Archive for ‘Determinism’

March 25th, 2014

Q&A 40: William Lane Craig on the Multiverse and Is Free Will Incoherent?

by Max Andrews

Q&A GraphicQuestion:

I accidentally found your blog recently ! Lots of great stuff and I’ll be definitely reading more. 2 questions though

1) I was watching the Craig/Carroll debate on cosmology. Craig seemed to say that the Boltzmann brain problem was a problem for all multiverse models and Carroll said it was just a problem for certain models. Who’s right?

2)  There’s this argument free will is incoherent. It seems persuasive to me.

“Some people imagine that there’s a thing that takes part in human decision making called free will. They say that while our actions are certainly influenced by our past experience, and by desires which we haven’t chosen, free will ultimately decides what to do with these inputs—it decides whether or not to follow the path pointed to by our experience and desires or to veto that course of action and settle on another.

If this is really the case, on what basis does this free will choose whether or not to ‘take control’? And when it does take control, how does it decide what to do?

It certainly can’t be reaching its decisions according to our desires or past experience, because these factors are already represented by the ‘non-free’ part of our will. Free will, to earn its keep, must be operating differently. So what’s left as a basis for the decisions of free will? Maybe free will acts at random, but surely if that’s the case then it doesn’t seem to deserve to be called free at all.

May 6th, 2013

Q&A 21: John 6, Calvinism, and Free Will Revisited

by Max Andrews

Question:

Hey! My name is Josh. I’m a young college student by day (and christian apologist by night, jokes). But in my personal life, apologetics is important to me.

Aside from that, I have a question I think you could help me with. I’m a Calvinist (hold the tomatoes) because I think, Biblically, it’s the most accurate putting together of scriptural truth (basically the best systematic theology). My problem is this:

Total Inability and free will. How are we morally responsible if we cannot choose otherwise? And since no one seeks God (Romans) and no one can come to Christ unless the Father brings them (John 6), how is it that we can really talk about free will? How would this be the best possible world where most free creatures choose Christ, when they cannot choose Him unless He first removes their inability? It seems that it doesn’t matter what world God created becaue technically speaking, He could remove the inability from all people, resulting in everyone freely choosing Christ. I hope my questions make sense. I’m eager to hear your response.

April 2nd, 2013

Q&A 17: How Does God Know These Things With Certainty?

by Max Andrews

Question:

Hi Max,
Great site & I appreciate your comprehensive answers. Here’s a question that I’ve never been able to get a good answer for: If God doesn’t force us to do things, and we have free will, how did he know for sure that everything would play out exactly as it did when Jesus came to Earth? Say they made the choice not to put him on the cross, what if Peter went out of his way to make sure he didn’t deny him 3X, etc. Could you shed some light on this topic?
Thanks,
Brandan

Answer:

Surely, the biblical witness is that God sovereignly controls everything in creation, but it does not mean He causes all things.  God knows what will happen because He makes it happen. God’s knowledge is wholly intuitive and relies on no existent entity and is completely compatible with divine aseity.  According to Luis de Molina,

February 13th, 2013

The Tenets of Soft-Libertarianism

by Max Andrews

In the spectrum of human freedom there are typically four distinct positions: hard-determinism, soft-determinism, hard-libertarianism, and soft-libertarianism. Hard-determinism is the belief that free will is illusory and all actions/decisions are causally determined by antecedent conditions, which could be natural laws or God. Soft-determinism, also known as compatibilism, maintains that free will and determinism are compatible. Hard-libertarianism suggests that humans always have free will while soft-libertarianism commits to the belief that humans have free will at significant times.

There are five tenets of soft-libertarianism particular to Christianity.

  1. Ultimate Responsibility: UR indicates that an acting agent is responsible for the outcome and origin of decisions made.
  2. Agent Causation: A person is the source and origin of choices.
  3. Principle of Alternative Possibilities: At crucial times, the ability to choose or refrain form choosing is genuinely available. 1 Cor 10.13 promises that God “will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.” It follows that any Christian who does not in some circumstance endure but succumbs to temptation had it within his power to take the way of escape instead, i.e., he had the liberty of opposites in those circumstances.
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June 8th, 2012

The Molinism Directory

by Max Andrews

I’ve decided to gather all my posts on Molinism in one post for easy reference.

