Monday, July 5, 2010

William Lane Craig on the Self Defeating Nature of Determinism

From http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=8111

Universal causal determinism cannot be rationally affirmed. There is a sort of dizzying, self-defeating character to determinism. For if one comes to believe that determinism is true, one has to believe that the reason he has come to believe it is simply that he was determined to do so. One has not in fact been able to weigh the arguments pro and con and freely make up one’s mind on that basis. The difference between the person who weighs the arguments for determinism and rejects them and the person who weighs them and accepts them is wholly that one was determined by causal factors outside himself to believe and the other not to believe. When you come to realize that your decision to believe in determinism was itself determined and that even your present realization of that fact right now is likewise determined, a sort of vertigo sets in, for everything that you think, even this very thought itself, is outside your control. Determinism could be true; but it is very hard to see how it could ever be rationally affirmed, since its affirmation undermines the rationality of its affirmation (emphasis his).

34 comments:

SLW said...

That self-defeating quality in determinism goes hand in hand with the supposed assurance offered in Peserverance--one ends up doubting his present experience because he can't be sure of whether or not what he is experiencing will in fact prove to be actual. A fatalistic booby trap for sure!

Skeptical Rationalist said...

Is Dr Craig referring to naturalistic determinism or is it in the context of the larger question regarding Calvinism and divine predestination?

If it's the latter, then I think his statement makes more sense. If he's going after naturalistic determinism, it's a bit of a strawman.

Steven said...

It's a terrible point no matter who he is arguing against.

Skeptical Rationalist said...

Slightly less terrible against a theistic version.

bossmanham said...

In this instance, it's theistic determinism, though I'm not sure why it would matter which it was. Either way it seems that rational thought is illusory.

Steven said...

SR:

I don't see why it is suddenly a better argument against the theistic determinist. The problem with his argument is neutral on the issue of theological/naturalistic determinism.

He says: "One has not in fact been able to weigh the arguments pro and con and freely make up one’s mind on that basis."

(i) It's question begging to just say that determinism is incompatible with freedom in this context.

(ii) Why suppose that rational belief requires this?

Anyway, I posted a reply to this on my blog. It's a dumb argument.

bossmanham said...

(i) It's question begging to just say that determinism is incompatible with freedom in this context.

That isn't the argument. I'm not sure if Craig even means this as an argument, unless he mean it as a reductio ad absrurdum.

(ii) Why suppose that rational belief requires this?

Because rational inquiry is a process of weighing evidence and arguments in pursuit of some conclusion. If determinism is true, then every aspect of this process is necessary from the last. Every piece of evidence you consider is determined, every thought is determined, every neuron that fires is determined. You're not really reasoning, but rather a mechanistic process is taking place or someone is reasoning for you. Therefore, when someone reasons fallaciously, they just can't help it.

Steven said...

"Because rational inquiry is a process of weighing evidence and arguments in pursuit of some conclusion. If determinism is true, then every aspect of this process is necessary from the last. Every piece of evidence you consider is determined, every thought is determined, every neuron that fires is determined. You're not really reasoning, but rather a mechanistic process is taking place or someone is reasoning for you. Therefore, when someone reasons fallaciously, they just can't help it."

(i) I don't understand why libertarians think that if determinism, we don't really "do" anything. We don't really make choices, we don't really reason, we don't really "eat" apples, etc. This is beyond dumb. There is no way our everyday language is so philosophically laden as to assume indeterminism (and then, not only that, but some specific brand of libertarianism). I don't believe it.

(ii) You said at first that rational inquiry is "a process of weighing evidence and arguments in pursuit of some conclusion." But why is this inconsistent with determinism? So what if every neuron that fires was determined to do so? Are you suddenly not weighing reasons if you were determined to do it?

bossmanham said...

I don't understand why libertarians think that if determinism, we don't really "do" anything.

In an ultimate sense, we don't. Rather someone is doing things through us or a set of prior events is. The agent actually making decisions is other than us.



Well no one said you had to, but you were determined to say that. You couldn't believe it on your view. It's not just a decision your making, rather events that transpired at the big bang, or a separate agent, have determined what you will do, including the choice you just made.

Plus, it's personal incredulity I see here.

