Premise 3 is going to be a complicated topic. In defense of the claim that the lack of Libertarian Free Will eliminates all possibility of knowledge Tim Stratton writes in the article mentioned above: “Premise (3) is equivalent with “if all things are causally determined, then that includes all thoughts and beliefs.” If our thoughts and beliefs are forced upon us, and we could not have chosen better beliefs, then we are simply left assuming that our determined beliefs are good (let alone true). Therefore, we could never rationally affirm that our beliefs are the inference to the best explanation – we can only assume it.
Now it is true that a person under determinism could not will otherwise unless God, nature and nurture or whatever handed them a stronger motive which would control them more. On determinism that would be an effect without a cause. To choose to resist their strongest motive they would have to produce an effect without a cause. It is obviously true that they cannot therefore be blamed for failing to produce an effect without a cause, a flagrant contradiction which is what willing otherwise would be (that was a point I got from the book I recommended above). On determinism I could no more blame a person that “deliberately” choose to think poorly or did any other wrong thing any more than I could blame a rabid dog for biting a child, a person with epilepsy for having a seizure, or a volcano for erupting and destroying a city. However, people can still be aware as to how they have willed, and how they could have willed if they had been handed different amounts and/or types of motives. Presumably the illusion of free will would be an indication of what you could have done if you had different motives thus making it reasonable to tell if you have exerted reason properly or not in the same way having free will would.
Goodness gracious! This might be the longest e-mail I have ever receieved (from anyone!)! Well, let’s get started.
The Kalam Cosmological Argument and Libertarian Free Will
You wrote \\“Of course I think humans do have free will, but the Cosmological Argument scarcely proves that God could have chosen to not create the universe or a different kind of universe. The Cosmological argument is not a proof of any kind of Libertarian Free Will that humans have even if you define God having us decisions uncaused as free will.”\\ – Right. The Cosmological Argument doesn’t prove that human beings have libertarian free will. You’re absolutely right about that. I think you might be referring to the podcast episode in which Tim and I talked about libertarian free will. In that episode, Tim Stratton argued that the cosmological argument entails that libertarian free will is a coherent concept and that therefore God could create creatures with libertarian free will even if He never does. Even if God decided to actualize a world in which human beings do not have libertarian free will, He nevertheless could have actualized a world in which human beings do possess it. This was an argument that libertarian free will is a coherent concept and not an incoherent concept. Some Calvinists try to argue that LFW isn’t even possible, much less actual. So, getting people to admit that God creating free creatures isn’t the same as God creating a square circle or a married bachelor is a step in the right direction.
In “Episode 30: The Apologetic Significance Of Molinism”, we were talking about the contents of a paper he presented at the past EPS Conference1 In his paper, he explained how the Kalam’s deductively proves that the universe has a cause and then went into the inductive inference to God as the cause (or as William Lane Craig would call it; the conceptual analysis part of the argument). One of these is that the cause of the universe must have the freedom to create the universe or not create the universe; because if the cause had all of the necessary and sufficient conditions required to create the universe in place, then The Big Bang would have occurred infinitely long ago, contrary to the scientific evidence.
Dr. William Lane Craig explains it this way;
“We have concluded that the beginning of the universe was the effect of a First Cause. By the nature of the case that cause cannot have any beginning of its existence nor any prior cause. Nor can there have been any changes in this cause, either in its nature or operations, prior to the beginning of the universe. It just exists changelessly without beginning, and a finite time ago it brought the universe into existence. Now this is exceedingly odd. The cause is in some sense eternal and yet the effect which it produced is not eternal but began to exist a finite time ago. How can this be? If the necessary and sufficient conditions for the production of the effect are eternal, then why is not the effect eternal? How can all the causal conditions sufficient for the production of the effect be changelessly existent and yet the effect not also be existent along with the cause? How can the cause exist without the effect?
