Philosophical Skeleton Keys: Person versus Entity

The Trinity is confusing and confounding to many because almost no one who talks about it remembers to point out that persons are not entities. If you treat persons as things, then the Trinity cannot possibly make any sense. It seems to say that 1 + 1 + 1 = 1. That’s nuts. Yet that’s how almost everyone talks about the Trinity.

I learned (from Whitehead) that persons are not concrete entities, but rather characters of concrete entities. When I much later figured out that the Persons of the Trinity are not different things, but rather characters of a single thing, the logical difficulties that had bedeviled me melted away, and I worried a lot less about it.

The Trinity is like a triangle (equilateral, of course). Each of the Persons is like one of the vertices of the triangle. The vertices are quite different; they are not the same as each other; yet they are all aspects of the same thing. “Aspect” is here deployed advisedly. Taken as a perspective of a mind, of a subject of experience, each of the vertices comprehends the other two, entirely; and in so doing, comprehends their comprehensions of itself. The triangle as a whole then is implicit in each of the vertices. There would not be a triangle without all three; none of the three could be what it is – a vertex of a triangle – without all of the three. All three vertices have the same Nature. But they are not the same as each other; for, were they not disparate, there would be no triangle, and their Natures would be other than they are.

A triangle is like a thing. A vertex of a triangle is like a person of that thing.

It’s trickier to visualize, but we could also say that God is like a sphere, while the Persons of the Trinity are like three mutually orthogonal diameters or circumferences thereof. The sphere analogue is evident in the three dimensional chrismon, in which the stem of the rho is the vertical diameter and the chi furnishes the two horizontal diameters:


21 thoughts on “Philosophical Skeleton Keys: Person versus Entity

  1. Pingback: Philosophical Skeleton Keys: Person versus Entity | @the_arv

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  3. Kristor, what do you think about Sabellianism? Does your reflection incur an ancient anathema? Or, even if it should (incur such), why is it nevertheless right? Is there anything to worry about? One could defend what you write by stating that the differentiations among the divine persons are true differentiations rather than merely humanly perceived ones (and so escape the charges against the modalists). As such, does the heresy of Sabellianism simply consist in an insistence that God’s tri-aspectuality is merely how God appears to us, when (according to the Sabellian view) the Lord is a unitarian monad? Or is there something problematic about understanding God aspectually?

    Myself, I tend to avoid pure theology — for there we attempt to understand the uncreated through created ideas (even if by divinely created ideas). What is multiplicity and what is singularity “beyond” being, “beyond” the all-embracing Good, “beyond” the pure actuality of being as such? What is anything “beyond”? I realize that folks get impatient with the pious ignorance of the mystics, but is there really any other honest way? The other side isn’t even another side; how might we begin to speak about it intelligibly? There is no metaphysical necessity in the inner life of God — not evident to us, at any rate. Natural theology achieves its end in God’s creative power. What God is to God, quite apart from the Lord’s involvement with the cosmos, is most definitely beyond us. We hear God’s words, and they suggest certain ideas, but they are at best analogies. What is the “point” of the Trinity? Ha! What an obscene question! Yet, there is a point that the doctrine impresses upon our minds, and that is that God is love. God is a community. God is a relationship and yet one will, one power, etc. These doctrines do not contradict reason because they hint at a suprareality “beyond” the very formal relations of identity and difference. The pietists aren’t terribly wrong in extremis, eh? Maybe, men like Kierkegaard aren’t, in the end, an opposing party to rationalists but rather rationalists who judge according to the most ultimate truth, which transcends even reason’s tools.

