Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Choose debate (from my POV)

Long ago I provide a list of scriptural passages that I thought taught freewill. (link) Turretinfan asked me: Why do any of the passages you cited, or the combination of passages, require anything more than a simple, Calvinistic free will? I asked him what is Calvinist free will, so I can respond? He said: “Calvinistic free will simply says that a choice is a determination or judgment by an animate being with respect to one object in preference to another object.” I responded: “Choice and preference can be synonyms, but to use a synonym to define its counterpart is somewhat bootstrapped.” (link)

I didn’t consider the “thesaurus approach” precise enough and pushed for a more rigorous definition, which Turretinfan was somewhat reluctant to provide, in fear that it would obscure rather than clarify the issue. Turretinfan warned me that philosophy may just confuse things. (link)

Gene Bridges said: we Calvinists have no burden of proof to prove "compatibilism," but the Libertarians MUST prove libertarianism since they're positing it as axiomatic. …GIMJ is doing a marvelous job of demonstrating that Arminianism has no exegetical argument against Calvinism of merit, it's all ethical and philosophical when the exegetical dress is removed. (link)

Consider this the father of the “choose” argument, but you should also meet the mother. I objected to Bernable’s use of a divided sense of freedom. (link) I thought that compatiblism fails since in some ultimate way we are not free given we are not free from determinism. TF responded again warning me of my use of philosophy. I was starting to think compatiblism could only survive by keeping its head down. I again asked TF to define choice and he gave me a definition that I thought sufficient to conflict with determinism.

Here’s a concise form of my argument against a divided sense of freedom:

P1: When one posits that idea A is logically compatible with idea B, he is
speaking of idea A in a compound sense, including idea B P2: compatiblism posits that the idea of being able to freely choose between 1 & 2 and the idea of being determined to 1 are logically consistent C1: Therefore, the compatiblist is speaking of being able to freely choose between 1 & 2 in a compound sense, including the idea of being determined to 1 P3: Compatiblists can say we are able to freely choose 2 only in a divided sense, excluding being determined to 1. C2: therefore, compatiblists speak both in a divided and compound sense at the same time. (link)
(more here)

Ok, so the three key takeaways: 1) I didn’t think compatiblism works but 2) I needed a sufficient definition of choice to demonstrate why, so the “thesaurus approach” would not do and 3) determinists had been reluctant to get more precise, criticizing me for being too philosophical. The dictionary was simply a tool to get me past problems 2 # 3.

OK, enter Paul Manata… In many ways Paul’s approach was the exact opposite of Turretinfan’s.

Here’s my initial argument: The American Heritage College Dictionary (3rd edition) defines choose as: to select from a number of possible alternatives. (similar definitions available here and here) Determinism includes the idea that preceding causal forces render all our actions necessary such that they cannot be otherwise. So a “predetermined choice” implies an “impossible possibility” and an “inalternate alternative”. Since the bible states that we have wills and choose, determinism isn’t consistent with the bible.(link)

Paul on the other hand had cited philosophers Kane and Goetz/Taliaferro and expressed concern that we frequently hear that "choice" just means some kind of libertarianism about the will. The second is like unto it: "You Calvinists must necessarily go against laymen, common sensical understandings of certain terms. Your position is counter-intuitive. Ordinary folk laugh at you." (link)

The posture is the exact opposite – Paul sees the threat coming from the common parlance and appeals to philosophers; TF had warned me of being too philosophical and wished for me to stick to common parlance. Further, Paul seems skeptical about classic compatiblism (i.e. #1). It literally seems like all my problems above (1 to 3) are gone and the main aspects of the debate were over before it started. I was standing ready to try to knock down all forms of compatibilism, but the attack never came.

So I criticize Kane and Paul criticizes the dictionary. When Paul seemed ready to grant that the common man’s view of choice conflicted with determinism, I moved in to close the discussion by saying scripture was written to the common man: if Paul admits the common man thinks of choice as libertarian, he should address the fact that the bible was written by common men and to the common man (i.e. to the people of Israel and the church, not the semi-compatiblist) and it uses the terms choice and choose. (link)

I don’t want to overestimate Turretinfan’s influence but he did advise Paul to minimize the definition of choose (link) and then Paul argued that 1 to 3 above are back on the table. (link)

So my argument:

P1: The bible says people have wills and choose P2: But choosing rules out determinism C1: Therefore, the bible rules out determinism. (link)

P2 is another way of saying compatibilism doesn't make sense, which Steve and TF have opposed. Compatibilism can knock out P2, but compatibilism has to stand to be able to do so.


