Written by Jason Petersen
Luke Miner recently posted about a conversation he had with me online. This conversation resulted in his removal from Facebook Group called Clarkian Apologetics. 1 Some have criticized Luke for bringing our encounter to the public’s attention, but to be fair, after removing Luke and CJay Engel from the group, I cut off communication with both of them out of frustration (There are few things that frustrate me more than being repeatedly misrepresented). Therefore, I think his making a blog post about it, though the tone was, in my opinion, a bit too heavy, was perfectly reasonable. I recognize that cutting them off completely was not the right thing to do, but I maintain my criticisms on Luke’s misunderstanding’s of Clark philosophy as well as his terrible representation of what I articulated in our conversation.
I do not know Luke well, and we intend to attempt to make amends when the opportunity for both of us to talk presents itself, but I would like to briefly respond to some of his criticisms concerning my position.
” Apparently, he has also told other people (the whole group maybe) that I am not a Clarkian”
While I have no doubt that Luke believes he is a Clarkian, he is not a Clarkian. Clark never defined knowledge as justified-true belief, yet Luke attempted to articulate (in a different thread) that notion in the Clarkian Apologetics Group (or at the very least, that “true belief” is not enough and that a qualifier is needed. Clark would never agree with this). Clark instead defined knowledge as true belief, or more specifically, possession of the truth by a mind. 2 This, and my conversation with Luke, is exactly why I proclaimed that he is not a Clarkian. Perhaps he respects Clark and agrees with him on many aspects (such as Clark’s rejection of metaphysics), but he should not call himself a Clarkian.
“This, I suppose, was said in anger because, as far as I can see, nothing happened in the conversation which even remotely merits such a conclusion.”
Luke should not have made such a statement about my intentions because he does not know what my intentions were. The reasons why I stated that he is not a Clarkian has already been given.
“I hold absolutely nothing against Jason and I still like him. I still like him even if he never will agree with me.”
I also hold no animosity towards Luke. I regret that the spat occurred, and I wish that he had been more charitable in representing my position and that I would not have gone overboard in my response to the conversation. I hope that Luke and I will be able to remain on good terms.
“I’ve not mentioned my views on ontology vs. epistemology at all in this post. In this regard, I think that those of us who already possess a working definition of “ontology” would do well to pay attention to Clark’s numerous statements about the word “exist” and the copula “to be.” Clark’s criticisms deal harshly with the ideas of metaphysics and ontology. Clark admits that he never wrote much on metaphysics. What I think most people who read Clark fail to understand, is why he didn’t. In my opinion, the answer is plain enough in Clark’s writings, but don’t we all have selective hearing sometimes?”
Luke is correct on this. Clark rejected metaphysics all together because it is impossible for there to be anything that is independent of God’s mind (Acts 17:28). However, Clark literally argued that truth is God. This is an ontological statement because it concerns the nature of truth. 3
Luke’s Criticism of My Philosophy
Let us now move to his criticisms of the position I articulated:
“So, I pointed out that knowledge is a thing so he’d have to make epistemology a subset of ontology by his definition. The reasoning was this: If ontology is the study of nature of things, and if knowledge is a thing with a nature, then the study of the nature of knowledge (epistemology) would, by Jason’s definition, be part of the greater study of ontology.”
Different sects of a worldview will overlap at some point. It is inevitable. I defined ontology as, “the nature of things.” What Luke is missing is that before we can speak about the nature of things, we must be able to say how we know anything about the nature of things. No doubt Luke would agree, but what he is missing is my own position. There are propositions that are true before we come to know them, and those propositions are still true even if we deny them (as the unbeliever denies God by suppressing the truth). Therefore, it is only proper that Luke concede that if there are true propositions to learn, then there is ontology. As for man, epistemology, when exercising philosophical discourse, is relative to the one who is engaging in philosophical discourse. 4 If there are propositions that are true or false that is independent of what a man thinks, then there is certainly a nature of things. In this case, it would concern whether those propositions are true or false. Therefore, ontology must not be ignored.
