The official blog of University of Missouri Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, & Agnostics
Recently a Christian (“C”) tried to explain the Trinity to me. His explanation was a response to my sharing this picture:
I shared the picture because I thought it was funny, and that it made a good point: the concept of the Trinity is incoherent. C accused the picture of committing a straw man fallacy. An argument commits a straw man fallacy when it attacks an unfairly weakened version of a position. I don’t think the picture commits a straw man, so we had a FACEBOOK DEBATE!!!!
C: “The reason I take the image to be a straw man is that it aims to critique the concept of the Trinity, but rather than finding the very best description or argument, it simply takes a common misconception–one that demonstrates ignorance–and says, “Look at how dumb this idea is!””
He tried to give a coherent explanation of the Trinity:
“I’ll take a shot at explanation… The standard doctrine of the trinity holds that the three persons are distinct, while sharing one instance of the divine essence. I admit that it is hard to grasp, and I don’t fully grasp it. But so is a concept like superposition, or the dual nature of photons. This diagram is somewhat helpful: “
We already have a problem: According to C, a better, more fair representation of the Trinity is so hard to grasp that C doesn’t grasp it.
How not to argue that a position is coherent:
‘I don’t fully grasp the position. It is like quantum physics.’ Especially when the position is very different from quantum physics in a very important sense.
Quantum physics is utterly incoherent to our feeble human brains, but we accept it because it makes ridiculously accurate empirical predictions. The same cannot be said for the Trinity. It makes no empirical predictions, and has no evidence supporting it. So, the only similarity it has to quantum physics is its incoherence. This supports the claim made by the picture above.
As far as I can tell, if you don’t fully grasp a position, you are not allowed to assert that the position is coherent. How would you know? The only evidence you have is the experience of not understanding the position. This should support the notion that the position is incoherent, rather than serve as evidence that the position is very complex and profound. The way to argue that a position is coherent is to give a precise formal description that is logically coherent. The triangle picture is a step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough, because its use of the “is” relation is ambiguous.
If the “is” in the triangle means “is identical to”, then the triangle is flatly contradictory:
1. Son = God
2. God = Father
3. So, Son = Father.
4. But, Son /= Father.
C: “When we say that Jesus is God, it is the ‘is’ of essential predication… “Seth is human” uses the ‘is’ of essential predication.”
Okay, so the Son is God in the same way that Seth is Human. Following this analogy, we must wonder if there is more than one God in the same way that there is more than one Human. A monotheist like C says that there is only one God. But this causes problems:
If only one thing is God, and the Son is God, and the Father is God, then the Son is identical to the Father. But the Doctrine of the Trinity states that the two are not identical. They are distinct persons. “Son” and “Father” are not merely different names for the same person. Thus, either the Trinity is incoherent, or the Trinity is a polytheistic position.
The moral of this story: