Clark on Van Til’s “solution” to the Problem of the One and the Many

While teaching at Wheaton College (1937-1943) Dr. Clark actually used Dr. Van Til’s syllabi for some of his philosophy classes.

One syllabus on Christian Apologetics in the Sangre de Cristo Seminary library has Dr. Clark’s handwritten note that it was given to him as a gift from Van Til in 1940. A typed note in this syllabus shows a critique of Clark’s on Van Til’s solution to the problem of the one and the many.

Clark writes:

“Note that the ontological equality of the Son with the Father is used an argument to show that the One and the Many are equally ultimate in God. This would be a good argument only if the Son represented the diversity in the Godhead and the Father was the unity. But as a matter of fact the Father represents the diversity as much as the Son. The orthodox doctrine asserts that it is the substance that is the factor of unity in the Godhead. The Father is one of the three persons. In other words Van Til has confused the substance with the Godhead.”

In another place, Clark writes directly to Van Til in a letter of August 28, 1937 providing a critique of the doctrine:

“Perhaps you will admit this criticism so far as it goes, and reply that you rest your proposition on the necessity of solving the one and many problem. To this I would suggest that Christianity does not face the same difficulties here as does a pagan system. A pagan monism cannot logically derive its multiplicity. But Christianity does not have to derive multiplicity from logic. The creation is not a syllogism, but a voluntary choice. In paganism the supreme principle is deprived of volition to ensure continuity to the universe. Volition savors of anthropomorphism. Hence they have manufactured their one and many problem by insisting on logical derivation as opposed to volitional creation. Conversely, we do not have to solve a problem that is peculiarly theirs.”

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  • Thanks! Very helpful.

    I thought this brief article on Van Til helped explain the connection between his “solution” and his view of truth.

    Although in the doctrine of the Trinity the solution to how plurality is to relate to unity is resolved, man himself is unable to understand this resolution. Indeed, it is essential for Van Til that, although God does understand the solution, man is unable to understand it. Its very status as a solution, puzzling though this may sound, depends on its inability to be understood by man by virtue of the fundamentally mysterious nature of God’s Triunity…

    Van Til’s epistemology can be summed up thus: God’s Triunity constitutes the precondition of the possibility of knowledge on the ground that it resolves the problem of relating unity to diversity, yet this solution is itself known only to God and is incomprehensible to man. Therefore, Christians can have knowledge because they know that such a solution exists, but they themselves cannot understand the solution. Since God (and God alone) understands the solution to this problem because He understands His nature, only God can understand how all knowledge relates to His Triune nature, and God therefore possesses all knowledge in a way that is qualitatively distinct from man’s knowledge by virtue of the latter’s inability to understand how his own knowledge relates to the precondition of the possibility of knowledge whose essence is the solution to the problem of how to relate unity to diversity which resides in God’s Triune nature.

  • Jacques

    “Christians can have knowledge because they know that such a solution exists”
    – how exactly does any Van Tilian *know* that a solution exists? Certainly not from gazing upon God who is beyond understanding, nor from gazing into his alleged word which is ripe with apparent contradictions no human can ever see thru. So how did a Van Tilian come across the *knowledge* that there is a solution?
    I note that the psuedo reply (it doesn’t really answer the question),
    P1: He understands his own nature
    is asserted with no hint of apparent contradiction, no hint of analogy – thus P1 is unScriptural by Van Til’s own measure. So now a new problem arises:
    How does any Van Tilian know P1?
    ad infinitum, ad nauseum