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Trinity and the Mormon Godhead

Posted by nebula0 on October 11, 2008


I’ll never forget the day when, as a new member baptized maybe three months ago, missionaries showed up at my apartment to ask me what the different was between the godhead as spelled out by the Articles of Faith and the trinity as believed by orthodox Christianity.  Part of the reason it’s an episode burned into my mind is that I was so shocked that these poor missionaries who had gone through the Missionary Training Center, one who was on the tail end of his mission, did not understand basic Mormon theology.  For all you orthodox Christians out there who read this, let this be a lesson for you when you speak to Mormons before you accuse them of lying or being brainwashed.  The reality of the situation is that many Mormons, maybe the majority, do not understand basic Mormon theology anymore.  For you Mormons, you may argue that the doctrine of the trinity just doesn’t make sense, it’s a contradiction in terms, and that’s why there is confusion.

Let’s start with the trinity.  The grounding assumption of any formulation of the trinity starts with the assumption that there is but One God.  By God here I mean the immutable, infinite, eternal, necessary being labeled God.  There are two ways to come to this conclusion, through philosophy and through exegesis of the Bible.   Through philosophy you can come to suspect that the God I stated above exists through classic arguments such as the argument from contingency or the ontological argument.  It follows from such arguments that there would be only one such being, as a truly infinite, necessary, immutable being would be a true unity.  From the Bible verses from especially deutero Isaiah and the New Testament, when monotheism was firmly established in Israel, reaffirm the notion that there is but one God.

With that established, the next thing integrated into the notion of the trinity is usually the Son, Christ.  Again, there are two ways of approaching this problem, through philosophy and exegesis of the Bible.  Through philosophy you may come to some notion of a finite creation separated from its infinite Creator and the question as to how to close that gap between two qualitatively different types of beings.  The incarnation is one particularly appealing solution, and since it is testified to in the New Testament, appears to many Christians to be particularly powerful.  From statements in the New Testament, most powerfully from John 1, it is understood that Christ is the expressed Logos, or spoken Word/reason/mind of God somehow enfleshed.  It follows from the notion that there is but One God, that there must be some kind of profound unity between the creator God and this enfleshed Logos.  There are a couple ways to do this, the easiest way mentally is through modalism/oneness theology, which states that God expresses himself through different modes of being- the father first, the son second and the holy ghost third.  Hence, Jesus IS the father IS the holy ghost.  That melding of persons into one person doesn’t prove satisfactory to all however, since through exegesis most Christians argue that Christ was a bonafide separate person from the Father (i.e. who was Jesus praying to when praying to the Father?  It seems reasonable to assert it was a different person). 

This is where it getes tricky and the doctrine of the trinity loses many well meaning people.  How can you possibly assert that two separate persons are the same Being?  Because recall, it was already established that there is only One God.  The notion of personhood is a tricky enough one to begin with.  What does it mean that youare a person when you are not made up of the same ‘stuff’ one year to the next as your cells are created and destroyed?  Is there a difference between a person and a being?  Usually when we talk about personhood we mean a rational agent, and when we talk about being we describe qualities.  To be a human being is to be a person with a mortal, finite body.  To be a human being is to be a a person and a particular being in unity.  But, what if there was a type of being which was unlimited, infinite, is it possible that multiple persons could share the exact same nature?  Think about this for a second, part of being a human being is being finite and imperfect- separate, distinct.  But if a rational agent has an infinite, immutable being, what’s to say that another rational agent, another person, could not share that exact same being of infinity?  There can only be one such being- multiple, perfect infinites would actually overlap and become the exact same beings, they would overlay each other or become contradictions in terms- but why not have multiple persons be that being?  From there comes the inclusion of the Holy Spirit as a third person to be the being of God.  From what I can tell, the inclusion of the Holy Spirit is primarily due to exegesis from scripture.

Whether or not you agree with the above, I hope you realize that it isn’t just silly, impossible nonsense.  It’s reasonable enough.  Now how does that compare to the Mormon notion of the Godhead?  Simple.  The Mormon Godhead supposes that there are three beings which compose it, not just three persons in one being.  This is made possible because deity in Mormonism is not infinite in the absolute sense.  It is infinite only in a relative sense- in the same way that a large sheet might as well be infinite to a speck of dust.  Therefore it is not contradiction in terms to assume that there can be multiple relatively infinite beings, it is only a problem if you suppose that there is an absolutely infinite being in existence.

