Incoherence Revealed by Nonsensical Tethers
It’s notoriously difficult to show that an incoherent concept is incoherent, particularly because such a concept nonetheless sparks images and real meaning in our minds.
Incoherent concepts also have rhetorical utility, so those who wield them are afraid to give them up. This loss-aversion creates an extra barrier to understanding that incoherence.
In an earlier post, I called these things “logical wildcards” and showed, in the abstract, how irritatingly useful they can be. Like a KFC Double Down, they’re delicious in the lower-order/short-term but deleterious in the higher-order/long-term.
In that previous article, I talked about how logical wildcards can serve as “bridge-makers” and “bridge-breakers.”
- Bridge-makers: Concepts that link premises to a conclusion when that conclusion should be a non sequitur. Especially useful when we desperately want something that we believe true to be provably true.
- Bridge-breakers: Concepts that serve only to deny the link from premises to a conclusion. Especially useful when benign premises lead to difficult conclusions. Difficulty makes us sad.
Bridge-making and bridge-breaking, however, may have side-effects.
- When you bridge-make, you may — as a side-effect — yield conclusions that obviously shouldn’t be connected to those premises.
- When you bridge-break, you may — as a side-effect — posit a statement of “X makes Y impossible” that doesn’t actually make any sense.
When these two things happen, it’s an excellent red flag that the original concept that allowed that bridge-breaking or bridge-making was incoherent to begin with.
I believe, once these patterns are recognized in the abstract, this can serve as our most effective weapon against incoherent concepts.
Purgatorialism vs. Libertarian Free Will
One of the best examples of this comes up when we discuss purgatorialism.
Purgatorialism says that hell is purgatorial rather than endless, and eventually all will be reconciled.
Wrote St. Gregory of Nyssa, the most eloquent purgatorialist in the early Church:
“It will be useless to talk of [the contingency upon earthly failures] then, and to imagine that objections based upon such things can prove God’s power to be impeded in arriving at His end. His end is one, and one only; it is this: when the complete whole of our race shall have been perfected from the first man to the last — some having at once in this life been cleansed from evil, others having afterwards in the necessary periods been healed by the Fire.”
Libertarian free will is the vague notion that our decisions somehow lack external origination.
To protect this “self-origination” — usually out of a mistaken view that it is required for ascription of responsibility — “Open” fans of libertarian free will posit that no decision of man can be completely predicted, even by God himself. The “non-Open” folk will say that God can foreknow, but not predetermine.
Now, under purgatorialism, if GIVEN that God’s willed end is a full reconciliation, and GIVEN an omnipotence shall meet his willed ends eventually, there logically follows a 100% certain prediction that everyone will eventually choose God, even if after a purgatorial hell.
Uh oh! That’s a problem. “Open” fans of libertarian free will cannot tolerate a 100% certain prediction with regard to the choices of man. And “non-Open” fans of libertarian free will who deny purgatorialism cannot tolerate a blanket eventual destiny — something about that reconciliatory hope is bleakly oppressive to them.
So, the argument goes, “Purgatorialism must be false because it would destroy libertarian free will.”
Here’s the rhetorical question:
- Why on Earth would the manner in which we make decisions make an eventual universal reconciliation impossible? Through what mechanism or tether would this be the case?
The answer to this rhetorical question is:
- There is no such mechanism or tether.
And this is a huge red flag for the incoherence of libertarian free will.
(Any deterministic paradigm, by contrast, has such a tether: The “domino chain” serves that role.)
Is the Prediction the Problem?
The stalwart, “Open” libertarian free will fan might say, “All this means is that God can’t make the prediction with certainty. Purgatorialism may be true, but not even God knows whether it’s true.”
They forget that this collapses into, “God cannot predict with certainty that anyone will be saved, nor can he say that anyone will be punished.” For “a mix will come to pass” is also a prediction made with certainty, and is ostensibly defiable by libertarian free will.
Any predictive prophecy, if given as “certain to happen eventually,” precludes libertarian free will if the fulfillment thereof could be delayed or affected by decisions of people, even if that prophecy is, “Some will be saved, others will be punished.”
This is the “mix problem” of prophecy + “Open” libertarian free will. We’d like to think that only sweeping proclamations would invalidate libertarian free will. But “Some will X, some will Y” has the same invalidating strength.
The response ought not be to rack one’s brain for a creative salvage of libertarian free will.
The simple response is, “This incoherent concept is spawning, as a side-effect, declarations that make no sense.”
The problem: Such a response is boring, and discussion ending, and difficult. Those qualities, especially in tandem, are memetically selected-against.
And that means we have to get ultra-excited about it and ultra-courageous about grappling with its challenges.
- We can use Compatibilism — through the “heterophroneo” — to reconcile Scripture’s statements on sovereignty and freedom.
- For more about the incoherence of “Can do otherwise,” see this article, called “Heroes, Not Superheroes.”