    So, I ask my initial questions earnestly. If all we know about the inner life of God is what God tells us, and such revelation is by necessity ambiguous (in its inability to describe God as God to created minds), then it appears that we do not have the requisite evidence for pontificating. I do not say this as a theological liberal or wish to cast doubts on the magisterial authority of the Church. Indeed, I think that these issues explain a good deal why energy of the Church throughout its dogma-defining history has focused on christology rather than theology proper (proper-proper). Even the Arian controversy — that bedrock of Trinitarian theological development — was fundamentally a christological challenge. For there we deal with God’s entanglement with creation. As John of Damascus noted, we have seen God — through Jesus Christ — and can now depict him. Words are but images on another level, no, and the incarnation provides theology with a vocabulary. To encounter God as God, though, we enter into the darkness, as Gregory of Nyssa writes — darkness not as absence of light but as the state before both light and its deprivation. Human words, or perhaps we should say visions to keep with the image, then become chaff!

    • Thank you, my friend, as always.

      Sabellianism is a heresy. It is heretical because it does away with the Trinity. Indeed, it does away with the Persons, whom it renders mere hallucinations.

      Recurring to the metaphor of the triangle, Sabellianism urges that there are no vertices.

      But if there are no vertices, then there is no triangle.

      The genius of the triangle symbolon and the chrismon so beloved of the Church from her beginnings is that they show how the differences between the Persons are essential to the form of the Godhead. No disparate vertices, no triangle; no disparate diameters, no sphere. In a word: no disparities, then no integral union thereof.

      These principles hold, not just for triangles and spheres, and for God, but for entities per se. An entity without dimensions defined by disparities is without form; is, i.e., nothing at all. It is this insight that the Greeks denoted when they called the basic quantum of being the atom: uncut. “Atom” does not connote dimensionlessness. The basic quantum of being cannot be a unit of formless nonbeing. “Atom” connotes minimal mensurability (measurement being a sort of cut – as is clear from the kinship of “science” and “scissor”). What has no dimensions cannot, obviously, be measured at all. The minimal cut, then, is given by the limit of the atom; and it is nonzero.

      If anything, the metaphors of sphere and triangle are precise and devastating refutations of Sabellianism, and modalism.

      Nevertheless they are only metaphors. That does not make them untrue. It means only that they are maps of a territory that – like all territories – cannot be exhaustively mapped, or explored, or therefore comprehended by any finite intelligence.

      My use of the term “aspect” in the post referred, not to the different aspects that God presents to us (dove, flame, light, thunder, plague, man, bread, wine, scripture, Church, and so forth), but to the aspects the Persons present to each other. Each regards the others; each presents to the others a different aspect of and upon the Godhead.

      Ideas are not created. They are eternal. They are synecdoches, each, of the Logos. This is obviously true of mathematical ideas like triangles and equations. But it is true also of ideas like, “Cincinnati is a town in Ohio.” The forms of things are eternal: Cincinnati has always been possible, or it could not now exist.

      When we regard a form, then, or contemplate an idea, we apprehend a bit of the form of God. So any form can teach us of him, provided it be true.

      Do we have the requisite evidence for pontificating – or, even, thinking? Only about the evidence that we have been given.

      The mystical theology of the Church even in its farthest most competent most ambitious reach (of the Angelic Doctor) has insisted that the evidence we have *that we can also understand at all* is to the reality of God as the straw in the stable of the Imperial Castle is to the Emperor and his realms. Theology is a handmaid. She is not even her Queen, let alone her King.

  4. Thank you for the response, Kristor. “Ideas are not created.” I’ve been debating that with myself for many, many years. I really don’t know what to think. Why do you say what you say? (A tall order, but if anyone in these environs can field it, you can.) What about divine simplicity? And I have a concern that theorizing uncreated divine ideas might blur the distinction between God and his creation. I’d like to hear your thoughts. It would certainly be worth its own post.

    • Tell you what: I’ll respond in a comment, and then if I think the comment is good enough, I’ll make it a post, too.

      Take any proposition, howsoever contingent. Say, this one: Donald Trump has been President. Now, before that proposition became true, it had to have been possible for it to become true. How long had it been possible for Donald Trump to have been President? Always. Trump’s presidency is integral with the whole history of the cosmos. So we see that to say that it was possible that Trump could be President is by implication to say that it had to have been possible for a cosmic history to be such that Trump could take office.

