Thursday, May 08, 2008

Theological determinism


“Is there something wrong with the definition here?”

I didn’t bother to take issue with Hasker’s definition. I could quibble with his definition, but it wasn’t necessary to do so.

The key element in his definition is the impossibility of nonoccurrence. But that’s ambiguous. I played along with his definition, but I constructed a counterexample.

“Any way you slice it the king guaranteed the outcome.”

Guaranteed which outcome? By locking one of the two doors, the Emperor guaranteed the nonoccurrence of one possible outcome. But that, of itself, doesn’t guarantee the occurrence of the other possible outcome.

“Whether the prince and princess were ignorant of the fact or not is just irrelevant.”

That depends. If the suitor knew which door was locked, then he wouldn’t even consider choosing that door. It wouldn’t even figure in his deliberations.

Conversely, if he was never going to choose that door, then the fact that this apparent alternative was never a live option is morally irrelevant to his ultimate choice.

“The king provided a sufficient cause.”

The Emperor didn’t provide a sufficient cause. It isn’t inevitable that the suitor would have chosen the door concealing the princess.

He might have chosen the door concealing the tiger. If he had, he would have been unsuccessful in opening the door. But the fact that it was impossible for him to exercise that option doesn’t mean he had to choose the other door instead. This is why Hasker’s definition is fatally ambiguous.

The actual alternatives come down to:

i) Choose the door concealing the princess.

Since that door is unlocked, that’s a live option. If he made that choice, the princess would be waiting for him on the other side.

ii) Choose the door concealing the tiger.

Since that door is locked, it’s impossible for the suitor to open the door, although he could try the doorknob.

The failure of (ii) doesn’t commit him to (i).

“The result was overdetermined in this case, however.”

Overdetermined in the sense that it was impossible for him to choose the tiger over the princess, even if he had opted for that alternative.

But he was never going to make that choice anyway. So the fact that, unbeknownst to him, he could not have done otherwise even if he wanted to is morally irrelevant.

“Was the sin of Adam overdetermined, or the sin of Satan??”

Right now I’m confining my discussion to Hasker’s definition.

“Overdetermined” is ambiguous. I’ve given an example of negative Overdetermination.

The locked door prevented him from opening the door had he attempted to do so.

But that doesn’t positively determine or positively overdetermine him to choose the alternative.

In my illustration, the decisive factor was the suitor’s choice. The Emperor didn’t make the suitor choose the door concealing the princess. Although the Emperor deprived the suitor of genuine freedom of opportunity, his attempt to rig the outcome had no affect on the outcome since the suitor was never going to choose otherwise. The ability to do otherwise would only be relevant if you were going to choose otherwise.

“If you provide the sufficient conditions for something, you provide a determining cause… Supplying a sufficient cause for something is to guarantee its occurrence.”

True, but the fallacy in Reppert’s analysis is to equate the absence of a possible alternative with a sufficient condition.

“In your system, if there is a decree, there is a sin. If there is no decree there is no sin. It's theological determinism pure and simple.”

True, but there are different means of modeling the way in which the determinate outcome is effected or instantiated.

Let’s compare and contrast two similar, but somewhat different scenarios. Take possible worlds:

The Cincinnati Kid I.

The Cincinnati Kid II.

In CK-I, the Man and the Kid stage a poker match. The Kid arranges with Shooter to stack the deck.

There’s a sense in which the dealer determines the outcome by stacking the deck.

In CK-II, the Man and the Kid stage a poker match. Unlike CK-I, the Kid doesn’t arrange with Shooter to stack the deck.

Yet, as luck would have it, the cards have the same sequence. Hence, the outcome is the identical—even though the deck was randomly shuffled.

If God instantiates CK-I, there’s a sense in which he causes that outcome to obtain. And if he instantiates CK-II, there’s a sense in which he also causes that outcome to obtain.

In each case, he causes the outcome by causing the possible world in which the outcome occurs to exist. In each case, the outcome is identical, although the means of achieving the outcome vary. In each case, the players make choices, although they don’t choose which possible world will become the actual world. In each case, the players are secondary agents, while God is the primary agent. God is not the sole agent. God is not the Kid, the Man, the Shooter, or Lady Fingers.

“If Calvinism is true the God causes sins.”

Reppert indulges in a bait-and-switch scam, whereby he oscillates between a cause and a sufficient condition.

“Go ahead and believe it if you want to, well, to avoid begging the question, if God predestines you to do so, or because you think that Bible teaches it. Just don't tell me that God is not the cause of sin. On a counterfactual analysis of causation, God's decrees cause sins. It's that simple.”

It’s that simple if, like Reppert, you operate at the level of a simpleton.

What about a counterfactual theory of causation? I assume Reppert has something like the following in mind:

If A hadn’t happened, then B wouldn’t happen.

Let’s plug this into a concrete example:

If Abraham hadn’t slept with Sarah, Isaac wouldn’t exist.

Does this mean that Abraham caused Isaac to exist? Well, he’s a necessary factor in the existence of Isaac. But he’s not the sole cause of Isaac’s existence, is he?

Is Abraham a sufficient factor in the existence of Isaac? Or did Sarah make a necessary contribution to the conception, gestation, and birth of Isaac?

In Calvinism, the decree is a necessary condition for whatever occurs. But it’s not a sufficient condition. Creation, providence, and miracle supply other necessary conditions.

“Of course, how you get around James 1:13 may be difficult if you admit these conclusions, which seem to me to be clearly right.”

Pity you didn’t bother to exegete your prooftext. Speaking for myself, I’d draw two exegetical distinctions:

i) The same Greek word can either mean outward trials or inward temptations. Which meaning is intended depends on the context.

ii) Apropos (i), James is referring, in context, to the trials facing believers (1:2ff.)—not unbelievers.

iii) Apropos (i)-(ii), God doesn’t induce a believer to commit sin, although God often exposes a believer to various adversities.

In context, James is not making a general statement about the way in which God deals with unbelievers. He isn’t writing to, for, or about believers and unbelievers alike in this section.

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