Monday, July 11, 2016

Two forms of determinism

Determinism is the view that, given the past, the future is inevitable. The idea can be developed in two different ways. One is in terms of the laws of nature. Given the laws of nature, and positions of the basic particles at some moment in the past, the laws of nature, according to natural law determinism, guarantee where all the particles in the universe will be at some point in the future. This would be an atheistic or materialistic version of determinism. Given the way the particles are in the world at, say, Jan 1, AD 1500, a perfect calculator could determine where the particles would be in when  that Christ was born in Bethlehem, when he died by crucifixion on a cross outside of Jerusalem, when Hitler would slaughter the Jews as WWII came to a close, when the Broncos beat the Panthers in the 2016 Super Bowl, when Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump won their primary races in 2016, and that Omar Mateen would shoot all those people in the gay bar. 

The other version of determinism is religious in nature. God, before the foundation of the world, creates the world and predestines every event.Thus, God predestines, before the foundation of the world, that Christ would be born in Bethlehem, that he would die by crucifixion on a cross outside of Jerusalem, that Hitler would slaughter the Jews as WWII came to a close, that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump would be nominated in 2016, and that Omar Mateen would shoot all those people in the gay bar. 

If either form of determinism is true, is it Omar's fault that he killed all those people, or is he just a victim of circumstance? And what does that mean for people convicted of murder. Do they deserve a penalty because either God or the laws of nature, guaranteed that they would commit murder, while people like Abraham Lincoln and Mother Teresa were predestined or determined to do good? What happens to moral responsibility? 

10 comments:

B. Prokop said...

If either form of determinism is true, is it Omar's fault that he killed all those people

If any form of determinism is true, then no, it isn't.

or is he just a victim of circumstance?

Yes, he would be.

And what does that mean for people convicted of murder. Do they deserve a penalty because either God or the laws of nature, guaranteed that they would commit murder, while people like Abraham Lincoln and Mother Teresa were predestined or determined to do good?

It means they are not morally culpable for their actions, and ought not be punished, but rather reformed.

What happens to moral responsibility?

To what? What strange terms you do use!

B. Prokop said...

My (admittedly snarky) above comment was intended to show that determinism (of any form) and Christianity are incompatible. Oil and water are blood brothers by comparison. Free Will is one of the indispensable pillars of the Faith. Any philosophy or theology that denies the primacy of Free Will is, no matter whatever else you wish to call it, not Christian.

"For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." (Galatians 5:1)

Joe Hinman said...

It's become popular now for atheists to confuse cause and effect with determinism, It is entirely possible to be a naturalist and think that the multiplicity of outcomes is possible owing to the complexity of variables.

Theologically I'm armionian

John Moore said...

a) Randomness might also be a consideration. Some things might happen without cause.

b) It's not clear whether you can know past states even with perfect knowledge of a particular state. It might be like a one-way hash function. So you couldn't see Jesus on the cross based on perfect knowledge of the year 1500.

c) Yes, it's Omar's fault. Fault means suffering the consequences. Just because you're a victim of circumstances doesn't mean you should be free of consequences.

When courts decide to punish murderers, they should just think about the consequences of their punishments. Will their punishments tend to deter future murders? That's the whole calculation right there.

If it's practical and economical to reform criminals, then fine. We should work on the technology for that, or the psychology or whatever. But in the meantime, it's simplest just to lock up criminals.

Andrew W said...

In books, I often note that one character "misbehaves" and is "punished" by the other characters. Given that the character had no choice in his/her actions, they exist entirely at the will of the author, is this an injustice? Do books by their very nature mock the idea of justice?

Gyan said...

"God, before the foundation of the world, creates the world and predestines every event."

Is it a correct usage of the word "predestines"?
Are events "predestined" or persons "predestined"?

"Any philosophy or theology that denies the primacy of Free Will is, no matter whatever else you wish to call it, not Christian. "

Rather, it is not sane.

grodrigues said...

"a) Randomness might also be a consideration. Some things might happen without cause."

Randomness and cause-less are two distinct things.

"b) It's not clear whether you can know past states even with perfect knowledge of a particular state. It might be like a one-way hash function. So you couldn't see Jesus on the cross based on perfect knowledge of the year 1500."

