Saturday, April 20, 2013

God, Language, and Scripturalism Revisited

In the spirit of revisiting posts, the research I've recently been doing has been coming along quite nicely, leading me to retract a criticism of Clark's philosophy of language provided here and here. The retraction doesn't have to do with a problem in the argument per se, rather in the assumption that Clark held to the contrary position. That said, this retraction brings with it some problems with Clark's other views, such as his rejection of the correspondence theory of truth (link):
Everything in the Bible seems to me to imply that God’s mind is an orderly, completely integrated system. The integration may depend on teleological relationships rather than on formal deduction, and in this sense the word implies may convey a wrong meaning; but in popular terms every item of God’s knowledge must surely fit in with every other item.
This also seems to me to solve the philosophic problem of truth. The three chief contenders in this field are the correspondence theory, the coherence theory, and the pragmatic theory. For reasons too numerous to include here, I believe pragmatism leads to complete skepticism. The correspondence theory would require us to compare an idea we have in consciousness with some utterly unknown object. This is impossible. The coherence theory remains.
While it isn't the purpose of this post, a brief reply to the objection Clark raises is that he mistakenly thinks the coherence theory of truth - i.e. a theory which is about the meaning of truth - entails a particular theory of epistemology or justification of knowledge-claims. This isn't the case. 

What is more interesting, though, is that after further evaluation, Clark's own theory of language seems to depend on the correspondence theory of truth. Consider the following two quotes from Christian Philosophy, from an essay on Inspiration and Language:
In one sense of the term, a photo corresponds to or looks like its object, but no one supposes that a word corresponds to a thing in this way. Language is not a picture of reality. The letters c-a-t do not look like the purring animal. It is all the more true that words cannot possibly look like spiritual realities, if such there be, for these are not visible entities. But in a non-photographic sense a mathematical formula may be said to correspond to the motion of a freely falling body. Could not this be an absolute correspondence? Or, if the term absolute causes hesitation, could not such a formula be or be understood as a literal assertion? Further, if the sound cat is essentially an arbitrary sign of the animal, what more correspondence could be desired? (pgs. 194-195)

