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?

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