Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Van Till's misrepresentation of Gordon Clark

The misrepresentation of Gordon Clark's thought goes back all the way to Cornelius Van Till. In his book In Defense of the Faith Vol. 1: The Doctrine of Scripture (Ripon, California, USA: den Dulk Christian Foundation, 1967), in pages 62-72, Van Till interacts with Clark's view on the relation of special and general revelation, and totally misrepresents Clark in the process.

On page 63, Van Till accuses Clark of setting "God's general revelation given by thought" and "word communication" against each other. As proof, Van Till quotes Clark as follows:

"When Adam was created and placed in the Garden of Eden," says Clark, "he did not know what to do. Nor would a study of the Garden have led hm to any necessary conclusion. His duty was imposed on him by a special divine revelation. Thus moral norms, commands and prohibitions were established by a special and not a general revelation" (Special Divine Revelation as Rational in Revelation and the Bible, ed. Carl F. H. Henry, p. 29)

I would leave it to others who may want to check out the context. However, how does this quote exactly prove Van Till's point of contention? From the quotation itself, all that is affirmed is that General Revelation by its own apart from Special Revelation cannot prove anything. Rather, God needs to tell Adam (Special Revelation) what to do. Van Till's contention that Clark "overlooks the fact that from the beginning God spoke to man" misses the point altogether. Of course in the beginning God spoke to man! The quoted sentence did not establish or deny whether there was ever a time when God did not speak to man. All that is said or affirmed is the inadequacy of General Revelation by itself to inform Man of his duty. Furthermore, in writing about "the study of the Garden", empiricism is thus denied.

General Revelation does show us that there is a God and we ought to seek Him (Rom. 1:18-23), but it does not show us who God actually is and what He demands of us. Van Till essentially says the same thing in pages 63-64, and while the quote given does not mention it, neither does it deny it.

Van Till's next misrepresentation of Clark is with regards to the idea of philosophy of science. In this, Van Till thinks that just because Clark states that science "must not be regarded as cognitive" (p. 68), quoting Clark's book The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God, so therefore Clark

... does not tell the unbelieving scientist that nature clearly reveals the ownership of God the creator-redeemer. Clark simply gives up asking the natural man to recognize the revelational character of the field of facts in which he makes his research. (p. 68)

In other words, Van Till sees Clark as denying General Revelation by his denial that science is cognitive.

Yet this is nothing like what Clark is actually advocating. Van Till himself has earlier state that "the inadequacy of general revelation" means that "it is inadequate for men as sinners" (p. 63). Clark in his book on the philosophy of science does not even mention the topic of General Revelation but the scientific methodology itself. Science is not the same as General Revelation, unless one wants to say that General Revelation is not present in the pre-scientific era! However, even if we grant the equivocation, General Revelation as Van Till puts it is inadequate for men as sinners. How does appealing to an inadequate revelation apart from its use in conjunction with Special Revelation supposed to function as an adequate apologetic?

The misrepresentation of Clark and Clarkian thought starts with Van Till. If there is to be any resolution to the Van Till-Clark controversy, both sides have to stop misrepresenting the other side and understand what the other side actually is saying.

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