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: That doesn’t seem like much of a mystery to me. It can be summarized as “the number of things we see depends on what counts as a thing.”

    The Holy Spirit could be counted as a thing…as there are many examples…

    Jesus and his Father not really, no?

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  2. More Steiner on the Trinity

    The Trinity, so long spoken of as a dogma, again comes to live for man. Looking back to the pre-Christian mysteries one can say that in these lived God the Father, Who also has a cosmic meaning for us. Through the Mystery of Golgotha, God the Son, in Christ, drew near mankind, and through what God the Son has brought to humanity, the connection was established with the Healing, the Holy Spirit. The Trinity is again a living conception; no dogma.

    Through the vitalizing of the Father consciousness there arises a Christ-permeated philosophy. Through the vitalizing of the Son consciousness comes a Christ-permeated cosmology. In accordance with what the Christ referred to and has called the Healing Spirit and has mercifully poured over mankind, a new basis arises for a Christian religion, founded in knowledge.

    Starting from such a Christian philosophy, a Christian cosmology and a Christian religious insight, we shall speak further tomorrow about the mystery of death in relation to the Christ Being and the course of humanity’s evolution.

    “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come”

    From our limited perspective in time and space we live in the present, and because we possess an ego we can look back and survey what has been and we can look forward to a future yet to come. Without a sense of self we would have nothing to relate the past and future to, we would just be conscious of the present as is the case with the lower animals.

    Any absolute being is beyond this relativity of time and space and so separation and division would not have the same connotation as it does for our worldly consciousness. Our very basic sense of self cannot compare to the the “I AM” that spoke to Moses as is related in the Bible.

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  3. I’ll grant that perhaps I’m not seeing the problem clearly.

    Nevertheless, it seems tolerably clear to me that if one starts off with the classical theistic conception of God as an utterly transcendent being such that it is impossible for Him to be comprehended with any conceptual framework produced by any finite minds, but with the proviso that He can reveal aspects of Himself to different people at different times and places, then there’s no difficulty with the idea that these acts of divine self-disclosure both reveal the same being and yet are distinct from each other.

    If that’s right, then I don’t see what is supposed to be absurd about the Trinity.

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  4. Kantian Naturalist:
    I’ll grant that perhaps I’m not seeing the problem clearly.

    Nevertheless, it seems tolerably clear to me that if one starts off with the classical theistic conception of God as an utterly transcendent being such that it is impossible for Him to be comprehended with any conceptual framework produced by any finite minds, but with the proviso that He can reveal aspects of Himself to different people at different times and places, then there’s nodifficulty with the idea that these acts of divine self-disclosure both reveal the same being and yet are distinct from each other.

    If that’s right, then I don’t see what is supposed to be absurd about the Trinity.

    Doesn’t the same apply to square circles, since logic is (or is part of) a conceptual framework produced by finite minds?

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  5. Kantian Naturalist,

    “God [i]s an utterly transcendent being such that it is impossible for Him to be comprehended with any conceptual framework produced by any finite minds” … “He can reveal aspects of Himself to different people at different times and places”

    There is hope for you still, wily KN.

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  6. Gregory: There is hope for you still, wily KN.

    I have a tolerable understanding of theology; I’ve read Kierkegaard, Tillich, Niebuhr, Buber, and most recently, David Bentley Hart. I’ve understand lots of things that I don’t agree with. It’s part of being an educated person.

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  7. Kantian Naturalist,

    Simply “being an educated person” isn’t the most important thing for living a good life of faith. I’ve met many uneducated giants of faith, who were far more coherent, wise, inspiring, realistic and trustworthy, than what is seen in the diversionary ideologies away from faith and belief that you regularly display here.

    Please don’t misunderstand, I meant my comment above (& mean this one also) to you with hope, not accusation, condescension or any sort of rivalry. I sincerely believe if you (re-)turned to faith/belief, your life would change immensely for the better (leave aside your ancestors returning again to your “understanding”).

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  8. KN,

    …with the proviso that He can reveal aspects of Himself to different people at different times and places, then there’s no difficulty with the idea that these acts of divine self-disclosure both reveal the same being and yet are distinct from each other.

    Yes, that interpretation solves the problem of the Trinity. Unfortunately, it’s also heretical — an example of modalism.

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  9. keiths:

    KN,

    …with the proviso that He can reveal aspects of Himself to different people at different times and places, then there’s no difficulty with the idea that these acts of divine self-disclosure both reveal the same being and yet are distinct from each other.

    Yes, that interpretation solves the problem of the Trinity. Unfortunately, it’s also heretical — an example of modalism.

