Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Devotional Bible reading

Because we ordinarily limit our Bible reading to the most overtly spiritual sections, we tend to have a somewhat unrealistic picture of what all is in the Bible. If we read the entire Bible, we are amazed at how much non-religious content there is–bodily ailments and hygiene in the Pentateuch, military history in the chronicles and court history in those same books, and detailed pictures of social life in the OT prophetic books...The Bible covers pretty much all of life, not only specifically spiritual experiences like prayer and forgiveness of sin and good and evil but also national history, harvest, sunrise, and losing an axe is a body of water... L. Ryken, A Christian Guide to the Classics (Crossway 2015), 68. 

On the one hand, some readers are offended by the "unedifying" passages of Scripture. On the other hand, when some Christians only read the edifying passages, it leaves them unprepared for the contrast between their selective reading of Scripture and the world they must confront. There's a grimness and grubbiness to a lot of Scripture because there's a grimness and grubbiness to a lot of life. It's spiritually perilous when our real-life experience fails to matchup with Scripture because we only read the inspirational sections. But the Christian pilgrimage isn't all hymn singing and 1 Corinthians 13. 

Knowing more than we can prove

A reponse I left on Facebook

1. Most Christians aren't intellectuals (like most humans generally–including most atheists). They are not able to make a philosophically rigorous case for Christianity.

So if Christianity is true, God must have a way of making known to garden-variety Christians that this is something they are supposed to believe. And this typically involves certain kinds of religious experience. Growing up in Christian communities (e.g. church, Christian family). God cultivates faith in Christianity through sociological means (among other factors).

They may just find the Bible compelling. And the Bible does contain evidence for its own veracity, even if they lack the sophistication to tease that out.

There may be other aspects of religious experience like a recognizable answer to prayer, an uncanny auspicious providence, an overwhelming (albeit temporary) sense of God's presence, or in some cases a miracle, that undergirds their faith.

We need to distinguish between raw evidence and formal argument. In addition, the "internal witness of the Spirit" can be a label or placeholder for variations on religious experience, some of which are probative. Having good reasons for what you believe, and the ability to articulate your reasons, are not to be confused.

2. I assume that you are in part alluding to this post:

I generally agree with what Keener says in that post.

3. There's the question of what the "inner testimony of the Holy Spirit" meant in historical theology. 

4. Speaking for myself, I'm not equipped with an internal detector that clues me into which reported biblical incidents are fictional or factual. I don't appeal to the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit in that sense. 

5. I agree with the principle that one way to evaluate the historicity of particular reports is not based on direct evidence for each report, but corroborative evidence for the source. The cliche argument is that if the source is reliable in cases where we have corroborative evidence, then there's a presumption that it's reliable in cases where we don't have corroborative evidence. Especially for ancient documents where only a random sample of confirmatory evidence survives. We don't require corroboration for every individual report. We only require enough corroboration to demonstrate the document is generally trustworthy. As think that's a valid principle as far as it goes. 

But while that provides warranted belief, it's weaker than what NT faith obligates. So it needs to be supplemented. Or perhaps that's a supplement to other things. 

6. As you know, there are multiple lines of evidence for the Gospels. There's the kind of archeological evidence recently marshaled by Peter Williams. There's the argument from undesigned coincidences which the McGrews have refined and expanded. There's Lydia's more recent argument from unnecessary details. There's the argument from prophecy.

7. I also think the argument from religious experience is germane to the credibility of the Gospels. My personal experience and experience of other Christians I know. In other words, evidence that we live in the same kind of world as the world depicted in the Bible. Not just public evidence. 

8. How do you understand and integrate passages like Rom 8:16, Gal 4:6, Jn 10:27, & 1 Jn 2:20,27 into your evidentialist epistemology?

Cruz on impeachment


Monday, January 27, 2020

Timothy McGrew on historicity of the Gospels


Divorce and remarriage

My answer to a question on Facebook:

A valid divorce means the spouse is no longer married. They are single again. So valid divorce implies the legitimacy of remarriage. The only obstacle to remarriage is if one is already married. That would be adulterous. If, however, one is no longer married in the eyes of God, then there's no impediment to remarriage. It's a fresh start, like getting married the first time since divorce resets your marital status to single.

By valid divorce, I mean cases where there are biblical grounds for divorce (e.g. desertion, infidelity). The effect of a valid divorce is to cause the divorcé/divorcée to revert to their premarital status. They revert to the condition they were in before they got married in the first place.

