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Dr. Tuggy’s response

I posted a critique of Dr. Dale Tuggy’s Trilemma a couple of weeks ago.

He offered a charitable analysis, and when I have time, I hope to respond.  Check it out here.

Or you can listen through Youtube:

Tuggy’s Trilemma

Dale Tuggy offers the following trilemma over at his excellent Trinities blog/podcast:

1. Jesus died.

2. Jesus was fully divine.

3. No fully divine being has ever died.

Tuggy explains that one cannot hold to all three, so at least one must go.  But which one? As a unitarian, he thinks the Biblical data requires the affirmation of 1 and 3, and so rejects 2.

I am going to respond to this Trilemma by adopting a “Two Natures” view as expressed by the doctrine of the hypostatic union.  So, I believe the Second Person of the Holy Trinity is a Divine hypostasis that has two natures.  Those natures are not mixed or confused.

Proposition 1:  Did Jesus die?

I accept that Jesus Christ died.  This is affirmed throughout scripture.  1 Peter 3:18 tells us that he was “put to death in the flesh”, in Matthew 27:50 John 19:30 it is said that Jesus “gave up the ghost.”  The death of Christ is a mystery of the Catholic faith, repeated at every Mass in both thr litergy and in the Nicene Creed.

So, I am inclined to accept (1).  I will note, however, that the plain reading of scripture suggests that death involves the flesh and separation or loss of the soul or spirit.  So, I would understand death as the separation of the soul from the body.  Tuggy defines death as the loss of all or most living functions and does not limit life-functions to biological or natural life functions.  The question might then be raised if, on the two-natures view, an individual hypostasis is dead if the life-functions of one of his natures are still fully operational even if the life-functions of the other nature become severally restricted.  It seems to me that when orthodox Christians claim that Jesus died, they mean that the human substance that he assumed at the incarnation was destroyed by the separation of Christ’s human soul from his human body, but that he also has a divine nature in which he is consubstantial with the Father and Holy Spirit.  That divine substance is essentially immortal.

So, would Tuggy say that I deny Proposition 1?  I don’t know, but I think there is a literal sense in which Jesus died.

Proposition 2: Was Jesus fully divine?

Here, I think we need to tease out different ways of understanding “fully”.  In one sense, a thing can be fully of a nature if that is the only nature it has.  For example, I am fully human and this implies that I am not anything non-human.  In this sense, it could not be said that Jesus is fully divine.  Jesus is divine, but on the two natures view, we must reject the implication that he is not anything non-divine.  He is human, and a human nature, even if assumed by a divine person, does not become a divine nature (lest we confuse the natures).

There is a sense in which I would say Jesus is fully divine though.  I would say that something is fully some nature if it lacks nothing essentially had by things of that nature.  So, again, I am fully human in this sense too, since I do not lack any of the essential attributes of a human.  We might imagine some monster, like the Minotaur, who is half-man and half-bull.  Such a creature may have some of the essential attributes of a human, and some of the attributes of a bull, but really could not be said to be fully human or fully bull.  That is not Christ’s situation, however.  He is not a monstrosity, but has a complete human nature and a complete divine nature.  So according to his human nature, he has a human body, human organs, a human mind, a human will, and so forth.  According to his divine nature, as I said above, Christ is of the very same substance as the Father and the Holy Spirit, and so according to that divine nature, shares in the Divine Essence and lacks nothing essential to the True God.  In this sense Jesus is fully divine.  That is, he is a hypostasis that has a divine nature identical to the divine ousia.  Would Tuggy agree with me that I can affirm Proposition 2, in some sense?  I am not sure.

Proposition  3:  Can a fully divine being die?

Again, there is a sense in which I affirm 3 and a sense in which it could be said that I deny 3.  As Aristotle tells, “being” is said in many ways.  In fact, he thought the primary sense of “being” is “ousia” (see Meta IV.2).  Another sense of “being” could be some individual x, which is how I understand the function of “hypostasis” or “supposite” in these debates.  The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are persons insofar as they are rational individuals.  We could say that the Father is a rational being.  In fact, the Father is essentially rational insofar as he cannot fail to have an intellect and will.  However, he is not essentially rational insofar as he is an individual x, but insofar as his substance is essentially rational.  Substances have essential attributes, and individual have essential attributes only with reference to their substances.  They do not have essential attributes qua hypostasis or because they are an individual x.

So, I would say that essential immortality belongs to the divine substance (ousia).  Divine Persons, or Divine Hypostases are essentially immortal only in reference to their substantial nature.  It makes no sense to say that a Divine Person is essentially immortal because of the essential nature of being a hypostasis.

Can  the Divine Ousia die?  No, it is essentially immortal.  Can a divine hypostasis die when referencing their divine nature?  No.  Can a divine hypostasis assume a moral nature and die with respect to that nature.  Yes, and Thomas Aquinas agrees that each of the divine hypostases could have assumed a moral nature (I mention this not to appeal to his authority, but as a marker to show that I am not far off the reservation of orthodoxy).

