Friday, July 29, 2016

The Axiom of Unipersonality: Examining Unitarian Arguments Against God's Tripersonality

by Hiram R. Diaz III

What is The Axiom of Unipersonality?

When addressing the arguments of enemies of the Christian faith, it is necessary for us to examine their underlying presuppositions. This will help us understand how such arguments are constructed so that we can thoroughly deconstruct them, demonstrate their incoherence, and call those who propose them to repentance. This is the case whether our opponents are atheists, Muslims, or unitarian monotheists claiming to be Christians. By exposing the foundational presuppositions of our opponents’ arguments, we are demonstrating that the conclusions arrived at via arguing from false presuppositions are false. Oftentimes the arguments of Christ’s enemies simply unravel at the seams, for they rest upon false presuppositions.

Unitarian arguments against the doctrine of the trinity, for instance, rest upon what can be called the axiom of unipersonality. The axiom states: “If x is an individual personal being then x is necessarily unipersonal.” From this axiom, the unipersonality of God is deduced.  The reasoning takes the following form:

If God is an individual personal being, then God is necessarily unipersonal. 
God is an individual personal being. 
Therefore, God is necessarily unipersoal.
The unitarian monotheist, building upon his deduced conclusion, subsequently presents a transitive argument against God’s tripersonality. Robert L. Dabney summarizes the transitive argument as follows:
...let a. b. c. represent the persons, and x, the Godhead ; then a=x : b=x : c=x. Add, and we have a+b+c=3 x=x,) in the same sense...[1]
We can restate the argument as follows:
If a is God and b is God and c is God, then a=b=c.
Trinitarians believe that a and b and c are God.
Therefore, they believe that a=b=c.
God’s unipersonality having been deduced from the axiom of unipersonality, the unitarian then attempts to deductively demonstrate that the doctrine of trinity incoherently posits that the three divine persons of the Godhead are distinct while simultaneously implying that they are really one and the sameperson.

Yet is the axiom of unipersonality revealed in Scripture? Is it even conformable to the overall teaching of Scripture? Is it true? If it is not, then should we accept the conclusion of the transitivity argument which is built upon it? The following article aims to show that the axiom of unipersonality, which functions as the foundational presupposition of nearly all unitarian arguments against the tripersonality of God, is neither biblically derived nor conformable to the overall teaching of the Bible. In fact, implicit to the axiom of unipersonality is the assumption that God and his creatures comprise a univocal ontological order which can be called theistic metaphysical monism, or pantheism. Consequently, the axiom of unipersonality, as well the conclusions drawn from arguments using it, must be rejected as false.

The Creator/Creature Distinction

As explained above, the axiom of unipersonality states that if x is a personal individual being then x is necessarily unipersonal. What this implies is that all individual personal beings, including God, belong to a univocal ontological order. Post hoc argumentation meant to support to the axiom of unipersonality typically consists of appeals to the non-existence, among humans, of individual plural-personal beings, as well as Scriptural prooftexts seemingly suggesting that God, because he is an individual personal being, is unipersonal.[2] As James E. Dolezal notes, however, Scripture does not teach that “God and creatures are correlatives within a univocal [ontological] order.”[3] Rather, as Creator “God is the sufficient reason for the world’s existence and thus cannot be evaluated as if he stood together with it in the same order of being.”[4] What obtains between the individual personal being of God and that of man is not a relation of structural identity, as the axiom of unipersonality implies, but one of analogy. Louis Berkhof explains:
...since man is created in the image of God, we learn to understand something of the personal life of God from the contemplation of personality as we know it in man. [Yet] we should be careful...not to set up man's personality as a standard by which the personality of God must be measured. [For] the one outstanding difference between the two is that man is uni-personal, while God is tri-personal.[5] 
Oddly enough, while most unitarians will readily acknowledge that much of Scripture’s descriptive language about God must be understood analogically,[6] they are seemingly unable to keep this in mind when discussing the personal nature of God, consequently declaring the notion of individual plural-personality to be a logical impossibility.[7]

Yet man’s inability to conceive of another kind of individual personal being (namely, individual tri-personal being) says nothing about whether or not God himself can be or is tri-personal. What can be known of God must be revealed by him in a manner that is accessible to the minds of men. He does this by accommodating himself to human limitations, a point which is given emphasis throughout the Scriptures via their use of anthropomorphic and anthropopathic language. God’s seeming unipersonality, in other words, must be analyzed not according to the heuristic axioms of sinful men but the teaching of Scripture regarding the nature of God as ontologically distinct from all of his creation. Theology proper does not begin with an external source of information regarding the ontology of God and that of his creatures. Theology proper begins with, and is derived from, the Scriptures alone. And what is taught throughout the whole of the Bible is that there is no univocal ontological order which God and his creatures jointly occupy. There are two distinct ontological orders. The first is the Creator’s ontological order, of which we have analogies and can only faintly grasp. The second is the creature’s ontological order, to which all created things belong.
Theistic Ontological Univocalism is Theistic Metaphysical Monism

In contradistinction to the Bible’s clearly defined metaphysical dualism (here, meaning the dual ontological orders of Creator and creation) the axiom of unipersonality implies a monist metaphysics in which God and everything else form a single ontological unit. The fruit of this is not a full-blown pantheism, as is found in the Bhagavad Gita for instance, but something more akin to the graduated monism of Neoplatonism. Counterintuitively, it is the axiom meant to guard against supposedly false teachings about God (e.g. the Incarnation, the Trinity, et al.) which creaturizes God, erases his sui generis ontological status, and makes true monotheism impossible, seeing as it implies that all that exists is somehow a part of God.

