Friday, May 30, 2008

God Determines All - A Response to Godismyjudge

In response to my recent post (link) on some fundamental problems with LFW, Godismyjudge (Dan) has provided a response (link). This is my rebuttal to his response.

Ultimately, the problem I have with Dan's response is this: our position is that God sovereignly determines all of history. We don't have any problem asserting that God also sovereignly determines His own actions in history. We don't have any problem with the idea of God being locked into his own plan, since His plan is perfectly wise, and it would be unwise for Him to deviate from His own plan.

Now, Dan asserts: "One of the many problems with the Calvinist arguments that LFW doesn’t exist is that if LFW doesn’t exist, God doesn’t have LFW."

a) One of the many? What are the others?

b) How is it a problem for God not to have something that doesn't exist?

Dan continues: "But scripture grants no quarter to those who claim that God doesn’t have LFW."

I understand that perhaps this is intended as a rhetorical flourish, but Scripture does not teach LFW, much less condemn its deniers.

Dan continues: "The first verse in scripture claims that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1) We either understand this by faith, or we do not. (Hebrews 11:3)"

a) The reference to understanding this by faith or not doesn't seem at all germane to the discussion. No one from the Calvinist side would deny that we understand Creation by faith.

b) The reference to Creation is also not particularly germane to the issue. It doesn't demonstrate God having LFW.

Dan continues: "Consider God’s first action. By definition, no act of God preceded that first act. So no causes preceded that action. Rather, God self-determined that action, by performing it. Thus, contrary to Calvinism, self-determining power exists."

This argument is logically fallacious. Here's why. The form of the argument is this:

1. God had a first action.

2. First action means no previous actions.

3. Therefore, no cause before the first action.

This argument is obviously fallacious, because it conflates "cause" with "action." Although there was no action before Creation, nevertheless God's nature and counsel, being eternal, preceded the first action. Scripture explicitly speaks of God's counsel existing "before the foundation of the Earth." (Ephesians 1:4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:)

Thus, elsewhere we read, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made." (John 1:1-3) Thus, there is a cause and explanation for Creation: the Triune God.

The remainder of Dan's argument is likewise illogical: "Rather, God self-determined that action, by performing it. Thus, contrary to Calvinism, self-determining power exists."

God determining to do an action is God determining to do something himself. That does not mean that there is no reason or cause why God determined to do that himself. In fact, there is a reason and explanation for God's creation of the world:

Revelation 4:11 Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.

And likewise, God grants no quarter to those who deny that there was a purpose and explanation for his decision to create:

Isaiah 45:18 For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else.

And likewise God explains that he created for his own glory:

Isaiah 43:7 Even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him.

The other part of Dan's objection that no such thing as self-determining power exists is a vain objection, because it conflates LFW with self-determination. These are distinct concepts. LFW requires, as Dan admits, that the sum of the preceding causes not produce the effect of the choice. However, self-determination simply requires that all the preceding causes be internal to the actor making the choice. God falls into the category of being self-determined (since he is too great to be caused by His creation, and there is nothing else but God and what God has made), but since His own nature etc. are the basis for his most wise choices, therefore, he cannot be said to have LFW, since there is a reason for his decisions.

Dan continues, by posing some hypothetical objections: "Now the Calvinist might object – how is this to be explained? Does it even make sense? But wait. The scripture says in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Atheists might doubt the existence of a first cause, but it is contrary to the faith to doubt that God created the world in the beginning."

a) This is a red herring. No Calvinist (well - none I've ever heard of) doubts that God created the heavens and the earth in the beginning. I certainly don't doubt that, and I'm confident that Dan, having followed my blog for a while, is aware of that.

b) The request for explanation is not moot, because Dan is asserting more than that God created the earth in the beginning: he's asserting that God did so using LFW. Thus, more explanation is required.

c) If, instead, Dan means that we are asking for an explanation of the Creation itself:
- (i) If Dan's answer is that no explanation can be provided, than LFW has not been demonstrated, since the explanation of LFW would be necessary to demonstrate LFW from Creation; and
- (ii) Scripture provides explanations, but they are not LFW.

Dan next provides another hypothetical objection: "Perhaps the Calvinist might backpedal and say, yes God has self-determining power, but man does not. That’s worth discussing, but that statement grants that self-determination can and does exist. Self-determination is logical and all arguments that claim self-determination is illogical are false."

a) This continues to conflate self-determination and LFW; and
b) Even if self-determination were converted (or convertable) to LFW, the fact that some extraordinary power is logical in God, does not make necessarily make it logical in His creation. To provide an obvious example: it is logical to say God created all things, but it would not be logical also to claim that man created all things. Likewise, it is logical to say that God is the first cause, but that does not mean that it is also logical to say that man is the first cause. In fact, in both cases, the two descriptions conflict with one another.
c) Dan seems implicitly to be adopting part of the atheist objection to the first-cause argument for God's existence, and turning it on its head. Thus, the atheist objects that if there is an explanation for everything, and that explanation is God, there must also be an explanation for God. Thus, there is no reason to stop the chain of regressive causes at God. Dan, acknowledging that the chain of regressive causes must terminate at God, argues that if the chain can terminate there, it can also terminate other places. The problem with Dan's inference is that it doesn't follow: God can terminate the chain of causes, because God himself is uncaused - he's self-existent. We, however, are not self-existent. We have parents. There is a cause why we are, and there are causes for what we do. We are part of the creation, we are not - like God - the Creator.