    I do not see what is unfortunate about holding heretical views. As He is portrayed in the Gospels Jesus Christ was the archetypal heretic. To be a true Christian is not to blindly obey any external authority whether it be the Church or the Bible. What good is there in believing in the Trinity just because it is demanded of us? We should be asking ourselves what this concept means to us as individuals and is it consistent with our world view. Those who see it as absurd are only being true to their beliefs.

    Jesus said: and the truth shall make you free… If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed

    The way I see it: The Father God gives us commandments and lays down rules to follow, but only until such time as we reach a level of maturity where we can make the right decisions and follow our own paths in inner freedom. The Son God descended to our level in order to guide us on an upward journey by which we can be true offspring of God in our own right. What father would not wish for his children to mature into free thinking adults in their own right.

    The appearance of Christ was a turning point in which humans could emerge from being just members of a particular tribe or group and become individuals in their own right. They went from, “I and father Abraham are one” to “I have a universal Father in common with all of my sisters and brothers worldwide”

    In The Seeds of Future Worlds R u d o l f S t e i n e r says:

    All this is quite changed when we go further East. Even in the East of Europe it is different. Take the Russian philosopher of whom I have frequently spoken — Soloviev. You find in him an attitude of soul that becomes a philosophy and speaks with full justification of a difference between Father and Son. Soloviev is inwardly justified in so speaking because for him both the Father and the Christ are experiences. The man of the West makes no distinction between God the Father and Christ. If you are inwardly honest with yourselves, you will feel that the moment you want to make a distinction between the Father God and the Christ, the two ideas become confused and involved. For Soloviev that would have been impossible. He experiences each separately, and so he has still an understanding for the spiritual conflict that was fought out during the earliest Christian centuries, in the endeavour to realise in consciousness the distinction between the Father God and God the Son.

    This, however, is the very thing that modern man needs to learn. There must again be truth in calling ourselves Christians. It must not be that we make a pretence of worshipping the Christ and attribute to Him only the qualities of the Father. But to avoid this we must bring forward truths such as I have been indicating to-day. That is the only way we can come to the twofold experience, the experience of the Father and the experience of the Son.

    Our experiences are more important than any philosophising we do about the nature of the Trinity. If anybody feels that there are inconsistencies in what they are being told to believe, then dare to be a heretic and be true to yourself.

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  10. Perhaps one should reflect back upon what it must have been like to be an early follower of Jesus. Monotheistic Jews not only accepted the divinity of Christ but also the divine nature of the Holy Spirit.

    What was it in their history and culture which could have allowed for such a thing?

    I am far less interested in debating the doctrine of the Trinity itself than in asking how such a doctrine could have arisen in the first place. Perhaps then we will have answers to why anyone could accept the doctrine.

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  11. Mung: I am far less interested in debating the doctrine of the Trinity itself than in asking how such a doctrine could have arisen in the first place.

    It could have arisen due to the fact that Arius was a nasty bugger and there was a strong resentment against the manner in which he orchestrated the appointments of his bishops.

    Just a hypothesis.

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  12. Gregory:
    And of course, just because ROTFLMAO! https://youtu.be/0d4FHHf00pY

    What’s so funny (for you anyway) about an embarrassingly stupid video like that? Because you don’t believe the Bible constitutes scientific evidence for the resurrection, or do you?

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  13. Gregory: Do you have a worldview soft spot for Dawkins or smth?

    Not really, but still. That video was embarrassing. If you’re going to take the piss out of Dawkins, I would say don’t use stupid crap like that

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  14. CharlieM,

    I do not see what is unfortunate about holding heretical views.

    Neither do I. This isn’t about what KN actually believes; it’s about what KN was defending (for the sake of argument): the orthodox view of the Trinity.

    Those who see it as absurd are only being true to their beliefs.

    Those who see it as absurd are being true to logic and rationality.

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  15. Erik,

    It (the doctrine of the Trinity) could have arisen due to the fact that Arius was a nasty bugger and there was a strong resentment against the manner in which he orchestrated the appointments of his bishops.

    Just a hypothesis.

    Interesting. So you think the theological arguments were just post hoc rationalizations for the defeat of Arianism, while the real reason was the annoyance among other bishops at Arius’s behavior?

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  16. Mung,

    Perhaps one should reflect back upon what it must have been like to be an early follower of Jesus. Monotheistic Jews not only accepted the divinity of Christ but also the divine nature of the Holy Spirit.

    It took a while for the idea of Christ as fully divine to catch on. The first three Gospels don’t indicate that Christ is fully God. That only happens later in the Gospel of John.

    What was it in their history and culture which could have allowed for such a thing?

    I don’t know.

