Why Should The Christian Study Philosophy? (Agency part 1)

I have entered into discussions with a person concerning a
question in philosophy. The next several posts will be an attempt to answer
this question.

The question is rather abstract. In summary, it is this:
Can any being act as an agent, causing actions and thoughts? Or are all actions
and thoughts caused by another? Would the act of a person originating a thought
or action be creating something from nothing, a violation of the law of

As I have been thinking through this question, it strikes me
that it is a good example of why the Christian should study difficult and
abstract questions, which are often the topic in philosophy.  So before I attempt to answer this question, we should take a moment to consider the implications and consequences to the Christian. If the answer is no, agents cannot originate thoughts, the following
would be the consequence:

  1. The bible would not be the word of God, for God
    could not have created thoughts.
  2. The world would operate mechanically, so that
    all events are inevitable and predetermined.
  3. Christians would not be able to express a faith
    in Jesus.  Rather, all actions would be
    predetermined and any expression of faith would be caused by another, not by
    the Christian.
  4. No one would be able to do good works, for all
    actions would be predetermined, and neither “good” nor “works” would exist as
    something we could generate.
  5. Free moral choice for either good or evil would
    be an illusion.
  6. Jesus would not have voluntarily acted to die
    for human sin, for no acts are voluntary.
  7. True Love and hate would not exist in the
    classical definitions of the terms, but would instead be predetermined
    mechanical actions, not caused by the individual, but caused by another.
  8. God would not have created the world, at least
    not voluntarily and by His choice, for all acts would be predetermined, even God’s.
  9. Creation itself would not have happened, and the
    world will not end. All events are an everlasting cycle of mechanic events that
    has neither beginning nor end.

In summary, if beings cannot be agents that originate
thoughts and actions, then the Bible is untrue, Christianity is wrong, and
human free will and morals are an illusion. The need to answer such questions
then becomes obvious.

That Christians have too often shied away from abstract
philosophical questions has undermined the essential doctrine inside the
church. We ignore these philosophical questions at our peril. As C. S. Lewis
said, “Good philosophy must exist, for bad philosophy must be answered.”

The next few posts will be an attempt to systematically
answer the question of whether agency exists in beings.


About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
This entry was posted in Apologetics, Philosophy. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Why Should The Christian Study Philosophy? (Agency part 1)

  1. Pingback: Thomistic Bent

  2. The Thinker says:

    Since you shut down the last post I thought I’d take it here because you seem to not understand my argument and I didn’t want to end this with you thinking you’ve avoided the problem.

    Your accusation is that movement of the will causes something to exist without a cause, which voilates the kalam argument. This is untrue for the simple reason that the person is moving the will.

    No. This is a complete misunderstanding of me. The problem is what causes the person that causes the will that causes the action? You’ve just moved the problem back one step. It’s almost like we’re arguing the Kalam in reverse!

    So thoughts, free will decisions, judgements, and any movement of the will are not uncaused; quite the contrary, they are moved by the causal agent, who has the ability to move the will.

    What causes the causal agent? Again, you’re just moving it back one step. What’s the first step in this series of events for any though, decision, judgement or movement? What ever first step you posit, either has a cause or doesn’t. If it has a cause it can’t be originating in the agent, if it doesn’t have a cause the Kalam is false. You need to lay out a detailed linear explanation of events that you think occurs when a person makes a decision or action. Otherwise, you’re not truly dealing with the problem.

    The person as a being, was indeed caused also. Each person was caused by the previous person, going back to the first cause.

    The question is not what originated the birth of the person, but what originated the person’s thoughts, ideas and actions. You have to posit at some point an uncaused cause within the person’s mind/soul/body and that refutes the Kalam’s first premise.

    So far it is you who are confused, not me. I get this. I’ve debated this before. You cannot have free will unless you believe people are first cause agents. But if you posit that, you refute the Kalam.

    But your objection confuses the cause of the person, which does need a string of prior causes, with the cause of the movement of the will, which has a beginning in the person. The person has the power to generate causes, since the person is already in act and therefore can move potentials to actuals without needing any other power or cause.

