Sunday, July 12, 2009

Closing Arguments/Final Thoughts on the "Choose Debate"

Both Steve Hays and I have interacted quite extensively with Dan's "choose argument from the dictionary." I believe we have shown enough potential and actual problems with it that it should not command the assent of any Calvinist. Libertarians may like it, but I suspect that that's because it presupposes libertarianism. A good rule to go by when making a good argument (i.e., a cogent one, one that aims at persuading the opposition) is not to build into your argument the truth of your position, or assume the falsity of the other one. Dan's argument carries zero persuasive force, and so isn't a good (in the above sense) argument. In fact, I take it that both I and Steve have shown the argument to be false, and obviously so. But Dan and some of his readers are impressed with it (though I cited numerous libertarian action theorists, many of them the leading voices today, that disagree with Dan), that's just how these things go. An example might be that I think constructivism (the view that reality is the construct of (a) human mind(s)) is obviously false. I think some of the arguments against it are very good (e.g., those that make the charge of self-referential incoherency), but the anti-realists don't think they are. They make their own arguments, and those in agreement with them laud those arguments. There comes a time when you just have to let the arguments stand and let people decide. At the very least, Steve and I have shown that Dan's argument is far from obvious and makes too many highly questionable empirical assumptions---assumptions hitherto unargued for or proved---for it to count as a good argument. Now, if Dan's only goal was to reaffirm the beliefs of fellow Arminians, that's all fine and good. But to the extent that he wanted to try and give the Calvinist good reasons to drop his Calvinism, he has failed. The Calvinist doesn't find Dan's argument troubling, in the least. Indeed, the Calvinist (like me) doesn't really even know just what Dan is trying to argue. So, since I think the argument has not come close to defeating the defeaters given it, and since I think it is hopelessly flawed (though I grant that Dan and some of his readers may find it the best thing since sliced bread, and be rational in doing so), there's really not much left to say. So in this post I will critique some of the points Dan has raised since my last posts, and I will also offer some more critiques (mostly just putting my previous defeaters differently with the hope of achieving some persuasive force) of his claims and arguments. Most of my comments to his claims and arguments will be fairly short, but I think they are all sufficiently strong to show the (what I take to be) insurmountable problems with his argument; and if not that, they will at least show that he has not met his burden thus far. I realize Dan may advance and clean up his argument, but I do not think it will closely resemble his initial argument. Until he does so, below lists some of the main reasons why Dan's argument is flawed.

Dan's Choose Argument

Dan says that (one of his) his argument for LFW is this:

P1: The bible says people have wills and choose


P2: choosing rules out determinism


C1: the bible rules out determinism.

Okay, so let's grant [P1]. Let's also overlook the use of "wills" as it appears superfluous to the argument and doesn't do any work. Undoubtedly, the questionable premise is [P2]. So, what is Dan's argument for [P2]?
Dan writes,
I supported P2 based on the dictionary... Here’s my initial argument: The American Heritage College Dictionary (3rd edition) defines choose as: to select from a number of possible alternatives.

And then,
Hopefully it's clear that the 'dictionary definition' of choose includes at least two possibilities. But determinism prohibits twofold possibilities, so the dictionary rules out determinism.
But what does all this dictionary stuff have to do with the Bible and the Bible's use of the word "choose"? This brings in another premise of Dan's argument. Dan states,
...the common man thinks of choice as libertarian, ... the bible was written by common men and to the common man (i.e. to the people of Israel and the church, not the semi-compatibilist) and it uses the terms choice and choose.
And why think common man thinks of choice (or "choosing") as libertarian? Dan tells us,
the dictionary is better at establishing the laymen, common-sensical understanding of terms
Okay, so far as I've been able to discern, the above quotes constitute the relevant material from all of Dan's posts from which to make the argument for [P2]. So, let's try to construct the dictionary argument in support of [P2], and thus find a complete statement of Dan's argument.

The Complete Statement of the "Choose Argument"

[P1] The dictionary definition of "choose" includes, most importantly, the idea that there be at least two alternative possibilities from which a chooser chooses from, all of which are live possibilities.

[P2] If determinism is true, then no chooser has any live possible alternatives ever.

[C1] Therefore, the dictionary definition of "choose" is inconsistent with determinism.

[P3] If the Bible uses the word "choose", then the Bible means the word the way common man means the word.

