June 24, 2013

Why I Am An Arminian
Part IV: Theology

I do not know whether or not you have noticed, but as I've been going, I am moving from my least relevant reasons to my most relevant reasons as to why I am an Arminian (which is also often a movement from the subjective to the objective). This post continues that trend as I look at the differences between the two theological systems, and why I believe Arminianism to be more intellectually satisfying. ( I am saving Scripture for last, which will be two parts)

As we move into these last three sections, we move into oversimplification. Each subject heading contains ideas and theses which can take whole books to properly present, and here I am attempting to do so in under a page each. In this regard, I ask for a little leniency, that if you find something questionable, it probably simply needs finer articulation. So I fully encourage any questions to what I say here as well as, of course, challenges.


It is very important that I define what I mean by 'intellectually satisfying'. I want to avoid using black and white terms like 'correct', 'accurate', etc... Therefore, I am using this much softer word as an rhetorical olive branch to my Calvinist brothers and sisters.

By satisfying, what I mean is that it answers the various theological questions that are being dealt with in a superior way. In the end, that is what theology is all about. Once we have heard the gospel, we naturally have questions, and we ask these questions of Scripture. Some of these questions Scripture answers directly. Some it does not. In the end, our theology is shaped by our questions: what concerns we come to the Scriptures with. Inappropriate questions result in poor theology. Poorly balanced priorities in our questions lead to poor theology. Forcing Scripture to answer questions that it is unconcerned with leads to poor theology. And, of course, an unwillingness to listen to Scripture leads to... well poor theology.

The Arminianism/Calvinism debate revolves around a certain set of questions, many that have to do with the core of Christianity: the gospel. This is one reason why we get so passionate about it. In this post, I'm going to address these issues in terms of the questions asked, and attempt to show why I believe Arminianism gives more satisfying answers than Calvinism does.

This list of questions is meant to be representative of the debate, not exhaustive, so please keep that in mind in your responses. I am hoping that this post can generate a lot of discussion, since I am sure some of you can point out other questions that we can discuss, as well as being sure that some of you may feel differently about how satisfactory the answers are.

Sovereignty: What does it mean for God to be sovereign over creation?

The concept of sovereignty, according to many Calvinists, is at the heart of the issue. I disagree, but it is true that Calvinism and Arminianism frame sovereignty very differently. I say it is not at the heart of the issue because both Calvinism and Arminianism completely and utterly affirm God's sovereignty. In both systems, God has the right and power to do whatever He wants and whatever He sets out to do, and whatever He decrees will happen. The difference between Calvinism and Arminianism isn't God's power or authority, but how God uses it.

The principle difference between us in this area is how we answer the following question: has God set forth a decree for everything which ever will happen, or has happened? Calvinists say yes, Arminians say no. The key isn't whether or not things can thwart God's decrees, since we are in agreement that nothing can. So when an Arminian claims that there are things which have occurred which God did not cause, what we mean is that God did not deem it necessary to set forth a decree for those things.

Personally, I think the Arminian position on this issue is stronger since the prominent Calvinist position seems to be based on the fallacy of necessity. The logic seems to flow as follows:

1.God may decree whatever He wants
2.Everything that God decrees must come to pass_____
3.Therefore, everything that God wants comes to pass
4.Or: Therefore whatever comes to pass God wants.

Both of these conclusions ignore the possibility that God may want something that He doesn't decree. Though both Calvinists and Arminians agree that God may decree whatever He wants, many Calvinists seem to think that God must decree whatever He wants, hence fallacy of necessity. Indeed, the central point that Arminians make is that there are things which God wants that He chooses not to decree for His own reasons. He is free to decree what He will and free to not decree what He will.

This coincides with the basic sense of sovereignty as we see it displayed on Earth. Sovereignty means the status and authority of a king. When we look at rulers on Earth, we find that they do not need to decree every minutia that occurs within their realms in order to be considered sovereign. Furthermore (indeed more important) they do not need to decree everything that is within their abilities to decree in order to be considered sovereign. It's not the number of decrees, or the scope of decrees that matters. It is based upon whether or not decrees are followed when the sovereign issues them.

In this sense we see that God is just as sovereign in Arminianism as He is in Calvinism, and I would argue that He is freer. For under Calvinism He is under obligation to decree everything which comes to pass, while in Arminianism, God chooses what He decrees and what He does not.

[Aside: Many Calvinists have claimed (and these are mostly the the Neo-Reformed) that determinism is synonymous with saying that God is sovereign, and it is important here to note that God is not bound to behave like a human king. But, the word sovereign is a human word originally conceived to deal with human conditions. By calling God sovereign, we are saying that God is like a human king, and we cannot demand that the word necessarily means something that is not true with human kings. Now, one could make the argument that determinism is necessary for divinity to behave sovereignly, but one should make that argument instead of hiding behind the rhetorical mask of "defining the word". ]

Impeccability: What does it mean for God to be good?

If you ask an Arminian what is the primary thing that is on the line in this debate, he/she would say God's character. In this, I would have to agree, though I am sure my Calvinist brothers and sisters would disagree. This is, in part, because it appears that God would be the cause of sin within deterministic thinking, but I'll talk more about that under responsibility. Here I want to talk more about the doctrine of Unconditional Election.

To me, Unconditional Election is the concept that makes Calvinism Calvinism. Any other Calvinist point is merely an elucidation on this one. The point of Unconditional Election, as well as the very point of Calvinism, is to demonstrate decisively that the human being does nothing to deserve salvation and that the work of salvation is completely God. Personally, I do not believe this idea is undermined by Arminianism, but I understand why Calvinists think it is (I'll talk more about this under Grace).

According to unconditional election, God chooses who He will save and who He will not based on absolutely no quality within or about that person. His selection is completely arbitrary (subject to individual will or judgment without restriction; contingent solely upon one's discretion). This also correlates to those who are not selected.

I do not see how one can maintain that God is love and say that God saves some and not others based solely on what He wants.

That said, I want to make a couple of concessions. It is true that not all Calvinists claim the monstrous idea that God creates certain individuals just to destroy them. However, that goes against what I understand as classic Calvinism. It is also true that most Calvinists claim that God is passive in the role of condemnation while active in the role of salvation, though I do not see how they maintain this given a deterministic perspective. In these ways, classic Calvinism has always attempted to maintain God as a being of love and goodness. I just don't think it succeeds.

I am also not saying that Unconditional Election is, on its own, unjust. God made the rules. If that's how the rules go, that's how it goes. (Though I don't think these are the rules, as I will argue below)

But this goes directly against the character of God as described in the Bible: God is a God of love. Love does not mean that He is soft, and would never condemn anybody. But it does mean that fundamentally God desires the salvation of all, and works toward the salvation of all. Love is a statement of value. You cannot claim that God truly loves something which He arbitrarily disregards.

