A refutation of the Van Tillian one and the many argument

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jubalsqaud

Puritan Board Freshman
After doing some studying of the one and the many apologetic I have realized a fatal flaw in the reasoning.

The reasoning is roughly this


P1. The one and the many need to be co-ultimate

P2 .The trinitarian God is the only God concept that allows co-ultimacy

C: Therefore the christian God is the only God that can explain this.

The problem is premise 2 is false.

Unitarian gods can explain the one and the many using the exact same basic formula of that the trinitarian uses.

This is because the trinity uses the distinctions in the divinely simple God in order to have its co-ultimacy of the one and the many.

However there is nothing stopping a unitarian from claiming his mono-personal simple God has distinctions within him.


One might wonder what these distinctions are, however he need not be aware of what the distinctions are if God revealed the fact that disctions exist without revealing the identity of the distinctions to him.

Likewise one might want to say "well if the God is simple he cant have distinctions"

But if this is true then the trinity is false, for the trinity requires simplicity and distinctions.

As such I kinda think Van Til's efforts were largely in vain.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
I think One/Many has other problems. By itself, a 4-personed God can do the same thing.

There are bigger problems.

The Van Til solution is to affirm “equal ultimacy” within God. By this he means that the one being of God is absolute and the three persons are absolute. This is a contradiction. There cannot be two absolutes, two ultimacies in God or on reality. There is either one or none.

To be sure, this doesn't refute Van Til's larger project. It just shows that this angle is wrong.
 

jwright82

Puritan Board Graduate
I think One/Many has other problems. By itself, a 4-personed God can do the same thing.

There are bigger problems.

The Van Til solution is to affirm “equal ultimacy” within God. By this he means that the one being of God is absolute and the three persons are absolute. This is a contradiction. There cannot be two absolutes, two ultimacies in God or on reality. There is either one or none.

To be sure, this doesn't refute Van Til's larger project. It just shows that this angle is wrong.
Yeah but there isn't a 4 person God, there is a triune God in actuality.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
Yeah but there isn't a 4 person God, there is a triune God in actuality.

That's the thing that needs to be proven. Of course, I don't believe in a quaternity. My point is that you don't have to have a Trinity to solve the One/Many. There might be virtues to presuppositionalism, but they need to drop the One/Many line. It is fraught with philosophical problems.
 

jwright82

Puritan Board Graduate
That's the thing that needs to be proven. Of course, I don't believe in a quaternity. My point is that you don't have to have a Trinity to solve the One/Many. There might be virtues to presuppositionalism, but they need to drop the One/Many line. It is fraught with philosophical problems.
I agree but the actual equal ultimacy of the trinity I do think solves the problem because we've taken the ultimate one and many outside creation and placed it in the Creator. We've been riddled with this problem because we're looking in the wrong spot for the solution.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
I agree but the actual equal ultimacy of the trinity I do think solves the problem because we've taken the ultimate one and many outside creation and placed it in the Creator. We've been riddled with this problem because we're looking in the wrong spot for the solution.

There is no ultimate "Many." That would give you two Ultimates.
 

TryingToLearn

Puritan Board Freshman
The issue here is that simply positing a distinction in God does not get you to an equal-ultimacy of the one and the many like the Trinity does. Chris Bolt talks about that a bit here (around 59 minutes in):

I can see why "equal ultimacy" can be a confusing term here, as if there are "two Ultimates", which may sound contradictory (though it is certainly paradoxical, as the Trinity is supposed to be!), but the idea is that unity and plurality are both equally basic to God. He is not essentially one and accidentally three, nor is He essentially three and accidentally one, and therefore he solves the problem of the one and the many.

I'm not sure if this might help, but I did email Dr. James Anderson about a quote from James Dolezal's book, "Still others aim to use the doctrine [the Trinity] to resolve the philosophical problem of the one and the many, thereby implicitly rendering the unity of the persons a generic unity" (pg. 124)

to which Dr. Anderson replied,

"I'm afraid Dolezal is just confused here and doesn't understand Van Til's argument. Van Til affirmed the doctrine of divine simplicity and did not see the unity of the persons as a merely generic unity. If that were the case, the Trinity wouldn't solve the problem of the one and the many, because then there would be three gods rather than one! Van Til's argument is that precisely because God is one in substance and three in person, unity and plurality are equally ultimate in God, and thus the problem of the one and the many is resolved".

Hopefully some food for thought there, idk.

Btw, have you ever read Brant Bosserman's book? I would definitely recommend giving that a read, as he gives an argument as to why God must be exactly 3 persons.
 
