A French Philosopher VS an American Theologian

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

|

May 2, 2020

A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of meeting a French Calvinistic philosopher named, Guillaume Bignon (Click here to read his amazing transition from atheism to Christianity). While I am thrilled that this brilliant scholar is no longer an atheist, I was shocked to discover that he left one form of exhaustive determinism for another. That is to say that Bignon left the view that physics, chemistry, and quantum mechanics causally determine all things about humanity, to the view that God causally determines all things about humanity.

While I would love to see all atheists become Calvinists, it seems to me that both views are incorrect. Moreover, any view that affirms exhaustive determinism cannot be rationally affirmed because it is ultimately self-defeating to argue (or rationally affirm) that such a position is, in fact, true.

Bignon and I had a brief exchange over lunch, but we ultimately swept the debate “under the rug” with a commitment to revisit this topic in the future.

The future has arrived!

Bignon joined my good friend Eli Ayala on his Revealed Apologetics show to discuss my FreeThinking Argument. He also had my colleagues Leighton Flowers and Braxton Hunter in his sights (See our trilogy of joint responses: Soteriology 101hosted by Leighton, Trinity Radio hosted by Braxton, and FreeThinking Ministries hosted by me). I also encourage people to watch my interview with Ayala (he is a fantastic host) as I respond to James White’s views on Molinism (click here).

Bignon spent close to an hour focusing on my work. It seems to me that he does not quite understand my argument and, in turn, he inadvertently responds by attacking a straw man. Perhaps this is my fault for not being as clear as possible. Hopefully, my response here will clarify my views.

Let’s begin with Bignon’s definitions:

At around the 7:20 mark Bignon defines free will as, “The control condition for moral responsibility” (time stamps are included for convenience). 

First, I should point out is that I am not primarily concerned with moral responsibility. Rather, my specific argument is primarily focused on rational responsibility. Bignon seems to miss this major point. This error can, and does, lead to more confusion, talking past each other, and inadvertently attacking a caricature of my argument.

7:57

Bignon goes on to describes moral responsibility as “being in control of what you are doing…” However, as I have noted, my argument is about being in control of at least some of your thinking. Hence the name “The FreeThinking Argument.”

I believe that Christians (not atheists) are the epitome of “free thinkers.” I believe we can reach this conclusion through systematic theology and philosophical arguments, and we also see this idea clearly implied in Scripture. That is, Christians can — and should — take their thoughts captive (2 Cor 10:5) before they take us (Colossians 2:8). If you think about it – at least if you are free to do so – if we are not free to think, then life is utterly meaningless.

Ultimately, I am concerned with the “control condition” for rational responsibility. While I do think moral responsibility is related to rational responsibility, it is a secondary issue, as far as I’m concerned.

9:22 — 10:53 

Let me add a couple of preliminary thoughts:

First, I find it odd that Bignon (in his book and in this interview) conflates Calvinism with exhaustive divine determinism (EDD). This is simply a false conflation that many Calvinists today reject. In fact, I have argued that Luther — and even Calvin himself — made it clear that at least occasionally, they rejected an exhaustive divine deterministic view. I spill much ink on this topic in my dissertation (it is in the process of publication. Stay tuned).

Speaking of my dissertation, I also gave several examples of modern-day Calvinists who provide examples showing that Bignon is making a big mistake by conflating Calvinism with exhaustive determinism (Koukl, Crisp, Muller, Plantinga, etc). Now, of course Bignon knows of these counter-examples, but chooses to use these terms anyway. By continuing to propagate this false conflation, Bignon is responsible for the mass confusion I am working hard to clean up.

With that said, Bignon goes on to define determinism:

“Determinism is the view that everything that happens, including our choices [and how we think of and about things] is necessitated by prior facts…”

This definition is key. I affirm it and this is what I have in mind when I argue against an exhaustive deterministic view.

Eli pointed out that both Calvinists and non-Calvinists affirm [a version of] “free will” and Bignon agrees. However, the debate is about the fact that some Calvinists, like Eli and Guillaume Bignon, affirm exhaustive divine determinism (EDD) and other Calvinists — not to mention Molinists and the majority of Christians — reject EDD.

This raises a question for Bignon: Did God causally determine Calvinists — like Koukl, Crisp, Muller, etc. — to disagree with Bignon? Yes or no?

11:57

Bignon says: “You could be determined and still have free will and moral responsibility.”

My work is focused on demonstrating that if you are exhaustively causally determined by the forces of nature, God, or anything or anyone else, then you cannot have rational responsibility. If moral responsibility comes along for the ride, then so much for the idea of determinism and moral responsibility being compatible. Be that as it may, that is a different discussion.

12:18 — 13:04 

Bignon said:

“Compatibilism is just the thesis that free will and determinism are compatible… it does not commit one to affirm libertarian freedom or determinism.”

This is a good point. I agree. However, in my relevant work, I aim to show that this thesis, while it could be true or might occasionally be true, it cannot exhaustively describe reality.  I do not reject the thesis – I simply argue that the thesis cannot always describe reality as Bignon affirms.

In fact, this might be surprising, but I actually affirm a version of “compatibilistic freedom” in some cases (like when I go to the restaurant and order from a menu). However, I simply provide some instances where libertarian freedom must entail. I am not arguing for an “all or nothing” view here. Bignon, on the other hand, does affirm an all or nothing view since he affirms EDD. I contend that the “thesis of compatibilism” cannot always or exhaustively explain reality. That is a focus of my work — that determinism is not compatible with, at least some, instances of rational responsibility.

So, Guillaume might offer one instance of knowledge that does not require libertarian freedom. That’s fine – I affirm some of them – however, he needs to discount ALL of them to rationally maintain that his “thesis of compatibilism” exhaustively describes all instances of reality.

13:40

Bignon goes on to clarify his exhaustive divine determinism:

“We are determined to do everything that we do…”

Here’s the problem for Bignon: Since thinking of and about things is included in the set of things that humans do, Bignon must also affirm that all of his thoughts and intentions are caused and determined by something — or someone — other than him (the thing Bignon refers to as “I”). This ultimately results in self-destruction. I will unpack this soon.