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48 Responses to “Trinity and the Mormon Godhead”

  1. Seth R. said

    You ought to check out this article by Blake Ostler:

    http://www.fairlds.org/New_Mormon_Challenge/TNMC02.html

    Ostler attacks two assumptions made by Christian theologian Stephen Parrish:

    (1) God exists of de re analytic necessity; and
    (2) there is not an adequate explanation for existence or order unless that explanation is either analytically necessary or brought about by a being who has analytically necessary existence.

    Ostler claims both propositions are dubious and and that Parrish’s conclusion from them – that only “classical monotheism” can answer the question of why God exists, does not follow.

    This is the problem that I have with the classical Trinity. It is not necessary from the Bible (Social Trinitarianism answers that problem perfectly adequately without falling into the nonsense of classical trinitarianism). It only becomes necessary when you wed the Bible to such human constructs as the “ontological argument” or “argument from necessity.” But the human arguments are artificial and of dubious integrity (at least from what I remember reading about them – it’s admittedly been a while).

    One observation I’ve come to…

    We always get into more trouble in explaining the revelation than we do in following it. It is not believing in a united Father and Son that gets us into trouble. It is our need to explain that fact that makes us fall off the wagon. It is not the belief in the revealed God that misleads, but our attempts to philosophically unmask Him.

    Theories are fun. But that’s all they are. Never forget that. And never use a theory as a wedge issue.

  2. nebula0 said

    What I would say is that theories matter. It is through your theories that you interpret your experiences (is that from God or did I construc tthat experience?) and how you interpret revelation– or decide that something is revelation in the first place. We are so quick to dismiss conceptual work as mere wordplay or elitism, but we forget that whether we want to or not we are all bound to it as part of our human condition.

    I never claimed in my post that I could prove that The God exists, only to provide evidence to chew on, a conceptual framework that makes sense. Likewise, teh trinity cannot be proven to be true, only made reasonable and even likely.

  3. Geoff J said

    nebula0

    I think you are oversimplifying the swath of Mormon thought on this issue. For instance, while it is common for Mormons to shy away from modalism/Sabellianism and toward tri-theism it should be noted that both of these poles are considered heresies by most creedal theologians.

    It should also be noted that there is strong evidence in Mormon scriptures of the One God being composed of multiple divine persons. For instance

    “Which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end. Amen.” (D&C 28:10)

    “thus becoming the Father and Son— And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth.” (Mosiah 15: 3-4)

    Of course in Mormon thought there is also room for speculations that the One God is made up of more than three divine persons. (The additional persons could extend to divine females and progenitors etc.)

    So I think the differences you mention in this post between Mormon thought and creedal Christian thought are not nearly as stark as you imply. Yes Mormons recoil from Sabellianism but while the lay members of many Christian churches lean toward it most of their theologians reject it just like Mormons do.

    If you are looking from a real stark theological difference look to creatio ex nihilo. Mormons reject it and creedal Christians accept it as foundational.

  4. nebula0 said

    Hi Geoff,

    Thanks for sharing your perspective on this manner. While I know that many Mormons have a varying view of matters, and are probably more modalist than multiple theists (what about Heavenly Mother?) it is the latter which is still taught as Mormon orthodoxy in LDS published Sunday School manuals. It’s true, that isn’t at the same level as canonized scripture, but it is still a valid means of taking the theological pulse of LDS Mormonism, and hence I took it as the default position for the post.

  5. Geoff J said

    Well I think if are talking about average Mormons then the fact is there are very few modalists at all among Mormons. The modern revelations about the Father and Son being resurrected beings with separate flesh and bone bodies precludes that to a large degree. The “oneness” of the Godhead (regardless of how many persons make up the “one God”) is seen as a figurative oneness of purpose and will rather than some oneness of essence (or whatever).

    Mormons tend to assume that creedal Christians are nearly all modalists though that is not universally accurate either.

    My point is that comparing what lay members of various churches seem to generally assume is not really all that useful. Ideas about the Godhead/trinity should certainly not be a theological deal breaker for people considering Mormonism since there is ample room for the concept of multiple divine persons unifying to make up the “One God”. This is true even with the clear revelations on Mormonism about the corporeality of those multiple divine persons.

  6. nebula0 said

    Geoff,

    The reason it can be a deal breaker is that the basic concept that you have of deity affects your worship of him on all levels. I’ve noticed lately that Mormons tend to want to downplay the importance of theology and to some degree a case can be made- however, it cannot be made to the extent of ignoring the fact that what the LDS church prints in its Sunday School manuals still teach the doctrine that God the Father is an exalted man– and that IS a big deal. If that’s not a big deal, we might as well all admit that religion is a big scam and become relativists.

