Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The cosmic casino

I’ve used the phrase “causal determinism” quite a lot recently when talking about the doctrine of Middle Knowledge/Molinism and one of it’s chief competitors, the Calvinistic notion of soverigenty which posits God as being the one who “decrees all that comes to pass”.

It’s true that, according to Calvinism, God decrees every event. Since Wes disagrees with that position, how does his own position stand in contrast to the opposing position?

Is it his position that God is not the only one who decrees what happens? Does he think God decrees some events, while creatures decree other events?

Or is it his position that God decrees nothing whatsoever?

Is so, does this mean that every event is an unplanned event? Or that some events are divinely planned events while other events are unplanned events?

Since this isn’t a phrase that isn’t often used outside of philosophical circles, I figured it would be helpful to take a minute and define this term…

Two problems:

i) All but one of his links take us to Wikipedia articles. But if he’s defining philosophical usage, he needs something more reputable than Wikipedia articles.

ii) According to the footnotes, one of his targets is Turretin Fan. But if he’s taking aim at Turretin Fan (among others), then isn’t the relevant question how Turretin Fan defines “causal determinism” rather than Wes?

…and how it has a significant bearing on the philosophical presuppositions we filter everything, including our interpretation of Scripture, through.

i) Does this mean he thinks that all of us filter the Bible through some theory causation? What about pretheoretical notions of causality?

ii) Likewise, does he think Scripture can rule out certain theories of causality. Or does the filter prevent Scripture from getting through?

Simply put, causal determinism is the notion that every event is directly caused or decreed either by an impersonal force like the Fates or destiny, a natural series of causes and effects1 constrained within a causally closed system2, or a personal deity like Allah or, as some suppose, the God of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Problems proliferate:

i) His multiple-choice definition combines a number of unrelated or mutually contradictory definitions. If, however, he’s targeting Calvinism, then shouldn’t he isolate a definition which corresponds to the Reformed view of divine agency?

ii) According to maintream Calvinism (e.g. WCF), every event is not “directly” caused. Apart from events like creation, regeneration, and miracles, most events are produced by ordinary providential second-causes. For some reason, Wes is confusing determinism with occasionalism. Does he know the difference?

iii) In addition, to say an event is “directly” caused by a “series” of causes and effects is nonsensical. If the effect is the outcome of causal chain, then that would be mediate rather than immediate (direct) causation.

iv) Likewise, to say an event is “decreed” by an “impersonal force” is also nonsensical. In the nature of the case, what is “decreed” is planned. That requires a personal agent. Mental causation.

v) He defines causal closure as “the notion that there are no non-material influences or causes. No souls or wills.” But that’s clearly irrelevant to Calvinism.

vi) Does Allah either “decree” or “directly” cause every event? Do Muslims think rain doesn’t come from rain clouds?

Does Allah have a master plan (“decree”) for the world? Determinism and predeterminism are not synonymous. Doesn’t Wes know the difference?

vii) Why does he limit his definition to Yahweh (“the God of the Hebrew Scriptures”)? Does he think Calvinists have one model of divine agency for the OT, but a different model of divine agency for the NT?

vii) There is also the problem of how his “simple” definition correlates with the Stanford article he links to, as well as Calvinism. For example, here’s how the article defines “determinism”:

Determinism: The world is governed by (or is under the sway of) determinism if and only if, given a specified way things are at a time t, the way things go thereafter is fixed as a matter of natural law.

Needless to say, that definition is inapplicable to Calvinism since Calvinism doesn’t think every event is fixed by natural law. So if Wes is targeting Calvinism, then that definition is a nonstarter.

And here’s how the article defines “causal determinism”:

Causal determinism: The world is governed by (or is under the sway of) determinism if and only if, given a specified way things are at a time t, the way things go thereafter is fixed as a matter of natural law.

But, for the same reason, this general definition is inapplicable to Calvinism.

viii) Moreover, the Stanford article draws a number of disjunctions. For example:

In most of what follows, I will speak simply of determinism, rather than of causal determinism. This follows recent philosophical practice of sharply distinguishing views and theories of what causation is from any conclusions about the success or failure of determinism.

As a general matter, we can imagine that certain things are fated to happen, without this being the result of deterministic natural laws alone; and we can imagine the world being governed by deterministic laws, without anything at all being fated to occur (perhaps because there are no gods, nor mystical forces deserving the titles fate or destiny, and in particular no intentional determination of the “initial conditions” of the world).

So how does Wes sort out the pertinent elements in reference to Calvinism?

ix) Furthermore, the article says:

Laplace probably had God in mind as the powerful intelligence to whose gaze the whole future is open. If not, he should have: 19th and 20th century mathematical studies have shown convincingly that neither a finite, nor an infinite but embedded-in-the-world intelligence can have the computing power necessary to predict the actual future, in any world remotely like ours.

In rejecting “determinism” or “causal determinism,” does Wes also jettison divine foreknowledge? Is an indeterminate world unpredictable, even for God?

Likewise, the article goes on to say:

Predictability does however make vivid what is at stake in determinism: our fears about our own status as free agents in the world. In Laplace's story, a sufficiently bright demon who knew how things stood in the world 100 years before my birth could predict every action, every emotion, every belief in the course of my life. Were she then to watch me live through it, she might smile condescendingly, as one who watches a marionette dance to the tugs of strings that it knows nothing about. We can't stand the thought that we are (in some sense) marionettes. Nor does it matter whether any demon (or even God) can, or cares to, actually predict what we will do

Does Wes also share Laplace’s view that divine foreknowledge makes us marionettes? Should we espouse open theism to avoid that consequence?

x) Finally, the article says:

The roots of the notion of determinism surely lie in a very common philosophical idea: the idea that everything can, in principle, be explained, or that everything that is, has a sufficient reason for being and being as it is, and not otherwise. In other words, the roots of determinism lie in what Leibniz named the Principle of Sufficient Reason.

In rejecting causal determinism, does Wes thereby reject the principle of sufficient reason? Does Wes think some events are intrinsically inexplicable? Does he think God did not have sufficient reason for choosing to instantiate this possible world rather than some other? Does God play dice?

Back to Wes:

My intention here is to merely present the term for edification and clarification in the future as we explore what I believe to be one of the most significant divisions within all of Christendom. Indeed, I would argue (elsewhere of course) that the abandonment of causal determinism is one of the defining characteristics of Christianity.

Does Wes think that Molinism is indeterministic? If the abandonment of causal determinism is a defining feature of Christianity, then shouldn’t he adopt a more thoroughgoing indeterminism? A cosmic casino? Playing the odds. Wouldn’t that be more consistent?


  1. Your critique is missing something... Like a proper link to my article.

    There ya go, fixed it for ya :-)

  2. Your response is missing a proper counterargument.