Response to Ronald Nash
and Arthur Holmes on Gordon Clark
On this site, I will try to explain how others
misunderstand Gordon Clark.
I say “explain,” rather than defend because he defends
himself better than anyone else.
However, as one of his strong supporters, I admit that he
is hard to read and understand.
This difficulty may be due to his style which often
begins and continues with the false arguments and propositions
of others. From
there, he weaves his criticisms and his own thinking into the
text. Many have
commented that they do not always know when Clark is speaking
for himself and when he is just presenting the other person’s
point of view. I
happen to agree with that difficulty.
Another problem may be
that great minds leap from thought to thought, rather than
sentences that are fully explanatory and closely connected in
that train of thought.
Finally, the problem may be what Clark said of the
Apostle Paul. His
style is “crabby.”
I start with Nash probably because he has only
two disagreements (actually only one).
Most others have numerous disagreements.
For some of these and Clark’s own rebuttal, the reader
should obtain The
Philosophy of Gordon Clark, edited by Nash (if he can find a
copy, as it is long out of print).
This book first presents Clark’s views, contributors’
agreements and disagreements, and finally Clark’s rebuttal.
After high praise for Gordon Clark here and
throughout his book, Ronald Nash disagrees with Clark on two
As I see it, Clark went too far on two key
issues. First, he
erred by viewing the Christian world-view as a deductive or
Second, he believed that human knowledge is limited to the
According to Clark’s deductive presuppositionalism, if some
presupposition is not actually revealed in Scripture or
deducible from other propositions so revealed, it is unknowable
by human beings.
One major difficulty with Clark’s theory is its obvious
incompatibility with all kinds of human knowledge not attainable
in the way he describes.
I know, for example, that my wife exists; but I see no
way of deducing the true proposition that reports her existence
from anything in the Bible.
I also know that in 1948, Lou Boudreau led his American
League team in batting with an average of .355.
Surely anyone who could deny that humans can know such
propositions is using the word
knowledge in a very
Nash then quotes Arthur Holmes with his
comments that are a “proper response to Clark’s extreme
Philosophy as a part of life and an expression
of faith is no purely logical science, abstracted from life,
that proceeds unimpassionately.
Philosophy done from any perspective is more like
adducing meanings than deducing conclusions, more like expanding
a world-hypothesis than working out a theorem, more like
elaboration of a vision or the etching in a coherent picture
than the operation of a computer.
Other variables are at work than a specified set of
propositions, variables with axiomitization cannot fully
overcome but which are ingredient to the philosopher’s
historic-cultural situation, his individual existence, even to
his particular heritage of faith and thought within the spectrum
of Biblical Christianity.
Nash has two disagreements to start with, but
his quote of Holmes considerably expands his own differences
into other areas. I
will begin with Nash’s particular comments and then move to
Actually, it seems that Nash has only one
Christian world-view as a deductive or axiomatic system” and
“human knowledge … limited to the propositions contained in the
Bible” seems to be one and the same to me.
“System” and “human knowledge … limited to …
propositions” are different ways of expressing one approach.
Nash actually confirms this because both his
empirical evidence (something abhorrent to Clark, indeed!).
Nash is right that Clark posits a system.
Does anyone else?
Clark’s system posits as
its “axiom,” the Bible is inerrant and sufficient in the
traditional and evangelical understanding of those two
(Here, I would differ
with Clark in terminology, as I prefer
rather than axioms because of its connotation with geometry.
“Axiom” seems to make Christ and Christianity somewhat
sterile and could be offensive to many on that basis alone, as
it seems to be in the quote from Holmes.)
Bible has to be a first principle because it is the only means
whereby any knowledge is possible.
To get to Nash’s wife or to a batting average, it is
necessary to first know whether any knowledge is possible.
Only through God’s Word can we know that knowledge is
proposals in philosophy are these.
How can I know that I am not dreaming or that all
experience is not an illusion?
How do I know for certain about anything in the past,
five centuries ago or five seconds ago?
