My Question for Dr. Yandell

My good friend Andy Naselli is sitting on the front row watching and live blogging the debate. He asked me if I wanted to ask a question, so I sent this:

If the Son is necessarily the Son and the Father is necessarily not the Son, then the Son is essentially the Son and the Father is essentially not the Son. Thus the Son is essentially different from the Father. Must you not deny homoousion on the basis of your own premises?

This parallels the central argument that Drs. Yandell and McCall were making—and shows its weakness:

If the Son is necessarily subordinate to the Father, then the Son is essentially subordinate to the Father. Thus, the Son is essentially different from the Father, which entails a denial of homoousion.

Unfortunately, Dr. Yandell didn’t understand the question. But it is one that needs to be addressed.

Neither he nor Tom shows how their position—on their own premises—can account for any necessary differences without denying homoousion, because, they argue, all necessary differences are essential differences.

They are left with three choices:

  1. Deny homoousion.
  2. Deny that there are any necessary differences among Father, Son, and Spirit.
  3. Withdraw their argument.

I’d suggest #3, but they must choose at least one.

Update 1: Nick understands the force of my question.

Update 2: I develop the argument more thoroughly in my next post: Does Eternal Subordination Entail a Denial of Homoousion?

Update 3: Replaced my misuse of homoousian, which typically refers to someone who believes in homoousion, with the more appropriate homoousion.

Update 4: The discussion has continued over on James Gordon’s blog, Conquering Thirst.

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10 Responses to My Question for Dr. Yandell

  1. Nick Norelli October 9, 2008 at 8:24 pm #

    I just wrote some scattered thoughts on the debate on my blog and made reference to your question. If you could check it out and see if I understood you correctly then I’d appreciate it. Thanks.

  2. James Gordon October 11, 2008 at 6:54 am #

    I think it is clear that your question asked to Dr. Yandell on Thursday night is fatally unconvincing as a counter-example due to its clumsy phrasing. As you noticed in your post dealing with your more extensive response, you left out a key component for a question that would coherently challenge the position of McCall/Yandell.

    So, if you mean Dr. Yandell did not “understand” the question, meaning he did not understand how it could have possibly been an objection to his position, then I think you are right. The way you phrased the question, leaving out the possible worlds language, exhibited a drastic misunderstanding of his position, making it difficult for him to respond since it in no way entailed a denial of his position. On the other hand, as confirmed by Dr. Yandell, he did not “understand” the question because he did not hear it being asked sufficiently, as evidenced by his request to have the question repeated.

    I am having difficulty piecing together your understanding of the McCall/Yandell argument because you have changed the phrasing of your question as well as your assessment of their argument several times. However, a response is forthcoming nonetheless.

    I think that McCall/Yandell do show how their position—on their own premises—can account for necessary differences in the persons of the Trinity without denying homoousian. Furthermore, they argue do that all necessary differences are essential differences, because, as a basic philosophical idea that would be covered in any Metaphysics 101 class, it is true. Necessary difference entails essential/ontological difference.

    Moreover, your question should have been directed to Dr. McCall. Dr. Yandell’s argument did not focus on the premises about which you were questioning him.

  3. Phil Gons October 11, 2008 at 8:48 am #

    Thanks for the comment, James. My responses follow the quoted portions of your comment below.

    I think it is clear that your question asked to Dr. Yandell on Thursday night is fatally unconvincing as a counter-example due to its clumsy phrasing. As you noticed in your post dealing with your more extensive response, you left out a key component for a question that would coherently challenge the position of McCall/Yandell.

    Absolutely false. The original phrasing of my question is perfectly legitimate. It simply omits the first premise, which was unnecessary to establish the argument. Once you get to the language of necessity, which is where I started in my original question, it is unnecessary to speak of “all possible worlds.” My question stands perfectly on its own so long as you are in agreement with the first premise, which both Yandell and McCall are. So it is your objection to my question is that “fatally unconvincing.”

    I am having difficulty piecing together your understanding of the McCall/Yandell argument because you have changed the phrasing of your question as well as your assessment of their argument several times.

    Please show me were I changed both my “phrasing” and my “assessment” of their argument “several times.” Again, this is utterly false. I changed the phrasing in the first line of the fuller argument once, and acknowledged as much, but I was assuming its presence in my argument all along. The omission required nothing else to change in anything I had written. I never changed my assessment.

    However, a response is forthcoming nonetheless.

    I look forward to it, because I was never given one when corresponding with Tom over the last several weeks prior to the debate.

