Steve Hays added his thoughts to a discussion I had with Paul Manata on choice and determinism.
Steve says: Dan fails to distinguish between semantic equivocation and conceptual equivocation. Between the meaning of words and the meaning of ideas.The compatibilist/incompatibilist debate is fundamentally a debate over the concept of freedom, not the meaning of words in a dictionary.
This seems like a key issue, because it moves the debate away from exegesis to philosophy. The question is not if philosophy is permissible and useful in theology. I am not opposing all philosophy; only the practice of reading technical philosophical definitions into scripture.
Nor is the question if setting up technical definitions is normal philosophical behavior. But philosophy can be discussed in ordinary language by “tight wording” and specificity. Indeed scripture discusses philosophy in common language. To show that I have no hard feelings towards setting up special definitions in philosophical discussions, I will call the practice of exchanging “You can choose X” for “You can choose X if it’s your strongest desire” “the switcheroo” (since Steve doesn’t like the term “equivocation”).
Nor is the question if the dictionary decides theology. Steve correctly points out that the dictionary doesn’t engage in metaphysical analysis, but it does provide what would be the conclusion of such analysis by reporting common usage. The only weight I am asking the dictionary to carry is to provide the common sense meaning of the term “choose”. Steve granted that determinists make use of the switcheroo. But the dictionary doesn’t state “if it’s my strongest desire”, nor does it give Paul’s technical counter-definition. In fact, based on the dictionary’s definition (selecting between possible alternatives), we can rightly say that man never actually chooses; because the alternatives are never actually possible.
Nor is the question if common senses decides theology. Common sense tends to underestimate the devastating impact of sin, thus original sin and total depravity are ignored far more often then they should be. Steve asks why isn’t the switcheroo common sense, especially in light of the lack of empirical evidence of counterfactual choices. I reject the switcheroo as common sense, since it seems to be motivated by deterministic assumptions and it rules out some intuitive underpinnings of LFW. It may well be true that we don’t have imperial proof of libertarian freewill, but that doesn’t mean LFW isn’t intuitive. Normally we think we can choose the options we contemplate. Perhaps we are deceived and it’s an illusion, but believing so seems counter-intuitive. Further, it’s intuitive to think that ought implies can (i.e. we shouldn’t be held morally responsible for things predetermined before we were born). Since these are common sense notions, and the switcheroo rules them out, the switcheroo contradicts common sense. I didn’t provide the common sense arguments to prove LFW, only that to demonstrate that the common sense notion of choice rules out determinism. I believe we have LFW based on scripture; I take it on faith. But that’s not “common sense”, not everyone goes down that road.
Nor is the question if there is a relationship between desire and choice. I don’t reject the phrase "choosing according to our strongest desire", though I don’t use it because it’s gained a deterministic meaning. As we contemplate our options our strongest desire seems to shift. If we think about strawberry ice cream, it may become our strongest desire at that time, but the same happens when our thoughts shift to chocolate. Choice resolves indecision. So as oppose to a determinative causal relationship between desire and choice, I see a definitional one, the choice defines the strongest desire just before the choice as “just before the choice”.
Nor is the question if scripture talks about philosophy. When our Lord, using common language, taught the philosophy that “no man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him”, he received the common sense response: “this is an hard saying; who can hear it?” (John 6) But while total depravity provides some practical exceptions to the common sense “ought implies can”; I don’t think we should throw it out all together. After all, inability seems to be the results of sins by the able (either Adam or our own in the case of hardening).
Nor is the question if scripture uses anthropomorphisms or accommodated language. Steve brought up the fact that Mormons and Open Theists would find my approach to scripture too philosophical, since they take some statements literally, that I take as either anthropomorphic or “accommodated language” (i.e. “the hand of God” or divine repentance). But this is not an example of using philosophy to define scriptural terms; it’s an example of using philosophy to interpret scripture. The scripture is using ordinary language to describe something extraordinary: God. Literal interpretations are closed off by other truths found in other passages.
Rather the question is “is it OK to read technical philosophical definitions into the words of scripture, or should we stick to the common sense meaning of terms?” To even ask the question is to answer it.
When I approach scripture, I typically think in terms of at least two levels: “what it says” and “interpretation”. Once I figure out what a text says, it still may be open to multiple interpretations; depending on the tightness of the wording and the specificity. Interpretation is selecting one of those meanings based on the context and truths discovered in other passages. Interpretation may make use of philosophy; especially to make distinctions and reconcile apparent discrepancies. For example, I typically use Occham’s razor to reconcile apparent discrepancies.
But while I may use philosophy at the interpretation level, I don’t use it at the “what it says” level; more to the point, I don’t use philosophy to define biblical terms. Doing so seems to leave the scripture open to almost an unlimited amount of interpretations (as opposed to just a few). This seems to deliver a deathblow to the clarity of scripture. Further, it seems like a departure from the grammatical/historical analysis of scripture and philosophy informs scripture rather than the other way around.
So to restate my argument, the common notion of choose is specific enough to rule out deterministic interpretations and the bible uses the common notion of choose.