Why James Anderson is not a Clarkian.

The title of this post is taken from James Anderson’s blog from a post titled “Why I am not a Clarkian”.   Ryan, over at Sean Gerety’s blogspot [http://godshammer.wordpress.com/2009/12/03/crampton-refutes-anderson/#comment-2840] provided the link to Anderson’s comments about Clark’s treatment of the trinity and the Incarnation from his definition of a person. Itwould seem Anderson thinks he has found at last an intelligible objection against Clark’s definition of a person, over and above his inane quips, at http://proginosko.worpress.com, Anderson’s blogspot. It is a section extracted from a lengthier response Anderson wrote on Crampton’s review of his book.
In it Anderson writes,
However, the problem with Clark’s formulation isn’t that it is heretical. The problem is that it’s downright incoherent.

After offering his novel definition of ‘person’ Clark explains: “As a man thinketh in his (figurative) heart, so is he. A man is what he thinks.” Leaving no doubt as to what he means, he later adds: “a person is the propositions he thinks.”[4] But this is obviously incoherent, since it presupposes a distinction between the thinker (“he”) and his thoughts (“the propositions”). It’s no more coherent than the claim that a person is the clothes he wears! In fact, Clark’s definition is circular, because the definiendum (“a person”) is referred to in the definiens (“the propositions he [i.e., the person] thinks”).

Since Clark gets his definiton from or rather believes he has support for his definiton from scripture, which he quotes, Anderson’s objection would have been weightier if he had simply provided exegesis of that verse and shown that it does not have the meaning that Clark attaches to it. Anderson’s glaring omission leaves his objection insubstantial and only a little more than just a tribalistic outburst(Why I am not a Clarkian) On the other hand, if the scripture quoted has the meaning that Clark believes it has, Anderson’s charge of incoherence must apply to the scripture as well! Since Anderson believes that there is apparent incoherence in scripture, which he calls paradox, one must ask what are the grounds upon which Anderson bases his seeming demands for coherence from this particular one?

The charge of incoherence and circularity needs to be examined. A definition must ultimately be circular, for otherwise, one needs to define further terms and define further terms and so on ad infinitum.  This is as old an observation as the Greek philosophers. A cat is a cat is not incoherent even if circular! It is a simple tautology. But all definitions must ultimately satisfy this tautological requirement, for otherwise no definition can be had.
God for example, can only be defined by himself since there is nothing “outside” God that can be used as a frame of reference. Yet this should not make the idea of God incoherent, as Anderson charges.
   Further, Anderson’s objection would imply that self knowledge is incoherent. For, self knowledge must “presuppose(s) a distinction between the thinker (“he”) and his thoughts (“the propositions”).”  Further, in speaking about one’s self “the definiendum (“a person”) is referred to in the definiens (“the propositions he [i.e., the person] thinks”).”   The implications of this objection to God would mean that either God cannot know himself or if  He does, He cannot make Himself known for fear of Anderson’s charges of incoherence and circularity. If God cannot know Himself then He is not omniscient for there would be something He does not know and if He cannot make himself known, He is not omnipotent for there would be something He cannot do, for fear of Anderson.

Anderson, exhibiting his thoroughly unchristian foundations thunders,

“In any case, how can a composite of propositions think in the first place? Aren’t propositions objects of thought rather than subjects of thought, as Clark himself recognized?  Even more problematically, how can a composite of propositions suffer or be crucified or thirst?”

Either Anderson simply does not read his bible at all or in his pursuit of an anti-Clark agenda he must ignore passages in scripture from which Clark believes he had support for his ideas. Why Anderson objects to a congeries of propositions but has no objections to the passages in scripture where Christ says He is the truth and the Bible refers to Him as the Word is hard to explain. These are basically identical in meaning. Anderson’s objections to Clark apply to scripture. The reasons Anderson fails to see the implications of his objections, that they are a rejection of scripture, is the irrational and insane world he lives in and his blind and rabid animus against Clark. All these are demonically motivated and reveal a pathological misologyof the lowest sort. Anderson goes on:

Clark’s apparent identification of propositions with human thoughts is undermined by the observation that two people can think one and the same proposition.

Huh? The ability to think the same thoughts is what provides a basis for a common definition of man, otherwise, we can only have individual men, but no man. On the other hand indviduation is provided by the fact that no two minds(congeries of propositions) can be completely identical. Clark takes pains to explain his views which Anderson chooses to ignore.

Furthermore, Clark’s attempt to distinguish persons on the basis of first-person indexical propositions suffers from explanatory circularity.(What does the ‘I’ in the proposition “I was incarnated” refer to if not a person whose existence is logically prior to that proposition?) 

This borders on siliness. Anderson does not explain why he thinks a congeries of propositions incapable of refering to themselves as “I”.  If there is a non propositional “person” prior to thought, can this “person” be  known? I have alreadypointed out the implications of this to self knowledge above. Anderson’s views condemns God and us to a mystical and unkowable other, an “I” which is prior to thought.

So much for the philosophical problems of Clark’s analysis of the doctrine of the Incarnation. How does it fare theologically? Does it do justice to the biblical teaching about Christ? Clark recommends that we think of Christ in terms of “two persons” rather than the “two natures” of the Chalcedon formula. What then accounts for the unity between the two? Chalcedon’s answer is straightforward: it’s the unity of personhood. What is Clark’s alternative? As far as I can tell, he offers none.

