I recently had the privilege of meeting the French Calvinist philosopher Guillame Bignon. Although I disagree with Bignon, in my opinion, he offers the best defense of Calvinism today. With that said, however, I wrote an essay critiquing a small portion of Bignon’s recent book. In response to my arguments, Hays quickly wrote a response article objecting to my arguments and defending Bignon.
For my original essay see Excusing Sinners, Blaming God, Compatiblism, & the Consequence Argument. For Hays’s response see The “freethinking” argument.
I will interact with his exact words below. Hays began by quoting me:
“Thus, the Calvinist assumes that the means by which God predestines all that He has decreed is via causal determinism.”
He responded with the following:
i) Since predestination is deterministic, it’s redundant to say the means by which God predestines all that he’s decreed is via causal determinism. That’s like saying God determines everything via determinism.
Au contraire! Hays’s mistake is question-begging. He assumes predestination is equivalent with determinism. However, Molinists have offered a model demonstrating exactly *how* God can predestine all things without violating the libertarian free will of the creature! That is to say, Molinism offers a model of divine predestination which is not fully deterministic. Thus, Hays begs the question (a logical fallacy) in favor of his favorite kind of predestination.
So, what Hays must do is argue and demonstrate exactly how the Molinist model fails — not merely assert that it is no good or assert that “predestination means the same thing as determinism.” That is, unless he is content with basing arguments on logical fallacies.
Stratton denies that predestination is deterministic, but he’s attempting to state what the Calvinist assumes.
Wait! I thought Hays just said that predestination *is* deterministic. Is Hays now denying exhaustive determinism in his next breath? That’s great! But then why does Hays reject my view? That is to say, if I am stating what he already assumes, then he should be praising me instead of arguing against me. This reminds me of Greg Welty’s “Bullet Bill” thought experiment (tu quoque objection to Molinism) in which Welty argues that Molinism is “just as bad” as Calvinism because it still entails a form of determinism. Well, if that’s the case, then why argue so vehemently against Molinism? I think it is because these Calvinists know there is a BIG difference between the two views. Namely, the Molinist Model provides an explanation as to how God can predestine all things while allowing humans to possess libertarian freedom — and genuine responsibility — over some things. Calvinism has no access to these goods.
ii) Moreover, there are no means by which God predestined anything. Rather, there are means by which the decree is implemented. Predestination is not a result of means. Rather, everything happens as a result of the decree.
Again, this is merely an assertion! Hays needs to provide an argument demonstrating why the model of the Molinist does not work. Otherwise he is left begging more questions.
Predestination is God’s plan and resolve for world history. Nothing “causally determined” what God predestined.
Amen to that! This is exactly what the Molinist affirms, argues for, and demonstrates!
Rather, predestination predetermines whatever happens.
That’s an assertion flying in the face of the arguments advanced by Molinists. The burden is now on Hays’s shoulders to not merely assert, but to argue why predestination cannot occur as the Molinist model demonstrates.
iii) It’s unclear what Stratton means by “causal determinism.”
Allow me to clarify: If something — or someone — external to, or other than, person P determines all things about person P, then something other than person P caused all things about person P and determined all things about person P.
If anything — EVER — is up to person P, then P has libertarian free will (LFW) at least occasionally.
According to his definitions, what’s the difference between causing something, determining something, and causally determining something? What does “causal” add to “determine”? What does “determine” add to “causal”?
Well, for example, Molinism provides an explanation as to how God can predestine all things about humans while leaving some things genuinely and ultimately up to humans (appealing to the nature of a human that was not up to the human only sweeps the problem under the rug). I do not think it is accurate to use the word “determine” in this sense, but since Hays (and many others) incorrectly conflate “determinism” with “predestination,” it is helpful to add the word “causal” to “determinism” so that others can see the difference between these incorrectly conflated terms.
iv) How does Stratton define causation?
3. anything cause.
In a nutshell, if X makes Y do Z, then X caused Y to do Z. If Y is not caused by X to do Z, but chooses to do Z anyway, then Y possesses libertarian freedom.
Hays quoted me:
“This claim is quite significant. In fact, I believe it is a game-changer! Since Bignon affirms that determinism and libertarian free will are logically incompatible and mutually exclusive concepts, then it follows that if one of these concepts is true, then the other is necessarily false. Since Bignon affirms compatibilism, he also affirms that divine determinism is true and that nothing is un-determined by God and yet — somehow — we are still responsible.
