The Unitarians I respond to on this blog call themselves “Biblical” Unitarians. They believe in God. They say they believe in the Bible. They believe in miracles. The resurrection. Life after death. So how are they like atheists, who deny all these things? I’ve alluded to this in the past, but thought it worth a post on its own.
Atheists really like “reason” and “logic”. Now, I’ve put scare quotes around those words because, for all of the talk about reason and logic you get from atheists it isn’t logic or reason they actually use and appeal to. More on that later, but what they like to do is make claims about what is logical, argue that what Christians believe doesn’t match that, and is, therefore, illogical, and their favorite type of argument to make follows a certain pattern.
The arguments very often look like this:
- If God exists, then the world would look like X (no evil, less evil, “Believe in Jesus” emblazoned on the Moon, personal revelation and miracles for everyone, and so on, and so on).
- The world does not look like X.
- Therefore, God doesn’t exist.
There really is no end to the number of hypothetical conditions the atheist can come up with as “logical criteria” for the existence of God. So, what is wrong with this type of argument?
Basically, the problem is that it isn’t an argument based on any actual evidence for the atheist’s position. It’s an argument based on the lack of some special kind of evidence that the atheist has predetermined is the kind of evidence necessary to prove God exists. How incredibly convenient. The argument is also not an argument from “logic” in any way, since a person simply declaring what kind of evidence counts isn’t the same thing as employing logic.
To make the argument that your opponent is being “illogical” is a specific type of argument. It is also called an internal critique or a reductio ad absurdum. Whatever you call it, it is an argument that there is some kind of internal inconsistency within the set of beliefs you are calling “illogical”.
Now, if someone wants to show a set of beliefs to be illogical, one pretty important rule is that they have to limit themselves to talking about those beliefs. It’s pretty straightforward, but missed a lot. If the atheist says Christianity is illogical, then his case cannot be based on an argument that has to utilize premises that Christians don’t believe. He can’t say, “If God exists, he would give everyone personal proof. Since he hasn’t, your beliefs are illogical.”
That doesn’t work for the simple reason that the Christian rejects the first premise. The atheist is imposing his own, non-Christian criteria on Christians and calling them illogical for not conforming to it. If the atheist wants to show the Christian is illogical, he has to limit himself to analyzing what Christians actually believe.
So, how does this all relate to Unitarians? First, Unitarians love to appeal to logic to show that Trinitarians are wrong:
John Schoenheit’s website, Biblical Unitarian, has an entire heading under its “Articles” section called “Logic”. Some of the titles of articles here are “Equivocation: The Art of Changing the Rules in the Middle of the Game”, “Mystery vs. Contradiction”, “Basic Laws of Thought”, “Logical Fallacies Employed in Trinitarian Theology”. You get the idea.
Sean Finnegan, in his debate with Brant Bosserman, said that he thinks logic is a very important tool God has given us to know the truth, and we shouldn’t downplay it. He says, “I think reason is this beautiful gift God has given us to sort out everything we do in life” (video 1:00:07).
He states that The Trinitarian definition of God “is not paradoxical but contradictory” (video 28:00). Virtually anytime you see a Unitarian explaining or arguing against the Trinity, you can count on them, at some point, describing Trinitarian belief as illogical, irrational, ridiculous, or some such synonym.
Like the atheist, the Unitarian will not actually formulate an argument that supports this claim. Finnegan’s debate performance is a good example of this. When he, in his opening statement, attempts to formulate an argument that the Trinity is illogical, he describes what many Trinitarians believe, that there are three Persons who are distinct, yet are each “fully God”. He says that when someone uses this term he has “defined himself out of a definition”, and that Trinitarians who use that terminology have “crossed their eyes mentally and gone into mystery land”. At no point does he actually offer an argument for these statements. And if he thinks he did, he certainly didn’t offer one based on what Trinitarians believe. He just finds the Trinity to not fit with his own philosophical conclusions and thinks that’s the same as the Trinity being illogical.
This leads me to the other, related way that atheists and Unitarians argue in the same way. Unitarians think the results of their own thinking are the same thing as logic itself. As such, they look at the Scriptures and make assumptions about what it would say if the Trinity were true. Inevitably and ever so conveniently, those assumptions lead to conclusions that do not match the Scriptures, leading them to conclude that the Trinity isn’t biblical. Let’s consider a couple of examples.
In an article titled, “Is Jesus God? Logical Questions that Need Answers”, John Schoenheit asks a series of questions that are intended to cast doubt on the Deity of Christ, but these questions all assume that Scripture would look a certain way if the Trinity is true. I’ll start with a little more detail, but it will get repetitive, so I’ll just point out the wrong assumption about the Trinity that each question implies after that. Let’s look at them.
Question #1: If Jesus is God, how could he die for our sins?