How is language and communication possible between two or
These questions are
unanswerable apart from some way to
know that they have
Certainly, neither philosophy nor the world’s religions provide
any certain foundation for such knowledge, for which one has the
true interpretation of man and his universe?
Bible gives us this certainty, as a derivative proposition or
theorem from its first principle.
God is the Creator and Absolute who gives order and
meaning to the universe.
Since He is able to communicate truth by His Words, we
can be confident that we can communicate with Him and with each
van Til and Greg Bahnsen discussed this apologetic more than
Clark. That is, one
cannot begin a conversation or begin to think without assuming
the Biblical, theistic worldview.
This presupposition is not often fully appreciated.
Language is very highly structured.
We use it so easily, but every now and then we discover
that a failure to be precise can result in hurt feelings (as all
husbands and wives know) and even death (missing a Stop sign).
Without someone or something giving order to the
universe, language and reasoning would not be possible.
Thus, a first principle has to posit how this highly
structured order came to be, before any other discussion can
Another example of a failure to appreciate
this fundamental philosophical (and religious) principle can be
found in Creation Science.
This science proves nothing.
It is as tenuous as evolutionary science.
Sure, it makes Christians feel good that there is a
science that is consistent with the Bible.
But its knowledge is merely historical application of
As Clark pointed out so clearly and so often (as have
many other philosophers), induction never arrives at truth
because it can never survey every applicable parameter in the
universe. It must
draw its inferences from very limited pieces of empirical
was once thought to be a constant, but is now known to be absent
in certain systems in the universe.
Science is always changing.
Truth can never change, by definition.
If there is no unchanging truth, then there is no
This confusion about the truth of science and
the structure of language are similar because both
function so well.
As I stated above, language works really, really
well—most of the time!
Science works really, really well—most of the time.
For their truth, however, both are dependent upon
parameters outside of themselves.
Language is dependent upon the rules of definition,
syntax, grammar, and punctuation.
Science is dependent upon the criteria upon which it was
example, the formula for the speed of a falling object, S=1/2gt2
is limited to an object falling in a vacuum at sea level.
do those conditions exist in the universe? Nowhere!
But that formula is extremely helpful, with modifications
in application, to all sorts of interplanetary and
We have now arrived at a place where we can
examine Nash’s two examples of knowledge that cannot be derived
First, knowledge is only possible because God structured
language and man’s mind so that communication is possible.
Nash could neither know his wife nor Boudreau’s batting
average, if God had not given that structure to language,
So, in the sense
that God makes all communication possible, Nash’s examples are
deducible from Scripture.
A construction would go something like this.
Communication is possible because God designed
language to function in that way.
My wife because has characteristics that I can
identify that are unique to herself.
I can know my wife by these characteristics
because God designed language and created people.
Communication is possible because God designed
language function in that way.
Someone has calculated Boudreau’s batting
average in 1948.
That number can be known by me because God has
structured language and thinking.
This formulation should not be seen as a
formal syllogism, but is close enough for one to understand how
Nash could misinterpret Clark by not placing his statements
within his system.
Nash also says that Clark’s method is
“incompatible with all kinds of human knowledge,” and that Clark
used knowledge in a
very idiosyncratic way.”
Now, Nash has gotten a little carried away with “all
kinds of human knowledge.”
Just how many “kinds” are there?
Well, there are basically only four: innate, learned
(experiential, empirical), revealed (supernatural, mystical),
and reasoned (rational, logically derived).
There are certainly many
knowledge, probably as many as there are philosophers!
But Nash’s own two examples are based upon empirical
So, Nash has overreached, and likely gone beyond what he
meant to say, with “all kinds of knowledge.”
On a colloquial level, Nash is right that
Clark uses knowledge in an idiosyncratic way—the idiosyncratic
way of a philosopher who is not going to use knowledge in a
colloquial way. It
is strange that the
philosopher Nash would criticize the
philosopher Clark in
this way. Should
not philosophers first judge each other, as
and perhaps only?