And the reason that this has to do with impeccability is that God defines goodness by love. (Matthew 22:34-40) If God is considered to be good and just, then He must be compliant to the definitions of goodness and justice that He himself sets forth. I agree with Sproul that God is the source in defining what is just and what is good. But where I cannot agree with Him is that something is just just because God does it. If all we had were God's actions, then, yes, we define justice by those actions. But we also have God's description of justice and goodness recorded in the Bible, and consistently God speaks out against arbitrary decisions and preferential treatment. This is not consistent with the Bible's description of God's loving character, nor the Bible's definition of justice. (Sorry I don't have a reference for you on the Sproul quote. It is from a video I watched once called The Truth Project)

To some degree, the call to salvation is unconditional, as Calvinists say, in that God calls to those based on His love for them, not based on their actions, thoughts, or qualities. However, this call is also universal, for He loves all and desires to save all. To believe otherwise, in my opinion goes against the qualities of goodness and love as God describes them in the biblical witness.
In the end, in Calvinism, we have a God who saves some because He likes them, and abandons others because He doesn't. There is no way around this. This is different in Arminianism where God demands a unmeritous criterion to be met.

[Aside: The Arminian view of God's sovereignty and human will comes from its view of God's desire to save all. If God desires the salvation of all, and not all are saved, then God must allow humans the opportunity to reject His salvific actions. This is basic Arminian logic, and to avoid this, you must either reject the first premise (Calvinism) or the second premise (Universalism). In the end, the basis of Arminian thought is God's character, not anthropology as some Calvinists have surmised.]

Responsibility: Who is responsible for sin, and who is responsible for salvation?

Responsibility is an issue that both Calvinists and Arminians are attempting to defend something on. On the one side, we need to recognize that man is responsible for sin and God is not. On the other hand, we need to recognize that God is responsible for salvation and man is not. Both Arminians and Calvinists agree on these points. Directly tied to the issue of responsibility is causation, which is why the subject of determinism and free will come out.

By responsibility, I mean the state of being "chargeable with being the author, cause, or occasion of something". I have found it difficult to nail down precisely how to define 'responsibility' theologically, but I believe it is important so I have given it my best shot. First, it is important to remember that 'responsibility' is not the same thing as cause. However responsibility is related to causation, and causation needs to be discussed along side it.

Thus by 'being responsible' I therefore mean that "one is the principle cause: the one who initiates and carries out an action." This does not necessarily mean the only cause, as there are often other factors that go into an event. For instance, we say that Mark Chapman is responsible for the death of John Lennon. Now, there were other factors, like the source of Chapman's gun, the various events and persons in Chapman's life that lead up to that decision, the influence of Lennon that made him a target, etc. But no one would argue against the idea Chapman is indeed the one responsible because he was the principle cause.

The principle cause also is not necessary the immediate cause, as a Calvinist might argue. In The Count of Monte Christo, for instance, there are two men who conspire to destroy a certain Edmond. Edmond recognizes in that novel himself that it is the who who came up with the idea, and planned the strategy (Danglers) who was more responsible for the crime, rather than the one who merely delivered the letter (Fernand).

Let's see how this works out theologically. Let's start with sin. In Arminianism, God still provides the context (i.e. free will and the laws against which one may rebel) necessary for one to sin which could be considered a cause, but it is still the human that initiates and carries out the action of sin. Therefore, the human is the principle cause. However, in Calvinism, though God still provides the context, He also initiates the sin by decreeing it, though He is passive in carrying it out (somehow. I don't really understand, but I'll give the system the benefit of the doubt on that one). This is how Calvinists conclude that humans are the principle cause, but God would truly be the principle cause by my definition given above.

Now let's take salvation. In Arminianism, the context is sin which is caused by man, but God initiates salvation through the sending of the Son and the prevenient grace of the Spirit, as well as carries it out through the justification by the blood, regeneration of the body and soul, and adoption into the family. Human action is required in the sense of response, but God initiates and carries out the action, making Him the principle cause. In Calvinism, we have unconditional election and irresistible grace through which the human is completely docile. God is undoubtedly the principle cause, for He is the only cause.

Now let me point out an inconsistency I see here in Calvinist thought. On the one hand, in the arena of sin, they make the distinction between primary and secondary causes to explain human responsibility, though they clearly are defining it differently than me. But in the arena of salvation, they insist that God must be the only cause to be responsible. For me, I do not understand this logic. How is God the only cause with salvation of man but isn't the only cause with sin? This is especially true when they still claim that salvation of by faith. So let's lay this issue out simply: if God causing faith in a person, and then that person being saved, is all on God, then how is God causing a desire for sin in a person, and then that person sinning, all on man? To me, this is contradiction: same line of causation with a different party being held responsible.

With Beza's supralapsarianism, you had the consistency of God being the cause of both (which comes back to impeccability issues). As well, in Arminianism, you have consistency, given the view I gave about of the relationship between causation and responsibility. But in orthodox Calvinism, that maintains that humans are responsible for sin, this must be inconsistent. I find even compatibilism fails to reconcile this. In order for Calvinism to uphold the correct balance of who is responsible for what, causation must work differently in the arenas of sin and salvation, or it renders the concept of responsibility meaningless.

[Aside: Many Calvinists claim that Arminianism isn't any better since prevenient grace is merely contextual. I disagree since I see prevenient grace as active, as I will argue below.]

Grace: How does God dispense His grace?

In my opinion, this all comes down to grace. My SEA colleague, Eric Landstrom whom I highly respect, claims the same thing. In the end, this isn't an argument over faith and works, or over sovereignty, or over goodness. Those are the reasons why we get passionate; those things are why we care. The principle difference theologically is how we understand God's dispensation of His grace.

Here is where both Calvinists and Arminians agree:
  1. Humanity is depraved beyond the hope of achieving any good left to its own devices
  2. Humanity is incapable of reconciling itself to God
  3. In order for a human to turn towards God, God must enable that human
  4. Such an enabling is undeserved, and is thus grace.
  5. Due to how God dispenses this grace, He alone can be considered responsible for a person's salvation.
Therefore, the true issue here is how God accomplishes this task.

Now, I don't have a particular problem with irresistible grace per-se. Indeed, there are graces which God dispenses which are irresistible. God has the power and the right to do such. Therefore, the question is: does He do such in this circumstance? Is it necessary for salvational grace to be irresistible if God is to be considered responsible for the act of salvation (so that no man may boast)?
Now, what is my reason for saying that saving grace cannot be irresistible? Well, for one, Scripture no where says that it is. Still, that doesn't prove it isn't true, but it does mean we have to think it out. My main reason is that if grace is irresistible, then that means that salvation is based upon some... unconditional election (for the lack of another word), and I have lots of reasons for disliking that. But, Calvinists don't really seem to mind it, so I can't really chide them for believing in irresistible grace.

On the other side of things though, Calvinists reject Arminianism because of our view of grace. The claim is that such a view makes God not sovereign and turns faith into a work by which a man may boast. I've already explained why I believe the first point is unfounded (see above), but the second makes even less sense to me.

First of all, faith is not works. Scripture always uses these terms as opposites when compared. A work is an action which is used to merit something. However, in employing faith to receive the gift of salvation, one isn't meriting salvation; it is simply receiving it. The analogy of the gift has been employed often to show this. When one receives a gift, they haven't earned it. But they still could reject the gift. This is the paradigm of salvation. Salvation is a gift offered to us by God which we are allowed to reject.

