Stress-testing the
mind of Christ

Where a recovering ex-atheist rams the Bible into other worldviews to see what breaks (note: Scripture cannot be broken)


series
Thorny problems with Molinism #4: the internal contradiction between CCFs & PAP

In which I illustrate that if counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are true, the principle of alternate possibility must be false.

Continued from part 3, on how Molinism gives no account of how God can know what people will do

Now that I’ve canvassed some exegetical and theological problems with Molinism, I’m going to move on to a philosophical one—a contradiction which issues between two Molinist beliefs:

  1. If a free person (Ali), a general food-lover, were in some Circumstance where she had to choose between chocolate and cheese, then she could choose either (this is the principle of alternate possibility, PAP).
  2. God knows that if Ali were in the Circumstance, then she would choose chocolate (this is the counterfactual of creaturely freedom, CCF, for Ali in the Circumstance).

There are a couple of important things to understand about (1), so you can see how this contradiction arises:

So the Molinist believes that when Ali gets to the Circumstance, she really could choose chocolate, and she really could choose cheese, and there is nothing that determines this choice except her own will at that moment. But this seems to put him in a bind…

A thought-experiment to illustrate the problem

Imagine God creates a million worlds, all identical up until the Circumstance. If Ali really can choose either chocolate or cheese, we would expect some percentage of these worlds to diverge from the others at the moment of her choice. In some of the worlds, Ali would choose chocolate; and in others, history would proceed identically up until the Circumstance, and then Ali would choose cheese. Maybe in 853,302 worlds she would choose chocolate, but then in 146,698 she would choose cheese. Or whatever. What we would expect to see is that in some percentage of worlds her choice goes one way, and in some percentage it goes the other.

We’d expect this because both chocolate and cheese are live options for Ali. She really can choose otherwise than chocolate—even out of character and against all other influences. So if she only ever chooses chocolate, even in a million identical worlds, this would be overwhelming evidence that cheese is not, in fact, a live option; that she cannot choose it. There would seem to be something necessitating her choosing chocolate, and preventing her choosing cheese. That outcome would be indistinguishable from determinism, which the Molinist repudiates.

Now, leaving aside the well-worn worry that this some-worlds-chocolate, some-worlds-cheese scenario looks like mere chance rather than a responsible choice, here is how the problem plays out:

  1. God wants to create only one world;
  2. He wants it to be a world in which Ali will choose chocolate;
  3. The way he ensures Ali will choose chocolate is by actualizing the Circumstance in which she would choose chocolate;
  4. But…the Circumstance in which she would choose chocolate is identical to the Circumstance in which she could choose cheese

You probably see the obvious contradiction inherent in (iv). But let me try to draw it out a bit:

How can God “pick out” the chocolate world to create, and distinguish it from the identical cheese world? What could conceivably “privilege” the one over the other, given that there is nothing to distinguish between them with respect to how Ali will choose?

This isn’t an easy problem to get your head around, so let me riff on it some more. Refer back to item (2) near the beginning, which says that in the Circumstance, Ali would choose chocolate. How can this be true? God plans to create just one world identical to the million he created in the experiment above. Those worlds were all identical at the moment of the Circumstance, yet Ali still chose cheese in some of them. But then, in the single world God plans to create—which is precisely the same as these other worlds—there must be some chance that Ali would choose cheese.

But if there is some chance she’d choose cheese in the Circumstance, it simply cannot be the case that she would—as a matter of 100% certain fact—choose chocolate.

Remember: this is not a matter of what Ali does choose once God actualizes the Circumstance. Obviously if he went ahead and actualized the Circumstance, then he would know what Ali chooses—because then she would actually decide on chocolate or cheese, and he would have free knowledge of this event.

The problem is with the hypothetical or possible world God is thinking of creating, as opposed to any actual world which he does create. It looks like the Molinist is simply trying to eat his cake, and then still have it too. He is saying that Ali both (a) would certainly and (b) would not necessarily choose chocolate in the Circumstance. But (a) and (b) are formally contradictory to each other. They cannot both be true.

The Molinist’s dilemma

It seems the Molinist has to either throw out the truth of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, or the truth of the principle of alternate possibility. Either it must be false that Ali would choose chocolate in the Circumstance, or it must be false that she could choose cheese. The problem is, either horn of the dilemma completely skewers Molinism. You cannot have Molinism without both these doctrines:

This isn’t the place to delve into the philosophical intricacies of each horn of this dilemma; suffice to say it presents a very thorny problem for Molinism indeed, and one to which I can see no solution. Molinism appears to be stillborn.

To be continued…

12 comments

  1. John

    Oh boy, Molinism always makes my head hurt.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think the dilemma you raise is an interesting question, but I think the flaw in the thinking is the same one that causes Calvinists to misunderstand all non-Calvinist systems. I’m no a Molinist, but I think the response I would give is the same one a Molinist would give. That is that a live option and a true free will doesn’t mean you will choose against your character. Yes, I guess it means you can choose against circumstance, but not against character.

    Think of this thought experiment. Does God have free will? Surely we must answer yes. But will God choose against his character? Surely we must answer no.

    That being said, in a million worlds, if the circumstances and the people are identical, the same result and the same choice is made. That doesn’t mean the other choice isn’t live, it just means that people with the same will will act the same way in the same circumstances. If you think this means lack of live options, then I would ask how can God be free if he also acts according to his character?

    If you ask how this is different to Calvinism, I would say it is because God in some mysterious way instills enough of a “divine spark” of God-likeness that we can have freedom to choose using that divine spark.

