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Gordon Clark on the logic of God and the rationality of revelation

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Clark argues that passages which speak of God as "truth" (Ps. 31:5, Jhn. 17:3, 1 Jhn. 5:6) as indicates that God's thought-structure is reflected in Aristotelian logic. This does not, of course, mean that God learned how to think by reading Aristotle or that Aristotle received some sort of special, divine revelation from God by which he learned logic. It seemed means that thte basic pattern of thinking which Aristotle was presumably the first to systematize, is an accurate reflection of how God happenes to think. Many in our day, as in Clark's are uncomfortable with the idea that God's structure of thought is identical to ours:

Ever since Bernard distrusted Abelard, it has been a mark of piety ins ome quarters to disparage "mere human reason"; and at the present time existentialistic, neo-orthodox authors object to "straight-line" inferencea nd insist that faith must "curb" logic. Thus they not only refuse to make logic an axiom, but reserve the right to repudiate it. In opposition to the latter view, the following argument will continue to insist on the necessity of logic; and with respect to the contention that Scripture cannot be axiomatic because logic must be, it will be necessary to spell out in greater detail the meaning of Scriptural revelation(Clark)

The bolded text in particular is quite important. Many have accused Clark of "rationalism." This is not the rationalism-as-opposed-to-empiricism of Descartes, Malebranche, Spinoza and Leibniz; indeed, Clark quite openly sympathizes with Malebranche's epistemology in his "Lord God of Truth." Rather, "rationalism" is used in such accusations in a pejorative sense of making autonomous human reason the final arbiter of knowledge and truth. In this sense, Clark radically repudiated rationalism. He most emphatically did not see autonomous human reason as sufficient to produce knowledge. But for Clark, to submit our logic and reason to Scripture did not entail a repudiation or suspension of our rational or logical faculties. Instead, it is the most logic and rational thing to do, and it is precisely the irony that refusal to learn logic and reason from Scripture results in illogical and irrational thought.

It is important to distinguish different senses in which people may use terms like "rational" and "rationality." On the one hand, it is true that different worldviews have different standards of rationality. In this sense, we may speak of different "rationalities"; indeed, what counts as "rational" thought is relative to, and flows from, one's worldview. That is, the proportions of the "ratio" of thought are defined according to the standards of each worldview, and in this sense, it is based on the worldview to which we hold that we have such and such a standard of rationality. But which worldview is correct? And, for that matter, which rationality is correct?

For the Christian, the Christian worldview is correct, and therefore the Christian standard of rationality is correct. If Clark argues that propositional logic furnishes us with a reliable standard of rationality, it is not because he is dependent on the standards of rationality furnished by Aristotle in his work on syllogistic logic. Rather, it is because he believes that these norms of rationality accurately reflect the norms of rationality furnished in Scripture itself. Those who disagree with Clark must therefore be very careful to note that Clark's own self-understanding with respect to his epistemology is quite radically and uncompromisingly presuppositionalist. He takes the epistemological views which he does because he believes that Scripture explicitly teaches them.

Clark notes that God knows everything and has always known everything. He is the source of all knowledge. While Christians are oftentimes accused of borrowing inordinately from Platonist epistemology, Clark notes that there is radical discontinuity in many important respects between the theology proper of Plato, and the Christian worldview. For Plato, the "Ideas" from which his Demiurge fashioned the world were independent from him, and this Demiurge more or less submitted to these Ideas in his activity of created. From a Christian perspective, it is almost as though these "Ideas" constituted an equiprimordial god in their own right. This is obviously radically incompatible with the Christian understanding of the eternality and knowledge of God.

Clark points out that Philo's doctrine of God was more compatible with the Christian worldview than that of Plato's. God decreed that trees would have green leaves. Indeed, it should come as no surprise that God knows that trees have green leaves, since He is the one who decided that this would be the case. For Clark, "all" truths are only true because of God's decree: "Similarly in all other varieties of truth, God must be accounted sovereign. It is his decree that makes one proposition true and another false. Whether the proposition be physical, psychological, moral, or theological, it is God who made it that way. A proposition is true because God thinks it so"(Clark).

