Archive for the ‘Determinism’ Category

Determined Choices

March 22, 2009

Paul Manata at Triablogue has a fascinating post on Determined Choices (link). He provides a reasonably concise explanation of how God’s declaration that he decides when we die (John 14:5) and the fact that people sometimes choose to kill themselves are compatible, not contradictory. Thus, he reasonably concludes that the nature of free will is at it is described in Calvinism.


More on Calvinism and Determinism – Disambiguated

October 25, 2008

Godismyjudge (GIMJ) has provided a new entry in our on-going discussion on Calvinism, Molinism, and “determinism.” (link) For those interested in that discussion (perhaps only GIMJ), I’ve responded below.

GIMJ wrote:

Turretinfan responded to my post on Calvinism and Determinism. (link) The purpose of my post was to point out that Calvinists are determinists and exhort people to check not only their soteriology but also their philosophy against scripture. Turretinfan’s response is odd, because at first he at first tries to put some space between himself and determinism, but then he argues forcefully for determinism and against libertarianism (the opposite of determinism). I didn’t intend the term “determinist” to be a pejorative, and if one is a determinist, I have no idea why they should be ashamed of it. As for Turretinfan’s concern that people don’t understand determinism or the subcategories that fit under the umbrella of determinism, I suggest the solution is not hiding facts, but rather examining them.

I answer:

a) It still looks like the purpose of GIMJ’s post was to label Calvinists “determinsts,” which is confusing at best.

b) The reason not to like the term “determinist,” is because it is linked in the popular conception with mechanical/physical determinism.

c) The idea that Calvinistic “philosophy” should be compared to Scripture is fine, of course. One of the points I’ve brought up time and time again is that Calvinistic philosophical is directly drawn from Scripture, in contrast to the specially pled philosophy of its main opponents: Molinism/Arminianism/Semi-Pelagianism/Pelagianism.

GIMJ wrote:

I wasn’t denying that under Calvinism, God appoints the means. If anything, this idea makes Calvinism even more deterministic, not less so. This is exhaustive determinism. But I didn’t consider the means relevant because Calvinism teaches that God decrees the end logically prior to the means. All I was saying was that under Calvinism, we are not the reason God chooses us.

(a) That we are not the reason God chooses us has nothing to do with determinism.
(b) The idea that “God decrees the end logically prior to the means” is true of any system of thought in which God degrees the end, since means are not means without an end.
(c) Again, whether this makes Calvinism “more deterministic” (as though determinism has degrees, which is an interesting idea in itself) is not really the issue. One has to deny Scripture to deny that God decrees both means to an end and the end itself.

GIMJ wrote:

Yes, but I suspect that your very concept of “actual sufficiency” with respect to a counterfactual future (i.e. the salvation of the non-elect) entails a counterfactual past. When determinists claim we are able to do otherwise, if we had chosen to, or we are able to choose otherwise, if we had wanted to; they are defining “ability” in terms of a counterfactual past. For more please see here.

(a) No. As I already said, “actual sufficiency” has to do with intrinsic value. To build on the Scriptural analogy of redemption with a price, the price of Christ’s death was enough to save an infinite number of people.
(b) The question of people’s choice is really irrelevant to the issue of Christ’s sufficiency. If only Paul had been elected, Christ’s death would have been exactly as sufficient as it is in reality.

Can Christ save the reprobate? Under Calvinism, in one sense He can and in another sense He cannot. The sense He cannot is obvious. Given the Father didn’t elect them, Christ would almost have to “freak out” and run contrary to the Father to do so. Obviously that can’t happen. But the sense in which He can relies on a counterfactual past in which they were not reprobate.

(a) This is also true of Molinism. In one sense He can and in another sense He cannot.
(b) The sense in which He can also relies on a counterfactual past in Molinism: a counter-factual past in which he did not forsee what he has foreseen, and in which the real future to be was not selected from among all “possible” futures.

Molinism is a side issue, and has nothing to do with Calvinists being determinists or not.

Logically, that is true. Polemically, it is not. On the one hand, if you are going to apply a confusing label to the other side, you should be prepared for them to point out that the same label, in the same sense, applies to you. On the other hand, since Molinism generally presents itself as an alternative to determinism, it is fair to point out that commonalities between Calvinism and Molinism cannot (if Molinism’s claim about itself is true) be evidence of determinism.

That said, I don’t mind a good rabbit trail. A few preliminaries on Molinism…

As I’m preparing some more detailed posts on the subject of Molinism, I’m going to severely curtail my own journeys down those rabbit-trails. Instead, I’ll limit myself to a few observations.

The first thing to note about Turretinfan’s points on Molinism is that the current reaction to Molinism has done a 180 from the historic reactions. Today, people claim that the distinctions between Molinism and determinism are so subtle (if they are distinctions at all) that Molinism is a “veiled determinism”. Arminius and Molina were not charged with “veiled determinism”, they were charged with heresy.

(a) If heresy and determinism are 180 from each other (as GIMJ appears to claim), then I guess I’m glad to be charged by GIMJ with determinism (rather than heresy).
(b) GIMJ seems to have overlooked the distinction, mentioned in passing in my post, between determinism properly defined and determinism broadly defined. One of the objections in my post is that the term “determinism” was used in GIMJ’s post in such a broad umbrella way that basically only the open theists are outside it (n.b. this is true only when considered as to effects, as proposed in GIMJ’s post) and yet the term is popularly misunderstood to refer quite narrowly to mechanical/physical determinism and/or fatalism (neither of which corresponds to Calvinism). In other words, the word “determinism” can both be too encompassing (if we measure determinism by the places where Calvinism and Molinism overlap) and too limiting (since Calvinism explicitly rejects physicalism and fatalism).

Getting back to the rejoinders:
GIMJ wrote:

That would be true, but Molinists deny predeterminism. Rather we teach predestination. In general, predestination is about “the plan” or “the goal” and predeterminism is how that goal is obtained. Perhaps you didn’t mean that Molinists teach predeterminism, but rather you meant that Molinism leads to predeterminism. But in that case you would need to form a reductio ad absurdum argument (link).

(a) Molinism is normally represented as God deciding to instantiate a particular future from among possible futures. This is one form of predetermination of the future. That is the one future that will occur, and in order to speak about the “possibility” of other futures after the divine decree it is necessary to divide out the divine decree from consideration.
(b) It’s not clear to me whether GIMJ doesn’t appreciate this aspect of Molinism, doesn’t agree that this is an aspect of Molinism, or just doesn’t like the idea of using predetermination to refer to God deciding ahead of time what is going to happen. Only if the middle of those three options is the case is there really any substantive dispute. With respect to the last of the three options there is an interesting semantic dispute.

GIMJ wrote:

Fair warning, this argument has some hair on it…

Counterfactual pasts are not a distinctive of Molinism. Many libertarians that affirm God’s foreknowledge hold to some sort of “counterfactual past”. But there’s a difference between this and the determinist counterfactual past. As noted above, the determinist definition of the ability to do otherwise entails a counterfactual past. In libertarianism it does not. Rather, the hypothetical that man uses their ability entails a hypothetical counterfactual past. Again, in determinism, there is a definitional relationship between the actual ability and a hypothetical past. In libertarianism, the relationship is between the hypothetical future and the hypothetical past. This distinction makes libertarians suspect that the determinist’s ability is not actual, but rather hypothetical.

Further, in determinism the counterfactuals in the counterfactual past are causal forces influencing the person. In libertarianism the counterfactuals are not causal forces influencing the person, but rather things that are logically (but not causally) dependent on the persons’ future choice.

(a) What this is, from my perspective, is a lengthy admission that the cursory remarks in GIMJ’s initial, objectionable post glossed over the issues.
(b) Whether the line of “determinism” should be drawn where GIMJ draws it is a semantic debate. It is an interesting one, perhaps, but it is not really germane to the objections I was raising. If the claim regarding Calvinism were that in Calvinism’s man’s ability is related to a counter-factual past in a different way than in Molinism – that’s not particularly a problem – but that wouldn’t lead to sweeping statements to the effect that “Calvinism is determinism applied to soteriology,” it would lead to more precise statements.
(c) Actual ability unless/until used is hypothecated on something. Consequently, there is no meaningful line between “actual” and “hypothetical” ability as to unused ability.
(d) The use of terms like “causal forces” may be present to make distinctions, but it is not clear that the distinctions themselves make a difference in any way that helps Molinism.

God has contrary choice between good options. Same goes for us when we get to heaven. The unregenerate, without grace, can only choose between bad options. For more, please see here.

(a) As noted in my previous post, if that counts as not smacking of determinism, then perseverance of the saints doesn’t smack of determinism and neither does total depravity.
(b) Furthermore, admission that “free will” is consistent with having only choice among (for example) good options, undermines the bulk of the “intuitive” arguments for the existence of libertarian free will. It may also undermine the more scholarly arguments – and it certainly undermines the “virtue morality” arguments.
(c) Moreover, once “free will” no longer requires that a person be able to choose between good and evil, there is no non-arbitrary reason to set ones stakes down at “among good options” or “among bad options.”
(d) Ironically, Calvinism ascribes to God a real will that chooses good over evil, something that GIMJ’s conception of God denies. Likewise, Calvinism ascribes to fallen (totally depraved) man a real will that chooses evil over good, something that GIMJ’s conception of the totally depraved man denies. In fact, to avoid Calvinism, GIMJ has to innovate universal prevenient grace, so that man can have a will that (unlike God’s will in GIMJ’s conception) can choose between good and evil.

GIMJ wrote:

I am generally unimpressive. You on the other hand, are not a novice on Calvinism. Do you consider yourself a determinist and if so, what type of determinist are you? For a technical explanation of determinism see here and for general info on how a wide variety of info on how people use the term, please see here. =-)

(a) For those who haven’t clicked through, the first link GIMJ provides is a link to a discussion of “causal determinism”. That page begins, “Causal determinism is, roughly speaking, the idea that every event is necessitated by antecedent events and conditions together with the laws of nature.” Obviously, this is not what Calvinism teaches. GIMJ should know that. If GIMJ is trying to assert that Calvinism = causal determinism as defined by that web page, he’s simply dead wrong.
(b) The second link is to a search, using the Google engine, of all the instances on the World Wide Web of the term “determinism.” I suppose he simply meant the link to the search (which yields about 2 million hits) to be humorous.

Science Rejects Free Will

August 15, 2008
This article (link) is not going to convince anyone, and perhaps it shouldn’t. The article basically says that a team of scientists have discovered that they can determine people’s decisions (at least some simple ones) before the people themselves can determine their decisions. That suggests something to the effect of determinism. While I enjoy the article, and it is helpful to sort of tweak the noses of my Libertarian Free Will (LFW) advocating friends, there are some problems with it, and I’ll be up front about them:

1) Science is notoriously erroneous. It is typically based on induction, and consequently it is frequently revised as new evidence arrives and the old inductions cannot accommodate them.

2) Even within science, the study of the human mind is usually viewed as a “soft” science. It’s very difficult to ensure proper controls for studies, and there are some studies that have purported to verify very questionable hypotheses, such as telepathy/clairvoyance.

3) Science can only deal directly with the physical. We have reason to believe that at least some aspect of decisions are conducted in the spiritual realm. Thus, we would not expect that science could fully address the issue of decision-making.

Despite all those caveats, the article is interesting and is something that LFW advocates should be prepared to address.


Thoughts on Free Will

January 14, 2008

Dear Non-Calvinist Reader,

As you think about your views on free will, here is something to consider:

There is a future, one future, and only one future. What that future is, is already known to God and to those to whom God has revealed it. Their knowledge of the future cannot (present tense) be otherwise, even if you will say that it could have (past tense) been otherwise. There is an inexorable connection between their knowledge and the future itself (though that link is not that the future causes prior knowledge of itself, which would invert causality, nor is the link that the knowledge itself causes the future, which would be contrary – at a minimum – to common sense). The proof of the inexorable connection is the certainty with which we can know the future based on divine revelation, coupled with the logical impossibility of our certainly knowing the future, and yet the future being otherwise than what we know.

Thus, while – in some sense – man may have an ability to do otherwise than man does, that sense cannot be a compound sense that considers everything including man’s heart.

Furthermore, the Bible speaks of man’s choices and actions in a deterministic way, and we actually see some degree of determinism in human actions all the time.

The Biblical proof is the “fruit of the tree” analogy. A good heart brings forth good fruit, and vice versa. Other examples are Biblical statement that people made various choices or took various actions “because” of something. Thomas’ believing “because” he saw is an example.

Likewise, in the world of advertising we see man practically applying determinism to make money. Advertisers attempt often with great success to determine people’s choices through clever advertisement.

Similarly, criminology relies on man’s behavior being deterministic to solve crimes and convict criminals.

Furthermore, there is a degree of logical absurdity that arises when definitions of Libertarian Free Will (LFW) are attempted. Either the definition is so vague as to encompass Calvinism, or tight but self-contradictory or contrary to reason and/or Scripture.

The bottom line: man’s choices are determined by:

  • the state of man’s heart, which is itself produced by:
  • – Nature (the initial condition and direction of man’s heart) and
  • – Nurture (the impulses either opposing or reinforcing nature and/or the previous state of man’s heart); and
  • the circumstances in which man is.

God is fully in control of man’s nature and nurture, and as well is fully in control of the circumstances in which man is. Man does make choices IN ACCORDANCE WITH HIS HEART. Scripture says so:

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Matthew 15:18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.

Isaiah 59:13 In transgressing and lying against the LORD, and departing away from our God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood.

Matthew 12:35 A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.

And God can determine the heart:

1 Chronicles 29:18 O LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, our fathers, keep this for ever in the imagination of the thoughts of the heart of thy people, and prepare their heart unto thee:

And God does determine the heart:

Proverbs 16:1 The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the LORD.

And it is Biblical both to say that wicked men voluntarily speak evil, AND that they cannot do otherwise:

Matthew 12:34 O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.

Thus, we affirm the truths of Scripture by hearkening to the Scriptural compatibility between God’s Absolute Sovereignty, and man’s will. Man’s will does not cease to be free any more than the wind ceases to be free, though God is in control both of the wind, and the wills of men. We cannot always see the motive for the wind to blow one way and not the other, or for man to make one choice and not the other, but we can take comfort in knowing that “all things” including the wind and the wills of men “work[] together for good to” us, “the called.”

May God grant us both wisdom to grow in greater understanding of His Word,


UPDATE: I have date-bumped this post to the front page and made minor revisions to this post.

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