      And that possibility that there could be such a cosmos as ours obviously had to be prior to our cosmos.

      Once a possibility, always a possibility.

      Notice then that a possibility is just a formal specification of a way that things can be. It is, in other words, an idea; a proposition; indeed, a proposal that some possibility should become actual.

      The whole system of possible worlds – which is to say, the whole system of ideas – is logically prior to any actual world. But what is prior to any actual world is prior to any causal system, for to say “actual world” is only to say “causal system.” And to say that the whole system of possible worlds is prior to any causal system is to say that it is not contingent on any particular state of affairs coming to pass. It is also to say that the whole system of possible worlds is not within any temporal extension; for, times and spaces are measures of causal relations among entities within some world. The system of possible worlds is not itself temporally bound. It is not itself a product of some causal procedure. I.e., it is eternal, and uncaused.

      But there can be only one uncaused, only one eternal. Etc.

      What about Divine Simplicity?

      Look back at the triangle. You can’t separate one of its vertices without ruining the triangle, and turning it into something else altogether. The triangle is an atom. You can parse it intellectually, thinking about this bit or that of the triangle. But you can’t obtain a triangle that you can think about as such except with three vertices, nor can you think about the three vertices of a triangle without implicitly thinking about their triangle. The triangle and the vertices are a package deal. They come along only one way: together, as an integral unit.

      So with the whole system of ideas. It makes no sense to talk of Joseph being six feet tall except in the context of feet, numbers, bodies, gravity, space, and so forth. Once you start pulling on a thread of an idea, you find that it is linked up inextricably to *all the other ideas.* The ideal system is integral; it is conceptually disintegrable, but not concretely.

      Like the triangle, it is one uncut thing. It is an atom.

      Nice to be able to agree with Plato, Plotinus, Augustine and Lao Tse in one motion.

      Do eternal Divine ideas create confusion between God and creatures? No. Not so far as I can see. Only one sort of mind is competent to an infinite stack of logoi: an infinite mind. There can be only one infinite, etc.

      I don’t think that’s quite a blog post. Will think about it.

      • Kristor, I’m 6’4″, thank you! And I never entertained that the ideas were temporally created (I am a Platonist, after all). To borrow a phrase from our history, there never was a time when the forms were not. However, I wonder if they could be eternally created — outside of time, but yet ontologically dependent on “something” not themselves (well, not itself, if we think of the ideas as the unified formal structure of reality) — namely God. If the ideas are not created, then the divine ideas are simply God himself, perhaps God as intellected by God — and, though now through a glass darkly, by our minds — or by our minds conforming to mind as such (God’s mind). Our perfection, or at least our intellectual perfection, then consists in apprehending these ideas ever more perfectly. God is the same as or the source of the ideas. There is an iconic relationship between God and creation in either case.

        My questions and issues with these topics have to do with an ongoing project/thorn that I’ve had since my undergraduate days when I wondered how we could, if not reconcile, then at least translate between the Thomist presentation of metaphysics and theology and the Orthodox traditions (especially the Palamite elaboration on the Cappadocian distinction between God’s essence and energies). People have always told me that such efforts are in vain, but I reject that naysaying. I find both approaches insightful; both are ligna sapientiae that have borne much fruit. It seems possible that Saint Gregory was mistaken, but my allegiance leans eastward, naturally. Perhaps, the two traditions differ only in schematic vocabulary and emphases. Mapmaking is quite difficult once we sail beyond the firmament of moving time and space.

