Sunday, January 28, 2018

The "freethinking" argument

Tim Stratton recently attempted to refute Bignon's book:

Thus, the Calvinist assumes that the means by which God predestines all that He has decreed is via causal determinism.

i) Since predestination is deterministic, it's redundant to say the means by which God predestines all that he's decreed is via causal determinism. That's like saying God determines everything via determinism.

Stratton denies that predestination is deterministic, but he's attempting to state what the Calvinist assumes. 

ii) Moreover, there are no means by which God predestined anything. Rather, there are means by which the decree is implemented. Predestination is not a result of means. Rather, everything happens as a result of the decree. 

Predestination is God's plan and resolve for world history. Nothing "causally determined" what God predestined. Rather, predestination predetermines whatever happens. 

iii) It's unclear what Stratton means by "causal determinism." According to his definitions, what's the difference between causing something, determining something, and causally determining something? What does "causal" add to "determine"? What does "determine" add to "causal"?

iv) How does Stratton define causation?  

This claim is quite significant. In fact, I believe it is a game-changer! Since Bignon affirms that determinism and libertarian free will are logically incompatible and mutually exclusive concepts, then it follows that if one of these concepts is true, then the other is necessarily false. Since Bignon affirms compatibilism, he also affirms that divine determinism is true and that nothing is un-determined by God and yet — somehow — we are still responsible.

By Bignon’s own admission, libertarian free will is incompatible with determinism. Also, his view of compatibilism entails that moral responsibility is compatible with determinism. Although I disagree, the salient point here is that Bignon affirms that determinism is true! 

Stratton acts as if that's a damaging admission or "game-changer", when in fact it's just definitional. Determinism and libertarian freewill are typically defined as contrary positions. 

The Omni Argument 
1. If irresistible grace (the “I” of T.U.L.I.P.) is true, then for any person x, if God desires to, has the power to, and knows how to cause x to go to Heaven and not suffer eternally in Hell, then x will go to Heaven and not suffer eternally in Hell.
2. If God is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient, then for any person x, God desires to, has the power to, and knows how to cause x to go to Heaven and not suffer eternally in Hell.
3. There is at least one person who will not go to Heaven and suffers eternally in Hell.
4. Therefore, one cannot affirm both (i) that irresistible grace is true and (ii) that God is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient (a maximally great being).
5. God is a maximally great being.
6. Therefore, irresistible grace is false.
7. Therefore, divine determinism is false (God does not causally determine all things).
8. God is completely sovereign and does predestine all things (Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:5,11).
9. Therefore, predestination and determinism are not to be conflated.

Regarding (1):

That's ambiguous. For instance, God can't save the future John Zebedee if he saves everyone (in this life) prior to John Zebedee, because John Zebedee won't exist in a future with a different past. That past won't lead up to John Zebedee, but to an alternate future. 

Regarding (2):

i) I don't know what Stratton means by "omnibenevolence". To assert that God would not be good unless he desires to save every evildoer he's capable of saving begs the question. 

ii) Apropos (i), is Stratton attempting to refute Calvinism on its own grounds or on his grounds? Is he attempting to show that Calvinism is internally inconsistent, or that it's inconsistent with his own assumptions? Calvinism doesn't grant that God isn't good unless God desires to save all the wicked. 

If Stratton is assuming his own viewpoint, then it's incumbent on him to argue for his assumptions before he argues from his assumptions.

Moreover, it's not a given, even on freewill theist assumptions, that God isn't good unless God desires to save every evildoer. A good God is a just God. A just God is suppose to punish evildoers. Justice is obligatory in a way that mercy is not. If mercy were obligatory, it wouldn't be mercy. God is merciful to some evildoers in spite of what they deserve. 

iii) Furthermore, Stratton assumes that libertarian freewill is consistent with divine omniscience, but that's highly contested, even by many eminent freewill theists.

Regarding (8):

If predestination is indeterministic, then what does predestination effect or affect? What's the difference between indeterministic predestination and no predestination? 

