Trinity Monotheism Part 8: Bill Fires Back, Part 2

A couple of equally “bugly” ladies.

In his attack, Dan Howard-Snyder goes through four different things one might have in mind by saying there are “two ways to be divine”. Continuing his defense and elaboration of the theory of Trinity Monotheism, Bill goes through each of these, declaring that Dan’s objections beg the question, or saddle the Trinity Monotheist with commitments she needn’t make. I’ve seen fit to skip this technical infighting. Bill argues that since we can understand “there are two ways to be feline” – it just means “There is more than one way of being cat-ish or cat-like” (107), so we can understand “there are two ways to be divine”, presumably, as meaning “There is more than one way of being god-ish or god-like.” (my words) No metaphysical account of what’s going on (e.g. two properties, two ways of having one property?), he insists, is necessary. Well, maybe. Consider the case of “buglies”.

The Trinity Monotheist is suggesting we adopt a disjunctive definition of the word “divine” – one with an “or” in it. Suppose I suggest defining the word “bugly” as meaning “either beautiful or ugly”. (No – it doesn’t mean “butt-ugly”. :-) ) It might seem pointless to do this, but we might find some use for this term to, say, pick out those who aren’t normal looking. But suppose I insisted that there’s a property – a feature that both the ladies share – bugliness, in virtue of which both are truly called “bugly”. Would you believe me? Probably not, if you think of properties as in some sense components, constituents, parts, or ingredients of things. You’ll say you find no reason to posit bizarre properties like bugliness, when ones like beauty and ugliness seem sufficient. If you think of properties not as words, but as features in things, you’ll reasonably dismiss all disjunctive properties. Some would be had by every thing there is (e.g. humornotness – either being a human or not being a human), which seems ridiculous, and others just seem unnecessary – it’s more economical not to believe in disjunctive properties. So most of us would grant that the pictured ladies are equally “bugly” (the term, as disjunctively defined, applies as much to one as the other), but neither has a property of bugliness, ’cause there’s no such thing.

Craig and Moreland want us to accept a disjunctive definition of “divine” – something is divine just in case it’s a god or a part of a god – but why should we? I assume they’d agree about the metaphysical ugliness of disjunctive properties. But then, why shouldn’t we expect to find two distinct properties that make it true that something is “divine” (in their sense)? In fact, although Craig protests that believers in “two ways to be divine” needn’t commit to any metaphysics underlying that claim (107), later he commits to

“Being divine” is truly predicable of any entity x if x either is a God or is a distinctive part of a God.” (110)

Bill believes in properties, and I’m sure he thinks that being identical to God is one property, and being a distinctive part of God is another. Surely he isn’t just making a point about words, merely saying that “divine” applies to something when “God” or “part of God” applies to it.

Suppose I said there are “two ways to be rich” – by having a lot of money, or having a large percentage of fat in one’s ingredients – Donald Trump is rich, and so is my piece of cheesecake. In fact, they’re both equally rich. Well, that’s misleading. There are two different definitions of “rich”, not a single disjunctive one. Similarly, one would think that saying that God (the Trinity) and the Son are “equally divine” is misleading; being God is one thing, and being a part of God is another. It may be that both can be called “divine” – but there are two different definitions afoot, right?

Wrong, says Craig. What’s the difference? Why is the Trump/cheesecake statement a joke, and the God/part of a god statement not? I’m not completely sure, but Bill seems to offer three considerations. For one thing, he seems to think the cat (or dog) example is uncontroversial enough to remove suspicions from the “two ways to be divine” move. Further,

Whether or not they qualify on our model as parts, I think the persons on our model are indisputably divine, for they are God’s persons and are omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, worthy of worship, and so forth. (110)

In the final part of the paper, Craig tries to clarify the issues around whether the “persons” of the Trinity should be thought of as parts of God or not. He wants to say that things will be fine either way. If the “persons” are parts of God, then God will either be an individual made of other individuals, or a group composed of individuals. He uses the term “individual” here in the sense defined by philosopher Peter Simons:

An individual is anything which can be the subject of a true singular count predication which is neither disguisedly plural nor disguisedly mass… (110)

A man or a god, then would be an “individual”, but so would a headache or an ability to laugh. So how do things work out?

  • Option 1: The Trinity is a collection/group of individuals. On this option, the Trinity Monotheism must deny that God is identical to the Trinity. Why? We’re assuming the Trinity is a group, but God, being an entity/substance (specifically, a soul), is clearly an individual. (112) So there is a Trinity (three faculties in the soul which is God) but it ain’t God, but rather a group of things in God. This theory shouldn’t really be called “Trinity Monotheism”, but rather something else, because the Trinity isn’t identified with the one true god. (112)
  • Option 2: The Trinity is an individual composed of individuals (i.e. the “persons”); The Trinity/God is that soul with the three sets of faculties sufficient for personhood.

Craig doesn’t see any problems with this second option, and I take it this is really what he wants to say, even though he over-cautiously tries to leave his options open. (Option 1 is really abandoning the theory.) So if the “persons” are individuals, are they also “substances”? He says this depends on “whether one thinks that inseparable parts of a substance are themselves substances”. (113) This issue, he urges, doesn’t matter. All that matters is that the “persons” all share in God’s nature, without themselves being so many gods. (113)

Next time: Some final thoughts and objections.

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About Dale

Dale Tuggy is a Professor of Philosophy at SUNY Fredonia, where he teaches courses in analytic theology, philosophy of religion, religious studies, and the history of philosophy.

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