Continue with definitions…

14:17 — 14:58 

Bignon defines libertarianism:

“The thesis that incompatibilism is true, and also, some of the choices we make are free… libertarianism is the view that determinism is incompatible with free will and moral responsibility, and also some of the time we have free will and moral responsibility. From which it follows that determinism is false.”

I agree, with one exception. It would not follow from this that determinism never results. It would only follow that exhaustive divine determinism is false. I am opposed to the “exhaustive.” I do not oppose the ideas of some determinism or some compatibilism. It is vital to grasp this point.

In addition to Bignon’s definition, I also point out that some maintain that an agent is free in a libertarian sense, only if they possess the freedom to think or act otherwise. It seems, however, that if an agent is ever uncaused — and is simply the source of his or her thoughts or actions (even if the agent cannot think or act otherwise for some weird reason) — then they still are free in a libertarian sense. We can distinguish between the Principle of Alternative Possibilities (PAP)/the “ability to do otherwise” version of libertarian freedom and the source-hood version. Both appear true (I argue for both). But, while the PAP is sufficient for libertarian freedom, I do not claim that it is always necessary. The source version of libertarian freedom, on the other hand, is necessary and sufficient.

Be that as it may, I typically defend a specific definition of libertarian freedom that seems to entail both versions:

Libertarian Freedom: “The ability to choose between or among a range of alternative options each of which is compatible with one’s nature.”

18:15 — 19:30 

Bignon discusses Peter van Inwagen’s Consequence Argument and follows by saying: “…it’s not relevant here because Tim Stratton does not even engage, not even a little bit, with my treatment of the consequence argument.”

Well, it was not my intention to debunk his interaction with Inwagen’s Consequence Argument. I grant it. For the sake of argument, Bignon’s treatment of the consequence argument is granted to ultimately show that determinism/compatibilism cannot exhaustively describe reality. Since Bignon misses my intention – he misses the point.

19:33 — 20:31 

Eli points out that the Consequence Argument — not to mention the FreeThinking Argument Against Naturalism (one version of the family of freethinking arguments) — is not against Calvinism, but rather against naturalistic determinism. Bignon responds:

“Yes, it is, but it can very easily be modified against the theological determinist.”

Now, Bignon, to his credit, affirms that the Consequence Argument and the FreeThinking Argument (which was crafted to “destroy” — as the Apostle Paul would say — atheism and naturalism) “really hits the Calvinist if it’s successful!”

Amen to that! However, let that sink in a little bit.

The FreeThinking Argument is a valid deductive argument concluding that naturalism is false, with an abductive conclusion in support of the truth of biblical Christianity. One would expect Christians to unite in victory and celebrate over such a conclusion.

But not so fast — the party is over because of a party-pooper! The Calvinist now seems to be bending over backwards to defend the atheist.

Bignon seems to affirm that if my argument against atheism is sound, then it also refutes Calvinism. Now, it seems to me that this should really get a fellow Christian’s attention. Of course, this does not entail that Calvinism is false. However, I am simply pointing out what seems to be obvious. At the least, some big red flags ought to be raised.

If a Christian finds himself defending atheism just so he can hold on to his specific “flavor” of Christianity, maybe something is wrong with his specific flavor of Christianity.

Defending 5-Point Calvinism is justifiable (barely)… but defending exhaustive divine determinism (which Calvin himself would not affirm) is akin to idolatry when used to defend atheism (even inadvertently). EDD becomes “cultish” when its members are more intent on HOW God predestines all things (because we all agree that God predestines all things) as opposed to the character and nature of a Maximally Great Being who is worthy of worship.

I’m glad I escaped the cult of EDD.

Which, by the way, if God causally determines all things all the time, another question is raised for Guillaume: Why would God causally determine me to “think correctly” for all those years, and then, causally determine me to start believing lies?

Pro-tip: If a Christian finds himself “defending” the atheist from an argument defeating their worldview — and attacking a fellow brother in Christ — because destroying the atheistic worldview also destroys the Calvinistic worldview, perhaps you need to rethink a few things (but on Guillaume’s view he cannot do such things unless God makes it happen — God is the conditional)!

21:33 — 22:45 

Anyway, Bignon says:

“What Tim Stratton does, he says, ‘there are other reasons to think that determinism is false…’ But that’s not relevant to the merits of my response to the consequence argument.”

I beg to differ. I grant Bignon’s response, for the sake of argument, and then use what he affirms to prove my point: that compatibilistic determinism cannot exhaustively describe reality. That is to say: exhaustive divine determinism is false. Bignon affirms EDD. I debunk EDD. It seems to me that this is quite relevant.

Bignon, in his book, “happily concedes” that libertarian freedom is not compatible with determinism. He says that the consequence argument is successful in this, but adds that it has not shown that moral responsibility is not compatible with exhaustive determinism. Again, I simply point out that IF exhaustive divine determinism is true, then rational responsibility goes out the window!

Bignon says:

“What Stratton does when he simply says, ‘well look, you affirm determinism and there are reasons to think that it’s false, it does positively nothing to explain why my response to the consequence argument is, I quote, ‘unimpressive.’”

Allow me to explain why Bignon’s argument was “unimpressive” as far as I was concerned. This is what follows from the Consequence Argument on an Exhaustive Divine Determinist view:

“If determinism is true, then all of our thoughts and beliefs are ultimately the consequences of God’s will and acts of causation. But it is not up to us what God wills or what he has caused. Therefore, the consequences of these things, including our own thoughts and beliefs, are not up to us. They are up to God.”

22:48 — 23:11

Bignon continues:

“[Stratton] is offering his so-called FreeThinking Argument… Against determinism, and then I respond that I find his argument “unimpressive” because Tim affirms libertarian free will, and libertarian free will is refuted by Romans 9, don’t you know?”

Fortunately, this is not analogous to what I’ve done. I offer deductive arguments. If Guillaume offered a conclusion, from a sound argument, such as: “therefore, libertarian free will is impossible” (as some have attempted), then we would have justification to think my argument is unimpressive. At the least, I would have reason to evaluate my current beliefs. Bignon, however, has not offered anything of the sort. I, on the other hand, have offered deductive arguments concluding that humanity possesses some instances of libertarian freedom. In fact, I use Bignon’s own words to help reach that conclusion.

