Now, as this relates to some of the recent discussions on this blog, the above is even more interesting in the situation of Dan the Arminian. He takes it as “just obvious” that the Bible teaches Libertarian Free Will (LFW). So obvious, in fact, that all one needs to see it is a King James and a Merriam-Webster. The Bible uses the word ‘choice,’ and Merriam-Webster defines ‘choice’ in libertarian fashion, thus the Bible teaches LFW. Now, the argument is a tad better than what I just expressed, but only a tad. In this post, I will make one last public attempt to get Dan to admit that his argument was not all he originally thought it to be. Though I find it generally unprofitable to debate Dan on these matters, I still like him. He is my favorite Arminian epologist, I think. Though I am unsure whether Dan will give in, I trust that most of the people who read this post—Arminian or Calvinist—will be bound to admit that his argument has been defeated. I will attempt to show that his argument fails to do the heavy lifting he wants it to do by: (i) offering several general critiques of his argument, (ii) offering an rebutting defeater1 of his main premise, and (iii) presenting libertarian philosophers who disagree with Dan. Before this, however, I will present the gist of his argument.
The Basics of Dan’s Argument
Here are some relevant quotes from Dan:
“the dictionary is better at establishing the laymen, common sensical understanding of terms.”
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.”
“So the dictionary definitions and common sense understanding of the terms do seem to rule out determinism.”
“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-compatibilist) and it uses the terms choice and choose.”
Putting these choice quotes together, we can construct an argument for Dan's position as something like this:
 The Bible uses the words choice and choose.
 The Bible was written by and to the common man.
 What common man understands the meaning of a word to be is the meaning the Bible applies to that word.
 The dictionary is the repository of what the common man means by any (every day) word.
 The dictionary defines choice and choose in libertarian fashion.
 Therefore, the Bible means choice and choose in a libertarian way.
 Determinism does not mean choice and choose in a libertarian way.
 The Bible is infallible.
 Therefore, determinism is false.
I take it that this is generally the position Dan defended and I critiqued when we debated it a few months ago. I will now demonstrate, in what I take to be the most cogent way I can express my disagreement, what is wrong with Dan’s argument, besides its obvious falsehood.
I. General Criticisms
1. First, what is the referent of “common man?” It appears to function as a static assortment of people. But statistical claims can, and many times do, represent changing assortments. Dan’s argument reminds one of the joke about the statistical report that a pedestrian is hit by a car every twenty minutes, to which comes the witty reply, “He must get awfully tired of that!” Socialists, when condemning the evils of Capitalism, frequently use the same kinds of “static assortment” arguments. These popular-level arguments not only treat all the wealth in the world as static (using the analogy of a finite, “set” pie), but the groups “poor” and “rich” as static too. However, these groups are changing. At times, those who were once in the “rich” group may find themselves, for various reasons, in the “poor” group, and vice versa. Most Americans, for instance, do not stay within the same income bracket for even ten years. So, these statistical claims are often nebulous, contentless concepts. They are not static. I dare say that how a “common man” in a stoic society defined terms would not be the same as how a “common man” in an Epicurean society defined terms. Forgetting this for now, I will proceed to use the term “common man”, though I question its referent.
2. In line with the above, it is certainly plausible to imagine the “common man” holding to determinism, perhaps through watching some fancy science shows on the Discovery channel. It can also be debated whether the “common man” is consistent here. Some might be inclined to think that the “common man” holds to some kind of weird combination of determinism and libertarianism, not bothering to reflect on the tension.
3. What if the “common man” is wrong? Dan cannot beg the question here, and so his argument could wind up being an argument for the errancy of Scripture since Scripture would be asserting as true what is false.
4. I find it odd to claim that the dictionary sets forth the “common man” understanding of words since the “common man” consults the dictionary more or just as much as everyone else. Wouldn’t they just consult their own minds? Furthermore, why do they so often find out that they are wrong in how they or their friends have been using a word?
5. I deny the claim that the Bible was (solely?) written “by and to” the “common man”. Some very uncommon men wrote the Bible, e.g., Kings, doctors, highly educated Pharisees, etc. In addition, some uncommon men were meant to be recipients too.
6. Apropos 5. I find it very odd, especially coming from an Arminian, to claim that, “the Bible was not written to semi-compatibilists.” I guess the Arminian God is not as fair and omni-loving as we have been told! Calvinists may have "limited atonement" (i.e., particular redemption), but on the above view, Arminians may have a "Limited Intended Audience" for the book that contains salvific (rather than merely general) revelation from God.
