Posts tagged ‘fatalism’

February 12th, 2014

Boethius, Foreknowledge, and Human Freedom

by Max Andrews

Boethius discusses the problem in reconciling genuine human freedom with God’s foreknowledge in “Divine Foreknowledge and Freedom of the Will” (proses III-VI).  He bases his whole discussion on whether or not something that is foreknown happens by necessity.  He offers the disjunctive option of the necessity of either thing, which are going to happen be foreseen by God or that what God foresees will in fact happen—either way, he argues, human will is removed.  When discussing the uncertainty of future events he concludes that, for God, there must be no uncertainty in these events because it’s then reduced to possible conditionals, or could-counterfactuals.  Hence, the law of excluded middle is true for knowledge of future tensed events.  He makes an interesting point when discussing aspects about Cicero’s contribution to the problem.  If foreknowledge is removed then the events of human will are no longer necessary. Considering all of the discussion so far he believes that everything that happens does so by necessity.

August 3rd, 2012

The Compatibility of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom Contra William Hasker

by Max Andrews

William Hasker is deeply committed to the position that man holds some level of libertarian freedom.  In his section on “Freedom, Necessity, and God,” Hasker takes the libertarian to task by challenging him with free will’s compatibility with divine foreknowledge.[1]  Hasker proposes an argument suggesting that divine foreknowledge is just as inconsistent with free will as predestination.[2]  Consider his argument:

1.  It is now true that I will have a cheese omelet for breakfast tomorrow.  (Assumption)
2.  It is impossible that God should at any time believe anything false or fail to believe anything which is true (Assumption:  divine omniscience)
3.  Therefore God has always believed that I will have a cheese omelet for breakfast tomorrow.  (Inference from 1 and 2)
4.  If God has always believed a certain thing, it is not in my power to bring it about that God has not always believed that thing.  (Assumption: the inalterability of the past)
5.  Therefore it is not in my power to bring it about that God has not always believed that I will have a cheese omelet for breakfast tomorrow.  (Inference from 3 and 4)
6.  It is not possible for it to be true both that God has always believed that I will have a cheese omelet for breakfast tomorrow, and that I do not in fact have one.  (Inference from 2)
7.  Therefore it is not in my power to refrain from having a cheese omelet for breakfast tomorrow.  (Inference from 5 and 6) So I do not have free will with respect to the decision whether or not to eat an omelet.[3]

May 2nd, 2012

Divine Foreknowledge In Sensu Composito

by Max Andrews

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.  If the interpretation of the Bible is understood in light of God causing everything, He inevitably becomes the author of sin, since it is He who moved Judas, for example, to betray Christ, a sin which merits everlasting perdition for the hapless Judas.[1]  Whatever is foreknown by God must occur, which is often taken as theological fatalism.  The problem foreknowledge may have, as theological fatalism, is its effect it may have on human freedom confusing necessity in sensu composito and in sensu diviso.

May 2nd, 2012

Does God Ultimately Determine Everything?

by Max Andrews

God’s responsibility for creation is a governing responsibility.  Consider creation as an open system within a closed system.  God could have created a world in which everyone never sinned, but that world may not have been feasible.  God is responsible in causal sustaining sense as well, but that’s different from an actualizing sense.  God weakly and strongly actualizes every state of affairs.  As Plantinga defines the terms:  God weakly actualizes S iff 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).

So am I free to break the predicted pattern?  Well, the future is going to happen necessarily, but only because it will be a result of what we would do.  Remember, God’s foreknowledge is a reflection of what we would do.  In order to have an answer to that question, it depends on what I would do in whatever circumstance, that free choice will determine what will happen.

February 6th, 2012

Boethius on Reconciling Divine Foreknowledge and Human Free Will

by Max Andrews

Boethius discusses the problem in reconciling genuine human freedom with God’s foreknowledge in “Divine Foreknowledge and Freedom of the Will” (proses III-VI).  He bases his whole discussion on whether or not something that is foreknown happens by necessity.  He offers the disjunctive option of the necessity of either thing, which are going to happen be foreseen by God or that what God foresees will in fact happen—either way, he argues, human will is removed.  When discussing the uncertainty of future events he concludes that, for God, there must be no uncertainty in these events because it’s then reduced to possible conditionals, or could-counterfactuals.  Hence, the law of excluded middle is true for knowledge of future tensed events.  He makes an interesting point when discussing aspects about Cicero’s contribution to the problem.  If foreknowledge is removed then the events of human will are no longer necessary. Considering all of the discussion so far he believes that everything that happens does so by necessity.

