Thursday, April 27, 2017

Methuselah died

Apostate Dale Tuggy did another podcast:

in which he labored to selective respond to my post:

I listened to his lumbering analysis. 

1. He repeated his definition: "To die is to lose all or most of one's normal natural life functions." 

But God is not alive in that sense. Angels are not alive in that sense. Is there any evidence that 1C Jews or Christians thought incorporeal beings are alive in that sense? 

Tuggy says the decedent can't think with their brain anymore. True, although that's not a 1C understanding of death. 

2. Tuggy says that to disprove his inconsistent triad, it's necessary to show that each proposition is true. But that's a category mistake. That's not what makes a triad of propositions logically consistent or inconsistent.  Tuggy is shifting grounds. 

3. Tuggy denied my statement that the same person can both be a son and not be a son. But I explained what I meant by that. Tuggy disregards the explicit qualification. That's dishonest on his part. 

4. What sailed over Tuggy's head is that I was using an implicit argument from analogy. So let's spell it out for him.

Suppose we say "Methuselah died". From a philosophical standpoint, that's deceptively ambiguous. 

What died? That depends on your anthropology. Suppose you're a substance dualist. In that event, you define a complete human being as a composite being: an embodied soul. 

To be more precise, suppose you define a complete human being as a union of a mortal body with an immortal soul.  

I'd add that for purposes of assessing an inconsistent triad, it isn't necessary to justify this anthropology. We can posit this as a hypothetical. For the only salient consideration is whether the logical relationship between two or more propositions. Not whether they are true, but whether they are logically consistent with each other.

So what does it mean to say "Methuselah died"? On the face of it, that's an identity statement.

If, according to our definition, Methuselah just is an embodied soul, then to say "Methuselah died" might mean the entire composite died. His soul died along with his body.

But that's a very wooden interpretation of how identity statements are used in popular discourse. If we wanted to be pedantically precise, we wouldn't say "Methuselah died", but "Methuselah's body died". 

According to substance dualism, Methuselah isn't identical to his body, even if, as a matter of linguistic shorthand, we use identity statements. 

Although Methuselah is an embodied soul, to say he died is not equivalent to the claim that all of him died. Not equivalent to the claim that both his body and soul expired. 

According to substance dualism, it's just understood that to say "Methuselah died" doesn't mean the entire composite died. There's an implicit qualification. 

Now, if like Tuggy, you're oblivious to these elementary distinctions, you can devise a specious inconsistent triad:

i) Methuselah died
ii) Methuselah is immortal
iii) What is immortal can't die

That appears to be an inconsistent triad. It posits contradictory predicates of the same subject. Only mortals can die. If you're immortal, you can't die.

But, of course, that's simplistic. From the standpoint of substance dualism, the same individual is both mortal and immortal. That's because he's mortal and immortal in different respects. Mortal in reference to his body but immortal in reference to his soul. 

(Technically, substance dualism doesn't entail the immortality of the soul, but since I'm using a hypothetical case, I can stipulate the immortality of the soul for discussion purposes.)

Why am I discussing substance dualism? As an analogy for the hypostatic union. Just as a human being is a composite being, Jesus is a composite being by virtue of the Incarnation. A union of two natures, one mortal and the other immortal. That's analogous to a union of two substances, one mortal and the other immortal. And in both cases, there are material and immaterial components. 

The onus is not on my to prove the Incarnation. As Tuggy framed the issue, we're just discussing whether the propositions that comprise orthodox Christology are logically consistent with each other. 

Back to Tuggy's "inconsistent triad":

i) Jesus died
ii) Jesus was fully divine
iii) No fully divine being has ever died

But that suffers from the same equivocation as my "inconsistent triad" about Methuselah. 

To say "Jesus died" is a claim about his body, and not about the individual in toto. Just as Jesus is both mortal and immortal by virtue of a mortal body in union with an immortal soul, Jesus is additionally both mortal and immortal by virtue of a mortal component (his body) in union with an immortal component (his nature).

An immortal being can die if "death" has reference to a mortal component of an immortal being. That's not contradictory. 

In context, "death" isn't predicated of the immortal component or the individual as a whole. That's true whether we're making loose identity statements in the context of substance dualism or the hypostatic union. 

Incidentally, this goes to vexed questions in personal identity. How much can I lose and still be me? It's like the sorites paradox. If I undergo an appendectomy, am I the same individual after the operation that I was before the operation? 

5. In response to my statement that in NT usage, the extension of "God" is indefinite in reference to the Trinity or any particular person of the Godhead unless the context uses "God" with a more specific extension, to distinguish one divine referent from another divine referent, Tuggy says I deny that the NT authors successful refer to the Triune God or to any of the three in many cases. But he doesn't bother to explain how he derives that conclusion from my statement. 

Sometimes "God" refers to Jesus. But that's not due to "God" having a default determinate referent. 

Likewise, NT authors can refer to the Trinity without using "God" or some technical designation for the Triune God. 

6. Tuggy says the NT just doesn't use language in the way Reformed apologists like me think it should. Really? Where did I say or imply that NT usage is defective? 

