I have heard several analogies that attempt to give people a better understanding of the Christian trinity. Some compare it to H2O and how water can be solid, liquid, or gas. However, this is a form of modalism in that it divides water into separate functions.

Then I’ve heard that the triune god is similar to how mankind is of a human substance, but we are all our own individual persons. This is tritheism in that it proposes one “God substance” that is shared among individual persons. In other words, I am a human, but humanity is not me. A similar analogy is how an egg has a shell, white, and yolk, but it’s still one egg- tritheism.

These are irrelevant analogies that each describe “heretical” teachings, so I’m not really sure what they’re attempting to accomplish. They’re good analogies for the “heretical” teachings they attempt to explain, but they don’t offer anything for the actual topic. I guess they satisfy a mental image of something, but if that something is wrong, then what’s the point? Have any philosophers written about analogies and their usefulness or deceptiveness.

  • Your question makes me wonder how do analogies fit into logic at all whether perfect or imperfect. Whether related to the Trinity or not. – Frank Hubeny Oct 16 '18 at 12:53
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    @FrankHubeny I found this, but I can’t read it all. I like the analogies for modalism and tritheism. They’re good analogies that have a sufficient amount of similarities to make the description equivalent. But “it’s like this- but it’s not like this at all” seems illogical. – anonymouswho Oct 16 '18 at 13:28
  • Here is a link I will use to see if I can write an answer: plato.stanford.edu/entries/reasoning-analogy My current interest in analogy is to view Plotinus' soul to a field like a body is in a gravitational field. I suspect this may relate to the Christian Trinity somehow. +1 – Frank Hubeny Oct 16 '18 at 13:52
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    Since all analogies are imperfect the answer is no. There is no "wrong" out of context, there is only wrong for a purpose. If a wrong analogy to familiar or simplified situation is right for a purpose (explanation, prediction) then it is useful. You may also want to clarify if you are interested in analogies generally, for religious purposes, or specifically for the case of trinity. – Conifold Oct 16 '18 at 17:46

Here is Wikipedia's description of an argument from analogy:

Argument from analogy is a special type of inductive argument, whereby perceived similarities are used as a basis to infer some further similarity that has yet to be observed. Analogical reasoning is one of the most common methods by which human beings attempt to understand the world and make decisions. When a person has a bad experience with a product and decides not to buy anything further from the producer, this is often a case of analogical reasoning. It is also implicit in much of science; for instance, experiments on laboratory rats typically proceed on the basis that some physiological similarities between rats and humans entails some further similarity (e.g. possible reactions to a drug).

One can also find counter-arguments using analogy:

Arguments from analogy may be attacked by use of disanalogy, counteranalogy, and by pointing out unintended consequences of an analogy.

Paul Bartha notes:

Analogies are widely recognized as playing an important heuristic role, as aids to discovery.

Arguments from analogy or counteranalogy are heuristic aids and potentially persuasive. They are not deductive arguments and so they are imprecise.

Keeping this use of analogy in mind one can perhaps more fruitfully look for arguments for or against the idea of the Christian Trinity by seeking out those presenting analogies for or against the idea.

Not all those associated with Christianity accept the Trinity. Here is a presentation of analogy and counteranalogy given by Ray Pritchard with respect to the Jehovah's Witnesses:

Sometimes the Jehovah's Witnesses (who pointedly deny the Trinity) ridicule it with this little equation: 1 + 1 + 1 = 3. In their minds Christians worship three Gods, not one. The answer is quite simple. The doctrine of the Trinity is not absurd if that's what the Bible teaches. Furthermore, there is more than one way to play with equations. You could also say it this way: 1 x 1 x 1 = 1!

Note the counteranalogy that belief in the Trinity is analogous to "1 + 1 + 1 = 3". Note the analogy countering the counteranalogy that rather belief in the Trinity is like "1 x 1 x 1 = 1".

For Pritchard, ultimately, it is a matter of faith. For those looking for a deeper understanding the use of analogy (and counteranalogy) can help someone decide whether they will want to believe in the Trinity or not.

For an introduction to analogy from a philosophical perspective, see Paul Bartha's "Analogy and Analogical Reasoning".


Bartha, Paul, "Analogy and Analogical Reasoning", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2016/entries/reasoning-analogy/.

Pritchard, R, "God in Three Persons a Doctrine We Barely Understand", Christianity.com https://www.christianity.com/god/trinity/god-in-three-persons-a-doctrine-we-barely-understand-11634405.html

Wikipedia, "Argument from Analogy" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_analogy

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