Second, by its very nature, faith is passive. By believing in the person of Jesus Christ (that is trusting in Him, not simply cognitively affirming His existence), you are assenting to His Lordship and power. You are actually relenting of activity, and allowing Him to do the saving. Again, this isn't something which you can boast about anymore than a drowning victim can claim to have saved themselves by letting their body go limp as the lifeguard swam them to safety.
Finally, faith itself isn't truly an accomplishment of the human. The Arminian view of grace is that God enables the person to come to faith. This enablement isn't just passive as if God came down, gave us the tool to get the job done, and then waited for us to use the thing (I think this is how many Calvinists view the Arminian concept of free will). Instead, God is constantly active, coming down, freeing the will from corruption, and actively wooing us to Him.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I view the Calvinist view of grace as some kind of salvation package. It is like a highly defined object which is given to the person, and accomplishes everything it is supposed to do in an almost mechanized fashion. I find the Calvinist descriptions of the work of the Holy Spirit to be almost a Hegelian Giest, simply doing what is necessary to progress the world to its ultimate destiny.

 However, the God of Scriptures is highly personable, as is the working out of grace. It doesn't work in one sorta way. Prevenient grace isn't just one action that God does and which accomplishes one particular thing (i.e. free will). Prevenient grace is the full account of all the personal actions which God does prior to salvation of which the freeing of the will is only a part.
There is also a gross misunderstanding about the nature of free will. First of all, Arminians don't all express it the same way. The doctrine of free will is a means to an end (explaining the origin of evil basically). Second, the will is just a faculty that humanity has. God's grace frees the will much in the same way as a father may hold a child in water. It is a continuous action on God's part, and once God ceases being there, the will shall again be totally consumed by sin (that is, unless one is regenerated).

 All in all, I feel that the Arminian view of grace is robust and more than sufficient to account for the fullness of God's role in salvation. Thus, I find that a Calvinist's insistence on the irresistiblity of grace to be unnecessary, and not worth the sacrifice in other areas of soteriology.
Theodicy: Why is there evil? Why are there demons and Satan?
Thankfully, this section shall by rather short. My point here is simply that Calvinism cannot account for the existence of evil and Satan. In Calvinism, such things exist because they must exist for God to accomplish His ultimate goal. They are a means to an end, and a rather silly means if you ask me. In Arminianism, the framing of evil and Satan is very simple and very biblical: rebellion.
You see, in Calvinism, there is no true rebellion. Sure, they frame rebellion as a desire to go against God, but that desire was ordained by God, and by "rebelling" one accomplishes God's purpose anyway. This isn't truly rebellion of course.

But in Arminianism, we recognize rebellion as meaning what it means: resisting the sovereignty of a being. In other words, it is doing other than what the sovereign wants. Now as I said before, if God decrees a thing, it is so. There is no getting around it. Not all rebellions succeed. But God does decree conditional laws (read Leviticus for examples), as every king does, and rebellion is going against these laws. Why is there evil? Because people rebel. Why is there a Satan? Because Satan rebelled. Simple, and biblical.

Security and Assurance: What does Scripture mean when it says we can be assured of our salvation?

I saved this one for last since Arminianism as a system doesn't take a stand on this issue, though it shows a tendency, and I am an example of that tendency. According to Scripture, there are two final destinies for every human: eternal life and eternal death. How you understand those realities is moot at this point. The important thing is that there are two, and one you want and one you don't. The existence of these two produce a basic question in all of us: "Where will I end up?"

Well, Arminians and Calvinists agree with our basic answer. If you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, then you will have eternal life, but if you don't then you will keep eternal damnation. Those who accept Jesus have been born again. This rebirth is the foundation of our reconciliation with God, and a new reality that we live in which allows us to live eternally.
However, there are two basic questions that stem from this answer. The first is, "how do I know that this rebirth will last? Will it ultimately keep me safe?". The second is, "How do I even know that I've been born again to begin with?" Which of these two answers your prioritize often pushes you towards Calvinism or Arminianism.
The truth of the matter is, you can't have absolute assurance on both of these questions. There does exist those who show every sign of being saved, and eventually walk away. They exist and only an ostrich would say otherwise. So either they were never saved to begin with (meaning that we cannot be assured of our current salvation) or they were saved and forfeited it (meaning that we cannot be assured that once one is saved, one is always saved). Concluding this, we must then ask another question: which of these two above questions is more important? Not just for me personally, but which one is the Scriptures themselves more concerned with?

Personally, I find nothing in Scripture that teaches the idea that one cannot walk away. Sure, there are a few verses that sorta sound like one could never walk away. I'm not really denying these, and I'll treat a couple of them in the next post. What I am saying is that I've never found a passage that stresses the assurance of it (and several that very explicitly say the opposite). Where does Scripture ever say that one can be assured that they won't stray from the path?

 However, there are a plethora of passages that do stress the assurance in one's current position with God. Indeed, the whole book of I John is devoted to the subject. This tells me that this is the more important question, and therefore, that is the question we should really be asking. And if we are pursuing the answer to that question in our personal lives, I believe that will result in the eventual rejection of a guaranteed perseverance of the saints.

 On top of this, I also believe that this is the more spiritually important answer. The Bible talks about the need for us to maintain our walk, and when we understand that maintenance in terms of faith instead of works, it is not very oppressive (when it is understood as works it is quite oppressive). One's spiritual walk doesn't seem to be diminished from this. Meanwhile, a lack of confidence in our present position with the Lord creates huge trust issues with God. How can we find true spiritual security if we cannot be sure that the spirit that enlivens us is the Holy Spirit? Indeed a couple of months ago, a Calvinist by the name of C. Michael Patton, wrote a post admitting that it is Calvinism that tends to develop spiritual insecurity. So not only is it good exegesis, and not only is it good theology, but it is good spirituality as well.
For the sake of brevity (which I've already failed), I'll leave it at those points. These are my main issues. But overall, I simply find Calvinism unsatisfactory. It doesn't seem to deal with the right emphases of salvation and Christianity. Calvinist writes seems like someone writing a sonnet on the beauty of a rose's thorn. Though I appreciate the aspects of Christianity that Calvinism is attempting to defend, I believe that Arminianism does a fine enough job defending these same things without forfeiting some other more basic points. Election itself, which is the central theme of Calvinist soteriology, is a passing theme in the New Testament, which instead emphasizes conversion and redemption. It seems to exemplify the role of the Father in decreeing, while leaving the roles of the Son and the Spirit as merely working out the plan. It makes grace mechanical instead of personable, sin a necessary evil instead of a problem to be solved (by God), and empties sovereignty of its basic natural sense.

Now, if you think I have mischaracterized Calvinism in any way, I have a couple more things to say. I think that many Calvinists don't view Calvinism this way because they allow Scripture to be a corrective to their theological viewpoints. The theology is merely a means of answering certain questions, but isn't the focus of their faith. These are people who I commend, but I say that they have these attitudes in spite of Calvinism, rather than because of it. The actual theology does not seem to me to engender the Christian attitude or worldview as well as Arminianism does. All of this considered, I definitely believe that Armininism is theologically the superior position.

However, which is the biblically superior position? We'll look at that in the next two posts.


Taylor Craig said...