  1. Middle Knowledge in a Nutshell
  2. A Review of Salvation and Sovereignty (Journal Publication)
  3. Review Essay: Four Views on Divine Providence
  4. Defining Omniscience
  5. Q&A 9: Layering Divine Middle Knowledge
  6. Why I’m Not an Arminian
  7. Why I’m Not a Calvinist
  8. God Controls Everything–Good and Bad
  9. The Incoherence of Theistic Determinism–Moral Responsibility
  10. Overpower–Is God Ultimately Responsible for Everything?
  11. The Pelagian Equivocation
  12. The Singular Redemption View of the Atonement
  13. Does God Ever Literally Change His Mind?–Yes
  14. Is a Molinist Concept of Providence Discomforting?
    read more »

May 31st, 2012

Free Will vs. Determinism PPT

by Max Andrews

Here is an old lecture PPT defining the differences between soft/hard libertarian freedom and soft/hard determinism.  There are a lot of discussion points in the notes section.  I ususally have a great discussion with the class when I teach this.  So, for you teachers out there, feel free to use this material as you wish and, if anything, I hope it helps grow your knowledge on the subject.  Feel free to follow the sources cited.

Determinism:  Choices are caused by prior decisions
Hard Determinism:  Free will is an illusion
Soft Determinism:  Free will is compatible with determinism
Libertarianism:  Choices originate within persons
Hard Libertarianism:  Persons always have free will
Soft Libertarianism:  Persons have free will at significant times
November 6th, 2011

The Delayed Choice Experiment in Quantum Physics

by Max Andrews

Source: SUNY

If photons are fired through the experiment one at a time (firing photons at a wall with two holes and a photon detector on the other side of the holes), they will build up an interference patter on the other side, as if they had gone through both holes at once and interfered with themselves.  If the experiment is set up so that detectors monitor which hole the photo goes through, the photon is indeed observed to be going through only one hole, and there is no interference pattern.  If a detector is set up not at the holes but intermediate between the two holes and the back wall detector screen then it may be possible to see which route a particular photon took after it had passed the two holes before it arrived at the screen. 

September 19th, 2011

Middle Knowledge and Eternal Omniscience

by Max Andrews

The following is a guest blog post by Ryan Hedrich. Ryan is an undergraduate Public Policy major at Georgia Tech with an interest in epistemology and theology, subjects he writes about at his blog unapologetica.blogspot.com.

__________

“If God did not determine [an act], then there must be in the universe a determining force independent of God.”[1]

This argument, stated simply, has been and continues to be the crux upon which the legitimacy of Molinism is hinged. Can the biblical doctrine of an eternally omniscient God be harmonized with a theory that human choices [in particular] are self-determined?

The Molinist claims that God possesses middle knowledge, “…non-determinative knowledge of the realm of creaturely possibility, a foreknowledge of events which depend not on his decree but on the liberty or free choice of the creature.”[2] It is referred to as “middle” knowledge because it is said to logically reside in between – so to speak – God’s knowledge of both possibilities and logical necessities and God’s knowledge of what will be due to His free instantiation of a particular possible world.

In other words, although God’s knowledge is eternal, His “natural” knowledge of that which must and could be can be said to be a precondition for or logically prior to His middle knowledge of what one would freely choose – in the libertarian sense[3] – given individuating conditions of a possible world. In turn, God’s middle knowledge functions as the precondition for or logically prior to God’s “free” knowledge of that which will occur based on His unconditional decree by which He effects the conditions for a particular possible world.

The important idea is that divine middle knowledge as believed by Molinists is with respect to self-determined human choices which would be exercised given the conditions of a particular possible world (including this one). The important question, again, is whether or not an adequate explanation can be provided as to how God could from eternity know what humans would choose in a given possible world by means other than His own determination.

