Friday, August 05, 2016

Skeptical About Trinitarianism

A “Q” from Star Trek

It is not only the old who are wise, not only the aged who understand what is right. Therefore I say: Listen to me; I too will tell you what I know.
~ Elihu (Job 32:9, 10 NIV)


“I get a lot of questions about science and the Trinity. My own mother resisted Christianity for several decades because for her the Trinity was a contradiction. Today, in my blog I show why science and the universe we live in only makes sense if God is triune.”—Hugh Ross on Facebook July 13, 2016

I really admire the overall mission of Astronomer Hugh Ross and the Old-Earth Creationist organization he founded and administers, Reasons to Believe (RTB), to demonstrate the harmony between science and scripture (the Bible).

However, from time to time he reminds us that he is a devout Trinitarian. He has recently done just that in a short essay on his website, emblazoned with a large red and yellow Triquetra (see Appendix A), and confidently entitled: “How to Persuade a Skeptic That God Must Be Triune.”[1]

In it, he rightly eschews physical analogies to the Trinity, like the (in)famous one for water, as unavoidably falling into the trap of Modalism.[2] Therefore, he uses what he calls ‘extra-dimensional and trans-dimensional analogies’ that avoid the Modalistic trap of the physical analogies. However, with these he acknowledges that “even the analogies I offer do not fully illustrate all the known features of the Trinity, let alone the unknown ones.”[3] This humble admission however does nothing to strengthen this presentation for Trinitarianism, especially since the Bible remains a closed book when using it—as I have not seen the scriptures I believe are relevant to the subject being referenced, as in the transcendence description in John 8:21, 23 and the passages presenting initial nonrecognition of Jesus’ resurrection body until an identifying mannerism.—Luke 24:15, 16, 30, 31 and John 20:14, 16.

By way of comparison, science fiction also employs the “extra-dimensional” genre when introducing new and exotic extraterrestrials. For example, in the Star Trek universe, there are extraterrestrial beings known as “the Q” who dwell in the “Q Continuum,” which is defined as “an extra-dimensional plane of existence.”[4] The Q person who introduced this realm to Star Trek even appeared once as a resplendent three-headed cobra orb—as seen in the opening graphic. While not attempting to illustrate Trinitarianism, it is easy to see how this unintentionally does so, for Trinitarian apologists like the esteemed Dr. William Lane Craig employ the three-headed dog Cerberus of Greek mythology.[5]
It is argued that if this “Hound of Hades” had an immortal soul (which by definition is immaterial and transcendent), then we would have an entity analogous to the Trinity, “a single tri-personal soul.” Thus the extra-dimensional person Q manifesting himself as tri-personal would also be analogous to the Trinity.

With the above prolegomena presented, I will now begin appraising “How to Persuade a Skeptic That God Must Be Triune” point-by-point, with Hugh Ross’ comments being prefaced with HR and mine by JS.

HR: In my book and DVD Beyond the Cosmos, I appeal to extra dimensions to offer better analogies for the Trinity, analogies that do not fall into a modalistic trap. Modalism is the heretical doctrine that avows that God is sometimes the Father but not the Son or Holy Spirit, at other times the Son but not the Father or the Holy Spirit, and at still other times the Holy Spirit but not the Father or the Son. The doctrine of the Trinity states that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit always exist and are always fully functional as God and yet there is but one God. (underline added)

JS: When he says “always exist” he means forever into the past as well as future. However, as I stated in my rejoinder to his colleague Keneth Samples in “Trinitarian Samples,”[6] there are three overlooked fatal flaws in that underlined statement. The first has to do with the problem of the Holy Spirit being a person involved like an incubus in Mary’s impregnation and retaining her virginity, as well as the problem of becoming Jesus’ father when Jesus said “I live because of the Father” and not the Holy Spirit at John 6:57. The second deals with Jesus’ emphatic declarations in the Passion Narratives that he would be killed and resurrected, and condemned as a satanic lie that he would not really be dead. The third deals with Jesus’ own theology where he believed that the Father was God, and never once included his divine nature or the Holy Spirit into God. Thus, one can offer all the “extra dimensions” they want to escape the trap of Modalism and still fall into another trap of disagreeing with Jesus’ own teachings that he wholeheartedly believed in. Indeed, there does not seem to be any space here “between Scylla and Charybdis” for safe navigation.

