Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Daily Bible Verse

Friday, June 24, 2011

Part Seven: The Answer to the Complaint Against Dr. Gordon H. Clark

Clark's Answer to Van Til: On Incomprehensibility: Part Seven

[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, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, and Part Six. See also, The Answer, in PDF].

The Complaint teaches that the truth man may have is an analogy of the truth that God has; i.e., man may have a resemblance of the truth God has; but he cannot have God's truth itself. He has only an analogy of it. The complainants would doubtless say that we must accept this dogma because God reveals it in the Bible. But where in the Bible is such a revelation found? It is not a valid deduction from the Creator-creature relationship. A valid deduction from this relationship would be that man can think only God's thoughts after him and cannot originate thoughts not already in God's mind. And such thoughts would have to have the same meaning for both God and man; they would not be mere analogies of God's meaning. The manner of God's thinking is different from the thinking processes of man, but the result of man's thinking, if his thinking is true, is that he understands at least the one truth that God thinks. Furthermore, the assumption that man knows his truth to be analogical of God's truth because God reveals it to be analogical, results in startling consequences. How could one know that this assumption itself is the truth as it is for God? On the complainants' theory the proposition “the truth man has is analogical” is itself only an analogy. It is not the truth that God has. Nor could man know that it was God who was revealing such a proposition, for again the proposition “God is revealing that truth is analogical” is only an analogy of the truth. One can only be sure that such a proposition is not God's truth. On the complainants' theory there is no way of ever crossing over from an analogy of truth to the truth itself. All our thinking is shutup in analogies and resemblances and cannot coincide with God's truth at even a single point. This position really cuts all connection between God's knowledge and man's knowledge and plunges us into unmitigated skepticism.

If the complainants cannot know what God means, how can they know God does not mean this or that? They affirm that there is a resemblance or analogy between the truth God knows and the qualitative different truth man knows. But by what right do they assert a resemblance when they cannot describe the qualitative difference? Or, how can they assert that two things resemble each other when they have never known and can never know one of them? One can say that two men resemble each other if one has seen both men. But one cannot legitmately affirm a resemblance between a man one has seen and a man one has not seen. Similarly, if a man knew God's meaning, he could compare it with his own and remark the similarity or difference. If I know your opinion, I can say it is similar to or dissimilar from mine. But if I do not know your opinion, I have no way of knowing whether your opinion is the same or contradictory of mine. Similarly if man's knowledge and God's knowledge do not “coincide at any single point,” then for all we know, perhaps Christ did not die for our sins. And the complainants wish to make their views a test for orthodoxy! Where in the Westminster Confession of Faith is there any such philosophy?

[During the preparation of this reply, a phrase was noted in The Presbyterian Guardian to the effect that those who signed the Complaint do not altogether agree with what it says. On page 351, column 3, of The Presbyterian Guardian of December 10, 1944, this sentence appears: “The complainants, to be sure, have made plain that, on their view, the knowledge which man may come to enjoy of a proposition cannot be at variance with the meaning of a proposition for God, since it must be analogical.” If, however, the complainants have made this plain, they have not made it plain in the Complaint. It is in fact doubtful that they have made it plain anywhere. They have not made it plain in the editorial from which the sentence is quoted. Aside from the absense of any definition of the word “analogical,” the phrase “at variance with” is unsatisfactory. The proposition “Joseph was sold into Egypt” is not at variance with the proposition “David was a great king.” Are we therefore to suppose that one of these is analogical of the other and that God may place the meaning of the first of these propositions upon the second? If one is interested in a philosophic theory of knowledge, the phrase “at variance with” does not solve any epistemological problem. Undefined words and sweeping phrases do not help one to think clearly. A moment's reflection will suffice to show that no true proposition is “at variance with” any other true proposition. Note the usage of this phrase in the Complaint (P. 5, 1; O. 18), quoted above in the third paragraph of this section On Incomprehensibility. Therefore to say that the meaning God places on a proposition is not “at variance with” the meaning man finds in it, is to say very little indeed. The serious matter, however, is not what the complainants say they now believe. The serious matter is what they wrote and signed in the Complaint. If the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in an unfortunate moment approves the Complaint it will be the wording of the Complaint that will define the position of the Church. The Presbytery cannot take into account the changing views of the complainants as individuals. It is called on to answer the Complaint. And the action of the Church in any formal vote will be an action on the Complaint as written and signed.]