    Of course, this is not going to make Calvinists happy in this scientific age when what is all important is cause and effect, and for every effect we look for a deterministic cause, such that the universe becomes a mere machine or computer program where a particular input and starting state inevitably leads to a particular end state.

    But the theological question is, does God himself have a free will that transcends that concept, and secondly, does God have the capability to, in some limited degree, to impart that God-likeness to his creatures?

  2. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    That is that a live option and a true free will doesn’t mean you will choose against your character.

    I didn’t say that Ali could choose “against” her character. I said she could choose “out of character”. That is a fairly standard view among libertarians, so I’d want some evidence that Molinists (who are libertarians) generally attenuate their position to deny this.

    Think of this thought experiment. Does God have free will?

    Since God’s will is sui generis, it is far from clear that any useful analogy can be drawn here. In any case, it isn’t my place to tell Molinists what they believe. I am simply explaining why what they believe is problematic.

    That being said, in a million worlds, if the circumstances and the people are identical, the same result and the same choice is made.

    Okay, so you’re giving up the principle of alternate possibility. That’s fine, but again, that’s not something most libertarians seem eager to do. It goes against their intuitions.

    Moreover, as I intimated, this opens you up to serious questions about what necessitates the choice. If it is not determined by God, but it could not go another way, then it starts to look like it is metaphysically necessary. But how could that be? And how can you retain responsibility if your choice is necessitated in that way?

    If you ask how this is different to Calvinism, I would say it is because God in some mysterious way instills enough of a “divine spark” of God-likeness that we can have freedom to choose using that divine spark.

    A just-so story is not a substitute for exegesis or argument. Moreover, you’ve repudiated both the libertarian and the Calvinist definition of freedom, without bothering to define what freedom then is. You don’t get to rebuff the only two evident contenders without offering a substitute. Although if you’re EO, as I suspect, I suppose that is SOP for you guys. Mysticism doesn’t require explanation; you’ve given up the Logos of Yahweh for the pathos of self.

    Of course, this is not going to make Calvinists happy in this scientific age when what is all important is cause and effect, and for every effect we look for a deterministic cause

    Scurrilous. As if effects can occur without causes; or causes not produce effects. As if God is not the uncaused cause, and creation an effect of his will.

    But I am far less interested in causality as I am in explanations.

    such that the universe becomes a mere machine or computer program where a particular input and starting state inevitably leads to a particular end state.

    Aside from the obviously tendentious comparison to a computer program—as if the mere fact of causality under Calvinism must somehow render us non-rational—your position is simply anti-intellectual. Irrational. Are you suggesting that events can occur without causes? That there can be facts without explanations? Your worldview appears to be absurd.

    But the theological question is, does God himself have a free will that transcends that concept, and secondly, does God have the capability to, in some limited degree, to impart that God-likeness to his creatures?

    Nope, that’s not the question in this series. Put away your soapbox and interact with the exegesis and argumentation I have given, or find somewhere else to publish your pet talking points.

  3. John

    “I didn’t say that Ali could choose “against” her character. I said she could choose “out of character””

    I never heard of such a distinction, and can’t imagine what the distinction would be. And I’ve been around the traps for a long time.

    “it is far from clear that any useful analogy can be drawn here”

    It may not be clear, but since we are created in God’s image, it’s a possibility that simply cannot be easily discarded.

    “Okay, so you’re giving up the principle of alternate possibility.”

    Nonsense. Why would the same person in the same situation choose one way in 146698 cases? Randomness? As I think JI Packer pointed out, there is no such thing as randomness. Random is not a thing, so it can’t cause anything.

    Your idea that the same person choosing differently in the same situation is to be considered THE sign of free will or alternate possibility is junk philosophy. It doesn’t apply to God, and I see no reason to believe that it is the test that should apply to man. 

    It’s not the common understanding of alternate possibility either. If I hate cheese and love chocolate, nobody would claim I lack choice because I always choose chocolate. It’s just a reflection on my preferences.

    “Moreover, as I intimated, this opens you up to serious questions about what necessitates the choice.”

    I agree that it raises this question. But the answer lies in the very point of dispute, whether there is such a thing as human free will.

    “then it starts to look like it is metaphysically necessary. ”

    There are different strengths of metaphysical necessity.  It necessarily takes a day to travel around the world because we lack transport that goes faster. A person will necessarily act a certain way consistently because of their will.

    “But how could that be? And how can you retain responsibility if your choice is necessitated in that way?”

    Because the necessity doesn’t come externally, it comes internally. It comes from self.

    “A just-so story is not substitute for exegesis or argument.”

    I don’t see any other solution to the quandary, certainly not a simpler one that requires less excursion into speculation, to the dilemma that scripture says we resist God. The Calvinist says God had a will and a command for us, then created us in a way that necessitated we disobey it and go to hell. Which is a rather odd solution to say the least. The non Calvinist says he created us will a free will, and it’s our will that necessitates our choice.

    “Moreover, you’ve repudiated both the libertarian and the Calvinist definition of freedom, without bothering to define what freedom then is. ”

    Have I repudiated the libertarian version of free will, or Calvinists’ straw man version thereof? Certainly the Molinists that I’ve read, who claim to believe in libertarian will, don’t support your theory that a free creature will choose differently in the same circumstance. That is your overlay that nobody agrees with.

    Freedom means what it means for God to be free. Choice determined by our soul or spirit apart from the influence of an external being.

    “Scurrilous. As if effects can occur without causes; or causes not produce effects.”

    The issue is, can men be mini first causes. Not THE first cause like God. But first causes within their own mini sphere. The non Calvinist says yes, because we are created in the image of God, and the very essence and image of God is to be a first cause. Can God create creatures with a true free will? Your argument seems to be no, that is beyond God’s capability, through the force of your logical thought system. 

