C. Jay Engel's First Place Essay

Gordon Clark on Science and Behaviorism


There is little question that, in this present life, the Christian will commonly face opponents who are eager to threaten the truth claims of the Biblical worldview.  What is more, it happens to be the very nature of the Christian religion that all who do not embrace it, that is, intellectually assent to its propositions, necessarily oppose it, even if they are not so "eager."  "Whoever is not with me is against me," declared Christ, the object of our faith.  Opposition though, while having in common an Antichristian worldview, comes in many different flavors, various styles, and competing epistemologies.  Indeed, the world longs for a doctrine which they can hold on to, anything that will prevent them from accepting the truth of Christianity.  While the Christian would be wise to refer to this as a prime example of Total Depravity, the non-Christian lusts for this false doctrine.  They seek to undermine the Christian position quite often and we are disappointed to discover that many, Christians (so-called) included, fall for their efforts.   And yet, as will be demonstrated in paragraphs following, the wisdom of this world is foolish.  Thus, the great battle of our times is a foolishness that has persuaded the masses against the Wisdom of God revealed in His Scriptures.  A fascinating battle indeed.  

It is in this context that we consider Gordon H. Clark, the man John Robbins has referred to as "America’s Augustine."  The student will happily note that Clark was one of the most comprehensive scholars that Christianity has ever produced.  From ethics and politics to soteriology and epistemology, Clark has understood that the Christian perspective is adequate to address all of reality.  Further, it is the only philosophical system that is adequate.  And thus, when prevalent subjects such as science and psychology "eagerly seek" to dismantle Christianity, Clark is ready with a reply.  It is these two specific fields that we will cover at this present time.  Addressing the topics of science in The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God and the more narrow issue of Behaviorist Psychology in Behaviorism and Christianity, Clark has offered a stunning defense of the Christian worldview by ably revealing the contradictions, confusions, and intellectual dishonesties in these two fields.  It is no easy task to succinctly and accurately summarize a position while at the same time pointing out its flaws, especially with the complicated topics that Clark faces here.  But it can hardly be denied that in these books, Clark is at his very best.[1]

The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God

We must be thankful that Clark understood that to discuss science without first having a Philosophy of Science would cause the discussion to be incomplete.  Indeed, without an overall view of what science is, what it should be used for, how can any meaningful discussion proceed?  And yet, as Clark noted in his introduction, "Many scientists have an enormous amount of detailed technical information about electrodynamics and quantum theory, and yet lack an overall view… of science" (Clark, 18).  As will be indicated below, one major difference between the Christian worldview and many who depend on "science," is that the former places science within a "general philosophy" while the latter group have made science their "general philosophy"; a move that will ultimately undermine the essence of their position.

With this in mind, as Clark explains, "the major part of the present study, as it traces the history of science from older theistic constructions to more recent anti-religious positions, will be an attempt to say what science is: an attempt, in other words, to sketch a philosophy of science" (Clark, 18).  It is by this philosophy of science that we can ask: what is it good for?

The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God (originally published in 1964) is a work whose relevance has not gone away.  We live in an age where the advocates of science have, among other things, vocalized their belief that science has disproved religion, rendered Christianity a worldview of the past, and, as Clark says of skeptic philosopher David Hume, "ruled out both miracles and God" (Clark, 17). 

The Problem of Motion

While these are quite provoking claims, in order to at the same time question their accuracy and develop a philosophy of science, Clark begins with the ancient Greeks and their attempt to understand the concept of motion.  He writes: "If there were no motion, there would be no science.  Physics could exist in the absence of electricity, and zoology does not absolutely require butterflies.  But neither can do without motion.  Be it physics or zoology, the phenomena examined are either the causes and effects of motion, or the motions themselves" (Clark, 20). 

As important as motion is for scientific inquiry, it presents some major problems that the ancient Greeks recognized, but have yet to be dealt with, even today when "science" reigns supreme.  "Most people simply take motion for granted and do not think about it" (Clark, 20).  Can motion even be justified?  Or must we be forced, as Clark intriguingly suggests, "to conclude that motion is impossible?" (Clark, 23).  When we observe the "simple phenomenon of a marble rolling across a table (Clark, 19)," can such motion be explained at all?