    I am far less interested in debating the doctrine of the Trinity itself than in asking how such a doctrine could have arisen in the first place. Perhaps then we will have answers to why anyone could accept the doctrine.

    Perhaps it will help if you tell us why you accept the doctrine.

    I’d bet that most churchgoers do or don’t accept the Trinity based on what their church tells them to believe, and that a good portion of them are inadvertently heretical.

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  17. keiths:

    It took a while for the idea of Christ as fully divine to catch on. The first three Gospels don’t indicate that Christ is fully God. That only happens later in the Gospel of John.

    I take this back. I learned this from Bart Ehrman, but he has since retracted it.

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  18. keiths:

    CharlieM,

    I do not see what is unfortunate about holding heretical views.

    Neither do I. This isn’t about what KN actually believes; it’s about what KN was defending (for the sake of argument): the orthodox view of the Trinity.

    You are no doubt aware that I make quite a big thing of the phrases “as above, so below” and “the whole is reflected in the parts”. As we are supposedly made in the image of God, then for someone who believes in God, I should be aware of triune aspects in myself. I see this in that I am a being who thinks, feels and wills, My body is composed of head, torso and limbs, The head is the focus of my nervous system (thinking, spiritual activity), the torso my rhythmic system (feeling, emotions, soul) and the limbs my mobility (willing, bodily activity). These three systems are not separate, they interpenetrate each other in complex ways within the unity that is me.

    I am also a being in time with a past, a present, and a future. I was, I am, and I will be. A being who was born and formed out of the condensation of physical matter, and who will die after which the physical substances that comprise my body will dissipate into the wider world. But in between I am aware of a certain continuity that I experience as me.

    Anyone who has bothered to read my posts will know that another of my pet subjects for discussion is the nature of triangles. If I ask you to draw a triangle I’m sure you will be able to create one. First you will need to have knowledge of the concept triangle in your mind, then you will create a physical triangle, say with a pen on paper. The paper will be destroyed sooner or later. Here we have the three principles. The concept triangle which is not subject to time and space, it is not bounded by and therefore beyond these concepts. The triangle on the paper was created by you and is subject to destruction. Here we have a trinity, That of becoming and destruction in conformity with an entity that is neither created nor destroyed. The triangle has being that is and always was and always will be. The image of a triangle is subject to becoming and ceasing to exist.

    We can begin to get an idea of what is meant by the Trinity by examining ourselves and how our own triune nature is revealed to us, even in our anatomy.

    Those who see it as absurd are only being true to their beliefs.

    Those who see it as absurd are being true to logic and rationality.

    Yes but logic can change depending on one’s perspective. And for those who deny a spiritual reality any talk of the reality of a divine Trinity would be absurd and so they are being entirely rational. So I agree with you. But I am not wrong when I say they are being true to their beliefs.

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  19. keiths: Perhaps it will help if you tell us why you accept the doctrine.

    For much the same reason that I accept the divinity of Jesus Christ. Have you done a “Questions for Christians” on that?

    Don’t you believe that acceptance by Christians of the divinity of Christ is equally as absurd as their acceptance of the Trinity? Or can you perhaps see that acceptance of one may perhaps even *logically* compel believers to the other?

    I don’t see the early Christians as irrational. I don’t see religious belief as irrational. Are you perhaps getting off on the wrong foot when you appoach these subjects?

    Why are you attempting to have a rational discussion with people you believe to be irrational? That seem to me to be, well, irrational. 🙂

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  20. keiths:

    Perhaps it will help if you tell us why you accept the doctrine [of the Trinity].

    Mung:

    For much the same reason that I accept the divinity of Jesus Christ.

    Which is?

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  21. Don’t you believe that acceptance by Christians of the divinity of Christ is equally as absurd as their acceptance of the Trinity?

    No. The former is far-fetched and poorly supported, but the latter is logically incoherent.

    Or can you perhaps see that acceptance of one may perhaps even *logically* compel believers to the other?

    Why do you think so?

    I don’t see the early Christians as irrational. I don’t see religious belief as irrational. Are you perhaps getting off on the wrong foot when you appoach these subjects?

    No, because I am willing to consider arguments for Christianity with an open mind.

    Why are you attempting to have a rational discussion with people you believe to be irrational? That seem to me to be, well, irrational. 🙂

    I don’t expect to have a rational discussion. I just want to know why people accept the doctrine of the Trinity.

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  22. CharlieM,

    And for those who deny a spiritual reality any talk of the reality of a divine Trinity would be absurd and so they are being entirely rational.

    You don’t need to deny a spiritual reality in order to see the absurdity (logical incoherence) of the Trinity doctrine, which says in effect that 1 plus 1 plus 1 = 1.

