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Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Necessity of the Divine Will (by way of a polemic against man's free will)

Arminians are strange birds at times (but maybe so are we Calvinists). They hold to something that has commonly been referred to as libertarian free will (LFW), which is basically the ability to choose between alternatives with equal ease. It’s also been referred to as the power of contrary choice. They argue (or just assert) that without LFW man cannot be morally accountable for his choices. If they argue, it goes something like this. If man is morally accountable, then he can choose contrary to how he will. Man is morally accountable, therefore, he can  choose contrary to how he will. (Principle of Alternative Possibilities - PAP)

Here is a very user-friendly refutation against LFW:
1. Choices are either caused or uncaused.
2. If a choice is uncaused, then it comes from nothing and is, therefore, morally irrelevant.
3. Choices are morally relevant.
4. Therefore, choices are caused (and, therefore, necessary by definition).
5. The causes of choices are chosen or not chosen.
6. If causes of choices are chosen, then an infinite regress of choices and antecedent-causes precede any choice.
7. An infinite regress of causes and choices is impossible, therefore, the causes of choices are not chosen.
8. Choices are causally necessitated by something not chosen. (4 & 7)
9. LFW is false because choices are caused by something other than the agent's choice.

Now where many Calvinists get a bit uncomfortable is when the tables are turned back on them. Does God have LFW? Well, most Calvinists will say no, God does not have LFW. Yet what they give with one hand, they take away with the other. They don’t want to say that God has LFW, but they don’t want to say that God is unable to choose contrary to how he chooses.  
Again using the proof, though with some modification, let’s see if God could have not chosen to create:

1. Choices are either caused or uncaused.
2. If a choice is uncaused, then it comes from nothing and is, therefore, morally irrelevant.
3. Choices are morally relevant.
4. Therefore, choices are caused (and, therefore, necessary by definition).
5. The causes of choices are chosen or not chosen.
6. If causes of choices are chosen, then an infinite regress of choices and antecedent-causes precede any choice.
7. An infinite regress of causes and choices is impossible, therefore, the causes of choices are not chosen.
8. Choices are causally necessitated by something not chosen. (4 & 7)
9. Creation is caused by choice.
10. Creation is a caused by something causally necessitated and not chosen. (8 & 9)
11. Something caused by something that is causally necessitated would itself be equally causally necessitated (and therefore could not be otherwise by definition).
12. Creation is something
13. Creation could not be otherwise. (10 – 12)

Calvinists will sometimes say things like “If creation was necessary, then creation has claim on God.” That was actually said to me several years ago by John Frame. My reply was simply that creation does not have a claim on God but his eternal intentions do. Why should it seem strange that God cannot act contrary to what he wants most to do? After all, if it is actually true that agent A will do X in state of affairs S, then it is also true that agent A must be inclined to X in S in order for X to obtain, lest pure contingency (i.e. something from nothing) obtains. Yet if it is true that A can refrain from X in S, then it is false that A must be inclined to X in S (for the possibility of of refraining from X implies that A need not be inclined to X); yet the truth of X presupposes that A must be inclined to X in S. Therefore, since inclination is necessary for X, then X is caused.

Calvinists can introduce mystery into the mix along with the creator-creature distinction and even paradox if they like, but nothing can change the fact that LFW is a philosophical surd and no amount of mystery, creator-creature distinction, or paradox (whatever that might mean to someone) can undermine what is patently false. The only thing left to say, as Frame said to me, is "Well, maybe God has an unrevealed attribute that is somewhere between pure contingency and necessity, something like LFW but not really LFW." (I paraphrase but that's pretty close to it.)

Finally, in common parlance someone even like myself might say without contradiction something like "I could have chosen differently," but that simply underscores that the choice in view was made according to liberty, a freedom to choose as as one likes, which is nothing akin to the radical "freedom" that LFW contemplates.

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26 comments:

Dr. Brown said...

Ron,

I was referred to your sight by a colleague.

As I’m sure you must know it is improper to reason from a choice that will be made to its necessity. You avoid that error, though many Christian compatiblists do not. Congratulations!