Dan next turns to the questions I had raised.

My first question was:
1) Is it the LFW position that the sum (or product) of all preceding causes(including the state of man's heart) does not determine the choice, but that
given that same exact set of preceding causes (both external and internal) man
could have chosen otherwise? This question is important, because otherwise the
argument is just so much straw-man-defeating, in which we shouldn't be investing
any time.
Dan answers: "Yes."

Great. We can move on to the other questions.

Dan, however, decided to additionally provide some further comments: "Again – look at God’s creation. If causal forces preceded and necessitated His creative act, then creation wasn’t in the beginning, was it?"

a) This answer abuses the word "beginning." There, "beginning" refers to the beginning of Creation. God is timelessly eternal. He has no beginning. There is no absolute beginning, only a beginning of Creation. Furthermore, Scripture speaks of God "before the foundation" and of the existence of the Triune God who existed before Creation, before the beginning mentioned in Genesis 1:1:

Psalm 90:2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.

b) This answer is ambiguous with respect to "causal forces." God - the Trinity - are the cause for Creation. God's wisdom is properly assigned the role of cause in this regard. There were no external causal forces, for such would be impossible, nothing besides God being in existence.

Next, Dan turned to my second question, which is:
2) Can we meaningfully speak of reasons for choices, reasons that explain the choices?
Dan responded: "Yes."

Great. We can move on to the other questions.

Dan, however, decided to additionally provide some further comments: "Let’s look at the choosing process as Paul describes it in Philippians 1. (21For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.)"

Ok ... we looked. It should be noted, however, that this is a discourse about a particular choice, not about choices in general. It's not actually a discussion of the choosing process, which can be discerned from the fact that (in fact) no choice is actually made.

Dan continued: "Paul 1) considered both alternatives, 2) projected the consequences of the alternatives, 3) saw the good aspects of both alternatives and 4) was pressed by both alternatives. Paul identified good reasons to choose either alternative, and both alternatives were influencing him to choose them."

Ok ... no big objection so far.

Dan: "So after the choice, we can identify one as the indeterminate cause or more commonly: “the reason”."

a) This is certainly not from the text.

b) This doesn't follow from the text. Dan just made it up.

Dan: "Our self-determining ability required the indeterminate cause and acted in favor of it. "

a) Again, this certainly isn't from the text.

b) Calling it a cause and calling it indeterminate are at odds. So are calling the ability self-determined and assigning external causes to it. Finally, suggesting that the "self-determining ability" "acted in favor of" an external cause, suggests that was being called a "cause" is actually simply an object to be chosen, and that it is required only in a logical and not a causal sense. In other words, it seems Dan's argument is that its bare existence is necessary, because non-existent things cannot be chosen (we'll leave aside Creation for the moment). But that doesn't seem to correspond at all to what Paul's talking about. Paul's talking about two compelling powerful motivations: Christ (to live) and Gain (to die). Dan's argument would reduce those powerful motivations to utterly powerless motivations, whose bare existence is all that is required.

c) Such an analysis of motivations is adds with our experience and intuition. We know that the motivation of love for one's wife is stronger than one's motivation to have a single penny more of wealth, such that if a person's wife were held hostage for a penny (no other motivations coming into play) everyone who truly loved his wife would pay the penny for her ransom. If someone did not, we'd say that his love was not very strong, or that his avarice was very great. There's no reason from the passage Dan provided to suppose that this intuition is wrong.

Indeed, to the contrary, our intuition is confirmed by the Scriptures, which provide examples of stronger and weaker loves:

Psalm 52:3 Thou lovest evil more than good; and lying rather than to speak righteousness. Selah.

