Thursday, June 28, 2018

Gunslinger rematch

I'm going to comment on some statements in this article: Kenneth D. Keathley, "Molinist Gunslingers Redux: A Friendly Response to Greg Welty," Perichoresis 16/2 (2018), 31–44. 

One weakness in his article is a failure to distinguish between popularizers (Gerstner, Sproul Jr.) and high-level thinkers. In addition, he misclassifies Bruce Ware as a Calvinist, but Ware's position is quite eclectic. He's an Amyraldian Molinist who rejects classical theism. 

Initially, in response to the historical challenge of fatalism as espoused by the Greek Stoics and later by Islam, the primary concern of Molinism was to establish the contingency of future conditionals in the light of God’s exhaustive foreknowledge (Craig 1988).

i) I don't know what that means. Is Keathley alleging that Molinism was developed in response to Greek Stoicism? Was that a major rival in the 16-17C?

ii) Likewise, Islam had been around for nearly a millennium by the time of de Molina. Is Molinism a belated response to Islam? Wasn't Molinism an alternative to Thomism? 

iii) Mutazilite Islam is the Muslim version of freewill theism.

iv) Is Asharite Islam "fatalistic"? Asharite Islam subscribes to occasionalism. 

How is Keathley defining "fatalism"? On a classic definition of fatalism, an agent can be the ultimate source of his own actions as well as having multiple courses of action open to him. The catch is that every route and alternate route have the same detonation. 

As many Calvinists followed Edwards in embracing determinism (particularly in America)...

Throughout his article, Keathley seems to adopt the view of Muller and Crisp that Calvinism was originally indeterministic, and only took a deterministic turn under the influence of Edwards. But what's distinctive to Edwards has more to do with occasionalism and idealism, not determinism. That traditional Calvinism is antithetical to libertarian freedom had been defended by James Anderson and Paul Manata:

My short answer to his second claim is that I do not think Welty has made his case. And it seems that his argument, if successful, would succeed too well. All theological systems that uphold the traditional view of God’s omniscience would be open to this charge (Welty may contend that that’s exactly his point). 

Indeed, that's his point. Welty is presenting a tu quoque argument, viz.:

But what does this say about the efforts of apophatic Calvinists to distance themselves from the implications of causal determinism? Most Calvinists distinguish between primary and secondary causation, and embrace infralapsarianism over supralapsarianism. This is why Welty takes an apophatic approach while leaving determinists to fend for themselves. (‘If they are subject to critique, so be it.’) Many of our Reformed brethren recognize the moral difficulties posed by an adherence to causal determinism.

1. Keathley seems to be uninformed about Welty's own position. For instance, he seems to be unaware of the detailed response that Welty and Cohen offered to Walls:

2. Because the Calvinist/Molinist debate can spin off in so many different directions, Welty is bracketing certain issues.

3. A weakness running through his article is Keathley's failure to define his terms:

i) What does he mean by X causes Y?

ii) What does he mean by X determines Y?

iii) Is "causal determinism" something over and above causation or determinism? What does causation add to determinism? What does determinism add to causation?

iv) Take David Lewis's definition: "We think of a cause as something that makes a difference, and the difference it makes must be a difference from what would have happened without it."

On that definition, the Molinist God causes sin and evil by actualizing a possible world containing sin and evil. 

I do not believe one can hold that God accomplishes his will via causal determinism and then appeal to mystery. Where, exactly, is mystery to be located? There seem to be three options. One place possibly could be the question as to why God created this particular world knowing that evil would occur. To my knowledge, both Molinists and Calvinists confess this type of mystery. There’s no dispute here. A second possible location could be the mystery of how God accomplishes his will through other causal agents. Molinists contend that God, with precision and success, perfectly accomplishes his will through genuinely free creatures primarily by means of his omniscience. 

In addition, the Molinist God accomplishes his will by instantiating a particular timeline.  