“I also pointed out that if ontology just tells us what things are, ontology and definition are synonyms since a definition tells us what things are. I didn’t press the point this far but actually, on his definition, he’d have to make any and every study a subset of ontology since everything study-able is a thing.”
And here, I have been misrepresented by Luke. I defined ontology as the study of the nature of things. I did not define it as what things are. The latter definition would be more consistent with metaphysics. Metaphysics would be what is “beyond the mind.” Clark would reject such a definition. When I say ontology is the study of the nature of things. I am referring to the nature of God and what he has made. Yet, this does not mean that I have to start with ontology, for again, the question becomes, how do I know the nature of things? I would have to start with a first principle that would allow me to know the nature of things. And as has been established in the previous paragraph, ontology cannot be dismissed. For instance, there is a nature of man, and Clark wrote about this at length in many books, but perhaps most in depth, in his book, “What do Presbyterians Believe?” 5 If one makes ontological statements, one cannot dismiss the term, “ontology.”
The Reason Why Luke was Banned
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.
What Luke was advocating in the group, between his holding to knowledge as justified-true belief (or something of the sort) 6 and his rejection of ontology, are both not Clarkian positions. Dr. Talbot, Dr. Higgins, and Dr. Kyser, who were all students of Clark, all agree that although Clark rejected metaphysics as a false branch of philosophy, Clark did not reject ontology. 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. Whilst both Clark and The Bible reject the notion of anything that is beyond the mind of God, they do not reject that there is a nature of things.
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. 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. It is not easy to instruct others when you have multiple people (who do not seem to understand Clark as well as they think) jump on you. If they wish to argue, they can go to the Gordon Clark Discussions group. Although there are a lot of people over there that do not have a full understanding of Clark, there are still a lot of insightful things that are said in that group, and such a group would be a superior venue for debate as opposed to the group that Ricky, Dr T, and I run (which is not a debate group).
That being said, if we are arguing with a bunch of people that are trying to challenge us on everything, it leaves us being unable to fulfill the purpose of the group. It was not only Ricky, Dr. T, and I that shared the frustration. There were some in the group that felt the same way. It is simply not right to go into a group in which certain people are to be teaching and then proceed to try to undermine the teachers. Imagine being a professor and then having a student try to take over the class. Anyone who knows me is aware that I have little tolerance for such antics. It is also worthy to note that the Clarkian Apologetics Group is a direct product of the Gordon Clark Foundation, which, by the way, endorses this website.
Dr. T, Ricky, and I made the group, and because we made the group, we have the right to assign the group its purpose and also to do what needs to be done to fulfill that purpose. No one person is going to enter the group and tell us how to run it or disrupt the purpose of the group. I forgive Luke for his tone and his insistent misrepresentation of my views, but he and Cjay will remain out of the group. I am happy to make amends, but that does not mean that they will be allowed to undermine the purpose of the group.
It is not my intention to have a long back and forth with Luke or Cjay. I simply do not have time, but in case people were wondering what the hub bub was about, I figured I would respond to some of what Luke has said. Concerning scripturalism.com, I have found it to be a resource that is worthy of anyone’s time if they wish to learn, but if Luke is labelled as a Clarkian on that site, clearly neither Luke or whoever is in charge of the site have a good understanding of Clark’s philosophy. 7 Even though I agree with Luke that my reaction (concerning cutting off communication with him) was overboard, it remains that being told repeatedly that you adhere to a position that you have not articulated is very, very, frustrating. I simply do not have the extensive time that would be required to deal with someone who is not willing to give careful consideration of my own position. I say that we should say we disagree and move on, 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. If Luke and Cjay wish to have the last word by responding to this blog post, they may do so. As for me, I have nothing more to say on the matter.
4. This means that man is only able to say that he knows what his own epistemology can support.
5. “What Do Presbyterians Believe?” Chapter VI, p. 69
7. The description of Clark’s philosophy (even though it does lean in Clark’s direction) on scripturalism.com is also inaccurate. (http://scripturalism.com/what-is-scripturalism/)