Tuesday, April 18, 2017

When God the mighty Maker died

Apostate Dale Tuggy attempted to respond to my analysis of his presentation:

Here's my original post:

Funny thing about Dale is that he imagines that he's really onto something. A few quick observations:

1. We need to be clear on the burden of proof. When someone posits an inconsistent triad, that's like the logical problem of evil. In disproving an inconsistent triad, it isn't necessary to defend the truth of your assumptions or definitions. The only question is whether the three propositions, as you define them, are logically mutually consistent.

2. Much of Tuggy's discussion revolves around the definition of death. 

i) There are roughly four or five different ways to define death: medical, theological, philosophical, or a popular and/or prescientific definition.

ii) When the Bible says Jesus died, or when the Bible says anyone dies, it's usually operating with a popular, prescientific definition. How people in the ancient world understood what it means for a human (or in many cases, an animal) to die. To some degree that would be a phenomenological assessment. The person stops breathing. Becomes unresponsive. You can't wake them up. 

That's a few minutes after death. With the passage of time, the body begins to decay. A stench is initial evidence. With additional passage of time the body undergoes visible decomposition. It may be infested with maggots. Eventually the body is reduced to skeletal remains.

A hot climate accelerates the process of decay, which is one reason Jews expedited burial. Another reason was ritual impurity. 

When the NT says Jesus died, it's uses the term that way.

iii) With advances in medical science, we have technical definitions of death. More methods to determine death, viz. EEG readings. 

iv) But that cuts both ways. Ironically, although medical science has more precise ways of defining death, it's complicated the concept of death. In some situations, medical science has extended the window between life and death. Some patients without "vital signs" can be resuscitated. Some patients who drown in a frozen lake can be resuscitated more than 30 minutes after they "expire". 

Some surgical techniques temporarily suspend the heart beat or brain waves. Although the patient has no "vital signs," they can be "brought back to life". That's because machinery keeps blood flowing and the body oxygenated. There's no necrosis. 

There's also the familiar phenomenon of reported near-death-experiences, including veridical examples. 

However, even with medical advances, death is often irreversible. And the corpse begins to undergo necrosis. There's a point beyond which the patient cannot be resuscitated, although it may take a while before that's evident.

v) There are theological definitions. The Bible sometimes uses "death" metaphorically for a dire moral or spiritual condition. The Apocalypse uses the "second death" as a synonym for damnation. But those are irrelevant to the issue at hand.

vi) Another theological definition uses "death" to denote the postmortem condition of the decedent. Not the process of death, or the effect on the body, but what happens to the decedent after they expire. The intermediate state. 

That involves a biblical anthropology. 

vii) Then you have philosophical definitions of death. These involve a philosophical anthropology, like physicalism or substance dualism. 

Tuggy attempted a more general definition which can be extended to immaterial beings (angels). He's at liberty to define death however he sees fit. But for purposes of an inconsistent triad, different people may define the key terms differently. His preferred definition won't be normative for them. 

And all they need is a definition that escapes logical inconsistency. They onus is not on them to show that it's true.

3. A related issue, and this is where Tuggy equivocates, is over the question of what dies. In popular usage, we typically employ identity terms. We simply say Ruth Graham died. She died. We may even say a person died. 

The identity statement isn't meant to be philosophically or anthropologically precise. Rather, we use that language for ease of reference. Ordinary language is philosophically crude.  

Now, if you happen to be a physicalist, then the identity statement is precise, because that's all there is. There's nothing more to a human individual or person than their body. On that view, the identity statement univocal. No need for further qualification. 

However, I don't think the linguistic convention intends that degree of precision. It's just a way of referring to an object, and things that happen to an object. 

When a Christian substance dualist uses the convention of identity language to say someone died, they don't mean to imply there's nothing more to the person than their body. They don't think the individual or person is constituted by their body alone. To the contrary, they think there's something essential to the person, over and above their body, that survives. 

Although it's customary to say that when Ruth Graham's body expired, she died or Ruth Graham died, the usage doesn't imply strictly identity between Ruth Graham and her body, as if Ruth Graham just is her body, for better or worse. There is more to who or what she is than her body.

And in that qualified sense, the person or individual never died. The soul can't die. The soul is incapable of death. 

A person or individual didn't die in the sense that death is applicable to everything that constitutes a human individual or person. Rather, it only pertains to the physical component. 

4. Apropos (3), another way to define death is to say that a body is normally essential to be a part of the physical world and to interface with the physical world. To die is to be cut off from the physical world. To no longer have access to the physical world. To be unable to physically interact with other embodied agents. 

On this definition, at death, something happens to the individual or person. Something radical. In this respect, you could even say death happens to the entire individual or the whole person in the sense that death affects the condition in which they find themselves. Death has a direct impact on the body, and thereby an indirect impact on the body's possessor. 

The body is like a vehicle for the soul. Even if the engine is destroyed, the driver survives. The driver exits the nonfunctioning car. 

It's funny how often Tuggy trips over identity statements. He suffers from a persistent mental block on that issue. His inconsistent triad fails to make allowance for the elementary distinction that the same claim can both be true and false in reference to the same person, but in different respects. 

Even though Tuggy rejects the two-natures of Christ, a competent philosopher is able to acknowledge a conceptual distinction for the sake of argument. 

For instance, the same individual can both be a son and not be a son. That can even be simultaneously true. He is a son to his father, but he is not a son to his own son. It's easy to formulate specious inconsistent triads by using simplistic phrases that omit key qualifications or essential background information. 

5. Tuggy says my position contradicts how some church fathers define the human nature of Christ. But that's a red herring. 

Likewise, he brought up the tradition of an anhypostatic union in reference to the communication of attributes. But while that debate is interesting from the standpoint of historical theology and philosophical theology, it's another red herring inasmuch as I didn't frame the Incarnation in those terms. I didn't say the "one person" of God Incarnate "just is" the eternal Son or divine nature. Indeed, I reject that reductionism. 

6. Tuggy asks how I think the NT generally uses the word "God". Short answer: I think 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. (I'm using "extension" in the sense of intensional logic, a la Frege and Quine, where "extension" is a synonym for reference, in contrast with meaning)

Tuggy seems to think that "God" has a default referent, synonymous with the Father, unless the context makes clear that it has a different referent. But that's circular. 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. 

BTW, it's nonsensical for unitarians to refer to God as the Father. The paternal designation implies a filial designation, and vice versa. These are symmetrical, correlative designations. 

7. Tuggy recycles stock unitarian objections I've repeatedly addressed. 

1 comment:

  1. Just wanted to restate my appreciation of your posts.

    By the way, I know I said I'd try to get back to you on the Trinity discussion we had over email we've had (ASAP, at that) - to update that, I just wanted to say I'm still thinking things through.