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BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
The issue here is that simply positing a distinction in God does not get you to an equal-ultimacy of the one and the many like the Trinity does. Chris Bolt talks about that a bit here (around 59 minutes in):

I can see why "equal ultimacy" can be a confusing term here, as if there are "two Ultimates", which may sound contradictory (though it is certainly paradoxical, as the Trinity is supposed to be!), but the idea is that unity and plurality are both equally basic to God. He is not essentially one and accidentally three, nor is He essentially three and accidentally one, and therefore he solves the problem of the one and the many.

I'm not sure if this might help, but I did email Dr. James Anderson about a quote from James Dolezal's book, "Still others aim to use the doctrine [the Trinity] to resolve the philosophical problem of the one and the many, thereby implicitly rendering the unity of the persons a generic unity" (pg. 124)

to which Dr. Anderson replied,

"I'm afraid Dolezal is just confused here and doesn't understand Van Til's argument. Van Til affirmed the doctrine of divine simplicity and did not see the unity of the persons as a merely generic unity. If that were the case, the Trinity wouldn't solve the problem of the one and the many, because then there would be three gods rather than one! Van Til's argument is that precisely because God is one in substance and three in person, unity and plurality are equally ultimate in God, and thus the problem of the one and the many is resolved".

Hopefully some food for thought there, idk.

Btw, have you ever read Brant Bosserman's book? I would definitely recommend giving that a read, as he gives an argument as to why God must be exactly 3 persons.

Equal ultimacy is contradictory, since many cannot be ultimate, since that would be multiple ultimates. Saying it is paradoxical doesn't help (and on classical trinitarianism, it isn't needed).
 

TryingToLearn

Puritan Board Freshman
Equal ultimacy is contradictory, since many cannot be ultimate, since that would be multiple ultimates. Saying it is paradoxical doesn't help (and on classical trinitarianism, it isn't needed).
I would disagree that "equal ultimacy" is contradictory and that the Trinity isn't paradoxical on classical theism. That we affirm that God is one essence and 3 persons and each person is fully exhaustive of the divine essence is certainly paradoxical (seemingly logically contradictory) if anything is; there is simply nothing like the Trinity in our common experience. Of course, paradoxes are not contradictions at all (hence why they're paradoxes), but I certainly have no desire to throw paradox out of the doctrine of the Trinity.

As far as equal ultimacy goes, I'm not sure why you would deny the possibility of "equal ultimacy" given the doctrine of the Trinity. As long as we're affirming that the essence of God is no more ultimate than the persons of God and vice versa, then you're affirming that unity (essence) and plurality (persons) are equally ultimate in God. This certainly isn't an inherently Van Tilian conception of the Trinity, for example, Robert Letham, at least in his latest 2019 version of "The Holy Trinity", affirms "the equal ultimacy of the being of God and the three persons".
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
I would disagree that "equal ultimacy" is contradictory and that the Trinity isn't paradoxical on classical theism. That we affirm that God is one essence and 3 persons and each person is fully exhaustive of the divine essence is certainly paradoxical (seemingly logically contradictory) if anything is; there is simply nothing like the Trinity in our common experience. Of course, paradoxes are not contradictions at all (hence why they're paradoxes), but I certainly have no desire to throw paradox out of the doctrine of the Trinity.

As far as equal ultimacy goes, I'm not sure why you would deny the possibility of "equal ultimacy" given the doctrine of the Trinity. As long as we're affirming that the essence of God is no more ultimate than the persons of God and vice versa, then you're affirming that unity (essence) and plurality (persons) are equally ultimate in God. This certainly isn't an inherently Van Tilian conception of the Trinity, for example, Robert Letham, at least in his latest 2019 version of "The Holy Trinity", affirms "the equal ultimacy of the being of God and the three persons".

There is nothing paradoxical in the proposition that God is one essence and three persons. Person and nature aren't the same thing. Do I fully understand it? No, but no laws of logic are being stretched. Paradoxical became necessary when Van Tillians started saying God was One Person and Three Persons.

I grant that Letham said that. As much I revere him, I disagree with a lot of his analysis on the Trinity.
 

jubalsqaud

Puritan Board Freshman
This is why i find the Van Till worship puzzling

His philosophy boils down to "when other people have apparent contradictions its bad, but when i have a apparent contradictions it somehow explains things. "


If the one and the many need a paradox to solve there is no reason why a unitarian cant say " Gods a unity that paradoxically gave rive to a diversity"
 

jubalsqaud

Puritan Board Freshman
Do you think there might be another, perhaps less inflammatory, way of describing those of us who appreciate and subscribe to Van Til’s thought?
BRUH

someone on here literally just said he "revered him" (van till)

obviously this is hyperbole why you gotta single me out
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
However there is nothing stopping a unitarian from claiming his mono-personal simple God has distinctions within him.