I found your blog from the Society of Evangelical Arminians site, which I found from a friends Facebook post. I immediately liked what I saw. This has been one of the best expositions of Arminianism I have seen.
That said, I am a firm Calvinist, having grown to see the importance of this debate over a year ago. I have a number of reasons for this, and this post brought up a number of them. Obviously I can't go into everything here, but I do have a few questions.
I think the fundamental difference between us is my view of the will. You did say that most Calvinists had a "gross misunderstanding" about Arminian free will, and if this is the case, please call me out on it. I will say that I do not believe I represent the average Calvinist on this issue, so take my opinions with a grain of salt. Anyhow, it seems to me that free will, if it is to be affirmed, cannot mean, as often explained, "the ability to choose either of two options in a given situation." To me, it is meaningless to talk about the ability of the will. One does something based on the kind of person they are. Either it is caused by their character or it is not. Either chance plays a role or it does not. I think actions are absolutely caused by the character of the actor. I think all Christians must hold to the same.
In my opinion, this answers a lot of the questions raised throughout your post. First, responsibility becomes based on the relationship between character and actions. You are responsible insofar as your act reflects your character. This is why a mentally handicapped person is not entirely responsible--most of him is innocent, but his broken mind got in the way. This is also why Calvinists can completely affirm human responsibility--God designed humans a certain way, but once their character is evil, their evil actions mirror that character and they are responsible. I do not believe any other definition holds up.
This also touches on assurance of salvation and faith and works. You called the Calvinist perception of grace "a salvation package." I think if we are to affirm the absolute connection James makes between faith and works we must see it this way. James says that all true faith brings forth fruit. Jesus says similar things, 1 John says similar things, Paul doesnt quite say that but certainly hints at it. (I love your distinction between proof-texting and Biblical themes--I think this is a them). It seems to me that if true faith necessitates works, and if faith is passive while works are active, thus faith is less boast-worthy than works, which we must all agree to, then faith necessitates a continuance of faith. Once one accepts necessity of the will, basically an internal determinism, the saints must perservere.
This also gets at the idea of sovreignty. I like your distinction between what God can do and what He has mercifully decided to do. However, I think that if you accept internal determinism, God cannot help but determine the final state of each human. This is not a limitation on His ability, but merely a logical necessity by creating them.
As I said before, I think this series of posts is a fantastic resource and one of the best defenses of Arminianism I have heard. Keep up the good work!!
(And you think you have a problem with brevity ;) )

Jc_Freak: said...

Thank you for your kind words. As long as we both agree that we are brothers in the Lord, and that we both agree on the basics of the gospel (Christ’s death, resurrection, and the Blessed Hope of the future resurrection of the faithful), then I am happy with you Calvinism, though I will still disagree with you. To all things be to the glory of God, and to the expansion of His kingdom.
Now I have not read your other comment yet, so in this comment I will be restricting myself to what you say here. You primarily stick to the topic of the will, so I will as well. I do agree with you in terms of what you claim as the logical ramifications of an internal determinism. If our actions are necessitated, then divine determinism logical follows (though I would say that you have not ruled out Molinism which is compatible with Arminianism).
However, I do think that you are running afoul of a common misconception of libertarian freedom. You seem to be characterizing it as random. By this, I mean that given any choice, the outcome will be equally likely among all possibilities. However, this is not what we are actually saying. Naturally one’s character and thoughts and even circumstances are determining factors, certainly making particular choices more likely, even to the point of sometimes being practically certain. However, this would not be true of all cases, since not all cases would work out the same way, and ultimately it would miss the point. All we are merely affirming is the capacity to do otherwise.
This video deals with this misconception (if I am understanding you correctly), though I admit I do not agree with all that he says.
Also, free will is looking at the matter from the human perspective. If we look at the matter from the divine perspective, then it is better to think about it in terms of human contingency. This is the idea that God allows certain (not all) events and ends to be contingent about humans decisions. Thinking of it this way, it is not a matter of human power, but a matter of how God organizes and orchestrates His plans in the world. Even leaves certain things contingent because of what He designed humans to be, rather than any particular necessitating factor.

Taylor Craig said...

I watched the video, and I think I could be classified as a superdeterminist. Obviously I'm not going at this from the quantum mechanics perspective, so I don't think the claim of lack of scientific evidence sticks. I think one's character is adequate deterministic cause for a given action. His discussion of the choice of whether or not to eat pizza was a good example. One has competing desires, and obviously just pitting only those two against each other is a massive oversimplification. My question is, if time were rewound and the agent was given that exact choice 100 times, with the exact same mental condition immediately preceding the choice, would he make the same choice every time? If yes, then I think you have to be a determinist. If not, I think you have to allow for chance. In other words, I think libertarian free will tries to find a middle ground between determinism and probabilistic indeterminism, and I don't think this middle ground is actually possible. I agree with you that "one's character and thoughta and even circumstances are determining factors." However, if they are not absolute factors, if they are not the only things that affect the outcome, then what is the rest of it? Is it chance? some other cause? In either case I think free will breaks down. You seem to hint at the necessity of chance when you say that a certain outcome is "more likely." For example, I think that even if you describe the will as a weighted die, you still have to resort to using chance to describe the final outcome. Chance is ultimately involved, no matter how much the die is weighted, until the die only has one side. but then it is deterministic.
You mentioned the capacity to do otherwise. I think we could agree on something here. In the simplest case, both options lie open. I could order pizza or I might not. But as the agent, I am only capable of one choice--to order pizza. As soon as the character of the agent is sufficiently filled in, he is no longer capable of either choice. Character (and circumstances, etc) is the determining factor. Every step away from internal determinism is a step that unhinges our actions from our character.
The video talked a little bit about burden of proof, and whether determinists are denying that things are the way we think they are. I don't think we deny normal experience. We just say that we are our own puppet masters. I'm not exactly saying the libertarian free will perspective is wrong, I just don't think its logically precise, and that it ultimately reduces to either determinism or chance, and that thus any formulation of it that denies both of these is flawed. The video had a lot of good things about defining the agent and such, but when he tried to say that the agent was its own cause and not affected by anything else, he wasn't going all the way up the causal tree. In other words, I think if we analyze the human experience thoroughly, we come to the conclusion of determinism. In fact, we talk this way sometimes--in a movie, someone is "not able" to pull a trigger or something.
With the divine view: I think we can say that God designs things to be contingent on human decisions, and then that human decisions are contingent on other things, including the character of that human, and the causal chain goes all the way back to the character of God (I think I accept divine determinism--that all of God's actions are determined by His character, that even He does not have "libertarian free will").
Again, I appreciate your work in this blog, and there's a lot of good stuff here. And as you said, all this stuff is secondary, and even though it relates to primary things, we are discussing here logical precision, not heresy.

Jc_Freak: said...

You said, " However, if they are not absolute factors, if they are not the only things that affect the outcome, then what is the rest of it? Is it chance? some other cause?"

I find this quote indicative of much of your comments. To me, to ask the question is to assume determinism, rather than demonstrating LFW's flaws. Such a criticism strikes me as circular.

I don't want to defend the video too much since I only referenced it to make a single point, that is that LFW does not see itself as random or "by chance". I will say that there is a degree to which the operation of the will is a mystery, and I am OK with that. But part of the notion of agent causation is that it is the will which generates the cause, not the factors. One's character is the pattern of your decisions, but the existence of a pattern does not show that it was determined. Indeed, randomness itself tends to be patterned, so I don't think the demonstration of pattern shows anything of value.

