Saturday, April 14, 2018


Stevie, you just need to devote some actual thought to epistemology, specifically Plantinga and Reid. If you think such appeals are facile, you just don't understand that approach to human knowledge and justification. You may disagree, which is fine, but taunting it all as facile - sorry, you're just not getting the methodology here.

Let's reviews some problems with Tuggy's breezy appeal to Reid:

Reid thinks that ordinary people don't do much reasoning–not much good reasoning, anyway.

The question is whether any of those contingent propositions also satisfy the traditional concept of the self-evident? It was traditionally assumed that the concept of a self-evidently true proposition applies only to necessary truths…Suppose that, with everything working properly, the perceptual belief is formed in me that there's something green before me. Does that contingent proposition have "its evidence in itself"? Certainly it doesn't satisfy the traditional concept of a self-evident truth: "no sooner understood than believed"…He says that the principles of Common Sense are identical with beliefs held noninferentially and justifiably. That can't be right, for an obvious reason. Whereas  the Principles of Common Sense are common, lots of such beliefs aren't common at all; they're entirely personal. 

My thesis has been that in his writings one finds two very different understandings: Principles of Common Sense are shared first principles, and principles of Common Sense are what we all do and must take for granted in our lives in the everyday. What remains to be shown is that they don't mesh.

Most people surely don't actually believe those propositions that all those of us who are normal adults take for granted in our living of life in the everyday. Most people haven't even so much as entertained them, let one believed them…One doesn't have to believe something to take it for granted. N. Wolterstorff, Thomas Reid and the Story of Epistemology (Cambridge 2009, chap. 9. 

i) The entire chapter is worth reading. I could quote more of Wolterstorff's analysis. The immediate point is that it's unclear what Tuggy's appeal to Reid actually amounts to, given the equivocations and overgeneralizations in Reid's position. Which is not to deny that Reid makes some useful points, but a lot of sifting, sorting, and reformulation is required. 

ii) Plantinga is, of course, an exponent of Reformed epistemology. I take it that Tuggy is alluding to properly basic beliefs. Yet Plantinga is a Trinitarian. He even uses the Trinity as a positive example to illustrate some points in Warranted Christian Belief

iii) I'd add that basic beliefs are defeasible beliefs. They can be overridden. They're hardly "self-evident" in the traditional sense. 

Not everything should be up for debate. Debates must start somewhere. As Christian philosopher Thomas Reid pointed out, humans are made such that, when we’re fully mature, and when we have certain common experiences, we will, on auto-pilot, know certain truths. He called this first principles, or principles of common sense. We can also call the self-evident truths – things that we, so long as our judgement is unhindered by various non-rational factors, can recognize as true, and even know to be true, without mounting an argument for them. Like lamps, they illuminate themselves, in addition to other things. As heard in a previous episode, Reid listed a number of self-evident truths which he had found to be contradicted by various philosophers’ speculations. But he didn’t directly apply this method to Christian theology.

I've already documented to some basic problems with Tuggy's appeal. But let's make another point. Roderick Chisholm distinguished between methodists and particularists. Methodists begin with criteria while particularists begin with evidence. It's clear that Tuggy is a methodist. Take his resort to the law of identity.

Consider the widely reported phenomenon of bilocation. I don't have a firm position on that. It's not something I've researched in detail. But using Chisholm's rubric, there are two divergent approaches you can take to such reports. On the one hand, you can be a methodist like Tuggy. You take your stand with armchair criteria like the law of identity. You therefore discount all reported bilocations in advance, no matter how well-documented. The evidence is irrelevant. You never look at the evidence because you just know it can't possibly be true, given the law of identity.

On the other hand, you can be a particularist. You're open-minded about the phenomenon because, for you, this is ultimately an evidentiary question. Is there good empirical evidence for biolocation? If the same individual can be in two different places at the same time, then we can't insist that personal identity requires numerical identity. In that event we adjust the definition of personal identity to accommodate the evidence.