If, concerning God’s concurrent actions with other agents, apophatic Calvinists wish to appeal to mystery on this point, then this would not seem necessarily to be an item of conflict between Molinists and Calvinists. Molinists provide a possible model while apophatic Calvinists do not, but both affirm that God can and does perfectly accomplish his will. Again, this creates no problem between apophatic Calvinists and Molinists.

It’s one thing to say that it is a mystery how God concurrently accomplishes his will through other agents. It’s another thing to say that it’s a mystery as to why he is not accountable when he causally determines their sins. If this is what is meant when Calvinists appeal to mystery, then indeed Molinists and Calvinists are at odds at this point.

While that's an important issue in its own right, it's irrelevant to the topic of Welty's essay, which was a tu quoque argument. 

But we are created in the divine image, so we reflect God’s ability to make moral choices. 

Many freewill theists have a bad habit of using the divine image as a cipher. They attribute certain things to the divine image. They don't bother to exegete the concept of the divine image from Scripture, but begin with their concept of God (a la freewill theism), then read that back into the divine image. 

We all agree that the man who hires a hit man is also guilty of the hit man’s crime.

And that's in part because the hit man is instrumental to the Don's malicious intentions. On the other hand, using one person to kill another person isn't inherently blameworthy. Generals give orders to foot soldiers in a just-war situation. 

God indeed works through the evil done by wicked agents (Genesis 50; Isaiah 10; Acts 2). All Christians affirm this. But it really does matter whether or not those agents were the origins of their respective choices, and that at significant points they possessed the genuine ability to make those choices.

From the viewpoint of a freewill theist. But that's the very issue in dispute. Keathley fails to argue for his key assumptions. He takes them for granted. And he fails to counter arguments to the contrary. So his objection begs the question. 

In moral arguments, intentions matter. Even a strongly Reformed voice such as Paul Helm emphasizes this: ‘In the case of evil, whatever the difficulties may be of accounting for the fact, God ordains evil but he does not intend evil as evil, as the human agent intends it... There are other ends or purposes which God has in view’ (Helm 1994: 190). God’s intentions and purposes are different from the evil intentions and purposes of the wicked through whom he works or of those he permits to do evil. Molinism understands these evil persons to be the causal agents of their deeds. Thus, Molinism is not ‘sufficiently analogous’ to those versions of Calvinism that affirm causal determinism. 

But their acting in a particular way is determined by the Molinist God instantiating the possible timeline in which they act one way rather than another. God is a necessary cause of that outcome. 

God can permit or allow an evil for just reasons. Consider the following analogy. During World War II, the Allies broke the secret codes of the Germans. According to some historians, the British knew beforehand of German plans to carpet bomb the city of Coventry. It was determined that if special actions were taken to defend the city, then that would tip off the Nazis that the Allies were intercepting their messages. Churchill reportedly made the difficult decision to allow the bombing to occur. Most would agree that Churchill’s responsibility is not ‘sufficiently analogous’ to that of the Axis forces. Similarly, God permits evil but is not culpable for it. God can accomplish righteous purposes through agents that have evil intentions.

Again, consider the following analogy. Imagine the execution of a heinous criminal. Imagine also that the executioner carrying out the death sentence secretly delights in killing other humans, and he enjoys legally performing an act that otherwise would be considered murder. The executioner’s evil intent does not impugn the state’s just cause. The intent of both is not ‘sufficiently analogous’. Similarly, God uses evil people, but he is not culpable for their evil deeds.

And a Calvinist can help himself to Keathley's examples.

Those of us opposed to causal determinism are not simply shadow boxing. The challenges posed by determinism to morality become very clear in the writings of Darwinists. For example, in his The Moral Animal: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology, Robert Wright (a former Southern Baptist) argues for genetic causal determinism. He does not hesitate to describe humans as ‘puppets’ and ‘robots’. He disposes of notions such as free will and moral responsibility. Evil does not exist. He laments that humans are ‘robots’ held ‘responsible for their malfunctions’ (Wright 1994: 355). The primary advocates of determinism are not Calvinists, but atheists and Muslims.

i) That's an inept comparison because if fails to consider what lies behind the determinate outcome. Are these rational determinants? 

ii) Moreover, in the AI literature, there's the issue of whether robots are moral agents. Mere automata aren't moral agents, but what about artificially intelligent robots? What about robots that pass the Turing test? 