These would not be in any way similar to the equal ultimacy of Van Til, since the oneness is first and primary, whereas the distinctions are derivative and secondary.

The Van Til solution is to affirm “equal ultimacy” within God. By this he means that the one being of God is absolute and the three persons are absolute. This is a contradiction. There cannot be two absolutes, two ultimacies in God or on reality. There is either one or none.

I do not think "absolute" and "ultimate" should be synonyms, as the former is more exclusionary than the latter. Van Til would say that God is absolute personality. He did not, as far as I can recall, say that God is absolute one and absolute three. The problem with non Van-Tillian versions of Trinitarianism is that they tend to subordinate the one to the three or vice versa.

BRUH

someone on here literally just said he "revered him" (van till)

obviously this is hyperbole why you gotta single me out
*Moderator's Hat On* Roger, cool off. You are firstly, mistaken (Jacob said he revered Letham, NO ONE said he revered Van Til on this thread). Secondly, revered is a synonym for "respect" in Jacob's statement, NOT a synonym of worship.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
I do not think "absolute" and "ultimate" should be synonyms, as the former is more exclusionary than the latter. Van Til would say that God is absolute personality. He did not, as far as I can recall, say that God is absolute one and absolute three. The problem with non Van-Tillian versions of Trinitarianism is that they tend to subordinate the one to the three or vice versa.

That's one of the things I never been clear on what they mean by it. As to non-van tillian forms of Trinitarianism, I happen to think the classical theism of Shedd doesn't subordinate One to three or vice-versa.
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
That's one of the things I never been clear on what they mean by it. As to non-van tillian forms of Trinitarianism, I happen to think the classical theism of Shedd doesn't subordinate One to three or vice-versa.
I'll give a stab at definitions (although I am not an expert on Van Til, like Lane Tipton is). "Absolute" would mean something like "unique, exclusionary, nothing-at-the-same-level-let-alone-beyond-it." "Ultimate" would mean something more like "nothing beyond it, but not excluding other potential 'ideas' that could be equally important alongside it." So, to apply these terms to a Van Tillian understanding of the Trinity would look something like this: the oneness of God is not more or less important than the threeness of God. When compared to false gods, God's oneness is absolute: there is only one God. When compared to the threeness of the one true God, God's oneness is ultimate alongside the threeness. Perichoresis, of course, is the only way to try to understand how the oneness and threeness can be "equally ultimate."

As for Shedd, there are some glaring problems with his Trinitarian theology. In the 3rd edition (edited by Gomes), p. 244, Shedd pulls apart procession and spiration as follows: "[T]he Spirit, though spirated by the Father and Son, yet proceeds not from the Father and Son as persons but from divine essence. His procession is from one, namely, the essence; while his spiration is by two, namely, two persons. The Father and Son are not two essences and therefore do not spirate the Spirit from two essences. Yet they are two persons, as as two persons having one numerical essence spirate from it the third form or mode of the essence-the Holy Spirit: their two personal acts of spiration concurring in one single procession of the Spirit. There are two spirations, because the Father and Son are two persons; but there is only one resulting procession (see Turretin 3.31.6)." This is directly opposed by the Nicene Creed which says the procession occurs "from the Father and from the Son," making procession a personal property, not from the essence. In my mind, Shedd thus undermines the threeness, since he says the personal Spirit proceeds from the essence and not from the persons. In other more correct versions of procession, it is simply noted that procession describes the active personal property of the Holy Spirit, while spiration describes the Father's and Son's role in how the Spirit processes. The Turretin reference does not support his case at all. It should be noted that Van Til's Trinitarian theology is based on other Reformed treatments of the matter, so that it is hardly a case of Van Til versus the rest of the Reformed world.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
noted that Van Til's Trinitarian theology is based on other Reformed treatments of the matter, so that it is hardly a case of Van Til versus the rest of the Reformed world.

Noted on Shedd. I would dispute that CVT's trinitarian terminology is based on classical reformed treatment. He did say One Person/Three Persons. Even granting the death by a thousand qualifications of that phrase, why would anyone ever want to say it?

I'm also not aware of Reformed orthodox referring to God as a concrete universal.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
I love listening to CVT's sermons, and his personal piety was something to model. I do respect him on those fronts.
 

