Friday, April 16, 2010

John Martin Fisher vs. the WCF

The Westminister Confession (a popular Calvinistic confession) states:

I. God has endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined good, or evil. (link)

Yet Fisher invites us to imaging a world in which causal determinism is true:

"even if he were to wake up to the headline, "Causal Determinism is True!" (and he were convinced of its truth). Nor need the compatibilist give up any of his basic metaphysical views — apparently apriori metaphysical truths that support his views about free will — simply because the theoretical physicists have established that the relevant probabilities are 100 percent rather than 99 percent. Wouldn't it be bizarre to give up a principle such as that the past is fixed and out of our control or that logical truths are fixed and out of our control, simply because one has been convinced that the probabilities in question are 100 percent rather than 99 percent. A compatibilist need not "flipflop" in this weird and unappealing way." (link)

Science is not going to discover that materialism or naturalism is true - man has an immaterial soul which includes our will. While Calvinists may in some sense 'baptize' Fisher's arguments (including ones that LFW makes choices appear random), they cannot really be accepted 'as is' without modification.

18 comments:

Daniel Gracely said...

Hi Dan,

I was just reading TurretinFan's (sp?) blog about John 6:44, in which you corresponded quite a bit with Mitch, Steve, etc. Rather than post my comment there, I thought I would contact you here, because the comments are a few weeks old on the other site.

I just wanted to mention that many problems re: John 6:44 are resolved if you take a wider lexical definition than what the standard lexicons claim regarding Gr. dunamai, i.e., "to be able", and Englshed as "can" ("No man can..."). In fact, Gr. dunamai often acts as the the word "can" does in INformal, not formal, English. That is, it can mean "may" or "wills to", not simply "to be able to". If you look up the occurrences of Gr. dunamai on BlueLetterBible, you will find numerous instances where "may" or "wills to" work equally well, if not better, than "can" as understood in formal English. For example, where the man importuned by his neighbor says "I cannot get up to give to you because my children, etc. are in bed with me." Obviously, the man was not literally saying he could not get up, but this is a typical way of expressing inability via the will. It's why even in our own society we ask someone, "Can you come to my party?", not "Will you come to my party?", which is actually what we're asking. Also, see Acts 17, where the Athenians ask Paul if they may (Gr. dunamai) know of the things Paul preaches. Again, obviously, they were not asking Paul whether or not they were able to, i.e. had the mental capacity to, understand!

The impact of understanding that Gr. dunamai means "may" in Jn. 6:44 is most significant. Earlier in Jn. 6 we are told that when Jesus perceived that they (the fed 5,000) would come to make Him king, he withdrew himself. Why? Because man may not come to God for bread alone, but by the provision necessary for his salvation, even the Spiritual Manna which comes down from heaven. So in Jn 6:44, the point is that No man MAY come to the Son except the Father draw him, i.e., via the Provision sent by command of the Father. Note here that Jn. 12, while it also speaks of the Father drawing through the provision of the Son, while supporting Jn. 6, merely REITERATES what Jn. 6 is stating within its own chapter, and so silences the claim by Calvinists that Arminians must jump to Jn. 12 for support. Everything pertaining to the Provision is already in Jn. 6, and thus it speaks of man’s coming to the Son SUBJUNCTIVELY, and so raises the contingent possibilities for man depending on whether or not the Father makes available the Provision (the Son, the Manna from heaven) which man must receive by his own faith, even as the Israelites had to go outside their tents to receive the manna which God provided them.

Too often theologians have relied on the standard lexicons, when in fact they have merely formed erroneous conclusions in certain instances. "Regeneration" is yet another instance, since the definition used by Calvinist theologians isn't even supported by the contemporary extra-biblical literature, if Thayer's examples are sufficient proof. But that is yet another matter.

Cordially,

Robert said...

Hello Dan,

"Science is not going to discover that materialism or naturalism is true - man has an immaterial soul which includes our will.”

Correct. This is also why it is sad to see some professing Christians who are theological determinists talking about human persons **as if** we are just mechanistic machines that do our actions as causal chains flow through us and necessitate our actions. These Calvinistic determinists have adopted the false ideas of the world in order to argue against the truth (i.e. that God created us in His image and that includes being genuine persons who have the capacity to have and make their own decisions, decisions that are caused by themselves but not necessitated by any necessitating factor either external or internal).

“While Calvinists may in some sense 'baptize' Fischer's arguments (including ones that LFW makes choices appear random), they cannot really be accepted 'as is' without modification.”

Right again. I know of one calvinist who tries to use (“baptizes”) Fischer’s semi-compatibilism in support of his calvin-ism. He correctly recognizes that the standard form of compatibilism has too many intractable problems and ought to be abandoned (though many of his cronies still hold to it, like a needles stuck in a broken record, they are still “stuck on Edwards version of compatibilism” and so are both in error and irrelevant to contemporary discussions of the issue).

