Thursday, July 2, 2009

Determinist 'Common Men'

Hard on the heels of my “the common man has a libertarian definition of choose” claim is Paul’s retort that not all common men are libertarians. (link) Paul cites a survey which he mistakenly attributes to Eddy Nahmias, Jason Turner, Steve Morris but was actually conducted by Thomas Nadelhoffer and Adam Feltz as a follow on study to the original survey. (link) The original survey can be found here. Both surveys seem to favor determinism, but only the original study points out it's own shortcomings, openly discusses them and appeals to others to fix them.

The first study states: "we view these results as preliminary, not conclusive, and hence as motivation for further research on folk intuitions about freedom and responsibility and for further consideration of the role such intuitions should play in the free will debate" and "A potential problem more specific to our studies is that the presence of determinism might not have been salient enough in the scenarios... we agree that the more salient determinism is in the scenarios, the more significant the results would be (see Black & Tweedale, 2002)" and "if one is able to find a way to increase the salience of determinism without masking it with a different free-will threat, we welcome the attempt.

Let's look at how this problem plays out in the second study that Paul cites. In Thomas Nadelhoffer and Adam Feltz study 105 participants in three groups answered 'yes' 30 to 52% of the time to the question: do you think that our actions can be free if all of them are entirely determined by our genes, our neuro-physiology, and our upbringing?

How overt is determinism? On the one hand 'determined' is in the question. On the other hand, any contribution to determinism via external forces (i.e. our circumstances) is explicitly ruled out: 'entirely determined by our genes, neuro-physiology and upbringing'. But that's the real fear about determinism: that something outside of us determines what we do. Our genes, neuro-physiology, and upbringing are a significant part of our personality or character or self. So apparently the question assumes self-determination and excludes the treating aspects of determinism.

Now it seems to me that in determinism, given our genes, neuro-physiology, and upbringing external circumstances determine our actions. It's like throwing a ball against a wall. If the wall is at a 90 degree angle, a ball thrown straight at the wall will bounce one way, but if the wall is at some other angle the ball will bounce another way. So the "angle of the wall" (i.e. our genes...) is a contributing factor. But given the wall is 90 degrees, what really determines the outcome is if the ball comes in straight or from some angle. And that's intuitively threatening. But it's not just omitted from the question; the question precludes it.

Perhaps determinists might argue that it really is only stuff internal to us that does the determining and not things external to us. But libertarians would have their retorts as well. In that case, the whole discussion seems to be assumed in favor of determinism in the survey question.

Had the survey question disclosed that our genes, neuro-physiology, and upbringing themselves were predetermined and eternal factors play a major role in determining what we do, the results might have been different. At best, threatening factors were omitted and at worst, the question could be read in a libertarian way (i.e. we self-determine our actions and given the circumstances we could self-determine this or that).

But there's a second problem with the way the question could be read. Let's assume it's read as as determinism. Might people be tempted to answer it, given the assumption determinism is true?

Before this last election, I pushed as hard as I could for McCain, but now that it’s over and my side lost, I support Obama. I used to be a Calvinist. When I first became one, I didn’t stop witnessing or trying to do the right thing, or feel hopeless. Not only did my soteriology change, but all the underlying assumptions changed with it.

That “if” in the survey question is a big “if”. It makes me assume I am on the loosing side of the determinism/LFW debate. Between compatiblism or hard determinism, I would go with compatiblism. So I might have answered yes to the question. If I find out I was wrong about Arminianism, I wouldn’t curse God and die, nor would I eat, drink and be merry; I would become a Calvinist. There’s a huge difference between saying your notion of freedom holds you back from determinism and saying your notion of freedom is so strong you would not modify it even if you knew for a fact you were wrong.

Now I don't envy the task of coming up with a fair and balanced survey - rigging the game would be easy but coming up with reliable results would be hard. But I do think it's fair to discount the results given the wording used.

But leaving that aside, it seems implausible that between 30 and 52% of the population don't use the normal definition of 'choose'. Wouldn't we expect to see their definition in the dictionary? If that many people were OK with some determinist notions, it’s far more likely they use the normal definition of choose and are unaware of the conflict.


Bob Brewer said...


Many polls and surveys provide inaccurate information due to the way questions are asked. Election years are notorious for skewing poles in favor of one candidate's position or another. The one Paul used is a great example of a biased poll that seeks to direct answers rather then to find answers.

