By C.Jay Engel and Luke Miner
The occasionalist psychology of belief is in conflict with Scripturalism and yet is regularly appealed to by Scripturalists as an alternative to genuinely empirical modes of knowledge. Occasionalism that is, the idea that God is the only cause in the universe and is therefore the sole cause of all human beliefs apart from mediation is neither a proposition of Scripture nor validly deducible from propositions of Scripture. Although Scripturalists ought to reject this psychology of belief on the basis of their Scripturalism, they regularly employ it to explain their knowledge of empirical claims.
Scripturalism, as maintained by Gordon Clark and other prominent scripturalists, does not affirm that “God is the only cause in the universe.” In fact, most scripturalists hold to the Westminster Confession and regularly quote chapter 3 and it’s scripture references to confirm the distinction between secondary causes, attributable to created beings, and an ultimate cause attributable to God. This makes the objection irrelevant.
Not much more needs to be said to address this objection since it is so obviously misplaced. The WCF Chapter 3, paragraph 1 says “God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” Lest people think that scripturalists reject this part of the WCF, part of Gordon Clark’s commentary on this passage is provided below and the rest may be looked up.
But before this is provided, a note on the wording of Aquascum’s definition of cause is possibly worth making in order to assuage the confusion that normally surrounds a discussion of Clark’s affirmation of both secondary causes and occasionalism. We may shorten the objector’s definition of occasionalism to the idea that God is the only cause in the universe. Many take occasionalism to be a slightly different thing. Perhaps not so slight is the difference between the idea that God is the only cause in the universe, and the idea that God is the only ‘efficient’ cause in the universe. For those who are confused by Gordon Clark’s views on causality, it may seem like Clark is an occasionalist in both the senses defined above, and therefore cannot hold to a doctrine of secondary causes. Yet, the solution lies in understanding Gordon Clark’s theory of causation so graciously expounded in Thales to Dewey (of course, a theory of causation would have something to do with this question). At Scripturalism.com, we have written on this portion in: Clark on Causation to try to make it easier to understand. Once a Clarkian realizes that a cause, for Clark, is a purpose, and that causes happen after their effects, and not the reverse, they either wonder if that renders occasionalism entirely irrelevant to Clark, or they see the harmony between Clarkian occasionalism and the WCF doctrine of secondary causes. It seems almost too easy, since nobody denies that people accomplish some of their purposes, and Calvinists don’t deny that God made man’s mind and some of the purposes therein. To claim that Clark is not an occasionalist would would be to claim that God doesn’t originally make the mind and purposes of men such that they accomplish some of their purposes, but to claim that Clark denied secondary causes would be to claim that people never accomplish their purposes. Aquascum seems to deny the latter.
Other questions might be asked. Is it fair for God to put purposes in men’s minds? Does this do violence to man’s will? If God causes all things, then doesn’t he cause us to believe false propositions? These are not the subject of this brief post, but have come up and will come up in others. Consulting the chapter about evil in Religion, Reason, and Revelation would be our high recommendation for a discussion of the relevant biblical information.
Clark on the WCF:
“Summarizing the Scriptures, the [Westminster] Confession says here that God is not the author of sin; that is God does nothing sinful. Even those Christians who are not Calvinists must admit that God in some sense is the cause of sin, for he is the sole ultimate cause of everything. But God does not commit the sinful act, nor does he approve of it and reward it. Perhaps this illustration is faulty, as most illustrations are, but consider that God is the cause of my writing this book. Who would deny that God is the first or ultimate cause, since it was he who created mankind? But although God is the cause of his chapter, he is not its author. …
The Scripture references show clearly that God controls the wills of men. …
This does not mean that violence was done to the will of the creatures. It was not as if [in the case of Absalom and his men choosing a war plan] the men wanted to adopt Ahithophel’s plan and were forced to follow Hushai against their desires. … But it must be noted that God established psychological processes just as truly as he established physical processes.
This ties in with the next phrase, “nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.”
In the case of Absalom the secondary causes were the psychological process. The decision the men of Israel made was not made in opposition to those processes, nor even without them. God has established such processes for the purpose of accomplishing his will. He does not arrange things or control history apart from secondary causes.
To mention other examples, God decreed to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt; but they had to do the walking themselves. God decreed that Solomon should build the temple; but Solomon had to collect the materials. God does not decree the end apart from the means. He decrees that the end shall be accomplished by means of the means. [Gordon H. Clark, What Do Presbyterians Believe? (Unicoi, TN: Trinity Foundation, 2001), 37-38]