        The West proposes the Beatific Vision, whereas such, in the understanding of the East, is impossible. Created beings cannot see God’s essence (οὐσία / esse). The East has theosis, where man enters into an intimate relationship with God for which our normal categories cannot account (Gregory of Nyssa’s entering the cloud). So, both the East and West suggest that the end of man is something beyond our natural, created station, thanks to the grace of God. We see the usefulness of the divine energies (ενέργεια / actus) in explaining the how theosis might occur when we cannot ever approach God as he is in himself. The divine energies manifest in God’s interaction with creation — as pure act and as providence in general and in particular episodes throughout time and space. Theosis is our mysterious transformation and harmonization with and by the divine energies.

        This doctrine has always seemed obnoxious (heretical, objectionable, unintelligible) to the Schoolmen and their successors. Why introduce yet another meta-metaphysical category and yet another confusing distinction in God?!?! Isn’t the Trinity enough to keep us busy?!?!? However, the divine energies allow for a certain bridge if we close off the Western route to theosis through the Beatific Vision. But why close off that route at all?

        One concern is that the Western understanding of God’s essence might lead (or amount?) to reductionism. When Bruce Charlton (PBUH) attacks the philosophical heritage of the faith, I react as if jiggers had just coated my entire body — being thoroughly allergic to Christians’ occasional anti-Hellenic spasms. Yet, I suspect that his worries might be legitimate when we reduce God to merely actus purus (merely! — upon reading this, Peripatetics will invariably spit on their screens). Now, I don’t think that God as the Unmoved Mover cannot be the God of the Patriarchs, yet it’s hard to accept, within a Christian Aristotelian framework, that actus purus doesn’t capture the ultimate truth of God. We’re talking about pure actuality — the highest state of being for an Aristotelian. And it is difficult to reconcile this “God of the Philosophers” with Abraham’s friend without feeling a bit of snarky Averroism about the tales of theologians (or, alternately, a Charltonesque voicing of old Tertullian’s dismissal of Athens). If, however, God is not only actus purus, not only ipsum esse subsistens, but also more than that (beyond being, beyond pure act), and if the divine essence (what God is to God) is beyond the categories of the created world, beyond even the atemporal formal framework of being, then such gives God the (non)space to be God, so to speak. It makes God, as God, completely beyond our cognitive reach — and not only by appealing to the inability of finite minds to comprehend infinity. It’s way more wacked out than that! If this is so, how do we commune with the uncreated — how do we relate with God as promised and reported by the prophets, evangelists, and saints? The Greek Christian answer — through the energeia of God. We really interact with God, though not God as he is in himself.

        What does this have to do with the divine ideas? Well, if the divine ideas are simply God — to be more precise, God as understood — then our comprehension of the divine ideas would be the Beatific Vision — something that my own faith tradition claims is impossible. And, yet, we understand the world, ultimately, through the divine ideas. That is why I wondered whether they were created — from the foundation of the world — but still created.

        As a possible synthesis, we might say that the divine ideas are the divine energies as intellected by us. This suggestion clashes with our normal system, wherein the form manifests something’s essence, but, perhaps, the West’s Beatific Vision is the deified human mind’s intellection of God’s energeia, which the Western tradition, typically over-intellectualized, interprets in an exclusively cognitive manner. This solution would also deal with the iconic relation between the divine ideas and the world better, too. If the divine ideas were created, then they themselves would be a reflection of God, but that extra step appears redundant. No Occamite myself, but there is something to say for trimming off the fat from strong meat!

        In the end, I don’t know. My mind is muddled and entirely inadequate, even as a human tool, to handle these matters. I see possible paths, but I cannot judge which ones are worthy to travel.

      • Thanks again, Joseph. This is edifying.

        It’s not just that the forms are prior to any temporal order. They are prior to creation as such. Consider: if we say that God created the forms, then that purely formal creation had first – logically first – to be possible. But a possibility of a form is itself a form. You run into an infinite regress, in which the created form F is an instantiation of the possibility of F, which in turn is an instantiation of the possibility of that possibility of F, and so on.

        Then also the forms are necessary. There is no state of affairs in which 2 + 2 ≠ 4. Such a state of affairs would violate the Principle of Noncontradiction, for it would require that 2 ≠ 2.