This is partly an issue of theological method. Do we expect the Bible to spell out all the implications. Do we just act on what the Bible says, and if it doesn't say certain things, we don't act on that? Jesus makes some pithy statements about divorce. There's a lot he leaves unstated. Are we supposed to stop with what he explicitly teaches, or consider the logical implications? Do we expect a trail of bread crumbs? Jesus frequently criticizes the religious leaders for failing to consider the rationale for certain biblical laws. By robotically obeying the law, they sometime subvert the original purpose of the law. So we do need to think about the logical implications of Biblical ethics. Likewise, the commands and prohibitions of Scripture usually deal with typical situations, not extreme or exceptional situations. They don't address every conceivable circumstance.

The inner testimony of the Spirit

1. Appeal to the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit (hereafter the "witness of the Spirit," to simplify) figures in some apologetic encounters or schools of thought. It was important in early Protestant theology. It's a fixture of Reformed theology. It's clearly a big deal in charismatic theology. It's an element of folk theology, often abused, but there are philosophical theologians like Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig who also champion the principle. 

For Catholic theologians, this might seem to be an ad hoc appeal, concocted out of thin air to short-circuit debate. However, the principle has some basis in Scripture. The classic passages are Rom 8:16 & Gal 4:6. At least the wording of the phrase is based on the Pauline prooftexts. And these have a counterpart in Jn 10:27 & 1 Jn 2:20,27.

2. The witness of the Spirit is an aspect of defensive apologetics rather than offensive apologetics. It appeals to the experience of insiders, Christians, rather than outsiders, unbelievers. In my observation, the witness of the Spirit is invoked in three or four distinct, but related contexts, to prove:

• Christianity

• the Bible

• the canon

• salvation

3. In terms of the Pauline prooftexts, these have immediate reference to personal consciousness of salvation. A supernatural self-awareness that the individual is saved. As such, the claim is narrower than the truth of Christianity in general, or the Bible in general.

At this same time, it has logical implications for larger claims. Christian salvation is only meaningful in a larger Christian paradigm of sin, the condition of the lost, damnation, forgiveness, and redemption. So the witness of the Spirit does have implications for the truth of the Gospel and Christianity in general. But can that be extended to adjudicate every theological dispute? No.

3. Then we have the related, but somewhat enigmatic passages in Jn 10:27 & 1 Jn 2:20,27. The scope of these passages seems to be broader than the Pauline prooftexts. 

How do the sheep recognize the voice of Jesus? It doesn't say. 

1 Jn 2:20,27 posit an anointing. Anointing with olive oil was a religious rite that became a picturesque metaphor for a "charism" of the Holy Spirit. In 1 John, the point of contrast are heretic who rebel against John's apostolic teaching and disfellowship the churches he pastored or supervised. 

The anointing is not an alternative to apostolic teaching. To treat the anointing as a substitute for apostolic teaching would moot John writing in the first place! Rather, John seems to attribute to the anointing a supernatural ability to discern the truth of apostolic teaching, in contrast to the heretics. Not a revelation in terms of propositional information, but a revelation in the sense of the spiritual perception that apostolic teaching is true. And related to that, an ability to discriminate between the truth of apostolic teaching and the false teaching of the heretics. 

The heretics may well have included false prophets who said the Spirit spoke to them and gave them the true message. If so, John is countering that. 

It's unclear how far we can take this appeal because these are tersely worded promises. I think these are open to different models. So we might explore different models, consistent with, but underdetermined by the text. 

4. Apropos (3), the witness of the Spirit might be classified under the argument from religious experience. Most Christians lack the aptitude and training to make a philosophically rigorous case for Christianity. In addition, you have Christians in closed countries where Christianity is illegal, who lack access to the apologetic resources available to American Christians. They do well just to have a Bible. So if Christianity is true, God must have a way of making known to garden-variety Christians that this is something they are supposed to believe. And this typically involves certain kinds of religious experience. That can takes many forms. A recognizable answer to prayer. An arresting special providence. A miracle. 

Those are external signs. But Paul and John are referring to a psychological experience. Let's approach this from the opposite end of the spectrum. Suppose God tells me to lay hands on someone in a wheelchair and pray for their healing. I hear an audible voice. Sentences. And this message carries with it the conviction that if I do so, God will hear my prayer. I do so and the invalid is miraculously healed. 

That scenario involves private revelation in the form of explicit information in addition to conviction. Let's vary the hypothetical. Suppose I see someone in a wheelchair. I suddenly feel that I should go over and pray for them. An overwhelming sense that I'm supposed to do this. And it carries the conviction that if I do so, they will be healed. 