I am not terribly interested in your numbered proofs. I do get them and they are seemingly valid but I am not persuaded of all the premises like for instance (3): choices are morally relevant. Frankly, they bore me too. What can I say? :) Something else struck me though. I have never seen it argued, before now, that a choice is necessary based upon what must first be necessary for a choice to be. That is quite ingenious. You arrive at necessity through an entirely different door. If you haven't figured it out, I'm speaking about the first paragraph after the second formal proof.

Have you thought about making that as eloquent as your other two proofs? It is certainly more interesting. Is it argued elsewhere?

Reformed Apologist said...

Dr. Brown,

I'm not sure how to take your post. In any case, I'd be more interested in discussing your premise of why choices need not be moral. :)

But as you suggested (or I took it as a suggestion):

Let X be a choice

1. If X will be chosen, then intention to choose X is necessary
2. X will be chosen
3. Therefore, intention to choose X is necessary
4. If intention to choose X is necessary, then X is caused
5. What is caused is necessary
6. Therefore, X is necessary

At the end of the day though, simply what I have done is argue from a truth (a choice) back to a necessary causal condition for it (an intention) and then forward from that necessary causal condition for the choice to its effect (a choice).

I do appreciate that there is an iterative nesting going on there, which is maybe kinda cool. I may not assume the choice is not purely contingent, so I am constrained in this case to argue for its necessity by the necessitation of what precedes it. Clever, maybe. Unique, I wouldn't think so. In any case, more premises could be inserted, like choices are intended. In fact, if you like the proof so much, but don't think choices are moral, then I would think you might challenge the premise that choices are intended and consequently that choice presupposes intention. :)

JBS said...

I am on rails.
I am a puppet.
If you're not, prove it.
God is sovereign.
Site is spelled s-i-t-e.

Reformed Apologist said...

God is sovereign and must always choose as God decrees, but no man is a puppet (or robot) for puppets and robots don't make choices.

JBS said...

If you choose to believe that, ok. It is more fun to choose to believe that God is completely sovereign, and that He is enjoying Himself.
Does His sense of humor differ from mine? Yes. He's GOD!
Do His senses of righteousness, justice, fairness differ?
Yes.
Can He spell site, cite, and sight? Yes.
....your logic perambulations are waaay over my head. They bore me, because they are exercises in futility....to me.
I guess I'm just a troll, jealous of your deeper ability to not understand.
What comfort Scripture offers concerning the fool confounding the wise.

JBS said...

We make our choices and decide what's-what. 2 Kings 6:33 helps me to see otherwise; it isn't over 'til it's over.

Anonymous said...

Ron you wrote:

1. If X will be chosen, then intention to choose X is necessary
2. X will be chosen
3. Therefore, intention to choose X is necessary
4. If intention to choose X is necessary, then X is caused
5. What is caused is necessary
6. Therefore, X is necessary

----------------------

1. If x will be chosen, then intention to choose x is necessary unless the intention is contingent. Why can't the intention to choose x be contingent? It can't be because that would mean the intention came from nothing and the choice was not rationale or moral. Fair enough.

2. No prob

3. Yes, 3 follows from 2

4. That is a tough one but I think you must be correct. If the intention to choose is a given then the outcome of the intention is a necessary, unless of course the intention is interrupted but if that is the case, then you can get around that with additional premises I think. Is that right?

5. Yes, 5 is axiomatic

6. 6 follows logically

more to think about...

Anonymous said...

I found this post quite helpful. Regarding the point on the "necessity" of creation, do you know what other theologians held such a view? Edwards and Gill are certainly on the list, but I am curious about any others.

Reformed Apologist said...

Paul Manata recently said to me that he thought that Gordon Clark thought this way and that Clark had said that the number of mosquito holes in the south was necessary. It doesn't surprise me if Clark thought that way since I found him to be a most consistent and rigerous thinker.

Of course that many don't agree doesn't mean that many disagree. Many may not have thought about it and I'm more certain that most haven't voiced an opinion.

Do you know where Gill discusses the matter?

Anonymous said...