Conclusion: So, there is a sense in which I affirm all three propositions.  I really affirm that Jesus died a human death, which is the separation of the human soul from the human body in which most of the living functions of the human substance ceased.  I really affirm that Jesus is a fully divine hypostasis insofar as he has a nature that lacks none of the essential divine attributes.  I really affirm that the fully divine ousia is essentially immortal.  I think these are ways to affirm what orthodox Christians mean when they say such things, though they may not be what Tuggy means.  So he might say that I reject all three propositions, even if I think I affirm them after making the distinctions I have made.  But then we would just be quibbling, and I could grant that I reject one or more of the propositions as Tuggy defines them and still safely be in orthodoxy.  Nonetheless, I see no contradiction in accepting the three propositions given my qualifications.

A More Iconic Trio?

Merry Christmas!  Happy New Year!  Here is a meme for you!

Vexing Links (8/5/2016)

Apologies for the hiatus. I am hoping to put some arguments out there soon. But in the meantime, here are some links of note:

1. My Ph.D. dissertation is now on ProQuest.

2. My review of Modality & Explanatory Reasoning by Boris Kment was recently published by the Polish Journal of Philosophy.

3. I’m currently reading Structure and the Metaphysics of Mind: How Hylomorphism Solves the Mind-Body Problem by William Jaworski.  I’m hoping to do a presentation on hylomorphism this fall, so this will really help.

4. Wisecrack has some great videos on the Philosophy of  Daredevil, and the Philosophy of the Joker.

5.  Looking forward to the Ultimate Game of Thrones and Philosophy, especially as it will feature contributions from Max Andrews and Tyler Dalton McNabb.

6. Dale Tuggy interview Timothy Pawl on Trinities Podcast: Pt 1 and P2.

7. Appropriate for our current political climate, the SEP has a new article out on the Ethics and Rationality of Voting.

8.  Illustrates the problem of semantics for AI: the Domino Computer.

9. The History of Philosophy without any Gaps has some great recent podcasts on the Trinity: Episodes 258 and  259.

10. Justin Brierley of the Unbelievable? Podcast explains the argument from Fine-Tuning.

Vexing Links (12/27/2015)

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year to Vexing Questions readers.  Here are some links of note:

  1. has released its latest video in its series on the existence of God: the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument (view the other videos in the series here)
  2. The Church of England released a beautiful ad featuring the Lord’s Prayer.  It was banned and created some controversy, but it is moving nonetheless.
  3. Dr. Lee Irons does a great job defending the Trinitarian perspective in a new book.  Here is an interview about his defense, hosted by Dale Tuggy.
  4. The SEP has some new articles and revisions of note: Thomas Williams revises an entry on St. Anselm, Olga Lizzini has a new article on Ibn Sina’s Metaphysics, and Jeffery Bower revises an entry on Medieval Theories of Relations.
  5. Some music I’ve been enjoying: Timothy Vajda’s As the Crow Flies, and Sigur Rós’s version of the Rains of Castamere.
  6. great philosophy website, with videos on logic.
  7. Brilliant physicist, George Ellis, is interviewed on Closer to Truth about What An Expanding Universe Means.
  8. Grasped in Thought blogs about Gaunilo’s failed objection to Anselm’s ontological argument.
  9. Maverick Philosopher has a beautiful Christmas reflection on the meaning of  the Incarnation and John 1:14.
  10. Dr. Alexander Pruss offers an interesting argument about physicalism and thinking about big numbers.

Vexing Links (5/25/2015)

Some recent links of note:

  • Robin Smith has recently updated the SEP article on Aristotle’s Logic
  • Tuomas Tahko updates an entry at the SEP on Ontological Dependence originally authored by the late great E.J. Lowe
  • Peter Adamson’s History of Philosophy without any Gaps has a new podcast episode  on 13th century Logic
  • Massimo Pigliucci took the New Atheists to the woodshed (almost feel sorry for them)
  • Jeffery Jay Lowder notes that David Wood took John Loftus to the woodshed on the question “Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?” (I agree with Lowder and couldn’t help but get the impression that Loftus knew he had been whipped by the end of the debate—granting that he failed to address 1 Cor 15)
  • Messianic Drew constructs a similar argument for God from Fitch’s paradox as I did previously on this blog.  One difference is that I use the BCF (Big Conjunctive Fact) to explicitly argue for an omniscient mind (which isn’t a big slice of God, but certainly troubling for naturalism)
  • Alex Pruss as a nice neat argument for God from life (I list biogenesis as evidence that supports theism, though that is always subject to new discoveries)
  • Speaking of which, a new theory of abiogenesis is being lauded by internet atheists as putting God on the ropes (Should theists be sweating? It might be worth noting that the scientist who has devised the theory, Dr. England, is an observant Jew who prays to God three times a day.  Classical theists don’t require that the creation of life to be a miraculous intervention, but the general order of nature points to a living source of creation)
  • I recently found an interesting clip of evolutionary biologist, Ken Miller (who testified against ID in the Dover case) defend Aquinas’s fifth way (though the fifth way is a teleological argument, it is not the same as the sorts of arguments ID theorists put forward, as Ed Feser likes to point out)
  • Inspiring Philosophy has a great video response to the question of whether the Trinity is a pagan concept
  • Bill Vallicella and Dale Tuggy are discussing God’s relationship to being (this is the latest from Vallicella, but it all started from this interview on Tuggy’s superb Trinities podcast)
  • Lastly, and most importantly, if you are wondering which superhero would win in a one-on-one battle, wonder no more

A Quick Argument against Christian Unitarianism from Love

This hymn sets up some of the themes of my argument, so please listen to it first!