  4. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    I never heard of such a distinction, and can’t imagine what the distinction would be.

    Really, you can’t even imagine what it would be? Surely choosing against one’s character seems like a much stronger claim than choosing out of character. I might detest cheese and have allergic reactions to it, or I might be a mistaken but highly virtuous man and believe that eating cheese was an abomination before the Lord—then choosing cheese would be against my character. But if I simply happen to prefer chocolate to cheese on average, it is quite conceivable that I would nonetheless pick cheese out of character—on whim or just for a change or “for the hell of it”. You’d be justified in expecting me to choose chocolate; yet clearly I might choose cheese.

    It may not be clear, but since we are created in God’s image, it’s a possibility that simply cannot be easily discarded.

    What is freely asserted can be freely denied. Unless you have an argument to show that God’s sui generis will is relevantly similar to ours, you might as well be asserting that since we are made in his image, our having omniscience is a possibility that simply cannot be easily discarded.

    Your idea that the same person choosing differently in the same situation is to be considered THE sign of free will or alternate possibility is junk philosophy.

    And we should believe you about this because…you said so? What makes it junk philosophy? Why do you think that a live option would never be chosen? Indeed, if you think that Ali would always choose chocolate in the Circumstance, and never cheese, regardless of how many times we rewind the clock or how many identical worlds we create, then it’s trivial to prove that alternate possibilities hold under determinism. When your argument commits you to a position that is indistinguishable from the contradictory of what you actually hold, that’s a good sign your argument is junk—not the philosophy of the fellow you’re trying to browbeat.

    It’s not the common understanding of alternate possibility either.

    Common according to whom? Which philosophers in the field of action theory are you talking about? Be specific. If you can find me a philosopher who thinks that the ability to do otherwise is indistinguishable from the inability to do otherwise, I will be very impressed.

    There are different strengths of metaphysical necessity. It necessarily takes a day to travel around the world because we lack transport that goes faster.

    See, this is where you blow your cover. You’re trying to come across like you’re well-versed in the literature of this topic, but you don’t know what metaphysical necessity is. The example you give is not metaphysical necessity; indeed, it isn’t even nomological necessity. It is merely temporal necessity—ie, in 2015 we cannot travel around the world in less than a day (assuming that’s true; I suspect we could if we wanted to).

    A person will necessarily act a certain way consistently because of their will.

    So you believe that God created necessarily? That he could not have chosen otherwise? How is that orthodox?

    The Calvinist says God had a will and a command for us, then created us in a way that necessitated we disobey it and go to hell.

    Actually, Scripture says that, as I illustrated in post #2 of this series.

    The non Calvinist says he created us will a free will, and it’s our will that necessitates our choice.

    A view which, with respect to salvation, I dismantled in post #2.

    Have I repudiated the libertarian version of free will, or Calvinists’ straw man version thereof?

    You’ve repudiated the libertarian version of free will—at least the version that holds to PAP.

    Certainly the Molinists that I’ve read, who claim to believe in libertarian will, don’t support your theory that a free creature will choose differently in the same circumstance.

    Why not name them so we can check your story?

    Freedom means what it means for God to be free.

    A tendentious assertion wandering hopelessly in search of an argument to defend it.

    The issue is, can men be mini first causes.

    Obviously not. The very concept is self-referentially incoherent.

    Your argument seems to be no, that is beyond God’s capability, through the force of your logical thought system.

    Firstly, it’s not through the force of my logical system alone; it is primarily through the force of what God himself has revealed. That’s where I started this series. So your characterization is simply mendacious.

    Secondly, it’s like you think logic really doesn’t have anything to do with God. Where do you think logic came from? And why do you keep using it to try to prove that I’m wrong, if it is so useless for proving anything?

  5. John

    “Surely choosing against one’s character seems like a much stronger claim than choosing out of character.”

    Sounds like a mere argument over degree rather than some fundamental difference. All preferences are along a continuum.

    “I might be a mistaken but highly virtuous man and believe that eating cheese was an abomination before the Lord”

    Beliefs could change based on better information about the Lord’s opinion of cheese.

    “it is quite conceivable that I would nonetheless pick cheese out of character—on whim or just for a change”

    Presumably it is in your character to do things on a whim in particular circumstances.

    ” Unless you have an argument to show that God’s sui generis will is relevantly similar to ours, you might as well be asserting that since we are made in his image, our having omniscience is a possibility that simply cannot be easily discarded.”

    First you need to show that God’s will is sui generis. I know I don’t have omniscience, but I also know I have a will and so does God. If you want to show that those wills differ, even though we label them with the same words, I would have to say prove it.

    “What makes it junk philosophy?”

    It’s junk because you can’t prove it, and/or because it assumes the very thing you wish to prove.

    “then it’s trivial to prove that alternate possibilities hold under determinism”

    It comes down to your definition of determinism. Everything that has ever happened in the universe happened because of either the laws of physics or the will of a being. The argument is over whether it is one being, or more than one being. In that sense, yes it is determinism.

    But in philosophy, determinism is usually imagined to be something contrary to the will of a being. An idea that you can’t really choose because of fate.

    “When your argument commits you to a position that is indistinguishable from the contradictory of what you actually hold, that’s a good sign your argument is junk”

    If its indistinguishable, then I guess you are an Arminian?

    Yes, look. When you boil it all down, a lot of Calvinist vs Arminian arguments are like arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. We don’t really know what free will would mean if we have it. And arguments about whether Christ died for all or for some, come down to how we define the English word “for”.