And regarding Fischer’s own views, he is a very nice guy and you can have fruitful and rational and very positive discussions with him. He is not a believer and his own view of calvin-ism is that Calvin-ism eliminates human responsibility. And that calvin-ism is a form of fatalism. So if some calvinist wants to **borrow from** Fischer’s version of compatibilism in order to prop up his defective theological determinism. Be my guest, I hope he just keeps doing so, not comprehending that Fischer himself sees the problems with calvin-ism and sees that his semi-compatibilism does not support calvin-ism.

Robert

Godismyjudge said...

Hi Daniel Gracely,

While I understand that 'dunamai' has a broad semantic range, I do have to say I disagree with your overall approach here, since I think the context clearly selects the 'can' option vs. 'may'.

Let's look a little closer at 'can'. Sometimes there's an implicit qualification in the use of 'can'. When Luther said 'here I stand I can do no other', he means given his faith in Christ, he cannot recant. Similarly, honest Abe says he cannot tell a lie, he means without being dishonest. Generally, we talk about moral impossibilities (I cannot do such and such). While the statements say doing such and such is impossible, there's really an implicit qualification, doing such and such is impossible without doing something immoral.

Now, looking at Christ's statement ('no man can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him') first, the statement is backwards for the moral sense of can. If I say I can't do such and such, I mean such and such is a bad thing. But coming to Christ is a good thing, not a bad thing. Morality doesn't prohibit me from coming to Christ.

Second, the exception or qualification is explicit not implicit. When Christ says 'unless the Father draws him' he's providing the qualification explicitly. To read it in the 'may not' sense would be an unwarranted and unnecessary duplication of the qualification.

Finally, the additional context of "The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing" and "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?" make it reasonably clear that Christ is saying we need God's grace to come to Christ.

These reasons seem to be why every major translation goes with 'can' rather than 'may'.

God be with you,
Dan

Godismyjudge said...

Hi Robert,

He correctly recognizes that the standard form of compatibilism has too many intractable problems and ought to be abandoned

Compatiblism either amounts to 'it's a mystery' or semantic shell games to try to sound normal while holding an abnormal view.


It’s an interesting question if Calvinists are 'mechanical determinism' or not. Granted, they hold that man has an immaterial soul. But take for example the contrast between Dominicans and say Jonathan Edwards. The Dominicans said God’s concurrence with secondary causes determine the will. Edwards says the intellect determines the will. Hum??? Granted, the intellect is also part of the soul but on the other hand, Edwards does indeed seem to be saying that physical things and our perception of physical things determines the intellect which in turn determines the will. Further, Edwards is saying secondary causes (not simply God’s concurrence with them) determines the will. While most Calvinists, openly reject 'mechanical determinism' I am not quite sure Edwards version of determinism is off the hook on this charge. On the other hand, Clearly mechanical determinism is now what the founders of the WCF had in mind.

God be with you,
Dan

Daniel Gracely said...

Hi Dan,

Although in one sense I'm tempted to state reasons why I disagree with a number of things you said, I will try to limit my thoughts to just a few.

First, I am learning not to take at face value the reading of controversial passages simply because translators are in agreement. Numerous examples come to mind, but let me mention just one (for now). I can’t think of any translation that regards the three non-synonymous Hebrew words all Englished as “harden/ hardened” in the Pharaohic narrative in Exodus. The differences are most significant, but it seems as though the NAS has simply rubber-stamped the KJV. In fact, I was surprised about a year ago when I learned that the Septuagint has Greeked all three Hebrew words to a single Greek word. Thus it seems as if the KJV simply rubber-stamped the Septuagint. So, I would encourage you to be careful, or even more careful, about putting stock into unanimity of translation.

Lastly, I don’t think “may” in conjuction with “unless” would be grammatically redundant at all, since the “unless” leads to an additional thought. Redundancy would only occur if the appearance of “may” caused a reading that resulted in something like, “No man may come unless he comes.” Such a redundancy is not how John 6:44 reads, even if Gr. dunamai were translated “may”. In other words, there is no redundancy if, to offer another example, a father made a similar subjunctive statement to his son: “You may not go to the Yankees ball game unless I decide to afford you the ticket.” Of course, the father could simply say, “You may not go to the Yankees ball game.” But in the interest of not appearing arbitrarily mean, a father would probably give his reason (i.e., the introductory clause beginning with “unless”). Even so, if one says to a child, “You may not go out to play,” it would not be redundant to say “You may not go out to play unless you first clean your room.” These examples show that when “unless” introduces a clause that adds information following the subjunctive “may”, it does not cause a redundancy. And in John 6:44, the “unless” introduces a clause which gives additional information.

