Saturday, February 7, 2009

Capstone on "Choice" debate with Paul Manata

This is part of an ongoing discussion on determinism... (Paul, me, Paul, me, Paul, me, Paul, me, Paul)

Determinists require equivocation to survive. Since they don’t hold to common-sense meanings to terms like "choose", "alternative" and "possible", they develop slightly varied definitions to the terms, as opposed to getting rid of the words altogether.

Here’s a few examples of how this works. They might say “you can choose to eat the ice cream”, but what they mean is only “you can choose to eat the ice cream, if it’s your strongest desire.” More interestingly, they say “you could have chosen to eat the ice cream”, meaning “you could have chosen to eat the ice cream, if it had been your strongest desire”, when in fact it wasn’t your strongest desire. This example is inbound to the choice (i.e. the normal model is desire leads to choice, which leads to action and this example deals with desire leading to choice rather than choice leading to action). But they do the same thing on the outbound side of the choice. For example, they will say “you can eat the ice cream”, meaning “you can eat the ice cream if you choose to”, even though you can’t in fact choose to.

Paul Manata has provided some additional examples of how this equivocation works. For example: Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro in their book Naturalism say choice is an undetermined mental action, yet Paul seems comfortable understanding it as determined. 1

So what’s really going on with this equivocation? For a determinist to speak of the possibility of events that are not determined, they must get rid of the determining factors. Here’s an example: I argued that if determinism is true, given the causal forces at play, I cannot choose or do counterfactuals, and Paul argues that “compatibilists would agree that a different past, or decree, renders those alternatives the possible ones chosen”. The past and decree are the causal forces at play. I stated “given the causal forces at play, but Paul must remove them and input different ones to talk about the possibility of counterfactuals.

Why is hypothetically getting rid of determinism a problem for determinists? Consider the compatibility thesis that the ideas of determinism and freewill are compatible. Clearly they are not, if you must get rid of the determining factors to speak of freedom to choose the undetermined event. Again, given the determining factors, choosing the undetermined event is impossible. The two concepts of being determined to do X and the ability to choose non-X are incompatible. Thus the determinist must develop his notion of freewill without the ability to choose non-X.

My primary argument to Paul was that the common sense notion of “choose” includes the ability to choose non-X, so determinists can’t consistently use the common sense notion of choose. I supported this based on several dictionaries. So the notion that the determinists must develop in response to the problems above isn’t the common notion of choice. Paul responded in two ways, first by arguing that the compatiblist could accept dictionary definitions of “choose” and second by providing exotic, philosophical, counter-definitions of choice. I responded that the compatibilist can’t really accept the dictionary definition of choice; they must hold the exotic counter-definition and simply equivocate. I also pointed out that the bible was written in common language, so using the exotic counter-definition was unbiblical. 2

Of the nine dictionaries we examined, all but one used the words “possibilities” or “alternatives” to define choose.3 Alternatives are things that can be chosen (something a determinist can’t accept) and given the determining factors nothing but the predetermined events are possible. Only by removing the determining factors via hypothesis may the determinist speak of alternatives or possibilities.

Paul argues that Jews, Muslims and modern biblical scholars all hold to determinism and use the word choose, even though he doesn’t give an explanation of how that works. That’s true, but not relevant. How does their using the term prove they are not either unaware of their inconsistency or equivocating the exotic definition for the common one. Worse, Paul’s own quotes state the Jews held the common notion of choice – the very point I made and Paul questioned.

Paul argued that libertarian free will (LFW) is incoherent and choices amount to luck, which undermines responsibility. I responded that the bible teaches God has LFW, based on Genesis 1:1. God is the first cause, so the first cause wasn’t predetermined by preceding causes. This brings us to Paul’s latest response. All one simply needs to say is that God's choice wasn't indeterminite either. I'd even agree with Kane here. God doesn't have libertarian freedom. I don't think he has compatibilistic either. I believe his freedom is sui generous. Determinate and indeterminate are mutually exclusive and exhaustive catigories. Even if God’s freedom is absolutely unique (and no question in some ways it is), it’s either determinate or indeterminate. So saying God’s freedom is sui generous is no evasion of the force of my argument. The bible teaches God has LFW, therefore Christians cannot argue LFW is illogical.