By Bignon’s own admission, libertarian free will is incompatible with determinism. Also, his view of compatibilism entails that moral responsibility is compatible with determinism. Although I disagree, the salient point here is that Bignon affirms that determinism is true!”
Stratton acts as if that’s a damaging admission or “game-changer”, when in fact it’s just definitional. Determinism and libertarian freewill are typically defined as contrary positions.
Hays misses the bigger picture and does not include the vital following sentence for proper context. Examine my words in full:
“By Bignon’s own admission, libertarian free will is incompatible with determinism. Also, his view of compatibilism entails that moral responsibility is compatible with determinism. Although I disagree, the salient point here is that Bignon affirms that determinism is true! With this in mind, all one must do is provide an argument concluding that libertarian free will exists or that God does not causally determine all things all the time. I have offered two arguments which seem to succeed in accomplishing this task. Therefore, Bignon (and all rational Christians) should freely choose to reject this Calvinistic view of compatibilism.”
With the proper context in mind it is clear that I simply pointed out what logically follows from Bignon’s own words. I offered two arguments deductively concluding determinism to be false. With these arguments in mind, and the fact that Bignon has affirmed that Peter van Inwagen’s Consequence Argument is successful in demonstrating that determinism is not compatible with LFW, and compatibilism entails determinism, I offered the following:
1- If Compatibilism is true, then determinism is true.
2- If determinism is true, then LFW is false.
3- If LFW is true, then compatibilism is false.
4- LFW is true (as demonstrated in the two arguments I offered).
5- Compatibilism is false.
Hays’s deletion of important sentences leads to an attack of a straw man and not my actual argument. Now he switches gears to interact with the supporting arguments I provided. He began with the Omni Argument:
1. If irresistible grace (the “I” of T.U.L.I.P.) is true, then for any person x, if God desires to, has the power to, and knows how to cause x to go to Heaven and not suffer eternally in Hell, then x will go to Heaven and not suffer eternally in Hell.
2. If God is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient, then for any person x, God desires to, has the power to, and knows how to cause x to go to Heaven and not suffer eternally in Hell.
3. There is at least one person who will not go to Heaven and suffers eternally in Hell.
4. Therefore, one cannot affirm both (i) that irresistible grace is true and (ii) that God is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient (a maximally great being).
5. God is a maximally great being.
6. Therefore, irresistible grace is false.
7. Therefore, divine determinism is false (God does not causally determine all things).
9. Therefore, predestination and determinism are not to be conflated.
10. The inference to the best explanation/interpretation of all the data is Molinism.
Regarding premise (1):
That’s ambiguous. For instance, God can’t save the future John Zebedee if he saves everyone (in this life) prior to John Zebedee, because John Zebedee won’t exist in a future with a different past. That past won’t lead up to John Zebedee, but to an alternate future.
Allow me to clarify: “Any person x” in the first premise refers to a person who actually exists — not merely a person who could, would, or will exist. With this in mind, and if salvation (of those who actually exist) is attained via irresistible grace, then the first premise can be restated without any problem: If any person (x) actually exists, then, for any person x, if God desires to, has the power to, and knows how to cause x to go to Heaven and not suffer eternally in Hell, then x will go to Heaven and not suffer eternally in Hell.
Premise one continues to stand strong!
Regarding premise (2):
i) I don’t know what Stratton means by “omnibenevolence”. To assert that God would not be good unless he desires to save every evildoer he’s capable of saving begs the question.
Since Hays does not understand what is meant by “omnibenevolence” perhaps he should not jump to conclusions about what I may or may not “assert” lest he attack a straw man. Which is, by the way, exactly what he did! I do not purport what Hays attacks. He should read the essays I have written on this important attribute of God. It can be found hyperlinked in my article but one can also read it here: (See The Omnibenevolence of God).
To be clear, by “omnibenevolence” I am focusing on the fact that God loves ALL people. Several “anti-Molinists” have objected to the deductive conclusions of the Omni Argument by asserting that one of the premises in the syllogism is false. Namely, that although an omnipotent God would have the power to grant all people irresistible grace, and an omniscient God would know how to get irresistible grace to all people, it is not the case that an omnibenevolent and perfectly loving God would desire the best for all people. Calvinists contend that God can be said to be omnibenevolent yet still not desire all people to have eternal fellowship with Him, nor want all people to avoid infinite suffering in hell.
