Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Terminology Tuesday: Modalism

Modalism: Also called Sabellianism, the trinitarian heresy that does not view the Father, Son, and Spirit as three particular "persons in relation" but merely as three modes or manifestations of the one divine person of God. Thus God comes in salvation history as Father to create and give the law, as Son to redeem and as Spirit to impart grace.1

1. Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki & Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), p. 79.

17 comments :

Ex N1hilo said...

I'm with Van Til in his view that, if the doctrine of the Trinity is not true, then nothing is true; nothing can be known. Only in the Trinity do we have the ultimate source of unity and diversity; both equally ultimate. And only in the loving and rational communion among the persons of the Trinity do we find a sufficient account for the orderliness of the universe and the rationality of the human creature.

A unitarian god, whether of the modalist, arian, islamic, or whatever form, cannot provide this.

royalcanadian2011 said...

I am a proud modalist. I also believe in the trinity. The Greek mind tried to get its head around a god that exists in and out of creation, as mind, spirit and body. Non-dualism solves some issues in the discussion of trinitarianism; it also raises new argument.

Nevertheless, I don't feel that Van Till's emotional plea for an absolute triastic god is very convincing.

Randy Everist said...

Hi royalcanadian. One cannot be a Trinitarian and a modalist. Perhaps you mean that you believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. This is good, but not sufficient to be a Trinitarian. A Trinitarian, or one who believes in the Trinity, teaches that there are three persons in one being. Modalism teaches there is just one person. Hence, one cannot, on pain of logical contradiction, believe in modalism and Trinitarianism.

Marc said...

Ex N1hilo:

Perhaps I'm not fully appreciating your point, but it seems to me that the conditional you present creates a problem: "if the doctrine of the Trinity is not true, then nothing is true." If the doctrine of the Trinity were false, or if a Trinitarian God didn't exist, then, according to your conditional, it appears that at least one proposition would be true--the proposition the doctrine of the Trinity is false--which should be impossible. I don't think that a Trinitarian needs to be committed to such a strong conditional as the one you (or Van Til) suggests.

Randy Everist said...

Marc, I think part of the difficulty arises because the antecedent is assumed to be logically impossible, and hence this is why the difficulty occurs. I happen to agree that if the Trinity is not true, then nothing exists, a slightly different proposition, and I think that nothing would be true in the way that it is now.

That is to say, because I view God as the ontological ground of reality, logic, and morality, this is a similar type of argument to saying "if logic is false, then anything follows." Technically, this antecedent is impossible, and so *nothing* and *everything* follows, which is ludicrous. The main difference is that the former approach won't hold appeal to the atheist or non-believer, whereas an appeal to something one already believes in will.

The reason I think the claim is *true* despite its logical impossibility is because it is truly logically impossible for God not to exist.

Marc said...

Randy:

Thanks for your comments. I agree that if God didn't exist, then nothing would exist. But I disagree that if God didn't exist, then nothing would be true. (You added the qualification "in the way that it is now," but I'm uncertain what it means for something to be true in a particular way.) For if God didn't exist, then it seems to be the case that the proposition God doesn't exist is true. (If one happens to be a conceptualist about abstracta, perhaps one could refer to a true statement about the world--i.e., "God doesn't exist"--instead of a true proposition.)

I'm inclined to reject the standard account of counterpossibles, so, to my mind, the antecedent's being false doesn't entail that anything follows. It seems to me that the counterpossible in question, If a Trinitarian God didn't exist, then nothing would be true, is non-trivially false. Suppose that, per impossibile, God doesn't exist. If, according to this supposition, nothing is true, then we can't say it's true that God doesn't exist, which seems implausible.

Ex N1hilo said...

Marc,

My position simply stated is this:

I would contend that rationality and rational communion with others are both necessary aspects of personhood. In other words, to be personal means to possess a rational mind that is in relationship with others of like rationality.

Propositions are conceptual things. A concept can exist only in the minds of persons. No persons, no true or false propositions.

Only the existence of an eternal personal being can account for the existence of temporal personal beings such as ourselves. The claim that rationality and other aspects of personality arose spontaneously from non-rational matter in motion is absurd.

The idea that a unipersonal or non-personal eternal being gave rise to temporal personal beings is absurd for the same reason.

