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”?

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

  1. keiths: Charlie,

    In my opinion to say that reality is what actually is, is the same as saying what actually is is reality. It is circular.

    The circularity is only apparent. I define reality as “things as they actually are.” I don’t define “things as they actually are” as “reality”. That was your addition.

    Now, it’s true that those things will track each other, but that doesn’t mean that each is defined in terms of the other. And without the bidirectional definitions, there is no circularity.

    To put it differently,

    1) let A and B be our defined terms; and
    2) let B be defined as equal to A; but not A as equal to B.
    3) let c be some condition that qualifies an item to be added to A.

    B will track A, but there is no loop. The causality runs one way:

    condition c -> change to A -> change to B.

    Fair enough. So how would you define, ‘what actually is’ apart from reality?

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  2. keiths:

    Charlie,

    …I will note that we view our distance to the sun in terms of space (radius), but we view our position in orbit in terms of time (circumference).

    It also works the other way around, with the radius expressed in light-minutes and the arc length in meters.

    Yes, but we don’t see any calendars hung in office walls expressed in metres travelled. ‘We better start shopping it’s only 25 million metres ’till Christmas’ 🙂

    You are right, a circle is wholly defined with respect to the centre. Euclid defined it thus: “A circle is a plane figure contained by one line such that all the straight lines falling upon it from one point among those lying within the figure equal one another. And the point is called the center of the circle.”

    But there are two sides to a circle , the inside and the outside. By means of the central point the circle is defined, it can be measured. It is restricted within certain limits. In what way is it related to the outside? The outside has no limits, it can be expanded to infinity. It is beyond measurement.

    The outside does have limits if there is a closed figure surrounding the circle.

    If you draw a circle and then draw a closed figure within that circle, does this suddenly prevent the radii from reaching the circumference? We are not dealing with solid objects, we are dealing with mental images of geometrical figures and their transformations. At least that is what I am doing and I presumed you were doing likewise.

    Radii are segments, they have limits. Circumferences have no beginning or end.

    Circumferences are unbounded but they are not infinite.

    That is true (unless we are talking about a straight line and then it is infinite).

    When we draw a circle the circumference is a line in space. This line can be thought of as a single curved line. Alternatively, a line can be thought of as being formed by an infinite number of points. It can also be thought of as composed of an infinite number of tangential lines.

    Three aspects of the line. A unity between two infinities making up a trinity. Unity in multiplicity.

    They are related to the periphery in the same way that radii are related to points.

    ??

    Shrink the radii down far enough and it reaches the infinitely small point. Expand the circumferential line far enough and it becomes an infinitely long straight line.

    Regarding individual people, the body can be quantified by measure, number and weight, the spirit cannot. How do you weigh a thought?

    You can’t weigh thoughts, but you can’t weigh heartbeats either. Weighability is not a difference between “the spirit” and the body…

    Heartbeats may not be weighable but they can be measured.

    …(even assuming that the spirit exists and is responsible for thought.

    That is not how I would put it. I would say that thinking is spirit.

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  3. keiths: Charlie,

    The buccal cavity and tongue are an expression of the sexual organs.

    The Roman art is nice. Are there other cultures who used that motif? Also, what does it mean to say “is an expression of” in the above context? It sounds like it might be a Steinerism.

    I haven’t looked into it enough to know about other cultures in this respect.

    Maybe my use of this word is something I’ve unconsciously picked up from reading Steiner and other anthroposophists/Steinerites, I don’t know.

    I would say that both these features (mouth and genitals) are expressions of each other and also of a higher unity. In a similar way to the way arms and legs are different ways in which the pentadactyl limb is used. It is expressed mainly as a means of locomotion in our legs, but our upper limbs are capably of so much more and so higher functions are expressed.

    It’s a bit like Goethe’s statement on plants that ‘all is leaf’. The leaf and other plant organs are individualised expressions of a higher unity. I hope this helps to clarify what I meant.

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  4. Charlie M,

    Fair enough. So how would you define, ‘what actually is’ apart from reality?

    I would define it in terms of the tests that qualify an item for inclusion in it. For example, a scientific test might return a positive result, causing us to add a new particle to our conception of ‘what actually is’.

    What is the point you’re trying to make, Charlie?

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  5. keiths:

    Charlie M,

    Fair enough. So how would you define, ‘what actually is’ apart from reality?

    I would define it in terms of the tests that qualify an item for inclusion in it. For example, a scientific test might return a positive result, causing us to add a new particle to our conception of ‘what actually is’.

    What is the point you’re trying to make, Charlie?

    I am just trying to understand your position regarding the relationship between the world of fundamental physics and the everyday world of our experience.

    I don’t want to get caught up in arguments about the meanings of words. Here is Arthur Young:

    Finding the abtruse mathematical formulations of science incomprehensible, modern philosophy falls back on the meaning of words. It therefore loses touch with the reality that gives science its strength and is the ultimate reference for the words upon which philosophy depends….even the unspecialized thinker has access to basic questions which transcend technical proficiency; and that these basic questions are approachable insofar as one resists getting sidetracked by technical obfuscation, and maintains an awareness of the whole.

    I haven’t read the book that this excerpt is taken from but I think I might get it. It might even stimulate me to start a new thread. (Although I am open to persuasion, I could be bribed not to 🙂 )

    Your thread has prompted me to think more about the relationship between unity and multiplicity and in polarities and about the geometry of form.

    Happy Easter everybody.

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  6. Charlie,

    I am just trying to understand your position regarding the relationship between the world of fundamental physics and the everyday world of our experience.

    I’d say that fundamental physics underlies our sensory experiences, and that our knowledge of the former is derived from the latter and from previously acquired knowledge.

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  7. Charlie,

    I could be bribed not to 🙂 )

    This has all been a money-making scheme?? 🙂

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  8. keiths:

    Charlie,

    I am just trying to understand your position regarding the relationship between the world of fundamental physics and the everyday world of our experience.

    I’d say that fundamental physics underlies our sensory experiences, and that our knowledge of the former is derived from the latter and from previously acquired knowledge

    Thanks for your answer.

    My thinking is that we cannot get around the fact that we imagine fundamental ‘particles’ in terms of the everyday objects and processes around us. There is a strong tendency to endow them with attributes applicable to the world of our senses.

    Language is made up of letters and words but the creativity does not lie in these basic units. They are the means by which the creativity is expressed. Atoms and molecules have the same relationship to life. The creativity belongs at a higher level.

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  9. keiths:
    Charlie,

    This has all been a money-making scheme??🙂

    I’d give you an address to send the cheques but then you’ll know where I live, so I’ll settle for paypal 🙂

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