Dan continued: "Looking for the reason we choose something is looking for the indeterminate cause our self-determining ability required and acted upon."

a) That's an expected statement with the foregoing discussion of Dan's - but it does not make sense.

b) Specifically, it falls into the problems set forth in my original article (link). It is not the reason for the decision at all, because it has no causal connection with the decision, and it has only a bare existential logical connection with the decision (assuming that such a connection is even required).

c) How can an indeterminate cause entice at all if man is truly self-determined? That makes no sense. Yet we do know that man can be enticed:

Proverbs 1:10 My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not.

d) Dan seems to be confusing a partial explanation with no explanation at all. In other words, in the case of a Proverbs 1:10 son, if he sins, we would properly assign the reason not only to the enticement of sinners but also to weakness on the son's part. We would assign both internal and external reasons. Neither is sufficient. Yet neither should be ignored. If someone tried to entice the Queen of England to prostitute herself for a penny, we'd all laugh, because we know (even those of us who hold to LFW inconsistently know this) that such an enticement would not work. On the other hand, credibly offering a penniless teenage runaway (raised in a secular orphanage) $1 Billion for the same thing would be expected to actually corrupt her morals. Why? Because the full set of causes that spur one to act are different in the two cases. We would not hold to the illusion of LFW under those circumstances, and assert that it is truly indeterminate in any meaningful sense. In fact, if we were gamblers, we'd be willing to bet enormous amounts on the QoE declining the penny, and the runaway accepting the billion. Those are both practically sure bets - which we know, because we know the generalities of human nature, and how it is caused to act.

Dan next turned to my third question:
3) If we can, how can we do so consistently with the concept of libertarian free will?
Dan answered: "By admitting that something doesn’t have to determine a choice to be a reason for the choice."

This is worded a bit oddly. It's not a question of admission or not. It's a question of demonstration. It seems that reasons for most things are the things that determine it. For example, if we ask our child for the reason he lit the dog on fire, we'd be scandalized if he responded that the dog was there and so were the matches. Such an explanation really doesn't provide the reason at all, but rather suggests that the child is unwilling to state the reason. Why is that? Because neither the dog nor the matches provide a motivation for the child to do what he did. They simply provide the opportunity.

In the discussion above, however, Dan has confused motive and opportunity. Opportunity is not the reason, it's just occasion. Motivation is the reason.

We can see this demonstrated in elemental criminology. Occasion (and its negative counterpart Alibi) address the issue of logical possibility. Means (i.e. weapon) address the issue of physical possibility. Motivation addresses the issue of moral possibility. Now, granted that motivations are sometimes complex - and detective thrillers make much of such complex motivations. Everyone stands to inherit the rich uncle's fortune, or the butler has been given miserable salary for 40 years, etc. etc. The point, however, is that we recognize the existence of not only logical and physical possibility, but also the existence of moral possibility, and influences on that possibility.

Indeed, that is why there is advertising. Everyone with sense realizes that advertising actually has an effect on people's choices. It influences, causes, and determines them. It does not fully determine them, because there are other factors (such as the state of the man's heart). Nevertheless, it does influence them. There is a reason why people go to McDonald's - and part of that reason is advertising. This seems incontrovertible, yet - it appears - Dan denies it.

Next, Dan addresses the fourth question:
4) So why not just define Free Will as Calvinists typically do, as man choosing in accordance with his desires?
Dan answers: "We do not object to the idea that we choose according to our desire – when that notion is properly understood."

It seems Dan has missed the point. The point is captured by the word "just." Why not just stop where Calvinists stop - where Scriptures stop - and say that man does what seems good to him.

Dan: "What we object to is the idea of determinism."

a) Actually, from the preceding discussion, it sounds like Dan actually simply wants "self-determinism" over "divine determinism." That's not an objection to determinism, per se.

b) On the other hand, if Dan really means that he is opposed to any determinism (and I'm willing to take him at his word on that), the previous objections stand, for it is plain to all that our choices are determined - that there are reasons of a causal nature for our choices. That's why the penny bribe to the Queen would never work. That's why thieves throw a steak to the family dog rather than a house salad. That's why Coca-Cola spends millions on advertising their beverages. Choices, whether human or non-human, have reasons.

Everything that comes to be has a reason why it comes to be, whether that thing that comes to be is something physical - like a statue, or intangible - like a statute. Ultimately, God is the explanation. He is the one thing that exists that did not come to be. He is eternally self-existent - we are not.

Dan finally provided a tangential discussion on what he views as the relation between desire and choice: "Let’s look briefly at the relation between desire and choice."

Ok.

Dan: "The Greek term thelo is used for both desire and choice in the New Testament."

The word choice in the KJV appears in the NT only in Acts 15:7. No form of thelo is used there.

The word choose in the KJV appears in the NT only in Philippians 1:22, but no form of thelo is used there either.

The word choosing in the KJV appears in the NT only in Hebrews 11:25, but likewise no form of thelo can be found there.

The word chose in the KJV appears in the NT in Luke 6:13 & 14:7, and Acts 13:17 & 15:40, and - as the pattern seems to be emerging - none of them use any form of thelo.

The word chosen in the KJV appears in the NT 28 times - not a single one uses any form of thelo.