Jerry Walls makes a great case against Calvinism and quotes the Calvinist, Arthur Pink to make his point. Walls states that Pink “bites the bullet” and admits the Calvinistic view of God entails that God is not omnibenevolent and that God does not love all people. Walls encourages all Calvinists to come clean and be as honest as Pink: https://youtu.be/Daomzm3nyIg (46:20).
To add clarification consider the absurdity of the following claims:
“I can’t believe how much I love my wife; I hope she burns in hell for all eternity!”
“I really love my daughter, I hope she has an awesome marriage with a big family, and finds true happiness on this earth — then I hope she suffers in the eternal fires of hell into the infinite future!”
These are absurd statements because it is intuitively obvious (and a properly basic belief) that if one truly loves another, then one desires and hopes the best for the one they love.
ii) Apropos (i), is Stratton attempting to refute Calvinism on its own grounds or on his grounds? Is he attempting to show that Calvinism is internally inconsistent, or that it’s inconsistent with his own assumptions?
To be clear, I only argue for this much: if one affirms both that (i) irresistible grace is true AND (ii) that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent (a maximally great being), then this particular view is internally incoherent. If a Calvinist affirms all of the above, then the Calvinist in question is confused. If the Calvinist position necessarily entails all of the above, then Calvinism is incoherent.
Calvinism doesn’t grant that God isn’t good unless God desires to save all the wicked.
I never made that argument! I encourage Hays to interact with my *exact* words and not straw men. My argument focuses on the perfect LOVE of God and not what may or may not be “good.” (See Does an Objective Moral Compass Point to God?)
If Stratton is assuming his own viewpoint, then it’s incumbent on him to argue for his assumptions before he argues from his assumptions.
Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! Be that as it may, I have argued for my positions on my website (and soon-to-be-published journal articles). I offered a few hyperlinks in the essay Hays is responding to and more are in this response article.
Moreover, it’s not a given, even on freewill theist assumptions, that God isn’t good unless God desires to save every evildoer.
Again, this is NOT my argument! I do not argue that “God is not good,” on this view; rather, I argue that God does not genuinely love those whom he desires not to save from the eternal fires of hell (although He could)! The difference is subtle, but vital! Since Hays fails to grasp this important distinction, he attacks a straw man.
Hays continues to attack this straw man:
A good God is a just God. A just God is suppose to punish evildoers.
Not only does my argument say nothing about “a good God,” but infinite justice was accomplished via the atoning work of Christ! To quote two common hymns: “The Cross was enough” and “Jesus paid it all!” God salvation of the elect is not Jesus PLUS the majority of humanity suffering in hell for eternity! No, it is ONLY Jesus and Jesus alone (See The Petals Drop: Piper’s Problems)!
God is merciful to some evildoers in spite of what they deserve.
Yep, and although He has the power to be merciful to all people (and He knows how to be merciful to all people), God must not desire the best for all people — even though the Cross of Christ made the best for all people possible to achieve. That is to say, at least if irresistible grace is the manner in which people are saved.
Moreover, lest another straw man be attacked, my argument says nothing about what humans may or may not “deserve” (See Wonder Woman & Theology).
iii) Furthermore, Stratton assumes that libertarian freewill is consistent with divine omniscience, but that’s highly contested, even by many eminent freewill theists.
I don’t know if Hays is agreeing with the “many eminent freewill theists” in which he is referring, but if he is, then he and these folks at least tacitly affirm that God is not always omnipotent or omniscient. That is to say, they must affirm that a state of affairs pertained in which God is not maximally great (See Playing the Cards God’s Been Dealt)!
Regarding premise (8):
If predestination is indeterministic, then what does predestination effect or affect? What’s the difference between indeterministic predestination and no predestination?
The difference is simple but significant! On indeterministic predestination God knows He has the power (given God’s omnipotence) to create libertarian free creatures who have the ability to make choices that God does not always determine or “make happen.” Given God’s omniscience, God knows how these libertarian creatures (which He has the power to create) would freely choose if He were to create them — even if God chooses not to create them! Thus, if God possesses this power and knowledge, then God can create a world in which He knows how creatures would freely choose. That’s Molinism in a nutshell!