To be clear: I am “unimpressed” by Bignon’s treatment of the consequence argument because it does nothing to show that Exhaustive Divine Determinism describes reality. This was what I was hoping for based on my previous conversation with Bignon. Perhaps I had my hopes too high, but that is why I said I was personally unimpressed.

That is not to say that I am not impressed with his scholarship. I just think he is wrong.

Side note: Since Bignon mentioned Romans 9 and said that this passage of scripture refutes libertarian freedom, let me quickly say that even if this were the case, it does not affirm EDD or debunk all instances of libertarian freedom. On top of that, I have argued that Romans 9 actually does the opposite — Romans 9 implies what I refer to as “limited libertarian freedom” (click here).

24:45 — 25:10 

Bignon said: “There are two ways of unpacking the ability to do otherwise: (1)- the conditional ability. (2)- the categorical ability.”

I understand. However, let me reiterate that I am primarily focused on being the source of my thinking, but secondarily on the categorical ability to think, judge, and evaluate between alternative options EACH of which is COMPATIBLE with my “image of God” nature. If this categorical ability is illusory, so is rationally inferred and affirmed claims of knowledge. With that said, consider these conditional examples:

“You COULD think or believe otherwise, IF God would have causally determined you to have a desire to think or believe otherwise.”

Or…

“You COULD think otherwise, IF God would have causally determined you to have a different nature.”

These are ridiculous claims if they are meant to demonstrate responsibility. After all, if your thoughts and beliefs are aimed at your desires (based on your nature that is not up to you, but causally determined by God), and not aimed at truth, then one stands in no epistemic position to argue or rationally affirm that his claims are any good at all. This reminds me of an argument I had not too long ago with a certain Calvinist podcaster who affirms EDD. He exclaimed that we only and always choose based on our greatest desire at a given moment.

I asked him if that was why he chose to reject Molinism. He said, “No, I reject Molinism for 16 different reasons!”

I thanked him for making my point.

Anyway, Bignon references the lack of ability to cast a vote because his hands were tied behind his back. However, this is not analogous to my arguments. In fact, I think it assumes some level of libertarian freedom. My argument focuses on the ability to reach the rational conclusion of who Bignon SHOULD at least try to vote for. . . if he COULD actually cast the vote or not. I am more concerned with free THINKING, not free vote casting.

After all, my argument is not called “The Free Vote-Casting Argument.”

27:15 — 27:30 

Bignon says:

“The ‘key piece’ is the “categorical sense of ability, if you have that ability, you are indetermined. That sense of ability is incompatible with determinism.”

Amen to that! I have argued — and concluded — that one must possess this categorical ability if one is to reach rationally affirmed knowledge claims (See FreeThinking Needs the PAP). Bignon seems to affirm many claims of knowledge — such as exhaustive determinism is true. But if this is the case, then exhaustive determinism is false.

Bignon said: “the conditional sense of ability, I agree, is necessary for moral responsibility!”

While I disagree with Bignon on this score – because I think more is required for moral responsibility – I am fine with granting his claim for the sake of argument. Not to beat a dead horse, but I will say it again: I am not focused on moral responsibility. I am focused on rational responsibility.

Bignon really seemed to “talk past me” much of the time during this discussion because I am focused on something other than what he wanted to focus on.

Now, let me offer a side note: although this is not my primary focus, I do not see how Bignon’s attempt to make sense of moral responsibility on EDD works, even after granting this so-called “conditional ability.” This is the case because this condition would not be up to you (if EDD is true)… but it is ultimately always and only up to God. On this view, God — either directly or indirectly — causally determines all things.

It is like saying, “I would NOT have been born with blue eyes — if God — (the conditional) would not have created me with blue eyes.”

I digress… (I don’t want to get sidetracked).

29:25

Bignon says that “there’s a big fat equivocation in many anti-Calvinist arguments that simply speak of the ability to do otherwise without distinguishing which one is in view.”

That might be true, but it is irrelevant here because I go out of my way to distinguish exactly what is needed for rationally inferred and affirmed beliefs or claims of knowledge.

Bignon“if they mean categorical ability… Then they are begging the question!”

That’s simply false! I offer deductive arguments, support them, and defend them. I’ve been having these conversations with PhD philosophers and theologians since 2012.

Bignon goes on to demand“We need an independent argument for that [against EDD or for LFW]!”

Fortunately, that is exactly what I’ve done! Two or three independent arguments were offered in the very article Guillaume was looking at. Many more have been offered on my website, and even more are offered in my soon-to-be-published doctoral dissertation. Stay tuned.

Bignon continues: “… until there’s an argument to support the principle of alternative possibilities, then the burden of proof is still on the incompatibilist.”

Well, to reiterate, I gave him two or three unique arguments. Moreover, I’ve shown, by way of argument, that the PAP (when it comes to thinking) is vital to rationality and any knowledge gained through rationality (See FreeThinking Needs the PAP).

The FreeThinking Argument, for example, is not focused on moral responsibility, but rather, rational responsibility. However, if rational responsibility debunks exhaustive divine determinism and compatibilism, then so much for exhaustive divine determinism and compatibilism.

35:49

Eli brought up my “game changer” remark. Before I address Bignon’s “philosophical response,” let me offer quick comments. This is a game changer for those “playing the game” and arguing that exhaustive divine determinism does — or does not — always describe reality. That is to say, for those arguing that compatibilism does or does not always describe reality, it is game-changing.

Why? Because now only one argument is needed to conclude some libertarian freedom is possessed by humans some of the time. And I have offered several such arguments.

36:53 

Bignon responds: “I think the philosophical term is LOL!”

He says that it is not a “game changer” because it is “baked in the definition.” He says, “… all I’m doing is affirming something that is definitional.”

Well, Bignon first affirmed exhaustive divine determinism, and then affirmed something more – that PvI’s consequence argument is correct regarding the fact that libertarian free will is not compatible with determinism. He “happily concedes” this much. However, now all one needs is one argument concluding: “Therefore, libertarian freedom exists,” to refute exhaustive divine determinism. And if EDD is not a complete explanation of the way things are, then neither is the view of compatibilism he wants to affirm (since the thesis of compatibilism assumes determinism).

Bignon says that it’s not a “game changer” because it’s simply the “beginning of a conversation.”

And I am simply noting that this “beginning of the conversation” ultimately refutes his previous affirmation that EDD is true.

