Posts tagged ‘free will’

February 6, 2012

Boethius on Reconciling Divine Foreknowledge and Human Free Will

by Max Andrews

Boethius discusses the problem in reconciling genuine human freedom with God’s foreknowledge in “Divine Foreknowledge and Freedom of the Will” (proses III-VI).  He bases his whole discussion on whether or not something that is foreknown happens by necessity.  He offers the disjunctive option of the necessity of either thing, which are going to happen be foreseen by God or that what God foresees will in fact happen—either way, he argues, human will is removed.  When discussing the uncertainty of future events he concludes that, for God, there must be no uncertainty in these events because it’s then reduced to possible conditionals, or could-counterfactuals.  Hence, the law of excluded middle is true for knowledge of future tensed events.  He makes an interesting point when discussing aspects about Cicero’s contribution to the problem.  If foreknowledge is removed then the events of human will are no longer necessary. Considering all of the discussion so far he believes that everything that happens does so by necessity.

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November 6, 2011

The Delayed Choice Experiment in Quantum Physics

by Max Andrews

Source: SUNY

If photons are fired through the experiment one at a time (firing photons at a wall with two holes and a photon detector on the other side of the holes), they will build up an interference patter on the other side, as if they had gone through both holes at once and interfered with themselves.  If the experiment is set up so that detectors monitor which hole the photo goes through, the photon is indeed observed to be going through only one hole, and there is no interference pattern.  If a detector is set up not at the holes but intermediate between the two holes and the back wall detector screen then it may be possible to see which route a particular photon took after it had passed the two holes before it arrived at the screen. 

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August 25, 2011

The Incompatibility of Middle Knowledge and Libertarian Freedom

by Max Andrews

The following is a guest blog post by Roger Turner, a Philosophy Ph.D. candidate at the University of Tennessee.

If you’re a Molinist—at any rate, if you believe that God has middle knowledge—you believe that God knows whether or not any given counterfactual, or subjunctive conditional is true.  What’s more, you probably believe this because you think it helps make clear how it is possible that humans can act freely even though God knows, before they act, how they’ll act.  And you probably want to have some grasp on how all that works because you’re a libertarian with respect to freedom.  That is, you think that determinism and free will are incompatible, but you believe that divine foreknowledge and free will are compatible.  If you are a libertarian, you think that indeterminism is true.  In other words, you think that the theses ‘the conjunction of the past and laws of nature entails a unique future’ and ‘nobody has a choice about the future because nobody has a choice about what God foreknows’ are false.  So, the idea of middle knowledge seems to be the best way to duck and dodge the relevant snares.  But there’s a puzzle here.  There appears to be a significant tension between one’s being a libertarian about freedom, and one’s being a Molinist.  In what follows, I hope to illuminate the problem.

Take your friend, Jones.  If you believe God has middle knowledge, you probably believe that, if you were to ask God what Jones would do in such and such a circumstance, God would know the answer to your question.  God would respond, so you think, with something like the following:  “If Jones were in C, he would freely A.”  And you’d feel pretty confident that God’s having answered this way fails to undermine Jones’s freedom because you think that God’s belief about whether or not Jones A’s in C depends on Jones and whether or not Jones A’s in C and not the other way around (i.e. Jones’s Aing in C doesn’t depend on God’s knowing that, if Jones were in C, he would A).

Quick question, though: what is the truth value of a subjunctive conditional if indeterminism is true?  Here’s why I ask.  If a particular event is an indeterminate event (that is, the event is undetermined) the odds of that event’s happening are something like 50/50.  So, take Jones again and his being in C and whether or not he A’s.  If Jones’s Aing is undertermined, then he’s just as likely to A as he is to not-A given his being in C and an identical past up to the point of his being in C.  This is what indeterminism implies.  Given Jones’s past from t0 to the present moment, the moment just before he acts, Jones is supposed to be just as free to refrain from Aing as he is to A.  It can’t be the case, for example, that, if Jones is libertarianly free, he’d be more likely to A, given his past (or other conditions beyond his control), than he would be to refrain from Aing.  Because if that’s the case, then he’s got factors that are out of his control which bear on whether or not he A’s.  And this would absolve Jones of (at least part of) his responsibility for Aing (or refraining from A).  If we’re libertarians (and we usually are if we believe God has middle knowledge), then we think Jones has just as much chance of Aing, given that he’s in C, as he does refraining from A.