Scylla and Charybdis

HR: The analogies I offer, however, are still only analogies. They illustrate some but not all the characteristics and attributes of the Trinity. Because God transcends the space-time dimensions of our universe and is fully functional independent of the cosmic space-time dimensions and because our human powers of conception and imagination are limited by the space-time dimensions, it is impossible for us to gain more than a partial description and understanding of the Triune God.

JS: I appreciate his humility and concession that his recourse to extra- and trans-dimensions are analogies as opposed to explanations that they look and sound like, as well as being imperfect. As he also said: “In my book, Beyond the Cosmos, I offer some extra-dimensional analogies … but even the analogies I offer do not fully illustrate all the known features of the Trinity, let alone the unknown ones.” (See footnote 3.) This is a confusing admission. It appears to me though that we’re approaching God’s existence the same way, of locating him in another, nonmaterial realm, but then diverging in application—his being a Trinitarian application oblivious to how it contradicts Jesus. Lastly, I find it contradictory that he says that “our human powers of conception and imagination are limited by the space-time dimensions,” but then confidently discusses extra- and trans-dimensions.

HR: As to how we can better argue for and establish the existence of the Triune God, I have found by experience that one of the best ways is to show people how science makes sense only if God is Triune. (underline added)

JS: Therefore, all scientists who do not embrace Trinitarianism fail to make sense of science. This is a very bold and sweeping claim which he attempts to demonstrate. This bold claim also reminds one of a similar bold claim made popular by Theodosius Dobzhansky, that “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” While HR rejects this claim, he as a Trinitarian promotes another one that we will see is of equal persuasive power.

HR: One example would be to point out that love is not possible unless there are at least two persons to express and receive love. The problem with strictly monotheistic religions like Islam and Judaism is that a non-loving entity supposedly created beings that give and receive love. How can the lesser create the greater?

JS: There are a number of problems with this set of claims:
  1. The first is that a person can love something and that love is not restricted to loving someone, and that a person can have the potential for expressing love—as in God before creation. Thus, HR’s claim that “love is not possible unless there are at least two persons to express and receive love” is an artificial Trinitarian constraint operating on his mind, preventing him from appreciating that a person:
    1. Can love something.
    2. Can have the potential for expressing love, which applies to God before creation began.
  2. The second problem here is that HR is interpreting the God of Judaism through the Trinitarian filter that God can only be love (1 John 4:8) if he is not a person but an impersonal construct housing distinct (not separate) persons. Thus he has his own preconceived Trinitarian bias built into his perception of the God of Judaism—that is, in his mind constrained by Trinitarianism, a single person cannot be love. However, what he is failing to take into account is that the God of Judaism, named Jehovah, is a person and is not presented as “a non-loving entity” in the Bible. Thus Jehovah can still be love and be a single person simultaneously. HR and his fellow Trinitarian colleagues would do well to ponder how Jehovah described himself to Moses at Exodus 34:6-7:
    Jehovah was passing before him and declaring: “Jehovah, Jehovah, a God merciful and compassionate, slow to anger and abundant in loyal love and truth, showing loyal love to thousands, pardoning error and transgression and sin.”
    Alternately, the NET Bible has Jehovah describing himself as “slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love and faithfulness, keeping loyal love for thousands.” So clearly then HR has misrepresented the God of Judaism who has presented himself as the gold-standard of expressing love and with the greatest potential of expressing love. But HR explains further:
HR: To put it another way, in strict monotheism, God must create in order to have any possibility of giving or receiving love. If God is a single person, he is unfulfilled until he creates. For the Trinitarian God, creation is an option. It is not a need.

JS: The fallacy here is that Jehovah God is “unfulfilled until he creates,” for He did not create to be fulfilled, but for others to enjoy living. As Acts 17:25 says, He does not need anything from us, and therefore certainly does not need love from us to feel fulfilled. Thus creation was not a need for Jehovah. Consequently, the Trinitarian claim about love is refuted by Acts 17:25.

At this point, a response could be: ‘What was a unipersonal God doing before creation?’ The direct answer is that divine revelation begins accounting for God’s activities starting with creation. That our human minds may not be able to comprehend what a unipersonal God may have been doing prior to that is irrelevant. Indeed, Jehovah even declared at Isaiah 55:9: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Thus, it is perfectly harmonious with divine revelation that before creation God was loving because he had the greatest potential to express love, which was expressed when he commenced creating.

HR: The problem with polytheistic faiths is that the multiple gods possess different creation plans and goals. Thus, in polytheistic religions like Hinduism, there is the expectation that the natural realm will be inharmonious and filled with inconsistencies and unresolvable anomalies. However, centuries of scientific research reveal the opposite. The more we study the record of nature the greater level of harmony and consistency we see and the longer the list becomes of resolved anomalies.

Science, therefore, establishes why God in some sense must be uniplural, as the Hebrew word for God (Elohim) used in Genesis 1, implies. The uniplurality of God also explains why both singular and plural pronouns are used for God in Genesis 1:26-27.

JS: That is truly fascinating how “centuries of scientific research” reveal a “harmony and consistency” in nature indicating a common designer behind it. Thus, contrary to his opening claim that “science makes sense only if God is Triune,” he just argued that ‘science makes sense only if God is a person.’ Going any further than that is going beyond science—and into theology. His use of the non-Biblical term “uniplural” was not gleaned from science but from the Trinitarian handling of both Elohim and Genesis 1:26-27 as he subtly revealed. These two handlings however are plagued with problems:
  1. First, Elohim never implies “uniplurality.” Strong’s dictionary defines it as “gods in the ordinary sense” and adds that it may also mean “the supreme God,” as a plural of excellence. The later way is how it appears in the Genesis creation account.
  2. Second, Genesis 1:26-27 has God saying “Let us make” in verse 26 but then has God alone creating in the following verse. However, the NET Bible explains what is happening here using the Bible and not human reasoning:
    In its ancient Israelite context the plural is most naturally understood as referring to God and his heavenly court (see 1 Kgs 22:19-22; Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6; Isa 6:1-8). ... If this is the case, God invites the heavenly court to participate in the creation of humankind (perhaps in the role of offering praise, see Job 38:7), but he himself is the one who does the actual creative work (v. 27).
Thus the Trinitarian handling of both Elohim and Genesis 1:26-27 are clear mishandlings, and the Trinitarian misuse of Genesis 1:26-27 fails to take other scriptures into account. These two Trinitarian failures constitute scholastic absenteeism for keeping both Hebrew and Biblical scholarship absent from discussion.

HR: One question that remains is why three Persons and not two, four, or more. Both creation and the redemption of billions of humans reveals a division of labor that points to three Persons.

JS: First, creation does not reveal “a division of labor that points to three Persons.” Instead, at a minimum it reveals a common designer as he revealed above, and scripturally Jehovah is the creator who used his Son Jesus in creation with the power of God’s holy spirit. (Genesis 1:2; John 1:3; Colossians 1:17)[7] Second, the scriptural case for redemption also does not reveal a Trinitarian division of labor, for God sent his Son Jesus to earth into Mary’s womb (Galatians 4:4) by the impersonal power of the holy spirit (Matthew 1:18; Luke 1:35)[8] for Jesus to die and be raised out of death by Him, by Jehovah God.—Matthew 12:40, 16:21, 17:22-23, 20:18-19, 26:2; Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:33-34; Luke 18:31-33; Acts 2:32; 3:15; Galatians 1:1.[9]

HR: Also, John in his first epistle explains that God’s spiritual light in the world has three components: life, love, and truth, wherein the Son takes responsibility for bestowing life, the Father takes responsibility for bestowing love, and the Holy Spirit takes responsibility for bestowing truth.

JS: 1 John does not present “three components” in that Trinitarian manner—that is just his interpretation filtered through his Trinitarian theology. Demonstrating this is the very holy spirit. Regarding that, I think he has in mind 1 John 5:6-8, which says in part: “And the spirit is bearing witness, because the spirit is the truth.” However, this passage includes Jesus’ (baptismal) water and (sacrificial) blood with the spirit in bearing witness to the truth, which obviously are not included in the Godhead. Thus, his apparent reference to this passage ironically supports the interpretation that the holy spirit is not a person.

HR: Psychologists point out that when two people isolate themselves from the rest of humanity, they frequently become codependent in their relationship. A third person breaks the codependency. This need for three persons is illustrated in marriage. The bride and groom unite to become one where the bride and groom become an ezer (essential military ally) for one another. However, for this alliance to truly build an increasingly loving relationship and an increasingly productive ministry, the married couple must completely embrace God as their ezer. (italics original)

JS: In God’s rebuke of idolatry, he declared: “To whom will you liken me or make me equal or compare me, so that we should resemble each other?” (Isaiah 46:5) This demonstrates that the comparison to a human couple needing a third party is irrelevant.

