Saturday, June 28, 2008
Edwards splits necessity into two categories: natural and moral. Natural necessity relates to our actions, moral necessity relates to our wills. If an act is naturally necessary, it is either against or without our will, and whether we will or not the result is the same. Edwards says that natural necessity is the common meaning of necessity and moral necessity is philosophical. Natural necessity (common necessity) is a sense wholly different than that used in the Calvinist/Arminian debate. Most people go through their whole lives without thinking about moral necessity (philosophical necessity) and its relationship with responsibility.
People use the terms “must, cannot, necessary, unable, impossible, unavoidable, and irresistible” signifying natural necessity. Natural necessity is incompatible with responsibility. The common notion of responsibility is A) doing what we please and B) what we please being wrong.
Arminians equivocate common and philosophical necessity. People don’t notice when they move the inconsistency of necessity from the actions of our body (common necessity) to the actions of our wills (philosophical). Thus, they mistakenly conclude that the actions of our wills must be free, based on the common sense notion that the actions of our bodies must be free.
The division between natural and moral necessity into two alternative senses is invalid. What we have is one sense for necessity applied within two different contexts. X is necessary if the opposite is impossible. X can either be actions of our bodies or actions of our wills.
When we ask if choices are necessary or free, we are not using a new sense for the term necessary. It’s the same term people use in every day conversation.1 Are we able to choose X? Thus we are not equivocating.
An odd consequence of Edwards view is that many of his interpretations of scripture end up being philosophical. The ideas of irresistible grace, total depravity and even God’s commands applying directly to acts of the will, end up in the “philosophical necessity” category that Edwards says most people don’t think of throughout their whole lives.
1In philosophical discussions we do distinguish between causal, accidental, logical and joint-logical necessity, but these categories relate to the source of necessity, not the type of necessity. But these distinctions are not required to understand LFW, even if they may be required to discuss some exotic topics.
- Arminians say that without self-determining power, we have no power of action, acts are not our own, and we must be passive.
- This isn’t the way people use “action” in common speech.
- Used this way action is either causeless or an infinite regression of causes.
- When we speak of a first cause, if nothing causes something, nothing could prevent it, so therefore it is necessary.
- The common notion of action is the effects of the will.
- Arminians think of action as self-determination, because the motion of our bodies is caused by our wills – so they assume the same applies to the motion of our wills.
- God is necessarily good yet responsible, which disproves the idea that our actions must be free from necessity for us to be responsible.
My Response#1 is correct, but let me add a bit more to avoid equivocation. Edwards is getting to the difference between agent and event causation. The two key concepts here are:
- the difference between acting and being acted upon
- the range of possibilities intrinsic to things
Consider this picture of a man on a bench and his bike.
Wouldn’t you be shocked if the bike hopped up and rolled off? But you be surprised if the man stood up and walked away. This is the intuitive distinction we make between agents and other things.
Let’s say the bike is a 10 speed. The bike can be switched into any of the 10 gears but can’t be switched into an 11th gear. This is what it means to intrinsically possess a range of effects. But another object must act on the bike for the gears to switch, so this is why we say it’s passive and the starting place of action isn’t intrinsic to the object.
I did want to say a bit about #4, the idea that if nothing causes something, nothing could prevent it. Part of the issue here is that Edwards ignores necessary causes (X is a necessary cause of Y if without X, Y cannot happen, but with X, Y may or may not happen). For more on the difference between necessary and sufficent causes please see this article: link.
But let’s adapt Edwards ‘argument for him: if nothing is a sufficient cause of something, nothing could have prevented it. In this form, is it true? No. Just because we self-determine our actions, does not mean God could not prevent us from doing so. He could get rid of our freewill, or even us. But what about this further adaptation: if nothing is a sufficient cause of God’s action, nothing could prevent it. Is this true? No. An event is either: necessary, impossible or possible (i.e. neither necessary or impossible). One cannot reason that something is necessary just because is not impossible. It may simply be possible. The issue is not what can prevent the agent from doing something, but rather, what can the agent do?
