Saturday, September 6, 2014

Speculative Arguments In Defense of the Trinity

Argument One 

It has often been argued by various Trinitarians in different ways that unless God was multi-personal "before" creation God couldn't have been personal since a consciousness must be able to distinguish and contrast itself from something and/or someone else other than itself. If there was a something (thing or things) else eternally existing besides God "before" creation, then that would deny the doctrine of God's aseity which teaches that God alone is self-existent, self-sufficient, absolutely independent, the alone necessary being et cetera. But also, if there wasn't a someone else, there couldn't be a single conscious person. On the one hand personality would seem to entail plurality, yet on the other hand monotheism entails God's oneness and single independence. A multipersonal conception of God, such as the Trinity, can resolve the apparent dilemma.

Here's a thought experiment that can help illustrate the point. Imagine a man stranded on an island separated from his fellow man (i.e. other human beings). Now imagine that the water surrounding the island disappeared. Then imagine the island itself disappeared. Then imagine his physical body disappeared and he's reduced to an unembodied mind (or spirit) without any parts. If he were born or came into existence in such a situation what would he be able to contrast himself with in order to distinguish himself from another person or thing? His mind would be blank. It's true that God, being omniscient, has what theologians call 1. necessary knowledge and 2. free knowledge (Molinists also claim, 3. middle knowledge). However, God's knowledge, of itself, wouldn't ensure personality. It would be analogous to a computer that has a lot of data, but no necessary consciousness.

Here's where I'm speculating without being dogmatic or even taking this as my tentative position. What if consciousness requires change? If not change in being or beings (e.g. in the physical world time is measured by physical changes), at least mental inter-change or interaction of minds? Non-theists often object to the coherence of a personal timeless God because all our experiences of consciousness and personality are temporal. It's admitted by all that it's difficult to understand the concept of a timeless person. The doctrine of the Trinity can therefore potentially provide an explanation for how God could be conscious sans creation (i.e. apart from or "before" creation). 

Or if one doesn't like that argument, here's another popular one among theologians that I've phrased in my own words.

Argument Two

- Some Trinitarians like Jonathan Edwards have argued that God's eternal self-knowledge is so clear, so intense, so glorious and infinite that His mental self-conception or idea of Himself literally conceives, eternally, the person of the Son. Analogously, as a mirror reflects the one standing in front of it, so God's mental self-reflection eternally begets a second divine person, viz. the Son of God. Might it be that God's self-imagination is the Son who Scripture repeatedly states is the image of the invisible God? Furthermore, the love between the Father and the Son, the two divine persons, is itself so intense, so glorious and infinite that that love also eternally produces a third divine person, namely the Holy Spirit. And so, we have here a possible explanation of the eternal generation (or filiation) of the Son, along with the eternal procession (or spiration) of the Holy Spirit as historically understood by Trinitarians. And one that especially makes sense if the filioque clause is factored in. Since the Holy Spirit would proceed from the Father and the Son or the Father through the Son. This explanation would entail that each person of the Trinity is eternal (since the Father never began to have self-knowledge nor ever began to love that self-knowledge), while at the same time explain how the person of the Son is dependent on the person of the Father for His existence, along with the Holy Spirit depending on the Father and the Son for His existence (as the New Testament seems to imply). Yet, all three persons would be truly and fully God without subordination of ontology, even if there might be functional/complementarian subordination among the persons.

This argument is essentially that of Jonathan Edwards in his, An Unpublished Essay on the Trinity. Jonathan Edwards' argument may be an adaptation and modification of traditional arguments he inherited from the past history of Christian theology and philosophy (e.g. from Thomas Aquinas).

As an avid follower of Edwards, John Piper argues this in the first chapter of his book The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God's Delight in Being God. I believe (rightly or wrongly) that that first chapter has been posted online HERE.

Piper also explored this idea in a sermon he gave years before the publication of his book. The sermon is, The Pleasure of God In His Son (preached Jan. 25, 1987).

Piper states it this way in his sermon:

We are on the brink of the ineffable here, but perhaps we may dare to say this much: as long as God has been God, he has been conscious of himself, and the image that he has of himself is so perfect and so complete and full as to be the living, personal reproduction (or begetting) of himself. And this living, personal image or reflection or form of God is God, namely, God the Son. And therefore God the Son is co-eternal with God the Father and equal in essence and glory.