[P4] If the Bible means a word the way common man means a word, then the dictionary is the best way to decipher how common man means a word.

[C2] Therefore, If the Bible uses the word "choose", the dictionary is the best way to decipher how common man means a word (and so how the Bible means the word).

[P4] The Bible uses the word "choose".

[P5] Therefore, the Bible means "choose" as the idea that there be at least two alternative possibilities from which a chooser chooses from, all of which are live possibilities.

[C3] Therefore, the Bible is inconsistent with determinism.

[P6] Libertarian Free Will, LFW, teaches that a chooser has alternative possibilities from which to choose from, all of which are live possibilities.

[C4] Therefore, the Bible assumes that choosers have LFW whenever it uses the word "choose".

[P7] Whatever the Bible assumes to be the case is the case.

[C5] Therefore, LFW is the case.

So stated, we have an argument against determinism and for LFW. I hope that Dan and other Arminian readers can grant that I have fairly represented his argument, and presented it forcefully. This argument, though long, also captures what Dan said his initial motive was that brought about his "dictionary argument". Dan said he was initially trying to answer Gene Bridges' request that an Arminian exegete LFW from the Bible. Though I think this can't be done, the best Dan can do is show that the Bible presupposes LFW. So, this argument does justice to Dan all the way back, if you will.

Defeating the "Choose Argument"

Here are three reasons for showing the "Choose Argument" to be unsound.

1. It is false "the dictionary" defines "choose" as, most importantly, including the notion of live alternative possibilities.

I demonstrated this here, by citing eleven dictionaries that do not include any talk of "possibilities" or "alternatives." This shows that [P1] is false.

Dan responds to this counter argument in a few ways:

(i) This is to use the thesaurus approach (using the words "select", "pick," etc., in the definition of choice is tautological).

(ii) Paul provides no argument as to why these arguments reconcile with determinism.

(iii) When you say a person is able to choose you are right back to possibilities.

(iv) My [Dan's] definitions are more clear and revealing than Paul's.

(v) Paul is a semi-compatibilist; semi-compatibilists say that freedom and determinism are not consistent.

(vi) Paul likes Kane's definition, and Kane's definition is philosophical, and we shouldn't impute philosophical definitions onto the Bible, and Paul didn't address my arguments for why Kane's definition of "choice” was philosophical.

I'll now respond to points (i) -> (vi).

Ad (i): This is to miss the point. All I needed to do was to demonstrate that it is false to claim that "the dictionary" defines "choose" by using, as an essential element, the notion of live alternative possibilities. I provides a sufficient amount of quotes by Dan above that all claim that "the dictionary" defines "choose" by including the idea of alternative possibility. So, it is false to claim that "the dictionary" defines "choose" by using the words: alternative, possible, option, etc.

In fact, as
Dan argues in this post, we can see that it his argument clearly depends on the idea that the dictionary definitions of "choose" include the words: alternatives, possibilities, options.

And this is why Dan states in that post, "I could go on, but you get the point." That is, he could go on giving definitions of "choose" that state that the "choosing" is among live "possibilities" or "alternatives.

What's more is that in the same post I just linked to, Dan admits that in a
previous post of mine, where I provide a few definitions of "choice", that they were consistent with determinism. Note well what Dan says here:

In our debate, I argued that the dictionary definition of choose rules out determinism. In Paul's recent rejoinder he states: “I cited numerous dictionaries that didn’t include a PAP (Principle of Alternate Possibilities) element”. (link) This is true, but misleading. Paul defined choice, but not choose.
See, as Dan makes clear, my definitions of "choice" not including the notion or words "possible alternatives" didn't land because Dan was defining "choose" and not "choice," and "choose" does include those words. See, when I used definitions of "choice" that were almost exactly identical to the definitions of "choose", Dan didn't say to those definitions what he said to my "choose" definitions! Dan allowed that those definitions were consistent with determinism. he then tried to side-step those definitions and claim that they didn't matter because he was defining "choose" and not "choice". The problem is, since those definitions of "choose" are almost identical to my "choice" definitions, then if the latter is allowed to be consistent with determinism, so is the former. Notice that to my claim that those definitions do not include the notion of "alternative possibilities," Dan says, "this is true" (emphasis mine). Thus, if they do not, and since they are virtually identical to my definitions of "choose", then "choose" does not include said idea.