But the weighted die is not analogous to the will as I understand it. The will makes decisions. It makes choices. It, itself, is the determining factor. I am reminded of Augustine in "The Problem of the Will": "Now what could preced the will and be its cause? Either it is the will itself, and nothing else than the will is the root, or it is not the will which is not sinful. Either the will itself is the original cause of sin, or no sin is the original cause of sin. Sin cannot be attributed to anything except to the sinner. It cannot rightly be attributed to anything except to him who wills it: i do not know why you should wish to look for anything further."

So sin must originate in the sinner, than in what aspect of the sinner does it originate? The will? I would say yes, but let's suppose the character for a moment. If sin originates in the character, then from whence came the character? To me, the character is formed by the history of one's decisions, so the will seems to be its source. But the will is the source of character, and the character is the source of the will, then we have no source. So we must choose between the two.

Now the will is a dynamic concept while the character is static. One's character is the state that one is in. Therefore, it seems unlikely to me that anything should originate in it. Therefore, sin must either be implanted in the character at birth or be implanted by an outside source. While this is acceptable for the source of sin within Adam's kin, it does not work for Adam, for he was made sinless. So where did Adam's sin come from? If it came from outside of him, then it did not originate with him, and must either be attributed to Satan or God Himself. But to attribute it to Satan is merely to delay the question, or to put Satan on par with God. And both of these conclusions are ones that I am unwilling to take.

So for sin to originate within Adam, it must originate from something within him that it capable of creation and originality. The will is the only concept in anthropology I know of to be a candidate of this.

Taylor Craig said...

First, I don't think the question you quoted is circular. I think some have framed it as a dilemma: Either determinism is true or it isn’t.
If it isn't, then by definition indeterminism is true.
Indeterminism reduces to chance via denial of cause and effect and the introduction of spontaneity.
I don't think this is circular—I don't see how anything other than strict determinism can avoid reducing to chance. This is the flaw in LFW I am proposing.

Second, I dispute your definition of character as a pattern of choices—I think the character determines choices, not choices the character. I believe the Biblical concept of fruit says as much. I don't think the will can be the determining factor, unless the character is subsumed into the will. I think the Bible also makes clear that the character/nature is the source of sin, in the fruit passages, hypocrisy passages (Old Testament priests/ Israel in whole, NT pharisees), and pretty much any text that mentions the sinful heart of man.
I see the desires and reasoning as providing the basis for a choice, with the will basically acting as score-keeper. The will does exactly as it is told by the character, which is made up of desires and reasoning and such things. I think Augustine may have been using a different definition of the will than this one, and may have subsumed character under will. He would have to have done so in order to say that the will is sinful rather than the nature/character.
For the sake of definitional clarity, we would both say that Adam's sin affected our nature at birth—no tabula rasa. What part of the person would you locate this corruption in, since you define character as history? Whatever you call it, I think we have to say that the will is tied to this corruption. The will is affected by our nature/character/soul/whatever.
The question, then, is how strong this relationship between the nature/character and the will is. Determinists such as myself say the link is absolute. LFW-ers have to weaken it. I see this as a fatal weakness.
What separates the bad man from the good? The Bible clearly says the nature/character/heart. The Bible also talks incessantly about our actions—I believe every judgment scene involves judging men according to their works, and the commands of God regarding certain actions are the chief paradigm of ethics. So I think nature/character/heart is absolutely tied to actions. The fruit passages clearly talk in this way. In fact, Jesus often says that a bad tree cannot produce good fruit. There is no element of uncertainty here. No mention of the mystery you propose wherein a man acts in some way that is not determined by his character/nature. In fact, the very introduction of mystery into the equation suggests that a bad tree could bear good fruit every once in a while, since the actions are not entirely restricted by the bad character/nature.

Taylor Craig said...

All this discussion so far seems abstract and academic. Most of my friends think I talk about things that are way to philosophical, and many people think this whole discussion is meaningless. I often get the question, “Why cant we all just love Jesus?” Obviously we both see huge theological ramifications one way or the other, so I won't go into all that. However, I do want to get as specific and as practical as a Christian can.
I love Jesus. He commands me to follow Him and obey the commandments. Being simple-hearted (hypothetically), I don't think too hard about what the crucifixion means and all that. I just try to do better. But I don't. I still sin. I try to stop this, and it doesn't work. I pray that God will help me. And, in order to do my best, as with any sort of goal, I try to figure out why I am failing. I want to know why I keep doing wrong things so that I can do better things. In fact, any sort of progress requires that this question be answered, whether or not it is asked explicitly. If I want to lose weight, I need to know why I gained weight. If want to do well on the next test, I need to know why I failed the last test. Even if I never explicitly asked the question, I still changed the event that caused by failure last time. Progress of outcomes requires the existence of causality. Seeking to serve God better is the heart of the Christian life, right?
I don't think LFW has a category for this. I don't think it can answer why. A determinist view of the will can trace it back to certain sinful desires and such, and then the solution is a proper training of the desires. I love Piper's Christian Hedonism. But any non-determinist view has to give up on strict causality. Which means to give up on a strict solution, other than it just “happening differently.”
If the will is a mystery, if you reject determinism, then at some level there is no “why.” No cause. Any given action just happened. Some particular sin, some personal violation of God's law, just happened. And if it just happened, what is to keep it from just happening again?
Why does one believe Christ and another not? This is an essential question for evangelism, especially evangelism that doesn't see the inner working of the Holy Spirit as a prerequisite for faith, namely Arminian evangelism. In other words, in order to fulfill the Great Commission, we have to wonder why actions happen. Any non-determinist system has to give up on this question at some point. In fact, almost immediately, since the system in question wouldn't accept character/nature/heart (this is getting long to write out, so Im going to use CNH) as an absolute control over actions. What's left? Mystery.
Here's the other thing: as far as CNH goes, you accept determinism. A person is born with a certain CNH, which is then developed in accordance with circumstances—determined—and actions—determined in large part by CNH. So non-determinism comes from introducing a non-CNH element to the equation. The non CNH part of the cause of actions is the absolutely crucial part of any LFW position. Its the part that makes LFW what it is—a non-determinist position. Its also the part that is useless for all intents and purposes. It cannot be understood, so it is of no use in calculating our own sanctification or the conversion of others, the two most important things in the Christian life. So LFW-ers must live as though they are determinists. To the extent that they think the Christian life can be meaningfully pursued, they are determinist. You might say the mystery of the will is very small. But then you are almost determinist, and I don't think you want that.

Taylor Craig said...