I rejoice that mysterian Calvinists such as Welty also reject causal determinism. 

i) He's misinterpreting Welty. Welty's strategy in his essay is to zero in on a particular issue.

ii) As Welty points out in his recent book on the problem of evil, there's no philosophical consensus on the concept of causation. 

It may have been helpful if Welty had spelled out clearly what models of human agency he believes to be compatible with apophatic Calvinism. Does he believe that libertarian freedom is a live option for the apophatic Calvinist? He doesn’t say. The mysterian Calvinist seems to be noncommittal on whether or not God causes sin. If God causally determines sins, then the Calvinist position is indeed more problematic than the Molinist position, regardless of a claim to mystery. 

i) Yes, there's a sense in which the Calvinist God causes sin. That's not unique to Calvinism. The same holds true for Thomism, Molinism, open theism, Lutheranism, and simple-foreknowledge Arminiansim. 

ii) Yes, there's a sense in which the Calvinist God determines sin. The same holds true for Thomism, Molinism, open theism, Lutheranism, and simple-foreknowledge Arminianism.

For instance, in a cause/effect world, if a suicide bomber pulls the pin on a hand grenade, it's too late to change his mind. At that point, detonation is inevitable. He crossed a line of no return. Even if we grant for the sake of argument that the outcome was indeterminate up to that tipping-point, once he pulls the cap, the outcome is now determinate. Likewise, if the Molinist God instantiates a particular timeline in full knowledge of the outcome, then his creative fiat locks in that particular course of events. 

And it seems that if one denies that God causally determines sinful actions, then one needs Molinism to get the robust sense of God’s sovereign control of all things. For the Christian, the options are divine determinism (either of an occasionalist variety or of an Edwardsian strongest desire variety) or (some form of) libertarianism. What other option is there?

Circumstances also limit one's field of action. If one exit is locked while the other exit is unlocked, I can only use the exit with the unlocked door. That's different from either occasionalism or strongest desire psychology. I don't offer that as an all-purpose alternative, but simply to illustrate Keathley's blinkered imagination. 

For the reasons given above, Molinists believe that preserving libertarian freedom makes a significant difference in distinguishing between the just and pure decisions by God either to permit or work through the wicked and impure actions of humans. 

If that was Keathley's aim, then he needed to write a different article. As it stands, he's claiming the benefits of his preferred conclusions without providing the supporting arguments. There are no intellectual shortcuts in this debate. It's philosophically demanding trench warfare. 

According to determinism, humans are not agents but rather are mere instruments. 

That's his opinion, but he hasn't laid the groundwork for that conclusion. 


  1. There is no sense in which the Lutheran God creates sin.

    "if a suicide bomber pulls the pin on a hand grenade, it's too late to change his mind. At that point, detonation is inevitable...."

    The grenade had the freewill in how to react to getting its pin pulled. It could have chosen to not explode when its pin was pulled. The bomber did not cause or determine the explosion. It was caused by the will of the grenade.

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  3. “According to determinism, humans are not agents but rather are mere instruments.”

    No one can validly deduce that straight away from a single premise containing a deterministic thesis as its content. Rather, one would need other premises too. One of those would be some sort of premise containing an incompatibilist thesis as its content. So at best, the argument is: according to determinism and incompatibilism, humans are agents but mere instruments. I can agree to that. But how uninteresting!

  4. Nice job on this review. It is pretty surprising that he says Welty rejects causal determinism. A quick email to Greg could have clarified that.

    1. Or a walk down the hall.... I believe they teach at the same institution.