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Buswell Sees Progress!

In Apologetics, J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. on 28/07/2011 at 12:54

Here are Buswell’s comments following Clark’s entry “Concerning System and Demonstration”. For the moment we’ve skipped over the article by Vernon Grounds that appeared in the midst of this series of exchanges between Buswell and Clark. That article will post later. And as is our habit, links to the entire series of articles can be found at the bottom of this post.

Editorial Comment

I DO feel that there is definite progress in Dr. Clark’s thought, or at least in his expression, from the book,[1] through his article in the December issue of The Bible Today, to his present article. The discussion of the word “system’’ grew out of material found on page 163 and following in his book quoted on page 71 in the December Bible Today. Dr. Clark’s statements there[2] “. . . there is no such thing as a common ground between Christianity and a non-Christian system,” led straight forward to his remarks on the way in which a “faithful Christian presents the Christian faith to an unbeliever.” Then followed his statement, “This is not an appeal to a common ground . . .” The word “this” refers directly to the presentation of the Christian faith “to an unbeliever.” It is the idea that we have no common ground when we present the Gospel to an unbeliever, which gave me such great concern.

Now, in this article on System and Demonstration, as well as in his article of last December, I feel that Dr. Clark has removed the “system” of unbelief so far into the abstract that it cannot interfere with evangelism. Thus my purpose is partly accomplished[3]

The readers who are not interested in logic will please doze off while I go on with the next few paragraphs. Those who are concerned about the basic logic of evangelism, the epistemology[4] of Christian evidences, may do well to read carefully, whether they wholly agree or not.

Our discussion of the word “system,” as I have said, starts from Dr. Clark’s words “a non-Christian system.” Naturalism, or anti-super-naturalism, which practically amounts to atheism, is the “system” which most conspicuously confronts us. In discussing such a system of thought, I should define the word “system” as I did in my editorial note in the December Bible Today, as “a more or less consistent or inconsistent complex of thought to which people adhere.” Thus Webster’s Dictionary gives the following to illustrate usage, “the theological system of Augustine; the American system of government; hence, a particular philosophy, religion, etc. ‘Our little systems have their day.’ “

In Robert Flint’s great worksAnti-Theistic Theories, and Agnosticism, he treats of such systems as materialism, pantheism, secularism, etc., showing inconsistencies in each. In a course in history of philosophy we take up such systems as idealism and realism; in history of Christian doctrine we take up scholasticism, Calvinism, Arminianism, etc. All of these “systems” are “more or less consistent or inconsistent complexes of thought.”

Of course my definition (and Webster’s) supported by usage as it is, does not exclude the perfect system of truth as God sees it; nor does it exclude the system of revealed truth. Dr. Clark’s error in citing Presbyterian usage is in his failing to mention that before the statement accepting the Westminster standards “as containing the system of doctrine taught inthe Holy Scriptures,” every Presbyterian minister was required to declare that he believed the Scriptures to be “the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice.” A “system” may be “more or less consistent or inconsistent”; a “system” taught in an “infallible rule” must be perfectly consistent[5]

I am interested in Dr. Clark’s reference to Prof. Brand Blanshard’s views on “system.” I had said I doubted if any writers in this field ever use the word “system” as meaning “the definitive element as such in a complex of thought. ‘

But this is not Prof. Blanshard’s view at all. He would agree with Dr. Clark and me that the truth is a perfectly consistent system. In the passage to which Dr. Clark refers, he says:

If the end of thought is truth, what is truth? It lies, we shall hold, in system, and above all in that perfect type of system in which each component implies and is implied by every other.

Blanshard is a rationalistic idealist. Dr. Clark is not. I should accept the proposition that the truth is a perfect system, but I deny that the truth “lies [or consists] in system.” Rather, it may be checked by its integration as a criterion. It is true because it is there and because it is so. (Dasein und Sosein).

I also object to Blanshard’s view that “each component implies and is implied by every other.” This is rationalism pure and simple. The atonement is not implied in the perfect system of truth. Then grace would be a necessity and “no more grace.” It is an act of God’s sovereign good will.

The truth is a perfectly consistent system in the sense that it contains no logical contradictories, not in the sense that every element is implied by the system.

But Blanshard does not agree with Dr. Clark in the definition of the word “system”—quite the opposite. I would cite the following as an example of my usage. Blanshard continues in the same context:

We shall ask first what organization is to be found … Or perhaps we should say what varieties or organization. For with very little scrutiny we can discover … a great many fragmentary systems, whose parts are connected by the most diverse relations.

As to Dr. Clark’s own usage, I now see that he does not define “system” as I said no one does, “the definitive element as such in a complex of thought.” He does not in fact define the word, but he seems to mean, not the “definitive element” only, but also the total complex of thought which would in strict consistency follow from this definitive element. Any such “system” is of course purely imaginary, apart from divine revelation. Apart from divine revelation Dr. Clark would have to say, there never has been a “system” of thought adhered to by a group of people. However, we are left right where we were left by common usage, in dealing with the more or less consistent or inconsistent complexes of thought commonly called “systems”, and in dealing with the people who more or less consistently adhere to such commonly called “systems”. Historical evangelism is valid.