Ad (ii): See answer to (i). I should not that I did make the same argument as the above in the post Dan responded to, just not as lengthy. So, Dan is wrong to say I didn't argue for my view.

However, I should say more. See, actually, neither Dan's dictionary definitions nor mine, at least a great many of them, are good definitions of "choose." For example, take this one of Dan's definitions:

The Wordsmyth English Dictionary: to select from two or more alternatives.

But of course this would include me nonchalantly reaching over and grabbing a Martini off a tray of drinks, without even looking where I was grabbing. It also does not rule out the mentally insane from freely choosing, since they do not have the requisite control needed to make free choices. Therefore, it is obvious that more needs to be said about "choose", and it is far from clear that "possible alternatives" are what is "essential" to "choose" (which I demonstrate above is not even included in numerous well-respected dictionaries, at all).

Now, let me define "choose".

Recall that Dan says to use the word "select," "pick," "take," etc., in your definition of "choose" is "tautological." Well, not obviously so. I would argue that a "choice" happens when you "select" or "pick" in a specific kind of way. If "pick" (say) were tautological, then Dan would have to say that I "choose" the Martin just because I took a random drink off a tray. Here Dan would admit that there were possible alternatives, and "selecting," or "taking" but no "choosing." However, many of his definitions simply say "to select out of possible alternatives." Again, then, the dictionary is just too problematic to make any solid argument on which the Arminian can stand to challenge the Calvinist to move off his position.

Now, my definition might be philosophical, but I'll address this criticism of Dan's when I get to (vi).

Choose = df to select freely out of a greater number of things, where this selecting is a mental action explained in terms of reasons, where a reason is a purpose, end, or goal for choosing one (or more) thing to make a selection out of a group of things, or an intentional object, which is about or directed at the future and opative in mood, i.e., wishing to pick x-thing and that it be good for x-thing to prevail in the world rather than y-thing being picked and prevailing in the world.

This looks good to me (and it is a combination of dictionary and philosophical definitions, taken from Oxford dictionary, Goetz and Talliaferro, and Ishtyaqui Haji), and is consistent with determinism. For it to be inconsistent, there would have to be some talk of "indeterminate" or "absent any antecedent conditions" or "the chooser must have been able to do other than choose x if he chose x, given the exact same history (or decree of God) up to the moment of the choosing," etc. But as it stands, and as was confirmed to me by Taliaferro and Goetz, the above definition is compatible with determinism (and I dare say they know what is and isn't compatible). Another benefit this definition has is that it isn't rigged. It works just as well for a libertarian model as it does a compatibilist model.

Ad (iii): This is only the case if you're assuming libertarianism. If a dictionary says "choose" is "selecting freely out of a great number", it is only problematic if you assume that "free" can only be possible on libertarianism. Yes, at this point we would have to debate whether "freedom" can be had on either determinism or libertarianism (for let us remember,
there are many good arguments that attempt to show that indeterminism does not provide us with the kind of control needed for freedom1) which, of course, takes us far away from any dictionary/common man argument. Now instead of engaging in a look-and-see what the dictionary says discussion, we are engaged in a metaphysical discussion that has raged over two millennia. So, Dan is free to claim that my definitions which define "choose" as "select freely from a greater number" involve a debate over the metaphysics of free will so we can see which views (libertarianism or determinism) allow ascriptions of "free" to be made, but this isn't to "restart" the argument. Rather, it is to show that he can't engage in making an argument just from the dictionaries words. So, when you say "a person is able to choose" you are not "right back to possibilities."

Another thing Dan says is that my definitions, which say, "select from among a greater number of things," means "possibilities" because it says "things." However, this seems obviously strained. Things is just the collection of stuff, if you will, from which you choose something, rather than another thing, out of. The mere presence of the word "thing" in the definition does not imply "actually possible thing" unless you're assuming libertarianism, which is just what we're supposed to be debating.

Ad (iv): See (AD (ii)) above.

Ad (v): This is false. Semi-compatibilists only admit that determinism is incompatible with "could do otherwise" or a freedom that "requires alternative possibilities." Only if "could do otherwise" or "alternative possibilities" is essential to freedom would we say determinism is not compatible with freedom. But, since it is far from clear that a freedom worth having requires the above (as even some libertarians (e.g., narrow source incompatibilists) have admitted), then it is far from clear that semi-compatibilist is inconsistent with freedom.