One might say that the cause came to exist or changed in some way just prior to the first event. But then the cause’s beginning or changing would be the first event, and we must ask all over again for its cause. And this cannot go on forever, for we know that a beginningless series of events cannot exist. There must be an absolutely first event, before which there was no change, no previous event. We know that this first event must have been caused. The question is: How can a first event come to exist if the cause of that event exists changelessly and eternally? Why isn’t the effect co-eternal with its cause?
The best way out of this dilemma is agent causation, whereby the agent freely brings about some event in the absence of prior determining conditions. Because the agent is free, he can initiate new effects by freely bringing about conditions which were not previously present. For example, a man sitting changelessly from eternity could freely will to stand up; thus, a temporal effect arises from an eternally existing agent. Similarly, a finite time ago a Creator endowed with free will could have freely brought the world into being at that moment. In this way, the Creator could exist changelessly and eternally but choose to create the world in time. By “choose” one need not mean that the Creator changes his mind about the decision to create, but that he freely and eternally intends to create a world with a beginning. By exercising his causal power, he, therefore, brings it about that a world with a beginning comes to exist. So the cause is eternal, but the effect is not. In this way, then, it is possible for the temporal universe to have come to exist from an eternal cause: through the free will of a personal Creator.“2
Back to Stratton’s Paper. Stratton wrote:
“Some deterministic Calvinists have argued that the idea of libertarian freedom is absurd and that even God cannot possess this kind of volition. If that is the case, then these Calvinists cannot appeal to all of the rational inferences provided by the Kalam and humanity—in a sense—becomes just as ‘necessary’ as God Himself. …….If God does possess libertarian freedom, however, then it stands to reason that …. humans could possess the limited, but genuine ability to choose between a range of options each consistent with our nature as well. This is the epitome of libertarian freedom!
The Kalam also helps us understand even more about Molinism. Consider the fact that the rational inferences provided by the Kalam show that God exists in a ‘static state of aseity’ in which the universe (time and space) did not exist. That is to say, logically prior to the beginning of the existence of the universe God exists—’and then’ (to use temporal language), God creates the universe. Considering this ‘static state of aseity’ the question is raised: is God maximally great in this state?”3
Tim Stratton went on in the paper to invite his readers to take ” The Cosmological Quiz”
Question 1: Is it true that God exists in a state of aseity logically prior to creating the universe (and thus without the universe)?
Question 2: In this state of aseity, is God omnipotent? If so, does he possess the power to create creatures with libertarian freedom (even if He never does create them)?
Question 3: In this state of aseity, is God omniscient? If so, does he possess the knowledge of what these libertarian free creatures—within His power to create (even if He never does create them)—would freely do?4
And Tim Stratton said that if one answers “no” to any of these questions then you might be a heretic! On the other hand, if people answer “yes” to all of the above, then that means that they are Molinists!
Stratton explained “This is because if one affirms that God is both omnipotent and omniscient in the state of affairs logically prior to the creation of the universe, then some flavor of Molinism must be true. God would possess the power to create libertarian free creatures (even if He never creates them) and God would “middle know” exactly how these free creatures would freely think, act, believe, and behave logically prior to His creative decree.”5
Stratton’s point was threefold; (1) The Kalam entails that LFW is possible, and (2) for the Calvinist who is adamant that it is not possible, they cannot use the Kalam in their apologetics, and (3) For the Christian who is theologically committed to God being omnipotent, omniscient, and self-existent, then it follows that God has middle knowledge of what all libertarian free creatures he could create would freely choose if He chose to create them. Even if God never does decide to create a free creature, because He is all-powerful, he could create creatures with LFW and because He is omniscient, he knows everything they would do in circumstances he could place them in. So while The Kalam neither proves that humans have the libertarian free will nor that full-blown Molinism is true, it does entail certain facets of Molinism that many Calvinists won’t concede (i.e that LFW is possible, and that God has middle knowledge).
