Friday, May 3, 2013

Gordon Clark and Non-Propositional Realities

I wrote a recent post in which I cited a few statements made by Gordon Clark with the intention of showing that at some point in his philosophic career – earlier if not later – he believed in non-propositional realities; these realities correspond to truths, but they are not themselves true per se. But since it was not the intention of that post to highlight this fact, I thought I would bring attention to it in this one, further citing one of what I consider the clearest evidences of this fact. In Thales to Dewey, pgs. 157-158, Clark writes under a subsection entitled “Alleged Sources of Pauline Theology”:
More recently the theology of Paul has been traced to some Eastern cults, to the Hermetic literature, or to the Greek mystery religions. 
The first of these possibilities depends on interpreting Paul’s account of the struggle between the flesh and the spirit in terms of a dualism of matter and spirit. This dualism may be ultimate as in the case of Zoroastrianism where two eternal principles account for the universe, or the dualism may be derived from some earlier unitary state as was usual in Gnosticism. The idea that matter or body is inherently evil and the spirit inherently good led to two contrasting types of conduct: Since the body is evil, one must live an ascetic life and mortify the deeds of the body; or since an inherently evil body cannot be sanctified, and since an inherently good spirit cannot become impure, one need not worry what his body does. Paul has never been accused of licentiousness, but he has often been misunderstood as teaching asceticism. That this is not Paul’s theory and that his theology was not so derived can be shown by several evidences. Obviously there is no ultimate dualism in Paul. One triune God is the sovereign principle of all. The Gnostic form of a derived dualism of body and spirit is also foreign to Paul’s thought. Undoubtedly he describes a moral struggle: Nearly every ethical writer does. The essential point is to identify the two antagonists. Plato said desire and reason; the dualist, body and spirit; Paul, flesh and spirit. By careless reading, the word flesh, which Paul uses in a derogatory sense, can be mistaken for body, but a little attention to Paul’s remarks makes it clear that he means, not body, but the sinful human nature inherited from Adam. Note that in the beginning God created man, male and female, and pronounced his creation very good. He commanded our first parents to be fruitful and multiply and replenish the Earth. This is inconsistent with the theory that matter or body is inherently evil. When Adam fell, it was the result of a rebellious will, and not because he had a body. Secondly, the existence of evil spirits shows that spirits are not necessarily good; and the resurrection of the body, particularly of believers, is inconsistent with the theory that matter is inherently evil. Thirdly, when Paul lists the evil works of the flesh, adultery, and lasciviousness might possibly be taken as sins of the body, but idolatry, hatred, wrath, heresies, and envy are surely psychical rather than corporeal. Note, too, that Paul attributes to some heretics at Colossae a “fleshly mind” (Colossians 2:18). Surely no one could see in this phrase an Epicurean theory of a material or corporeal spirit; and even if this perverse idea were accepted, it would ruin dualism.
Note Clark believed the authors of Scripture did not deny a distinction between matter and spirit. But matter is created, and creation is good. It is the mind and will rather than the body from which evil can result. As such, the idea Pauline theology could be rooted in the dualist’s antagonistic view of body and spirit is refuted. But all of this presupposes that “matter” and “body” are not being used equivocally, in which case they must refer to that which the dualist essentially has in mind.

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