Sunday, June 7, 2009

Trinity Sunday

And now, dear friends, let us elevate our minds to higher and nobler things. Today is Trinity Sunday. We Christians worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the Persons nor dividing the substance. But how can this be? Isn’t this doctrine either self-contradictory or unintelligible?

It is neither. Suppose, following Richard Cartwright in his important paper “On the Logical Problem of the Trinity,” we take as a summary of Trinitarian orthodoxy the following set of propositions:

1. The Father is God.
2. The Son is God.
3. The Holy Spirit is God.
4. The Father is not the Son.
5. The Father is not the Holy Spirit.
6. The Son is not the Holy Spirit.
7. There is exactly one God.

Is this not an inconsistent set? Not as it stands, it isn’t. For we need to know (among other things) what the force of “is” is in each of these propositions. (Bill Clinton wasn’t all wrong, as it turns out.) If (1) is glossed as “The Father = God” and (2)-(6) are interpreted accordingly, then we would of course have an inconsistent set. But that is not how Trinitarian theologians understand “is” in this context; that is to say, they are not using it to express what modern logicians understand by the identity relation. If instead we interpret (1)-(3) as “The Father is a God,” “The Son is a God,” etc., and (4)-(6) alone in light of the identity relation – so that (1)-(6) are understood to assert that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct members of a class of “Gods” – then, again (given (7)), we have an inconsistent set. But, again, that is not what Trinitarian theologians mean by “The Father is God,” etc.

Doesn’t that exhaust the possibilities? By no means. As Cartwright notes at the end of what is a decidedly skeptical essay, there are at least ten other possible construals of “is” that would have to be considered before one could judge that the doctrine contains an implicit self-contradiction. But suppose we considered those ten, and any others that might be brought forward, and none of them yielded an internally consistent set. Would that show that the doctrine is self-contradictory? No, because there might still be a construal on which they are consistent, but one which we have not stumbled upon, perhaps even one we will never stumble upon.

But doesn’t that avoid self-contradiction at the cost of intelligibility? It depends on what you mean. Something could be unintelligible in itself, or unintelligible only for us. What is unintelligible in the first sense has no coherent content; what is unintelligible in the second sense has a coherent content, but one which, given our cognitive limitations, we are incapable of grasping. Trinitarianism would be falsified only if it were shown to be unintelligible in the first sense, but not if it is unintelligible only in the second. Indeed, that it is “unintelligible” in the second sense is exactly what Trinitarian theologians mean when they say that the doctrine of the Trinity is a “mystery.” They do NOT mean that it contains a self-contradiction, or that it is unintelligible in itself, or even that we cannot have any understanding of it at all. They mean instead that the limitations of our minds are such that, though it is perfectly consistent and intelligible in itself, we cannot adequately grasp it.

Hence even to show that no construal yet given of (1)-(7) yields a consistent set of sentences would not be to show either that the doctrine of the Trinity contains a self-contradiction, or that it is unintelligible in the sense in which skeptics say it is.

But wouldn’t this at most show only that the set (1)-(7) might be consistent and intelligible? Could we ever have rational grounds for believing that it really is consistent and intelligible (even if we couldn’t see how)? Sure we could. We would have such grounds if we had grounds to believe that the doctrine of the Trinity is true. For if it is true, then it must be logically consistent and intelligible in itself, even if not fully intelligible to us. And our grounds for believing it to be true and (thus) consistent and intelligible would be even stronger if we had independent grounds for believing that it is exactly the sort of thing we should expect to find mysterious if it were true.

As it happens, we have all of these further grounds. For we can know through pure reason that God exists, and we can know through pure reason that God has the various attributes traditionally ascribed to him. (See The Last Superstition for the executive summary.) In particular, we can know that He is Pure Act, Being Itself, the Supreme Intelligence, and absolutely simple. But given the way the human intellect works (e.g. by grasping things in terms of genus and species), and given that God’s possession of these attributes places Him beyond any genus, we can also know that it is impossible for the human intellect fully to grasp the divine nature. Hence we can know that the doctrine of the Trinity is precisely the sort of thing we should expect to find mysterious even if it is true, indeed especially if it is true.

So is it true? Well, consider further that the immateriality and immortality of the soul are also knowable through pure reason. (Again, see TLS.) And with the existence of God and the immortality of the soul in place, the stage is set for the defense of the resurrection of Jesus Christ as a historical fact. For while the evidence for Christ’s resurrection is strong even apart from these pieces of background knowledge, it is overwhelming in light of them. If we already know through pure reason that there is a God who could raise a man from the dead and an immortal soul the re-embodiment of which could guarantee that the resurrected man is the same man as the one who had died, then the standard dodges skeptics use to avoid accepting the resurrection (e.g. Antony Flew’s Humean appeal to the a priori improbability of resurrections) won’t fly.

Now, we can also know (I claim) that Christ claimed to be divine, and made reference to the Father and the Holy Spirit as Persons distinct from Himself. Since He was resurrected – something which (based on the correct metaphysical analysis of the soul and its relationship to the body) only God could accomplish – it follows that a divine seal of approval was, as it were, placed upon Him and upon His teaching. Hence we can infer that what He taught – which includes (by implication) the doctrine of the Trinity – must be true.