I couldn't find any other forms of "choice" used in the KJV version in the NT. In fact, my concordance suggests that all 200 or so times that the word thelo is used, it is not once translated by choose or any form thereof.

I'm sure that Dan's mistake was an honest one, but it doesn't seem to have any factual basis.

Dan: "They seem scarcely distinct, but it’s easiest to see the difference between them when you want something but don’t choose it."

It seems that here Dan acknowledges a difference between choice and desire.

Dan: "Jonathan Edwards saw them both as “willingness”, but desire is “indirect willingness” and has a remote goal and choice is just “willingness” and has a proximate goal. Desire is indirect in that a drunk doesn’t want to avoid drinking, he wants to avoid the bad consequences of drinking. Desire is remote, in that the drunk’s desire is with respect to a future time. “Some day I will stop drinking.”"

There's rather a lot of irony in Dan quoting Edwards in his defense. Edwards, of course, is a notable opponent of LFW and has recently a masterful rebuttal of it in his work, The Freedom of the Will.

Dan: "Understood in this way, saying we choose according to our desire, is really just saying we choose what we choose."

Now Dan seems to conflate desire and choice again. It's unclear why, particular since he just provided some distinction between them. Perhaps he was tired and left some portion of the argument out of his blog post.

Dan concludes: "The expression really isn’t helpful, as it doesn’t add anything to our understanding."

The expression "we choose what we choose" is not helpful. It's a tautology. This, however, undermines Dan's earlier position where he was assigning a reason based on an outcome. There, the tautology is: "We choose because we choose," which is not helpful and is not an explanation at all.

Dan: "But it’s true, so we don’t object to the expression, even if it’s impractical to use it."

The expression "we choose what we choose" is not helpful, but the expression that we choose what we desire is helpful and practical. It's helpful and practical a variety of ways. By influencing man's desires you can influences his choices. Likewise, by associating an object with one or more of man's desires, you can influence his choice of that object. That's why some young women weark make-up: to influence the desire of young men. That's why some young men pump iron, as well - to influence the desire of young women. Ultimately, both such people are making practical use of true, compatible free will.

What's utterly impractical is a will that cannot be externally influenced - for which all causes are indeterminate. There's no use that such a theory can be put too - except - I suppose to stop wasting money on advertising and effort on keeping up one's appearance. But we all laugh at such an application, because we know that such things matter to men and influence their decisions.

Dan finally repeats his earlier statement: "What we object to is determinism."

The response to that is already presented above. What is being objected to by Dan is not determinism per se but Divine Determinism (or so it seems from his initial objections). Ultimately, that's the issue: does God determine all things that happen or not.

Do we accept by faith not only Creation, but Providence.

-TurretinFan

8 comments:

David Waltz said...

Hello TF,

Great post, concise and yet full of depth. With your thoughts in mind, I would like to share an excerpt from Bavinck that I read a few days ago:

“The more one construes the will as being weakened by sin, the more power one accords to it in prevenient grace, the more, and to the same degree, its indifferent freedom ceases to exist. In addition, it is unfathomable why such an act of free will is still necessary. For if God has to renew human beings beforehand and irresistibly to the extent that they can choose the gospel, what purpose does the maintenance of the indifferent freedom of the will still serve other than again to frustrate God’s grace, to render his covenant of grace as shaky and unstable as the covenant of works was before the fall, and to picture Christ as being even more powerless and loveless than Adam? For he has accomplished and acquired everything, but when he wants to apply it, his power and his love bounce off the human will, a will, mind you, that has even been endowed with new energies! Merely to rescue a pseudofreedom attributed to humans, God is deprived of his sovereignty, the covenant of grace of its firmness, and Christ of his royal power.” (Reformed Dogmatics, 4.85.)

[As a side issue, I wonder how Bavinick would treat the concept of the “gift of perseverance” as found in the teachings of Augustine and Aquinas…]


Grace and peace,

David

Turretinfan said...

Thanks for your comment David!

And thanks for the Bavinck quotation.

I'm not sure what he would have said, Augustine has one or two statements on the subject that don't seem consistent with his anti-Pelagian writings.

Thanks again for stopping by!

-TurretinFan

Strong Tower said...

Great read, thanks.

tt

Turretinfan said...

Dear Mr. Twitchell,

I'm glad you liked it.

-TurretinFan

Gordan Runyan said...

Me too. I liked it.

I can't wait for the debate to begin!

I got my popcorn ready.

natamllc said...

If I might so self determine, this debate is over I believe even before it began!

To quote the famous reason for this blog:::>

"...from how great a height of righteousness we have been precipitated by Adam’s fall."

Godismyjudge said...

Hi TF,

Just wanted to let you know I had responded. (link)

God be with you,
Dan

Turretinfan said...

Thanks, Dan. My response to your post is here: (link)

-TurretinFan