Okay, back to the question about the truth value of a subjunctive conditional given the truth of indeterminism.  The subjunctive conditional (this thing:  €®) expresses what would happen in the closest-by, relevant possible worlds.  So, take Jones again.  And express the proposition ‘if Jones were in C, he would freely A’ as follows:

JC nec. €→ A

The way this is typically read is something like this: in all the closest-by C worlds (i.e. the worlds in which Jones is in C), Jones A’s.  But this implies that it’s not indeterminate what Jones would do in C.  It’s not indeterminate because we can “zoom-out” and see which C worlds are the closest to the actual world.  And, just by doing that, we can see that in any C world that is most closely related to the actual world, Jones A’s.  The odds aren’t 50/50 given the truth of the subjunctive conditional; the closest-by C worlds are such that Jones A’s.  So, if Jones is in C, though it’s not necessary that he A—there are, after all, possible worlds where he’s in C but doesn’t A; they’re just further off—he’ll A.  He’ll A because there is a group of possible C worlds—those closest-by to the actual world—where he A’s.  And whether or not Jones is in a closest-by C world has nothing to do with Jones!  It’s beyond Jones’s control as to whether or not he’s in one of the closest-by C worlds.

But, wait.  On the libertarian view, indeterminism is true; that is, determinism is false.  Jones must, to be libertarianly free, be just as likely to A, in C, as he is to refrain from A.  That is, Jones must be equally likely to refrain from Aing as he is to A in all C worlds.  It can’t be the case that the proximity of the C world to the actual world determines whether or not Jones A’s.  But, if the subjunctive conditional (this bit:  JC nec. €→A) is true, then it can’t be that Jones was just as likely to refrain from Aing in C as he was to A in C.

So, if indeterminism is true, the subjunctive conditional must be false.  The answer, then, to the above question ‘what is the truth value of the subjunctive conditional if indeterminism is true?’: the truth value of the subjunctive conditional, if indeterminism is true, is False.  But this means that it’s false that if Jones were in C, then he would freely A.  And what’s more, it’s false that if Jones were in C, then he would freely refrain from Aing.  And since God can’t have any false beliefs, he can’t believe that if Jones were in C, then he would freely A is true, nor can he believe that if Jones were in C, then he would freely refrain from Aing.  He can’t believe this because it’s false that if Jones were in C he would freely A and it’s false that if Jones were in C he would freely refrain from Aing.  It’s false because there is no would to it; indeterminism implies that the proximity of the worlds in which Jones is in C has no bearing on whether or not Jones A’s.  It has no bearing because, in all C worlds, Jones is just as likely to refrain from Aing as he is to A.

The upshot of all this is that if it’s true that if Jones were in C, he would freely A, then Jones was not libertarianly free to A.  Some factor that wasn’t up to Jones made it the case that his particular C world was closer to the actual world than some other C world, some other C world where he refrains from Aing.  And this implies that, if it’s true that if Jones were in C, then he would freely A, then libertarianism is false.  At any rate, it implies that if the subjunctive conditional is true, then God’s middle knowledge rules out our acting in a libertarianly free way.

So, either you are a Molinist—at any rate, you believe that God has middle knowledge—or you are a libertarian.  But you can’t be both.  So the argument goes, anyway.

August 11, 2011

Einstein on Free Will

by Max Andrews

After the First World War Einstein made contributions to the development of quantum theory, including Bose-Einstein statistics and the basics of stimulated emission of radiation from atoms (which was later used to develop lasers).  He gave the nod of approval that led to the rapid acceptance of Louis de Broglie’s ideas about matter waves but he never came to terms with the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics.[1] The Copenhagen has become the more popular and standard interpretation.[2]

According to the Heisenberg Principle, the moment at which a measurement takes place is the moment at which the randomness lying at the heart of quantum reality expresses itself.[3]  Up to that point, everything is fine.  Amplitudes change in a completely predictable, and more importantly, calculable way.  The observer changes the state of what is being observed.  Outcomes can be predicted according to governing probabilities, but the actual outcome cannot be known in advance.[4]

This was something Einstein could not live with.  Einstein, as a determinist, felt that the world is a structured and rigid web where effects follows cause and all things should be predictable, given the right information.  Einstein acknowledged that quantum theory works but he did not like the philosophy behind it.  If whether or not, for example, Niels Bohr, Einstein’s quantum physics counterpart, were to throw a book across the room Einstein would be able to predict the outcome of Bohr’s “choice.” Einstein would of course say that choice is the wrong word to use; rather, the brain is a complex machine with cogs whirring round to produce a predictable action.  The basis of Einstein’s view was a philosophical conviction that the world did not include random events:  an objection summed up in Einstein’s widely quoted saying, “God does not play dice.”[5]  Bohr is reported to have responded to Einstein with the witty reply, “Don’t tell God what to do.”