I take Christian Unitarianism to be the conjunction of the positions that Jesus of Narazerth is the Messiah by whose death and resurrection salvation entered the world, and that Jesus of Nazareth is not the same being, substance, or person as God the Father.  Christian Unitarians can take a variety of positions with respect to Christology, e.g. the view that Jesus was fully human and led a sinless life, and was elevated to a divine-like status, that Jesus was an angelic being, Michael for example, who took on flesh, or that Jesus was a lesser deity who existed prior to creation eternally or before creation began, i.e. he was the Logos, which should be construed as a demiurge who acted on behalf of an utterly transcendent higher God.

First, I should motivate some aspects of my premises regarding the nature of God.  Though we cannot understand God fully, I do believe that the Christian God is that being than which none greater can be conceived.  If Christian Unitarians reject that definition, that’s fine, but I also think that the Anselmian God actually exists, and anything that is not this “Anselmian God” is a false god who is unworthy of worship.

Second, 1 John 4:8 tells us that God is love.  Given that the Anselmian God is the greatest conceivable being, and that love is a perfection, it stands to reason that if there is an Anselmian God, that God exemplifies a love than which none greater can be had.  Otherwise, one might easily conceive of a greater God.

So the argument is this:

D1: God is that than which none greater can be conceived. [Anselmian definition]
P1: If God is that than which none greater can be conceived, God exemplifies that love than which none greater can be had.
C1: God exemplifies that love than which none greater can be had. [From D1 & P1 MP]
D2: That love than which none greater can be had is laying down one’s own life for a friend. [Definition from Jn 15:13]
P2: If Christian Unitarianism is true, it is not the case that God exemplifies laying down one’s  own life for a friend.
C2: If Christian Unitarianism is true, it is not the case that God exemplifies that love than which none greater can be had. [From D2 & P2]
C3: Christian Unitarianism is false. [From C1 & C2 DN + MT]

Some possible responses:

1: On Trinitarian Christianity, God did not exemplify that love than which none greater can be had until 33AD. Therefore, God is not the Anselmian God, since a God that has laid down his own life for a friend for a greater amount of time is greater.
R1: God is an eternal and omniscient being. In creating the World, and from His perspective, the Trinitarian God already exemplifies this love for all time. From all time, his sacrifice is exemplified. Temporally, it happened for us on a particular date in history.  Moreover, Christ laid down his life for all, including past humans.  That the act of laying down one’s life for a friend did not happen at the earliest moment of history does not cheapen the act, since an earlier sacrifice would not have been for more “friends.”

2: The Trinitarian God only laid down his life once. One could conceive of a God who lays down his life more times. So the Trinitarian God is not the Anselmian God.
R2: The quantity of times one lays down one’s life is not the issue, but when it is done for a friendship. Christ died that all may be counted as friends. And he did this in friendship and obedience to the other persons of the Trinity. Thus, there is no “friend” for whom Christ could lay down his life a second time. The fallen angels are forever enemies of God by their will, so they are not among the set of possible friends for whom God could lay down his life again.

3: John 15:13 is really about the greatest act of love a human can do, not the greatest act any “one” can do. Or Christ was using hyperbole. Or the act does not include God, who is capable of a higher act of love. Or it is logically impossible for God to exemplify this human act of love.
R3: The Greek in John 15:13 doesn’t limit the case to humans, but just uses the pronouns “οὐδεὶς,” “τις,” and “αὐτοῦ.” These are reasonably translated as “no one,” “one,” and “of him.” So it isn’t clear from the text that the case is limited to human beings. Given that Christ would go on to lay down his life for humanity, it would be strange to think that he was just being hypebolic here. If he were being hyperbolic and there is some greater act of love, what is it? What act of love does God do that would be greater than had he laid down his life for our salvation? The burden would be on the Christian Unitarian to make the case that some other act of love is greater, despite the Scripture. Finally, if it is argued that it is simply logically impossible that God lay down his life for a friend, then this puts the Christian Unitarian in the uncomfortable position of trying to demonstrate that the incarnation is a logical absurdity. Some might take up this task, but it is not an easy task.