The question of Adam always comes up. I might be willing to grant that his will was somehow unique, but I don't think I have to. I don't think I want to either. I think we can say that Adam was made innocent. Obviously he trusted the devil rather than God. This was the fruit of some internal reality. In order to entertain the serpent for a second, he must have harbored some doubts about God. He must not have been sinlessly perfect. He was innocent. But he had some element of wrongness in Him.
I don't think this affects the impeccability of God. Because of the relationship between CNH and actions, I root all moral value in the CNH. Moral goodness is merely conformity of the human CNH to God's CNH. Of course, by definition God cannot be evil, but that is not the point. Rather, it is completely within God's CNH to create a creature whose CNH was opposed to His own. The ultimate goal of creation was God's glory. The end of history is the judgment scene. Good is defined, called by name, and finally reconciled with God—which is what it means to be good, if we use the above ethical system. The bad are called by name and separated from God—again, which is what it means to be bad. Judgment is definition by example—denotative definition, the strongest kind in many cases. After final judgment comes final worship. This is also denotative definition—You are Good, O LORD, and worthy to be praised. Good is God and God is Good. Definition. Judgment is God defining of righteousness. Worship is humans defining righteousness. Naturally to define a comparative, there needs to be a scale. For good to be defined, bad needs to exist. In order for redemption, there needs to be an enemy or a problem. God is the ultimately good and redeeming God, and thus there is nothing out of character for Him in creating an enemy.
I don't think this needs to be a point of contention. Even Arminians think God could have prevented Adam from sinning if He really wanted to, even without interfering with free will. God ordained sin in His foresight. The only question is whether He took an active or passive role in bringing it about. The only difference would be whether or not He is morally culpable for it. Because of my ethical system, He is not morally culpable for creating an enemy for Himself. He did not do something evil. He just created something with a different CNH. This new nature was not God's new nature, and thus God is not culpable.

Jc_Freak: said...

You are bringing up good points, but it is difficult for me to find time to respond to long responses. I'm going to try to abbreviate the conversation a little here.

First of all there is mystery in every system the existence of mystery merely says there there are things which we don't know. There is mystery in the Calvinist system as well. The question is more where does one feel comfortable having mystery. Yes, I don't know how the will works, but I do view the will as something which creates: it creates decisions. To insist that there must be a cause for it creating something is simply to deny the concept. I don't think you can claim incoherence because it is not in contradiction to anything. You simply can't imagine it, but that doesn't mean it is illogical.

Second, I disagree that the fundamental purpose of creation was God's glory (though I would say that the declaration of God's glory is the purpose of humanity). Indeed, that construction implies to me that God requires creation for the definition of certain attributes which contradicts the notion of aseity. I would say that the fundamental purpose of creation is God's desire. He wanted it, so He made it. And this is also why God loves it for it was an act of love to bring it into being, must like an artist painting a picture.

As far as our basic point of difference here, that is which came first the will or the character, I think to some degree it is difficult to prove one over the other, and we may need to agree to disagree.

Taylor Craig said...

OK, I am willing to accept that there must be some mystery in all systems. However, the purpose of theology is, in some sense, to resolve mystery—to clarify what teachings the Bible doesn't formalize. The question, then, is what are we getting in exchange for leaving some things unanswered? Why accept mystery here?

I think that the most compelling reason to accept mystery within human nature is to preserve God's impeccability. However, I have 2 reasons for thinking that impeccability doesn't need this mystery:

1. A good God can clearly allow suffering, as in the case of Job, and even sin, as in the case of the Cross. If he has a redeeming plan in these examples, we need not worry about whether he has a plan that will bring all of creation to a great climax that will vindicate God in allowing all sin. To quote Dostoevsky, probably one of my favorite authors ever, “I believe like a child...that in the world's finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, for all the blood that they've shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.” I think this is pretty plain Biblical teaching. So God can allow sin and still be good.

2. On the other hand, can God cause suffering and sin and still be good? In other words, is He morally responsible? Well, if we link guilt to the act only, then maybe He is guilty; but if we link guilt to the heart/character, which is the gist of the fruit analogy, then no, for God does all things with the highest of motives, whereas unbelievers hate God and thus do all things sinfully. So God is not morally reprehensible either.

So I don't see a good reason to accept mystery in man's nature to preserve our view of God's nature. If anything, I think we should accept mystery in God's nature, since His is immeasurably more inconceivable than human nature. In other words, even if I didn't find the two points above convincing, I think Arminianism accepts the wrong mystery.

Second, I should have said that the purpose of creation was to glorify/praise God, not to actually create glory for Him. I think that the numerous references to holiness, the necessity of worship, the sacredness of God's name, and the constant repetition in the prophets that God redeems because He wants to for His own honor, not because He has to, argue for glorification as the purpose of history. I also think that ascribing creation to desire is just kicking the can down the road—of course he desired it if He did it, so why did He desire it?

Finally, in the long run I'm OK with agreeing to disagree, but I'm not sure how you can reconcile the constant fruit analogy, eg Matthew 12: 35, with saying that the will precedes and defines character.

Jc_Freak: said...

On the issue of mystery:

I agree that God allows sin, and that He is not culpable for that. However, I cannot agree that if He causes that He is therefore not responsible for it. Probably the biggest issue is for what purpose does sin exist? If God causes it, then you have to say that sin exists for some purpose. And I don't think the idea that sin exists for God's glory works, because it means that sin is necessary for the expression of who God is, as if sin were part of His nature. The greater good arguement only works if one can show that the sin is necessary for that greater good, and I don't see how sin is necessary for God's glory. While overcoming sin brings Him glory, He would still be glorified if there was no sin at all, I would even say more so.

On the other hand, if God wants the freedom for the will to exist, then sin exists as a byproduct of the will, and thus its existance makes sense, in the same way that waste materials are produced in manufacturing.

And the nature of the mystery is very different here as well. Mystery only makes sense if the thing in question is beyond our scope. But this is not true in the relationship between responsibility and causation. These are things that we have access to. But the will is part of the spirit, and we cannot examine the spirit as of yet. Therefore claiming a degree of mystery is reasonable, since the nature of one's spirit is already a mystery.

Taylor Craig said...

I apologize that it has taken me so long to respond.

You said my position holds that “sin is necessary for the expression of who God is, as if sin were part of His nature.” First, no finite created world can ever represent a full expression of who our infinite God is. Different aspects of His character are revealed in different parts of creation. However, some parts of that character that need sin in order to be expressed. I'm going to college in the fall to study as an engineer. If technology never failed, that part of my character would never be revealed. Likewise, if man never fell, then God's mercy would never be revealed. Neither would His justice. Far from being part of His nature, on part of His nature is to solve the problem of sin. He cannot be revealed as a victorious God if there is nothing to conquer, nor could He show us His humility if there was no need to make Himself nothing, take on the likeness of a man, and humble Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross. I couldn't improve technology if it never failed. God couldn't save man if he never sinned. A universe with sin reveals a part of God's character that a universe without sin could never reveal, and who are we to say that it would be better if we had never known God as Savior and Redeemer?

I do not see any good reason for Libertarian Free Will (LFW) aside from removing God from the causal chain leading to sin. As I believe I've argued above though, it hardly does this because of foreknowledge and the question of whether He could have prevented it while preserving freedom.

Responsibility: you are responsible for an action if it is your own action, an accurate representation of who you are rather than some weird extenuating circumstance (not like strong temptation, more like a muscle spasm causing you to punch someone, or maybe doing something while sleep-walking) or a freak accident or something else. This is at odds with LFW, which dissociates identity from actions. Responsibility is lessened if they are not specifically your actions. So I think the examinable nature of responsibility is a point against LFW.

