Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Refuting Bahnsen's Refutation of Clark pt. 7

I’m going to pass over most of the next section in Bahnsen’s critique, because it falls prey to the same arguments in the previous post. However, to add a measure of continuity without too much redundancy, I’ll venture a few remarks.

Bahnsen argues, “We really must query, however, why it is necessary to test the Bible for consistency rather than presupposing it, since the revelation is from the God of truth Himself. Scripture should be used as the canon of consistency for all thoughts of men rather than being itself at the mercy of the creature’s critical faculty” (p. 152). He then quotes Clark to the effect that the intellect is the primary aspect of man.

First of all, Bahnsen provides an incomplete disjunction. It is not true that in presupposing the truth of Scripture one cannot also test its consistency with regard to areas where its claims are borne out. Recall that Clark’s tests involve applying the Scripture to problems in politics, history, ethics, etc. to evidence how consistently it handles these questions where other views do not. It is precisely because Clark presupposes Scripture as the source and justification of knowledge that he is able to make such applications validly. Imagine if Bahnsen’s reply to every non-Christian’s rejection of Scripture’s claims with regard to history or politics was simply that “Scripture is true, therefore what it states or implies about politics is true.” The even if the unbeliever were to grant the Christian his assumption of Scripture’s truth, he would still want to know (as would any Christian, for that matter) how the Scriptures answer the questions of politics or history. Without “testing” or evidencing the knowledge Scripture reveals on these subjects, how can one lay the ground for persuasion to occur by the “ordinary means” the Holy Spirit uses to convince the unbeliever?

Bahnsen concludes the section, “When self-evident rational principles are elevated to sit in judgment over God’s revelation, that revelation is bound to lose its authoritative character in deference to man’s unquestionable use of logic. Instead of faith in God’s Word leading to understanding of reason and science, understanding is taken to lead to faith (thereby abandoning the Augustinian dictum)” (p. 153).

Clark never asserts nor implies that the laws of logic are self-evident, nor that they can be abstracted or externalized from God Himself or His revelation. He explicitly states that the laws of logic (or at least the law of contradiction) are deduced from Scripture, the place where God has revealed the truth, or knowledge. It is not man’s “unquestionable use” of logic, but rather an unquestionable necessity of logic as revealed in Scripture that serves as the formal test for all arguments. Note that as a formal test it must presuppose a substantive truth upon which the tests may proceed. Clark has provided that presupposition: the Bible is the Word of God. Logic is verified by the axiom, not vice versa. But since unbelievers reject the axiom, but not logic, Clark uses the ostensible common ground to undermine their contradictory unbelief—just as Bahnsen does to Stein!

The next section has a few more terribly sophomoric misrepresentations and further blatant misreading of Clark. The first two paragraphs seem to have forgotten that Clark has already acknowledged that Scripture is the source of knowledge, and that the axiom of Scripture is the basis for Clark’s system. Given that presupposition, Bahnsen must, to be charitable, allow Clark’s stated presupposition to define his terms unless it becomes obvious that Clark’s definitions do not stem from his presupposition. When Clark talks about truth as necessary, eternal, immaterial and universal, why does Bahnsen assume that Clark argues this from an autonomous or self-evident position? What the unbeliever knows, yet suppresses, is that their knowledge comes from God, because only God reveals knowledge, and only God possesses truth independently.

Bahnsen argues that Clark somehow denies this, and is seeking to prove the existence of God by his description of the identity of truth with God’s mind. Yet only two pages prior, Clark states:
The “proof” of God’s existence, which is not at all a logical demonstration, results from showing that consistency is maintained by viewing all things as dependent upon God. . . .Though the existence and nature of God are not subject to formal demonstration, yet if Christian theism is true [and Clark has already stated that it this his presupposition], there is no mystery in the fact that all human minds use the same categories. . .

Clark is not seeking to prove God’s existence on the basis of proving that truth exists. Rather, Clark is saying that the proof that truth exists is evidence that his presupposition is correct. Evidence, not formal demonstration. Evidence supported upon and only upon the axiom of Scripture, and not upon autonomous, self-evident verification.