Sorry for spending a lot of time on this, but I do think it’s important that we realize just what implications The Kalam Cosmological Argument has on The Molinism debate. I unpacked this not just for your benefit, Sam, but also for any Calvinists who may read this blog post.
Before I move on, let me just say that Tim and I would agree that our choices aren’t uncaused. We would say that they are undetermined, but not uncaused. My actions are caused by my own volition, and the same goes for God. You could say that our choices are self-caused.
Issue With Premises 2 Of The FreeThinking Argument
I’m surprised that you are in doubt over premise 2, and that seems to be one of the more obviously true of the premises of the argument. Most of the naturalists I have used this argument on go after 3 (as you do and as you have in past conversations we’ve had), but 1 is true by definition, 4 can’t be denied without forfeiting the right to debate, and 2 seems at least intuitively true at minimum.
For readers not familiar with the argument, let me spell out the premises
1- If naturalism is true, the immaterial human soul does not exist.
2- If the soul does not exist, libertarian free will does not exist.
3- If libertarian free will does not exist, rationality and knowledge do not exist.
4- Rationality and knowledge exist.
5- Therefore, libertarian free will exists.
6- Therefore, the soul exists.
7- Therefore, naturalism is false.
8- The best explanation for the existence of the soul and/or libertarian free will is God.
The vast majority of naturalists affirm 2. You’ve got to think there’s a reason for that. You wrote “the laws of nature (according to what naturalists typically believe) do not determine anything, perhaps that is a quibble but the laws of nature are simply descriptions of the way nature is observed to behave.” This is just an issue of semantics. The “laws of nature” is a term often used colloquially for “laws of physics and chemistry”, such as the four fundamental forces. These certainly are more than descriptive.
When an apple falls from a tree, gravity isn’t just describing the apple falling from the tree. Gravity causes the apple to fall. The mass of the Earth exherts a gravitational pull on the mass of the apple. Two massive bodies attract one another and more massive each respective body is to the other and the closer those two bodies are, the more powerful the gravitational attraction. Gravity and motion don’t just describe the Earth rotating around the sun. Gravity and motion cause it. Likewise when you combine certain chemicals together, you get a reaction. The “law” of chemistry doesn’t just describe the reaction, it causes it.
So, this is just a confusion of language. In “The FreeThinking Argument In A Nutshell” and other places where Stratton defends the argument, I’m not surprised he uses colloquial language. These articles and podcast episodes are aimed at a lay audience who talk like that. In more academic material (for example, the doctoral dissertation he’s working on), I’m sure he’s way more careful in being terminologically precise.
If you don’t like “laws of nature”, you can just say “forces of nature”. And, I would agree with Tim Stratton and the majority of naturalist philosophers and scientists that if physical things are all that exist, libertarian free will cannot exist. If you are just your brain, then everything you think, act, and say is a result of bubbling chemicals, firing neurons, and genetics. You are essentially an organic robot. Your brain is just a bathtub of various different chemicals. Just as a bottle of coke cannot help but explode when Mentos is dropped in it, so you cannot choose other than what the electro-chemical processes in your brain made you choose.
Tom Clark, in an article on Naturalism.org said “Determinism says that given a physical state of affairs, for instance the state of your brain, body and environment at this instant (time T), there’s a single possible next state of affairs at T+1 as necessitated by causal laws discovered to hold at various levels of description, atomic, chemical, and biological. Excluding any randomly generated influences (for instance from cosmic rays, beta decay(link is external), etc.), the state at T+1 then necessitates the next, and so on, such that there’s a law-like set of transitions over time that would be exactly the same if we could reset all conditions back to their original state at T., Of course, we can’t actually perform this experiment, but the deterministic claim rests on the rather robust intuition that similar causes produce similar effects. It’s uncontroversially true that at least at the macro level of chemicals, compounds and the larger phenomena they constitute, nature exhibits very reliable, law-like regularities as documented by science over the last 350 years. What we seem not to observe, given our ever-increasing ability to control for causal factors in experimental situations, are inexplicable departures from these regularities. The success of science in explaining, predicting and controlling the world hinges on the manifest dependability of cause and effect relationships. If anything is true about nature, it’s that it exhibits a predictable order in transitions between states. It’s unlikely that we are exceptions to that order, given that we are all-natural, all-physical, all the time.
