June 25, 2015

Freedom vs. Theological Determinism

APOLOGIA
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, June 25, 2015

Freedom vs. Theological Determinism

Do we have freedom of the will? That is, do we have what philosophers call metaphysical libertarian freedom? Or are our decisions and actions wholly determined by God? My answer: people have metaphysical libertarian freedom (MLF), at least to some significant extent.

MLF means that I am an intelligent causal agent. On this view, the cause of my action originates with, i.e., is produced and initiated by, me. Whether a particular action occurs is up to me. I have the power to do otherwise. Philosopher Robert P. George characterizes MLF as "the power of an agent to cause what the agent is not caused to cause."

Why believe MLF is true? Last time I set out four secular arguments. I'll review those arguments briefly. Then I'll set out some theological/ biblical arguments. (Note: I have the Christian idea of God in mind here.)

First, my intuition (i.e., my raw non-inferential experience in everyday life) is such that I sometimes do in fact initiate an action. I know this. This counts in favour of MLF.

Second, my experience of deliberation (i.e., goal-oriented contemplation concerning which of two or more future courses of action I should choose) makes good sense on the assumption that doing alternative A and doing alternative B are each within my power to do. This counts in favour of MLF, too.

Third, making sense of the reality of moral judgment and moral obligation (i.e., that I ought to do X) implies free agency/ MLF.

Fourth, if MLF is false, then I am a robot (determined) or a mere spasm (undetermined/ random), but I know I am neither.

Thus, we have four good secular reasons for thinking MLF is true.

In addition, we also have several good theological/ biblical reasons.

First, God commands people to obey the moral law. Significantly, obedience presupposes freedom to choose.

Second, God exhorts people to choose life, and choosing presupposes freedom.

Third, Scripture exhorts us not to grieve the Holy Spirit, and such grieving (resisting) presupposes freedom.

Fourth, if God is good (as Scriptures teach), but God wholly determines all choices, then evil is wholly due to God, which means God isn't good—so God's goodness implies human freedom.

Fifth, Scriptures teach that God is love, that humans are made in God's image, and that we should love God and love each other—but love implies freedom of choice. Without free will we are mere puppets or robots, not beings who can love.

At this juncture, one might object that the biblical doctrines concerning God's sovereignty, God's foreknowledge, and God's predestination of humans preclude human free will. These are important counter-considerations, and I admit that I don't have a complete answer.

Nonetheless, the above-outlined pro-MLF biblical evidence coupled with the above-outlined pro-MLF secular arguments continue to point to MLF. Also, the force of the apparently anti-MLF biblical doctrines can be weakened.

It seems that a sovereign God could allow creatures to have freedom yet retain His sovereignty. If, say, Arnold Swarzenegger allows me to choose to lift weights at his gym, surely my lifting some weights at his gym does not impinge on Arnold's superior strength. Similarly, God allowing me to choose doesn't impinge on God's superiority.

What about God's foreknowledge? Doesn't God's foreknowing that I will eat pizza tomorrow mean I must eat pizza tomorrow? I think not. Even though God foreknows what I'll eat tomorrow, God's foreknowledge is based on my future choice. (Here I take the view known as "middle knowledge" defended by contemporary philosopher William Lane Craig.)

I realize that divine sovereignty, foreknowledge, and predestination (which I haven't discussed due to space limitations) are difficult to reconcile with MLF.

Nevertheless, the secular and biblical evidence that favours MLF remains, and there seems to be a preponderance of such evidence over evidence to the contrary.

We are made in God's image. Significantly, God calls us to choose (and live in accordance with) life, truth, and goodness.


(Hendrik van der Breggen teaches philosophy at Providence University College.)

June 11, 2015

Metaphysical libertarian freedom


APOLOGIA
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, June 11, 2015

Metaphysical libertarian freedom

Do we have freedom of the will? That is, do we have what philosophers call metaphysical libertarian freedom (not to be confused with political libertarianism)? Or are our decisions and actions wholly determined by causes arising from our biological-chemical-genetic nature coupled with the nurture of social environment? My answer: people have metaphysical libertarian freedom (MLF), at least to some significant extent.

Today I will make a secular philosophical case for MLF (next time I'll provide a theological case). I'll define MLF, then contrast it with determinism, then set out four brief arguments—a cumulative case argument—for MLF.

MLF means that I am an intelligent causal agent. On this view, the cause of my action originates with, i.e., is produced and initiated by, me. Whether a particular action occurs is up to me. I have the power to do otherwise. Philosopher Robert P. George characterizes MLF as "the power of an agent to cause what the agent is not caused to cause."

In contrast, determinism says all my desires and choices to act are effects wholly necessitated (as opposed to merely influenced) by a set of preceding causes. On this view, "freedom" means merely that our actions result unhindered from our wants and desires, which are wholly caused by nature and nurture. Theoretically, I could do otherwise, if I wanted to. But my wants are wholly determined and are what they are, and I must dance to their tune. So, in fact, I couldn't do otherwise.

Why believe MLF? Here are four arguments.

1. Our intuition that we are sometimes free agents counts in favour of MLF. My raw non-inferential experience in everyday life is such that I sometimes do in fact initiate an action.

