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Determinism: an idea that just won’t fly

I have just been listening to a talk on the subject of free will, by the British philosopher Jonathan M. S. Pearce, who contributes to the blog, Debunking Christianity. The talk was given to a meeting of Portsmouth Skeptics in a Pub on 14th June 2012, which was attended by about 50 people. A podcast of the talk is available online here.

In this post, I’d like to focus on what I take to be Jonathan’s key argument against free will. After making this argument, he then goes on to critique dualism and put forward scientific arguments against free will. I have already addressed these criticisms in previous posts, so I won’t be rehashing them here. Instead, I’ll just list the papers, for any readers who may be interested.

Useful background reading on free will

Regular readers of this Web site will know that I have written several posts on the subject of free will, in which I attempted a defense of free will from a dualist perspective, according to which persons (not souls) are capable of holistically interacting with their brains, thereby enabling them to move their bodies. Readers who would like a good summary of why I find this kind of dualism persuasive, and why I find materialism untenable, might find this account of mine beneficial:
The Stumbling Block For A Materialist Account Of Mind: Intentionality, which is section D(vii) of my online book, Embryo and Einstein: Why They’re Equal. For references to articles by other philosophers against materialism, please see section D(viii): Why Intentionality Cannot Be Explained In Purely Physical Terms: A Short Bibliography.

The following posts of mine deal with the actual mechanics of free will, and how it would work:
Why I think the interaction problem is real
How is libertarian free will possible?

Here’s an article on why I consider free will and physical determinism to be incompatible:
Battle of the two Elizabeths: are free will and physical determinism compatible?

Finally, here’s an article which rebuts the major scientific arguments against free will:
Is free will dead?

What assumptions are required to defend libertarian free will?

Jonathan M. S. Pearce defines libertarian free will in terms of the Principle of Alternative Possibilities: if you belierve that there are some choices you have made for which you could have done otherwise, then you believe in libertarian free will.

In my post, Why I think the interaction problem is real, I argued that in order to defend libertarian free will, we need to affirm at least two things:

(i) people can holistically influence their brains; and

(ii) top-down (macro–>micro) causation is real and fundamental.

Additionally, if we find the philosophical arguments against materialism persuasive (see here for a detailed statement of what I consider to be the best of these arguments), then we will also need to acknowledge that:

(iii) some human actions (namely, thoughts and choices) are non-bodily actions, and that by performing these actions, human beings are capable of influencing events occurring in the cells of their bodies.

However, it seems conceivable to me that a materialist who was prepared to accept the notion of holistic top-down causation, while rejecting the view that thoughts and choices are non-bodily actions which holistically influence our brains, could still consistently believe in libertarian free will. So believing in (i) and (ii) but not (iii) is also consistent, for someone who accepts libertarian free will.

Definitions, please!

While listening to Jonathan M. S. Pearce’s argument, I noticed that he used a lot of terms without bothering to define them. If he can’t define the idea of determinism in a rigorous manner, then it makes no sense to say that it is true, and to use that as an argument against libertarian free will. I found myself asking the following questions that I wanted to put to Jonathan:

What’s the universe?
Jonathan humorously began his talk by thanking the universe for having brought everyone in the audience together in this pub. But what is the universe, and by “universe,” does Jonathan mean the entire multiverse or the particular bubble of the multiverse that we happen to live in, or the observable portion of that particular bubble? Some philosophers have seriously argued that the very concept of “the universe” (or if you prefer, the multiverse) is incoherent, and that it cannot be meaningfully defined by us, as it is not an individual: there is no such “thing” as “the universe.” (On the other hand, a cosmologist told me once that cosmology is the scientific attempt to treat the universe as if it were a single object.) Since the universe figures in the definition of determinism, it follows that if the universe cannot be satisfactorily defined, then neither can determinism.

What’s a cause?
This term is vitally important, in the context of any argument for determinism. In particular, is it true by definition that every cause determines its effect? If so, why? In everyday life, we typically find that an effect X is the product of several contributing causes (A, B, C, …), each of which is insufficient to determine the effect. So it seems that the idea of a non-determining cause is a perfectly coherent one. You could try to get round that problem by saying that you’ll define the whole set of contributing causes as the cause of X. But then what you’re saying is that the notion of the totality of causes is logically and/or epistemologically prior to the concept of a partial or contributing cause. This, it seems to me, is putting the cart before the horse.

What’s a causal chain?
Jonathan appealed to this idea several times, in his talk on free will. For instance, he talked about causal chains going all the way back to the Big Bang. Now, I think we can all imagine a causal chain of the form A->B->C->D->… However, this is an atypical case: it’s a purely linear chain, and every link has one and only one immediate predecessor. Typically an event has multiple causes, and a contributing cause for one event is typically also a contributing cause for other events as well. That means that our chain has turned into a complex, tangled grapevine. “No problem,” you might say. “In the end, it all goes back to the Big Bang, doesn’t it?” Well, it might in this universe, but what about in the multiverse as a whole? There may be no single point from which all the various chains converging on a cause originate. If that’s the case, what becomes of the notion of determinism?

Here’s another problem. Chains often contain loops. Is it part of the definition of determinism that there are no loops, in which a present effect has causes which lie in the future as well as the past? If there is even one such loop in the history of the universe, then Jonathan’s notion of determinism no longer holds up. My question is: how do we know that there are no such loops? Is there any law of physics which precludes them, for instance? If so, which one?

What’s a reason? Is a reason the same as a cause?
Throughout his talk, Jonathan argued that every effect needs to have a reason or cause, otherwise it’s random and not free. In the question session afterwards, Jonathan distinguished between two senses of “reason”: a “why” reason (or a purpose or goal), and a “prior causal” reason (or a causal antecedent). He even chided the philosopher C. S. Lewis for failing to make this distinction. (I would agree that that’s a fair criticism of what Lewis said in his famous debate with Elizabeth Anscombe at the Oxford Socratic Club on February 2, 1948, but by the time he wrote “Miracles,” Lewis had had time to formulate a more nuanced argument. Gavin Ortlund has an interesting post on the aftermath of the debate, here. In fact, the philosopher Victor Reppert has recently written a book on Lewis’ argument, and why he considers it sound. But I digress.)

Repeatedly, during his talk, Jonathan argued that our choices must have a reason or cause, otherwise they’re just random. But it seems he is equivocating here. What if our choices have a “why” reason, without having a “prior causal” reason? That seems a perfectly coherent possibility to me. A choice with a “why” reason would not be a random one: it would have a clearly defined goal or purpose.

Jonathan might argue against this possibility by appealing to the principle that every event has a cause. A choice is an event, therefore a choice has a cause. Right? Not so fast. The principle that every event has a cause is arguably true from a scientific standpoint, if one is talking about micro-level events at some point or very small region of space and time. But a choice isn’t an event like that, and you can’t argue that it can be decomposed into a set of events like that, without assuming the truth of reductionism – which is question-begging.

Jonathan might also object: “If you (or your soul) make a choice NOW in order to attain some goal, but nothing causes you to make that choice NOW, then I would argue that your choice is random. Why did you make that choice when you did? Surely that’s a valid question.” The objection assumes that we make choices in time, which is a bit odd, given Jonathan’s preference for a block-theory of time, but we’ll let that pass. The point I want to make is that even if there is some causally determining reason which explains why I made the choice NOW (e.g. someone suddenly walked up to me, held a gun to my head, and said: “Choose A or B!”), that cause wouldn’t need to determine my actual choice. (For instance, the man holding the gun to my head might be supremely indifferent to which option I choose: perhaps he just wants me to decide, because he can’t stand the sight of me dithering.) So my argument that our choices have a “why” reason, without having a causally determining reason, emerges unscathed from this criticism.

What’s a natural law, or law of Nature?
If causes determine their effects, then presumably they do so by virtue of acting in accordance with the laws of Nature. But what is a law of Nature, and what makes it a law which events have to conform to, rather than a mere regularity which events happen to conform to? After all, a general statement which holds true at all times and places might just be true by accident. To use an oft-cited example, it’s probably true that every lump of gold in the history of the universe has a volume of less than a cubic kilometer, but that doesn’t make it a law. Substitute “uranium-235″ for “gold,” on the other hand, and I think most of us can see at once that the situation described is impossible, because uranium-235 has a critical mass. But what makes a law impossible to break?

One common answer is to appeal to Noether’s theorem to explain the invariance of laws over space and time. The gist of the theorem is that if a physical system has a corresponding Lagrangian function describing its dynamics, and if this function exhibits a certain kind of symmetry, then it follows automatically that the laws describing that physical system will be invariant across space and time. What this answer is really saying, then, is that the laws of Nature are a product of the mathematics describing the universe itself, at its most fundamental level. Asking why laws of Nature hold is like asking why a square has four sides: it has to, or it wouldn’t be a square.

I don’t buy that, and here’s why. A geometrical object has no contingent properties. Everything we can say about a square follows from its definition. If we look at the universe, on the other hand, it doesn’t appear to be like that. For one thing, its initial conditions are hardly part of its definition: they seem to rather be properties imposed on it. So we’re not living inside some Platonic realm of forms, whose every feature is explicable in terms of their underlying geometry. And if someone were to assert that we are, I’d retort that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proofs. A few experiments showing that children with this or that gene or environment, tend to turn out in a certain way 20 years down the track (to cite one of Jonathan’s examples in his talk) falls a long way short of proof. All it establishes is that our free will is to some degree constrained – and who would deny that?

The universe, then, has at least some contingent properties. If we are going to speak of the universe as an individual (let’s call it “Alf”), then Alf’s laws are its form, which makes it the kind of individual it is. (I’m using form here to mean “essence”, or more precisely an Aristotelian substantial form.) If Alf had different laws, then it would be a different kind of universe. OK, fine. But if that’s the case, then we are supposing that this universe (Alf) might have been a different kind of universe. Someone or something made Alf the kind of thing it is, thereby endowing it with its essential properties. So instead of a self-sufficient Platonic geometrical form, what we have is an individual that was endowed by someone or something with the nature it possesses. On this picture, the laws of Nature are no longer merely descriptions of its underlying geometry; they are prescriptions (or rules) imposed on an underlying subject (Alf) which could have been made differently. But I would argue that the very concept of a mind-independent prescription makes no sense. It is incoherent. This is an important, because Jonathan wants to argue that if determinism is true, then there cannot be a God who rewards or punishes us for our actions. But if Jonathan cannot define the cosmos without appealing to terms which require us to invoke a God to make sense of them, then his project is doomed from the start. So Jonathan has to offer us an account of laws which explains why they “stick,” without invoking the concept of a rule or prescription – or otherwise he will be implicitly appealing to a Mind behind the cosmos, which he doesn’t want to do.

What’s a path?
In his talk, Jonathan invoked the notion of a path. If the Principle of Alternative Possibilities is true and we have libertarian free will, then we sometimes have two or more paths before us. If determinism is true, then we only have one path. This is a nice metaphor, but it lacks definitional rigor. What exactly is a path? If you want to define it in terms of possibility, then what does “possible” mean? It’s quite a tricky term to define.

