Friday, May 25, 2018

Trinity undefeated

Apostate Dale Tuggy attempted to critique my position:

I have often pointed out how, in his heresy hunting adventures, he nearly always skates by without actually taking a stand for any Trinity theory. Happily, he has decided to pony up, saying just what the thinks “the doctrine of the Trinity” is.

I've indirectly stated my position many times, but in response to unitarianism, rather than a stand-alone piece. 

So for there to be one God is for there to be exactly one infinite deity, i.e. a deity not limited in power or knowledge or goodness, or by being confined to a body.

The “Being Itself” crowd which opposes “theistic personalism” would object here, but any New Testament based theology is going to agree.

I largely agree with classical theism, although I'm not a Thomist. But that's not the primary point of contrast. Rather, biblical monotheism stands in contrast to pagan polytheism. But that coarse-grained formulation has plenty of room for the Trinity, since the Trinity is hardly equivalent to three heathen deities. 

Here Mr. Hays goes against probably a majority of recent theologians, those who intone that the classical trinitarian formulas don’t employ “the modern (or Cartesian) concept of a person,” i.e. thinking being. These would include recent bigshots like Barth and Rahner, and their legions of theology nerd fans, who would rather dispense with the term “Persons” precisely because people are likely to interpret it as Hays does. 


Here Hays aligns himself with three-self trinitarians, for whom the “Persons” of the Trinity are so many selves, roughly: conscious, acting, concrete beings, or beings for whom it is most appropriate to use personal pronouns and adjectives. His choice of the term “individual” fits with their being selves, and with their being so many concrete entities/beings. This puts him in a camp with philosophers like Swinburne and Hasker.

i) I don't classify the Father, Son, and Spirit as "concrete beings". Since, on my view, God subsists outside of time and space, that's abstract rather than concrete. 

ii) As I've remarked in the past, Dale has a habit of taking a more precise statement, then shoehorning it into a less precise statement, using a generic term: self/selves. His usage conduces to lack of clarity rather than greater clarity. His preference for terminological imprecision is odd.

He here goes against catholic traditions which affirm both Trinity and divine simplicity…

i) I oppose divine simplicity in the sense that I don't regard each attribute is equivalent to every other attribute. In that respect, I deny Thomistic simplicity, as I understand it. 

ii) I affirm God's mereological simplicity in the sense that since that God lacks spatiotemporal parts or subdivisions. 

…because like W.L. Craig he commits to (“consists of”) the “Persons” of the Trinity in some sense being parts or components of the Trinity. 

No, I don't commit to the Trinitarian persons as "parts" of the Trinity. 

This will not bother us Bible oriented Protestants. But what should bother us is the utter lack of reference to any such tripersonal God in scripture. (This is not to point out that “Trinity” doesn’t occur in scripture, but rather the point that no scriptural term or phrase was then understood to refer to a multi-personal god.)

When you pour the Bible through a unitarian sieve. 

He is assuming here, that there must be some good argument from the Bible to the reality of this tripersonal God – a key part of apologetics culture. (Beware of unexamined assumptions!)

That's an assumption for purposes of my post, but I've defended that assumption exegetically on many occasions. 

He here uses “Godhead” in the modern way, to refer collectively to the Persons of the Trinity, not in its proper meaning, which is “divine nature” or “divine essence.” In any case, he has three beings (see his claims 2, 5), each of which is “fully… divine.” So, three gods/deities.

That inference seems to piggyback on Dale's mischaracterization of my position as three "concrete beings". 

Thus, like Hasker and Swinburne, his view so far straightforwardly implies that there are three gods, three beings each of which has all the divine attributes, even while explicitly insisting that there is only one god, one who consists of three persons! 

Notice Dale's tactic of recasting my categories into his categories. I didn't say they were "beings". Once again, this goes to Dale's odd penchant for substituting less precise language for more precise language. "Being" is one of the vaguest words in the language. Ambiguous both in popular and philosophical usage. As far as that goes, the same thing could be one being and three beings, in different senses. Using ambiguous language conduces to equivocation, which is why I avoid it where possible. 

But these “persons of the Godhead” – none of them consists of three persons. 

It's true that one person doesn't consist of other persons. 

So, none of them is the one god, according to claims 1 and 2 above. 


And yet 2 and 3 imply that each of the three is a god. 

Once again, this is Dale's tactic of transmuting my categories into his categories. But I said each person is "divine", not each person is "God" or "a god". And I defined what I meant by "divine". Dale imposes his classification scheme on my own position, but I don't grant his categories. 