Thus, when Bahnsen asserts, “The very notion of proving God’s existence is inherently misguided; God alone is adequate to witness to Himself,” (p. 154) we must reply, “where has Clark attempted to prove God’s existence?” Clark has given evidence that God has revealed Himself and that His revelation is true, but the giving of evidence is not an attempt at a demonstrative proof, as Clark himself acknowledges. Rather, it is an expression of the strength of the presupposition, just as Bahnsen’s opening chapters were expressions of the strength of the presupposition, rather than an attempt to demonstrate that the presupposition is true.

Refuting Bahnsen's Refutation of Clark pt. 6

Let me begin with a misunderstanding that Bahnsen makes of Clark’s use of the laws of logic as proof of Christianity. Here is the quote:
The question of truth is prior, says Clark, for “unless the Bible is true, there is not much use in discussing inspiration.” Here Clark commits himself to the traditional non-presuppositional apologetic which attempts to work up to an acceptance of the nature of Scripture by proving it to the unregenerate man, who, it is wrongly assumed, can correctly interpret nature on his own unbelieving principles. (p. 149)

It is unclear to me why Bahnsen shifts ground from the priority of truth to the interpretation of nature. Clark’s point is simply that truth is logically prior to inspiration. If inspiration could be false, what would be its benefit with regard to knowledge? A Christian who believes the Bible is the Word of God needs only to construct a deductive argument from Scripture that it is inspired by God to settle the dispute. But the unbeliever, who denies that the Bible is true, will simply deny that premise and reject the entire proof of inspiration. That the unbeliever is wrong does little for the apologist. Thus, the apologist has two options: 1) destroy the unbeliever’s own assumptions in order that they have no ground for criticism and then assert the truth of Scripture, or 2) produce the transcendental argument and then prove it by destroying the unbeliever’s own assumptions. Neither approach requires the apologist to consider the unbeliever capable of interpreting nature—only that the unbeliever can follow the logical progression of an argument!

Bahnsen is incorrectly reading Clark as if Clark is using logic as the first principle in a formal demonstration as opposed to using it as evidence to support his presupposition. On the next page Bahnsen produces several quotes by which he interprets Clark as subjecting the truth of Scripture to rational demonstration. Yet in the first quotation, Clark does not say that knowledge is a voluntary (or autonomous) choice, but rather, belief (a psychological aspect) is. Can Bahnsen deny that our beliefs are not voluntary? To do so would be to destroy all liberty of the will, and thus all moral accountability. Clark isn’t specifying an epistemological criterion in the quote, but rather a fact of human psychology. One must belief something, and that belief is based upon some indemonstrable postulate.

The second quote simply argues that the indemonstrable postulate is tested by its success in producing a coherent and self-consistent system. Bahnsen inserts a parenthesis emphasizing that Clark means “verification” rather than “demonstration,” but this is a confusing manner of interpretation. First of all, “demonstration” in Clark’s use means logical demonstration, which would constitute knowledge when the premises are true. But by “testing” Clark does not mean that one proves as certain (demonstratively), because the assumption or presupposition of Scripture is admittedly indemonstrable (Clark admits as much on the very page Bahnsen quotes). Rather, by test, Clark means how the axiom or presupposition is evidenced, or shown to be sufficient in the questions of life. This is nothing other than the thinking of God’s thoughts after him that every Christian (and non-Christian, for that matter) is commanded to do. If we simply stopped at the assumption that the Bible is God’s Word and did not trace out the necessary implications in all areas of life, what good would the presupposition be?