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
- Arminians say if something causally predetermines our choices, we are not responsible.
- But responsibility is not the cause of choices, it’s in the nature of choices
- If responsibility is in the cause of choices, we search through an infinite regression of causes, and nothing is ever responsible.
Point 1 is close, but not quite accurate. While our actions can be predetermined, our choices cannot be. Choice cannot be predetermined, else it’s not choice. Predeterminism leave us with only one possible action, but choice requires alternatives (i.e. more than one). A “predetermined choice” is self-contradictory, implying we can choose something we can’t choose. So we think Calvinists are inconsistent for saying we can choose.
Also, Arminians agree that we are responsible for our choices. Even though we deny we are responsible for things we are causally predetermined to do, we are not saying responsibility lies in the cause of choices, and not choices themselves.
Monday, June 23, 2008
Under LFW, we are the causal source of our choices (i.e. nothing causally predetermines our choices); we are responsible for our choices. There’s nowhere else to go to. We can’t back track to something else - we are responsible. Under CFW, since our actions are causally predetermined, we can trace back the cause of our actions to something outside of us. Thus, we keep searching for the source of our actions to find out what’s ultimately responsible. When Calvinists say God is the ultimate source, we say they make God ultimately responsible for sin. Even if God establishes a system in which only secondary causes get punished and the primary cause does not (as Calvinists suppose), that doesn’t change the fact that God is ultimately responsible for sin. The issue isn’t one of God’s power or sovereignty, it’s a matter of His goodness and holiness.
This is a classic Arminian argument, but Edwards attempts to turn the tables on Arminians, by arguing against the link between LFW and responsibility.
Outline of Edwards’ arguments in parts III.VI and III.VII:
- Under LFW, our mind is in a state of indifference at the time of choice
- But reason tells us that the stronger the inclination, the more virtuous or evil the action
- Thus, LFW’s basis of responsibility contradicts reason (because we cannot at the same time be indifferent and have a strong inclination)
- If our minds were indifferent, we would expect an equal number of results (i.e. if we choose between A & B 100 times, we would choose A 50 times and B 50 times). Why should we be blamed if that’s the way it turns out?
- But this eliminates the possibility of good and bad habits – which people in fact have.
- If the Arminian objects and says motives do incline the mind, giving it a net bias, then they destroy LFW, which requires indifference. The motive would be predetermining the will.
I reject #1 as a misrepresentation of the Arminian view, but I don’t think that leads to the determinism of #6.
Edwards equivocates indifference of the will with indifference of the mind. Arminians sometimes use indifference to describe LFW. Arminius himself said: “The liberty of the will consists in this -- when all the requisites for willing or not willing are laid down, man is still indifferent to will or not to will, to will this rather than that.” (link) However, the idea is not that given actions preceding a choice, man doesn’t care about what he is about to choose. Rather, it’s that given all preceding causes, man’s will isn’t resolved one way or another by those causes. We desire and have reasons to choose either alternative, so our minds are not indifferent. Thus, given causes preceding a choice, our will is indifferent, but our mind is not.
Since I disagree with #1, I have to deal with #6.
The biggest problem with point #6 is that Edwards assumes deterministic causation is true. This point has already been dealt with here.
In point 6, Edwards use the term “net bias”. This is also part of the problem. There’s a difference between figuring out if an option is good or not versus figuring out if this option is better than that option. The first precedes choosing, the second is the choosing process itself. We don’t have a desire to both do and not do something. Rather, we have desires to do two different things at once. Desires don’t compete head-to-head, it’s a competition for scarce resources (i.e. we can only choose one of the options at a time). So although we have reasons (i.e. we are not indifferent in the sense of not caring), we don’t have a “net bias” before the choice.
So much for point #6, which basically resolves Edwards argument. I did however want to say a few words about points #2, #4 and #5.
Point #2 seems true. But since we reject #1, this is no problem for LFW. If we either choose quickly, or are unwilling to change a choice, or even if the choice is joined with a strong emotion, this tends to heighten praise or blame. This reminds me of the story of Phinehas in Numbers 25.
