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Gordon Clark's "The Lord God of Truth" (Part 6)

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This chapter of Gordon Clark's "The Lord God of Truth" is centered around the notion of causation. He mentioned briefly that Hume denied its existence whereas Kant affirmed it. Aquinas and Aristotle both affirmed its existence and gave a sophisticated fourfold account of the concept. Furthermore, he problematizes its informal use among apologetics writers who do not define what it means for them, and how they intend to replace its classical Aristotelian usage. For example, Clark rejects the traditional cosmological argument for the existence of God, particularly as espoused by contemporary evangelicals, on the grounds that because it is dependent upon the classical Aristotelian understanding of causality. However, contemporary evangelicals do not typically accept this fourfold account of causality, and since they have not given a philosophically adequate account of with what account they intend to replace it, their arguments are meaningless. Whatever evangelicals mean when they use such language, they cannot, Clark points out, be referring to Kant's account of causality in their appeal to the cosmological argument, since Kant's account of causality has reference purely to temporal succession, whereas God existence "prior" to the existence of the cosmos.

He makes an interesting point in noting that, although Hume famously received credit for refuting Locke's understanding of causality, it was actually Berkeley who did this:

He argued that great familiarity with a repeated sequence of events deceives us into thinking that we could have guessed the effects from their causes. We fancy that without experience we can infer that the impact of one billiard ball would communicate motion to a second; or that a stone raised into the air and left without support would fall. But without experience we could well suppose that the second billiard ball would stop the first, or that the stone would fall upwards. Now, since every effect is an event or sensation distinct from its cause, any apriori connection between them must be purely arbitrary. At this point, the empirical apologist will say, "So what? We can learn by experience." But science can never show the action of that power which produces any single effect in the universe. Experience at best teaches us that one event follows another. It never shows that one causes the other(Clark, p. 24)

Thus, the argument for the existence of causality from an empirical epistemology is self-refuting. Empiricism only demonstrates (supposing it can demonstrate anything at all) causal sequence. It can never isolate or identify that precise mechanism by which causality occurs, however.

Clark notes that this is quite true of contemporary physics. Rather than possessing an authentic account of causality

Twentieth-century science...has no place for causality. The laws of physics are differential equations that supposedly describe the motion of some object. There is no gravity that makes a stone fall. But it is assumed that stones fall, not in a straight line, but in an arc of an ellipse; and althought he calculus that replaced Galileo's simple arithemtic cannot explain how a body starts to fall - shades of Zeno - the equation more or less accurately describes its path after it gets started(Clark, p. 25).

Thus, contemporary scientists use their calculations to describe motion rather than to identify metaphysical causality. In defining causality, he notes that it is an inherently relative term. Something "causes" another thing. Both entities are jointly necessary to speak coherently of such a thing of causality, if indeed such a thing can be spoken coherently of.

Clark does affirm the existence of causality with respect to God, but with an important qualification. When speaking of God causing something

the meaning of the term cause has been drastically changed. We had begun by talking about two events in the spatio-temporal world: The batter caused the ball to go over the wall, chewing food in the mouth causes nourishment, a bullet caused the death of the Archduke. But now the empirical apologete begins to talk about God's causing everything. We now concur with the Islamic anti-aristotelian Al Gazali: God and God alone is the cause, for only God can guarantee the occurrence of Y, and indeed of X as well. Even the Westminster divines timidly agree, for after asserting that God foreordains whatsoever comes to pass, and that "no purpose of yours can be withheld from you" (Job 42:2), they add, "Although...all things come to pass immutably and infallibly, yet by the same providence he ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes...." What they called second causes, Malebranche had called occasions. But an occasion is neither a fiat lux nor a differential equation

Finally, since all the laws of physics are false - as its history indicates - and since Scripture does not teach mechanism, but asserts that the world is governed teleologically by purposes that cannot be restrained nor understood, as...Descartes made clear, empiricism with its cosmological argument should be abandoned(Clark, p. 27).

It is not at all clear, however, that what Malebranche meant by "occasion" is precisely the same thing as what the Westminster divines meant by "secondary cause." I am no scholar of either, so I cannot prove one way or another, but Clark does not give any evidence to support his claim.

"God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established." (WCF 3.1)

The Westminster divines do seem to acknowledge the metaphysical existence of secondary causes. In light of the context of the Thomist refutation of Muslim occasionalist repudiation of secondary causes, the Westminster divines seem to side with Aquinas, namely, that there is such a thing as secondary causes. It is precisely this old doctrine which Malebranche is attempting to refute, and which made him so controversial:

The fruit of this study is a two-volume work bearing the title, De la recherche de la vérité. Où l'on traitte de la nature de l'esprit de l'homme, et de l'usage qu'il en doit faire pour eviter l'erreur dans les sciences (Search after Truth. In which is treated the nature of the human mind and the use that must be made of it to avoid error in the sciences ) (1674–75). It is primarily this text which provides the basis for Malebranche's reputation in the modern period. As its full title indicates, the Recherche focuses on the principal sources of human error and on the method for avoiding those errors and for finding the truth. The first five books enumerate the various errors deriving from the senses, imagination, pure understanding, inclinations and passions, respectively, and a sixth book is devoted to the Cartesian method of avoiding such errors through attention to clear and distinct ideas. The centerpiece of the third book, on pure understanding, is a defense of the claim that the ideas through which we perceive bodies exist in God. Tucked away in the final book, on method, is a critique of “the most dangerous error of the ancients,” namely, the Aristotelian position that there are secondary causes in nature distinct from God.