This isn’t to say determinism has been proven, or could be proved, either in general or with respect to ourselves. As David Hume pointed out, our confidence in the reliability of causal laws is based on the inductive inference that since the world has exhibited regular patterning thus far, it will continue to do so. But there’s no basis for this inference outside our confidence, which is itself based on past regularities. There’s no reason in principle that nature couldn’t at any moment run off the causal rails it’s been on thus far. Further, it looks as if behavior at the sub-atomic level is not deterministic but rather probabilistic, in that there’s no way to tell what the exact next state of a particle will be. There are only a range of possibilities, each with an associated probability as assigned by the particle’s wave function.” 6
The point the author makes is that while naturalism cannot be absolutely proven to entail determinism with respect to human choices, given what we know of nature, it is very very probable that we are just as determined as all non-personal agents observed in nature. I think that unless one concedes that there is a part of humanity that transcends the physical aspects of our body, the odds that we posesse libertarian free will is very low.
You wrote \\“If you are arguing that we observe deterministic behavior in at least most physical objects we observe, that doesn’t mean that if we observe an physical object that seems to not comply with this “law” that we shouldn’t accept this observation. And if free will must exist (or if we just have good reason like observation of our minds to think it does) then we have reason to think that our minds are free. If our minds are our brains then we have good reason to think that our brains are not deterministic. Perhaps you wish to argue that it is a reason to believe in dualism over physicalism.”\\ –
Correct me if I’m misunderstanding you here, but are you saying that if we come to conclude that free will must exist, then that isn’t a reason to conclude that naturalism is false, but that is instead a reason to believe that wholy physical systems aren’t deterministic after all? I’ve read your paragraph several times and that seems to be what you’re saying.
If that is what you’re saying, then you’re begging the question in favor of naturalism/physicalism. This response would be tantamount to saying “If you are arguing that we observe things beginning to its existence with causes, that doesn’t mean that if we observe the origin of an object that seems to not comply with this ‘law’ that we shouldn’t accept this observation. And if everything that begins to exist must have a cause (or if we just have good reason like observation to think it does) then we have reason to think that the universe began to exist via a cause. If God does not exist, then we have good reason to believe that the universe began to exist, but that God was not the cause. Perhaps you wish to argue that is a reason to believe in theism over atheism.”
In both cases, the logic would be circular, whether applied to The Freethinking Argument Against Naturalism or The Kalam Cosmological Argument. It begs the question in favor of naturalism to say “We have free will! Well, I guess physicalism doesn’t entail determinism after all!”
It would be like saying “The universe sprang into being out of nothing? Well, I guess God isn’t required for creatio ex nihilo after all!”
Issue With Premise 3
I think Munchausen is guilty of a False Trichotomy. Well, for one thing, if one reasons in a circle, one is certainly not justified. Any circular argument for a conclusion is logically fallacious. That’s why all books and articles on logical fallacies include circular reasoning on the list! “Justified by circular reasoning” just isn’t a thing. There is no such thing as something justified by a logical fallacy.
I would classify justification on the basis of (*1) Well reasoned arguments and evidence, (*2) Proper Basicality .
*1 is equivalent to Munchausen’s 2, although I would dispute that you need to keep justifying your justifications. Requiring such would abolish the possibility of ever establishing any conclusion, and the scientific community not to mention court justice systems would utterly collapse! *2 would be equivalent to Munchausen’s 3.