The only way to grant Nash’s criticism of
Clark is either to posit a theory of knowledge based upon
empiricism or to acknowledge that that are “brute” facts.
I doubt that Nash would be willing to accept either of
From my reading of him, these positions are incompatible with
virtually everything else that Nash says.
Then, it is strange that Nash says what he
does about Clark. I
choose to believe that Nash just did not fully think through
these matters consistently.
Or, he may not have understood Clark, which I said at the
beginning is possible by Clark’s own style.
At any rate, unless one’s philosophy is created to be a
system, it is only a bunch of isolated and disjointed facts.
Clark has created that system, and he demanded that all
Christians develop a system, albeit sometimes he was apparently
disjointed in his presentations.
Nash’s most serious mistake, however, was
using Arthur Holmes’ quote to substantiate Nash’s own position.
What Holmes’s says is far, far worse that what Nash said.
Arthur Holmes on Gordon
In his statements, Holmes virtually
disqualifies himself as a philosopher with anything helpful to
say. His statements
are those warmly stated fuzzies that feel good to the listener,
but are incredibly porous to rational thought and dangerous to
the integrity of the Christian faith.
Augustine said, “I believe (have faith) in
order to understand.”
Holmes said, “Faith (belief) is no purely logical
proceeded to understand quite well—
based upon the best reasoning that he could use, that is, logic.
begins with faith.
Augustine’s axiom of faith was that of Scripture.
Clark’s axiom of faith (all axioms are statements of
faith) was that of Scripture.
What is Holmes’ axiom (first principle) of faith?
Would he say that Scripture is his axiom?
From the reading of two of his books, it seems that he
gives a certain authority to Scripture, but not as the source of
knowledge that governs all other knowledge or that the Scripture
is our only source of absolute truth.
That is, Scripture is not his first principle.
Instead, Holmes grounds truth in the character
At first glance, what evangelical Christian would deny
that grounding? But
the only absolute truth about God is found in the Bible.
In the sense of knowing truth about God that is
propositional, coherent, and correspondent, the Bible is one’s
Grounding truth in God virtually equates
knowledge (theology) of
God with Biblical knowledge.
Elsewhere, Holmes is consistent with my analysis by his
approach to ethics.
A pattern of moral reasoning now emerges,
suggested by the Christian doctrines of creation and general
revelation but developed via an account of universal and
essential features of human existence.
Again, this sentence sounds pietistically
profound at its first reading!
And it sounds quite evangelical.
But it is first a sloppy statement, and second, it places
the Bible within an eclectic approach that includes “general
revelation.” But who or what defines and limits this source?
All human knowledge apart from Scripture comes from
general revelation, including all religions.
And what is “universal and essential features of human
who defines and limits those features?
In his quote about Clark, he would “adduce
(add to) meanings” from—those “universal and essential features
of human experience?”
He would “expand a world-hypothesis” that is not worked
out with “theorems” (logical positions derived from Scripture)?
He would “elaborate a vision” from these “features”
rather than being “coherent?” He
prefers “variables” rather than “specified propositions” which
places truth on a changing basis and is not truth at all?
If “axiomitizations cannot fully overcome,” that is,
logical reasoning based upon Scripture, can
And, if the philosopher cannot largely “overcome” his
existential situation, then does he really have anything to say
that is worthwhile?
I grant that my analysis here has been brief.
But, if Holmes’ thought is anything, it is consistent.
This consistency precludes a more thorough and detailed
analysis. And his
thinking is quite common to modern Christians.
They prefer what I term, the “warm fuzzies,” to rational
and logical thinking.
These warm fuzzies are crippling for a life that is
honoring to God and a message that proclaims the necessary
truths of His Word that will impact a world in great need of
While it may not be interesting to the reader,
I made notes on my first reading of one of Holmes’ books in 1984
(printed in the dot matrix of that time).
One reason that I cite these notes is not to be totally
I like this book!
It has many thoughts to recommend it.
