Debate on Calvinistic Compatibilism Post 14: Matt Responds

Hi Derek,

I enjoy reading your responses :) However I feel you are summarizing my responses too much and doing so in a generalized manner that ignores key terms and allows you to bypass the thrust of some of my comments. It would help the discussion if you made a little more effort to quote me in my own words and respond to some of the key questions I raise. Otherwise we are just repeating ourselves and revisiting territory we have already walked through… and of course we can’t repeat our way to truth. Near the end of this response I’m going to resubmit some questions (and add some) that I think deserve more of an answer than you have given. For the sake of keeping the conversation on track I’m going to pass by the temptation to address some of your scriptural examples where you feel your view find’s support. I hope to address these and others in an upcoming post.

The reason I continue to say your compatibilism collapses into nothing more than causal determinism (and therefore has no real distinction from hard determinism) is that compatibilism still entails the view that God sovereignly controls everything that happens in the world by causing everything that happens via the issuing of irresistible, determinative decrees. Moreover even compatibilists concede the fact that people ARE NOT FREE to reject or choose contrary to God’s predetermination of what they think, desire and do at every second of their life–but I’m wondering if you concede this too? We shall see.

Is it not true that in your view every alleged “free” choice (such as your example of choosing which socks to wear) is nothing more than the effect in time of what God predetermined you to choose? As such your belief in exhaustive determinism is compatible with genuine freedom IF AND ONLY IF freedom is re-defined and re-interpreted as “acting in accordance with determinative, causal factors outside oneself” OR “acting in a manner that is consistent with being causally determined by factors outside oneself.”

You don’t like this descriptions and state, “I have not at all defined freedom in the manner you suggest.” Well, Derek, pardon my being frank—but it makes no difference that you reject my description of your views. I’m arguing it is the logical entailment of your view! If it is not accurate than you must show why my definition does not accord with your view. I shall give you this opportunity below.

I think you are having trouble recognizing the most basic implications of your view. I cannot accept your “standard definition” from Stanford because it hardly comes close to truly describing the philosophical and logical distinctives of compatibilism. It merely says compatibilism is the view that says determinism, free-will and moral responsibility are all compatible. This is merely to state the obvious contention Derek—the very contention we are discussing. As Robert also noted it doesn’t address how compatibilists define “freedom.” Therefore I am going to need you to wrestle with the underlying nature of your compatibilism in a more robust way if our conversation can continue.

I would like to ask you a few very straight-forward questions that I think will require you to delve into your own view deeper than you have yet done so—at least in our conversation (most of them are just yes or no questions).

1) If God decreed your sin before you were born and rendered it certain that you would sin in all the particular ways you do sin, then his mind is the logical origin for your sin. Therefore how can God’s predetermining mind and decretive will be the logical origin for the sin of X to occur but not be the author of the sin of X? Can you please parse the essential difference between God decreeing the sin of X to occur and God authoring the sin of X to occur?

2) Can the underlying nature of compatibilistic freedom be defined as an agent choosing in accordance with determinative, causal factors outside oneself—i.e. God’s irresistible decrees? If not—what part disqualifies the definition as being truly descriptive of compatibilistic freedom?

3) Are you free to choose contrary to what God determined you to “freely” choose, Derek?

4) You stated: “No one chose my socks for me (in the sense that the person’s choosing would prevent my choosing).” No one is saying God’s determination prevents you from choosing Derek. The argument is that God’s determination prevents you from freely choosing a different pair of socks other than what God determined for you. I feel you are obscuring and dodging the real issue that is at the heart of our entire dialogue. So I ask you, “Are you free to choose a pair of socks that are different than those God determined for you to choose?”

5) You stated: “I could have chosen a different pair of socks (i.e., I possess the ability to choose a different pair of socks, or no socks at all for that matter).” Derek, do you really possess the freedom and ability to choose a different pair of socks– that is to say socks different than those God determined for you? If not is your experience of freedom merely imaginary?

6) If we do not have the genuine freedom to resist, reject or choose contrary to what God pre-determined us to choose, then how can you say compatibilism affirms, real, genuine freedom–which would entail having a genuine choice before making a genuine choice?

7) If we are not free to choose in a manner contrary to God’s prior determination, and if every one of our choices is reduced to only one choice—the one determined for us, and if every choice is rendered certain (if not necessary) via God’s irresistible decrees, then in what true sense can it be said (as you state) that our choices entail “having an undeniable experience of real freedom?”

It seems to me Derek the absence of causal constraints acting externally on our wills is really what makes freedom have any valid, definitive meaning. Do you disagree? This is the kind of libertarian freedom God possesses and we are made in his image. Do you think at minimum Adam and Eve had this kind of freedom before the Fall?

