Friday, June 21, 2013

Trinitarian Metaphysics

Earlier this week I stumbled across the Evangelical Philosophy Society and read a paper there by Paul K. Moser. Afterwards there are a series of papers responding to his thesis, and an invitation to submit a response to be published there. I read the paper and noticed some close similarities with trinitarian metaphysics, so I wrote up an abstract and fired it off in an email, not really expecting a response. To my surprise, I received a reply about an hour later inviting me to submit the paper. I wrote this up and sent it, which was promptly rejected due to the fact that it did not deal directly with Mozer's thesis, which he calls "Christ-Shaped Philosophy" and heavily utilizes the idea of "Gethsemane union". "Gethsemane union" refers to Christ's submission to God's will and our imitation of that submission, which is an important part of trinitarian metaphysics. I really like the term, and may use it in the future. But I have some suspicion that the EPS would prefer not to publish someone without academic credentials, which is why I never expected a response in the first place, so I will publish it here. I am quite happy with the result, so I am actually grateful for the motivation to write it up more succinctly and clearly than I have before, including in my book. 

Trinitarian Metaphysics

In Western philosophy, Reason is normally viewed as a primary source of knowledge and dominates epistemology. However, Reason has also always been described as a process through which valid conclusions are drawn from valid premises. Therefore valid premises cannot ultimately come from Reason but must be assumed through faith, and this faith must somehow come to rest upon premises that are valid without being able to prove them so. This concept has been discussed and taken seriously in all scientific disciplines. The choice of a set of axioms that cannot prove their own truth value is not a feature particular to philosophy. In mathematics, Gödel proved his incompleteness theorems in 1931, showing that no mathematical system can prove all of its own axioms. In physics, Einstein’s unshakeable faith in the invariance principle led him to his formulation of general relativity, but also to his skepticism of the emerging quantum mechanics which he tried to prove wrong for the rest of his life despite all the emerging confirmatory evidence. The greatest physicist ever produced by the field spent his latter decades opposing one of best theories ever produced by the field because he could not accept the philosophical implications. There is still within the field of physics a deep incongruity between the two theories which string theorists believe they can resolve, but whose best evidence is the “beauty” of the math involved, for they have no empirical evidence and have proposed no way to attain any. This might seem non-scientific, but it is taken very seriously by physicists and mathematicians who know that in the development of their disciplines the aesthetic impulse towards beauty and simplicity has been extremely important. Opponents of string theory do not argue that mathematical beauty and simplicity is not a desirable feature of a physical theory or that it does not lead to Truth. Rather they argue that string theory is not actually beautiful or simple! In the history and philosophy of science, Kuhn has shown convincingly that though scientists may speak and act as if they are only drawing concrete and singular conclusions straight from empirical evidence, the actual history of scientific progress shows otherwise, taking the Copernican Revolution which ushered in the modern age of science as his primary example. No one remembers the fact that not only Copernicus’ final heliocentric model of the solar system, but also even Kepler’s final elliptical model were both actually inferior to the geocentric Ptolemaic model, refined over many centuries, in predicting the position of celestial bodies. The Copernican Revolution was a foregone conclusion decades before the accuracy of heliocentric models outstripped the Ptolemaic model, and in any case it never would have happened at all without scientists working on it long before they could be assured of any success. Yet they did so in the pursuit of beauty and simplicity, far from objective values. One of the most important empirical problems with it, the absence of observed stellar parallax, was solved via technological advancements as late as the early 19th century that allowed observations precise enough to observe it. The Copernican Revolution depended as much upon visionary scientists pursuing mathematical beauty as any empirical concerns, and in some cases even against empirical concerns. In other words, our set of premises which we assume are valid come down to a choice of the will.
Science and philosophy must take starting assumptions and go from there. These disciplines cannot and do not in practice start from any sort of objectively known Truth. They are attempts to discover objective Truth through the use of axioms which can only be chosen at the very beginning. Philosophers should not wield their ignorance of other disciplines to argue that they are so unlike philosophy that their advertised homogeneity and absolute grasp on Truth is anything more than a public relations facade. The confusion about this amongst scientists and philosophers can and should be cleared up, but to do so requires a greater confidence in Western academia that we can know Truth, for of what value is the Truth discovered by their disciplines if all of it is dependent upon their own choice of axioms? Until this confidence is attained, many scientists will continue to deny their dependence on axioms and preferences because to accept that dependence would be to accept the futility of their discipline and their life’s work, not to mention put a damper on their funding sources if the public were ever to find out. The admission of uncertainty in academic disciplines is always suppressed by subjective concerns.
Now to business. Reason has always looked like this:

Axiom ⇨ Reason ⇨ Conclusion

It has always been understood that the conclusion can only be valid if both the axioms and the rational process are also valid, but how are we to have confidence of that? Even the most basic of philosophical exercises requires us to simply know the axiom is valid or not. It could be argued that specific axioms are known to be valid because they are valid conclusions from prior reasoning, but it cannot be turtles all the way down. At some point we must either know or take on faith a set of axioms from which, we believe on faith, valid conclusions can be drawn. This conundrum is not limited to Christians doing philosophy; it is a problem for anyone doing philosophy. I propose the following reformulation of the rational process as a starting point:

Will ⇨ Reason ⇨ Truth

It should be obvious why I have chosen Will to replace Axiom, because ultimately axioms come down to a choice of the Will. However if different humans each have the capability of Will, then different humans can make different choices of their axioms and come to different conclusions, which I have labeled Truth. This is undesirable, so for the moment let us assume this formulation holds only for God. But then we have a different problem. How is it that Truth merely depends on a choice of the will? Is God capricious, able to choose Truth and falsehood  arbitrarily? The notion of Truth here also includes the Moral Law, and thus Right and Wrong. Our unease with this can be partially remedied by the additional assumption that God is eternal, and therefore any choices He has made are timeless, eternal choices and are thus stable. He can make one choice for all time, but change is impossible for Him, and thus His self-referential Truth is stable and absolute. We might still encounter objections to this, but those objections can only take the form of a Truth that is superior to Will, rather than a Will that is superior to Truth. I submit as my only defense against this objection that this reverse formulation cuts against everything we know about the process of rational thought, eliminates the will and therefore any possible choice of axioms which we know from experience is not only possible but required, and ultimately reduces to a tautology and an infinite regress in the form:

Truth ⇨ Reason ⇨ Truth1

Moving on, I will take my previous formulation as an assumption about God and His self-referential Truth and apply it to humans. The reason we cannot apply the Truth condition to humans is the cacophony of our many independent, divergent wills and our ability, contra God, to change. Let me suggest a slightly different formulation, which I will take as an assumption in the hope that the reader will understand its utility as we continue:

Will ⇨ Reason ⇨ Change2

Though not obvious, this human version of the rational process introduces a quality unique to humans, Change, that is inherent in doing philosophy which replaces the quality of Truth unique to God.3 If doing philosophy is understood as discovering Truth the philosopher did not already know, then Change is required from one state in which the Truth in question was not known to a new state in which it is known. But wait, how is it then that the philosopher can know Truth when Truth has been removed from the human rational process? Indeed, the philosopher cannot know Truth if there is no communication between God and Man. The only way for a philosopher to know Truth is if his will is, by some mechanism or perhaps by luck, aligned to God’s will. But we want more than blind squirrels finding nuts. How can the philosopher know when his will is aligned to God’s will and when it is divergent? We cannot know. We can only have faith as Christianity teaches, and this faith must be blind without the assurances of Christianity, chief among them Mozer’s Gethsemane union, the alignment of our will with God’s will supported by the evidence of Christ’s resurrection. It is not, therefore, Christian philosophy whose faith is blind.

There is much more to say here, but I have more ground to cover. Let me begin to play the physicist, or perhaps the metaphysicist, and speculate as to the nature of both the formulation for God and for Man. Will, Reason, Truth and Change are all capacities. In order for a capacity to exist it must have a vessel. Let me propose the following system of vessels corresponding to both God and Man (thus taking the first step in reconciling the two):

Spirit ⇨ Mind ⇨ Body

This formulation is immediately suggestive in so many ways it will be difficult to cover all of them in the space of this essay.