Obviously all of this raises many big questions. I realize that. I’m summarizing. (See the work of writers like William Lane Craig and Richard Swinburne, and the esteemed Tim and Lydia McGrew’s recent lengthy article on the resurrection, for some of the details.) But supposing all of this can be made out, as I claim it can be, the doctrine of the Trinity would be rationally justified. To be sure, we would believe it on faith, but where “faith” means, not a groundless “will to believe,” but rather the acceptance of the teaching of an authority whom reason itself has told us is infallible.

More can be said; again, to say that the Trinity is a mystery does not mean that reason cannot make any headway at all in understanding it. The great Trinitarian theologians have real insights to impart to us. (See here for part of Brian Davies’ fine summary of Aquinas’s Trinitarian theology in chapter 10 of The Thought of Thomas Aquinas.) There is also the crucial consideration – powerfully emphasized and developed by Gyula Klima in a series of articles – that the work of the medieval philosophers cannot properly be understood apart from the logical and semantic doctrines they were committed to, doctrines often different from, but every bit as rigorous and defensible as, the logical and semantic presuppositions contemporary philosophers tend to take for granted. These doctrines must inform our understanding of their work on the Trinity no less than our reading of their more purely philosophical works.

We should keep in mind too that several prominent and formidable contemporary philosophers of mind – Chomsky, McGinn, and Fodor, for example – have at least tentatively put forward a kind of “mysterianism” of their own as a way of explaining why certain phenomena seem incapable of naturalistic explanation. It may be, they say, that our minds are closed off from an understanding of (say) consciousness. Perhaps there is a correct naturalistic explanation, but one our minds cannot grasp given the limits nature has put on them. Now Trinitarians are often accused of resorting to obfuscation or mystery-mongering as a desperate and dishonest way of avoiding the falsification of their creed. And yet somehow these naturalistic “new mysterians” are never themselves accused (at least not by their fellow naturalists) of intellectual dishonesty or desperation. Funny, that. In any event, if there is a God, then given what He is supposed to be, it is even less likely, indeed far less likely, that our minds would be able adequately to grasp Him than it is that we should be able to understand consciousness (or whatever). That is to say, if an appeal to “mysterianism” is a plausible way of defending naturalism – I’m not saying it is, but suppose it were – it is far more plausible as a defense of Trinitarianism.

There is this difference, though: Naturalism is demonstrably false (again see TLS), while Trinitarianism is true. So, mysterianism is a moot point in the first case. Awful luck for naturalists, but there it is.

Anyway: The skeptic’s claim that the doctrine of the Trinity is rationally unjustifiable – a claim which formed a key component of my own youthful atheism – is itself unfounded. God is real, and He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.


  1. This may sound completely idiotic but to me it seems that the 3-headed knight from Monty Python's holy grail proves that the concept of 3 persons in 1 being is consistent and so I see no problems with the trinity. It becomes more complicated with the incarnation.

    This hopefully sounds less bizarre:
    A very helpful post!

  2. Paul Tillich, certainly not a traditionalist, gave a very impressive defense of the Trinity in his Systematic Theology. The essence of it was that the Trinity is the only understanding of God which corresponds to the categories and dimensions of human experience (which we already know by reason to be legitimate distinctions).

    We all recognize God the Father as the power behind existence. The Aristotelian God is acknowledged wherever religion is alive and active. Christians bear witness to the fact that this power revealed itself in a unique way in the God the Son; indeed, the promise of a "revelation" is implicit in the understanding of the Father. And it is the power of the Holy Spirit which prepared for the reception of this revelation and which carries it onward.

    The interesting thing about this is that the Trinity is such a robust doctrine that, even if it had not been expressly formulated, it would still be acting as a "Lorenz Attractor" deep within the unconscious currents of theological thought. The mystery of the Trinity may lie in the fact that it's just too elemental to analysized. How does one describe the color of air?

  3. I've noticed that my nervous system has taken to firing off not merely typos, but fully imaginary words.

    analysized = analyzed

  4. Greetings Edward Feser

    On the subject of the Trinity,
    I recommend this video:
    The Human Jesus

    Take a couple of hours to watch it; and prayerfully it will aid you to reconsider "The Trinity"

    Yours In Messiah
    Adam Pastor

  5. If we already know through pure reason that there is a God who could raise a man from the dead and an immortal soul the re-embodiment of which could guarantee that the resurrected man is the same man as the one who had died, then the standard dodges skeptics use to avoid accepting the resurrection (e.g. Antony Flew’s Humean appeal to the a priori improbability of resurrections) won’t fly.

    Quite sophisticated jesuistries. We don't know that via pure reason, as Kant himself argued. Even if we grant the mere possibility of a Deity (or deities), we have no direct or demonstrable knowledge of said Deity (as in mathematical knowledge, or empirical knowledge ala physics and chemistry). The classical arguments themselves do not offer axiomatic proof, but something like analogies (yes, the first cause argument is an analogy--). Few philosophers or scientists take them seriously.

    For that matter, Doc Feser does not really even touch on Hume's points contra-infallibility, or the supposed miracles of Scripture. Hume does not simply dismiss the ancient text, but brings up various issues: one, the possibility of alternative explanations to supernatural claims (mistakes, exaggerations, hoax, etc). Probability does not help (a slight possibility does not imply existence, regardless of all the au courant modal talk). The presence of other religious traditions also complicates the issue. In terms of the miracle-issue, Hume put the theists--and theologians-- in a serious check.