With respect to my response to the third objection, I would like to emphasize a couple of other issues. A) It seems to me that one of the beautiful messages of Christianity is this theodicy, if it can be called a theodicy, that doesn’t seek to explain away evil, but says that God entered into this veil of tears too. God humbled himself and experienced evil directly. Christian Unitarianism seems to cheapen this “theodicy” because it tells us that God remains distant and somehow thinks sending someone on his behalf is “good enough.” Relatedly, B) Christian Unitarianism tells us that the death of one sinless human (or semi-divine being) was sufficient to atone for sin. On theories of the atonement, like the satisfaction theory, this cheapens the debt of sin. On Trinitarianism, a divine person of the Holy Trinity, laid down his life for us all. The life of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity is His own. No creature can claim to own his or her life in the same way a divine, necessary, and eternal being can. So, if Christ were just another creature, the offering of his life would be less significant. It would be offering something that, in some sense, belonged to the Father in the same way any other creaturely life belongs to the Father. If the Unitarian chooses to escape this by positing a co-eternal, necessarily existing per se, lesser divinity (polytheism), this conflicts with aseity, which is arguably a great-making property. Also, such a move seems ad hoc, since I don’t think any Christian Unitarians would say that the Logos is per se necessary, i.e. necessarily exists of itself and not by the necessity of the Father (higher God).

There is one last objection that occurs to me (though there may be others):
4: Even if God exemplifies the highest form of love through Christ’s sacrifice, on Trinitarianism, it is only one persons of the Trinity who exemplifies this love. The Father and the Holy Spirit either cannot, or do not exemplify this love.
R4: Being of one substance, God can be said to exemplify this love. And this love is exemplified to a higher degree since one being exemplified it, not merely through one person, but all three. For it is the Father who sent the Son, and it was by the Power of the Holy Spirit that the Son became incarnate. Thus the supreme act of love is one act by one Being who, being multi-personal, stands in different relations to the act. The Father sends the Son, which is the very act by which the Son is sent by the Father. And this is the act by which God so loved the World (Jn 3:16). Whether the Father or the Holy Spirit could have incarnated instead of the Son is an interesting question. But, if my earlier point is correct, it is not a supreme act of love to merely lay down one’s life. So only one of the Persons could have done this if the act was for all “friends.” A second passion via another Person of the Trinity would not affect anything more for God’s friends. So it is not necessary that God exemplify this sacrifice by all Three Persons laying down incarnated lives. Once was sufficient, and all three persons were completely involved in the event, though by different relations.

Thanks to Andrew Terrell for a conversation which helped stimulate some of these thoughts. Though, I should say that any heretical views expressed here are my own.

Intelligibility, Information, and Beauty

What is information?  Information expresses something.  It is intentional and so not random, right?  A Youtube collaboration between VSauce and Veritasium presents an interesting argument that information is random, or rather, entropy:

But is that right?  Information is random?  If so, wouldn’t it be unintelligible?

When transmitting information, you can compress all that which is a pattern or predictable.  This means that whatever cannot be reduced or compressed is pure information.  At the same time, pure information without pattern and order is meaningless.  It is just white noise.  So it seems that intelligibility is not the same thing as information, at least when it is defined as entropy (as it is in this information theory).  Meaning emerges from patterns of information.  The random must be ordered and patterned in ways that we can decode and understand.  So intelligibility or meaning is the confluence of information and order.

The video makes the neat point that our scientific theories are really just attempts to compress the information we find in nature.  It is interesting to note that scientists often prefer theories and equations that are described as “elegant” or “beautiful”.  In certain sense, the idea that intelligibility, or meaning, emerges from patterns of random information can help us to understand why we find these compressions beautiful.

In an earlier post, I had defended the beauty of the Trinitarian God over unitarian gods on the grounds that the Trinity has both unity and distinction, i.e. a simple unified divine substance that is three distinct persons.  I argued that we can objectively define that which is beautiful as that which is unified, harmonious, and ordered while admitting distinctions.

If information is maxim entropy, it contains an irreducible unity.  That unity of information becomes intelligible when it is ordered into patterns and brought into harmony with other bits of information.  It becomes meaningful.  So whatever is intelligible is inherently beautiful.  Thus, there may be something metaphysical underlying the idea that a scientifically true formula or equation is objectively “elegant” or “beautiful”.  We find that it is “elegant” or “beautiful” because it is a simple unity, yet it has the power to explain a wide variety of our data by revealing patterns.  The more unified and simple an equation is, and the greater amount of distinct phenomena it captures, the more beautiful it is.  This also hints at the fundamental unity between objective truth and beauty, which I believe we find in nature as a reflection of what is fundamental to the Godhead.