To answer these inquiries, Clark gives an overview of ancient Greek consideration.  Zeno the Eleatic noted, with his famous story of Achilles and the tortoise, that in a race where the tortoise was given a head start, Achilles could never truly pass up the tortoise even despite his renowned speed.  For every time he reached the point where the tortoise was, the tortoise, in all his slowness, would have moved at least a small bit.  Again Achilles would aim for the precise spot of the tortoise, but again the tortoise will have moved.  Achilles was bound for defeat.  For are there not an infinite number of points between Achilles and the tortoise?  Surely Achilles could not logically reach the bounds of infinity and thus pass the tortoise! …

But Zeno was not alone in his deliberation of motion.  If Zeno discovered that motion might indeed be impossible, it was Heraclitus before Zeno who’s "slogan… was, ‘All things flow" (Clark, 23).  And thus he reached a conclusion opposite to the result of Zeno’s logic.  All things flow, all things are constantly changing, and nothing remains at rest.  His example was that "one cannot step into the same river twice" (Clark, 23).  For not only is the river (and its river bank) in constant movement, but so is the individual stepping into this river.

But if everything is in constant and universal motion, then what could possibly be meant by "river?"  There must be something that does not change, for otherwise how can it be recognized as a river?  How could we discuss this flowing stream of water?  Indeed, by what amount of logic can we even refer to a river as a "flowing stream of water" unless there is something that remains unchanged?  The fundamentals of communication are thus abolished by the "Heraclitean flux."  Plato recognized as much and, when he questioned Heraclitus’ disciple Kratylus about the fact that opinion and consistency becomes impossible if everything is ever changing, Kratylus was left to answer Plato with a "waving of the hand" (Clark, 24).  And yet, how else could he have answered?  Surely not with words that are meaningless due to the ever changing nature of the mind itself. …

So then, if we can neither say that nothing moves or that everything always moves, who can help to lead us out of our predicament?  For science is impossible without motion.

Clark takes us next to Aristotle, perhaps the most famous philosopher of Greek antiquity.  "Aristotle agrees that if everything were always changing, nothing would exist and knowledge would be impossible.  Therefore, he concludes, something must exist that does not change" (Clark, 25).  It is vital for our discussion that we note, as does Clark, that Aristotle is not attempting to dismiss Heraclitus simply because he has a desire to claim that knowledge is possible.  Rather, Aristotle recognizes, and Clark emphasizes, that unless Heraclitus is wrong, that is, unless "something exists unchanged," science itself cannot be studied.  To reiterate, motion depends on something existing unchanged, science depends on motion, and therefore science depends on something existing unchanged. …

The importance of our present discussion is this: in order for us to determine our overall philosophy of science, we must first have an idea of what science is, and we must know its limits and boundaries.  Therefore, with an analysis of Aristotle and his denouncement of Zeno and Heraclitus, we aim to discover whether science is even possible, given that it depends so heavily on the concept motion; a concept we have yet to justify intellectually. …

Aristotle sets himself apart from Zeno, Heraclitus, and their contemporaries by beginning with a courageous effort toward a definition of motion.  Clark explains that "the pre-Socratics had failed to unravel the enigma of motion chiefly because they did not know what motion is [italics are Clark’s].  Their halting hints were faulty as definitions" (Clark, 28).  In Aristotle’s Physics III, he "formulates the definition of motion three times" (Clark, 28).  Unfortunately however for both Aristotle and the dignity of science, he was ultimately unsuccessful in his attempt at a definition.  The second of the three definitions defined "motion as the actuality of the movable...."  But this is problematic, for "how could one know what movable means, that is, able to move, unless one first understood motion?" (Clark, 28).  And thus the second definition is unhelpful due to its circularity. 

As for the first and third definitions, motion was defined "in terms of potentiality."  While this might seem fine to the reader, Clark points out that, when looking for a clarification of the word potentiality, we find that Aristotle has defined that word "in terms of motion" (Clark, 29).  And thus, we have still not overcome Aristotle’s disappointing circularity in his attempt to define motion –that concept which is so very necessary for science!