Not just the sense that I should go over and introduce myself and ask permission to pray for them, as a matter of Christian charity. But a sense of compulsion, as if God is commanding me to do it, even though there is no audible verbal command. I do it, and they are miraculously healed. 

In that scenario, I wasn't given any information. It wasn't a propositional revelation. I felt compelled to do it. Something I was supposed to do. I was convinced that if I did so, the invalid would be miraculously healed. And that's what happened.

So my conviction turned out to be true. And not accidentally true. Not a stroke of luck. Rather, God impelled me to take that action. 

Did my conviction amount to knowledge? Did I know the invalid was going to be healed? It was a nonpropositional revelation. There was no promise or prediction. Yet the outcome corresponded to the conviction. And did so by divine design.

So that might be analogous to supernatural discernment that Christianity is true, even though it doesn't involve any new or additional information. Rather, a supernatural recognition that the information you already have is true.

Take another illustration. I'm booked to fly out of town tomorrow. The night before, God tells me not to board that plane. An audible voice. A verbal prohibition. So I cancel my flight and reschedule.

Now let's vary the illustration. I have a very vivid dream the night before that after I'm aboard and the plane takes off, it catches fire in midair. 

After I wake up I ponder whether that's a premonition. Maybe it's just a dream. Maybe I should take my chances. I shrug it off. But the next day, as I'm walking through the terminal to my gate, it looks exactly like my dream, even though I've never been to this airport before. So I skip my flight. And the plane explodes in midair. 

Now that's revelatory, but it's a visionary rather than a verbal revelation. I don't receive any information in the propositional sense. There's no explicit warning or prohibition. But it does provide evidence about the future. And the revelation corresponds to what happens. So there's a match between my conviction and reality. Moreover, that's not just a coincidence. 

Let's vary the illustration one more time. I have the dream. This time I don't see the airport terminal in my dream. I just see myself inside the plane when it catches on fire, passengers screaming. 

I go to the airport, but change my mind at the last minute. I'm spooked by the dream. I have nothing of consequence to lose if I miss my flight but everything to lose if it's a premonition. I take this to be a possible divine warning. And, in fact, the plane explodes. 

This is a case of something I was shown rather than told. And it didn't rise to the level of a strong conviction. Instead, it gave me a sense of foreboding. And as I got closer to the gate, the sense of dread intensified. As it turned out, my apprehension was justified. A divine-induced, future-oriented attitude. 

Now the prooftexts suggest certitude or something close to certitude. This example is weaker. It is, however, a hypothetical example of nonpropositional revelatory discernment. A mental state warranted both by the supernatural cause and the corresponding circumstances.  

Hall of fame

So Kobe Bryant is dead. A sports legend. A future hall of famer. The media is obsessed with analyzing every aspect of his death. The world honors his memory.

Meanwhile few if any major news outlets pay attention to Christians dying such as the recently beheaded African pastor or the African college student who was kidnapped and murdered by Muslim terrorists a couple of days ago. Few people noticed these Christians. Save for their fellow Christians and their loved ones.

That's because they're nobodies. Nobodies in the eyes of the world. But God remembers them. God remembers his people. God remembers their pain, tears, sufferings, deaths. Psa 56:8. In the world to come, when the first shall be last and the last shall be first, when eschatological judgment shall reveal all and turn the world right-side up again (cf. the book of Esther and Purim), these Christian nobodies will stand out in God's hall of fame faith. Right alongside those in Hebrews 11. Those of whom the world was not worthy.

"Books that were left out of the NT"

This is one of the worst arguments I've ever seen for the Catholic canon, and/or worst objections to the Protestant canon:

He begins with an extremely deceptive overview:

The Bible did not descend from heaven fully formed and complete…no divine table of contents but rather the guidance of the Holy Spirit in determining what was authentically the word of God and what was not. 

Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts, and John were determined to be divinely inspired, but the early church also had more than 40 other Gospels to contend with: Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Mary, Protevangelium of James…The Acts of Andrew, and the Acts of Paul and Thecla.

Between St. Paul and the other apostolic authors our canon includes 21 epistles, but there were dozens of other letters in circulation at the time; works like 1 Clement, the Epistle of Pseudo-Barnabas, Ignatius to the Romans, Polycarp to the Philippians were all used in churches for worship and revered at least regionally as divinely inspired. 

