships and implications of any and all propositions. The necessary content of omnisicence includes knowledge of what is to man the infinite future, the past in all its content, and all the infinite relationships and implications of all items of knowledge, past, present and future, as well as the infinite self-consciousness of God, both of his own Triune nature and of the manner in which he knows the universe, including the knowledge that God has of what is possible for him to do but which he will never do. Man can never become omniscient by adding one item of knowledge to another throughout eternity.
Several other passages of Scripture set forth Dr. Clark's view of the matter. Psalm 36:9, “In thy light shall we see light,” does not say that we shall see merely some analogical reflection of the light. A similar meaning is embedded in Psalm 43:3, “Send out thy light and thy truth, let them lead me.” Particularly significant is 1 Corinthians 13:12, “Now I know in part, but then shall I know even as I am known,” for no limit is placed on the knowledge redeemed men man acquire in heaven. If the redeemed are to know as God knows them, it would seem that God will reveal a much greater amount of knowledge in the future life than we now expect. Furthermore this verse implies that though our present knowledge is partial, it is nevertheless true knowledge of the same meaning that God has.
This is far from the so-called quantitative view of truth which the complainants charge would destroy the gulf separating divine knowledge and human knowledge, and so break down the distinction between the Creator and the creature. They have failed in their theory to grasp the correct meaning of omniscience, and they also fail to see the significance of the Scriptural injunction to “grow in knowledge” (2 Peter 3:18). Where in Scripture is there evidence that a truth or a proposition is qualitatively different for God and man? Where can one find the idea in Scripture that God's knowledge and man's knowledge do not coincide at any single point?
Even on the complainants' charge, that “Dr. Clark denies that there is any qualitative distinction between the contents of the knowledge of God and the contents of the knowledge possible to man, but rather in so far as there is any distinction between these two the distinction is merely quantitative” (P. 5, 1; O. 19), it does not follow that the distinction between the creature and the Creator is broken down thereby, or that there is “an assault upon the majesty of God” (P. 3, 1; O. 9). When the meaning of omniscience is understood as above, man's increase by revelation in knowledge on the temporal plane would, throughtout eternity, still fall infinitely short of omniscience. As a matter of fact, however, as will be seen later, Dr. Clark does not deny the qualitative distinction between God's knowledge and man's.
In the Confession of Faith there is even less support for the strange doctrine that there are mysterious areas of knowledge which God has, incapable of being revealed by God to man or of being understood by man even if God revealed them. In the Confession, II, 1, and the Larger Catechism, question 7, the word “incomprehensible” occurs as one of the attibutes of God. No theory of incomprehensibility is taught, and no explanation is given of the sense in which the term is used, though a hint is perhaps given as to the meaning by the choice of the proof text selected. The chosen text is Psalm 145:3, “His greatness is unsearchable.” As already shown, this supports the view of Dr. Clark, that man cannot by his own efforts search out or discover knowledge about the greatness of God. Dr. Clark stands by the doctrine taught in the Confession.
The Presbytery concludes, therefore, that neither in Scripture nor in the Confession is there any evidence that God, if he chooses, cannot reveal any item of knowledge to man; nor would man cease to be a creature by understanding or seeking to understand such a revelation; nor is there any evidence that a proposition is qualitatively different for God and man; nor that God's knowledge and man's knowledge do not coincide at any single point.
Having contrasted the basic contention of the Complainant regarding the knowledge of God and his incomprehensibility with the position taken by Dr. Clark on these points, and having shown that both Scripture and the Confession of Faith support Dr. Clark's position rather than that of the Complainant, it is necessary to proceed to an analysis of the Complainant itself.
The first of three numbered steps asserts that “the fundamental assumption made by Dr. Clark is that truth, whether in the divine mind or in the human mind, is always propositional.” The Presbytery replies to this assertion by pointing out that there is nothing in the transcript to justify it. The transcript is very imperfect and at times unintelligible, but the passages cited in the Complaint have nothing to do with truth as it is in the divine mind. The three passages cited speak only of truth as it is in the human mind, and therefore the Complainant misrepresents Dr. Clark. Dr. Clark has said that all truth can be expressed in propositions, but this does not mean that God thinks in propositions. The complainants in order to be fair should have noted that in the transcript (26, 1-9 and 27, 24-28, 22) Dr. Clark denies what they assert in the Complaint.
The first of these passages reads: “Q. Dr. Clark, you have said that man's knowledge is of a series of propositions, that is, discursively. A. Yes. Q. That God's knowledge is intuitive. A. Yes. Q. Do you mean by that, that God sees everything in all its infinite relation, all at one glance?” A.Yes, that is awkward language but I don't know any better, if you don't press me too hard on it.” The second passage contains these words: “Q. Do you believe that God's intuitive knowledge is the same as our discursive knowledge? A. Well, I guess not, two times two is four, both for God and for us, that is the expression of God's knowledge and if we don't know the object that God knows, then we are in absolute ignorance. Q. Would you mind repeating your statement or Mr. Andrews' statement, what was it? MR. ANDREWS: As I recall it, it was: 'God's knowledge is intuitive and He sees and knows everything in all of its infinite relations at one glance.'” These two passages of the transcript, though brief, incomplete, and defective, show clearly that Dr. Clark does not hold God's knowledge to be propositional. The complainants in their charge above have ignored the record.
With this first point based on a false statement, the remainder of step one loses all compulsion. For example, the complainants say (P. 5, 2; O. 19), “This view of truth, it will be noted, conceives of truth as fundamentally quantitative . . .” Even in the case of man, who can think only discursively, this conclusion does not follow. From the fact that each proposition may be numbered the complainants have inferred that truth is numerical or quantitative. This is extremely bad logic. The fallacy consists in stressing a fact of minor importance as as to give the impression that no other factor is involved. It is true that men know several propositions and each proposition is distinct. A mind that knows nine propositions may be said to know more than a mind that knows six. But how insignificant the mere quantity is may be grasped if we consider that one mind may know six integrated propositions, while the other mind has nine pieces of disconnected information. Not only may the information two minds have be distinguished by the degree of logical connection among its parts, but also there is a difference in the relative importance of the judgments. For example, two minds may both know six propositions, but one mind knows six general rules while the other has six particular facts. The number of propositions, the quantity as the Complaint calls it, is the same in both instances, but the former is the better mind. The complainants therefore have no evidence that Dr. Clark holds truth to be fundamentally quantitative.
Hence the complainants have failed to understand Dr. Clark and have seriously distorted and misrepresented his views. They imply (P. 5, 2; O. 20) that Dr. Clark considers that “knowledge is a matter of propositions divorced from the knowing subject, that is, of self-contained, independent statements.” This is entirely gratuitous, for there is no evidence whatsoever to support it. Dr. Clark rejects the idea that truth is independent of God. The complainants (P. 6, 2; O. 22) also say “the approach of Dr. Clark is quantitative through and through.” They are also wrong (P. 5, 3; O. 21) where they say he resolves “knowledge into detached items.” It is therefore by a disregard both of logic and of the evidence that the Complaint can conclude that (P. 5, 2; O. 19) “This view of truth, it will be noted conceives of truth as fundamentally quantitative.” As has been shown, the Complaint is at least inaccurate where (P. 5, 1; O. 19) it says that Dr. Clark holds that the distinction between God's knowledge and man's is “merely quantitative.”
[See Part Four].