Saturday, January 20, 2007

An Argument for Determinism

I was reading Jeremy's blog and noticed that he had a post up on arguments for determinism. He had two arguments: one theological and one "scientific". I only wish to deal with the theological argument at this point. The theological argument supposes that God has absolute control over creation. This absolute control is believed to require determinism. The problem is motivating this position. Why should we believe that God has this kind of control? What kind of arguments would we need to show this?

It is worth pointing out that the absolute control conceived of is not merely a strong form of control. One could accept the position of Molinism and believe that God can exercise detailed control over every aspect of the world. If one did that, then one could not believe in determinism at all. So one must believe that God exercises some form of control that is even stronger. Perhaps he could cause the choices of free beings to line up with his will. Since Molinism does not allow this, this would result in a stronger view of control. It is also the only way to have a stronger view of control than Molinism.

So now that we know what kind of control is required, we have to wonder what could convince us that God has this kind of control. Perhaps we could quote a Bible verse. But the Bible does not say anything that requires this form of control to be true. It would have to say that God efficiently caused the free choice of someone to be what he wanted. You cannot find that, or any set of verses that require such a view as that to be true. Perhaps a theology would require this form of control. It is hard to see how it could without being ad hoc. At best, it could claim that God's perfection requires absolute control of creation. I don't find such a claim intuitively appealing. As long as I have strong control, all of my intuitions are satisfied. So why should I believe that God's perfection requires absolute control?

Perhaps we could advance the argument that God is the most powerful being possible. Since a God with absolute control is more powerful than a God with merely strong control, God has absolute control. The response is very simple. Apart from a proof that freedom is compatible with determinism, there is no good reason to believe that absolute control is even possible. In that case, a God with strong control is the most powerful being possible.

All of this has assumed that the person who believes in absolute control also avoids attacking Molinism directly. However, this is an option. He could argue that Molinism is irreparably inconsistent. The intuitions that supported strong control should now support absolute control. So far, this is a good argument. But consider the fact that I also have intuitions and arguments for incompatiblism. Since we both believe in free will, I would have to ask whether the evidence for absolute control really does outweigh that for incompatibilism. I am not sure that it does. An argument for absolute control would have to take this into account and give an appropriate argument.

No matter how one tries to advance determinism theologically, one is required to give an account that shows the superiority of theological arguments for God's stronger control over universe to the philosophical arguments for incompatiblism. One also has to either refute Molinism, or demonstrate that freedom is compatible with determinism. Quite a bit of work for a argument that tries to demonstrate determinism!

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Anonymous Jeremy Pierce said...

I think you're working from several assumptions that (I thought I made clear from my post) aren't true. The most important is that I never pretended to be offering a demonstration of determinism. I was giving two motivations some people have for wanting something like determinism to be true, but they weren't supposed to be careful, demonstrative proofs. Those who, like me, think a Calvinist interpretation of scripture is the most obvious way to read it, will find something like determinism (but not determinism, as I pointed out) hard to avoid. Those who like something like a strong principle of sufficient reason for explanations in science (and who accept it with the cosmological argument) will also have a motivation for wanting something like determinism to be true. This is part of the motivation Thomas Aquinas, Malebranche, and Leibniz have for being theological determinists.

In both cases, these are motivations why certain people like something like determinism, but holding it to a standard one would hold a demonstration to is just misunderstanding what it is. It's not supposed to be an argument intended to convince a libertarian or any other kind of indeterminist. The real arguments I'm going to cover will come later, and those aren't arguments for determinism. The ones I think are better arguments to be against libertarianism, against incompatibilism, and for compatibilism, although I will discuss arguments for libertarianism, for incompatibilism, and against compatibilism.

But I can't do all that in one introductory post on why anyone might have been attracted to determinism to begin with, which is a very small and very insignificant issue in terms of philosophical argumentation. The forthcoming posts on arguments themselves will be the place to discuss those issues.

As for Molinism, I think it does satisfy one of the theological motivations, but you don't need Molinism for that. The simple foreknowledge view does equally well on this score. Both of those views do give some sense of how God can have a thoroughgoing plan that includes everything that might happen. Both avoid the stronger sense of God causing it to happen, as Isaiah 10 and several other places seem to indicate God does with free beings who are morally responsible for what they do, which is the primary motivation for Calvinists to take a stronger view. Scripture itself assumes compatibilism. But it gives most of what Calvinists would want theologically, and therefore I welcome it as a closer ally than I do open theism.

The question I have is whether it can work philosophically, and I think the answer there is a resounding no, at least not unless determinism is true. I think the grounding problem is devastating to Molinism, as discussed in the earlier posts on foreknowledge in my series. Counterfactuals make perfect sense if there's something that makes it true that free humans would do certain things in certain circumstances, but that seems to assume something libertarians don't want. Compatibilists, then, can appeal to counterfactuals of freedom, but I don't see how libertarians can do so while having a complete account.

6:01 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

I am not assuming that you are offering any kind of demonstration of determinism. I was assuming that you were offering arguments that others use, or could use if they had to defend some kind of determinism. These arguments may not be developed enough to count as a careful demonstration. One may prefer to call it a motivation. But it is still an argument.

I am not assuming that these arguments need to convince some kind of philosophical educated indeterminist. I do believe that the majority of people are implicitly libertarians when it comes to freedom, and that is the standard I am holding motivations to.

I think that Scripture does not assume compatibilism. It merely assumes that God has strong control over free beings. Although some accounts of this include determinism, some do not. I could also mention that I do not believe that the Calvinist interpretation of Scripture is natural or obvious.

As far as I can remember, you did make a brief mention of the grounding problem in an earlier post on foreknowledge. It was so brief and short that I cannot take it as an argument, but only as an opinion. I happen not to share that opinion. I would be quite interested in a refutation of Flint's response to this in Divine Providence: A Molinist Account. I would even be interested in a link to an online refutation. Until then, I remain unconvinced.

As for the principle of sufficient reason, I plan to post about that later.

3:03 PM  
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