And finally our canon includes the book of Revelation–an apocalyptic work of the late 1C, but as you can imagine it was not the only one in existence. Early Christians would have known the Apocalypse of Paul, the Apocalypse of Peter, and the Shepherd of Hermas as well. 

All told, we're dealing with over a 100 distinct works here. As strange as some of these names may sound to us to day, the fact of the matter is that the church was a blank slate at the time. 

The Gospel of Matthew seemed strange to some in the 2C with many preferring other works. When we look at the canon developed by Marcion in 130, Matthew, Mark, John, and Acts are all missing–as well as 1-2 Timothy and all of the Catholic letters. 

Other canons like Codex Vaticanus included all of the canonical Gospels but did not include 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and Revelation–

while the Codex Sinaiticus included all the normal books, but also included Shepherd of Hermans, Epistle of Barnabas.

There's the Didache

In reality, the NT as we have it today did not appear completely intact until the 367 letter of St. Athanasius, and was not officially listed in a church synod until Hippo in 393. Before that there were investigations, opinions, and local customs, but no uniform teaching.

So how did we get from multiple canons with multiple books down to just one that appears in 367. 

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Nonoverlapping magisteria

Casey Cole is a Franciscan priest and popular Catholic apologist. A YouTuber with 50K subscribers. I believe he's a cradle Catholic who's studied at Furman, the Catholic University of America, and the Chicago Theological Union.

I've watched a number of his videos. Because Catholic apologists usually recycle the same arguments, I'm not going to remark on most of his stuff. But I will comment on his position in this video:

Non-overlapping magisteria…independent ways of knowing truth that do not speak about the same things in the same ways. Science uses sense perception and rationality to come to better understanding of what is around us [whereas] religion uses revelation and faith to come to a better understanding of why something is and what we're supposed to with it. 

Of course, he's adapting that from Stephen Jay Gould, the secular Jewish evolutionary paleontologist from Harvard. This dichotomy is a familiar apologetic strategy. By compartmentalizing science and religion, it shields religion from falsification. But it comes at a cost, and is grossly simplistic.

If it was just a generalization, the distinction would have a grain of truth, but to succeed as an apologetic strategy, these have to be separate domains with nothing in common, and that's where it rapidly breaks down:

1. Science operates with some philosophical presuppositions. Can these be justified apart from religion? Take induction, the intelligibility of the natural world, the general reliability of the senses and the general reliability of human reason. According to naturalistic evolution, human beings are the byproduct of an error-ridden process. Most of the time, evolution churns out mistakes. On rare occasion it hits on something beneficial. Given that scenario, wouldn't we expect human reason to be very limited and highly fallible? Why suppose nature would be generally accessible to human reason?

2. If secular science defines what human beings are, then religion only gets to comment on what's left over after science tells us what we amount to. What if science says there is no afterlife. The brain produces the mind. There is no immortal soul. Necrosis is irreversible. There is no resurrection of the body.

Likewise, evolution has no directionality. Humans don't exist because the process was aiming for humans. There's nothing special about humans from a cosmic standpoint. 

Of course, like most Catholic intellectuals, Casey is a theistic evolutionist, but how does theistic evolution mesh with nonoverlapping magisteria? You can't combine naturalistic evolution with guided evolution. Methodological naturalism banishes teleological explanations from natural science. 

Perhaps Casey will appeal to natural theology as a mediating structure. If so, is natural theology a scientific conclusion or a framework within which science operates? Doesn't natural theology make use of unaided reason? If so, don't science and religion overlap in that regard? 

3. Is religion separate from reason and sense knowledge? What about empirical and testimonial evidence for religion? What about philosophical and scientific arguments for religion? If so, that transgresses nonoverlapping magisteria.

Does religion not use sense perception to tell us what the world is like? What about miracles? Those are signs. Visible events. Some miracles are empirically verifiable, are they not? What about theophanies, Christophanies, and angelophanies. Aren't those objects of sensory perception? Or take something more mundane like answered prayer. Isn't there empirical evidence when God grants a petitionary or intercessory prayer request? 

As a Roman Catholic, I assume Casey believes in Marian apparitions. Doesn't that fall between the cracks of nonoverlapping magisterial? If they happen, they're essentially religious, yet objects of sense perception. 

What revelatory dreams, like prophetic dreams. They tell the dreamer something about the future. Something about the world. 

What about history? Doesn't the Christian faith makes claims about God's active involvement in history, including Bible history and church history? Are there not eyewitnesses to God's activity in sacred history? To have an understanding of the world around us includes observation regarding divine intervention in human experience. 