Assumptions are often seen as a bad thing, but that just isn’t the case. Many assumptions are justified. The assumption that my reasoning faculties are working properly, and therefore I come to true conclusions, the assumption that the law of gravity isn’t going to stop working resulting in the solar system coming apart and all life on Earth perishing, the assumption that when I click “Save As Draft” in WordPress that my blog post won’t disappaear inexplicably when I come back to so some more editing, there are re good assumptions. If we didn’t make at least some assumptions, we would be utterly paralyzed in decision making.
Philosophers would classify some of the assumptions above as properly basic beliefs. Beliefs that the laws of logic hold, that the external world is real and that our physical senses aren’t lying to us, et. al are assumptions, for sure, but they’re justified because they’re properly basic. Properly Basic beliefs are beliefs that are justified apart from any argument for their truth. Not all assumptions are properly basic beliefs. If they’re not properly basic, they’re not justified. For example, I shouldn’t assume that the concordist framework of hermeneutics is correct and then interpret Genesis 1 as a scientific account of material origins. If I want to argue that The Bible contains scientific truths not known to the ancients, I’ve got to justify that framework. Accomodationism is argued for, but concordism is often taken by authors like Hugh Ross and Ken Ham as a given, and hence all of their arguments are based on an unjustified assumption.
I would argue that there the claim that the laws of logic, our reliable access to them, our existence, us being able to tell when our beliefs are reliable or not, etc. are indeed justified assumptions. They’re properly basic beliefs.
Moreover, even if the basic things you mentioned like trust in the laws of logic, the reliability of our reasoning faculties, our existence, etc. aren’t properly basic, but just unjustified assumptions. Surely, you wouldn’t argue that this entails that justification isn’t needed in ANY area of knowledge, would you? Surely not, for you are asking for justification to believe premises 2 and 3 of the argument! If justification isn’t needed for knowledge, why not just make the assumption that both of those premises are true? You seem to think that in order to believe premises 2 and 3, you need well reasoned arguments. You seem to think that you need justification.
At most, wouldn’t you say that the majority of our conclusions must be justified? Surely, I can’t be justified in assuming Evolutionary Creationism, Molinism, annihilationism, the existence of God, that Jesus’ resurrection is a fact of history, et. al are true. I have to have good arguments and evidence that these are true, right? If I don’t have good reasons and evidence to affirm the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection or that annihilationism is a correct interpretation of scripture’s teaching on the fate of the damned, then wouldn’t agree that I wouldn’t be justified in believing those things? And if I’m not justified, how could I say “I KNOW Jesus rose from the dead” or “I KNOW that God will annihilate the wicked in Hell?” How can I KNOW something just by making an assumption?
Of course, if the laws of logic and our reasoning faculties being reliable aren’t justified assumptions, then since I come to my conclusions based on those assumptions, wouldn’t that not entail that all of my beliefs are unjustified? Wouldn’t that entail that all of your beliefs are unjustified? If justification doesn’t matter, and unjustified assumptions are acceptable, why not believe everything on the basis of unjustified assumptions. Why go through the reasoning process at all? Why not just assume the conclusion is true? To heck with examining an argument’s premises.
This doesn’t seem like a plausible epistemology to me.
The Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism
You wrote \\“It is true that beliefs about science and philosophy do not directly affect our survival and reproduction. However why can’t the same process that lead to us figuring out problems about how to build something or figure out how to get water in a bad place be used to figure out scientific problems like the origin of the universe?”\\ —
The argument isn’t that evolutionary processes are incapable of producing creatures with reliable reasoning faculties, just that it is improbable that they would. Just as it isn’t physically impossible to write Shakespere’s Hamlet by throwing a large box of Scrabble letters into the air, it is unlikely that the forces of physics would cause the Scrabble letters in such a way as to spell out the script of Hamlet. It is a question of probability and plausiblity, not a question of feasibiltiy.
Could evolutionary processes give us reasoning faculties that could discern truth not necessary for survival? Sure. But which is more likely? That a process unassisted by reason would produce creatures capable of reason or that a Mind who posessed reason in himself oversaw the process and ensured that we evolved to reason properly?