HR: In conclusion, the universe, its life, and God’s plan revealed both in nature and Scripture for the redemption of billions of human beings reveals the work of three supernatural Persons who are one in essence, character, purpose, and plan.

JS: In conclusion, the universe, its life, and God’s plan revealed both in nature and Scripture for the redemption of billions of human beings reveals the work of Jehovah God and his celestial court, as exemplified by our Lord Jesus Christ who surrendered his life in our behalf to furnish the ransom sacrifice, and who are one in essence, character, purpose, and plan.

Even though skeptical, I started out as honest-hearted and objective over Trinitarianism, for I need to know the truth about God. I honestly believe that if RTB can convince me that Trinitarianism is true, that I’ll change my mind. But after reading and studying “How to Persuade a Skeptic That God Must Be Triune,” my skepticism remains as strong as ever, and this article has even convinced me further that Trinitarianism is a fallacious theology that constrains the minds of its adherents.

While devout Trinitarians can speak of trans- and extra-dimensional manifolds to explain God’s transcendence in being triune, I will be satisfied with Jesus’ own explanation found at John 8:21, 23:
“I am going away … Where I am going, you cannot come. … You are from the realms below; I am from the realms above. You are from this world; I am not from this world.”
Here Jesus spoke in terms agreeable to the intent of HR, that God dwells in a “higher” transcendent realm. As one source explains regarding Jesus’ ascension to heaven:
Jesus’ ascension, while beginning with an upward movement, from the viewpoint of his disciples, may have thereafter taken any direction required to bring him into his Father’s heavenly presence. It was an ascension not only as to direction but, more important, as to the sphere of activity and level of existence in the spirit realm and in the lofty presence of the Most High God, a realm not governed by human dimensions or directions. (underscore added)[10]
The upward movement was an illustration of the transcendence of the spirit realm, operating on a trans-dimensional level. Digressing from Jesus’ explanation and including him as a distinct (not separate) person within the Trinitarian Godhead creates analogical problems seen in the outset, for instance, of using an immortal soul of a mythological three-headed dog when Jesus stated quite clearly and forcefully on multiple occasions in his Passion Narratives that belief in an immortal soul is satanic.[11] Therefore, all attempts to explain or rationalize Trinitarianism become explorations in blasphemy. They all may even be reduced to what the Apostle Paul warned Christians of in Colossians 2:4 (NET Bible): “I say this so that no one will deceive you through arguments that sound reasonable.” Here the NET Bible footnote explains:
Paul’s point is that even though the arguments seem to make sense (sound reasonable), they are in the end false. Paul is not here arguing against the study of philosophy or serious thinking per se, but is arguing against the uncritical adoption of a philosophy that is at odds with a proper view of Christ and the ethics of the Christian life.
Thus all honest truth seekers need to be careful to not be deceived by slick reasoning but instead keep all relevant scriptures in mind as our theological guide. The alternative is falling prey to the “doctrines of demons.” (1 Timothy 4:1) The Apostle Paul repeated this danger in his warning in 2 Corinthians 11:3 (NET Bible):
“But I am afraid that just as the serpent deceived Eve by his treachery, your minds may be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”
This is a clear, clarion call to be alert to doctrinal deception about the identity of God and Jesus Christ. As a result, just as the serpent is a symbol for deception, so the Q seen and discussed at the outset is ironically also a closer match to the Trinity due to appearing as serpentine.

Appendix
  1. The Trinitarian Symbol of the Triquetra
  2. Good advice from Hugh Ross
The Trinitarian Symbol of the Triquetra
One source says under “Germanic paganism” that:
The triquetra has been found on runestones in Northern Europe and on early Germanic coins. It presumably had pagan religious meaning and it bears a resemblance to the valknut, a symbol associated with Odin.
Consequently, I really don’t think it’s appropriate to associate the Christian God with a pagan symbol potentially derived from the pagan god Odin—as this could indicate that theological derailment has occurred somewhere. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triquetra#Germanic_paganism and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valknut)

Good advice from Hugh Ross
In the RTB Weekly Digest dated February 14, 2017, Hugh Ross provided an excellent piece of advice on detecting deception. He said:
Pay attention to context. Many of the most convincing-sounding, anti-God arguments you find online are cherry-picked verses or data from just one narrow scientific discipline. It’s easy to make an argument sound like the right one by ignoring all of the facts that contradict it.
This is so true, for he has correctly identified the most common culprit of deception. May we apply this principle also with theological considerations.