1 Here’s Paul’s actual comment the only argument given against determinism was against physicalist determination. So, I could have left "undetermined" in the quote and added "physically" and not undermined divine-determination in the least. The result is simple, they say undetermined, Paul thinks determined. But Paul’s analysis is somewhat complex. They say undetermined, but argue against physical determinism. Why not read them as saying physically undetermined? Then distinguish between physical and divine determinism and assume they are OK with divine determinism. If they argue against that too, we can always fall back to determinism via fate or the stars. Of course the problem with Paul’s analysis is that “undetermined” is a statement about “what”, not “why”. It’s simply undetermined; no need to go into what’s not determining it.

2 Paul, being reformed, likely holds to the perspicuity (clarity) of scriptures, which entails scripture being written to the common man. Further, scripture is consistently addressed to the people of Israel and the Church.

3The one dictionary that didn’t use alternative or possibility was the Wiktionary that defines choose as simply elect, pick or decide; which are really synonyms rather than a definition. Paul call this situation a Mexican standoff, but if it’s that or the Alamo, I will let the reader judge.


The Seeking Disciple said...

Have you ever had any public debates with Calvinists? This is good stuff. I think you could challenge James White.

Godismyjudge said...

Hi Roy, No I haven't had any public debates with Calvinists. I doubt James White would be interested, but if was I would be. Thanks for the compliment.

God be with you,

bossmanham said...

It's silly to think that the writers of the Bible were trying to make it this hard by using words where they intend an exotic or unique definition of the word. If determinism is Biblical, the writers would have said so plainly, so their first century audience would understand.

But the Calvinist is forced by his/her philosophical system to do this to the text, otherwise they risk inconsistency. Ironically, they end up being inconsistent anyway.

Robert said...

Hello Bossmanham,

Dan’s original point is quite simple and yet a point that the necessatarians do not want to admit to be true: the vast majority of people hold to the ordinary meaning of free will, a meaning which involves libertarian free will and which is reflected in the dictionaries (Now whether that view is correct or not is a different issue). But an honest person will admit this to be true. Some necessatarians are not honest so they are arguing against this simple fact.

“It's silly to think that the writers of the Bible were trying to make it this hard by using words where they intend an exotic or unique definition of the word. If determinism is Biblical, the writers would have said so plainly, so their first century audience would understand.”

I believe this is a good and valid point. The writers of the bible use the same ordinary conception of having and making choices (i.e., the libertarian free will conception), throughout their writings.

Let’s consider a simple and clear example where the biblical writer is speaking about having and making a choice and his language clearly suggests that he holds the ordinary understanding of free will, not the necessitarian conception. The apostle Peter writes:

“Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves to God” (1 Pet. 2:16).

Peter is speaking to people who are quite familiar with slavery (there was a lot of it in the first century) and he uses the term “free men” meaning those who are not slaves. So he says to the Christians he is writing, that they **have freedom** and they **have a choice** (the choice they have is between using their freedom to cover or justify evil OR to use their freedom to be faithful bondslaves of God). It is clear that the ordinary meaning of free will is present here and Peter has this conception as do his readers.

But wait, the necessitarian says that everything is necessitated and so this passage cannot be referring to the ordinary meaning of free will as having and making choices. Let’s rewrite the passage as if the necessitarian view were correct, then what it would say is something like:

“Act as free [not in the ordinary meaning of free will] men [even though you really are not free and all of your actions are predetermined and necessitated by God] and do not use you [imaginary] freedom as a covering for evil but use [your imaginary freedom] as bondslaves of God.”

Injecting the false necessitarian ideas into this bible passage completely destroys its original and intended meaning. One does not need to be a bible scholar to understand the proper interpretation and meaning of this bible verse. And yet the necessitarian would have us believe that the ordinary meaning the meaning present in and presented in verses such as this one is false.

This brings up yet another problem with the necessitarian view: not only does it not fit the ordinary meaning and understanding of free will, which is present all over the bible, it also makes God into a misleading liar. If everything were in fact predetermined and necessitated by God (and God would certainly know that if it were true), and yet God has the biblical writers presenting verses such as this one by Peter (where the ordinary meaning of free will is clearly being presented), then God is intentionally misleading us in scripture (he has things presented in a way which he knows to be false and which he knows that ordinary people will take it in the ordinary way and yet be completely wrong).

I do not believe that, but believe the opposite: God presents it this way, and the biblical writers present it this way, because the ordinary meaning and understanding of free will is in fact the correct meaning and understanding of free will. It is the necessitarian who argues against the commonly held meaning and understanding. It is the necessitarian who sadly uses his freedom to justify a false theology and system, rather than serving God faithfully. It is ironic that the necessitarian ends up doing the very thing Peter tells believers not to do with their freedom (they use their freedom to attempt to justify something that is false, evil, and unbiblical while simultaneously attacking the truth and attacking the proper interpretation of the bible).