7. The “common man” ostensibly defines other words in such a way that we do not think the Bible means what they mean by it. The examples here are too obvious, and numerous, to list.
8. Dan is not an Open Theist, yet Greg Boyd uses the exact same type of argument to point out that the Bible assumes the future is open, unsettled (Boyd, Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, pp. 17-18). Boyd claims that when we think of “deliberating,” we presuppose that the future is open, not settled (and if it is open, God does not know it).
9. Crucial to Dan’s argument is the claim that “common man” are all, each and every, libertarians. If Dan claims that some “common men” are not indeterminist, but determinist, then he defeats one of his premises, or makes the Bible speak in contradictions. To spell this point out, recall that Dan says, “The Bible is written by and to the common man, it means what they mean, since they mean certain words libertarianly, then the Bible so means those words.” Yet if we allow some (even one?) of the “common men” to whom the Bible was written to be determinists, then it must mean what they mean by the words that are the topic of our discussion. However, since there are indeterminist “common men”, then the Bible must also mean what they mean by the words we are discussing! Therefore, Dan must assume that each and every “common man” is a libertarian, which I find highly implausible (and which I will show is false, below). (This also would imply that the "dictionary" is not the sole source for "common mans'" definitions of various (every day) words.)
Given that many of the premises are false, then Dan must admit that his argument is unsound. Besides that small problem, we saw reason to reject the argument as resting on the concept of static assortments, which is false and leaves us with a nebulous concept, as well as requiring one to accept either the (false) view that all “common men” are libertarians, or that the Bible means contradictions. Unfortunately, there are more problems.
II. A Rebutting Defeater for one of Dan’s Main Premises: Folk Beliefs Regarding Free Will
In point nine above we saw that it is a crucial assumption of Dan’s argument that all common men are libertarians. If I find even one that is not, his argument seems debunked. I frequently asked Dan to provide the sociological data that underwrites his assumption. But he never did this, presumably because he thinks it is so blindingly obvious. However, the crucial assumption is false, or at least not nearly as obvious as Dan wants it to be.
See, rather than speculating from their own intuitions (shared by others within an Arminian community) and their own phenomenology, some have actually studied folk concepts of free will. Philosophers Eddy Nahmias, Jason Turner, Steve Morris had conducted some studies a few years ago in which they asked two groups of forty laypeople, and one of twenty-five (FW1, FW2, and FW3, respectively), a set of questions. For our purposes, I’ll just cite the results to question two. The second question put to "common men" was:
• 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?
Here are the results:
FW1: 30% said yes
FW2: 48% said yes
FW3: 52% said yes
You will have to read the article to see the reasons for the different percentages. What is clear, though, is that the empirical evidence makes Dan’s argument imply that the Bible is contradictory. To wiggle out of this, he could say that the Bible was only addressed to libertarian “common men” (just like it was not addressed to semi-compatibilists), but I will assume that no one will be persuaded by such a response. Furthermore, the above also wrote a joint paper on the subject in which they claim: “The data seem to support compatibilist descriptions of the phenomenology more than libertarian descriptions. We conclude that the burden is on libertarians to find empirical support for their more demanding metaphysical theories with their more controversial phenomenological claims.”
Previously, Dan had claimed, “My primary argument to Paul was that the common sense notion of “choose” includes the ability to choose non-X, so determinists can’t consistently use the common sense notion of choose” (emphasis mine).
Considering my arguments so far, Dan needs to retract his argument. Unfortunately for Dan, there is still more problems.
III. Libertarian Philosophers Who Disagree With Dan
III. A. My initial response
In response to Dan’s argument from Merriam-Webster, I cited libertarian Robert Kane’s definition of ‘choice’ and concluded that it certainly seemed possible that “choosing” can happen on determinism. In response, and largely because he followed the highly unreliable “Robert,” Dan rejected Kane’s definition for two reasons: (i) Kane is not a substance dualist (Dan even went so far as to assume that Kane must not even be a Christian because of this!), and (ii) the dictionary shows that PAP is essential to the definition of choice.