Whether we could or could not know the future on the hypothesis of determinism, is irrelevant for the problem that Victor posed.

"c) Yes, it's Omar's fault. Fault means suffering the consequences. Just because you're a victim of circumstances doesn't mean you should be free of consequences."

No, fault does not mean "suffering the consequences". For there to be fault or blame in any reasonable sense of the word, agent's actions have to be up to the agent in the relevant, thick sense needed for moral responsability. On determinism the agent's actions are necessitated by forces external to him, so there are no free agents. On determinism there are no alternative possible choices; there are no choices or agents, or even selves as we have come to conceive them.

If I coerce John to kill Victor the law, rightly, does not fault John for the murder but me, the coercer, precisely because John was not the free agent of the murder. But the very same logic implies that on determinism, since no one is the free agent of his actions, no one can be blamed for anything. And it is no use invoking that there is a disconnect between the agent's will and his actions in the case of coercion, because on determinism your will and desires are likewise necessitated and determined by forces external to you. If I, a notorious mad scientist, implanted a chip on your brain that overwhelmed your will and compulsed you to kill Victor, one would still rightly assign the blame to me not to you (there is a famous Agatha Christie murder story in which the murderer accomplishes his victims by manipulating, like a puppet master, his subjects to do his bidding. Poirot does justice by his own hands and, if I am not misremembering, the help of a little pistol).

"When courts decide to punish murderers, they should just think about the consequences of their punishments. Will their punishments tend to deter future murders? That's the whole calculation right there."

Why are consequences the only consideration? A calculation that, as you point out in (b), is impossible to make. And on determinism there is only one possible history, so what meaning can there possibly be in doing calculation to choose between possible policies?

"If it's practical and economical to reform criminals, then fine. We should work on the technology for that, or the psychology or whatever. But in the meantime, it's simplest just to lock up criminals."

As if we have a choice?

grodrigues said...

Replace:

"which the murderer accomplishes his victims"

with

"which the murderer accomplishes his murders"

Ilíon said...

John Moore: "a) Randomness might also be a consideration. Some things might happen without cause."

grodrigues: "Randomness and cause-less are two distinct things."

Well, yes and no. When the topic is causes and effects, 'randomness' and 'causelessness' collapse into one another; this being the only alternative to determinism, incoherent though it is, that materialists/atheists can bring themselves to clutch at.

'Randomness' refers to a lack of correlation between two (or more) things in some aspect. If you chance to meet an old acquaintance at the town square, the meeting may be random in that no one planned or coordinated the meeting, and non-random in that you are both attending the town fireworks display.

When one speaks of 'randomness' with respect to cause-and-effect, one is asserting that there may exist a lack of correlation between some effect and its cause. This is, of course, incoherent and absurd; for an effect just is a caused event. So, if one wishes to speak of events happening randomly, and one desires to be not immediately-and-obviously speaking absurdities, one must speak of events happening without cause.

There are only two classes of “causes” alternative to deterministic causation – agency and randomness. As seen above, to speak of a random cause is actually to deny causation. BUT – from the point of view of the God-denier – to speak of causal agency is an even worse option; for the only rational way to affirm agency in a material world is to affirm the logical priority of immaterial agents/persons to mater … and that takes us right back to God.

God-deniers are committed to denying the reality of God – everything they do and say is subordinate to this commitment. Since the affirmation of agent freedom must inevitably lead to the affirmation of God, they *must* deny agency/freedom. At the same time, they want some wiggle-room to escape the implications of the determinism they can and do affirm – let me emphasize this: the very same ‘atheist’, even as he is asserting absolute determinism, is also seeking for a way to deny the absoluteness he has just asserted.

Since he *must* deny agency/freedom, the ‘atheist’ grasps at the straw of ‘randomness’. Typically, what they do is attempt to re-brand agent freedom as ‘randomness’. It works this way: since agency/freedom is immaterial/non-physical, and since the only causes they can allow are material/physical, any acknowledgement on their part of agency/freedom must perforce re-classify it as ‘randomness’, which in this context means “causelessness”.

Ilíon said...

John Moore: "When [rulers] decide to punish [those who resist their rule], they should just think about the consequences of their punishments. Will their punishments tend to deter future [resistance]? That's the whole calculation right there."

And thus it doesn't matter whether those punished are guilty of anything at all.