Bahnsen also mistakenly argues that because Clark admits revelation is a postulate, therefore its epistemological validity can be tested by autonomous reason. But Bahnsen has not read Clark closely enough, for in Wheaton Lecture III, from which Bahnsen pulls his quote, Clark explicitly states that the presupposition (axiom) is that Scripture is God’s Word, and therefore is itself knowledge: “The postulate of verbal revelation is an epistemological success because the revelation itself is knowledge” (p. 93-94 in The Philosophy of Gordon Clark). Further down the page, Clark defines exactly what he means by “testing” the postulate: “Therefore the test of revelation as a postulate is not in epistemology, where it obviously succeeds in providing knowledge, but in its ability to support some general theories in other areas of intellectual interest” (p. 94). Clark isn’t seeking to “prove” that Scripture is true, or that it is God’s Word, but rather that it does what other theories cannot do: give meaningful answers to life’s basic and most important questions.

As an added bonus, we might point out that Bahsen looks over another significant quote on p. 94 of the Wheaton Lecture III from which he pulls his quote. Clark says, “It may be difficult or even impossible to deduce from Scripture an enumeration of the a priori categories other than the law of contradiction” (p. 94). How can Bahnsen, with a straight face, argue that Clark submits Scripture or God to an external, higher test of logic when Clark admits that the law of contradiction is itself deduced from Scripture as the source of knowledge? Logic itself is an aspect of the presupposition or axiom, and not an exterior test by which it is judged to be true.

Refuting Bahnsen's Refutation of Clark pt. 5

Bahnsen’s next major heading is entitled “The Priority of Logic and the Testing of God’s Word.” He argues that Clark does not presuppose the truth of God’s Word, but rather subjects it to the tests of logical validity. If this is true, then Clark is guilty of infecting his system with an autonomous premise.

However, two things should be kept in mind when evaluating Clark on the laws of logic. First, Clark considers the laws of logic to be the structure of God’s thought, that is, an aspect of the Divine essence, nature, being, or definition. Thus, in subjecting anything to the laws of logic, we are subjecting it to the standard God Himself possesses. Bahnsen himself must tacitly agree with this conclusion, for in his debate with Gordon Stein, Bahnsen argues that the laws of logic are abstract, universal, and invariant—they are not subject to change and they are always valid, which is to say, they are eternal laws of thought. What else can be abstract, eternal, and immutable but that which God is in or by Himself? Therefore, when Bahnsen criticizes Clark for subjecting God’s Word to the laws of logic, as though Clark were setting up an eternal principle outside of God, Bahnsen has not understood Clark’s position, or, having understood it, has not directly refuted it.

The second thing that must be kept in mind is that Clark is not using the laws of logic as a demonstrative proof that Scripture is God’s Word, but rather he is using the laws of logic as evidence that his presupposition is sound. Recall the quote from my last entry: “Logical consistency, therefore, is evidence of inspiration; but it is not demonstration.” Logical consistency is confirmation that God’s Word is true, it is not proof, for only the Holy Spirit demonstrates to the believer that the Bible is God’s Word.

Before addressing particular quotations by Bahnsen, I want to remark on a point that my friend Ron DiGiacomo has made that is a valid criticism of Clark. Nowhere in Clark’s writings have I found (and I have read most of Clark’s works, and all of his major works), nor has Ron found, where Clark explicitly argues that the unbeliever must presuppose the truth of the Triune God in order for his thinking to proceed with maximal warrant. In order to use the laws of logic, for example, one must presuppose the God of Scripture. Van Til and Bahnsen have made this argument explicit whereas Clark has used only the internal critique (the disjunctive syllogism) as his method. In this way Clark provides less for the believer’s confidence than does Bahnsen or Van Til, although I believe that Clark’s approach (the internal critique) must precede the transcendental argument (all knowledge presupposes the truth of Christianity) in a debate, for the ground must be cleared of confusion before a positive foundation may be found acceptable, generally speaking.

