(Text: “Debating an Atheist — Round Three“, Soli Deo Gloria, July 8, 2012)
My first order of business today has to be a correction. At the end of last week’s post, I said “…Pastor Feinstein is going to declare to us how this “necessary Person” also has to be a Trinity. Not a Quadrinity or a Quintinity, a Trinity.” I misspoke. Pastor Feinstein’s argument does not establish that his superstitiously-defined Necessary Being is necessarily a three-person deity. In fact, the terms of his argument lead much more directly to the conclusion that the Necessary Being is a race of deities composed of any number of divine persons, or in short, polytheism. Maybe that’s why Genesis 1:1, literally translated, says, “In the beginning, gods created the heavens and the earth.”
Let’s look first of all at Pastor Feinstein’s explanation of why he thinks God must be one being composed of many things. (Bear with me, it’s a longish paragraph.)
Furthermore, the fact that God is a Trinity is relevant too. This universe of many contingent objects is made of a plurality of atoms. In fact, the field of philosophy has struggled with the “one and many problem” for centuries. Is all reality one, or is it many? If all is one, then plurality is the illusion. I don’t truly exist, you don’t truly exist, but instead, only one thing exists (whether it is matter or something else). Yet, if all is many (plurality), then unity is the illusion, and instead the universe is nothing more than a whole bunch different objects completely unrelated to each other thus rendering all meaning as meaningless. Yet, if the universe is both one and many, then it is a unity of plurality. So I am one united person comprised of a plurality of atoms; the social world is one system comprised of plurality of people; the solar system is one system containing a star and plurality of planets; the galaxy is one galaxy containing a plurality of solar systems; and the universe is one universe made up of a plurality of galaxies. It seems clear that the way we think and live as intelligent sentient beings is under the assumption of both one and many. And yet the entire one and many arrangement of the universe is still contingent, and therefore it is caused, sustained, and determined. The transcendental precondition of all of this is a necessary being who is the foundation of one and many, or the foundation of a unity of plurality. Only the Christian position speaks of the God who is One God that is comprised of three persons. He is the original unity of plurality, just as He is the original person. We are all derivative unities of plurality and derivative persons. If you really think a magical tiara somehow is just as valid of an argument for the transcendental preconditions of the universe, then truly logic and reason is lost on you. Truly, you have traded rationality for absurdity.
We live in a world where bigger things are made up of smaller components. Molecules are bigger than atoms, and are composed of atoms. The atom is not the molecule, nor is the molecule any one atom; it is composed of atoms which combine to create the molecule. A person is made up of atoms and molecules, yet no one molecule or atom is the person; the atoms and molecules combine to make up the person. A race (as in “human race”) is made up of persons, no one of which is the race, etc. And so on.
This property of composition is one of the characteristics of material reality (the ultimate “necessary being”). The fact that things can be composed of other things is one of the types of order that material reality imposes upon real things. It’s also one of the preconditions upon which persons themselves are contingent. It should be obvious that no person can be the cause for this pattern of composition, since the person themselves would have to be composed of a mind and a memory and some kind of faculty for perception and a will and so on. The real source for this principle of composition is the nature of reality itself, uncaused, non-contingent, and unsustained by anything other than itself.
I say it should be obvious that no person is the cause for the property of composability. Sadly, superstition can make even obvious things obscure, as Pastor Feinstein demonstrates in his argument. Look again at this part:
It seems clear that the way we think and live as intelligent sentient beings is under the assumption of both one and many. And yet the entire one and many arrangement of the universe is still contingent, and therefore it is caused, sustained, and determined. The transcendental precondition of all of this is a necessary being who is the foundation of one and many, or the foundation of a unity of plurality. Only the Christian position speaks of the God who is One God that is comprised of three persons.
He’s so jazzed about finding something in the real world that he can compare to a Trinity, that he fails to notice that he has just defined God in a way that makes Him a contingent being. Look at what he is saying. It’s not just that the universe is contingent, it’s the one-and-many arrangement itself that is contingent. By saying that God must have the same arrangement, he is leading us to the conclusion that God Himself must be caused, sustained, and determined. Otherwise either He can’t have that arrangement, or else that arrangement is not contingent.