So far from being separate domains that don't speak to the same things, science and religion are often coreferential in scope. And that creates a potential for conflicting claims. 

4. Finally, is it really advantageous that religion in general be immune to empirical and rational scrutiny? What about false prophets? What about charlatan faith-healers? 

5. I don't see how nonoverlapping magisteria can be consistently applied. There are too many counterexamples. And these aren't just special exceptions, but often go to the centrality of religious experience and understanding. Casey has taken refuge in a facile but intellectually unsustainable false dichotomy. Although there's often a difference between the methods of science and religion, that's hardly universal. 

For instance, medical science makes assumptions about what will happen if nature takes its course. The physical world generally operates like a machine, with robotic regularity and predictability. That's the default setting. That's what it's programed to do. 

But sometimes a prayer for healing circumvents natural processes, resulting in miraculous recovery. That provides insight into the kind of world we inhabit. A reality in which spiritual agents can and sometimes do interact with matter to bypass physical cause and effect, resulting in outcomes that are not traceable to an antecedent conditions. Yet these are empirically detectable outcomes.  

Saturday, January 25, 2020

The provincial universal church

A revealing window into how provincial a denomination which claims to be the universal church has been for nearly its entire history:


Authentic Catholicism

1. I've often said that most Catholic apologists present an inauthentic version of Catholicism because most of them are evangelical converts to Catholicism. In general, they have a far more conservative view of Scripture, which is a carryover from their evangelical past. By contrast, here's an example of a Catholic apologist who's the real deal. This is what a standard Catholic college and seminary education will get you:

2. Evidently, Casey was only exposed to one side of the argument: mainstream Catholic Bible scholarship. Many of his examples could be resolved by consulting evangelical commentaries on the Bible, as well as standard monographs on the inerrancy and historicity of the Bible, viz. Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament (B&H Academic 2016); D. A. Carson, ed. The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures (Eerdmans 2016); James Hoffmeier & Dennis MaGary, eds., Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? (Crossway 2012); Kenneth Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003); Vern Poythress, Inerrancy and the Gospels (Crossway 2012); Andrew Steinmann, From Abraham to Paul: A Biblical Chronology (Concordia 2011).

3. Unfortunately, when he talks about "smoothing over stories and performing tremendous mental gymnastics," he shields his own position from correction by preemptively discrediting attempts to harmonize Scripture or defuse allegations of error. He's not open to that possibility. He's convinced himself that even making the effort is an exercise in special pleading. 

4. A basic problem with his mind is that once you adopt that view of Scripture, you begin to see mistakes and contradictions everywhere. There's no longer any presumption that what the Bible say is true. No distinction is drawn between differences and contradictions. Critics of inerrancy sometimes allege that inerrancy fosters a house-of-cards mentality, yet the denial of inerrancy becomes a mania to compulsively presume error. 

5. In addition, Casey's view of Scripture is a universal acid that dissolves historical theology. For the same reflexive skepticism can be extended with even greater ease and plausibility to the so-called development of doctrine. 

Friday, January 24, 2020

Impeachment legalities


How amazing is Randi?

A few of quick observations:

1. Scientist Rupert Sheldrake is less enthusiastic about Randi's debunking bona fides:

2. While a magician has a useful skill set for exposing certain types of charlatans, there's a lot of evidence for the paranormal that's not easily reducible to parlor tricks. For instance, has Dembski studied the research of Stephen Braude? 

3. Finally: 

Randi is an equal opportunity skeptic. He has no specific animus toward Christianity. To him, Christian belief is no more realistic or defensible than any other supernatural claim. 

While I'm sure Randi is hostile to religion in general, there's a difference between generic theism and Christianity. The Christian faith includes sexual ethics. Randi is an active sodomite. So I expect he does harbor personal animus towards Christianity. It's not an abstract philosophical construct like perfect being theology, but a living religion with personal ethics, social ethics, and social policies for the church and culture.

Is the Trinity brute fact?

1. I suspect many Christians affirm and defend the Trinity because they're supposed to, but not because they find any intrinsic value in the doctrine. The Trinity is often presented as an impenetrable paradox. You have a pious duty to check that box, but it it wasn't a revealed truth, how many Christians would miss it, or even breathe a sign of relief that they no longer had to defend it. Is the Trinity a chore, a nuisance, and intellectual embarrassment? In this post I'll offer a few philosophical musings. 