Eyedoc84

Puritan Board Freshman
Noted on Shedd. I would dispute that CVT's trinitarian terminology is based on classical reformed treatment. He did say One Person/Three Persons. Even granting the death by a thousand qualifications of that phrase, why would anyone ever want to say it?

I'm also not aware of Reformed orthodox referring to God as a concrete universal.
Certainly his terminology was awkward (dangerous?) at a few points. But Lane said his Trinitarian theology was in line with historic Reformed treatments. I think that has been demonstrated by Tipton and others.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
Certainly his terminology was awkward (dangerous?) at a few points. But Lane said his Trinitarian theology was in line with historic Reformed treatments. I think that has been demonstrated by Tipton and others.

I agree. That's the death of many qualifications. If I stood up at Presbytery and said God was both One Person and Three Persons, how would the presbytery react?

On a more neutral point, if I said God was a concrete universal, they probably would just stare at me blankly.
 

Claudiu

Puritan Board Junior
I agree. That's the death of many qualifications. If I stood up at Presbytery and said God was both One Person and Three Persons, how would the presbytery react?

On a more neutral point, if I said God was a concrete universal, they probably would just stare at me blankly.
Imagine what a post-Kant/Hegel/Van Til catechism would have looked like!
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
Noted on Shedd. I would dispute that CVT's trinitarian terminology is based on classical reformed treatment. He did say One Person/Three Persons. Even granting the death by a thousand qualifications of that phrase, why would anyone ever want to say it?

I'm also not aware of Reformed orthodox referring to God as a concrete universal.
As to the first, Van Til was probably reacting against the overly impersonal description of the essence of God as phrased by Gordon Clark, among others. The essence of God is personal, not impersonal. I'm not saying I am entirely comfortable with one person/three persons, either. But understood in its context, it is not heretical, and, when understood with its qualifications, is actually helpful.

As for concrete universal, I am not aware of previous Reformed treatment doing that either. Van Til was making philosophical points with that description against idealism and other philosophical frameworks that define God out of existence by eliminating the possibility of a universal that actually exists.
 

jwright82

Puritan Board Graduate
This is why i find the Van Till worship puzzling

His philosophy boils down to "when other people have apparent contradictions its bad, but when i have a apparent contradictions it somehow explains things. "


If the one and the many need a paradox to solve there is no reason why a unitarian cant say " Gods a unity that paradoxically gave rive to a diversity"
I think you mean mystery. I don't know how God in his trinitarian being works but I know that there is an ultimate one and many there. Its a mystery.
 

jwright82

Puritan Board Graduate
I agree. That's the death of many qualifications. If I stood up at Presbytery and said God was both One Person and Three Persons, how would the presbytery react?

On a more neutral point, if I said God was a concrete universal, they probably would just stare at me blankly.
I, with all due respect, said he meant persons in two different ways. I do respect you but here I must lovingly disagree with you. You are my well deserved respected brother in Christ but two different meanings are two different meanings. The second point was obviously Van Til doing what any number of thinkers, Aquinas per haps, did in taking up the language they were familiar with and using it.
 

Goodcheer68

Puritan Board Sophomore
That's the thing that needs to be proven. Of course, I don't believe in a quaternity. My point is that you don't have to have a Trinity to solve the One/Many. There might be virtues to presuppositionalism, but they need to drop the One/Many line. It is fraught with philosophical problems.
I think Bosserman answers this quite well in his book on Christian Paradox. He shows how only a Trinity can answer the one/many problem. In a nutshell in any other case there is brought into God impersonalism.
 

Goodcheer68

Puritan Board Sophomore
This is why i find the Van Till worship puzzling

His philosophy boils down to "when other people have apparent contradictions its bad, but when i have a apparent contradictions it somehow explains things. "


If the one and the many need a paradox to solve there is no reason why a unitarian cant say " Gods a unity that paradoxically gave rive to a diversity"
You might want to Read Bosserman’s book on the Trinity and the vindication of Christian paradox. I think it would be helpful to you understanding Van Til and why only a Trinity answers the one/many problem
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
I, with all due respect, said he meant persons in two different ways. I do respect you but here I must lovingly disagree with you. You are my well deserved respected brother in Christ but two different meanings are two different meanings. The second point was obviously Van Til doing what any number of thinkers, Aquinas per haps, did in taking up the language they were familiar with and using it.

I know Van Til was using it in two different ways. I've read Frame's book on CVT about 3 times. My point was that why on earth would anyone tamper with Trinitarian language like that?
 
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