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  23. keiths:

    Perhaps it will help if you tell us why you accept the doctrine [of the Trinity].

    Mung:

    For much the same reason that I accept the divinity of Jesus Christ.

    keiths:

    Which is?

    Mung:

    <crickets>

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  24. keiths,

    Not that I speak for Mung, yet the “crickets” seem to come back to what I said earlier about why I had little interest to participate in this thread. It does not really sound like you are sincerely asking from a desire to try to understand the “mystery”, but rather accusing, and then demanding an answer trying to satisfy your insincere “seeking”, that you protest really is sincere. You might want to ask: why don’t others believe you are sincerely asking?

    The Bad Analogies humorous video by Lutheran Satire that I posted, for example, offers several clarifications in the historical Christian tradition, going back to 381 AD/CE. Why not transcribe the whole final “why didn’t you say so in the first place?” answer given by “St. Patrick” here, and see if that gets you anywhere? Entropy’s rope analogy of the Trinity, for example, was called a bad analogy there.

    Frankly, I still don’t think you have done what is most needed, if you are sincerely trying to understand the doctrine. “Thus says the Lord who made the earth, the Lord who formed it to establish it—the Lord is his name: Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” – Jeremiah 33:3 Have you tried this method yet? It may prove better than wasting our time here trying to argue, rather than understand.

    Iow, why should a devout Christian who believes in the Trinity assent to your inquisition, keiths? Erik & KN each provided in their own ways valuable responses, even while neither of them is a Christian, both of which simply were broken into pieces on your “rock of skepticism.”

    Again, in case you think otherwise, this site, full of skeptics, atheists, agnostics and anti-religious posters, just doesn’t seem a very welcome place for a person to want to “argue their faith” with someone who really, in their “heart of hearts”, does not seem interested in sincerely listening or learning. There are much better things to do with a serious person’s time. Capisce?

    Mung asked: “Are you perhaps getting off on the wrong foot when you approach [sic] these subjects?” My sentiments are the same as his.

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  25. keiths:

    CharlieM,

    And for those who deny a spiritual reality any talk of the reality of a divine Trinity would be absurd and so they are being entirely rational.

    You don’t need to deny a spiritual reality in order to see the absurdity (logical incoherence) of the Trinity doctrine, which says in effect that 1 plus 1 plus 1 = 1.

    Would you call quantum mechanics logically incoherent because it contradicts what classical physics teaches us?

    In Catching the Light Arthur Zajonc wrote:

    On the basis of Bell’s theorem, one good experiment can eliminate every commonsense competitor to quantum mechanics.

    The experiments have been done, most beautifully by Aspect and his collaborators in France. They undeniably show the quantum-mechanical predictions to be correct, not those of any Einsteinian, local, realistic, commonsense theories. Experiments necessitate, therefore that something in Einstein’s view of rationality must be given up. The question remains, what? The EPR/Bell archetypal experiment urges us on the possibility of a more flexible form of rationality than that of traditional science. We need not give up on rationality, but rather must broaden its meaning. Our conceptions of rationality were unreasonably limited by our bias toward a mechanical universe.

    Your equation may seem absurd when applied to the classical world and our experience of relationships. But as quantum mechanics demonstrates there are areas where this logic does not apply.

    And when we expand our thinking into the absolute your equation does not look so absurd:

    Infinity + infinity = infinity.

    Here we are not just dealing with very large numbers, we have moved on past the limits of the measurable.

    In ‘The Imitation of Christ’ Thomas à Kempis says:

    What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God. I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God?

    Just as we know that we love our nearest and dearest through experience and not by definition, it is the same with the Trinity. It is a knowledge only gained by experience, and not by any attempt at a definition.

    We may not fully understand quantum mechanics but by means of experiment we can experience its behaviour.

    Another apt quote from Arthur Zajonc:

    In a sense we are all (or should be) heretics of the free spirit.

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  26. Gregory,

    It does not really sound like you are sincerely asking from a desire to try to understand the “mystery”…

    Of course I am not trying to understand the “mystery”, and I’ve never indicated otherwise. Been there, done that back when I was a Christian. I’m trying to understand why Christians accept the doctrine of the Trinity, and my question is quite sincere.

    My own “solution”, back when I was a Christian, was to call it a mystery and leave it at that. I am curious to hear, from other Christians (including you), about how they deal with the problem of the Trinity.

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  27. Gregoory,

    The Bad Analogies humorous video by Lutheran Satire that I posted, for example, offers several clarifications in the historical Christian tradition, going back to 381 AD/CE. Why not transcribe the whole final “why didn’t you say so in the first place?” answer given by “St. Patrick” here, and see if that gets you anywhere? Entropy’s rope analogy of the Trinity, for example, was called a bad analogy there.