What’s determinism?
One explanation Jonathan gave to illustrate the concept of determinism was to appeal to the metaphor of a set of falling dominoes. However, it seems to me that this is nothing more than a handy pictorial image: it might serve as an aid to thought, but never as a substitute for it. We still want to know: what does the term “determinism” mean?

I was very surprised that when Jonathan finally attempted to define determinism, he appealed to the notion of Laplace’s demon: a hypothetical being who knows everything about the laws of Nature and the positions and movements of the particles in the universe, and who, using this information, is able to predict with perfect accuracy, every future state of the cosmos. (I’ll leave the quantum mechanical objections aside here, as some interpretations of quantum mechanics are deterministic.) However, many philosophers would object to Jonathan’s characterization of determinism, arguing that it confuses the notion of determinism with that of predictability: the universe, they contend, might still be determined, even it its behavior is impossible in principle to predict. Perhaps Jonathan might reply that this would still leave the concept of “determinism” undefined, and that determinism can only be made sense of by appealing to the notion of “in principle” predictability. On this point, I think he’s probably correct.

I would argue, though, that Jonathan’s definition founders on the question of whether the existence of Laplace’s demon is possible, given the laws of the cosmos. If he answers “No,” then he is conceding that his definition of determinism presupposes the notion of an entity whose existence is precluded by the very laws of the universe whose infallible efficacy he is trying to explain. In other words, hes sawing off the branch he’s sitting on. But if he answers “Yes,” then he has swapped one God-figure (a retributive judge of every human being), for another God-figure (an omniscient being who knows everything you’ll do, but of course won’t punish you for it, because you couldn’t help it). Now, Jonathan might prefer God-2 (Laplace’s demon) to God-1: at least he won’t have to worry about Hell, although he’ll have to give up on the idea of Heaven. But it does seem that if you have to bring in a God-figure (whether actual or merely possible hardly matters here) to explain a theory which is meant to dispense with the very idea of God, then you haven’t gained anything, in terms of explanatory simplicity. You still have to invoke at least a notional God, to make sense of your cosmos. And I would ask: what’s the point of that?

I conclude that the concept of determinism has yet to be given an adequately rigorous formulation. Appealing to the notion of determinism in order to discredit the idea of libertarian free will is therefore a misguided enterprise, doomed from the start.

A short comment on Jonathan’s argument

So, what was the argument put forward by Jonathan for determinism? In essence, it was that a choice is an event, and that if an event is not caused, it is random. But a random event is not a choice, so our choices must be caused. Moreover, our choices must be caused in a deterministic fashion, otherwise there would be no reason why I chose (say) A rather than B, which would again make my choice of A rather than B a random one. But a choice which is caused in a deterministic fashion isn’t a free choice in the libtertarian sense, so by a reductio ad absurdum, we are forced to conclude that libertarian free will is impossible.

Now, it seems to me that Jonathan is implicitly appealing to a rationality norm here: that for any state of affairs where there are two possibilities, the question, “Why A rather than B?” is always a legitimate one to pose. And when Jonathan asks “Why?” he isn’t looking for a reason. He’s looking for a cause that would answer the question.

But if Jonathan thinks that this question deserves an answer, then he is assuming the very thing that he is trying to prove: namely, that for every option selected, there is a determining cause. This is what is called begging the question.

If someone asks me why I chose A rather than B, and if A and B are both ends rather than means, then it is surely enough to answer that I chose A because I liked A rather than B – which is quite different from saying that I chose A because my desire for A was stronger than my desire for B. That kind of answer is a mechanistic one. But choices are not mechanistic things.

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72 Responses to Determinism: an idea that just won’t fly

  1. Depends on WHO is doing the determining and for what purpose:
    ELECTION – THE Elect: God determines those and from before He even created time and material. Hell is a fiction – “the wages of sin is Death” = eternal non being BUT Heaven – yes = the Gift of Eternal Life = Not Non-being. Free will yes in everything except being Chosen/Elect by Him. If we “chose” Him in reality (Wheat) its because He first Chose us.
    Hope that helps even thought its past time to make any difference so enjoy the gift to make the choice to believe anything you want for your own comfort and wisdom. Be happy – don’t worry especially about Hell – the grave the final End.

  2. 2
    CentralScrutinizer

    vjtorley,

    nicely done

  3. As I post this, I am listening to the podcast. I must say that he is presenting a very persuasive argument. His persuasive argument is “that’s a load of rubbish” – typically with no further explanation given.

    His other argument is based on the idea of a causal chain. Step by step, he goes through the causal chain argument to demonstrate his point.

    I have often pointed out the flaws in such a causal chain argument when it is used in the Ontological Argument or in the Cosmological Argument. I am failing to see why I shouldn’t notice the same flaws in Pearce’s argument.

    I find these arguments puzzling. It is quite impossible to prove determinism, and it is quite impossible to disprove determinism. I suspect that it is even impossible to define “determinism” precisely enough for use in a scientific argument. And yet many people believe that they have a scientific case for determinism.

    In any case, my personal opinion is that the evidence supports free will, and is contrary to determinism. But I do not claim to have a proof of either position, nor do I claim that the evidence is enough to be decisive.

  4. If free will does exist, then people will always be able to choose what they believe. Since all reason depends on premises or axioms, then the choice of these axioms is up to us, and reason cannot be a tool for measuring those axioms against each other. It can only be a tool for making sure our conclusions really stem from our premises.

    If there is no God, then determinism must be true. Thus I have more respect for men like Pearce who accept that conclusion than most run-of-the-mill atheists who still believe in things like free will and a standard of right and wrong.

  5. 5

    Alan, as for:

    Hell is a fiction – “the wages of sin is Death” = eternal non being

    So when Paul tells the Ephesians that they were once dead in their trespasses and sins, does that mean that they were nonexistent at that time? To base your assertion that hell is a fiction on metaphor is literary dull-headedness on your part, sir.

  6. Dr. Torley,

    If someone asks me why I chose A rather than B, and if A and B are both ends rather than means, then it is surely enough to answer that I chose A because I liked A rather than B

    I guess that depends on what you mean by ‘enough’. But what if someone asks why you liked A rather than B? Does that deserve an answer? And if so, how would you answer it?

  7. So when Paul tells the Ephesians that they were once dead in their trespasses and sins, does that mean that they were nonexistent at that time?

    Yes.

  8. Tragic Mishap,

    If free will does exist, then people will always be able to choose what they believe.

    But as it is, I don’t think it makes any since to say that people can choose what they believe.

    If there is no God, then determinism must be true.

    But I would say that the end of all things is determined by God and God alone (hence, the sovereignty of God). So it seems to me that whether we are Theist or Atheist, determinism is at least a valid conclusion to come to, but I would say that there is no escape from it.

  9. Mung, is your “yes” facetious? If not, then I am perplexed.

  10. @ Neil Rickert

    His persuasive argument is “that’s a load of rubbish” – typically with no further explanation given.

    Don’t blame him, he had to do it that way.

  11. 11
    critical rationalist

    VJ: Jonathan might argue against this possibility by appealing to the principle that every event has a cause. A choice is an event, therefore a choice has a cause. Right? Not so fast. The principle that every event has a cause is arguably true from a scientific standpoint, if one is talking about micro-level events at some point or very small region of space and time. But a choice isn’t an event like that, and you can’t argue that it can be decomposed into a set of events like that, without assuming the truth of reductionism – which is question-begging.

    While I agree that we do have free will, for different reasons, I noticed this seems to conflict with Upright Bipeds argument, in which he asks the following question…

    UB: Can a thing that does not exist cause something to happen?

    … and draws the following conclusion.

    … Darwinian evolution cannot be the source of the very thing it requires in order to exist and operate. I assume from this it will remain unchallenged.

    Why is evolution “like that” but choices are not?

  12. Mung, is your “yes” facetious? If not, then I am perplexed.

    Yes and no. It’s an attempt to get people to think. Obviously, dead things exist.

  13. vjtorley wrote:

    Repeatedly, during his talk, Jonathan argued that our choices must have a reason or cause, otherwise they’re just random. But it seems he is equivocating here. What if our choices have a “why” reason, without having a “prior causal” reason? That seems a perfectly coherent possibility to me. A choice with a “why” reason would not be a random one: it would have a clearly defined goal or purpose.

    Jonathan might argue against this possibility by appealing to the principle that every event has a cause. A choice is an event, therefore a choice has a cause. Right? Not so fast. The principle that every event has a cause is arguably true from a scientific standpoint, if one is talking about micro-level events at some point or very small region of space and time. But a choice isn’t an event like that, and you can’t argue that it can be decomposed into a set of events like that, without assuming the truth of reductionism – which is question-begging.

    It is noteworthy that B.F. Skinner’s Behaviorism school of psychology was deterministic, boiling down all behavior to rewards/punishments (to boil down the theory :D). I say “was” because of late Cognitive Psychology has debunked Behaviorism, in my view decisively, on empirical grounds.

    I can’t locate my copy on my shelf just now or I would cite an apropos quote. But in his book Learned Optimism, Martin E.P. Seligman who founded the Positive Psychology Center at Pennsylvania University, presents numerous arguments, backed up by data from controlled experiments, that put the lie to both deterministic and Freudian explanations.

    My short version — hopefully an adequate nutshell — would be that helplessness is a learned behavior that can be unlearned or modified by cognitive means. That is, by changes in thinking patterns. Something that neither the Behaviorists or Freudians expected because it necessitates freedom of will.

    I highly recommended the title.

  14. Hi M. Holcumbrink,

    Thank you for your comments. You write:

    But what if someone asks why you liked A rather than B? Does that deserve an answer? And if so, how would you answer it?

    If A and B are both ends which are desirable for their own sake (e.g. knowledge, health) then I don’t think there is any answer to the question, “Why did you like A rather than B?” except to say that A is desirable for its own sake, which means that choosing A requires no further justification. (The same would be true if the person had chosen B instead of A: B is desirable for its own sake, so choosing B requires no further justification.)

    Let me offer a concrete example: Leonardo da Vinci. As a young man, he had enormous talents: he could have become a scientist (or natural philosopher), or an artist, or taken an active interest in both fields. Any of these choices would have been perfectly appropriate, as science and art are both “basic human goods” which are desirable for their own sake. (Most modern natural law theorists have a list of half a dozen or so of these “basic human goods,” although their lists vary a little.) If someone had asked Leonardo, “Why did you choose to become a generalist, rather than specializing exclusively in one or the other?” I don’t think there’s any more he could have said in reply than this: that art and science are both ends whose choice requires no further justification.

    During his talk, I noticed that Jonathan, when considering the possibility of a libertarian fork in the road, insisted on asking the question, “But why?” regarding a choice to do A rather than B. I think he was implicitly appealing to Leibniz’s Principle of Sufficient Reason or something like it. Now, it’s one thing to insist on an explanation for why someone chose A. But it’s another thing to insist on an explanation of every disjunction as well. The question of why someone chose A rather than B may have no additional answer.

  15. Hi jstanley01,

    Seligman’s book sounds very interesting. I’ll keep an eye out for it. Thanks for the tip.

