Saturday, October 07, 2006

Chandler replies to Jason

Jason writes:

This being the case, I think Lewis is _not_ avoiding saying that the Being composed of three persons can also be legitimately spoken of in the personal singular, i.e. as a single person.

Yes, of course Jason is right. But then,if God is a person composed of three people, doesn't that make FOUR people?

Or is God just those three people, and not, in himself, ANOTHER person?

I think Lewis has got himself in trouble by thinking of God as something COMPOSED OF three people. Presumably Anselm and Co. would say that God isn't composed of ANYTHING - not even the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.


VR: Saying the Godhead is composed of anything is, I think a heresy. I'll have to look at the relevant passage to see if it is meant in a way as to make a heretical reading plausible.


Jason Pratt said...

Hugh writes: {{Yes, of course Jason is right. But then,if God is a person composed of three people, doesn't that make FOUR people? Or is God just those three people, and not, in himself, ANOTHER person?}}

Which is, of course, the reasonable countercriticism to make. (This is why I pointed out that Lewis does not, to my recollection, address how this might be a stumbling block.) Along with bringing up the 3/4 Persons issue, though, Hugh raises another relevant issue; which (for reasons of my own) I choose to address first.

In that particular portion of MC (aka chapter 2 of "Beyond Personality"), Lewis does _not_ say 'composed of' when speaking of the Persons and God. But he does say that these Persons are combined; and this is analogically presented in comparison to the combination of squares to make a cube. Not that he says "composed of" there either, but he says "made of". One could be excused for figuring he meant "made of" in speaking of God in relation to the Persons, too, by analogy.

This leads us into what the notion of heresy is, behind the reluctance to say 'composed of'. The point is to avoid tacitly positing an overarching system within which things that are not each other in substance make up a unity. This is (quite literally) naturally what we may think of if we talk about G being composed of F,Sn,HS; but that isn't the kind of composition that obtains at the level of the Independent Fact. The substance is singular, and any 'composition' we may discern in it must also be singular, too, even if distinct in properties otherwise.

I'm fairly certain Lewis would have agreed with that (based on other things he says elsewhere), and so would have been on the same page as the three Christian members of HC's A-list (plus probably Aristotle behind them, too), so far as that goes. If it's a wrong notion, the Christians will all be wrong together (under-against Aristotle, so to speak, if he did not discern distinctions within the substance).

Which in turn is an illustration of where our analogical language breaks down when talking about the sui generis. (Lewis would probably here call in the necessity of apophatic thought, as a proper countercorrective, with a reference to quantum physics and the structure of the atom as an example thereof.) I had to say, just now, "within the substance". But I also know very well that strictly speaking it must be incorrect to say 'within' as a prepositional (and propositional!) description of that relationship in regard to the substance; and I have a fairly good idea _why_. But what else can I do? (The hard core apophaticist would say I should therefore not speak about it at all; to which I would be obligated to answer that if this was really followed out there would be no doctrinal content at all, including, to put it bluntly, no gospel to proclaim either. So much for Christian apophaticism, or any other kind of apophaticism either. Besdies, as I like to quip, no one ever died for a cloud of unknowing...!)

All of which in turn points up something which I suppose should be sufficiently obvious: namely that this discussion is currently being held in a vacuum of grounding. We haven't covered _WHY_ anyone would decide the IF should be considered to be multi-personal in the first place; and if that notion is to have metaphysical coherency, it needs proper grounding as a metaphysical conclusion from acceptable premises. This, to put it lightly, means a lot of prior disputation has to be covered first, which hasn't been covered yet. (This is my first and basic caution to attempts at discussing the theistic Problem of Evil, too. For instance, I think this topic has to be covered and settled first before going to the PoE. One only needs to look at the scattered mess of discussion in the relevant threads below to see _that_ hasn't happened. No offense intended, Vic. {g})

This puts me in a bit of a bind--I have some idea _why_ a distinction of Persons in the unity of the substance must be true, but we haven't covered the grounds for that yet. And I don't think it's actually feasible to do so on a web journal (again no offense intended to Vic--it's just a limitation of the medium).