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. 

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 11th, 2011

Einstein on Free Will

by Max Andrews

After the First World War Einstein made contributions to the development of quantum theory, including Bose-Einstein statistics and the basics of stimulated emission of radiation from atoms (which was later used to develop lasers).  He gave the nod of approval that led to the rapid acceptance of Louis de Broglie’s ideas about matter waves but he never came to terms with the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics.[1] The Copenhagen has become the more popular and standard interpretation.[2]

According to the Heisenberg Principle, the moment at which a measurement takes place is the moment at which the randomness lying at the heart of quantum reality expresses itself.[3]  Up to that point, everything is fine.  Amplitudes change in a completely predictable, and more importantly, calculable way.  The observer changes the state of what is being observed.  Outcomes can be predicted according to governing probabilities, but the actual outcome cannot be known in advance.[4]

This was something Einstein could not live with.  Einstein, as a determinist, felt that the world is a structured and rigid web where effects follows cause and all things should be predictable, given the right information.  Einstein acknowledged that quantum theory works but he did not like the philosophy behind it.  If whether or not, for example, Niels Bohr, Einstein’s quantum physics counterpart, were to throw a book across the room Einstein would be able to predict the outcome of Bohr’s “choice.” Einstein would of course say that choice is the wrong word to use; rather, the brain is a complex machine with cogs whirring round to produce a predictable action.  The basis of Einstein’s view was a philosophical conviction that the world did not include random events:  an objection summed up in Einstein’s widely quoted saying, “God does not play dice.”[5]  Bohr is reported to have responded to Einstein with the witty reply, “Don’t tell God what to do.”

Strict [or hard] determinism may be the only way to avoid the implication from quantum mechanics and experiments such as the delayed choice experiment.[6]  This experiment suggests that quantum communications occur instantaneously across any distance, or even travel backwards in time.[7]  The determinist is not yet defeated, quantum mechanics comes with a state of collapse and that seems to be linked to measurement.  Whatever measurements are, they are very specific situations and probably linked to what happens when a particle bumps into a measuring device.[8]

Einstein played a prominent role in the early development of quantum mechanics, particular in his philosophical approach to it.  How one interprets quantum mechanics will shape the answer to the question of determinism and free will.  Empirical testing does not seem to be enough to provide a satisfactory answer; rather, it how the data is interpreted.  Einstein’s approach to the rejection of genuine random events has been an influence of the contemporary debate.  It has been argued that Einstein’s determinism is correct, but it may be a mistake for him to base it on random events.  Randomness is not sufficient for determinism to be true; a lack of causality would be sufficient.  Even with the delayed choice experiment there seems to be a lack of causality, if anything it would be backwards causality.  The free will proponent must be careful not to appeal to any ignorance for a lack of explanation of such quantum events.  Einstein’s reason for determinism (randomness) does nothing to advance his case.  If anything, quantum experiments such as the delayed choice experiment only show that there is randomness in the world, not that there is purposeful, free agency.  All quantum mechanics entails is that there are random events in the brain (or whatever) that yield unpredictable behavior, which the agent is not responsible.[9]  Thus, it seems to be the case that Einstein’s philosophy of determinism has persevered.[10]


[1] Kenneth William Ford, The Quantum World: Quantum Physics for Everyone (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), 117.

[2] At this time there are at least ten regularly cited interpretations of quantum physics varying in interpretation of wave collapse, determinacy/indeterminacy, superpositions, and Schrödinger’s equations.