Ad (vi): I'll say it up front: I have no problem with a philosophical definition being used when trying to understand God's revelation. In fact, I find the denial of that idea extreme. What of all the analytic theologians (e.g., Crisp, Rea, Anderson)? What of the early church and the formulation of Christian doctrine? It seems to me obvious that we use philosophical definitions to make clear certain concepts used in the Bible. If Dan objects to this, I only shrug my shoulders. I guess I can also play the et tu card. See, Dan thinks that his definitions are not "philosophical". Unfortunately, this isn't the case. Let's see how the Harper Collins Dictionary of Philosophy defines "choosing":

Choosing = df A voluntary act preceded by deliberation; conscious selection; the mental act that causes an action to take place which is usually the on preferred from among alternative courses of action. (Peter Angeles, The Harper Collins Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd ed., 1992, 46, emphasis mine).

What do you know, looks like Dan has been trying to impose a philosophical definition on Scripture!

I guess another response here might be that I deny that Kane's definition is a "sophisticated philosophical definition."

2. It is false that however common man defines a term the Bible so defines that term, and we know how common man defines a term by going to the dictionary. In fact, sometimes common man is just wrong.

In response to this
Dan wrote,

Then God would either not use the term choose or deny the term or explain what He means by it.
I just find this false. Where does Dan get this idea? God didn't tell him. It looks like an ad hoc constraint conjured up to save Dan's argument. See, let's take two words:

(i) Know


(ii) See

The Bible uses these words. God never explains what he means by it. And, common man has held a wrong or severely deficient view of these words. Take (ii). There are various views of perception. Many common men have held to naive realism. This is probably wrong. At any rate, God never defines the view. And, the dictionary is helpless here. It simply says "to perceive with the eyes." But Dan must not allow this definition for the reasons he didn't allow many of my "choose" ones. The definition is so vague that it could be obviously false, and it hopelessly insufficient as a definition,
here's some reasons why. So, I maintain that philosophical analysis can help here. Lastly, take (i). Here's a dictionary definition: "to perceive or understand as fact or truth; to apprehend clearly and with certainty: I know the situation fully." Now, to anyone even remotely aware of the current discussions in epistemology, this is likewise inadequate, and probably false. It very easily could be read to support internalism. Is Dan going to argue that:

[P1*] The Bible uses the word know.

[P2*] Know is inconsistent with externalism [insert dictionary argument].

[C1*] Therefore, the Bible rules out externalism.

I take it that this shows that Dan's argument is invalid via the method of testing for validity by logical counter-example. Is Dan going to argue now against Plantinga et al? If so,
does he have an answer for Bergmann?

3. It is not obvious that "the common man" has a default setting for libertarianism.

Dan has assumed many times that common man is a libertarian. I offered empirical evidence denying this assumption. I have also asked than Dan argue for this empirical claim of his, no argument has been forthcoming. In fact, since Dan defined "common man" as all who have been, and are members of the Church of Christ, then he admits that there have been, and are, thousands of compatibilists among the rank of "common men."

But, even if common man did have said setting, this doesn't seem strong enough to make Dan's point. Common man gets a lot of things about how God runs his universe flat out wrong.2 Dan has argued (as I cite him above) that God would explain this different use of words to them. I answered that this idea of his seems contrived. I also showed that it was false. And now I will add that it begs the question since the Calvinist argues that we have just such revelations from God from which we can assume some kind of divine determinism. But even if we didn't, who says God must tell us now? Surely he could wait until heaven to tell us that he determines all events and compatibilism is true---explaining how he brings freedom and determinism together; which, if I may speculate, might be easier than explaining, if he does, and if we could understand it, how he brought the divine and human together so that there is one person who is fully human and fully divine!).