But why is this inconsistent with determinism? So what if every neuron that fires was determined to do so? Are you suddenly not weighing reasons if you were determined to do it?

Well it's inappropriate to say that you're weighing the reasons, because that assumes that the weight is neutral. The weight is already placed on determinism. There isn't an actual consideration being made. Even a fallacious process of reasoning is just another lawlike occurrence that had to happen.

I don't see why we should call people out (other than we're determined to do so) if they reason fallaciously on that view. The reason we call people out on something like that, or breaking a law, is that we think they should not have reasoned that way or broken that law; which seems to assume that they had the ability to act in a way that accords with the proper method of acting.

Steven said...

"In an ultimate sense, we don't. Rather someone is doing things through us or a set of prior events is. The agent actually making decisions is other than us."

Of course, if someone is doing things through us, that implies we are doing things. If we weren't doing anything, nothing could get done through us.

"Well no one said you had to, but you were determined to say that. You couldn't believe it on your view. It's not just a decision your making, rather events that transpired at the big bang, or a separate agent, have determined what you will do, including the choice you just made."

I don't agree with your definition of decision, so I don't agree with what you've said.

"Plus, it's personal incredulity I see here."

Personal incredulity that is good and proper. What if I started saying the definition of "choose" required determinism? Would your personal incredulity be misplaced?

"Well it's inappropriate to say that you're weighing the reasons, because that assumes that the weight is neutral. The weight is already placed on determinism. There isn't an actual consideration being made."

What more could there be, plausibly, to weighing and considering reasons besides mental events? It seems to me all there is to weighing reasons is being in certain mental states over a period of time. Why should there be anything more than that?

"Even a fallacious process of reasoning is just another lawlike occurrence that had to happen."

I don't necessarily hold to that view of the laws of nature, so I don't believe this.

"I don't see why we should call people out (other than we're determined to do so) if they reason fallaciously on that view. The reason we call people out on something like that, or breaking a law, is that we think they should not have reasoned that way or broken that law; which seems to assume that they had the ability to act in a way that accords with the proper method of acting."

I don't agree that the fact that they should have reasoned properly (or, more broadly, done A) implies that they could have reasoned properly (or, more broadly, done A). I point to Frankfurt cases as a defense of this.

Steven said...

I misread your second paragraph. Scratch the "I don't agree with your definition of decision, so I don't agree with what you've said".

(i) You admit people make choices and decisions on determinism.

(ii) I agree with what you said.

Skeptical Rationalist said...

I don't see why it is suddenly a better argument against the theistic determinist.

I don't know if I'd say "better," but in a theistic paradigm there theoretically is someone doing the determining, which makes WLC's argument somewhat less of a strawman, but still a strawman, with shades of Argument from Incredulity. I don't think he actually supports his point, that determinism is self-defeating.

bossmanham said...

SR,

You're not using "straw man" in the correct sense here. A straw man is when someone argues against a point that the other party doesn't even hold to while acting as if they had refuted the argument. If Craig's statement is fallacious here, it's not the straw man. People actually do hold to determinism.

bossmanham said...

I point to Frankfurt cases as a defense of this.

Frankfurt cases don't seem to be relevant in deciding whether someone should do something. Furthermore, I don't think they're successful in showing that someone would be responsible for what they did if they made a choice that the determiner wouldn't allow. Free will exists if one choice is made, free will is stripped if the other choice is made.

Skeptical Rationalist said...

He oversimplifies to the point of being misleading and not correctly representing his subject matter. It applies. Just because he calls it "determinism" doesn't mean it's not a caricature.

bossmanham said...

He oversimplifies to the point of being misleading and not correctly representing his subject matter.

How? All he's doing is describing the logical outcome, as he sees it, of the view that all our choices are determined.

Anthony Flew pretty much thought the same thing.

Steven said...

"Frankfurt cases don't seem to be relevant in deciding whether someone should do something. Furthermore, I don't think they're successful in showing that someone would be responsible for what they did if they made a choice that the determiner wouldn't allow. Free will exists if one choice is made, free will is stripped if the other choice is made."

(i) My appeal to Frankfurt cases is to prove ought doesn't imply can; not prove that the agent ought to do one thing or another.