As Dr. John Lennox says “Either human intelligence ultimately owes its origin to mindless matter; or there is a Creator. It is strange that some people claim that it is their intelligence that leads them to prefer the first to the second.”7
\\“After all the scientific method requires little more than observation, making hypothesis and trial and error.”\\ — That’s a bit of an oversimplification. But oversimplification aside, the scientific method works because the minds of scientists are and have been functioning properly over the past 400 years! The disputation here is not whether science works or whether the minds of scientists work, it’s WHY do they work? Do these working minds come from a blind, purposeless process? Or did they come from a Creator who innately possesses reason?
A Motivation To Find Truth
You wrote \\“However the views of someone like Jonathan Edwards do not seem to entail anything like that. Edwards believed that the will is always determined by the strongest motive. Tim Stratton if I recall made a criticism of this view by claiming that this entails that our beliefs are just entailed by our strongest desire and not a commitment to truth. Well first of all many of our motives require us to search for truth. If my motive is to see if the freethinking argument is another excellent argument I can use against determinists then that is a motive for me to will my reason to think of the best reasons against it to email to you so I can be confident of them. If I want to win a debate I have a motive to understand the arguments on both sides. If I want to acquire food I have motive to use my reason to figure out how to do so. Second curiosity can be a motive as well which obviously would be a motive that requires the use of reason. And the result of logic and observation can in certain ways influence my motives as well. So Stratton’s argument against Edwards here doesn’t hold up. Edwards can just as easily hold that someone willed to exercise their rationality in the same way a person would if they had free will. “\\ —
Sure, if you are causally determined to see The FreeThinking argument as another excellent argument, if you’re determined to look at both sides of the argument, and if you’re determined to have true beliefs, then you might just end up at true beliefs or seeing the FTM as a good argument. However, that would just be because that’s how you were determined to think and behave. If someone is causally determined to NOT care about truth, if someone is determined to refute The FreeThinking Argument Against Naturalism because they want naturalism to be true or even divine determinism to be true, then that’s how THEY were causally determined. The person who ends up believing truth ends up there just by happenstance. He just was lucky that the forces of physics and chemistry determined him to avoid logical fallacies, read both sides of the argument, and so on. The one who commits logical blunders or commits confirmation bias was causally determined to do so. Ultimately where you end up, on determinism, is just the way the cookie crumbles. If I correctly apply reason its because the molecules in my brain lead me to do so (naturalistic determinism) or because God decreed that I would (Calvinistic determinism). It isn’t up to me whether I’m going to be reasonable or not. The only way it could is if I possess libertarian free will.
In other words, if you have the right motives to lead you to sound conclusions, good for you! You should be thankful the chemicals and molecules in your brain just happen to arrange themselves in a rational manner.
The problem though is that this doesn’t look anymore like genuine reasoning than a fizzing can of coke. This looks more like people just mechanically going through certain motions and ending up certain ways. If a blind man feels around and wanders aimlessly, he might just end up at his desired destination. But he could just as well end up 3 miles from where he wanted to be. We wouldn’t call this “traveling”. Why call being causally determined to end up at true conclusions “reasoning”?
1: For those who don’t know, EPS stands for Evangelical Philosophical Society.
2: William Lane Craig, “The Scientific Kalam Cosmological Argument”, a lecture presented at Georgia Tech, –> https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/popular-writings/science-theology/the-scientific-kalam-cosmological-argument/
3: Tim Stratton, “The Apologetic Significance Of Molinism (ETS Edit)”, March 11th 2009, — https://freethinkingministries.com/the-apologetic-significance-of-molinism-ets-edit/
6: From the article “Fully Caused: Coming to Terms with Determinism” by Tom Clark, July 2009 — https://www.naturalism.org/philosophy/free-will/fully-caused-coming-to-terms-with-determinism
7: John C. Lennox (2009). “God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?”, p.210, Lion Books