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#731 Must God Be Multi-Personal?

May 09, 2021

Hi Dr Craig

In Question of the Week #447 'Questions from a Muslim about the Trinity' https://www.reasonablefaith.org/question-answer/P70/questions-from-a-muslim-about-the-trinity you argued

'I do think a plausible philosophical argument can be offered against a unitarian concept of God such as we find in Islam. As I argue in Philosophical Foundations, God, as the greatest conceivable being, must be perfect.

Now a perfect being must be a loving being. For love is a moral perfection; it is better for a person to be loving rather than unloving. God therefore must be a perfectly loving being. Now it is of the very nature of love to give oneself away. Love reaches out to another person rather than centering wholly in oneself. So if God is perfectly loving by His very nature, He must be giving Himself in love to another. But who is that other? It cannot be any created person, since creation is a result of God’s free will, not a result of His nature. It belongs to God's very essence to love, but it does not belong to His essence to create. So we can imagine a possible world in which God is perfectly loving and yet no created persons exist. So created persons cannot sufficiently explain whom God loves. . . . It therefore follows that the other to whom God’s love is necessarily directed must be internal to God Himself.

In other words, God is not a single, isolated person, as unitarian forms of theism like Islam hold; rather God is a plurality of persons, as the Christian doctrine of the Trinity affirms. On the unitarian view God is a person who does not give Himself away essentially in love for another; He is focused essentially only on Himself. Hence, He cannot be the most perfect being. But on the Christian view, God is a triad of persons in eternal, self-giving love relationships. Thus, since God is essentially loving, the doctrine of the Trinity is more plausible than any unitarian doctrine of God.

As you observe, this argument will not give us exactly three persons—but hey, who’s complaining? It’s enough to make the Christian concept of God more plausible than the Islamic conception.'

How would you respond a Muslim if he tried to argue against this as follows God does not have to act on His capacity to love, as long as He has the capacity to love he can be viewed as loving. This is similar to God being omnipotent. God does not have to act on this capacity (e.g. by creating the world) in order to be omnipotent. He could never have created anything and still be omnipotent because He has this capacity i.e. He is all-powerful in His capacity. Otherwise, if God being loving necessitates that God is a plurality of persons, as the Christian doctrine of the Trinity affirms, then it follows that God being omnipotent necessitates that He creates the world to express His omnipotency. That would mean that God did not create the world freely but created the world of necessity (which Muslims and Christians would find objectionable). How would you respond to this Dr Craig?


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Dr. craig’s response


I think that this response is the most obvious and plausible way to reply to the argument. It affirms that someone who has a disposition to love is just as great as someone who is actually loving. By way of analogy, think of a sailor marooned on a desert island who has a disposition to love others but who just happens to lack anyone to love. Isn’t he just as morally excellent as someone who does have another whom he actually loves?

Well, that’s not obvious to me. The person who is actually loving another seems to me to exhibit moral excellencies that the other lacks. The attempt to justify the equation of a disposition to love with actual love on the analogy with omnipotence clearly fails, I think, because omnipotence is straightforwardly a modal property (viz., the ability to do certain things), not a de facto property (e.g., actually doing those things), whereas loving is not a modal property but a de facto property which a person has or not. So although God is omnipotent whether or not He creates the world (since in either case He has the ability to create the world), if God exists alone as a solitary person He is not loving, even if He has the disposition to love.

Moreover, notice that in God’s case, if God is a single person (as in Islam), then He is not essentially loving. Whether He is loving will depend, as in the case of the marooned sailor, on the contingent fact that there exists another person to love. But if God is a Trinity, then God is essentially and necessarily loving. So which is greater, a being who has a disposition to love and is at best contingently loving or a being who has not only a disposition to love but who is essentially loving?

- William Lane Craig