It is ironic that Van Til charged Clark with rationalism when Van Til held to the logical conclusion of Hegelianism. The doctrine of internal relations essentially states that “everything has some relation, however distant, to everything else” (link). If this is doctrine is true, as I think it must be – I may write a post on this later – then the question is begged as to how one can learn anything. I have argued (here, for example) that internal relations means that the source of knowledge must be an eternally omniscient being.The initial sentiment is true, but unfortunately, I confounded the doctrine of internal relations with the idea that everything is related to everything else. Well, my lingering confusion was pretty much what I deserved for relying on Wikipedia. Clark more precisely defines internal relations in Historiography: Secular and Religious on pgs. 225-226 (1971):
Reenactment of a thought is possible, nonetheless, because it can be separate from this immediacy without alteration. Not only so, it can be separated from other thoughts without alteration. Thus history becomes possible.
This self-identity of the act of thought has been denied by two extreme views. The first view is that of idealism, the theory of internal relations, the notion that everything is what it is because of its context. This makes history impossible. To know any one thing it would be necessary to know its context; i.e. to know the whole universe. Knowledge would thus be restricted to the explicit consciousness of the omniscient Absolutes; and Collingwood, though he may be Beckett, does not claim to be the Absolute.That is, the theory of internal relations does indeed posit that everything is related to everything else - an idea which I agree with and which Clark himself defends in the same book (cf. pgs. 179, 183) - but it does so in such a way that partial knowledge is impossible.
With this definition in mind, Clark's reference to "idealism" and especially "the [omniscient] Absolute" clearly indicates he is thinking about Hegel. Subsequent reference to Hegel on pg. 334 when mentioning the problem of partial knowledge also confirms this:
What follows if it is true that psychological analysis presupposes a “complete knowledge of the psychological possibilities of life”? It would follow, would it not, that historical analysis also presupposes a complete knowledge of historical possibilities. In short, it would be impossible to know anything without knowing everything.
Such a Platonic or Hegelian requirement of omniscience is a serious philosophical problem. It is not to be dismissed thoughtlessly. The meticulous scholar, J. H. Hexter, in his Reappraisals of History, castigates historical relativism as a fad and insists on the “rudimentary distinction” between knowing something and knowing everything. But he omits all philosophic justification for this distinction.
Undoubtedly this distinction must be maintained, if a human being is able to know anything at all. Make omniscience the prerequisite of partial knowledge, and partial knowledge vanishes. But Bultmann, like Hexter, offers no help: less help, in fact, for Bultmann lets the requirements of omniscience stand.
That relations are internal, and especially that the truth is the whole, are themes hard to deny. Yet their implications are devastating. So long as you or I do not know the relationships which constitute the meaning of cat or self, we do not know the object in question. If we say that we know some of the relationships – e.g., a cat is not-a-dog and admit that we do not know other relationships – e.g., a cat is not-an-(animal we have never heard of before) – it follows that we cannot know how this unknown relationship may alter our view of the relationship we now say we know. The alteration could be considerable. Therefore we cannot know even one relationship without knowing all. Obviously we do not know all. Therefore we know nothing.
This criticism is exceedingly disconcerting to an Hegelian, for its principle applies not merely to cats, dogs, and selves, but to the Absolute itself. The truth is the whole and the whole is the Absolute. But obviously we do not know the whole; we do not know the Absolute. In fact, not knowing the Absolute, we cannot know even that there is an Absolute. But how can Absolute Idealism be based on absolute ignorance? And ours is absolute ignorance, for we cannot know one thing without knowing all. (Christian Philosophy, pg. 153)Now, I said in the above link that Van Til was more truly Hegelian than Clark, and the reason why has to do with internal relations. The first quote from that link provides the key:
Gordon was absolutely insistent that we did know some of the same things that God knew. If not, he insisted, it would be impossible for us to know any truth at all! That 2 plus 2 equals 4 is true, he felt. Thus he insisted that in and of itself it is true as a statement without the necessity of examining another proposition. He carefully insisted upon a propositional concept of truth while Van Til insisted upon the fact that to have truth in one's mind that mind must be built upon other propositions. The truthfulness or falsity demanded that the individual proposition be held in the midst of certain other basic propositions that must be consciously present in that mind in order to correctly know truth. Now, of course, God knows every proposition in the context of all other propositions for Van Til, and, therefore, the limited human mind never knows it the way God does. Van Til had an expression, of repeated: "true as far as it goes," meaning, of course, that for that mind which holds all propositions in a system, the more complete the system, the more full the truth. With growth in the knowledge of basic propositions, the further than mind had the truth. Van Til's concept is that for relative human beings, they can have all needful truth but never perceive it as God does with his infinite knowledge of everything that affects any proposition. He charged Clark, therefore, with denying the incomprehensibility of God and Clark charged him with agnosticism since he that that for him it was impossible to know anything as God did. Clark wanted an absolute even if it were only in the single proposition. (Gordon Clark: Personal Recollections, pgs. 103-104)Note that for Van Til, it is because "God knows every proposition in the context of all other propositions" that "the limited human mind never knows it the way God does." Well, how does this follow? The idea that "God knows every proposition in the context of all other propositions" is true, but Van Tilians must go further by arguing that knowledge [which is univocal to God's] of even one proposition necessarily would imply knowledge of all propositions, which is why our knowledge must be analogical - for we aren't omniscient. But the only reason such would necessarily follow is if the doctrine of internal relations is true.
Recall that above, Clark defined "the theory of internal relations" as "the notion that everything is what it is because of its context... To know any one thing it would be necessary to know its context." This is precisely what Van Tilians argue univocal knowledge would entail. This is the only explanation of how "God knows every proposition in the context of all other propositions" can allegedly imply "the limited human mind never knows it the way God does."
On the contrary, that God necessarily knows everything in the context of everything else is what functions as the basis according to which we can be assured that the doctrine of internal relations is false. Who better than an omniscient God could know that partial knowledge is possible? Revelation is sufficient.