Questions for Christians and other theists, part 8: the Trinity

One of the strangest doctrines in all of Christianity is the doctrine of the Trinity. This doctrine holds that there are three divine persons — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost — yet only one deity. Each of the three persons is fully God, and not just a part of God. A famous diagram known as the “Shield of the Trinity” compactly summarizes the idea:


The Trinity doesn’t make much sense, and many Christians recognize this. What most of us would call absurd they call a mystery, meaning something that is known to be true through revelation but cannot be demonstrated by mere human reason.

Some questions for the Christians out there:

1. Do you accept the doctrine of the Trinity?
2. Do you recognize the absurdity of it?
3. Do you deal with the absurdity by declaring it a “mystery”?

0

235 thoughts on “Questions for Christians and other theists, part 8: the Trinity

  1. CharlieM,

    The difference is in your equation the ‘1’ is a simple, separate, abstract unit, while the unity of the whole can be a complex entity. We as individuals are complex units.

    And despite our complexity, it is not difficult to count us. If you and I are alone in an elevator with J-Mac, it’s easy to see that there are three people in the elevator. 1+1+1=3. And that remains true even if we form some kind of complex entity like a committee or a manager and two employees. 1+1+1 is still 3.

    One person equals one nerve sense system plus one rhythmic system plus one metabolic limb system.

    Rhythmic system? Metabolic limb system? Sounds quite Steineroid.

    The three systems can be distinguished but they are meaningless in isolation from the whole.

    If they can be distinguished, they can be counted. (There are three of them.)

    In any case, it’s extremely important to Christians that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost be recognized as distinct persons. They, too, can be counted — and the total is three.

    0
  2. CharlieM: I thought you’d be all over that one. Two particles plus the activity that unites them, hey presto, a trinity =

    That’s a Duo plus quantum entanglement! 😉

    0
  3. keiths: If you and I are alone in an elevator with J-Mac

    Hold on a moment!!!
    I have not agreed to any secret meetings, especially on the elevator, and during the times of hysteria, where in some parts of the world you can receive huge fine for not following the social distancing.. I don’t carry this kind of cash these days because nobody even wants to touch it…

    You wanna have a beer and talk Trinity, you come over to my house. I have a backyard big enough to obey all kinds of shitty laws…😂🤣

    0
  4. keiths:

    CharlieM,

    The difference is in your equation the ‘1’ is a simple, separate, abstract unit, while the unity of the whole can be a complex entity. We as individuals are complex units.

    And despite our complexity, it is not difficult to count us. If you and I are alone in an elevator with J-Mac, it’s easy to see that there are three people in the elevator. 1+1+1=3. And that remains true even if we form some kind of complex entity like a committee or a manager and two employees. 1+1+1 is still 3.

    And what if the three beings are supposedly infinite?

    0
  5. keiths:

    One person equals one nerve sense system plus one rhythmic system plus one metabolic limb system.

    Rhythmic system? Metabolic limb system? Sounds quite Steineroid.

    Correct.

    Nerve, sense system – upper – head – thinking – spiritual forces – peripheral, spherical skull.

    Rhythmic system – mid – torso – feeling – soul forces – central.

    Metabolic/limb system – lower – lower body and limbs – willing – physical forces – radial, long bones.

    As above, so below. A lower trinity. Three aspects of human physiology and how they relate to body, soul and spirit. And these systems can be broken down further in order to observe how the parts relate to the whole.

    0
  6. keiths:

    The three systems can be distinguished but they are meaningless in isolation from the whole.

    If they can be distinguished, they can be counted. (There are three of them.)

    They can be distinguished but not physically separated.

    In any case, it’s extremely important to Christians that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost be recognized as distinct persons. They, too, can be counted — and the total is three.

    And the three can be distinguished by their relationship to spirit, body, and soul.