Ex N1hilo said...

Randy,

Yes. I think we are saying essentially the same thing with a slightly different emphasis.

Marc said...

Ex N1hilo:

Thanks for the clarification.

You asserted that since "[p]ropositions are conceptual things" and that a "concept can only exist in the minds of persons," the utter absence of persons entails that there are "no true or false propositions." Conceptualism about propositions (and abstracta in general) involves a certain ontological commitment to propositions -- namely, that they exist. But, it seems to me, one needn't be a conceptualist (or a Platonist) in order to affirm that there are, in fact, truths. One might be a nominalist and prefer to say, for example, "There are no abstract objects called propositions," instead of saying, "It's true that there are no abstract objects called propositions," where the latter ascribes a truth-value to a proposition.

Returning to the original conditional, If the Trinity didn't exist, then nothing would be true, I think we can identity a more fundamental problem. Suppose that the antecedent is true and that God doesn't exist. According to the conditional, nothing is true. But we can ask whether the statement "Nothing is true" is true or false. If God doesn't exist, then the statement in question must be false, which contradicts the original conditional. So if the original conditional entails a contradiction, it's not possibly true.

Ex N1hilo said...

Marc wrote:

You asserted that since "[p]ropositions are conceptual things" and that a "concept can only exist in the minds of persons," the utter absence of persons entails that there are "no true or false propositions." Conceptualism about propositions (and abstracta in general) involves a certain ontological commitment to propositions -- namely, that they exist.

If propositions don’t exist, then you are not presenting any; nor have you responded to any from me; nor have I presented any. In that case it is pointless to continue what I have mistaken for a discussion.

As is the case with a number of people I have encountered, you seem to see the verb “to exist” as roughly synonymous with “to be material” or “to occupy space.” To such folks, numbers and other concepts do not exist. OK. In the sense that they mean when they say “exist”, numbers do not. Yet, they affirm that numbers “are” by using them. So, can we agree at least that propositions "are"?

But, it seems to me, one needn't be a conceptualist (or a Platonist) in order to affirm that there are, in fact, truths.

Again, in the view of the nominalist, truths are, although they do not exist, right?

One might be a nominalist and prefer to say, for example, "There are no abstract objects called propositions," instead of saying, "It's true that there are no abstract objects called propositions," where the latter ascribes a truth-value to a proposition.

The first statement entails the second, doesn’t it? (Unless of course the first statement is either false or simply non-sensical.) Do you deny that the first statement is a truth claim?

Returning to the original conditional, If the Trinity didn't exist, then nothing would be true, I think we can identity a more fundamental problem. Suppose that the antecedent is true and that God doesn't exist. According to the conditional, nothing is true. But we can ask whether the statement "Nothing is true" is true or false. If God doesn't exist, then the statement in question must be false, which contradicts the original conditional.

If God is not then the conditions necessary for understanding and evaluating propositions and for communicating judgments of truth and falsehood to others are not. In that case, the statement in question is neither true nor false. It simply is not.

So if the original conditional entails a contradiction, it's not possibly true.

No God, no such thing as true or false.

Marc said...

Ex N1hilo:

Thanks again.

>> “If propositions don’t exist, then you are not presenting any; nor have you responded to any from me; nor have I presented any. In that case it is pointless to continue what I have mistaken for a discussion.”

A number of philosophers deny that propositions (and other abstract objects) exist and still participate in rational discourse with other philosophers, including those who disagree. Nominalists don’t intend for their denial of the existence of propositions to be taken as synonymous with the rejection of objective truth(s).

>> “As is the case with a number of people I have encountered, you seem to see the verb ‘to exist’ as roughly synonymous with ‘to be material’ or ‘to occupy space.’”

As an Anselmian theist, this isn’t a view I accept.

>> “Yet, they affirm that numbers ‘are’ by using them. So, can we agree at least that propositions ‘are’? … Again, in the view of the nominalist, truths are, although they do not exist, right?”

I guess that some nominalists might say that propositions exist in some sense, but not, of course, in the sense in which Platonists or realists would say that they exist. Nominalists customarily hold that universals and abstract objects—and such general items—exist posterior to particular (concrete) things. Or, more simply, these general items exist once they’re abstracted from the world – be it populated with concreta or not.

