Saturday, July 04, 2009


Dan has been furiously beating his wings, attempting to get out of the webs I've spun for him. The bad news for Dan is that things are only going to get worse.

So, here's some crucial Assumptions Dan's argument makes:

[A1] The "common man" is a libertarian and defines choice in libertarian fashion.

[A2] The dictionary is the repository of "common mans'" definition of choice, the dictionary defines "choice" assuming the rubric of libertarian metaphysics.

[A3] The Bible was written by and to the "common man".

[A4] For any word, x, that the Bible uses, the Bible means x however the "common man" understands that word at any time, t.

These crucial assumptions somehow are supposed to get to the Conclusion:

[C] The Bible uses the word choice, the "common man" understands choice under the rubric of libertarian metaphysics, and therefore the Bible asserts that libertarian metaphysics is the case when it uses the word "choice."

Now, in response I (as well as Steve Hays) have offered literally dozens of Objections to Dan's argument, not all of them have been dealt with. Here's a few:

[O1] We don't know what the referent of "common man" is supposed to be, and don't have necessary and sufficient conditions to demarcate "common man" from "uncommon man". Just what is a "common man".

[O2] There is empirical evidence which suggests that, especially considering Dan has offered absolutely zero empirical evidence of his own to support his assumption, the "common man" is not libertarian, head for head. The evidence I brought forth makes it, at the very least, far from obvious that all "common men" whoever are dyed-in-the-wool libertarians. Besides that, I pointed out that there have been many human societies that have been fatalists. So Dan's assumption about all "common men" whoever are just false, and obviously so.

[O3] Some (many?) "comon men" hold thatan indeterminate action is random or a lucky happening. So this is a massive problem for Dan, it makes his argument prove too much. Surely we aren't going to attribute some sort of sophisticated, technical, philosophical understanding of (one of the many forms of) "agent causation" to "common man."

[O4] It is demonstrably false the the Bible was written only by and to the "common man."

[O5] Dictionaries and "common men" can be wrong; therefore, Dan's argument could be used to support the errancy of Scripture.

[O6] It is possible that dictionaries and "common men" could take a "determinist turn", which means that freedom is at least compatible with determinism. Dan's argument allows for the compatibility since it allows for the possibility that the Bible could mean certain words in a sense compatible with determinism and choice.

[O7] There is a way that "alternative possibilities" could be read in compatibilist terms, e.g., hypothetically. Dan simply ignores this, forcing his square-peg argument through the round hole.

So far, these objections have gone unanswered.

Now, to be fair, Dan doesn't like the word "choice". Dan makes it clear that his argument depends on the word "choose" and not "choice." Dan

In our debate, I argued that the dictionary definition of choose rules out determinism. In Paul's recent rejoinder he states: “I cited numerous dictionaries that didn’t include a PAP (Principle of Alternate Possibilities) element”. (link) This is true, but misleading. Paul defined choice, but not choose. My argument was based on the verb choose, not the noun choice. In this post I would like to revisit the dictionaries, and explain why it's important to distinguish between choice and choose.
Using the word "choose" is important for Dan argument because:
...the 'dictionary definition' of choose includes at least two possibilities. But determinism prohibits twofold possibilities, so the dictionary rules out determinism.
Dan has already admitted that I found definitions of choice which were compatible with determinism, that's why he won't use "choice" but only sticks with "choose." Therefore, if I offer definitions of "choose" which are neutral with respect to determinism, then Dan must admit, to be intellectually honest, that I have indeed fully, finally, and completely driven the last nail in the coffin that houses his (bad to begin with) argument against Calvinism. I will supply such definitions shortly.

Before I do, however, it is important to note that more than a couple dictionaries have, as part of their definition of "choose," this: "to make a choice" (cf. Merriam-Webster's Intermediate Dictionary, p.133; The Princeton Review Essential High School Dictionary. 91, etc.). Thus it seems clear to me that if "choosing" is "to make a choice", and if "to make a choice" is consistent with determinism, then choosing is so consistent.

But given Dan's refusal to admit that his argument was bad, especially when I cited numerous libertarian philosophers who opposed Dan's argument, the above point will not be enough. Neither will this next point, I suppose.