    But to the extent we can talk about the difference, it is this: whether God chose for us to disobey him, or whether he gave us free will and we chose ourselves. It’s a subtle point, simple in statement but loaded with pitfalls, argument and counter argument. But the difference is not about whether there is some kind of randomness in the human soul such that sometimes they would go one way, and sometimes the other. Otherwise Arminians would have to concede that salvation is random. In this universe I chose God, but in that other one I didn’t. Needless to say no Arminian would concede such a thing, neither would a Molonist.

    “Common according to whom?”

    According to everyday human conversation about choice.

    “a philosopher who thinks that the ability to do otherwise is indistinguishable from the inability to do otherwise”

    That comes down to an argument over what constitutes ability. Does my predilection for chocolate such that I always choose it prove inability to choose cheese? You seem to have conflated what is actual with what is able. We all know those are not the same thing.

    “See, this is where you blow your cover. You’re trying to come across like you’re well-versed in the literature of this topic, but you don’t know what metaphysical necessity is.”

    OK, I misspoke on that. But surely you did too. A metaphysical necessity is something that must be true independent of other facts. We’re talking about things that are necessary because of the fact of who a person is, not by absolute necessity.

    “So you believe that God created necessarily? That he could not have chosen otherwise? How is that orthodox?”

    The difference is that God created ex-nihilo. Unlike us and our decisions which are still predicated on our environment, there was no pre-existing environment such that you can say, well in THIS situation, God would create and in this OTHER situation he wouldn’t. Once there is a creation though, I think you can start saying, well yes in this situation, God would do this or that.

    “Actually, Scripture says that, as I illustrated in post #2 of this series.”

    I read your #2, and naturally, I can’t see where you show that. I’m sure you think its there somewhere though. It’s a longish article though, so I don’t know which bit you think shows that.

    “A view which, with respect to salvation, I dismantled in post #2.”

    Ditto.

    “You’ve repudiated the libertarian version of free will—at least the version that holds to PAP”

    As far as I know, PAP is the idea that “a person is morally responsible for what he has done only if he could have done otherwise”.

    While it may be common for proponents of libertarian free will to agree with PAP, PAP is not a precondition to any idea of free will. PAP advocates a position concerning whether moral responsibility flows from alternate possibilities. It doesn’t say anything about whether free will necessitates some kind of random result from the player. Arguments about PAP revolve around whether external circumstances necessitate a particular action rather than whether someone’s internal predilections necessitate it.

    “Why not name them so we can check your story?”

    William Lane Craig for example. The whole Molinist narrative revolves around what people would have done in this circumstance or that circumstance. I’m not seeing discussion of what people might randomly do. I mean, if people are just acting randomly, why Molinists need to go into all this Molinist complications? God only has to stack the random deck the way he wants to get the outcome he wants.

    “The issue is, can men be mini first causes.
    Obviously not. The very concept is self-referentially incoherent.”

    Yes and no. The Calvinist thinks all decisions go straight back to God as first cause. The non-Calvinist says that some aspects of some decisions go back to free will decisions of men as first cause. Not in the sense that men themselves didn’t come into existence through God’s will. But in that some events have partial causes that can only be traced back as far as man’s will.

    “Firstly, it’s not through the force of my logical system alone; it is primarily through the force of what God himself has revealed. ”

    There is a scripture verse stating the impossibility of God granting true free will?

    “Secondly, it’s like you think logic really doesn’t have anything to do with God. ”

    I don’t object to logic. I try and point out the hidden assumptions your system. You may have a logically coherent system, but it depends on various assumptions that you can’t really prove.

  6. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Presumably it is in your character to do things on a whim in particular circumstances.

    Aside from the fact you’re just quibbling semantics, this completely undermines your previous argument that Ali will only ever choose chocolate. If it is in her character to do things on a whim, she could choose cheese on a whim, even if on average she is more likely to choose chocolate.

    First you need to show that God’s will is sui generis.

    I don’t even know what to say to someone who thinks that the will of the only being who exists of necessity and without constraint might not be sui generis. Do you even know what the term means? The burden of proof does not fall on my shoulders here buddy.

    It’s junk because you can’t prove it, and/or because it assumes the very thing you wish to prove.

    Manifestly untrue. You need to acquaint yourself with the relevant philosophical literature rather than trying to bluff your way out of your predicament.

    But in philosophy, determinism is usually imagined to be something contrary to the will of a being. An idea that you can’t really choose because of fate.

    Again, you just don’t know what you’re talking about. My advice would be to read up on determinism instead of embarrassing yourself further. Start with James Anderson’s very good primer.

    When you boil it all down, a lot of Calvinist vs Arminian arguments are like arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

    So a central gospel issue like whether God gives us the option of rejecting salvation is akin to an absurd and irresolvable theological mind-game to you?

    But the difference is not about whether there is some kind of randomness in the human soul such that sometimes they would go one way, and sometimes the other. Otherwise Arminians would have to concede that salvation is random.

    Which is exactly what I have argued they are forced to do, your claims notwithstanding. Of course no one, on either side of the argument, thinks libertarian free will is supposed to be equivalent to randomness. The question is not what it is supposed to be, but what it actually entails.

    In this universe I chose God, but in that other one I didn’t. Needless to say no Arminian would concede such a thing, neither would a Molonist.

    I’m not sure what you’re claiming here. Is it that there is no possible world in which you fail to choose God? Because not only would a Molinist firmly repudiate that idea, and instead affirm that there definitely is such a possible world, but any thinking person acquainted with the issues would do the same. To say there is no possible world in which you fail to choose faith is simply to say that your choosing faith is a metaphysical necessity, entailing some kind of logical contradiction if it fails to obtain. Needless to say, that’s absurd to anyone, no matter where they stand on the issue of freedom and responsibility. But perhaps I am misunderstanding you.