Odeliya said...

Hello Robert,

Very well said :)!,


you show admirable self restaint talking to Paul Manata, who openly calls you a liar and a cheat.

I don't consider communicating with him being worthy of my time, but may I mention, his understantanding of Jewish ( i presume, he means mainstream judaistic )view of FW is wrong.
It would help his credibility to spend a bit of time researching the issue. I was never a Judaistic scholar , just moderately -practically -involved, but even i see the holes...

God Bless you richly,

Robert said...

Dan I was thinking some more about your discussion of dictionary meanings of choice. Thomas Reid the philosopher of “common sense” also appealed to language as an indication of the truth about things. He spoke about how if you looked at ordinary language and usage, it reflects actual reality. Especially if you look at ordinary language utterances regarding choice and free will. Here is an example from Reid:

“We find in the structure of all languages, the distinction of acting and being acted upon, the distinction of action and agent, of quality and subject, and many others of the like kind; which shews that these distinctions are founded in the universal sense of mankind. We shall have frequent occasion to argue from the sense of mankind expressed in the structure of language; and therefore it was proper here to take notice of the force of arguments drawn from this topic.”

Reid also believed in what he called “first principles” which refers to beliefs that are universal and doubted only by skeptics. Moreland similarly speaks of beliefs that are incorrigible; Plantinga speaks of beliefs that are “basic”.

My own term for these kinds of beliefs are “inescapeables”. By this I mean certain beliefs and ideas that we have, that are so ingrained, so universal, that even when we argue against them we are necessarily engaged in them. An example is the belief that: my body is my body. I don’t’ go arguing for that belief nor doe other people, and yet when we make comments about say our own actions, the belief that our body is our body is inescapably present.

Here is Reid discussing “first principles”:

“All reasoning must be from first principles; and for first principles no other reason can be given but this, that, by the constitution of our nature, we are under a necessity of assenting to them. Such principles are parts of our constitution, no less than the power of thinking: reason can neither make nor destroy them; nor can do anything without them: it is like a telescope, which may help a man to see farther, who hath eyes; but, without eyes, a telescope shews nothing at all.”

Now where things get interesting is that Reid observes, correctly I believe, that it is not the common person that is skeptical about these kinds of beliefs, it is the skeptical philosopher or other person with an agenda to disbelieve some inescapable belief (or in our case here the necessitarian who **chooses** be skeptical of common sense beliefs in regards to choice and free will).

Reid makes an important point about these **skeptics**: what they argue with in their philosophizing (or theologizing), they in fact engage in, in their daily life practices. Their actual conduct in the real world betrays their espoused philosophy/theology.

Necessatarians are no different, they can espouse their necessitarian beliefs in discussions, but none of them actually lives out their necessitarian beliefs (they regularly think about and engage in the same beliefs about choices and free will as the rest of us do when engaged in our daily life).

Here is Reid talking about the contradiction between the skeptics’ profession of skepticism of common sense beliefs/first principles and their actual practices in daily life:

“Although some writers on this subject have disputed the authority of the senses, of memory, and of every human faculty, yet we find that such persons, in the conduct of life, in pursuing their ends, or in avoiding dangers, pay the same regard to the authority of their senses and other faculties, as the rest of mankind. By this they give us just ground to doubt of their candour in their professions of skepticism.
This, indeed, has always been the fate of the few that have professed skepticism, that, when they have done what they can to discredit their senses, they find themselves, after all, under a necessity of trusting to them. Mr. Hume has been so candid as to acknowledge this; and it is no less true of those who have not shewn the same candour; for I never heard that any sceptic run his head against a post, or stepped into a kennel, because he did not believe his eyes.”

Here is another clear statement from Reid:

“We find difficulty in accounting for our belief of these things; and some philosophers think that they have discovered good reasons for throwing it off. But it sticks fast, and the greatest sceptic finds that he must yield to it in his practice, while he wages war with it in speculation.”

I really like that last phrase: he must yield to it in his practice, while he engages war with it in speculation.”

That is precisely what is true of the necessitarian: he wages war against the ordinary understanding of free will ****when philosophizing/theologizing****, but in the real world, in daily life, they have and make choices and talk about having and making choices **just like everybody else**.