The “grounding objection” to Molinism has consistently been cited as the greatest obstacle to its acceptance. The issue is this: God doesn’t determine what humans freely choose; what possible conditions God could instantiate would not themselves determine what humans would freely choose, though they may limit what could be chosen. It is clear that if one possesses a libertarian free will, nothing extrinsic to him would cause what he would choose in a given possible world.

Hence, on the assumption that humans possess libertarian free will, the question is begged as to how a contingent object of divine middle knowledge – i.e. that person X would choose Y given particular antecedent conditions Z – is certain. An answer was provided by the father of Molinism, who wrote that middle knowledge is:

…the knowledge through which God, before he decides to create a being endowed with free choice, foresees what that being would do on the hypothesis that it should be placed in a particular order of things – this knowledge depends on the fact that the being in its freedom do this or that, and not the other way around.[4]

Human choices are self-determined. Thus, free choices to which God’s middle knowledge corresponds are the grounds for God’s middle knowledge itself. But this has an interesting implication:

…for Molina’s concept to function, the conditions standing prior to the contingent event must be understood as not merely possible, but as having some sort of actuality or quasi-actuality apart from the divine willing – inasmuch as the point is… that God knows what will occur contingently upon certain conditions lying outside of his will: these conditions are not mere possibility nor divinely will actuality, but foreknown conditions, foreknown as actual apart from the decree, at least for the sake of stating the contingency.[5]

That is, if a person’s choices are the result of libertarian free will, God knows what X would choose “on the hypothesis” of Z only if God quasi-instantiates Z such that X is in a position to, after deliberating possible alternatives, choose Y. [That God would quasi-instantiate Z rather than actually instantiate Z follows when it is remembered that God’s middle knowledge is under consideration, not His free knowledge]. Because Molinists believe in a doctrine of libertarian free will, man’s choice is naturally to be considered the means by which it becomes evident what X would choose from the sphere of what it would be possible for X to choose.

Perhaps the reader may think the grounding objection has now been defeated, since an account has been offered as to how God can know the truth value of a counter-factual of creaturely freedom. Parenthetically, it might even be relevant to the possibility of a multiverse, which is (from what I have read) a hot topic on this blog.

However, the explanation comes at an unaffordable price: “…things contingent, till they are determined to come to passe, or not to come to passe, are not knowable that they shall come to passe, nor are knowable that they shall not come to passe.”[6] It is trivial to observe that God’s middle knowledge is not natural knowledge, and one cannot argue that what a man would freely choose in a given possible world could be necessitated by factors external to the exercise of his own will. But on Molinism,

…there are two phases, as it were, of the divine knowing of an event prior to his willing it – namely, that God first knows an entire possible world in an indeterminate way, as containing (possibly!) both an event and its contrary (scientia necessaria), and then knows by scientia media the outcome of the contingency or free choice were he to actualize that world, with the result that God in (or, indeed, temporally subsequent to) his actualization can also introduce other factors into that world order that are consequent on his knowing of the particular outcome.[7]

The problem, then, is that prior to the point in quasi-instantiated Z at which it can be discerned that X would actually choose Y – viz. when X chooses Y – it can legitimately be claimed X could have chosen not-Y, for that is what libertarian free will entails. Arguing that God’s knowledge is predicated upon the outcome of what a person would choose in quasi-instantiated Z is just a roundabout way of saying that the purpose of the quasi-instantiation of Z is that God can observe and thereby learn that X would, in fact, determine to choose Y. This is, of course, incompatible with the biblical doctrine of an eternally omniscient God.

On the other hand, to insist God knew X would choose Y at the point it was possible that X could have chosen not-Y is intuitively untenable and can be quickly demonstrated. “There must be a causal determination that moves any future contingent from the realm of mere possibility into the realm of actuality…”[8] On Molinism, this causal determination is the free choice of X. What possibilities X could choose are eliminated only when X chooses Y given [quasi-]instantiated Z. Only at that point is it certain X would choose Y in Z.