    According to everyday human conversation about choice.

    I’m sorry you mistakenly thought that I only use terms with identical semantic ranges to those you use in everyday conversation.

    That comes down to an argument over what constitutes ability. Does my predilection for chocolate such that I always choose it prove inability to choose cheese? You seem to have conflated what is actual with what is able. We all know those are not the same thing.

    At this point you appear to be so confused that I don’t even know what to say in response. Again, I’d really suggest just going away and reading some articles on determinism, choice, freedom etc. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a good place to start. I don’t claim to be an expert on these topics, but you need to at least be acquainted with the basic ideas, which you obviously are not (or otherwise you’re simply extremely muddled).

    A metaphysical necessity is something that must be true independent of other facts.

    Independent of what other facts? A metaphysical necessity is simply something which, if false, would somehow entail a logical contradiction.

    Unlike us and our decisions which are still predicated on our environment, there was no pre-existing environment such that you can say, well in THIS situation, God would create and in this OTHER situation he wouldn’t.

    Ignoring the manifold confusions here, that’s a…yes…then. You think God created of necessity. That he couldn’t do otherwise. I’d just reiterate how unorthodox that is.

    While it may be common for proponents of libertarian free will to agree with PAP, PAP is not a precondition to any idea of free will.

    Obviously not. Otherwise I would believe PAP too!

    Arguments about PAP revolve around whether external circumstances necessitate a particular action rather than whether someone’s internal predilections necessitate it.

    Nope, arguments about PAP revolve around whether actions are necessitated or not, period.

    I’m not seeing discussion of what people might randomly do.

    …of course not…because libertarians don’t think LFW is random! That’s your gloss.

    But in that some events have partial causes that can only be traced back as far as man’s will.

    “Partial causes”? What, pray tell, are those?

    There is a scripture verse stating the impossibility of God granting true free will?

    No; but there are plenty demonstrating that he hasn’t, as I argued in part #2.

    You may have a logically coherent system, but it depends on various assumptions that you can’t really prove.

    So does any system. You’ve heard of chap called Gödel, right?

  7. John

    “If it is in her character to do things on a whim, she could choose cheese on a whim, even if on average she is more likely to choose chocolate.”

    That assumes that “a whim” is some kind of randomness. I don’t assume that. I assume a whim is something that externally gives a kind of appearance of randomness but is actually to do with a real basis in personality and self.

    “I don’t even know what to say to someone who thinks that the will of the only being who exists of necessity and without constraint might not be sui generis. ”

    Because right at the beginning of the bible we are told that man is made in God’s image. Right from that starting point we can no longer assume without good warrant that God and us do not share important characteristics. Even we just say, oh God’s will is sui generis, ok HOW is it unique? It might be unique in these ways, but it certainly can’t be unique in ALL ways, because we are made in his image. We MUST of necessity therefore share important similarities or this verse has no meaning.

    “You need to acquaint yourself with the relevant philosophical literature rather than trying to bluff your way out of your predicament.”

    Ha, a weak response. Did all the non-Calvinists in history simply have to consult the relevant philosophical literature? I send you to the church fathers, and then ask you to not bluff.

    “My advice would be to read up on determinism instead of embarrassing yourself further. ”

    I don’t have a problem with this article, except the problem is that it says that Arminians and Moninists are a kind of determinist. That’s fine and all, but we use that very broad definition of determinism, we are all determinists and the word doesn’t signify much. So if you want to make a point about determinism, you’re going to have to be a lot more specific.

    “So a central gospel issue like whether God gives us the option of rejecting salvation is akin to an absurd and irresolvable theological mind-game to you?”

    It’s a mind game in this sense: option is merely an English word which isn’t specific enough to distinguish fine grained philosophical distinctions. Calvinists and Arminians both believe there are “options”, but we have slightly different ideas of what this entails. So saying that God gives us options is something that Calvinists would be happy to agree with or repudiate depending on what they think that means. So is the statement true to a Calvinist? Yes and no. Semantics, definitions is all it comes down to. As a non-Calvinist I’m perfectly happy to say that Christ only died for the elect, according to some understandings of what “for” entails.

    “Which is exactly what I have argued they are forced to do, your claims notwithstanding.”

    You seem to be arguing that this is one option for what they are forced to accept, rather than the only one. I would argue an option you haven’t listed, namely that the spark of the divine in man is such that he can be his own first cause. Orthodox trinitarianism specifies that Christ is begotten of the Father, which makes the Father the ultimate first cause. But would you thereby argue Christ as God lacks free will? Where do you stand on that?

    “Of course no one, on either side of the argument, thinks libertarian free will is supposed to be equivalent to randomness. The question is not what it is supposed to be, but what it actually entails.”

    If libertarian free will necessitates acting randomly, I guess your position is that God acts randomly?

    “Is it that there is no possible world in which you fail to choose God? Because not only would a Molinist firmly repudiate that idea”

    I should have been more clear in specifying other worlds that are identical. I thought we agreed that was the context.

    “I’m sorry you mistakenly thought that I only use terms with identical semantic ranges to those you use in everyday conversation.”

    I didn’t think that, but I also reserve the right to discuss common semantic thought. After all, the bible was mostly written that way.

    “Again, I’d really suggest just going away and reading some articles on determinism, choice, freedom etc.”

    Why do I have to go read some pointy headed air heads in order to say that what I am able to do is not the same as what I do in fact do? Anyone on the street will tell you the same, so I think if you have a different idea, it is incumbent on you to show it. Yes we can both quote authority figures ad nausea, but why have a blog just to point to your favourite authorities?

