XFiles Friday: Is versus Has

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 13.)

It’s time to dig into the Trinity itself, and Geisler and Turek want us to know up front that we’re most certainly not dealing with an unreasonable dogma here.

Despite what some skeptics may say, the Trinity is not illogical or against reason. Saying that there is one God and three Gods would be illogical. But saying that there is one God who has three persons is not illogical. It may be beyond reason, but it’s not against reason.

Gotta love the bit where they say the Trinity is beyond reason rather than against reason. In other words, if trinitarians contradict themselves, that doesn’t mean they’re actually wrong, it just means we’re too stupid to figure out a way to resolve the contradiction. It’s an IOU for the rationalization they’d like to be able to come up with, but can’t. And God’s the one that’s supposed to pick up the tab!

G&T are partly correct: depending on how you define “God” and “person,” it might not necessarily be illogical to say that one God can have three persons. If God is a category, or a species, or an organization, He/They/It could have any number of persons as members. There is one humanity that has many persons, one Republican party that has many persons, and so on. The illogical stuff doesn’t kick in until you start trying to claim that this is anything other than frank polytheism.

Geisler and Turek haven’t really started yet, though unfortunately those four short sentences constitute their entire exposition of the argument that the Trinity is not illogical. No additional evidence or rationale is provided, just the wistful appeal to the notion that perhaps there’s a logical explanation somewhere just beyond the reach of human intellect.

And yet, even though they’ve barely introduced the topic of the logic of the Trinity, they’re already in deep trouble. Notice that they’ve defined God as “one God who has three persons.” So right away we’ve abandoned the idea of a personal God. The concept of “person” does not describe what God is, it describes what God has, and He’s got more than one of them. That means God Himself is not a person (singular), making it technically incorrect to refer to Him using third-person plural pronouns like He and His and Him. He has plural persons, so He is a Them, not a Him.

That’s contrary to the Scriptures, however.

I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. (Isa. 45:5)

For this is what the LORD says— he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited— he says: “I am the LORD, and there is no other.(Isa. 45:18)

That’s just a sample, of course, but notice that God is speaking in the first person singular. Not, “We are God and there are no others,” but “apart from Me there is no God.” The Bible portrays God speaking of Himself as though He were indeed a person (as in person singular).  If God were some kind of collective or composite made up of multiple persons, then it would be incorrect and even misleading for the Bible to refer to Him as a singular person. And yet, all of the Bible verses which form the basis for Christian monotheism do just that: they refer to God as a singular person, and designate Him with third person singular (or first person singular) pronouns.

What Geisler and Turek have done, and what the Christian Church has been doing for centuries, is to sneak in a polytheistic conceptual framework, in which the term “God” refers to a kind of “essence” that can be shared among multiple distinct individuals. “Human” is a similar sort of characteristic: we’re each distinct individuals, yet we’re all fully and 100% human. God ceases to be a unique, individual, personal identity, and becomes a type or a category. But that’s just what “deity” is for Zeus and Apollo and Artemis as well: a shared condition of being divine.

And yet, though they have changed “God” from being a person to being a collective of multiple divine persons, they still maintain, monotheistically, that God is a person. They pray to Him, speak of Him in singular pronouns, try to understand His will. They wish to obey His desires, to hear His voice, to see His face—everything you would expect to find among monotheists relating to a deity who was the only person to be an honest-to-goodness God.

If there’s only one Person who is really God, however, then Jesus cannot both be God and be the Son of God. So they slip with practiced ease back into the polytheistic framework that changes God from a character into a category, an impersonal essence that is somehow mystically shared amongst many divine persons. It all depends on the conceptual need of the moment. Are we arguing against polytheism? Then God IS a person. Are we arguing for the deity of Jesus? Then it’s no longer that God IS a person, but rather that He HAS a person, and has a few in fact.

This is what Geisler and Turek refer to as the aspect of the Trinity that is “beyond” reason. It’s not beyond reason, it’s just two contradictory conceptual frameworks inhabiting the same skulls at the same time. They can’t figure out how to fit the two frameworks together because they are fundamentally and inherently contradictions of one another.

And with due respect to Drs. Geisler and Turek, it’s not our fault that two conflicting and contradictory systems fail to fit together nicely. The problems are a direct result of the fact that they conflict. Being smarter won’t give us some magical ability to reconcile the mutual contradictions. Being smarter would merely make it easier to recognize that the system can’t be fixed, because it isn’t broken. It’s just manifesting the fundamental flaws in the original concept.

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Posted in IDHEFTBA, Unapologetics, XFiles. 6 Comments »

6 Responses to “XFiles Friday: Is versus Has”

  1. Kevin Says:

    I wonder if G&T provide some kind of method for determining whether or not a thing is beyond reason, or contrary to it. How do they decide between the two? I’d love to ask them for their methodology.

  2. David Evans Says:

    I get uneasy when logic is pushed to the extent that you are trying to do. Yes, the Trinity is self-contradictory. Couldn’t one just as easily say quantum mechanics is self-contradictory? After all, an electron is either a wave or it isn’t.

    The difference, of course, is that quantum mechanics does a good job of explaining the real world.

  3. Deacon Duncan Says:

    The other difference is that the wave/particle nature of a photon is not a dogma, it’s a summary of real-world observations. The Trinity is not even a revelation, it’s a bunch of guys, a couple centuries or so after Jesus, trying to invent a way to reconcile Christianity’s various doctrines that say contradictory things. It only seems as complex as particle physics because of all the convolutions people go through to try and rationalize it all.

  4. Swimmy Says:

    Furthermore, wave/particle duality can be reduced (yay reductionism!) to a wave-only view (that is, many worlds theory). The problem of the Trinity cannot be reduced by saying all people are categories, or that all categories are people. Down that road lies, yet again, polytheism. Or hippie mysticism. We are all gods, god is in all of us, yada yada yada.

  5. melior Says:

    Just to be charitable, perhaps consistency could be rescued by supposing the Trinity to be one “person” who can shape-shift among 3 different forms, like some sorta uber-Pokémon.

    Think about it — has anyone ever claimed to have seen the Father, Son, and Holy ghost in the same room at the same time together — or even any two of them? Nope! Coincidence?! I think not! 🙂

    This interpretation isn’t really compatible with Him being omnipotent, unfortunately, if He’s limited to only those 3 forms as morph targets. Even Aladdin’s djnni could take any form he wanted.

  6. Deacon Duncan Says:

    It’s a good thought, but the one-person-three-forms idea has already been rejected by Trinitarians as being the “modalism heresy.” Modalism is also referred to as being “Sabellianism,” or at least overlapping with it. It has a number of theological problems, including the fact that it denies that Jesus was a real honest-to-goodness human being, thus denying his ability to meet an important prerequisite for being a high priest for his people. It also reduces the gospel to a mere puppet show, in which an immortal deity pretends to “die” a death that is actually just a pose portrayed in an artificial and external form.