As we near the end of Clark’s first chapter Antiquity and Motion, we note his "disturbing conclusion" in all of this: "The problem of motion remains unsolved."  We have failed to justify it.  Aristotle’s ancient rival Democritus had suggested that, rather than try to demonstrate motion, we must simply assume it.  We must see motion as our presupposition, or, to use Clark’s phrase, our "indemonstrable axiom" (Clark, 26).  But not only have the Greeks failed to demonstrate motion, their inability to define it "has annihilated Democritus as well as Aristotle."

For how can one assume what has yet to be defined?  Was Clark on to something in his concluding sentence, namely, that "perhaps motion, and science along with it, is just nonsense"? (Clark, 31).

A Shift in Scientific Method

Today, one rarely conflates the allegedly separate areas of philosophy and science.  While the previous discussion of Greek antiquity was quite philosophical and seemingly "unscientific," it is the modern era of science which began to separate philosophy from science.  That is to say, modern science has separated itself from the ancient and medieval world by shifting its method.  The so-called scientific method, largely developed by the likes of Galileo, was centered on actively and intentionally experimenting.  As Clark infers, we must not assume, as is commonly done, that the Aristotelian era was deductive as opposed to modern science’s inductive method.  Rather, both deduction and induction were used by the ancient Greek philosophers as well as the modern scientists. …

The Renaissance era scientific revolution had begun and the scientific method was born.  No more was Achilles’ failure to pass the tortoise a problem.  The alleged glories of experimentation did not wait for solutions to be offered to Zeno or Heraclitus.  And perhaps Aristotle too had wasted his time on definitions.  In the words of Clark, the "new generation" did not care "to prove that motion occurs nor would they waste time on futile definitions or explanations of motion in general" (Clark, 33).

It was the initiation of this method which began to undermine the Aristotelian understanding of nature.  For it was through Galileo’s effort by experimentation to understand the nature of the pendulum swing that he determined that "a body moving in a horizontal plane will continue in motion at the same velocity, without any further force applied to it, unless it is retarded by an external force in the opposite direction" (Clark, 35).  But this conception of motion, which would later be turned into the law of inertia by Sir Isaac Newton, contradicted the very basis of Aristotle.  While Aristotle saw nature as such that motion was caused by a change that took place within the body itself, Galileo and Newton realized that change was not occurring in the body, but rather, a change in motion was caused by "an external force."  The quality of the body itself was not changed, but something acting on the body caused the change.   

Thus it was by the new method of science that the history of science passed from medieval to modern.  Our relevant question then, is whether or not the new method of science brings us any closer to a philosophy of science.  The new system is the basis of the majority of claims today that "God does not exist."  But are such claims even warranted given this new basis?  We must therefore deal with this new system if we are to both defend the faith and declare a philosophy of science as a whole. …

What is Meant by Scientific Explanation?

It was Newton who was able to solve many of the problems relating to planetary orbit that frustrated his contemporaries and predecessors.  The problem that thousands of years of astronomy could not overcome was how the planets could move in circular orbits.  It is true that Copernicus made magnificent headway by "working out a heliocentric astronomy" (Clark, 37) and Kepler expanded on that with his laws of planetary motion, but they were not able to explain why the planets move as they do.  Why do they "fall forward" in their motion and rotate around the sun rather than simply move in a straight line, past the sun, toward the edge of the universe (if there is one) like Galileo’s law of inertia indicates should happen?  It was Newton that gave the world the concept of gravitation, a word that, even today, can be used by any seven-year-old to answer the question: "why does the rock fall to the ground when one lets it go?"  Indeed, the answer to the question of a falling body is the same as the answer to the question of planetary motion.  Gravity is said to be the cause of both.

Now, we must mimic Clark in noting that there is a necessary distinction between an explanation and a description.  We cannot say that gravity explains the motion of the planets, for we do not know what, exactly, gravity is in and of itself.  It is certainly, to use Clark’s vocabulary, invisible and intangible.  And we therefore must ask whether it is "useless as an explanation of motion" (Clark, 39).  We do not even have the information available to answer the question, "what is the cause of gravity?"  Newton did not know and famously noted "Hypotheses non fingo" (I frame no hypothesis).  It is here too that Clark points out that Newton attributes the placement of the planets to "an intelligent and powerful Being."  But this is no explanation; indeed, Newton refused to explain gravity.  And how could he?  Gravity is unobservable. …

The Limits of Experimentation and Mathematics

Our second consideration concerns what is meant by mathematical formulations and their role in experimentation.  We have already mentioned that,

Not only did Galileo prepare his trough and roll the marbles down, but what is more, he varied the length of their descent.  This means he measured the distances; he measured the times also.  And he made these measurements for the purpose of manipulating them mathematically.