Based on modern psycology and or psychiatry that shifts the blame for ones actions to environment, genes, upbringing etc... I would not be surprised, based on how the question was phrased, to find that 30-50% of people would believe that their own actions were inevitable. If a person's actions are inevitable then a person can make the claim that he can't be held responsible for those actions. A very alluring philosphy for the sinner.

I wonder how many of the people who would appeal to "fate" as an excuse for their own actions would allow the same excuse for those who wrong them? Not many I would guess.

We arrest people for breaking the law because we believe that they had a choice between two options, either to obey the law or to break the law. They choose to break it so they pay the prescribed penalty.

There is a trend in our modern society that seeks to eliminate all accountability by blaming it on some external or internal determining factor. Indeed this trend seems to be one of the most destructive factors in our society today.

All of that said if we were to take a simple survey of folks and ask them this question, "Do you believe that you are free to choose what you wear, what you believe, what you eat etc...?" How many of them would answer yes? I would venture to guess 99% unless we interviewed a high percentage of NeoCalvinists.

Thanks for letting me ramble.

Sincerely in Christ,


Paul Manata said...


if we're going to deny the empirical evidence then how could you support the claim that "all common men are libertarians?" Wouldn't you need to roll up your sleeves and do the dirty work of polling them? Or is this just an a priori assumption y'all have? Or, only if the polls come out in your favor are they "accurate"?

Anyway, thanks for gutting one of Dan's crucial premises.

Oh, BTW Bob, Calvinists would answer "yes" to your question "Are we free to choose what clothes to wear." Begging the question isn't usually helpful in discussions.

Anyway, hey Dan, I hope you will admit that your argument is completely finished.



bossmanham said...

Oh, BTW Bob, Calvinists would answer "yes" to your question "Are we free to choose what clothes to wear."


A good follow-up question to ask the Manta would be what he means when he says Calvinists believe we are free to choose what we wear. His own theology obviously precludes a true, libertarian choice of a or b (or any subsequent sets of clothes he may have). So, has God determined the choice that only appears apparent to us in our finite capacity, or does our greatest desire actually determine which set of clothes we put on, or does God make us willing to choose a certain set of clothes?

Robert said...

Hello Brennon,[part 1]

“A good follow-up question to ask the Manta would be what he means when he says Calvinists believe we are free to choose what we wear.”

Was your question is going to is the dishonesty of necessatarian calvinists when they play their semantic word games when talking about free will. Most of us fully and easily understand that when for example I say to a child at the huge children’s toy store, TOYS R US: “ you can have any toy in the store, just choose one”. That I am saying to the child and that I mean to say, and I am not engaging in any semantic word games, THAT THE CHILD HAS A CHOICE about which toy they will select. I am not saying they can choose every toy in the store. I am however saying that while there are many different toys available and accessible to choose from, the child is to choose one from these different possibilities. The child also understands that the selection is up to him/her and that they are not being forced or coerced into making the choice that they end up making. All of this is common sense, all of it based upon the ordinary understanding of what it means to HAVE A CHOICE. And yet all of this is denied by calvinist necessatarians. Kant the famous German philosopher in discussing the issue of free will said of those who described themselves as “compatibilists” said they were engaging in a “wretched subterfuge.” A subterfuge is a “trick”. It is like when a professional stage magician misdirects your attention away from where they are making their move which is essential to the trick by diverting and distracting your attention to look at what the want you to see so that you miss what they are really doing. Compatibilists are no different except their “trick” is done by means of words upon the unwary. Their trick goes like this: they carefully define free will so that it sounds like what most people mean by free will and yet in reality their meaning if very different and in fact quite antithetical to the ordinary understanding of free will, the ordinary understanding of HAVING A CHOICE.

How doe they do this? By getting you to focus upon the words “I act freely when I DO WHAT I WANT. That is the misdirection that is what they want you to focus upon while they do their semantic trick. The reason this semantic trick works is that most people when you tell them that they can “do what they want” assume that that means they HAVE A CHOICE. And having a choice, that they could do this or do that or not do this or not do that, or choose whatever they want to choose from among the accessible and available options that are present for them to choose from. But that is not at all what the sneaky determinist means by “acting freely” or “doing what you want.” You see in their view if everything is in fact necessitated, then in fact WE NEVER EVER HAVE A CHOICE. And if we never ever have a choice, then it is not a case where we could choose to do this or do that, WE HAVE TO DO, what we were necessitated to do. If we choose A it because we had to choose A, and it was impossible for us to do otherwise than to choose A. But is that what most people mean whey they speak of having free will? Is that what most people mean when they speak of "I can do whatever I want to do”? No. These common expressions all presuppose that the person HAD A CHOICE that they could do this or do that, that neither option is forced upon them, neither option is coerced, that they could do either option.