And while there may be some meaning embedded in the language of a man whose ideas are not clear and distinct, the meaning would surely prove to be an hallucination if it could be shown that the words could not be made to correspond to some clear or distinct ideas. Furthermore, how can one construct a parable that relates a known object to something of which we have no concept at all? Meaningful analogies and honest comparisons can be made only if we know something about both terms. Unless a better defense of religious language and thought can be devised, the Logical Positivists, will not be greatly embarrassed. (pg. 203)
My mistake in the aforementioned posts was to think that by "words" Clark meant the concepts which make up or constitute a proposition. Having now read through Clark's works fully, this doesn't seem to be the case. In what also functions as a refutation of the idea Clark was an idealist - at least in the usual sense, for on pg. 209 of Clark and His Critics, he does allow the ascription to stand on the basis of his "emphases rest on spirit, will, intellect, and mind" while also qualifying that "the term Realism, if taken in its ancient sense, is more appropriate" - Clark distinguishes between words and concepts. Basically, words are physical or sensible, concepts are spiritual or intellectual. The primary evidence for this, however, is not so much to be found in Clark's Language and Theology, the book on which my original criticisms were based. It is with this in mind I plead mercy for my mistake. Now, for the evidence:
…words are instruments or symbols for expressing thoughts. The letters t, w, o or the Arabic numeral 2, are not the number itself, they are the visual or audible symbols used to refer to the intellectual concept. (A Christian View of Men and Things, pg. 211)
We shall suppose that God Omnipotent has created rational beings who are not merely physical but who are essentially spiritual and intellectual; beings, therefore, who have the innate ability to think and speak. What then will be the implications relative to the problems of linguistics that can be drawn from this theistic presupposition?
For one thing, this view places thought behind language and so contributes to the explanation of communication. Previous mention was made of Augustine’s De Magistro. Christ is the Logos or Reason who endows every mind with intellectual light. Christian theologians, even the poorer ones, have usually realized that in the moral sphere man is not born neutral. “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” Men are not born morally good or morally neutral, but they are born depraved. Intellectually, also, men do not come into the world with blank minds. Inherited depravity only emphasized the presence of innate moral ideas. Those wicked Gentiles who did not want to retain God in their knowledge nonetheless failed to banish him, for they continued to know the judgment of God that those who commit such things are worthy of death. In addition to moral ideas, Augustine teaches that the presence of Christ the Logos endows all men with certain speculative or philosophic ideas as well. Communication, therefore, becomes possible because all men have these same ideas. The situation is somewhat like that of a cryptographer who can break any cipher. The symbols are at first unknown; but because the ideas expressed are common, the message can be understood. If language had no thought behind it, as the behaviorists claim, and if the symbols were just a random aggregate of marks, there would be no cipher to break.
It follows next that language cannot be assigned a solely sensory origin and a primitively physical reference. Theism, of course, need not deny that the names of animals and things refer to spatially perceived physical objects; it need not deny that spatial relationships are well represented in language; it need not deny or distort any of our common gross experience. But it must assert that man’s endowment with rationality, is innate ideas and a priori categories, his ability to think and speak were given to him by God for the essential purpose of receiving a verbal revelation, of approaching God in prayer, and of conversing with other men about God and spiritual realities. As a hymn says, “Thou didst ears and hands and voices, For thy praise design.” For this reason a theistic theory of language would not labor under the burden of giving a precarious derivation or development of spiritual meaning from primitive physical reference. The spiritual meaning would be original A dubious appeal to metaphor, symbolism, or analogy to explain this transition would be unnecessary. (Christian Philosophy, pg. 198-199)
The Logos is the rational light that lights every man. Since man was created in the image of God, he has an innate idea of God. It is not necessary, indeed it is not possible, for a blank mind to abstract a concept of God from sensory experience or to lift sensory language by its bootstraps to a spiritual level. The theories of Empiricism, of Aristotle, of Aquinas, of Locke, are to be rejected.
The positing of innate ideas or a priori equipment does not entail the absurdity of infants’ discoursing learnedly on God and logic. To all appearances their minds are blank, but the blankness is similar to that of a paper with a message written in invisible ink. When the heat of experience is applied, the message becomes visible. Whatever else be added, the important words refer to non-sensuous realities. (Christian Philosophy, pg. 203)
The Lamb is a symbol. A symbol is a sign, but not all signs are symbols. The plus and minus signs of arithmetic, even though they may sometimes be called mathematical symbols, are just arbitrary conventional signs. Marks of other shapes could have served as well. Crombie above, it will be remembered, tried to maintain that his words, names, and metaphors were not arbitrary; and in this example obviously and elephant as a symbol of Christ could not have served as well; and a fish was later used only because of an acrostic. John the Baptist’s choice of a Lamb was not arbitrary; it was rooted in the Mosaic ritual. An arbitrary sign, whether a word or mathematical figure, merely designates the concept. When we are studying mathematics or reading a newspaper, we do not normally think of the shape of the sign, but rather give exclusive attention to the thing signified. In the case of the symbol, however, some of our attention is fixed on the symbol. If the Baptists had said, Jesus is Lord, no one would have given thought to the sound as such; and there is nothing in the situation except the sound and the meaning. But when he said, “Behold! The Lamb,” the situation included not only Jesus and the sound of the words, but also the lambs that the word Lamb summarized. To understand the Baptist’s message about Christ, therefore, it was necessary to think how literal lambs could symbolize Christ. This is not the case with a designatory sign. (Christian Philosophy, pg. pgs. 204-205)
In conclusion, I wish to affirm that a satisfactory theory of revelation must involve a realistic epistemology. By realism in this connection, I mean a theory that the human mind possesses some truth – not an analogy of the truth, not a representation of or correspondence to the truth, not a mere hint of the truth, not a meaningless verbalism about a new species of truth, but the truth itself. God has spoken his Word in words, and these words are adequate symbols of the conceptual content. The conceptual content is literally true, and it is the univocal, identical point of coincidence in the knowledge of God and man. (God's Hammer, pg. 38)
Scripture says, “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). This verse is all the more conclusive because John’s or Jesus’ word for words is rhemata, not logous. The latter could have been interpreted in some metaphysical sense, such as is found in Philo or Heraclitus; whereas rhemata carries the more literal connotation of words, exemplified by two, cat, or star – that is, as sounds in the air or ink spots on paper. Not that Jesus actually meant ink marks on paper, but that Daane’s insistence on literalism is more embarrassed by rhemata than it would have been by logous. Obviously, Henry and Clark do not “reduce” truth to language, especially not to sounds in the air and ink marks on paper. (See Clark’s quotation from Abraham Kuyper in Language and Theology.) Before truths or thoughts can be “written,” that is, symbolized on paper, the thoughts must be thought. Different literal words can express the same thought. For example, “Das Mädchen ist schön,” “La jeune fille est belle,” and “The girl is beautiful,” are three different sentences with all different words, but they are the same, single, identical proposition. Daane’s argument seems to be based on inattention to the distinction between thoughts and their symbolic surrogates. (God's Hammer, pgs. 181-182)
Now, no doubt the name of a constellation is quite arbitrary; and in a purely semantic sense triangle and circle are arbitrary, for the word three might have meant four and the word straight might have been applied to curves. But we cannot arbitrarily carve a circle out of the lines of intertwined equilateral triangles. Straight lines are not quite that malleable. They are somewhat fixed in a rationalistic sort of way. (Modern Philosophy, pg. 305)
Clearly, all of this makes Clark's definition of words as "arbitrary signs the mind uses to tag thoughts" (Modern Philosophy, pg. 275) much more intelligible than my former interpretation, which inferred Clark meant the meaning of a concept had to be found in another concept [or something else] ad infinitum.