Reid believed that you could not directly argue for these “first principles”, these common sense and universally held beliefs. And yet the skeptics regularly attack these beliefs. Some philosophers are famous for attacking these types of beliefs.

Note what Reid says about these kinds of people:

“If any man should think fit to demand a proof that the thoughts he is successively conscious of, belong to one and the same thinking principle - - if he should demand a proof that he is the same person today as he was yesterday, or a year ago - - I know no proof that can be given him: he must be left to himself, either as a man that is lunatic, or as one who denies first principles, and is not to be reasoned with.”

Reid says we ought to leave these folks alone, as we would not attempt talking to or convincing a lunatic in a rational manner. Reid says that it is just about useless to try to reason with such a person (“and is not to be reasoned with”). I think we sometimes make this mistake when we try to engage a person who is intentionally holding onto and arguing for skepticism regarding some inescapable belief. If someone tries to argue that the external world does not exist, or that they do not have a mind, or that they do not control their body, etc. etc., I usually just ignore this kind of thing, just isn’t’ worth the time or effort.

And yet the necessitarian who denies that we ever have a choice is arguing just as foolishly, is also skeptical of an inescapable belief. Perhaps we make a mistake believing that we can reason with a necessitarian about his denial that we ever have a choice.

Reid makes another interesting point about these “first principles”. He says they flow out of our “constitution” (old word for our human nature or the way God designed us to be) that we have these beliefs because that is what God made us to believe. And if one first principle is questionable so are the rest as they come from the same source: God who designed us to think this way:

“How or when I got such first principles, upon which I build all my reasoning, I know not; for I had them before I can remember: but I am sure they are parts of my constitution, and that I cannot throw them off. That our thoughts and sensations must have a subject, which we call ourself, is not therefore an opinion got by reasoning, but a natural principle. That our sensations of touch indicate something external, extended, figured, hard or soft, is not a deduction of reason, but a natural principle. The belief of it, and the very conception of it, are equally parts of our constitution. If we are deceived in it, we are deceived by Him that made us, and there is no remedy.”

I like Reid’s point here: we are created in such a way by God that if our cognitive capacities are operating properly then we are going to have certain beliefs that are first principles and if we are deceived about one of these beliefs, then the deception goes to God himself.

I think free will is just such a case. Apparently, so did Reid who wrote:

“There are some points of belief so necessary, that, without them, a man would not be the being which God made him. These may be opposed in speculation, but it is impossible to root them out. In a speculative hour they seem to vanish, but in practice they resume their authority. This seems to be the case of those who hold the doctrine of necessity, and yet act as if they are free.”

If God created us to be capable of doing our own actions, of both having and making our own choices, of believing that we really have these choices. And yet in reality ****we never ever have choices****, then God is deceiving us. And we are then doubly deceived. First, through the way He made us, which leads us to believe that we have free will and have choices. Second, if in fact we do not have free will and we never ever have choices (and God knows this to be true because He has exhaustively determined every event), and yet God in scripture speaks to us **as if** we have free will and have choices, then the revelation is a deception as well.

I think Reid brings out some important points in this discussion of choice. The dictionary (like the structure of languages that Reid speaks about) reflects actual reality and actual practice. The reason that languages make the distinction between being acted upon and being the actor is because that is sometimes the reality. The reason that the word “choice” refers to selecting from options or choosing from alternatives, is because people really believe that they **are** choosing from alternatives when they make a choice, they **really are** selecting from options when making a choice. The words may be different in different languages and cultures, but the concepts of picking, selecting, choosing, choices, options, alternatives, possibilities, etc. etc. all reflect what ordinary people really believe about their intentional actions. And if Read is right, then we hold these beliefs because they are part of our constitution (the way God made us).

This also explains why these kinds of beliefs are so universal and why most of us (and most of us are not necessatarians) really believe that we sometimes have choices and strongly disagree with necessatarians who deny that we ever have any choices. God made us to have this belief (that when doing our intentional actions we sometimes have a choice) and our cognitive design plan is properly functioning when we arrive at the conclusion that we sometimes have choices. This is also why necessitarian beliefs seem so strange and contrary to most of us, these necessitarian beliefs are both false and they are not reality. The necessitarian claiming and arguing that we never ever have a choice, is in the same boat as the skeptic who claims and argues that the external world does not exist, or that we do not have minds, etc. etc. etc. etc. The necessitarian is denying a “first principle”, incorrigible belief, basic belief, inescapable reality.

Anyway I wanted to share some Thomas Reid with you because I thought it might further support what you are arguing here on your blog.


