The official blog of University of Missouri Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, & Agnostics

The Trinity is like a triangle: A post about God, Jesus, and Strawmen.

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:



About Seth Kurtenbach

Philosophy grad student who wandered into a computer science PhD program with a backpack full of modal logic and decision theory.

6 comments on “The Trinity is like a triangle: A post about God, Jesus, and Strawmen.

  1. philosophical arminian.
    June 24, 2013

    “The same cannot be said for the Trinity. It makes no empirical predictions, and has no evidence supporting it.”

    This is false, there is theological evidence for the Trinity in the Scriptures. Now whether you submit to Scripture or not is a different question.


    “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.


    But the ‘is’ in the triangle does not mean ‘is identical to’. You’re equivocating the ‘is’ and ‘is not’ on a particular definition of is.

    The Son is God, uses the ‘is’ of predication.
    The Son is not the Father, uses the ‘is’ of identity.

    • Seth Kurtenbach
      June 26, 2013

      Where in the scriptures does it affirm the Trinity?

      • Chris
        September 11, 2013

        Gen. 1:26 implies an us not a one.
        Psalm 139:7 David speaking to God the Father asks “Where can I go from your Spirit?” Whose Spirit? The Fathers.
        Is. 11:1-2 “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him” Who is Him? Jesus.
        Mark 1:9-11 Jesus’ Baptism: God the Father’s voice, God the Son in the water, God the Spirit descending. All present. All at the same time.
        Matt. 28:19 called the trinitarian formula: baptize them in the name (singular by the way not plural) of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit….one name, three persons.
        Ephesians chapter 1 Paul flows from each member of the trinity fluidly and overlappingly. See verses 3, 13-14, 15-23 specifically.

        Lastly, In a sermon on the Trinity Kevin Miller said, “Here’s the beautiful thing: you don’t need to fully understand the Trinity to worship the Trinity, pray to the Trinity, and enter into the life of the Trinity. They tell me that deep within the core of the sun, the temperature is 27 million degrees. The pressure is 340 billion times what it is here on Earth. And in the sun’s core, that insanely hot temperature and unthinkable pressure combine to create nuclear reactions. In each reaction, 4 protons fuse together to create 1 alpha particle, which is .7 percent less massive than the 4 protons. The difference in mass is expelled as energy, and after one million years, through a process called convection, this energy from the core of the sun finally reaches the surface, where it’s expelled as heat and light. Now that was all kind of interesting, but you know what? I didn’t need to know all that in order to get a tan.”

        Want more verses? Quotes? Diagrams? Creeds? I got um. Just let me know.

  2. Prem Isaac
    June 26, 2013

    I agree with the last post – the word “is” is being employed equivocally. First, as predication of essence in the phrase the Son is God or the Father is God. These persons are the same type or kind of being or substance. Secondly as an assertion of identity which is then being denied. Son is NOT the Father signifies that Son and the Father are not identical. The triangle cannot do justice to the metaphysical concepts of substance and personhood. “God” in this triangle is not a person, but a substance, while Father, Son and Holy Spirit are distinct persons, whose essence or nature is identical, just as John and Peter are 2 distinct individuals whose human nature is identical.

  3. Seth Kurtenbach
    June 26, 2013

    If you would both read the last two paragraphs, you will see that I deal with the case you mention. The “is” is one of predication, so Divinity is a predicate on objects. The “is not” denies identity. You both seem to agree with this.

    However, this interpretation leads to either a contradiction, or polytheism. If only one thing is Divine (monotheism), then for all x, y, if Divine(x) and Divine(y) then x = y. But this contradicts the “is not” of the triangle. Otherwise, x /= y, in which case more than one thing is Divine (polytheism).

  4. FL
    October 4, 2013

    God = substance or existence, if the latter then contained and not infinite
    words of language cannot express
    but Logos word or wisdom incarnate and source maybe

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This entry was posted on June 16, 2013 by in Author: Seth Kurtenbach, Skepticism.
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