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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Oliphint on Free Will

I'm afraid that Westminster Theological Seminary did not put their best foot forward and showed that they have no serious polemic against libertarian free will (LFW) and, therefore, the insidious theology of Molinism. Why Oliphint chose to tread in these waters unprepared, let alone do so in a book that was supposed to deal with “Reasons for Faith,” is a bit passing strange. Oh that the Reformed theologians of today would acquaint themselves with Edwards and Old Princeton! That so many devour Turretin who was anything but a technician in this regard and ignore the "Puritan Divine" (Edwards) remains a mystery!

Oliphint tries to argue against LFW by pointing out that the proponents of LFW deny that God can actualize all possible worlds. What Oliphint fails to demonstrate is that the compatibilist has a different understanding of the will as it relates to providence (Oliphint’s “unifying” principle between God’s sovereignty and human freedom) than the proponents of LFW. Oliphint is prepared to conclude that which Plantinga would gladly affirm; if God knows S will do x, S will do x. Oliphint is no different than Molina in this regard. Oliphint does distinguish himself from the Molinist in that the Molinist holds to possible worlds that are not feasible to actualize. Accordingly, Oliphint’s “victory” on the issue of free will would seem to be bound up in the disagreement that Molinists and Calvinists have over what God can actualize but never does he link the decree to the actual determination of the will, let alone explains his view of the will. Oliphint doesn’t attempt to show that God’s ability to actualize any "known" possible world where men choose responsibly is consistent with the non-contingency of human choices; rather he merely assumes that God can know future contingencies, a monstrosity indeed.

The point Calvinists are supposed to argue is that God in His providence causes man to choose x necessarily, and not contingently. Oliphint actually denies this. He wishes to affirm contingency of choice because he doesn’t seem to grasp that moral accountability is not indexed to contingency but rather to liberty, which is the ability to choose as one wants yet out of metaphysical necessity, which preserves moral accountability. The contingency Oliphint has in view suggests a metaphysic that is consistent with Molinism, contrary to Edwards and, therefore, presupposes the power of contrary choice, which would destroy moral accountability not save it. Oliphint introduces the Turretin notion of “modes of production” to argue for necessity of some sort. In doing so he settles for the "necessity" of Molinism not Calvinism! Oliphint essentially settles for future tense truth propositions of creaturely choices that are not metaphysically necessary but are merely "necessary" in the mind of God according to a decree that does not necessitate the action itself but rather leaves it contingent and, therefore, without a sufficient causal state of affairs to bring it into rational, actual, knowable existence. The "necessity" Oliphint settles for allows for a choice that might not occur being contingent, but will occur, being true and, therefore, knowable. How can knowledge ground necessity? Isn't knowledge receptive and not causal after all? Moreover, how can a determination of an end ensure that end through contingent means? Oliphint has a bit of explaining to do.

Oliphint gives us no reason to believe that he has a different view of the will than Billy Graham and Alvin Plantinga for that matter. (In one professor's syllabus on the Doctrine of Man at Westiminster-Philadelphia, it is argued that LFW is defeated simply by showing that regeneration precedes faith!) Oliphint agrees with all non-Socinian Armininians that whenever God knows that Jones will choose x, Jones will choose x; whenever God knows that Jones is responsible for choosing x, Jones chooses x freely and contingently. Oliphint appreciates that if God foreknows that Jones will do x, then it is true that Jones will do x since God cannot know something false. Oliphint also appreciates that it is fallacious to argue from the premise of God’s foreknowledge of outcomes to the necessity of those outcomes. The fallacy that Oliphint (and Helm for that matter) want to avoid is that of transferring the necessity of the inference to the conclusion. Oliphint operates under a sound rule of logic (though doesn’t state it): Jones will necessarily choose x is not implied by the premise that necessarily if God foreknows that Jones will choose x, then Jones will choose x. What doesn’t occur to Oliphint is that God cannot know contingent acts of the will; for what is a contingent act of the will but something with an outcome that defies any truth value! Oliphint quotes Turretin approvingly, “The infallibility and certainty of the event does not take away the nature of the contingency of things because things can happen necessarily as to the event yet contingently as to the mode of production… therefore, there remains always this distinction between necessary and contingent things.” What rank non-Socinian Arminian would not agree with that?

What Oliphint apparently fails to appreciate is that it is not fallacious to argue that if God knows Jones will do x, necessarily Jones will do x -- IF it is also true that it is necessary that Jones do x for God to know that Jones will do x. Paul Helm misses this very point as well. In other words, although it is fallacious to reason that if necessarily God knows that Jones will choose x, then Jones will choose x necessarily; it is not not fallacious to reason, given the additional premise, that Jones will choose x necessarily if the necessity of Jones's choice of x is presupposed by God's knowledge of Jones's choice x. As argued in the attached link, it is impossible to know the outcome of a contingent choice since a contingent choice is not one that will occur but merely might occur, and might-occurences defy definite truth values as explained here:
Without a truth value, what is left for God to know but a non-truth that cannot be known?

Rather than argue that God cannot know the outcome of a purely contingent act, being one that has no truth value, Oliphint takes his polemic in a completely different direction, denying the necessity of the “consequent and the absolute,” which presupposes that a choice can be other than it is metaphysically speaking. Contrary to Oliphint, the Edwardsian-Calvinist is to establish that purely contingent choices are not knowable and would destroy human responsibility; and that all choices are necessary not because God knows them as true but because of the causal basis of that knowledge, which entails that God providentially incline the will so that the choice He knows cannot be contrary to the way it will obtain through providence. I am not suggesting Oliphint should have disclosed whether he believes God acts positively on all actions of choice, or that he should have given us a detailed view of his philosophy of concurrence. Though that would have been nice. I would have settled for him not putting forth an Arminian notion of the will though! I suppose my greatest hope would have been that he affirmed that God preinterprets the particulars of providence as necessary causes that trigger human intentions that in turn trigger actions of choice. Not only does he not affirm such necessity, he opposes it by affirming contingency.

Buried in a footnote Oliphint quotes Muller who happily understands “that necessity and freedom are neither contraries nor contradictories; the contrary of necessity is impossibility; the contrary to freedom is coercion.” Does Oliphint grasp this? Does he understand that contingency opposes necessity and affirms impossibility? If so, why does he not explain how his view of the will differs from Plantinga? Why does he affirm “contingency” in the way he does; pitting it against necessity? Dabney couldn't have been more right when he commented: "But in a metaphysical point of view, I cannot but think that Turretin has made unnecessary and erroneous concessions. The future acts of free agents fall under the class of contingent effects: i.e., as Turretin concedes the definition, of effects such as that the cause being in existence, the effect may, or may not follow. (For instance: the dice box being shaken and inverted, the dice may or may not fall with their first faces uppermost.)... But let me ask: Has this distinction of contingent effects any place at all, in God's mind?" R.L. Dabney
Certainly Oliphint doesn't think that if we cannot see or measure causality, then there must be contingency. Mabye I can expect better from Poythress someday.


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