An Informal Introduction to Covenantal Apologetics: Part 28 – Unity and diversity.

By C.L. Bolt

The Bible teaches the doctrine of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity very briefly stated is that there is one God who is three persons and each person is fully God. Although the Bible never uses the term “Trinity” each of the parts of the doctrine are clearly set down for us in Scripture and have been summed up as already mentioned with the label “Trinity” being applied to them. God is ultimately one (there is one God). God is ultimately three (God is three persons). Neither the one-ness nor the three-ness of God is ontologically superior to the other. When we talk about “ontology” we are talking about “being”. However, both the one-ness and the three-ness of God are ultimate in a metaphysical sense. When we talk about “metaphysics” we are talking about what is real and what is not, and what real things are like. God exists singularly, simply, and a se. He does not depend upon anything else outside of Himself for His existence (or necessary existence for that matter). God – all that He essentially is – is not metaphysically contingent upon anything else. By “contingent” here we just mean dependent upon. Both the one-ness and three-ness of God are essential to who He is. Again, they are not superior one to the other nor do they depend upon anything outside of themselves and thus they might be described as metaphysically co-ultimate. The Christian worldview includes a long list of metaphysical claims. One such claim is that there is a Creator/creature distinction. Everything that exists is either Creator or created; there is no in-between. We have just seen another claim that stems from a Christian understanding of metaphysics. One-ness and three-ness are ontologically co-ultimate. Derivative of this is the following claim which we will momentarily see as being of the utmost importance for epistemology: unity and plurality are ontologically co-ultimate.

The Triune God of Scripture is unity and plurality and understands Himself comprehensively, coherently, and perfectly. God reveals Himself in that He has created everything that exists apart from Himself by divine decree and has set all facts in relation to other facts in an elaborate scheme which exhibits unity and plurality throughout and hence reflects in a created fashion the very nature of God in His unity and plurality. God alone has perfect understanding of the comprehensive relations that obtain between that which He has created in all of their unity and plurality and has revealed the foundational epistemological principles of unity and plurality to us in creating us in His image, creating the world around us, and giving us His Word. Our epistemological starting point is what God has revealed to us. Implicit and explicit in this presupposition is the ontological co-ultimacy of unity and plurality. Metaphysics and epistemology are intimately tied up in each other as may be especially seen here. The ontological co-ultimacy of unity and plurality in God (as may be observed since finitely displayed on a derivative creaturely level) makes human epistemology possible as a result of God’s nature and knowing. The reason that we are able to make sense of the world is because the Triune God of Scripture exists. The Christian worldview is sufficient to account for human intelligibility at least with respect to unity and plurality. Now we are in a position to complete our argument.

The non-Christian worldview does not share a metaphysic or epistemology with Christianity with respect to unity and plurality. Some non-Christians are emphatic about the ontological one-ness or unity of everything to the exclusion of any plurality. If it is the case that ultimately everything is ontologically unity then the plurality (e.g. two, many, distinctions, otherness, etc.) that might be assumed with respect to things  is principally unintelligible. The reason for this is that if reality is ultimately “one” then distinctions of any sort are impossible – which is absurd. Alternatively if plurality is ontologically ultimate then there can be no relations between anything. Epistemology is rendered impossible again. The non-Christian who wants to affirm anything is stuck on the philosophical problem of the “one and many.” In order to be consistent with the non-Christian worldview the non-Christian must deny the Christian’s epistemological answer to the “problem,” leaving no solution from within the non-Christian worldview. Yet this denial of ontologically co-ultimate unity and plurality is not consistent with the implicit acceptance of the same throughout the non-Christian’s epistemology and so a contradiction results.

The problem of unity and plurality, or the “one-and-many,” is another problem of connection. The Christian apologist can exploit this problem to its fullest as the truest expression of the problem of connection for the non-Christian worldview and the coherence of the Christian worldview found in the unique doctrine of the Trinity. Not only does the problem of unity and plurality come up with respect to most anything that assumes some sort of relationship, but it is an alternative way to understand more complex philosophical problems of skepticism. For example, in the previous part of this introduction we discussed logic. Logic can be thought of as consisting of unifying principles, and the contingent realm or external world that we use logic to describe and otherwise think about as plurality exhibited through particularity and change. Or, we might think of the so-called “problem of induction” as requiring some type of regularity, connection, or unity between the plurality of events or entities. We will discuss this problem in more detail in the next part of this introduction.

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3 Comments

Mike

I’m having a bit of difficulty following your argument. In the second paragraph you make the following statement: “God alone has perfect understanding of the comprehensive relations that obtain between that which He has created in all of their unity and plurality and has revealed the foundational epistemological principles of unity and plurality to us in creating us in His image, creating the world around us, and giving us His Word. Our epistemological starting point is what God has revealed to us. Implicit and explicit in this presupposition is the ontological co-ultimacy of unity and plurality. Metaphysics and epistemology are intimately tied up in each other as may be especially seen here. The ontological co-ultimacy of unity and plurality in God (as may be observed since finitely displayed on a derivative creaturely level) makes human epistemology possible as a result of God’s nature and knowing.”

So is your argument that only the triune God of the Bible is capable of understanding our world because only a God that is equally ultimate in unity and diversity is capable of understanding a universe where unity and diversity are equally ultimate? Would a unitary God like the Islamic conception of God be capable of comprehending our world? Based upon what you have said thus far, I would assume your answer to the first question would yes and your answer to the second would be no.

But would the claim that a unitary God (like the Islamic conception of God) could understand our world be a contradiction (which would invalidate a worldview) or simply a mystery. After all, there are mysteries in the Christian worldview such as the hypostatic union. One person with two natures: a finite nature and an infinite nature. How can a finite nature and an infinite nature be brought together in one person? No one knows. Is this fundamentally different than the idea of a unitary God understanding a universe that is equally ultimate in its unity and diversity?

C.L. Bolt

“Based upon what you have said thus far, I would assume your answer to the first question would yes and your answer to the second would be no.”

Correct.

There are mysteries in Christian theology, but not actual contradictions or absurdities. Further, these mysteries are nothing like us throwing our hands in the air and giving up on intelligibility and/or knowledge. Someone who does do so has, in my opinion, lost the debate. You will undoubtedly run into such people who think it a great mystery that even though their worldview is absurd they can still communicate.

When I applied this type of argumentation to Islam (http://www.choosinghats.org/?p=1483) I argued that Islam is unintelligible and that an actual contradiction in the Islamic worldview obtains. I do not believe that either of these are things which the Muslim might dismiss as analogous to the Christian understanding of mystery. There is certainly no analogy to the hypostatic union that I can see, especially on a more pragmatic level.

“How can a finite nature and an infinite nature be brought together in one person? No one knows.”

There are any number of answers I could give here as to how a finite nature and an infinite nature can be brought together in one person, so I am not sure what you mean when you say that no one knows. “Through the power of God” is one answer. Perhaps you are asking for something more specific, I do not know. We have to be careful then how we define mystery and where we place it.

In any event these are really, really good questions and I can tell you are really thinking about this argument. You are, in fact, very close in line with Van Til’s thinking here so far as I can tell. I’d recommend the following resources to stretch you a bit more in the area of mystery and paradox written from a Van Tillian perspective.

http://www.amazon.com/Christian-Theology-Paternoster-Theological-Monographs/dp/1842274627/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1207190597&sr=8-1

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2008/04/paradox-in-christian-theology.html

http://reformedforum.org/ctc132/

Enjoy!

Bahama

What is meant by “ultimately everything”?


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