And presumably, the three differ from one another, so they are not the same god.

To say they're not the same god doesn't mean they're different gods. Rather, the Trinity is God (in my usage). 

Now, Swinburne and (especially) Hasker make a lot of moves to try to get around such problems. Oddly enough, they would take issue with the way he cashes out 1 above. But Hays just presses on.

Trinitarians are split on this one. The more traditional, typically Catholic, Orthodox, and Reformed, think it is really, really terrible error, and probably even heresy, to deny traditional claims about “eternal generation” and “eternal spiration.” Even Hasker defends them as central to the tradition. But Bible oriented Protestants, going back at least to mid 19th century…

To my knowledge, that goes back as far as 17-18C Dutch-Reformed theologian Herman Alexander Röell. In addition, Calvin already modified the Nicene paradigm. 

…have in my view quite rightly pointed out that such claims are no part whatever of biblical teaching; they are only projected onto the traditional prooftexts.


And many of the same people point out that if the Son and Spirit exist because of the Father, this is to say that neither Son nor Spirit exist a se. And if being fully divine requires aseity, as arguably it does, it would follow that only the Father is fully divine. It would seem that Mr. Hays agrees with these recent adjustments to trinitarian speculations.


If each of those is a being/entity, they will have to be three entities (that is, no pair of them are numerically identical), as they differ. Nothing can at one time or in eternity differ from itself.

Once more, we're treated to Dale's addiction to terminological imprecision. "Entity" is a terribly vague term. What is not an entity? From clouds to abstract objects. 

Take modus ponens: 

If A, then B; A; therefore, B.

Are the constitutive elements of that formula one thing or more than one thing? 

A student of scripture will note that there the Father (aka God) and the Son of God are assumed to be numerically two different beings, ones which have actually different from one another. (E.g. God sent his only Son, but Jesus didn’t. Jesus died, but God didn’t.) He will see, though, things are far less clear in the case of God’s spirit/Spirit.

We should note that 5 combined with 3 will require understanding the divine essence/nature to be a universal, a property that can be shared by more than one thing. 

Yes, you could say that.

Again, some Trinity theorists will deny that; “Latin” or one-self theorists like Oxford’s Brian Leftow will urge that the divine nature should be understood as an individual property, in principle unshareable. Others, like Mike Rea, will say that it should be understood as analogous to a shared portion of matter, which simultaneously constitutes non-identical beings. However, Hays might argue that what is common to the three is that they satisfy a certain concept, not that they literally share some property. A nominalist position could make sense here. Although it would cut off the traditional line of argument that somehow the three are one god, or compose one god, because they share this property of divinity, this divine nature or essence.

I use nature or essence as shorthand for the divine attributes. 

At this point, Hays has himself in quite a theological mess. There’s only one god, a tripersonal god (1,2). Yet, there are three gods, none of which is tripersonal. (3-5) The theory staggers under its own incoherence. It explicitly asserts monotheism, yet very clearly implies the falsity of monotheism.

The mess is generated by Tuggy substituting his categories for my categories, then inputing his reformulation to me. But that's sleight-of-hand. 

Moreover, he’s made clear enough that the one God is great and mighty and unique self. (1) But the “Godhead” (Trinity) “consists” of three great and mighty selves. Is this Trinity a mere group of selves, or is it a being, a concrete entity? For “God” to be a mere group of beings seems an abuse of language – a god can’t be a mere group of beings, but is by definition a being in his own right. But if this “God” is a being, is it a fourth divine self? That is, if this “God” which is the Trinity is a self, is it divine or not? If we say yes, we now have a fourth divine person/self, one which is composed of three others! But if we so no, we’re burdened with a “God” who is something less than a god, something which fails to be omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and so on.

Notice Dale's persistent legerdemain. He takes my formulation, transmogrifies that into his own conceptual scheme, then proceeds to analyze his substitution for what I actually said. 

Sensing these serious difficulties, our apologist tries to have it both ways.

So he wants to say that the Trinity has exactly one mind, but also that it (or he?) has exactly three minds. 

Since I never said that, how is that what I want to say? 

How’s he going to pull that off? And why are we talking about having minds now? 

Because that's how to unpack the notion of divine personhood. 

Isn’t the problem whether or not the triune God is a divine self?

That's Dale's projected pseudoproblem. 

In that scenario, there would be one “group consciousness” in the sense, of: what all three of them are thinking, i.e. the contents of their thoughts or experience. But it is not clear that any fourth mind (thinking being, self, person – OR capacity for thinking/being conscious) would be involved. As the case has been described, there are three persons, but no more. 