This is why Molina recognized that the way in which God possesses determinate middle knowledge would be by “foresee[ing] what that being would do on the hypothesis that it should be placed in a particular order of things – this knowledge depends on the fact that the being in its freedom do this or that, and not the other way around.” These points are wholly contrary to the suggestion that God could know X would choose Y given Z apart from foreseeing the self-determination of such, as that would mean God’s knowledge is not dependent on anything external to Himself.

To conclude, there can be no middle knowledge, no human indeterminacy, and no eternal priority of contingencies to any facet of God’s knowledge.


[1] Gordon Clark, Predestination, pg. 39.

[2] Richard Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics Volume III, pg. 417.

[3] cf. Luis de Molina, Concordia, Disputation 2.

[4] Luis de Molina, Concordia, Disputation 52.10.

[5] Richard Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics Volume III, pg. 421.

[6] William Twisse, A Discovery of D. Jackson’s Vanity, pg. 338.

[7] Richard Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics Volume III, pg. 430.

[8] Richard Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics Volume III, pg. 424.

August 25th, 2011

The Incompatibility of Middle Knowledge and Libertarian Freedom

by Max Andrews

The following is a guest blog post by Roger Turner, a Philosophy Ph.D. candidate at the University of Tennessee.

If you’re a Molinist—at any rate, if you believe that God has middle knowledge—you believe that God knows whether or not any given counterfactual, or subjunctive conditional is true.  What’s more, you probably believe this because you think it helps make clear how it is possible that humans can act freely even though God knows, before they act, how they’ll act.  And you probably want to have some grasp on how all that works because you’re a libertarian with respect to freedom.  That is, you think that determinism and free will are incompatible, but you believe that divine foreknowledge and free will are compatible.  If you are a libertarian, you think that indeterminism is true.  In other words, you think that the theses ‘the conjunction of the past and laws of nature entails a unique future’ and ‘nobody has a choice about the future because nobody has a choice about what God foreknows’ are false.  So, the idea of middle knowledge seems to be the best way to duck and dodge the relevant snares.  But there’s a puzzle here.  There appears to be a significant tension between one’s being a libertarian about freedom, and one’s being a Molinist.  In what follows, I hope to illuminate the problem.

Take your friend, Jones.  If you believe God has middle knowledge, you probably believe that, if you were to ask God what Jones would do in such and such a circumstance, God would know the answer to your question.  God would respond, so you think, with something like the following:  “If Jones were in C, he would freely A.”  And you’d feel pretty confident that God’s having answered this way fails to undermine Jones’s freedom because you think that God’s belief about whether or not Jones A’s in C depends on Jones and whether or not Jones A’s in C and not the other way around (i.e. Jones’s Aing in C doesn’t depend on God’s knowing that, if Jones were in C, he would A).

Quick question, though: what is the truth value of a subjunctive conditional if indeterminism is true?  Here’s why I ask.  If a particular event is an indeterminate event (that is, the event is undetermined) the odds of that event’s happening are something like 50/50.  So, take Jones again and his being in C and whether or not he A’s.  If Jones’s Aing is undertermined, then he’s just as likely to A as he is to not-A given his being in C and an identical past up to the point of his being in C.  This is what indeterminism implies.  Given Jones’s past from t0 to the present moment, the moment just before he acts, Jones is supposed to be just as free to refrain from Aing as he is to A.  It can’t be the case, for example, that, if Jones is libertarianly free, he’d be more likely to A, given his past (or other conditions beyond his control), than he would be to refrain from Aing.  Because if that’s the case, then he’s got factors that are out of his control which bear on whether or not he A’s.  And this would absolve Jones of (at least part of) his responsibility for Aing (or refraining from A).  If we’re libertarians (and we usually are if we believe God has middle knowledge), then we think Jones has just as much chance of Aing, given that he’s in C, as he does refraining from A.