Spirit: the question is not about the spirit itself but about the relationship between the spirit and the actions—does having a defined spirit lead to a definite act? Moreover, all our ethical theories, especially the Biblical idea of the revelation of character by actions, require views of responsibility that are at odds with LFW. I'm also not really sure how to take the proposition that we cannot examine the spirit—since we all have them it should be pretty easy, and looking at our own motives isn’t particularly confusing—we always choose a course of action because of some desire we have, a desire that proved stronger than the competing ones. We don't arbitrarily assign strengths to different desires, they have these values on their own. A causal/determined view of the will seems to be the most in line with our experience, which is how we “examine” the soul.

Jc_Freak: said...

God's attributes:
Yes, I agree that God could not express his justice if sin was not present. But I would argue that justice is merely His righteousness in the context of sin, and only His righteousness requires expression. This gets to the notion of divine aseity. If God needs His creation to express a certain attribute, then He needs His creation, and God should need nothing. I'm writing a post about this, and it should be up soon, so I'll hold off going into more detail here, and we can talk about it over there.

I don't understand your point here. An action is more of your action in LFW than it is in compatibilism, since God brings about your choices. Since the person is the sole origin for the action, how is the action not their own?

If you think that the understanding of our own motives is simple, well, there is little I can do except disagree. Besides the will is that feature of the soul that assigns the values to the different desires. Saying that the stronger desire wins seems insufficient in explaining human action. How does one desire become stronger than another?

And my point about not being able to examine means that we cannot open up your soul, locate the will, and examine the mechanization. We can conclude some things by studying some causes and effects of the will, but we cannot see internally how the will works. It is a black box. It is a bit like saying, "I know how an engine works. It makes the car go forward."

Taylor Craig said...

God's attributes:
I would definitely like to talk about aseity further, so I look forward to that new post. For now, though, I think you're making aseity too absolute. God certainly doesn't need creation; but, in order to accomplish a certain purpose, then, depending on that purpose, He may very easily need it. He could not save anyone if there were no people to save, and he could not manifest His justice if there were no medium in which to manifest it. So God needs something to reach a desired end, but He needs nothing in and of Himself.

So you contend that under LFW a person is the sole cause of their action, I'll come back to that. But the person is no longer the sufficient cause of their particular action (under LFW), since with a given identity, a person still has the power to choose A or not-A. If a person were the sufficient cause of an action, then with the person present, the action would necessarily follow—if A, then B. If Taylor exists with this particular character, then he will do X. That's determinism. On the contrary, preserving LFW means leaving the conclusion open: If Taylor exists with this particular character, then the action is still undecided. So Taylor's existence and identity is not the sufficient cause of that action.
No to get back to sole cause: we must remember that in the end, A or not-A happens. And if the identity of the person was not sufficient to force the matter one way or the other, and yet the matter was forced one way or the other, then something else must have been the deciding factor. Something else had a causal role in determining the outcome of the choice. Thus the person is no longer the sole cause of their actions either.
In fact, only God can really ever be the sole cause of His actions. But at least under determinism, people are the sufficient causes of their actions. I think that is better grounds for assigning responsibility than exist in LFW.

I'm not sure I can agree with you about the will assigning values to desires. Desires have inherent values. Imagine having to decide between, to take a getting treated to a nice dinner and getting an all expenses paid year long cruise. You immediately would go for the second one, right? Although if you really wanted to, you could choose the first, if there was some other reason for doing so. You are fundamentally incapable of choosing it for its own sake though—there would always be an ulterior motive. Unless you're weird and think you might enjoy the one dinner better...which is in effect granting that it is the stronger desire. If you could arbitrarily reassign the strengths of desires, then what are choices based on other than sheer chance?
As for examining the will, in a sense, you are right in that we cannot get inside ourselves. On the other hand, we experience the process of making decisions daily, and it all comes down to what we want and how badly we want it—am I willing to do the extra sprints in my backyard to be better at soccer? Do I value the comfort or the skill more? And that question is answered, not by pulling a yes or no out of thin air but by examining myself—which one will really make me happier, with my knowledge of who I am? If the will assigns values, what does it do it based on? Your view always seems to come down to chance, which simply does not fit with our experience. I contend that there is a reason within myself that I do sprints to train for soccer, and another reason within myself that I do not do more sprints. Its not just that my will chooses, its that I actually want the soccer ability more than the few minutes without pain.
The specifics of which motives were the real motives are very obscure—however, the idea that we have motives based on the relative strengths of our desires and values, basically our internal scale of ethics/aesthetics/axiology, seems self-evident to me. I really want to hear your response, because clearly I don’t understand your position.

Jc_Freak: said...

God's attributes:
That post is up now, so I won't go into too much depth here, but I do agree that there is a difference between something God needs, and something God needs to accomplish a particular goal. Aseity only applies to the former.

To me, you analysis of LFW is question begging. It strikes me that you are saying that since the decision must be determined by something, that therefore it was determined by something. I'm not going to deny that LFW is a mystery, so I cannot say exactly how it works. But it is the person which is the cause. A person's character is simply not a static thing, but something which is in flux and something which itself is shaped by our decisions. I don't think it is a simple matter of what causes what, because there also is a bit a feedback loop involved, where your character is shaped by your decisions and your decisions are influenced by your character.

But claiming that it is either determined or random is simply something that I think is a false dichotomy. It is neither. It is directed. If you rule such a mode of causation out a priori, I don't think any argument is going to put it back in. Mind you, I am not demanding that you shouldn't rule it out a priori, but it seems to me that that is what you are doing.

Well, I discussed arbitrality above, and I don't think this is true. Our wants are our choices. There is nothing random about it. To say, "Its not just that my will chooses, its that I actually want the soccer ability more" sounds you like you saying, "I'm not pensive, i'm just thoughtful" or "The wall isn't teal, it's blue."

Here I'm going to sound a bit like Dr. William Lane Craig, but our intuitions tells us that we are agents who direct our thoughts and beliefs. In the absense of some kind of defeater, we are perfectly justified in accepting that intuition, and I don't see any defeater in play other than not knowing how agent causation intrinsicly works. But we don't have to understand something in order to believe in it. After all, I believe in the existance of God! Certainly we use our emotions and our logic in order to make decisions, and we establish various goals. Thus arbitrality is simply incorrect. There is purpose and intention behind our choices. So it is not random. Neither is it merely determined, but this would result in every decision being merely incident. There is not person there to judge: no decider, no one who is guilty. Merely a machine whose output was undesirable because God was careless with the input. Though God would be no better, since He also would be merely a machine, acting in strict accordance to His nature, making every act He makes an act of necessity, not choice.

No there must be a third way, and that third way is directed action, agent causation. Free will is merely a synonym for this.

Taylor Craig said...