This seems like a radical statement. Does God's Triune nature depend for its truth on God's decree, or is God this way independently of His decree?

Perhaps for a certain formal completeness, a sample of Scriptural documentation might be appropriate. Psalm147: 5 says, “God is our Lord, and of great power; his understanding is infinite.” If we cannot strictly conclude from this verse that God’s power is the origin of his understanding, at least there is no doubt that omniscience is asserted. 1 Samuel 2:3 says, “the Lord is a God of knowledge.” Ephesians 1:8 speaks of God’s wisdom and prudence. In Romans16: 27 we have the phrase, “God only wise,” and in 1 Timothy 1:17 the similar phrase, “the only wise God.” Further references and an excellent exposition of them may be found in Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, chapters VIII and IX. From this distinguished author a few lines must be included here.

God knows himself because his knowledge with his will is the cause of all other things; ... he is the first truth, and therefore is the first object of his understanding.... As he is all knowledge, so he hath in himself the most excellent object of knowledge.... No object is so intelligible to God as God is to himself ... for his understanding is his essence, himself. God knows his own decree and will, and therefore must know all things.... God must know what he hath decreed to come to pass.... God must know because he willed them ... he therefore knows them because he knows what he willed. The knowledge of God cannot arise from the things themselves, for then the knowledge of God would have a cause without him.... As God sees things possible in the glass of his own power, so he sees things future in the glass of his own will(Clark).

Our standard of goodness, then, for example, flows from who God is. That is, it flows from His Person and decree. If it is good to not murder, it is because such a moral norm flows from the Person of God. If it is true that ice cream melts at a certain temperature, it is true because God decreed that it would be that way. More controversial is Clark's translation and interpretation of Jhn. 1:1: “In the beginning was Logic, and Logic was with God, and Logic was God.... In logic was life and the life was the light of men.” Clark admits that this understanding of the passage will sound strange and even offensive to most Christians:

This paraphrase-in fact, this translation-may not only sound strange to devout ears, it may even sound obnoxious and offensive. But the shock only measures the devout person’s distance from the language and thought of the Greek New Testament. Why it is offensive to call Christ Logic, when it does not offend to call him a word, is hard to explain. But such is often the case. Even Augustine, because he insisted that God is truth, has been subjected to the anti-intellectualistic accusation of “reducing” God to a proposition. At any rate, the strong intellectualism of the word Logos is seen in its several possible translations: to wit, computation, (financial) accounts, esteem, proportion and (mathematical) ratio, explanation, theory or argument, principle or law, reason, formula, debate, narrative, speech, deliberation, discussion, oracle, sentence, and wisdom(Clark).

I think the reason so many Christians find Clark's theology here so offensive is that they typically understand this passage as predicating the existence of the Person of the Logos, rather than predicating an attribute of God in general. Indeed, such a reading makes it seem as though John were describing an attribute of the Father, when most readers of this passage have (rightly or wrongly) understood it merely as asserting the existence of the Person of the Logos, rather than predicating any qualities of God, whether of the Godhead in general or the Father in particular. So the intuitive discomfort with such a reading does not necessarily seem to be the fear that one would make God impersonal by describing Him as an abstract quality. We are, as Clark points out, perfectly comfortable with describing God as "truth" or "love" because there is explicit scriptural warrant for such a description. But things like "love" and "truth" are attributes of God. They are not Persons of the Trinity. Likewise, to say that "Logic is God" will intuitively rub most readers the wrong way because it seems to do precisely what Plato did, in making God subordinate, not to Ideas, but to attributes. See, for example, the common objection to Rob Bell's "Love Wins", that although it is true that "God is love", it is not true that "love is God." Clark seems aware of the discomfort most will have with the notion that his reading will do violence to the Personality of Logos and says: "...if anyone complains that the idea of ratio or debate obscures the personality of the second person of the Trinity, he should alter his concept of personality(Clark).