    0
  7. J-Mac:

    CharlieM: I thought you’d be all over that one. Two particles plus the activity that unites them, hey presto, a trinity 😉 = 😉

    That’s a Duo plus quantum entanglement! 😉

    2 + 1 = 3 🙂

    0
  8. J-Mac:

    keiths: If you and I are alone in an elevator with J-Mac

    Hold on a moment!!!
    I have not agreed to any secret meetings, especially on the elevator, and during the times of hysteria, where in some parts of the world you can receive huge fine for not following the social distancing.. I don’t carry this kind of cash these days because nobody even wants to touch it…

    You wanna have a beer and talk Trinity, you come over to my house. I have a backyard big enough to obey all kinds of shitty laws…😂🤣

    That’s a pity. You two could have got entangled in the elevator while I took notes. On second thoughts, I get the feeling that it wouldn’t be a pretty sight. 😉

    0
  9. keiths:

    If they can be distinguished, they can be counted. (There are three of them.)

    CharlieM:

    They can be distinguished but not physically separated.

    Physical separation is not needed in order to count them, just as it isn’t needed in order to count the vertices of a triangle.

    0
  10. keiths:

    And despite our complexity, it is not difficult to count us. If you and I are alone in an elevator with J-Mac, it’s easy to see that there are three people in the elevator. 1 1 1=3. And that remains true even if we form some kind of complex entity like a committee or a manager and two employees. 1 1 1 is still 3.

    CharlieM:

    And what if the three beings are supposedly infinite?

    Then they are infinite, but there are still only three of them. Let s stand for the super-duperness of a being, with s being infinite for God. Take the limit of 1 1 1 as s approaches infinity. The answer you get is 3.

    Sorry, Charlie, but 1 1 1=3. That’s true in normal arithmetic, and it’s true when you bring transfinite numbers into your system.

    The magnitude of the super-duperness does not affect the number of beings. Those are separate variables.

    0
  11. keiths:

    keiths: And despite our complexity, it is not difficult to count us. If you and I are alone in an elevator with J-Mac, it’s easy to see that there are three people in the elevator. 1 1 1=3. And that remains true even if we form some kind of complex entity like a committee or a manager and two employees. 1 1 1 is still 3.

    CharlieM: And what if the three beings are supposedly infinite?

    Then they are infinite, but there are still only three of them. Let s stand for the super-duperness of a being, with s being infinite for God. Take the limit of 1 1 1 as s approaches infinity. The answer you get is 3.

    Sorry, Charlie, but 1 1 1=3. That’s true in normal arithmetic, and it’s true when you bring transfinite numbers into your system.

    The magnitude of the super-duperness does not affect the number of beings. Those are separate variables.

    The orthodox view is not that there is a trinity of super-duper beings approaching the infinity of God. They are themselves infinite. As stated in the Athanasian Creed, ‘So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.’

    I can conceive of a trinity consisting of a creative source, the creation that it produces and the process whereby this creation is realised. But the Christian Trinity sits above this lower trinity which is a mere reflection.

    0
  12. CharlieM:

    The orthodox view is not that there is a trinity of super-duper beings approaching the infinity of God. They are themselves infinite.

    Bingo. There are three of them, each infinite. 1+1+1 is still 3.

    0
  13. keiths:

    CharlieM:

    The orthodox view is not that there is a trinity of super-duper beings approaching the infinity of God. They are themselves infinite.

    Bingo. There are three of them, each infinite. 1+1+1 is still 3.

    Yes but what is the relationship between the three?

    Imagine three spheres separated in space. Now imagine them expanding and contracting. As they contract their relative separation increases and as they expand they merge together. At infinite expansion the three spheres become one.

    Of course we seem to be chasing each other round a static sphere without any sign of it ending. But I am enjoying the exercise 🙂

    It’s just unfortunate that nobody who actually believes in the Athanasian Creed is participating to argue their side.

    0
  14. CharlieM: It’s just unfortunate that nobody who actually believes in the Athanasian Creed is participating to argue their side.

    Religious arguments? It’s not what TSZ is known for. 🙂 I’m sort of reminded of odd comments at Uncommon Descent complaining that ID skeptics were not responding to their arguments. Of course, there was the additional problem that opponents are routinely disappeared there. BioLogos? Peaceful Science?

