In Thy Light, We See Light: The Apriori Nature of the Logos Doctrine

The present article is another in an informal series on Clarkian philosophy and more specifically, elaborating and explaining Clarkian philosophy, or my interpretation of it, in a way that is attractive to readers of this site.

One of the features of Clarkian philosophical theology, which of course is Clark’s primary contribution, is that, for him, Christianity is chiefly about the mind, about the intellect. Everything is constructed on intellectualist grounds— to have saving faith is to assent (a purely intellectual activity) to the propositions required for salvation; to increase in sanctification is to gain more and more theological knowledge; to be closer to, or in union with, God is a matter of the intellect; to be in the presence of God is to be thinking God’s thoughts after Him.

Clark of course, while emphasizing this more than most, is not the first to totally intellectualize our religion. One can choose from a number of theologians, but for instance, even Jonathan Edwards noted that “There is no other way by which any means of grace whatsoever can be of any benefit, but by knowledge.”

(I should mention swiftly, given my recent interest in modern developments in the Roman Catholic church, that their entire system of sacraments emphasizes the liturgy, the form and structure of worship, and the mystery at the expense of rationality and logic and, therefore, knowledge. Clark explains fascinatingly: “This is why Protestantism requires a sermon before celebrating the Lord’s Supper, while the Romanists usually omit the sermon and say mass in an unknown tongue.” That is, Tom Woods and his fellow traditionalists, even if they are right about the disruption of Rome in the Post-conciliar (Vatican II) age, disrupt and undermine the necessity of knowledge in their efforts to uphold Roman tradition.)

The reason for all this is simple: Clark conceives that there is nothing that makes up man except mind and body, he is a dichotomist. The soul is the mind; the “heart” is a Biblical metaphor for the mind; and all that is in the mind is intellectual. There is no deeper spirituality than the intellectual and that which is eternal is as well intellectual. The intellectual is the spiritual realm. To say God is spirit is to say God is mind.

That man was made in God’s image, as we have mentioned before, is under a Clarkian formulation to say that man was made uniquely among all creatures in that he was given a rational mind; a mind that contained and depended on the laws of logic and the ability to reason. God is the Great Mind, the holder of all true propositions and, subsequently, we were given smaller minds; the extent to which we actually know truths is to the extent that we have the same propositions that make up the mind of God. Such is Clark’s stunningly Augustinian metaphysic.

In this way, Clark declares war on the implicit neo-Kierkegaardianism that has swept Western, even conservative, Christianity. Such Kierkegaardianism has smuggled in the language of “passion” or “deeper” spirituality, which is often difficult to dissect, and also difficult to interact with, given its emphasis on mystery and non-logic, non-physical categories. The intellectual is not to be pitted against the spiritual: for in Clarkian thought, they are united.

In any case, for Clark, there is nothing but 1) body and 2) mind-soul-heart (used synonymously). But of course, for Clark, the intelligence plays an even more fundamental role than the physical components. Clark declared that, technically, man has a body, but man is not his body. Man himself is distinct from his body and his body was given to him by God as a tool with which to interact with the rest of God’s creation. At a more fundamental level, therefore, man is his mind; man, like God is mental-intellectual-spiritual.

This of course gives new meaning to the idea that God is a God a Truth. As discussed elsewhere, under a Clarkian framework, all truth is propositional; propositional structure is a characteristic of truth. Thus, God is a God of true propositions. This conception of “God as Truth” is different than the Thomist one, which makes God the “Truth” that “true propositions” correspond to. For Clark, however, there is no difference between what we might call “Truth capital T” and the truths which correspond to it. Therefore, it makes no sense to define truth propositions as those propositions which correspond to reality; rather, under the Augustinian-Clark construction a proposition is either assented to by God, or it is not. If it is not, it is a falsehood; if it is, it is the very same truth as held in the mind of God.

Now, under a Clarkian model, as previously discussed, logic is not a creation of God, nor is it subsequent to God, nor is God subsequent to it. Logic and God are one and the same first principle.

Clark writes:

For this reason also the law of contradiction is not subsequent to God. If one should say that logic is dependent on God’s thinking, it is dependent only in the sense that it is the characteristic of God’s thinking. It is not subsequent temporally, for God is eternal and there was never a time when God existed without thinking logically. One must not suppose that God’s will existed as an inert substance before he willed to think.