But Clark continues here to say,

One of [Galileo’s] mathematical analysis showed that varying the velocity with the distance presupposes infinite speed; and since this is impossible, he assumed that the velocity increases with the time.  From this assumption, this law, this mathematical equation, it can be deduced that a body falls four times as far in two seconds as in one.  Later scientists used more mathematics; indeed, they invented more mathematics to use. (Clark, 44) 

Thus, these mathematical formulations are the results of the creation of laboratory conditions and have not stemmed from a real world observation.  The trough was prepared, the lengths were chosen, the marble was crafted, and even mathematics needed to be invented to keep up with the plethora of experiment.  It is quite curious then, given these pristine conditions that one could venture to apply the results of these experiments to real world nature.  Has the scientist "proven" anything?  He has done well in tracking the velocity and motion of a marble on a trough, a bob on a pendulum, but would it perhaps be too much to ask that the scientist find us these perfectly crafted and prepared materials in nature? 

Clark then is correct in noting that, rather than discovering these scientific laws, the laws are more accurately seen as constructions.  Brilliantly constructed no doubt, but constructed no less.  Mathematics then is useful in observing and tracking our marbles and bobs, but our problem is that we have not shown that mathematics is useful in constructing a worldview.  And thus the claim that mathematics, upon which modern science is built, is the basis for studying all of reality is a claim that cannot be sustained.  Or as Clark says: "Therefore, since the Newtonian laws do not describe the actual workings of nature, they cannot be used as a satisfactory demonstration of the impossibility of God and miracles" (Clark, 55). …

Newton Misapplied: The Rise and Fall of Mechanism

What happens when we take the mathematical laws, assume they are absolute, and assume further that they are capable of interpreting all of reality?  We get mechanistic philosophy.  The universe is a grand machine and nothing can happen except that which is mathematically predictable.  In other words, by taking the laws of physics and applying them everywhere, many have assumed that they could move this into a worldview.  "What was startling, disturbing, and controversial was the extension of the mechanical ideal to all phenomena, including life, and especially human life" (Clark, 45). 

The implications of mechanism are important.  For if the entirety of nature is a machine, then so is the person.  Whereas the Christian worldview teaches that a person is a soul, that is to say that his person is not physical, the mechanistic philosophers quickly realized that a soul must be unnecessary.  Reality, after all, is a machine.  The human needs no soul.  If this is true, the argument must merely be extended to "conclude that the universe needs no God" (Clark, 46).  And what of thoughts?  Are those not the work of a mind that is not physical?  Mechanism here too denied the Christian worldview in noting that "The brain secretes thought as the liver secretes bile" (as quoted by Clark in Clark, 46).  By misapplying Newton’s laws by extending them beyond the laboratory, the atheistic revolution was in sight. …

The intersection here of the truth and usefulness of science is where we will bring our consideration of science to a close.  For we now have almost all that we need to put together a philosophy of science.  Newtonian mechanics has failed as a worldview, as it cannot function as a proof or basis for absolutes.  Clark writes: "The dogmatic assertion of absolute truths, the exclusion of all non-observational data, the idea that science really discovers how nature works have been amply refuted" (Clark, 64).  Since science cannot rationally produce anything dogmatic, and indeed proponents of such have largely been swept away, we must choose between an acceptance of skepticism and a completely different view of science altogether.  We have shown that science and the scientific method are not worth using as a foundation for a worldview of all reality.  If science is to still be used to establish truth, we must become skeptics.  If science is our only hope, then we can truly know nothing absolutely.  Mathematical formulations which stem from the laboratory and incompatible theories of motions which are used together today have shown us that to put faith in science as a general philosophy is quite contrary to reason and logic. 