On the other hand, given Clark's assertion of the adequacy of words to correspond to ideas - which presupposes a distinction between the two seemingly explained by the fact words are sensible whereas concepts are suprasensible - the question is raised as to the compatibility of Clark's theory of language with his rejection of the correspondence theory of truth, of which I have elsewhere provided several other reasons for accepting (see here and here, for example). In addition to my brief reply to his remarks above, perhaps Clark did not consider that the correspondence and coherence theory are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

At any rate, anyone who reads my posts "Signs and Symbols" or "God, Language, and Scripturalism" can understand the points I was trying to make if they simply substitute "concept" for "word" in the appropriate places and just ignores any mention of Clark. Better, Clark seems to have the same point in mind when he wrote God's Hammer (cf. pg. 82ff.), which makes my criticisms of Clark ironically awful.

As a bonus thought to this post, I have also considered how Clark's theory that words are "arbitrary" signs could be compatible with his necessitarianism (cf. Clark's chapter on Eternal Generation in his book The Trinity). But I suppose the easiest answer is that if words are considered as sensible, their arbitrarity could purely be with reference to those who use them the most often: men. That is, words are arbitrary insofar as men have no real reason for using some visual or auditory sign to designate a particular concept (their belief that certain words are ordinarily used may influence them, however; cf. Modern Philosophy, pg. 272), though their use of such may be ultimately necessitated by God. As a last resort, "arbitrary" could just be scrapped from Clark's definition of words without doing real damage to his theory of language.