  16. 16

    Mung, I never would have imagined that I would need to make some kind of qualification when referencing Ephesians 2:1 in order to keep people from thinking that Paul was speaking of literal dead people.

  17. M.

    You’re assuming that ‘dead’ has only one literal meaning.

  18. Assume that literal bodily death is the real metaphor.

    Assume that physical birth is the metaphor, not spiritual birth.

  19. 19

    Dr. Torley, I’m glad you didn’t say something to the effect that we can choose to like A instead of B. However, you say:

    If A and B are both ends which are desirable for their own sake (e.g. knowledge, health) then I don’t think there is any answer to the question, “Why did you like A rather than B?” except to say that A is desirable for its own sake, which means that choosing A requires no further justification.

    I don’t follow this line of reasoning. To say that something is desirable ‘for its own sake’ may or not be true for every person. The big question is, what is the difference from person to person, for them having different desires? Some desire knowledge, some desire wealth, etc., but the big question is: what is at the root of it? So I take it that you mean to say that there need not be an explanation as to why I like A and not B, other than to say that “I just do”.

    If Jonathan wants an answer as to why we choose A over B, the answer is plain: we choose A over B because we want to (because our desire for A over B compels us). So there is certainly causality when it comes to our choices, with that cause being our will (side note: it is maddening to me when this distinction is not made – the distinction between choice and desire; there is a huge difference, and the latter drives the former). So I choose A because I want to (simple enough), but why do I want to? To answer that by barfing up some verbiage about ‘it’s desirable for its own sake’ and that ‘therefore our choice requires no further justification’ seems quite an empty answer to me. So what I would say (in short) is that I desire certain things not because they are desirable (what reasoning is that? And you accuse Jonathan of begging the question!), but because that’s who I am.

    So our desires spring forth from within us and therefore define us, and that is what makes me who I am. But to plainly illustrate this, I will offer my own concrete example: A cybernetic system is programmed to give outputs in response to certain inputs. It is the programming that defines the system and compels it to make the “choices” that it makes. Now this is pure mechanism (passionless), but it is directly analogous to our condition in that our desire is our “programming”. Just as the programming defines the cybernetic system (and therefore compels the outputs that it gives), so the desires define the person (and therefore compels the choices that we make). The programming makes the system what it is, but desire is what makes us who we are (note the distinction, ‘it’ and ‘who’, ‘output’ and ‘choice’). So I guess, in a sense, it would be correct to say that I like A instead of B because that is my programming.

    But if my desires are wicked, then what I need above all else is to have my heart re-written. Otherwise, what is the new birth that Christ spoke of? What is the new heart we have in Christ if not a change of desires? This is what is missing in our religion these days – the recognition that we need a new heart, plain and simple. As to alms, we are told we should give cheerfully and willingly, not under compulsion. But how am I to do this if my heart is greedy and covetous? You go right ahead and tell the greedy and covetous man “look, bub, giving is a choice that we want to do because it is desirable for its own sake.” What! Not to him! So what good are these words to him? Instead, tell him he needs a new heart, one that is not greedy and covetous, then tell him Who it is that can give him one if he sees the need.

  20. Dead people don’t have desires.

  21. 21

    Mung,

    You’re assuming that ‘dead’ has only one literal meaning. Assume that literal bodily death is the real metaphor. Assume that physical birth is the metaphor, not spiritual birth.

    Here’s the point I was originally trying to make with Alan: he asserted that hell is not real by using Rom 6:23, taking ‘death’ to mean the non-existence of the individual. But Paul told the Ephesians that they were dead in sin, which clearly does not mean the non-existence of the individual (whether literal death be the metaphor or not).

    But was he mocking? I don’t know. I don’t know what to make of him. But at this point I am certain I should have ignored his comment. Live and learn.

  22. 22

    Dead people don’t have desires

    And now I don’t know what to make of you.

  23. M, I don’t know what you mean when you say hell is real.

    Is hell a literal lake?

  24. M. Holcumbrink,

    Thank you for your comment. I’d like to address your points head-on. First, I detect a modern, Hobbesian tone in your objections. You claim that I choose something because I want it, and that when I choose A over B, it’s because my desire for A compels me to: it outweighs my desire for B. Finally, you argue that my desires are the product of my internal programming. Yet you offer not the slightest evidence for any of these assertions.

    There’s no reason to believe that I always want what I choose. I may choose something simply because it’s the right thing to do, or because it’s my duty to do it, however much I may not want to do it. You may answer that if I act this way, it’s because I want to do the right thing, but I would answer that this is a misuse of language. In ordinary language, what I want is what I find pleasant, and the fact is that we often do things we find unpleasant.

    Second, I find your explanation of will in terms of desire reductionist. Desire is something we share with the beasts; will is something which elevates us over them. If you wish to maintain that I choose in the same way that an animal does, then it is up to you to support that assertion with evidence. After all, we don’t sue chimps.

    Third, there’s no meaningful sense in which our desires can be weighed against each other. How would you weight them? Qua mental events, desires don’t have any numeric properties such as “weight.” So if one desire is stronger than another, it must be by virtue of its physical properties. That’s a materialist account of choice. Once again, where’s the evidence that this model does a better job of explaining how we act?

    Finally, where is the internal program that controls what we choose to do?

    You find unintelligible the notion that some things are desirable for their own sake. I put it to you that some things are good for their own sake (e.g. food, water, warmth and companionship) and that if we are rational beings, we will recognize this fact, and desire them accordingly. The fact that some people don’t proves only that some people are irrational.

  25. Re: Not needing justifications for actions after a certain juncture. This was by far the most practical point made I think. I don’t usually like freewill dissertations because they naturally go nowhere but this was pretty good.

    Anyways, I went back to another article I read one time because I vaguely added something up that both articles said and something clicked for me. For a long time I’ve had a bit of sadness about reaching any kind of meaningful ultimate truth because what would you do then? It seems pointlessness and meaninglessness has to be the end of the road. Then again if I think I’m designed to have a problem with pointlessness for the rest of my existence, then I probably have it wrong. And that points to something above that still not understood. So most likely something is actually holy and real and makes life fullfilling and it lies above this discussion.

    Anyways, if you take what your saying one step further, all decisions are arbitrary and meaningless, whether god is in the picture or not. From god can emanate only pointless edicts, or if laws are god, then laws are pointless edicts. With nothing at stake there’s no necessity, therefore nothing’s intrinsically important. But the epiphany is who cares? In human affairs, people always question other’s judgement. The more decisions you make in life, period, the more others will question your judgement. Over the years I increasingly don’t question others judgement especially when I know they’re wrong. I’ve made lots of decisions and so receive lots of judgement, and there’s been this faint recognition in the back of my mind that no matter how caring they seemed to be, why are they in my way? I want to make some bad decisions. Without the power to make bad decisions life isn’t fun. Why not make it fun, life’s pointless anyway. How is god holy? He can only be a decision maker with no necessity.

    Maybe Chairman Mao was right, or maybe he was just fine. Apparently he just is.
    But if you believe that the universes edicts are intrinsically sacred then you believe that necessity is injected from the highest power. You’re not at that point conceiving of the highest power, just logically.

    So if true evil can arise, it arises either by the concept put forth of god being forced to inject necessity upon you, or politically by Mao faking necessity, and so causing an artificial panic, or by listening to your friend’s advice on why it’s so dangerous to do this or that.

    In other words evil could arise by convincing others that you are in touch with a reality which can forever stop their own power of apparently making decisions.

  26. I just read my comment over and there’s some unexplained logic jumps in there but it can be followed basically. I’m going to try and come back later and clean it up a bit.

  27. It seems to me that, at its core, the problem people have with free will is that it is difficult to reason with causally. We have a good causal category for determinism (using mathematical reasoning), and we have a good causal category for “random” occurrences (using probabilistic reasoning). The problem is that we have trouble making sense of self-caused actions.

    I think the *biggest* issue is that our modern mindset is overly focused on mathematical forms of reasoning, so we have difficulty even fathoming how non-mathematical reasoning might work.

    I think one way at least somewhat around the issue is to view “blueprints” as being themselves causes. In other words, rational goals should be elevated to causes in their own right. In other words, the goal of “being a painter”, as a blueprint for the future, is itself a cause. This leaves open the question of where such causes come from, but I think it is a step in the right direction. Having read som books on Aristotelian causes, I think using “blueprint” as a loose translation of “form” might make it have more impact to the modern mind.

    Likewise, I think the idea of recursion is helpful, but not a complete explanation. If X causes Y, there is an open question of does X cause X? In other words, the rational scales I use to weigh an opinion is formed from a sequence of choices that have been made to this point. This is why moral decision-making in the small things is so important. If I develop a habit of moral decision-making, then each time I make the decision, I am being a cause of myself for the future.

    Again, none of these are complete explanations for free will, but I think they will help us begin on the road to understanding non-mechanistic causation in general.

    Also, for anyone interested, there were several talks on such types of causation at the Engineering and Metaphysics 2012 Conference.

  28. The expression, ‘men against boys’, although here in the singular, immediately springs to mind, to the discredit of the pitifully infantile and inchoate thought-processes of Mr Pearce.

  29. ‘Dead people don’t have desires.’

    Mung, a saint once remarked that concupiscence in a man only disappears half an hour after death.

  30. 30

    When one attempts to have a rational debate, one must assume libertarian free will exists in order for the debate to have any value. Unless there is a top-down, libertarian capacity for an individual to override physical mechanisms and “change their mind” as the result of an independent analysis of their own views in light of the argument being made, then all debate is nothing more – essentially – than monkeys flinging feces at each other attempting to get the other monkey to agree.

    Humans either have access to a nonphysical, independent capacity to “will”, or they are essentially biological automatons doing and thinking whatever the motions of molecules dictate. Any argument that holds the latter position holds that all arguments only have whatever meaning the individual reacts with, and all reactions are equally valid since there is no independent arbiter of those reactions.

    Arguing that arguments only have independent meaning and that all reactions are equally valid is reducing reason and logic to rhetoric and sophistry. Determinists, essentially, argue that their arguments have no meaningful value – at least, no more meaningful than dogs barking or monkeys flinging feces around.

  31. 31

    There are some things a person must believe whether they are true or not. We must act, think, and debate as if we have libertarian free will; the only reason to argue that we do not is to avoid the philosophical implications of free will.

    A lot of atheistic thought and argument is really nothing but convoluted sophistry intended to make absurd cases to avoid the philosophical consequences of necessary premises. You can see this when they make arguments against free will; you can see this when they attempt to avoid the implications of a universe that began at some point in the past and has remarkably life-friendly fundamental features; you can see this when they attempt to construct a valid but subjective morality that eschews any objective grounding for their list of “oughts”.

    What they always end up with is a bunch of self-refuting sophistry, which they are willing to ignore (or, in some cases, accept) for the sake of avoiding theism.

  32. 32

    VJ

    Third, there’s no meaningful sense in which our desires can be weighed against each other. How would you weight them? Qua mental events, desires don’t have any numeric properties such as “weight.” So if one desire is stronger than another, it must be by virtue of its physical properties. That’s a materialist account of choice. Once again, where’s the evidence that this model does a better job of explaining how we act?