Now, my point is not to take a position on bilocation. I mention this example because it's relevant to personal identity, which figures in unitarian objections to the Trinity, and it's not just hypothetical. The immediate point is that unitarians like Tuggy take a position comparable to Hume on the question of miracles: no quantity or quality of evidence can dislodge their disbelief in the Trinity, Incarnation, or miracles, because they begin with unfalsifiable "first principles, principles of common sense, and/or self-evident truths". Unitarians are to Trinitarians what methodological atheists are to supernaturalists.   

The problem with absolutizing certain criteria is that it prejudges the nature of reality, but to a great extent, reality must be discovered. We aren't born already knowing what's possible or impossible. Revelation and observation must inform our understanding of what's possible and impossible.  

The question is, which hypothesis is the best explanation of all the textual and experiential evidence. This was still a living debate in 381, when the post-Nicea debates were shut down. The latter-day Nicenes thought they could show the spirit to a divine hypostasis like the Logos, but their catholic opponents were unimpressed.

In the interest of moving the discussion forward, let us honestly consider this: In the OT, is God's "spirit/Spirit" supposed to be a self in addition to God? Why or why not? 

i) "Self" is Tuggy's preferred lingo, not mine. 

ii) So having lost the NT debate, Tuggy backtracks to the OT. Given progressive revelation, why should that be the frame of reference? It's like asking, what's the OT concept of messiah if you go back before the Isaiah or the Davidic covenant?

iii) The question is slanted because it assumes something has already been established–the existence of the one God–and in comparison with that datum, is the Spirit a self in addition to God? But whether we should parcel it out that way is the very issue in dispute. Is the one God a given, in contrast to which the Spirit is an additional self? But the whole question is the relation of the Spirit to God. 

iv) Nicene theology isn't my benchmark, but let's take up Tuggy's challenge. Indeed, let's be more consistent than Tuggy by taking that to a logical extreme. Let's bracket all our preconceptions about OT theism. Suppose we're reading the OT for the very first time. We know nothing about the history of Christian or Jewish interpretation. We're a blank slate in that regard. 

v) When we begin reading about Yahweh, Elohim, El Shaddai, and God's Spirit, we're open to a polytheistic interpretation. We have no prior expectation that the OT is monotheistic. When we read about "angels" in Genesis or the Pentateuch, our first impression might be that angels are minor gods, celestial emissaries, like Hermes. Indeed, aren't angels called "sons of god(s)"? Well, that's consistent with father gods who beget offspring. 

vii) Tuggy reduces the Spirit to a personification of a divine attribute, mode, action, or part of a being/entity–rather than a self/being/entity (his lingo). But from the standpoint of comparative mythology, that's a false dichotomy. Apollo's the god of prophecy, Athena's the goddess of wisdom, Aphrodite's the goddess of eros. 

In paganism, particular attributes or actions pair off with particular gods. The Greeks didn't think Athena was a personification of wisdom, but the divine, personal source of wisdom. They didn't think Apollo personified oracular inspiration. Rather, he was the divine, personal source of oracular inspiration. Aphrodite didn't merely symbolize erotic passion. She was a physical exemplar. So there's no reason to think Tuggy is reading an ancient text the way ancient readers view it. 

viii) In Gen 1, the name of God (Elohim) is plural. Is that polytheistic? Remember, Tuggy doesn't think we should filter the text through historical theology. At the outset, a reader who's starting from scratch has no prior objection that interpretation.

ix) In addition, Elohim speaks to someone (v26). Who's the audience? In ancient Near Eastern creation stories, you have examples of one god addressing another god. And in Gen 1, there are two agents, two characters: Elohim and his Spirit. If you came to the text with no theological presuppositions, you might well infer that this is a conversation between two primordial gods. 

x) As you continue reading through the Pentateuch and the OT, certain interpretive options drop out of consideration. There's a running indictment against idolatry. There's polemical theology directed at the pantheons of Israel's pagan neighbors. So you may have to modify your preliminary impressions. Angels are creatures rather than minor gods, the offspring of a father god or gods. 

xi) Yet in OT representations, the Spirit isn't heavenly creature like angels are creatures. The Spirit is a heavenly agent on the divine side of the creature/Creator divide. The action is more like coming out of God.  

