Tuesday, May 27, 2008

An argument against the Christian God

Is the Christian concept of God inconsistent?


Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

No, God is not internally consistent; this chap's argument is. He seems to deliberately conflate Jesus' human and divine natures so as to come a contradiction, rather than distinguishing between them. This is particularly strange since these natures are explicitly posited as a resolution to the dilemma in question. Look at A.3—

Omniscient = O
Divine nature = D
Human nature = H
Jesus = J

A. 3)
P1- J is (H&D)
P2- D is O
C3- J is O

Of course, this is true. But you can equally say:

A. 3*
P1*- J is ( H & D )
P2*- ~( H is O )
C3*- ~( J is O )

In other words, provided you want to equivocate and not say whether you mean Jesus as God or Jesus as human, both conclusions are true. Well, that's trivially obvious, but not very helpful. A useful and precise conclusion C3 to A.3 would read:

C3. DJ is O

And of course,

C3* ~( HJ is O )

So his argument in A. 4 fails because of this equivocation. He pretends to take the two natures of God into account, but he actually treats them as one nature, as if J implies D and H at the same time and in the same relationship. But if J implies (D & H) in that way, the Christian God is already refuted, since D is O but ~( H is O ); therefore ( D & ( ~H ) ) or ( H & ( ~D ) ); so ~( D & H ).


Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

Whoops, forgot to subscribe to comments.

Darek Barefoot said...

Anyone who has not done so should go over and take a look at the Wikipedia article "Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics." Puts to rest the idea that science contains no unresolved--probably unresolvable--paradoxes. A person might even try to resolve for himself/herself the questions of quantum theory in terms of everyday logical categories. Good luck!

Paul Manata said...

Darek, you may find this interesting:


Timmo said...

Certainly, some central Christian doctrines smack of paradox or inconsistency, such as the Trinity or the Incarnation. Despite intense efforts on the part of philosophers and theologians to resolve the (apparent) paradoxes of these doctrines, I personally remain unpersuaded that any satisfactory solutions have been attained.

Consider the distinction that Dominic draws between Jesus' human nature and His divine nature in order to deflate Jason's objection to Christianity. Jason can argue that this distinction forces us to abandon orthodox views about the Incarnation!

(1) Jesus qua God is omniscient. [Premise]

(2) Jesus qua human is not omniscient. [Premise]

(3) For any property P, and for any things x and y, if x has property P and y does not have property P, then x is not identical to y. [Premise]

(4) If Jesus qua God is omniscient and Jesus qua human is not omniscient, then Jesus qua God is not identical to Jesus qua human. [from (3)]

(5) Jesus qua God is omniscient and Jesus qua human is not omniscient. [from (1), (2)]

(6) Jesus qua God is not identical to Jesus qua human. [from (4),(5)].

The key point is this: the kind of identity in question is numerical identity. If two objects do not share all of the same properties, then they are numerically distinct objects -- they are two different objects. Because Jesus qua God does not share all of His properties with Jesus qua human, they are numerically distinct objects -- they are two different entities entirely!

As a "card-carrying" dialetheist, here is my suggestion: admit that the Trinity and the Incarnation are genuine paradoxes, that is, admit that they are contradictory while still maintaining that they are true. Dialetheism is the view that some contradictions (literally construed) are true. I maintain that there are counter-examples to the law of non-contradiction, such as:

(λ) (λ) is false.

This is just the liar sentence: (λ) is true and (λ) is not true! Things get nasty when one tries to explain away these counter-examples. Just check out Kripke's paper "Outline of a Theory of Truth".

If the law of non-contradiction is not universally valid, then it may be the case that central Christian doctrines are paradoxical or inconsistent while still being true. God is so different from everything else is the world; most of the world is consistent, so why shouldn't He be different being inconsistent?

For a discussion of some common worries about dialetheism, check out:

Priest, Graham (1998) "What's So Bad About Contradictions?", Journal of Philosophy 95, p. 410-426

Paul Manata said...

Timmo, may I suggest you read my link (see above)?

In that book I review, Anderson also offers some arguments as to why dialetheism won't work as a response to *theological* paradoxes.

But, I admit, that in other contexts, dialetheism is an interesting position that has proved tough to take down.

Timmo said...


Thanks for the link, but the entire url is not present. It looks like blogger cut some of it off. You might try using the html tags to put in the link.

Paul Manata said...

Hi Timmo,

I know it looks cut off, but if you copy and past the whole address will show up. Anyway, here's the link.


normajean said...

Here's another argument against God. An Atheist rapper from the RRSquad *shrug*



Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

Timmo, I wasn't arguing that no paradox exists in Christian theology. I was arguing that God is not internally inconsistent in the way that Jason's argument purports to show. I think I was perfectly successful in doing that. The fact that further paradoxes may arise is neither here nor there in terms of refuting this specific argument. Like Paul, who posted above, I agree that the dual natures of Christ, and the tripartite personhood of the person God, are paradoxical. And, like Paul, I find Anderson's analysis convincing (that is, I should say—having been told Anderson's basic argument, I find it convincing; I have not read his book).


Jason Pratt said...

I've had a long day, but I want to come back to this later, so I'm taking the opportunity to subscribe with a comment. {g} (I wish subscriptions could be done without adding an otherwise worthless comment, but...)