As for our views of what the primary context and issue of John 6 is about, we appear to have significantly different views. But if the reasons I have given so far do not seem convincing to you, I doubt I have others you would find more convincing, and so will probably let it go at that.

Take care,

Paul Manata said...

Dan, I wouldn't really call this a "vs." The WCF is simply describing the determinism that free will is compatible with. The WCF is not saying that we would not be free if causal, naturalistic determinism where true. Be that as it may, physicalism has severe problems and I do not believe that it can make room for moral responsibility. They can't account for irreducible purpose. They also have EAAN type questions to respond to, and so that right there gives Fischer a defeater for his belief in the compatibility between the two.

Also, there are many, many libertarians who are physicalists about man.

Paul Manata said...

"including ones that LFW makes choices appear random"

I believe Fischer does not argue in this way. I think he allows at least responsibility on both.

Also, you say "baptize" I say "plunder Egyptians." :-)

Godismyjudge said...

Hi Paul,

I wouldn't really call this a "vs." The WCF is simply describing the determinism that free will is compatible with. The WCF is not saying that we would not be free if causal, naturalistic determinism where true.

Humm... Turretinfan objects to the term determinism, but you seem OK with it. Why do you think that is?


By the way, I look forward to your upcoming post on the 'counterfactual dependence' version of Occhamism. There were some things you said in your normal Occhamism post that I considered commenting on, but I thought it best to wait to see what you had to say about the counterfactual dependence version (since that's me).

God be with you,
Dan

Paul Manata said...

Dan,

"Humm... Turretinfan objects to the term determinism, but you seem OK with it. Why do you think that is?"

Probably a definitional thing, I'd wager. If God's prior decree entails that I do what he decreed, and that I have no AP, and that I am not the *ultimate* source of my actions, then how isn't it determinism? I suspect TF wants to get away from mechanistic determinism or naturalistic assumptions. Now, I don't like talk of causal determinism since that brings in too many assumptions. We usually think of causality as intramundane and transitive; besides, there are just too many theories of causation and that muddies things.

BTW, be patient with that post since it could be a while as I'm kind of tired of the subject for the moment. :-)

Godismyjudge said...

Hi Paul,

Probably a definitional thing, I'd wager. If God's prior decree entails that I do what he decreed, and that I have no AP, and that I am not the *ultimate* source of my actions, then how isn't it determinism? I suspect TF wants to get away from mechanistic determinism or naturalistic assumptions. Now, I don't like talk of causal determinism since that brings in too many assumptions. We usually think of causality as intramundane and transitive; besides, there are just too many theories of causation and that muddies things.

Maybe we are actually getting somewhere... The main problem I have with Calvinism is causal determinism; but you seem to be hesitant about it. In fact, if you want to possit some other type of determinism (say logical determinism based on a foreknowledge argument) for the most part, i think my response is 'it doesn't count because it's not causal determinism'.

But regarding causal determinism, few Calvinists authors really address it, but the ones that do (say Turretin or Edwards) seem fairly clear. Are you generally on board with them when they say nothing can happen without a sufficent cause and given the whole cause of an event, that event could not have been others?

God be with you,
Dan

Paul Manata said...

Hi Dan,

I don't argue for determinism based on the foreknowledge argument, though I think it is damaging to any libertarian free will worth having. I do think logical determinsm is a serious threat to LFW, though, but let's leave that alone for the moment since I'm not arguing for it. I just call it divine determinism or theological determinism. By that I just mean, roughly, that God has ordained whatsoever comes to pass, and he did not so ordain anything because he "foresaw" it as a contingency. Given God's ordination of any human action whatever, x, x will necessarily come about, no human has the ability to do other than x (say, a consequent argument with "God's decree" taking the place of "conjunction of laws of nature and the state of the world"), and no human is the ultimate source of x (as in x originating ex nihilo from an action of that agent). Does that count as "determinism"?

Paul Helm has addressed the terminology of causal determinism in most of his works (cf. his debate w/ Hasker in the Blackwell Debates in Phil. Rel. book, for instance).

Godismyjudge said...

I suppose it does count as determinism, thought in a sense it sounds more like "not libertarianism". For a brief moment there I thought you might be open to contra-causal powers so long as logical determinism is maintained. Must have something I ate.

But one thing I do find it strange about what you are saying; if we lack contra-causal powers, then something is causally determining our actions. Presumably occationalism and naturalism are off the table. The Dominicans said God's concurrence with secondary causes determines the effects. Edwards/Turretin said the intellect is determined by perceptions of the outside world and it in turn determines the will. Turretinfan says “that reason demonstrates that the laws of cause and effect apply not only to the physical world but also to the spiritual world.” Any of these sound like you?

God be with you,
Dan

Paul Manata said...