How is this fundamental to the Godhead? If God is Being itself, or Being must truly, then God must be perfect, simple, and irreducible.  Whatever is perfect in Being must be truly Good, and indeed, the Father is Good. Goodness is opposed to ignorance, as ignorance is a source of evil, so if the Father is Good, he must know His own Nature, and so must be thought thinking itself.  Since the Divine Substance is absolutely simple, the Father cannot abstract a genus or species to comprehend His Nature propositionally.  Instead, He must comprehend or grasp the Divine Nature Itself in a concrete way, or else He grasps nothing.  And in doing this, conceives of the Divine Substance distinctly from the One who is conceiving.  If God’s knowledge is accurate, he must conceive of the same exact concrete Substance that He is.  So his eternal conception of the Divine Substance is the same substance that He is, it is the grasp of the Truth of God’s Goodness.  And we call this eternal conception, or this eternally begotten grasp of the Divine Substance, the Son, who is the Truth itself.  As the Father knows the Divine Substance, the Divine Substance is essentially intelligible to the Father.  There is a distinction between knower and known and a pattern of sameness that makes the Divine Substance knowable to itself.  Thus, Beauty is intrinsic to Divine Substance in its self-intelligibility.  Since Beauty is that which is desirable in itself, the Will of God is directed towards the Divine Substance.  So another relationship exists between God’s Will and the Divine Substance, which is desirable because of the intrinsic beauty of the Divine Substance as a Self-Intelligible unity.  So the Divine Substance, which is the object of the Divine Will, proceeds from the Father (as Knower) and the Son (as Known), and must be distinct from these Two.  We call the object of the Divine Will, which is God, the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is true Beauty.  And so there is a Trinity of Persons that is the Godhead.

If the Divine Substance is Being itself, it is also the representative of the transcendentals of Being: Goodness, Truth, and Beauty.  Interestingly, those three transcendentals are convertible with Being but remain distinct from one another.  So we find that the Persons of the Trinity are convertible with God, but are distinct from one another.  This is not to say that the Son is not Good or Beautiful, or that the Holy Spirit is not True or Good.  Rather, I am saying that the Persons of the Trinity relate to one another in terms of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty.  But they are far more than these transcendentals.  I think it is a helpful way of understanding the relationships among the Persons in the ontological structure of their relationships (unbeggotten, begotten, and proceeding). The relationship among the Persons of the Trinity and the Divine Substance is ultimately mysterious, but an analogy to the trinity of transcendentals is a helpful image to have in mind.

Of course, whenever I reflect on the Trinity, I fear that I might stumble into heresy.  Nonetheless, I am drawn to thinking about it, like a moth to the flame.  How could I not?  There is nothing more mysterious, more beautiful, and more true.  So, if my comments are in error, I humbly submit them as a mere reflection that is subject to revision.

Divine Propositions and Referential Opacity

The following thoughts occurred to me yesterday, and I wanted to jot some notes down before forgetting them, though I am far from endorsing them.  Just something to chew upon. Some philosophers reject Divine Simplicity and certain explications of the Doctrine of the Trinity because such doctrines seemingly involve contradictions. These contradictions arise when the attributes of God and/or Persons of the Trinity are related to one another by numerical identity. Here are some problematic Divine Propositions:

  1. God = the Triune Godhead
  2. The Son of God = God
  3. God = God’s Knowledge
  4. God = God’s Power

These are problematic, because (1) and (2) seem to suggest that the Son of God = the Triune Godhead, which no orthodox Christian wants to say. Likewise, it prima facie problematic to take (3) and (4) to mean that God’s Knowledge is identical to God’s Power. One solution to this latter problem is to appeal to the doctrine of analogy and say that God’s Knowledge and Power and not the same as the knowledge and power we commonly know about from our everyday experience, so they can be identical. This may be compelling for some, like myself, but for others, I suspect it comes off as appealing to mystery. That is, we don’t really know what we are saying when we say that God has power or knowledge. The former problem is more difficult to resolve. How can we say that the persons of the Trinity are identical to God, but not infer that they are identical to one another, or to the totality of the Godhead? A method to address this is to appeal to the Relative Theory of Identity, devised by Peter Geach. According to this theory, it is an incomplete expression to say that “x is the same as y”. Geach thinks we have to specify the sortal concept by which x and y are the same, that is “x is the same F as y”. This might help us to explain the “The Son of God is the same God as the Father” while also admitting “The Son of God is not the same Divine Person as the Father”.   The sortal terms prevent a direct contradiction. Of course, this may pose a problem for absolute simplicity, since it seems like a sortal is kind or type, and “The Son” or “The Father” are tokens of the type. Also, this solution does not seem to help with (1) and (2), since it seems that the same sortal term could be specified. That is “God is the same God (or Divine Substance) as the Triune Godhead” and “The Son of God is the same God (or Divine Substance) as God.” With the same sortals in place, it seems that Leibniz’s laws are in play again, and we should be able to substitute terms salve veritate. A recent discussion got me thinking of a possible solution to these puzzles. A person was arguing against the Identity of Indiscernibles by appealing to Max Black’s Spheres as possible counterexamples.  The other interlocutor noted that the issue really isn’t the Identity of Indiscenibles, but the Indiscernibility of Identicals. Just to be clear, the two principles are here:

  1. (∀x)(∀y)((x = y) ⊃ (∀φ)(φx ≡ φy)) [indiscernibility of identicals]
  2. (∀x)(∀y)((∀φ)(φx ≡ φy) ⊃ (x = y))[identity of indiscernibles]