What does this assume about the Bible? It assumes that if the Trinity is true, Jesus couldn’t have died, since God is immortal. Now, if the Trinity is true, then the Scriptures would look how Trinitarians expect them to look. Trinitarians say that Jesus, being a man, is able to die a human death. This doesn’t contradict the Trinity at all. What it contradicts is the Unitarian assumption about what the Scriptures would look like if the Trinity is true, which is a very different thing.
Question #2: How can Jesus be “God” and have a “God” at the same time?
False assumption: Trinitarian theology implies that Jesus, who is both God and man, cannot “have a God”. Specifically, Trinitarians have no problem with Jesus having a God, because Trinitarians do believe Jesus is a man, and a righteous man worships God. It fits our argument here because the Unitarian assumes the Scriptures would look a certain way if the Trinity is true, when Trinitarians have no such assumptions and find the Scriptures completely compatible with everything they believe.
Question #3: If Jesus was sitting at the right hand of God in heaven when the book of Revelation was written, why does Jesus continue to make such clear statements that our heavenly Father is his “God” if he himself is God?
False assumption: Trinitarian theology implies that there is something about the resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God that should make Jesus no longer refer to the Father has His God, but the Trinity doesn’t imply this.
Question #4: If God cannot be tempted by evil, yet Jesus was tempted in every way we are, how can he be God?
False assumption: Trinitarian theology implies that Jesus did not have human weaknesses.
Question #5: If Jesus is God, then why does he pray to God and call Him “the only true God” in John 17:3?
False assumption: Trinitarian theology implies that Jesus wouldn’t pray. Also misunderstands John 17:3, but that isn’t the same kind of assumption we’re talking about. Jesus is the same God as the Father, so they are both “the only true God”.
Question #6: If Jesus is God, why did he pray at all?
False assumption: Same as previous, that Trinitarian theology implies that Jesus wouldn’t pray.
Question #7: If Jesus is God, why did he say to his disciples: “Trust in God; trust also in me”?
False assumption: Trinitarian theology implies that Jesus is the same person as the Father.
Question #8: According to the doctrine of the Trinity, the Father and Son are co-equal. If that is true, how can the Father be (in any way) greater than Jesus?
False assumption: Trinitarian theology implies that “co-equal” must mean “equal in every possible way”.
Question #9: How can Jesus “be like us in every way” and still be “100% man and 100% God”?
False assumption: Trinitarians theology implies that “like us in every way”, means something more than being fully human.
Question #10: If Jesus is God and God cannot be tempted, why would the Devil tempt Jesus?
False assumptions: First, this repeats the assumption of question 4. Second, that Trinitarian theology implies that Satan acts according to perfect reason and was absolutely sure Jesus is God. We have no reason to believe Satan is like this and Trinitarians do not believe it.
As I hope this shows, much of Unitarian argumentation takes the same form and flawed strategy of atheists arguing against God. Just like atheists’ made-up criteria for good evidence for God is fallacious, Unitarians’ made-up criteria for good Scriptural evidence for the Trinity is fallacious.
Unlike Unitarians, thoughtful Trinitarians do not derive their theology from the broken, flawed measure of their own human expectations. These expectations are not logical, and they are not logic. Trinitarianism is completely logical, if we are using actual logic as a measure. There is no actual incoherence, as in, actual contradictions in what Trinitarians actually believe. The only inconsistencies Unitarians find are between what Trinitarians actually believe and what Unitarians think Trinitarians ought to believe, according to their own fallible thinking. Scripture does not contradict what Trinitarians actually believe. It only contradicts what Unitarians think Trinitarians ought to believe.
Generally speaking, you don’t see Trinitarians making these kinds of arguments against Unitarians. Rather, Trinitarians readily accept every Scriptural affirmation of humanity in Jesus, while also affirming every Scriptural affirmation of His deity. Trinitarian arguments typically look like walking through Scripture that directly supports their view and exegeting it, not making statements about what a hypothetical Scripture should be if Unitarian theology were true. This is because Unitarian conclusions are wrong, because they are actually based on only believing part of what Scripture says. I’ve stated before that the real difference between Trinitarians and Unitarians, as it relates to Scripture, is that Trinitarians believe all of what Scripture says, and conclude the Trinity is true, while Unitarians believe only part of what Scriptures says, and, based on their conclusions from that, attempt to explain away those Scriptures that disagree.
This similarity between atheists and Unitarians should come as no surprise, since Unitarianism and atheism both became popular at the same time, in the post-enlightenment “age of reason” of the 17th and 18th centuries. They are based on the same false premise that human reasoning is able to solve all of the mysteries of the world. Atheists use that worldview to deny the existence of God, while Unitarians use it to deny the deity of Christ. Either way, it comes from the same set of false assumptions, leading to the same type of denial of the truth of Scripture.