    I’m glad you brought this up. I think this argument is the strongest one against determinism and I would like to hear more discussion on this. In order for anything to have a “value” a choice must be made. Some Christians would say God made that choice, but it’s still a choice. From there it is not such a big stretch to saying humans could have made the choice because God chose to give us free will.

    M. Holcumbrink

    What is the new heart we have in Christ if not a change of desires? This is what is missing in our religion these days – the recognition that we need a new heart, plain and simple.

    If humans have free will it does not destroy the concept of conversion. All it requires is a change of will, a different choice. I think this is Biblically supportable from places like Romans 12:1 which clearly shows the hierarchy of this transformation. First the will knows and aligns itself with God’s will. Then the mind is transformed followed by the desires of the body being subjugated to the prior choice that was made.

  33. 33
    Jonathan MS Pearce

    Vincent
    I will read this tonight. What I can say from a very wuick skim read is this:

    Within a 45 minute framework, to establish all that you demand would not only have been impossible, but it would have been unwieldy as a talk designed for laypeople. I would happily establish all that and more, but I would need 3 hours and people willing to sit through that. That was not the requirements for the talk.

    @Axel:
    “The expression, ‘men against boys’, although here in the singular, immediately springs to mind, to the discredit of the pitifully infantile and inchoate thought-processes of Mr Pearce.”

    That is an immature ad hominem that has no place in rational and hopefully interesting discussion. I have previously enjoyed debating with Vincent elsewhere (even if he does leave our conversations without following them through to the end! ;) ). However, please contribute something other than a thinly veiled “them against us” style tribal jibe.

    I welcome criticism, as I am sure people have and will deliver, respectfully done.

    Regards

    JP
    http://skepticink.com/tippling/

  34. hay guys, what do you think about this impressive argumant?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UqcYbTmXXLU

  35. I think you’re more of a gnome than a troll. Eat your Wheaties.

  36. 36

    Dr. Torley,

    Yes, I do in fact believe that the strongest desire wins out (I have not read Hobbes, so I have arrived at this conclusion on my own, I suppose). But at the same time, there is the notion of spiritual warfare (we are to fight against and resist the sin that dwells within). And there are many factors that come into play that effects all of it, such as encouragement, knowledge, circumstances, etc. But what are all these things but causes towards a particular effect? Paul tells us to encourage one another, but why? To effect a particular behavior. Paul tells us the Jews had a zeal for God, but that it was not based on knowledge. So what if they were to believe the right thing? It would cause them to apply their zeal towards different ends. Paul tells us to avoid certain situations, But why? Because if we get caught up in them it will only serve to cause us to stumble. But in the end all of these only serve to effect the intensity of certain desires over others, or to redirect our desires entirely. To say otherwise is against all experience, is it not?

    There’s no reason to believe that I always want what I choose.

    I find the only reason that is necessary to believe this is one’s own experience. What else is there other than that? Examine yourself, and see whether or not this be the case. Why else would you choose to do anything else?

    I may choose something simply because it’s the right thing to do, or because it’s my duty to do it, however much I may not want to do it. You may answer that if I act this way, it’s because I want to do the right thing, but I would answer that this is a misuse of language. In ordinary language, what I want is what I find pleasant, and the fact is that we often do things we find unpleasant.

    But what is more unpleasant than those things which are against our will? I have not at all used the language contrary to the ordinary usage, but you seem to disregard the possibility of having to choose from an array of choices that are only unpleasant. What else but that very situation makes those kinds of decisions the most difficult in life! So I find this rule: the greater the disparity in unpleasantness between the choices, the easier the decision is to make. And it is very fleshly thinking on your part, it seems to me, to insist that doing the wrong thing would not in any way be most unpleasant for certain people. What of the misery of guilt? Do we not say “I would not be able to live with myself” if we were to engage in certain behaviors? You completely discount deferred gratification, sir (or rather knowledge of the end result of our actions plus our desires effecting our choices). And if this has nothing to do with desires, then why is it called deferred gratification?

    Second, I find your explanation of will in terms of desire reductionist. Desire is something we share with the beasts; will is something which elevates us over them. If you wish to maintain that I choose in the same way that an animal does, then it is up to you to support that assertion with evidence. After all, we don’t sue chimps.

    But I would say that knowledge and reason informing our desires is what elevates us over the beasts. And that is why we call those individuals who have no use of knowledge and reason beastly and savage, do we not? We don’t sue chimps because they are incapable of grasping knowledge and reason (which is why we just kill them when they threaten us – there is no reasoning with them whatsoever). And in the meantime we will spend all manner of time and resources negotiating with criminals during hostage situations or on rehabilitation after they are caught, all in an attempt to inform the will.

    Third, there’s no meaningful sense in which our desires can be weighed against each other. How would you weight them? Qua mental events, desires don’t have any numeric properties such as “weight.” So if one desire is stronger than another, it must be by virtue of its physical properties. That’s a materialist account of choice. Once again, where’s the evidence that this model does a better job of explaining how we act?

    (You speak like one of the anti-ID folk now – “quantify this FSCI, if you can”). But what! As if you yourself cannot tell whether or not you like one thing over the other, or whether you want one thing more than you want the other? Do we need to find a way to measure this to know that it is true? You have spiraled into nonsense here. What about information (programming) to which I draw my analogy? Does the FSCI add any weight to the medium that carries it? Does a random string weigh less than a meaningful string? No, it is completely transcendent to physicality. What if it is the same with desire? What the spirit within a man is composed of I know not, but I find it to be very real – and I find the desires of a man, which is an integral part of his spirit (or personality), to be a most potent cause of all manner of things, and that apart from any materialist viewpoint. And again, for the evidence I would make an appeal to your own experience, sir. As if you don’t choose according to your desires day-in and day-out, moment by moment, and that according to preference of one over the other.

    Finally, where is the internal program that controls what we choose to do?

    As if anyone has an answer as to where the soul of a man resides, or what it is, or how it is maintained, or even if it is channeled by physicality at all in any way.

    You find unintelligible the notion that some things are desirable for their own sake. I put it to you that some things are good for their own sake (e.g. food, water, warmth and companionship) and that if we are rational beings, we will recognize this fact, and desire them accordingly. The fact that some people don’t proves only that some people are irrational.

    Perhaps I don’t know what you mean that some things are “desirable for their own sake”, but I would say that we either desire them or we do not, and that some things ought to be desired even though they are not with everyone. But when you say some people are irrational by not desiring the things they ought to, fine. But I would call it that sin, not irrationality.

  37. 37

    Mung, point taken. Hell is only referred to in scripture with metaphor (their worm, lake of fire, blackness of darkness). So I suppose I should have told Alan “To base your assertion that hell is a fiction on that particular metaphor is literary dull-headedness on your part, sir.”

  38. 38

    tragic mishap,

    If humans have free will it does not destroy the concept of conversion. All it requires is a change of will, a different choice. I think this is Biblically supportable from places like Romans 12:1 which clearly shows the hierarchy of this transformation. First the will knows and aligns itself with God’s will. Then the mind is transformed followed by the desires of the body being subjugated to the prior choice that was made.

    I would say that you conflate ‘will’ and choice. They are not the same thing. To change the ‘will’ results in a different choice, e.g. if I don’t like anchovies, I will not choose to put them on my pizza, but if somehow I all of a sudden take a liking to anchovies, maybe from time to time I will put them on my pizza. But it must be noted that the will (or desire) compels my choices.

    In regards to Rom 12, I will not argue against a transformation, for the Christian life is a journey and our sanctification does not happen overnight (oh, how familiar I am with that!). But I don’t find here an argument against the bondage of the will, only that our minds and desires are to be transformed over time, “until our hearts be formed in Christ.”

    But what the notion of ‘free will’ does destroy is the idea of the sovereignty of God, and of being saved by grace alone, by the will of God alone. I find the concept of ‘free will’ as presented here to inexorably point to full blown Pelagianism, to the detriment of the gospel.

    “When did you receive the Spirit? When you obeyed the works of the law, or when you believed what you heard”? I see here believing by the word will inform my desires with knowledge, while at the same time having my desires transformed by the Spirit. Not all at once, but enough to help me along the path He has set before me and as He sees fit. And I also believe that what johnnyb says regarding recursion and blueprints and looping to have much merit (if I understand him correctly). If I know that looking at Porn will inflame my lust, then I will avoid it, because of the possibility that my lust might be inflamed to a point where I lose control. I know ahead of time that there is a possibility of being ensnared (I can’t help it anymore and I can’t get out), so I flee sexual immorality. But it must be noted that in order for this to work there must be a fear of sin, which is a desire to avoid the misery it can cause, or a fear of harming my family, which is a desire for their well being and comfort, or even more to the point, a desire to honor and please Christ, who loved me and died for me. And these desires must outweigh the desire for the pleasures of sin for a season.

  39. 39
    Jonathan MS Pearce

    Hi Vincent

    Two points to make first up. One, that I have already made, is that in order to establish what you demand, one would have to speak for three or four hours. Just on the matter of universes, for example, one could spend a whole evening lecturing. I went to see Lawrence Krauss last week talk on A Universe From Nothing. That was an hour and a half and really needed to be 4 hours! Philosophy (and science) is a series of interconnected ideas which all depend in some way on each other. Dualism, supervenience, physics, universes etc – all very interesting and worthy of discussion. However, I was tasked with talking on the subject for 45 minutes to (intelligent) laypeople. It was an introduction, and succeeded in being so. I know this, because I spoke to many of the audience afterwards and they declared it was spot on for the purposes – content and delivery.

    My goal was to set people on a path to discuss these issues further. In an undeniable way (evidenced by this very discussion), this has succeeded.

    Secondly, in one very real sense, you present, to some degree, a straw man. My goal was not to set out a case for determinism. My goal was to set out a case refuting, or arguing against, libertarian free will. You seem to have missed this. Now, I am a determinist. But one can be an indeterminist who denies LFW. This was discussed in the Q and A. Much of what you say does not confirm the case against LFW, but of the implicit case for determinism. Obviously, I did talk much about determinism as one of the contrary positions, but I hope I made it clear that one can deny it without allowing, necessarily, for LFW. Take Hawking etc who refer to ‘Adequate Determinism’ as doing so.

    On causality, I admittedly had to simplify for the audience. I have a particular view on causality which is the basis for why I think the Kalam Cosmological Argument is unsound. However, the notion of a causal circumstance is not, as you point out, strictly a linear affair, but is much more complex than that. Yet the linear depiction suffices for the job at hand – the talk. We could talk about the Dead Legionnaire’s dilemma or other examples which would point to the notion that sometimes defining a cause is impossible. This is why the causal circumstance, which I think I communicated, is responsible for a ‘decision’. By this, I mean everything in the universe up until that moment – the whole causal matrix, interconnected like a web. In reality, I could also talk about the impossibility of actually cutting up the causal ‘chain’. This is the nub of one of my biggest criticisms against the KCA. It is best analogised by the Species Problem, or the Sorites Paradox. For the point in hand, as fascinating as that is, we need not digress.

