On Self

In response to approaching Scripture as if it were "Dick and Jane," Dr. Tuggy tweeted:

While I agree with this sentiment (after all, Psalm 57:1 says that God has wings), Dr. Tuggy has also used this idea to defend Unitarianism. More specifically, Dr. Tuggy lists 20 self-evident principles that he uses to guide his reading of Scripture.

While this post is not meant to focus on the debate between Trinitarians and Unitarians, I do want to use Dr. Tuggy's tweet as a springboard to consider if his "self-evident" truths are universally self-evident. I think there is reason to believe that they may not be.

Not long after we are born, we start to distinguish ourselves from our surroundings. We can feel a difference between ourselves and our environment. Place your hand on a table and run your finger from your hand to the table and notice the boundary your senses tell you is there. Look at your hand and notice the boundary between your hand and the table. Lift your hand from the table and notice that your hand moves but the table does not. Look in a mirror and notice the difference between you and your environment. All of these sense data tells us that we are distinct self-contained objects.

But our senses also tell us that the table on which our hand rests is solid. In reality, the table is mostly empty space. What we perceive as solidness is the repulsion of the electric field from the electrons in the table against the like-charged electrons in our hand. If we perceive a location for ourselves, we generally place it inside our skulls. To nature, there is no inside. Billions of neutrinos pass through a square centimeter every second. The experimental particle physicist, Tommaso Dorigo, speculates:

... a few energetic muons are crossing your brain every second, possibly activating some of your neurons by the released energy. Is that a source of apparently untriggered thoughts? Maybe.

4gravitons writes:

This is Quantum Field Theory, the universe of ripples. Democritus said that in truth there are only atoms and the void, but he was wrong. There are no atoms. There is only the void. It ripples and shimmers, and each of us lives as a collection of whirlpools, skimming the surface, seeming concrete and real and vital…until the ripples dissolve, and a new pattern comes.

From a physical view, what we are, are ripples in the quantum pond, with our "selves" limited to local interaction by an inverse square law. From a Biblical view,

‘In him we live and move and have our being’
  — Acts 17:28, NRSV

I suspect there is no "inverse square law" with spirit so what separates us from one another is a... mystery.1

[1] Almost immediately after hitting "publish", I started kicking myself. Scripture says what separates us, from God and from each other:

Rather, your iniquities have been barriers between you and your God ...
  — Isa. 59:2, NRSV


Trinity Debate


Last night a friend and I attended this debate between Dr. White and Dr. Ally at Georgia Tech. I was pleased to see the number of people who attended. Nevertheless, the debate didn't advance the state of the art of the issues. Neither Dr. White, nor Dr. Ally, presented any arguments or rebuttals that I haven't heard before.

One line of argument presented by Dr. Ally was that Jesus never referred to himself as YHWH. During the question and answer session after the debate, I had hoped to ask about the paper
‘Lord, LORD’: Jesus as YHWH in Matthew and Luke by Jason Staples which sets forth this thesis:

Despite numerous studies of the word κύριος (‘Lord’) in the New Testament, the significance of the double form κύριε κύριε occurring in Matthew and Luke has been overlooked, with most assuming the doubling merely communicates heightened emotion or special reverence. By contrast, this article argues that whereas a single κύριος might be ambiguous, the double κύριος formula outside the Gospels always serves as a distinctive way to represent the Tetragrammaton and that its use in Matthew and Luke is therefore best understood as a way to represent Jesus as applying the name of the God of Israel to himself.

There are three clear instances of this usage in the New Testament: Mt 7:21-22, Mt 25:11, and Lk 6:46 which says:

Why do you address me as κύριε κύριε and not do what I say?

Now, a Unitarian might say that Jesus really isn't applying YHWH to himself but is rather saying, in effect, "if you're going to call me YHWH (which, by the way, you shouldn't do), why do you disobey me?" After all, history is littered with people who disobey their God. Unfortunately, time ran out so I wasn't able to ask about this.

I was also disappointed by Dr. Ally's use of the red, green, and blue components of light as an analogy to the Trinity. All physical analogies to the Trinity are wrong, whether it is the components of light, or the
triple-point of water where it is solid, liquid, and gas form. This is not what the doctrine of the Trinity teaches, even though I have heard the latter example from a Baptist pulpit by a Trinitarian pastor. While I expect better from both, I hold Dr. Ally to a higher standard. It's one thing to be a confused backwoods pastor, it's another to be a PhD who is trying to rebut the doctrine of the Trinity. You have to rebut the actual doctrine, not a straw man. But I also have to possibly fault Dr. White. He and Dr. Ally have been having these debates for years; one would have hoped that this would have been addressed and corrected.

I think Dr. White also hurt his cause with his stance on
Sola Scripture. First, because he violated the principle by talking about Koranic statements on the Trinity. He attempted to show that the Koran didn't correctly address issues of this particular doctrine. I'm stating it badly. Nevertheless, first, Islam denies the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, so I'm not sure what value there is in trying to show a problem in the understanding of the Trinity in the Koran. One can show such misunderstandings solely from contemporary statements by Muslim, other Unitarian, and even some Christian sources, such as the "red, green, blue components of light" as an analogy to the Trinity.

Second, by emphasizing Scripture alone, Dr. White misses an opportunity to have a meta-discussion about the doctrine of the Trinity. A Unitarian might think the doctrine of the Trinity is incoherent because Jesus has a God, so if Jesus is God, then God has a God. Can't possibly be true, right? But God is a self-referential system, so God is His own God. Self-referential systems can often be
paradoxical, but Sola Scripture prevents us from using this knowledge to our advantage.

