Incoherent Questions

By Tim Stratton

It has been said that there is no such thing as a stupid question. Consider the following: How much does the color purple weigh? Can God create something that is not contingent upon Him? Is the fourth corner of the triangle an obtuse, acute, or right angle? Where do the vast majority of married bachelors live?

Incoherent Questions

These are examples of incoherent questions . . . stupid questions do exist! If one asks questions like these, those who are empowered by reason know that the questioner simply lacks reason.

With that in mind, if one assumes determinism, then it makes no sense to ask the following questions:

Are you willing to change your mind?

What would it take for you to change your mind?

If one assumes determinism is true, then they must also assume that these questions are just as incoherent as those found in the opening paragraph. Determinists cannot ask or answer these questions because they do not believe human agents have free will or the ability to change our own minds. This is because they affirm that things external to humans (nature or God) causally determines all things — including our thoughts and beliefs.

So, the only related question a determinist can consistently answer is this:

“What would it take for your mind to be changed?”

The naturalistic determinist would have to appeal to physics/chemistry, the initial conditions of the big bang, or perhaps to random events in quantum mechanics. None of these things are up to the determinist, so if their mind is to be changed about anything — including the topic of determinism — then things external to the determinist would have to force and determine them to reject determinism or to change their minds about anything else. If determinism is true, one simply does not possess the ability to freely think, and thus, they are simply held captive and along for the ride dictated by the forces of nature.

The theological determinist fares no better. If one assumes exhaustive divine determinism, then if this determinist’s mind is to be changed on any topic — including that of divine determinism — then it is God who must change this person’s mind on the issue. It is simply not up to them. Just like the naturalistic determinist, they would simply be along for the ride.

Those who presuppose determinism of any flavor have big problems on their hands. Consider the words of William Lane Craig:

“There is a sort of dizzying, self-defeating character to determinism. For if one comes to believe that determinism is true, one has to believe that the reason he has come to believe it is simply that he was determined to do so. One has not in fact been able to weigh the arguments pro and con and freely make up one’s mind on that basis. The difference between the person who weighs the arguments for determinism and rejects them and the person who weighs them and accepts them is wholly that one was determined by causal factors outside himself to believe and the other not to believe. When you come to realize that your decision to believe in determinism was itself determined and that even your present realization of that fact right now is likewise determined, a sort of vertigo sets in, for everything that you think, even this very thought itself, is outside your control. Determinism could be true; but it is very hard to see how it could ever be rationally affirmed, since its affirmation undermines the rationality of its affirmation.”

If determinism is true, then genuine free will does not exist, and if free will does not exist, then free thinking does not exist. Given the determinist’s view, how could anyone ever freely choose to be rational and know they are? If everything is determined by factors external to you — including your thoughts and beliefs and your thoughts and beliefs about your thoughts and beliefs — then your choice to follow the laws of logic and to think rationally would only be an illusion. You have no say in the matter.

If determinism is true, then the determinist who holds to determinism did not come to that conclusion based on their intelligence, and by choosing to examine the evidence to infer the best explanation. They were simply determined by physics and chemistry (or God) to be determinists. It has nothing to do with knowledge, logic, or rationality. If determinism is true, then there is no free will either in assessing whether one thought is better than another or not. All that remains is question-begging assumptions and presuppositions. Those are not reasons to think anything; in fact, they are not reasons at all.

If one holds to these question-begging assumptions and presuppositions, they must also assume that it is incoherent to ask them if they are willing to change their minds. With that said, they can coherently consider the much different question, “What would it take for your mind to be changed.”

However, if and how they respond to this question is not even up to them! This is good reason to freely choose to reject determinism!

Stay reasonable (Philippians 4:5),

Tim Stratton

Resources for Greater Impact

When Reason Isn’t the Reason for Unbelief TV Frame_DVD_Official

When Reason Isn’t The Reason for Unbelief (DVD)


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Stealing From God (Paperback)




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13 replies
  1. Ed Vaessen says:

    “If determinism is true, then genuine free will does not exist.”

    If determinism is not true, free will still doesn’t exist. We can never want what we want.

  2. Andy Ryan says:

    ” They were simply determined by physics and chemistry (or God) to be determinists. It has nothing to do with knowledge, logic, or rationality.”

    Computers don’t have free will. That doesn’t mean they don’t operate on logic.

        • Kalmaro says:

          Well I suppose it depends on what you mean by logic.

          If everything that we do a thing is determined ahead of time then does logic have any real meaning?whenever you think about something you are not thinking so much as you are reaching to a long series of events…

          And if that is true then when we program computers, are they really using logic or are they just reacting to events already determined?

          • Andy Ryan says:

            What do you mean by logic then, if you don’t believe the way computers work qualifies? And what do you mean by ‘humans acting logically’ such that you think the definition applies if there is a God but doesn’t if there isn’t? Exactly what difference woukd the existence of a God make? NB: just saying ‘God gives us free will’ isn’t really an answer.

  3. Andy Ryan says:

    ” They were simply determined by physics and chemistry (or God) to be determinists. It has nothing to do with knowledge, logic, or rationality.”

    Computers don’t have free will. That doesn’t mean they don’t operate on logic or that their processes don’t make use of information. Even if you portrayed humans under determinism as little more than robots (albeit sentient ones), it wouldn’t follow that knowledge and logic play no part in our decisions.

  4. Ed Vaessen says:

    “This is good reason to freely choose to reject determinism!”

    A sentence that makes fully sense in a deterministic universe. The writer was determined to write it.

  5. Luke says:

    Hi Tim,

    I have a couple of questions. I think about this topic a lot, so I’d like to get your thoughts.

    First of all, let me ask about part of the quote from WLC. He says:“The difference between the person who weighs the arguments for determinism and rejects them and the person who weighs them and accepts them is wholly that one was determined by causal factors outside himself to believe and the other not to believe. ” (emphasis added)

    This seems wrong to me. Under a materialistic form of determinism, most of the factors lie in the chemistry of the person’s brain. How can this be said to be outside the person?

    (I think he may be trying to say that the factors that determined the makeup of the mind were outside the person, but if so — well — he says something that’s wrong to make a point that’s right, which is not a good way to operate. It seems to show he doesn’t actually trust his argument at worst (he feels like he needs to juice it with inaccuracy to be convincing), or that he’s being too clever at best — like the guy who tells you that “Next year, when you pick up your coffee cup, it won’t be with your hand, because all the atoms your hand will scattered throughout the world and new atoms will come replace them and it will be this other hand — the one whose atoms are all over the world now that will grab the cup. So is any hand really ‘your hand’? And how many Greatful Dead shows have you seen? I’ve been following them since 197…” wait sorry, I got off track.)

    Secondly, you talk a lot about choosing to be rational. Can you sketch for me what choosing to be irrational would look like? Rationality is the idea of basing a decision on a fact or reason. I just can’t see an action that doesn’t follow this. Again, can you sketch this for me?

    (In trying to think about it, I just can’t escape a reason for action. If you say to me: tomorrow I will go to work with no clothes on, and I will act as if it’s normal. This may be “irrational” in a popular term sense, but there would be a reason you chose to do so — to prove to me that you did something “irrational”, for example. Any help here is appreciated.

    Thirdly, I believe you’ve admitted before that you don’t have free control over certain beliefs. You can’t put in your calendar that tomorrow from 10:00-14:00 you will believe in Error Theory. Thursday, all day, you will believe that Blackish is the worst show ever made, but Friday it will be your favorite. Surely we agree this kind of choice simply doesn’t exist.

    Let me give another example though. Can you walk outside when it’s raining, and believe that it’s not?

    When you walk outside, do you see and smell the rain, feel it on your skin, and say to yourself “I sense this phenomena that’s congruent with rain, should I believe it’s raining? Yes, yes, I think I will choose to believe that it’s raining?” Or do you walk outside, and find yourself just having the belief “it’s raining.”

    The reason that I ask is that if you admit there are things you just can’t choose (like “I believe it’s not raining” as you’re getting soaked in the storm), then I don’t see how every single thing you said in this article doesn’t apply to your belief system? (Because even though you can choose ‘sometimes’, you don’t choose what and when you can choose, and you could easily have an unwilled belief that you’re choosing certain things even though you’re not, etc.)

    (Let me say it a different way, if the fact that it’s raining when you walk outside (a fact outside of you) determines the fact that you will believe it’s raining, it’s not something you choose to believe, you’re admit it’s not you changing your mind. So the problems you worry about for your determinist friends strike you as well. If on the other hand you’re arguing that: in order to be rational, you must be able to believe it’s not raining when you’re sitting in the rainstorm — I just don’t think you’ll convince many people.)



  6. Luke says:

    Sorry Tim, let me add another question.

    Do you believe determinism is falsifiable, and if so, how could it be falsified?



  7. Marvin Edwards says:

    If you define determinism as “the absence of free will”, or, if you define free will as “the absence of determinism”, they you can only accept one and must deny the other.

    So, stop doing that.

    Determinism is correctly defined as the belief that objects and forces in the physical universe behave in a reliable fashion. And they behave so reliably that if we could know all causes in play at some prior point in eternity, we could theoretically predict all events at some future point in eternity.

    Free will is correctly defined as those cases where we decide for ourselves what we “will” do, when “free” of coercion or other undue influences.

    Objects in the universe come in three main varieties: physical, biological, and rational. Inanimate objects behave passively in response to physical forces. If you place a ball on a slope it will always roll downhill. Living organisms behave purposely to survive, thrive, and reproduce. If you place a squirrel on that same slope it may go uphill, downhill, left, or right depending upon where it expects to find the next acorn. Intelligent species come with a neurology capable of imagination, evaluation, and choice. They can imagine more than one way to achieve their purpose, apply a relevant comparative criteria to their options, and choose the one that best suits their own purpose and their own reasons.

    With the proper definitions, we find two things to be simultaneously true:
    A) When a person makes a choice according to his own purpose and his own reasons, it is an act of free will.
    B) When a person makes a choice according to his own purpose and his own reasons, it is reliably determined.

    And that resolves the paradox.


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