  40. 40
    Jonathan MS Pearce

    Because the most important point you make, the crux if you will, is this:

    If someone asks me why I chose A rather than B, and if A and B are both ends rather than means, then it is surely enough to answer that I chose A because I liked A rather than B – which is quite different from saying that I chose A because my desire for A was stronger than my desire for B. That kind of answer is a mechanistic one. But choices are not mechanistic things.

    And

    If A and B are both ends which are desirable for their own sake (e.g. knowledge, health) then I don’t think there is any answer to the question, “Why did you like A rather than B?” except to say that A is desirable for its own sake, which means that choosing A requires no further justification. (The same would be true if the person had chosen B instead of A: B is desirable for its own sake, so choosing B requires no further justification.)

    I think M. Holcumbrink has criticised your position here well. To me, your approach is incoherent. For A to be desirable for its own sake is to say that the agent liked A ‘just because’. Your issue is obvious – it is the classic Dilemma of Determinism – the fact that the agent needs to be the originator of the ‘causal chain’. Origination, thus, leads to the LFWer to claim that the agent can start the chain. However, this is problematic because the agent needs a reason, but reason, causal or otherwise, regresses that chain further back. So it seems, Vincent, that you posit a ‘just because’ scenario. Yet this isn’t, for me at any rate, good enough. This simple scenario might suffice:

    Imagine 2 identical worlds – W1 and W2. It seems, from your approach, that an agent could have the choice of A or B in both worlds. In one world, he could choose A because it was intrinsically desirable to do so, and in W2 he could choose B because it was intrinsically desirable to do so. But both worlds are identical. And yet you are admitting that A and not A can exist in the same agent, thus breaking the law of non-contradiction.

    This is very similar to the grounding objection against Molinism. Could you elucidate further? i/ need to make sure I get you right.

  41. M. Holcumbrink,

    Thank you for your comments. Before I address your points, there’s one general observation I’d like to make. No-one has risen to the challenge I issued towards the end of my post, of defining determinism rigorously. My central critique of Jonathan M. S. Pearce’s position was not that his arguments were bad, but that his philosophical position was so imprecisely defined that it could not be meaningfully considered true or false. Perhaps you can remedy the deficiencies in his formulation; if so, I look forward to hearing from you.

    You made a valid point about delayed gratification. But the key point here is “gratification”. The fact is that we can choose a variety of goals that could not (from a purely materialistic perspective) be considered gratifying. Some people do things for the sake of being famous long after they’re dead. Other people do things for the sake of building up the world’s store of scientific knowledge, even though it means living a life of poverty under cramped and uncomfortable conditions. Still others sacrifice themselves to art, in a very ego-less sense: they literally become the characters they are portraying on stage, forgetting themselves and their identity in the process. And approximately half the world’s population believes in some sort of Heaven, which is not in the least gratifying. Joyful, yes, but gratifying, no. For in order to enter Heaven, you have to conquer your desire for gratification.

    You rightly argue that our reason is what distinguishes us from the beasts. But with reason comes the ability to critically evaluate our desires, and to judge that there are some things which we should not desire, before we make our final choice. To characterize this process as a weighing-up of competing desires is to trivialize the act of choice.

    Finally, as regards FCSI, I consider it to be quantitatively definable because it is based on the sequential and structural properties of systems we find in Nature. And there is a genetic program which regulates the development of the human embryo into an adult human being. The fact that no-one has found any program which regulates our choices speaks for itself, as does the fact that no-one has found any place in the brain where desires are weighed. To speak of desires as being weighed is, I submit, mixing metaphors illegitimately.

  42. It seems to me that commands, as in “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not,” if they do not presuppose freedom of will to either obey or disobey, would be absurd.

    For instance, receiving the directive, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you,” I now have freewill choices to make, do I not? Whether to exhibit kindness or unkindness, hardheartedness or tenderheartedness, forgiveness or unforgiveness.

    If I do not have freewill choices to make, having received such a commandment, then what is it that I do have?

  43. The idea that people can be held responsible for deterministic behavior is vulnerable to manipulation arguments, in any form that the idea is presented.

    The compatibilism that most theistic determinists believe is that a decision is free if it is according to your desire. Such a definition fails to distinguish between free behavior and compulsive behavior, such as from a drug addiction. It also fails to distinguish a free choice from one resulting from brainwashing.

    Furthermore, an alien with a microchip could fulfill virtually any conditions a theistic determinist can use to distinguish a free choice from a nonfree choice.

    Biblical prooftexting does not provide a counterexample, because no passage has only one possible interpretation. Generally, a passage (of any text) has a range of possible meanings, which then need to be whittled down through an inference to the best explanation.

    Because compatibilism is vulnerable to these counterexamples, deterministic interpretations of Scripture can be ruled out a priori.

  44. Mr. Holcumbrink and Mung for thoughts…
    There is the First Death
    There is the Second Death
    and… “When did you receive the Spirit”? regarding “free will choosing” I would ask you to consider why one becomes desirous of choosing-accepting. Why does one “hear” scripture to the exercise of WANT sufficient to Saving belief while another hearing the same word does not?
    When you eat of this you will SURELY die, but they didn’t you say or which death is being portrait – shadowed – types etc?
    Let the dead bury the dead.
    RE. “Hell” as envisioned as Eternal Punishment with Suffering Unending. HE has no need of it: Do some looking – He limits the extent of punishment for all sin / the lake of fire / complete end – etc.
    SO “free will” to put what you want on your Pizza – yes – to obtain the WANT towards Saving Faith – NO – the Spiritually dead can only be religious.

  45. Rev. 20:14

    …and the death and the hades were cast to the lake of the fire — this is the second death (YLT)

    Is. 25:8

    He hath swallowed up death for ever; and the Lord Jehovah will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the reproach of his people will he take away from off all the earth: for Jehovah hath spoken it. (ASV)

    1 Cor. 15:54

    Now, when what is decaying is clothed with what cannot decay, and what is dying is clothed with what cannot die, then the written word will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up by victory!” (ISV)

  46. 46

    jstanley01,

    It seems to me that commands, as in “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not,” if they do not presuppose freedom of will to either obey or disobey, would be absurd.

    And here is the Pelagianism that I referred to before. Here we see the idea that man, because of his ‘free will’, can obey any and all laws that God ever placed before him. So jstanley01 here ascribes to man “entire, plenary and abundant power to keep the commandments.” Erasmus tried to pull this one on Luther but he would have none of it. Luther would tell you that ‘mistress reason’ has enticed you to make a most stupid inference.

    But what if I were to quote 1 Chronicles 29:18?

    O LORD, God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep this desire in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you. And give my son Solomon the wholehearted devotion to keep your commands, requirements and decrees …

    But David, don’t you realize that desire doesn’t have any bearing at all on the choices that we make? And can’t you see that man has free will such that he does not need God to put it in his heart to be loyal to Him? And David, don’t you realize that your son Solomon can keep God’s commands on his own, with his own free will, and does not need God to give him anything towards keeping them. You see, David, Solomon has free will to be wholly devoted to God, and does not need God’s help whatsoever.

    Or what about 2 Chronicles 30:12?

    The hand of God was also on Judah to give them one heart to do what the king and the princes commanded by the word of the LORD.

    What absurdity on the part of the chronicler here, to suggest that God would ever need to give the people a heart to do His commands. Did he not realize that the people had free will to do all God had commanded, and that God would only be wasting his time by doing this because it was so completely unnecessary?

    Or perhaps a Psalm?

    51:10 – Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me [there you go again, David, you knucklehead. You have free will! Just be steadfast on your own, no need to ask God for it]. 119:36 – Turn my heart toward your statutes, and not toward selfish gain [But we need not have our hearts turned to God's commands because we have free will to either obey or disobey! Who put this idiot’s Psalm in here? How absurd.]

    Then there’s Jeremiah 32:39-40

    I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.

    But Lord, what are you doing? Man has free will and it does not matter what is in his heart because our desires in no way compel our actions. Just leave us be, and we will show you what we can do all on our own!

    Or Ezekiel 36:26:

    And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules

    Hands off, God! How dare you grab me by the scruff of the neck and make me keep your laws! I can do it myself! I have free will, for Pete’s sake! It is already within me to be careful all on my own!

    But back to jstanley01:

    If I do not have freewill choices to make, having received such a commandment, then what is it that I do have?

    You have a will, period. And your actions are beholden to your will, whether it be evil or good (did you not read what I wrote previously?). And in regards to Ephesians: as if being kind and tenderhearted is something we can do while gritting our teeth with bloodshot eyes and veins popping out of our necks. Must…be…kind…and…tender…hearted. If it isn’t within us to be kind and tenderhearted with sincerity and from the heart, it doesn’t count. And 9 times out 10 when I attempt this very thing I find my efforts to be contrived to one degree or another (i.e. not from the heart – may the Lord grant me mercy to be genuine). What if Paul was simply describing how we ought to be? If you find within yourself this ability to do all that Paul admonishes us to be with sincerity and from the heart, then get to it. In the meantime this smoking flax will cry out for mercy, that Christ would be fully formed in my heart so I can be the way Paul tells me I ought to be.

  47. 47

    Of course believers ask God to help their desires line up with His will. I do that all the time.

    That doesn’t preclude free will. It just makes it easier to make the right choice.

  48. Hi everyone,

    Jonathan M. S. Pearce has kindly emailed me to let me know that he has posted some comments in response to my post, which should be appearing soon. I look forward to reading them.

  49. Here’s a reply to my post by Jonathan M.S. Pearce, which he has kindly forwarded to me

    Hi Vincent

    Two points to make first up. One, that I have already made, is that in order to establish what you demand, one would have to speak for three or four hours. Just on the matter of universes, for example, one could spend a whole evening lecturing. I went to see Lawrence Krauss last week talk on A Universe From Nothing. That was an hour and a half and really needed to be 4 hours! Philosophy (and science) is a series of interconnected ideas which all depend in some way on each other. Dualism, supervenience, physics, universes etc – all very interesting and worthy of discussion. However, I was tasked with talking on the subject for 45 minutes to (intelligent) laypeople. It was an introduction, and succeeded in being so. I know this, because I spoke to many of the audience afterwards and they declared it was spot on for the purposes – content and delivery.

    My goal was to set people on a path to discuss these issues further. In an undeniable way (evidenced by this very discussion), this has succeeded.

    Secondly, in one very real sense, you present, to some degree, a straw man. My goal was not to set out a case for determinism. My goal was to set out a case refuting, or arguing against, libertarian free will. You seem to have missed this. Now, I am a determinist. But one can be an indeterminist who denies LFW. This was discussed in the Q and A. Much of what you say does not confirm the case against LFW, but of the implicit case for determinism. Obviously, I did talk much about determinism as one of the contrary positions, but I hope I made it clear that one can deny it without allowing, necessarily, for LFW. Take Hawking etc who refer to ‘Adequate Determinism’ as doing so.

