Dale Tuggy’s Challenge

A while back, Dale Tuggy issued a challenge to what he calls “Jesus-is-God apologists”. He said it is an argument, not against the Trinity per se, but against those who just equate Jesus and God. We will examine the argument to see if it does what he wants it to, but a few starting comments.

First, this challenge was posted quite a while ago, February 1st, 2016. So I don’t expect any prompt response to what I’m writing here. I’ve had a long absence myself from blogging, and am catching up on things that interest me.

Second, the argument has been responded to by James Anderson at his blog, and I don’t intend to repeat what he has said here, but challenge other features of the argument.

Finally, Tuggy put a podcast out a while after his interaction with Anderson’s answer called “Challenge unmet”. He goes over the argument again, but doesn’t really deal with Anderson’s response beyond dismissing some things Anderson said and saying we don’t need to accept his response. If you read Anderson’s response, you find that all it does is show a way in which you could very reasonably reject one of Tuggy’s premises, thus making the argument (possibly) unsound on the grounds of its having a false premise. In the world of philosophers presenting and critiquing arguments, if one presents an argument and another presents a counterexample that casts doubt on one of the premises, the original presenter would need to either cast doubt on the responder’s argument, or show why it is far more reasonable to accept the premise as given than to accept the responder’s doubts about it.

Tuggy doesn’t really do this but just says he thinks the premise Anderson cast doubt upon seemed true to him. So what we have from all this is Tuggy thinks his argument is good, but doesn’t have any response to Anderson’s doubts about it.

So, preliminaries out of the way, I will be coming at this argument in a little different way. Not better than Anderson’s, I think. He is a seasoned philosopher, and I am a person with a bachelor’s in philosophy. So my critique will likely not be as elegant as his. I think it will show merit, though. For starters, here is Tuggy’s argument.

  1. God and Jesus differ.
  2. Things which differ are two (i.e. are not numerically identical)
  3. Therefore, God and Jesus are two (not numerically identical). (1, 2)
  4. For any x and y, x and y are the same god only if x and y are nottwo (i.e. arenumerically identical).
  5. Therefore, God and Jesus are not the same god. (3, 4)
  6. There is only one god.
  7. Therefore, either God is not a god, or Jesus is not a god. (5, 6)
  8. God is a god.
  9. Therefore, Jesus is not a god. (7, 8)

Now, I’m not going to rehash previous evaluation of the validity of the argument or anything. The argument appears valid at the outset, so let’s grant that to start. Let’s look at the first premise.

  1. God and Jesus differ

This is a fairly straightforward statement, except that Tuggy doesn’t define or identify who he’s referring to by “God” and “Jesus”. Now, “Jesus” is a pretty simple reference, but “God” is more complicated. “God” could refer to any of the following on Trinitarian theology: the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, the Triune Deity consisting of all three. Which one does he mean? He doesn’t explain which of these is the referent of “God” in the premise, but rather gives a long list of statements Trinitarians accept that differentiate between God and Jesus, such as the fact that God sent his Son, Jesus didn’t send his Son. Or God is Triune, Jesus is not Triune. These are the first two examples he gives, but notice that they each have a different referent on Trinitarian theology. The first referent is the Father, as it is the Father who sent the Son. The Triune God didn’t send his Son, as the Son is one person in that God. The second statement refers to the Triune God. So, Tuggy’s way of showing how God and Jesus differ does not actually have any fixed referent for the word “God”, but shows that on more than one referent, the statement is true. Now, there isn’t anything wrong with this as a starting point, but it will become apparent later, that Tuggy is equivocating on the referent in order to get this argument to go through.

Premise 2 is essentially a statement of the indiscernibility of identicals, that any difference between A and B prove that A is not B. Now, he puts it in the form of saying that they are “two”. Of course, on Trinitarian theology, Jesus and the Father are two persons, so this isn’t a problem. Jesus and the Triune God can be said to be two in a similar sense that Anderson talked about in his counterexample that the stuff something is made of could conceivably be a separate “thing” from the thing made from the stuff. But we don’t have to go with that, either. Parts, even essential parts, are distinct from the wholes they are a part of, and this leads down a lot of rabbit trails concerning the metaphysics of material objects, but logically, there’s nothing controversial about the concept. The point I’m making here is that, if Tuggy means “Father” by “God” in premise 2, then there is no objection. And even if he means “Triune God”, by “God”, there isn’t an objection on a correct understanding, but the word “two” has to be qualified.