    I think that McCall/Yandell do show how their position—on their own premises—can account for necessary differences in the persons of the Trinity without denying homoousian.

    Where? I’d love to see how.

    Furthermore, they argue do [sic] that all necessary differences are essential differences, because, as a basic philosophical idea that would be covered in any Metaphysics 101 class, it is true. Necessary difference entails essential/ontological difference.

    If you read my fuller post, you’ll see that I don’t challenge the legitimacy of this premise. I conclude that it is misguided in its application because it confuses the shared essence with the individual essences or personal properties.

    Moreover, your question should have been directed to Dr. McCall. Dr. Yandell’s argument did not focus on the premises about which you were questioning him.

    I agree that Dr. McCall would have been the better recipient of the question. That was a poor choice on my part. However, both used the argument. And Dr. Yandell had just reiterated it prior to the Q&A. In hindsight I should have directed it to Tom, since he already understood the force of the objection and as of yet has not responded to it.

  4. James Gordon October 11, 2008 at 7:40 pm #

    Phil,

    You can see my complete response to your question here. I basically argue that, per your request, that the Yandell/McCall position sufficiently meets the objections of his counter-example.

    God bless,

    James Gordon

  5. Phil Gons October 11, 2008 at 7:46 pm #

    I basically argue that, per your request, that the Yandell/McCall position sufficiently meets the objections of his counter-example.

    James, looks like a little too much copying and pasting going on. I assume the “his” refers to me, correct?

    At any rate, I look forward to reading your response, and perhaps responding in due time.

  6. James Gordon October 11, 2008 at 7:58 pm #

    Yes, it refers to you. Sorry about the typo. I look forward to your response.

  7. Sam March 17, 2011 at 9:41 pm #

    Hey Phil Gons,

    Not sure if you’ll still read this seeing as I’m three years late to this, but I think I understand your question and can guess fairly well as to what Yandell would say.

    Yandell argues that any essential difference is a necessary difference, which is plainly true. Grudem and McCall ask Yandell, “what could possibly differentiate the persons then, if they have exactly all the same properties?” Yandell responds convincingly but they fail to understand him.

    Yandell’s response (paraphrased): Take two objects with all the same properties, so they are completely identical as far as properties go. They are said to be indiscernible, yet they are different objects–how can that be? There are different options to take here but Yandell’s position seems to be that of “bare particulars”: there is some “thing”, some “bearer that is over and above all the properties it possesses. It is in virtue of this bare particular that each indiscernible individual has that they are to be distinguished. Notice that this is a metaphysical claim and not epistemic, a mistake Grudem made earlier by asking how WE can discern them.

    All this to get to your objection. You say: “If the Son is necessarily the Son and the Father is necessarily not the Son, then the Son is essentially the Son and the Father is essentially not the Son. Thus the Son is essentially different from the Father. Must you not deny homoousion on the basis of your own premises?”

    I don’t understand why Yandell would have to commit to “the Son is necessarily the Son” and that “the Father is necessarily not the Son.” Those claims are manifestly false since, conceivably, there is some possible world in which the Father plays the role of the Son and the Son plays the role of the Father. So any claims about necessity and essential natures in this vein either has to be elaborated much further or is completely off the mark.

    Strip those and you get indiscernibles, says Ware. This is false. The Christian claim is that each member of the Trinity possesses all properties that are necessary and sufficient for divinity. Presumably this does not include a property such as “having its own bare particular” (that one’s controversial though), or “has first-person knowledge that cannot be shared”, or “is metaphysically dependent on B and C”, where say another member is metaphysically dependent on A and C.

    So it’s probably not the case that they are indiscernible as Grudem-Ware contend. But even if they are, Yandell can fall back to a bare particulars defense.

    Hope that helps,
    -Sam

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. AndyNaselli.com - October 9, 2008

    […] During the Q&A, I asked a question from Phil Gons, who was watching the debate via live streaming and emailed me the question. I was disappointed in Dr. Yandell’s answer. Basically, he made fun of the question because he couldn’t understand it through his metaphysical lens. Frustrating. Phil shares and explains his penetrating question more here. […]

  2. Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth - October 9, 2008

    […] Phil Gons asked a question via email that someone in attendance read and it was laughed into oblivion by Dr. Yandell.  It was a good question that undermined Yandell and McCall’s position.  Their position was basically this: […]

  3. NT Resources Blog - October 10, 2008

    […] Phil Gon’s question (asked at the debate) and his blog followup […]

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