    On causality, I admittedly had to simplify for the audience. I have a particular view on causality which is the basis for why I think the Kalam Cosmological Argument is unsound. However, the notion of a causal circumstance is not, as you point out, strictly a linear affair, but is much more complex than that. Yet the linear depiction suffices for the job at hand – the talk. We could talk about the Dead Legionnaire’s dilemma or other examples which would point to the notion that sometimes defining a cause is impossible. This is why the causal circumstance, which I think I communicated, is responsible for a ‘decision’. By this, I mean everything in the universe up until that moment – the whole causal matrix, interconnected like a web. In reality, I could also talk about the impossibility of actually cutting up the causal ‘chain’. This is the nub of one of my biggest criticisms against the KCA. It is best analogised by the Species Problem, or the Sorites Paradox. For the point in hand, as fascinating as that is, we need not digress.

  50. Here’s the second part of Jonathan M. S. Pearce‘s reply:

    Because the most important point you make, the crux if you will, is this:

    If someone asks me why I chose A rather than B, and if A and B are both ends rather than means, then it is surely enough to answer that I chose A because I liked A rather than B – which is quite different from saying that I chose A because my desire for A was stronger than my desire for B. That kind of answer is a mechanistic one. But choices are not mechanistic things.

    And

    If A and B are both ends which are desirable for their own sake (e.g. knowledge, health) then I don’t think there is any answer to the question, “Why did you like A rather than B?” except to say that A is desirable for its own sake, which means that choosing A requires no further justification. (The same would be true if the person had chosen B instead of A: B is desirable for its own sake, so choosing B requires no further justification.)

    I think M. Holcumbrink has criticised your position here well. To me, your approach is incoherent. For A to be desirable for its own sake is to say that the agent liked A ‘just because’. Your issue is obvious – it is the classic Dilemma of Determinism – the fact that the agent needs to be the originator of the ‘causal chain’. Origination, thus, leads to the LFWer to claim that the agent can start the chain. However, this is problematic because the agent needs a reason, but reason, causal or otherwise, regresses that chain further back. So it seems, Vincent, that you posit a ‘just because’ scenario. Yet this isn’t, for me at any rate, good enough. This simple scenario might suffice:

    Imagine 2 identical worlds – W1 and W2. It seems, from your approach, that an agent could have the choice of A or B in both worlds. In one world, he could choose A because it was intrinsically desirable to do so, and in W2 he could choose B because it was intrinsically desirable to do so. But both worlds are identical. And yet you are admitting that A and not A can exist in the same agent, thus breaking the law of non-contradiction.

    This is very similar to the grounding objection against Molinism. Could you elucidate further? i/ need to make sure I get you right.

  51. #1. jstanley01: #2. Trajic, #3. Holcumbrink:

    Q. If I do not have freewill choices to make, having received such a commandment, then what is it that I do have? –
    A. You have the Truth – the Gospel – the Law of God telling you to obey it while revealing that you can’t, thus the judgment to the Lake of Fire = Eternal complete destruction – elimination = the wages of the natural man – OR

    #2. “First the will knows and aligns itself with God’s will.” FIRST God Elects by giving that Chosen one His Will. NONE will choose to align from mere calling by the Word. Wheat and Tares – looking like Christ etc.

    #3. WOW – “The wages of sin is death” is a metaphor? and ” when Paul tell the Ephesians” – was that ALL the Ephesians? The second death has to do with those not receiving by HIS total Grace (not earned by some free will choice of those smart enough or “good” enough to see the light) Eternal Life – a NEW Soul – “The soul that sins shall die.” Maybe you just like (for some dark sinful fallen nature reason) to insist or want there to be ETERNAL TORMENT (actually sorrow) AND SUFFERING! Just saying be very careful with parables or one or two verse conclusions.
    Anyway – we are souls (temporary or Chosen to be new and Eternal) so, while here on Earth we do have free will to put whatever we want for whatever “reason” on our Pizza. The “Soul” is the component that solves the materialistic
    conundrum of determinism and it is HIS Choosing that solves the problem of “free will” as related to Salvation.
    p.s. The universe has apparent age and a limited time to exist.

  52. p.p.s. The universe has apparent age because God allows the natural man to believe whatever he wants so he can be happy and settled with himself – dust to dust – the dead bury the dead and with beautiful eulogies – usually.

  53. Hi Jonathan,

    Thank you for your comments. As I recall, you cited a statistic during your talk: only about 13% of professional philosophers believe in libertarian free will. The rest, you said, were either hard determinists like yourself who believe that events are determined and therefore we are not free, or soft determinists who believe that events are determined but we are still free in a Pickwickian sense. You then went on to admit that the percentage of philosophers who are hard determinists is only 12%, placing you in an even smaller minority than adherents of libertarian free will.

    When elucidating the notion of determinism to your audience, you appealed to the notion of appealed to the notion of Laplace’s demon: a hypothetical being who knows everything about the laws of Nature and the positions and movements of the particles in the universe, and who, using this information, is able to predict with perfect accuracy, every future state of the cosmos. Also, you took pains to point out in the Q & A session after your talk that not all interpretations of quantum mechanics are indeterministic – a point on which you are entirely correct. So that only served to reinforce my impression that you are a pretty “hardcore” determinist. All the more reason, then, for you to define your position clearly.

    Now, I imagine that many modern philosophers who call themselves determinists might concede that quantum level events may well be genuinely undetermined, but would maintain that at the macro-level, determinism might still apply. The example of Schrodinger’s cat seems to refute this, however. (Leaving aside the question of whether the cat is alive or dead, its fate is governed by a quantum-level event.) So a fallback position would be to hold that even if quantum level events are undetermined and occasionally influence events at the macro-level, it doesn’t help the case for free will, because random events (whether macro or micro) aren’t free. One could then argue that all other events are determined – including our decisions.

    Yet even this modified version of determinism won’t work. First of all, it’s logically invalid to argue that every non-random event must be determined. That’s a false dichotomy, as I argued in my post above. Second, the question still remains: determined by what, and how?

    You say our choices are determined by “the whole causal matrix, interconnected like a web,” by which you mean “everything in the universe up until that moment.” Here you are assuming the impossibility of causal loops going back in time. As I pointed out in my point, it only takes one of these loops to render determinism incoherent. Also, you write that you reject the Kalam Cosmological Argument – so I presume that you believe in the multiverse, which lies outside our space-time. It seems, then, that you’re happy to accept that our choices may be determined by events in the past, and even by events outside time, but not by events in the future. Why?

    But let’s assume that physicists manage to rule out the existence of such loops. The central problem, which I have yet to see you address, is: what does it mean for one event to determine another? You’re a philosopher, so you are well aware of Hume’s objections to the notion of a causal nexus. If you want to take an anti-Humean position, please feel free to do so – but please let us know where you’re coming from? What notion of cause do you wish to defend? You know perfectly well that causation and correlation aren’t the same thing. What, then, do you mean by a determining cause?

    You also haven’t met my challenge to define the notion of a law of Nature coherently in a non-prescriptive fashion. You need to do this, in order to come up with a version of determinism which dispenses with the need for a Deity.

    Finally, you object that libertarian free will is vulnerable to the same objection that was leveled against Molinism. I find this odd, because I object to Molinism precisely because I adhere to libertarian free will. To me, the notion of a groundless counterfactual makes no sense. Statements about how an agent would act in certain circumstances, have to be grounded in dispositional statements about how that agent should act, given its built-in tendencies. To make a counterfactual claim and not ground it in anything makes no sense. If the agent is genuinely free, there is no telling how it would act in those circumstances. That’s why I reject Molina’s account of Divine foreknowledge in favor of Boethius’ account, or something like it. I believe that God can be made aware of our past, present and future choices. That’s how He knows them. It doesn’t matter for my purposes whether you conceive of God as atemporal (as Boethius did) or as omnitemporal (as some modern philosophers do).

    Getting back to your dilemma: you imagine two possible worlds, W1 and W2, corresponding to an agent’s choice of intrinsically desirable good A and intrinsically desirable good B, respectively. In all other respects, the two worlds are alike, up until the moment of the choice. My response is: where’s the contradiction?

    If you’re appealing to some notion that two worlds can’t differ unless they have different causal histories, then you’re assuming what you need to prove – namely, determinism. If you’re appealing to some notion that for any choice made by an agent in a particular set of circumstances, there must always be an explanation of why that choice, and only that choice, could have been made, then once again you’re assuming the truth of determinism.

    I put it to you that goods cannot always be ranked. Often they are incommensurable. Art and science are two such goods, as I pointed out in my discussion of young Leonardo, and there really isn’t any “right” answer as to what he should do with his life. Either choice would make perfect sense. And here, I would argue, lies the real root of freedom: it allows us to make a fundamental option for one of two basic human goods. It’s a fact of everyday life, and it happens all the time.

    Finally, I’d like to point out that I’m not claiming that our choices have no causal antecedent. Obviously, they don’t just happen out of the blue. What I’m saying is that the causal antecedents of a choice are insufficient to determine that choice. That’s something that the agent does.

  54. 54
    Kantian Naturalist

    In re: 46

    Imagine 2 identical worlds – W1 and W2. It seems, from your approach, that an agent could have the choice of A or B in both worlds. In one world, he could choose A because it was intrinsically desirable to do so, and in W2 he could choose B because it was intrinsically desirable to do so. But both worlds are identical. And yet you are admitting that A and not A can exist in the same agent, thus breaking the law of non-contradiction.

    The law of non-contradiction is not violated in this scenario, even if we make it stronger. Suppose that in W1, A chooses p. In W2, A chooses not-p. This requires that the agent, A, desires that-p and desires that not-p. I don’t see why this rejects the law of non-contradiction.

    For one thing, the LNC pertains to states of affairs, or to use another term, to aletheic modality. But an agent could, after all, still believe that-p and that not-p. It’s just she shouldn’t do so — on pain of being irrational. So that’s a deontic modality — a matter of what should be, not a matter of what must or can be.

    For another, it’s not really clear to me that desires obey the deontic constraints that beliefs do. I’m clearly being irrational if I believe both p and ~p. It’s not so clear to me that I’m being irrational if I desire both that p and ~p. (I might be irrational I believe that both desires can be satisfied, but is there irrationality in just having the conflicting desires?)

    P.S.: I’m not sure if I’m responding to Torley or Pearce here.

  55. 55
    Jonathan MS Pearce

    Kantian Naturalist:

    Sorry, I phrased the incorrectly. I did not mean that the agent had desires to do p and ~p in a way that I can have a desire to have a bottle of wine because it will be enjoyable to drink, but I may also not desire it because it may give me a hangover. I mean it as ‘a desire to do and then therefore do’, so that the agent has a desire to do p to the point of doing p, but also has the desire to do ~p to the point of not doing p. In identical worlds.

    Such that,

    If C is the circumstance, then A will do P

    cannot be true

    IF C is the circumstance, then A will do ~P.

    Jonathan

  56. I need help understanding determinism as it pertains to resisting temptation.

    Lets say a saved person faces temptation, prays for help from the Holy Spirit, but gives in anyway and sins. I think this would be a very familiar and realistic scenario. I would call it “weakness”.

    How would a determinist explain the failure? Would they say God determined the failure?

    How would a determinist explain a success in the case that the tempted person resisted? Would they say God determined the success?

    This is not a trap. I am sincerely trying to understand determinism.