2. In historical theology there are different models of the Trinity:

i) In Greek Orthodox theology, the Trinity is like a tree trunk with two branches. The Father is the trunk, while the Son and Spirit are offshoots. The Father directly causes the Son and Spirit to exist (albeit eternally and necessarily).

ii) In Latin theology, the Father causes the Son directly and the Spirit indirectly via the Son (the Filioque). So that's a linear conception. Greek Orthodox theologians complain that the Filioque destroys the unity of the Trinity by positing two causes for the Spirit rather than a unified cause for Son and Spirit alike. 

iii) Those are pre-Reformation paradigms. A more recent position repudiates the hierarchical model. Instead it posits that each person is autotheos or God in himself. In Latin and Greek Orthodoxy theology, by contrast, only the Father is autotheos. 

3. Proponents of the Nicene paradigm claim it protects the unity of the Godhead. The Son and Spirit share a common essence with the Father. However, that by itself doesn't have much explanatory value:

i) At best it amounts to generic unity rather than numerical unity. Human beings share a common nature, yet they are separate entities. 

ii) In addition, if the Father can generate at least one divine person, additional to himself, why is there any upper limit on how many he can generate? How does that select for a total of three persons rather than two or four or forty?

4. To contend that each person is autotheos doesn't mean the persons exist independent of each other. Just that one doesn't cause the other two. These don't represent three different points of origin. On this model, they have no causal origin. So they aren't separate in that regard. 

5. Is it a brute fact that God is three persons, no more and no less? It might be an epistemological brute fact. Perhaps the explanation for why there are just three persons is way over our heads. 

Even if that's the case, it doesn't imply that the Trinity is a metaphysical brute fact, in the sense that it's arbitrary. Rather, it's a brute fact in the qualified sense that nothing outside of God explains what God is like. Indeed, we could argue that God is not a brute fact:

i) The existence of a creature is arbitrary because creatures are contingent. A creature could exist or not exist. There could be one more creature or one less creature. In that respect, creatures have a brute factuality that God does not. God's nonexistence is impossible. Moreover, one thing must exist necessarily for anything else to exist. 

ii) Another angle is the perfection of God. God is the way he is because God is perfect, so anything different would be less perfect or imperfect. That's not arbitrary, but represents the culmination of an axiological principle.  

6. These (admittedly) sketchy explanations operate at a higher, more generic level. But do they explain why God is a trinity rather than a binity or quadrinity? Again, this may be out of reach of human reason, but it's worth exploring the question to see how far we can take it. 

7. In physics and ancient philosophy, there's a strong bias towards reductionism. Where the most fundamental component of reality is one. Monadic units. You get down to something ultimately simple and discrete. Absolute unicity is the philosophical ideal.

The Trinity challenges that prejudice. According to the Trinity, relations are more fundamental than units. According to the Trinity, ultimate reality already has structure. It's not organizing isolated units into structures. Rather, reality has structure at rock bottom. So one is not the most fundamental reality. Three is fundamental. 

8. Considered strictly as a number, 3 has some striking properties: 

3 is the only integer which is the sum of the preceding positive integers (1+2=3) and the only number which is the sum of the factorials of the preceding positive integers (1!+2!=3). It is also the first odd prime. A quantity taken to the power 3 is said to be cubed.

To be sure, that's a pure number rather than a numbed object,  but it's still interesting to consider. 

9. A relation is conceptually richer than a unit. And a trinary relation is richer than a binary relation. A binary relation is more elementary. 

10. Thus far the analysis is rather abstract, but suppose we try to visualize it. A reflection is a relation. It takes at least two elements to generate a mirror-image. 

Consider three mirrors arranged in a triangle. They reflect each other. They contain each other.  You couldn't tell which is a reflection of which without a frame of reference. And the mirror images are self-enclosed within the triangle. Internal to that configuration. 

Compare that to arranging four mirrors in a square. In one respect that's more complex because it has an added element, a fourth element. Yet the reflection pattern is simpler because the mirrors stand at right angles to each other, so the reflections are only generated by mirrors directly facing each other. Even though there are four mirrors, they only generate paired reflections, wheres three mirrors capture all three, in a circular reflection. Three mirrors can reflect each other in a way that four mirrors can't. 

So the trinary relation is more ontologically parsimonious, yet more conceptually fecund. Which constitutes a more elegant pattern because it combines superior economy with superior complexity. Hence, there is a containment principle for why more is less and less is more. The binary relation is both ontologically and conceptually simpler. The trinary relation gives you more with less while the quaternarian relation gives you less with more. In that respect the trinary relation is more perfect than a fewer or greater number of constituents.