Thomas Aquinas argues similarly (though not exactly) in his Summa Theologica, Part 1, Treatise on The Most Holy Trinity, Question 27 (or look it up Here)

Consider what Tertullian wrote:

And that you may the more readily understand this, consider first of all, from your own self, who are made “in the image and likeness of God,” for what purpose it is that you also possess reason in yourself, who are a rational creature, as being not only made by a rational Artificer, but actually animated out of His substance. Observe, then, that when you are silently conversing with yourself, this very process is carried on within you by your reason, which meets you with a word at every movement of your thought, at every impulse of your conception. Whatever you think, there is a word; whatever you conceive, there is reason. You must needs speak it in your mind; and while you are speaking, you admit speech as an interlocutor with you, involved in which there is this very reason, whereby, while in thought you are holding converse with your word, you are (by reciprocal action) producing thought by means of that converse with your word. Thus, in a certain sense, the word is a second person within you, through which in thinking you utter speech, and through which also, (by reciprocity of process,) in uttering speech you generate thought. The word is itself a different thing from yourself. Now how much more fully is all this transacted in God, whose image and likeness even you are regarded as being, inasmuch as He has reason within Himself even while He is silent, and involved in that Reason His Word! I may therefore without rashness first lay this down (as a fixed principle) that even then before the creation of the universe God was not alone, since He had within Himself both Reason, and, inherent in Reason, His Word, which He made second to Himself by agitating it within Himself. - Tertullian in Against Praxeas [trans. by Dr. Holmes]

The two arguments above (#1 & #2) could be seen as contradictory. Since, the first argument implies that a divine person can't exist apart from at least one other divine person. The second argument implies that the others (i.e. Son and Spirit) can't exist apart from the Father.

That's why I wrote, "If one doesn't like that argument, here's another...." Nevertheless, I don't think they are necessarily contradictory. Also, they are two different types of arguments. The first part of Argument One is a hypothetical thought experiment. The second part is pure speculation. As a whole, the first argument is an argument based on natural theology. That is, on what can be gleaned and inferred from general revelation using reason. While Argument Two attempts to explain Trinitarian theology by freely using Biblical data and so appeals to and depends on special revelation. The first argument moves from the many to the one. The second argument moves from the one to the many.

Argument Three

This is a variation on Argument Two that does seem to contradict Argument One. Assuming in principle that God could have self knowledge as an individual person, God could also have reflection of one's self-knowledge. Even we ourselves as individual human beings can not only know oneself, but reflect on ones knowledge of oneself such that we can often even talk to ourselves as if we are two distinct person when we are thinking and deliberating. Having a dialogue with oneself is not necessarily a mark of insanity, but is firstly a mark of sentience. This would be similar to William Lane Craig point out about 3 levels of creaturely suffering, whereby creatures can 1. have a mere response to stimuli, 2. can experience pain, and 3. can experience pain but aren't able to be aware that one is oneself in pain. The exceptions would include humans and the higher primates. This third level of awareness, is self-awareness. Might God's self-awareness (analogous to the third level), or even His self-awareness of His self-awareness (analogous to a fourth level) be the eternal generation of the Son? And the love between the Father and the Son result in the Holy Spirit (as argued above)? One might object and say why can't God have a self-awareness of His self-awareness of His self-awareness ad infinitum? Thus resulting in an infinite number of divine persons in the Godhead. That would seem to be superfluous self-knowledge and/or self-awareness. Since there is a distinction between knowledge and reflection on that knowledge there would be no other possible levels assuming 1. the initial self-knowledge is perfect and infinite and that 2. the reflection or contemplation of that self-knowledge is also perfect and infinite.

Argument Four

This oneiric argument is based on my own experiences during a dream state. I've had instances in which I was having a coherent conversation with someone in a dream in which the person (or persons) was interacting with me in a rational way just like another real person would. After waking up I obviously realized that my conversation wasn't really with another human being. Assuming I wasn't actually having a conversation with an external mind (e.g. God, or angels or demons manipulating my dream), my own mind and/or brain was generating the other side of the conversation without my knowing, choosing or experiencing it. I was literally multiple minded, or multi-personal.

In fact, there have been times when the other person in the dream told me a joke that was so funny I literally woke up laughing, thought about the dream and whether the joke was actually funny or not, agreed that it was, and then decided to continue sleeping. There are also instances in which I would have a dream that ended in a way that perfectly tied together all the elements of the earlier parts of the dream to produce a well crafted dénouement (i.e. resolution, revelation, surprise or catastrophe). It was as if there was an overarching mind that planned and coordinated all the elements of the dream without my conscious involvement. Yet, that person would have had to have been myself or another part of my self or mind. Similar to this experience, might the doctrine of the Trinity be a similar or if not similar, then analogous phenomena in the Godhead?

Argument Five

This argument was made famous by C.S. Lewis in his classic book Mere Christianity. He wrote:

Before going on, notice the practical importance of this. All sorts of people are fond of repeating the Christian statement that ‘God is love’. But they seem not to notice that the words ‘God is love’ have no real meaning unless God contains at least two Persons. Love is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, He was not love.
 Lewis' argument is that if one takes seriously the concept that love is an intrinsic, inherent and essential attribute of God, that one has to therefore believe that God must be multi-personal. Of course this doesn't get us to three, and only three persons in the Godhead. It nevertheless makes problematic the consistent and serious affirmation of the Biblical statement in 1 John 4:8, that "God is love," for groups that affirm both the inspiration of the New Testament along with strict Unitarian monotheism (e.g. Arians, Jehovah's Witnesses, Unitarians like Anthony Buzzard, Dale Tuggy, Greg Stafford, Dave Barron et al.). If unipersonal monotheism is true, who was there for God to love or for God to be loved by sans creation?

To be continued-

Self Notes:

Add possible comments regarding Augustine's speculations.

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