The interlocutor seemed to be saying that while (6) may be controversial, it is irrelevant to his problem.  Rather, it is (5) which seems to imply that since the Son of God is numerically identical to God, and God is supposed to be Triune, the Son of God must be Triune, where “Triune” stands as some sort of property, attribute, predicate or description. This implies a transitivity among identicals, which I take to be the real underlying problem in these theological discussions. If the orthodox teachings of divine simplicity and the Trinity depend on a notion of numerical identity, and numerical identity is transitive, or admits of substitution, then certain untoward consequences and contradictions result. By transitivity, I mean the following formal expression:

  1. (∀x)(∀y)(∀z)(((x = y) & (y =z)) ⊃ (x = z)) [transitivity]

So my proposal is to consider whether there is a way to maintain the claim that all of God’s attributes and relations are strict identity claims (rather than relative identity claims, or mere predications) while avoiding untoward inferences. It occurs to me that the indiscernibility of identicals, identity substitution, and the transitivity of identity generally are disrupted in referentially opaque contexts.  So, for instance, consider the following:

  1. I believe that the Boston Strangler = Bobby Orr.
  2. The Boston Strangler = Albert DeSalvo.

We cannot infer from (8) and (9) that Bob Orr is Albert DeSalvo. Perhaps it is true that Albert DeSalvo has been living under a false identity of Bobby Orr, so “Bobby Orr” and  “Albert DeSalvo” refer to the same person. That’s possible, but it is not logically necessary, so truth would not be preserved. This is because “I believe” is a context that is referentially opaque. How does this help us in preserving orthodox theological claims? There are other referentially opaque contexts. One such context that Quine famously argued for is de re modality. In a de re modal claim, one asserts that a certain property, predication, or identity is necessarily predicated of an individual (or property). This is opposed to de dicto modal claims, in which propositions themselves are said to be necessary. So, for instance, a de re modal claim might be something like “Daniel is necessarily an animal” where as a de dicto claim might be something like “necessarily, Daniel is an animal.” Now it might not strike us immediately that de re and de dicto phrases are in any way different from one another, but consider something like this: “necessarily, a bachelor is an unmarried male” and “a bachelor is necessarily an unmarried male.” It seems clear that the de dicto expression is true, as it is positing a necessity between synonymous. The latter is clearly false, because many bachelors are not necessarily unmarried males, and many cease to be unmarried at some point in the future. Quine is suspicious of de re modality because of issues found in the above examples, but he makes his concern more explicit in the following:

  1. 9 = the number of planets.
  2. 9 is necessarily greater than 7.[1]

From (10) and (11) can we infer that the number of planets is necessarily greater than 7? It seems not, because the number of planets can change, and not just by scientific fiat (poor Pluto). A few planets could blow up, or fall out of orbit around the sun. There seems to be no logical or metaphysical necessity that the number of planets in our solar system is greater than 7. So Quine reasons that de re modality is referentially opaque. If this is so, then Divine Propositions expressed in contemporary logic, where modality is treated as an operator, may also be referentially opaque. Let’s stipulate that Divine Propositions are identity statements about God, the Persons of the Trinity, or the Divine attributes. So, I argue that they are not merely identity claims, but de re identity claims. Now some philosophers claim that de re necessity is not referentially opaque. David Wiggins, for instance, endorses the following argument, claiming that opacity is a problem that “no longer presses”:

  1. Hesperus is necessarily identical to Hesperus.
  2. Hesperus is identical to Phosphorus.


  1. Hesperus is necessarily identical to Phosphorus.[2]

I remain completely unconvinced that this argument is valid. While it might be the case that the object to which Hesperus and Phosphorus refer, the planet Venus, is necessarily self-identical, it doesn’t seem to me that there is any logical or metaphysical necessity that Hesperus and Phosphorus could not have been two distinct objects. So even though these are co-referring terms, it seems to me that de re identity is an intensional context, i.e. it is referring to the intension of the terms and relating them to one another by a necessity of identity. I find this tantamount to the following:

  1. I necessarily believe Hesperus is Hesperus.
  2. I believe Hesperus is Phosphorus.


  1. I necessarily believe Hesperus is Phosphorus.

Let’s say that (16) is true, that I am a consistent thinker. It seems odd though, that (17) should follow. Of course, those who think that de re contexts are not opaque will remain unconvinced. To me, this is one of the major shortcomings of contemporary modal logic, and is a primary motivator for seeking out a modal logic that avoids the opacity problem. In my estimation, Aristotelian modality has the advantage of making de re-like modal claims, but without being opaque. Aristotle achieves this by treating modality as a copula modifier rather than a predicate modifier, or movable operator. But this is a tangent that I will have to explore in later posts. Now let us re-examine Divine Propositions:

  1. God is necessarily identical to the Triune God.
  2. The Son of God is necessarily identical to God.

These are de re identity claims, and if these claims are referentially opaque, it unclear whether we can now infer from (18) and (19) the the Son of God is necessarily identical to the Triune God. So, if all identity relations said of God are de re identity claims, then substitution of identity cannot occur. This does not mean that certain substitutions will not happen to preserve truth, but that we simply cannot assume to make such substitutions.  That is, the identity relation in Divine Propositions will not guarantee the preservation of truth when terms are substituted.  This gives some philosophical reason to appeal to a certain mystery regarding God’s nature. That is, God’s nature cannot be fully comprehended, at least in part, because Divine Propositions are referentially opaque de re identity claims. Now one might object that if it is true that God is necessarily identical to the Triune God, then God is identical to the Triune God, and so we can reduce out the referential opacity so that the substitution problem arises. One response to this would be to say that it is simply false to assume that the reduction from de re modality is truth preserving for Divine Propositions. For if we assume that Divine Propositions are, at the very least, always based on identity, then a certain problem arises with Divine Identity itself.  That is:

  1. God’s identity to the Triune God is identical to God’s necessary identity to the Triune God.

If God’s identity to the Triune God is identical to necessary identity, then we must ask whether the identity relation that relates the two sorts of “God’s identities” is itself referentially opaque. If we grant that “identity” is not referentially opaque in (20), then by transitivity “God’s identity” on the left side is referentially opaque as it is on the right side. Alternatively, we might deny that such a transitive relation exists in (20), but that must be because it is an opaque context despite being explicitly de re.  And this is precisely what we are arguing.  So the conclusion seems unavoidable. Another objection one might make is that referential opacity disappears if the same intensional context is used throughout an argument. So, for instance:

  1. I believe that the Boston Strangler = Bobby Orr.
  2. I believe the Boston Strangler = Albert DeSalvo.

From this, it seems that I can validly infer that:

  1. I believe that Bobby Orr = Albert DeSalvo.

Is this true? Well, not if I am an inconsistent believer. We have to make certain doxastic assumptions about me, in addition to these premises, to reach that conclusion. What about in the case of de re modality?

  1. 9 is necessarily identical to the number of planets.
  2. 9 is necessarily greater than 7.

Does the following follow?

  1. The number of planets is necessarily greater than 7.

Can we make this inference? I suspect not without making certain assumptions about the kinds of necessity at play. Even then, it is ambiguous as to which sort of “necessity” is found in the conclusion. So, I don’t think including the same opaque context throughout an argument transforms the premises into something transparent. For instance, it may be  that (24) is about metaphysical necessity, nomological necessity, physical necessity, or some other sort of necessity? Is the same sort of de re necessity used in (25)? I think most of us would see (25) as some sort of logical, or arithmetic necessity. What about in the case of Divine de re claims? Well, we would have to have a clear sense of the univocal way in which God’s attributes and persons are related to one another by de re identity. I suspect that our own understanding of the ways in which these relations are described will vary from logical necessity, to metaphysical necessity, to necessities that are contextualized by our understandings of specific attributes. For instance, there is a sense in which the Father is unbegotten and necessarily exists a se, and a sense in which the Son is begotten, but still necessarily existing in that the divine relation from the Father to the Son is a necessary because of the metaphysics of subsistent relations, or because of some necessity in the nature of perfect love and community. So the Son is necessary, but begotten of the Father, which doesn’t seem to be exactly the same sort of necessity.  Is there an overarching sense in which the Father and Son are both necessary, sure, but that sense may be beyond our immediate comprehension. Consequently, I find it dubious that we can settle on one opaque de re context in all of our discussions of God. And even if we could, it is not likely that opacity can be remedied by maintaining the same context throughout an argument. Therefore, I think we must conclude that Divine Propositions, i.e. propositions about God, the Persons of the Trinity, and Divine Attributes that are linked together by de re identity relations can be strict, opaque, and not admit of transitivity.  Thus, God’s nature can be described through the Divine Propositions, but God’s nature prevents inferences about specifics about His nature unsubstantiated by revelation, which preserves mystery.  This is not a fallacious appeal to mystery though, but one that has philosophical motivation.  If this is so, it represents one way that orthodoxy can be intellectually defended.

[1] See W.V.O. Quine. 1966. “Three Grades of Modal Involvement” in The Way of Paradox and other Essays. New York: Random House. pg. 161.

[2] See David Wiggins. 2001. Sameness and Substance Renewed. New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 114-115.

The Beauty of the Trinitarian God

One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple (PS 27:14).

It seems that beauty is a kind of perfection.  So if God is a being that has all perfections, it follows that God is beautiful. Furthermore, beauty is found in the natural world. If God is the cause of the natural world, then God Himself must be beautiful, given the metaphysical principle that there cannot be more reality in the effect than in the cause. But what is beauty? Is something beautiful merely because it is deemed to be so by a mind?  Is it entirely subjective?