>> “The first statement entails the second, doesn’t it? (Unless of course the first statement is either false or simply non-sensical.) Do you deny that the first statement is a truth claim?”

For the sake of reference, we have:

First statement: there are no abstract objects called propositions.

Second statement: it’s true that there are no abstract objects called propositions.

While I don’t deny that the first statement is a truth claim, I do deny that the first statement entails the second. The second is (or commits to the existence of) a proposition, which we’re stipulating as true. The first, however, is merely the propositional content of the second, but it isn’t itself a proposition. We could convert the first into the second if we make a semantic ascent (and ascribe the truth-value true), which would yield a proposition. The nominalist, I think, could accept the first but not the second.

>> “If God is not then the conditions necessary for understanding and evaluating propositions and for communicating judgments of truth and falsehood to others are not. In that case, the statement in question is neither true nor false. It simply is not. … No God, no such thing as true or false.”

I’m not sure what it means for a seemingly meaningful statement to lack a truth-value. If, per impossibile, God didn’t exist, wouldn’t the statement “God doesn’t exist” be true of the world? It’s hard to see how it could be neither true nor false. And, as with the statement “God doesn’t exist,” wouldn’t the same apply for other statements, such as “No God, no such thing as true or false,” “There’s a world in which nothing exists,” and “There’s a world in which something exists”?

Randy Everist said...

Hi Marc. :) Let me clarify one quick thing: I am saying that if God is the ultimate explanation of why anything is true, then the lack of that explanation necessitates nothing is true. But then it would be true something is true. Hence, the conditional is impossible.

It's not merely the antecedent's being false that makes this problematic, but rather the antecedent's being logically impossible that creates the problem. When you say it seems implausible that if God doesn't exist, nothing is true, what we are really saying is that the state of affairs of nothing being true cannot exist. But if God is logically necessary and the ground of all being/truth, then that's just what it means: it means there is no truth without God (else God just happens to be the source of this truth, rather than being the source of necessity). I don't find calling the impossibility of his non-existence to be very controversial, for that is all it means to say that one is logically necessary.

1. If God is logically necessary, then he cannot fail to exist.
2. If God is the source of all truth, then he is so necessarily.
3. God is logically necessary.
4. God is the source of all truth.
5. Therefore, God cannot fail to exist.
6. Therefore, God is the source of all truth necessarily.
It follows analytically from (5-6) that:

7. If God did not exist, then truth does not exist.

8. Truth does exist.

9. Therefore, God exists.

If one questions (7), consider a parallel premise:

10. If numbers do not exist, then mathematics do not exist.

By (10) I mean the concept of numbers. Yet we can use and conceptualize numbers and movements all the time: the very numbering of the premise makes the antecedent false. Further, most people believe the antecedent is necessarily false, and hence impossible to be true. Yet it seems to be true as a datum that mathematics would not exist without numbers, even if it is impossible for mathematics to fail to exist!

Ex N1hilo said...

Marc and Randy,

Thanks for making giving my brain more of a workout than it usually gets.

And in parting Marc, I understand you disagree, but I think maybe I have not got one of my main points across clearly. I'll try again.

I'm saying simply that if were the case that there were no mind(s), there could not be any propositions.

Isn't that so?

Marc said...

Randy:

Hello again. Thanks for expounding your view further.

You suggested that “God is the ultimate explanation of why anything is true” and that, in premise (4), “God is the source of all truth.” It seems to me that these might be problematic claims, for it appears that there may be some truths of which God plausibly doesn’t serve as an explanation. Since you’re a Molinist, take, for example, true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (CCF). Though God explains why the states of affairs which correspond to these CCF obtain, He doesn’t Himself explain why some CCF are true and some are false. To my mind, other examples will appeal to various necessary truths (and falsehoods) which appear to be true (or false) independently of God, such “For any x, if x has a shape, then x has a size.”

With respect to the state of affairs nothing’s being true or the proposition nothing is true, I believe that these aren’t merely impossible in the broadly logical sense, but impossible in the strictly logical sense. They’re strictly logically impossible, I contend, because they each entail a logical contradiction, and are therefore incoherent. Thus, in my estimation, the consequent of (7) is incoherent. So I think it’s incoherent to maintain that if God didn’t exist, then nothing would be true.