Strict [or hard] determinism may be the only way to avoid the implication from quantum mechanics and experiments such as the delayed choice experiment.[6]  This experiment suggests that quantum communications occur instantaneously across any distance, or even travel backwards in time.[7]  The determinist is not yet defeated, quantum mechanics comes with a state of collapse and that seems to be linked to measurement.  Whatever measurements are, they are very specific situations and probably linked to what happens when a particle bumps into a measuring device.[8]

Einstein played a prominent role in the early development of quantum mechanics, particular in his philosophical approach to it.  How one interprets quantum mechanics will shape the answer to the question of determinism and free will.  Empirical testing does not seem to be enough to provide a satisfactory answer; rather, it how the data is interpreted.  Einstein’s approach to the rejection of genuine random events has been an influence of the contemporary debate.  It has been argued that Einstein’s determinism is correct, but it may be a mistake for him to base it on random events.  Randomness is not sufficient for determinism to be true; a lack of causality would be sufficient.  Even with the delayed choice experiment there seems to be a lack of causality, if anything it would be backwards causality.  The free will proponent must be careful not to appeal to any ignorance for a lack of explanation of such quantum events.  Einstein’s reason for determinism (randomness) does nothing to advance his case.  If anything, quantum experiments such as the delayed choice experiment only show that there is randomness in the world, not that there is purposeful, free agency.  All quantum mechanics entails is that there are random events in the brain (or whatever) that yield unpredictable behavior, which the agent is not responsible.[9]  Thus, it seems to be the case that Einstein’s philosophy of determinism has persevered.[10]


[1] Kenneth William Ford, The Quantum World: Quantum Physics for Everyone (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), 117.

[2] At this time there are at least ten regularly cited interpretations of quantum physics varying in interpretation of wave collapse, determinacy/indeterminacy, superpositions, and Schrödinger’s equations.

[3]  The equation: (change in x multiplied by the change in px is greater than or equal to half of Planck’s constant). For a given state, the smaller the range of probable x values involved in a position expansion, the larger the range of probable px values involved in a momentum expansion, and vice versa.  The key to the expression is the greater than or equal to because it places a limit on how precise the two measurements can be.  The principle is relating and for the same state ( signifies change, h, h-bar, is the Planck constant).  Heisenberg’s target was causality. The Copenhagen interpretation adopted this principle.  Jonathan Allday, Quantum Reality: Theory and Philosophy (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2009), 247-248.

[4] Jonathan Allday, Quantum Reality: Theory and Philosophy (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2009), 100-101.

[5] Allday, 101.

[6] If photons are fired through the experiment one at a time (firing photons at a wall with two holes and a photon detector on the other side of the holes), they will build up an interference patter on the other side, as if they had gone through both holes at once and interfered with themselves.  If the experiment is set up so that detectors monitor which hole the photo goes through, the photon is indeed observed to be going through only one hole, and there is no interference pattern.  If a detector is set up not at the holes but intermediate between the two holes and the back wall detector screen then it may be possible to see which route a particular photon took after it had passed the two holes before it arrived at the screen.  Quantum theory says that if we choose to turn this new detector off and not look at the photons, they will form an interference pattern.  But if we look at the photons to see which hole they went through, even if we look after they have gone through the hole, there will be no interference pattern.  The delayed choice comes into the story because we can make the decision whether or not too look at the photon after the photon has already passed through the hole[s].  The decision made seems to determine how the photon behaved at the time it was passing though the hole a tiny fraction of a second in the past.  It seems as though the photons have some precognition about how the set-up of the experiment will be before it sets out on its journey.  This has also provided credence to the metaphysical concept of backwards causation.  John R. Gribbin, Mary Gribbin, and Jonathan Gribbin (Q Is for Quantum: Particle Physics from A-Z. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998), 102-103.

[7] This is most notably accepted by the transactional interpretation of quantum mechanics. Gribbin, 104.

[8] Allday, 102.

[9] Predictability may be equivalent to randomness, not a lack of causality.  Louis Pojman, Philosophy: The Pursuit of Wisdom (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2006), 229-230.

[10] Recalling Einstein’s epistemic method, he based all of his philosophy and work on the ontological status of the universe.  He did not seem to indicate an immateriality to the mind.  Einstein’s influence is limited only to the physical aspect for the substance dualist.  Here is where the substance dualist and the scientific theologian must resume the dialogue.

April 19, 2011

A Philosophical Case for the Existence of Hell

by Max Andrews

Questions about hell have permeated cultural discussions recently, primarily at the rise of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins.  I’m not going to look at Scriptural evidences or passages for hell; rather, I’m going to take concepts and allow them to develop on their own (I would argue that this is consistent with Scripture).  For more on the Scriptural case for hell I would recommend Four Views on Hell.  I’ll be working with an idea argued by William Lane Craig (here, here, and here).