37:33

Bignon: “We see why his response is misguided; he thinks he’s got a good argument against determinism, the FreeThinking Argument. So, my affirmation of determinism is seen as the end of the debate, when it really should be seen as the beginning here.”

Bignon is wrong about “how I see things.” I do recognize that he is offering the “beginning “of a conversation. Based on all he affirms in the beginning of the conversation, I grant his thoughts on the Consequence Argument, for the sake of this conversation — and I simply use what I am granting in conjunction with my arguments and other data, to show that exhaustive divine determinism/compatibilism cannot always explain or describe reality. Thus, the ultimate view that Bignon seeks to defend is refuted.

That is to say, Bignon affirms EDD, he then starts a conversation which combined with my arguments, refutes his original affirmation. This is highly significant whether Guillaume realizes it or not.

Side note: I offered at least two arguments against determinism. On Eli’s show, Bignon attempted to refute the FreeThinking Argument – I will continue to respond to him. Unfortunately, he did not discuss the second argument I offered: the Omni Argument.

Eli offered a somewhat outdated version of the FreeThinking Argument, instead of the revamped and updated version that can be found multiple times on my website. This version is worded differently and much stronger. It would have avoided much confusion.

38:09 — 39:07 

Bignon begins to interact with the FreeThinking Argument:

“Let me make a few comments in response. First, I want to point out that even if the argument is successful it’s not an argument for incompatibilism, it’s an argument for indeterminism and not even that, it’s actually an argument against the rationality of affirming determinism. So, by its own admission the argument does not tell us that determinism is false it aims to show you that even if it’s true, it would not be reasonable to believe it.”

Well, that depends if Bignon affirms his ability to rationally infer or affirm claims of knowledge — such as: “Compatibilism is true.”

If he affirms his rationality, then he affirms his libertarian freedom which is a form of indeterminism. If he denies his ability to rationally affirm knowledge claims, then why should we care about what he says?

The FreeThinking Argument deductively concludes that “libertarian freedom is possessed by humans.” This logically follows if the premises are true. So, it is an argument against exhaustive divine determinism because, as Bignon has admitted, if determinism is true, humans do not possess libertarian freedom.

So, he makes another mistake. He does not seem to grasp my argument.

39:08 — 39:13

Bignon: “… at most the FreeThinking Argument is an argument for indeterminism, but it’s not an argument against incompatibilism.”

This is a strawman. In the same article Bignon was reading from, I offered a final syllogism based upon the conclusion of the FreeThinking Argument. It goes like this:

1- If compatibilism is true, then determinism is true.

2- If determinism is true, then LFW is false.

3- Therefore, if LFW is true, then compatibilism is false (it does not exhaustively explain reality).

4- LFW is true (as deductively concluded in the FreeThinking Argument).

5- Therefore, compatibilism is false (That is to say, the thesis of compatibilism does not always describe reality).

I never claimed that the FreeThinking Argument by itself did such a thing. However, after reaching the deductive conclusion that humans occasionally possess the libertarian freedom to THINK, I offered another argument ON TOP OF said deductive conclusion.

39:20 — 40:14 

Bignon offers “not a refutation,” but a comment that he believes is important to make:

“It’s a bit odd that Tim Stratton claims the argument as his, because he plainly enough did not invent the argument. It can be found in multiple sources that proceed him. It’s at least in print by William Lane Craig and Greg Koukl – he quotes both of them in the article. It was discussed by Swinburne in 1997 and it goes back to the 1930s. So, I think Tim Stratton was pretty young in the 1930s… Clearly the argument has been offered before so I’m a little bit uncomfortable saying that this is the FreeThinking Argument by Tim Stratton.”

William Lane Craig and Greg Koukl have NOT formulated an argument similar to, or defended, the FreeThinking Argument. What they have done, however is discussed this issue and provided great points supporting the key premise of the syllogism known as the FreeThinking Argument. After all, that’s why I quoted them. Indeed, I’ve made it clear in the past that I stand on the shoulders of giants. Be that as it may, the FreeThinking Argument – and particularly the way I uniquely defend it – is original to me.

I have been quite clear about this on my own website. Allow me to quote myself:

“I am not the first person to argue in this fashion . . . Although the Freethinking Argument is a syllogism original to me, C.S. Lewis pointed out some of these problems long before I was born. Although I was unaware of his work (in this field — I grew up with the Chronicles of Narnia) prior to first crafting the Freethinking Argument, great thinkers of the past have argued in a similar fashion. Lewis defended a similar line of argumentation in his 1947 book, Miracles: A Preliminary Study. Thirteen years later, in the second edition of Miracles, Lewis significantly revised and expanded his argument. Many others have noticed problems like these and have crafted similar (yet different) arguments. Just as William Lane Craig stands on the shoulders of great thinkers of yesteryear (such as Al Ghazali and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz) to craft unique syllogisms and defend arguments, I also stand on the shoulders of giants like C.S. Lewis and others who provide foundations for my unique syllogism.”

Moreover, I have shared my FreeThinking Argument with both Bill Craig and Greg Koukl. Neither of them said: “Wait… that’s my argument!” Rather, Bill said that I was “living his dream!” I have also shared this argument in an academic journal (coauthored with philosopher Jacobus Erasmus), philosophical conferences such as the ETS, in my master’s thesis, and in my doctoral dissertation. Don’t you think it’s a bit odd that out of ALL the scholars who are aware of my work and have listened to this argument and listened to me defend it — out of ALL of them — NONE of them have raised this odd “discomfort” that Guillaume has raised.

Bottom line: Bignon has been quite uncharitable here. He knows better. This is clear based on his next words. . .

40:23 — 40:34

After all of that, Bignon says “Let’s grant him that he at least has his own formulation of the premises, that is his version of the argument.”

Well, that’s nice of him to now offer what is clearly obvious after poisoning the minds of those following along.

By the way: I don’t just argue that beliefs are not justified if they are “improperly determined. “I simply show that if all thoughts are causally determined, then Bignon (the thing he refers to as “I”), stands in no epistemic position to rationally evaluate any thoughts or beliefs he currently holds.

Side note: Bignon mentioned that he had already sufficiently dealt with this argument in a blog article. Having googled and read his blog article, I believe it does not refute my specific and unique arguments. I plan to write a response article. Stay tuned.