As another bonus, here are a few quotes I think show that Clark rejected idealistic propositional monism:

It is more likely, though that is not saying much, that Paul is opposing the Stoics and Epicureans. At least he acknowledges their existence in Acts 17:18; but this was in Athens and not Colosse. However, even if he did not have these two schools in mind, since they both restricted reality to “matter,” that is, something that occupies space, Paul’s words apply to them because he insists that spiritual entities are as real as physical objects, and indeed superior to them, for like God they are invisible. (Commentaries on Paul’s Epistles, pg. 173)
However, in Ladd’s attempt to defend eschatology - the distinction between olam hazeh and olam haba - his view of a present Heaven becomes clouded. It almost seems as if he denies that anything is eternal, or at least it is hard to believe that he allows for a World of Ideas after which this ephemeral world is patterned. True, amid his numerous references (574) he allows that “Hebrews conceives of an invisible Kingdom already existing in Heaven.” But this admission is modified toward the bottom of the page by the paragraph beginning “Furthermore, it is not accurate to say that Hebrews, like Philo, contrasts the phenomenal world with the noumenal, regarding the former as unreal and ephemeral.” If the sentence, with the words “like Philo,” means only that some points in Philo are not found in Hebrews, we can grant it: Philo wrote many volumes; Hebrews is scarcely twenty-five pages long. But if Ladd means that “it is not accurate to say that Hebrews contrasts the phenomenal world with the noumenal, regarding the former as unreal and ephemeral,” some questions must be asked. First, must the ephemeral be “unreal”? It is really ephemeral, is it not? Ephemeral means “lasting but for a day.” If refers to something passing away; and such is this visible olam hazeh. In any case, Ladd’s own references show that in Hebrews “This age will end with a cosmic catastrophe by which the present world order will be shaken (1:11-12; 12:26) and the true eternal kingdom of God, now invisible, will become visible.” Is it not clear that there could be no temporal, eschatological dualism without a “Philonic,” “Platonic,” thoroughly Christian dualism between the eternal non-ephemeral God and the world that is passing away?
If the reader is getting bogged down in too much detail and wonders where the logical flaw is in all this, the answer or a part of the answer is that Ladd either has not defined his essential terms or has changed some of their meanings from page to page.
It makes no difference that “Hebrews applies the idea of two worlds primarily to the Old Testament cult” (574). The point is that the Old Testament teaches a “Platonic-Philonic” view of a supersensible world as well as an eschatological olam haba. Both the Old Testament and Hebrews indicate that the earthly tabernacle was the physical copy of a heavenly form. Note that the “true tabernacle” was pitched by the Lord and not by man (8:2). The earthly tabernacle was a shadow of heavenly things, for God had said to Moses, “See that thou make all things according to the pattern in the mount” (8:6; compare 9:9). Keep in mind too that this Platonic or Philonic “spatial” dualism comes from Moses, not from pagan Greek philosophy. Indeed, if we accept the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, Jacob’s dream in Genesis 28 and his wrestling with the angel in 32:24ff. exhibit this dualism of the above and below. That Hebrews is “primarily” concerned with sacrifices and the tabernacle does not preclude an underlying and more inclusive dualism, even of a Philonic type. Logically, it is a case of “both-and,” not “either-or.”
A sentence only five lines below elicits the same comment; “There is nothing ephemeral or transitory about Jesus’ life and work.” There certainly is! His birth was ephemeral - it occurred on one particular day; his death on the cross was transitory - it was completed in six hours. That such events are transitory does not detract from their “eternal significance;” but if there were nothing ephemeral or transitory about Jesus’ life, as Ladd indicates, Jesus could not have lived an earthly life at all. Strangely in this paragraph Ladd says, “What Jesus did, he did once for all,” without realizing the meaning of his words. Hapax is an important word in Christian theology.