As there is no temporal priority, so also there is no logical or analytical priority. Not only was Logic the beginning, but Logic was God. If this unusual translation of John’s Prologue still disturbs someone, he might yet allow that God is his thinking. God is not a passive or potential substratum; he is actuality or activity. This is the philosophical terminology to express the Biblical idea that God is a living God. Hence logic is to be considered as the activity of God’s willing.

This conclusion may disturb some analytical thinkers. They may wish to separate logic and God. Doing so, they would complain that the present construction merges two axioms into one. And if two, one of them must be prior; in which case we would have to accept God without logic, or logic without God; and the other one afterward. But this is not the presupposition here proposed. God and logic are one and the same first principle.

All this leads us to the Logos doctrine, found primarily in John chapter 1:

v. 1: In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.

v. 3: All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

v. 4: In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

v. 5: And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

v. 9: That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

v. 10: He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.

v. 12: But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name

v. 13: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

In his small book (or is it a booklet?) The Johannine Logos, Clark sets the Logos Doctrine in its Greek philosophical context and observes the history the ancient Greek philosophers in their use of Logos (the English translation of which is Logic). He observes that “one of the most important differences [between Hellenistic Logos and the New Testament Logos] is that the pagans did not say that their Logos was incarnate in one particular man at a given date in history.” Christianity is unique in that Logic took on flesh.

Thus Clarkian Logos doctrine, then, has an apriori flair to it: The Logic, who is God, created man, who, being made in this very same image, is chiefly mind, not body. What is staggering here, under a Clarkian framework, is the meaning of life above is given a very specific interpretation. Any casual reader of the text should know that the “Life” in verse 4 is not biological; after all, the life is not light of horses and squirrels, but of men, and therefore something else is meant by life. But whatever it is, there is a connect to the Light. The above excerpt from John 1 should be read again.

The true Light, that lighteth every man, is a reference to the rational nature of our Lord. We worship the Lord God of Truth. And as our Lord is rational, and as he lighteth every man, so we are rational.

The life mentioned therefore might be said to be spiritual life, not biological life, and certainly not the life of the mystics, the irrationalist religionists, those who suggest some third alternative between the intellectual and the body. If there is only body and mind, and if the mention of life in verse 4 is not body, then it must be a reference to the mental. As Clark notes, “intellectual life is indeed life.” Perhaps we might say that this life refers to the conscience– self-awareness; the thinking man beyond physical organs and brains and a strong blooded beating heart. Living is a condition of man as mind independent of the presence of the body. Did not Paul indicate that we are present with God when we are absent from the body?” Truly, as Acts 17:28 says, “In Him we live and move and have our being;” this is a spiritual/intellectual reference, not a physical one.

And thus, rather than Logic being lifeless inapplicable to “the real world,” the Christian, who draws connection between “Life” and “Light,” understands that we worship a Living Logic; a Living God. The Supreme Reason of the Christian worldview is a personal and living God.

But here we consider the meaning of our God of Light. The use of the word “Light” is difficult because this word is most often and unfortunately used as a reference to non-intellectual categories. Light is so often used to refer to concepts such as “feelings,” deep emotion, some sort of ill-defined spiritual awakening that profoundly and categorically rejects rationality. In fact, “finding one’s light” is even used in juxtaposition to thinking rationally! As if rationality and reason are chains that bind men and keep us away from communion with God. How often have we heard such anti-intellectualism?

If anything could be said of Clark, it is that he is the antithesis, the precise opposite of anti-intellectual tendencies in post-Kierkegaard Western Christianity. Thus, Clark paraphrases John to write: “In the beginning was Logic, and Logic was with God, and Logic was God…. In logic was life and the life was the light of man.”

God is his mind, and he is a God of logic, and he is the source of all life, and more specifically of John, this life is intellectual, and then it makes sense that John would say that in this logic there is life. This very same life is the light of man. The light, this rationality, of man, flows from the Divine and Sovereign Logos.

Gordon Clark was often asked, in his rejection of sensation as a means of knowledge acquisition, how then do we come to know biblical truth. Do we not need our senses to read our Bibles? The answer to this question, which was also given succinctly by Gary Crampton in a deservedly well-read summary of Clarkian thought, should not be supposed to be a random and fly-by answer— his answer stems from Clark’s entire construction of the relation between man and God.