Anonymous said...


Is this the formalized version of your dictionary argument that I asked for? If so, P2 is obviously the problem. You sought to defend, in this case, P2 with your argument from the dictionary and common man. I would like all of that formalized, i.e., your whole argument that I've been criticizing, i.e., the claims about common man and the dictionary, which I took to be, and many people took to be, and you intimated, were all crucial to this specific argument you were making by using the dictionary.

If this was not your attempt to fulfill my request that you formalize your argument, then disregard this comment.

bossmanham said...

Great responses all the way around, Dan. I enjoyed listening to your explanations, a neat change of pace that you chose to do of your free will (that's supposed to be funny).

jacob said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
natamllc said...

What I want to know is this about the choice chosen; "who chose to delete the post, was it God or the blog administrator's choice to choose to delete the post deleted by the administrator?"

In the combox we read:

"....Comment deleted
This post has been removed by a blog administrator...."

Another question, John's baptism, was it from God or man?

Finally, what about this verse cited below? Can you put the verse into context with your article? Who determines when someone sees the power of Satan and the power of God, Satan, God or man?

The verse:

Act 26:18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.'

Godismyjudge said...

Hi Paul,

Yes, it's my argument. I thought it would be important to show that all the issues regarding the commmon man and clarity of scripture were simply a reaction to the way you addressed P2. Even citing the dictionary itself was a reaction, albiet to TF not you.

God be with you,

Robert said...

Hello Dan,

You state your argument as:

"So my argument:

P1: The bible says people have wills and choose P2: But choosing rules out determinism C1: Therefore, the bible rules out determinism. (link)"

I have made this point before, but in my discussions with prominent academic philosophers, John Martin Fischer suggested that a determinist would allow for making choices but not for having choices. So the determinist would argue, that while in a fully determined world we may never have a choice, we would nevertheless make choices. It seems that your argument assumes that one can only make a choice if one has a choice. But if someone disagrees with you on this and instead believes that in a fully determined world we don't have choices but make choices, then your argument would have little persuasiveness for them.

They would say of premise 1 that the people in the bible do have wills and do choose and that would be compatible with a fully determined world. They would then say of premise 2 that "choosing" may occur in a fully determined world, you just would not have access to multiple alternative possibilities. So if the determinist makes the distinction that Fishcher makes your argument would not work with them.

If you changed the premises to something like:

P1- the bible says that people have choices, P2 -but having a choice precludes everything being predetermined, C1 - therefore the bible rules out exhaustive determinism.

Then you would have a strong argument against exhaustive determinism because having a choice and everything being predetermined are mutually exclusive (whichever is true negates the other necessarily).


Odeliya said...


I think I get use a bit of help in something here. That's were you lost me: " having and making choices" I think i got it, but not quite.
Explain please,again, in more simplified manner, if at all possible, what does "Having" a choice (and making it) means, in the context of the post? Vs. "not having" a choice, (but still making it).

Thank you,

Robert said...

Hello Odeliya,

“I think I get use a bit of help in something here. That's were you lost me: " having and making choices" I think i got it, but not quite.
Explain please, again, in more simplified manner, if at all possible, what does "Having" a choice (and making it) means, in the context of the post? Vs. "not having" a choice, (but still making it).”

Here is a mundane example from daily life, that I have used before. Say it is Friday night and my wife and I are deciding what restaurant we want to go to for dinner. And say we are deliberating between two restaurants (restaurant A is American food, restaurant B is Mexican food), thinking about which one we will choose to go to for dinner. If we have access to both options, to both restaurants we HAVE A CHOICE. To have a choice with respect to two options means **both** are accessible, you could select either one (we could choose or select the American restaurant or the Mexican restaurant). Call that scenario #1 where we really have a choice. We both have a choice and then make a choice from the accessible options.