With these two considerations in mind, I will turn in the next post to the first subsection of Bahnsen’s criticisms of Clark’s use of logic.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Refuting Bahnsen's refutation of Clark pt. 4

In the same section, Bahnsen articulates that Clark (unwittingly?) manipulates the doctrine of God’s nature in dealing with natural revelation. He quotes from an article entitled “Revealed Religion” (my copy of the article is in Clark’s book, God’s Hammer), which says:
[T]his amount of power, great as it is, cannot be omnipotence. Beyond the amount we observe, there can always be more. (p. 15 in Bahnsen citation, p. 92 in God’s Hammer)

It is in analyzing this quote that Bahnsen makes the very error he warns us of in his earlier chapters—not distinguishing between epistemic and metaphysical coincidence. Clark’s point in the quote is that the argument for God’s omnipotence cannot be established upon non-revelational observation, or natural theology. Bahnsen again mistakes Clark’s expression for a positive statement of his own view, when in fact Clark is (again) engaging in a destructive critique of his opposition. His point is merely that the observation of nature does not form, in and of itself, sufficient warrant for beliefs about God. Clark isn’t denying that the unbeliever possesses, innately, knowledge of God. Rather, the innate knowledge of God is not arrived at by bare observation! In fact, only a few paragraphs below the quotation, Clark uses Romans 1:20 and 2:15 to affirm the innate knowledge of God as a kind of natural knowledge (but a natural knowledge not established upon bare observation, or tabula rasa empiricism):
Though dim and restricted, this natural knowledge of God is not to be denied. Romans 1:20 may not guarantee the validity of the theistic proofs (Clark’s point in the quote Bahnsen pulls), but it plainly asserts some knowledge of God derived from “the things that are made.” Romans 2:15 shows a minimal a priori knowledge of moral principles. On such natural knowledge human responsibility depends. . . .Yet this natural knowledge is minimal in extent and practically useless in communicating the way of salvation. (p. 92-93 in God’s Hammer)

If Bahnsen had simply read a bit earlier in Clark’s article, he would not have said, “It is hard to know how we should take Clark’s comment.” Clark says, only a page back:
[S]omeone may claim that the creation of the planets and stars is evidence of omnipotence. This claim, however, must be disallowed—not because creation would be insufficient evidence of omnipotence, but because we have no empirical evidence of creation. We do indeed see the stars, but we did not see God create them. (p. 91 in God’s Hammer)

Clark’s point isn’t that the heavens fail to declare the glory of God or God's omnipotence. Rather, it is that the heavens declare the glory of God, man knows that God is omnipotent, but neither of these conclusions can be known apart from the innate knowledge God has placed in man’s mind. And the only place where we are told that such innate knowledge exists is in the revealed Word of God. Thus, without revelation, the arguments from natural theology are logically unsound. Let me repeat it once more: Bahnsen fails to distinguish when Clark is performing a reductio ad absurdum and when Clark is making positive arguments upon the presupposition of God’s Word.

Now before leaving this entry, there is a very important quote that Bahnsen moves to next, and which he also blatantly ignores another quotation that will undermine many of his later criticisms of Clark. These later criticisms involve accusing Clark of making the validity of Scripture subject to logical analysis, rather than logical analysis being subordinate to the authority of Scripture. Notice, however, the following quotation, which includes quite a bit more than Bahsen does in his excerpting:

The more consistent unbelief is, the less can agreement be obtained. So long as the unbeliever is inconsistent, we can force him to make a choice. If he inconsistently admires Jesus Christ or the Bible, while at the same time he denies plenary and verbal inspiration, we can by logic insist that he accept both—or neither. But we cannot by logic prevent him from choosing neither and denying a common premise. It follows that in logical theory there is no proposition on which a consistent believer and a consistent unbeliever can agree. Therefore the doctrine of inspiration, like every other Christian doctrine, cannot be demonstrated to the satisfaction of a clear-thinking unbeliever.

If, nonetheless, it can be shown that the Bible—in spite of having been written by more than thirty-five authors over a period of fifteen hundred years—is logically consistent, then the unbeliever would have to regard it as a most remarkable accident. It seems more likely that a single superintending mind could produce this result than that it just happened accidentally. Logical consistency, therefore, is evidence of inspiration; but it is not demonstration. Strange accidents do indeed occur, and no proof is forthcoming that the Bible is not such an accident. Unlikely, perhaps, but still possible.