For now, let’s simply deal with his remarks made in his interview with Eli Ayala.

Bignon finally begins to interact with the FreeThinking Argument. He says: “Let’s deal with it!” What’s wrong with the FreeThinking Argument?

41:20 — 41:39

Bignon“… it’s obvious which premise the Calvinist will dispute: “if determinism is true, [rationally inferred and affirmed] knowledge is impossible!”

To clarify, the most recent premise of the updated FreeThinking Argument found on my website has it worded this way:

“If humans do not possess libertarian freedom, then it is impossible for humans to rationally infer and rationally affirm knowledge claims.”

Bignon exclaims: “… the indeterminist must support the premise or the argument remains question begging!”

This is true. Fortunately, this is exactly what I have offered on multiple occasions. Let’s just start with the Mad Scientist Thought Experiment – – which Bignon failed to properly address at the end of his interview with Eli.

41:40 — 42:05 

Bignon says:

“When the incompatibilist asks ‘how do you know anything on [exhaustive] determinism?’… Calvinists can answer with a number of possible accounts of knowledge. You could be an internalist, or an externalist. You can be a classical foundationalist, you can be a reformed epistemologist. Whatever floats your boat…”

Unfortunately, none of these accounts can “float Guillaume’s boat,” or help the exhaustive determinist. Consider the mad scientist again. If the mad scientist is causing and determining everything Guillaume thinks of and about, and exactly how Guillaume thinks of an about it — including the next words that will come out of his mouth, how can Guillaume, not the mad scientist, rationally affirm any of his beliefs? Especially his belief in question, without begging the question?

If the next words out of Bignon‘s mouth were (for example): “Well, externalism…” I would interrupt and respond, “I’d like to talk to Guillaume please!

Consider the words of epistemologist Kelly Fitzsimmons Burton:

“Proper function of our cognitive faculties must first rule out the [deterministic] influences of outsiders such as Alpha Centurion, cognitive scientists, Cartesian evil demons, and also internal influences such as a brain lesion or even the influence of mind-altering substances. All of these influences may cause one’s faculties to fail to function properly” (Reason and Proper Function, p 23).

By the way: I encourage people to read my article called “Proper Function and Libertarian Freedom.” It demonstrates that libertarian freedom is vital if one’s cognitive faculties are to function properly — and if one has lost the ability to freely think in a libertarian sense, then something has gone terribly wrong with one’s cognitive faculties.

42:06 — 42:23 

Bignon“The Calvinist can describe the mechanism of the deliberation in a way something like this: “how did I come to know X? Well, I used my God – given brain to consider the evidence…”

Not so fast! Did Bignon (the thing he refers to as “I”), consider and evaluate the evidence, or was he caused and determined by the mad scientist? If he is free, and not caused and determined by the mad scientist, then Bignon is free and liberated to think. To this French philosopher I say, “Welcome to the Land of the Free” (in a libertarian sense).

If Bignon continues to be exhaustively caused and determined by the mad scientist, then Bignon is gone and all that’s left is question begging (but that is also caused and determined by the mad scientist).

Moreover, consider another version of the FreeThinking Argument that I call…

The Deliberation & Liberation Argument 

1. Rationality requires deliberation.
2. Deliberation requires libertarian freedom (liberation).
3. Therefore, rationality requires libertarian freedom (liberation).
4. Some humans are rational.
5. Therefore, some humans possess libertarian freedom (liberation).

This argument hinges on the word ‘deliberation,’ which has been defined this way:

‘To weigh in the mind; to consider and examine the reasons for and against a measure to estimate the weight of force of arguments, or the probable consequences of a measure, in order to a choice or decision; to pause and consider’ (Webster 1828).

With the definition in place, consider the next question raised: Is it possible to truly deliberate without libertarian freedom?

The answer emerges after dwelling upon the nature of determinism. For if exhaustive determinism is true, then the non-rational laws of nature and past events, or God, always exhaustively determines a person’s considerations, examinations, and estimations (all of one’s thoughts about their beliefs and one’s beliefs about their thoughts). If that’s the case, then the person (in this case the thing Bignon refers to as “I”) cannot rationally affirm or provide justification that his belief really is the best or true (including his belief that determinism is true).

With this in mind, it seems that libertarian freedom is necessary if one genuinely possesses the ability to rationally evaluate one’s thoughts/beliefs and to deliberate in the truest sense. It follows that if deliberation is impossible, then so is rationality. And if rationality is impossible, then any so-called knowledge gained via the process of rationality evaporates.

42:24 — 42:38

Bignon continues: “Now Stratton may be tempted to respond: ‘Oh… that was still determined!’ Right but that’s only a good retort if you accept that determinism is incompatible with knowledge.” 

An argument has been provided that determinism is, in fact, incompatible with rationally inferred and rationally affirmed claims of knowledge. So, it is a “good retort” with that specific kind of knowledge in mind.

However, if Bignon is going to bite the bullet – so that he can hold onto his EDD – and deny that justification is required for reason-based knowledge, then, as I have previously explained on my website, I will happily adjust my claim and premise in the argument to the following:

“If humans do not possess libertarian freedom, then humans do not possess rational justification for their beliefs.”

I could simply avoid all discussion of knowledge with this modified FreeThinking Argument and it would still reach similar, yet damning, conclusions.

Bignon ironically exclaims that I am: “… still begging the question!”

Unfortunately, as I see it, Bignon’s EDD leads to the epitome of question begging. Nevertheless, I do not believe I am question begging because I have provided supporting arguments for my view.

42:38

Eli seems to see the inadequacy of Bignon’s response by quietly and unconfidently replying “okay…” He goes on to ask: “Now, doesn’t Tim have a longer DEFENSE of the argument, right? He has a longer version of it.”

Although my longer defense of the argument was not discussed, Eli and Guillaume moved to the FreeThinking Argument Against Naturalism. Eli reads the old version of this argument that concludes the soul exists and that naturalism is false. I would assume that, as Christians, they would be happy to reach such conclusions.

But no, the Calvinist must seemingly side with the atheist to stand against those who argue for the truth of Christian theism! What an odd worldview.

45:11 — 45:22

Bignon“premise 3, he says, is synonymous with ‘If all things are causally determined then that includes all thoughts and beliefs…’  Well that’s not synonymous!”