    The Christian Trinity itself should be viewed as symbolism (then so is Brahma Vishnu and Siva), not a literal Venn diagram on high.

  6. J, we can know via reason that you are, that I am, that Mr Feser is, the evidence and proof that there is a God, a Creator.

    No "sophisticated jesuistries" need apply.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Believe if you will--or don't-- but there are no necessary arguments which would prove the existence of God (or His supposed attributes, such as the Trinity). The G-arguments are, notwithstanding the theologian's claims, quasi-empirical, and analogical (the ontological argument slightly different, but with other problems. Like the problem of supposing that one can bring a God into existence merely by defining Him). For that matter, infinite series are not contradictions, however unsettling. I don't necessarily disagree with some theological pragmatism, but cloaking that pragmatism in the supposed airtight arguments of Aquinas another matter (and really, back in the day, Thomism was not always accepted as Auctoritas).

    Establishing the accuracy of scripture a different issue. Feser's claim that we have sufficient reasons to believe in say the Resurrection has not at all been established, and he does not really even bother with the Humean sorts of objections, however unsavory or heretical they (or Hume himself) may seem.

  9. J

    Of course infinite series are not in, and of themselves contradictions. We can, after all, construct the infinite set of negative integers by starting at zero, and successively subtracting one. However, what we cannot do is start at negative infinity and successively add one until reaching zero.

  10. Keep in mind, J also thought Aristotle believed the universe had a beginning, he's admitted he did not read TLS (Where Hume and others are discussed in detail), he's demonstrated a pretty poor grasp of philosophy aside from saying 'Kant says!', and he also has the unique reputation of having been kicked off Victor Reppert's blog (Vic being one of the most patient blog admins around) as Perezoso.

    So, keep all this in mind. ;)

  11. Actually, Matteo, we *can't* "construct the infinite set of negative [or positive] integers." Definitionally, if we can construct a series or set, then it is not infinite.

  12. Well, Anonymous, that explains the familiarity of J's style and tropes.

  13. Anny the Himmlerian catholic, yr lying agin. Aristotle did hold to a primum mobile, and thus to a beginning to time (tho they are not synonymous). A moot point anyway: yr headed to Hell along with Doc Feiser, assuming there's any truth to new testament, where you can meet some other great machiavellian catholics, like the SS, Hitler, etc. Most of my catholic and anglican pals around El Lay agree (even ones who know Aquinas, Augustine, etc)

    That's enough xtianity for ya.

  14. Yep, that's Perezoso. Good to know ... I'll simply ignore him.

  15. Eternity of motion, Perezoso. Look it up.

    And as usual, once outed, Perry has the expected breakdown into even greater inanities than he started with. I love it so!

  16. Jefferson over Aquinas, Padres. (and over Himmler too). Even Locke said religious claims must be subject to court of Reason, and Reason says those supposed "necessary" arguments for Gott are not really necessary (and really, one could demolish about any theological quasi-logic merely by asking the believer to provide proof of a priori truths anyway, which he can't do). The old Feser actually said that more or less, until he realized that Catholics, Inc. packed more punch--and had more phunn--than mere Jeffersonian-Lockean sorts.

    Sad--that's the way it is.

  17. This comment has been removed by the author.

  18. I'm not defending Aristotelian causality, and I don't really care to memorize ancient, pre-copernican systems. The older, billiard ball causality characteristic of classical physics was altered completely via Einstein and quantum physics.

    Either way, the supposed First Mover "set it into motion," (paraphrasing from Aristotle) and that doesn't seem to square with a supposed "eternity of motions" (or big bang, which is not necessarily proof of anything theological). So take it up with the theologians. Ari's "order-keeper" is not JHVH either.

    And not to like break the news to you again, but Himmler wasn't a xtian.

  19. Ilion,

    Technically, you're probably correct. But I think you get my point. The infinite process of constructing the negative integers starting from zero is something that can be initiated. The process of counting forward from negative infinity to zero cannot.

  20. "I'm not defending Aristotelian causality, and I don't really care to memorize ancient, pre-copernican systems."

    Not really sure how Copernicus comes into play here. Yes, Aristotle's astronomy was incorrect insofar about the celestial spheres, but those do not figure into his argument for the existence of the Unmoved Mover - that argument derives solely from the nature of motion as such and the distinction between potency and act. David Hart provided the best description of the argument that I have read to date over at the New Criterion:

    "The question of the transcendent source of reality is an ontological—not a causal—question: not how things have come to be what they are, but how it is that things exist at all. And none of the customary post-Christian attempts to make the question of being disappear can possibly succeed: even if physics can trace all of time and space back to a single self-sufficient set of laws, that those laws exist at all must remain an imponderable problem for materialist thought (for possibility, no less than actuality, must first of all be); all the brave efforts of analytic philosophy to conjure the ontological question away as a fallacy of grammar have failed and always will; continental philosophy’s attempts at a non-metaphysical ontology are notable chiefly for their lack of explanatory power. In the terms of Thomas Aquinas, there is simply an obvious incommensurability between the essence and the existence of things, and hence finite reality cannot account for its own being. And if this incommensurability is considered with adequate probity and clarity, it cannot fail but lead reflection towards something like what Thomas calls the actus essendi subsistens—the subsistent act of being—which is one of his most beautiful names for God."