    Yes, it is a deal breaker, and was a deal breaker to me personally that the MOrmon conception of deity is one of relativistic infinity instead of absolute infinity. That changes everything.

  7. Geoff J said

    Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying there are no deal breakers for people. For instance if the idea that God the Father has a physical body and that Jesus also has a (separate) physical body really bugs someone then Mormonism is not for that person. (Even though the Bible certainly doesn’t preclude this as a possibility.)

    My point was more that the way that multiple persons can be called “one God” is something that has not been revealed. So we are all left sort of scratching our heads on that one equally. Therefore that specific issue shouldn’t be a deal breaker one way or another.

    Now I think you are simply mistaken when you say “the MOrmon conception of deity is one of relativistic infinity instead of absolute infinity”.

    There are many speculations in the Mormon tradition about God. One is that the One God is a “divine chorus” of sorts. In other words there is plenty of latitude in the revelations to assume that there was never a time when the “One God” was not God. Of course this might mean an infinite regress of divine persons becoming “at one” with the beginningless One God or any number of other possibilities. But if you are saying that there is no room in Mormon thought for a God who has been the One God for an infinity of time (even before God the Father of Jesus became one with the One God) then you are simple mistaken.

  8. Todd Wood said

    The One God – a beginningless divine chorus?

    So for some LDS, is everybody the one God? It is just that some are a little more progressed than others?

  9. Geoff J said

    I can’t speak for every Mormon Todd. But in the absence of revelation on a subject there is a lot of latitude for theological speculation.

    I should note that another theological explanation of how God has always been God is the one preferred by Blake Ostler wherein God the Father of Jesus has always been the ultimate divine monarch and simply condescended to become a mortal on a previously inhabited planet. He contends that it was similar to how Jesus, who was part of the One God before coming to our planet, condescended to become a mortal here.

  10. nebula0 said

    Geoff,

    But hopefully you can understand why this is such a big deal to historic Christianity, and Judaism for that matter. To say that the basic nature of God is a matter of ‘mere speculation’ is a statement that is completely strange to historic Christian ears and implies that Mormonism is better considered a different religious tradition altogether. Honestly, I think if Mormonism took that stance, the conversations would be so much more productive because defensiveness on both sides of the fence would lower.

  11. Geoff J said

    I don’t know what you mean by that last comment nebula0. I know of no major religion that doesn’t freely admit that that we know a lot less about God than we do know. The tortured contortions that go into trying to explain the Trinity is perfect evidence of that lack of knowledge. (Three persons but one being? Come on…)

    So I think it is very safe to say that most metaphysical claims about God’s details and history are indeed mere speculations.

    Thankfully Jesus assured us that eternal life is to know God, not to know about him.

  12. nebula0 said

    Geoff,

    Did you bother to read my opening post? The idea of the trinity really isn’t as difficult as you want it to be. Yes, there are unresolved problems, but there are unresolved problems with trying to figure out what it means to even be a person in the ordinary sense in the first place.

    Knowing God implies knowing a few basic things about him. THat should be obvious. To say that God is essentially one of us, or to say that God is essentially other– is a big deal. If you don’t see that, you simply reaffirm my last post. You could claim anything is ‘mere speculation’. Hell, religion in general is ‘mere speculation’ to a lot of people, so why bother at all Geoff?

  13. Geoff J said

    nebula0: The idea of the trinity really isn’t as difficult as you want it to be.

    Of course it is not “difficult” if you buy it. But to everyone else it comes off as tortured and self-contradictory gobbledy-gook. But I am not trying to attack the Trinity in my comments here so I don’t begrudge you buying that idea. My point is that the concept of the Trinity is not revelation — it is an extrapolation based on the revelations found in the Bible. Those extrapolations are what I am referring to as speculation. Mormonism has its own share of extrapolations so please don’t think I am trying to exempt it from this point.

    To say that God is essentially one of us, or to say that God is essentially other– is a big deal.

    Indeed it is. But to be clear, Mormonism really teaches that we are one of His kind more than him being one of us. We just take the “child of God” idea described in the revelations much more seriously than most creedal Christians take it. It appears many people are more comfortable being something like God’s pet than God’s literal children. Again, I can’t begrudge people believing whatever makes them most comfortable.

    Hell, religion in general is ‘mere speculation’ to a lot of people, so why bother at all Geoff?

    Now this is an excellent question. For me the reason to bother is that even though 95%+ of all religion is speculation, at the heart of the Judeo/Christian tradition is real revelation from the real God. That revelation serves as the firm foundation for the theological speculations/superstructure to be built upon.