How then may an unbeliever be brought to admit the inspiration of Scripture? Or, for it is the same question, how did “I” come to accept inspiration? (p. 15-16 in God’s Hammer)

Note carefully that this quotation appears in a section titled, “The Proof of Inspiration” followed directly after the quotation by a new section titled, “The Testimony of the Holy Spirit.” It is in that section where Clark affirms the presppositional nature of God's revelation, and where appears a previously quoted remark that Bahnsen approves of ("Rather, because God is sovereign, God's authority can be taken only on God's authority" p. 19 in God's Hammer). Clark is not asserting that the Bible is possibly and accident upon his own presupposition, but is parroting what the consistent unbeliever’s position would have to be if he maintained his unbelief. Not only is it obvious to see that Clark is explaining the unbeliever’s position, but it is also obvious that Clark does not place logic or logical consistency above Scripture. The difference between evidence and demonstration confirms Clark’s recognition that one must presuppose the truth of Scripture in order to demonstrate the truth of Scripture.

One begins to wonder: could a man of Bahnsen’s considerable intellectual ability have been so careless or obtuse to miss such an obvious conclusion, or was he blinded by his admiration of Van Til to the point of slandering Clark in support of him?

There are several other quotations in the section, but they merely provide further evidence of Bahnsen’s inability or unwillingness to distinguish Clark’s internal critiques from his positive exposition of his own presupposition.

Refuting Bahnsen's refutation of Clark pt. 3

Bahnsen’s next section is entitled “Possibility vs. Necessity.” In it, he argues that Clark assumes that Christianity is merely probably rather than certain, a possibility rather than a necessity. If this were true, Clark would be giving too much to the unbelieving view, which always reduces to absurdity and meaninglessness in its disbelief.

As before, and what may prove to be a consistent error on Bahnsen’s part, Bahnsen does not read Clark in the charitable manner that he promises. The chief error in Bahnsen’s criticism is the failure to distinguish between Clark’s argumentation from within his opponent’s assumptions, and Clark’s argumentation upon his own presupposition. Clark’s professed methodology is to use the laws of logic to do internal critiques (variously through reductio ad absurdum, argument ad hominem, and modus tollens forms of argument) of his opponents’ positions. In doing so, Clark’s language assumes what his opponents’ would assume in order to demonstrate where they are inconsistent, overestimate their conclusions, or underestimate the Christian position.

Keeping this in mind, let us turn to Bahnsen’s criticisms.

His opening quote from this section is from Clark’s book on Karl Barth. The quote in full says:
A more skeptical view of the amount of truth obtainable by experimentation, with the help of operationalism, might bring the idea of subordination back again within the limits of possibility. The Scripture is a better source than experimentation is for the norms of ethics and politics; perhaps there is some way to bring physics and zoology also under this authority. (p. 68 in the 1963 edition, p. 77 in the 1997 edition I have)

Continuing, Bahnsen pulls a quote from Clark’s book, Religion, Reason, and Revelation:
From a logical standpoint it is equal whether one’s assumptions are philosophical or theological, Christian or not. (p. 8 in the 1961 edition, p. 112 in the 2004 book, Christian Philosophy)

Bahnsen then argues on the basis of these quotes that Clark has “completely dissolved” whatever absolute character the presupposition of God’s Word held.

In the context of the quotation from Karl Barth’s Theological Method, Clark is examining Barth’s own approach to theological study. Clark is exposing how Barth has capitulated to modernism rather than maintaining a consistent Reformed approach. The quotation is simply pointing out that any view more skeptical of the truth of observation than is modernism would allow for the possibility of subordination of the sciences to theology. Following the quote, Clark inquires as to what may be Barth’s view of science, and then Clark articulates the Reformed position, without any qualifications of “possibility.” What Clark is doing is comparing Barth’s view to various others in order to expose what may be accepted as consistent with his own presupposition (and really with Reformed theology) and what is not. Clark is nowhere articulating that his own presupposition is “possible” as opposed to dogmatically absolute. In fact, his language is decidedly assertive:
From any professedly Christian point of view it is difficult to maintain that the cosmos is unordered; and or a Reformed theologian this is about the poorest reply possible. Calvinism strenuously insists upon the eternal all-comprehensive plan of God, in which neither a hair of one’s head nor a dead sparrow lies outside the foreordained order. Equally impossible in Calvinism is the notion that theology is a stopgap, a makeshift, a temporary expedient to be discarded at the first opportunity. (p. 78 in the 1997 edition)

As for the quote from Religion, Reason, and Revelation, Clark is criticizing James Bissett Pratt for attempting to maintain a neutral or presuppositionless definition of religious conversion. Clark’s point isn’t that Christianity and unbelief are on the same footing with respect to the validity of their presupposition. Rather, Clark’s point is simply that all assumptions must begin with some presupposition that biases all further conclusions. Clark, working within Pratt ‘s own view, shows that Pratt’s claims to neutrality or unbias, cannot be so. Consider the sentences that immediately follow Bahnsen’s selected quote:

If it is reprehensible to operate on Christian presuppositions, is it any less so on other presuppositions? The only difference would seem to be that the writer with Christian principles is probably more aware of the fact, while the scientific writer sometimes claims that he has no preconceived notions at all. In other words, Pratt—attempting to avoid the bias of a Christian view of conversion—does not seem to be aware of his own bias in assuming Ardigo’s conversion was a religious conversion and that the essence of religion is the unification of character. (p. 112 in the 2004 edition of Christian Philosophy)

Clark has not made a claim on the basis of his own presupposition, but merely demonstrated from within Pratt’s own position the absurdity of attempting a neutral or unassuming set of principles. Bahnsen does not grasp that Clark’s remarks are given in the context of an internal critique rather than an assertion of points made from his own presupposition. Far from undermining his presupposition, Clark is establishing it through a destructive critique of alternative views.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Refuting Bahnsen's refutation of Clark pt. 2

Bahnsen’s next criticism comes in the same section, and regards Clark’s treatment of Collingwood (in HS&R) as a representative example of Clark’s failure to consistently uphold Scripture as primary and non-Christian views as thoroughly impossible.

Bahnsen is again simultaneously drawing the line too narrowly, and also missing the import of Clark’s manner. He says that Clark seems to give Collingwood to much credit, because he undertakes only to correct “some” of his views, and says that Collingwood “almost” makes history impossible. Clark’s language is opposed to what Bahnsen thinks is adequate, which would be complete undermining of Collingwood’s position.

However, to be entirely accurate, a complete undermining would require every point of Collingwood’s error to be refuted. Even Bahnsen does not attempt such a level of criticism. But even if Bahnsen means that Clark should always present his apologetic as a complete undermining of the opponent’s position, that conclusion seems to me to be a non-sequitur. Bahnsen has already agreed with several Clark quotes, one of which affirms that unbelievers are not thoroughly consistent in their rebellion, meaning that on some points there is psychological agreement, which forms a point of contact in discoursing with unbelievers. What else is Clark doing in acknowledging Collingwood’s ostensible value while undermining what point shall sufficiently reduce his main theory to absurdity? What Bahnsen sees as an insuperable flaw appears to be rather an application of the psychological or ontological point of contact.

The criteria that Bahnsen appears to be applying to Clark would similarly undermine his own approach to other unbelievers. If Bahnsen wanted to be thoroughgoing in his epistemic criticism of unbelievers, he could not assent to any single proposition they stated because it would rest upon an undisclosed and contradictory presupposition that Bahnsen would be disposed to point out in every case. Yet, when Bahnsen debates with Stein, for example, he does not repeatedly tell Stein that this or that argument is invalid precisely because he does not presuppose God. Rather, he deals with subsequent levels of logical analysis, which set up his larger, or more basic criticism.

Clark’s method is no different with Collingwood. At the close of the chapter from which Bahnsen draws his quote, Clark concludes his criticism with what one would think even Bahnsen would find admirable:
But note well, that if Finley and Collingwood rule out faith and make claims to mathematical certainty, history vanishes. Scientific history, autonomous history, certain history is a chimera. One accepts testimony or he does not. The choice is between faith and nothing. (p. 209 in the 1994 edition)

And because Collingwood’s position necessarily excludes such claims to faith, the critique is a reductio ad absurdum that clears the floor for a sound Christian construction to be built.