First, we see the structure of the Trinity. God the Father as Spirit with the capacity for Will (Luke 22:42, John 4:24, Rom 12:1-2). The Holy Spirit4 as the Mind with the capacity for Reason and communication between Father and Son (Rom 8:26-27, 1 Cor 2:10-16, 14:11-19). Jesus Christ as the Body with the capacity for Truth (Luke 22:19,  John 14:6, 1 Cor 12:12, Col 2:9). 

God the FatherHoly SpiritJesus Christ

Secondly, we see the structure of Man who has chosen to rebel against God’s will and has therefore produced actions in the flesh which are evil, which is a change from the original good (Gen 1, Rom 5:12-19). We also see that if Man’s Spirit is divergent from God, and Mind is merely a conduit between Spirit and Body, then the Body is the only vessel through which God can communicate with Man, thus explaining why Christ had to come in the flesh. Only our bodies hold the capacity for change, and through Christ’s gospel we can put to death our own rebellious spirit in the faith and hope God will resurrect our spirit alongside His Spirit, to know and be in alignment with His good, pleasing and perfect will. We can then begin sanctification, the process of transforming our minds to be in alignment with the Mind of the Lord, that is the Holy Spirit, (1 Cor 2:16) and through our minds reprogram the previous instantiations of evil in our bodies leftover from our previous sinful, but now dead spirit (Rom 8:13), bringing our bodies into alignment with the Body of Christ. Thus we can explain the problem of evil, salvation, sanctification and the continued presence of sin right alongside a new righteousness in Christians possessed by the Holy Spirit transforming our minds to be in alignment with God’s will (Rom 6:1-14, Rom 12:1-2). Under this model Christians really are a new creation (2 Cor 5:17), with a new spirit, born again not of water but of spirit, not of a husband’s will but of God. (John 1:12-13, 3:3-8) Under this model, being born again is no mere metaphor; it is what actually happens to us, since our original spirits were attached to our bodies at our creation and this is happening a second time at salvation.5 This is the Gethsemane union, the death and resurrection model of Christian salvation and sanctification.

Thirdly, we can see implicit in this model substance dualism, virtually a required assumption for a Biblical hermeneutic. As capacities require vessels, so vessels require space. There is the spirit and the body, the spiritual and the physical, eternity and space-time. Just as importantly there is the third part, the connection between the two realms, giving us confidence that though we may not understand the solution to the mind-body problem, there is one since we are capable of Reason. Inversely, if there is no connection then there can be no Reason, no process from immaterial axioms chosen by the will to valid conclusions. To doubt this connection is to doubt our ability to reason and to put philosophy to death, not to mention doubting the existence of the Holy Spirit and thus even the possibility of the Incarnation or any other actions of God in the physical realm. Under this metaphysic philosophers do not need to solve the mind-body problem since the solution is axiomatic within the system. We can say further that since the spiritual realm is not observable in a scientific sense then we have no reason to believe the spiritual realm follows scientific laws. Rather the spiritual realm is the source of all Law. There is no reason to believe that all such Law is discoverable via the scientific method, and therefore objections to the connection between an immaterial mind and a material body based on scientific observation do not cover all the possible means of communication.

