Home > Scripture, Theology > Two Arguments Against the Doctrine of the Trinity

Two Arguments Against the Doctrine of the Trinity

Nick writes, “I think Ryan’s position on this is a case of missing the forest for the trees. The biblical writers might not have had the means to study the universe that we do, but they certainly had the means to know and experience God.”  Alright Nick.  I said I’d take you to task on this.  So here goes.  I shall start with three propositions that I’m fairly confident that both Nick and I accept:

(1) The Bible’s historical propositions are trustworthy.

By trustworthy, I mean more likely to be true than to be false.  Thus the Bible contains more true historical propositions than false ones.  Both Nick and I are likely to argue that significantly more likely to be true, but for the purposes of the argument, it is enough to be more than 50%.

(2) The Bible contains a set of propositions which entail a Trinitarian doctrine.  These propositions include:

            (T1) The Father is God.

            (T2) The Son is God.

            (T3) The Holy Spirit is God.

            (T4) The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct from one another.

            (T5) There is one God, not three.

For sake of convenience I will refer to these as Trinitarian propositions, even though none on its own entails a Trinitarian doctrine.  I will call the resolution of the Bible’s Trinitarian teaching the doctrine of the Trinity, that is, the doctrine that God is one substance consisting in three persons.  Nick and I agree that the Bible’s Trinitarian propositions entail the doctrine of the Trinity.

(3) A person is an orthodox Christian if and only if that person accepts the doctrine of the Trinity.

This proposition is not necessary for my argument, but I want to highlight the areas where Nick and I agree.  So because I accept (3), I am aware that my doctrine of scripture is not sufficient if it is to be Christian.  What I am looking for is a new doctrine of scripture (or some other argument) that shows explicitly why the Bible’s Trinitarian propositions are in fact trustworthy.  Now let me move on to lay out my own argument more explicitly than I have done to this point.

(4) The Bible contains propositions about matters that, when originally written, were untestable.

I shall refer to these as remote propositions rather than untestable propositions because some of them have since become testable. 

(5) There is no evidence that any of the Bible’s remote propositions are trustworthy.

(6) The Bible’s Trinitarian propositions are remote propositions.

Therefore:

(7) There is no evidence that the Bible’s Trinitarian propositions are trustworthy.

This is what I mean by saying that there is no good reason to accept the Trinity. Nick wants to argue that the Bible is trustworthy in it’s Trinitarian propositions and takes it as a given that I should accept his conclusion.  He obviously holds a presupposition that I do not as to why the Bible’s remote propositions are trustworthy.  I would like to know what those presuppositions are, since I have not found any compelling reason for such a view, try as I might.  This argument alone places the burden of proof on him rather than me.

But I shall go on to present a second argument.  Based on the above definition of what constitutes trustworthy propositions, we may say:

(8) If the Bible contains more remote propositions which are demonstrably false than demonstrably true, then this counts as evidence that its remote propositions are not trustworthy.

(9) Some of the Bible’s remote propositions are demonstrably false, i.e. its cosmology.

(10) The Bible contains no remote propositions which are demonstrably true.

Therefore:

(11) There is evidence that the Bible’s remote propositions are not trustworthy.

And referring back to (6) above, we conclude:

(12) There is evidence that the Bible’s Trinitarian propositions are not trustworthy.

As far as can tell, I have constructed two valid arguments.  That is, if you accept my premises for the sake of the argument, then the conclusions necessarily follow.  (This argument took me all stinkin’ day, so had better be a valid argument!)  This is why I cannot accept Nick’s assertion that, “they certainly had the means to know and experience God.”  So if Nick is going to deny my conclusions (7) and (12), he will have to show which of my premises are not warranted and why.  (I sincerely hope he or someone else does.)

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Categories: Scripture, Theology
  1. January 24, 2008 at 8:51 pm

    Let’s track back and look at the definition of trustworthy as “I mean more likely to be true than to be false. Thus the Bible contains more true historical propositions than false ones.” This is really where all of the propositions do basically fall apart with any doctrine of the Trinity or with any doctrine of the God-nature of Jesus for that matter. There is absolutely no historical evidence that we can verify other than the text of the Bible itself which can substantiate any of these assertions in a purely historical-critical manner. So if trustworthiness is a function of historicity of the text and the probability based on historical evidence that it is in fact “mostly” true, then there is really no good reason to trust the text itself.

