I’m not sure if the internet and social media as a whole are either an intrinsic good or an intrinsic bad, but as technologies they do afford opportunities to discuss Christian apologetics issues. In part one of this series I responded to an objection by a skeptic who raised questions about what I wrote in “The Historic Alliance of Christianity and Science.” Here in part two I’ll address his other major objection (summarized below).
The incarnation is a central Christian belief, but it contains an inherent contradiction. If Jesus is God and man, then his unlimited divine nature clashes with his limited human nature. The two natures are incompatible. This seems both illogical and false—thus, Christianity is based on nonsense.
The skeptic argues that the Christian doctrine of the incarnation (Jesus being both God and man) violates the law of noncontradiction (A cannot equal A and non-A). Before I answer that criticism on the coherency of the incarnation, I would ask the skeptic a question: In a world without God in which only matter exists, how does a naturalist account for abstract, nonempirical entities such as the law of noncontradiction?
The formal laws of logic (law of noncontradiction, the law of excluded middle, and the law of identity) are the foundation that makes substantive thought, speech, and action possible. Since these laws are cognitively necessary (no meaningful thought is possible without them), ontologically real (they define the very nature of reality itself), and irrefutable (any attempted refutation of the laws must first assume them), where did they come from? Humans could not have invented them (mere conventions) because man would have had to know them to learn anything at all. How is it possible to have immaterial, invariant, abstract entities in an atheistic world? Can the worldview of naturalism explain and account for logic? From a Christian theistic point of view, the laws of logic flow from the rational mind of God.
Concerning the alleged incoherence of the Christian doctrine of the incarnation (Jesus as a single person with both a divine and human nature1), the doctrine can be formulated in a way that is not logically contradictory. One could argue that the way in which Jesus was limited (human nature) is in a different respect from the way in which he was unlimited (divine nature). The law of noncontradiction asserts that two contradictory propositions cannot both be true at the same time and in the same respect. Formulated as I have stated it, the incarnation does not formally violate the law of noncontradiction.
Also, the union of the two natures in the person of Christ need not imply contradiction for another reason. The orthodox definition says that the two natures in Christ (divine and human) are in union with one another but remain distinct. In other words, the natures do not mix or intermingle and thus do not conflict.
Finite creatures cannot comprehend exactly how a single person can have two distinct natures (one divine and one human). But as defined by Christian orthodoxy, the incarnation is not a formal contradiction because the two natures do not negate or limit one another (the two natures neither clash nor mingle).
So historic Christian theology insists that the incarnation is not a logical contradiction, but instead a divine mystery.2 This doctrine defies full human comprehension but it does no damage to reason. I hope this brief thought piece helps you to reason respectfully with nonbelievers on social media, in person, or in any context.
Reflections: Your Turn
How does Jesus’s having a human nature impact his serving as our high priest?
- For a discussion of how Jesus Christ can have both a divine nature and a human nature, see Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions, chapter 9.
- To appreciate how logical contradiction differs from mystery, see my article, “The Difference between Mystery and Contradiction,” Reflections (blog), Reasons to Believe (December 18, 2018), https://reflectionsbyken.wordpress.com/2018/12/18/the-difference-between-mystery-and-contradiction-in-theology/.