Lastly, we see what science, Latin for “knowledge of something”, and philosophy, Greek for “love of wisdom”, are all about in the first place, and we gain a new confidence in our ability to know wisdom. For modern science, after all, is only backwards reasoning, not necessarily bad or wrong, but not necessarily good or true either. Empirical science proceeds backwards from observations of the physical, the Body, through Reason to the immaterial, even spiritual axioms known in their purest and simplest forms mathematically.6 But so long as human observation and knowledge of the physical world which is the rational product of these immaterial Laws is incomplete, then we must acknowledge the possibility our knowledge and understanding of the Laws themselves are also incomplete, and perhaps even false. Empirical observations (Truth) through backwards reasoning (Reason) can result in multiple competing theories (Will) that are incongruent with each other even as both are congruent with observation, such as general relativity and quantum mechanics. For Newtonian mechanics was only overthrown by relativity and quantum mechanics when the realm of the very fast and the very small which do not hold to Newtonian mechanics was observed. In this way science advanced from one set of axioms meant to be universally true to another, different set of axioms also meant to be universally true. Are we to believe that Truth depends upon the transient quality and quantity of human observations? No philosopher would hold to that, yet within physics the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics holds that objective Truth depends not just upon the quality or quantity of observation, but upon the simple fact of observation.7 Will philosophers accept the absurd dictates of these physicists? Or should they push back with rational philosophical requirements upon physics, forcing it to keep looking for a physical theory, or at least an interpretation of physical theory, that makes rational sense? Our answer depends upon our epistemology, and if we take the scientific method as supreme, then we must accept certain absurdities, which may be part of science today but not tomorrow. If however we trust not in physical observation and human knowledge but in our own will’s alignment with God’s Will, our minds with God’s Mind, our bodies with God’s Body, then we can believe that science, in the modern empirical sense, is always incomplete due to our inability to observe the entire universe, but that our own axiomatic values, chosen by our transformed will and aligned in Gethsemane union with an omnipotent, omniscient God can be a reliable guide to new knowledge of Truth.


1. Objections cannot take the form: Truth -> Reason -> Will because that destroys the definition of Will which is the capacity to choose between real, mutually exclusive possibilities. If Truth is what it is, and Reason is valid, then the result leaves no real, mutually exclusive possibilities. Inherent in that is the definition of Reason as a lawlike process with only one possible conclusion given a unique, exhaustive set of premises.

2. The metaphysics of change has fallen out of fashion in the modern era, but in the ancient era it was a rich arena for philosophical inquiry. The ancients believed in the Absolute, first and foremost, and so Change was something which needed explaining. Today we often take Change for granted and doubt the Absolute. Note that under Trinitarian metaphysics "change" is defined as a conflict of wills. Change understood to mean "physical movement" is not really change at all, since the movement is merely following physical law along a predetermined course, whose causal chain follows in deterministic fashion from the original choice of will which originally pushed the ball down the hill, so to speak. A real change occurs when a second will opposes the first by introducing some adjustment not already inherent in natural law.

3. It also neatly solves the problem of evil assuming the original existence of a Good God, since first of all there must be a capacity for divergence, that is Change, from God’s will, not to mention divergence between humans.

4. Within this system, the term “Holy Spirit” is something of a misnomer, but unfortunately the Bible provides very few other terms for this part of the Trinity, unlike the myriad names provided for God the Father and Jesus Christ. I will continue to use the term “Holy Spirit” but only in order to be understood clearly. I would rather call it the “Mind of Christ” or the “Mind of the Lord” (1 Cor 2:16).

5. I see here a strong Biblical argument against the doctrine of Original Sin, since if our individual spirits had always been sinful and created apart from God then salvation in this sense would not resemble being “born again” in the same sense as the first birth, but rather being born again in a completely different and new sense. But Christianity seems to suggest a fall from grace and a restoration or resurrection to an original state, and that this occurs to individuals (Rom 7:9-11). Original Sin could be compatible with this view only if one accepts that human spirits are a singular collective rather than an assortment of divergent individuals, and that is historically how the subject has been treated. But if this is the case how are some individuals saved but not others? It must therefore treat salvation as individual but rebellion as collective, which I find unsatisfactory.

6. Math of course is immaterial, and it is a foregone conclusion within this system that God used it to create and sustain physical law in the form: Lawgiver ⇨ Law ⇨ Physical Reality. This is perfectly aligned with the other trinitarian formulations presented here. There is also an even deeper understanding and hierarchy of the three types of causality available in the form: Will ⇨ Law ⇨ Chance. That is of course, if Chance even exists. It would have to be defined here not as pure randomness, but merely randomness within the prescribed boundaries of Law.

7. Einstein famously said in criticism of quantum mechanics, “I like to think the moon is there even if I am not looking at it." Yet the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics denies this, at least at the quantum level. These are serious, brilliant scientists trying to deal with the implications of very real observations and a very successful physical theory.