First of all, I’d like to know what they were looking at. Shortly after this interview, I contacted Eli and asked him what article of mine they were looking at since the one offered did not use this wording. He was not sure what Bignon was referencing. Be that as it may, I typically (quite often) write or say the following:

“Premise (1) is synonymous. . . premise (2) is tantamount. . . and premise (3) is equivalent.”

After the third premise, I immediately clarify what I mean by that and explain this right away noting: “If our thoughts and beliefs are forced upon us, and we could not have chosen better beliefs, then we are simply left assuming…”

The earliest I found this specific kind of wording on my website was in an article I wrote in 2015 and this can also be found in the journal Perichoresis 16.2 published the summer of 2018. Moreover, in my recent work I attempt to point out that premise 3 is virtually equivalent with the following: “If humans do not possess libertarian freedom, then humans cannot rationally infer or rationally affirm claims of knowledge.” In fact, I changed the wording of the third premise to state this fact.

Let’s just say that the OLD premise (3), which says, “If libertarian free will does not exist, rationality and knowledge do not exist,” is communicating the following: “if all things are outside of human control, then this includes exactly what every human thinks of and about and exactly how each human thinks of and about it.” If that’s the case, so much for “rational responsibility.”

With this in mind, consider an updated summary:

The first three steps of the argument are rather straightforward. In summary, (A1) is synonymous with “If naturalism is true, nature is all that exists.” (A2) is tantamount to “If all that exists is nature, then all that exists is causally determined by the forces of nature, the initial conditions of the big bang, and perhaps some quantum events, all of which are outside of human control.” (A3) is communicating the fact that if all things are outside of human control, then this includes exactly what every human thinks of and about and exactly how each human thinks of and about it. That is to say, “If all things are causally determined by something other than humanity, then that includes all thoughts and beliefs held by humanity.”

If a person’s thoughts and beliefs are forced upon him, and he could not have chosen better thoughts and beliefs, then he is simply left assuming that his determined thoughts and beliefs are good (and that his beliefs are true). Therefore, one could never rationally affirm or argue that his beliefs really are the inference to the best explanation; this can only be assumed, and this assumption would likewise be causally determined and forced upon him. This, then, is the paramount concern for the atheistic naturalist who affirms exhaustive determinism. If determinism is true, then atheists—or anyone else for that matter—cannot possess justification for their beliefs. To make matters worse, if justification is required for knowledge, then knowledge becomes illusory.

Think about it: if all things are causally determined (by something or someone other than the thing you refer to as “I”), then that includes all of your thoughts and beliefs — All of your thoughts about your beliefs and all of your beliefs about your thoughts are up to something or someone other than YOU! If this is the case, then YOU could never have chosen better beliefs – even if better beliefs are available. Thus, YOU are left with nothing but question begging assumptions. And thus, rationality, and any apparent knowledge gained via rationality, does not exist.

As I see it, this is sensible.

45:38 — 45:57

Bignon says that I might claim that “one entails the other, and I’ll disagree and the argument will immediately be question-begging.”

Just because Bignon disagrees doesn’t mean I am begging any questions.

For Guillaume’s sake, however, let’s just say that one entails the other. I have explained why and defended this view. Thus, no questions have been begged as far as I am concerned.

With that said, however, Bignon is the one begging questions. This was clear during the Q and A.

46:03 — 46:52 

Eli goes on to quote me:

“… if our thoughts and beliefs were forced upon us, and we could not have chosen better beliefs, then we are left assuming that our determined beliefs are good, let alone true. Therefore, we could never rationally affirm that our beliefs really are the inference to the best explanation — we could only assume it [and that assumption would not be up to us either]. Knowledge is typically defined as justified true belief, and if you don’t have warrant or justification for a belief, then it’s not knowledge. If one cannot freely infer the best explanation, then one has no justification that their belief really is the best explanation. Without justification, knowledge goes down the drain. All we are left with his question-begging assumptions.”

Bignon“There’s a couple of blunders there. I want to proceed a bit cautiously; I am a philosopher of free will, not an epistemologist.”

Technically speaking, my PhD is not in epistemology either. I am a systematic theologian who focused on metaphysics and epistemology during my doctoral studies. Be that as it may, I made sure to surrounded myself with both metaphysicians and epistemologists while conducting my research and writing my PhD dissertation.

I interviewed and discussed these matters with epistemologists who hold different and competing epistemological views. Fortunately, none of them said I was wrong. In fact, after surveying my arguments, each of them either endorsed my argument, or said something to the effect that I was probably onto something or that they were “inclined to agree” with me.

Make no mistake! Please do not think I am appealing to authority to conclude my views are true. Not at all! I will let my arguments, and my defense of them, do the talking. I’m simply noting that my PhD work focused on epistemology and I surrounded myself with some professional epistemologists to correct me if they noted any glaring mistakes. In fact, the mind of one PhD epistemologist seemed to change regarding the topic of libertarian freedom after considering my argument.

46:55

Bignon admits that he has a “laypersons “understanding of epistemology and proceeds to tell me my mistakes. He says: “first he seems to say that ALL knowledge is inferred!”

That’s not my claim at all. It very well might be the case that there are some things I possess knowledge of that are not abductively gained through the inference to the best explanation. However, on Bignon’s view of EDD, one cannot rationally infer the best explanation – that has been decided and causally determined by someone other than Bignon. So, there is an entire swath of knowledge not available to the exhaustive determinist.

Bottom line: Since Bignon fails to grasp my argument, his objection attacks a strawman once again.

47:40 — 47:59 

Bignon continues: “Tim says we’re left with question begging assumptions, a logical fallacy. But that’s not right, fallacies have to do with arguments…”

But the inference to the best explanation is an abductive argument. Fallacies apply to reasoning, which includes abduction.

Moreover, there are other implied arguments here. Consider the mad scientist once again. What follows if Bignon affirms the following (I think he would):

  • The mad scientist (or God) causally determines all of Bignon’s thoughts and beliefs, and also all of Stratton’s thoughts and beliefs.
  • The mad scientist causally determines Bignon and Stratton to disagree. He “determines” at least one of them to think and believe incorrectly.
  • The mad scientist causally determines Bignon, not Stratton, to think correctly.
  • Bignon says he knows this because the mad scientist causally determines him to think this is the case.
  • Conclusion (causally determined by the mad scientist): “therefore, Stratton is wrong!” The mad scientist has CAUSED Stratton to be wrong (too bad for Stratton).

