Divine Will and Human Choice (Richard Muller)

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BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Muller, Richard A. Divine Will and Human Choice: Freedom, Contingency, and Necessity in Early Modern Reformed Thought. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017.

This book is more than a continuation of the Muller/Helm debate on Jonathan Edwards’ view of free choice. It clarifies what was actually debated and explores recent attempts in Reformed historiography that appropriate Duns Scotus’s view of synchronic contingency. In doing so, it explores many issues in metaphysics which older Reformed writers considered vital but sadly have disappeared from today’s scene.

In fact, according to the index Jonathan Edwards doesn’t play a role (this is somewhat misleading, as Muller does discuss the Edwards debate at the end of his book). The conversation goes something like this: scholars like Antonie Vos argue the Reformed used Scotist synchronicity (we’ll unpack these terms later), which allowed them to avoid divine determinism as perhaps found in Thomas Aquinas. Helm, by contrast, counters no, they were in fact determinists and Scotist synchronicity doesn’t actually solve anything.

Muller takes a more middle position. The Reformed did in fact use Scotist concepts but only insofar as it allowed them to affirm God’s decree and rational human choice (Muller 34). Further, when the Reformed used Scotist concepts, many of these concepts were already found in Thomas Aquinas.

Some Terminology

Synchronic contingency: “the contingent is something present that presently could be otherwise given the unactualized but nonetheless remaining alternative possibility or potency” (37). Let’s pretend that Socrates is sitting. He can either sit or run, sit at one time and run at another. He can’t do both. However, his sitting is only an historic necessity, not an absolute one.

Possibility: having the potential or capacity for existence or being true. Something could be otherwise.
Power of simultaneity: he can’t do both at the same time.
Simultaneity of potency: the possibility of running exists simultaneously with the actuality of sitting.
Composite sense: Socrates cannot be sitting and running.
Divided sense: Socrates can be sitting and running, albeit not simultaneously.
In actu primo: the will on the cusp of its actual willing

For Scotists such as Vos, the divine will intervenes between a divine necessary knowledge and a divine free knowledge of all actuality (51). This means that the divine knowing “yields a sense of the continuing presence of possibles.” This corresponds to the potentia absoluta even while their contraries are known in the potentia ordinata.

In other words, God’s willing p does not exclude the synchronic possibility of the opposite state of affairs.

Duns Scotus and Late Medieval Perspectives on Contingency

Initial proposition: there remains in the creature an act of potency to be otherwise (143). Scotus isn’t concerned with multiple actualities but potencies (151). Even when I will A, I logically have the potency to will -A, even if I can’t do both at the same time. This is in actu primo.

While Scotus doesn’t represent a break with the tradition, there are differences with Aquinas. While both “identified the divine will as intervening between the necessary or simply divine knowledge of all possibility and the visionary divine knowledge of all actualit” (157), Scotus does not agree with Aquinas that the intellect performs the ordering function of the will (159). Freedom of willing depends “on the absence of anything causally prior to the will.”

Moreover, Scotus grounds “contingency and God’s certain knowledge of it in God’s omnicausality and knowledge of his will” (163). Aquinas, to put it simply, says God knows possibilia by his own contemplation of his essence. Scotus says they are produced as intelligible in a non-temporal moment or instant of the operation of the divine intellect” (163).

Scotus’s Moments in God

Muller quotes Gelber’s It Could Have Been Otherwise to show what Scotus would have meant by the above paragraph. I’m going to put it in bullet-format to make it clearer. Remember, these are non-temporal moments (think of the order of the decrees in the infra/supra debate).
  1. God’s intellect produces intelligible beings.
  2. God’s intellect identifies possible beings.
  3. God chooses among the various compossibilities.

Necessity, Contingency, and Freedom: Reformed Understandings

With Vos, Muller notes that the Reformed orthodox did use an architectonic framework of an “ultimate and absolute divine knowledge, identified as scientia necessaria,” which meant that God knew himself and all possibles (183). This meant that some possibles are indefinite. Others are contingent. Neither are necessary, since God doesn’t have to actualize all possibles (and a possible is a state of affairs which doesn’t entail a contradiction).

Calvin does remark on necessity and contingently, but not exhaustively. While his comments are often ambiguous, “he is quite consistent in his assumption that God in no way causes human agents to act contrary to their natures or to will contrary to their own inclinations” (187; cf. Institutes I.18.2).

His contemporary Peter Martyr Vermigli, however, is quite exhaustive on the subject. Divine knowledge doesn’t actually cause x, since knowledge isn’t a matter of will (Muller 194). We must, rather, identify the ground of a thing’s necessity. An interior principle means an intrinsic necessity. Think of fire burning, earth moving, etc. Here’s where it gets interesting: these are necessary only in the usual course of the world. God overrode these at times (Shadrach, etc., and Joshua and the Sun). Therefore, it is a contingent necessity.