These points (along with the dozens of others both Steve and I have made) really seem to undercut Dan's argument. Here I simply try to explain the reasons why Calvinists do not and should not find Dan's argument persuasive at all. As I said above, I think Dan's argument here is about as wrong as you can go, and wrong at many points too, with an argument. But I realize he and his readers like it. Given the amount of energy and time expended on it, I really don't see that any progress will be made. So I simply lay out some reasons to think Dan's argument unpersuasive, some reasons for thinking it unsound, and I leave it to the readers to decide. No doubt many Arminians will be unmoved the the counter arguments made here. That's fine. Besides these counter arguments are the positive Biblical and extra-biblical reasons for thinking compatibilism true and libertarianism unable to square with the Bible, as well as possibly failing to provide enough control for freedom. These arguments would also need to be weighed in considering Dan's argument. Overall I think for all the time and energy defended, and all the lauding of Dan's argument by Arminians, it was nothing but a paper tiger. I know he feels different, we'll have to leave it at that.


See further: Lucky Libertarianism, M. Almeida and M. Bernstein, Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition, Vol. 113, No. 2 (Mar., 2003), pp. 93-119; Indeterminism, Explanation, and Luck, Ishtiyaque Haji, The Journal of Ethics, Vol. 4, No. 3 (Jul., 2000), pp. 211-235; Alternative Possibilities, Luck, and Moral Responsibility, Ishtiyaque Haji, The Journal of Ethics, Vol. 7, No. 3 (2003), pp. 253-275; Libertarianism and the Luck Objection (Comments on Robert Kane's Presentation), Ishtiyaque Haji, The Journal of Ethics, Vol. 4, No. 4, Free Will and Moral Responsibility: Three Recent Views (Dec., 2000), pp. 329-337; Alfred R. Mele (1999), Kane, Luck, and the Significance of Free Will, Philosophical Explorations 2 (2):96-104; Alfred R. Mele (2005), Libertarianism, Luck, and Control, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 86 (3):381-407; Peter van Inwagen, Free Will Remains a Mystery, Oxford Handbook of Free Will, 158-177, esp. 167-175; and Sean Choi, The Libertarian Dilemma: A Study in the Logic and Metaphysics of Indeterminist Free Will, (VDM Verlag, 2008).

2 As C.S. Lewis reminds us: "Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about it that real things have. So let us leave behind all these boys' philosophies--these over simple answers. The problem is not simple and the answer is not going to be simple either."


  1. Being a "common man" and using my "common sense" I'm of the opinion that Dan's argument has been soundly defeated:)

  2. How many more times are you going to make a similar post, Paul? ;)

    And you said naive realism is probably false. What do you think of John Searle's "transcendental argument" for naive realism? I came across it reading his Mind: A Brief Introduction.

  3. Steven,

    Why so unloving?

    Anyway, you can make some deductions for yourself:

    If this is my closing argument, then the answer is 0 more times.

    Also, closing arguments and final thoughts are often repetitious.

    Also, I brought up more than a few new points and interacted with some new responses from Dan.

    Anyway, Searle says his argument is "for some version of direct realism" (and he thinks of his as naive realism). To deny naive realism is not to deny any direct realism (as I recall, J.P. Moreland makes this point in his Body&Soul, and Le Morvan makes this point as well in his Arguments Against Direct Realism and How to Counter Them), though the terms have sometimes been used interchangebly.

    I also think a theological idealism can answer Searle's objections. Seems to me that you can invoke God to explain the putative "public" phenomena. I'm not an idealist, but I do believe it's harder to refute than most think. As Van Inwagen says, it probably depends on theism. But Searle won't make this "gratuitous assumption."

    Not sure I'm persuaded by his arguments against the hallucination objection either.

    At any rate, not here for this thread to derail. I said that "naive realism" is probably false; and it probably is. Searle usually stands against the world.

  4. Well I would've thought that your declaration of the death of the argument from the dictionary on multiple occasions would've counted as the "last of the last", but I suppose you have a point.

    And I'm being unloving because I'm an insensitive jerk who doesn't care whose feelings I'm hurting or heart I'm breakin', so long as I can get in my freakin' clever comments and look like a total champion when I post! (Not saying you are, because you're not; I'm just being silly.)

    I'm not entirely sure what you mean by some version of theological idealism answering Searle's objection, but you said you don't want the thread derailed so I'll drop it.

  5. Steven,

    You have my email.

    Briefly: Both realists and idealists agree about common objects, they just disagree about their nature, about what they are. God coordinates series of sensations that come into (say) two observer's minds (say they both are minds sensing rose gardens). So, I can't see why this view (which is of course has much more detail than I gave above) can't make sense of the "public" world? Anyway, I just don't see how many of the respectable views of sensation can't account for public observations.