In response I pointed out that (i) was irrelevant, and (ii) had a couple responses: (a) it seems irresponsible to run to the dictionary and claim that ‘choice’ must have a PAP element to it because Merriam-Webster says so (however, I also cited numerous dictionaries that didn’t include a PAP element), and (b) even so, this is still not enough since many compatibilists can and have held to a notion of PAP. For example, in the above paper by Nahmias et al., we read regarding the PAP phenomenology:
“For instance, Adolf Grunbaum writes: ‘Let us carefully examine the content of the feeling that on a certain occasion we could have acted other than the way we did … This feeling simply discloses that we were able to act in accord with our strongest desire at that time, and that we could indeed have acted otherwise if a different motive had prevailed at the time’ (in Lehrer, 1960, p. 149). J.S. Mill agrees: ‘When we think of ourselves hypothetically as having acted otherwise than we did, we always suppose a difference in the antecedents: we picture ourselves having known something we did not know … or as having desired something … more or less than we did’ (in Boyle et al., 1976, p. 49).”Nevertheless, all of my counter arguments were to no avail. It seemed Dan had found his perfect argument for LFW, and from that point on, refused to be budged (some would say, “listen to reason”).
III. B. Libertarians who do not find PAP as just a definitional matter
At this point, I would like to take my response here further. In response to (III: ii), I’ll cite what numerous libertarian philosophers have said about Kane’s definition, and most (or all) of them are dualists of some kind. I will draw from various emails or email exchanges I had with some prominent philosophers (Alvin Plantinga, Stuart Goetz, William Hasker, Robert Kane, Charles Taliaferro, and Kevin Timpe). But first, a couple of statements by libertarians who deny (libertarian understandings) of PAP (or that it is part of the “definition” of choice) as essential to libertarianism who I did not interact with.
William Lane Craig: “In that case his choosing A is entirely free, even though the man is literally unable to choose B, since the electrodes do not function at all and have no effect on his choice of A. What makes his choice free is the absence of any causally determining factors of his choosing A.”
Dave Hunt: “It is true that God’s foreknowing Adam’s action, like his causing Adam’s action, leaves Adam with no alternative possibilities . . . divine foreknowledge provides compelling grounds for rejecting (PAP)” (Dave Hunt, Divine Foreknowledge, Four Views, 88, 90).
Timothy O’Connor: Time and time again you see O’Connor claim that the debate is about whether one makes the choices he does libertarianly freely or not. O’Connor understands that even on determinism one can choose, one just doesn’t choose libertarianly freely. If ‘choice’ just meant PAP, then O’Connor would claim that on determinism, no one chooses at all. But he doesn’t (see O’Connor, “Libertarian Views: Dualist and Agent-Causal Theories.” Oxford Handbook of Freewill, ch.15)
III. C. Kane’s Definition of choice and placing the dictionary on holy ground
First, honest libertarians admit that “common men” find indeterminacy problematic at the intuitive level as well, thus Kane:
Robert Kane: "The first step is to question the intuitive connection in people's minds between ‘indeterminisms being involved in something’ and ‘its happening merely as a matter of chance or luck’ (Kane, Robert. "Libertarianism." Four Views on Free Will. Fischer et al., 33).
This means that if we are going to be consistent with the "common man" argument, then we make the Bible problematic if it assumes "common man's" understanding of action. Certainly we wouldn't want to affirm that the Bible means that people make choices due to luck and then are held morally responsible for how things luckily turn out! So, this point makes Dan's argument a wash.
Second, Dan thinks PAP is intuitive, same with the ought-implies-can principle. Granting that, as honest libertarians have pointed out, Frankfurt counter-examples, which rebut PAPs and ought-implies-can, are equally intuitive. Thus David Copp,
David Copp: "...Frankfurt's argument is troubling and puzzling because it brings intuitively plausible counterexamples against an intuitively plausible principle. It forces us to deal with clashing intuitions" (Copp, David. "'Ought Implies Can,' Blameworthiness, and the Principle of Alternate Possibilities." Moral Responsibility and Alternative Possibilities. Ed. Widerker and McKenna, 265).
This makes it even less plausible to pin your hopes on the beliefs of “common men.” I have never ran across a "layman" who didn't respond to a Frankfurt Counter Example by saying something like: "I guess moral responsibility doesn't demand ability to do otherwise."
But, moving along, what is Kane’s definition of 'choice' and what is so problematic about it?
Robert Kane: “A choice is the formation of an intention or purpose to do something. It resolves uncertainty and indecision in the mind about what to do” (Robert Kane, “Libertarian Perspectives on Free Agency and Free Will.” Oxford Handbook of Free Will, p.423).