Edwards’ argument regarding expecting a choice for option A as often as option B versus habits in people's behavior has a consistency issue. If you assume LFW is true (as Edwards did in point 1) you must also assume Agent/indeterministic causation is true. But the reason Edwards expects a person to choose A an equal number of times as B is because he holds to deterministic causation. But these are contradictory assumptions. Deterministic and indeterministic causation are mutually exclusive.
On a probability scale between 0 and 1 (0 meaning never, 1 meaning always) we can choose so long as the probability is between 0 and 1. It could be .5, but it could also be .8. So long as it’s possible for us to choose either way, we have LFW.
Under deterministic causation, given preceding causes we are always at 0 or 1, never is there a probability that something else might happen. In point #1, Edwards assumes LFW is hypothetically true, so the probability of an act is neither 0 or 1. Where does Edwards go? .5 Why? Because he doesn’t think indeterministic causes, which increase probability, but don’t eliminate possibility, exist. But if you assume LFW is true, you must also assume indeterministic/agent causation is also true. So Edwards is being inconsistent.
Habits are patterns of human behavior. Typically they are based on either prior choices or broader choices. If you choose to be a Cowboys fan, you tend to choose to like Cowboy players. There can be exceptions, and you can always rethink the broader choice of being a Cowboys fan or not, but so long as you’re a Cowboys fan, you will tend to favor Cowboys players. The opposite is unlikely, but not impossible.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
- Some falsely argue we can’t perform our spiritual duties, but desire these things, so they are excusable.
- This entails the contradiction that we are inclined and disinclined to the same thing
- Obedience consists in the inclination itself
- The inclination is itself the choice
- “Desire without performance” is a phrase sometimes used, but it's improper as the desire relates to something future or something else is the object of desire. (i.e. someone might say a drunk doesn't want to drink the drink he's drinking, meaning: a drunk who desires to avoid drinking “someday” so he can keep his money)
- This “indirect willingness” falls short of any virtue or even partial obedience to God’s command
- “Sincerity” in indirect willingness doesn’t make it any better, people can be sincerity about bad things.
I already addressed the inconsistency between Edwards and modern Calvinists on the will here, but I wanted to address the argument itself.
I mainly object to Edwards' first point. God doesn't let people off the hook for anything less than full obedience. God's requires perfect obedience to all His commands throughout our whole lives. It requires not only right actions, but right actions for the right motives. We must obey God out of love for God with all our heart.
Deuteronomy 10:12-14 12 “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments of the LORD and His statutes which I command you today for your good? 14 Indeed heaven and the highest heavens belong to the LORD your God, also the earth with all that is in it.
Also see Matthew 5:48.
While Adam was able to obey God’s commands, fallen mankind cannot obey without God’s assistance. Ecclesiastes 7:29, Romans 5:12-20, Matthew 12:33-35 It’s easy to mix the purpose of the law for pre-fallen Adam with the purpose of the law for sinful mankind. For Adam, the law would have given life, for sinners the law’s threatening only bring us to fear God’s coming judgment.
It’s also easy to mistake the role of prevenient grace. God doesn’t give us prevenient grace in order for us to keep the law, either partially or fully, but rather for us to realize that we are not keeping the law. God uses the law to help us understand that we are sinners and that we need a Savior. Romans 7:7-9, Romans 8:15, Galatians 3:24 Then the Law stops and the Gospel begins. The law points out our need for a Savior and the Gospel tells us that Savior is Jesus Christ. Luke 5:31-33, Matthew 11:28, Romans 3:19-26, Romans 10:3-13
So it’s a mistake to think that man partially obey without grace, or that the purpose of prevenient grace is to enable partial or complete obedience, or that God would accept partial obedience.
Another problem I have with Edwards’ argument is that points 2, 3 & 4 seem to conflate desire and choice.
The final problem I have with Edwards’ argument is that point 5 indicates desire relates to a remote object (i.e. something other than an action on our part). I disagree. We can want to do something, but not do it. This is called velleity, in contrast with volition. If we are faced with alternatives, we may desire them both, but we end up only choosing one. So at least in some sense we may desire to do something that we don’t do. John 16:18-20
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Given whatever existed before the first act, was it absolutely impossible for God to create a world which didn’t include rain on May 31, 2008 in the afternoon?