    Now, keep in mind that the paragraph above is best labeled a description of the argument. To clearly see the full force of the classical theistic arguments requires some length of study into classical Greek philosophy - though Dr. Feser does a truly admirable job of presenting some of them, at least in condensed form, in his book.

    "Ari's "order-keeper" is not JHVH either."

    Has anyone (much less Dr. Feser) ever argued that it was? Aristotle was wholly unacquainted with Judaism and pre-dated Christ by several centuries. Nevertheless, one passage from his Metaphysics has always struck me as being almost Trinitarian in sentiment - (Bk 12 ch 9) "Therefore it must be of itself that the Divine thought thinks (since it is the most excellent of things), and its thinking is a thinking on thinking."

    If you are at all familiar with Christian theology on the Trinity, you would know that this closely parallels the teaching that the Son is generated by the Father through an act of self-understanding.

  21. Matteo,
    Technically, I am correct. I aim (not that I always succeed) for that.

    Matteo: "But I think you get my point. The infinite process of constructing the negative integers starting from zero is something that can be initiated. The process of counting forward from negative infinity to zero cannot."

    Ah, but would you have so well formulated the truth which you really meant had I not pointed out that what you'd initially said is "technically" false?

  22. Edward Feser: "... Anyway: The skeptic’s claim that the doctrine of the Trinity is rationally unjustifiable – a claim which formed a key component of my own youthful atheism – is itself unfounded. God is real, and He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

    It seems to me that the reality of objective and transcendent morality is evidence that God is a plurality of persons. Though, I don't see how to derive the exact number of 3 persons from this insight.

    What I mean is this --

    We all *know* that there exists an objective and transcendent morality. Even those who vociferiously deny that morality is real, objective, and transcendent will betray, generally within minutes, that they do not really believe the denial they have just asserted; and not infrequently this denial of the reality of morality will contain within itself its own denial.

    Still, this isn't about what the deniers of real morality do or do not do, will or will not admit. Rather, it is that a person having acknowledged that morality is real, objective and transcendent, reason then leads him from those truths to the truths that God exists, that God is personal, that God is a plurality of persons ... and that God is one, a unity.

    Morality is interpersonal and relational. There can be no moral obligations except between agents/persons; and the can be no moral obligations between persons unless there is some sort of relationship between them. To deny either of those claims while also affirming the reality of morality is to speak non-sense.

    But, if we try to claim that morality is grounded in (or, consists of) the relationships among and between contingent persons (i.e. human beings), then we run smack into the Euthyphro dilemma, which is a dilemma precisely because it is built on an assumption which denies the objective and transcendent nature of morality. That is, the dilemma on which we've caught ourselves can be resolved only by denying the real existence of morality and moral obligations in the first place ... or by denying the (secondary) claim which tossed us onto the horns of the dilemma.

    So, since morality cannot be grounded in (or, consist of) the relationships among and between contingent persons, necessarily it must be grounded in (or, consist of) the relationships among and between non-contingent persons. Plural -- for in so far as there exists only a singular non-contingent person, then there exist no interpersonal relationships; which is to say, there exists no morality.

    But, can morality perhaps be grounded in (or, consist of) the interpersonal relationships between a singular non-contingent person and one or more contingent persons? But this is to claim that morality itself is contingent, it is to deny the transcendence of morality. Further, it is to again throw oneself onto the horns of the Euthyphro dilemma.


  23. [continued]

    So, either we must deny that morality really exists, or we must affirm that morality really exists and is necessarily grounded in (or, consists of) the interpersonal relationships among and between a plurality of non-contingent persons.

    Now, a non-contingent person is a necessary being; but is it not that to speak of a plurality of necessary beings to propose a paradox, a self-contradiction, an oxymoron? Admittedly, we are now well into that area of thinking about God at which our own limitations may betray us.

    Now, if there is indeed a plurality of non-contingent persons and yet there cannot be a plurality of necessary beings, then it must be the case that the necessary being, who is one, is nonetheless a plurality of persons.

    So, it seems to me that we may resolve the conundrum of morality in one of three ways:

    1) Simply deny that morality exists at all; deny that we have moral obligations to others, deny that others have moral obligations to us.

    2) Grasping the coherent horn of the Euthyphro dilemma: affirm that morality exists, deny that there is a plurality of non-contingent persons, and assert that morality consists only and exactly of the arbitrary commands of the necessary being to the contingent beings.

    3) Recognizing the false nature of the Euthyphro dilemma: affirm that morality exists, affirm that there is a plurality of non-contingent persons, and assert that morality is grounded in (or, consists of) the interpersonal relationship(s) of the non-contingent persons; and, specifically, that morality is love.

  24. This comment has been removed by the author.

  25. We all *know* that there exists an objective and transcendent morality.

    Idion again doing his Father Coughlin imitation (...or is it perhaps Lucky Luciano). Why bother even with platonic chestnuts when everyone just knows the Moralitay Ghost sits on high, jus' because.

    Even the authentic Rational Theologian should object to that sort of intuitive, emotional appeal, but Feserites, when pressed, are happy to intone dogma along with the calvinist sorts of biblethumpers.