1. Determinism doesn't deny those intuitions you cited. In fact I don't think it denies any intuitions other than a misunderstanding of the feeling we have while making a decision that we could choose either option.
2. Maybe the soccer example wasn't the best. But I think we can all agree that we have desires that we really didn't choose. Like did you just choose one day to like theology? Could you just choose sometime to hate your favorite dessert because it would be more convenient for a diet or something? What about desires that you wish you didn't have, like anger or covetousness or something? Are you really just a few good decisions away from eliminating those? Or is there something sub-volitional about our desires? Something we can't simply choose against? That's what I was trying to argue.
3. I'd argue that the dilemma I proposed is much more then arguing that we don't know how it works (even under determinism we wouldn't understand the inner workings of the soul). If valid it shows that there is simply no logical way to hold the result of LFW. Nothing is said about how the will works, it simply asks the question: can there really be something that is not random or determined? Is that even a category that makes sense?
4. To defend the dilemma:
a. it strikes me as a truism that once something happens it is determined, and I have a hard time saying that it was just time that determined it, so what else could it be?
b. How would you define “random” other than “not determined by causes?” With that definition, LFW must by definition be random or determined. Without saying anything about the mechanism, LFW would be an impossible conclusion to come to, because its definition would become a contradiction.

Taylor Craig said...

Now Im trying to get at the crux of the disagreement between LFW and determinism, which involves digging a little bit more into the nature and mechanism of the will, but I think its unavoidable if we are going to have a serious discussion between the 2.
So I think both sides would agree to agent causation. The thing is, determinists would keep going, while LFW-ers just stop there. The question is, why stop there? Ypu pointed out that character is not a static thing, and I whole-heartedly agree. But there is a difference between being static and being definite. For example, a chemical reaction is constantly changing but has a definite composition at any point in time. I would argue that it is the same with the soul. I think the alternative is to introduce an ex nihilo aspect to choice and thus a nihilo aspect to the soul. This could also be expressed as a part of the soul that is always tabula rasa. Devoid of content. Empty. Otherwise, the soul would be wholly definite, and I have a hard time agreeing that the application of a definite soul to a definite problem would give an indefinite result. Definition seems to be the enemy of freedom, for definition necessarily brings with it inclination, and if every part of the soul is inclined one way or the other, then what is left free to decide between various inclinations? The sum of the inclinations would make the decision on its own.
On the other hand, a tabula rasa element seems wholly inconsistent with Total depravity since it would always give man the ability to choose either option, and to lose this ability would now mean to lose humanness. It would also raise questions about the inability to sin common to God and he glorified saints. Third, it seems like a contradiction to say that a measure of tabula rasa, basically a repudiation of identity, is a necessary condition for responsibility, which is inextricably linked to personal identity.
As I said, I suspect that you will object to atomizing the question in this way. However, I think that in order to make this a point of disagreement, it needs to be probed. If a certain amount of indeterminism is necessary for responsibility, and I contend that it eliminates responsibility by leaving it up to chance, I think that warrants some probing. Otherwise we are both just asserting things, which is a recipe to get nowhere.

Jc_Freak: said...

Ok, you have several questions here, and they are all quite provocative. I would like to start with the question regarding when we are to stop in our questions. I think this is the most provocative.

Fundamentally, I think the reason why I think it permissable to stop there is because we are interested in soteriological questions here, not anthropological. When we start asking questions about how the will works, we are beyond the more important questions of responsiblity and providence. My principle interest is what is necessary for the satisfaction of those question. Any further is merely superfluous and can therefore be a distraction from more pressing concerns.

However, I don't think probing deeper is inherently bad. Thinking deeply and investigating a matter is always good since truth is a good in its own right. My only concern would be this idea of making the more important things secondary and the less important things primary.

So let me continue in addressing your first four questions, and then I will try to address your additional thoughts. The numbers correspond to your numbers above.

1. To answer simple, "the feeling that we have while making a decision that we could choose either option" is precisely the intution that I am talking about. I think it is more rational to accept this as true until one has a sufficient defeater.
2. I think I understand you. There are certainly some desires which preexist our choices. Many of these we would call instinct. But there are others which are distinct to me as opposed to other people, such as my disposition towards abstraction over the concrete. This often falls under personality typology. So I suppose I must concede your point that such desires exist.

But I do think there is something different about volitional desires, and I have an intrinsic sense of that as well. While I have a desire for food, for instance, I am able to stop and consider various options that would satisfy that desire. Eventually I do choose one. But while that desire to have a sandwich over an apple feels like a choice, hunger does not. So I don't think the former needs to be reduced to the latter.

3. I would say yes. Something can be directed. But more on that in question 4.

4a. I think you are confusing determined with certainty. Once soemthing happens it is certain, but determined refers to a certain kind of causation. Certainty is merely the fact that it is. They are distinct concepts.
4b. Random would be something that lacks connection with other events around it. So it would mean more lacking pattern or purpose. But I don't think it would mean without causes.

For instance, let's say I go to the store to buy some milk. At the same time, my friend Lenny goes to the store to buy some soda. We meet. This is a random encounter since the lines of causation were not coordinated. But it would not be true that it happened without causes.

But the will always has purpose. Indeed, it is the concept of the will that grounds the meaning of the word purpose. So a purposeless decision is merely an oxymoron.

Jc_Freak: said...

So, as for the ex nihilio concept, I think that makes good sense. But I wouldn't except the concept of tabula rosa. A better way of thinking about I think would be to understand it as a creative activity. If we understand God to have created the world ex nihilio, and that He did not have to create the world, then it seems to me to reject the notion as incoherent, you would have to reject the notion for God as well. This would make creation necessary and challenge the idea of divine aseity.

But if the notion of creation ex nihilio makes sense, that it must also be possible for God to instill that within creatures, especially one's made in His image. In fact, Arminians have traditionally understood free will as an aspect of the imago dei. This also means that animals are seen as driven by instinct, so their way of making decisions would be along the lines that you describe. But humans are spiritual being, in part, and our wills are an aspect of our spirits.

As a quick not, I think your chemistry analogy is quite good and gets at what I was trying to express.

Now I want to discuss some definitions. Clearly the words directed and determined can be taken as synonymous, but I am using them differently, and you seem to be equivocating them in some sense. By determined, I mean that the decisions that are formed by an external cause, while directed I mean that they are formed by an internal cause. Certainly by directed I don't mean uninfluenced by outside sources, but the will takes various resources, such as emotion, instincts, rationality, and experience, and creates a decision out of them, much like one creates a sculpter makes a statue out of clay and other material. The statue is more than its constituent parts, much like a decision is more than the influences that the will uses to deliberate.

Now as for Total Depravity, I think you are being too reductionist here. First of all, many Arminians would say that one does not have LFW under TD, and LFW is a provision of prevenient grace. I personally don't take this view though, so for our purposes it is merely an aside.

Secondly, we have to remember that the binary decision process is merely a convenience when talking about the will. In reality, there are multiple good options, and a greater multiple of bad options. Certainly within TD we can have choices of the various sins available to us.

Thirdly, even in this sense, it is certainly true that TD is a restriction on our will. This is why at SEA, when we have our acronym FACTS, the F is for "Freed to Believe by Grace". Our will is not simply free, but freed by God.

And finally, I don't think that it is necessarily wrong that there are some minimal goods that are possible under TD. TD is more a reference to every aspect of our nature being corrupt, rather than us being as bad as we could possibly be. This is true in both the Arminian and Calvinist traditions, though the more extreme view is present is both traditions as well. Personally, I am open to either perspective, though I lean towards the more extreme view.