Dan, of course, God is the primary cause of all things, but even Arminians agree with that.God's not the efficient cause of al things. And, God is not the secondary cause of any evil action (which is where the blame is ascribed). However, I try to stay away from that talk with most people since causality is so problematic gievn the numerous ways it is (mis)understood. As I said above, most people have in mind a intamundane, mechanistic, transitive view of causality (part of which accouts for the Arminian's constant refrain that "we're robots" on Calvinism). I'd say that God ordains whatsoever comes to pass, and given the decree, the thing will come to pass, and God does not decree because he "foresaw" it as a future contingency, he knows it because he decreed it.

I'm fine with not-libertarianism :-) I believe detailed theories of action are extra-biblical, all of them. I do belive that the Bible lays constraints. So, I believe that the Bible teaches some things that "wall in" where a theory of action may go. Similarly with, say, creation. Maybe OEC is true, maybe YEC. The details of the models will differ. However, Christians are constrained by some things, creation ex nihilo, for example. Likewise, I believe the Bible teaches some things about God, man, and how God governs his world, that LFW is off the table and the freedom and responsibility we have need to be compatible with God's decree settling whatever happens, leaving no APs, inability to do otherwise, etc. This picture seems sufficiently similar to "determinism," and so the Calvinist can profit from the works of compatibilists to "show" the compatibility to those outside the camp. That's a rough sketch.

Godismyjudge said...

Paul,

The difficulty I have with that approach is that it's hard for me to imagine the no-LFW view not entailing causal determinism. It's one thing to reject the term 'causal determinism' to fend off naturalistic straw men; but it's another to be indecicive about concept itself.

But that said, I certainly respect the approach and have no problem with the 'I am not sure' stance.

God be with you,
Dan

Paul Manata said...

Dan, you'll recall that I specified why I don't use the term, I din't claim that it isn't causal determinism. I said,

"Now, I don't like talk of causal determinism since that brings in too many assumptions. We usually think of causality as intramundane and transitive; besides, there are just too many theories of causation and that muddies things."

The "no-LFW" was more tongue-in-cheeck. At the very least, God-causation is sui-generis and it seems quite unlike everyday, ordinary cases of causation (causing the world to exist ex nihilo, anyone?). Similarly with concurrence. In ordinary every day talk, if we said of a person that "he cooperated with a muderer in the murder such that the murderer could not even have raised the knife without his cooperation," we'd call that guy blameworthy. No doubt this cooperation is sui-generis and there's some transitivity that fails to obtain.

Thus, just how I don't know thr "mechanics" of how God could cause the world to come into existence (I mean, other than vague comments), if I apply talk of causal determinism to the Calvinism debate, I'd have to say the same thing. However, what I have said--those things I believe the Bible teaches---is sufficient to view Calvinism (or, as we see it, Christianity) as deterministic and entailing the falsity of LFW.

Godismyjudge said...

Paul,

Setting aside possible misunderstandings/straw-men, and the ‘how’ (or mechanism) of causal determinism, are you comfortable with ‘that’ causal determinism is true? At least this much seems implied in denying what I understand to be LFW; or without it, I couldn’t be sure we are not equivocating.

God be with you,
Dan

Paul Manata said...

Dan, it seems obvious that some analysis of 'cause' could be accepted by my, for example, given a counterfactual theory of causation (i.e., “If A had not occurred, C would not have occurred”), then the view I described above would fit quite comfortably into that analysis. So, "If God had not decreed that I eat Lucky Charms at t, then I would not eat Lucky Charms at t." God's decree determines the event, and it is causal in the above sense. However, it seems to me people mean something else when they take umbrage with divine determinism than the above, to me(!), harmless notion. When they spell this out, it is then that I get uncomfortable with the term 'causal determinism' since it is clear to me that have a kind of rote, mechanistic, intramundane and transitive (where God becomes the author of evil) notion of causality. Then the discussion breaks down. For me, I can't see why it is hard for some to accept a notion of causation that is unlike our ordinary experiences of balls breaking windows and such. For example, James Anderson's fine book on paradox discusses that the divine might operate at another level of 'idenity' rather than our transitive notion of identity (i.e., a = c & b = c --> a = b). Perhaps the relation of transitivity doesn't hold. Or, less piously :-), Peter Unger argues (in his book on dualism and free will (All The Power in the World)) that we might need to broaden or change our strongly intuitive understanding of identity. So, these moves are made (I gave an example from a Christians as well as an atheist) often, and there's nothing untorward about them. But as long as non-Calvinists continue to view 'causal determinism' only the rote lines described above, I'll continue to say that I don't like talk of causal determinism. I dunno, does that clear anything up? Or are we like two ships sailing through the night? :-)

Godismyjudge said...

Or are we like two ships sailing through the night?

Probably we are equivocating. For example, when I say I am libertarian, I mean I like Ayn Rand!


God be with you,
Dan