Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Trinity: Argument from Beauty

The following musings are the result of reading some of Jonathan Edward's thoughts on the nature of beauty, specifically an essay called "The Beauty of the World" and a piece called "Excellency" (which is a subset of an essay called "The Mind"). After reading these two selection and carefully dissecting them (quite an arduous task), I stumbled upon what seemed to be a small side argument for the existence of the Trinity. I'm not saying that the argument is gospel, but I did find it interesting, and I thought I might share it.

In summary, beauty (or "excellency") is a type of proportion, regularity, equality, and/or symmetry between individual elements of reality, while ugliness is the opposite of such (disproportion, irregularity, etc.). In other words, beauty is order and structure (which Edwards called "being"), while ugliness is disorder or chaos (which I'm calling "nothing"). In addition, the more an object increases in these qualities, the more pleasure it produces to the subject; conversely, the more it decreases in these qualities, the more pain it produces. Still with me? Good, let's move on then.
The reason pleasure and pain is produced is because the more and object increases in proportion, etc., the closer it gets to absolute order (which Edwards called "Being"), which is the highest and most excellent good; likewise, the more it decreases, the farther it gets from absolute order and the closer it gets to absolute disorder or chaos (which I'm calling "Nothing"), which is the lowest and most debased evil. In short, the imitation of the Good produces pleasure and the imitation of the Bad produces pain. Still got it? Great, let's keep going.
Now here is where the argument begins. Edwards calls this increase of proportion, etc., the "consent of being," i.e., beauty is consensual. This is because proportion, etc., necessarily requires two or more parties: a circle is "symmetrical" only after you divide it into two or more parts and compare the parts to each other. As Edwards put it, an aboslute whole (or a "singular") can only be beautiful/excellent by a "consent of its parts," i.e., because its oneness contains a "plurality." Thus, a "singular" without a plurality necessarily cannot be beautiful because beauty is contingent upon proportion, etc., which is contingent upon consent, which implies plurality. Therefore, beauty necessarily implies plurality. As Edwards put it, a singular "that is absolutely without any plurality cannot be excellency, for there can be no such thing as consent or agreement."
Perhaps you are beginning to see where the argument is going. If we admit that God is the Creator of all things, He is therefore necessarily the source of all things (i.e., all things come from Him). That means that whatever can be found in reality finds its absolute realization in Him. For example (and in regards to the argument), if we find beauty (proportion, etc.) in reality, then that necessarily means that beauty is in God as well (albeit, in an absolute sense, i.e., Beauty, or to use Edwards' term, "Being"). However, if beauty necessarily implies plurality, then that means that in order for God to be the source of beauty, He too must be a plurality; or, to phrase it another way, for God to be the source of beauty, His oneness must necessarily contain a plurality. Question: What do we call it when God's oneness contains a plurality?

A: The Trinity. I rest my case.

Caveat Emptor: This post is about how the nature of beauty could possibly give us reason to believe in the Trinity. This post does not presume to explain how this oneness/plurality dynamic works in detail within the Godhead. Thus, I don't need any of you nit-pickers out there getting hung up on my use of words like "divide," divided," and "parts." I am not making a comment on how the thing works; I'm simply stating what may be a reason to believe that the thing is real.
-Jon Vowell