But what if we gave science another purpose?  What if, rather than relying on science to produce a general philosophy, we instead use it for something more practical?  Surely it should be agreed that without science, this essay could have not even been typed on a computer and printed from an electronic printer.  Moreover, the fact that the present author was able to drive the essay to the post office, pay for postage with a debit card, and call the folks at work with a cell phone to let them know traffic was heavy, depends heavily on scientific progress.  This we affirm.  Indeed, many of the great advancements and innovations of this last century, the present century, and even the next can be attributed to science.  So therefore, while the laws of science are always false, we still hold that science is useful.  Science is the means by which we "can utilize nature for our needs and wants" (Clark, 76).  This understanding of nature is a more practical application of a theory of science known simply as Operationalism.

We do not seek absolute truth by scientific means, for such a goal is unattainable.  Clark’s application of Operationalism "is not put forward as a general epistemology, and most certainly not as a universal relativism.…  On the contrary, Operationalism is here offered absolutely as a philosophy of science.  Instead of being the sole gateway to all knowledge, science is not a way to any knowledge –unless, as was just said, it is a knowledge of what to do in a laboratory.  But knowledge of nature, No" (Clark, 76).  This "knowledge of what to do in a laboratory" has certainly produced many wonderful gadgets.  The current author is using one now.  Thank God for science. …

Behaviorism and Christianity

When we discussed above that many followers of Newton had extended his laws to all of reality and, among other things, removed the necessity of the soul from the individual, we referred to this trend as the rise of mechanistic philosophy.  The offshoot of this philosophy sowed the seeds for the rise of a psychology that dismissed everything about the person that was immaterial.  Thought, rather than being a cognitive function of the mind and an effort of consciousness, was reduced to a physical occurrence.  Indeed, as shocking as this might sound to the unacquainted reader, a thought, for the so-called Behaviorists, is seen as an act of physical motion --as physical as speaking itself.  And since there could certainly be no soul or spirit for the Behaviorist, which is the psychological subspecies of a naturalist philosophy, the person was entirely material and thus was not immortal.  He, as everything else that is real, is simply a machine.  Such are the implications of a mechanistic worldview.

We will now discuss and consider Gordon Clark’s overview of Behaviorism and, instead of sectioning this review by separating the various Behaviorist proponents as Clark has done, we will rather section it by its primary teachings.  Clark summarizes the Behaviorist psychology by looking into four key figures in its development: John B. Watson, Edgar A. Singer, Jr., Gilbert Ryle, and B.F. Skinner.  Following a summary of these four, interspersed with critique and criticism, he offers a devastating rebuttal against the system of Behaviorism. Next, he takes the time to peer into the teachings of a so-called "Christian Behaviorist" named Donald M. Mackay, and then concludes with a thoughtful theological analysis of this individual.  Here, we too will look into the thought of each of the above figures but will structure our overview differently.    

The Aim of the Behaviorist: A New Psychological Method

It is important to remember that, for the Behaviorist, all that is to be known must first be observed.  Observation requires the use of the "test-tube" and an "objective" or outside point of view; that is, one cannot observe the behavior or activity of a person by reflecting on himself.  And thus, as a psychology, Behaviorism rejects the utilization of any introspection, the method of the earlier psychologists.  Clark quotes John Watson to say: "No one has ever touched a soul or has seen one in a test tube" (Clark, 94).  Clark follows this up to point out that "the reference to touching and seeing presupposes that sensation is the test of truth" (Clark, 94).  Therefore, from the very inception of the psychological theory of Behaviorism, we discover unsurprisingly that methodologically, Behaviorism seeks to be strictly empirical like their Newtonian predecessors.  Of course, this should not shock the reader given that we have already stated as much about the mechanistic worldview, which is the foundation for Behaviorism. …

We have noted that the Behaviorist adheres to an empirical epistemology –that is, things must always be observed.  Not only do they adhere to this as an epistemology, but they also seek to make this the method of their own psychological theory.  Thus, a psychologist must observe the individual in the same sense that any person must observe his subject, any subject.  Indeed, man, like nature, is fully a machine to be examined.

Life and Soul

If a man is fully a machine to be examined, the soul, as it is immaterial, does not exist.  And further, since a soul or mind are not bodies that are extended into space, they should not be referred to as being "inside the body" as is commonly said.  Gilbert Ryle is quite assertive on this point and "abusively" (Ryle’s word) defies any other view as "the dogma of the Ghost in the Machine."  That is to say, Ryle claims that it is an impossible suggestion for any non-material aspect of a person to have an effect on the physical body. 