The Freethinking argument

1- If humans do not possess libertarian free will, then humans do not possess the ability to gain knowledge via the process of rationality.

2- Humans do possess the ability to gain knowledge via the process of rationality.


3- Humans possess libertarian free will.

Regarding (1), is Stratton assuming that a "process of rationality" is the only way to gain knowledge, and libertarian freewill is a prerequisite? If so, what about adaptive behavior in animals? What about the ability of lab rats to learn from experience? Did they gain knowledge by a "process of rationality"? Do they have libertarian freedom? 

In defense of his "freethinking" argument. Stratton quotes John Searle:

“Actions are rationally assessable if and only if the actions are free. The reason for the connection is this: rationality must be able to make a difference. Rationality is possible only where there is a genuine choice between various rational and irrational courses of action . . . If the act is completely determined then rationality can make no difference. It doesn’t even come into play…” (Rationality in Action:2001:202)

Several problems:

i) Searle's contention poses a false dichotomy. Determinism doesn't imply that choice is independent of reason and evidence. Why can't determinism operate through reason and evidence as a necessary means? Why can't evidence be rationally compelling? Why can't an agent be determined to find the most reasonable choice the most appealing choice? Where's the dichotomy? Rationality comes into play by sifting evidence or mentally comparing and contrasting hypothetical courses of action, for their respective advantages and disadvantages. Why can't determinism use a process of deliberation? An agent isn't choosing in spite of the evidence but because of the evidence. Why can't he be determined to recognize the facts or recognize a logical rationale?  

ii) Apropos (i), if reasons can't be determinative, then choices are irrational. If reason and evidence are indeterminism in choosing, then choosing always has an arbitrary or surd element. So it's indeterminism rather than determinism that undermines reason.

Put another way, if choices are caused by rational determinants, rational considerations, then isn't that the definition of rational choice? Conversely, if choices aren't rationally compelling, if reasons are at best one factor in choice, but the agent is free to disregard reason and evidence when making a choice, then isn't that the definition of irrational choice? It's libertarian freedom that makes choice independent of reason. 

iii) What about coin-flipping in sports? The coin toss is nonrational. There are two (statistically) equiprobable outcomes. The outcome is physically determinate (given specific antecedent conditions). Yet that makes a difference. 

iv) Keep in mind that there are different kinds of determinism. Naturalistic evolutionary psychology undermines rationality because the determinants are mindless. The "blind watchmaker". But that's hardly equivalent to predestination, where God's wise plan is the ultimate determinant. 

v) Bignon already responded to this general objection:


  1. You should have a look at Al Mele's review of Searle's book. It is in Mind (2002) Mele gives a devastating review on this point.

    It is important to note that Stratton only quotes the part of Searle that he is favorable to. He does not bring up the point you raise in ii, which is actually a reason that Searle himself thinks his view is unattractive with respect to freedom. Mele covers this.

  2. Steve on the determinist view, are you mainly talking about God determining us through reason and evidence as the decisive means for all our rational choices?

    Also, what do you make of our irrational choices then?

  3. i) If we're defining a choice as rational (a la Stratton, then rational factors ought to be decisive. Nonrational considerations would dilute the rationality of the choice.

    Of course, there are subconscious factors in decision-making.

    ii) In Calvinism, God (pre-)determines all our choices, whether rational or irrational. My point is simply to take issue with Stratton's false dichotomy, as if a determinate choice must be irrespective of reason and evidence.

  4. I see, so you are mainly focussing on the subject who is choosing, in this post.

    Would you go the other route and go to the objects as well? If God is not determining the objects as ordered and rational, would you make the case for fundamentally random and chaotic objects undermining rationality as well?

    Also the idea of Libertarian freedom inserting irrationality into the cosmos and objects? I thought I remember seeing a post you did on this topic somewhere.

    1. My objective was simply to point out that determinism and rational choice are mutually consistent.

      Libertarian freedom is notoriously prone to the luck objection.

    2. Do you have any posts you can direct me too, to read further.