He says you can be a Trinitarian and think for some strange reason that when the NT says "God" it almost always means the Father and never refers to the three of them all together as the one God, but that's surprising given Trinitarianism. 

i) Notice the irony. The NT just doesn't use language like unitarian apologists think it should if Trinitarianism is true. 

ii) I don't grant that when the NT says "God" it almost always denotes the Father. To say it doesn't normally denote the Son does not imply that it normally denotes the Father. Rather, the referent can left be indeterminate in that respect unless there's contextual need to distinguish the persons of the Trinity. For instance, why assume that general references to "God" in the Gospels single out the Father to the exclusion of the Spirit? 

iii) Why does Tuggy imagine that if Trinitarianism is true, we'd expect the NT to refer to the three of them all together as the one God? He gives no argument for that contention. 

What does he even mean? Does he mean that if Trinitarianism is true, the NT should have a technical term for the Triune God? Does he mean a particular verbal formula? Does he mean something like the Johannine Comma? Does he imagine that if Trinitarianism is true, the NT should have a passage like the Athanasian creed? 

The Bible isn't written in the nomenclature of systematic theology, with technical definitions and formulations. It generally uses popular language, imagery, and metaphors. 

6. I said Tuggy's presumption is circular. Tuggy accuses me of "denialism". But I didn't merely say it was circular; I gave a reason: 

Our only clue that "God" denotes the Father is in passages where the context singles out the Father as the intended referent. There can be no evidence for a default referent, for unless the context supplies further specification, we have no additional information to justify a more definite or determinate referent.

Tuggy doesn't attempt to directly engage that. 

7. Tuggy quoted a lengthy statement by Murray J. Harris. By citing a scholar's opinion is not an argument. The conclusion is only as good as the supporting evidence.

Then there's Tuggy's double standard. If I disagree with Harris, I'm unscholarly, but if Tuggy disagrees with Harris, Tuggy is scholarly. 

Tuggy and I both agree and disagree with Harris in differing respects. The monograph is a defense of the deity of Christ. I agree with Harris's conclusion in that regard, whereas Tuggy does not. 

8. It's not my job to make Tuggy's argument for him, but for the sake of completeness I'd take a stab at his nonexistence argument. Perhaps what he's gesturing at is this: because the NT so often uses "God" in reference to the Father, and so rarely in reference to the Son, the Father is the default referent of "God" by statistical association. But if that's what Tuggy has in mind, the inference is fallacious:

a) To begin with, a unitarian thinks "God" refers more often to the Father than a Trinitarian like me. So we don't even agree on the percentages.

b) In addition, it's not just a question of quantitative usage. The reason "God" so often denotes the Father in NT usage is because "God" is so often used in contexts where "God" is a differential designation to identify and distinguish one Trinitarian individual from another Trinitarian individual. If a NT writer is talking about the Father and the Son, or the Father and the Spirit, then "God" frequently stands in grammatical contrast to the other individual. For clarity of reference, it's necessary for NT writers to use different designations to talking about two or more individuals. In group settings, "God" is routinely used as a designation for the Father. 

To take a comparison, suppose there's a SEAL unit in which two members have the same first name. That's potentially confusing. It's important to have unambiguous designations for each member of the unit, so that there's no confusion about who's receiving an order or warning. That can be a life and death situation.

If two members of the unit both go by the name of Jake, to say "Jake, freeze!" may fail to save the right Jake from stepping on a land mine or a puff adder since it's unclear which Jake was intended.

In that context, one of them will be allowed to keep his first name while the other may be called by his last name or given a nickname. 

That isn't because "Jake" is uniquely or especially suitable to that particular designee. It's a coin flip which member of the unit gets to retain his first name. 

And even if that individual becomes the default referent, that's not primarily due to quantitative usage or statistical association, but usage in a group setting. 

Outside that setting, it's not as if old friends and relatives will call him what his unit members call him, to demarcate him from the other Jake. 

c) In addition, NT writers frequently use divine titles or designations with divine connotations for each person, viz. the Son, the Lord, the Spirit of God. It's not as if "God" has an exclusively divine connotation unlike the other designations. 

9. Tuggy takes issue with my statement that "the Father" is a Trinitarian designation. But he misses the boat–as usual. The point is that if you have a "father" and a "son," where only one is divine while the other is human, then absolute comparative usage is deceptive. A human son isn't a son to God in the same sense that he's a son to a human father. There's a fundamental and radical disparity.

This is why, even though NT writers use sonship language for Christians, they do so in a guarded fashion, unlike their use of sonship language in reference to Jesus. In Paul, it's plural and adoptive in relation to Christians. And John reserves the filial designation exclusively for Jesus.

In reference to Jesus, NT language regarding sonship involves parity between two individuals of the same kind. On the same plane. 


  1. And there's plenty of evidence in the OT and the NT against a physicalist or materialist anthropology.

  2. "To die is to lose all or most of one's normal natural life functions."

    Apart from the fact that this is vague, it's in theory possible one lose "most of one's normal natural life functions" and still be alive as long as one doesn't lose the "normal natural life functions" which are essential to life. Or to put it another way, it's not quantity ("most") so much as quality.

    Perhaps there's a breaking point at which life ceases after the loss of a certain number of "normal natural life functions," but that could be less than "most" depending on what's lost. Again, specifics are needed.