Capstone on “Choice” debate with Paul Manata

, posted by Godismyjudge

This is the final part of a debate with Paul Manata on determinism. (Paul, me, Paul, me, Paul, me, Paul, me, Paul)

Determinists require equivocation to survive. Since they don’t hold to common-sense meanings to terms like “choose”, “alternative” and “possible”, they develop slightly varied definitions to the terms, as opposed to getting rid of the words altogether.

Here’s a few examples of how this works. They might say “you can choose to eat the ice cream”, but what they mean is only “you can choose to eat the ice cream, if it’s your strongest desire.” More interestingly, they say “you could have chosen to eat the ice cream”, meaning “you could have chosen to eat the ice cream, if it had been your strongest desire”, when in fact it wasn’t your strongest desire. This example is inbound to the choice (i.e. the normal model is desire leads to choice, which leads to action and this example deals with desire leading to choice rather than choice leading to action). But they do the same thing on the outbound side of the choice. For example, they will say “you can eat the ice cream”, meaning “you can eat the ice cream if you choose to”, even though you can’t in fact choose to.

Paul Manata has provided some additional examples of how this equivocation works. For example: Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro in their book Naturalism say choice is an undetermined mental action, yet Paul seems comfortable understanding it as determined. 1

So what’s really going on with this equivocation? For a determinist to speak of the possibility of events that are not determined, they must get rid of the determining factors. Here’s an example: I argued that if determinism is true, given the causal forces at play, I cannot choose or do counterfactuals, and Paul argues that “compatibilists would agree that a different past, or decree, renders those alternatives the possible ones chosen”. The past and decree are the causal forces at play. I stated “given the causal forces at play, but Paul must remove them and input different ones to talk about the possibility of counterfactuals.

Why is hypothetically getting rid of determinism a problem for determinists? Consider the compatibility thesis that the ideas of determinism and freewill are compatible. Clearly they are not, if you must get rid of the determining factors to speak of freedom to choose the undetermined event. Again, given the determining factors, choosing the undetermined event is impossible. The two concepts of being determined to do X and the ability to choose non-X are incompatible. Thus the determinist must develop his notion of freewill without the ability to choose non-X.

My primary argument to Paul was that the common sense notion of “choose” includes the ability to choose non-X, so determinists can’t consistently use the common sense notion of choose. I supported this based on several dictionaries. So the notion that the determinists must develop in response to the problems above isn’t the common notion of choice. Paul responded in two ways, first by arguing that the compatiblist could accept dictionary definitions of “choose” and second by providing exotic, philosophical, counter-definitions of choice. I responded that the compatibilist can’t really accept the dictionary definition of choice; they must hold the exotic counter-definition and simply equivocate. I also pointed out that the bible was written in common language, so using the exotic counter-definition was unbiblical. 2

Of the nine dictionaries we examined, all but one used the words “possibilities” or “alternatives” to define choose.3 Alternatives are things that can be chosen (something a determinist can’t accept) and given the determining factors nothing but the predetermined events are possible. Only by removing the determining factors via hypothesis may the determinist speak of alternatives or possibilities.

Paul argues that Jews, Muslims and modern biblical scholars all hold to determinism and use the word choose, even though he doesn’t give an explanation of how that works. That’s true, but not relevant. How does their using the term prove they are not either unaware of their inconsistency or equivocating the exotic definition for the common one. Worse, Paul’s own quotes state the Jews held the common notion of choice – the very point I made and Paul questioned.

Paul argued that libertarian free will (LFW) is incoherent and choices amount to luck, which undermines responsibility. I responded that the bible teaches God has LFW, based on Genesis 1:1. God is the first cause, so the first cause wasn’t predetermined by preceding causes. This brings us to Paul’s latest response. All one simply needs to say is that God’s choice wasn’t indeterminite either. I’d even agree with Kane here. God doesn’t have libertarian freedom. I don’t think he has compatibilistic either. I believe his freedom is sui generous. Determinate and indeterminate are mutually exclusive and exhaustive catigories. Even if God’s freedom is absolutely unique (and no question in some ways it is), it’s either determinate or indeterminate. So saying God’s freedom is sui generous is no evasion of the force of my argument. The bible teaches God has LFW, therefore Christians cannot argue LFW is illogical.

1 Here’s Paul’s actual comment the only argument given against determinism was against physicalist determination. So, I could have left “undetermined” in the quote and added “physically” and not undermined divine-determination in the least. The result is simple, they say undetermined, Paul thinks determined. But Paul’s analysis is somewhat complex. They say undetermined, but argue against physical determinism. Why not read them as saying physically undetermined? Then distinguish between physical and divine determinism and assume they are OK with divine determinism. If they argue against that too, we can always fall back to determinism via fate or the stars. Of course the problem with Paul’s analysis is that “undetermined” is a statement about “what”, not “why”. It’s simply undetermined; no need to go into what’s not determining it.

2 Paul, being reformed, likely holds to the perspicuity (clarity) of scriptures, which entails scripture being written to the common man. Further, scripture is consistently addressed to the people of Israel and the Church.

3The one dictionary that didn’t use alternative or possibility was the Wiktionary that defines choose as simply elect, pick or decide; which are really synonyms rather than a definition. Paul call this situation a Mexican standoff, but if it’s that or the Alamo, I will let the reader judge.