For example, his false vs. secular distinction, his
concept of truth that is both subjective and objective, his
discussion of the strengths and weakness of inductive and
deductive reasoning (helpful to me who is [was] a novice to the
concept and usage of these terms), his emphasis that evangelism
and missions are not the only roles for Christians (names the
Creation Mandate), and many other discussions of general
principles of philosophy.
But there are disagreements.
He does not develop the science-truth issue.
The Scriptures are
mentioned, but are not central to the concept of truth.
A methodology is not discussed whereby the Scripture is
to govern truth. He
seems to limit the application of Scripture by its “silence” ….
He is wrong about the unwillingness of the unbeliever who is in
rebellion against God.
He speaks of “natural” causes of error and of “natural”
phenomena. One must
ponder his statement, “Truth is not found exclusively in
So, even then, early in my philosophical and
ethical pilgrimage, Holmes’ lack of commitment to Scripture was
One of my first uploads to this website was
“How to Discern the Errors of Christians Who Are Philosophers.”
The second item on that list was one who uses “All Truth
Is God’s Truth.” As
you will see by the footnote herein, that is the title of one of
I would never want to deny the personal and
heart-enriching dimension of Christianity.
But the primary
principle is that sound philosophy is dependent upon sound
of the Apostle Paul’s most ejaculatory praises followed his
writing of sound doctrine (Romans 8:31-39, Romans 11:33-36;
That is the proper, Biblical order.
It is inescapable that emotions follow thoughts.
Now, once the emotions are present, they may induce other
thoughts and actions.
But emotions, in themselves, have no thought content.
You can do this simple experiment.
Try willing yourself within moments to move from happy to
sad, then to angry, then to worry, then back to happy.
Can you do it?
Actually, I can, and you can—by moving to thoughts that
bring those emotions.
But you cannot achieve those emotional states by focusing
on them alone.
Christians are not only impotent against a declining culture,
they are contributing to it because of their emotional and
superficial thinking. Neil Postman, no particular friend to
Christianity, has described a “typographic” America from the
time of the American Revolution to the Civil War.
The Americans among whom (Benjamin) Franklin
lived were as committed to the printed word as any group of
people who have ever lived.
Whatever else may be said of those immigrants who came to
settle in New England, it is a paramount fact that they and
their heirs sere dedicated and skillful readers whose religious
sensibilities, political ideas and social life were embedded in
the medium of typography (the printed word).
Postman’s words are prophetic.
I wonder how many
Christians spend more time studying Scripture and its theology
than they do watching television.
The works of Ronald Nash have little error,
although they could be better.
The works of Arthur Holmes have some value, but only for
those who are not misled by his “warm fuzzies.”
But then, if they are able to see through these
generalities, they likely do not need his books in the first
place. Holmes is a
typical, modern evangelical scholar.
He has some knowledge of the place of Scripture, but his
approach does not give Scripture either its fullness of
application nor its governing authority.
Gordon Clark knows how to use the tools of
philosophy to advance theology.
Philosophy is the handmaiden of theology, but if that
theology is errant, even heretical, she will only serve to
Ronald Nash valued Gordon Clark and learned from him.
Arthur Holmes cared little for what Gordon Clark had said
which is reflected in his failure to understand a truly Biblical
approach to philosophy or ethics.
synonyms could be added here.
I am coming to find that philosophy and theology
could be greatly simplified with a dictionary of
synonyms or near synonyms.
Without realizing how similar terms are, the
vocabulary of these areas seems far more complex than it
Augustine, Clark, and others are criticized for using
Well, logic rightly understood is “God’s” logic
who preceded and created Aristotle.
There is no other “logic.”
There is no “merely human” logic.
There is only God’s logic.
Man in his fallen state may misuse logic, but
logic is the only method by which truth may be inferred
from other truth.
All Truth Is
God’s Truth (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press,
Approaching Moral Decisions (Downers Grove, IL:
InterVarsity Press, page 65.
to Death (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1985), pages