    “A metaphysical necessity is something that must be true independent of other facts….
    Independent of what other facts? ”

    Well, according to Wikipedia on the topic, a relative (not metaphysical) necessity is “what is necessary given certain other facts (facts concerning what’s practically available to us, the laws of nature, the laws of logic, respectively). ”

    So didn’t you blow your cover in ascribing metaphysical necessity to something that concerns the laws of a person’s character?

    “A metaphysical necessity is simply something which, if false, would somehow entail a logical contradiction.”

    According to Wikipedia then, a logical contradition is a relative, not metaphysical contradiction. It’s a logical necessity.

    “Ignoring the manifold confusions here, that’s a…yes…then. You think God created of necessity.”

    No, your question is a non-question for God, as sensible as asking if God can make a rock bigger than he can lift. As a being external to the as-yet non-existent creation, you can’t talk about God acting the same way in the same place at the same time, because there is no same place and time. Asking a question about what the same creature would do in the same place at the same time, is a non-question concerning God. There is no time or environment to ask the question in respect of. Asking if God created of necessity is actually a completely different question to whether a creature in the same place and same time would always act the same way.

    “Nope, arguments about PAP revolve around whether actions are necessitated or not, period.”

    Back to Wikipedia:
    In 1969 Harry Frankfurt defined what he called “The Principle of Alternate Possibilities” or PAP.
    a person is morally responsible for what he has done only if he could have done otherwise.

    So PAP has nothing to do with whether actions are necessitated, it has to do with moral responsibility. Of course defining “necessitated” and what that means will influence whether you believe in PAP, but you could believe actions are necessitated, or not believe actions are necessitated, and still believe in PAP. Of course if you believe or don’t believe in necessity, and yet believe in PAP, then that will decide whether you believe humans are responsible or not.

    ““Partial causes”? What, pray tell, are those?”

    Factors leading to outcomes.

    “No; but there are plenty demonstrating that he hasn’t, as I argued in part #2.”

    Which one’s are they? As far as I see, even the most optimistic and wide eyed Calvinist could only say that God didn’t give free will in particular situations, not everywhere. But perhaps you have a verse in mind I don’t know about. I do note however that even many Calvinists are only Calvinists with respect to salvation, and not with regard to everything.

    “So does any system. You’ve heard of chap called Gödel, right?”

    Well, I think Gödel said that in a consistent math system there will be unprovable propositions. I’m not just saying that your system can’t prove all conceivable propositions. I’m saying it can’t prove the propositions that are its foundation. Gödel also said the consistency of the axioms cannot be proven within the system. But I never said your axioms aren’t consistent, only that are undemonstrated. Anyway, the theory applies to Math. Whether it applies to non-math systems, I don’t know.

    Anyway, Gödel or not, if you admit your system is based on unproven assumptions, why are you so wedded to them?

  8. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    That assumes that “a whim” is some kind of randomness.

    That’s just a question-begging assertion against the libertarian. Suffice to say, I don’t feel the need to defend libertarianism.

    We MUST of necessity therefore share important similarities or this verse has no meaning.

    I’ve already answered this. You’re not advancing the discussion. God gave us the power to create as well; yet we can’t create ex nihilo. You don’t get to just assume that he communicated something broadly analagous to this in terms of decision-making.

    Did all the non-Calvinists in history simply have to consult the relevant philosophical literature? I send you to the church fathers, and then ask you to not bluff.

    Actually, throughout history the best thinkers have indeed acquainted themselves with the relevant literature of their time. Including the church fathers. But the state of the argument has advanced since then.

    So if you want to make a point about determinism, you’re going to have to be a lot more specific.

    That’s your opinion.

    As a non-Calvinist I’m perfectly happy to say that Christ only died for the elect, according to some understandings of what “for” entails.

    So what you’re saying is that since you are in the habit of playing semantic games instead of dealing with the underlying issues, it must be the case that anyone interested in those issues is also playing semantic games. I’m afraid that won’t fly. I have no interest in nitpicking words. I’m interested in whether God monergistically saves us or not. That’s a gospel issue.

    I would argue an option you haven’t listed, namely that the spark of the divine in man is such that he can be his own first cause.

    A conclusion contradicted by the arguments I have already made.

    Orthodox trinitarianism specifies that Christ is begotten of the Father, which makes the Father the ultimate first cause.

    So much the worse for Orthodox trinitarianism. Fortunately I’m not beholden to serious errors like ontological subordination.

    If libertarian free will necessitates acting randomly, I guess your position is that God acts randomly?

    Since I have already repeatedly stated that God’s will is sui generis, I am frankly baffled that you would think I believe he has libertarian free will.

    Yes we can both quote authority figures ad nausea, but why have a blog just to point to your favourite authorities?

    You are fundamentally misusing terms like “determinism”. I can’t have a reasonable discussion about determinism with someone who doesn’t understand what that is; and it’s not my job to educate you.

    So didn’t you blow your cover in ascribing metaphysical necessity to something that concerns the laws of a person’s character?

    Nope. That’s your misinformed gloss. I explicitly defined metaphysical necessity as that entailed when the contrary would result in a logical contradiction.

    According to Wikipedia then, a logical contradition is a relative, not metaphysical contradiction. It’s a logical necessity.

    I suspect this will be my last comment. You’re tying yourself in knots trying to discuss a topic when you lack the fundamental basis to even understand the terminology, let alone how the concepts relate to each other. Logical and metaphysical necessity are generally regarded as distinct, though it depends on your view of metaphysics. Logical necessity occurs when the contrary would be directly contradictory (a married bachelor, to take the classic example). Metaphysical necessity occurs when the contrary would result in a logical contradiction, but is not in itself self-evidently contradictory (water != H20, for example).