What makes it problematic that there's not a fourth mind? 

With good reason, Hays quickly abandons this analogy, switching to another.

No, I don't abandon that. Rather, it's too limited. But it makes a useful point. It's natural to use human minds as an analogy or frame of reference. Both unitarians and Trinitarians do that.

Normally, human minds belong to separated embodied agents. Separate beings. And normally, their minds are separate from one another. If, however, we enjoyed total telepathic access to each other's minds, then that dichotomy would break down. And that's germane to unitarian objections to the Trinity, which trade on false dichotomies regarding "separate concrete beings". 

So, three minds, each of which “contains” the other two. How does this help with the obvious theological worries above? It is, unfortunately, opaque how his mirror analogy is supposed to help.

It illustrates the way in which the false dichotomy of unitarianism breaks down. 

Again, the student of scripture will recall that nothing remotely like this is taught in scripture. 

i) As filtered through the unitarian pasta strainer. Dale keeps demonstrating the fact that teammates make poor referees. 

ii) And, yes, there is something remotely like this taught in Scripture. For Scripture uses reflective/resemblance metaphors to illustrate the interrelationship of the Trinitarian members. 

He evidently quotes philosopher Harriet Baber because he thinks it says that ideas about the Trinity are no more problematic than ideas about numerical identity. This is not at all true – but note that his strategy here is just innocence by association. Sure, my views have problems – but so do these others. It ain’t much of a defense!

It's a problem for Dale, not for me. Prof. Baber is making the same point I've been making for years. Most philosophers have a flexible notion of numeral identity to accommodate for the metaphysical complexities of diachronic identity and transworld identity. But if that's consistent with numerical identity, why not the Trinity? 

He wrapped his little pig in a thick blanket of mystery, trying to pass it off as a baby, but we could all hear it oinking.

Mystery is not unique to the Trinity or Incarnation. God is not a creature. In some fundamental respects, God is radically unlike humans. Hence, the recourse to analogies. 

Admittedly, as a unitarian open theist, there's nothing mysterious about Dale's finite god. His god has the same basic psychological makeup as humans. Dale wrapped his godlet in a thick blanket of prooftexts, trying to pass it off as God, but all we can see is the face of Thor peeking through. A humanoid being with superhero accessories. 

This may help some: it is merely the structure of claims 1-3 that makes them an inconsistent triad. Compare with this group of claims:

1. There is only one dog.

2. Any fully canine being/entity is a dog.

3. There are three fully canine beings.

They can’t all be true, and this is obvious. (Never mind that the obvious response in the dog case would be to deny 1.) So there’s nothing about the content of the first triad of claims that is going to help; it’s their logical structure which makes them such that they can’t all be true. Those claims really are, indisputably, an inconsistent triad, a group of claims such that it can’t be that all of them are true. MS Word says that is 262 words. Can you, in about as many words, give your justification for denying one of 1-3 above?

i) Suppose we put a 5-year-old dog in the time machine and send it 58 months back into the past, where it then encounters its puppy dog self. Is that one dog or two dogs? 

ii) Or take a multiverse in which alternate possibilities are realized. A parallel universe is to space what time travel is to time. Suppose an astronaut passing through a wormhole encounters his double in the parallel universe. Is that the same individual or two different individuals?  


  1. You still have yet to demonstrate where the scripture uses the term "God" to refer to three persons at once, i.e. in one singular usage of the word. If you show me this, I will convert.

    1. Alex, it's not incumbent on me to demonstrate a false premise.

    2. Alex are you a muslim?

    3. No, I am not Muslim. When someone means "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" in one singular usage of the word "God," they should be able to demonstrate where the scripture uses such language.

    4. No, I am a Trinitarian. I am questioning Modern Trinitarian grammar and usage of terms such as "God" seeing how it is absent from scripture.

    5. Convert from what? Then.

    6. Convert from Samuel Clarke Unitarianism.

  2. Science fiction is handy. I often think of the Borg from Star Trek. One mind. One consciousness. But many bodies.

  3. Being has two definitions:

    1. An Intelligent Agent
    2. Essence

    The Father, Son, And Holy Spirit can be said to be both three beings and one being... but how does this prove that they are all one God?

    1. tActually, "being" has a variety of definitions, but in any case, it wasn't mean to prove that they are all one God. Rather, it demonstrates that Dale's inconsistent triad is purely verbal, based on equivocal usage.