A close reading of Edwards’ book about the will reveals that not only does he not say desire determines choice, he says reason determines choices. In fact, what Edwards says about desire rules out the idea that our choices are determined by our strongest desire. I will attempt to show this in three steps. First, John Locke states that desire can conflict with choice, but Edwards harmonizes desire and choice by distinguishing the objects of desire. Second, to avoid the conflict, not only must there be two objects, but if one of the objects is an action of ours, the other must be a remote object (i.e. not an action of ours). Finally, I will draw the conclusion that if desires don’t compete, one can’t be stronger than another, so therefore in Edwards view we don’t choose according to our strongest desire.
John Locke States that Desire Can Conflict with Choice, but Edwards Harmonizes Desire and Choice by Distinguishing the Objects of Desire
In part I.I, Edwards engages John Locke’s work “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding”. Locke states that choice A) only involves our actions and B) immediately gives rise to those actions. This highlights the difference between choice and desire because desire may involve things beside our actions. Locke argues that we can make a choice which tends to produce one result and desire the opposite result. By this conflict between desire and choice, we can distinguish desire from choice. We can make choice A, which leads to our action B, which leads to state of affairs C, while at the same time we have desire D for the opposite of C or ~C.i
Edwards objects to Locke’s claim that choice and desire can be contrary. ii Edwards’ basis of objection is not a causal relationship between desire and choice, but rather his basis is an insufficient distinction between desire and choice. If we desire and choose the same thing, it is difficult to distinguish when desire ends and choice begins. Edwards disagrees that a distinction between desire and choice may be established on the basis of conflicts between the two. Instead, the only basis of distinction between the two is that choice relates directly to our action, whereas desire relates to things beside our actions.
Locke stated that choice only involves our actions, whereas desire may relate to things beside our actions. Edwards agrees with this. Where Edwards disagrees is that based on this we can conclude that desire and choice conflict. Locke argued: we make choice A, which leads to our action B, which leads to state of affairs C, while at the same time we have desire D, for the opposite of state of affairs C, ~C. Edwards notes that there is no conflict between desire and choice, because the objects are different. Choice A has action B as its object, whereas desire D has ~C as its object. Since they have different objects, they don’t conflict.
To Avoid the Conflict, Not Only Must there be Two Objects, but If One of the Objects Is an Action of Ours, the Other Must Be a Remote Object (I.E. Not an Action of Ours)
Edwards leverages this argument in part III.V by arguing along these lines:
1. Some falsely argue the unregenerate can’t perform their spiritual duties, but do desire and endeavor to, so they are excusable.
2. This entails the contradiction that we are inclined and disinclined to the same thing
3. Obedience consists in the inclination itself
4. The inclination is itself the choice
5. “Desire without performance” is a phrase sometimes used, but it's improper as the desire relates to something future or something else is the object of desire. (i.e. someone might say a drunk doesn't want to drink the drink he's drinking, meaning: a drunk who desires to avoid drinking “someday” so he can keep his money)
6. This “indirect willingness” falls short of any virtue or even partial obedience to God’s command
7. “Sincerity” in indirect willingness doesn’t make it any better, people can be sincere about bad things.
I plan on addressing this argument in a separate post. For right now, I am just trying to highlight the difference between Edwards and modern Calvinists.
Points 2 & 5 come from Edwards arguments above about distinct objects. For Edwards, saying someone desires to obey God’s commands and chooses not to, is an illogical confusion of two distinct objects of desire. The unregenerate has sinful desires, even if they don’t desire some of the associated consequences.
But let’s say Edwards’ objector in part III.V claims the only reason Edwards arrived at the contradiction of desiring and not desiring one object is by conflating desire and choice. It’s not that we desire and don’t desire the same act. Desiring to choose A and desiring to choose B have two distinct objects: choice A and choice B. Thus we can want to choose in accordance with God’s law, but at the same time want to choose against God’s law.