I think not.  Thomas Aquinas agrees:

Thomas maintains the objectivity of beauty, in the sense that beauty resides in the object. In other words, beauty is not a concept in the mind of the beholder imposed onto a given object. If beauty is objective, then there must be some criteria by which we discover whether something is in fact beautiful. 1

What might the criteria for beauty be?  Unfortunately, beauty is difficult to define. Indeed, if it is one of the transcendentals, it is impossible to give an essential definition for it. Nonetheless, there are some great pre-modern theories about the beautiful. The great theories of beauty generally agreed that it consists of unity, proportion, equality, harmony, and order. (Tatarkiewicz 1972, 168-9)2

I would distill the great theories of beauty down to this.  Beauty is a sort of harmony, equality, or order among those which are distinct in number but which are somehow formally unified.

How could God of classical theism be beautiful, or rather, most beautiful according to this theory? For, the God of classical theism is divinely simple.  And in being simple, he satisfies one of the necessary conditions for our theory of beauty.   But, there is no diversity in God, nor parts to be arranged in any sort of harmony, proportion, order, or equality.  So it seems that God cannot be beautiful.

If God is not beautiful, then either creation is in some way more perfect than the creator, or beauty is not really a perfection. But, even if beauty is not a perfection, or some sort of “divine” perfection, there is still the problem of how it could be caused by God. For to deny that beauty is caused by God is to deny God’s aseity.  And to say that God is the cause of beauty but not beautiful Himself undercuts our metaphysical principle that the cause must have at least as much reality as its effect.

If there is supreme beauty, it would be in that which is most unified and which nonetheless has genuine distinction. It seems to me that the Trinity offers us an example of a classical theistic God in whom there are a number of persons in perfect harmony, equality, order, and unity. If the Trinity is coherent, then it offers an answer to the question of divine beauty. We can maintain that beauty is a perfection, that God truly is beautiful, and is the cause of beauty in nature. Nature, in effect, is beautiful insofar as it reflects the unity and harmony of the Trinity. Aquinas would not say that the Trinity is a diversity within God, but he would agree that the persons are distinct and three in number. His hesitancy of saying that God is a unity with a diversity of persons is due to his strong emphasis on the doctrine of simplicity. Nonetheless, the distinctness, unity, harmony, equality, and order of the Trinity is a perfect expression of beauty.

One might go so far as to press this a a problem for those who conceive of God as a singular person. It seems to me that the unitarian has the following options:

A) Deny that God is beautiful, and offer a theodicy for why there is beauty in the world.
B) Grant that God is simple and beautiful, but that beauty does not involve harmony, equality, or order among distinct members.
C) Grant that God is beautiful, but not simple. And hold that there are distinct parts to God to which harmony and order can be predicated.

There are problems with all three of these positions. Consider option A form a moment. Perhaps beauty is a property of matter, and since God is not material, God doesn’t have such a property. But beauty is often ascribed to immaterial things like equations, abstract object, and theories.  So why can’t an immaterial god be beautiful? Perhaps beauty, then, is some sort of privation, like evil? Of what is it a privation, ugliness?  This seems to have things backwards and only introduces another question regarding the origin of beauty’s contrary. Or perhaps one might maintain aesthetic anti-realism. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder and not a fact about anything, including God. But while there may be some subjective aspects to aesthetic experience, it just seems wrong when someone thinks that this picture by Chris Jordan:

is more beautiful than that:

2014-03-16 14.50.44

I don’t think I could take someone to be serious if he were to insist that the picture of a decaying bird engorged with litter is more beautiful than the picture of blossoming almond trees.  I would simply take such a person to be a contrarian, akin to the moral relativist who blushes slightly when he bites the bullet and says that segregation wasn’t really wrong for the societies that endorsed it.  Bite the bullet all you want.  If you think the bird is more beautiful, there is something wrong with you.

Next, there is option B.  But it denies a theory of beauty that seems to make sense of much of our experience of the beautiful, i.e. that it is a harmony, proportion, or equality of sorts. So if it is to be preferable to the Trinitarian explanation, if should offer a theory of beauty that explains the data of our experience at least as well as the “great” theories of old.  Absent an alternative theory of beauty, it is not clear that this option will be superior.  And if the alternative theory is merely fitted to the idea that God is beautiful, but that there are no distinctions in God, then this option simply comes across as ad hoc.  On the other hand, trinitarianism and the great theories of beauty are independently motivated, yet nicely converge.

Option C leaves classical theism behind, and raises new questions about the nature of the divine.  Diversity is introduced into the divine substance, and it seems we must now explain why these diverse parts are unified as a substance.  We must also explain why this complex divine substance is ontologically necessary, and impossible to separate.  Additional explanations that try to regain the attributes of the God of classical theism will appear to be ad hoc unless there are independent reasons to accepting them.

If one holds to i) the doctrine of divine simplicity, ii) beauty as an objective fact and perfection, and iii) a theory of beauty the convergence of unity and harmony, then Christian Trinitarianism best explains those commitments.

1M. Spicher. “Medieval Theories of Aesthetics”. In The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed on March, 18, 2014.
2 W. Tatarkiewicz. 1972. “The Great Theory of Beauty and Its Decline” In The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol. 31, no. 2.

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