Okay, back to the question about the truth value of a subjunctive conditional given the truth of indeterminism.  The subjunctive conditional (this thing:  €®) expresses what would happen in the closest-by, relevant possible worlds.  So, take Jones again.  And express the proposition ‘if Jones were in C, he would freely A’ as follows:

JC nec. €→ A

The way this is typically read is something like this: in all the closest-by C worlds (i.e. the worlds in which Jones is in C), Jones A’s.  But this implies that it’s not indeterminate what Jones would do in C.  It’s not indeterminate because we can “zoom-out” and see which C worlds are the closest to the actual world.  And, just by doing that, we can see that in any C world that is most closely related to the actual world, Jones A’s.  The odds aren’t 50/50 given the truth of the subjunctive conditional; the closest-by C worlds are such that Jones A’s.  So, if Jones is in C, though it’s not necessary that he A—there are, after all, possible worlds where he’s in C but doesn’t A; they’re just further off—he’ll A.  He’ll A because there is a group of possible C worlds—those closest-by to the actual world—where he A’s.  And whether or not Jones is in a closest-by C world has nothing to do with Jones!  It’s beyond Jones’s control as to whether or not he’s in one of the closest-by C worlds.

But, wait.  On the libertarian view, indeterminism is true; that is, determinism is false.  Jones must, to be libertarianly free, be just as likely to A, in C, as he is to refrain from A.  That is, Jones must be equally likely to refrain from Aing as he is to A in all C worlds.  It can’t be the case that the proximity of the C world to the actual world determines whether or not Jones A’s.  But, if the subjunctive conditional (this bit:  JC nec. €→A) is true, then it can’t be that Jones was just as likely to refrain from Aing in C as he was to A in C.

So, if indeterminism is true, the subjunctive conditional must be false.  The answer, then, to the above question ‘what is the truth value of the subjunctive conditional if indeterminism is true?’: the truth value of the subjunctive conditional, if indeterminism is true, is False.  But this means that it’s false that if Jones were in C, then he would freely A.  And what’s more, it’s false that if Jones were in C, then he would freely refrain from Aing.  And since God can’t have any false beliefs, he can’t believe that if Jones were in C, then he would freely A is true, nor can he believe that if Jones were in C, then he would freely refrain from Aing.  He can’t believe this because it’s false that if Jones were in C he would freely A and it’s false that if Jones were in C he would freely refrain from Aing.  It’s false because there is no would to it; indeterminism implies that the proximity of the worlds in which Jones is in C has no bearing on whether or not Jones A’s.  It has no bearing because, in all C worlds, Jones is just as likely to refrain from Aing as he is to A.

The upshot of all this is that if it’s true that if Jones were in C, he would freely A, then Jones was not libertarianly free to A.  Some factor that wasn’t up to Jones made it the case that his particular C world was closer to the actual world than some other C world, some other C world where he refrains from Aing.  And this implies that, if it’s true that if Jones were in C, then he would freely A, then libertarianism is false.  At any rate, it implies that if the subjunctive conditional is true, then God’s middle knowledge rules out our acting in a libertarianly free way.

So, either you are a Molinist—at any rate, you believe that God has middle knowledge—or you are a libertarian.  But you can’t be both.  So the argument goes, anyway.

August 12th, 2011

Is a Molinist Concept of Providence Discomforting?

by Max Andrews

Not too long ago I was reflecting on my recent wedding and I realized something I found hard to deal with.  Five years ago my brother was in Iraq, and his pregnant wife died (for reasons and causes still unknown to us).  I was talking about the wedding with my mother and we both made the same observation.  We thought that there should have been a five-year old girl running around at my wedding.  I should have had a five-year old niece dolled up in a cute dress and playing with the other children.  What was difficult for me, upon further reflection, was that God thought and willed that there should not be a five-year old girl running around at my wedding.  I was at a clash with God’s will.  I thought that things should have been different.  Apparently, God disagreed and willed the course of history to be different.  As a Molinist, I found this very discomforting at first.  Let me explain the details.

