Recollections of Gordon H. Clark
The following piece was written by Dr. William Young
While I was an undergraduate at Columbia College in New York, I became acquainted with the League of Evangelical Students and a chapter was formed on the campus. The advising board in 1931 consisted of Melvin Grove Kyle, Leander S. Keyser, J. Gresham Machen, Clarence Bouma and Harold Paul Sloan. In 1938, there were over 70 chapters in Christian and secular institutions of higher learning. On the program for the first summer conference in 1936 is listed Studies in Romans by Gordon H. Clark, Ph.D., Philosophy Department, University of Pennsylvania.
I was also acquainted with some of Dr. Clark’s writing when I was an undergraduate,
The Creed Club, I understand, was an informal group of students in which the Westminster Confession of Faith was studied, and a number of the Wheaton students became Calvinists. While Dr. Clark was on excellent terms with J. Oliver Buswell, the president of Wheaton when he was hired, his teaching of Calvinism and, in particular, his criticism of emotionalism in religion proved to be alien to the outlook of Dr. Buswell’s successor, and Dr. Clark was obliged to leave Wheaton. While in 1938-41, Dr. VanTil referred critically to Dr. Clark’s views on the incomprehensibility of God and the place of the emotions, yet no one dreamed of bringing charges of heresy against a stalwart champion for the faith.
In the controversy over the Complaint against Philadelphia Presbytery of the O.P.C. for ordaining Dr. Clark to the preaching ministry, at first Dr. VanTil’s authority weighed heavily with me, as with others in the O.P.C. I was away from the scene in Toronto in 1944-46, but at the General Assembly of the O.P.C. , when Dr. Clark was subjected to elaborate questioning, I was convinced by his answers that he believed in total depravity and that the allegations of heresy were unfounded. I was elected to the committee to study the doctrines of the Complaint, and concurred with Rev. Floyd Hamilton on the subjects of the Noetic Effects of Sin and the Free Offer of the Gospel. On the latter point, I presented a “minority” report with which half of the committee agreed.
I taught at Butler University as Dr. Clark’s junior colleague from 1947-54. I learned more philosophy from association with him then than at Columbia and Westminster or Union Seminaries, although I owe much to the eminent thinkers at all three institutions.
I profited from Dr. Clark’s lectures but also from discussions with him. Once I fallaciously argued that, since we can talk about “nothing”, there must be such a thing. I recall that he used the pseudo-syllogism to the contrary: Half a loaf is better than nothing, and nothing is better than a Thanksgiving dinner; therefore, half a loaf is better than a Thanksgiving dinner.
Once at luncheon, he was pointing out that there is a one-to-one correspondence between the members of the series of even integers and all the integers, and concluded that there was only one infinity. I mentioned Cantor’s diagonal proof that the number of decimals between 0 and 1 is an infinity larger than can be brought into such a correspondence with the integers. Clark replied: “I am silenced, but not convinced.”
When in Amsterdam, Dr. Clark had an interview with Dooyeweerd, in which he asked whether there was absolute truth. Dooyeweerd replied in the negative. Clark wrote on a piece of paper: “There is no absolute truth,” handed it to Dooyeweerd and asked: “Is what is written absolute truth?” I inquired, “What did Dooyeweerd say?” I was told this was the wrong question. I should have asked, “What did Dooyweerd do?”, and the answer was, “He smiled.”
Since I left Butler, I have kept in touch with the Clarks. Dr. Clark and I had a somewhat extensive correspondence on Saving Faith. He has been so kind as to review my early book Toward a Reformed Philosophy in the Journal of Philosophy and to recommend my Foundations of Theory and Hegel’s Dialectic to the Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company.
Among other items too numerous to mention, I owe to Dr. Clark some understanding of the importance of logic in philosophy and theology, of the a priori in epistemology and the primacy of the intellect. I trust that his emphasis on such matters will exert a permanent influence on the thinking and action of those who profess Evangelical Christianity and the Reformed Faith.
Dr. William Young is a Minister of the Word in the Presbyterian Reformed Church, and a retired Professor of Philosophy at the University of Rhode Island.