    Dan S: I agree there are many subtleties to the greek rationalists, then one might sway the same about ancient hindus, or other religions. At the same time the philosophers' religious ideas do not seem that related to the God of the New Testament. Aristotle was beloved by roman senators and Caesars themselves. Marcus Aurelius upholds the Aristotelian code: that's not the message of New Testament is it.

    Either way, the classical arguments are I believe empirical, or quasi-empirical, and not necessary or analytical (that holds for the ontological argument as well, I believe. There are a few more details, but existence is not a predicate--mere words do not bring things (especially Gods) into existence)). Even if we grant the plausibility of say the Design argument, there are other considerations (why a Designer who creates species that go extinct, birds without wings, other poor adaptation--- and why doesn't He offer more conclusive evidence of His existence???). Bertrand Russell's teapot analogy, however whimsical also relevant--we might not be able to prove atheism (ie prove a negative existence claim given a very large domain), yet theists make the "anomalous" claim, and have the burden of proof. I imagine EF says something about that, or calls Russell an agent of the devil or something, but the point holds.

  26. J, you can play off Aristotle as "not a Christian" as much as you like - all of us are aware of that, as is Augustine. You can also insist that that the arguments given, if they do get a person as far as God, does not get a person as far as Christianity or Catholicism. Again, we're all aware, and Ed makes this point himself, explicitly and repeatedly.

    One big problem is that if any God exists, the game is over - some form of theism is right, and atheism is incorrect. So Hume would only get you so far on this one either way. What's more, atheists who claim that no God exists have the burden of proof on them - and frankly, the fact that so many of them desperately attempt to wiggle out of said claim says quite a lot about the (lack of) strength in their position. (Witness Dawkins, who in essence says he's 99.9% sure he is no God, but the .1% uncertainty means he's technically a soft atheist and therefore is not making a claim.)

    Further - Russell, agent of the devil? Have you read Ed's book? Have you even read his blog posts? He's specifically praised various atheists (Quentin Smith, even Russell himself I believe, certainly on philosophy of mind issues at least) for making better arguments and conducting themselves in a respectful manner. He comes down hard on Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens precisely because of their rhetoric and bad arguments. Frankly, a number of atheists have done the same.

    Incidentally, J, are you an atheist?

  27. Beg pardon, two typoes.

    First, instead of Augustine, it should be Aquinas. Second, Dawkins is 99.9% sure there is no God. As for whether he thinks he's a God, I'm unsure, but many of his admirers treat him close to such.

  28. I love it when people substitute "christ" for "x". When they do it, it always amuses me watching them.

    Like this guy:

  29. Here are the thoughts of "KairosFocus" on the Trinity: The Shamrock Principle

  30. Crude--

    There are key differences between skepticism, agnosticism and atheism One could arrange columns--say, reasons for and against Gott's existence. I am pretty convinced the column Against's > column For's. Some might choose to doubt, whereas others move to atheism--I think there are sufficient reasons for "robust agnosticism", especially in regards to monotheism, but would agree a definitive claim of atheism may be a bit arrogant.

    The theist/theologian cannot really prove immateriality/immortality, first off. He can suggest it, or point out the problems with empiricism/physicalism/"vulgar" Darwinism, but proof of soul he has not--. The periodic table and experimental science in general leaves little room for "substance" and the rest of the scholastic schema.

    Against column concerns the dangers of religious fundamentalism-- That was noted by Hume, the founding fathers and many others--even believers. At least Hitchens understands that point.

  31. That's to say, "another Against column."

    Really, Crude, biblical ethics per se, as outlined in the Sermon on the Mount should not just be rejected out of hand. Alas, Christendom's not overly concerned with the code expressed in the Sermon on the Mount, generally preferring like the Book of Revelation ("the ravings of a maniac," as Jefferson called it). or the war prayers of Ezekiel, etc. For that matter, I don't think Team Aristotle and Team Abraham (including Kid Galilee) really see eye to eye, regardless of Aquinas or Augustine's grand visions. (Ezra Pound did not think so). We should remember that late Aristotle was an empiricist, early biologist, etc.. and did not lack materialist aspects, however vulgar they might seem to believers. While I don't pretend to have mastered the system, I would rate the Aristotelian realism closer to an immanent view--even slightly spinozaistic--rather than Christian transcendence (or dualism, perhaps). Hegel's process thinking--not lacking in evolutionary aspects--also follows from Aristotle (and Spinoza for that matter).

  32. Edward--"The Father is God" is a reflection of our understanding of God. Likewise, with the "Son is God." Our sense of Trinitarianism closely approximates "is a reflection of," in truth. Trinitarians cannot use "is" as an identity relation. One God is one Being. We need this clarity of expression. Perhaps Cartwright's ten other possible construals bring us toward this clarity. Discussing unintelligibility inevitably brings in the issue of faith, in my view. So, agreed, the Trinity must be classified as a mystery. We can conclude that that is why God has appeared on earth, as written in the Bible, to provide empirical evidence to justify our faith. Adam and Eve failed pure faith. There wouldn't be a Son in the Trinity if it were not for God coming first. Dismiss Gyula Klima. Do you think God had Gyula in mind when He designed this enormous edifice, the earth and man's place on it? Semantic analysis, in that light, is just a pleasant whirlwind exercise. Again, "mysterianism" is faith, so God can do anything is essentially the fundamental proposition we have to start with. Consciousness is a red herring.

