Sunday, April 1, 2012

Card Games and Choices

After the debate on if the bible teaches libertarian free will, Turretinfan share some general concerns about my approach and an example supporting his argument about possibilities being from our perspective.  I will address his general concerns first.


"During my recent debate on Compatible Free Will as opposed to Libertarian Free Will, which was supposed to be about whether the Bible teaches Libertarian Free Will and ended up being about whether the word "choose" requires Libertarian Free Will, I omitted to provide an illustration that I think would be helpful."


The debate was if the bible teaches libertarian free will.  As such I set out to show that the bible teaches libertarian free will.  Compatiblism was only an indirect concern, so that's why I didn't initially address it directly.  I did however address it directly when Turretinfan brought it up.  Turretinfan acted as if compatiblism is the entrenched and default view that needs to be knocked out of it's place from on top of the hill.  What Calvinists need to establish is not just that they say the word choice but that their sense is the same as scriptures' (and also sufficient to ground moral responsibility).  


On to Turretinfan's specific concern.  I argued that the bible teaches we choose, choose means to select from possibilities, selecting from possibilities is the essence of libertarian free will, therefore the bible teaches libertarian free will.  Turretinfan's initial response was we are able to choose from possibilities in the sense if you want chocolate, you can choose chocolate and if you want vanilla, you can choose vanilla.  This is the version of compatiblism popularized by Edwards and I addressed this at large in my rebuttal.  However, in the cross examination that followed, Turretinfan stated that choices are from our perspective and since we don't know God's decree, we do not take it into account.  Along those lines, he now says.




"My esteemed disputant has argued that "possibilities" in order to be "possible" must be possible in a libertarian sense.  This is certainly not the case, but I failed to provide one of the easiest and best illustrations of this point in the heat of the debate.

The illustration is simple: in common speech we use "possibilities" to refer to things that we know full well are mechanically deterministic.  Thus, for example, we speak about the possibility of drawing a "face card" as the next card in the deck, even though we know that it is already mechanically determined what card will be drawn next.


From our perspective, there are up to 52 possible next cards.  In reality, only the actual card sitting on top of the deck will be drawn.  The other 51 possibilities are not an illusion, they just reflect our ignorance.


The same kind of linguistic convention applies to our discussion about choice.  Even if our choices are determined, we don't know what has been determined.  Accordingly, from our perspective, there are alternative futures, although in reality God has already determined which of the two possibilities we will select."  (link)




I didn't say that " possibilities" in order to be possible, must be possible in a libertarian sense.  I argued that possibilities with respect to choices are, but not every time we say the word possibility, is it within the context of what we can choose.  But that's a minor point.



My primary response to the card player example is that the sense in which a card player says "the next card could be a 3 or a 5" is different than the sense in which people say "I can choose chocolate or not".  Probably most folks can already see that intuitively, but I will try to draw it out in detail.


First, let's establish what card players are not saying.  They are not saying someone or something can change a 3 to a 5 or vice versa. Likewise they know the card is not blank and will be filled out later.  Also, they are not saying the card can be 3 if they want it to be 3 or 5 if they want it to be 5.  So Turretinfan's point here is somewhat different than his previous point of "you can if you want to".  And this difference should not go unnoticed.   Turretinfan is switching horses from Edwards' "you can if you want to" to some other line of reasoning.  That's fine as such, if and only if he is willing to say Edwards (and he) were wrong.  In that case, his claim that determinists are speaking for the common man is far less plausible, given Calvinists are switching horses after 200 years of telling us they were speaking for the common man using the wrong theory.


Now let's see what the card player is saying.  He is trying to guess what the next card is.  If he has already seen four aces, he can rule out that the next card is an ace.  When a card player says 3 and 5 are possibilities; they are saying they have not ruled out 3 or 5, given what they know.  So their expression is only in a negative sense; what they are not saying, is in a  positive sense, both are possible. Card players are using epistemic possibilities; referring to what they have not logically ruled out. The cards being 3 or 5 does not contradict any other fact they are aware of.  They are not talking about causal possibilities as if some causal force converting a potential 3 into an actual 3 or something like that.


On the other hand, the normal sense of "I can eat ice cream" is both positive and causal, rather than negative and epistemic.  When I say I can eat ice cream, I am saying that's an ability I have or a capacity I have for action.  And in this sense, determinists have ruled out twofold possibilities, even in an epistemic sense.  Given God has determined one and only one future, such that no other future is possible, there cannot be multiple possible futures.  They may not know which future God has determined, but they know that more than one future cannot be possible.  


Let's take the scriptural statement that God can do all things.  Normally we call this omnipotence.  It's a positive assertion of God's power; what He can cause.  But just for kicks, let's reinterpret as an epistemic possibility.  God knows what He will do, so from His perspective, in an epistemic sense, He cannot do anything.  There is nothing unsettled in His knowledge.  This of course shows that the normal way to take the expression is about God's power, not His knowledge.  Hence Turretinfan is again using normal everyday terms in an abnormal way.  He is just using a different set of normal terms.  But the bible was written to the common man and it says we can choose.

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