Scott Cherry's Assessment of the 4/9 Debate Between Ted Barham and Ozair Tahir
The Trinity is a doctrine of God that seems to some as irrational, a logical contradiction, including atheists and agnostics as well as Muslims. For Muslims there is a competing doctrine of absolute oneness called Tawhid, with one Qur'anic verse stating, "Say not three" (surah 4:171), and others stating that God has no partners or associates (surahs 3:64 and 4:36). So for them that is the first reason for rejecting the doctrine of the trinity. Secondarily, or perhaps equally, Muslims often say that they view the trinity as nonsensical and absurd, analogous to “squared circles” in Ozair’s words.
What is the doctrine of the trinity, and is it really analogous to “squared circles”? The doctrine of the trinity is one doctrine, not many, the same for all Christians everywhere. God Almighty exists as one Being with three persons. He is one Divine Essence in keeping with the Torah (Deut. 6:4), with three persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—as revealed in the New Testament through the teaching of God the Father, Jesus, and his Apostles, in multiple places.
In other words, God is a Being with plurality/diversity within his unity, or plural-unity. The primary reason for Christian belief in this doctrine is that it is clearly evident in the New Testament scriptures, but also those of the Old Testament, or Hebrew Tanakh, including the Torah, the grouping of the first five books of the Tanakh that were revealed to Moses. But the New Testament in particular is saturated with this idea. It is evident that the Apostles and other New Testament writers put forth this claim in various forms, and Jesus repeatedly expressed it. He often said things that put him in connection and even equality with God the Father, which earned him the charge of blasphemy and eventually execution. One example is when Jesus called himself “Lord of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) By claiming this title for himself Jesus evidently saw himself as having been present at creation when the seventh-day sabbath was established as a holy day of rest. (Genesis 2:2,3) And according to chapter 1 verse 2, the Spirit of God was also present at creation. We can call this synchronicity, or co-provenance. It is a part of the concept of the trinity, but not all of it. Another good example of synchronicity occurs in the New Testament, the Gospel of Luke 1:35–38 at the miraculous conception of Mary.
And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
In the sentence highlighted in blue we see that the Holy Spirit and the Most High are referred to synchronously in the conception of the holy child, the Son of God. A similar example can be found in the parallel nativity account of the Gospel of Matthew 1:18-20.
But moving on, the answer to Ozair’s pet question is "yes". If the Bible presented some concepts and ideas that strike us as “squared circles”, Christians should believe them. We should believe the Bible as God’s authoritative, final, and ultimate revelation in-writing. But this answer requires a more thorough and nuanced explanation. First, the Muslim position is the same: If the Qur'an (Allah) insisted that there are square circles, then it is so, and the Muslim is obliged to give assent. Indeed, the doctrine of Tawhid is every bit as much of a "square circle" as the trinity seems to them to be. Absolute oneness is nonsensical and absurd. It is akin to the notion of infinity, and any living being that has no intrinsic diversity, let alone the most basic of objects. There are no examples of it in reality, except I suppose in math, and there is debate over whether numbers are real things at all. The point is that there are obvious double standards in play here, which is sophistry and hypocrisy. Neither Ozair nor many other Muslims I have met are so committed to sound logic and reason that it trumps the Qur’an. The fact is just the opposite, the Qur’an always trumps reason. Therefore, if the Qur’an affirmed the trinity they would have no objection to it whatsoever, even if it seemed to them like a square circle.
Again, if the Bible explicitly asserted that there are actual "square circles" (logical contradictions) or ideas equivalent to them, then Christians would be obliged to believe them, but not blindly without trying to make sense of them. It should not surprise us that every book that claims to be divine revelation, to say nothing of many works of philosophy, contain some ideas like that. But the trinity is not one of them, it is logical and rational. Therefore, the Christian need not give assent to the existence of logical contradictions in the Bible, especially not on account of a Supreme Being with plural-unity. There are two reasonable possibilities for the impression of 'square circles' in the Bible. One is, ideas that strike us as logical contradictions are only apparently so, not actually so. This is precisely what Christians have historically surmised from the plural-unity teachings of Christ and his Apostles. When they become apparent to the reader, the three persons of the one God (i.e. the “Godhead”) may initially strike him as a contradiction, but he need not be fixed upon this conclusion. Rather, as has happened to me and many Christians in our study of the Bible, the rational consistency and harmony of the idea emerges over time as more examples are considered and insight is gained. The characters of the New Testament (God the Father, Jesus the son, and the Apostles) repeatedly and consistently assert the notion of the trinity so as to reveal it with authority and conviction.
The second possibility is the gradual realization that what at first may have seemed to be a logical contradiction (a "squared circle") was a faulty analogy. It was owing to an over-simplistic conception of what constitutes a contradiction and/or what might only appear to be one. In reality, a supremely Divine Being with plural-unity is not a logical contradiction at all. There is no contradiction in plural-unity. And, what might have seemed to be a "squared circle" is rather a 'circle within a square'. Or better yet, a triangle within a circle.
Toward the end of the debate Ozair explicitly stated his true position that nothing could be more contradictory than the idea that “a God can become a man, and defecate.” By making this statement Ozair himself went off topic, and also showed that he did not understand the doctrine of the trinity. The notion that God can become a man is not the doctrine of the trinity. Rather, that is the doctrine of incarnation, and the parallel doctrine of Jesus’s two natures. Strictly speaking, the doctrine of the trinity precedes both of those because it describes the nature of God as a whole being, not just Jesus. It also describes God from time immemorial, or from all eternity, way before the specific point in time that Jesus was born into the world and the incarnation took place. So, the trinity alone says nothing about God becoming man, that he could or that he did. To make the statement that Ozair made required him to introduce a foreign topic into the debate, something for which he criticized Ted several times earlier. Bad form on Ozair’s part.
Finally, in all the debate Ozair never stated his understanding of the trinity, nor did he ever explain why he thought the trinity was illogical or irrational. But again, by the statement quoted from him above it is probable that he has does not understand it, and/or that he confuses it with other doctrines. The doctrine of the trinity by itself, in isolation, does not require belief in the incarnation, the deity of Christ, nor the dual nature of Christ. The doctrine of the trinity only requires us to understand that God is a Singular Being consisting of three persons—father, son, and holy spirit. Apparently, this is never what Ozair had in mind when he alleged “squared circles” in the Bible. But even if he had, there is absolutely nothing logically contradictory about plural-unity.
At this time I will pause my discussion and invite Ozair to respond if he wishes. If he does respond I will interact with his discourse. Otherwise I will say more about the trinity in part 2.