Consequently, then, neither would I fault Hugh in the least if he was to complain about special pleading on my part. (Yeah, but see the IF is a unique special case situation...! Really! Honest to God! {g})

The most I can say then, at this time and in this way, is yes: composition of the sort we naturally associate with being 'composition' is a heretical claim. If it comes to that, so is begetting of the sort we naturally associate with 'begetting'. Everyone knows this already. (Well, everyone but the Mormons... {wry g}) Even so, that's the language we use, and we have a good reason for it--or we should anyway!--even though we also agree the language shouldn't be pressed in its metaphorical function. The same could be said for using 'composition', so long as the qualifiers are kept in mind.

I realize that this isn't going to be a satisfactory answer, because it is terribly incomplete. Ironically, I'm going to have to thoom an ally presently here for doing something _almost_ the same. (Almost, not quite. I would warn against anyone, including a Christian, being "moved" to accept anything by this incomplete statement; and I would make no use of the statement toward that end even for a Christian; and I'm not saying the statement is a complete but terrible argument which should persuade nobody at all but is nevertheless a good positive elucidator to a position I want to propound even if only for people on my side of the aisle. God forbid that I should! {deeply annoyed sigh...}) I'm simply doing the responsible thing and serving notice that the position is incomplete, and giving (I hope) some idea why it necessarily must be incomplete, under the circumstances.

(Note by the way that when I say _under_ the circumstances I don't mean under in any natural way. I'm speaking metaphorically, hoping to mean more and even qualitatively other than what I'm actually saying. The difference is that everyone who speaks English probably knows what I mean; otherwise it would be special pleading for me to appeal to some opaque esoteric meaning above and beyond what I said.)

The 3-or-4 Persons complaint, which again is very reasonable (and _not_ to be denigrated as such!), can be addressed a bit more directly, I hope. Not altogether so--again, it's in a vacuum of grounding, effectively speaking--but maybe a bit more directly.

Part of the answer (I regret) has to be the same as my answer for the other objection--yes, naturally speaking there would be that problem, but the IF is a special-case situation. A lot of prior positions would have to be covered to work our way _into_ that result as a conclusion, though; and until then, this can only sound like special pleading, for which I totally sympathize if that's a problem (and it should be).

Part of the answer, though, in this case can be given by appeal to a natural comparison. When we speak of a team, we mean something with its own essence and character as such (including composition--natural in this case), which can be most properly spoken of in the singular, though perhaps also in the personal plural, too. And if we speak of it in the singular, even though we say 'it' we do know we're talking about an entity with _personal_ characteristics, yet not as an umpteenth person. It might sound odd for us to call a team 'he', but that's partly due to arbitrary linguistic convention. Logically speaking, it wouldn't be unfeasible to do so; we simply aren't in the habit of doing it. (Note!--this is aside from natural composition characteristics. Those are not to be considered part of the analogue.)

We _could_ have been in the habit of doing so, though; and we _could_ have been in the habit of speaking of God in a different common mixture of personal pluralities and singularities than we do. In fact we easily could have done that, if our language base hadn't ended up being Latinic and Germanic instead of Semitic; because in the Old Testament canon (and elsewhere in subsequent texts including some rabbinic commentaries, until the issue became extremely problematic for obvious reasons), God is frequently spoken of as a plural personal entity even though in a singular fashion. It's really quite bizarre, and (despite common claims otherwise) doesn't really seem to be comparable to what we would call the royal plural usage--for instance, none of the human kings in those texts are spoken of in such a way.

_Why_ this happens may or may not be considered something of a mystery. But as a matter of history, it's one of the main reasons why Christians went into what became 'orthodox' trinitarian theism. The scriptural testimony was clear enough, to them; it was the metaphysical logic they had trouble hashing out, under the great Greek philosophers.

I go about it the opposite way. I hash out the metaphysical logic first, and then look around to see if anything meets those expectations. Lo and behold--there it is! And even moreso than the limitations of our English language conventions (despite being formed in a trinitarian culture!) typically express in our English translations! To me it's as impressive as it would be to an astronomer to discover that African tribes routinely track stars invisible to the naked eye. What is the obvious inference? Either they once were able to see those stars, or else they were _told_ about them.

Anyway. That probably won't be much help. Sorry. {s} I certainly don't recommend anyone believe God is multi-personal based on an analogy with a natural team of men, and wasn't trying to give that argument. The existence of a team simply shows that the notion of a singular personal entity which is not an x+1th person but can still be spoken of as both singular and personal (even if we aren't in the habit of doing both at once, in our language) is not a completely foreign or incomprehensible idea. Whether God can be _rightly_ said to have _some_ similarities to a team of men, has to be established on its own merits (if, of course, it can be properly established at all.)

Jason Pratt

Jason Pratt said...

Rats--just after I posted, I thought of another example, where I _have_ in fact called a group of persons 'he'. I was playing Medieval: Total War the other day (no jokes please), and saw an Ottoman army moving into one of my Byzantine territories, and said something like "Clearly, he must die." (Quoting a line from _Deadpool_; used on occasion in my forthcoming novel, too, btw. Plug. Plug. {g})

I meant the army. (Ignore that this is on a computer, please.) I could have meant the general, but in practical fact I meant all the other men _as a cohesive group_ (whether or not any of them survived as individuals by running away) as well. The army was a singular unit, and was personal, so I called the army 'he'--but I didn't and wouldn't have thought of 'him' as being an n+1th person. He was a corporate person... sort of.

Not really, because of the natural type of composition--again ignore that this is on a computer and not persons at all--but if that army had been of one _substance_ then it could have been spoken of as a corporate person. Assuming a singular substance can be multiple persons, of course, which if I was trying to establish by this route would be totally begging the question. {g} But _if_ for purposes of argument this was provisionally granted, then this would be helpful as an analogy to show that it could be spoken of as 'he'.

We could, of course, go the other way just as easily, and call God 'it'. (God _is_ an it, after all, if God exists.) The reason we don't is the reason Lewis also gives, in that MaPS chapter about pantheism: we're safeguarding the personal characteristics. Relatedly, I talk about 'it' when I'm talking about the IF, even when I might mean 'God'; though I do prefer to use the personal pronoun in regard to the IF when I'm certainly talking about God (but want to emphasize the Independent Fact status and thus use IF as a noun.)

So, it's kinda complex. {g}

Anonymous said...

Jason speaks of a web journal as not being the best place to discuss these topics.
Perhaps discussion is not possible in the depth an academic philosopher would prefer, but I at least …. and even though I am most of the time agnostic in attitude … think you are talking lately about the most important questions there are. For someone living in isolation a site like this is a lifeline .. whether I agree with the ideas or not.

I would add that I think Jason is right. A lot of background material and questions need sorting before there is a good answer to the current matter. When I thought to comment about the nature of god .. and the problem of evil earlier on … I found my mind grinding to a halt when I realised I had no wish to go into a lot of relevant, but to christians controversial, ideas.

As far as god as 3 persons goes, it might be worth saying that I am astonished at the ambition of the human mind. How much of god, and even person hood for that matter, is a limited human mind able to conceive? Is it not inevitable that a mind /brain, which seems largely to function as a device to interface with a dimensional (so-called ) physical world, is going to have to use analogy to describe something supposed to be beyond all dimensions?

One that makes a little sense is the geometrical analogy. Gods perfect nature represented as a sphere. When such a sphere intersects with a plane ( which stands for this standard dimensional world) the sphere appears to the inhabitants of the plane as a circle .. and in those terms they can understand it. The nature of the sphere, its perfect circularity, is the same as that of the sphere. But rendered into 'earthly terms' . The inhabitants give this sphere a name, but acknowledge that the circle is truly one with a sphere of unguessable reality. Mystically inclined 'flat planers' detect hints of the real sphere leading away from the plane they are on.
And since the greater sphere is always existing, they see that the circularity also always exists. The sphere and circularity are one, they are properties .. inextricably the nature of the beast.
But they find that the circle can alter in degree in its intersection with the plane. Indeed the the sphere can appear and intersect wherever it so choses. Within each flat planer in fact, the nature of the sphere, its perfect circularity, may appear.
And to the flat earther there will be three versions of the one sphere. As far as they are concerned , and by every perception and thought they are capable of as persons, there are really 3 versions of the one sphere. And of course, they see it all in terms of persons.