It follows that God creates a world in which all is predestined to occur exactly as it freely does occur without God pulling any “supernatural” causal strings. The libertarian freedom of the creature is not violated on this view in any manner. Some things are genuinely “up to us.” God simply knows logically prior to creating us what would be up to us.
In contrast consider “deterministic predestination.” On this view, God makes all things happen (directly or indirectly) one way or another. Nothing is ultimately up to us. Rather, all human thoughts, actions, beliefs, and behaviors are caused, determined, or brought about by God and God alone.
In a nutshell, the significant difference is that on indeterministic exhaustive predestination, God creates a world in which He perfectly knows how we would freely choose in a libertarian sense. On deterministic exhaustive predestination, there is no libertarian sense or “up-to-usness.”
Hays shifts his sights to my favorite topic:
The Freethinking argument
1- If humans do not possess libertarian free will, then humans do not possess the ability to gain knowledge via the process of rationality.
2- Humans do possess the ability to gain knowledge via the process of rationality.
3- Humans possess libertarian free will.
Regarding (1), is Stratton assuming that a “process of rationality” is the only way to gain knowledge, and libertarian freewill is a prerequisite?
Nope! If Hays would have taken a little time to research my prior work (instead of trying to respond so quickly) he would have been able to see that this is not my assumption and that I have *argued* for my positions at length on the FreeThinking Ministries website. The kind of knowledge I am specifically arguing for is what the premise specifically states. I am focused on the knowledge gained via the process of rationality (rationally inferred knowledge).
Given the fact that Hays does not interact with the premise as it is specifically stated, he jumps to conclusions and spends time attacking straw men instead of the argument. For example, he says,
If so, what about adaptive behavior in animals? What about the ability of lab rats to learn from experience? Did they gain knowledge by a “process of rationality”? Do they have libertarian freedom?
Since this is not what the premise states, his “if so” comment is irrelevant. With that said, experiential knowledge and inferential knowledge are vastly different.
Hays refers to my quotation from John Searle:
“Actions are rationally assessable if and only if the actions are free. The reason for the connection is this: rationality must be able to make a difference. Rationality is possible only where there is a genuine choice between various rational and irrational courses of action . . . If the act is completely determined then rationality can make no difference. It doesn’t even come into play…” (Rationality in Action:2001:202)
Hays asserts several problems:
i) Searle’s contention poses a false dichotomy. Determinism doesn’t imply that choice is independent of reason and evidence. Why can’t determinism operate through reason and evidence as a necessary means?
Here’s what Hays seems to be determined to miss: if all thoughts and beliefs are determined via an external cause, then no thought or belief is genuinely “up to” the thing Hays calls “I”. No, all of his thoughts and beliefs are ultimately determined by something or someone other than Hays. Hays has no ability — EVER — to think otherwise about anything. Moreover, all of Hays’s judgements, evaluations, and weighing of propositions and other data is not up to him but something external to him. Because of this, Hays stands in no epistemic position to know if Calvinistic compatibilism really is the inference to the best explanation — he can only assume it! But assuming one’s beliefs to be true is not an argument that they are true. No, this is the fallacy of question-begging and does not ground knowledge claims (See The Vanishing “I”).
Why can’t evidence be rationally compelling? Why can’t an agent be determined to find the most reasonable choice the most appealing choice?
If God determines one’s thoughts and beliefs about ALL things then evidence is irrelevant. It does not matter how good the evidence or arguments are for Molinism; if God has already determined Hays to be a Calvinist — and he has no ability to think otherwise — then Hays is forced to believe Calvinism is true even if it is really false! He has no way to KNOW if his determined thoughts are any good or if his beliefs about his thoughts or his thoughts about his beliefs are good, bad, better, worse, or true. None of them are up to him and they are all determined by things other than Hays. This includes the very thought Hays has right now regarding my statements!
A sense of vertigo is warranted!
Moreover, if causal determinism is true, Hays does not really ever make a genuine choice. That is to say, “choice” is illusory or “in name only” on his view. Given the definition offered above regarding cause and effect, his so called “choice” is better referred to as an “effect.”
Rationality comes into play by sifting evidence or mentally comparing and contrasting hypothetical courses of action, for their respective advantages and disadvantages.