Let’s start with God being a maximally perfect being, that which nothing greater can be conceived.  He is perfect in every way and his perfections do not and cannot contradict.  Humans freely do morally wrong actions.  This would include not doing what we ought to do and doing what we ought not to do. These sins are wrongs against an ontologically perfect being.  If God is just and justice is a moral principle to attain (such that being fair is a virtue), then God must compensate for the wrong.  There must be atonement.  There are consequences for every action, good and bad.  Good actions are rewarded and bad actions are punished (what these rewards and punishments are don’t necessarily have to be defined, it’s just that there are consequences).  Let’s modestly assume that sins require finite punishments.  I will deny Thomas Aquinas’ position that one finite sin requires an infinite punishment because it was done against an infinite God.  I’ll take a more modest approach (I’m not necessarily saying that Thomas is wrong either).

Based on experience, I believe there is sufficient warrant to believe that some people who have not had their sins atoned for by Jesus Christ die without atoning for their sins in this lifetime.  In the afterlife, this person must atone for his own wrongs in order for God to be perfectly just.  Each sin warrants a finite punishment; however, this person will not cease to sin in the afterlife since he has not had his sins atoned for by Christ.  He will not be ushered into a state of beatitude (which can be warranted based on rewards and the concept of justice and the moral beatification of atonement).  Because this person continues to sin he will always receive respective punishment for each sin and if there are a[n] [potential] infinite set of sins then the duration with last without end as well.  Punishment without beatification (because this person chose to atone for his own sin) will be eternal by the successive addition of sins.  Sins imply punishment, so an infinite duration of punishment is warranted as well.

I don’t believe this contradicts God’s love for this person either.  I’m assuming that God genuinely desired this person to be atoned for by Christ but this person freely rejected the propitiatory substitutional atonement.  By rejecting that loving offer, the only alternative, by the necessity of justice, is to atone for his own sins.  Yes, love wins and Christ’s atonement is that love, but let’s not forget that justice win’s as well since God’s attributes are equally perfect.

April 15, 2011

The Pelagian Equivocation

by Max Andrews

Pelagianism argues that man is naturally able to obey God.  Semi-Pelagianism argues that though man cannot be saved apart from grace he is naturally able to turn to God.  It’s quite frustrating when Arminianism and Molinism are equated with Pelagianism.  It seems as though those who make these arguments fall short of fully knowing the two positions and play the P-card as a the trump card.  To briefly state the differences, Pelagianism isn’t even close to Arminianism and Molinism and if you play that card you need to stop before your get to the bulb of the TULIP or ROSES and go back to the soil and seed.  Semi-Pelagianism can’t be dismissed off the bat like that though.  The difference is that prevenient grace is what enables the will to turn to God as a catalyst.  If semi-Pelagianism is true, theoretically, I could be wanting salvation from God and he not give it to me.  If Pelagianism is true I can will myself to God and salvation.  For the Arminian and Molinist, neither of these are true; rather, the sinner rejects God and salvation prior to being overcome by God’s ever-present prevenient grace catalyzing the will and God saving.

The teaching of Scripture seems to assert that post-Genesis 3 humans possess libertarian free will, including freedom to choose between opposites on matters pertaining to salvation or any other spiritual good.  This immediately raises questions surrounding the concept of original sin.  Augustine first used the expression “original sin” in the wake of the Pelagian controversy.[1]  Upon arriving at Rome in A.D. 400, the British monk Pelagius was horrified to see the open immorality prevalent among so-called Christians.[2]  This was the direct result of Theodosius I nineteen years earlier (A.D. 381) declaring Christianity to be the state religion so decreeing that anyone living within its borders to be Christian. This was a transformation of Christianity from a voluntary religion (one that people freely choose to join) to a natural religion (one into which people are born) spawned immense immorality in many people who bore the name of Christ without ever having personally committed their lives to Jesus.[3]  Pelagius exhorted the Romans to live worthy of their Christian calling with an argument logically summarized in two steps:

1.  Humans possess libertarian free will.

2.  Humans should use their libertarian freedom to be good enough people to earn their own salvation.[4]

Unfortunately, as so often happens in the history of thought, one extreme position meets the response of an equally extreme opposing position, thus swinging the ideological pendulum from one side to the other.  Very rarely is prudence taken in shifting the pendulum back to the center, where the truth is most likely to be found.[5]  Augustine affirmed that both Adam and Eve were created with libertarian free will pre-Genesis 3 whereby one could freely respond to the grace of God.[6]  However, in response to Pelagius, Augustine was not content merely to reject Pelagius’ conclusion but insisted on preventing the argument from getting off the ground.  Denying both Pelagian premises, therefore, Augustine asserted that post-Genesis humans lacked libertarian free will and so could not use this ability to earn salvation.[7]  Augustine proposed an innovative interpretation of Genesis 3, henceforth styled “the Fall,” according to which Adam and Eve, in the supreme act of self-violation, paradoxically committed “spiritual suicide” by freely employing their mental faculty whereby they could freely respond to God to destroy that very faculty.[8]