In fact it is a perfection for which person is a rather inadequate term.

I 'm sorry.. that was fun. Analogies must be the most devious thing there are. Because our minds love patterns and meaning , they leap to them .. and swallow them easily. However misguided !

But there is some truth behind it I think. And it could go further ( though into non christian territory) than suggested here.

Hope that was of interest.

Regards David L.

Jason Pratt said...

Well, it was interesting to me anyway, David. {g}

The intersecting sphere analogy is one that is common in the field, I think. (I even recall a sci-fi horror story by... not Theodore Sturgeon, but it was in a collection with a story of his... using the principle, with five circles being five fingers.)

Strictly speaking, that would probably be modalism, btw. I have a lot of respect for modalism--one of my favorite recent fantasy authors uses it in her new series--but it's obviously different, too.

Yes, the human mind has to work in metaphor; and the extent to which we can hope to get useful answers about reality (notwithstanding this), would have to be one of those preliminary topics. (Such as in Lewis' "Horrid Red Things" chapter. I would put that and a bunch of other things _before_ his AfR chapters myself, but then he didn't consider any of those first 13 chapters as being his main argument for the book--amazingly enough to us in hindsight. {g})

Edwardtbabinski said...

Does anyone really care whether God is "one," as the Jewish shema (and I suppose Zoroastrianism) taught, or, "three-in-one" as Christianity teaches, or "many-in-one" as Hindu theology teaches with its many divine manifestations of the one infinite reality?

And how many people seriously believe there are eternal consequences for not believing in the Trinity? There have been unitarian Christians over the millennia who have never believed in the "Trinity" as understood and defined by various church councils.

Neither does citing verses in the Bible "prove" that God is a "Trinity," unless you believe the Bible is infallible to begin with. Other religious books simply write about God differently.

Further Food for Thought

They say that when god was in Jerusalem he forgave his murderers, but now he will not forgive an honest man for differing with him on the subject of the Trinity.

They say that God says to me, “Forgive your enemies.” I say, “I do;” but he says, “I will damn mine.” God should be consistent. If he wants me to forgive my enemies he should forgive his. I am asked to forgive enemies who can hurt me. God is only asked to forgive enemies who cannot hurt him. He certainly ought to be as generous as he asks us to be.

Robert Ingersoll


I read in the Gospels that Jesus forgave the men who nailed him to the cross.

He even promised, “This day you shall be with me in paradise,” to a thief crucified next to him--a thief who addressed Jesus simply as a “man” rather than as “the son of God.”

Yet, today, this same Jesus cannot forgive my kindly old aunt and allow her to dwell in paradise, simply because her “beliefs” do not match Reverend So-and-So’s?

Arthur Silver

Jason Pratt said...

Does anyone really care? Um, yes, some of us really do. (Gosh, that was easy...)

Some of us even care enough to note that the word for 'one' in the Shema is typically used in the OT for a combined unity... {g}

So, hands up, who here was arguing in this post or in the comments, that citing verses from the Bible "proves" God is a Trinity? Anyone? Anyone? I know I wasn't; I never saw Hugh or David even mention the topic. That doesn't leave over many people for Ed to have been actually replying to.

I'm ultra-doubly certain that no one here, myself included, was arguing that "there are eternal consequences for not believing in the Trinity". Hugh and David sure weren't. Not only did I never once mention it, but Ed ought to already know from years of experience that I have never once promoted that doctrine. (At the same time, it ought to be blatantly obvious that oodles of people _have_ seriously believed such a thing. _I_ would never say they seriously didn't, even for sake of rhetorical ridicule.)

And if you were _really_ interested in food for thought, Ed, you would have noticed long ago that I write criticisms of the sort you appended in this round of cut-n-paste filler, too. (How does Robert MacNamara put it? Only address what you _wish_ they had said...)