Right, but if God or something else other than Hays determines all things all the time, then this “sifting” or “mentally comparing” is also not up to Hays! God would be determining exactly how Hays thinks about these things and also how the one who disagrees with him thinks about these things. God would be forcing some people to believe false propositions. If this view is true, no one stands in a position to know if they are one of the individuals that God is forcing to think and believe incorrectly (or not)! Again, we would only be left with question-begging assumptions.
Why can’t determinism use a process of deliberation?
Because on determinism how one considers, evaluates, judges, or weighs evidence or arguments is not up to him but caused and determined by something other than the person in question. For more regarding what it means to “rationally deliberate” see Can We Choose Our Beliefs?
An agent isn’t choosing in spite of the evidence but because of the evidence.
Not really! On exhaustive divine determinism, an “agent” (if he is worthy of the label on this view) is supposedly “choosing” based on how God determines him to think about the evidence. That is to say, if all things about the agent are determined by things other than the agent, then this includes all of the agents thoughts and beliefs (including his thoughts about his beliefs and his beliefs about his thoughts).
Why can’t he be determined to recognize the facts or recognize a logical rationale?
God can determine some to possess true beliefs. The point that I am making is that if exhaustive divine determinism is true, then you lose any justification to think your determined thoughts and beliefs are any better (let alone true) than the next guy who God causally determined to disagree with you. You can only assume God has forced you to think correctly and your interlocutor to believe falsely. The problem is that question-begging assumptions do not ground inferential knowledge even if one’s beliefs happen to be true.
ii) Apropos (i), if reasons can’t be determinative, then choices are irrational.
That is not only false (as noted above) but completely absurd! If God created human beings in his likeness (Genesis 1:26-27), then we would be immaterial minds (souls) who were free to think. That is to say, when humans engage in free and rational thinking, then we approximate to God’s perfect standard of knowledge (which He desires ALL people to possess (1 Timothy 2:4).
Computers and calculators do not possess libertarian freedom, but they also do not possess inferential knowledge or any justification for what is determined to display on the screen. They do, however, reflect the programing of the programmer, but as John Searle argued, the machine does not possess this kind of knowledge (See Robots & Rationality and Freethinking in a Chinese Room).
Put another way, if choices are caused by rational determinants, rational considerations, then isn’t that the definition of rational choice?
Again, if something other than Hays determines all things about Hays, then the “considerations” of Hays are not up to Hays (See A Revised Freethinking Argument)! It stands to reason that Hays does not stand in an epistemic position to know if his question is rational in the first place. His question is not even “up to him.”
Conversely, if choices aren’t rationally compelling, if reasons are at best one factor in choice, but the agent is free to disregard reason and evidence when making a choice, then isn’t that the definition of irrational choice? It’s libertarian freedom that makes choice independent of reason.
No, it is libertarian freedom which allows one to take their thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) before bad thinking takes them captive (Colossians 2:8). When we fail to use our freedom to think correctly we sin and get stupid! God’s revelation allows free thinkers to not remain in our sin and stupidity. Now we have an option to think freely and make correct conclusions (or not).
iii) What about coin-flipping in sports? The coin toss is nonrational. There are two (statistically) equiprobable outcomes. The outcome is physically determinate (given specific antecedent conditions). Yet that makes a difference.
This is irrelevant and not worthy of a response!
iv) Keep in mind that there are different kinds of determinism. Naturalistic evolutionary psychology undermines rationality because the determinants are mindless. The “blind watchmaker”. But that’s hardly equivalent to predestination, where God’s wise plan is the ultimate determinant.
It is interesting that Hays switches out the word determinism for “predestination” in the above paragraph. Of course I agree that naturalistic determinism is not equivalent to predestination. That is NOT what I have argued for (again, Hays sets up a straw man to attack). With that said, however, if all things about Hays are either determined via physics and chemistry or God, then Hays loses epistemic ground to know if his determined thoughts are any good — let alone true (See I Think Therefore I Am and The Vanishing “I”).
Hays ends with a link to another article from Bignon:
v) Bignon already responded to this general objection:
The problem, however, is that the links to my other articles/arguments I have already provided in this response demonstrate that Bignon’s assertions do not pass.
Stay reasonable (Isaiah 1:18),