Friday, February 6, 2009

Episodes in Epistemology no.1

I picked up a copy of Ronald Nash's Festschrift for Gordon Clark, reading Nash's chapter and Clark's rejoinder.

Nash does an excellent job of summarizing Clark's epistemology, but he, like so many others, reads Clark horribly wrong in a couple of ways. I might deal with Nash's problems and Clark's replies in another post, but for this post I want to focus on Nash's exposition of what he calls Clark's "Argument from the Nature of Truth." Notice how similar it is to Van Til (and more especially, Bahnsen's) "impossibility of the contrary" or "transcendental" argument.

1. Truth exists.
2. Truth is immutable.
3. Truth is eternal.
4. Truth is mental.
5. Truth is superior to the human mind.
6. Truth is God.

1 is proven by the inescapable necessity of truth for thought and expression. To argue "there is no truth" is to claim that the proposition "there is no truth" is itself a true statement, or exemplary of the truth. Or, as Nash puts it, "If skepticism is false, there must be knowledge; and if there is knowledge, there must exist the object of knowledge, viz., truth."

2 is proven by the inescapable necessity of logic for thought and expression. The law of contradiction is basic for Clark and is contained implicitly in 1. It cannot be true and not true that "there is no truth." The law of contradiction must itself be true immutably if thought and its expression are to be possible at all. Nash mentions apparent exceptions like "I am now eating," which appears to be true at one time, but false at another. But this does not defeat the law of contradiction, which is understood to mean that a statement cannot be true and false at the same time and in the same manner. The proposition "I am now eating," is inherently ambiguous because it does not designate a definite aspect of time, and therefore it does not apply as a refutation or counter-example to the law of contradiction. Once the ambiguity is clarified, the law of contradiction is revealed true (e.g. "I am now eating on February 6th, 2009 at 11:30 p.m."--a statement that happens to be false).

3 follows necessarily from 2. If something is immutable, it is also eternal. Nash demonstrates this in relation to truth with the proposition "The truth itself has perished." If the statement is true, it remains true after the truth has perished (or else is contradictory, and therefore impossible). Like 1, the assertion of any truth (even the assertion that truth is not eternal) is an affirmation of the characteristic of its eternity.

4 follows from the recognition that the physical world is not immutable because it undergoes change. If truth is immutable it cannot be material, yet we may know the truth, so it follows that the truth is a result of thought and not simply chemical or physiological reactions. (Nash stumbles later when he accepts the notion that knowledge is necessarily derived from sensation. If knowledge is immaterial, material sensations are unnecessary to arrive at knowledge)

5 follows from the recognition that human beings are mutable, we change, and therefore we cannot be the source or ground of truth. Augustine's formulation of this view comes in De Magistro, where he acknowledges that truth is what judges our reasoning or minds, not our reasoning or minds which judge truth. On a related note, here is the ground for the argument for "faith seeking understanding," or "I believe in order that I may know." Our beliefs are not supported by an endless chain of arguments, but require a given, a starting point, a first principle which must be assumed without demonstration. We take this principle upon faith, and examine the necessary implications that follow. If they contradict, the truth guides us to reject the starting point and begin afresh. When we discover a starting point that remains consistent throughout its implications (at least so far as we can follow it), then we may be confident that truth has vindicated our assumption.

6 Truth must be metaphysical, for nothing can be known that is not existent to be known. Therefore, truth is God, for God is the only existent that is immutable, eternal, and possessing a mind by which truth is known (and known by immediate eternal intuition). Thus, when our minds arrive at a truth (that is, some part of truth, which is a whole), our minds have conceived or confronted God Himself--thinking God's thoughts after Him.

One thing that may be questioned concerning the above argument is whether the conclusion "Truth is God" implies the Trinity or merely consistent monotheism. I'm not sure how Clark or Nash would answer, and it doesn't come up in the reading.

Notice how this argument for the nature of truth resembles the argument that Bahnsen makes in his apologetics, namely, the impossibility of the contrary. In this argument, Bahnsen says that we must all presuppose the existence of the Triune God because without this presupposition, no adequate ground or justification can be made for knowledge. Clark makes essentially the same argument, using a synonym for the Triune God (i.e. truth) that is, incidentally, a term (but not its meaning) more widely recognized, I think.

So much for the similarities between Clark and Van Til/Bahnsen. Sometime in the future I'll look at Nash's problems with Clark's position, how Clark deals with these, and how Nash's problems and Clark's replies exemplify the major misinterpretations of Clark by Van Til, Bahsen, and so many others.

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