    I assert that the most important revelation by a wide margin is the revelation and inspiration that each of us receive personally and directly from God. If we don’t learn religious truths from God and his Holy Spirit directly then we are simply adhering to a religious tradition for the wrong reasons in my opinion.

  14. nebula0 said

    Geoff,

    I haven’t even ‘bought’ the trinity. I don’t know if it is true or not- but it’s not nonsense and it doesn’t take much studying from actual theologians to see how it makes sense. People who claim its self contradictory nonsense usually are frankly too lazy to really try to understand it because they are already convinced that their judgement of it is true. The Bible, frankly, is not particularly clear on really, anything. Any coherent theological idea that comes from it is ‘extrapolation’ as you put it, or as others term it, exegesis. None of it is ‘just obvious’ because it’s not ‘just obvious’ how it is these 66 books of the Protestant canon are together as a single collection anyway– they are so disparate!

    I’m glad we can agree that the idea as to whether or not God is simply one of us- one of our species is a very big deal. You still don’t quite get it though because you think this is simply an issue of degree. The issue is actually deeper than that: this is an issue of quality vs quantity. In Mormonism God is God by virtue of a quantitative difference between us and God, in orthodox Christianity it is a qualitative difference. In orthodox Christianity it’s like comparing a person to a pebble, in Mormonism it’s comparing a newborn to a venerable, full grown, successful and fully good man.

    Here’s the problem I have from your last statement: if that is the case, why do you have a religious system at all which regulates your revelations? If God just wanted to communicate with us all in isolation, why not do it that way? What’s with churches, and creeds (yes you have them), and canons to study? No, it’s not that simple. We can’t know what to trust that is merely from ourselves. We can’t know when we are projecting our own desires and thoughts into our experiences and making that our theological truths- hence we have some kind of external moderation that we submit ourselves to.

  15. Geoff J said

    I am with you on your first two paragraphs nebula0. I agree that of one accepts the premises upon which the Trinity is based it makes sense. The problems are usually with the assumptions one must accept up front. And of course those assumptions can be starkly disparate as exemplified by your second paragraph.

    why do you have a religious system at all which regulates your revelations?

    Well for one thing the easiest kinds of answers to get from God are of the Yes or No variety so it makes sense for prophets to receive more detailed revelations that are universally applicable and then for individuals to ask God directly if the purported revelations really are from God. That is presumably how any Christian can know the Bible is revelation rather than man-made fables.

    Plus humans are social beings and trying to be like Jesus is easier when others around you have the same goals so it makes sense that God would want to organize people into a religious community for that reason as well.

    One thing I can say with some confidence: A person who has no personal (revelatory) relationship with God probably doesn’t actually know God. How can we know someone we have never met or communicated with after all?

  16. Seth R. said

    I think to say that traditional Christians are all about theological proof and Mormons are all about spirituality is to misrepresent and grossly oversimplify both faiths (as I’m sure nebula0 would agree with me).

    The truth is, Evangelicals can personally value their own internal spiritual witness of God’s love and Mormons can value historical proof and data. I think this separation between us really is one of degree and possibly not a very large degree.

    Religious experience in any tradition that survives more than a century is going to be a complex interplay of many factors. The ecclesiarchy is going to matter. The tradition will matter. The personal witness will matter. The independent strengths and merits of the faith tradition will matter as well. All these things combine together in the best of religions.

    So it would be misguided to say that a Mormon should only concern herself with her “feelings” and ignore what is said in General Conference. Likewise, it is wrong to say that a Methodist is some sort of Mr. Spock clone who only cares what is logical, established and proven. We all have different facets to and grounds for our beliefs.

    I think its just were we tend to rank different methods of belief and what we choose to subordinate and what we choose to place in preeminence.

    Now, I actually agree with nebula0 that whether God is “one of us” or “alien” to some extent matters. It changes how we interact with Him. But I also agree with Geoff, that the degrees of difference between Mormon belief and traditional Christian belief may not be as big as they are made out to be on several points (grace vs. works would be a good example).

    But a question for nebula0:

    Is it the underlying belief that is most important? Or is it the end product of how we view God that is preeminent?

  17. Geoff J said

    I should note that my original comments on this thread were not intended to say there are not significant theological differences between Mormons and creedal Christians. Rather I mostly was pointing out that the Trinity vs. Godhead comparison is not a particularly strong example of those differences.

    If you want to point out a massive difference look at the issue of creatio ex nihilo (wherein only God is beginningless and all else is somehow created out of nothing). Mormons rejects this concept and instead assumes that all matter is beginningless along with God. That basic difference in assumptions is massive and creates all sorts of differences downstream.