  57. 57

    I’m clearly being irrational if I believe both p and ~p. It’s not so clear to me that I’m being irrational if I desire both that p and ~p. (I might be irrational I believe that both desires can be satisfied, but is there irrationality in just having the conflicting desires?

    Maybe I’ve misunderstood you, but I would say that it is impossible to both desire p and not desire p in the same way it is impossible for p to exist and not exist at the same time. It’s not a matter of irrationality, but of impossibility (it seems to me). When I think of conflicting desires, I think of a desire to eat pizza, but also a desire to avoid heartburn, which if Tagamet is not available would put me on the horns of a dilemma. I must either choose to enjoy the pizza or sleep soundly without stomach acid in my mouth (although, I suppose if the pizza caused my face to melt off it would make the choice easier). So I guess I might love and hate pizza at the same time in the sense that I love the flavor but hate the heartburn, but I don’t see how it would be possible to both love and hate the taste of pizza at the same time (unless you love the cheese but hate the sauce, I guess, like my kids).

  58. 58
    Kantian Naturalist

    Steve,

    Determinism does not sit well with the kind of case you described, because determinism is typically meant as a claim about the physical world.

    More precisely: if, for every physical event, that event is caused by all the events leading up to it, and if there is nothing other than the physical world, and so nothing can interact with the physical, then everything is causally determined. Two caveats: (i) a lot depends on how we understand the idea of “cause”; (ii) a lot depends on how we interpret this idea of “causal closure of the physical world” (nothing outside the physical can affect it).

    Torley is arguing for what’s called “libertarian theory of the will” — very crudely, the idea that when we make the kinds of choices for which we can reasonably be held responsible, there is something which makes the choice — the agent, the will, whatever — which is not itself caused to do so by anything else. Pearce is arguing against libertarian freedom, but he’s not arguing for determinism. One could be an “indeterminist,” as he puts it. (Presumably this would require some finesse in the treatment of causation, but ok.)

    In theology, there’s a closely-related problem, the problem of divine foreknowledge and predestination, but I’m not competent to address it.

    To turn to your example, I have to say, I can’t think of anyone who would say that it’s God’s will which determines whether we resist or succumb to temptation. I mean, if our strength or weakness of character is due to God’s will acting one way or not, we’d have a lot of problems on our hands. For one thing, resisting temptation wouldn’t be morally praiseworthy, nor would succumbing to temptation be morally pernicious, because — on an intuitively obvious view — we’re only responsible for the things we ourselves have done (or could have and should have avoided doing). The whole notion of responsibility goes out the window if God is pulling all the strings.

    So no, no determinist is going to say that. Determinism, remember, gets going because it’s commitment to the idea that everything physical is causally determined, and there’s nothing which is not physical such that it can interfere with the physical, nudge it one way or the other. That means no libertarian free will, and no divine will, either. Truth be told, I can’t think of any determinists who hold that God exists.

  59. Kantian Naturalist,

    Thanks for the overview. It was much appreciated.

    I guess what drove me to ask is people I am familiar with claiming to be “Calvinists”. I was speaking with one self-proclaimed Calvinist who told me he believed that God determined every action in the world, both physical and spiritual. Not one particle in the universe may go anywhere and do anything that God has not decreed it would do. Otherwise God would not be in control of everything, and thus would not be sovereign. Likewise, not one choice can be caused by the human soul that was not decreed by him. Otherwise, God would not be sovereign.

    When I asked him if God would determine that someone would sin, he said “Yes”. Now this guy was a PhD. in History who wrote his thesis on John Calvin and Calvinism, so I figured he was well informed. When I asked him if God holds the sinner responsible for the sin he said “Yes”. Then added, “I do not understand how that works, but I am willing to accept the mystery if it preserves God’s sovereignty.”

    So now you see why I am struggling to understand this point of view. If God determines every physical and spiritual action, then temptation resistance becomes nothing more than God determined you would or would not sin. Thus, the idea of weakness, resisting, and obedience become useless or defined in such a way that is not common usage.

    I wonder how other Calvinists deal with this?

  60. 60

    Steve_Gann @ 51,

    Lets say a saved person faces temptation, prays for help from the Holy Spirit, but gives in anyway and sins. I think this would be a very familiar and realistic scenario. I would call it “weakness”.

    How would a determinist explain the failure? Would they say God determined the failure?

    How would a determinist explain a success in the case that the tempted person resisted? Would they say God determined the success

    I think I should be careful when I say I am a determinist (or rather a theistic determinist, I guess). I am not a philosopher (well, a professional philosopher, anyway), and I am all too aware of the fact that those guys use words that are too big for me, and when I look them up I see that there are categories for this one particular word, and sub categories, and more big words… I say that to make it clear that I think I know what it means to be a determinist, but for all I know I should be using a different word instead. So without using the word ‘determinist’, here is what I believe:

    If God be the ultimate initial cause, and he possesses perfect accuracy, knowledge, wisdom and power, he must by definition create the world with full knowledge and intent, thus making all things determined beforehand. Thus, God has made the world, but had every single event down to the smallest possible level planned out: everything from the collisions of subatomic particles, to the vilest sin ever perpetrated, to the slaughter of Christ on the cross, to the exact number of very specific people that would be saved. This means that when anyone sins, God had planned for it to happen, but he uses it to a greater good. For instance, some sins are used to show forth his wrath (Rom 9:22), and some are used to alter the course of events (Gen 50:20).

    So in the scenario you describe, I would obviously say that God determined the failure; not that he caused the sinner to do the sin (the sinner does that on his own), but that he has seen fit to allow it to one purpose or another, and in the end things will be better off. So instead of asking for an ‘explanation for the failure’, I would want to be more to the point and ask why the sin was allowed, and what possible purpose could it serve? And I would answer that one possibility would be that God has seen fit to sanctify us gradually, to teach us about our own faults and weaknesses, or to teach us to be more watchful. I read one author explain that God allows us to fall into one kind of sin in order to keep us from more severe forms, like pride, knowing our tendencies (I believe it was John Owen that said that). It could be that the sinner allowed himself to be put into a bad situation that should have been avoided, and God allows him to stumble as a form of chastening. Or, for this exact example of yours, it could be that the person is platitudinous or cliché with his request for “help from the Spirit”, or is superstitious with it, and God turns a deaf ear to him, as if to say “son, do you even know what it means to receive help from my Spirit?”, again for the purposes of teaching and admonishing. And I give these examples under the assumption that the person in question does not have a presumptuous attitude, for which other explanations would be in order.

    And as for successful resistance, obviously I would say that God determined the success. But not that God pulls his strings, or grabs him by the scruff of the neck and does the resisting for him (again, the person does the resisting). But that God planned for it to happen, and nothing but that could have happened, and in the end it serves to accomplish his ultimate purpose (in the same way sin does).

  61. 61

    Steve_Gann, I posted before I read your response to KN, and I would like to attempt an answer as to what I believe regarding a ‘reconciliation’ between divine justice and predestination.

    But it’s really late where I’m from and I will need to attempt this tomorrow night (if I can stay awake after having stayed up so late tonight).

    I am a Calvinist, but there are many forms, and to tell you the truth I’m not sure what kind I am (there are 4-point, 5 point and 7-point Calvinists, even hyper Calvinists – and then there are differences within the points). But I think I would say that I am a 4-point, for whatever that’s worth, if I had to pin it down.

    And I am not a PhD, but I hope to be more helpful that the one you talked to, if you have the patience to wait.

  62. Here’s a post by Jonathan Pearce:

    Kantian Naturalist:

    Sorry, I phrased the incorrectly in a sense. I did not mean that the agent had desires to do p and ~p in a way that I can have a desire to have a bottle of wine because it will be enjoyable to drink, but I may also desire not to have it because it may give me a hangover. I mean it as ‘a desire to do and then therefore do’, so that the agent has a desire to do p to the point of doing p, but also has the desire to do ~p to the point of not doing p. In identical worlds.

    Such that,

    If C is the circumstance, then A will do P

    cannot be true

    IF C is the circumstance, then A will do ~P.

    Jonathan

  63. Hi everyone,

    Re the definition of determinism: I received an interesting email from Mark Frank, proposing a simple definition of determinism: an action is determined if it is predictable according to the laws of Nature. Mark then went on to argue that in his view, there is no conflict between being predictable and being free.

    I replied as follows:

    I think your definition of determinism was a very useful one, but I would disagree with you that there is no conflict between being predictable and being free. If our actions are predictable in terms of the laws of nature then they are ultimately explicable in terms of those laws. A free action is one which is ultimately explicable in terms of the beliefs, desires and intentions of the agent. Laws may constrain the agent’s actions (I can’t fly, even if I want to), but they do not explain that action.

    I would also hold that if God knew our actions by predicting them, then they would not be free – which is why I would maintain that His knowledge of our actions is logically (but not temporally) subsequent to those actions. God is like the watcher in the high tower, to use Boethius’ metaphor – except that He is outside time. That’s why there is no conflict between being predicted and being free; there is only a conflict between being predictable and being free.

    ===============

    I should add that no-one has managed to define a law of Nature in a non-prescriptive fashion, as yet – which means skeptics are still unable to dispense with the need for a Deity.

  64. 64
    Kantian Naturalist

    If our actions are predictable in terms of the laws of nature then they are ultimately explicable in terms of those laws. A free action is one which is ultimately explicable in terms of the beliefs, desires and intentions of the agent. Laws may constrain the agent’s actions (I can’t fly, even if I want to), but they do not explain that action.

    This is interesting. For a while I wondered if the compatibilist could get around this objection by watering down the determinism to “conformity to law” instead of the more demanding “predictable according to law.” But that could water down the determinism to a point where there’s no interesting difference between compatibilism and incompatibilism.

    Maybe the difference could be as follows: the compatibilist and the incompatibilist could agree that an agent’s actions, to the extent that is reasonable to hold her responsible for them, are explained in terms of her beliefs, intentions, and desires. (This would still distinguish both positions from a ‘necessitarian’ metaphysics, on which the very concept of agency seems to just fall by the wayside.)

    The point of contention is that the compatibilist will still want to deploy the vocabulary of the natural sciences (objects and events subsumed and subsumable under laws of nature) in order to explain why the agent had the particular beliefs, intentions, and desires that she had. By contrast, the defender of libertarian freedom will deny that an explanation of why she has just those beliefs, desires, and intentions should be couched in the vocabulary of the natural sciences.

    That’s one approach. Another approach, maybe, would be to say that even if an agent’s beliefs, desires, and intentions are explained in terms of the natural sciences, the libertarian thinks that there’s still something else necessary in order to explain just why the agent acted on those particular beliefs, desires, or intentions, rather than some others.

    Is that a helpful way of carving up the problem-space?

  65. Dr. Torely

    I would like to make sure I understand you correctly here when you said:

    “…which is why I would maintain that His knowledge of our actions is logically (but not temporally) subsequent to those actions. God is like the watcher in the high tower, to use Boethius’ metaphor – except that He is outside time.”

    Is this a correct understanding?

    In the determinist view (I mean Christian determinists specifically), God is omniscient because he chose every effect for every cause both physical and spiritual. Narrowing this to just human choices, if we were to represent a choice as a fork with A and B being the choices, then God knows what will happen at every fork because he chose that the person would do A rather than be. To coin a catch-phrase for this, let’s say “God knows because He chose.”

    Otherwise, if God did not choose, then he would have to wait around for the person to make a choice at the fork to see what would happen. This is repugnant to a determinist because that would mean God would not be omniscient at every moment, but would have to wait until the end of time to know the results of every human action.

    This is where your quote comes in. But if God is not restricted to half a direction of linear time (forwards only), he would not be waiting around. He would see the person before the choice and after the choice at the same exact instant. And, by extension throughout all time, would see every cause and effect in the same exact instant. Therefore, God is never waiting around to know. He knows instantly what will happen. Let’s call this “He knows because He sees.”

    Is that what you meant? Determinist ideas on God’s omniscience are stuck in linear time?

  66. 66

    Steve_Gann,

    When I asked him if God would determine that someone would sin, he said “Yes”. Now this guy was a PhD. in History who wrote his thesis on John Calvin and Calvinism, so I figured he was well informed. When I asked him if God holds the sinner responsible for the sin he said “Yes”. Then added, “I do not understand how that works, but I am willing to accept the mystery if it preserves God’s sovereignty.”

    So now you see why I am struggling to understand this point of view. If God determines every physical and spiritual action, then temptation resistance becomes nothing more than God determined you would or would not sin. Thus, the idea of weakness, resisting, and obedience become useless or defined in such a way that is not common usage.

    I wonder how other Calvinists deal with this?

    I will assume that you are actually interested in how other Calvinists deal with that, so I will offer my thinking:

    When God made the universe, he could have made it any way he wanted. This could mean that among the possibilities are people that have never existed and will never exist because God chose not to make them. Or, if the number of possible people were finite, perhaps God will eventually make every one of them (I don’t know which it is, perhaps it doesn’t matter). Now as I’ve said all along, it is our desire (or will) that defines us, and makes us who we are; so of all the people that are in this pool of possibilities, they are very specific individuals, and each one of these individuals has a very specific ‘definition’ so to speak. So in the same way that God ‘is’ (I AM – he is self existent, and he is the way he is; he just is), so all of these possible people ‘are’ (but not self existent – they owe their existence to God but only if he chooses to make them). This means that when God makes someone, they are made from one of these possibilities, and they will have their own will (or definition), whether it be bad or good. If all this be true, then that means that God decided which people he would end up populating his world with, and ended up putting them where he put them, because they suited his overall purpose.

    But as I said before, our will (with its desires and passions) determines our actions when we are presented with particular options. So if our will be evil, we will make evil choices, and if our will be good, we will make good choices (but either way we are enslaved to our will, and in this sense we are like clockwork – in bondage and not free). And because God knows all things perfectly, and he knows the innermost workings of our hearts perfectly, then he knows how we will act out when presented with any particular situation. This means that it is no problem for God to make the world as he pleases, and to put in his world who he pleases, the whole time being in complete control of all events from the beginning out to all eternity. In this sense God has determined sin – not that he does it, but that he has brought into the world those that would do it because it is in their nature to do it. But because of his omnipotence, he allows the sin to happen in a perfectly controlled fashion, and even in the end works it towards the greater good.

    But it should be doubly noted that when we work evil, we are responsible for that evil because we are the ones that did it – we worked the evil out of our own will which is within us and defines us. God did not do it, even though he made it possible for us to do it by creating us and placing us where he did. But I would also say that God still expects us to do what we ought to do (in the sense that there is a right and wrong and that we should do right), even though he knows that some will not.

    But God is God, is he not? He can do anything! So because God is love, and because he is compassionate, and because he does not will anyone to perish, and because nothing is too hard for him, he has seen fit to make a way to ransom many of these, to remake them, giving them a new nature, and even to make them his own sons. They do not deserve it in any way, and can do nothing in any way to earn it (they were by nature wholly unprofitable) – he does it freely. Yet he does it at his own discretion, and according to his own will and purposes, which we will probably never be privy to – “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.”

    But as I have said, we are not transformed overnight. Our hearts change gradually, and we must learn and grow, and there is a cooperation involved in this change. And we still have the old nature, and it is to be resisted. But we do not resist in order to become saved and to stay saved (because we ‘enter in’ the very moment we believe what we hear – it is by grace you are saved through faith). We resist sin (or should resist it) because we don’t see it in the same light as we used to. It becomes repugnant to us to one degree or another. And there is a dread of it, knowing what wrath will be poured out because of it, and knowing what the Savior went through to take us out of it. The new heart should produce these passions within us, and that is why we resist.

  67. M. Holcumbrink,

    Thank you very much for your thoughtful response. I am very much interested in how a Calvinist thinks. I will have to reread your thoughts a few times to digest the ideas.

  68. Hi everyone,

    Mark Frank has sent me another email, with a follow-up response to my post #58:

    I see no conflict between predictable and being free. Suppose that tomorrow a super-psychologist comes up to you and shows that she had correctly predicted all of your decisions over the last week based on her intense study of your beliefs, desires and intentions at the beginning of the week, a detailed knowledge of the mechanisms of the human mind, and accurate information about what was going to happen externally. What is there about your experience of making decisions that is logically incompatible with this scenario?

    I would reply that if we assume (for argument’s sake) that a person behaves consistently, we can often predict what they will do. But the assumption is just that – an assumption. People can and do change their most fundamental beliefs – and with them, their desires and intentions. This is because we do not gather evidence for our beliefs in a mechanical fashion, as if there were some finite list of procedures to be followed for ascertaining whether a belief is true (or at least, likely to be true). Often, we have to critically evaluate the very rationality norms we use to judge whether a belief is reasonable or not. We may revise those norms if we are persuaded that our customary way of evaluating beliefs is deficient.

    For instance, a Humean (let’s call him Tom) may trot out the “extraordinary claims require extraordinary proofs” argument against miracles. But then he may read Alfred Russel Wallace’s An Answer to the Arguments of Hume, Lecky, and Others, Against Miracles and come to reject Hume’s argument. In that case, the prediction of the super-psychologist who knew Tom, that he would refuse to read a book on miracles that Pamela (a “true believer”) had previously told her that she was planning to give Tom, may turn out to be wrong. Here, the psychologist has intensely studied Tom’s beliefs, desires and intentions, and she has accurate information about something that was going to happen externally: she knew Pam would try to give Tom a book. Yet her prediction turns out to be mistaken.

    You also mention that the super-psychologist has “a detailed knowledge of the mechanisms of the human mind.” The key word is “mechanisms.” If you believe that belief-formation in human beings is wholly mechanical (not even I would deny that it is partly so), then of course, your conclusion follows. But if that were the case, then I could justly say that my beliefs, desires and intentions were created by a process beyond my control, and that they were not free, after all.

  69. Hi Steve_Gann,

    Thank you for your post. I would indeed argue that “God knows because He sees,” rather than “God knows because He chose.” I believe that God is outside time, of course; He can see past, present and future.

    But I would not accuse the Christian determinist of being stuck in linear time. The reason that Calvinists are offended by the notion that “God knows because He sees” is that it makes God dependent on His creatures for His knowledge of their choices: He still has to receive information from them (by “seeing” the future), even if this takes place outside time.

    I would reply, though, that if God voluntarily accepts this dependence when He creates creatures (such as ourselves) with libertarian free will, then there’s no problem. After all, it’s not as if God could ever fail to know anything. Rather, He’s designed every thing such that He’s automatically made aware of anything that happens to it.

  70. M. Holcumbrink @ 42 wrote:

    And here is the Pelagianism that I referred to before. Here we see the idea that man, because of his ‘free will’, can obey any and all laws that God ever placed before him. So jstanley01 here ascribes to man “entire, plenary and abundant power to keep the commandments.” Erasmus tried to pull this one on Luther but he would have none of it. Luther would tell you that ‘mistress reason’ has enticed you to make a most stupid inference.

    Please do not put words in my mouth, with quote marks no less, that I did not say.

    It is hardly stupid, brother, to argue the biblical evidence against a proposition that makes the Lord’s commandments from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21, given in the imperative mood, inherently absurd.

    Perhaps it would help clarify the biblical position of Ephesians 4:32, which I cite @ 38, to note that the book is not addressed to “man,” as in mankind in general.

    Ephesians 1:1 (KJV)
    Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus:

    Obviously an appeal to forgive, “even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you,” would count for little to someone who does not believe in Christ, even as it would be impossible for someone to carry out from the heart who lacked the help of God through the Spirit.

    Other than that, as far as dueling proof texts go, I am disinclined to engage in such an affair. The Bible says what it says in Ephesians 4:32 and everywhere else. And from there, both the workman’s job and the prayer with which it is to be engaged are clear.

    Perhaps it will suffice to say here that, to me, the proposition that a God who is omnipotent as well as omniscient, cannot create – and in light of His Word has not created — beings with who are free to choose and therefore fully responsible for their actions, while at the same time He knows what they will choose, represents an attempt by carnal man to force the Almighty God who inhabits eternity into the box of his carnal logic. And ironically enough, although not surprisingly given the nature of fallen man, he does so in the name of God’s sovereignty.

    And so it appears that the One, who is both a present help in time of need and at the same time inhabits eternity, has revealed Himself to be a God who has bestowed upon human beings free will and yet He knows what they will choose. And this is a problem how? Maybe it is a paradox according to human logic, but then again, so is quantum physics.

    Romans 11:33-12:2 (KJV)
    O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!

    For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?

    Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?

    For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.

    I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.

    And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

  71. 71

    Jstanley01,

    The quote was from Luther’s Bondage of the Will, where he was addressing Erasmus’s argument that was very similar to your own. I did not mean to make it look as if you had said it, and it didn’t even occur to me that it might appear that way. Please excuse me; I should have made it clear on where the quote was from.

  72. Mr. Holcombrink – re. “Calvinism” etc.

    “When God made the universe, he could have made it any way he wanted. This could mean that among the possibilities are people that have never existed and will never exist because God chose not to make them” – and this is by #67′s response a “thoughtful response”- really!? “People who never existed”? a logical contradiction even for God.

    Once more for consideration and diligent search: He created everything for a purpose including Man in general and His elect specifically from before even time began – and prophetically He came incarnate to pay the price (see the Star names in Libra for reference in light of Psalm 19and all scripture related to the reason for His incarnation and work) to save that which was lost by His Predestinated Will – not your “free will” = you have free will to put what you want to on your pizza, but your “free will” – fallen – would NEVER (a universal negative) choose Him until He First Choses from all those ALL (universal positive) He give Eternal life leaving the remainder of all to Eternal and complete destruction = death, Not Eternal suffering.
    Religion obscures – but the natural man is allowed to have it even with what is thought of as rational – consider it a gift to the natural, religious and temporary man. I don’t expect understanding – the Sun has been darkened, the stars have fallen, a famine to hearing, but someone here may benefit from this. It is time and available “Feed My Sheep.” Let the deal will bury the dead, especially with religion and all the arguments and inquiries and confusions about what they don’t actually have – a New Resurrected Soul – a New Man.

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