In Part 1, I responded to Unitarian philosopher Dale Tuggy’s claim in a recent conference address that my biblical argument for the doctrine of the Trinity omitted essential elements of the doctrine. Here I will respond to his objection that my statement of the doctrine is incoherent. In Part VII of my outline study “The Biblical Basis of the Doctrine of the Trinity,” I concluded by reviewing the propositions that constitute the essential elements of the doctrine, including these four:
- The Father is God (see Part III).
- The Son is God (see Part IV).
- The Holy Spirit is God (see Part V).
- The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three persons, i.e., they are not each other, nor are they impersonal; they relate to one another personally (see Part VI).
As he has been doing with Trinitarian theology in general for many years, Tuggy finds fault with my argument by complaining about the logical difficulty of affirming that each person “is God” and yet that the persons are distinct from one another. “Things that are identical to the same thing are identical to one another.” With this analytical knife Tuggy thinks he can cut any presentation or defense of Trinitarian belief to ribbons without so much as opening a Bible. His point is that my argument is incoherent because (as he sees it) the affirmations that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God logically contradict the affirmation that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not each other. To this objection, I have three responses.
First, if there is a logical difficulty here, it arises from the teachings of the Bible, since we find all of these elements of the doctrine of the Trinity taught in Scripture.
Second, there are other apparent instances of logical difficulties or apparent contradictions in other aspects of biblical doctrine that most professing Christians, including very many Unitarians, accept without reservation. For example, many if not most Biblical Unitarians (the biblically conservative movement that sometimes describes itself as such) accept both the omniscience of God and the freedom of God. That is, they believe both that God knows all things and that he acts freely, choosing freely what he will do. Present this claim to a group of skeptics and watch them get out their analytical knives. If God knows what he will do (they will argue) then he cannot do otherwise, i.e., he cannot do anything other than what he knows he will do; but if he cannot do otherwise then he is not free in doing it. Is this a genuine logical contradiction? It looks like one.
Can I resolve this apparent contradiction? Perhaps the argument makes some assumptions about what it means to act freely that do not apply to the transcendent, eternal Creator. There is a lot of potential ambiguity in the words can and cannot as well as the word free. Here’s the thing: Even if I am unsure exactly how to resolve the apparent logical difficulty, I am fully warranted in believing both that God knows all things and that God freely chooses what he does. Moreover, if my proposed explanation for how God can know all things and make free choices is shown to have some difficulties, this does not mean that those two theological concepts are not both true. It would just mean that I don’t fully understand how God can be what he is. Not only would this outcome not bother me, it’s what I would expect to be the case.
Third, in my opinion the apparent logical difficulty that Tuggy finds in the doctrine of the Trinity arises because he is applying analytical concepts of identity to the transcendent, infinite God. The premise of his critique, as I quoted it earlier, is this: “Things that are identical to the same thing are identical to one another.” This premise works fine with finite, discrete objects or “things” that cannot be identical to “the same thing” (i.e., the same finite object) without being identical to each other. A finite object’s “identity” is defined by its boundaries, its limitations—its separateness from other finite things in the matrix of the created world. I am a separate being from you because we occupy different bodies, began our existence separately, have had different locations and movements as well as different experiences (thoughts, feelings) throughout our lives, have differing abilities, opinions, and interests, and so on. What if the three Persons of the Trinity co-exist eternally, are incorporeal and omnipresent, are omniscient, are omnipotent, and are absolutely perfect in wisdom and goodness? Then each knows every thought of the other two; each is present at all times with the other two, not just proximately but interiorly; each has all of the same abilities as the other two; and each is certainly in agreement with the other two regarding all things. If three Persons share this eternal, incorporeal, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent nature, then in some way that defies easy analysis (for us!) it would appear that they are ontologically one even though they are also relationally or personally distinct from one another. The rule that things identical to the same thing are identical to one another does not seem to apply to three divine Persons of this nature.
Again, as with the issue of divine omniscience and volition, I do not need to be able to explain perfectly how God can be one God and three Persons in order to be reasonably warranted in believing both are true. If I have reasons to believe that the Bible is a reliable source of doctrinal truth about God (and I do), then I am warranted in believing a state of affairs that I cannot fully analyze rationally if the Bible teaches it. That having been said, in my opinion we can offer at least some reasonable explanation why Tuggy’s rational objection to Trinitarianism falls short of being the decisive disproof he claims.
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