Friday 26 July 2013

The argument: some bits of science don't make sense, so why should theology make sense?


The argument is that we should not expect theology to make sense because some buts of science don't make sense: e.g some aspects of advanced physics are strictly incomprehensible - don't add up - are incoherent. Yet they seem to be true...

So why can't Christian theology be just as nonsensical as science - like many statements of the nature of the Holy Trinity - and just as true as science?


My answer is that the paradoxical theoretical physics is not so much true as useful - scientists seem to be able to make use of them in prediction and manipulation. But theoretical physics for the past many decades has been trying to make sense of, and get rid of, these paradoxes and incompatibilities (e.g. the incommensurability of general relativity and quantum theory) - so clearly they are not regarded as true in the sense of representing ultimate reality.


But with theology we seek truth in the sense of ultimate reality.

More importantly, Christianity is about a loving personal relationship with God - a Father and Son relationship, a fraternal relationship.

Thus the analogy with science breaks down. In science things may be useable even when they do not make sense: but they are not about entering into a personal relationship with the constituent parts (photons and quarks...).


How can we have a personal and loving relationship with God (which a Christian must do - it is the primary commandment) when God is neither one nor three persons, yet is also both one and three persons?

This is either a God of incomprehensible abstraction, or else an impossibility altogether. 


This kind of paradoxical Trinitarianism can be a major stumbling block - indeed a roadblock - to faith for anyone who takes it too seriously.

And it is missing the point spectacularly. The Trinity are personages, that is what is most important. They always love each other wholly and always work in complete harmony.

That suffices - why sabotage the personal relationship with God and Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost with paradoxical philosophy?

And having done so, for reasons which may have been compelling in the fifth century AD - why elevate this paradoxical philosophy to become a dogma and definition of Christianity?



tgj said...

Why adopt the Protestant notion of personal relationship and personal salvation?

I guess I could say that I think I have some understanding of how to relate to the Trinity. But really it is just words for things I don't really understand at all. Like the difference between the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father alone and from the Son also. What difference does it make? I don't know. So I don't worry about it. But the point is that some people do know, and they came up with definitive answers to that question, they decided that it was important, and it is possible to decide who was right and who was not, even without experiencing the same revelation that they did.

Especially since the guys who say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son as well as from the Father no longer believe in mystical revelations about these things, but only in the infallibility of one particular elected man, and because they put all sorts of unsupportable faith in reason and argument, and because they have innovated and slid away from traditional Christianity over time, and are now doing so at a truly alarming rate. Is it all because of the Filioque? Maybe not, but it all adds up. And everyone who derives their traditions from them has only compounded their errors. Whatever they have made up in one area, they have lost ten times over in another. Instead of realizing their mistake, they simply redefine salvation into something that their tradition delivers, or promises to deliver.

Why question revelation about the Trinity? Just because it doesn't make sense to me? Isn't that where God comes in and explains who is God and who is not to Job? And I'm not even Job. I'm just some guy with Protestant parents who used to be very impressed by scientists who thought of themselves as the brightest people in history, just like I was very impressed by basketball players when I was a kid, because some of them looked like they could practically fly and win basketball games singlehandedly. And who doesn't want to fly and win basketball games singlehandedly? Who doesn't want to find the equations of the universe and spend all day collecting shiny pebbles on the beach by the ocean of reality, like Newton? But when I got older, and starting running into more things I couldn't do, I got more interested in things like self-control, sanity, and who could really deliver the goods on life after death, or quality of life after death, as the case may be.

For me it always comes back to the criteria for truth and how it comes to us, and once one is convinced that traditions of Divine revelation that preserve the thread and the memory of Divine revelation going all the way back to the original creation of man are that criteria, that it's all about person to person and has little or nothing to do with figuring things out for oneself, and that this tradition is capable of error correction through continued mystical revelation of all the major points of its own dogmas as well as all the minor points of practice for those who actually do the practice, the rest is just figuring out how everything else is wrong. And boy is it ever wrong. So wrong that it's not really worth bothering to sort through all the ways that it is wrong in every case.

Some day God will decide that the truth about Himself can no longer survive in men, because too many men have rejected it too completely, and think it is up to them to reconstruct it as they think best. That is the day that time stops and the world ends. Not because God is cruel, but because He does not wish to allow men to completely destroy themselves.

Bruce Charlton said...

@tgj - If you are happy with things, then that is fine.

I am a Mere Christian and have an exceptionally high respect for Eastern Orthodoxy - although I believe it was severely and permanently impaired by the events of the Russian Revolution of 1917.

My argument is that mainstream Christians who adhere to the formulations of the Holy Trinity deriving from Classical Philosophy/ Theology ought NOT to reject as unChristian those who have a different formulations of the Trinity - so long as these acknowledge the divinity and Son-hood of Christ as Lord and Saviour.

I also argue that the personhood of the three members of the Holy Trinity is primary, and it is in general hazardous to talk of them in ways that downplay this personhood. Indeed, the personhood is all that is necessary, and there does not need to be any doctrine of their relationship.

Different formulations may serve better for certain people at certain times and places, but this is not a matter of salvation. I agree that the Western church was wrong to insert the filioque, not least because it was a prideful assertion to change the creed - but the filioque is NOT a matter of personal salvation so much as reflecting the trend of church organization.