The last portion of this section of Bahnsen's critique of Clark addresses the concern that Clark posits the laws of logic prior to Scripture. Since he promises to address this error later in the chapter, I'll wait to deal with it in full. However, as a preliminary remark, I think Bahnsen is creating a false dilemma. Clark's assertions about the laws of logic are talking about their instrumental value for our thinking, but even if Clark were using them as a more basic principle, he would argue that the laws of logic are an expression of God Himself, which we can only know as such from Scripture. Thus, he argues from the laws of logic because he recognizes these as something unbelievers will be willing to engage whereas they would not understand the presupposition of Scripture as valid without having first removed the alternatives the falsely believe to be valid.

The difference between Bahnsen and Clark here is not substantive.

Refuting Bahnsen's refutation of Clark pt. 1

It has been awhile, but I've finally found a new topic on which to write here. I'm presently reading through a posthumously published book by Greg Bahnsen that came out this year: Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended.

In this book, the 25 year-old Bahnsen undertakes a lengthy refutation of Gordon Clark's apologetic method. As those of you who read this blog may know, I'm an admirer of Clark's contributions. That being said, I'm not very impressed by Bahnsen's criticisms. Since many presuppositional followers of Van Til and Bahnsen will consider this newest work the definitive word on Gordon Clark's method, I wish to do my part to give Clark a fighting chance, since he is no longer alive to defend himself, and his chief defender, John Robbins, has also recently deceased.

In the interest of brevity without the sacrifice of thoroughness, I'm going to treat each quotation one at a time, one per blog post.

The first quote appears on p. 142 of Bahnsen's book, and is from Clark's book, Historiography: Secular and Religious (from here on, HS&R):
That religion or Christianity in particular furnishes a better method than secularism is a possibility not to be dismissed without discussion. (p. 232 in the 1971 edition, p. 213 in the 1994 edition I have)

Bahnsen argues that Clark’s use of the words “better” and “possibility” as incomplete in stating the impossibility of a non-Christian worldview. He also indicts Clark for calling the end of non-Christian systems “human despair,” rather than meaninglessness.

Despite his claim to take a “charitable” reading of his opponents, Bahnsen does not take sufficient care with the manner of expression Clark has chosen in HS&R. The remark occurs at the beginning of Clark’s chapter outlining Augustine’s Christian construction of history. This chapter appears after the first seven chapters (more than half of the book), where Clark has been criticizing unbelieving viewpoints. The second half of the book is not simply an exposition of Clark’s own view, but of several ostensibly religious or Christian views, upon which Clark himself will level criticism. Bahnsen is criticizing Clark for failing to push the issue, whereas Clark’s aim is not to assert his position, but to engage in criticism of incomplete Christian views! The term "Christian" in Clark's usage is more general than Bahnsen's reading would suggest. Clark is not yet promoting his own apologetic position, but preparing the reader to engage several Christian constructions, which he himself will criticize.

As for the remark about despair being somehow a less complete refutation than meaninglessness, Bahnsen is simply splitting hairs. Elsewhere, in A Christian View of Men and Things (from here on, CVMT), Clark repeats in similar language the problem of any non-Christian viewpoint:
The two views [secular and Christian], however, have been sketched, as two pictures in outline. If the secular view is chosen, history has no significance [and without significance, what meaning?]; human hopes and fears are to be swallowed up in oblivion; and all men, good, evil, and indifferent, come to the same end. Anyone who chooses this view must base his life on unyielding despair. (p.57 of the 1998 edition)

Now perhaps Bahnsen prefers to use “meaningless” over “no significance” and “unyielding despair,” but can any reasonable and charitable reading argue that there is a substantial difference in the perceived outcome of the non-Christian view? Meaninglessness and despair appear synonymous rather than antithetical or incompatible.