Along with the several very true and very important points Ladd makes, one may surmise that he has not sufficiently fixed the definition of some terms such as ephemeral; also that he substitutes an either-or for a both-and; and third, that his shaky logic is the result of an inability to conceive of a non-spatial, non-visible reality as a pattern of something physical. A blueprint is the physical pattern of something to be constructed in three dimensions. A Tinkertoy, itself in three dimensions, can be a pattern of a larger physical body. But can a spiritual, intellectual, invisible, incorporeal Philonic Idea be a pattern of a three dimensional tabernacle? Can the things that are seen (phenomena) have been made of things which do not appear (noumenal)? Read 11:3.
Yes, Hebrews 11:3 is an interesting verse. First, it must be translated. The King James, the New American Standard, Rienecker in his Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, and a similar work by Hughes, all agree on essentially the same translation: “so that what is seen has not come into being from things which appear.” The Roman Catholic New American Bible has the more positive rendering, “what is visible came into being through the invisible.” The Jerusalem Bible has a looser insipid translation: “so that no apparent cause can account for the things we can see.” Owen in his immense commentary remarks that “these words...have much of obscurity and difficulty in them.” The King James and the New American Standard are grammatically correct. I might put it a little more crudely, ‘What is seen is that which has not come from phenomena.” The New American Bible is not an accurate translation, but it seems to be an excellent interpretation. And the interpretation is not so difficult as Owen leads us to believe. Especially when compared with verses in the Pentateuch the words strongly suggest that the visible world came from a suprasensible, ideal world. The term noumena is not in the text; but what else could to me ek phainomenon mean? Phenomena come from noumena. Certainly the verse in Hebrews does not forbid this interpretation.
Now note the confusion of the true and the false on page 575. Referring to 9:24 Ladd acknowledges that the true sanctuary is in Heaven and that Christ did not enter into the earthly copy of the true one. He then immediately adds, “However, it is difficult to think that the author of Hebrews conceived of Jesus after his ascension realistically entering a literal Holy Place in Heaven.... One commentator says, ‘We cannot explain verse 23 in a satisfactory manner.’ “ Ladd’s trouble seems to be that “realistically” means physical, so that spiritual things are not real. The Tinkertoy is real, but the suprasensible Ideas of God’s mind, so he suggests, are not. As if to explain the inexplicable Ladd uses the neo-orthodox phrase, “Eternity at this point intersects time” (575). Since a point has no dimensions, no historical event can occur in it. Yet the last sentence of the paragraph is, “Here in history on Earth is no shadow, but the very reality itself.” This type of neo-orthodoxy contradicts Scripture, contradicts Hebrews itself, for it implies that God and angels are unreal. Fortunately its defense is illogical.
Of course “The heavenly tabernacle in Hebrews is not the product of Platonic idealism” (576), as the liberal C. K. Barrett insists. Plato’s “trinity” had one person who was not omnipotent, one person who did not fashion the visible world, and a third everlasting principle that was not a person; but this in no way eliminates the eternal ideas which are God’s mind. Hebrews has both worlds, and their relationship is not inexplicable, as Hering suggested. Ladd attempts to solve the original problem by obscuring or even denying the noumenal world; but this is not a solution - it simply discards half of the Biblical material. He lamely concludes, “If Hebrews makes use of Philonic dualistic language [Does this imply that references to the Divine Mind are mere metaphors and symbolism?] it is thoroughly assimilated to a Christian worldview of redemptive history with an eschatological consummation.” Emphatically true: but why did not Ladd show the assimilation instead of casting doubt on the reality of the suprasensible world of which the visible world of sense is an ephemeral, transient copy? My aim, here, as said before, is not to pillory Ladd, but to defend the supersensible. Perhaps I have been too harsh on Ladd by using him for two extended examples. He is free to publicize more than two of my own numerous mistakes. But let us now choose another victim, this time nameless. This will enable the champions of Ladd to complain that I do not identify my sources. O tempora, O mori. (Against the Churches, pgs. 135-136)
 "Physical objects" are "real." The Old Testament teaches a “Platonic-Philonic” dualism: suprasensible ideas or propositions vs. physical or spatial copies, patterns, or blueprints. Both are real. Clearly, neither Plato nor Philo were propositional monists. So too, at least at the time of his writing these statements, Clark wasn't either.

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