Dale Tuggy

Dale Tuggy is Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Fredonia, where he teaches courses in analytic theology, philosophy of religion, religious studies, and the history of philosophy.


  1. Dale
    March 25, 2012 @ 2:25 pm

    Hi Skylar,

    Thanks for your comments. Can’t give a long answer now, but yes, I think the biblical objection to UPC theology is the most pressing one. Whether or not the modes are serial or concurrent, I think it doesn’t matter. I read a few works of UPC theology a few years back and thought them desperately confused. But they tap into the “Jesus is God” [i.e. God himself] element in both pentecostal and wider Christian thinking. But no, he’s can’t be God himself, for he is the human SON of God.


  2. Skylar McManus
    March 24, 2012 @ 3:41 am

    In addition, I didn’t notice the other huge posts (which are quite old) where you talk about modalism in depth. I will read those first and anticipate how those relate to my comments and what you said above. Searching for “modalism” sorts everything by date and I didn’t really look at all the results at first. Time for some fun!

  3. Skylar McManus
    March 24, 2012 @ 3:06 am


    Regarding you comments on modalism above, what is your critique (if you have any off hand) concerning modalistic monarchianism (“Oneness”) in this regard? That is, that there is only one God, the Father (Yahweh of the Old Testament), who reveals himself as Father in Creation, Son in Redemption, and Holy Spirit in Regeneration. (This is the common characterization of the United Pentecostal Church.) It seems to me that the Oneness construction could somehow avoid your objection that “Jesus is a self” and therefore “a being in [his] own right,” because it is quite unlike the successive modalism of Sebellius. But I definitely need to consider this point further.

    Even if Oneness does get away from the metaphysical objection, perhaps your second objection about the loving relationship between the Father and Son in the NT would still apply.

    As a side note, I currently attend a Oneness Pentecostal church, but I am currently suspending judgment on my views of the Godhead for the time being. I plan on going to seminary to ultimately receive a doctorate in philosophical theology on the subject; hence, understanding God’s nature is of utmost importance to me. I am also currently an undergraduate with a double major in both history and philosophy. Thankfully, I recently discovered this excellent blog by accident while looking for critiques of William Lane Craig’s Cerberus analogy for the Trinity. (It is due to WLC that I gained an interest in philosophy and began to examine the evidence for God’s existence.) I would very much like to join the great conversations I have seen here to help myself and others along the way. Thanks!

  4. AnonMoos
    May 15, 2011 @ 2:53 pm

    The problem is with the implicit assumption on both sides that the doctrine of the Trinity should be fully expressible in standard simple first-order predicate logic without any contradictions. I very strongly doubt this — see http://trinities.org/blog/archives/55

  5. Dale
    April 14, 2011 @ 5:17 pm

    I plan to read this Alciphron, and then maybe the real one.

    Brandon – if you’d ever be game for a (cross posted?) series on Berkeley on the Trinity, and/or on mysteries, let me know.

    I’ll have to look at the end of Siris too. Probably skip the tar-water part, though. 🙂

  6. Brandon
    April 14, 2011 @ 11:14 am

    Hi, Dale,

    Sorry to get back to you so late. Yes, I have read Alciphron; while it has weak parts, it’s easily Berkeley’s best work, both in literary terms and in argument. (It also has the only reasonably correct description of scholastic negative theology I’ve found in an early modern philosopher.) I haven’t really based anything on it, though.

    If you haven’t read Berkeley’s Siris, either, you’d be interested in it, at least toward the end. The beginning is all about tar-water; the end is all about the Trinity. (The expansiveness, and the literary allusion Berkeley is making in the name, is why I stole the name for my blog.) It’s a tricky book to interpret, though; it’s not written as a book of arguments (although it has them) but as a book of ideas to think about.

    It’s a pity that more people don’t read Alciphron and Siris; we get lots of Berkeley the nominalist, but Berkeley’s also a Platonist (and, amazingly, can consistently be both because of his account of divine language), and almost no one ever realizes that.

  7. James Goetz
    April 14, 2011 @ 10:19 am

    Hi Dale,

    I put together a paper on my opening moves for modeling the Trinity.


    I thank you for your help during our dialog on this blog. Also, please let me know if you think that I’m still vulnerable. 🙂

  8. Dale
    April 7, 2011 @ 11:11 am

    Brandon – I agree that what you describe is a prima facie reasonable stance. It’s a sophisticated one, one I think doesn’t occur to many folks. But something like it occurs in many early “fathers”.

    Even though I’ve read a lot of early moderns on the issue of “mysteries” in theology, I only recently discovered Berekeley’s discussion of this in his Alciphron. (Like most philosophers, I’d neglected that work, as if there were nothing of philosophical interest there.)

    Have you read that? Have you somewhat based your views on the Trinity on it?

  9. Brandon
    April 4, 2011 @ 11:46 am

    Hi, Dale, thanks, that’s helpful. You say:

    Here’s the shallowness – I urge that you can’t prove my position to be contradictory. And by the way, I’m not really going to tell you what my position is. I can then sit back and claim that every objector is misunderstanding my position, repeating what I know to be very ambiguous – but traditional – language.