[3]  The equation: (change in x multiplied by the change in px is greater than or equal to half of Planck’s constant). For a given state, the smaller the range of probable x values involved in a position expansion, the larger the range of probable px values involved in a momentum expansion, and vice versa.  The key to the expression is the greater than or equal to because it places a limit on how precise the two measurements can be.  The principle is relating and for the same state ( signifies change, h, h-bar, is the Planck constant).  Heisenberg’s target was causality. The Copenhagen interpretation adopted this principle.  Jonathan Allday, Quantum Reality: Theory and Philosophy (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2009), 247-248.

[4] Jonathan Allday, Quantum Reality: Theory and Philosophy (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2009), 100-101.

[5] Allday, 101.

[6] 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.  Quantum theory says that if we choose to turn this new detector off and not look at the photons, they will form an interference pattern.  But if we look at the photons to see which hole they went through, even if we look after they have gone through the hole, there will be no interference pattern.  The delayed choice comes into the story because we can make the decision whether or not too look at the photon after the photon has already passed through the hole[s].  The decision made seems to determine how the photon behaved at the time it was passing though the hole a tiny fraction of a second in the past.  It seems as though the photons have some precognition about how the set-up of the experiment will be before it sets out on its journey.  This has also provided credence to the metaphysical concept of backwards causation.  John R. Gribbin, Mary Gribbin, and Jonathan Gribbin (Q Is for Quantum: Particle Physics from A-Z. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998), 102-103.

[7] This is most notably accepted by the transactional interpretation of quantum mechanics. Gribbin, 104.

[8] Allday, 102.

[9] Predictability may be equivalent to randomness, not a lack of causality.  Louis Pojman, Philosophy: The Pursuit of Wisdom (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2006), 229-230.

[10] Recalling Einstein’s epistemic method, he based all of his philosophy and work on the ontological status of the universe.  He did not seem to indicate an immateriality to the mind.  Einstein’s influence is limited only to the physical aspect for the substance dualist.  Here is where the substance dualist and the scientific theologian must resume the dialogue.

March 6th, 2011

The Philosophy Behind ‘The Adjustment Bureau’

by Max Andrews

George Nolfi and Phillip Dick’s recent movie ‘The Adjustment Bureau‘ is certainly a film that can get you thinking and asking the questions, “How?” and, “But why?”  I had no idea this movie was coming out until a friend Tweeted it to me a couple of days before the premiere, which made for a great date night.  Before I get into the details, my opinion of the film is that though it was entertaining and had an ‘indy-esque’ vibe to it, though it made me frustrated.

David (Matt Damon) falls in love with Elise (Emily Blunt) in the only-in-the-movies-could-it-ever-happen type moments.  They hit it off and we begin the story line.  David is heading to work a few months later after his mysterious run-in with Elise and Harry, a bureau case officer, is supposed to make David spill his coffee by 7:05 AM.  Well, it doesn’t happen and it becomes a problem because it has compromised “the plan.”  David sees Elise on that bus and they reunite.  Not good for the bureau.  Once David gets off the bus he walks into work and notices that his staff is being tampered with (for lack of a better word).  They are scanning their brains in the moment as time seems to have frozen.  Because David had not spilled his cup of coffee he witnesses what is going on.  David meets the bureau and finds out what they do and then we continue on with the plot.

Source: IMBD

Going into the movie I didn’t know what to expect as far as how they were going portray human freedom and the bureau’s providence.  There’s a clear and distinct correlation between the bureau’s chairman and God; and the case officers with angels.  The case officers are limited in their scope of abilities by the chairman, they report to the chairman, they are not perfect, and they do work for the chairman.  The chairman is the one who makes the plans.  The plans are referenced by the case workers in these books they carry around.  Here’s where I get frustrated because there seems to be an inconsistency.  Throughout the film you’ll come to understand that humans really do have free will.  In the scene when David enters his office and finds the case officers tampering with his colleagues brains, they are doing that in order to change their minds about something.  Here we have the classic illustration of soft-determinism/compatibilism.  Say there’s a scientist who plants electrodes in my brain.  I’m free to act according to my will as long as I do what the scientist wants.  Now, say I’m in a room with you.  I can either shoot you or I can walk away and we both live.  Now, I don’t want to kill you, but perhaps the scientist wants me to kill you.  Because I don’t want to do what the scientist wants me to do he activates the electrodes in my brain, which causes me to kill you.  Now back to the film.  We have David’s colleagues doing something that requires a strong-actualization, an introduction of direct causation into the states of affairs (directly causing the changes in the brains).  Now, we don’t know the efficacy of these changes, whether it’s merely an introduction of new information to be considered or if it’s something that necessarily brings about the change, we don’t know but it seems to be the case that it was actually changed.