Now consider scenario #2. And say unknown to us that restaurant B, the Mexican restaurant, was closed for remodeling on Friday night so we **did not have access** to it as a viable option. And say that my wife and I did not know it was closed for remodeling and we went ahead and chose the American restaurant. Did we make a choice? Yes, we selected the American restaurant. But with respect to choosing between the American or the Mexican restaurant, and having a choice, we did not have a choice, the only available option was the American restaurant.

Now multiply scenario #2 a billion times so that you find yourself in a world that is completely predetermined and necessitated by God. Now in such a world you may believe that you have a choice between the American or Mexican restaurants, but this belief that you have a choice would always be wrong. But in this world you would still make choices, if making a choice is defined as the action of picking or choosing or selecting. And in such a world you would always choose to pick the selection that you had been predetermined to pick or select. If God predetermined that you pick the American restaurant then you would pick the American restaurant and it would be impossible for you to pick the Mexican restaurant (or vice versa if God had predetermined that you pick the Mexican restaurant then you would pick the Mexican restaurant and it would be impossible for you to pick the American restaurant). In such a world you would do actions that could be described as making a choice BUT YOU WOULD NEVER EVER HAVE A CHOICE.

Free will as ordinarily understood means that you have a choice that you could choose one option or the other (though not simultaneously). The common denominator in all views of libertarian free will is the belief that we sometimes have choices and the fact reality corresponds with this belief so that in fact we do have a choice.

Hope that helps.


Robert said...

Hello Odeliya,

I want to write a follow up to my prior post about the distinction between having and making choices.

I want to invent a word to convey something. My word is “ubiquitousness”. We speak of something as “ubiquitousness” when it is so common, so frequent, seemingly everywhere present, so that it is difficult to think about or conceive its absence. Because God designed this world to be an environment where human persons would have choices/have free will as ordinarily understood, we find the ubiquitousness of free will in our daily experience.

It seems as if the reality of having choices is inescapable. We confront and experience the reality of having choices and then making choices so often that we take it for granted that we have choices and we find it hard to imagine situations where we make a choice without having a choice.

Yesterday I gave an example of a situation where with respect to going to two different restaurants for dinner due to circumstances out of our control and unknown to us, my wife and I made a choice though we did not have a choice with regard to whether we would go to the American or the Mexican restaurant.

Now due to the ubiquitousness of free will, if we think about my example carefully. While it is true that we did not have a choice with regard to the two restaurants (both restaurants were not live options since one was closed for remodeling), we still had another choice: to go to the American restaurant or to not go to a restaurant at all. And that is usually how it goes, while one or more options may not be accessible, there always seem to be still other options. And this fact is due to the ubiquitousness of free will. We really cannot escape it.

Even when we deny the reality of having and making choices, in our very denial we will have and make choices in regards to what arguments we will present against the reality of having choices AND ALSO in the very words we couch our arguments against having choices we will have and make choices. This shows that exhaustive determinism is self refuting, self stultifying. Even when you argue against having choices you are in fact having and making choices. So free will is an inescapable reality for human persons because God designed things this way. And again, due to the ubiquitousness of having and making choices it is hard for us to conceive of a situation or a world where we never ever have any choices.


Odeliya said...

Well, thank you dearly, Robert. I think i am up to speed now.

There is indeed some logical consequences of determinism I can't understand and reconsile. Appreciate Dan's latest response to Steve. I still have a few questions, but will get to it later, my dad is visiting USA for few weeks, got to spend time with him.


Robert said...

Hello Odeliya,

"There is indeed some logical consequences of determinism I can't understand and reconsile."

I think you undetstand them, it's just that they are so bizarre as to be hard to believe that someone who lives in **this world** could hold **that** philosophy/theology. I mean if you are going to argue that we make choices but never have choices, that this world is fully predetermined so that we never have a choice, that people are held responsible for their actions though they have to do what they do and only do what God wants them to do; that our belief that we have a choice is always false, that is a pretty big and nasty tasting pill to swallow. Most people will never come close to swallowing such a monstrosity. Some however, actually believe this nonsense and not only believe it but want to "convert" others to this same intellectual fantasy.

Odeliya do you understand my position now from what I wrote in the two previous posts?

"I still have a few questions, but will get to it later, my dad is visiting USA for few weeks, got to spend time with him."

Questions are always welcome from someone sincerely seeking the truth.

Enjoy the time with your dad and shelve all of these discussions as they do not compare in importance with family time. Enjoy it.