Friday, April 07, 2006

Semantic quibbles

Continuing our running commentary on Robinson’s remarks over at Evan May’s weblog:

“What I have asked from you is an explanation of what ‘fallen’ constitutes.”

Here is one classic definition: “The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell consisteth in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of that righteousness wherein he was created, and the corruption of his nature, whereby his is utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite unto all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined to all evil, and that continually, which is commonly called original sin, and from which do proceed all actual transgressions” (WLC Q/A 25).

See also:

WLC Q/A 27.
WSC Q/A 18.
WCF 6:2-6.

“As I stated before, does the predisposition determine or incline the agent’s action?”

It determines to sin in general, an inclines to sin in particular.

But let us remember that Evan’s explanation didn’t hinge on making the word “predisposition” capture the entire concept all by itself. That’s what sentences are for.

What Evan said was: “the unregenerate have a predisposition to sin to such a degree that they are unable to do otherwise.”

Notice how Robinson has sheared the original statement of all its qualifiers: “the unregenerate”; “to such a degree”.

Predispositions vary in their intensity. And they vary with the moral status of the agent.

The Bible uses figures of speech like “tree” or “heart.”

When we get into philosophical theology, we need to isolate and identify the literal concept, and verbalize that concept in terms supplied by medieval and modern psychology, viz., ego, psyche, person, personality, self, conscience, consciousness, subconsciousness, faculty, habitus, inclination, disposition, predisposition, motive, incentive, intention, animus, velleity, appetency, conatus.

No one word is going to give us an exact match between the word and concept.

In addition, when dealing with states of the mind, we’re dealing with self-presenting states, and there comes a point at which we can offer no noncircular definitions or explanations since these are primitive, bedrock causes by which we explain effects.

“Is the predisposition a desire?”

A desire to sin.

“What is the difference then between a predisposition (desire) and a volitional act (a willing)?”

A predisposition is passive until it’s presented with a suitable stimulus. The predisposition is a necessary condition as well as a constraint on the range of the will. To be a sufficient condition requires the addition of a suitable stimulus: an object of choice.

“Is the predisposition to sin of human nature or of the person?”

Could be either since the person is a concretized human nature. A property-instance of human nature.

“What would willing/desiring in opposition to what is good amount to?”

A conditional desire for an alternative good.

Remember that the cross is an evil means to an ultimate good.

“And if Jesus is determined by God’s decretive will, how is it that the second person of the Trinity, God, is determined or necessitated to do anything?”

A conditional necessity. God is a covenant-keeping God. He voluntarily binds himself by freely entering into covenantal arrangements.

The Son is a coequal party to the decree.

“Isn’t there then a fundamental difference between the Son and the other members of the Trinity since they are not determined or necessitated to do anything and completely free whereas the Son is predestined and determined to do certain acts?”

In the economy of salvation there is a Trinitarian division of labor. All three persons assume a redemptive role: the Father in election and justification, the Son in atoning for sin, and the Spirit in the renewal and preservation of the elect.

“And isn’t the distinction between decretive and perceptive simply a judgment or distinction we make and not a real difference in God? That is, since God is not composed, then the decretive and the perceptive are in God one and the same thing but we just think of them differently. Is that not so? Or do you think that God is composed in some way?”

Notice how Robinson tries to lay a trap by weaseling in the doctrine of divine simplicity, hoping that Evan will take the bait, and which point Robinson can once again exhume his putrescent objection to Calvinism.

God is indecomposable, but that admission doesn’t commit us to extreme reductionism.

The preceptive will subserves the decretive will as a means to an end.

“As for Adam, I am just applying your Edwardian line about natures, desires and actions throughout your theological system. It seems to me that you cannot apply it consistently which signals that your explanation is mistaken. The fact that your system putters out and becomes inconsistent at that point isn’t a concern of mine, but it should be for you. I just don’t understand how someone can make that kind of ad hoc appeal to ignorance legitimately. If the theory, on its own principles fails to explain pertinent data and in chief cases, then it seems like a pretty poor theory.”

A general theory of the will is not going to specify any particular decision by any particular agent. Perry commits a level-confusion.

“The question wasn’t, I don’t believe, of why Adam sinned or what was going through his mind. The question was, given the Edwardian line that natures determine desires, and desires actions, plus your gloss that Adam had neither good nor evil desires, how is it possible to Adam to even act? How is that not a Buridan’s Ass case?”

Edwards’ theory of conative freedom is not at all the same thing as liberty of indifference, where the will is in a state of equilibrium.

“Didn’t you tell me before that it was the strongest desire that wins out and that is what it is to will something? Well what strongest desire “won out” in Adam?”

Notice that Robinson now reverts to the very question he just denied asking. To identify Adam’s strongest desire, we would need to be privy to Adam’s state of mind. But what considerations induced him to sin we are in no position to say.

“And you ignored all of my questions about the good tree. Was Adam a good tree or a bad tree?”

This is a metaphor. In order to answer the question, the metaphor needs to be cashed out in literal terms. Perry should rephrase his question and define his terms.

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