Gordon Clark’s Argument for the Existence of God from Truth.

Gordon Clark being a presuppositionalist normally did not argue for the existence of God, but in this case he thought it was valuable. Taking his cue from Augustine, he developed this argument. This argument is also given by Alvin Plantinga in a slightly different way. The following is Ronald Nash’s explanation of Clark’s argument.

Gordon Clark’s account of the argument from truth utilizes six steps:

1. Truth Exists
2. Truth is immutable
3. Truth is eternal
4. Truth is mental
5. Truth is superior to the human mind
6. Truth is God

1. “Truth exists.” Clark establishes this point by reminding us of the self-defeating nature of any attempt to deny the existence of truth. Since skepticism is false, there must be knowledge; and if there is knowledge, there must exist the object of knowledge, namely truth.

2. “Truth is immutable.” It is impossible for truth to change. As Clark says, “Truth must be unchangeable. What is true today always has been and always will be true.” For Clark, all true propositions are eternal and immutable truths. He has no use for pragmatic views of truth that imply that what is true today may be false tomorrow. If truth changes, then pragmatism will be false tomorrow-if, indeed, it could ever be true. Truth itself is unaffected by the fact that sentences like “I am now typing” are sometimes true and usually false. Since I’ll present a rather long argument in defense of this claim later in this chapter, I’ll assume that this possible problem can be answered and move on to Clark’s next point.

3. “Truth is eternal.” It would be self-contradictory to deny the eternity of truth. If the world will never cease to exist, it is true that the world will never cease to exist. If the world will someday perish, then that is true. But truth itself will abide even though every created thing should perish. But suppose someone asks, “what if truth itself should perish?” Then it would still be true that truth had perished. Any denial of the eternity of truth turns out to be an affirmation of its eternity.

4. “Truth is Mental.” The existence of truth presupposes the existence of minds. “Without a mind, truth could not exist. The object of knowledge is a proposition, a meaning, a significance; it is a thought.” For Clark, the existence of truth is incompatible with any materialistic view of man. If the materialist admits the existence of consciousness at all, he regards it as an effect and not a cause. For a materialist, thoughts are always the result of bodily changes. This materialism implies that all thinking, including logical reasoning, is merely the result of mechanical necessity. But bodily changes can be neither true nor false. One set of physical motions cannot be truer than another. Therefore, if there is no mind, there can be no truth; and if there is no truth, materialism cannot be true. Likewise, if there is no mind, there can be no such thing as logical reasoning from which it follows that no materialist can possible provide a valid argument for his position. No reason can possible be given to justify an acceptance of materialism. Hence, for Clark, any denial of the mental nature of truth is self-stultifying. In Clarks words,

“If a truth, a proposition, or a thought were some physical motion in the brain, no two persons could have the same thought. A physical motion is a fleeting event numerically distinct from every other. Two persons cannot have the same motion, nor can one person have it twice. If this is what thought were, memory and communication would be impossible…It is a peculiarity of mind and not of body that the past can be made present. Accordingly, if one may thing the same thought twice, truth must be mental or spiritual. Not only does [truth] defy time; it defies space as well, for if communication is to be possible, the identical truth must be in two minds at once. If, in opposition, anyone wished to deny that an immaterial idea can exist in two minds at once, his denial must be conceived to exist in his own mind only; and since it has not registered in any other mind, it does not occur to us to refute it.”

To summarize Clark’s argument thus far, truth exists and is both eternal and immutable. Furthermore, truth can exist only in some mind.

5. “Truth is superior to the human mind.” By this, Clark means that by its very nature, truth cannot be subjective and individualistic. Humans know certain truths that are not only necessary but universal. While these truths are immutable, the human mind is changeable. Even though beliefs vary from one person to another, truth itself cannot change. Moreover, the human mind does not stand in judgment of truth: rather truth judges our reason. While we often judge other human minds (as when we say, for example, that someone’s mind is not a keen as it should be), we do not judge truth. If truth and the human mind were equal, truth could not be eternal and immutable since the human mind is finite, mutable, and subject to error. Therefore, truth must transcend human reason; truth must be superior to any individual human mind as well as to the sum total of human minds. From this it follows that there must be a mind higher than the human mind in which truth resides.

6. “Truth is God.” There must be an ontological ground for truth. But the ground of truth cannot be anything perishable or contingent. Since truth is eternal and immutable, it must exist in an eternal Mind. And since only God possesses these attributes, God must be truth.

“Is all this any more than the assertion that there is an eternal, immutable Mind, as Supreme Reason, a personal, living God? The truths or propositions that may be known are the thoughts of God, the eternal thoughts of God. And insofar as man knows anything he is in contact with God’s mind. Since further, God’s mind is God, we may… say, we have a vision of God.”

Therefore, When human beings know truth, we also know something of God’s nature. There is a sinse in which all knowledge is a knowledge of God.

-Ronald Nash – Faith and Reason – p. 161

12 thoughts on “Gordon Clark’s Argument for the Existence of God from Truth.

  1. I think we need to pay a little more attention to it than that. This isn’t about the greatest thought than which anybody can think that must exist because if you thought you didn’t think it there would be a greater thought of that which you thought existed, it’s about the truth that truth exists and those true things which are true are true in a way possible only in the case that truth exists. See the difference?

    Anselmian ontology aside, “What is truth?”. Because the way you answer the question will decide whether or not the argument has a chance of being valid. Now, I’m not actually saying it is valid. I’m saying it is interesting and interesting is enough. But if something like the theory of truth implied here were not true, then there could be no truth, and that at least seems true enough. If truth is just an arrangement of molecules peculiar to my particular brain then not only can no two people have the “same” truth, as no two people have the same arrangement of molecules, but really no one can have any truth, as no one arrangement of molecules is really any truer than any other. As far as refutations of behaviorism and materialistic reductionism go, it’s not half bad?

    Neiswonger

    (And please don’t go after their grammar when your comment has the use of a semi-colon without two independent clauses.)

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  2. I have no problem with evidential apologetics. I don’t even have a problem with empirical evidential apologetics. Paul and John the Apostles even used it (“500 saw him at once”; “whom we have seen, our hands have handled”). I do have a problem with the way it’s done sometimes, though. I think it can actually hurt the case for God rather than help it depending. How Clark/Nash defends truth here definitely helps the cause, and how Bahnsen debated Stein in The Great Debate was wonderful, as well. I’m still out on the banana peel argument, though…

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  3. I don’t think I was paying attention closely when when I wrote that last comment because after I read it tonight, it looks like I implied that Bahnsen used evidential apologetics in that debate, but I was trying to make a contrast between the two saying I agreed with both methods if they’re done properly. I don’t think it came out quite right, though. Just wanted to clear that up because it was bugging me.

    Yeah… it must have been one of those 6pm-after-dinner lulls. 🙂

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