Edwards provided his two part response already in part I.I and in point 5 of his argument. First, desire must relate to a remote object. Second, if the desire is for choice, desire becomes indistinct for choice. Not only do there have to be two objects (to avoid the conflict of two desires on one object) but the other object has to be something remote and cannot involve an action on our part. So desiring to choose A and B is not possible. If one desires to choose A, they can desire the effects of choosing B, but they can’t desire to choose B. In the example of the drunk, if he desires to drink, he can’t desire to walk out of the bar, even if he can desire the consequences of walking away: keeping his money. Because drinking and walking out are both actions on the drunks’ part, he cannot desire both at the same time. The alternative desire has to be for something remote, not an action on his part.
If Desires Don’t Compete, One Can’t Be Stronger than Another
From this I will carefully draw a two conclusions which I think rule out the idea that we choose according to our strongest desire. The problem I have is with the word strongest, which implies two or more desires.
First, for Edwards, it is impossible to have a “strongest” desire with respect to one object. Since there cannot be two competing desires with respect to an object, one cannot be stronger than another.
Second, even though a person may simultaneously have two desires for two separate objects, if one of those objects was for that persons’ action or choice, the other couldn’t be. The other desire must be for some remote object, otherwise desire would be conceptually indistinct from choice. The desires didn’t compete such that the strongest comes out victorious. They don’t compete for our action, because one relates to our action and the other doesn’t.
In short, Edwards rules out the notion that our strongest desires determine our choices by saying:
1) reason determines our choices
2) desire can’t conflict with desire with respect to one object (i.e. one can’t be stronger than the other, because there is no other)
3) desire, when conceptually distinct from choice, must relate to a remote object (i.e. something other than our action)
This seems like a minor difference in a small detail between a Calvinist over 100 years ago and Calvinists today. Who cares? Well, what I find interesting is that Calvinists today say they got their notion from Edwards. Both Tchividjianiii and R.C. Sprouliv make this claim. Seems like a case of Edwardian eisegesis.
And additional error Sproul makes is that Edwards didn't say the will is free, he said the person is (or at least sometimes is) free to execute the will's commands. For more on Edwards' view, please see this post.
i For he that shall turn his thoughts inwards upon what passes in his mind when he wills, shall see that the will or power of volition is conversant about nothing but our own actions ; terminates there ; and reaches no further ; and that volition is nothing but that particular determination of the mind, whereby, barely by a thought the mind endeavours to give rise, continuation, or stop, to any action which it takes to be in its power. This, well considered, plainly shows that the will is perfectly distinguished from desire which, in the very same action, may have a quite contrary tendency from that which our will sets us upon. A man, whom I cannot deny, may oblige me to use persuasions to another, which, at the same time I am speaking, I may wish may not prevail on him. In this case, it is plain the will and desire run counter. I will the action; that tends one way, whilst my desire tends another, and that the direct contrary way. – An Essay Concerning Human Understanding
ii I do not suppose, that Will and Desire are words of precisely the same signification: Will seems to be a word of more general signification, extending to things present and absent. Desire respects something absent. I may prefer my present situation and posture, suppose sitting still, or having my eyes open, and so may will it. But yet I cannot think they are so entirely distinct, that they can ever be properly said to run counter. A man never, in any instance, wills any thing contrary to his desires, or desires any thing contrary to his will. The forementioned instance, which Mr. Locke produces, is no proof that he ever does. He may, on some consideration or other will to utter speeches which have a tendency to persuade another and still may desire that they may not persuade him; but yet his Will and Desire do not run counter all: the thing which he wills, the very same he desires; and he does not will a thing, and desire the contrary, in any particular. In this instance, it is not carefully observed, what is the thing willed, and what is the thing desired: if it were, it would be found, that Will and Desire do not clash in the least. The thing willed on some consideration, is to utter such words; and certainly, the same consideration so influences him, that he does not desire the contrary; all things considered, he chooses to utter such words, and does not desire not to utter them. And so as to the thing which Mr. Locke speaks of as desired, viz. That the words, though they tend to persuade, should not be effectual to that end, his Will is not contrary to this; he does not will that they should be effectual, but rather wills that they should not, as he desires. In order to prove that the Will and Desire may run counter, it should be shown that they may be contrary one to the other in the same thing, or with respect to the very same object of Will or Desire: but here the objects are two; and in each, taken by themselves, the Will and Desire agree. And it is no wonder that they should not agree in different things, though but little distinguished in their nature. The Will may not agree with the Will, nor Desire agree with Desire, in different things. As in this very instance which Mr. Locke mentions, a person may, on some consideration, desire to use persuasions, and at the same time may desire they may not prevail; but yet nobody will say, that Desire runs counter to Desire; or that this proves that Desire is perfectly a distinct thing from Desire. part I.I
iii> Tchividjian states Edwards' thesis is that "we are free to choose that which we most desire". (link)
iv "Christian thinkers have given us two very important definitions of free will. We will consider first the definition offered by Jonathan Edwards in his classic work, On the freedom of the Will.