  18. nebula0 said

    Seth,

    You can’t separate the two. If I want to communicate anything with these threads, it’s that. Your actions, and attitudes are directly informed by your ‘mere theories’ or ‘mere speculations’, whether you intend for them to or not.

  19. Seth R. said

    Well, where I’m going with this is…

    It seems to me that one of the biggest traditional Christian objections to the Mormon view of God as literal spirit Father and Brother, is the risk that it overly familiarizes God and lessens the degree of respect that we hold for Him.

    Correct?

  20. nebula0 said

    No. The root of the problem, as far as I’m concerned, is that it denies the existence of The God at all. That is a much bigger issue. You are very focused on actions, okay< I get that. Mormons are action oriented people, Mormons are ‘active’ or ‘inactive’. But what you may miss by assuming that all that matters is actions, and the rest is ‘pure speculation’ is that even by doing that you are preaching a different religion than the vast consensus of what is normative/historic/orthodox Christianity. Christianity for millenia has been by and large a religion of the gospel, a message, and getting the message ‘right’ was understood to be the underlying premise of the thing. Now don’t get me wrong here, that in itself doesn’t mean that Mormonism is therefore wrong or evil or whatever, that’s not what I’m trying to say. But let me ask you this, if what you are saying is true, then what’s so wrong with an atheist who goes around trying to do the right thing? Sure, he doesn’t acknowledge that it is because of God that he even has his breath from moment to moment, but the existence of God, as he would likely say, is all ‘mere speculation’ anyway. At what point DOES it matter? And how do YOU decide when it does matter? By what standard? And how do you know that standard is the right standard?

    Hopefully you see how complex this is going to become, very quickly.

  21. Geoff J said

    nebula0: you are preaching a different religion than the vast consensus of what is normative/historic/orthodox Christianity

    Well that’s sort of stating the obvious isn’t it? Mormonism is a restorationist religion. The basic premise is that true Christianity was lost shortly after the apostles died. Mormonism claims that God chose to restore original/true Christianity to the earth via modern prophets. In making such a claim Mormonism rejects much of the theology that evolved from non-prophets like Augustine, Aquinas, etc.

    The root of the problem, as far as I’m concerned, is that it denies the existence of The God at all.

    Of course this is massively overstating your case. But Mormonism does claim that the God without body, passions, or parts preached of among some Christians never existed to begin with and certainly was not the God the Jesus and the prophets worshiped.

    what’s so wrong with an atheist who goes around trying to do the right thing?

    I am not certain there is anything that is “so wrong” with that person. The main thing that is wrong is the false belief of the atheist that there is no God. But if the atheist loves his neighbors he is inadvertently loving God anyway according to Jesus. (Plus in Mormonism there is a time between death and resurrection where he could presumably be set straight to some degree.)

    I would say there is something much more wrong with someone who claims Christianity but fails to love his neighbor.

  22. nebula0 said

    Geoff,

    I meant to direct those statement to Seth, and since we’ve had a long standing conversation going (for which I’m grateful by the way, very enjoyable) on several different topics I’m not surprised that it doesn’t fit together for you.

    As for your second part, that is a terrible caricature that Mormons have of normative Christianity. You needn’t look long to see how wrong that all is- see the passion that God has ignited in the souls of Christians over the millenia. Do you really think that is all for some bland, airy spirit who does nothing but hover about? Maybe you are missing something…

    If the atheist is doing better than some Mormon who doesn’t have his bigness of spirit when it comes to charitable volunteer work, then what is the point of being a MOrmon? You are missing something.

  23. nebula0 said

    Let me clarify why I say that– you MUST be missing something to be so damned lukewarm about God.

    I’m going to give this whole attitude more thought.

  24. Geoff J said

    I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean when you say “lukewarm about God”. Can you explain?

  25. nebula0 said

    Geoff,

    To not care about whether God is trasncendant and omnipotent or not– ‘mere speculation’– indicates a bizarre nonchalance to me. Usually when I don’t get something, it means that there is something about a mindset, a deep structure, that I am not perceiving. I assume that is the case here, which is why I said I must give the matter some serious thought to discern what it is I am missing.

  26. Geoff J said

    Ahh, well let me set the record straight to some degree:

    I deeply care about figuring out the nature of God. See my blog — we have spent years wrangling over deep theological issues there.

    Now here is what I know for sure: God answers my prayers. In so doing God has communicated to me vast love. My experience with answered prayers have also shown me that God has vast power and is worthy of the worship of all humankind.

    But none of that either confirms or denies the speculations of men like Augustine or Aquinas. None of that confirms or denies the correctness of the theological decisions voted on in the First seven Ecumenical Councils that thereafter became normative for creedal Christians.