Robert said...

Hello Brennon, [part 2]

What the necessatarian will also do is to quibble over the meaning of word like “choice”, “choosing”, “having a choice,” and the word “can”. They know exactly what most people mean by free will. And I am not even bothered that they deny the common understanding of free will, of having choices. Where the “wretched subterfuge” comes in is in their attempt to try to pass off their meaning for the common meaning when using the same terms. It is very similar to how cults will use common Christian terms but with very different meanings behind the terms then what Christians mean. So they can sound like Christians when in reality they are talking about something completely different. Likewise, the necessatarian wants to sound like someone who believes in free will, but the meaning in their words is very different than what most others mean by the same words.

There is a very easy way to smoke out the necessatarian, to get the coon out of the tree, to flush the fox: see whether or not they believe that we ever have a choice. You see free will in the ordinary and common usage and meaning involves not just doing what you want to do, but having a choice as to what you do.

Brennon the necessatarian you cite here has been playing his semantic games, doing his compatibilist magic tricks for a while. He gets very upset when you show people how his “trick” is done.

Brennon, you brought up an excellent example that if answered honesty would smoke him out, would reveal his trick for all to see. The question is: when we are putting our clothes on do we have choices as to what we wear? Now most people who are not out to deceive, not out to trick, not out to mislead, would simply answer: of course I have choices when it comes to what clothes that I wear. I have choices as to the color of my socks. I have choices as to which underwear I will put on. I have choices as to which pants and what type of pants I put on. I have choices as to what shirts and/or jackets I put on. If I wear a tie I have choices about which tie to put on. And that is just talking about men! If women are involved the choices multiply still further and include their make up and jewelry. The point is that we have all sorts of choices when it comes to how we dress. And nearly everybody understands this and experiences this daily.

But not the necessatarian compatibilist calvinist. For her since every event is predecided by God (cf. “God ordaineth whatsoever comes to pass” with no exceptions). WE NEVER EVER HAVE A CHOICE. Now you might think that you have choices when it comes to something like what clothes you will wear. Not if the necessatarian belief of exhaustive predeterminism is true. In that case, you may believe that you have choices about what to wear, but that belief would always be wrong. You thought you could wear either or the two blue ties that you were thinking would match well with the blue shirt you were choosing to wear. Nope, you cannot choose either tie, you can only choose the tie that God predecided that you would wear and it would be impossible for you to wear the choose to wear the other one. Now if a world where we never ever have a choice sounds bizarre and nonsensical, it is. And yet the necessatarian though he supposedly believes that that is the way the world really is: wants to fool the rest of us into thinking that they believe that we “act freely”, that in “doing what we want” we have free will. But it’s all a sham, all a con, all phony and fake, like those houses on Hollywood studio lots that look like real houses from the front but look behind the facade and you see the reality: it is only a front, there are mere two by fours and scaffolding holing up the facade, there is no real house. Likewise, the necessatarian can speak of choices, choosing, acting freely, free will, personal agency, etc. etc. but there is nothing behind the facade, its all fake.


Paul Manata said...

Well, according to Dan's argument, I just proved that we can choose on Calvinism. Now, to reject this conclusion, y'all must reject Dan's argument. QED ;-)

Check it out:

[1] Either Dan's argument is horribly flawed, or Calvinists can choose even if Calvinism is true.

[2] {deny a disjunct}

[3] {Show which conclusion follows from the disjunct you denied}

I'll be interested to see how y'all fill out the above disjunctive syllogism. Either way, I'll be happy.

Hate to say I told you so . . . but . . .

Robert said...

Hello Brennon, [part 3]

“His own theology obviously precludes a true, libertarian choice of a or b (or any subsequent sets of clothes he may have).”

Right, his own necessatarian beliefs preclude that we ever have a choice (that we could choose this or that, and that we have choices when it comes to mundane things such as choosing which clothes we will wear). Again, Brennon, just talk about whether we have choices or not and you smoke um right out! :-) You don’t need to get into sophisticated word games with them. Just talk about whether or not we ever have choices. We say that sometimes we do, their false view says that we never ever have choices.