  33. J,

    If you think it's the case that the column against > column for, you're apparently in quite a tiny minority. Again, I can only reference the positions atheists actually take - and hands down, even among the most outspoken atheists, they struggle desperately to avoid making a positive claim. And it clearly seems to be due to strong atheism being committed to claims more outlandish than theists, more uncertain, and more presumptive. Arrogance has nothing to do with it. You think Dawkins cares about seeming arrogant? Hitchens? Dennett? Have we already forgotten the whole "Brights" routine? It's about the difficulty of defending atheism, and the ease of being in the position of having nothing to defend but being able to constantly be on the offensive, even if the position isn't rightly occupied.

    Second, you say the theist/theologian cannot "prove" immateriality/immortality. Let's say I grant that - wonderful. As Van Inwagen has said, there have been practically no settled issues in philosophy ever since it's been in existence - "proof" is sorely lacking. But theists, at a minimum have great arguments and reasons to put stock in a variety of viewpoints, from basic deism, developed theism, idealism, various dualisms (some stronger than others, in my view), etc. The periodic table and experimental science are compatible with all these views, so their presence is rather moot. In fact, the successes of science boosted the theists' claims while caused trouble for the atheist's for a number of reasons. But one in particular deals with what Russell once talked about regarding the powers of design and mind - his argument effectively makes it such that every scientific and engineering advance by humans is additional proof against atheism.

    Finally, the founding fathers, believers, and once upon a time some atheists also recognized the "dangers" of atheism or secular pursuits. To put it in perspective, Pol Pot and Stalin were very, very aware of and loud about the dangers of religious fundamentalism. The danger of being outspoken about one evil and blind to so many others is sadly apparent throughout the 20th century. And honestly, if you're going to come down on Ilion for what you claim is an argument based on emotion, you're going to have little business defending Hitchens (who, bizarrely, makes ranting about evil and morality a centerpiece of his theism-tirades) or Dawkins (who has expressly endorsed a "do anything but discuss things with them rationally" tact towards approaching religious issues).

    You say Aristotle's view has some 'materialist aspects'. So would, frankly, any dualist view - they embrace two "kinds of things" at work in the world by their very position, so of course they will be amenable to certain types of physical description. And as for whether Aristotle's views can rightly be combined with Christianity, keep in mind that A) Neither Aquinas nor Christians need to accept every specific thing Aristotle said. We don't even need to accept every specific thing *Aquinas* said, and B) None of this helps atheism. If Hegel is right, if George Berkeley is right, if panentheists are right, if Aristotle is right, etc, some form of theism is correct, and atheism is incorrect. Again, Ed once said on this blog something to the tune of "The real intellectual struggle isn't between atheists and theists. It's between Christians, Muslims, Jews, Platonists..." etc. I'd further add that even if mormonism is right - which has a very "materialist" metaphysics, and takes positions contrary to most classic theisms - then atheists are incorrect.

  34. It's not dependent on a show of hands, Crude. The western intellectual tradition (apart from western yahoo tradition) from like Hobbes forward has been contra-scholastic, notwithstanding the germans (and then arguably Kant's not really defending Christianity either). Obviously science has done well without recourse to any theology (Laplace I believe said, he had no need for the God hypothesis or something). In terms of useful knowledge, secular science has done quite well. Modern medicine stripped of all the old teleology and essences works. Prayers don't (where are they prayers to stop North and South Korea, and China, UN, US from going to battle.

    Ooops--hinting at ye olde Problem of Evil (evidential version if you like--the LPOE somewhat vacuous): another fairly compelling--nay, spot on-- counter-argument in the Against column. JL Mackie won that chessmatch, regardless of the modal hype of the Plantinga sorts.

    I might agree to a modified, "process" sort of Deism (polydeism??), mostly just for kicks: Hegelian christianity meets the Buddha, with some quantum physics tossed in. Alas, Hegel's still situated likedown near the ice lake of Hell according to papists, I believe.

  35. J,

    Who said anything about show of hands (Oh ye who proceeds to count hands)? And who ever said science cannot be done without recourse to *theology* of all things? It can't be Aquinas and the scholastics, who thought the greeks (among others) had great insights about the natural world despite being non-Christian. Now, *metaphysics* do underscore science - and frankly, the metaphysics of Aristotle, Aquinas and others are in a vastly better position compared to, say, the metaphysics of Hume. Would you enjoy hearing scientists say "Well, we detecting an anomaly, but of course we can never be sure such things have a cause"? And teleology is a necessary part of a complete explanation - not the entire explanation itself. The neo-Aristotilean complaint isn't that efficient causes are used in explanation - it's the improper and typically deceptive ignoring of formal and final causes where the complaints come in, even as they're used (With explanations that "Sometime, we swear, we won't have to speak to teleology!")

    And hinting? I *explicitly* made reference to the complaints about evil, which (particularly for atheist materialists) can't be much more than an emotional plea. You want to assert Mackie won, that's fine - I'll assert Mackie and company have had their asses handed to them repeatedly on the topic, from pretty much every religious tradition around, and from agnostic perspectives. Hitchens looks horrible when taken to task on this point. I'm sure your mileage varies.

