Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Jumping from a skyscraper

Apostate Dale Tuggy recently conducted a two-part interview with Reformed philosopher Guillaume Bignon.

In part 2, Tuggy raised some objections to Bignon's position. That's fine. Calvinism is fair game. Bignon fielded the objections with great aplomb. But I'll comment on Dale's objections as well. 

1. There's a subtext to Dale's appeal to common sense/intuition and defense of question-begging. Dale is a militant unitarian, and he uses the same tactics in his attack on the Incarnation and the Trinity.

2. In addition, when Dale appeals to libertarian freedom, he takes that to the logical extreme of open theism. 

Christians who might be sympathetic to Dale's attack on Calvinism may not realize that his antipathy towards Calvinism is based on the same assumptions that drive his attack on Trinitarian, Incarnational theology–as well as his denial of divine foreknowledge. 

3. There are different ways of defining libertarian freedom. Dale defines it in terms of access to alternate possibilities ("multiple available options). Others define it in terms of ultimate sourcehood. When Dale appeals to common sense and intuition, which definition does intuition/common sense (allegedly) single out?

4. Dr. Bignon explains how many objections to Calvinism (or theological determinism) beg the question. Dale grants that, but defends begging the question. That, however, is a startlingly anti-intellectual move for a philosophy prof. to make. Surely he doesn't wish to say, as a matter of general principle, that it's philosophically legitimate to beg the question. 

Borrowing a page from Plantinga, he claims that certain beliefs are properly basic. And there's nothing wrong with that. However, if you're going to classify a particular belief as properly basic, then you need to provide an argument for why it merits that status. Although a person can be justified in holding a particular belief even though he can't give a good reason for his belief, a justification is still required to legitimate the classification. It may not be incumbent for the man on the street to do that, but in principle, it is necessary to demonstrate that a candidate for proper basicality merits that status. If there's an unrestricted prerogative to stipulate that any given belief is properly basic, then that opens the floodgates to a deluge of irrational, unaccountable beliefs.

5. Tuggy cites Deut 30 as a prooftext for libertarian freedom. I've discussed that appeal elsewhere:

6. A problem with facile appeal to intuition or common sense is that these usually involve particular kinds of examples. And a Reformed philosopher will agree that lacking certain kinds of freedom may obviate moral responsibility. The problem is overgeneralizing from plausible examples to implausible examples. 

7. Dale appeals to feelings of regret or guilt, which he says presuppose two-way freedom. Say, kicking the dog after coming home from a frustrating day of work. yet Tuggy says if the employ had just had a beer or gone for a walk before coming home, he might not kick the dog. But by that logic, the outcome would be different because the antecedent conditions were different. Yet two-way freedom is typically defined as the ability to do the same thing given the same antecedent conditions. The future can fork off in different directions given the same past. 

Moreover, that means that if the employee was in a better mood, he wouldn't kick the dog. Yet in that case it's not two-way freedom, but dependent on the mood he's in at the moment. 

So Dale's example is counterproductive. The action wasn't avoidable given the same prior conditions. 

8. Dale asks how determinism is consistent with the outcome hinging on the decisions you make. But that confuses determinism with que sera sera fatalism. In theological determinism, the decisions an agent makes do affect the outcome. 

9. Another problem with Dale's appeal is that his argument either proves too much or too little. Take a man who in a fit of depression jumps off a skyscraper, but on the way down he has second thoughts and regrets his rash act. But at that point it's too late for him to turn back the clock. He's doomed. 

How does the postulate of libertarian freedom ground the moral responsibility of his action? He doesn't know in advance will it be like to attempt suicide. He can only find out by experience. But if that turns out to be a terrible mistake, he doesn't get a second chance to benefit from his experience. It wasn't a dress rehearsal. No second takes. The first take is the only take. But how does that qualify as informed consent? You can't know before you do it what it will be like to do it. But once you do it, you're stuck with that choice. 

Or take a teenage sniper who in a fit of rage murders his classmates. After he has time to cool off, he bitterly regrets his impulsive action. Viewing the action in retrospect gives him a radically different perspective. If he knew then what he knows now, he wouldn't commit that heinous act. He'd give anything to go back a day and refrain from committing that heinous act. But it's too late. 

How does libertarian freedom suffice? Regret requires having the benefit of hindsight, but that's not something you can have ahead of time. So that's an intractable dilemma for any position that grounds moral responsibility in libertarian freedom. It generates vain regrets. Because there's still determinism in play: the accidental necessity of the past. Once the deed is done, that's unalterable. So many human decisions are shortsighted. We don't have the opportunity to test more than one option at a time. We don't have the chance to compare them in reality. The agent regrets not having the opportunity do go back in time and make the right decision the second time around. 

10. Dale also gets into the problem of evil, and whether God has the right to do some things that would be immoral if a human agent did them. Are some actions intrinsically wrong? 

i) I agree that some actions are intrinsically wrong, but that's inseparable from the existence of God. It's not the case that some actions are wrong both in worlds where God exists and worlds where God is nonexistent. 

ii) Sometimes parents put an older sibling in charge of a younger sibling. The older sibling then begins to boss the younger sibling around, as if the older sibling is the parent. Younger siblings resent that because they don't think a brother or sister has the same authority as a parent. I just use that example to illustrate the "intuition" that sometimes it does make a different who's giving the orders. 


  1. Where would you point me for an introduction to the major positions on free will? For instance, I was unaware that within libertarian free will there was the PAP (which I took as synonymous with libertarian free will) and ultimate sourcehood (which is a new one for me).

  2. I highly recommend both parts of the interview.

    Part One Episode 216:

    Part Two Episode 217:

    Dr. Bignon also did a webinar on the topic, "Is Calvinism Excusing Sinners and Blaming God?":

    I also recommend Dr. Bignon's testimony of his conversion to Christianity. In the interview with Tuggy, Guillaume states that one of the reasons he got interested in studying Calvinism was because his conversion lined up with Calvinism. How God worked providentially to bring about his conversion even though he was happy as an atheist and wasn't looking for God.

    How a French Atheist Becomes a Christian Theologian (Guillaume Bignon)

  3. Didn't ask him about it, but it is mysterious to me how someone can think God's pursuit of them leading to conversion implies or even suggests a Calvinist/Augustinian view about sovereignty and salvation, etc. Open theists, Arminians, Molinists - all Christians believe in God's generous, active, unearned grace as necessary for being born again.

  4. Quite a lot of point-missing in this commentary, e.g. not seeing the distinction between shame and mere regret, not stating when I think it is be reasonable to "beg the question." If the insight to word ratio were higher, I would engage...