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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Is the Trinity a Contradiction?

In my recent series on the essential beliefs of Christianity, I received a comment from a reader who claimed that I hadn't offered a cogent argument for the Trinity. This isn't the first time I've heard the claim that the Trinity is a contradictory concept. The doctrine of the Trinity has been challenged by everyone from Jehovah's Witnesses to Muslims as contradictory.

What is a Contradiction?

A contradiction occurs when someone asserts a claim resulting in the conclusion that A does not equal A at the same time and in the same way. To briefly understand what I mean, take this well-worn example of a syllogism:

      1. All men are mortal

      2. Socrates is a man

These two premises are not really controversial. But we can know something else about Socrates by looking at them:

      Conclusion: Socrates is mortal.

This conclusion follows necessarily from the premises. There is no escaping it. Socrates is part of the set "all men" and if everyone in the set of all men are mortal, Socrates must be mortal, too.

But what if I make an additional claim about Socrates, such as:

      3. Socrates is immortal

If I assert premises #1, #2, and #3, I would have a contradiction. Socrates cannot be both mortal (from #1 and #2) and immortal (from #3) at the same time and in the same manner. Premise #3 could of course not be talking about the physical body of Socrates but referring to his work. In such a case, statement #3 holds no bearing on the other two statements, since they are completely different concepts. But if statement #3 means immortal in the same sense that statement #1 does, then Socrates cannot be a man and immortal because it would mean that Socrates is mortal and while he is at the same time the opposite of mortal. Both cannot possibly be true.

The Argument Against Contradiction

Since we know now what it takes to call an idea contradictory, we can use this understanding to see if the Trinity fits the definition of a contradiction.

      1. If the doctrine of the Trinity defines God as being both one and more than one at the same time and in the same manner then it is contradictory and therefore false.

Next, we declare that God is monotheistic. This is a staple of Christian belief:

      2. There is one God.

But Christianity teaches of a plurality within God. Supported by scripture, it makes the claim that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit can express themselves differently. The Son may pray to the Father or submit to His will. The Father may send the Spirit, and so on. But they are each called God. So, we get another premise:

      3. The person of the Father is God, the person of the Son is God, and ;the person of Holy Spirit is God.

      4. Therefore, God is one being comprised of the persons of Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit (from 2,3).

If we are to now claim that the Father is a being, the Son is a being, and the Holy Spirit is a being, we would have a contradiction. You would have God is three beings and God is one being. Certainly both cannot be true. However, that is not the Christian doctrine. The Christian doctrine is that God is one being comprised of three persons. In my last post I showed how personhood is separate from being. We can create a sub argument here from the facts of that post:

               5a. Personhood is not the same as being if the number of persons of an entity differs from the number of beings present in itself.

               5b. A plant is an entity whose number of persons (zero) differs from the number of beings (one) present in itself.

               5c. Therefore, personhood is not the same as being.

So, because we've clarified the concept of personhood and being, we can add an additional proposition to our argument:  

      6. Therefore, God can be one being comprised of a different number of persons without contradiction (from 4,5c).

      7. Therefore the doctrine of the Trinity is not contradictory ( from 1,6)

By arguing thusly, one can see that the doctrine of the Trinity is not contradictory. One must add additional premises to the argument, and those premises must properly reflect Christian doctrine.

3 comments:

  1. RE: "If we are to now claim that the Father is a being, the Son is a being, and the Holy Spirit is a being, we would have a contradiction."

    I agree- saying there are three beings but one God makes no sense. But it is the same situation as saying there are three persons but one being... it is the same nonsense.

    ReplyDelete
  2. In our reality (experience), there's no evidence nor logical support for the idea of "three persons in one being". You only believe in the trinity for religious reasons. If you were fully monotheistic like the Jews, you would readily dismiss the trinity as religious nonsense.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Actually the case is that the doctrine of Trinity is not even mentioned in the Bible :
    http://jesus-is-muslim.net/trinity/

    ReplyDelete

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