If grammatico-historical exegesis is performed upon each of the pertinent Scriptural passages rather than theological eisogesis, it quickly becomes apparent that post-Genesis 3 unregenerate humans in fact possess the freedom to choose between opposites including response to grace, which is precisely what the late-Augustinian doctrine of original sin denies.[9]  As for Genesis 3, nothing in the text even remotely suggests that humans surrendered the libertarian freedom with which they were created.

When Paul asserts that unregenerate humanity is spiritually dead or dead “in transgressions and sins” (Eph. 2.1), he means that their spirits are alienated from Divine Spirit and thereby relegated to lives of pointlessness; this is why Paul interchanges phrases connoting spiritual death with such descriptive phrases as “separate from Christ,” “without hope and without God in the world” (2.12), “living in the futility of their thinking” (3.17), and “darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God” (3.18).[10]  Granting in grammatico-historical fashion of the sense of literary context as well as the normal connotations of and relationships between terms, it follows that any text where God offers people a choice requires that people have the mental faculty necessary for making that choice.[11]  Denying this inference not only makes the text meaningless, but it carries the deleterious theological consequences of either invalidating God’s omniscience (for wrongly thinking people could make the impossible choice) or God’s veracity (for intentionally deceiving people into thinking they could make a choice which He knew they lacked the ability to make and for inspiring a Scripture which foisted the ruse upon its readers).[12]


            [1] Augustine, De Gratia Christi, et de Peccato Originali, contra Pelagium, First Series, ed. Philip Schaff. (Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1887; rep. ed., Peabody, MA:  Hendrickson, 1994), 2.1-5.

            [2] Pelagius, Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, trans. Theodore de Bruyn (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1995), 107.

            [3] Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries, 3rd rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1996), 120-121.

            [4] Pelagius, Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, 108-112.  It should be noted that the second premise is entirely unbiblical. Anselm in his Cur Deus Homo, 1.20-23, 2.6, decisively overturned this inference.  Accordingly, it is beyond the power of any person to make compensation for his or her sin by right employment of libertarian freedom.

            [5] Kirk R. MacGregor, A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology, (Lanham, MD:  University Press of America, 2007), 22.

            [6] Augustine, De Peccatorum Meritis et Remissione, 2.

            [7] Augustine, De Gratia et Libero Arbitrio, 29-30.

            [8] Augustine, De Peccatorum Meritis et Remissione, 5-16.

            [9] MacGregor, A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology, 24.  For further exegetical and grammatical relationships see William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard, Jr., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, (Dallas, TX:  Word, 1993), 155-214.

            [10] Ibid., 25-26.

            [11] Irenaeus, in Against Heresies, 4.37.2-3, averred in the face of Gnostic determinism that the prophetic rebukes for spiritual evil and exhortation of spiritual good presupposed human ability to obey, as did the religious teachings of Jesus.  Hence both Old and New Testaments substantiated the self-determination of humanity.   By libertarian freedom I mean that our freedom is a derived freedom, humans are not completely independent or completely autonomous.  In Molinism, unlike Calvinism, God is completely sovereign over the eternal destinies of a world of libertarian free creatures who have, in Augustinian terminology, “free choice” and not merely “free will.”  MacGregor explains that for Augustine, “free choice” (i.e. libertarian free will) entailed the freedom to choose between opposites in both the physical and spiritual realms.  Thus fallen humanity, by virtue of the imago Dei, can freely choose whether or not to respond to God’s prevenient grace.  By contrast, Augustine defined “free will” (i.e. compatibilist free will) as the ability to choose without any external constraint between the options compatible with one’s nature.  On this view, unregenerate humans, due to original sin, lack the ability to choose between spiritual good and evil.  Just as a bad tree can bear bad fruit or no fruit at all, unregenerate humanity can either perform spiritual wickedness by actively rebelling against God or do nothing spiritual at all by displaying passivity toward God.  See Augustine, On Forgiveness of Sins and Baptism, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, ed. Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1887; rep. ed., Peabody, MA:  Hendrickson, 1994), 5:57-59, 74-76.  MacGregor, A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology, 84-85. The Scriptures breathe libertarian human freedom, even if the Bible makes no explicit mention of it. Take, for example, 1 Cor. 10.13, which promises that God “will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.” It follows that any Christian who does not in some circumstance endure but succumbs to temptation had it within his power to take the way of escape instead, i.e., he had the liberty of opposites in those circumstances. Again, we can at least agree that if the Scriptures do presuppose or affirm libertarian freedom, then there is no basis for denying that sentences like 1 Cor. 2.8 are true counterfactuals of freedom. William Lane Craig, “Ducking Friendly Fire: Davison on the Grounding Objection.” Philosophia Christi 8 (2006): 166.