    As a being external to the as-yet non-existent creation, you can’t talk about God acting the same way in the same place at the same time, because there is no same place and time.

    The fact that you think necessity only comes about in space and time only reinforces my point about your confusion. Theologians and philosophers have debated the necessity of God’s creating for centuries, so that alone should cue you in that you’re on the wrong track here.

    “Nope, arguments about PAP revolve around whether actions are necessitated or not, period.”

    Back to Wikipedia: In 1969 Harry Frankfurt defined what he called “The Principle of Alternate Possibilities” or PAP … a person is morally responsible for what he has done only if he could have done otherwise.

    I don’t even know what to say to this. You just aren’t putting the pieces together. A person who is necessitated to do something could not do otherwise. By the same token, if you can do otherwise, then you cannot act of necessity. That is the whole point of Frankfurt’s counterexamples to PAP!

    So PAP has nothing to do with whether actions are necessitated, it has to do with moral responsibility.

    What? The whole point of Frankfurt’s counterexamples were to argue that moral responsibility does not require PAP! Ie, you can be necessitated to act, and still be morally accountable. That is the entire context of his discussion.

    Of course defining “necessitated” and what that means will influence whether you believe in PAP, but you could believe actions are necessitated, or not believe actions are necessitated, and still believe in PAP.

    Again, I just don’t know what to say. You are simply misinformed. You don’t understand the basic issue. A necessitated action is one where you couldn’t do otherwise. PAP is the principle that you could do otherwise. These are fundamentally contradictory theses. You’re simply wrong about this, and the fact you are still arguing the point tells me that this discussion is absolutely fruitless.

    Which one’s are they? As far as I see, even the most optimistic and wide eyed Calvinist could only say that God didn’t give free will in particular situations, not everywhere.

    All right, let me explain it one last time. Molinists hold that necessitated choices are necessarily incompatible with moral responsibility. I have shown that, in the most important choice of all, our actions are necessitated; yet God holds us responsible for those choices. This sinks Molinism; it doesn’t just put a little hole in the side on one small issue. It proves that the fundamental thesis of incompatibilism with respect to necessitated choices and moral responsibility is necessarily false. Without that thesis there is no reason to think we have LFW at all.

    Can you still hold that we do? Sure. But as I argued elsewhere, it conflicts with God’s causal relationship to creation, and it seems like a pointless thing to hold. Why bother? If we only have a broadly compatibilist free will when it most counts, why think we have something different at other times, especially when it makes things like omniscience and omnipotence and God’s causal relationship to the world hard to explain and inconsistent with your biblically-derived belief about choosing salvation?

    Anyway, Gödel or not, if you admit your system is based on unproven assumptions, why are you so wedded to them?

    Maybe instead of just claiming that these unproven assumptions are problematic, you could explain what they are, and why we should question them.

  9. John

    “That’s just a question-begging assertion against the libertarian. Suffice to say, I don’t feel the need to defend libertarianism.”

    Huh? I thought we already agreed that libertarians don’t claim that things are random. So how is my statement against libertarianism? Rather it’s against your false claims about libertarianism.

    “God gave us the power to create as well; yet we can’t create ex nihilo.”

    Even when God creates ex-nihilo, it’s not apart from his very self. The Molinists claim we create something: our choices out of ourselves.

    “You don’t get to just assume that he communicated something broadly analagous to this in terms of decision-making.”

    And you don’t get to assume he didn’t. Impasse.

    “Actually, throughout history the best thinkers have indeed acquainted themselves with the relevant literature of their time.”

    Opinion.

    “But the state of the argument has advanced since then.”

    Maybe when the state of the art advances enough, you’ll know what the truth is. [yawn]. Wake me up when someone finds out what the truth is.

    And you criticise Molinists for being extra-biblical.

    “So what you’re saying is that since you are in the habit of playing semantic games”

    The problem with this accusation is that neither the bible nor experience is actually clear or specific enough to distinguish between these semantic differences. In fact, it’s not even clear in many cases if a difference exists. The bible doesn’t define what libertarian free will might look like if we fell over it, nor whether it exists or not. Everything else is philosophy, inference, and playing one system against another.

    “I’m interested in whether God monergistically saves us or not.”

    Case in point, that even Calvinists believe we have a will, that our will is necessary to cooperate with God, and so forth. The difference is really quite subtle about first causes, likelihood of resisting grace, etc.

    “That’s a gospel issue.”

    Can’t be a very important gospel issue if the bible is so ambiguous that protestants can’t agree about it.

    “So much the worse for Orthodox trinitarianism. Fortunately I’m not beholden to serious errors like ontological subordination.”

    1. This has absolutely zero to do with ontological subordination.

    2. So are you claiming to be unorthodox with regards to Nicean creed that the son is begotten of the father, and the spirit proceeds from the father?

    3. Are you claiming to be heretical, or just ignorant of orthodox christology? My guess is the latter, since you are equating it with subordinationism. I mean come on, enough with the extreme ignorance, did you ever hear of a thing called the Nicean creed? God from God (origination), but ONE ESSENCE with the father (same ontology).

    “Since I have already repeatedly stated that God’s will is sui generis, I am frankly baffled that you would think I believe he has libertarian free will.”

    So that’s your big argument, not a logical coherent argument about how and why God is different, but that yaaa, God must be different somehow so nyahh nyahh. But don’t ask how he’s different. You can go down that track, but don’t pretend it amounts to an academically interesting view.

    “You are fundamentally misusing terms like “determinism”. I can’t have a reasonable discussion about determinism with someone who doesn’t understand what that is; ”

    Coming from the person who sent me to an article saying that Arminians are determinists. We’re all just determinists, Kumbaya.