Clark is likewise aware of the fear among some that his understanding of this passage will have the negative consequences which he rightly attributes to Plato:

Not only do the followers of Bernard entertain suspicions about logic, but also even more systematic theologians are wary of any proposal that would make an abstract principle superior to God. The present argument, in consonance with both Philo and Charnock, does not do so. The law of contradiction is not to be taken as an axiom prior to or independent of God. The law is God thinking(Clark).

That the law of non-contradiction (or, as Clark calls it, the law of contradiction) is in itself unlikely to arouse toot much suspicion, except perhaps among followers of Van Til, who himself denies that such a thing is true. The fear many have, rather, is that an abstract principle is being made superior to God. Clark argues that the reason this should not arouse our fears is because it is simply the law of God's thought. But does this mean that logic depends for its existence on God's thought? "If one should say that logic is dependent on God’s thinking, it is dependent only in the sense that it is the characteristic of God’s thinking. It is not subsequent temporally, for God is eternal and there was never a time when God existed without thinking logically. One must not suppose that God’s will existed as an inert substance before he willed to think"(Clark).

Therefore, there is a sense in which logic is dependent on God's thinking provided that by "dependent" we do not mean "contingent" or "accidental." Logic is a characteristic of God's own thought, rather than something which He willed by arbitrary fiat. Once again, however, where Clark becomes particularly controversial is in his notion that "Logic was God." Clark affirms furthermore that "God is his thinking"(Clark). This contradicts our intuitive assumptions about what it means for God to be a "Person", as many of us, I think, have an intuitive understanding of "Person" as something which thinks or which is capable of thinking, not something which is identical to those thought. In explaining what he means by the notion that "God is his thinking" (as opposed to God's thought being the activity of an antecedent Self which has independent, though inseparable, existence), Clark writes "God is not a passive or potential substratum; he is actuality or activity"(Clark). But here also, does God's active character necessarily mean that He is this activity?

Clark compares his theology proper here with Aristotlte's definition of God as "thought-thinking thought." He writes: "the Aristotelian definition of God as “thought-thinking-thought” may help us to understand that logic, the law of contradiction, is neither prior to nor subsequent to God’s activity"(Clark). That the law of non-contradiction is an element of God's thought is, once again, unproblematic. But how does it prove that God is logic, or that logic is God, rather than merely demonstrating that God necessarily thinks in a logical manner?

This conclusion may disturb some analytical thinkers. They may wish to separate logic and God. Doing so, they would complain that the present construction merges two axioms into one. And if two, one of them must be prior; in which case we would have to accept God without logic, or logic without God; and the other one afterward. But this is not the presupposition here proposed. God and logic are one and the same first principle, for John wrote that Logic was God. At the moment this much must suffice to indicate the relation of God to logic. We now pass to what at the beginning seemed to be the more pertinent question of logic and Scripture(Clark).

I don't believe we are forced to accept that either logic is God or that God is logic if we reject Clark's theology proper. Rather, one can simply argue that God is a Person who necessarily thinks in a logic manner, because logic is metaphysically constitute of His thought. Based on this religious metaphysics, it follows that we creatures who are made in the image of God, ought to have an epistemology that is informed by our religious metaphysics. Since ours is a religious metaphysics in which the the laws of logic are constitute of God's thought, and since God and His attributes are our standard of rationality, and indeed of all reality, it follows that our epistemology, if we are to think God's thoughts after Him, ought to be logical. The Person of God is our ultimate standard of all thought and behavior. Since God has revealed Himself in Scripture, Scripture is our epistemological foundation, since it is the revelation of the Person of God, who in Himself constitutes the standards of all reality.

But what would motivate Clark to articulate such an apparently counterintuitive theology proper, according to which Logic = God? The answer, I believe lies in his understanding of divine simplicity.

