Saturday, May 22, 2010

Causal determinism

“As an Arminian and Molinist, I specifically oppose all forms of causal determinism. If there’s one aspect of Calvinism I object to, it’s causal determinism. Yet some Calvinists are hesitant to say they are causal determinists. This post is to lay out the various forms of causal determinism; Naturalism, Occationalism, Concurrence and Mainline Calvinist Causal Determinism; all of which I oppose.”

Speaking for myself, I avoid “causal determinism” for the following reasons:

i) I distinguish between exegetical theology and philosophical theology. “Causal determinism” is not an article of faith. Only teachings of Scripture are articles of faith. Causal determinism is a philosophical construct.

My primary concern is to defend Biblical doctrines, not philosophical doctrines. Philosophy can often be useful in defending articles of faith, but philosophical constructs are not articles of faith.

ii) There is no philosophical consensus on how to define causation.

iii) Likewise, determinism is hardly synonymous with Calvinism (as I recently pointed out).

iv) Apropos (i), my primary concern is to defend what the Bible has to say about predestination, providence, and so forth.

“Occationally, Calvinists are occasionalists, but this view has not gained widespread support among Calvinists.”

I’d add that one can be an occasionalist, but not be a Calvinist (e.g. Berkeley, Malebranche).

“Concurrence is similar to occationalism but rather than denying the efficiency of secondary causes, Molinia’s Catholic opponents (the Dominicans) said God's concurrence with secondary causes determines the effects.”

But Arminianism also has a doctrine of concurrence:

Therefore, one cannot use concurrence to distinguish Calvinism from Arminianism.

And to my knowledge, Molinism also has a doctrine of continuous concurrence. So concurrence fails to distinguish Calvinism from Molinism or Arminianism alike.

Of course, you could say they have different versions of concurrence, but that, once again, complicates the effort to distinguish these positions by reference to concurrence.

“Francis Turretin, Jonathan Edwards and Charles Hodge articulated the view that man’s actions are determined by his motives, reasoning, state of mind, emotions and feelings.”

i) A problem with this statement is that Dan classifies these three theologians under the heading of “causal determinism,” in distinction to “occasionalism.” Yet Edwards was an occasionalist.

ii) This also illustrates a limitation to using Edwards as a standard representative of “mainline” Calvinism. For, by Dan’s own admission, occasionalism is an anomalous position in Calvinism.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that occasionalism is wrong. Or that occasionalism is necessarily at odds with Calvinism. But in terms of his metaphysical paradigm, one can’t simply default to Edwards as a representative spokesman for mainstream Calvinism.

“Turretin, Edwards and Hodge relied on Luther and Calvin’s groundwork by developed the system somewhat.”

This also means that we can’t judge Turretin, Edwards, and Hodge by the standards of contemporary action theory. They were indebted to, and responding to, the intellectual ethos of their time and place. In contemporary debates over action theory, it’s important to compare and contrast contemporary compatibilists with contemporary incompatibilists.

“Today there view is popularized by authors like RC Sproul using the catch phrase that ‘we choose according to our strongest desire.’”

True. And in that respect, it’s important to keep in mind that Sproul is a theologian, not a philosopher. Therefore, if we’re debating the philosophical merits of Calvinism, Molinism, Arminianism, &c., we need to cite Christian philosophers in each tradition.

“In a world were some people underarticulate their views out of fear of criticism, I admire Turretinfan’s courage, even thought I disagree with his views.”

I appreciate TFan too, However, I hope Dan isn’t insinuating that Calvinists who avoid “causal determinism” are “underarticulating” their views “out of fear of criticism” –as if we couldn’t have principled reasons for our avoidance of that jargon.

“Beyond these four views, many Calvinists simply reject libertarian free will, which seems to imply causal determinism without specifying how our acts are determined.”

Which is a perfectly respectable option.

1 comment:

  1. "In a world were some people underarticulate their views out of fear of criticism, I admire Turretinfan’s courage, even thought I disagree with his views"

    Of course, some people articulate a view out of fear of criticism or fear of not looking like they're Bible Answermen (not implicating anyone in particular, just showing the claim is fairly trivial.