    Interested readers have had time to watch the video (I posted it before you did), so there’s no point in transcribing it. Does St. Patrick’s final speech match your own justification for accepting the Trinity?

    Frankly, I still don’t think you have done what is most needed, if you are sincerely trying to understand the doctrine. “Thus says the Lord who made the earth, the Lord who formed it to establish it—the Lord is his name: Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” – Jeremiah 33:3 Have you tried this method yet?

    Yes, back when I was a Christian. It didn’t work.

    Erik & KN each provided in their own ways valuable responses, even while neither of them is a Christian, both of which simply were broken into pieces on your “rock of skepticism.”

    They weren’t broken on the “rock of skepticism”. They were broken on the “rock of orthodoxy”. The analogies they offered were good, but they didn’t comport with the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.

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  28. CharlieM,

    Would you call quantum mechanics logically incoherent because it contradicts what classical physics teaches us?

    No, because coherence is an internal property. QM has it; the Trinity doesn’t.

    Re Zajonc, he is simply wrong that QM requires a new kind of rationality. It doesn’t, and in fact it is the “old kind” of rationality that allows us to plan, carry out, and interpret QM experiments.

    What he really should say is not that rationality needs an upgrade — it doesn’t — but that some of our classical assumptions need to be adjusted or thrown out when dealing with QM.

    And when we expand our thinking into the absolute your equation does not look so absurd:

    Infinity infinity = infinity.

    That’s an Infinitarian view, not a Trinitarian one. Trinitarian doctrine is quite strict about the three persons, each fully God, and the one Christian God.

    1 + 1 + 1 = 1

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  29. CharlieM, quoting Thomas à Kempis:

    What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God. I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God?

    That’s about priorities, but it does not argue that Christians shouldn’t know and be able to defend the doctrine of the Trinity.

    CharlieM:

    Just as we know that we love our nearest and dearest through experience and not by definition, it is the same with the Trinity. It is a knowledge only gained by experience, and not by any attempt at a definition.

    How do you know that? What prevents the Trinity from being known and understood through reason?

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  30. keiths:

    CharlieM,

    Would you call quantum mechanics logically incoherent because it contradicts what classical physics teaches us?

    No, because coherence is an internal property. QM has it; the Trinity doesn’t.

    They are both coherent when it is realised that they are not confined within the limits of time and space.

    keiths:Re Zajonc, he is simply wrong that QM requires a new kind of rationality. It doesn’t, and in fact it is the “old kind” of rationality that allows us to plan, carry out, and interpret QM experiments.

    What he really should say is not that rationality needs an upgrade — it doesn’t — but that some of our classical assumptions need to be adjusted or thrown out when dealing with QM.

    He goes on to say:

    After all, shall we declare the mathematics of quantum theory “irrational”? Mathematics can perform with complete calm the most extraordinary things. Let us turn to Einstein’s quantum thought experiment, and see in what way rationality needs enhancement.

    He had previously discussed the EPR experiment and related that when asking after reality Bell said that what we seek are the be-ables of a theory. For Einstein if a theory is ambiguous then it is not a rational theory.

    Experiments with polarised photons demonstrated that there is no local, realistic ways of understanding polarised correlations. This demands of us “an extremely deep reformulation of what we take light to be.” Quantum realism leads to the conclusion that the two photons are in fact one holistic unit and their appearance as separate is a consequence of attempting measurement.

    Zajonc:

    How does orthodox quantum theory account for this non local reduction of entangled light, that is, for the simple fact of measurement? It cannot. Many have been the proposals, past and present, but none has yet succeeded in addressing the measurement problem convincingly. If quantum reality is, then the passage from it to sense reality is miraculous.

    Light was supposed to have the primary qualities of polarisation, wavelength, direction, and intensity, but:

    There is no true unambiguous attribute of light! Today’s quantum optics experiments callenge the root conceptions we have about the separate atomistic structure of the world. Moreover, much the same can be said to hold for material particles. For example, even the mass of objects can be put into the same kind of entangled superposition state that light evinces. How bad is this? Very bad. If true, and it is true, then it implies there are parts of reality (assuming there is a reality) where attributes do not map onto things simply. It would be as if you found an object that was no particular color, shape, size, mass, etc. It was nothing in particular, but still remained a very specific thing…

    What are the attributes of light?…Light as an enduring, well defined, local entity vanishes. In its place a subtle, entangled object evolves, holding all four of its quantum qualities suspended within itself, until the fatal act of measurement…The world may very well prove to be rational in the end, but its structures are far more varied than those immediately revealed to our senses…we should be ready to transform boldly our most habitual ways of seeing

    Is it rational to see two “particles” separated by a vast distance of space as one unified entity?