In premise 3, we just get the conclusion of the first two premises, to which what has been said so far equally applies

In premise 4, we come to the first major problem. No Trinitarian that Tuggy typically critiques would accept 4. Now I know he is fond of speaking about the topic of the Trinity as if there are hundreds of different definitions of the Trinity and it’s arrogant of anyone to say theirs is “the” Trinity. This is a parlor game to poison the well against his opponent. I’ve heard him quote modalists as if they were Trinitarians, and since their “Trinity” is different, we shouldn’t assume there is only one definition. It’s all just a red herring to distract from any critiques of his argument. He artificially gifts himself these objections and then doesn’t get around to dealing with the critique.

So to get to the point of his argument, the reason I say that no Trinitarian would accept 4 is that, as shown in premise 1-3, Trinitarians accept referents for the word “God” other than Jesus. This isn’t surprising. Trinitarians take it that Jesus and the Father are two in some ways, and one in other ways. We’ve already said how Jesus is distinct from the Father, but the way they are one is that they are one kind of thing. They are both God in nature. This is just like how Tuggy and I are both human in nature. Now, since we believe with the Scriptures that there is only one God, we take Jesus and the Father to share not only the same nature, but the same being. Tuggy may not like that explanation, but he cannot just insist what premise 4 asserts. To say that if x and y differ, then they can only be the same god if they are not two (in any way) is to beg the question against the Trinity in this premise.

Trinitarian theology holds that God is a single being shared by three persons. Tuggy knows this. Trinitarian theology also typically holds that it is right and proper to call any of the three persons “God” as well. This does not commit the Trinitarian to claiming numerical identity between any of the persons or between any of the persons and the whole being. In fact Trinitarians typically deny such numerical identity as being opposed to the Trinity doctrine. Let’s look at premise 4 again.

4. For any x and y, x and y are the same god only if x and y arenottwo (i.e.arenumerically identical).

No Trinitarian who understands the issues at all would affirm this statement. One must assume a Unitarian god to make this a true statement. That is why this premise begs the question. It only works if we assume the Trinity is false at the outset by accepting this premise. And again, Tuggy cannot fall back on his claim that his challenge is not an anti-Trinitarian argument when its conclusion is the denial of an essential aspect of the Trinity. The premises that follow all depend on this question-begging premise, so there isn’t much more to address about the challenge itself.

The last thing I will say about this challenge is to address why such a fallacious argument was presented in the way it was. Tuggy said that it is a challenge to “Jesus is God” apologists. He said it’s not against the Trinity but against people who just say Jesus is God. As we’ve seen, the argument certainly does not actually touch the Trinity because it begs the question against a Trinitarian understanding of God. So who is this argument actually aimed at?

I think it is interesting that no examples are given of who he thinks this argument refutes. Who, specifically, are these apologists he is challenging? Certainly no apologists defending an orthodox understanding of the Trinity. One might suggest he’s arguing against a modalistic or oneness view, but they would just deny the first premise as being question-begging against their position. Tuggy says he sent this to a famous apologist and didn’t get an answer, but he doesn’t say who. Could it be that if he said who he was challenging and cited the example of “Jesus is God” talk given by that person as what he is attempting to refute, that one could easily find where that apologist explained more fully their view so as to render this argument null with respect to that apologist? For the life of me, I can’t put anyone into that category of non-Trinitarian, non-oneness “Jesus is God” apologists that would find this argument troubling.

Update: Dale Tuggy responded to this article in a podcast here.

I’ve posted a response to the podcast here.

4 thoughts on “Dale Tuggy’s Challenge”

  1. It was David Wood, folks. It was a response to his aggressively asserting that in the Bible “Jesus is God.” I think he ignored it a solid year before I made that first podcast, #124.

    Thanks for this, Drew. I just now saw this. Might devote an episode of the podcast. I think you understand the argument well, but you don’t realize how controversial – and how unintuitive – relative identity theory is. You seem to think that any trinitarian is by definition committed to relative identity theory, but that is not true! e.g. Craig, Swinburne, Leftow, even Anderson (he doesn’t endorse rel id) – Indeed, most analytic theologians who’ve thought hard about all of this deny relative identity theory, and so try to come up with a coherent understanding of the traditional catholic Trinity formulas without it.

    As to the idea that I’m “assuming unitarianism” – oy. That’s a lazy, James White shortcut. Not true! An a matter of fact, some trinitarians would simply endorse my argument as sound.

    God bless!

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