    You’ve just admitted here that the cause of the will begins to exist without a cause in the person, hence you’ve just refuted the Kalam.

    You are confusing two concepts and trying to make them sound like they need the same type of cause. They do not.

    I’m not confusing anything here. I’m simply granting the Kalam’s first premise for the sake of argument and then using it to apply to human action and the will. Either EVERYTHING that begins to exist has a cause, or there are exceptions to this. If humans are act and actualize potentials, their will – or whatever it is that you call the first event in the actualzation from the act – is either caused or uncaused. Those are your only two choices. If it is caused, it cannot be caused by the agent itself and free will is refuted. If it is uncaused, then the Kalam is refuted. You have utterly failed to get yourself out of this dilemma. You’ve just moved the cause back one step.

    Specifically, you have asserted more than once that the will is moved by something else, but you appear to have merely assumed that there is a string of causes of the will going back to some sort of uncaused beginning. Such a position is 1) unexplained and merely asserted, 2) does not deal with the idea of a agent being able to cause things, and 3) does not deal with some versions of strict Calvinism which would hold that God directly moves the will.

    I am not asserting anything. Again, I am merely taking the Kalam and applying it to human beings and outlining all of your possibilities. Now you gave three points:

    1. False, because I’m not asserting the will is caused. I’m saying that due to the Kalam’s first premise you either have A) a caused will, or B) an uncaused will. A or B are not positions you want to take. There is no third option. And if you say the “will” is caused by the agent again, you will once again just be pushing the problem back one step. What caused the thing that caused the will? You’ve got two choices (A) and (B).

    2. I completely deal with the idea of an agent being able to cause things. But you have to posit that agent as a first cause agent in order to avoid determinism, and by doing so you refute the Kalam.

    3. Calvinism would be determinism, with would fall under (A) above so I have addressed this.

    The will is moved any way it wishes by the agent, who was caused to exist with this capacity.

    This is asserted without explanation. It doesn’t deal with the problem you face. If the agent is not caused, then its will begins to exist without a cause, and therefore you refute the Kalam. And if the will is not the first event, then whatever the first event is when a person wills something is uncaused, and hence you refute the Kalam.

    I therefore urge you to take note of my comment policy.

    I don’t mean to be rude or intrusive. I just think you are wrong and I want to examine this through debate.

    • humblesmith says:

      As I have said several times, anything in act has the ability to move things. The person is in act, therefore has the ability to move the will. You somehow deny that things in act have the power to move potentials to actuals. If I remember correctly, I think I dealt with God being pure act which explains the first cause. After the first cause, I have made no break in the string of logical causes to say that something in act, which was already caused to be in act, can then cause another thing to happen.

      You have stated your position more than once, and I have given you adequate space, and stated my response. We continue to disagree. Thank you.

      • The Thinker says:

        You are completely ignoring the fact that I dealt with the idea of the person moving the will. Did you read what I wrote or did you just jump to an assumption? I’m not denying things in act have the power to move potentials to actuals, I even stated that in my response. Your position requires that people be first cause agents which negates the first premise of the Kalam. Either you’re going to address this or you’re going to go on pretending that you don’t have a problem. I hope you know that “first cause agent” does not mean a person was born without a cause.

        • humblesmith says:

          I will try to deal with agency again the future…….perhaps I can explain it differently than I did in the series I did on agency, specifically part 5, and responding to the objections in part 7. Stay tuned.

          • The Thinker says:

            It would be great if you did so, and also if when doing so you also provide a linear timeline of events show how a freely willed decision is made to clear up any confusion in the causal chain of events.

            Oh and also, if you can separate the questions and answers into paragraphs, that would make it easier for all of your readers 🙂

  3. Pingback: Christian and Naturalist Discuss Free Will | Thomistic Bent

  4. humblesmith says:

    A further explanation of the issue of agency is found in this post:

    I again refer to my series on agency, specifically part 5, which explains how human free will agency can work, and parts 7-8, which deal with objections.

  5. Pingback: Sufficient Conditions for Free Moral Choice | Thomistic Bent

  6. Pingback: Human Agency is Consistent with First Mover Arguments | Thomistic Bent

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