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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: http://reformedapologist.blogspot.com/2007/12/molinists-and-calvinists-agree-in.html
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.

Ron


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16 comments:

Anonymous said...

I appreciate this post though some of it is over my head. Could you suggest some books to read on this subject?

Thanks.

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Let me suggest a couple of blog entriest that deal with this sort of thing.

http://reformedapologist.blogspot.com/2006_03_01_reformedapologist_archive.html

http://reformedapologist.blogspot.com/2006/07/liberty-seat-of-moral-accountability_04.html

Ron

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Get this! :)

http://www.monergismbooks.com/primerfreewill.html

calvinsculture said...

you are not disappointed with me for recommending that book to you? I haven't read it yet.

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

No, not at all Jacob.

Ron

razzendahcuben said...

Wow... this is Ron at his finest, I'd say. A primer on the various positions of the people you mention would be very appreciated by many of your readers. :)

Tim H said...

Ron-- I think your mistake is failure to distinuish de re necessity vs. de dicto.

For example, the description of states of affairs in the past have de dicto necessity (the proposition describing the event cannot but be true), but the thing still can be described modally.

Let's say I captured your queen with my rook at one point. Later, we were discussing the game. I said, "yeah, but I mighta declined to take the queen; I mighta put the rook into the adjacent column instead. Wonder what you would have done then?"

These are all legitimate modes of thinking. It would be quite impertinent to come back "whadya mean mighta? It's in the past; it was necessary that you take my queen."

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Oh Tim, I only wish it was that way. You're introducing a non-technical way to speak about technical things. Contingency has a distinct meaning among philosophers. Dabney took Turretin to task for this very thing and Scott claims Turretin. Calvinists are not as consistent as they should be I'm sorry to say. Even Frame, who denies LFW, wrote to me that although he can't imagine anything in God not being necessary, he said with respect to his decree that maybe something lies between pure contingency and necessity with God "something like LFW" he said! I nearly cried. He wanted to avoid the necessity of the Divine decree, which Edwards and Bahnsen affirmed (as should we all). How can LFW lie between pure contingency and necessity? It is pure contingency and Frame knows that. He wanted to avoid creation having claim on God. Creation didn't have any claim on God. God's own eternal wisdom to create this world did. Don't get me started. Look at LT's syllabus for Doctrine of Man and look how he argues against LFW.

Ron

Tim H said...

Ron, are you familiar with the distinction between de dicto necessity and de re necessity (used by philosophers from Aristotle to Plantinga)?

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Hi Tim,

Yes, and I understood your queen-rook analogy. We need to play sometime!

Let's talk about de dicto / re distinctions for a bit. “You believe someone is wrong.” In common parlance this could mean either (a) that you believe there are wrong people (i.e., someone is wrong because everyone can't be right). Or, (b) someone (Ron for instance) is such, that Tim believes he (Ron - singular) is wrong (i.e. some one person - Ron - must be wrong). I think you’ll have a tough time applying such semantic gymnastics to what Scott has said. Moreover, we’re not discussing anything that is analogous to whether I have the property of being thought of as being wrong by you because you have assigned wrongness to me.

Let’s now apply this de dicto / re distinction to your application from yesterday. In non philosophical language we often say things like: “I could have taken your queen with my rook.” Let’s apply this to Scott… This could mean either (1) that I would have taken your queen had I been thinking harder or been more alert in my game and intended to take it. Or it could mean (2): I believe in free will, which means that I could have taken your queen because my choice was metaphysically free and not necessitated by anything prior to my choice of taking your queen. Let’s deal with 1 first since you don't believe Scott means anything like 2. Are you suggesting that Scott means that had my strongest inclination at the moment of choice been to take your queen I would have done so? If that is what he means, then when Scott says that our choices are contingent, what he really means to say is that our choices will be different if the antecedental causes necessitate a different choice than the one exercised. But if he believes that choices are indeed necessitated, then he wouldn’t have said they are contingent! So, obviously we can't be so kind to Scott. He must have really meant what he said, that our choices are contingent. The other way you can go is with 2. But then by contingent he would have meant metaphysically free, which you won't allow. Again, the only way you can keep Scott in the Edwardsian camp is by arguing that he actually meant that our choices can be contrary to what they are if they are necessitated by a different set of sovereign circumstances. Which is to make him out to say something most unusual, like: "our choices are contingent because they can be necessitated in a different way."