    As for deism - I'm not concerned with what you'll personally agree to. But one more time: If you cede the case for deism, even polydeism, you're cutting the New Atheists off at the knees in particular, and atheism in general besides. One more time: The real debate isn't between theists and atheists. It's between theists of various stripes. Most atheists won't even make a positive claim about God for fear of having to do what they see as a hopeless task: Defend their view.

  36. Reading Hume as ultra-skeptic is naive. By pointing out that empirical knowledge is not necessary he did not mean that it is non existent, or did he mean to cast ultimate doubt about science, knowledge, etc. Contingencies, right (as even Leibniz had claimed).

    He's dealing with the ramifications of Newtonian physics (and induction and probability, really). For that matter, Newton, like Galilleo was not exactly following the catholic fathers. Then Einsteinian physics updates that supposed Newton absolute: Hume, applied.

    You also error in thinking that the Evi.Problem of Evil has been resolved, by Plantinga, or anyone. Possible worlds don't count: in science, or logic, or "metaphysics." A world without plagues, wars, crime, corrupt clergymen, rabbis, imams, etc. might be possible--so might be Tolkien's fairylands-- but we have no knowledge of them, so they are really not even admissable, except in seminaries. Yes, give thanks to the Almighty for those blessed kingdoms that we cannot perceive!

    The theist might say to the Mackie-like doubter that the POE will be resolved in the hereafter. That holds about as much water as like saying Tolkien-land exists, somewhere, or karma, Dante's inferno, etc. Mere metaphor bashing, really.

    And asserting that only believers can refer to ethics, Justice, the Good is nearly a Himmler like manipulation. The Constitution a counter example to that claim. We don't need padre's Triscuit on Domingo-day to realize that Himmler, altar boy (or ex altar boy) was Eeevil incarnate. Even a few boxes of holy crackers won't change that.

    Anyway, shouldn't good acts count more than faith? Even the catholics seem to say that-- except for the cracker bit. Sans cracker, miracles, er, confession, Mary-worship, a few other points, and I generally agree with the padres.

  37. oops: that's "Good" only in non-believer's sense, of course, like whatever tickles your fancy.

    Either way, Crude, the supposed objective Justice that christians supposedly value hasn't stopped centuries of warfare and bloodshed has it. Again, even Hitchens & Co. has addressed this (ad nauseum). Maybe my ethics-o-meter's off, but I don't find Cardinals (or muftis, either) giving their benediction to concentration camps too copacetic.

  38. J,

    Hume said what he said about causality, about the possibilities of events taking place without cause, etc. The ramifications for a Humean approach to the world with regards to science is clear - and it's disastrous. Which is why people prefer to take their Hume unevenly - apply his skepticism and metaphysics on a subject they want to combat, but not what they want to support. The inconsistency is obvious, and frankly, inexcusable.

    Yes, J, possible worlds DO count - and no, I do not err. Mackie's perspective has been beaten down time and again, and Mackie's defenders have never been able to cope with justifying the existence of good or evil on their own worldviews to anything resembling a cohesive level. As an internal critique of Christianity (or, honestly, just about any other faith) Mackie failed then, and fails now.

    Actually, America was founded by Christians and deists - the latter of whom were heavily and positively influenced by Christianity. (See Jefferson, perhaps the most skeptical of the deist founders, and his attitude about Christ's teachings even with his miracles removed.) The idea of a deity - an active one who imbued this world with God-given rights - was key to the founding vision. Anyway, the fact that you're trying to bait me with insults left and right, hoping I lash out at you, indicates you've really got nothing of value to add here. Especially when your contributions amount to little more than "Well Philosopher-X disagrees with you and I think he's right even though I can't rightly explain his view!" Demonstrably so when you make reference to how "good acts should count more than faith" - it's unfortunate that "good acts" don't reasonably exist on a naturalist or modern atheist worldview.

    I'd thank you for demonstrating the poverty of the atheist position yet again. But then, as someone who apparently accepts the rational case for a deity/deities - just not a Christian one - you've already demonstrated how vacant the New Atheist claims in particular are. ;)

  39. That's the naive reading of Hume: claiming that an ultimate cause may be unknown, or unverifiable does not equal saying there is no cause. For that matter, modern physics does offer many instances of events (like gas molecules in a container) which do not occur in some regular billiard-ball fashion, thus refuting that old mechanist mantra "every event has a cause". Heisenberg wrote on this, and rejected most western metaphysics, and indeed he sounded rather Humean (and Hume, while not a Heisenberg had a fairly decent understanding of probability issues). Rudy Carnap also had read his Hume (actually I would contend Carnap understood Hume better than most so-called analytical sorts, Popper and Russell included).

  40. I do like the reaction to Mackie however (who also had read that scoundrel Hume). Merely say MACKIE on many catholic blogs, and the regs fall apart, start insisting on parallel worlds, the barely recognized field of modal logic, and so forth. The only people who believe Plantinga defeated Mackie on the evidential POE seem to be, yes, people on catholic blogs (tho' a few calvinist nuts do as well, apparently). Of course, if an Afterlife existed (rather unlikely) there might be answer to the POE. Maybe not. If you grant possible worlds (ridiculous, if not madness really), who's to say they are not WORSE than the Earth itself? All nuclear wars, all the time, per Paingod.

  41. Here are some thoughts by "Mariano" which are relevant to what I'd said earlier about the reality of morality leading to the realization that God is a plurality -- On the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the Invisible Pink Unicorns, et al., part 4 of 4

    "Judaism and Islam hold to strict monotheism while Christianity holds to Trinitarian monotheism.

    Judaism’s and Islam’s theology may have at least two problems: their gods may lack something and there is a problem in the realm of morality. Being strictly monotheistic gods an argument that could be made against them is that they may have created humans (and angels and animals) because they lacked something, namely relationships.

    Let us take a moment to state that the gods of Judaism and Christianity are the same God yet, fully revealed in Christian theology. Let us therefore focus on Islam’s god for a moment.
    This particular god, being single and solitary from all eternity, is not a personal being or rather, not a personable being. Since it lacks eternal relationships it either created beings in order to have relationships with them or, as is more obvious in Islam’s theology, it is simply not interested in having personal relationships with humans.

    Moreover, since it lacks eternal relations and does not seek personal relations its moral system amounts to arbitrary dogmatic assertions. This particular god is commonly referred to as “capricious.” Since relation is not intrinsic to its nature, neither is morality.

    When we consider the God of the Bible—the God of Judaism as fully revealed in Christian theology—we find a being that is one God in three “persons” who are coeternal, coexisting and coequal,
    one what and three whos as it has been stated.[1] This God is not alone in eternity and is thus not lacking relation. Relation is intrinsic to this God and so is morality (or rather, ethics, the very ethos), it is a very aspect of God’s nature or character. Thus, this God’s ordained morality is neither arbitrary nor some external entity to which God is subject."

  42. Ed F., I think that you might consider just canning J from your discussions. Take this discussion, for example. Not one single point he has made in a dozen posts really has anything to do with the Trinity.

    While he occasionally hits upon a point that could bear some discussion, that point rarely has anything to do with the matter at hand, and it is always embedded in a veritable snow-storm of nonsense, ignorance, and pure gibberish.

    He is a two-bit anti-philosopher using your blog for his soapbox. I am unable to read through the trash he generates (and others patiently deal with correctly but uselessly (at least insofar as they might intend to convince J) ), so I might miss what other beneficial conversations might be present in and around his junk.

  43. I'm very tempted, Billy.

    J, I have tolerated your logorrhea for some time because I prefer as far as possible to moderate with a light hand. But you're testing my patience.

    So, J, please, keep your comments (a) on topic, (b) more brief, and (c) less frequent, or they may have to end alogether.

  44. Hey Billy, why not instead of just spouting your emotional response to my writing, point out where I errored. Start with my first post on this thread (let's see...comment #5), where I question (nay, doubt) Feser's claim that pure Reason can establish God's existence, His supposed attributes (ie, the "trinity"), and also uphold the inerrancy of Judeo-Christian dogma, including the supposed miracles of New Testament (including resurrection). gut Glueck.

    That's not a "radical atheist" viewpoint either, but actually quite standard (Hume, Kant, founding fathers) common, even to some believers, excepting rational theologians.

  45. Edward,

    Bill Vallicella suggests you can't be a mysterian about the Trinity and refute materialism at the same time.


  46. Vlastimil Vohánka: "Bill Vallicella suggests you can't be a mysterian about the Trinity and refute materialism at the same time."

    Reason/logic doesn't work in, or on, a vacuum: one can ratiocinate until the end of time and one will learn nothing if one starts with nothing. By the same token (for the former is but a special case of this), if one is missing some of the facts, then one can ratiocinate until the end of time and one will still not arrive at the truth.

    Further, we know for a truth that there are things we human beings cannot understand absent direct and subjective experience: we know that we can know all possible objective and/or empirical facts about a thing and yet never understand that thing until we (so to speak) touch it. Whether all minds have this limitation, we do, and we know we do.

    To give an example that most readers should be able to grasp: when I was a virgin, I did not understand the sex act; I don't mean that when I was a pre-pubescent boy, lacking the urges, I did not understand, I mean when I was an adult, possessing the urges, I still did not understand. To be sure, I knew, and from a young age, all the objective/empirical facts that everyone else growing up in our culture knows, but I did not understand: I was missing vital subjective fact(s).

    In regard to mysterianism with respect to the Trinity and with respect to materialistic conceptions of mind, we might as well be speaking of apples and appliances.

    We know, from the inside, what it is like to be a limited and localized time-and-space-bound, embodied mind -- thus, we may reasonably expect that we can know (via reason operating on experience) that some claims about such minds are not, and cannot be, true.

    On the other hand, we do not know what it is like to be a non-limited, transcendent, non-embodied mind -- thus, we should expect that we do not, and never can, fully understand the whole truth about such a mind or minds, no matter how long we reason on the matter. We are missing, and will always be missing, some vital subjective fact(s).

  47. @Ed
    I only ended up here today from blog "Feser’s Negative Mysterian Defense of the Trinity" (February 9, 2010).

    I had always suspected that there is some connection between two "orthodox" (apparently unrelated and BTW totally unscriptural) beliefs, viz. the "trinity" and the "immortality of the soul".

    Although you still don't explain the connection, here, thank you for providing the first blog (to my knowledge, anyway), where they are both defended.