Earlier I said that all physical analogies of the Trinity are wrong. They have to be, because God is immaterial. Nevertheless, both theologians and physicists face the same problem, namely, how to deal with things that are far outside our daily experience. How do we humans deal with data that leads to unintuitive conclusions? Do we discard, or "smooth," the data so that the conclusions are mentally palatable? Or do we accept things that are hard to understand? Do we embrace the mystery or try to de-mystify it?

This has been an amazing year for science. In April, astronomers released the
first ever image of a black hole. While we can now "see" the exterior of a black hole, we have trouble describing them. The equations of General Relativity break down at the center of the black hole. We don't know what Nature is doing there, nor will we ever be able to measure it. Do we accept the discontinuity or do we hope to modify General Relativity, perhaps by String Theory, such that the discontinuity goes away? Will we be happy with this solution or will we forever wonder if what we would see inside the black hole might show our equations to be wrong? In the same way, is God a descriptive singularity or will we be able to smooth things out? How will we know given that we can't see inside what we're describing?

On October 23, Google demonstrated
quantum supremacy which is an application of quantum mechanics to computing. Here is what a Nobel-prize winning physicist has to say about quantum mechanics. In his hour long lecture "The Character of Physical Law - Part 6 Probability and Uncertainty", Richard Feynman begins by saying that the more that we observe Nature, the less reasonable our explanations of Nature become. "Intuitively far from obvious" is one phrase he uses. Within the first ten minutes of the lecture he says things like:

We see things that are far from what we would guess. We see things that are very far from what we could have imagined and so our imagination is stretched to the utmost … just to comprehend the things that are there. [Nature behaves] in a way like nothing you have ever seen before. … But how can it be like that? Which really is a reflection of an uncontrolled but I say utterly vain desire to see it in terms of some analogy with something familiar… I think I can safely say that nobody understands Quantum Mechanics… Nobody knows how it can be like that.

Substitute "the Trinity" for "Quantum Mechanics" and "God" for Nature and his statement is just as applicable. Let his words, "an utterly vain desire to see it in terms of some analogy with something familiar" sink deeply in. The physicist and the theologian have the same problem. How to accurately communicate, and how to accept, something utterly foreign. If it's hard to wrap our heads around Nature, how much more God?


Trinity: Full Circle

For just a little over two years I have been discussing the doctrine of the Trinity with a friend who has misgivings about it. One of the issues that we've gone back and forth on is whether or not the writers of Scripture should have had the same understanding of the Trinity that we do today. He thinks the answer has to be "yes", since they were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write what they did about Jesus. I think the answer is "no", for two reasons. First, the writers of Scripture wrote over a period of years. What one author wrote might not have been available to another author, and the doctrine of the Trinity comes out of the entirety of statements about Christ. Second, in some ways, God and Nature are alike. Both appear to have an unchangeable core (for Nature, as far as we can currently ascertain, physical law and physical constants haven't changed). But while Nature has always presented the same "face" to us, we are still learning about it. The 20th century saw two great revolutions in our understanding: General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. How we understand the world today is very different from that of Einstein (while he developed Relativity, he didn't like Quantum Mechanics), Newton, Copernicus, and Aristotle. We remain puzzled over dark matter and dark energy, so our understanding tomorrow will be different. Yet Nature hasn't changed. Nature has always revealed what Nature is. God, on the other hand, progressively revealed Himself to us, culminating in the revelation of His Son. Yet, as with Nature, it has still taken us time to digest what has been said. One of the biggest impediments to understanding Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, and the Trinity, is our intuition. All three are counter-intuitive and we have trouble accepting that. That's a story for another time.

But I digress. Our church is considering hiring an assistant pastor who went to Wheaton. In 2015, Wheaton initiated termination proceedings against tenured professor Larycia Hawkins. I blogged about it
here. Since I'm a troublemaker, I plan on asking the candidate his opinion on the whole matter and whether or not he agrees with Wheaton's position. I hope he doesn't, because I think Wheaton is very much wrong. In reviewing my post, I decided to bring some (but not all) stale links up to date. One of the links was to her response to Wheaton. Since that link, to Scribd, now requires a subscription to view fully, I managed to find it elsewhere. In it, she wrote:

On the "yes" side, both Christians and Muslims (as well as Jews) confess that God is One (Deut. 6:4). So, yes, Christians and Muslims (and Jews) affirm fully that "that God is the Father of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" but –borrowing from Stackhouse--"if we insist, as many are insisting in this furore, that God must be understood in terms of the Trinity, with a focus especially on Jesus, or else one really doesn't know God, I respectfully want to ask such Bible believers what they make of Abraham (who is held up as a paradigm of faith in the New Testament) and the list of Old Testament saints (who are held up as paradigms of faith to Christians in Hebrews 11), precisely none of whom can be seriously understood as holding trinitarian views and some proleptic vision of the identity and career of Jesus Christ."

Dr. Hawkins supports my position that our understanding of Christ has been progressive. I texted this to my friend. His response was that my post on Dr. Hawkins was the first link I ever sent him.

The Trinity by Dale Tuggy : A Critique

[updated 8/22/19 to correct spelling of "Mermin"]

A Unitarian friend of mine loaned me this book as part of our ongoing debate about the nature of God. The Introduction isn't bad, but it contains the seeds of two problems that the author will have to address when discussing the alleged shortcomings of the doctrine of the Trinity. The first is the actual Biblical evidence. Anti-Trinitarians, in my experience, tend to focus on the writings of Church Fathers, creedal statements and their origins, political infighting, and so on. Indeed, the introduction beings with: