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

[This is from Clark’s notes in his personal copy of one of Van Til’s syllabi. Clark signed his name in the book and notes “Gift of Van Til, 4/-/40.”]

Van Til, Christian Apologetics, p. 14: “Using the language of the One and Many question, we contend that in God the one and the many are equally ultimate. Unity in God is not more fundamental than diversity and diversity in God is no more fundamental than unity. The persons of the Trinity are mutually exhaustive of one another. The Son and the Spirit are ontologically on par with the Father.”

Note that the ontological equality of the Son with the Father is used as 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 a diversity as much as does 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 Father with the substance.

 

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About douglasdouma

I am a graduate of the University of Michigan (BSME), Wake Forest University (MBA), and Sangre de Cristo Seminary (Mdiv). I've learned far more from books than in school. I'm particularly in debt to Martin Luther, Ludwig von Mises, and Gordon H. Clark for any thoughts I have.
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16 Responses to A Clark comment on Van Til’s “solution” to the “Problem of the One and the Many.”

  1. Nathan C George says:

    Doug:

    I think I understand what Clark is saying, but I don’t understand what Van Til is saying. Therefore I don’t quite understand why Clark wrote what he did….

    By the way – congrats on your marriage!! Nathan

    >

  2. Acts1322 says:

    Reblogged this on A man after God's own heart and commented:
    Here, Douglas Douma points out the error in Cornelius Van Til’s understanding of the Trinity. Van Til rejected the historical orthodox understanding of the Trinity. Unfortunately many read Van Til through the eyes of John Frame rather than to read Van Til himself. Frame has a tendency to make Van Til sound more orthodox than he really is. Anyone who reads Van Til directly should have noticed how far he has departed from the historical orthodox position on the Doctrine of Trinity.

  3. Acts1322 says:

    Excellent post Doug.

  4. Dear Doug:

    Francis Schaeffer also thinks the Trinity is the solution to the Problem of the One and Many (or Unity and Diversity).

    Schaeffer’s phrase : “Personal unity and diversity on the high order of trinity.”

    I am curious what Gordon Clark might have thought of Francis Schaeffer analysis as presented in pages 15 to 17 of [He Is There and He Is Not Silent (1972)].

    By the way, [He Is There and He Is Not Silent (1972)] is a very interesting and important book.

    Someone who has not stared into the horror of the metaphysical and existential void might not appreciate what Schaeffer has done.

    Reference:

    Schaeffer, Francis A. 1972. He Is There and He Is Not Silent. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers.

    Sincerely,

    Benjamin

  5. I think Van Til is trying to communicate that that God’s ability to be one God in three person makes the existence of unity and diversity a metaphysical possiblity in his creation.

  6. I think Van Til is trying to communicate that that God’s ability to be one God in three person makes the existence of unity and diversity a metaphysical possibility in his creation.

  7. I afraid Clark misunderstood what Van Til was trying to say. Van Til’s does not confuse father with substance and his words do not implied that the unity and diversity attributes of God are explain in the contrastion of the son and the father. That is What Van Til is not saying.

  8. Roger says:

    Wouldn’t this simple rewording of Van Til’s comments satisfy Clark’s observation that the “orthodox doctrine asserts that it is the substance that is the factor of unity in the Godhead?”

    Using the language of the One and Many question, we contend that in God the one and the many are equally ultimate. Unity in God is no more fundamental than diversity and diversity in God is no more fundamental than unity. The persons of the Trinity are mutually exhaustive of one another. *The Father, Son, and Spirit [diversity] are ontologically on par with each other since they equally share the One [unity] divine substance.*

    • douglasdouma says:

      It might satisfy Clark. And I think you’re on to what Van Til is saying. But isn’t the problem of the one and many also about particulars and universals, such that there is a certain penguin, but there is “penguin” in general. Van Til is not speaking at all of particulars and universals such as “gods” and the idea of “God” or “persons” and the idea of “Person” but only of one way in which God is singular (his substance) and another of plurality, the persons. That’s where I’m confused, and not sure that Van Til has solved the problem.

      • Roger says:

        I understand that Van Til is speaking “only of one way in which God is singular (his substance) and another of plurality, the persons,” but I’m confused as to what you’re “confused” about. To say that God is “one” in one sense (substance) and “three” in another sense (personhood) is perfectly rational. So perhaps you can elaborate?

  9. douglasdouma says:

    Roger, I’m confused why Van Til (and his followers) think his noting the unity and diversity of the Godhead satisfies the Problem of the One and the Many which is about individuals and particulars/

  10. Roger says:

    Well, perhaps I’m missing something, but I don’t see how the concept of universals (the “one”) and particulars (the “many”) creates a “problem” for the doctrine of the Trinity. The doctrine states that there is only “one” instance of the divine nature (substance) period, not “many” individuated instances of the “one” divine nature (as there are “many” individuated instances of the “one” human nature through procreation). So what’s the problem? Three individuated instances of the “one” divine nature would be tri-theism. But that’s not what monotheistic Trinitarianism teaches, as the three “persons” or centers of self-consciousness are distinct from the divine “nature” itself.

    • douglasdouma says:

      I’m not claiming that the Problem of Universals and Particulars is a “problem for the doctrine of the Trinity.” Rather I’m claiming that Van Til’s solution to the Problem of the One and the Many, employing the Trinity, does not address universals and particulars.

  11. Roger says:

    Ok, I’m even more confused now. Didn’t you say earlier in the discussion that the “problem” of the One and Many is “also about particulars and universals?” If that’s the case, then wouldn’t the concept of particulars and universals necessarily be a “problem” for the Trinity?

    Moreover, if that’s not the case, and the concept of universals and particulars does *not* create a “problem” for the doctrine of the Trinity, then why would “Van Til’s solution to the Problem of the One and the Many, employing the Trinity,” even need to address universals and particulars?

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