Put simply, divine simplicity is the teaching that God lacks parts. It is for this reason that Clark does not believe that God is a subject who possesses attributes. This would mean that God is distinct from His attributes, and would thus contradict divine simplicity, according to which God is identical with His attributes. Since God is identical with His attributes, each attribute is itself identical with every other attribute. According to the perspective of divine simplicity, God is not merely sovereign; that is, God is not merely a subject in possession of sovereignty. Rather, God is sovereignty. The same is true of all of God's other attributes and their relation to His Person. What this also means is that God's sovereignty is identical, for example, to His omnipresence. Each attribute is identical to every other one. The motivation for affirming such an apparently counterintuitive doctrine is to emphasize the radical transcendence and Otherness of God. God possesses attributes in a manner radically unlike the manner in which we creatures possess properties or attributes(Vallicella, 2010)..

Anselm's motivation in teaching divine simplicity was precisely to preserve this radical transcendence of God. For Anselm, if God possessed attributes the way that creatures possessed attributes, it would mean he were dependent upon them. This would compromise God's transcendence and ultimacy. God would not be the maximally good, ultimate and absolute reality(Vallicella, 2010).

Clark himself explicitly affirms this concept in his later work:

It is the honorable view that all the attributes are identical in God, and sometimes visibly so in history for when God demolished the walls of Jericho, the single action was both an instance of grace and an instance of wrath. In greater generality, knowledge is power, omnipresence is omniscience, mercy and truth are met together, and righteousness and peace have kissed each other. (Gordon Clark, The Incarnation, 1988, pg. 64)

Therefore, if God is logical, it follows that He is identical with this attribute. It is for this reason that if God is logical, it is permissible to say either that "God is logic" or that "logic is God"; as acceptable for this attribute as it would be for any other, according to the classical Western theological doctrine of divine simplicity.

It is to the revelation of Himself in Scripture which Clark now turns. For Clark, all epistemology is the result of revelation. Apart from God's revelation of Himself, we can have no knowledge. It is true that in former times God sometimes revealed Himself directly to His people by speaking to them rather than delivering Scripture to them, but that is not how He has decided to deal with us.

For Clark, Scripture are the thoughts of God. Since they are the thoughts of God, they are the mind of God. For Clark, however, the mind or thoughts of God are not identical to the physical book of the Bible itself. Rather, the word of God or the mind of God are the thoughts communicated by the book itself. Instead, the Bible is merely expressive of the mind of God.

The Bible...is the mind or thought of God. It is not a physical fetish, like a crucifix. And I doubt that there has ever been even one hillbilly fundamentalist ignorant enough to pray to a black book with red edges. Similarly, the charge that the Bible is a paper pope misses the mark for the same reason. The Bible consists of thoughts, not paper; and the thoughts are the thoughts of the omniscient, infallible God, not those of Innocent III(Clark).

Since God thinks in a logical manner, it should come as no surprise that the Bible contains clear examples of logical structures of thought:

On this basis-that is, on the basis that Scripture is the mind of God-the relation to logic can easily be made clear. As might be expected, if God has spoken, he has spoken logically. The Scripture therefore should and does exhibit logical organization. For example, Romans 4:2 is an enthymematic hypothetical destructive syllogism. Romans 5:13 is a hypothetical constructive syllogism. 1 Corinthians 15:15-18 is a sorites. Obviously, examples of standard logical forms such as these could be listed at great length(Clark).

Indeed, although not all of Scripture takes the form of logical syllogisms, logic is presupposed even in each word. The law of non-contradiction is presupposed, for example, in the notion that Paul is an Apostle. Such a belief is incompatible with, and excludes, the notion that Paul is not an Apostle. Indeed, many of Paul's opponents presuppose the same law of non-contradiction in arguing that Paul was indeed not an Apostle. If Paul and his opponents could agree on anything, it was certainly the law of non-contradiction, and the subsequent fact derived from it that Paul is either an Apostle or not an Apostle, and for Paul to be an Apostle is not the exact same thing as the notion that Paul is not an Apostle. Such a law is implicit in all of Scripture. For Scripture to affirm that something is the case is to presuppose that its opposite is most emphatically not the case.