Nor is the immutability of the divine nature to be disproved from the creation of the world, and all things in it; as when it is suggested, God, from a non-agent, became an agent, and acquired a new relation, that of a Creator, from whence mutability is argued: but it should be observed, that God had from all eternity the same creative power, and would have had, if he had never created any thing; and when he put it forth in time, it was according to his unchangeable will in eternity, and produced no change in him; the change was in the creatures made, not in him the Maker; and though a relation results from hence, and which is real in creatures, is only nominal in the Creator, and makes no change in his nature.

http://www.pbministries.org/books/gill/Doctrinal_Divinity/Book_1/book1_05.htm

Perhaps this may not be as explicit as I thought, though the position in question certainly follows from what he states here, and especially in context. I seem to recall something even more explicit than this, but I may be mistaken.

Reformed Apologist said...

Yea, I'm not sure I find Gill tipping his hand in either direction on that one.

Anonymous said...

Why should it seem strange that God cannot act contrary to what he wants most to do?

But the source of strongest inclination (if it makes sense to say such a thing since I can't envision divided inclination in God) is different no? There can be no "bending" God's will? No temptation (save Christ being tempted)?

The cause of our greatest inclinations is external no? Part of providence?

Speaking of inclination 'divided'... Does it even make sense to say "greatest inclination" for man rather than simply saying "inclination"? Isn't the first word superfluous?

Reformed Apologist said...

Way too much to deal with here because each response might take many turns. You may list your phone number and I'll call. Your last paragraph is an exception. That I'll answer now. One can have competing inclinations (i.e. deaires). So, the answer is no. Strongest is not superfluous.

Anonymous said...

"(and, therefore, necessary by definition)."
This may make me sound stupid, but what is the relationship between caused And necessary?

Reformed Apologist said...

Please see first part of my response before this last question of yours.

Anonymous2 said...

This is my first question.

Reformed Apologist said...

Ok. Same answer though not knowing your comprehension. Logical necessity doesn't relate to causality like metaphysical necessity in a possible world discussion for instance. Natural providence is not same as concurrence, etc.

Anonymous said...

Well, My comprehension isn't great(I'm not a philosopher). So, I understand that you're using modal logic here. I thought you were saying this if x is a necessary cause of y, then the presence of y necessarily implies the presence of x? I know John Frame uses this argument but I haven't fully been able to understand it.
But I love your blog . Its helped me understand Reformed theology and apologetics better. It's my second favorite blog. My favorite is triablogue because they post more. But thank you for your reply.

Desires said...

What or Who decides which is the strongest inclination is?

Reformed Apologist said...

I can surely say but what say you?

Desire said...

The individuals mind.

Reformed Apologist said...

So, one chooses his strongest inclination you're saying. Let's run with that. Does the choice of the inclination proceed from a prior inclination? If so, how do you avoid an infinite regress? If not so, then are there choices that aren't inclined?

Anonymous said...

If someone doesn't love me, then I use an irresistible love potion on them, the person is not going hate, the person will indefinitely love me back, Why? Because that is precisely the indefinete and immutable outcome of my irresistible love potion and not because there was some even a tiny little part of the person which responded to my love and desired to love me back. That's it. The person in actuality doesn't love me.I made them love me simply because I wanted to.The other person's personhood is entirely obsolete.

Reformed Apologist said...

Your point is that if God changes one's heart the affections that would follow cannot be genuine. Yet don't you contradict yourself with these two thoughts?

1. "the person will indefinitely love me back"

2. "The person in actuality doesn't love me"

How is it that the *person* loves you but doesn't actually love you? Are you using person or love in two different senses?

I suppose you'll say it's not the person's personhood loving you, as you say here: "The other person's personhood is entirely obsolete."

So, what does it mean for a person to love you apart from his personhood? For you how does a a person differ from his personhood?

Are you a professing Christian? If so, would you explain to me Ezekiel 36: 26-27,

Anonymous said...

I heard this in response to this argument that we shouldn't argue that infinite regression is impossible because God knows an infinite amount of things.

Reformed Apologist said...

Infinite regression requires eternal time. Man isn't eternal.

Also, eternal time would mean that we can't live at any point in time for to live at any point in time an infinite amount of time would have needed to elapse, exhausting infinity.