I hope Bignon can see the problem – I at least hope that those following along can see that this is a bad argument.

  • Bottom line: if one affirms that someone or something else exhaustively causes and determines everything one thinks of and about and exactly how one thinks of an about it, and then goes on to affirm that the mad scientist — or God — causes and determines him or her to think correctly and the one who disagrees with him or her to think incorrectly, then that is the epitome of fallaciousness.

48:00

Bignon: “Tim is suggesting that we need arguments to support all of our beliefs – – if that’s the case that’s obviously wrong!”

Fortunately, this is not the case. This is not at all what I suggest (I have argued for properly basic beliefs elsewhere). Bignon really did not do his homework before publicly attacking the FreeThinking Argument.

This is only the case regarding the inference to the best explanation. However, when it comes to rational affirmation – – a different kind of thing – – then *Bignon* will be at a loss to rationally affirm the majority of *his* beliefs. My mad scientist thought experiment demonstrates this with force (or so it seems to me).

48:28

Bignon: “… more generally, *I THINK* it seems clear his misconception comes from a *DESIRE* to affirm the ability to think otherwise…”

That’s quite the Edwardsian statement. After all, on the Edwardsian compatibilist view, we only choose based on one’s greatest desire at a certain time. If this is the case, when it comes to thoughts and beliefs, they are never aimed at truth, but only at our greatest desires at the time of choice. This runs into the same “rationality problems” but for different reasons, that naturalistic evolutionists run into with Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism.

Be that as it may, this has nothing to do with my subjective “desire” but based on logic and rationality. That’s why I’ve offered arguments. On top of that, while I think the ability to think otherwise is vital, it’s even more essential to not have ALL of one’s thoughts causally determined. That is to say source-hood libertarianism is essential. This is what is forcefully demonstrated by my version of the Mad Scientist Thought Experiment.

48:46 — 49:17 

Eli quotes me:

“If one does not possess any ability to think otherwise, at least some of the time, then one is forced to affirm that a current thought cannot be otherwise – – even if it should be! Moreover, if our thoughts cannot be otherwise, then this includes all evaluating and judging thoughts one has regarding their own thoughts and beliefs – – ALL OF THEM! Rational deliberation becomes illusory, and thus, any so-called “knowledge” one supposedly gains via this illusion of rational deliberation is also illusory.”

Bignon responds: “It’s still playing on the equivocation between conditional and categorical abilities.”

Unfortunately, the “condition” here is in the hands of the mad scientist — or God. Bignon, on this odd view, would believe libertarianism is true, if the mad scientist causally determined Bignon’s nature to have a “greatest desire” for libertarianism to be true. As it turns out, the Mad Scientist causally determined Bignon’s nature to have a greater desire for exhaustive determinism.

The FreeThinking Argument is not making this so-called equivocation as Bignon claims.

49:18 — 49:46

Bignon makes it clear“I’m very happy to say that if you are coerced to affirm X – – so that you will believe X no matter what your reasoning tells you, then your belief in X is not warranted!”

Thank you, Guillaume! Amen to that!

This makes my point. If the mad scientist causally determines everything Guillaume Bignon thinks of and about an exactly HOW Bignon thinks of and about it, then “YOUR reasoning” (as Bignon said) does not exist —  it’s illusorry. Thus, on his exhaustive divine deterministic view, Bignon does not reason.

Bignon continues: “… But, God can determine you to believe X through all the right mechanisms…”

That’s irrelevant and misses the point. The mad scientist can do the same thing. The point of my argument – – the point not to be missed – – is that if exhaustive divine determinism is true, Bignon does not reason, and thus, Bignon does not possess “reason-based knowledge.”

Moreover, on Bignon’s view, God causally determines some people – including some of the elect – to hold true beliefs, and other people – including some of the elect – to hold false beliefs. With this odd view in mind, how can Bignon rationally affirm or argue that this deceiving “god” (note the little “g”) has causally determined Bignon to hold correct thoughts and beliefs “through all the right mechanisms” – as opposed to Tim Stratton – without begging the question?

Good luck with that!

Indeed, what does “proper” even mean if everything always happens exactly the way God makes it happen? It seems that even if one is causally determined to hold false beliefs and think they are true, then, in an ultimate sense, it is “proper.”

Finally, replace the mad scientist with “physics and chemistry,” “God,” or anything else and one has the exact same rationality problems but for different reasons. Let me quote epistemologist Kelly Fitzsimmons Burton once again. She aptly notes the following in her book REASON and PROPER FUNCTION:

“Proper function of our cognitive faculties must first rule out the [deterministic] influences of outsiders such as Alpha Centurion, cognitive scientists, Cartesian evil demons, and also internal influences such as a brain lesion or even the influence of mind-altering substances. All of these influences may cause one’s faculties to fail to function properly” (Reason and Proper Function, p 23).

 Indeed, there does not seem to be any “functioning” at all if something or someone else causally determines [directly or indirectly] exactly what one always thinks of and exactly how one always thinks about it.

50:00

Bignon“It’s in a way that you could have [thought and] believed otherwise IF, conditionally, something has been different…”

Bignon says this “conditional” is the key, but he’s wrong. Think about it: on exhaustive divine determinism, the conditional is how God causally determines Bignon to think about and evaluate evidence and arguments. It is not up to Bignon – – God is responsible. God is the conditional on EDD.

Bignon brings up John Martin Fisher’s “reasons responsiveness” view. On this view — combined with exhaustive divine determinism — God causes and determines Bignon’s evaluations and judgments and determines exactly HOW Guillaume thinks about Fisher’s view. So, for example, God causes and determines Bignon to think this view is good, even if it’s actually bad or incorrect.

On exhaustive divine determinism, God could causally determine Bignon and me to think correctly. However, if ALL things are caused and determined by God, then ultimately all incorrect beliefs are caused and determined by God as well — and no one would be in a position to ever evaluate or judge who is right and who is wrong, because even our evaluating thoughts are caused and determined by God.