Clark goes on to make a point that addresses our previous concern that the metaphysical Person of God be made our axiom rather than the epistemological standard which flows from Him, of Scripture. Clark acknowledges that this may seem counterintuitive to us, and indeed, that it contradicts the epistemological standard of many historic Protestant theologians:

For a similar reason, God as distinct from Scripture is not made the axiom of this argument. Undoubtedly this twist will seem strange to many theologians. It will seem particularly strange after the previous emphasis on the mind of God as the origin of all truth. Must not God be the axiom? For example, the first article of the Augsburg Confession gives the doctrine of God, and the doctrine of the Scripture hardly appears anywhere in the whole document. In the French Confession of 1559, the first article is on God; the Scripture is discussed in the next five. The Belgic Confession has the same order. The Scotch Confession of 1560 begins with God and gets to the Scripture only in article nineteen. The Thirty-Nine Articles begin with the Trinity, and Scripture comes in articles six and following. If God is sovereign, it seems very reasonable to put him first in the system(Clark).

While Clark concedes that many historically important confessions begin with the metaphysical doctrine of God rather than the epistemological standard by which we know about God, namely, the Scriptures, he notes that the Westminster Confession does begin with the doctrine of Scripture. The reason for this, he believes, is that our knowledge of God comes from the Bible. Whatever true propositions we state about God, or about His thoughts, our knowledge about these true propositions always comes from Scripture. He contrasts his position with that of Spinoza's, for example, according to whom God is our central axiom (though of course his god is quite different from that of the Bible). For Clark, it is the fact that Scripture is our means of knowing about God that makes it determinative as an axiom from which we deduce theorems (propositions about reality in general).

Clark goes on to argue that since man was made in the image of God(Gen. 5:1, 9:6; 1 Cor. 11:7; Col. 3:10; Jas. 3:9), man thinks logically. When we understand truth in Scripture, we only understand it because we understand God's thoughts about it, and we are capable of understanding God's thoughts about it because we were made in His image and thus created to be capable of doing this.

Not only logic, but language, is also a God-given gift resulting from having been made in the image of God. Clark notes that God created Adam in such a way that he was capable of understanding what God spoke to him. Numerous examples abound of God's presupposition that man was capable of understanding his speech to man. It is in this sense that, though not a rationalist in a pejorative sense, Clark did indeed sympathize with rationalist-as-opposed-to-empiricist epistemology:

The Christian view is that God created Adam as a rational mind. The structure of Adam’s mind was the same as God’s. God thinks that asserting the consequent is a fallacy; and Adam’s mind was formed on the principles of identity and contradiction. This Christian view of God, man, and language does not fit into any empirical philosophy. It is rather a type of a priori rationalism. Man’s mind is not initially a blank. It is structured. In fact, an unstructured blank is no mind at all. Nor could any such sheet of white paper extract any universal law of logic from finite experience. No universal and necessary proposition can be deduced from sensory observation. Universality and necessity can only be a priori(Clark).

Finally, Clark makes it clear that, while logic is necessarily presupposed in reading and understanding the language of Scripture, autonomous logic and reason, as stated at the beginning of this article, are not sufficient (though they are most emphatically necessary) to understand reality. Many rationalists, such as Spinoza, for example, did believe that autonomous logic is capable of furnishing us with a relatively exhaustive view of reality. This, of course, Clark rejects. It is impossible to deduce certain truths which are only provided to us by means of revelation. It is not that all truth can be deduced from logic, but rather, that logic must always be presupposed in knowledge acquisition, and that God's revelation is alone capable of providing us with this knowledge. He uses the examples of the Trinity and the resurrection. And so Clark is indeed emphatic that knowledge itself comes from Scripture. However, he insists that theh truths which form the content of such knowledge must themselves be compatible with logic; that is, they must never contradict logic. The reason he believes this is because he believes that logic itself constitutes the mind of God and is presupposed in God's revelation to us. Whenever we have a doctrine, therefore, which seems counterintuitive, Clark will argue that we simply must properly define the terms and determine how it is consistent with our understanding of logic.

Vallicella, William F., "Divine Simplicity", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2010/entries/divine-simplicity/>.

Clark, Gordon. "God and Logic." Retrieved from: http://www.trinityfoundation.org/journal.php?id=16#sthash.OAoZaPSF.dpuf

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