De dicto / re distinctions don't apply here since there is no ambiguity with the word contingent in such metaphysical discussions. It's not as if Scott said we can "choose differently than we do." Had he said that, then I would have needed to inquire as to whether he was referring to ability or liberty. Scott was clearly speaking of ability since contingency deals with the metaphysics of the ability to choose apart from necessity, and not the liberty to choose as one wants.

Ron

thekingpin68 said...

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.

Hi Ron,

I don't claim to have your background in formal philosophy, but I am in basic agreement with your above point. Working on my MPhil and PhD theology dissertations on the the topic of theodicy, free will theory is an essential aspect of the discussion. It is sound Biblical and philosophical reasoning to conclude that the infinite, omnipotent God causes human choice necessarily.

Likely many Christian academics assume that the terms cause and necessity somehow mean that God coerces or forces human actions, but this is not the case. Since I am working on my dissertation in a secular and not Reformed or conservative setting, I may not get away with using the term liberty to describe the human ability to choose within one's nature out of necessity ( I am a little handcuffed as I have been told not to argue for everlasting punishment for example). Liberty would likely cause confusion with the terms free will or free choice within that secular environment, but within a compatibilistic framework, I use the terms limited or modified free will and the concept is clearly differentiated from libertarian free will which I argue against. I disagree with Plantinga's free will defence on the issue of incompatiblism. Edwards insights on the issue are very helpful and through reading his work and that of J.S. Feinberg I have developed a theoretical compatibilist view on human will which is an important aspect of my sovereignty theodicy. Additionally a sovereignty theodicy is a more effective answer to atheistic objections to evil than a free will theodicy on several points, for example, God's willing allowance of evil actions for the greater good while maintaining pure motives handles the objection of gratuitous evil by simply denying the existence of gratuitous evil.

Cheers, and have a good weekend.

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Very thoughtful post Kingpin. I have one question. You wrote: "Since I am working on my dissertation in a secular and not Reformed or conservative setting, I may not get away with using the term liberty to describe the human ability to choose within one's nature out of necessity."

Why not? Secularlists often affirm necessity but they need not affirm blind fate. Liberty is merely the ability to choose what one wants whereas necessity refers to the want of ability to choose contrary to the way one will. Your affirmation of the judgment need not prevent you from speaking of liberty while affirming necessity.

By the way, my former pastor now lives in Wales. He's a wonderful man. You might look him up and welcome him to the neighborhood!

All the best,

Ron

thekingpin68 said...

Thanks Ron,

Concerning the term liberty, my terminology is different, but the basic meaning is the same. Limited free will within my dissertation is the ability to choose within one's own nature.

Russ:)

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Russ,

It seems that you might not be addressing the biggest problem people have with necessity, which I address here: http://reformedapologist.blogspot.com/2006/07/liberty-seat-of-moral-accountability_04.html

The ability to choose within one's nature is affirmed by all schools of thought so I must be missing your point. To what do you index moral responsibility if not to what I call liberty of choice - the ability to choose as one wants, coupled with necessity which precludes one not choosing what he intends? (People often don't recognize that necessity saves responsibility for without necessity one could choose contrary to his intention, which would destroy accountability!)

And what do you index foreknowledge to if not to what I call necessity of choice (or want of ability to choose contrary to how one will).

If free will merely means that one chooses according to his nature, then you beg the question of whether one can choose X or ~X if both are consistent with one's nature.

Grace,

Ron

thekingpin68 said...

Given liberty, it is necessary that man always choose according to his intentions and never contrary to them; for to act contrary to an intention is not to choose but to act irrationally, without intention. Accordingly, man is morally accountable when he has liberty yet no free will.

Hi Ron,

I agree with the above statement from your other article. My model of how persons make choices in similar and largely based on what I read in Edwards and Feinberg. I affirmed in my comments that God causes human choice necessarily and that human beings choose within their nature. Within compatibilism the human choice is not coerced or forced and always determined by God. The choice is not determined by God's foreknowledge of whether a person will choose x or ~x. and therefore is in no way libertarian. So, I accept that human beings choose within their nature, by natural intentions, but the beginning of the model would be God's determination of a particular human choice to occur.

Thanks for the discussion.

Russ:)

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Russ,

I understand what you're trying to say but I think that you're leaving many stones unturned.

Blessings,

Ron