Edwards defined the will as "the mind choosing." Before we can ever make moral choices we must first have some idea of what it is we are choosing. Our selection is then based upon what the mind approves or rejects. Our understanding of values has a crucial role to play in our decision-making. My inclinations and motives as well as my actual choices are shaped by my mind. Again, if the mind is not involved, then the choice is made for no reason and with no reason. It is then an arbitrary and morally meaningless act. Instinct and choice are two different things.
A second definition of free will is "the ability to choose what we want." This rests on the important foundation of human desire. To have free will is to be able to choose according to our desires. Here desire plays the vital role of providing a motivation or a reason for making a choice.
Now for the tricky part. According to Edwards a human being is not only free to choose what he desires he must choose what he desires to choose at all. What I call Edwards's Law of Choice is this: "The will always chooses according to its strongest inclination at the moment." This means that that every choice is free and every choice is determined.
I said this was tricky. This sounds like a blatant contradiction to say that every choice is free and yet every choice is determined. But "determined" here does not mean that some external force coerces the will. Rather it refers to one's internal motivation or desire. In shorthand the law is this: Our choices are determined by our desires. They remain our choices because they are motivated by our own desires. This is what we call self-determination, which is the essence of freedom." - RC Spoul Chosen by God p. 53-5. Tyndale House 1986.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Sunday, June 1, 2008
I had asked: It rained this afternoon. Was it absolutely impossible for God to create a world which didn’t include rain this afternoon?
TF requested clarification, so I am providing it…
My question was not intended to be a puzzle, but I will see if I can clarify. Since I am not sure what you think I will go with a sort of drag net approach.
Given whatever existed before the first act, was it absolutely impossible for God to create a world which didn’t include rain on May 31, 2008 in the afternoon?
- Where the “first act” is either creation or whatever else you might consider God’s first act.
- Where “first” probably means temporal order but if you believe in atemporal, but logically sequenced, actions, then logical order.
- Where “act” means you would no longer just say “God is XYZ”, but “God does (or did) XYZ”.
- Where “act” includes not only physical motion but also spiritual action or anything else you consider action.
- Where “whatever existed” includes God’s nature and council and whatever else you think existed inactively before God’s first act.
- Where “absolutely impossible” means that not only did God create the world as He did, but He had to. And not only did God not create anything different than He did, but He could not have created the world any differently.
- Where “absolutely impossible” is not a sense which excludes some things from consideration, but rather on that includes all things which existed before the first act.
- And “rain on May 31, 2008 in the afternoon” means drops of water coming from the clouds yesterday after 12PM or rap artists with so much cash that they tossed it in the air and watched it fall all around themselves and their crew.
Kindly permit me to ask a third question which again I think has an equivalent foundation to the first and second. John the Baptist claimed God could raise up children of Abraham out of stones. Was John right?
With great presumption on my part I will press my luck and ask a fourth and impertinent question. If I ask does God have LFW, is your response “LFW doesn’t exist” or “don’t know, don’t care”?