The unitarian monotheist may wish to deny the axiom. This is a good idea, for it would (1.)deny that God and creatures are correlatives within a univocal ontological order, (2.)uphold the Creator-Creature distinction, and, thereby, (3.)eliminate the possibility of metaphysical monism. However, a denial of the axiom of unipersonality would simultaneously (1.)refute the belief that all individual personal beings are necessarily unipersonal, and (2.)reopen the possibility that unipersonality is impossible for God, seeing as he is ontologically other.[8] Abandoning the axiom of unipersonality would be undesirable for the unitarian, moreover, for it would render the transitive argument against God’s tripersonality unsound and, therefore, false.
Theistic Metaphysical Monism is Pantheism: Some Concluding Remarks

Consistent unitarian monotheism, built on the assumed axiom of unipersonality, reduces God to merely another member of the ontological order comprised of everything. Lower creatures may be separated from him by a very large series of gradations, but they are not outside of him. Additionally, there are no perceptions, experiences, thoughts, words, or deeds that are attributable to either God alone or any part of his creation alone, for this would imply an ontological separation between Creator and Creature, and thereby eliminate the unitarian’s axiom of unipersonality, reopening the possibility that unipersonalism is an impossibility for God, seeing as he would be ontologically “other,” and demonstrating the unsoundness of the transitivity argument against God’s tripersonality.
In summary, we have argued the following points.
  1. If the axiom of unipersonality obtains, then the Creator-Creature distinction does not obtain.

  2. If the Creator-Creature distinction does not obtain, then theistic metaphysical monism obtains.

  3. If theistic metaphysical monism obtains, then monotheism does not obtain.

  4. If theistic metaphysical monism obtains and monotheism does not, then pantheism obtains.
Ironically, the unitarian monotheist’s axiom of unipersonality leads to pantheism. That is to say, the surface level creaturization of Yahweh observable in the axiom of unipersonality culminates in the full creaturization of Yahweh - he becomes not one thing among many but everything. Not only this, however, all that exists, everything, becomes him. Unitarian monotheists are left with a bipolar idolatry in which, on the one hand, the Creator is creaturized and, on the other hand, the Creation is deified.

In his wicked attempt to deny that God became a man in the incarnation of Christ, the unitarian implies that every thing is an incarnation of God. This should serve as a reminder to the reader that true monotheism is not arrived at via philosophical reflection but through the Scriptures alone. Man has been created in the image of God, given innate, intuitive knowledge of the fact of God’s existence and attributes, but he has suppressed the truth in unrighteousness.[9] His mind is warped and cannot reason correctly about God and, thus, makes God and the creation a divine monad that has more in common with the speculative doctrines of the Neoplatonists than it does with the teaching of the Bible. May all who hold such a view be granted repentance for their idolatry. And may God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit be glorified.
Soli Deo Gloria.

[1] Systematic Theology (Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 1985), 177-178.
[2] This is a favorite argument of unitarian Anthony Buzzard.
[3] God Without Parts: Divine Simplicity and the Metaphysics of God’s Absoluteness (Oregon: Pickwick, 2011), xv.
[4] God Without Parts, xvi.
[5] Systematic Theology (Michigan: Eerdmans, 1996), 84.
[6] i.e. related, but differing meanings. I am not here employing Cornelius van Til’s more radical doctrine of analogy, but that of Aquinas.
[7] This is also an instance of begging the question.
[8]There have been, in fact, theologians who have argued that unipersonalism would be impossible for God, given that God’s attributes are personal. For example, in his Dogmatic Theology Vol I (New York:Scribner, 1889), pp.184-186, W.G.T. Shedd argues:
“A subject [viz. God] without an object could not know. What is there to be known? Could not love. What is there to be  loved? Could not rejoice. What is there to rejoice over?
And the object cannot be the created universe. The infinite and eternal object of God’s infinite and eternal knowledge, love, and joy, cannot be His creation because this is neither eternal nor infinite. There was a time when the universe was not and if God’s self-consciousness depended upon the universe, there was a time when He was neither self-conscious nor blessed. The objective God for the subjective God, therefore, must be very God of very God, begotten not made, the eternal Son of the eternal Father.
…In the Christian scheme of the Trinity, the media to self-consciousness are all within the divine essence, and are wholly separate from, and independent of, the finite universe of mind and matter. The divine nature has all the requisites to personality in its own trinal constitution. God makes use of His own eternal and primary essence, and not the secondary substance of the world, as the object from which to distinguish Himself, and thereby be self-knowing and self-communing. God distinguishes Himself from Himself, not from something that is not Himself. This latter [i.e. something that is not God, viz. anything that He has created] would yield consciousness only, not self-consciousness.
…The divine self-contemplation is the beholding and loving of one divine person by another divine person, and not God’s beholding of the universe and loving and communing with it…. ‘The first love of God the Father to the Son is that which we call ad intra, where the divine persons are the object’s of each other’s actings. The Father knows the Son, and the Son knows the Father; the Father loves the Son, and the son loves the Father; and so consequently of the Holy Ghost, the medium of all these actings’ Owen : Sacramental Discourse, XXII.’”

[9] See Rom 1:18-32.