In opposing sensation as a means of knowledge acquisition, Clark is turning on its head the standard assumption about how concepts entire our minds. Generally speaking, and this truly reflects the extent to which Western Philosophy stands under the influence of Thomas Aquinas and his disciples, the world exists around us and transposes itself, through our senses, onto our minds. My aim here is not to disprove sensation or empiricism, but merely to describe Clark’s effort to offer up an Augustinian attempt to flip this arrangement upside down.

Rather than our minds passively accepting or receiving, via the senses, the impressions of the physical world around us, the Clarkian framework puts the mind as the active interpreter of the world. It is the mind and its apriori categories, laws of logic, and propositions, all of which reflect the Mind of the creator, that interpret the world. There is indeed sensory stimulation, or at least there seems to be, but this stimulation is not such that the senses are giving forth knowledge. Rather, the knowledge that we have is a result of our mental connection with the “Light that lightens every man that comes into the world.”

Now, if God is the container of all true propositions, or, in biblical language (Col 2:3), “In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” — if this is true, and it is, then truth is not a product of the mind of man. This is a vital component of the Christian theory of knowledge. For instance, in order to avoid subjectivism, classical realism argued that truth was independent of the mind; that is, the existence of a truth did not depend on noetic activity– this undermines the mental nature of truth. And the anti-realists held that truth does indeed depend on the mind. But of course, since there are millions of minds, the result is that truth is subjective, which undermines the definition of truth.

The nature of truth, is that it is propositional. Propositions cannot be independent of the mind. We only say a proposition exists if it is conceived or thought of. Thus, truth is mental. The apriorists agree. But this is not enough. For if we merely state that truth is mental, and there are millions of minds throughout the earth, then whose propositions are true? Moreover, man has not existed in eternity past, but propositional truth must have (see the Nash link above). Thus and therefore, there must be a mind that transcends all other minds. The solution rests in the Augustinian tradition of the Logos doctrine, which does indeed teach that there is a transcendent mind.

As Plantinga put it: (and it should go without mention that Plantinga isn’t per se a Clarkian, yet on this specific issue he has a very quotable paragraph)

“The thesis, then, is that truth cannot be independent of noetic activity on the part of persons. The antithesis is that it must be independent of our noetic activity. And the synthesis is that truth is independent of our intellectual activity but not of God’s.”

It is this transcendent mind that is the Mind of Truth; the Light that lightens every man; the Rationality that has created men with rational minds; the Logos that has instilled his own logical structure into man. And thus, we view the world through this lens; the world makes sense, there is regularity, pattern, the ability to interact; not because knowledge travels from the physical objects into our mind, but because we interpret the world with minds that have apriori tools they were created with. Truth is not something that travels from the black ink through our retina, but the transcendent Mind works through our minds and stimulates it such that there is understanding in the reading of the words– the syllables, the sentences, the grammatical are all interpreted as propositions by the light of the mind.

Clark, from an audio lecture (A Contemporary Defense of the Bible), and pulled from Doug Douma’s site:

Our knowledge is due to the “light that lightens every man that comes into the world.” And the reason is that God’s mind and our minds penetrate. We exist in God. And maybe I might not want to press it quite as far as the author of this expression pressed it but we see all things in God. We live and move and have our being in God and he uses these things to stimulate us but the knowledge itself, the propositions, cannot be deduced from any sensory experience.

And thus, when we think, we think as God thinks. Or as Clark writes (A Christian View of Men and Things):

“The truths or propositions that may be known are the thoughts of God, the eternal thought 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 legitimately borrow the figurative language, if not the precise meaning, of the mystics and say, we have a vision of God.

To replace the mechanical model, the Christian view of the world presents a “model” that is so unimaginable that its opponents are likely to call it inconceivable. The world of physics drops into the secondary position of stage scenery, and instead of picturing little hard pellets, the Christian view emphasizes a world of spirits or persons or minds. The Apostle Paul said that in God we all live and move and have our being. Even if the details of Malebranche’s philosophy cannot be accepted, yet it must be insisted on that God is the “place” of spirits. Minds are not impenetrable pellets. Even human minds in some degree overlap or penetrate each other, and the Divine Mind that encloses or surrounds all others penetrates them completely.”

As the Light of God is reconstructed from it’s various mystic, or general non-rationalistic, interpretations, and intellectualized under the Augustinian framework to refer to the Logical nature of God, so we can say with the Psalmist (36:9):

“In Thy Light, We See Light.”

In Thy Logic, we discover truth.

Or, we interpret and make sense of the world, and we especially can reason because it is in the Transcendent Mind of our Lord God of Logic that “we live and move and have our being.”