As I see it, on the one hand you want to say humans posses real, genuine freedom. But on the other hand you want to say we are not free to use our genuine freedom freely—that is to say we are not free to choose against the ONLY choice we really ever had to begin with—the one determined for us before we were born. We are causally constrained by factors outside ourselves. Derek, your compatibilism only offers imaginary ability and freedom to choose otherwise—like different socks. You really don’t have this alleged ability in virtue of the fact there is only one choice available to you–the one God decreed. Do you concede this? And of course imaginary freedom is not real or genuine freedom. Compatibilists (like yourself…and Piper) often defend their re-worked, strange definition of freedom by saying things like “John Doe could have done otherwise had John desired differently.” But of course you leave out the principal point that it was impossible for John to desire anything different because John’s desires were themselves determined by God! The correct statement is: “John could have done otherwise had John had a different desire determined for him by God.” The entire alleged freedom of choice in compatibilism is merely “sleight of hand” for you still end up with nothing more than causal determinism in which fallen sinners are not even free to choose among various sins in their fallen state—such as whether to look at porn site A or B.

Hume was a famous natural compatibilist who liked to say “an action is performed freely when the agent could have done otherwise, had the agent desired to” but Hume’s views on freedom were rightly shown to be an illusion by his critics because he had to concede (as a naturalist) one’s desires are themselves determined by one’s environment and genes. The only difference between Hume and you is that you hold that one’s desires are themselves determined by God’s decree and not impersonal forces of nature. Either way “free” choices are being controlled and determined by antecedent conditions and causes outside one’s control! Surely you can see why your compatibilistic belief in “genuine freedom” smacks of a farce.

Lastly, glad to hear you also like William Lane Craig—he will go down as being one of the greatest debaters of our age. You mentioned the force of his argument fails because many compatibilists don’t suffer from a cognitive “vertigo.” Unfortunately I think you concentrated on this little word too much and dismissed the larger point he was making—how determinism (including compatibilistic determinism) cannot be rationally affirmed. My feeling is that compatibilistic determinists don’t succumb to “vertigo” of the mind because they aren’t actually consistent in their thinking! That is to say they don’t actually apply to their daily lives what they believe to be true in theory. If they really acted upon the belief that everything about their thinking, desiring and doing was ultimately outside their control—and they were merely vessels housing minds that can only act as God’s intermediate means to bring about some predetermined end—then I’m quite confident they would wrestle with the idea that the entire world is a vain spectacle existing in a cosmic charade in which we merely have the illusion of free-will.

Lastly last :) I stated you appeal to paradox when your view faces logical contradictions it cannot answer because your “pen-name” seems to embrace paradox as both a valid tactic and theological reality in relation to your views. You do admit that you look to paradox when we are presented with seeming contradictions that our human logic cannot unravel. But again–I must repeat if everything we think and do is causally constrained to the one choice determined for us– there is no paradox! There is no mystery! Everything is determined and freedom is illusory! Therefore the paradox or mystery is not in regards to determinism being compatible with freedom (because freedom is simply re-defined to suit determinism) but rather WHY God holds us morally accountable for the evils he causally determines us to commit via his irresistible decrees!

But regardless of whether one appeals to paradox, mystery or incomprehensible enigma, the overarching point is your way of thinking to circumvent the appearance of contradiction or absurdity seems very privileged and dependent on Western, philosophical resources of ingenuity not accessible to the common man one might find on the mission field–this alone warrants it’s dismissal for me. Calvinism as a whole is a view that invites hyper-Calvinism (in all its vagaries) and one must be schooled in how not to think too “logically” about its most basic assertions (i.e. God wants you to be holy, but he decreed all your unholy sin, such that you can’t resist committing them. But don’t think God tempts you to commit such sins– he doesn’t tempt anyone to sin. He just renders it certain you will sin through an irresistible degree), etc.

Shalom to you!


About StriderMTB

Hi, I'm Matt. "Strider" from Lord of the Rings is my favorite literary character of all time and for various reasons I write under the pseudonym "StriderMTB. As my blog suggests I seek to live out both the excitement and tension of a Christian walk with Christ in the 3rd world context of Asia. I am unmarried yet blessed to oversee an orphanage of amazing children in South-East Asia. I hate lima beans and love to pour milk over my ice-cream. I try to stay active in both reading and writing and this blog is a smattering of my many thoughts. I see the Kingdom of God as Jesus preached it and lived to be the only hope for a broken world and an even more broken and apathetic church.
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