Response to Jason Petersen

A response to a response sounds like a rather useless thing to read.  Well, I’m not going to try to talk you into it.  The purpose of this response is simply to comment on some aspects of Jason Peterson’s post that was a response to Luke Miner’s post in response to his expulsion from the Clarkian Apologetics Group.  If you follow Jason Peterson, read on.  If not, read the Institutes of Christian Religion.

While Jason repeatedly charged Luke with accusations of rudeness, misrepresentation, and non-Clarkianism we remain perplexed as to why.  Luke’s previous post provided the entire dialogue and Jason has yet to identify exactly what comments were rude or misrepresenting. At any rate, perhaps the perception of rudeness is subjective and we will have to agree to disagree. Let the reader decide.

However, Jason has clearly identified an area where he feels like Luke is anti-Clarkian. Jason takes issue with Luke defining knowledge as justified true belief (JTB) and makes that the grounds on which Luke is outside the camp. For a quick comment on the difference between JTB and Jason’s definition of knowledge, see here. Why Jason feels that he, Dr. Talbot, and the other two admin in his new group are the authorities on Clarkian thought, is anybody’s guess. At any rate, it does seem on the unreasonable side to categorize advocates of JTB as non-Clarkians when other good folks such as Sean Gerety have also taken this position. We must indicate that we see this as a very bold claim, but the present reflection is not the time to defend our interpretation of Gordon Clark.  Either way, it seems clear to most people that we know in the Clark camp that there are, at least, good reasons to suppose that Clark did not equate true opinion with knowledge. Consider John Robbins’ summary of Gordon Clark’s philosophy:

Now, most of what we colloquially call knowledge is actually opinion: We “know” that we are in Pennsylvania; we “know” that Clinton – either Bill or Hillary – is President of the United States, and so forth. Opinions can be true or false; we just don’t know which. History, except for revealed history, is opinion. Science is opinion. Archaeology is opinion. John Calvin said, “I call that knowledge, not what is innate in man, nor what is by diligence acquired, but what is revealed to us in the Law and the Prophets.” Knowledge is true opinion with an account of its truth.

It may very well be that William Clinton is President of the United States, but I do not know how to prove it, nor, I suspect, do you. In truth, I do not know that he is President, I opine it. I can, however, prove that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. That information is revealed to me, not by the dubious daily newspaper or the evening news, but by the infallible Word of God. The resurrection of Christ is deduced by good and necessary consequence from the axiom of revelation.

Any view of knowledge that makes no distinction between the cognitive standing of Biblical propositions and statements found in the daily paper does three things: First, it equivocates by applying one word, “knowledge,” to two quite different sorts of statements: statements infallibly revealed by the God who can neither lie nor make a mistake, and statements made by men who both lie and make mistakes; second, by its empiricism, it actually makes the Biblical statements less reliable than those in the daily paper, for at least some statements in the paper are subject to empirical investigation and Biblical statements are not; and third, it thereby undermines Christianity.

However, the decisive point against Jason’s indictment of Luke comes with an understanding of Clark’s philosophy of language.  A brief statement of Clark’s philosophy of language is this:  words are arbitrary signs for meaning.  Anybody familiar with Clark’s argumentation should know that Clark does not criticize people for defining their terms as they wish.  He criticizes them when they don’t define their terms.  To argue that one cannot be a Clarkian if he does not define major terms in exactly the same way as Clark is, itself, anti-Clarkian.  In the same vein, Paul writes:  “Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers.”~1 Tim 2:14. We won’t argue that knowledge is JTB.  When we use the term, that’s simply what we mean and we’ll defend the definition as coherent with our philosophy.

Now, onto the actual conversation of disagreement between Luke and Jason: ontology and epistemology. Before quoting from Jason’s response, we should reiterate: during the course of Jason and Luke’s original conversation, as can be seen in the transcript in the previous post, Luke said nearly nothing about his own definition or interpretation of ontology. Rather, Luke merely questioned whether Jason’s definition of ontology was useful, and sought to converse about the implications of said definition. This was where the conversation was cut short.  In Jason’s response, instead of rescuing his definition from the oddities it implies, he switched to defending the thesis that “therefore, ontology is not to be ignored.”  Of course, nobody has argued for ignoring ontology, so Jason is on safe ground there.  We repeat that Luke Miner said almost nothing about his own definition or position on ontology.  

Yet this did not hinder Jason from referring to Luke’s alleged “rejection of ontology.”  In fact, Jason would be hard pressed to find any definitive statements on ontology in anything Luke has ever posted (although he might gather something if he slogged through his exposition of Peter Van Inwagen’s ontology).  Even more important, Jason would be hard pressed to find any definitive statements on ontology in anything Gordon Clark has written.  Jason said as much in his response:

“Clark writes about many ontological issues in his works (and although he didn’t write anything specifically on the use of the term, he had a lot to say about it when asked), and the Bible talks about ontological issues as well.”