    0
  15. Charlie,

    Imagine three spheres separated in space. Now imagine them expanding and contracting. As they contract their relative separation increases and as they expand they merge together. At infinite expansion the three spheres become one.

    If they become one then they no longer maintain their separate identities and a central tenet of Trinitarian doctrine is violated.

    0
  16. And they aren’t expanding. They’re already infinite, and they never expanded, which means there is only one sphere, not three. It’s not a trinity.

    0
  17. keiths:

    Charlie,

    Imagine three spheres separated in space. Now imagine them expanding and contracting. As they contract their relative separation increases and as they expand they merge together. At infinite expansion the three spheres become one.

    If they become one then they no longer maintain their separate identities and a central tenet of Trinitarian doctrine is violated.

    Here we have applied projective geometry to spheres in our imagination purely to arrive at concepts of infinity in relations unity and multiplicity. But geometric figures, either real or imagined, do not equate to conscious beings or entities. I was using this example as a simple analogy.

    Physicists have looked towards the smaller and smaller, by division and separation, in their search for what is assumed to be fundamental. This can be seen from the use of terms such as ‘fundamental particles’. And from here they try to derive unity. They never begin by assuming fundamental unity and then deriving separation.

    Thinking about the relationships between unity and multiplicity opens up all sorts of questions in our minds. At least I hope it does 🙂

    0
  18. keiths:
    And they aren’t expanding.They’re already infinite, and they never expanded, which means there is only one sphere, not three.It’s not a trinity.

    That is the beauty of our minds. No physical sphere could expand or shrink to infinity, but by using our imagination we can arrive at these concepts. Our minds are not restricted to remain within the sphere of bones that contain our brains.

    And of course our minds can merge, but no amount of butting our heads together will get them to merge.

    0
  19. Charlie,

    But geometric figures, either real or imagined, do not equate to conscious beings or entities. I was using this example as a simple analogy.

    I know. My point was that your analogy doesn’t work, for reasons already given.

    0
  20. Charlie,

    Here we have applied projective geometry to spheres in our imagination purely to arrive at concepts of infinity in relations unity and multiplicity.

    It was Euclidean geometry, not projective, and we didn’t use it to arrive at “concepts of infinity”. We applied our preexisting concepts of infinity to the spheres.

    0
  21. Charlie,

    That is the beauty of our minds. No physical sphere could expand or shrink to infinity, but by using our imagination we can arrive at these concepts. Our minds are not restricted to remain within the sphere of bones that contain our brains.

    You’re dodging my point, which was that your spheres don’t work as an analogy for the Trinity. 1 1 1 is still 3.

    0
  22. keiths:

    Charlie,

    But geometric figures, either real or imagined, do not equate to conscious beings or entities. I was using this example as a simple analogy.

    I know. My point was that your analogy doesn’t work, for reasons already given.

    Fair enough. But do you agree that in the search for physical fundamentals, looking in the direction of the infinite plane should be given equal priority to looking towards the infinitly small point?

    0
  23. keiths:

    Charlie,

    Here we have applied projective geometry to spheres in our imagination purely to arrive at concepts of infinity in relations unity and multiplicity.

    It was Euclidean geometry, not projective, and we didn’t use it to arrive at “concepts of infinity”. We applied our preexisting concepts of infinity to the spheres

    Euclidean geometry is a subset of projective geometry so you cannot say that this is not projective geometry. The fact that we are not taking static measurements but dynamically projecting the spheres implies that I am justified in calling it projective, but I don’t think these labels are worth spending much time arguing over.

    We were using nothing but our preexisting concepts in respect of everything in this mental exercise. We have the concepts, sphere, expansion, contraction, point, plane, surface, inner, outer among others. Although it is impossible to have an infinite physical sphere, we can physically represent a section of the surface of an infinite sphere. Any flat plate will provide this representation.

    I wasn’t trying to arrive at any novel concepts of infinity. I was trying to draw attention to the nature of infinity in relation to polarity, unity and multiplicity.

    0
  24. Charlie,

    But do you agree that in the search for physical fundamentals, looking in the direction of the infinite plane should be given equal priority to looking towards the infinitly small point?

    This sounds like Steinerian gobbledygook.