Footnotes:
[1] Found here: www.reasons.org/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/how-to-persuade-a-skeptic-that-god-must-be-triune and www.reasonsblogs.org/2016/07/13/how-to-persuade-a-skeptic-that-god-must-be-triune

[2] See: Popular Arguments some Trinitarians use that are on a Trinitarian "Never Use" List
jimspace3000.blogspot.com/2012/06/popular-arguments-some-trinitarians-use.html

[3] Facebook July 14, 2016

[4] “Q Continuum.” Memory Alpha. memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Q_Continuum

[5] The Trinity and Siamese Twins. www.reasonablefaith.org/the-trinity-and-siamese-twins Here he explained that: “If the alien being is a tri-personal soul in one body, and the body dies, then, yes, we’d have a trinity. The difference is that it would be disembodied, whereas God is unembodied.” (italics original) Since Q was manifesting himself as an immaterial, transcendent three-headed cobra orb (as a being with “semi-transparent cobra-like heads extending from a brilliantly glowing sphere hovering above the ground, surrounded by lights”), then he is an even closer match to the Trinity than Cerberus. (“Aldebaran serpent.” Memory Alpha. memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Aldebaran_serpent)

[6] jimspace3000.blogspot.com/2016/04/trinitarian-samples.html

[7] Regarding Colossians 1:17, a NET Bible footnote notes that “BDAG 973 s.v. συνίστημι B.3 suggests ‘continue, endure, exist, hold together’ here.” Reflecting this scholarship, the NWT has: “by means of [Jesus] all other things were made to exist.” John 1:3 concurs where it states that “through [Jesus] all things were made; without him nothing was made.” (NIV) Notice though the word “through” (from the Greek word dia). Thus it is harmonious with divine revelation that Jehovah the almighty creator created Jesus (John 6:57; Revelation 3:14) then everything else through him (1 Corinthians 8:6). Accordingly, Jehovah was the source of creation. This is also the position found in the BDAG lexicon, page 225, where we are told that dia refers to Christ “as intermediary in the creation of the world” at John 1:3.

[8] See this point explained further here: Holy Spirit and the Virgin Birth jimspace3000.blogspot.com/2010/11/do-you-reject-trinitarianism-part-ii.html

[9] Regarding the Trinitarian division of labor in salvation, see “Trinitarian Samples” under “The Trinity and Salvation” here: jimspace3000.blogspot.com/2016/04/trinitarian-samples.html. For additional reading regarding those events in the Gospel accounts which are called the Passion Narratives, see: “A Lesson from Jesus’ Rebuke” here: jimspace3000.blogspot.com/2013/10/a-lesson-from-jesus-rebuke-in-order-for.html. For additional reading regarding how God alone resurrected Jesus, see the “Excursus: Who resurrected Jesus?” in “Hebrews 5:7 and Trinitarianism: A Compatibility Crisis” here: jimspace3000.blogspot.com/2012/09/hebrews-57-and-trinitarianism_11.html.

[10] Insight on the Scriptures under “Ascension (Correctness of the Term),” page 187.

[11] Jesus did this as seen in his second and most impassioned Passion Narrative recorded in Matthew 16:21-23 and Mark 8:31-33. Here, he identified any contradiction as ultimately originating with Satan. Thereafter, his disciples were afraid to respond when he repeated his Passion Narrative, as seen in Mark 9:31-32 and Luke 9:44-45. Thus, each time he repeated his Passion Narrative it was understood that questioning its truthfulness had its origin with Satan. As the point of these sobering narratives was that Jesus was going to be killed and resurrected, Jesus clearly did not believe in the immortal soul or in Trinitarianism, and viewed any contradiction—however well-intentioned—as originating with Satan. See: “A Lesson from Jesus’ Rebuke” here: jimspace3000.blogspot.com/2013/10/a-lesson-from-jesus-rebuke-in-order-for.html.


Additional reading:
See also:
Dimensions of the Trinity. A radio interview with Dr. Hugh Ross on this subject. Here, he uses the analogy of three fingers intercepting a two-dimensional plane.
www.reasons.org/audio/dimensions-of-the-trinity

Polycephaly: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polycephaly

Presentations by Professor Dale Tuggy:

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