            [12] MacGregor, A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology, 26.

April 14, 2011

Good God: Calvinists Got It Wrong

by Max Andrews

In the chapter titled “A Reformed Tradition Not Quite Right” Baggett and Walls contend that the fundamental divide between Calvinism and [say] Arminianism is how God’s love and goodness are understood.  This section is a [ironically] five-point objection to Calvinistic compatibilism.   Before the authors make their case they assemble a philosophical justification for their method.  Their epistemic framework gives a strong platform for the acceptance of a priori natural revelation going into the biblical hermeneutic.  Without further ado they present their case against compatibilism (I once heard Dr. Baggett say that it’s not adieu*, as it was once corrected in the drafts by the editors [*Okay, it wasn’t for this work, but it was funny when he said it.  Thank you Dr. Baggett for correcting me!).

  1. Obligation Objection:  Simply put, ought implies can and moral duties make no sense in compatibilism.  1 Cor. 10.13 is cited as an example for libertarian freedom (God gives a way out of sin, yet we still sin).  Prevenient grace seems to be a legitimate postulation, that is, the grace that precedes salvation that enables one to repent and turn from sin. Their example:  P is “we ought to avoid all sin,” and Q is “we can avoid all sin” (ought implies can).  However, it seems that some theologies (mainly Reformed), after the fall, P is true and Q is false (counterexample?).  How about:  P1, For any x, if x is a sin, then we ought to avoid doing x; Q1 For any x, if x is a sin, then we can avoid x.  Here Baggett and Walls show the Calvinist’s fallacy of equivocation.  Clearly, P1 and Q2 are true but to understand where P is true and Q is false one would need to equivocate “all” for P as “for each individual sin x, taken on its own” and for Q “for the sum total of all sins added together.”  An argument on equivocation seems to break at the seams.  Thus, the principle of ought implies can perseveres and libertarian freedom is true.
  2. Culpability Objection:  “If the unregenerate aren’t able to avoid all sin, have we found a counter example to ‘ought implies can?’  For what would seem to suggest that they don’t have enough grace to avoid sin for which they’re culpable.”  Compatibilism entails that we cannot do otherwise (where some secular philosophers say we should abandon the category of retribution). When asked, “Could the person have done otherwise?”, the reply would be “Yes, if he had willed to do otherwise (but, he could not have willed otherwise).  Sure, let’s let the naturalist play out retribution, but the Calvinist cannot do so since it’s a pertinent part of their theology.  They believe sinners are to be held accountable for this life and that some may be “consigned to eternal perdition for lives they could not have possibly lived any differently.”
  3. Bad God Objection:  If compatibilism is true, then God could have saved everyone without violating free will.  Some are not saved and are sentenced to eternal perdition, so what’s the deal?  If compatibilism is true, why did God not elect all to salvation rather than sentence some to hell?  Assuming salvation is a greater good than damnation, something has gone wrong.  “If this is true, there is no intelligible sense in which God loves those who are lost, nor is there any recognizable sense in which he is good to them.”
  4. Love Objection:  Bt the intrinsic nature of love relationships, love must flow in both directions.  If God’s grace is irresistible then it necessarily follows that fellowship with God culminates (as the authors put it, a “divine love potion”).  However,  this creates an eternal infatuation in the beloved, but not genuine love; it seems love requires a more substantial element of volition.
  5. Virtue Objection:   The Calvinists emphasize that “morally responsible actions must reflect one’s character or they aren’t culpable reflections of who one is.” However, It seems to be the case that culpable moral development in virtue ethics starts with thoughts, leads to actions, and then follows with a descriptive character.  It seems Calvinists have it backwards.  According to Calvinists, our actions are “determined by an already existing character with which we are unavoidably saddled.”
This post isn’t an exhaustive representation; rather, it’s a mere summation of the material.  The main point was to demonstrate that the Calvinistic concept of God and morality run afoul in theory ethics.  To follow up more see the chapter “A Reformed Tradition Not Quite Right” in Good God:  Theistic Foundations of Morality.
March 6, 2011

The Philosophy Behind ‘The Adjustment Bureau’

by Max Andrews

George Nolfi and Phillip Dick’s recent movie ‘The Adjustment Bureau‘ is certainly a film that can get you thinking and asking the questions, “How?” and, “But why?”  I had no idea this movie was coming out until a friend Tweeted it to me a couple of days before the premiere, which made for a great date night.  Before I get into the details, my opinion of the film is that though it was entertaining and had an ‘indy-esque’ vibe to it, though it made me frustrated.

