Is the Christian doctrine of the “Trinity” rational?
I am committed to the concept that God is a rational God.
Let me make sure and clarify, though, since people do not know what that word means most of the time. I recently offered to come speak at an atheist’s meeting and described myself as a “rational Christian.”
Let me tell you, tolerance is not a virtue for everyone in the atheist world!
However, the immediate response (I am cleaning up the language a little here) was “there is no such thing as a rational Christian.”
“Rational” is not another word for “I agree with you.” (see the post above for more detail here)…
“Rational” is not another word for “naturalist” or “materialist” (meaning someone who only acknowledges a physical, material world and only accepts materials explanations for things).
It is certainly not another word for confident in “empirical evidence” as a source of knowledge. In fact, reason is a totally different source of knowledge from empirical evidence (remember your Epistemology class?)
“Rational” is also not another word for “knows everything.” God, being a personality and having traits that are right and wrong about Him, is still mysterious. If human beings (especially women , right, men?) are mysterious, of course a much grander being, like God, would be mysterious as well.
Rational does not mean certain. More on that later.
So, if I am claiming to be a rational Christian, how do I deal with the aspects of Christian “doctrine” that have often been thought of as “irrational” or even contradictory?
I want to make a note that being rational does not mean that I can know with certainty anything any more than anyone else. However, what it means is that I think that what I choose to believe is the most rational option of the explanations.
Again, check the link above to see more detail of what I am trying to describe.
I accept that there is an immaterial creation – there is more to creation than we can see or test with physical means. This is often a great frustration to me, but I still believe it is true. I believe that humans have a “mind” that is more than just the bio-chemical interactions of our physical brain.
I do believe that the two are, at least at this point, inextricably linked… and maybe the physical and non-physical always are forever (hence a new body in the resurrection), but I believe both exist. It is in no way irrational that there could be more to existence than what we can see and measure via material means.
This is not my main topic, but it is worth noting that throughout history we have continued to discover more and more about our universe that we have had to discover new ways to find evidence of them – with dark matter and energy being one of the most recent. Further, the evidence of most of our experience is that intensely complex processes stem from intelligence and design. The fact that there is something, and that there is complexity demands an a-posteriori (with experience) question of the source of something (rather than nothing) and the source of complexity. One reasonable answer is that there is more to the universe than merely the material.
I also believe in miracles. This does not mean that I dismiss scientific or process theories (how). I think many of them are excellent. I have no problem with evolutionary theory as a process theory any more than I have a problem with the “laws” of statistics or the rain cycle. I also think that there is a creator who is the “why” behind the “how” and I do not think those come into conflict.
What I mean is that since I can accept the idea of a Creator, I can easily accept the premise that a Creator would continue to be involved in some ways, even when it would mean some adjustment to the normal way things happen.
What it means that I am a rational person means that I believe that there are no true logical incoherencies in existence. I believe that reason is a fundamental source of knowledge.
I accept empirical evidence as a source of knowledge because my reason tells me that it is one. (There is no empirical evidence to prove that empirical evidence is a source of knowledge, but it is reasonable to accept it as a source.) As a scientist, I love that empirical evidence is such a great source of fact, knowledge and even truth!
I believe that revelation is a source of knowledge, because reason supports that a creator God would interact with His creation, and each source of alleged revelation has to be examined carefully.
All sources of knowledge are limited… Certainly, we have all had our senses fooled. Massive mistakes are made under even the best laboratory designs; intuition can lead us to things we want to believe rather what we should believe; authority figures and history can be (and are) often erroneous, or even corrupted; reason is based on right thinking.
In every case, the source of knowledge is not reliable…
Only revelation has a perfect source (revelation is knowledge obtained directly from God). God is a perfect source of knowledge. However, revelation is still terribly flawed – not from the source, but from the receiver.
A lot of people claim to hear from God. Clearly, the fantastically vast majority of those who make an extremely public claim, at least, do not. Atheists would say that none of them do.
Unfortunately, the only way to know much about a person, their existence, thought processes, opinions, etc… is for them to reveal things about themselves. In the case of God, that would require not just personal revelation, but Divine revelation.
There would be no necessary reason to think that God exists in more than one person… though there would have needed to be some good answer for how a being with a penchant for love and even sacrifice could have expressed Its nature unless there were more than one person to love.
However, though the significance of an aspect of God’s identity being “one-ness”, that his identity also includes “three-ness” had to be revealed by Him. Might we have come to the idea that there was more to Him than one merely be reason or by our experience of the natural world? Maybe… but I doubt it.
Part II next week…