This begs the question.  If Clark did not write on the use the word “ontology”, as Jason indicates, it seems obvious that Jason would have to come up with his own definition of “ontology” and apply it to Clark.  This is entirely reasonable. But this question of Jason’s definition of ontology is the very question under debate.  He ought to recognize the immensity of these questions and ponder them together with his fellow philosophers rather than kicking them out of discussions when they don’t agree with him.  This is a privilege not a dynasty!  But this is not his priority (while Jason has apologized for severing communication between us, he has expressed no intention of overturning our expulsion) as will be seen in the brief quotations below.

Lastly, there are a few of Jason’s comments that ought to be understood by those who follow him.  One ought to know who they are following.

Though both Luke and Cjay did not think that Luke was rude to me, he came off to me as being rude in his discussion with me. In the rules of the group, it clearly states that the Clarkian Apologetics group is a group where Dr. Talbot (Dr. T), Ricky Roldan, and I teach the group. Our purpose for the group (a group, which by the way, includes some who were taught by Dr. Clark) was to teach what Gordon Clark believed so that others who come to the group may determine which aspects of his philosophy they either agree or disagree with.

We will admit here that if the group Jason leads is, by virtue of its own stated rules, a group for the three mentioned individuals to teach others, but not for the teachers to be in a role of discussion and learning, then Luke violated the rules. The rules, as Jason states, allow for the three admins to teach, and that is it. We accept this as their prerogative, regardless of whether we think it a prudent framework for discussion and learning.  If Jason and his friends only want to teach, they can do so without proclaiming themselves as authorities on Clarkian thought and shutting out the dissenters.  By doing so, they make it prudent for us to respond in disagreement. .  Perhaps also, Jason fails to consider that it is possible that  Dr. T and company may hold controversial positions on the thought of Gordon Clark, just as it is possible that it is we who are wrong.  In the next comments, Jason forces us to these conclusions:

One issue that Dr. T and I had was that people such as Luke (although Luke only did so on two occasions), have been challenging us on Clark’s beliefs when either of us posted in the group. There is nothing wrong with Luke and others disagreeing, but the group is intended to be a place where Dr. T, Ricky and I are instructing those who wish to learn from us.

According to Jason, these are folks who aren’t to be disagreed with in their group.  They are teachers and, as this next quote below suggests, they are not listeners.

Quite simply, and as Clark would say when someone was insistent on arguing with him, if you wish to learn from me, that’s fine, but if you only want to argue with me, go somewhere else.

The point is made most clear by this quote.  Jason wishes to be listened to, not admonished.  Why would a lover of wisdom, a philosopher say such a thing?  We hope he does not mean it.  It is reasonable for Jason to set up a group where he can teach (although we can’t see why he wouldn’t want to have discussions with those in the group who disagree), but if he makes himself the authority on Clark’s thought, he should be more than ready to accept criticism whether or not he wants to discuss it further.  

At this time, it doesn’t seem out of place to suggest that a good teacher will set a good example as a good learner, for to teach, he must first teach his pupils how to learn.  Although it is possible that Jason may be right about some of the issues under debate here (just as it is possible that we are right), this attitude is wholly unhelpful.  Moreover, he does not think the issues are important enough to continue to discuss.  In his last section he said:

Concerning scripturalism.com… clearly neither Luke or whoever is in charge of the site have a good understanding of Clark’s philosophy…but I am not willing to have an extensive dialogue because I simply do not have the time to spare when there are so many others that are willing to listen to what I have to say…as for me, I have nothing more to say on the matter.

We do not understand this attitude, nor would we claim, based on one disagreement, that jason’s site “clearly” does not have a good understanding of Clark’s philosophy.  In order to be said to have a “good understanding of Clark’s philosophy,” it seems we must agree with Jason (that is to say, John Robbins and Sean Gerety and others don’t have a good understanding of Clark because, on this specific issue, they might disagree with the interpretation).  If we don’t have a “good understanding of Clark’s philosophy” in Jason’s eyes, we aren’t worth the time.  The name of Gordon Clark has been stained by many followers who dismiss and militate against those with whom they disagree.  I hope that it has been clear in all this that the authors at scripturalism.com desire unity, love, and an open discussion even when disagreements are present.  We hope that Jason will someday allow the discussions to continue.  We don’t want to be deprived of his zeal and his bright mind.

Finally, the reader should know that we think there is more here than meets the eye on two issues: the actual interpretation of Gordon Clark and the historical development of two post-Clarkian camps. Since these important topics deserve discussion, we will be writing more on these divisions in the future.

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  • Wow, that authoritarian view of teaching is disappointing.

  • Steve M

    I am a self-appointed official
    authority on the views of Gordon H Clark. I am thinking of starting
    forum to discuss those views, but since no one can possibly
    understand Clark at a level equal to my own understanding, I am not
    interested in anyone one questioning my views. I am a bit
    thin-skinned, so it would be best if anyone coming to the forum
    refrains from characterizing my views in anything but the exact
    wording that I use to characterize them. I know that many of you
    will wonder why I bother to allow mere visitors to the forum to post
    anything at all, since they would learn so much more by just reading
    what I have to write. I am interested in answering any questions
    that forum visitors who wish to take advantage of my superior
    knowledge might ask. It is also permissible for visitors to state
    their admiration for any idea that I put forth. However, I consider
    it rude for anyone to expect that I might defend my positions, that
    is just insubordination. Anyone want to join?