Monday, October 16, 2017

The lonely god

A. Some Christian philosophers and theologians have proposed a priori arguments (i.e. arguments from reason) for the Trinity. And this has relevance to Islam, rabbinical Judaism, and the oxymoronic "Christian unitarianism" alike. 

Apostate Dale Tuggy has attempted to debunk these arguments on more than one occasion:

B. Let's reframe the issue. Instead of considering a priori arguments for Trinitarianism, suppose we consider a priori undercutters for unitarianism. These don't propose to directly prove the Trinity. Rather, if successful, they provide indirect support for the Trinity by undermining unitarianism. 

Take an eyewitness to a crime. Turns out he's known to drop acid. That doesn't falsify his testimony. It doesn't prove he was high at the time he allegedly witnessed the crime. It is, however, reason to impugn his credibility.

Suppose these arguments fall short of proving that God must be no less than three persons and no more than three persons. Although they fail to prove that God is tripersonal, if they undermine the grounds for believing that God might be unipersonal, then they are successful undercutters for unitarianism. That's analogous to a Christian apologist who proposes an undercutter for atheism. If successful, the logical alternative isn't necessarily Christianity. So additional arguments would be required to narrow the field down to Christianity. However, to eliminate atheism from rational consideration is a significant first step. 

C. The nature of proof

We need to define what we mean by proof. Traditionally, I think some philosophers and theologians regarded theistic proofs as "demonstrations". These were thought to have apodictic force. 

But there's an influential alternative, promoted by philosophers and theologians like Locke, Butler, Newman, and Plantinga, who regard that criterion as artificially stringent. Hardly any of the important beliefs we most care about are susceptible to rigorous proof, so why should we hold theistic proofs to that austere and inhuman standard? Instead, they recast the criterion in terms of what is rational, probable, or warranted. 

D. The nature of love

1. How can God be love if he has no one to love? In the nature of the case, love is a relation. 

Notice what this argument doesn't claim. It doesn't claim that love must be generous. It doesn't claim that love is diffusive. 

It doesn't claim that God would be imperfect if he had no one to love. It doesn't even claim that God would be imperfect unless he was loving by nature. 

Rather, it's a conditional claim: If God is love, then given that postulate, divine love must have an object–because love is a relation. 

2. Dale might respond that God does have something to love. God loves his creatures. 

That, however, raises another issue. If creatures are all God has to love, then there's a lack of parity between the lover and the beloved. A unitarian god relates to humans the way a boy related to his pet lizard. Christians are rightly critical of couples who choose to have pets as an alternative to kids. If love is an essential divine attribute, can that be satisfied by a contingent and inferior corollary? 

3. Dale might respond that self-love is adequate. If so, one problem with that response is that it's equivocal. To be loving in the sense of self-love isn't the same kind of love as loving another. 

We could pursue this general line of argument in additional directions, but let's save that for a related argument:

E. The nature of personhood

1. Does the very idea of a person necessitate interpersonal relationships? Is personhood intrinsically relational? 

2. One of Dale's counterarguments is that love is a character trait, not an action. An agent can possess that disposition or virtue even if he never has a chance to actually manifest that virtue.

But there are problems with that counterargument:

i) Although love is a disposition or character trait, personhood is not. Rather, personhood is the basis for dispositions or character traits, which inhere in personhood. So that's more fundamental. 

ii) Perhaps even more to the point, why would God have an intrinsic capacity for something merely contingent? For something that God can do without? Humans can have an unrealized potential for interpersonal relationships, but that's because humans are essentially social beings.  Why would a unipersonal God have that innate capacity in the first place, if his ability to socialize is inessential to who or what he is? In unitarianism, the existence of other persons is a contingent fact.

3. Dale has leveled another counterargument:

The same point can be made with a simpler, more chilling story. Some have speculated that those who are sent to Hell are neither literally burned nor actively tormented, but are simply cast into permanent, utter isolation. Imagine this happening to you; you are judged for your deeds, and then find your self in an empty, dark place. You call out, “Hello? Is anyone there?” Days, weeks, months pass, and your sanity hangs by a thread, for you are deprived of any degree of attention, as far as you can tell, from anyone. (If God is aware of you, you have no hint of this – he has seemingly abandoned you.) You are devoid of any sort of friendship or communion. But, you are as much a self as you ever were – not a thriving one, to be sure, but a self nonetheless. 

But ironically, his counterargument is self-defeating:

i) Let's play along with the notion of solitary confinement. In this case, unitarian solipsism. 

Suppose you put a person in a windowless cell. No companions. No movies. All he had was his own mind to entertain him. 

And suppose this person was immortal. Remember that Dale regards God as everlasting rather than timeless. For him, God has no beginning or ending. So God experiences the (psychological) passage of time.

Suppose, after a century, or millennium, or million years, or billion years, or trillion years, you open the door and let the inmate leave solitary confinement. What will his mental condition be like? To judge by a human standard of comparison, he'd be catatonic or stark raving mad. 

So it's not just a question of whether a unitarian deity can initially be a person, but whether the psychological integrity of personhood requires companionship, in whose absence it will deteriorate. 

4. Perhaps Dale would say that's too anthropomorphic. That illicitly extrapolates from human nature to the divine nature. 

If so, there are problems with that rejoinder:

i) Dale is an open theist, so he already has a far more anthropomorphic view of the deity than classical theism.

ii) What are the limitations of an argument by analogy from man to God? God and man are different in two ways: some things are true of God that can't be true of man while some things are true of man that can't be true of God. For the extrapolation to be vitiated by disanalogy, Dale needs to show that one of those two things limitations applies in reference to the argument at hand. 

iii) It isn't simply an extrapolation from the creature to the Creator. The comparison is more specific. Of all God's creatures (that we know about), man is the most godlike. Angels may be comparable, but they too, like man, are interpersonal agents. 

Indeed, there's a certain hierarchy wherein the more sophisticated the creature, the more socially complex. So there's a kind of trajectory leading up to God. 

ii) Dale constantly impugns Incarnational, Trinitarian theism for taking refuge in mystery or paradox, but if unitarianism posits a God for which there's no analogy in human experience, then unitarianism is apophatic, which is an appeal to mystery. An ineffable, inscrutable God.

A being that's said to be essentially personal or unipersonal without being essentially interpersonal is opaque to human understanding. That doesn't correspond to our grasp of what it means to be a person. When the unitarian makes God that remote to human understanding, that inapprehensible, then what does his concept of God amount to? What's the difference between God and no God?  

1 comment:

  1. And

    Some interesting thoughts, Steve. Stay tuned for a blog response.