    Rather than arrogantly claim I know more than I do about God, I stick with what I know and admit that much of the rest is guesswork.

    I do know this — God hasn’t stopped answering my prayers in spite of my admitted ignorance about the mysteries of God.

    PS — I actually have no problem with believing God omnipotent and transcendent. However, since I believe that all matter (and all spirit) is co-eternal and co-essential with God I suspect we have different definitions of those words.

  27. nebula0 said

    Geoff,

    THe PS is the whole point of the matter. I spent some time thinking back to my heyday as a Mormon and how I felt and approached this issue to get a better grasp on the conversation which has erupted here. Really, I made the same arguments as you and Seth “all that we can know are our experiences, the rest is speculative anyway- so who cares”.

    What I did not acknowledge then is what I try very hard to get across on this board: there is no such thing as pure experience telling you anything about anything. Pure experience communicates no concept. If it does, it is not pure experience, it has been corrupted by ‘mere speculation’. So the very fact that you experience ‘vast love’ implies that you have employed concepts which you hold to explain your personal experiences. The consequences of this are profound– you are speculating just as much as Aquinas did, but without doing it consciously and therefore without doing it carefully or thoughtfully. It would be better if you admit that concepts like “God” and “vast love” are so theory laden, so full of ‘mere speculation’ from the very outset, that you’d better pay attention.

    Does it matter if God is absolutely infinite or merely relatively infinite? Yes it does. The reprecussions of such a qualitative ontological difference are felt from the top down, on every level of human life. How could it not but be this way when our basic concepts of the cosmos are altered with such a change and therefore how we choose to interpret our experiences in the first place?

    In any case, this addiction to using experience as the only sure source of truth is particularly strong in Mormonism, but something that Mormonism borrowed from somethiong that was already ubiquitous in the Second Great Awakening. I will have to write a post devoted to exploring the topic of Mormon epistemology.

  28. Geoff J said

    nebula0: you are speculating just as much as Aquinas did

    True.

    but without doing it consciously and therefore without doing it carefully or thoughtfully

    False.

    I have very carefully and thoughtfully and prayerfully thought out my personal revelations and experiences and have arrived at theological positions as a result of that effort.

    Does it matter if God is absolutely infinite or merely relatively infinite? Yes it does.

    I agree it matters. Can you show me someone’s opinion I can trust on the matter? (Please note that if your source isn’t a prophet of God I am going to be highly skeptical of their guesses.)

    But since you are aware that you are theologically viewing the universe through the lens provided to you by the likes of thoughtful and brilliant non-prophets like Aquinas, perhaps you can explain to me why you are willing to accept their best guesses as The Truth.

  29. nebula0 said

    Geoff,

    See, now you’ve gotten severely off topic. Please revisit the OP. THe whole point of it was to demonstrate how trinitarians arrive at their position and how that position differs from the Mormon position.

    THere are plenty of posts on the site where I detail how I came to my current belief system.

  30. Geoff J said

    Yes, well as I mentioned, I don’t begrudge people for believing whatever they want. And and readily concede that *if* one buys the assumptions from which the Trinity doctrines sprang then the whole thing can be coherent.

    I simply happen to reject those assumption because I personally think they are incorrect and man made.

    But through this conversation I hope you can see that it is not a matter of me saying these mysteries of God are unimportant. They are important. I have simply come to realize that in the absence of revelation we are making our best guesses (this applies to Mormons and creedal Christians alike).

  31. nebula0 said

    Geoff,

    It’s not ‘guesses’ or ‘mere speculation’ and that’s where MOrmons generally have it wrong. THere is a difference between carefully reasoning things out through general revelation (that is, through the nature that God created) and through sitting around just tossing out random ideas for the hell of it- maybe you were in a contemplative mood, just experimenting around with ideas, whatever. You seem to conflate the two.

    If you start with the premise that God wants to communicate with us and created the cosmos, then ti stands to reason that the cosmos somehow reflect something of God. If you don’t, then you really have no idea why you should trust any claim to revelation by anybody, Isaiah, Christ, or Joseph Smith in the first place.

  32. Geoff J said

    How about this nebula0 — I’ll give a little ground here. I’ll call the notion of creatio ex nihilo an educated guess based on study of the Bible.

    I agree that the the idea of creatio ex nihilo certainly didn’t arise from “just tossing out random ideas for the hell of it”. It came from smart people trying to fill in gaps where definitive revelations are absent.