He wants to say that Creation is just reflecting the nature of its Creator, but he’s backed himself into a corner. The obvious way out is to appeal to the true origin for the property of composition: material reality itself. In order to say that God’s nature is composed of multiple persons without God being caused, sustained, or determined, we have to be able to say that composability is a property that is likewise not caused, sustained, or determined. That means that the compositions we see in the material world are derived, not from anything God has done, but from the nature of reality itself: real things are composable because reality itself says so. Trinity versus monotheism has nothing to do with it.
Pastor Feinstein also gets himself into trouble with this argument because persons are not composed of persons. A race (as in human race) is composed of persons, a family is composed of persons, and a company is composed of persons, but a person is not composed of persons. In making the superstitious argument that the Creator has to be a plurality of persons like the one-and-many compositions we see in the real world, the conclusion Pastor Feinstein is leading us to is that there must be a singular race of divine persons, whose character and intentions define the qualities of the visible universe. In other words, polytheism, not Trinitarianism.
Earlier in his third post, Pastor Feinstein promised (threatened?) that “by definition there cannot be more than one necessary being, but I will save any explanation of this for you if you should so choose to push the issue.” I assume he means to disqualify polytheism as an option, but the way he has framed his argument leaves him little room to maneuver. His argument for the Trinity is based on the way we see the one-and-many property manifested in the real world. If the argument “there cannot be more than one necessary being” means there cannot be more than one divine person, then the Trinity is disqualified due to being more than one person. If, on the other hand, multiple persons can be combined into some larger conglomerate, like, say, a godhead or a divine race, then a polytheistic divine race, as a singular necessary being, is no less logical than a Trinity.
In point of fact, though, the polytheistic divine race is far more consistent with the real-world one-and-many principle that Pastor Feinstein is appealing to, because it fits the one-and-many relationships we actually see. The Trinity does not. In the real world, when you have one thing composed of multiple components or elements, no one component is the whole thing, nor is the thing any one of the components. That corresponds exactly to the way humans compose the human race: no one human is the whole race, and the whole race is not any one human. Or substitute “god” and “divine race” for human and human race. It’s the same thing, an exact match.
Not so the Trinity. The Father is God, but God is not the Father, because the Son is also God, but the Son is not the Father. Yet they are one God. That’s not how the one-and-many principle works in real life. There’s a disconnect there that turns Pastor Feinstein’s argument on its head. He’s making the argument that the one-and-many pattern we see in the visible world must be a reflection of the nature of the necessary being, yet this pattern is explicitly not the pattern that defines the nature of the Trinity. A single, polytheistic race of gods would be a much better fit.
Of course, the best fit of all is to eliminate superstitious anthropomorphisms, and just acknowledge that composability is one of the forms of order that material reality itself imposes on the nature of real things. Composability isn’t something that some invisible, magical person thought up, because persons themselves cannot exist unless real things are composable. A person is composed of things like thought, perception, and will, that are not themselves complete persons, which is a circumstance that can’t arise unless the nature of reality is such that bigger things can be composed of smaller components.
Let’s close (for now) with this ironic tidbit:
We are all derivative unities of plurality and derivative persons. If you really think a magical tiara somehow is just as valid of an argument for the transcendental preconditions of the universe, then truly logic and reason is lost on you. Truly, you have traded rationality for absurdity.
What he means, of course, is that in his presuppositional script, he has the imaginary atheist trading rationality for absurdity, and grovelling in despair over how inexorably and irrefutably Pastor Feinstein has demonstrated that Christianity is the only possible truth. It’s no doubt an enjoyable fantasy for the believer, but I’m afraid it’s no more than that. A tiara is one tiara composed of many jewels and braided silver wires and so on, so even a magical tiara fits the real-world one-and-many pattern better than a Trinity does. Nor is it any great stretch of the imagination to attribute a mind and will and omniscient perception to a magical tiara, so if we’re going to be all superstitious about it, we can easily come up with a magic tiara who is responsible for creating us as “derivative unities of plurality and derivative persons.” The absurdity lies not in the choice of a tiara, but in the use of mere superstition as though it were a compelling philosophical argument. And that’s something Russell was doing hypothetically, to illustrate a point, but Pastor Feinstein really means it.
At this point in his third post, Pastor Feinstein introduces a new set of errors and false assumptions, so we’ll stop here and pick up again next week. Stay tuned.