    “If it is not determined by God, but it could not go another way, then it starts to look like it is metaphysically necessary.”

    I thought the first principle of metaphysical necessity is that it must be true in all possible worlds. But the context of your comment was explicitly ONLY about absolutely identical worlds. Are you going to admit yet that you blew your cover?

    “The fact that you think necessity only comes about in space and time only reinforces my point about your confusion.”

    I never said any such thing. What I said was is that discussing the necessity of God, totally devoid of environment, is a completely different and incomparable question to comparing hypothetical identical beings, in identical environments. We have after all, agreed one and all between us, that such identical beings in DIFFERENT situations will behave differently, thus admitting that environment is fundamental to decision making for creatures with an environment. Therefore to compare the identity of decisions of identical creatures in environment, is not a question that has any parallel with an environment-less God.

    Get it now?

    See how when I claim God is sui generis I at least explain my reasons, unlike you?

    “A person who is necessitated to do something could not do otherwise. ”

    You think PAP is a mere tautology? Because this sentence is nothing more.

    “That is the whole point of Frankfurt’s counterexamples to PAP!”

    No. PAP is a statement of the kind “If A then B”.

    “a person is morally responsible for what he has done only if he could have done otherwise.”

    Frankfurt’s observation is not a “counter example”. Frank’s observation is that a person might be continually given no choice but to do what an evil entity wants.

    Having (so he claims) demonstrated with regards to point “A” that a person may NEVER have choice, does he show that point “B” is either therefore true, or therefore not true?

    No! Frankfurt’s conclusion is that “a person MAY WELL be morally responsible for what he has done even though he could not have done otherwise.”

    In other words, Frankfurt’s aim was to break the alleged nexus between “A” and “B”, between choice and responsibility, and having supposedly broken it, concludes that B might or might not be true regardless of A. A person may or may not be responsible, regardless of the truth of “A”, the availability of options.

    Unfortunately for you, this has got nothing to do with what you claim. Your definition of PAP is just the “A” taken out of the “IF A THEN B”. You didn’t understand PAP.

    “The whole point of Frankfurt’s counterexamples were to argue that moral responsibility does not require PAP”

    What you call PAP, is actually just AP. Moral responsibility is the P.

    But Frankfurt’s argument has nothing to do with the real issue here, which is what would constitute removal of options. Frankfurt posited a daemon who so controlled the situation there simply is no other option, even in theory. Your complaint is about someone who totally has both options, cheese or chocolate. Both are sitting on the table ready to be consumed, and nothing is stopping you from eating. But because you like chocolate, you choose it. That is YOUR idea of having no choice, but for everyone else in the universe, including Frankfurt, that means you DO have a choice. Frankfurt had to invent the demon for his thought experiment. According to you no demon is necessary, because we don’t have choices anyway, because we do what we want, and that isn’t random. Your thinking is so coloured by Calvinist thinking, that you see it everywhere, when nobody else does.

    Your aim therefore is not to support PAP, or to deny PAP, but rather to convince everyone else that your definition of AP is an interesting or noteworthy or a philosophically significant one, when everyone else, including Frankfurt, never thought in those terms.

    “Molinists hold that necessitated choices are necessarily incompatible with moral responsibility.”

    No, Molinists would hold that causal determinism is incompatible with moral responsibility. But Molinists don’t believe the human soul is subject to causal determinism. You wish to argue that it is, and you wish to conflate the predictability of the human soul with causal determinism, and that’s where the argument meets an impasse. You believe the human soul is a computer program. Feed in inputs A and B, and the result is a predictable C. Molinists believe people are predictable because they have a character and a spirit and a soul.

    And this is where it can all fall down to semantic games, because nobody can prove that these 2 viewpoints are actually different. What is necessity, what is choice, what is ability, what is responsibility. They are whatever you define them to be, and you’re just defining them in a way to spoil for a fight. A situation that for one person constitutes choice, for another person constitutes lack of choice. impasse.

    “Why bother? If we only have a broadly compatibilist free will when it most counts, why think we have something different at other times”

    Why do people bother? They bother because they see the number of verses in the bible arguing that our actions are incompatible with God’s will are legions more than the tiny and fairly specific number where they are compatible. And they find the Calvinist hoops to turn it all into a compatible system unconvincing and unsatisfying. Specifically, things like the WCF which says that God causes everything yet without making him the author of sin. But there is no real logically coherent argument why this belief does NOT make God the author of sin. Claiming your system is consistent when it looks and smells and quacks like an inconsistent duck, is cause to start looking elsewhere.

    “Maybe instead of just claiming that these unproven assumptions are problematic, you could explain what they are, and why we should question them.”

    Unproven assumptions are always problematic, because if they are untrue, then your derived inferences are also untrue. That should be obvious, no?

  10. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    John, I appreciate you taking the time to write all that, but as I mentioned in my last post, there’s really no point continuing a discussion with someone who is so profoundly confused about the basic concepts in play—let alone when he has convinced himself that he understands them better than professional philosophers.

  11. marty bee

    VERY interesting discussion AND article! I am not terribly acquainted with all of the philosophical terminology, but I think that John’s definition of the trinity and the “Father” being the first cause runs head on into the brick wall of John 1 (smells a bit “fishy”…)

  12. John

    “I think that John’s definition of the trinity and the “Father” being the first cause runs head on into the brick wall of John 1 ”

    Oh dear, another heretic who doesn’t subscribe to the Nicean creed.

  I don’t post ill-considered articles and I don’t sponsor ill-considered comments. Take a moment to review what you’ve written…