In step three of the argument the complainants make certain admissions. They admit (P. 6, 2; O. 23) that Dr. Clark distinguishes between God's knowing a truth and man's knowing a truth. But then the complainants fail to give due weight to these, their own, admissions. Though they admit that Dr. Clark asserted this distinction, they have argued as if he had not. They attempt to justify their ignoring of the evidence. The complainants admit that Dr. Clark makes a qualitative distinction between God's knowledge and man's knowledge because he recognizes the fundamental difference between the mode of God's knowing and that of man. Then the complainants make the astounding statement, “however, this admission does not affect the point at issue here since the doctrine of the mode of the divine knowledge is not a part of the doctrine of the incomprehensibility of his knowledge. The latter is concerned only with the contents of the divine knowlege” (P. 6, 2; O. 23). The complainants actually assert that the mode of God's knowledge is not a part of the doctrine of incomprehensibility. One or two quotations from great Reformed theologians will suffice to disprove this assertion. A great theologian of the Northern Presbyterian Church, Robert J. Breckenridge, in his The Knowledge of God Objectively Considered, (1858), page 275, says “the mode in which the divine Intelligence conceives all things, distinctively, at the same time, and by one act, is wholly beyond our comprehension; that intelligence is therefore incomprehensible” (cf. pp. 285-287). Dr. Breckenridge says that the mode of God's knowing is indeed a part of God's incomprehensibility. Charnock also shows that the complainants have misunderstood the doctrine of God's incomprehensibility. In Discourse VIII, On God's Knowledge, he first speaks of the infinite number of truths God understands. On page 408 he says, “Who, then, can fathom that whereof there is no number?” This is the quantitative of mathematical concept of an infinite number of propositions which displeases the complainants. After enumerating through many pages the numberless objects of God's knowledge, Charnock finally (page 451) comes to the mode of God's knowing. There he says, “As God therefore is in being and perfection, infinitely more above a man than a man is above a beast, the manner of his knowledge must be infinitely more above a man's knowledge, than the knowledge of a man is above that of a beast; our understanding can clasp an object in a moment that is at a great distance from our sense; our eye, by one elevated motion, can view the heavens; the manner of God's understanding must be inconceivably above our glimmerings; as the manner of his being is infinitely more perfect than all created understandings. Indeed, the manner of God's knowledge can no more be known by us than his essence can be known by us; and the same incapacity in man, which renders him unable to comprehend the being of God, renders him as unable to comprehend the manner of God's understanding.” And then follows a discussion of the manner of God's knowing in which the usual distinction between intuition and discursion is made, as Dr. Clark made it I his examination. In the face of this the Complaint asserts that the mode of God's knowing is not a part of the doctrine of incomprehensibility, and on the basis of this ex cathedra announcement tries to justify its ignoring and distorting of the evidence.

The numerous quotations made by the complainants at the beginning of their argument will now be seen to have little to do with the charges against Dr. Clark. In general, the quotations say that man's knowledge is finite, limited, and partial; it differs from God's knowledge not merely in degree but also in kind. “To comprehend,” say Charles Hodge, “is to have a complete and exhaustive knowledge of an object.” But the quotations provide no basis for asserting that God cannot express himself in words; that words cannot inspire any recognition by man of his relation to God; that the statements in the Bible mean one thing for man and something qualitatively different for God; or that the mode of God's knowing is not a part of the doctrine of God's comprehensibility.

The Presbytery must emphasize that on these matters concerning the philosophic implications of God's knowledge and man's knowledge very little has been written by Reformed theologians. It is a field of doctrine that is almost unexplored. In fact it is remarkable how little appears in print on the subject beyond the first generalities. In view of this situation it is highly improper for the Complainant to dogmatize. It may be that this discussion will further the search for the truth, but it most certainly calls for caution and humility rather than for a Complaint.

In conclusion the Presbytery believes that this section of the Complaint utterly fails to prove that Dr. Clark is out of accord with the system of doctrine taught in the Westminster Confession of Faith; the items which the complainants insist upon are far removed from the system of doctrine of the Confession; they are not strictly theological doctrines at all, but tenuous implications from these doctrines; and the implications may well be fallacious. Therefore this section of the Complaint fails to show that the Presbytery of Philadelphia was in error in licensing and ordaining Dr. Clark.

[This concludes the Presbytery's response to the section of the Complaint on the incomprehensibility of God.  See page 25 of The Answer.]

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