    And when we expand our thinking into the absolute your equation does not look so absurd:

    Infinity + infinity = infinity.

    keiths:That’s an Infinitarian view, not a Trinitarian one. Trinitarian doctrine is quite strict about the three persons, each fully God, and the one Christian God.

    1 + 1 + 1 = 1

    The trouble with using human language is that it is designed to explain this limited sense world. Such a limited means is not adequate to capture anything overarching this world. If God is absolute what does it mean to describe this entity as singular. I think my equation is more appropriate. I can add one more infinity to the left side if you wish 🙂

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  31. keiths:

    No, because coherence is an internal property. QM has it; the Trinity doesn’t.

    CharlieM:

    They are both coherent when it is realised that they are not confined within the limits of time and space.

    So you believe that logic doesn’t hold outside of spacetime? How do you know that?

    I’m glad to see you admitting that the Trinity is incoherent here in lowly spacetime.

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  32. keiths:

    CharlieM, quoting Thomas à Kempis:

    What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God. I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God?

    That’s about priorities, but it does not argue that Christians shouldn’t know and be able to defend the doctrine of the Trinity.

    I was trying to put things in perspective. Going back to quantum mechanics. Physicists haved mulled over the results of their experiments and come up with a variety of explanations, but photons are still a mystery. Just like the Trinity they will not be tied down to having any attributes that make sense from our everyday world of local realism.

    CharlieM:

    Just as we know that we love our nearest and dearest through experience and not by definition, it is the same with the Trinity. It is a knowledge only gained by experience, and not by any attempt at a definition.

    How do you know that? What prevents the Trinity from being known and understood through reason?

    How do we explain to a third party our knowledge of our love for others? If it is to be understood through reason, then this reason needs to move beyond the acceptance of the properties of gross matter as being fundamental to reality. Back to my triangle. Projective geometry comes closest to giving us an understanding of the triangle as multiplicity in unity. No matter what Euclidean triangle you can conceive of it will only be a static representation of the unity that is ‘triangle’.

    Have to dash and do a bit of corona virus dodging. Hope everyone is as well as can be expected 🙂

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  33. CharlieM:

    The trouble with using human language is that it is designed to explain this limited sense world. Such a limited means is not adequate to capture anything overarching this world.

    And yet here you are talking about something that is “overarching this world”.

    If God is absolute what does it mean to describe this entity as singular.

    It means there’s one God. Your (possibly inadvertent) reasoning is “if there’s one God, and he’s absolute, then there are infinitely many Gods.” That doesn’t make sense.

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  34. CharlieM,

    If I understand correctly, you’re arguing that the Trinity, though incoherent from our lowly vantage point within spacetime, becomes coherent once its transcendent nature is considered.

    Problem: What about all other incoherent statements? If you’re consistent, then you’ll have to attribute coherence to them no matter how ridiculous they are. The net result is that you’ll believe a lot of crap. (Hey, maybe this explains your Steiner fixation!)

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  35. keiths:

    CharlieM:

    The trouble with using human language is that it is designed to explain this limited sense world. Such a limited means is not adequate to capture anything overarching this world.

    And yet here you are talking about something that is “overarching this world”.

    Exactly I am stumbling about trying to find adequate words. God is transcendent, God is immanent, God is both immanent and transcendent. God is…..beyond definition.

    I came across this web page which gives some info on the trinity in various religions. ( I have no knowledge of who this website belongs to, I have just linked to it because it gives some details about some of the trinities that can be found)

    The problem with the figure in the op is that within it is written “God is”. This creates a problem because people take this to be a definition. But we cannot define the indefinable. And of course as soon as any body such as the Church lays down a set of doctrines which we are compelled to believe, then our freedom is curtailed.

    We can get more out of the meaning of the Trinity by meditating on the symbol than by analysing the words.

    A mental exercise I find helpful in contemplating the Trinity is by having the image of Plato’s perfect solids in my mind. I have three images side by side of the dual pairs, each pair consisting of one solid within the other and its apices contacting the other’s surfaces. By imagining the inner one shrinking while the outer one expands they will both reach their respective infinities consecutively. The difference being that in one direction we get three distinct points and in the other the three become one single plane. It depends on our perspective and in the direction we are looking whether we see a trinity of points or a unified plane.

    These areas can be reached by minds, they cannot be reached by physical means.

    There are many other trinity symbols that can be used in a similar way. I try not let anything extraneous get in the way. I would say let the symbol of the trinity be its own doctrine. Let it be our teacher. Do not rely on what any external body tells us to believe about it.