(ii) The point in the Frankfurt cases is that the agent's act is free and responsible except he has no AP. Suppose God is the Frankfurt controller and he wants Adam to A at t. He decides that if Adam will decide not to A at t, then he'll causally determine ahead of time Adam to A. If he knows Adam will A at t, he doesn't do anything. It is not possible that Adam A, yet his choice seems perfectly free and responsible.

Steven said...
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Skeptical Rationalist said...

Let me put it in terms of a different metaphor. I'm a subscriber to a podcast called "Reasonable Doubts" which recently did a series of shows on determinism. This is in response to question which equated determinism to a line of dominoes, which includes a part of the debate which someone posted to their forums.

“ ‘Perhaps an analogy they might better understand would be dominoes of varying shapes and sizes, which offer reactions which affect the next domino in sequence, whether or not it's pushed over. Imagine that there are hundreds of lines of these dominoes, all intertwined in ways which would defy our understanding of gravity (but ignore that, that's just a limitation of the analogy.) When one domino strikes another, the angle at which it strikes, the weight of the dominoes in question, their sizes all come into account. That's the decision-making process. All things being equal, there's no question that a particular domino will fall or not fall, but it's the result of a cumulative process in which extremely complex factors were intertwined.’

“… I would add to it that you would also have the dominoes set up that at any time a person or the environment could stop one row of dominoes, and could trigger another row. Sometimes you would have different rows of dominoes racing against one another, or piling into dishes of a scale, with the heavier of the two dropping down and starting some new chain reaction. This is how complex you need to get it to get a full appreciation of what's going on. So the problem with the simple domino analogy is that it doesn't make any sense of the fact of all the different contingencies in the situation. It doesn't account for the fact that we have opposing desires. I can have the desire to smoke at the same time as having another desire to be more healthy and to stop smoking. I can have desires against my desires. It doesn't account for competition in the mind or the power that the environment can have on the outcome. It doesn't account for how the environment can stop a causal process that's in process, can interrupt it, and begin a new one."


We subjectively experience this multiplicity of causal chains (some conscious, some unconscious) and call it "reaching conclusions" and "making choices." Craig explicitly says that one can't weigh arguments pro and con, he talks as though the result is imposed from the outside, and that's not accurate. It doesn't account how people change their minds--if I am given a convincing argument, then that becomes one more causal input of many into the phase space of my cognition. Craig talks like that is some kind of mind control which forces me onto a particular path against my will.

Naturalistic determinism doesn’t mean an outside imposition or predestination when it says “my choices are determined.” It’s a recognition of baseline causality, consistent with known principles of physics, biochemistry, and neurology. Any cognitive event is the result of an extremely complex process, not especially predictable, and very sensitive to seemingly-small perturbations including ones from within the brain itself.

I don't have much of a dog in this fight--I'm ultimately undecided on the overall question, but it's irritating to see Craig glibly mischaracterize a complex subject, as he so often does.

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Skeptical Rationalist said...

Very sorry about the spam, Google tells me it's too big to post, I try and chop it up every which way, and then I review it and I see EVERYTHING posted. My apologies.

bossmanham said...

Steven,

My appeal to Frankfurt cases is to prove ought doesn't imply can

Frankfurt himself said his examples don't disprove that.

The point in the Frankfurt cases is that the agent's act is free and responsible except he has no AP.

I'm convinced by the dilemma and the flicker of freedom defenses.

bossmanham said...

SR,

I would add to it that you would also have the dominoes set up that at any time a person or the environment could stop one row of dominoes, and could trigger another row.

But that stop would have to be determined, no? For if it weren't then we'd have an instance of an undetermined act.

Sometimes you would have different rows of dominoes racing against one another, or piling into dishes of a scale, with the heavier of the two dropping down and starting some new chain reaction.

Okay, but what does that have to do with anything? The event caused by that is still determined by the prior event.

The thing about this example is the dominoes are all set up before hand in a predetermined manner. So when the first is pushed, the others fall by necessity. The ultimate cause of everything is that first event, and then everything else is just a lawlike reaction. They have to happen. Ergo, in terms of rational reasoning, every part is just as determined as the prior part, whether another determinant gets in the way of what another one would have done or not (because the other one would never reach their due to the determined nature of the universe).

he talks as though the result is imposed from the outside

You aren't a determinist if you don't think it is. The present state of affairs (say in our brain) was made necessary by the initial state of affairs (at the big bang or whatever, which is certainly outside our brain), and nothing could be different than it is, because the state of affairs at the big bang determined what now would be.