David Cline takes the position that already, in Gen 1, we have "duality in the Godhead". Elohim addressing his creative collaborator (the Spirit). Cf. D. Clines, "The Image of God in Man," TynBul 19 (1968), 68-69. 

And, since all NT authors were avid readers of the OT, how should this affect how we understand their spirit-talk?

If OT theism can be binitarian, then NT theism can be Trinitarian. Father/Son duality as well as God/Spirit duality. In Scripture the action alternates between these three major players. 

My view is that God's spirit is his unseen power, which empowered prophets, and even Jesus, and in these last days is given to believers. But "the holy spirit" or "God's spirit" can in various places refer to God, his power, or even to Jesus once or twice. Biblical spirit-talk is messy; it does make it harder to get clear on this issue. I recommend the non-polemical, careful investigation by pastor Sean Finnegan.

Let's play along with that representation for argument's sake. Does Tuggy think God's power, being God's power, is worshipful? To take a comparison, does Tuggy think divine love or divine justice is worthy of our adoration?


"Yahweh" is not a proper name like Noah, Abraham, Isaac, or Joseph. Indeed, the meaning of the Hebrew word remains an enigma to Hebraists, but in any event, it functions as a designator for God in his capacity as a covenant lord. In Scripture, divine names function as epithets. 

Not that an obvious self in a text has to have one a proper name. Personal pronouns are plenty...

Personal nouns are used for the Spirit of God. are titles which virtually function like names, e.g. adonai, elohim, el, ho theos, ho kurios (when this is not Jesus) 

i) They function like names the way having characters named Fox and Badger in fables function. They stand for a genus. Same thing with "Adam" in Gen 1, which means "man" rather than a proper name in Gen 2-3.  

ii) God can't have proper names in the sense that humans, angels, or pet animals have proper names. God is not the kind of entity that has, or can have, multiple instances. 

iii) Admittedly, as an open theist, Tuggy's concept of God is more like Zeus or Odin. 

Ruach/pneuma is a pregnant designation, exploiting multiple connotations:

i) In the biblical worldview, "spirits" are personal agents (e.g. God, ghosts, angels, demons).

ii) It suggests immateriality.

iii) Breath is a principle of biological life. The Spirit is the agent of life.

iv) Speech. The spoken word. The Spirit is the agent of prophecy

as are portrayals of doing things only selves can do.

And both Testaments portray God's Spirit doing things only a rational agent can do (e.g. Jn 14:26; 16:8-15). 

In trying to understand what this "S/spirit" is supposed to be, both sides have to take some passages in ways other than their prima facie senses. 

That's a concession I had to wrest from Tuggy's unwilling lips. 

When the holy spirit is poured out, or when it is described as a power, the trinitarian decides that really a self is being talked about there as if it were not a self (the opposite of personification). 

As I already pointed out, Scripture uses inanimate metaphors for Yahweh/Elohim. 

The other side just does this for the self-like passages. No inconsistency either way, Steve - just trying to a consistent theology out of the texts. Stop trying to go for the cheap shots, and get serious on this topic. 

Tuggy has a crude, polemical sales-pitch to promote unitarianism, but now we see the fine print. When cornered, he grudgingly introduces caveats that he didn't volunteer when attacking  Christian hermeneutics. 

In a forthcoming paper, Richard Swinburne argues that the Trinity is not deducible from the Bible precisely because readings on which God's "spirit" is not an additional divine self are more plausible - this, from a determined defender of social trinitarianism! So much for trying to paint this as a wacky claim of cultists and rascally biblical unitarians. Many, many serious exegetes have read the NT this way. 

He's a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy. So he punts to tradition. Exegetical theology is not his forte.  

Because I'm pointing out various sorts of spirit-talk in the Bible, you ought not infer that I am inconsistent on what I think God's spirit is. 

Tuggy's the one who made a blanket claim:

#7. The “spirit of” a self is not supposed to be a different self than that self.

I'm responding to his own formulation.