    If God is absolute what does it mean to describe this entity as singular.

    It means there’s one God. Your (possibly inadvertent) reasoning is “if there’s one God, and he’s absolute, then there are infinitely many Gods.” That doesn’t make sense.

    As I have shown above, if we confine our thinking to the purely point-wise we end up with an infinity of points, but if we expand our thinking to the plane-wise infinity becomes singular.

    And we are given another version of the Trinity in the myth of Osiris. Osiris (the Father) along with Isis (the Holy Spirit) and Horus (the Son) is the Egyptian version of the myth of the Trinity. Osiris is cut into pieces and spread around the world. Isis has the task of gathering up the pieces and making him whole again. We have within each of us the spark of the divine because God has sacrificed Himself so that we, in being given the freedom to choose, can do the right thing and return to the source. The only problem is that this requires extreme selflessness on our part.

    Can there be infinite Gods? John 10:34

    Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?

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  36. keiths: CharlieM,

    If I understand correctly, you’re arguing that the Trinity, though incoherent from our lowly vantage point within spacetime, becomes coherent once its transcendent nature is considered.

    Problem: What about all other incoherent statements? If you’re consistent, then you’ll have to attribute coherence to them no matter how ridiculous they are. The net result is that you’ll believe a lot of crap. (Hey, maybe this explains your Steiner fixation!)

    I have tried to justify my understanding of the Trinity. It may seem as tough I’m talking crap, and indeed there is no doubt some crap in what I write. But as much as I’m trying to make myself understood by others I am also trying to attain consistency in my own mind in order to make progress in my own understanding. So thank you for allowing me to do this.

    Here is a summary of some of what Frithjof Schuon had to say about the trinity:

    The Christian understanding of the Incarnation is itself based on the Trinity. Schuon’s teachings on this subject are complex and it is impossible to survey them adequately here. From one perspective, the hypostases of the Trinity are Relative:
    God is the Absolute; He is the single Essence, whereas the three Persons are the first Relativities…they actualize the indivisible characteristics of the Essence. (from “Evidence and Mystery”, p. 117)

    But from another perspective, the Father is Absolute and the Son and Spirit Relative:
    The Father is Beyond-Being, the Son is Being, and the Spirit is Beatitude and Manifestation.…(from “Some Observations”, p. 39)

    From a certain perspective, they are Absolute:
    The Persons are eminently present in pure Atma; otherwise they could not actualize themselves within Maya. In this sense the hypostatic Persons are above Relativity; they are intrinsic aspects of the Absolute.… (from “Appendix: A Sampling of Letters and Other Unpublished Materials”, p. 168)

    Hence the ambiguity of the relationship of the Father to the Son: the Son is both equal and subordinate, depending on perspective:
    The Gospels show…that the Son is at once subordinate and equal to the Father, and it is precisely this antinomy that opens up for us in an indicative manner the mystery of Relativity in divinis. (from “Evidence and Mystery”, p. 122)

    The hypostases are not “relative” inasmuch as they are “contained” in the Essence…they are relative inasmuch as they “emanate” from Him; if they were not “contained” in Him, they could not “emanate”.…At the level of essentiality…they coincide with the Absolute purely and simply. (from “Appendix: A Sampling of Letters and Other Unpublished Materials”, p. 176)

    At the highest plane of understanding the Trinity is multiplicity in divinis—multiplicity that is not other than the Absolute unity from which nothing is absent. The Absolute transcends the distinction between simplex and complex; it is neither and both. The doctrine of the Trinity is esoteric and metaphysical:
    Any normal man can conceive of the divine Unity to some extent…[but] the Trinity can be understood only by those who…are able…to move…in the metaphysical dimension.… (from “The Particular Nature and Universality of the Christian Tradition”, p. 13)

    Schuon approaches the issue of the Trinity from several perspectives, but even this does not exhaust this mystery, as he remarks,
    We are here at the limit of what can be expressed; it is no one’s fault if…there remain questions without an answer, and perhaps without any possible answer, at least at the dialectical level.…The science of the heart is not subject to discussion. (from “Appendix: A Sampling of Letters and Other Unpublished Materials”, p.176)

    These writings of Frithjof Schuon are new to me, but I will be reading more from and about him to see what other interesting topics he has spoken about. From the little I have read he seems to have been quite a character.

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  37. Charlie,

    If you were true to the “God is ineffable” idea, then you would cease to make any statements at all about him.

    Is there a Trinity? You have no idea, because God is ineffable.

    Is God good? Again, you have no idea, since God is beyond human understanding.