I am disappointed in Dr. Clark’s treatment of the question of “isolated facts.” I do not believe that anybody really thinks any facts are “isolated.” All of Dr. Clark’s illustrations under this subject confirm my point. Russell does not teach that any facts stand in isolation. He denies that the physical universe is a system of logical implication, and so do I. In the context of Dr. Clark’s quotation (Russell’s Scientific Outlook, p. 97) Russell says,

. . . the mathematical logician [i.e., Russell’s own view] suspects that God[6] could not have made a world containing many things without exposing it to the skill of the geometer.

In other words, according to Russell, any world of many things is necessarily related to geometry.

It is true that William James, in Dr. Clark’s quotation, denies the omniscience of God. However, in the immediate context he defines his view, pluralism as opposed to monism, in the words . . .

pluralism . . . means only that the sundry parts of reality may be externally related.

The italics are James’. He is emphasizing the externality of the relations of things. James’ pluralism was loose, ragged, inconsistent, and all that; but he cannot correctly be cited as a believer in isolated facts. External relations are relations.

As to “neutral facts,” it is a question how anyone could call facts which testify to the glory of God, as Newton and Thomas taught, “neutral facts.” I should call a “neutral fact” a fact which gives no testimony at all; and I do not believe there are any facts in the universe “neutral” to the glory of God.

But Dr. Clark, I think, really means “facts approached in a neutral attitude,” when he says “neutral facts.” I do not believe any one ever approaches any facts in complete neutrality, but many of us can abstract to a certain extent, and “suppose for the sake of the argument” other people’s presuppositions, thus finding common ground in the abstraction.

I sometimes wonder if he is not a Leibnitzian[7] idealist, denying any facts but presuppositions. He says, “if we have no presuppositions, we simply do not see.” Have we then no real created material world? I for one, testify that I sometimes do see facts which could in no reasonable
way be ascribed to my presuppositions.

I am deeply disappointed with Dr. Clark’s treatment of geometrical as contrasted with inductive reasoning. He ignores one of the most important distinctions in logic. Or does he avoid rather than ignore? Does he mean to deny all inductive reasoning? He seems to say in effect that there are no facts which speak except in and through presuppositions. These presuppositions seem to be “innate ideas.” Are we then thrown back into Leibnitzian monads?

Dr. Clark does not read Calvin correctly. Warfield and Hodge and Calvin himself are better exegetes of Calvin. This is not Paul’s theology. Plainly and simply Paul appeals to the facts of “the things that are made” (Romans 1:20) as evidence clear to the minds of men of anti-theistic presuppositions.

Dr. Clark mistakenly says that he is led “to reject the theistic proofs and accept the words of Calvin.” Would that he might read Calvin correctly, but a thousand times more, would that he might reject Leibnitzian monads and accept the theistic proofs as given in the Epistle
to the Romans.

I do not think Dr. Clark really does reject the theistic proofs or inductive reasoning; I am only commenting on his words as I understand the language. Many young ministers and teachers are being led away from historical evangelism, I believe, by this wave of confusion which has engulfed my good friend. Come now, dear brother, how do you read Romans 1:20? May we not have an article clarifying inductive reasoning as Paul taught it?


[1] A Christian Philosophy of Education by Gordon H. Clark, Ph.D., Eerdmans 1946, reviewed in The Bible Today, October, 1947.

[2] Italics in the following quoted phrases are mine.

[3] If this was Dr. Clark’s idea all along, at least it is now more clear. I am not trying to prove my brother wrong, but to defend the historical propagation of the Gospel.

[4] Yes, dear reader, I see your uplifted hand. “What is epistemology?” It is the theory of truth and knowledge; but please get a dictionary. The armies of the enemies of the Gospel are well equipped with them.

[5] Dr. Clark inadvertently omitted my words “consistent or” in the last three lines of his sixth paragraph above.

[6] I should not of course limit what God could do, except by the principle of Hebrews 6:18, “it is impossible for God to lie.”

[7] Leibnitz taught that things are a system of “monads” never directly interacting, but existing in pre-established ideal harmony.

Articles in the Buswell-Clark Series :
1. “A Christian Philosophy of History: A Book Review,” by J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., The Bible Today 41.1 (October 1947): 3-15.
2. “Dr. Clark Comments,” by Gordon H. Clark, The Bible Today 41.3 (December 1947): 67-70.
3.  ”Dr. Clark’s Comments—Editorial Note,” by J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., The Bible Today 41.3 (December 1947): 70-74.
4. “Does the Bible Sanction Apologetic?,” by Vernon Grounds, The Bible Today 41.3 (December 1947): 84-89.
4. “Concerning System and Demonstration,” by Gordon H. Clark, The Bible Today 41.4 (January 1948): 109-114.
5.  ”Editorial Comment,” by J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., The Bible Today 41.4 (January 1948): 114-118.
6. “System and Induction,” by Gordon H. Clark, The Bible Today 41.6 (March 1948): 173-177.

On a related note, see also these articles by the Rev. David S. Clark, father of Gordon H. Clark :
1. The Philosophical Basis of Christianity, by Rev. David S. Clark, The Presbyterian 94.50 (11 December 1924): 6-7.
2. Modernism and the Higher Criticism, by Rev. David S. Clark, D.D., The Presbyterian 95.1 (1 January 1925): 8-9.

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