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Category Mistake

A category mistake arises from fallacious reasoning about different logical categories.  For example, the question "What does blue smell like?" is a category mistake.  Blue is a color that is sensed by the eye while an odor is a sensed by the nose.  Blue belongs to the category of colors while odors belong to the category of smells.  Therefore, blue is not in the category of smell. 

Again, the question, "To whom is the bachelor married?" is a nonsensical question, because it is a category mistake since a bachelor by definition does not belong to the category of married persons.  

Furthermore, it is invalid to argue that 1 side + 1 side + 1 side = 3 triangles.  It is fallacious reasoning because a 'side' and a 'triangle' belong to different categories. So, it is logically possible that 1 side + 1 side + 1 side = 1 triangle. As a matter of fact, this is precisely the case for a triangle. To illustrate this point further, in the view of many scholars, one human being is a unity of three distinct principles: spirit, soul, and body. It is invalid to argue that 1 spirit + 1 soul + 1 body = three human beings, because spirit, soul, body, and human being belong to different categories.

The Institute for Islamic Information and Education has an article on its web site entitled, "Who Invented the Trinity?" that makes a fallacious category mistake.  Basically, it asks (1 Father + 1 Son + 1 Holy Spirit = 1 person, God the What?).  This is not what Trinitarians teach.  They claim that (1 Father + 1 Son + 1 Holy Spirit = 3 divine persons).   Likewise, they claim that (1 Father + 1 Son + 1 Holy Spirit = one divine essence, that is God).   This claim can be logically maintained because essence and person are two different logical categories.  So,  the question is a nonsensical one when it asks, "1 person, God the What?"

For example, it is a fact that all human beings belong to one (1) human essence.  But, it would be fallacious reasoning to argue that, since there is only one (1) human essence in the world, there must be only one(1) human person living in the world.  The reason it is fallacious reasoning is because human essence and human personhood are two different categories.  Since they are two different categories, it means there can be one human essence and there can also be more than 5 billion persons living in the world.

"Christianity has digressed from the concept of the Oneness of God, however, into a vague and mysterious doctrine that was formulated during the fourth century. This doctrine, which continues to be a source of controversy both within and without the Christian religion, is known as the Doctrine of the Trinity. Simply put, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity states that God is the union of three divine persons-- the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit-- in one divine being.

If that concept, put in basic terms, sounds confusing, the flowery language in the actual text of the doctrine lends even more mystery to the matter:

"...we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity...for there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, another of the Holy Ghost is all one...they are not three gods, but one God...the whole three persons are co-eternal and co-equal...he therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity..." (excerpts from the Athanasian Creed).

Let's put this together in a different form: one person, God the Father + one person, God the Son, + one person, God the Holy Ghost = one person, God the What? Is this English or is this gibberish?"

By: Aisha Brown
Who Invented the Trinity?
The Institute of Islamic Information and Education

Last edited 12/20/1999

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