David (Matt Damon) falls in love with Elise (Emily Blunt) in the only-in-the-movies-could-it-ever-happen type moments.  They hit it off and we begin the story line.  David is heading to work a few months later after his mysterious run-in with Elise and Harry, a bureau case officer, is supposed to make David spill his coffee by 7:05 AM.  Well, it doesn’t happen and it becomes a problem because it has compromised “the plan.”  David sees Elise on that bus and they reunite.  Not good for the bureau.  Once David gets off the bus he walks into work and notices that his staff is being tampered with (for lack of a better word).  They are scanning their brains in the moment as time seems to have frozen.  Because David had not spilled his cup of coffee he witnesses what is going on.  David meets the bureau and finds out what they do and then we continue on with the plot.

Source: IMBD

Going into the movie I didn’t know what to expect as far as how they were going portray human freedom and the bureau’s providence.  There’s a clear and distinct correlation between the bureau’s chairman and God; and the case officers with angels.  The case officers are limited in their scope of abilities by the chairman, they report to the chairman, they are not perfect, and they do work for the chairman.  The chairman is the one who makes the plans.  The plans are referenced by the case workers in these books they carry around.  Here’s where I get frustrated because there seems to be an inconsistency.  Throughout the film you’ll come to understand that humans really do have free will.  In the scene when David enters his office and finds the case officers tampering with his colleagues brains, they are doing that in order to change their minds about something.  Here we have the classic illustration of soft-determinism/compatibilism.  Say there’s a scientist who plants electrodes in my brain.  I’m free to act according to my will as long as I do what the scientist wants.  Now, say I’m in a room with you.  I can either shoot you or I can walk away and we both live.  Now, I don’t want to kill you, but perhaps the scientist wants me to kill you.  Because I don’t want to do what the scientist wants me to do he activates the electrodes in my brain, which causes me to kill you.  Now back to the film.  We have David’s colleagues doing something that requires a strong-actualization, an introduction of direct causation into the states of affairs (directly causing the changes in the brains).  Now, we don’t know the efficacy of these changes, whether it’s merely an introduction of new information to be considered or if it’s something that necessarily brings about the change, we don’t know but it seems to be the case that it was actually changed.

Later on in the film you come to learn that every historical event happened to bring about the state of affairs David finds himself in.  The black plague existed to bring about this certain aspect in David’s life, the Enlightenment was brought about so that David will be reasonable, etc.  David seems to be a focus of a theodicy.  David’s not allowed to be with Elise because if he is with her then he will not be what the bureau needs him to be.  We now find ourselves with counterfactual knowledge.  If David does this, then this will happen.  If David does not do this, then this will happen (and this will not happen).  You also find the bureau using terms and phrases like “you would do this” or “you would have done that.”  So there seems to be an indication of a knowledge of counterfactual human freedom.  Okay, this makes sense.  If all these historical events were brought about so that a particular state of affairs would obtain that seems to be quite providential given that these humans have free will.  It sounds like good ‘ole Molinism! (But… it’s not).

Source: IMBD

I would not be surprised if we find this film being referenced as illustrations for openness theologians in the time to come.  It really is an excellent depiction of overall openness providence, since the climax and denouement will help shape how you interpret the earlier parts of film.  The two writers could have made a clearer distinction on how free will is portrayed and how it relates to the bureau’s providential plan.  The film is quite entertaining and you find yourself caught in the middle of David and Elise’s relationship.  One moment you want them to make it and the next you don’t because you’re too mad at David.  However, a word of caution to you philosophically minded folk, you may find yourself with the same frustration I had in trying to get a consistent depiction of human freedom and providence.

December 30, 2010

Determinism vs. Fatalism

by Max Andrews

It’s easy to confuse these two concepts so I wanted to give a brief differentiation.  I’ve noticed the confusion on the blog here and I’ve had two students attempt to construct an argument for determinism when they were actually arguing for fatalism.  Determinism entails that an event is necessarily constrained to actualization by causal relations.  Fatalism entails that an event is necessarily constrained to actualization but it is not by causal relations.  This becomes an issue with simple foreknowledge (i.e. If God foreknows any state of affairs then those state of affairs happen necessarily.  So, if God foreknows I will be sitting down at t1 do I have the freedom to stand up at t1?).