Malebranche is known for his occasionalism, that is, his doctrine that God is the only causal agent, and that creatures merely provide the “occasion” for divine action. On the old textbook account, occasionalism was an ad hoc response to the purported problem in Descartes of how substances as distinct in nature as mind and body are can causally interact. According to this account, Malebranche was driven by this problem with Cartesian dualism to propose that it is God who brings it about that our sensations and volitions are correlated with motions in our body.

However, occasionalism was already an old doctrine at the time that Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) wrote against it. (There is a helpful survey, in German, of the earlier history of occasionalism in Perler and Rudolph 2000.) Thomas indicated that the primary concern of the occasionalists was to strengthen the assertion of God's omnipotence. Though he allowed that God must “concur” with creatures in producing effects, Thomas also claimed that there is reason to conclude that creatures are true secondary causes. For instance, he urged that it is more in accord with divine greatness to say that God communicates His power to creatures. Moreover, he claimed that it is simply evident to the senses that creatures have the power to bring about effects. Thomas also argued that if there were no natures in creatures that explain effects, there could be no true scientific explanation of effects through their natural causes(Schmaltz, 2013).

Thus, although all parties agree that God predestines all things, Aquinas, as well as the Westminster divines, do seem to affirm the ontological existence of secondary causes. The position of the Muslim occasionalists, and of Malebranche, was quite radical for its time, and remains quite radical. The "timidity" which Clark mentions seems to be an attempt to avoid precisely the sort of extremes into which Malebranche and the Muslims (rightly or wrong) had fallen. It is precisely the notion that God is the only cause of all things which the Westminsterians seem to have been attempting to avoid in adopting the language of secondary causation and affirming its existence.

Indeed, Aquinas himself objects to Al-Ghazali's similar position, according to which God is the only true cause of all occurrences. Aquinas, to be sure, did believe in absolute predestination; he simply insisted that in carrying out His determinate plan, God made use of instrumental means which constituted metaphysically distinct secondary causes:

The reason for the predestination of some and reprobation of others (praedestinationis aliquorum, et reprobationis aliorum) must be sought for in the divine goodness.... God wills to manifest his goodness in those whom he predestines, by means of the mercy with which he spares them; and in respect of others whom he reprobates, by means of the justice with which he punishes them. This is the reason why God chooses some (quosdam eligit) and reprobates others (quosdam reprobat).... Yet why he chooses some for glory and reprobates others has no reason except the divine will (non habet rationem nisi divinam voluntatem)(Summa theologiae (1a.23.5)

Indeed, for Aquinas, God's predestination entails unconditional election:

Clearly predestination is like the plan, existing in God's mind, for the ordering of some persons to salvation. The carrying out of this is passively as it were in the persons predestined, though actively in God. When considered executively in this way, predestination is spoken of as a 'calling' and a 'glorifying', thus St. Paul says,Whom he predestinated, them also he called and glorified'. (164)


By its very meaning predestination presupposes election, and election chosen loving. The reason for this is that predestination, as we have said, is part of Providence, which is like prudence, as we have noticed, and is the plan existing in the mind of the one who rules things for a purpose. Things are so ordained only in virtue of a preceding intention for that end. The predestination of some to salvation means that God wills their salvation. This is where special and chosen loving come in. Special, because God wills this blessing of eternal salvation to some, for, as we have seen, loving is willing a person good, chosen loving because he wills this to some and not to others, for, as we have seen, some he rejects. (168)

Note also his comments on reprobation and predestination:

The causality of reprobation differs from that of predestination. Predestination is the cause both of what the predestined expect in the future life, namely glory, and of what they receive in the present, namely grace. Reprobation does not cause what there is in the present, namely moral fault, though that is why we are left without God. And it is the cause why we shall meet our deserts in the future, namely eternal punishment. The fault starts from the free decision of the one who abandons grace and is rejected, so bringing the prophecy to pass, Your loss is from yourself, O Israel. [Hosea 13.9] (167)

So in spite of his affirmation of God's sovereignty, Aquinas clearly does not accept the notion that God's predestination takes place apart from secondary causes. Indeed, Al-Ghazali, himself cognizant of the real difficulty which a purely occasionalist metaphysics provided with respect to God holding people repsonsible for their moral transgressions, flirted with Avicenna's Aristotelian notion of secondary causation:

A purely occasionalist model finds it difficult to explain how God can make humans responsible for their own actions if they do not cause them. As a viable alternative to the occasionalist ontology, al-Ghazâlî considered the Avicennan model of secondary causes. When God wishes to create a certain event He employs some of His own creations as mediators or “secondary causes"(Griffel, 2013)

Griffel, Frank, "Al-Ghazali", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.

Schmaltz, Tad, "Nicolas Malebranche", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), forthcoming URL = <>.

Clark, Gordon. "Lord God of Truth." The Trinity Foundation, 1986. Hobbes, New Mexico.



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