It is instructive to note the surrounding context. Kane offers this definition in response to some determinists who seem to define ‘choice’ as something determined. He notes this is to solve the debate by fiat! Aside from question-begging, there’s no good reason to accept the definition. One would hope that Dan heeds Kane’s words of wisdom.
Now, Dan thought that part of Kane’s problem is that since he is a physicalist (or at least defends a libertarianism that does not need some kind of immaterial soul); his definition of ‘choice’ was couched in terms to protect his physicalism. In response to whether Kane should change his definition, let’s see what Kane himself says:
R. Kane: “I wouldn't change my definition. The idea that you can prove libertarianism or compatibilism or any other view on fw true by defining terms such as choice in a rigged way is whistling in the dark. We could still make choices in a determined world. We would just not be *ultimately responsible* for the choices we did make.” (Email correspondence)
But since Kane is a physicalist, I guess this still doesn’t count. So let’s see what two prominent non-physicalists have to say on the matter.
A. Plantinga: “Kane's definition sounds right to me.” (Email correspondence)
W. Hasker: “Kane’s definition is fine; I see no need to add to it.” (Email correspondence)
The problem here is that Dan cannot accuse these men of “physicalism,” or being cryptic determinists (as he indicated of Kane).
C. Taliaferro and S. Goetz thought that the biggest problem is that Kane’s definition doesn’t get to the essence of libertarianism, which is fine, but that’s not what Kane was doing. He was defining ‘choice.’ Furthermore, Goetz disagrees with Dan’s entire method, he writes,
“I can’t speak for Charles, but I would not base my belief in libertarianism on passages in the Bible. And I wouldn’t argue against your Calvinism from biblical texts. I believe that the Bible doesn’t teach anything about the issue of free will. It wasn’t written for that purpose, just as it wasn’t written for the purpose of teaching us whether or not we have souls. In short, I believe the Bible is not a philosophical text written to teach philosophy. It doesn’t fail to teach Calvinism because it teaches libertarianism. It simply doesn’t teach anything about the matter of free will.” (Email correspondence)Lastly, I had the pleasure of corresponding with Kevin Timpe, who also doesn’t think the Bible is a metaphysical textbook. So, in response to the type of arguments advanced by Dan, as well as Kane’s definition, Timpe had this to say:
“On the whole, I think that Kane’s definition is pretty good. I’m inclined to think that there is no single thing as choice, but rather a variety of similar mental acts that go by that name. My dog, for example, certainly appears to decide which toy to play with, which involves various pro-attitudes and perhaps something like beliefs. And I can see no reason why this would be undermined if it turns out that determinism is true. Likewise, I’m pretty sure that I make decisions, and I don’t think I’d have any reason to change that belief if it turned out that determinism were true. So I’m inclined against building the falsity of determinism into the definition of choice. What is at issue, regarding determinism, is not choice per se but free choice. And I think that there are good reasons to think that there can’t be free choices if determinism is true.” (Email correspondence)To which I responded: “Thank you for your response. I've found that it libertarians grant that determinists do choose even if determinism is true, they just think the choice isn't fee, as you said. This would make the issue depend on more substantive metaphysical issues than the mere definition of choice.”
Dr. Timpe wrote back: “The content of your first paragraph seems right to me.” (Email correspondence)
And so along with the other arguments I offered above, we can see that some of the biggest guns on Dan’s side disagree with him both about the dictionary thing as well as about Kane’s definition. I don’t know about Dan, but it would make me pretty uncomfortable to be at odds with some of the biggest guns on my own side. Heck, it makes me uncomfortable being at odds with Plantinga on almost anything, and I’m not even a libertarian!
I believe Dan’s argument for Arminianism and LFW to be flawed in sundry ways. I have presented my reasons why, and they appear fatal to his argument. His premises seem far too controversial to draw any confident conclusion from, his “primary” argument is false, and he is at odds with some of the biggest thinkers libertarianism has to offer. Dan should concede this point and move on to his (many) other arguments he has for LFW and against Calvinism. Even though I think none of them is successful, each and every are, unfortunately, better than the argument we looked at here.
1 On undercutting defeaters see Michael Sudduth’s entry on Epistemological Defeaters on the IEP, http://www.iep.utm.edu/e/ep-defea.htm