Skip to main content

Life as a Determinist Ain't that Bad


Apparently, a determinist can believe anything he wants, but he cannot live any way he wants:

"A determinist cannot live consistently as though everything he thinks and does is causally determined—especially his choice to believe that determinism is true! Thinking that you’re determined to believe that everything you believe is determined produces a kind of vertigo. Nobody can live as though all that he thinks and does is determined by causes outside himself. Even determinists recognize that we have to act “as if” we had free will and so weigh our options and decide on what course of action to take, even though at the end of the day we are determined to take the choices we do. Determinism is thus an unliveable view."

The main point is found in the first sentence: "A determinist cannot live consistently as though everything he thinks and does is causally determined—especially his choice to believe that determinism is true!" The argument goes something like this:
  1. Determinism is true (for reductio)
  2. The determinist believes that believing in determinism is a choice
  3. If determinism is true, then a determinist is causally determined to believe in determinism.
  4. If a determinist is causally determined to believe in determinism, then the determinist cannot choose to believe in determinism.
  5. The determinist believes that believing in determinism is a choice and that believing in determinism is not a choice (RAA)
  6. Therefore, determinism is false
There are a couple of replies available to the determinist. First, it is not clear that we have much choice over any of our beliefs. I don't pick beliefs; I have them by compulsion, not of the gun-point kind but of the compelled by reason/evidence kind. This is true of simple beliefs such as 'I am writing this when I should be working on my dissertation', but it is also true of much more complex beliefs such as 'I believe Jesus is the Jewish Messiah and the Son of God.' I am compelled to belief the latter due to the arguments set forth by the writers of scripture and the work of the Holy Spirit. But in neither case do I believe just because I choose to do so.

Second, it is not clear that the sense of compulsion Craig has in mind is the sense I have just used. Rather, the idea seems to be that if I was causally determined to believe in determinism, then I could not have believed otherwise. If, by choice, Craig means that it is logically possible that I reject determinism, then that is consistent with determinism. Determinists are not fatalists, after all. Furthermore, determinists don't deny that we have freedom. Most of us think that having a free will is compatible with determinism: I freely believe in determinism only if I am not doing so against my desire to believe in determinism. This is compatible with saying that, given the decree of God, it could not be otherwise.

Craig implies a second claim about determinism-believers. Apparently, once one realizes that adhering to determinism entails that what one believes is determined, one is supposed to suffer a certain cognitive trouble. Craig calls it a 'kind of vertigo.' The argument is something like this:
  1. If you believe that your beliefs are determined prior to you having them, then you suffer from a kind of vertigo. 
  2. Determinists do believe that their beliefs (including their belief in determinism) are determined prior to having them. 
  3. Therefore, determinists have a kind of vertigo. 
However, premise 1 is false. I am a determinism believer and I suffer from no such thing and I know of no other determinist vertigo-sufferers. This claim requires empirical evidence. But there isn't any evidence that determinists suffer any kind of head spinning sensation or anything similar.

In sum, according to Craig it is somehow impossible to live with such determinism beliefs: "Nobody can live as though all that he thinks and does is determined by causes outside himself." How so? I believe that all my beliefs are determined by causes outside myself. I can't see why it is impossible to live with such a belief. Again, I don't have vertigo or any other mind-spinning sensation.

Perhaps, then, determinists just live as if we have libertarian free will and determinism is false. As Craig says, "Even determinists recognize that we have to act “as if” we had free will and so weigh our options and decide on what course of action to take, even though at the end of the day we are determined to take the choices we do. Determinism is thus an unliveable view." 

The reason we determinists live 'as if' we have free will is that we do have free will. We just don't have the kind of free will Craig wants us to. 

Comments