Try this simple experiment. Hold out your index finger. Now realize that you can move your finger either to the right, to the left, up, or down. Now move it in one of these directions. The movement of your finger one way or the other is up to you. And you intuit—know—this.

But isn't it possible that the intuition is illusory? Maybe there are unnoticed causes at work?

Reply: Yes, it's possible. We can imagine that the intuition is illusory. But keep in mind that mere possibility is not plausibility and that to imagine a doubt is not to really doubt. Also, there are more arguments.

2. Our experience of deliberation counts in favour of MLF, too. Goal-oriented contemplation concerning which of two (or more) future courses of action we should choose makes good sense on the assumption that doing alternative A and doing alternative B are each within my power to do. I can weigh pros and cons—and still pick either alternative.

Philosopher Richard Taylor observes, "I deliberate in order to decide what to do, not to discover what it is that I am going to do."

3. The reality of moral judgment and moral obligation also counts in favour of MLF.

Philosopher Peter van Inwagen: "The judgment that [morally] you shouldn't have done X implies that you should have done something else instead; that you should have done something else instead implies that there was something else for you to do; that there was something else for you to do implies that you could have done something else; that you could have done something else implies that you have [metaphysical libertarian] free will."

Philosopher Lois Hope Walker adds: "It simply makes no sense to say that I have an obligation to do something that I do not have the power to do."

4. Lastly, if MLF is false, then you are a robot (determined) or a mere spasm (undetermined/ random). But you know you are neither.

Thus, we have good reasons for thinking metaphysical libertarian freedom is true.

In a world generally governed by laws of nature, we are odd and mysterious creatures. Nonetheless, wisdom calls us to choose (and live in accordance with) life, truth, goodness, and beauty.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University College.) 

May 28, 2015

Attempts at humour

APOLOGIA
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, May 28, 2015

Attempts at humour

"A cheerful heart is good medicine." Proverbs 17:2.

Laughter is good for the soul. I hope your soul be blessed with the following attempts at humour. Note/ confession: some of what follows are my own creations, but many are plagiarized, uh, I mean, borrowed.

René Descartes (the philosopher famous for "I think therefore I am"; Latin cogito ergo sum) walks into a bar and drinks a beer. The bartender asks, "Are you going to have another beer?" Descartes answers "I don't think I am" and—poof!—Descartes disappears.

A young philosopher sold his treasured pony to continue his studies, thus showing that he did indeed put Descartes before the horse.

What did the potato say? I think therefore I yam (cogito ergo spud).

What would Captain Highliner study if he were a philosopher? Metaphyshsticks.

What would Captain Highliner's great insight be if he were a philosopher? Codgito ergo filet-o-fish.

(The following joke is intended to humble those arrogant know-it-alls who presume to have god-like knowledge; no offense is intended to those suffering from mental illness.) A man is in an insane asylum, standing at attention, with his hand slipped into his shirt at his chest. A doctor takes notice and asks, "Who do you think you are?" The man with the hand in his shirt looks annoyed and replies, "Napoleon, that's who I am!" At this the doctor asks, "Why do you think this?" The man with the hand in his shirt replies, "God told me!" At this point another man from across the room shouts, "I did not!"

What does a dyslexic agnostic insomniac do? He stays awake all night wondering about the existence of dog.

Did you hear about the dyslexic Rabbi? He walks around saying "Yo."

A dyslexic walks into a bra…. (Badum-tish!)

What is Sacramento? It's the stuffing in a Catholic olive.

What do you get if you cross a cow with an octopus? A sternly worded letter from the Research Ethics Committee.

The problem with German food is that a half hour after you eat, you're hungry for power. The problem with Canadian food is that a half hour after you eat, you want to apologize for telling the joke about the German food.

Jean-Paul Sartre is sitting in a Café. He says to the waitress, "I'd like a coffee, no cream please." The waitress replies, "I'm sorry we are out of cream. How about a coffee with no milk?"

Customer in a restaurant: "How do you prepare your chickens?" Cook: "Nothing out of the ordinary, we just tell them they're going to die."

What do you call a carpenter who only works with one kind of wood? Mahoganous 

What do you call a soldier who wears multiple bullet-proof vests? A polyarmourist.

What do you call a man from Utah who has multiple firearms? A polygunist.

Shelfish (adjective): persistent longing for more bookshelves; shelf-centered; hazard for readers in general and for academics in particular.

How much does it cost a pirate to get his ears pierced? A buccaneer.

What do philosophers add to bath water? Epsomology salt.

Question for a toddler: peepee or poopoo? Answer: when the exclusive "or" is used (i.e., "or" means one or the other but not both), this is a false diaperchotomy.

Last night I wondered if I am Jason Bourne and have forgotten that I'm Jason Bourne. And why is this movie about me?

When I was a baby I thought I heard God say, "You will become a comedian." Turns out I misheard. He actually said "Canadian."

Have a happy day, eh!

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College.)

For further reading: 
  • Ted Cohen, Jokes: Philosophical Thoughts on Joking Matters (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999).
  • Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein, Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar… Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes (New York: Abrams Image, 2007).