World famous apologist William Lane Craig picks up a machete and hacks a path through difficult theology in a recent lecture (“The Concept of God in Islam and Christianity”). He doesn’t waste time building bridges with our Muslim neighbors but instead highlights their threadbare theology while he commits collateral damage to Christianity.
Defense of the Trinity (but with defenders like that, who needs enemies?)
WLC begins by stating that Muslims have misinterpreted basic Christian teaching. Early Christians called Mary the “mother of God,” and Mohammed misinterpreted the Trinity as a king-consort-son arrangement. The Christian Trinity isn’t like this, and WLC says, “It is no wonder that [Mohammed] was revolted by such a ridiculous doctrine.”
I’m not sure that he was revolted, but let’s look instead at this being a “ridiculous doctrine.” I don’t see what’s ridiculous about it (except for the evidence-less supernatural part, which is admittedly pretty ridiculous). You could find lots of king-consort-son triads in other religions—Zeus, Leto, and their son Apollo from the Greek pantheon, for example. If any collection of gods could rule the cosmos, I don’t see why it couldn’t be a family Trinity.
And WLC should be careful with that “ridiculous doctrine” crack since he makes clear that he doesn’t even understand his own ridiculous doctrine. Here’s his approach to the Trinity.
[The Trinity] is the doctrine that God is tri-personal. It is not the self-contradictory assertion that three gods are somehow one God. Or that three persons are somehow one person. That is just illogical nonsense.
That is indeed illogical nonsense. Unfortunately, it’s also Christian dogma. The fourth-century Athanasian Creed says in part, “The Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God.”
WLC could argue that the definition of the Trinity is not stated in the Bible. For evidence, he could point out that the early Church needed centuries to reach agreement on it (if it were obvious, it would’ve been dogma from the start). Unfortunately, this only undercuts his position further.
Rather, [the Trinity] is the claim that the one entity we call God comprises three persons. That is no more illogical than saying that one geometrical figure which we call a triangle is comprised of three angles. Three angles in one figure. Three persons in one being.
Yes, a triangle is composed of three angles, but no, that is not a parallel to the Trinity. In fact, that commits the heresy called Partialism, the declaration that God is composed of three parts that make a whole. Other popular analogies that are also heretical for the same reason compare God to an egg (shell + white + yolk = egg) or to time (past + present + future = time).
WLC is in good company, and C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity makes the same mistake: “In God’s dimension, so to speak, you find a being who is three Persons while remaining one Being, just as a cube is six squares while remaining one cube.” Six squares are parts of a cube, just like Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are parts of God? Be careful—a heresy like that can send a guy to Hell.
Modalism is another anti-Trinitarian heresy that modern Christians often fall into as they struggle to find an analogy by which to understand the fundamental concept of the Trinity. With this heresy, God can be analogized with water, which can be a solid, liquid, or gas. It declares that God can take on different modes, like an actor putting on different masks at different points in a play. (More on the Trinity here and here.)
WLC doubles down on his claim that Muslims (or anyone) pushing back against the Trinity is wrong.
Although this doctrine may seem strange to Muslims, once it is properly stated there is nothing illogical about it. It is a logically consistent doctrine, and therefore rationally unobjectionable.
Nothing illogical about it? You can’t even explain it without preaching heresy! The most honest explanation that I’ve heard is that it’s simply a mystery, and we fallible humans on this side of heaven won’t ever be able to understand it. The Catholic Encyclopedia explains it this way, for example. That doesn’t make the Trinity any more realistic, but at least Christians who say this acknowledge the difficulty.
God and love
WLC moves on to argue why the Christian concept of God is better than the Muslim version. The Trinitarian nature of the Christian god isn’t an embarrassment to Christians determined to argue that their god is monotheistic, WLC tells us; it’s actually an advantage.
Here’s his argument. First, “God is by definition the greatest conceivable being.” This is the beginning of the Ontological argument, where apologists imagine that they can think into existence anything they want, but let’s avoid digging into the problems with that argument and move on.
Point 2: “A perfect being must be a loving being, for love is a moral perfection.” Who says that love is a moral perfection? Is there a list of these perfections?
I agree that love is pretty great, but that’s because evolution has programmed me to think that love is pretty great. I feel this way for no more profound reason than that. Why imagine that the feelings we have for each other translate unchanged to God? Christians eager to excuse God’s genocidal demands suppose that we simply can’t understand his thinking. But then if we can’t understand his thinking, don’t pretend that we understand how he loves us or anything else or what “love” means at his level.
Anyway, “loving” is not on the short list of attributes that an objective observer would give the god of the Old Testament. Richard Dawkins’ famous quote at the end of this post summarizes some of these. The Bible makes clear that God is a lot more than just a cuddly teddy bear.
“Should you not fear me?” declares the Lord. “Should you not tremble in my presence?” (Jeremiah 5:22)
Point 3 in WLC’s argument: Love requires a target of that love, and for the current of love to flow before the creation of humanity, God couldn’t have been a single person. (And maybe because self-love puts hair on your palms?) Sorry, Muslims, your mono-monotheism isn’t as good as Christianity’s tri-monotheism.
Here’s how WLC puts it:
If God is perfectly loving by his very nature then he must be giving himself in love to another. But who is that other? It can’t be any created person since creation is a result of God’s free will, not a result of his nature. It belongs to God’s very essence to love, but it does not belong to his essence to create. God is necessarily loving, but he is not necessarily creating.
Wow—where did all these rules come from? It’s nice to imagine that God is loving, just like us, but how does WLC conclude that this is a binding attribute? And how can God not be necessarily creating since creating the universe must’ve been better than not doing so, and God always does the better thing?
And what kind of love are the three persons of the Trinity sharing? Is this romantic/erotic love? Parent/child love? And how do we know?
What would this love-in even look like? WLC apparently imagines that for the trillions of years God existed before the universe did, the three persons of the Trinity were just loving and loving each other. And then they’d start all over again. Was it nothing but compliments all day long?
“Y’know, those new trousers really work on you”
“Say, have you lost weight? You look great!”
“Oh, no—let me do that for you!”
“Can I get you a beer? You look like you could use one.”
WLC would probably say that we just don’t know and that it’s ridiculous to speculate. I like that—let’s just say we don’t know instead of this philosophical masturbation based on nothing.
Conclude with part 2.
The God of the Old Testament
is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction:
jealous and proud of it;
a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak;
a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser;
a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal,
genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal,
sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
— Richard Dawkins
Image credit: Luz Adriana Villa, flickr, CC