William Lane Craig against Calvinism: a response, part 2 of 5
2. 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.
I have seen a lot of people lazily misrepresent C.S. Lewis’ argument from reason (chapter 2 or 3 in Miracles), and I think that is what Craig is doing here. What C.S. Lewis argued was that materialism cannot be rationally affirmed because if materialism is true, then all of our beliefs are causally determined by blind mechanistic causes which would result in our beliefs whether there were good grounds for them or not. Reasons and evidence play no roll in forming our beliefs since our beliefs are the direct result of chemical reactions.
This argument has been reduced to the argument that determinism cannot be rationally affirmed. However, it matters what is doing the determining. Lewis is right that if the direct cause of our beliefs is merely how our brains happen to be fizzing at the time, then that undermines our rationality. But if our beliefs are determined by reasons and evidence, then that establishes their rationality. It doesn’t undermine their rationality.
Craig’s argument assumes that for beliefs to be rational, they must be the result of free choice, i.e. choice that is not determined by any antecedent conditions. He uses the phrases, “freely make up one’s mind” and “decision to believe” as if the ability to choose our beliefs freely is necessary for those beliefs to be rational.
But, as J.P. Moreland has often argued, our beliefs are not under the direct control of the will at all. We cannot simply, by a pure act of volition, choose to believe one thing rather than another. When we are confronted with things in reality, we are caused to believe those things. When I see my cat lying on the couch, I’m caused to believe my cat is lying on the couch by my sensory perception. I don’t choose to believe it.
However, we can choose to put ourselves in circumstances that will cause our beliefs to change. I can choose to open my eyes and look at my cat. I can choose to read an article, and to think about what it’s saying. In the process, my beliefs could change. So we do have indirect control over our beliefs.
But I don’t think libertarian freedom is necessary for rationality in this case. If my choice to read an article and think carefully about what it says is determined by my desire to arrive at the truth, then it seems to me that I’m being rational. So we can form a deterministic causal chain that results in a rational conclusion under compatibilism:
Desire to arrive at truth-->reading an article and thinking about what it says-->”seeing” the logical connection between the various statements-->belief that the conclusion is true.
This causal chain may be perfectly deterministic, but that does not diminish my rationality.
Imagine, though, that our beliefs really were a matter of free choice. It seems to me that that would undermine their rationality. Think about that for a second. If our beliefs are really just the result of choice, then the only reason we believe what we do rather than the opposite is because we chose to. We could believe the exact opposite by exerting our wills and choosing to believe the opposite. Imagine, if you are a theist, choosing right now to believe there is no god of any sort. If you could do that, then you would honestly believe there is no god, and you would likely be relieved because you would think you were mistaken before. The only reason you believe in God now is because you made the opposite choice.
If we suppose, as Craig does, that rationality is diminished by determinism, it leads to absurd results. Follow my reasoning carefully. The stronger evidence is, the more difficult it is to deny the conclusion, right? And the more difficult it is to deny a conclusion, the closer evidence is to determining your belief. If the evidence were ever so strong that you could not deny the conclusion, then your belief would be determined. And according to Craig’s thinking, that would mean your belief is not rational.
But that means the stronger the evidence is, the less rational you are in affirming the conclusion, which is counter-intuitive. If our rationality is indirectly proportional to the determination of our beliefs, then the less hand evidence plays in bringing about our beliefs, the more rational we are. It follows that we are most rational when evidence has no hand whatsoever in bringing about our beliefs. We are most rational when our beliefs are arbitrary. That’s what follows from Craig’s view since he thinks our beliefs must be freely chosen in the libertarian sense before they can be rational.
But clearly that is nonsense. Craig has it exactly backward. The stronger the evidence is, the more we ought to believe the conclusion, and the more irrational we would be for denying the conclusion. The more hand evidence plays in forming our beliefs, the more rational our beliefs are. It follows that we are most rational when the evidence has everything to do with our beliefs, and that happens when evidence determines our beliefs.
So determinism is not inconsistent with rationality, as long as we aren’t talking about hard determinism, which does away with the role of the mind and rationality in forming beliefs. The difference between hard determinism and compatibilism is that hard determinism involves blind mechanistic causes, and compatibilism includes mental, intentional, and rational causes. Libertarianism does away with both. So rationality is no more possible under libertarian freedom than it is under hard determinism. But if you go with compatibilism, you can keep both rationality and determinism as long as you stipulate that there are rational causes to beliefs, and I think it is a mistake to characterize them as “choices.”