Determinism (let S be a state of affairs)

S1 → S2 → S3 → S4

Let this represent a causal relationship between each state of affairs.  So if I were to ask the question, “If God foreknows that I will be sitting down at S4 do I have the freedom to stand up at S4?”  The answer is no.  I don’t have the freedom to stand up because each I was determined to sit down by the prior causes and God foreknows what will happen because the causes logically precede God’s foreknowledge (in the case of natural knowledge) or are concurrent within God’s foreknowledge (though this would deny all possible worlds except for one, the actual world).

Fatalism

S1ʹ → S2ʹ → S3ʹ → S4ʹ

In the above states of affairs, there doesn’t need to be any direct causal relationship (so let’s use prime to differentiate).  Now let’s ask the above question concerning God’s foreknowledge and the necessary actualization of any state of affairs.

God foreknows S4ʹ will happen:  Because S4ʹ will happen (by virtue of God knowing that it will happen), S1ʹ → S2ʹ → S3ʹ must necessarily happen to bring about S4ʹ.  Remember, any prior states of affairs happen necessarily as well by virtue of God’s simple foreknowledge.  This is different from determinism because the states of affairs are not [necessarily] causally determined or related to each other.

Determinism and fatalism both have their problems.  I find determinism to be problematic because of the problem of evil and human freedom.  Fatalism confuses the logical moments of God’s knowledge.  So the question I’ve been asking is simply just a bad question.  I’m taking God’s free knowledge and putting that logically prior to God’s natural knowledge or middle knowledge (depending on what I’m objecting to).  So if I’m going to ask if I can (natural knowledge) do anything other than what God foreknows (free knowledge), then I’m making the third moment precede the first moment.  It’s simply incoherent and inconsistent.

December 29, 2010

Overpower – Is God Ultimately Responsible for Everything?

by Max Andrews

This is in response to Rick’s comment regarding middle knowledge.  I’ll quote the section of his comment below for context and I’ll give a brief summation of the issue here.  The question is whether everything that happens in the actual world is ultimately determined by God and if so, is God thus responsible for everything including [Rick’s examples of] reprobation, evil, making libertarian freedom illusory, etc.

This question is incredibly vague and it depends on how one defines responsibility in the question.  I’ll just get to the real question like Rick gave, is God ultimately responsible for evil knowing what will happen?  No.  In Rick’s question he excludes the use of middle knowledge in God’s knowledge. It wouldn’t be determinism either, it would be fatalism.  The difference between fatalism and determinism is that fatalism suggests that events happen necessarily but are not causally bound whereas determinism is causally restricted.  The events in this world happen logically prior to God’s creative decree.  So, what will happen since God’s decision to create has already been factored into every state of affairs based on human free decisions for how they would respond to the circumstances they find themselves in.

God’s responsibility for creation is a governing responsibility.  Consider creation as an open system within a closed system.  God could have created a world in which everyone never sinned, but that world may not have been feasible.  God is responsible in causal sustaining sense as well, but that’s different from an actualizing sense.  God weakly and strongly actualizes every state of affairs.  As Plantinga defines the terms:  God weakly actualizes S iff there is an S* such that God strongly actualizes [direct causation] S* and S* → S, where → is “counterfactual implication” (Let S be a state of affairs).

So am I free to break the predicted pattern?  Well, the future is going to happen necessarily, but only because it will be a result of what we would do.  Remember, God’s foreknowledge is a reflection of what we would do.  In order to have an answer to that question, it depends on what I would do in whatever circumstance, that free choice will determine what will happen.  In the words of William Lane Craig, “If God simply foreknows that man will sin, then it’s too late, so to speak, to do anything about it, since it’s logically impossible to change the future.”  That’s why simple foreknowledge and Arminianism fails in my opinion.  For further elaboration see why I’m not an Arminian.  So is God responsible for everything in creation? Yes, but that does not include God determining everything in creation.

In the words of C.S. Lewis, “If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will…then we may take it it is worth paying.” (Mere Christianity)

Question reference:

Calvinism—Arminians object that, if God determines everything, He is to blame for everything; we don’t really have a choice in what we do, and thus we aren’t responsible ultimately for our actions. Molinists want to protect our (libertarian) freedom. But since God is the one who chose the possible world He wanted, and there is some way He could know that libertarianly free people will choose one thing over another, then He is ultimately responsible for all that happens after all. He could have chosen a possible world where Bill Smith would accept Christ rather than reject Him.Molinism seems to entail determinism after all. If God knows for certain (without possibility of being proved wrong) that I will act in certain ways given certain circumstances, a particular history, certain background beliefs, etc., then that implies that in that situation I can only act in one way, the way God foresaw. I am not truly free to break from the predicted pattern. If God can somehow know the future without in some way determining it, then I don’t see what Molinism gives that Arminianism doesn’t.