PS- thanks for the kind words Odeliya, tell me what you think of this as well.

Godismyjudge said...

Hi Odeliya,

Thanks for the encouragement and info. You should consider joining SEA.

God be with you,

Godismyjudge said...

Hi Robert,

Thanks for the "common sense" info from Reid. I agree with him about first principles (as opposed to the phlosopy of Kant).

God be with you,

Odeliya said...

Dear Dan,

Thank you for suggestion,I am surely not as knowledgable as people at SEA, but i will definitely look into it. Hopefully in summer.

I do like all of your posts.While you are a bit too tough with your opponents at times :)your replies are brilliant.
I enjoyed the "necessitarian" one as well. Turretinfan I do respect, he is polite,and good brother, but the lack of clear definitions seem to be calvinist's side downfall. They get somewhat vague when i try to get precise in my questioning, you know what i mean?

That is frustrating, for i dislike "preachere-se" language and generic substanceless posts ; in theol debates i like clarity.

But who's perfect, as my Rabbi would remind me, who is? Only a widow's husband ;)I should remember look in the mirror as well...

God's blessings,

Robert said...

Hello Odeliya,

“I do like all of your posts.While you are a bit too tough with your opponents at times :)your replies are brilliant.”

“Tough but brilliant”? I can handle that, if it’s true! :-)

“I enjoyed the "necessitarian" one as well. Turretinfan I do respect, he is polite,and good brother, but the lack of clear definitions seem to be calvinist's side downfall. They get somewhat vague when i try to get precise in my questioning, you know what i mean?”

Anybody who doesn’t answer questions forthrightly and directly and honestly, is just not someone you want to trust or dialogue with. I remind people all the time in teaching contexts, if you have the truth on something you need never fear questions, because the truth will always stand up to questions. It is liars and those advocating falsehoods that will not stand up to questions and often seek to avoid questions or suppress evidence or make things unclear and vague or ambiguous. I also remind students all the time, you cannot be thinking carefully nor critically: unless you are asking questions. Questions are good unless they come from someone who really doesn’t not want to know the truth and only wants to argue for some agenda that they have. Openness, sincere questions, free inquiry, are always good things for those seeking to further knowledge and understanding.

I mean if you really want to know the truth about something why would you ever be afraid of or not want questions???

“That is frustrating, for i dislike "preachere-se" language and generic substanceless posts ; in theol debates i like clarity.”

Lately I have appreciated philosophers who demonstrate clear and precise thinking more than theologians who often are neither clear nor precise! :-)

“But who's perfect, as my Rabbi would remind me, who is? Only a widow's husband ;)I should remember look in the mirror as well...”

That’s really funny, thanks for sharing that!


Paul Manata said...

Didn't know you highlighted our back n forth as one of your debates! I hope you and your readers find this as a decisive refutation.

Godismyjudge said...

Hi Paul,

Interesting rebuttle, but not near as effective as this one. (link) :-)

I will try to respond shortly.

God be with you,

Paul Manata said...

Hi Dan,

Yeah, King Neb is kind of a kook; I guess that's a consequence of holding to hyper-preterism.

You can respond if you want, not sure if I will. I think virftually every single Arminian/libertarian philosopher agrees with me, and the empirical data put the nail in the coffen that was your argument. To continue to defend your argument leads me to believe that you treat it as an unfalsifiable dogma, and there's little point to debating someone's "pet". Wouldn't you agree?

Godismyjudge said...

Hi Paul,

That's a good question. I first started discussing Calvinism with friends face to face or at least in private emails. At the time I felt we were seeking the truth together. As we debated the conversation moved deeper, explanations got sharper, and the root disagreement became more and more clear. I always held out hope to find a middle ground; something that would truly be satisfying to both sides. Some of that gets lost in blogging. One of the aspects of blogging I don’t like is the whole “popularity contest” and in debates the pressure to ‘save face’. Hardly the quest for truth I first undertook. Sometimes these factors do make me feel like just dropping it. So I guess I stay engaged while the conversation moves deeper, but leave off when people just start repeating things.

I guess it also depends on what you are doing. Apologetics? Polemics? Differing purposes require different levels of engagement. There's another even bigger issue. These conversations must happen without sin. If I find myself angry or resentful... I drop it.

God be with you,

Paul Manata said...


I couldn't agree with your thoughts more. I think we've found an area where we are in full agreement, finally :-)

I too seriously consider dropping blogging. This may be a reality very soon.