The Molinist concept of providence understands God as controlling everything that happens throughout the course of history.  Everything that happens is a result of God’s will.  God both strongly and weakly actualizes everything.  Strong actualization is where God directly causes or acts in the world, which directly produces the effect.  God weakly actualizes S if and only if there is an S* such that God strongly actualizes [direct causation] S* and S* → S, where → is “counterfactual implication” (Let S be a state of affairs).  Or, in other words, weak actualization is the means of actualization where God uses free agents to bring about his will (an indirect means).  So, if all that comes to pass in the course of history is the result of God’s will, how should I deal with this (or how should anyone deal with these types of situations)?

This problem is very closely related to the problem of evil.  Now, my first reaction was very discomforting knowing that everything that happens occurs because God willed it to happen.  My discomfort soon turned to comfort.  When I thought about this the more I realized my finitude.  God knew that taking my niece and sister-in-law home was the best course of action for him to take.  I’m in no spatiotemporal position to evaluate the effects their death produce.  I know that they have had tremendous influences and effects in my life since their passing, and I trust much more will come.  I don’t have to be able to explain why God chose the course of history that he chose, I just have to demonstrate that how he does it is the most coherent, biblical, and sound model.  Who am I to judge God in his providential course of action? I do not have the cognitive scope or holy intentions that he has.

Let’s consider a non-Molinist perspective.  If God causes all things (no weak actualizations) then there are tremendous problems with the problem of evil.  I’ve discusses this issue in previous posts so I’m not going to elaborate too much here.  Suppose the Molinist concept of providence is true and that God has every detailed moment and aspect of your life planned.  What about those who don’t have a “good life”?  What about the unemployed, starving, diseased, and homeless?  Is it God’s will for them to be like this?  Surely, God’s providential means is not that of the Molinist’s concept right?  This may sound harsh but I do believe it is the will of God for the starving to starve, the diseased to be diseased and the homeless to be homeless.  Let me qualify this.  There are different orders to God’s will.  It is not God’s will, antecedently, for the starving to starve, the diseased to be diseased, and the homeless to be homeless.  It is, however, God’s will, consequently, because of the decisions made by free agents, the good that will come of it, the factor it plays into the grand scheme of things (or the counterfactual role it plays in the feasible world God chose to actualize).  Now consider that this is not true, that God doesn’t will every detail in history.  Does God directly cause all these things to come to pass? If that’s the case then God antecedently wills the starving to starve and the diseased to be diseased.  The Molinist denies that, it is consequently (because of factor X, Y, and/or Z) that God wills circumstances like those mentioned.

Perhaps it is the case that God cannot prevent such circumstances?  If that’s the case then why should we trust God?  God has made so many promises to us in Scripture, what guarantee can I have that he will fulfill these promises if he cannot prevent other circumstances?  Another hidden premise I would have to reject in this discomforting aspect or rejection of the Molinist paradigm is that God wants us to be happy, healthy, and for us to have “good lives”.  It’s primarily and antecedently God’s will for us to know him and to love him.  Our measure of a “good life” is nowhere near God’s primary will for our lives.  We need to void our ideology that God just wants us to be happy and healthy all the time with a good job, spouse, and nice dinners at night.  God may provide what is necessary for us to live but he desires us to know him and to seek first his Kingdom (see Matthew 6).

My knee-jerk reaction upon this reflection was to feel a sense of discomfort.  When I really analyzed and thought through everything I found this to be quite comforting and the best model of divine providence.  I do understand that it may be a hard pill to swallow at times.  When I say that it is God’s will for me to struggle with my own disease, to be hospitalized over and over, to be in pain for extended periods of time, for me to say that this is the will of God is certainly difficult.  However, I’m not going to deny that it is because I trust God will make good of it and that he wants me to know him, love him, and seek his Kingdom above all else.  This certainly wasn’t meant to be exhaustive, just my initial thoughts and meanderings… To God be the glory in all things.