One might resist the parallel premise you advanced with (10) by arguing that numbers are conceptually essential to mathematics in a way which God isn’t conceptually essential to truth. I’ve been suggesting that removing God from one’s ontology doesn’t eliminate truth – that there would still be at least one true statement (or proposition) even if God didn’t exist. But there seems to be a conceptually stronger relationship between mathematics and numbers such that if the latter failed to exist, then the former couldn’t possibly exist either. One might say that numbers are intrinsic to the nature or functionality of mathematics, but there doesn’t appear to be such a relationship between God and truth.

Marc said...

Ex N1hilo:

Thank you for the interesting exchange as well.

Conceptualists about abstract objects essentially hold that if there were no minds, then there would be no abstracta, including propositions. But Platonists about abstracta essentially hold that there isn’t this kind of dependence relation between abstracta and minds, for abstracta would exist even if there weren’t any minds. If I understand the view of theistic conceptualists correctly, they believe that abstract objects are necessary beings but lack aseity: these objects exist in all possible worlds but depend on some mind for their existence. Platonists, however, think that abstract objects have aseity.

There’s also (what could be called) the absolute creationist view, famously advocated by Thomas Morris and Christopher Menzel, which holds that abstracta are creatures, which is to say, the byproducts of God’s creative activity. Like conceptualism, absolute creationism says that abstracta are necessary beings and lack aseity. But, unlike conceptualism, absolute creationism contends that God actually creates these objects (ex nihilo), and that they exist outside of God’s mind.

And then there are the diverse forms of nominalism which say different things about abstract objects.

So, depending on which view one favors, one might approach the conditional in a variety of different ways.

Randy Everist said...

Hi Marc, thanks for your polite discourse. I mean that God is the ultimate explanation for why these are true, and not merely non-existent. God acts as a necessary condition, though not always sufficient, for these truths. Necessary truths are very plausibly grounded in God; that is, they do not exist independently of him and neither are they subject to his will. God just is truth. This is analogous to objective moral values on my view.

In regards to (7), the consequent's being incoherent only makes it impossible, and hence the consequent should be rejected. But in that case, all that follows is modus tollens; not that the conditional is false! On a standard account of conditionals, if one believes not-a or c, the conditional is true. Now there is a difference between trivial and non-trivial true conditionals (an example of a trivial conditional being "if my name is not Randy, then aliens live on the moon), but suffice it to say the consequent's incoherence only results in the falsehood of the antecedent, which seems perfectly reasonable to me. :)

I do in fact think God is necessary to truth in general, as he is truth. A good reason would be to think of God as a logically necessary being and the ground of reality. I think, on this account, the mathematics analogy is quite apropos. It then remains why God, as the ground of reality, would not be intrinsic to truth in the same way. It occurs to me one may deny God is the ground of reality, but I think that is quite unorthodox (and, so I am clear, quite distinct from stating God is the cause of all truth).

When it is said that if God did not exist, there would be no truth is false because it would be true that God did not exist, it highlights the impossibility of God's existence! For if the conditional is true and it has an impossible antecedent, the consequent is impossible as well. Since the consequent is impossible, it should be rejected, and by modus tollens the negative of the antecedent is true.

Marc said...

Randy:

Thank you also. I’m enjoying the conversation.

I think that the principal difficulty I have with your main thesis—if God didn’t exist, then nothing would be true—is that I don’t understand how God could serve as a necessary condition for truth. How might we plausibly account for this?

You suggested that we conceive of God as the ground of reality. I agree with this conception of God, but I’m not sure that such a conception is adequate. When we say that God is the ground of all reality, I think we’re essentially saying that God is somehow responsible for everything which exists, or that He functions as the ontological source of everything which exists. So, appealing to this conception of God is helpful only if we regard truth as something which exists, as some thing with positive ontological status. But is truth a thing, a substance, or an object? Perhaps it’s indeed an object of some sort, but it’s difficult to see or conceptualize how it could be.

Something else which troubles me about your thesis is that, as mentioned above, it seems plausible to me that there are at least some truths which God doesn’t explain, such as counterfactuals of freedom and certain necessary truths. I admit that your strong version of Anselmianism is attractive, so I’m open to being persuaded. =)

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