Timmo said...


Timmo, I wasn't arguing that no paradox exists in Christian theology. I was arguing that God is not internally inconsistent in the way that Jason's argument purports to show.

Thanks for the clarification. I took you to be arguing that God is not inconsistent since your opening comment was "God is not internally [in]consistent..."

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

Fair enough; and I should clarify on my clarification, also. I actually don't think God is internally consistent in terms of his actual nature. On the contrary. However, I do think that the manner in which he is consistent is not fully explicable to us; and therefore it is reasonable to say that, in terms of theology, he can appear inconsistent. (Although I personally don't like the term 'consistent' here; I think that God appears consistent given careful theology, but not necessarily explicable. But one can over-qualify one's statements...)


Jason Pratt said...

Free to do some cogitating at last... let’s see... oy, a wad of topics here...

hrm... okay, in what I hope will be a topically relevant order:

1.) I distinguish between contradiction and paradox. I can accept the latter, but I do have to reject the former, on pain of nonsense. If I’m making contradictory statements, I’m not talking about any theology worth discussing; and if I accept contradictory proposals in principle (much moreso in practical application of principle), I leave myself no way to detect, avoid or reverse errors on my part.

I discuss the distinctions between contradiction and paradoxes, specifically with an eye to metaphysical reasoning, in this and the subsequent entry of my ongoing series over at the Cadre Journal.

2.) While some dialethetic examples are admittedly proper paradoxes, a number of them are outright contradictions--consequently they are either self-refutingly false or else don’t even rise to the dignity of being true or false. The famous liar’s paradox (wrongly so-called I would say) is one example of this: “I am lying to you in what I am saying now” is a nonsense statement confabulated out of English grammar (or logical shorthand expressions) that doesn’t really mean anything; it’s like saying 6 does and does not equal 6. At best it’s self-refutingly false.

3.) I agree that final reality will, by Its nature, be somewhat paradoxical; and that includes some of the characteristics of God as God. But I have to stress that this is very different from God being intrinsically self-contradictory; and a metaphysician (including when doing theology) ought to be exceedingly careful about appealing to some property-set as paradoxical, so as not to accept intrinsic contradictions. Otherwise we will have no ability of distinguishing truth from falsehood, including in our recognition and acceptance of legitimate special-revelation claims.

4.) Historically, orthodox trinitarians have not only promoted the two-natures doctrine in regard to the full humanity and full divinity of the Incarnation, but have also promoted the two-soul doctrine: the Incarnate God possesses a human soul and a divine soul. This was considered a very important debating point with relation to human salvation by orthodox theologians, for if Christ did not have a human soul, then the fullness of human nature was not incorporated into the divine unity. Put a little over-simply, our bodies might be ‘saved’ in some fashion, through our unity with God-in-Christ, but not our souls: “that which is unassumed is unsaved”, as the famous orthodox complaint went.

Moreover, since the Incarnate Person was He Who submits to the Father (even for the sake of God’s own continuing active self-existence), and relatedly since this 2nd Person, being the action of God Himself, willingly submits self-sacrificially for the sake of generating not-God entities (i.e. for the sake of creation, not only for the sake of completing the circuit of self-begetting existence); then it should not be surprising that in the kenosis of the Incarnation, the pouring out, the divine soul of the 2nd Person submits to unity with the conceived human soul, such that the human nature of Christ joins with the divine nature of the Son, to rely together on the giving of the Father.

The upshot is that if the Father withholds information from the Incarnate Son for purposes germane to historical operations (including so that the faithfulness of the human soul of the Incarnate Son may be perfected), then insofar as those portions of the Son’s operations in created space/time are concerned, He will have to make educated guesses and inferences on the limited data at hand, like the rest of us--just as He submits to walking from place to place, unless the Father gives specific permission otherwise, instead of teleporting here there and yon.

This is also strongly related to the Three Temptations, wherein the key goal is to tempt the Son to operate apart from good faith in the Father--to try to exercise “His own” power, as if His power could be His own in some way (the bread from stones temptation), or to try to force some behavior from the Father (the Temple leap temptation), or to act in preference to the plan of the Father (the world-conquering temptation).

In short: the main problem with, um, the anti-Jason’s attempt {g}, is that he isn’t accounting fully for the orthodox position in regard to the Incarnation. (Not necessarily his fault; the technical issues are pretty subtle.)

5.) It should be noticed that, in element 4 of my comment, I am stressing that even though there are peculiar modes of coherent operations among the Persons of the Trinity, those modes, whatever they are, are and must be coherent and internally consistent. I am obliged, as an orthodox theologian, to reject theological notions involving intrinsic inconsistency or incoherency in the characteristics of God. We may not always be able to figure out what the coherency is; but we ought to be looking for it and meanwhile rejecting that which is incoherent in propositions about God. It would be far better to accidentally reject a true doctrine due to perceived incoherency, than to insist upon the truth of a doctrine believed to be intrinsically incoherent. The former error can, in principle, be corrected someday; but the latter, even if done in regard to a true doctrine, involves accepting that which leads to root-errors in principle. It would be like saying that God can be righteously lied for; and it undermines any hope of systematic theology reaching a trustworthy “ortho-doxy”: right praising and proclamation of God.

Off to find lunch now. {g}