  1. Maybe I'm just dense but if the Old Testament did not think the spirit of Yahweh was capable of independent action, how is the Shekinah explained? Especially since the word is feminine

  2. Steve wrote: //viii) In Gen 1, the name of God (Elohim) is plural.//

    "Adonai" is also a plural noun. Both "elohim" and "adonai" are used hundreds of times to refer to the one true God in the OT. Another plural pronoun used to refer to the one true God, but less often used, is "adonim". Moreover, plural nouns, plural pronouns, plural verbs, plural adverbs, and plural adjectives are also used in the OT for the one true God. For more, see my blogpost for more on the evidence for OT passages implying plurality in God.

    If Unitarianism were true and God were uni-personal, why didn't God inspire the prophets and writers of Scripture to ONLY use singular nouns, singular pronouns, singular verbs, singular adverbs and singular adjectives to refer to the one true God? Wouldn't that have been the wisest thing for God to do if God were trying to teach the Jews strict uni-personal monotheism [i.e. Unitarianism]?

    //i) In the biblical worldview, "spirits" are personal agents (e.g. God, ghosts, angels, demons).//

    Exactly. In every other instance where "spirit" is used in the OT or NT to refer to something supernatural, it's a personal agent. Unitarians would have us believe that the Holy Spirit is the one and only exception despite the evidence from both testaments that the Holy Spirit is a personal agent. And despite the fact that the Holy Spirit is mentioned in the New Testament alone over 220 times.

    //In trying to understand what this "S/spirit" is supposed to be, both sides have to take some passages in ways other than their prima facie senses.//

    If the use of "H/holy S/spirit" in Scripture refers to either 1. an impersonal force or power of the Father OR SOMETIMES the Father himself in action, why use the language of personal agency of the Holy Spirit in juxtaposition to/with God [i.e. the Father]? If Unitarianism were true and God were uni-personal wouldn't it have been wisest of God to inspire the prophets and writers of Scripture to not juxtapose the S/spirit with Himself [i.e. God]?

  3. By all means, read Wolterstorf and others on Reid. That quote doesn't seem particularly to the point re: my podcasts, but W. is a good philosopher.

    "Plantinga is, of course, an exponent of Reformed epistemology. I take it that Tuggy is alluding to properly basic beliefs. Yet Plantinga is a Trinitarian. He even uses the Trinity as a positive example to illustrate some points in Warranted Christian Belief. "

    Yes - Plantinga's views here are oddly underdeveloped. His brother pushes a three-self Trinity. But Plantinga repeatedly and emphatically describes God as a "person" - so if he's a trinitarian, he holds to a one-self view. But he always, as far as I can tell, avoids saying what "the Trinity" amounts to. He just includes it as among "the great things of the gospel" which in his view the H.S. should attest to.

    "I'd add that basic beliefs are defeasible beliefs. They can be overridden. They're hardly "self-evident" in the traditional sense."

    Yes to the first part. But quibbling over my use of "self-evident" is pointless. If you don't like that word, just substitute: "such that an adult human person with ordinary relevant experiences should know them in the basic way."

    Erm... you think this is important to consider here? OK, nothing I have said rules this out a priori. You seem to want to make the concept of numerical identity, or the indiscernibility controversial points of speculation - but that is a patently wrongheaded move, as best I can tell, motivated by our own desire to defend your confused views on God and Jesus. This is like the one who declares "the Trinity" to be beyond math, providing an exception to the general truth, 1+1+1=3.

    About the "methodism" vs "particularism" distinction that Chisholm makes, I fall pretty clearly on the particularist side, I think. That's going to be true for any Reidian or Plantingian.

    About "absolutizing certain criteria" - that is exactly we all do, and should do, in cases of necessary truths. If you don't see that, you're not clear on the concept of a necessary truth. In brief: it is a claim whose falsehood is in principle impossible. It is true *no matter what,* no matter what anyone, even God, does. Some of the self-evident truths I highlighted seem to be clearly necessary, others not. And yes, these judgements are fallible too.

    "So having lost the NT debate, Tuggy backtracks to the OT."
    You're so consistently obnoxious, Steve, it's actually charming sometimes - or sort of cute.

  4. Thanks for the valuable lessons, Steve!