Sunday, March 13, 2011

Noncausal determinism

i) Critics of Calvinism attribute “causal determinism” to Calvinism. And they’re positive that’s a really bad thing. Some Calvinists also attribute causal determinism to Calvinism.

However, the ascription is murky since definitions of causality and determinism vary widely in the philosophical literature.

ii) In addition, one thing this framework overlooks is the possibility of noncausal determination. Take the following scenario:

If, at a 4-way intersection, a malfunctioning green light stays green (i.e. doesn’t turn red when it’s supposed to) while the red light turns green, you have the same effect as if both lights turned green.

In both scenarios you have cars ramming into each other, but in one case, that was due to a positive cause (both lights turning green at the same time), while in the other case, that was due to something that didn’t happen (the green light didn’t turn red when the red light turned green). A nonevent resulting in an event.

If B happens because A didn't happen, is that a case of causal determinism or noncausal determinism? 

Some philosophers don’t think a nonoccurence can be the cause of a positive event. Yet the aforesaid scenario is still deterministic. For if certain cars are traveling at a certain time and place due to the malfunctioning light, then a collision is inevitable.

(A collision is not inherently inevitable. It depends on the details of the hypothetical. The number of cars, the timing of events. But in my hypothetical, that’s bound to happen.)

iii) This, in turn, raises the question of whether Calvinistic predestination or providence could be still be deterministic, but noncausally deterministic rather than causally deterministic.

Keep in mind that the Bible doesn’t reveal a theory of causation. So different theoretical models are available.

iv) Finally, this raises a further question: do critics of Calvinism object to causal determinism because it’s causal, deterministic, or the combination?

Is noncausal determinism subject to the same ethical objections as causal determinism?

For instance, it’s seems counterintuitive to say a man was “forced” to do something, or that his liberty was “violated,” by something else that didn’t happen to him.  


  1. This is my understanding of "Endured with much longsuffering vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction".

  2. While I am not an expert on this particular theistic argument, doesn't the Van Tillian argument from the preconditions of induction rely upon theistic causation? As opposed to other worldviews, we *know* through divine revelation that the world is causative. Since we have this knowledge, we are justified in using causal analysis, and so forth.

    If that is right, then couldn't denying causation somehow undermine induction?

  3. To begin with, you have to define what makes something a "cause." That's disputed, as I noted at the outset.

    Moreover, which is primary: determinism or causation? Wouldn't causality just be one particular mode of determinism? And if the same determinate end can be achieved apart from causality, so what?

  4. In a very real sense God caused the degrading and excruciating method of torture/death known as crucifixion to come into existence with a predetermined outcome in mind - the greatest miscarriage of justice the world has ever known, the brutal execution of the only truly innocent man who ever lived; yet this miscarriage of justice was paradoxically also the only way for justice to be satisfied, and the execution was a victory for life, and the deathblow of death.

    Ponder it.

    In Christ,

  5. "Keep in mind that the Bible doesn’t reveal a theory of causation. So different theoretical models are available."

    The Bible doesn't explicate a causal system, but it does necessarily require some popular theories of causation to be understood as false.

    Specifically, the Bible gives some elements of causation as clues. For example, we know that God causes. We know, to a revealed degree, the nature of God. Therefore, any theory of causation must be informed by such constraints as these.

  6. If you define libertarian freedom in terms of contra-causal choices, you've got problems with non-causal determinism if it's correct to say that there are no causes in such cases. But you can define libertarian freedom in terms of the ability to do otherwise, and you can still distinguish that from compatibilism.

    I'd argue that we still should see these as causes, so I wouldn't call it non-causal determinism. I would say, though, that a sufficiently robust view of how God's sovereignty can operate shows that it's a very simplistic straw man of Calvinism to require that it involve God causing things to happen by making one event cause the next in such a very direct manner as how we usually think of positive causes.

    Augustine's model for freedom is to do his determinism in terms of Aristotelian final causes while denying efficient-cause determinism. What makes our choices free is that we incline toward what we most want, and nothing outside us guarantees what we do in an efficient-cause sense. But what retains God's sovereignty, in his view, is that God can predict exactly what anyone would do at any moment, because God knows our desires and can see what we'll do if given any particular scenario. So you have a much stronger doctrine of sovereignty than you get with mere foreknowledge, say, but you might argue that it's still Calvinist. I'm not going to endorse Augustine's view as the correct one. I think he gets a few things wrong. But it seems to me to be both compatible with Calvinist views of divine sovereignty and explicitly disallowing of efficient-cause determinism.