    If you start with the premise that God wants to communicate with us and created the cosmos

    Herein lies the massive problem — I don’t start with that premise. It is assumptions like these that highlight the educated guesses about what the word “created” means in the revelations. I think it mean something more like “organized out of existing material” like an earthly artist creates a sculpture or something rather than “poofed into existence out of nothing”.

    If you don’t, then you really have no idea why you should trust any claim to revelation by anybody, Isaiah, Christ, or Joseph Smith in the first place.

    Why on earth would you assume that? If God answers my prayers and tells me the Bible is divinely inspired scripture why should I not believe that revelation? Whether God organized the universe or poofed it into existence does not change God’s ability to answer prayers after all.

  33. Geoff J said

    BTW — I only bring up creation ex nihilo as an example of an assumption underlying the Trinity doctrine.

  34. nebula0 said

    Geoff,

    I wrote a post about the meaning of the Hebrew word bara used for create in Genesis. It does not mean ‘sculpt’ or anything like that. It is a special verb used only with God’s actions, that is, no human baras anything implying that the authors of Genesis wanted to communicate that the creation of the earth cannot be likened to human activity (well, look up my post if you’re that interested). It’s funny, I was thinking that you may bring this up when I wrote the word ‘created’ but that you’d figure it had nothing to do with the argument at hand. Oh well.

    The reason I say that you can’t trust your claim to revelation is that there is no such thing as direct, pure experience. YOu interpret your experiences, whether you like it or not, by your expectation of what the response will be. THat’s why I emphasize the need to ‘clean up’ our concepts so much- because our concepts interpret every experience that we have… ever. It’s annoying, because that means we don’t have direct access to ‘reality as it is’ but it’s the human condition nonetheless and ought to be acknowledged.

    As for creation ex nihilo underlying the trinity- why? I don’t see why it has to. What I do think has to underly the trinity is the notion that God is a Necessary Being and the cosmos contingent, but in theory the cosmos could be around for infinite time (not truly eternal, since truly eternal things are not in time, they are beyond time) as long as God is the ultimate support for the existence of everything.

  35. Geoff J said

    nebula0: implying that the authors of Genesis wanted to communicate that the creation of the earth cannot be likened to human activity

    This is a fine example of well reasoned speculation. I have no problem with such educated guesses based on available revelations.

    The difference I have on this subject is that I accept additional revelation from someone I am convinced was a prophet of God that clarify that God organized existing (necessary/beginningless/irreducible) materials rather than poofed them into existence. So this gets back to the point we have agreed upon all along here — there are deep theological differences in our foundational theological assumptions.

    The reason I say that you can’t trust your claim to revelation is that there is no such thing as direct, pure experience.

    True enough. But this applies to everyone, not just me. That means it applies to Moeses, and Isaiah and Paul and all the prophets through which we received the Bible. So I am not sure how it helps your cause in this conversation.

    Now to some degree I think you overstate your case. If the Holy Spirit cannot reveal things as they really are then why should we trust any scripture?

    I do think has to underly the trinity is the notion that God is a Necessary Being and the cosmos contingent

    My mention of creation ex nihilo was meant to encompass this necessary vs. contingent distinction. That distinction underlies the idea of the Trinity and I think it is false.

    since truly eternal things are not in time, they are beyond time

    I personally don’t think there is any such thing as “beyond time”. (Though that is getting way off topic so I’ll leave it alone.)

  36. nebula0 said

    Geoff,

    It’s not ‘speculation’! It’s carefully combing through the whole of the Hebrew Bible and looking at every single use of the root bet resh aleph and discovering that everytime it is rendered into the Qal paradigm it is used only with God as a subject. That’s a fact.

    Yup, you’re right, it is true of Moses, Isaiah and the rest. That’s why we can’t just trust their word “just cuz” either. I don’t see why anyone should bury their heads in the sand over this issue. Better we confront it head on.

    You can think it’s false all day long, but none of that is an actual reply to the argument that has been made for that being the case.

    Of course things are beyond time. Through General Relavitity we have a notion of spacetime as a physical entity which is probably finite. That implies that there is something beyond spacetime. Just because we can’t imagine it (no surprise there, since we are embedded in it) doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of things beyond time as we know it. Of course that’s not what I mean when I talk about God as eternal, but I am trying to make a point. Our common sense experiences often lead us into untrue traps.

  37. Geoff J said

    Sorry, I’ll stop using the word speculation here. It is clearly becoming a sticking point. I’ll go with “educated guessing” if that helps

    It’s carefully combing through the whole of the Hebrew Bible and looking at every single use of the root bet resh aleph and discovering that everytime it is rendered into the Qal paradigm it is used only with God as a subject. That’s a fact.