Accordingly, Clark’s summary of Singer’s position on this issue is that, on the very demands of observational empiricism, the soul itself cannot be asserted to exist in every person.  Clark infers from Singer that, "the analogy that as my soul controls my body, so the similar motions of another body require an unobservable soul, is an analogy based on a single instance and therefore has no value" (Clark, 104).  In other words, perhaps alluding to David Hume, Singer questions whether an individual can, upon the assumption that he himself has a soul that directs the body, logically extend that assumption so that it applies to all other persons.  There is certainly no observation in this extension and therefore the assumption of the soul does not help us to explain behavior.  But that, of course, is not to mention that Singer himself does not in the first place "assume that any soul produces my bodily motions" (Clark, 104). …

The complications with both the non-existence of the soul and life-as-behavior are many.  In the first place, we should note that the positive assertions of the scientific method, that is, observational experimentation, cannot in any way prove that the soul does not exist.  Since observation can only deal with that which is observable, it is a leap of logic to declare that that which is non-material does not exist.  The most the Behaviorist could possibly say is that the existence of the soul cannot be known.  In other words, as Clark constantly mentions, the positive arguments for Behaviorism are actually underdeveloped, deficient, and incomprehensive.  The Behaviorists spend much of their time arguing against the opposing styles of psychology and asserting their own principles, but hardly enough time giving their "proof" for their own view.  As an example and perhaps in a different context, in his concluding remarks on Behaviorism, Clark writes that "the intellectualist therefore concludes that the argument for Behaviorism is distinctly deficient" (Clark, 140).  Such statements are common throughout.

In the second place, the assertion that the body is simply a machine cannot be as dogmatically absolute as the Behaviorist would like.  Even as Clark says of Ryle, the impossibility of the "Ghost in the Machine" dogma depends on the unproved assumption that the person is, in fact, a machine.  To quote Clark, "let it be said here that there is no necessity of considering the human body or the physical world as a machine."  And third, since the Behaviorist denies that the soul exists, so he also denies the very foundation for all of thought and knowledge.  These ramifications will be discussed below in the following section. …

Thinking and Knowledge

If we are to refer to thinking at all, it must be a physical motion, that is, to use the Behaviorist’s terms, a behavior.  It was John Dewey who "somewhere compared thinking with digestion.  Digestion is not itself the stomach; It is not a material thing.  So too thinking or soul or mind is not a material, and much less an immaterial, thing: It is the functioning of the body" (Clark, 115).  Many people are not used to referring to a thought as a motion or a function.  And yet, as Clark says about Watson, "he…identifies thinking as a sub-vocal speech.  Thinking is precisely a motion of the larynx without a sound" (Clark, 95).  Skinner expounds on this idea and, referring to thought as "verbal behavior," writes that "It has a special character only because it is reinforced by its effects on people" (Clark 132).

This leads us to another important aspect of Behaviorism.  If thinking is a physical motion, verbal behavior, then knowledge too must be physical.  For the behaviorist, knowledge is founded on the "conditioning" of one’s environment.  Thus, rather actively and voluntarily perceiving the environment, the Behaviorist holds that knowledge is more of a passive and mechanical response to the environment.  That is to say, knowledge held in the mind should not be seen as dictating our actions and behaviors but rather that knowledge is the action or behavior itself. It is perhaps instructive to make mention of the fact that while the early behaviorists like Watson made behaviorism simply a method of psychology, it was the later Behaviorists like Skinner who actually expanded the principles and attempted to describe all that was actually happening in the body.  For example, it was Skinner who noted that Behaviorism teaches "that the initiating action [of perception] is taken by the environment rather than by the perceiver" (Clark, 130). 

Again, the denial of the human as active participant in the perceiving process leads us to further concern.  If there is no perception in this sense, we discover, with the help of Clark, that "…only individual realities are knowable.  There are no abstract ideas" (Clark, 131).  How, then, can we turn "individual sensations…into universal concepts?  Without universals, such as courage, liliaceae, and even red, the contents of the mind, if there be any mind at all, do not merit the name of knowledge.  Without subjects and predicates there is no truth, and every predicate is a universal."  In other words, if there are no universals, there are no predicates.  And if there are no predicates, there is no truth.  The Behaviorist, Skinner in particular, must therefore provide some sort of universal, although he does not seem to be able to do so.  Simply redefining the word abstraction (as Behaviorists tend to do of many words) does not solve the necessity of its traditional meaning. …

What should be said of all of this?  What are the implications of the claims that all thinking is behavior and all knowledge is simply a result of conditioning and various mechanical responses to environmental stimuli?  The result is that the Behaviorists have rendered it impossible to know anything, communicate anything, and give any real meaning.  Clark provides a revealing and quite necessary analogy to demonstrate the utter incoherence of the Behaviorist system.  Since all thought is, for the Behaviorist, a physical motion, perhaps we can imagine Yankee Stadium as one person’s body and the first pitch of a baseball game as a particular thought.  This particular pitch, this thought, is an inside curve.  Once the pitch as been thrown, we know that it is a motion that can never occur again as it did the first time.  As Clark explains, "a given motion is a dated even and cannot occur twice.  It may be that a pitch in the third inning is also an inside curve, but it is not the identical pitch.  It has come fifteen minutes later.  Then, too, its speed is not precisely the same, and the curve breaks about half-an-inch higher.  That is to say, the same thought can never occur twice.  If I think thought X at 2:30 P.M., I cannot have the same thought at 3:00 P.M., or ever after.  In other words, memory is impossible" (Clark, 139). …

Thus, Clark has displayed that the Behaviorist system fails on its own claims.  But we must not forget the even more problematic foundation of Behaviorism: empiricism.  Specifically, the Behaviorist touts his emphasis on observation and experimentation.  And so, Clark has some quite relevant questions that should be posed to them, relating to the methods.  Among them: "What, experimentally, are the precise chemical reactions that you identify as the idea of the square root of minus one, and what different reactions are thoughts on gravitation or baseball?" (Clark, 140).  This alone is enough to show that the Behaviorist has been deceitful.  He cannot show by experimentation what is meant by a difference between thoughts, if in fact they are physical and chemical.  Of course, empiricism as a whole is worthless in determining universal propositions.  The Empiricists "cannot validly establish any law of science.  Experience is always finite and induction is always a fallacy" (Clark, 141).

Ethics and Politics

There is more to the Behaviorist world though than just theories on the mind and thought.  Indeed, since it deals primarily with "behavior," it cannot be overlooked that Behaviorism has important things to say of ethics.  It was Singer who, according to Clark, acknowledged "that Behaviorism requires its advocates to take a position on ethics" (Clark, 104).  Clark also quotes Watson to say that:

I [Watson] would like to point out…that some time we will have a behavioristic ethics, experimental in type, which will tell us whether it is advisable from the standpoint of present and future adjustments of the individual to have one wife or many wives; to have capital punishment or punishment of any kind;…whether many of our other prescribed course of conduct make for adjustment of the individual or on the contrary, such for example as having a family life or even knowing our own fathers and mothers. (Clark, 96)

It appears that Watson himself did not determine the proper ethical code of the Behaviorist, but he did realize that, to be consistent, ethics must be "experimental in type."  He is clear though later that the idea of punishment for a wrongdoing should not be given credibility.  First, a child cannot be held responsible for his behavior, for it is more accurate to say that the wrong "is the parents’ [or teachers’] fault" (Clark, 98).  Skinner expounds on this by shockingly (at least to the Christian) stating that we "must assume that a person’s behavior is controlled by his genetic and environmental histories rather than by the person himself as an initiatory, creative agent" (Clark, 135).  Watson also says against punishment that, "The idea that a child’s future behavior will be prevented by giving him a licking in the evening for something he did on the morning is ridiculous" (Clark, 99). …


Our last section will summarize Clark’s theological analysis of so-called "Christian Behaviorist" Donald M. MacKay.  He is "so-called" because he must change the historical meaning of Christianity to fit the Behaviorist paradigm.  Clark puts it this way:  "Christianity cannot tolerate Behaviorism" (Clark, 144).  Quoting Calvin, Clark shows that the Christian worldview necessarily relies on the existence of an immaterial soul and a mind that thinks.  Indeed, as Clark quotes John Calvin, the whole of man "consists of soul and body" (Clark, 144).  Whether or not Christianity has it right is one matter, but it is completely another matter to clarify that MacKay has no grounds to redefine Christianity to fit his Behaviorism.  They simply are in contradiction to each other.