Anderson does not provide us with any definition of a person.  Does this not make his objections unintelligible, for not even Anderson knows what he is  making his asservations about?
Anderson does not interact with Clark’s question as to how a “human nature” cannot be a human person and a “divine nature” cannot be a divine person. Clark also raises questions about the Son being modified if he were to become anything he was not before. This would impugn God’s immutability. If the definition of Chalcedon contains unintelligible language, undefined terms, and difficult implications how can Anderson call its so called unity of personhood “straightforward”. Isn’t nonsense just that, straightforward nonsense?
But this inevitably invites a host of awkward questions. Who exactly is the “one mediator” of 1 Timothy 2:5? Who or what is the referent of the name “Jesus Christ” in the New Testament? Did Clark think that “Jesus Christ” referred collectively to two ‘persons’: God the Son and Jesus of Nazareth? Why then do the biblical writers use the pronoun ‘he’ rather than ‘they’? The answer should be obvious: the biblical writers weren’t working with anything like Clark’s quirky notion of personhood. Rather, they were working with the everyday notion of personhood reflected in personal pronouns: an individual with the capacity for thoughts, intentions, and actions.

We believe the bible teaches a trinitarian view of God. But the Bible hardly ever uses “they” or “we” in talking about God. It says God is “one God” which does not entail one person. The unity of the Godhead is not that of “personhood”. In other words, God is NOT one person even if the Bible uses “He” and not “them”. Why does Anderson not think this could apply to the Incarnation? Rather, it is “obvious” that the absence of “they” simply cannot be taken to entail one person. Indeed, I myself wish to know the answers to the questions Anderson raises. Refering to difficulties his view entails, Clark noted that there is no conversation recorded in scripture between the two persons in his two person theory. The Incarnation invites a lot of questions not only because of Clark’s views, but because it is a very difficult and puzzling subject. Clark’s exploratory effort in clarifying some of the issues for instance by insisting on clear definition of terms is commendable rather than unintelligible “substances” and unkown “persons” and implications of a modified trinity. Anderson says because the bible writers used  the everyday notion of personhood it implies that Christ was one person. Such a conclusion may not be easily made. In any case how are we the wiser about the Incarnation by the use of vague  everyday notions and not clear and precise definitons? Suppose I were to say “A cat is a fury pet with the capacity for dog hate.”  That may be true, but it certainly is not a definition of a cat. I am certain Clark would have been aware of “everyday notion of personhood ..” but obviously did not consider these notions as possesing the precision required of a definition and hence he provided one of his own. Anderson may be right that the bible writers employed “everyday notion of personhood ..”, but how does that constitute an argument against providing precise definitions? And how does calling Clark’s definition “quirky” constitute an argument against it?

Of course this is James Anderson we are talking about. A man who writes a book defending the rationality of believing contradictory notions cannot be expected to value clarity of thought nor to provide it. The irony and contradictory nature entailed by such a project is lost to him. This is sad since there is nothing to be gained by being muddle headed. The very thing Anderson is guilty of in this short section on Clark’s views, he accuses Crampton of, namely, a failure to interact with the views objected to and provide a cogent  refutation. Anderson’s piece is as unscholarly as anything any undergraduate can be guilty of.

In his blog Anderson gets commendatory comments for his effort from two stary eyed fans and simpletons, paullmanata and theoparadox.

Bouyed by Anderson’s scholarly incompetent blather, theoparadox says “James, thanks for this cogent and informative response to Crampton’s review. You have demonstrated that Clarkians don’t have the intellectual high ground they claim.” 

Just a correction. Clarkians do not claim any intellectual high ground. We simply insist that God is light and not darkness, that He is truth and rational and not confusion and contradiction in his thought. Further, God’s purpose in communicating his thoughts to us is that we may understand them(Him) and hence we insist on intelligible communication. If this is a claim to an intellectual higher ground, so be it.

Let me conclude by borrowing Anderson’s reply to barbinski:

Mr. Anderson,

Does your comment show any evidence that you have read Clark’s books or are even remotely familiar with his arguments? No.

Does your comment contain anything more than bald assertion and vacuous insinuation? No.

Is your comment the least bit insightful or productive? No.

I’ve had the opportunity to observe your contributions to Internet discussions over the last 10 years or so. I’m familiar with your modus operandi. Don’t take this personally, but I must be direct: I’d rather you didn’t waste my time and yours with comments like this one.


2 Responses to Why James Anderson is not a Clarkian.

  1. Derek Ashton says:


    FWIW, I agree completely with this statement:
    We simply insist that God is light and not darkness, that He is truth and rational and not confusion and contradiction in his thought. Further, God’s purpose in communicating his thoughts to us is that we may understand them(Him) and hence we insist on intelligible communication.

    So it looks like you and I share some common ground, Although it’s not to be found in the rest of what you wrote. Rationality prevents me from agreeing with most of that.

    I’d bet James Anderson would also agree with your statement, however.

    Derek Ashton (a.k.a. THEOparadox)

    • mqeqeshi says:

      Thanks for your comments. I’m not certain Anderson would agree with that statement as he probably attaches a different meaning to ‘light’ and ‘understanding’. He calims to be a ‘mysterian’ if I am not mistaken!


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