    That’s fine. There are definite facts about how and where the words are used in the Bible. What are not a facts are the metaphysical extrapolations non-prophets have made as a result of those words. The latter are the educated guesses about the actual nature of God and the universe that I am talking about. Surely we can agree on that part, right?

  38. nebula0 said

    I don’t understand what the phobia is of consciously using reasoning in trying to uncover the nature of reality. It’s foolish to ignore that aspect of things. Really. If God didn’t want us to use that faculty in coming to knwo the truth, why would He give it to us and throw in the complication that we cannot fully trust our experiences on their own? Hence, I prefer the term ‘reasoning’ to ‘guessing’. Guessing can be a starting point to a reasoning process, but it hardly encompasses what reasoning is or does.

    Here’s the issue with your last paragraph, yes, when it comes ot biblical interpret, frankly, there is a lot of guessing. I agree with that. But when the conclusion is at odds with what a supposed prophet of God is saying about God’s nature, shouldn’t that raise some red flags when the only thing you have supporting your supposition that this person is a prophet are fallible experiences?

  39. Geoff J said

    I don’t understand what the phobia is of consciously using reasoning in trying to uncover the nature of reality.

    I think you are misunderstanding my point. I’m all for consciously using reasoning in trying to uncover the nature of reality. I simply also realize that the result of that process is at best a plausible and somewhat defensible theory. But I will use the word “reasoning” instead of “guessing” here if that makes you feel better.

    shouldn’t that raise some red flags when the only thing you have supporting your supposition that this person is a prophet are fallible experiences?

    You act as if your supposition that the Bible is anything more than fiction is based on anything other than “fallible experiences”. I don’t think that is the case. In other words, what do you base your faith that the Bible is a reliable source of truth upon? Doesn’t that come down to “fallible experiences” too?

  40. nebula0 said

    Right, and any piece of knowledge you come to based on ‘personal experiences’ is also suspect. It’s not immune to critique anymore than my ‘platonic speculations’ are. The difference is that the latter is defensible.

    Why do you think I have faith in the Bible?

  41. Geoff J said

    Sorry, for some reason I thought you were a theist and an Christian. If that is not true it is my mistake.

  42. nebula0 said

    Geoff,

    That’s okay. I’m still deciding on where to go with my theism.

  43. Seth R. said

    For some reason, I always thought you were Catholic or something like that.

    Anyway, I don’t think the Mormon position is really that intellectual proof work is bad or should not be attempted.

    I think the feeling is rather that such an approach should not be divorced from the equally, if not more compelling evidence of personal experience.

    For instance, I’m not about to chuck a lifetime of personal experience with God just because the theodicy is a pretty sticky problem.

    I don’t mind logical pursuits in faith, it’s just I don’t think they are really a good master. They should be taken seriously, pursued, and used profitably. But they must also be subordinated.

  44. nebula0 said

    Seth,

    Yet the entire reason you interpret any experience as from God is because you have a whole framework of concepts that allow you to do that. You don’t have a ‘lifetime of experiences with God’ on one hand vs philosophical arguments on the other. You have a worldview which habitually interprets certain experiences as from God based on concepts that you have picked up over your lifetime and incorporated into your worldview. Look, I’m not even al lthat happy about this realization because it means we have no unfettered access to reality whatsoever, it means whatever we experience- feel, touch, taste, hear, and so on, are all immediately filtered and interpreted by our brains preconsciously based on habitual ways of thinking (worldview). Unfortunately that means that we cannot claim any experience to be of God just based on that experience alone. How did we get the concept of God? An experience cannot communicate that- words must communicate that with us, concepts.

    There is no bag of personal experiences ‘with God’ that is untouched by the hand of philosophy. It’s just the human condition.

  45. Seth R. said

    I can only work with what I have at hand nebula0.

    For now, it’s enough for me. The universe as it has unfolded to me is a wonderful and amazing place.

    I’m enjoying it far too much to chuck it just because I didn’t arrive here from a logically unassailable set of premises.

  46. nebula0 said

    Seth,

    You must have a short memory if you think I am claiming to have logically unassaible premises. I plead with everyone who passes here to consider- there is no escaping the concept business. Experiences are not an escape route. For wahtever reason, God wants us to live with ultimate uncertainty and so has made it so that we are unsure even of our experiences (or ought to be!). Perhaps it’s so that we learn to trust him.

  47. Seth R. said

    I wasn’t claiming you had them nebula0.

    But it did seem to me that you were seeking them.

  48. nebula0 said

    Seth,

    Nope. I gave up on that years ago.

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