At the beginning of Clark’s analysis of MacKay he explains how he disagrees with MacKay’s very premise.  Because MacKay assumes that there is a dilemma because of the "scientific advances of modern times [which] have caused many deep-rooted superstitions to wither," it is obvious that MacKay’s presupposition is that there are true, universal, and "hard scientific facts" free from any other "philosophical presuppositions."  Clark denies this very claim: "Contrary to common opinion, there are no data, no givens, no brute facts.  Everything in anyone’s mind is already there intellectually interpreted" (Clark, 145).  We have already established the extent to which science is capable of helping us.  Thus, the entirety of MacKay’s worldview may at once be dismissed. …

There are other problems with Mackay.  While Clark has shown that the laws of physics are always false, Mackay’s Behaviorism depends on them.  So then is God not free?  Must He too adhere to these so-called "laws?"  MacKay denies this and instead opts for the view that these laws actually describe the way that God normally operates, that is, they describe the pattern that God tends to follow.  But of course if He only follows them normally then there are times when he does not follow them.  But since the laws of physics reject the possibility of exceptions, Mackay has a difficult choice to make:  Either mechanism is false and God is free or mechanism is true and God is not free.  Holding to both the freedom of God and the truth of mechanism is contradictory.

Clark’s final word on the matter however is several simple examples from the Scriptures to show that MacKay, since he assumes the mechanistic worldview, is not really on the same side as the Christian.  It is quite obvious that MacKay should be called to answer the fact that God and angels, even though they have no material body, are all thinking beings.  Therefore, if thinking is done outside the body, why does MacKay find it necessary to adhere to Behaviorism which teaches that thought is necessarily a function of the body?  Secondly, Clark points out that Genesis teaches that the physical body was not alive until he breathed spirit into that body.  Why then does MacKay believe in the Behaviorism that teaches that life is a behavior of the body? Lastly, there are two examples from the Scriptures which show that the person is the soul, not the body, contrary to Behaviorism and Mechanism. 

First, after Moses died and his body was buried in Deuteronomy 34:1-6, he later "held a theological conversation concerning the doctrine of the atonement with a refulgent Jesus" in Luke 9:29-31.  That is to say, both his person and his thinking existed outside of the body that had long been decomposed.  Secondly, what about the thief on the cross?  If Jesus had told him that "Today you shall be with me in Paradise," then truly "the two persons were enjoying Paradise" after their bodies had been taken down and buried.  Again, both the persons and their thoughts continued beyond the material world.  Clark concludes here with this:

Now, finally, like the thief on the cross and like Moses, some of our friends have died; we too shall die, unless Christ returns within a year or two; then being dead, our brains and body being buried, we also shall engage in theological discussions with Christ and those who preceded us there.  Theology does not require brains; it requires a mind or spirit; and Behaviorism is a denial of the Gospel. (160) 


Gordon Clark has shown that a philosophy of science is necessary before it is used against the Christian worldview.  Without knowing what science really is, there is no basis for claiming that "God does not exist."  But more importantly, now that we do know what science is, we can rejoice in that fact that it has no basis on which to say that "God does not exist."  God has given mankind the gift of nature for which its purpose is to fulfill our "needs and wants."  Science then, while unable to "discover" any ultimate laws, is quite useful to help us maximize our use of nature.

If science cannot be said to describe all of reality, the Behaviorist psychology is faulty; for it relies on the assumption that science is absolute.  It needs the Newtonian laws of physics to describe everything.  If the foundation cannot be sustained, then the theory which rests on top will surely fall.  We have shown though that Behaviorism, even on its own terms, is insufficient as a theory of thinking and life.  It renders communication and meaning impossible. 

The Word of God is truth, this truth is propositional, and was given to us via the Scriptures.  It is by our belief in such propositions that we are saved.  The wisdom of the world is foolish.  Let the scientists have their faulty and arrogant dogmas; we have our assurance in the promises of the almighty God, who has spoken truth to us clearly through the Bible.

[1] Both books, (The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God and Behaviorism and Christianity) are included in Clark’s Modern Philosophy.  Thus, all quotations, unless otherwise noted, are taken from Gordon Haddon Clark, Modern Philosophy (Unicoi, TN: Trinity Foundation), 2008.

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