Bignon raised the point that the evidence of his wife baking bread causes him to believe that his wife baked bread. Sure, although I could press him on this, but let’s focus on non-empirical-based reason. Let us focus on our ability to rationally evaluate metaphysical concepts, ideas, propositions, arguments, policies, thought experiments, etc.

If a mad scientist causes and determine exactly what Bignon thinks of and about… AND exactly how Bignon thinks of and about it… Then Bignon is at an epistemic loss to rationally affirm his beliefs.

51:12

Bignon says he can “turn the heat” on the incompatibilist and charge that one’s belief is arbitrary if it is not causally determined.

That does not seem quite right. After all, are God’s beliefs arbitrary since they are not causally determined by something other than God? Of course not! It stands to reason that if I am created in the “image,” or likeness of God, that I am free to think, reason, and approximate to God’s perfect standard of knowledge (See, How the Soul Provides Freedom).

So, this is a weak tu quoque objection. The determinist might note that on an exhaustive deterministic view, he cannot rationally infer or rationally affirm claims of knowledge, but then retorts: “Oh yeah… well your beliefs are arbitrary… So you have problems too!”

Why think a thing like that? If we are immaterial thinking things — a “soul” in the image of God given the capacity to approximate to God (or not) — then our beliefs are not arbitrary, but based upon reason and rationality. That’s the epitome of proper function.

Consider the Proper Function & Freedom Argument:

1. For any human x, x’s cognitive faculties are designed to function properly in an appropriate environment.

2. For any human x, if x’s cognitive faculties are designed to function properly in an appropriate environment, then, through a mature, conscious process of properly functioning faculties, x can reject irrational thinking in favor of rational thinking.

3. Therefore, for any human x, x can, through a mature, conscious process of properly functioning faculties, reject irrational thinking in favor of rational thinking (entails libertarian freedom).

51:35

Back to the bread illustration, Bignon says: “I smell the bread, but I freely chose to believe no one bake the bread?”

Unfortunately, this misses the point yet again. This is not about “free believing” (at least directly). It’s about free thinking (which can indirectly determine some of our beliefs).

1:56:37

Finally, Eli takes my question during the Q&A and offers it to Bignon. Now he must interact directly with my Mad Scientist Thought Experiment.

At first Guillaume complains that “the mad scientist is not Tim Stratton’s!” However, after Eli reads it to him, he quickly realizes that this particular mad scientist thought experiment is, in fact, unique to me. This thought experiment demonstrates that the libertarian freedom of intentionality is vital:

Suppose a mad scientist exhaustively controls (causally determines) all of Bignon’s thoughts and beliefs all the time. This includes exactly what Bignon thinks of and about and exactly how Bignon thinks of and about it. All of Bignon’s thoughts about his beliefs and all of Bignon’s beliefs about his thoughts are caused and determined by the mad scientist. This also includes the next words that will come out of Bignon’s mouth.

Question: How can Bignon (not the mad scientist) rationally affirm the current beliefs in his head as good, bad, better, the best, true, or probably true (note the range of options from which to choose) without begging the question?

Good luck with that… it is impossible!

Replace the mad scientist with “physics and chemistry,” “God,” or anything else and Bignon has the exact same rationality problems but for different reasons.

After hearing my unique mad scientist thought experiment, Guillaume was faced with the challenge:

“How can YOU – – not the mad scientist – – rationally affirm that your beliefs are true without assuming and begging the question?”

The response: “I stand corrected, it’s not a manipulation argument!”

Well, that’s nice that the Mad Scientist was honest enough to correct Guillaume. However, I want to speak to Guillaume and not the Mad Scientist. I will ask it again:

“How can YOU (Guillaume Bignon) – – not the mad scientist – – rationally affirm (or argue) that your beliefs are true without assuming and begging the question?”

Once again, the mad scientist says… My response, believe it or not, will be the exact same as if it were God…”

I think the proper philosophical response is LOL (I hope Guillaume can take a dose of his own playful sarcasm)!

What does Guillaume mean by my response”? In fact, this cannot be Guillaume Bignon since the mad scientist is the one who is causing and determining everything coming out of the artist formerly known as Guillaume Bignon’s mouth.

Bignon might be causally determined not to see the absurdity here, but I am sure that our listeners who possess libertarian freedom can evaluate EDD as absurd — and reject EDD in favor of libertarianism.

2:00:17 — 2:00:28

The mad scientist continues and says: “the argument is still half baked.” He asks the question: “If the mad scientist determines all of your [thoughts and] beliefs, how could you claim to know anything?”

Not so fast mad scientist! First of all, please set Guillaume free! Second, the FreeThinking Argument is not against “any and all knowledge,” rather, it shows that rationally inferred and affirmed knowledge is impossible. If one spends a few minutes looking at what I have clarified over the past year one would see this fact.

The mad scientist continues: “It depends HOW the mad scientist determines your beliefs!”

Unfortunately, mad scientist, the “HOW” is irrelevant!

First of all, if the mad scientist (or God) causally determines exactly how the artist formerly known as Bignon thinks of and about all things all the time, then the artist formerly known as Bignon stands in no position to rationally affirm that the mad scientist is causally determining him to think correctly about things (as opposed to those whom the mad scientist causally determines to disagree with Bignon).

Second, the fact remains that IF the mad scientist causally determines exactly what one thinks of and about and exactly HOW one thinks of an about it, then one stands in no position to personally evaluate any of his thoughts or beliefs as good, bad, better, the best, true, or false (note the range of options from which to choose).

All one is left with on Bignon’s odd EDD view is assumptions (which cannot be rationally affirmed or argued) – – but these assumptions are not even up to Guillaume for they are also caused and determined (either directly or indirectly) by the mad scientist. I don’t even know where Guillaume went!

Indeed, as William Lane Craig has pointed out: a sense of vertigo is warranted.

Well, it’s too bad Guillaume has been taken captive by the mad scientist. Expect to see his picture on milk cartons soon.

My point has been made via reductio ad absurdum.

Stay reasonable (Isaiah 1:18),

Tim Stratton

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About the Author

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

Tim pursued his undergraduate studies at the University of Nebraska-Kearney (B.A. 1997) and after working in full-time ministry for several years went on to attain his graduate degree from Biola University (M.A. 2014). Tim is currently enrolled at North-West University pursuing his Ph.D. in systematic theology with a focus on metaphysics, history, and biblical data.

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