    I think it can be much more complicated than this; because one of the positions one can take is that we can’t definitively say anything about the inconsistency or consistency of the position because there is simply not enough information available: and thus the reasons for thinking that the position is consistent is simply the set of reasons for holding it in the first place; and thus one has reasons for accepting it, some idea of what it isn’t from what isn’t consistent with your reasons for accepting, perhaps some idea of how it plays a practical role in one’s life, but nothing like a sufficient idea to be able to pin it down precisely. In such a case any ambiguity is there for a reason, and may be ineliminable; the problem is not misunderstanding on the part of the objectors, but that they repeatedly pick the wrong place to make an objection — demanding that one answer on information one simply does not know, at least not clearly, is unreasonable. The real issue is why one would accept the Trinity in the first place; and it is on the evidence issue, not the consistency issue, that progress could be made.

    I don’t think most views are quite this strong, but I do think a weaker form of this is quite common. And it’s a reasonable position: when Socrates claimed that neither he nor his locutors really understood what justice was, but insisted on its importance to life, he wasn’t contradicting himself. The shallowness only seems to come in if we proceed on the understanding that the Trinitarian really has a precise account up and ready to go [rather than (say) some basic guidelines, reasons to accept them (however good), and some loose ideas how they might work (however well-founded)] and is just holding it in reserve rather than putting it out there. But I’m not convinced that this is a good phenomenological description of most cases.

  10. Dale
    April 3, 2011 @ 8:30 am

    Hi Brandon,

    Good to hear from you! By “being” I mean substance, lasting entity, a thing – not some component or ingredient or element of a thing.

    In this sense, I claim it is obvious that a self just is a certain thing, a thing which has features, can change, acts, knows. It is not obvious, though, that the creedal formulas must be read this way.

    If you want to say A = nature or essence, and B = self, then yes, I agree, it is not obvious that multiple selves can’t share one of those – ’cause it’s not obvious what one of those is. More would have to be said. (Here again though – the available options – that it’s a individual property or a universal property – quickly lead to what seem unacceptable results!)

    I think we don’t really disagree about the opening move. We completely agree that it’s all too easy to assert that a theory self-contradicts. But can it be shown? What’s the argument? Indeed.

    Yet, there can be no argument, so long as the person making the claim (the one alleged to be inconsistent) never makes clear what her claim is!

    Here’s the shallowness – I urge that you can’t prove my position to be contradictory. And by the way, I’m not really going to tell you what my position is. I can then sit back and claim that every objector is misunderstanding my position, repeating what I know to be very ambiguous – but traditional – language.

    Problem is, eventually the objectors lose interest and walk away after taking a few potshots, leaving me with my now irrelevant “victory”. This is essentially what’s happened with the Trinity. I have never, ever met an atheist or agnostic who really has delved into the issue. (One might cite John Hick – but he’s not a naturalist, though I think he’s an atheist.) I think this is in large part because of the traditional defensive strategy of obfuscation.

    e.g. Look at the work of atheist Michael Martin. He tangles endlessly with arguments for God’s existence, the problem of evil, etc. But he basically passes over Trinity and Incarnation puzzles. I take it this was because, in his formative years, philosophers hadn’t taken care to articulate understandable, seemingly coherent versions of these.

    One could argue this is just because they don’t take Christianity seriously. But I think some of them do. Notice the energy they expend on other things relating to Christianity.

  11. Brandon
    April 2, 2011 @ 5:57 pm

    Now any self just is a certain being; the concept of a self just is the concept of a certain sort of being. So if there are exactly three persons, each will be a certain being, and they can’t be the same being, for we’ve said there are three selves (hence, three beings).

    As it stands, this merely begs the question: precisely what the person who is making the response being addressed is demanding is why we should infer “three selves, hence three beings” — after all, the respondent just got through saying, quite explicitly, that all that was being said was that God is one A and three B’s. Suppose it were one being and three selves. Then what one really needs is an actual account of why distinctly countable selves can’t share one being (particularly given that this is not even obviously true in the human case). And so on with the rest. That is, all that is actually being shown is that someone would be inconsistent if they held both that each distinct self is a distinct being and that there existed something that was only one distinct being and three distinct selves. But it’s very doubtful that most people would be so easily caught out.

    I think this shows why the move in question is a not a shallow one, but in fact the most important move to make: it requires the objector to be precise about what principles are supposed to generate the contradiction; given the long history of people who’ve simply waved their hands and expected contradictions to jump out of accounts of the Trinity, all the while assuming principles that were either doubtful to begin with or were already denied as false, I really don’t see any reason to consider it as sweeping any dirt under the rug: after all, if people can’t actually show a contradiction, there’s no particular reason to go about trying to prove that there’s not. Rather, it’s a challenge for people who think any dirt is there at all actually to prove it.