        What is necessary stands in no need of creation. Its nonbeing is impossible. So it *cannot* be created.

        This does not mean that the forms are not ontologically dependent on something other than themselves. They are dependent on God, in just the way that the vertices of the triangle depend upon the triangle. And, just as the triangle would not be a triangle in the first place except insofar as it had three vertices, so likewise God would not be God in the first place except insofar as he knew by his essential Nature and from all eternity all truths whatever.

        Remember then also that for God his knowledge, his self, and the object of his knowledge are not different things, as they are for us. God knows all the truths by knowing himself; and he knows himself by being himself.

        We cannot know him as he knows himself, from the inside. We can know him only as he shows himself, on the outside. But notice that it is no different with our knowledge of any other thing. We can’t know what it is like to be a bat, obviously; but, by the very same token, we cannot know what it is like to be anything at all other than ourselves. And that sort of intimate acquaintance with the qualia that constitute the inner life of a person is the only way we could know him as he is in himself.

        But we can’t gain access to those qualia; the only way we could do so would be by actually being that other, extinguishing ourselves.

        We cannot truly know another. At bottom, others are inherently and incurably mysterious to us.

        That does not mean that we cannot truly know certain things *about* others. We can know their properties, characters, and so forth. But this, only insofar as these are outwardly manifest, and efficacious in our world (e.g., upon our sensory organs). We cannot know things as they are to themselves, but we can know things as they truly are to others – at least in part, and from our own perspectives.

        Notice then also that, even though we might truly know this or that about another – might, indeed, compile quite a long list of its formal specifications – that list would be incorrigibly incomplete. For, there are an infinite number of true statements we could make about any given thing, so that the list of the truths that exhaust its formal specifications is just too long to complete.

        Our knowledge of any other then is incorrigibly partial. We can know certain things about them – can pick out this or that item from among their essential defining properties – but we cannot know their essences exhaustively.

        Returning to the question of the Beatific Vision versus theosis, I have always thought that there is no substantive conflict between the two notions. They have always struck me as two ways of indicating the same thing.

        Remember first that we are called, not to a vision of God as he is in and for himself, but to a vision of his face; of his appearance to creatures:

        When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek.
        – Psalm 27:8

        The BV then is to be sure a vision of God as he truly is toward us. But it is not a vision of his complete essence, for that is accessible only to him. It is a vision of his essence as that is manifestly revealed; and for all except perhaps the seraphim, even the BV of the Face of God, of his creatureward surface (his Firmament) is but partial. Theosis then is the procedure whereby we see more and more – there is no upward limit on how much more, so far as I can tell – of the manifest revelation by God of his true essence. And what we see when we look upon the Face are the energeia.

        Quoting now from a message I recently wrote to my son on the question of the energeia:

        Now, in addition to all the foregoing, it should be noted also that in virtue of the Incarnation, God partakes completely of human nature. Among other things, this means that God is human (he’s lots of other things, too, but for sure he is human). Not only that, he is Judean, he may have reddish hair and blue eyes like his forefather David (odd that he is so often portrayed that way, if he had not been), he sweats, he eats. The whole nine yards. So, there is nothing of human nature that is not an aspect of the Divine Nature. This is a commonplace of Orthodox soteriology: “what is not assumed is not redeemed,” as they say.

        What is more, the human nature that forms an aspect of the Divine Nature is not something that was added to God at some point in his career. God has a career consisting of only one moment. He is eternal. Nothing can be added to him. Whatever he is, he is always. So he has always been a Judean man from Galilee. This is why Orthodox icons of the creation of Adam show Jesus the Galilean blowing spiritual life into Adam’s body in Eden.

        So, there is nothing of human nature that has not been an aspect of the Divine Nature from all eternity.