    In the search for physical fundamentals, scientists should simply look for physical fundamentals. Infinite planes and infinitely small points have nothing to do with it.

    You have really damaged your thinking with all these years of Steiner.

    0
  25. Charlie,

    The fact that we are not taking static measurements but dynamically projecting the spheres implies that I am justified in calling it projective, but I don’t think these labels are worth spending much time arguing over.

    We’ve already been over this. If you think that projective geometry is dynamic while Euclidean geometry is static, then you are deeply confused about both.

    0
  26. keiths:

    Charlie,

    That is the beauty of our minds. No physical sphere could expand or shrink to infinity, but by using our imagination we can arrive at these concepts. Our minds are not restricted to remain within the sphere of bones that contain our brains.

    You’re dodging my point, which was that your spheres don’t work as an analogy for the Trinity. 1 1 1 is still 3.

    Your equation works fine for physical objects, especially solid objects. But the Trinity is supposedy outwith the restrictions of time and space.

    0
  27. keiths:

    Charlie,

    But do you agree that in the search for physical fundamentals, looking in the direction of the infinite plane should be given equal priority to looking towards the infinitly small point?

    This sounds like Steinerian gobbledygook.

    In the search for physical fundamentals, scientists should simply look for physical fundamentals. Infinite planes and infinitely small points have nothing to do with it.

    You have really damaged your thinking with all these years of Steiner.

    What would you class as being physically fundamental?

    0
  28. keiths:

    Charlie,

    The fact that we are not taking static measurements but dynamically projecting the spheres implies that I am justified in calling it projective, but I don’t think these labels are worth spending much time arguing over.

    We’ve already been over this. If you think that projective geometry is dynamic while Euclidean geometry is static, then you are deeply confused about both.

    Do you agree that Euclidean geometry is restricted application of projective geometry?

    0
  29. keiths:

    We’ve already been over this. If you think that projective geometry is dynamic while Euclidean geometry is static, then you are deeply confused about both.

    CharlieM:

    Do you agree that Euclidean geometry is restricted application of projective geometry?

    Perhaps, which would give you even less of an excuse to assert that projective geometry is dynamic while Euclidean geometry is static.

    0
  30. Charlie,

    What would you class as being physically fundamental?

    Energy is one candidate, but it’s not clear how we would know that we had “reached the bottom” — that is, identified the level that was truly fundamental.

    0
  31. CharlieM,

    Your equation works fine for physical objects, especially solid objects. But the Trinity is supposedy outwith the restrictions of time and space.

    How do logic and math work in the domain where the Trinity exists?

    0
  32. CharlieM: What would you class as being physically fundamental?

    One would need a working definition of what counts as “physically fundamental”.

    For what it’s worth, I like how Don Ross and James Ladyman define “physically fundamental” in Every Thing Must Go: a hypothesis belongs to fundamental physics if the hypothesis can be confirmed by measurements taken anywhere in the universe. So, biology does not belong to fundamental physics because biological hypotheses can be confirmed only at the space-time regions occupied by life.

    What I like about this definition is that it’s formal and operational: it leaves open the question as to which theories belong to fundamental physics, butt still specifies what we would need to in order to decide whether a theory belongs to fundamental physics or not.

    This definition also allows for multiple and even incompatible theories of fundamental physics (which is indeed the case in our current state of knowledge/ignorance).

    0
  33. KN,

    This definition also allows for multiple and even incompatible theories of fundamental physics (which is indeed the case in our current state of knowledge/ignorance).

    Do they consider GR and QM to be theories of fundamental physics?

    0
  34. keiths:
    KN,

    Do they consider GR and QM to be theories of fundamental physics?

    Yes, they do. They also discuss reasons for and against including thermodynamics as a theory of fundamental physics. To be honest I had trouble following that part of their analysis.

    0
  35. KN,

    …a hypothesis belongs to fundamental physics if the hypothesis can be confirmed by measurements taken anywhere in the universe.

    So they are concerned here only with confirmation, not falsification? Otherwise it would seem that not even QM and GR would qualify as fundamental physics.

    0

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.