Dan has indicated on his blog that he has learned the most about LFW and how to defend it in its strongest theistic form (Molinism) from William Lane Craig. Now, Dan claims that it is essential to the definition of choice that we be able to choose alternative possibilities. Yet his guru states: "So long as a person's choice is causally undetermined, it is a free choice even if the person is unable to choose the opposite of that choice" (Craig, "The Middle-Knowledge View," in, Foreknowledge: Four Views, IVP, 130). So, even Craig disagrees with Dan.

But as I said, this won't be enough. Over all of the libertarian philosophers who specialize in the field Dan is incompetently dabbling in, Dan trusts the dictionary. So I will now fillet Dan's argument, leaving it dead once and for all.

Dan self-servingly cited some dictionaries that he thinks (remember, even the definitions he pushes can be read in a way that has been friendly to compatibilism) makes his case that "the dictionary" (there's no such thing) defines "choose" strictly in libertarian terms. When he finishes listing them, he confidentially asserts:
I could go on, but you get the point.
Well, no, Dan, we don't "get the point." And not least of all because at least two of his definitions are compatible with "choosing" in a divinely-determined world. For example, Dan cited these two:

1. Merriam-Webster's defines choose as: to select freely and after consideration

2. Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary: to decide what you want from a range of things or possibilities:

The first obviously does allow for compatibilism, unless Dan begs the question. The second does because it is in the form of a disjunction and not a conjunction, thus the "possibilities" is not required (again, this is to grant Dan his "possibilities" point).

But for some reason I think that Dan will not even be convinced by the fact that some of his own cherry-picked dictionaries allow for a "choosing" in a determined world. So let me quote a lot more. Because I like Dan and want to save him from the embarrassment that has become his argument, I went to the bookstore and rounded up a whole bunch of dictionaries. Before I give these definitions it is crucial to recall that when I defined "choice" in similar ways as we will see below, Dan granted their consistency with determinism, he must therefore grant that "choose" is likewise compatible. Before you read these, remember that absolutely crucial to Dan's argument is that all dictionaries, or all reputable ones (I guess), include the ability to actually instantiate an alternative possibility as essential (contrary to libertarian William Lane Craig, as well as most others, but let's noth let that bother us) to the (dictionary?) definition of choose. Keep that in mind.

Below I cite the entire definition (and any second or third or so on, definitions). I have left nothing out, and all sources are docummented.

choose v. (vt) 1. Pick out, select; take by preference. (vt) decide, think fit. (Collins Pocket Dictionary, New York: Harper Collins, 2007, 91)

choose v. 1. Select out of a greater number 2. select one or another 3. decide 4. select as. (The American Century Dictionary, New York: Warner Books, Oxford University Press, 1997, 102)

choose v. 1. Select out of a greater number of things, 2. decide, to prefer, to desire. (Oxford American Dictionary, New York: Oxford University Press, 1986, 147)

choose v. 1. to pick. (that was all, cited in, Spell it Right Dictionary, New York: Berlitz Publishing, 2007, 63)

choose v. 1. To pick out one or more from a greater number or group, 2. to make up one's mind; decide or prefer. (Webster's New World Basic Dictionary of American English, Cleveland: Wiley Publishing, 1988, 146)

choose v. 1. To pick out by preference; select 2. to decide or desire 3. to make a choice (The Princeton Review Essential High School Dictionary, New York: Random House, 2002, 91).

choose v. 1. To select freely after consideration 2. to make a choice 3. to see fit (Merriam-Webster's Intermediate Dictionary, Springfield Mass.: Merriam-Webster's Inc., 2004, 133)

choose v. 1. Decide which you are going to take from among a number of people or things. (Barron's Dictionary and Thesaurus, New York: Oxford University Press, 2005, 111).

choose v. 1. To select according to preference especially after consideration 2.a. to decide b. to prefer 3. to see fit 4. to make a choice (Merriam-Webster's School Dictionary, Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster's Inc., 2004, 165)

I could keep going, but I trust you get the point. ;-)

And with that, Dan must retract his argument. Not only have I shown that it is far from obvious that all "common men" whoever are libertarian (and bear in mind that Dan has done nothing to substantiate his crucial assumption about all "common men" whoever), I have just refuted the other major crucial assumption of Dan's argument, viz. that "the dictionary" has (actually) "possible" as an essential component to the definition of "choose," which is what makes it (according to him) affirm a libertarian metaphysic. I cited numerous well-respected dictionaries, gathered from the shelves of a "common man" bookstore, Barnes & Noble, that all define choice in a way fully compatible with determinism, as well as two definitions chosen by Dan (for a total of eleven respected dictionaries all coming down on my side of the argument). None of them included te word "possible," a curious fact considering that if Dan is right, these well-respected dictionaries all leave out the "essential" component of "choose"! What hubris.