It doesn't account how people change their minds

Yes it does. The change of mind is determined by some prior state of affairs usually, presumably, stimulated by some sensory input.

Craig talks like that is some kind of mind control which forces me onto a particular path against my will.

No, it just determines what your will is going to be. You present thoughts, on determinism, are due to everything that has transpired before this up to the specific order of the neurons firing in your brain at this second. All of that made necessary by the initial events.

but it's irritating to see Craig glibly mischaracterize a complex subject,

Well, I still don't see how he did that. He didn't explain the whole thing because you can easily say, and it would be accepted by naturalistic determinists, that what happens follows necessarily from the previous states in the universe. If that's true, then our current thoughts are due to forces that acted billions of years ago. Where did he go wrong? You haven't said anything to discredit him.

Very sorry about the spam, Google tells me it's too big to post, I try and chop it up every which way, and then I review it and I see EVERYTHING posted. My apologies.

No worries. It does the same thing to me all the time. It's annoying.

Skeptical Rationalist said...

I think this is largely about semantics--when the waitress asks for my drink order, I don't say "what are the plausible outcomes given the specific antecedents necessary to produce an inescapably causal result?" I can just say "what are my options?" or simply "I'd like a Coke."

I don't think it's useful or necessarily relevant to cite such obscenely distal events such as the Big Bang when it comes to such proximal events as individual decisions. Even in a deterministic universe, a wink is different than a blink. The latter is an involuntary, wholly reflex biological event. The former is an act which communicates, which expresses the inner life of the mind which produced it. On a long enough timeline, sure, causality extends outside of me--how could it be otherwise since X years ago I didn't exist, therefore any possible factors are necessarily external. What I'm saying is that proximal, internal causes can be necessary and sufficient to determine the outcome of any given decision. The inherent unpredictability and stupefying complexity makes trying to walk back 13.7 billion years, or to use words like "predetermined" essentially pointless. Yes, the causal chains extend that far back, but it's a fool's errand to try and parse it all.

Ultimately determinism is a response to libertarianism and especially dualism, and asserts that no, you really don't have the ability to act contracausally. The intuitive sense of "free" will is an illusion--one which is easily manipulated under controlled conditions, in fact.

All that aside, even if I grant Craig all of his sloppy language and what I perceive to be a hostile-witness slant on the topic, I don't see how he proves determinism is self refuting. If I grant him his terms for the sake of argument, I get to the end and say "okay...and?" His vertigo at contemplating it means bupkes--I get vertigo when I think about how many galaxies there are in the universe, or how many proteins my DNA codes for, but I don't presume to think the limitations of my knowledge and desires are relevant to the truth value of a given proposition.

I don't exactly know what he means by "rationally affirmed," either.
Both libertarian or deterministic cognition are in principle demonstrable/falsifiable under controlled conditions. But, knowing Craig and his reformed epistemology, I rather suspect a rabbit hole of squabbling over "properly basic" worldviews would ensue. Let's not and say we did.

I highly recommend the podcast where they actually had one of their members appear on the Don Johnson apologist radio show to talk about this very issue--I don't say that as "go listen to this and you'll agree with me" but honestly because I found it to be very illuminating and he articulates concepts I'm having trouble expressing properly.

http://doubtreligion.blogspot.com/2010/06/rd-extra-jeremy-on-don-johnson-radio.html

Steven said...

"Frankfurt himself said his examples don't disprove that."

Can you quote him to the effect?

"I'm convinced by the dilemma and the flicker of freedom defenses."

I gave you a Frankfurt case where God was the controller. There is no dilemma or flicker of freedom defense available to you there.

bossmanham said...

SR,

I think this is largely about semantics--when the waitress asks for my drink order, I don't say "what are the plausible outcomes given the specific antecedents necessary to produce an inescapably causal result?" I can just say "what are my options?" or simply "I'd like a Coke.

I'm not sure why this would matter.