        But then, taking off here from CS Lewis, one of the things about being Fallen is that unshriven man no longer completely partakes even of his full human nature. One of the things that happened to the children after they died and were reborn in the resurrected Narnia, remember, is that they were able to do things like run up huge waterfalls. Our original human nature is far nobler than what we now are, or can be. Jesus participates fully his human nature. So when he performs miracles, he is doing things that are properly natural to man. Aside from his Resurrection, none of his miracles are nowhere else seen performed by humans such as Elijah, Elisha, Moses, many saints, and indeed by mages from other religions. Walking on water, multiplying physical objects, healing the sick, raising the dead, manipulating the weather, bilocation, teleportation, telepathy, telekinesis, prophecy – all have been recorded of other men than Jesus. These may be powers proper to our nature, but extremely rare in our Fallen state. Our true nature is probably best seen in the Resurrection Body, which in the apocalyptic literature is described as angelic.

        Theosis, then, is among other things the recovery of our full human nature. And because human nature is an aspect of the Divine Nature from all eternity, it is ipso facto a recovery of fuller participation in the Divine Nature, that has always (among other things) been human.

        It has also helped me to let go of the notion that in order to cause things to happen, God must push on them, as we do. It’s much simpler than that. All he has to do is be. His being involves his knowing. His knowing involves knowing what is good. His knowing what is good involves his knowing that the created order is good. And that’s all it takes for the created order to be, and to be good. God knows that the created order is good, and God cannot err: because God knows the created order is good, we can be sure that he is correct in thinking that there is a created order, and that it is good. His eternal thought then alone – his Word – suffices to perform all his operations upon creatures.

        Thus the created order is good by definition. It is good, i.e., logically. It cannot fail to be, and to be good. God is among other things necessary: so every aspect of the Divine Nature is necessary; so his knowledge is necessary; so his knowledge that the created order is good is necessary; so the creation of the created order, and its goodness, are both necessary.

        But this means that creation is completed by definition. Nothing had to go out from God – no energies or projections or emanations – for the created order to come about. All he had to do was know that the created order was good, and the created order was ipso facto both created and good.

        Furthermore, God’s creative act is not disparate from his basic act of being. So while Scripture speaks of God reaching out his hand to do this and that, such speech is metaphorical. God does not need to reach. He’s ubiquitous. He does everything always, already, from all eternity.

        There is a last wrinkle. Being is an aspect of the Divine Nature. To the extent that a thing is, it partakes being. But then by the same token every creature partakes multiple aspects of the Divine Nature. Evil is a failure to partake of the properties proper to one’s nature to the fullest extent proper to one’s nature. But the properties in question, that one ought properly to manifest, are all virtues. They are all aspects of the Divine Nature.

        So, to sum up the salience of all this to the energies of Palamas, it seems to me that the notion of energies is apposite only from the perspective of temporal creatures such as we. It is not false; it’s just that it does not pertain to God’s perspective, but rather only to ours. It’s like this. Say you are traveling past a mountain. The mountain is not moving. But it looks to you as though it is, because you are moving. Indeed, the only way you can ever tell you are moving in the first place is that you can see that other things seem to be moving, when you know from experience that they are not.

        Likewise, God is not moving. But it seems to us that he is. And we name that seeming his energies, or his “acts of God,” or his Providence; we speak of him stretching forth his hand to smite our enemies and his. But really he is fully in act; this means that he is not moving, even though he is one great motion, in which all other motions are subsumed, and in virtue of which they move (this Great Motion is what the Chinese call the Tao or Way of Heaven).

  5. Kristor, since you and Joseph are talking about divine simplicity, I’m wondering what people at this site will think of my argument against Dr. William Lane Crag’s theistic personalism. So here I go.

    Suppose that Dr. Craig is right when he tells us that God is the greatest conceivable being. Then the doctrine of divine simplicity that God has no parts of any kind. Since Dr. Craig denies that doctrine, he implies that God has one or more parts. Anyone or anything with one or more parts needs a cause. If God has one or more parts, then God needs a cause. God does have one or more parts. So God needs a cause. Since any cause must be at least as great as its effect, and since God is an effect, His cause must be at least as great as He. Since, therefore, God’s cause is at least as great as He, God is not the greatest conceivable being.

