The Location of Determinism

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

|

March 22, 2021

Question:

Dr. Tim,

The location of determinism, if external, could be seen as warrant to the conclusion that we are “meat puppets”. But why must we accept that determinism is solely through external “forces” beyond our control? First, this assumes control *must* be regulative. But more importantly, why can the location of determinism not be through our agency, or through our wills? In accordance to ourselves? This would be internal and not external.

If qualified as internal determinism, I do not see how humanity would then be at the mercy of “external forces”, and thus become some “passive cog”. This needs to be shown, and not asserted.

– Colton


Tim’s Response: 

Thank you for a thoughtful question, Colton. It is a good question that seems to have a great answer. Let me begin by making it clear: if exhaustive divine determinism (EDD) is true — which is my primary target — then “determinism is solely through external forces beyond our control.” That is to say, everything about YOU (including how “you” guide any sequence of thought or physical action), is ultimately causally determined by God. Hence, the word “exhaustive.” 

If this is not the case, then EDD is false.

I do not merely “assume” control must be regulative. Rather, I argue that one’s guidance control cannot be causally determined via something or someone else for it to make a difference and escape any substantive problems. Thus, if one possesses guidance control (if one is ever the ultimate “guider” of one’s thoughts) then EDD is false (see, Bignon’s Review of Mere Molinism: A Rejoinder).

You asked, “why can the location of determinism not be through our agency, or through our wills? In accordance to ourselves? This would be internal and not external.”

It can be internal, but if we are the source of these things, then we possess libertarian freedom. If God causally determines an individual’s (internal) nature, which in turn causally determines how the agent chooses (the only way things could have been), then God ultimately causally determined the agent’s so-called “choice” (this seems to be metaphysical dominoes). Only if source-hood libertarian freedom is factored into the mix can the human determine anything that actually makes a difference.

You questioned, “If qualified as internal determinism, I do not see how humanity would then be at the mercy of “external forces”, and thus become some “passive cog”. This needs to be shown, and not asserted.”

I have made multiple arguments for my position–some recently–and am quite surprised to see the accusation of “assertion apart from argument” lodged against me. Here is a section from my recent rejoinder (linked above):

… suppose the creator of the universe is a deity of deception or a “god of mischief” (let’s call him Loki), but has “good reasons” for being deceptive and mischievous. He even fine-tuned the initial conditions of the Big Bang to causally determine a life-permitting universe billions of years ago. Next, suppose that Loki created humanity and intelligently designed human cognitive faculties to always function exactly the way Loki “wires” them to function. That is to say, every time a human attains a true belief, that was causally determined by the cognitive faculties which were causally determined to function exactly as Loki “programmed” them to function. (Thank you, Loki!)

But there’s a catch! Loki has exhaustively causally determined all things regarding human cognitive faculties. This means that every time a human affirms a false belief, that was causally determined by the cognitive faculties which were causally determined to function exactly as Loki “programmed” and causally determined them to function. What’s more, Loki’s will (based upon his “morally sufficient reasons”—whatever those might be) is for all humans to possess and affirm false theological beliefs (not to mention false metaphysical beliefs, philosophical beliefs, scientific beliefs, etc.)! In fact, even the humans that Loki causally determines to “believe in him” are causally determined by way of the cognitive faculties (which he fine-tuned and intelligently designed) to affirm false theological beliefs (which is apparent because the “elect” group of Loki followers disagree on many other theological issues).

Bottom line, if an agent is exhaustively (thought, action) causally determined by something or someone else, then as John DePoe has aptly pointed out, agents are rendered to nothing but “passive cogs” at the mercy of some external force. This is easy to grasp if one affirms that something or someone else causally determines exactly what one thinks of and about and (more importantly) exactly how one thinks of and about it. This includes all thoughts, evaluations, and judgements. If these (as well as “our agency” and “our wills”) are all causally determined by Loki, then what exactly is the agent but a passive cog with consciousness (none of which is up to the conscious cog)?

In my paper (linked above) I go into greater detail discussing guidance control, regulative control, reliabilism, and what it means to have an opportunity to exercise one’s ability to infer the best explanation (over false beliefs) — let alone what it takes to rationally affirm claims of knowledge. These things worth wanting do not seem to be available if EDD is true. We seem to need a little bit of limited libertarian freedom factored into the mix (which should be no problem according to the Christian view of the supernatural. Indeed, we ought to welcome it).

Stay reasonable (1 Cor 10:15),

Dr. Tim Stratton 

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About the Author

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

Timothy A. Stratton (PhD, North-West University) is a professor at Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary. As a former youth pastor, he is now devoted to answering deep theological and philosophical questions he first encountered from inquisitive teens in his church youth group. Stratton is founder and president of FreeThinking Ministries, a web-based apologetics ministry. Stratton speaks on church and college campuses around the country and offers regular videos on FreeThinking Ministries’ YouTube channel.

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