Not only that, a few of these definitions are so similar to Robert Kane's definitions that this has the effect of refuting another one of Dan's many unargued assumptions: Kane is offering a "technical, philosophical definition" of choice/choose. To see that, let's recall Kane's definition:

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).

So, not only has Dan's argument been previously refuted by both Hays and I, I have now refuted Dan's argument solely from premises Dan accepts, and has admitted show that dictionary definitions of "choice" are consistent with determinism. On pain of irrationality, and general avoidance of pig-headedness, Dan the Arminian has been compelled to admit that I have defeated his argument.



  1. OT:
    Does anyone have the time and the interest to deal with this video from YT (I should stop watching this crap, it's basically an atheists echo-chamer like Reppert once put it) that argues that the use of typology was inadequate and thus Jesus was not the messiah?

  2. Matthew,

    I didn't watch the whole series. I only watched the video featured on the page you linked. There are a lot of problems with it.

    Some of the Old Testament passages applied to Jesus in the New Testament are of a typological nature, and some aren't. See our material on prophecy here and on the infancy narratives, which the video you linked discusses, here. You could also consult G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson, edd., Commentary On The New Testament Use Of The Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2007) and commentaries on the relevant books of the New Testament. Here's an online resource that links to others.

    There's nothing deceptive about typological use of the Old Testament or the adapting of Old Testament language to a New Testament context. Those were common practices, and many of the initial readers of the New Testament would have been familiar with the Old Testament texts and contexts. It's not as though they were dependent on somebody like Matthew to inform them of what the Old Testament says. The common nature of such usage of the Old Testament is reflected in the fact that we see it in so many places in the New Testament. The reason why multiple New Testament authors can engage in such practices, and do so as often as they do and without sensing any need to defend what they're doing, is because such practices were already widely known and accepted.

    We can distinguish the evidential significance of one Old Testament fulfillment from the evidential significance of another. The fact that the Bethlehem prophecy and the Nazareth prophecy both are cited in Matthew 2 or both are cited by the same author, for example, doesn't suggest that they must be of equal evidential value. Pointing to the presence of some less significant Old Testament fulfillments doesn't prove that there aren't any fulfillments that are more significant.

  3. Jason said:
    It's not as though they were dependent on somebody like Matthew to inform them of what the Old Testament says.

    Great minds think alike, as that was my exact though on it :-D My second thought? "If Matthew's quote of 'the prophets' isn't found in the OT, and if he 'misquotes' Jeremiah...then why didn't the enemies of the early church (namely, the Pharisees, who happened to know the OT far more intimately than most Christians today, and definitely more than all these atheists) not point this out in any of their many arguments against Christians?" And after thinking that, I thought: "That sounds like something Jason Engwer would say."

  4. Oh, and to be clear, I'm not saying the Nazarene prophecy was in the OT, but merely that the Pharisees would have had an understanding of who "the prophets" referred to. (Example: Simeon had been told that he would live to see the Messiah--a prophecy not recorded in the OT.) That "He shall be called a Nazarene" is not specifically stated in Scripture does not mean it wasn't something passed down in the prophetic tradition of who the Messiah would be.

    Not that everything passed down as Messianic tradition was valid. There was a reason the Pharisees expected Christ to behave in a manner that Jesus did not behave like, yet which did not conform to any OT passages either. This extra-biblical Messianic tradition contained both truth and error, and by Jesus' time, the errors far outweighed the truth. This is why generally Jesus forbade any Jew who realized He was the Messiah to tell anyone, because the Jews had a lot of false tradition to go along with Scripture. On the other hand, Jesus never forbade the Samaritans from saying who He was--and in fact, when the woman at the well said she knew the Messiah was coming, Jesus said quite plainly: "I who speak to you am He." The Samaritans, who were descendents of the captives of Assyria when the ten tribes of Israel were conquered, did not have the extra-biblical tradition passed on to them (and furthermore, they held to only the Pentatuch), and therefore did not have the false traditions coloring who the Messiah was in their view, whereas the Jews did.

    So when Matthew says that "he shall be a Nazarene" is from the prophets, and no Pharisee writing against Christianity said, "That's not in Scripture!" it's most likely because it was part of the extra-biblical prophetic tradition surrounding Christ.