    The point of the reductio is that Craig’s theistic personalism contradicts his Anselmian(?) definition. I’m a Thomistic Catholic and a classical theist. That’s why I accept the dogma about divine simplicity. But why do I type a “(?)” after the word “Anselmian?” Because St. Anselm believes that God is “that than which none greater can be conceived,” and that belief suggests that another being could be equally great.

    • Your argument against theistic personalism tells.

      If A and B are equally great, then we can conceive of a C that is yet greater than either of them. So Anselm is not touched.

      • Thanks for the correction, Kristor. What does my argument against theistic personalism tell?

        After I emailed Dr. Craig that argument through his website, I didn’t hear from him. So I don’t know what he would say about it.

  6. God created our reality, for me the understanding of the trinity is within it. Our reality is made up of space (the three dimensions), matter, and time. Each can be looked at individually, non are even remotely like the other: yet reality ceases to exist without all three. This helps me understand, maybe others would find it helps as well.

    • Our understandings are certainly an aspect of creatura.

      Space, time and matter do not exhaust the specifications of creatura, but are certainly numbered among them.

      The angels could do without them, but we could not. Without them, our little department of creatura could not work.

      And they are an apt symbolon of the Trinity.

  7. Thank you, Kristor. I’m happy to hear that it succeeds because I hope to publish an article about it after I read Dr. Crag’s book about time. Maybe it’ll get into print if I ride your coattails. If you want to write the article, I’ll do the research. 🙂 After I heard WLC Sean Carrol the physicist quote Allan Guth, I thought, “Wow! Dr. Craig can’t use the BGVT to defend his Kalam argument anymore because Guth thinks that the universe is probably eternal.

    Back to my argument for a moment. Someone at the classical theism message board believes that, in my paper, I need to show that any composite object needs a cause,

    • I think it is correct that you would need to show why a composite object would require a cause. But it’s easy to do. How did the composite object come to be composed? What put it together? Whatever did that job is greater than the composite being in question, and is a fitter denotation for “God.”

      The multiverse is not a defeater for the Kalam cosmological argument. If the past were infinite in extent, then no set of finite temporal steps, howsoever large, could possibly suffice to have brought us from its infinite depths down to the present moment. And this is true for every moment of the series. So no moment of the series could ever yet have come to pass.

      NB that “eternal” does not mean “infinite in temporal extent.” The term for that is “everlasting” or “sempiternal.” Everlasting beings – sempiternalities – can go on forever without limit, once they have begun. Men and angels, e.g., are sempiternal (albeit not in the same way: men are temporal, while angels are aeviternal). But they are not eternal.

      What is eternal has no beginning or end (it *just is* the beginning and end of all things). There is no state of affairs in which it is not. So it does not change from one state of affairs to the next (rather, states of affairs change in it, or in respect to it (these two alternatives amount to the same thing)). It does not change; so it is not caused. it is not, i.e., a part of any temporal series of events (but, rather, vice versa: such series partake of it).

      What’s the BGVT?

  8. I agree with you, Kristor,

    Now I’ll let Vilenkin tell everyone here about the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin Theorem.

    “The obstruction may be found in the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin (BGV) theorem.8 Loosely speaking, our theorem states that if the universe is, on average, expanding, then its history cannot be indefinitely continued into the past. More precisely, if the average expansion rate is positive along a given world line, or geodesic, then this geodesic must terminate after a finite amount of time. Different geodesics, different times. The important point is that the past history of the universe cannot be complete. ”

    A problem for Dr. Craig’s appeal to the BGVT is that in an article that Prof. Sean Carroll quotes when debates WLC, Guth says that the universe is probably eternal, whatever he means by “eternal.”

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