“So, has God determined the choice that only appears apparent to us in our finite capacity, or does our greatest desire actually determine which set of clothes we put on, or does God make us willing to choose a certain set of clothes?”

Here you refer to another necessatarian trick. They will argue that we always do what we want to do, so that means we always act freely. That is what their phony contract states, but look at the small print on that phony contract that tries to pass as genuine free will. The fine print says that they believe that a person’s desires necessitate the person’s actions. So given certain desires then the person must do X, Y, or Z. The fine print says further that since God predecides and predetermines everything, then GOD PREDETERMINES EVERY DESIRE THAT WE HAVE AS WELL. So according to their phony contract we act freely when we choose to do what we want; but what they don’t tell poor “suckers” that they are trying to mislead and dupe is that we will only want what God wants us to want. So the person who has evil desires then acts on those desires is doing exactly what they were predetermined to do and it is impossible for them to do otherwise. But the person is acting “freely” they cry!

Assume for a moment that our desires do in fact necessitate our actions. What if I had a machine where I inserted desires into a person’s minds and so they had to act on whatever desires I placed in their minds, they could not do otherwise than what I wanted them to do and controlled them to do. Their every action would be controlled by me and my use of the machine. Would persons be acting freely when under the direct control of my machine? Not according to common sense and according to the ordinary understanding of free will. But if we define acting freely ***merely as*** doing what you want. Then the person under the control of my machine would be acting freely though they never had a choice and I determined their every action. That is what is dishonest about the compatibilist necessatarian and again why Kant aptly described it as a “wretched subterfuge.”

Their view completely eliminates our every having choices/having free will as normally understood, their view turns us into **radio-controlled humans**, into **puppets** whose every string is being pulled and controlled by the divine puppet master, into completely preprogrammed **robots**, and yet they want to call this acting freely, having free will. Right, and I have a bridge to sell ya in the middle of the Arizona dessert, any takers??? :-) :-)People need to keep their eyes open and not fall for the compatibilist semantic word tricks. Just ask simple questions, just ask about whether or not we have choices.


J.C. Thibodaux said...

Funny how according to Spurgeon, we're all 'born Arminian,' and its painted as such a defining trait of the devil (the 'first libertarian') and his seed, yet such cardinal trappings of our fallen nature have apparently become much less commonplace as of late according to some Calvinist sources.

Godismyjudge said...

Hi Paul,

Good to see you still have your sense of humor. I should probably finish responding to your first response, before getting to your latest comments.

God be with you,

bossmanham said...


Thanks for your response. I enjoyed reading it. You should start a blog.


Robert said...

Hello JC and Brennon,

“Funny how according to Spurgeon, we're all 'born Arminian,' and its painted as such a defining trait of the devil (the 'first libertarian') and his seed, yet such cardinal trappings of our fallen nature have apparently become much less commonplace as of late according to some Calvinist sources.”

It is very, very easy to explain how nearly everyone seems to be “born Arminian” (i.e., holding the Arminian view of free will, believing that we sometimes have choices, that Libertarian free will is real and present): when we are born we have some common sense and are surrounded by others who have lived in this real world where LFW exists so naturally the truth on free will is what we first learned. One only becomes a necessitarian after some serious de-programming away from the truth and reprogramming into the erroneous necessitarian view (they have to undergo their cult-like conversion experience so that they can then start arguing against common sense, common experience and the reality of our having choices, having free will as ordinarily understood).

Brennon you wrote:


Thanks for your response. I enjoyed reading it. You should start a blog.”

Thanks for the kind and encouraging words. Others have also suggested that I start a blog. While I enjoy posting at times, I have some real limitations on my time (including a thriving prison ministry that involves many inmates in various states, a wonderful spouse and family, local church commitments, etc. etc.) so at this time it will not happen due to time constraints. Besides young bucks like yourself are already doing a great job with your already existing blogs!


PS – perhaps if I was unmarried, childless, lived with my mother, was uninvolved in local church ministry, and had lots of time on the computer then it would be possible. But even if those were my personal circumstances, then I would be too involved in real world ministry, unlike some necessatarians we know who are living this very existence and consider their hours of time on the computer to be “ministry”! :-)

Andy Strauss said...

I was searching information on survey and your blog proved to be the best on the same. Please keep updating beauty tips in your blog.

Questions for a survey