I don't think it's useful or necessarily relevant to cite such obscenely distal events such as the Big Bang when it comes to such proximal events as individual decisions.

Neither do I. But if materialistic determinism is correct, then it is true that all causal chains go back to the first event, popularly known as the Big Bang. If we want to remain more locally based, I could simply say that all we think and do is determined by past events and sensory stimuli.

Even in a deterministic universe, a wink is different than a blink. The latter is an involuntary, wholly reflex biological event.

But they're both just as determined. It kind of depends on what you mean by "voluntary" I suppose, as I would define it differently than a determinist. We may think we are "choosing" to do things voluntarily, but it's just an illusion, as our actions are determined by prior states of affairs that we don't see or have control of. Ergo, I would say we ultimately don't have control of what we do.

On a long enough timeline, sure, causality extends outside of me--how could it be otherwise since X years ago I didn't exist, therefore any possible factors are necessarily external

Exactly. And since you didn't exist X years ago and that event made your present actions necessary, you aren't the one who ultimately determined what you would do.

What I'm saying is that proximal, internal causes can be necessary and sufficient to determine the outcome of any given decision.

But they only exist because of what happened x years ago. See my discussion of proximate causation here. It's addressing theistic determinism, but I think you could apply it to this.

Ultimately determinism is a response to libertarianism and especially dualism, and asserts that no, you really don't have the ability to act contracausally. The intuitive sense of "free" will is an illusion--one which is easily manipulated under controlled conditions, in fact.

Cartesian dualism? Well dualism certainly becomes somewhat monotonous on determinism, but it certainly doesn't disprove it. There are other good reasons than just free will that people accept dualism. There are also materialists who accept libertarian freedom; Peter Van Inwagen, for instance.

If I grant him his terms for the sake of argument, I get to the end and say "okay...and?"

That would be fine. Notice he says, "Determinism could be true; but it is very hard to see how it could ever be rationally affirmed, since its affirmation undermines the rationality of its affirmation."

It could be true that determinism is true, and those that happen to be determinist lucked out in the cosmic domino topple because they happen to be in the causal chain that made their neurons fire to accept determinism. But it's not due to some rational process a human self is performing, it's because of a long predetermined causal chain. Likewise, poor saps like me who accept libertarian freedom are on the short end of the causal stream because we're reasoning fallaciously somewhere, but that was also determined.

I don't exactly know what he means by "rationally affirmed," either.

I would take it to mean that there is no true rational process of weighing the evidence going on if that process is determined.

bossmanham said...

Steven,

"the relation between Kant's doctrine and PAP is not as close as it seems to be. With respect to any action Kant's doctrine has to do with the agent's ability to perform that action. PAP, on the other hand, concerns his ability to do something else. Moreover, the Kantian view leaves open the possibility that a person for whom only one course of action is available fulfills an obligation when he pursues that course of action and is morally praiseworthy for doing so. On the other hand, PAP implies that such a person cannot earn moral credit for what he does. This makes it clear that renouncing PAP does not require denying that 'ought' implies 'can' and that PAP is not entailed by the Kantian view" (Harry G. Frankfurt, 'What We are Morally Responsible For', in his The Import- ance of What We Care About (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988).)

bossmanham said...

Some have tried to argue that Frankfurt is wrong. But it doesn't matter that much to me, since I don't think the Frankfurt cases are compelling.

Steven said...

Some have tried to argue that Frankfurt is wrong. But it doesn't matter that much to me, since I don't think the Frankfurt cases are compelling.

It is one thing to say that you don't find them compelling. But why is that? Why isn't the Frankfurt case with God as the Frankfurt controller not compelling to you? A lot of people have the opposite reaction, so naturally I'm curious. (In fact, Frankfurt cases were *always* compelling to me.)

As far as the Frankfurt quote goes, I'm not sure I understand why a Frankfurt case where someone does the wrong thing doesn't show ought-implies-can is false?

And don't you, holding to total depravity, have to give up ought-implies-can? Do you think an unregenerate sinner can do the right thing, in a circumstance where the only options open to him are either sin or do the right thing? Or maybe your understanding of total depravity is not the same as mine, in which case: do you think it is possible that unregenerate sinners live morally perfect lives?