    So your argument is moot based on how you are using “trustworthy” and “demonstrable” for the text of something as central as the Resurrection cannot meet these tests at all. Unless of course the historical basis is something other than how we can demonstrate the text’s veracity as it corresponds to reality. Then you are not really dealing with historical veracity at all…

    Yet faith that it is a witness to a living God is a quite different assertion. Not substantiated through scientific means no matter how you cut it, but through other experiential means that are difficult to discredit when observed in aggregate among those who say that they have indeed experienced a risen Lord for whom the scriptures are a witness. If trustworthiness is held here, it is a totally different matter.

    Another way to phrase it is: do we trust in God because of how much faith we have in the historicity of the text, or do we trust in scripture because of how much we trust in the experience of a risen Lord. The difference here is not a minor one.

  2. January 24, 2008 at 8:53 pm

    Sorry, the above comment was by me, but my other WordPress ID keeps popping up unexpectedly.

  3. January 26, 2008 at 10:47 am

    There’s a flaw in premise (4). If I could draw a Venn diagram, I would, but instead, we’ll have to imagine one. There are two types of propositions: testable and untestable. These two groups have absolutely no overlap (obviously). You state “The Bible contains propositions about matters that, when originally written, were untestable.” There’s no such thing as a matter that at one time is untestable, but later is. If something can ever be tested, it must go in the “testable” category. Now, it’s true that they did not have the means to test things like the nature of the universe at the time of the biblical writing, but it’s not true that it wasn’t testable at the time (e.g., if I had a time machine, I could go back in time, and with a telescope and some calculus, find out things like, the earth is round, the sun doesn’t rotate around the earth, etc.).

    Things about the physical world can, presumably, at some point be tested. Things about theology can never be tested. Again, we are assuming tested to mean “empirically verified.” Your grouping, which at first seems valid, is actually invalid, and so your conclusions are based on at least one faulty premise.

    Furthermore, your logic is faulty in its generalizations from the part to the whole. Let’s assume for a moment that your groups are valid, and the phenomenon of theology and cosmology are placed into the same group (and what we’re really saying when we say cosmology is ‘the bible’s take on cosmology’). Your basic argument is that two things (cosmology and theology) share a particular property: being untestable at the time they were written. Your next step is to say that cosmology has another observable property: since the writing of the biblical text, we’ve realized it’s wrong. Therefore, theology must also have that property (or even, ‘it’s more likely that theology has this property than not’; either position is illogical). You can see the generalization there, and it is an invalid one. For example, I could put two things into a group together based on a property, as you did: cats and dogs both go into the group of animals that walk on 4 legs. I could then say that cats have a certain property: they dislike water. Therefore, I would conclude, dogs must dislike water as well. Obviously, this is untrue.

    From what I can see, you make the same argument (with different terms) in items 8-12. But once again, it’s invalid to come to a conclusion about a group based on the property of one of its members. Beyond which, there a number of problems with statements (8) and (9). Taking statement (8), we first think of a pie chart in which there are only two colored sections: RPs demonstrably true, and RPs demonstrably false. You state that if one group is bigger than the other (so, one piece of the pie is larger than 50%), than it must cast distrust on the whole pie. I don’t accept that either, but let’s leave it alone and move on. Statements (9) and (10) reveal that it wasn’t actually a two piece pie chart, it was at least a three-piece pie chart: RPs demonstrably true, RPs demonstrably false, and RPs about which we don’t know yet. If that third group represents nearly all of the pie, it’s invalid to conclude something about the whole pie. On top of that, I’d have to know more RPs to be able accept the premise (10) that none of them are demonstrably true.

    Ultimately, however, I think the biggest flaw that undermines the argument is the first. You’ve combined two things into your term “remote propositions” that are fundamentally unlike each other. The ONLY way to even argue that they are similar is to argue that at the time the text was written, the writers could not have tested either of them. However, as you affirm the “trustworthiness” of the bible earlier on in your argument, you’re implicitly affirming the historicity of the text. If you affirm the historicity, then you have to admit that Moses would have had the ability to test some of his material about God, having actually experienced it himself. Another way to say this is, though you say that the Hebrew would have been unable to produce evidence for their propositions containing theology, they would argue that they could.

  1. January 24, 2008 at 7:21 pm
  2. August 19, 2011 at 9:47 am

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