Vermigli then clarifies what the Reformed mean by “free will,” or more accurately free choice. He writes, “Choice (arbitrium) seems to consist in this, that we follow things that are appointed by reason….Then, without a doubt, the will (voluntas) is free what it embraces those things that are approved on the part of the knowing soul” (Vermigli, Loci II.ii.1).

In an interesting comment, Vermigli doesn’t reduce freedom to spontaneity. That makes sense if you think about it. If a free choice is one where the reason deliberates, then it isn’t purely spontaneous (although it doesn’t rule out spontaneity in other areas). What is important is the absence of coercion.

Zanchi, a few years later, continues the same line of thought concerning contingency and the two kinds of necessity. Elsewhere, he modifies Vermigli’s comments on free choice by adding that the will also has the freedom of contradiction, “namely, potency to more than one effect” (Muller 200).

Ursinus adds that freedom is a subset of contingency.

Scholastic Approaches to Necessity

Contingency and necessity must be understood at both levels of causality, primary and secondary (212). God executes his decree through the “instrumentality of causes that are themselves not necessary but contingent or free” (213).

Gomarus advances the discussion by making a distinction between free acts and freedom itself. A free act is free to the kind of act it is. Free choice is a potency flowing from the essence of the soul. Freedom belongs to the rational agent regardless of whether he is engaged in the act (223).

Wiliam Twisse argued that while God knows everything in one moment through his divine essence, we can still understand him to know and will possibles “in a logical ordering, indeed, in a sequence of non-temporal instants of nature” (226). Prior to God’s willing, in the in actu primo, “there is a simultaneity of potencies.”

Later Reformed writers rejected the current Jesuit view of a liberty of indifference. This is impossible because man is not a completely autonomous, abstract individual. Even in a state before the fall, man was dependent on God. There is an indifference in the will regarded as a potency in primary actuality, but not in its operation (244).

Men like Voetius could even argue for a co-causality between God and man. God wills A, B, and C to occur by both God and a human being. God in his absolutely free governance wills B, removing his indifference to A and C “in the composite sense.” The human was initially indifferent to A, B, and C, but in his “dependent freedom” wills B, which removes his indifference to A and C (245).

Some Conclusions

When a will exercises freedom of contrariety and chooses between p and not-p, it is no longer indifferent and has now moved to actual preference (294). Contraries reside in the will in actu primo.

This is advanced level doctrine of God material. It assumes a working familiarity with Turretin and Owen. It also wouldn’t hurt to brush up on Scotism. At all times the reader must have Muller’s Theological Dictionary of Latin and Greek Terms nearby. This is a non-negotiable. In light of its difficulties, though, this book has few equals in its class.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
I know. I'm familiar with it. I think Paul misses the point that Muller is writing an historical analysis of what guys like Voetius and Turretin say. Paul wants to defend determinism. More power to him. That's not really relevant to what Zanchi believed.

Even more, Muller agrees with Helm's critique of the Reformed Scotists. Muller and Helm agree. They just disagree about a specific sub-point on Jonathan Edwards.

I think what stirred Paul's ire is that Muller made some injudicious comments about what is determinism. He should have left that alone, since it was irrelevant to the larger thesis. Also, Paul only reviewed the first 30 or so pages, which dealt with current trends in historiography.
 

RWD

Puritan Board Sophomore
I don’t think Paul missed the point of the book. Rather, he addressed perceived mistakes and misrepresentations that were put forth at the outset. Those were significant.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Muller's thesis explored the extent that Scotist views of synchronic contingency and how they interact or influence Reformed scholastic thought. With Paul Helm, Muller agrees that the answer is "not much." Any Scotist moments perceived in Reformed thinkers like Turretin and Voetius can just as easily be found in Thomas Aquinas.

With Paul Helm Muller agrees that Scotist language on the will does not in itself constitute an ontology.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
I don’t think Paul missed the point of the book. Rather, he addressed perceived mistakes and misrepresentations that were put forth at the outset. Those were significant.
He didn't even review the book. He simply analyzed the first 30 pages. I grant with Paul that Muller used sloppy language on determinism. Paul didn't analyze Muller's use of Zanchi, Twisse, Turretin, or Voetius. That's the heart of the book. And Scotus.
 

RWD

Puritan Board Sophomore
He didn't even review the book. He simply analyzed the first 30 pages. I grant with Paul that Muller used sloppy language on determinism. Paul didn't analyze Muller's use of Zanchi, Twisse, Turretin, or Voetius. That's the heart of the book. And Scotus.
Again, you’ve given no reason to believe Paul missed the point of the book. Yet you’ve given reason to believe you’ve missed my point regarding Paul’s point.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Again, you’ve given no reason to believe Paul missed the point of the book. Yet you’ve given reason to believe you’ve missed my point regarding Paul’s point.
Paul might not have missed the point of the book. He never identified it (e.g, the Reformed scholastics held to synchronic contingency in actu primo; that's the thesis).

Per the post at chapter 7: Paul's argument was whether the sources were actually correct. Muller's position is what the sources are actually saying.
 
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