Later on in the film you come to learn that every historical event happened to bring about the state of affairs David finds himself in.  The black plague existed to bring about this certain aspect in David’s life, the Enlightenment was brought about so that David will be reasonable, etc.  David seems to be a focus of a theodicy.  David’s not allowed to be with Elise because if he is with her then he will not be what the bureau needs him to be.  We now find ourselves with counterfactual knowledge.  If David does this, then this will happen.  If David does not do this, then this will happen (and this will not happen).  You also find the bureau using terms and phrases like “you would do this” or “you would have done that.”  So there seems to be an indication of a knowledge of counterfactual human freedom.  Okay, this makes sense.  If all these historical events were brought about so that a particular state of affairs would obtain that seems to be quite providential given that these humans have free will.  It sounds like good ‘ole Molinism! (But… it’s not).

Source: IMBD

I would not be surprised if we find this film being referenced as illustrations for openness theologians in the time to come.  It really is an excellent depiction of overall openness providence, since the climax and denouement will help shape how you interpret the earlier parts of film.  The two writers could have made a clearer distinction on how free will is portrayed and how it relates to the bureau’s providential plan.  The film is quite entertaining and you find yourself caught in the middle of David and Elise’s relationship.  One moment you want them to make it and the next you don’t because you’re too mad at David.  However, a word of caution to you philosophically minded folk, you may find yourself with the same frustration I had in trying to get a consistent depiction of human freedom and providence.

December 30th, 2010

Determinism vs. Fatalism

by Max Andrews

It’s easy to confuse these two concepts so I wanted to give a brief differentiation.  I’ve noticed the confusion on the blog here, and I’ve had two students attempt to construct an argument for determinism when they were actually arguing for fatalism.  Determinism entails that an event is necessarily constrained to actualization by causal relations.  Fatalism entails that an event is necessarily constrained to actualization, but it is not by causal relations.  This becomes an issue with simple foreknowledge (i.e. If God foreknows any state of affairs then those state of affairs happen necessarily.  So, if God foreknows I will be sitting down at t1 do I have the freedom to stand up at t1?).

Determinism (let S be a state of affairs)

S1 → S2 → S3 → S4

Let this represent a causal relationship between each state of affairs.  So if I were to ask the question, “If God foreknows that I will be sitting down at S4 do I have the freedom to stand up at S4?”  The answer is no.  I don’t have the freedom to stand up because in each I was determined to sit down by the prior causes and God foreknows what will happen because the causes logically precede God’s foreknowledge (in the case of natural knowledge) or are concurrent within God’s foreknowledge (though this would deny all possible worlds except for one, the actual world).

Fatalism

S1ʹ → S2ʹ → S3ʹ → S4ʹ

In the above states of affairs, there doesn’t need to be any direct causal relationship (so let’s use prime to differentiate).  Now let’s ask the above question concerning God’s foreknowledge and the necessary actualization of any state of affairs.

God foreknows S4ʹ will happen:  Because S4ʹ will happen (by virtue of God knowing that it will happen), S1ʹ → S2ʹ → S3ʹ must necessarily happen to bring about S4ʹ.  Remember, any prior states of affairs happen necessarily as well by virtue of God’s simple foreknowledge.  This is different from determinism because the states of affairs are not [necessarily] causally determined or related to each other.

Determinism and fatalism both have their problems.  I find determinism to be problematic because of the problem of evil and human freedom.  Fatalism confuses the logical moments of God’s knowledge.  So the question I’ve been asking is simply just a bad question.  I’m taking God’s free knowledge and putting that logically prior to God’s natural knowledge or middle knowledge (depending on what I’m objecting to).  So if I’m going to ask if I can (natural knowledge) do anything other than what God foreknows (free knowledge), then I’m making the third moment precede the first moment.  It’s simply incoherent and inconsistent.