    Is Boris Johnson a god who is the same being as his dog (a Duality)? You don’t know. God is a mystery that cannot be fathomed.

    If God is ineffable, you don’t get to decide that he’s effable for your pet beliefs about him.

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  38. Alan,

    What does being ineffable entail?

    To say that God is ineffable is to say that he is too great to be described in mere words. He’s beyond that.

    Charlie believes that God is both ineffable and beyond human understanding.

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  39. keiths: Charlie believes that God is both ineffable and beyond human understanding.

    And is that so terrible?

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  40. keiths:
    Charlie,

    If you were true to the “God is ineffable” idea, then you would cease to make any statements at all about him

    .
    God is ineffable. God is indefinable. How can we use thes words to describe God when the very process of using them contradicts their own meaning?

    But to say ‘God is ineffable’, that God is incapable of being described in words, is back to front. What we should be saying is that words are not an adequate medium with which to describe God. I know that any words I use will fall short in any attempt I make to express what I mean by God. So the statement is not actually about God, it is about the limitations of human language and my use of it. I could equally say the love between my wife and myself is ineffable. It is beyond words. But this does not stop me talking about it. (And if she ever reads any of my posts here I might score some brownie points 🙂 )

    What about saying ‘God is indefinable’? If there is any reality to God, God is not confined to the physical world. For the sake of argument let’s call this extension of the physical, spiritual. In relation to this I believe that I, as a human being, consist of seven principles, four lower, physical (material processes), etheric (life processes), astral (sentience), and ego; and three higher spiritual principles named in the Eastern tradition manas, buddhi and atma. Regarding these seven the easiest to define is the physical. It can be weighed and measured and defined within these limits.

    We can define someone in terms of their body, height, weight, gender and so on. Not so easy to define them in terms of their self and their thoughts. The higher principles are not of such a nature that they can be defined by words meant to provide meanings in the physical world. Definitions distinguish and separate. The spiritual does not have such boundaries. “I and the Father are one.” The ego is in the Father and the Father is in the ego.

    Back to the trusty triangle. We can define a physical triangle in terms of the length of its sides and the angles between these sides. The ideal triangle cannot be so easily pinned down in this way. It encompasses all lengths and all angle ratios within the limits of 180 degrees.

    Definitions are for the physical, and are not applicable to the spiritual.

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  41. keiths: Is there a Trinity? You have no idea, because God is ineffable.

    We are supposedly made in the image of God so it does no harm to reflect on this connection.

    St Paul said, “for now we see through a glass, darkly”. I could go even further and say I see in a mirror darkly.

    The ineffable may be beyond words but the reflection is there for us to discuss. We cannot safely look directly at the sun but there are ways around this we can take advantage of.

    The trinity makes little sense for physicalists who see their, and everyone else’s lives as minuscule blips of conscious activity between two vast empty voids before and after.

    On the other hand, I, as someone who believes in the spiritual see my life as the result of a process of condensation from the spiritual realm into physical existence followed by an ascent and expansion back into the spiritual. It’s a growth process from the point of conception to the plane of the infinite.

    The spiritual realm out of which we descend has been given the name, Father. Out of the Father we are born.

    The being I become one the return to the spiritual existence is a consequence of my life as a physical person and so we can say that it is the Son born out of the physical. As St. Paul says, ‘it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body’. Christ shows the way in which we need to proceed in this respect. In Christ we die.

    The Spirit is ever present. The separation we feel as physical beings is not reciprocated by the Spirit. The spirit sustains us through all of our life.

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  42. CharlieM: God is ineffable. God is indefinable

    One of the examples comes to mind, from “the one man’s religion book”, when Moses asked God to see His glory, but wasn’t allowed to see God’s face…

    Ex 33:18_23

    18Then Moses said, “Please show me Your glory.” 19“I will cause all My goodness to pass in front of you,” the LORD replied, “and I will proclaim My name— the LORD— before you. I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 20But He added, “You cannot see My face, for no one can see Me and live.”…
    21The LORD continued, “There is a place near Me where you are to stand upon a rock, 22and when My glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. 23Then I will take My hand away, and you will see My back; but My face must not be seen.”…23Then I will take My hand away, and you will see My back; but My face must not be seen.”

    It seems obvious God had only one face, not faces, and Moses couldn’t even look directly at God’s glory… It reminds me about alerts during the cold war not to look at the nuclear bomb mushrooms…

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  43. J-Mac:

    It seems obvious God had only one face, not faces, and Moses couldn’t even look directly at God’s glory… It reminds me about alerts during the cold war not to look at the nuclear bomb mushrooms…

    Holiness is a warm bomb.

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