Thursday, March 3, 2011

Determinism, Compatibilism & Free Agency

Calvinist God: “You may choose between (a) or (a), and you're free to choose whichever is most compatible and consistent with your nature, but you're not free to abstain from choosing, and the choice that you make, will ultimately be YOUR choice. So what's your choice?”

Person: “I guess I choose (a).”

C God: “Great. Now I will reveal the gracious gift or perhaps, just punishment for choosing (a).”

Person: “Whoa…wait...what?”

C God: “You made your choice! YOU chose it out of your own free agency!”

Person: “Wait! All I had was choice (a). What other choice COULD I make?”

C God: “What choice DID you make?

Person: “I chose (a).”

C God: “Exactly!”

Person: “But what choice did I HAVE?”

C God: “Apparently, the choice that you MADE.”

Person: “But it wasn’t MY choice.”

C God: “Sure it was.”

Person: “But I couldn’t choose anything OTHER THAN (a), so how was that MY choice?”

C God: “You admitted it yourself. You chose (a). You said so yourself.”

Person: “Ok, I chose it, but I didn’t have any OTHER choice.

C God: “Exactly! Finally you admit it.”

Person: “But my choice wasn’t REALLY a choice, since I had no OTHER choice.”

C God: “Would you like to know the ramifications of your choice?”

Person: “Not really.”

C God: “I chose to be gracious towards you.”

Person: “You did?”

C God: “I did.”

Person: “Wait! See, YOU’RE the One who did the choosing.”

C God: “I never said that I didn’t make a choice. I simply said that you ALSO had a choice, and YOU made your choice.”

Person: “Well, I guess it turned out ok, so I’m happy.”

C God: “Good. I’m glad that you’re happy.”

Person: “What about these others?”

C God: “I chose something different.”

Person: “Are they happy with THEIR choice?”

C God: “No.”

Person: “Well…they made their choice. They should just accept that.”

Calvinist God: “Exactly!”

I wonder if Calvinists were on the losing end of secret selection, that they would feel differently? Calvinists have postulated whether their children could be predestined to Hell, but they don’t seem to be bothered too much by it. In fact, Erwin Lutzer supposed that since his children were born into a Christian home, that his children must be “one of the elect,” which is rather silly when considering the term, “PK.” No offense to Preachers. I’m just pointing out the fact that simply by virtue of being born into a Christian home, does not automatically guarantee spiritual victory. So Lutzer’s comment seems odd. The prevailing attitude seems to be, “God picked me, so why should I care? Why should I be an advocate for Reprobates? After all, they made THEIR choice.”

* At this point, I should probably define what (a) actually represents. (a) represents a sequence of events. Determinism & Compatibilism have no problem explaining why a person follows sequence (a), but conversely is absolutely terrible at explaining why a person did NOT choose sequence (b) through (z). All Compatibilism really serves to do is to camouflage raw Determinism, so as to make it *appear* as though a person had a choice in choosing sequence (a), when in fact, their choice of (a) was both divinely purpose-driven and predetermined, and thus excluding (b) through (z) from any possibility of ever occurring, and thus a person's freedom to do it, must by necessity be excluded. Remember that according to Calvinism, sin has a "purpose," and thus if there is a divine purpose in (a), then a person's freedom to do (b) through (z) would conflict and obstruct (a)'s alleged purpose, and thus anything other than (a) could never come about, and any choice to the contrary would be a mere illusion of Compatibilism. On the other hand, if God was determining events for you based upon what He foreknows about you (i.e. Middle Knowledge), then that's fine, because God would be acting in connection to something undetermined, unscripted and unncessitated about you. In other words, God is saying, "Since that is how you've chosen to be, here is what I will do." You see this demonstrated beautifully at Jeremiah 18:1-13, which is not one of the Calvinists most often quoted "Potter" passages. Arminians love to remind Calvinists of it, when discussing the Calvinist's most often cited proof-text passage, Romans 9, and Calvinists often insist that the Holy Spirit is bringing about a "new truth" at Romans 9, and thus Jeremiah 18:1-3 becomes irrelevant. Anyway, that's one defense. Not all Calvinists think alike; that you can be absolutely sure of. That's why I crack up whenever I hear a Calvinist insist that they've been "misrepresented," since Calvinists vary so much with each other! Even Calvinist, Phil Johnson, admitted that if you had a room full of 100 Calvinists, you'd be hard-pressed to find just 2, that believed exactly the same way in everything. Often Calvinists will chide other Calvinists as not being "truly Reformed." That's the whipping stick used to keep renegade C's in line.


A.M. Mallett said...

Richard, this is a great post!

JSA said...

I don't think this is an accurate portrayal of compatibilism. In compatibilism, the agent still has reasons and consciously makes choices. So it would be more accurate to say something like:

Calvinist God: "You may choose between (a) and (b)" (knowing that the choice MUST be A).
Person: "After much deliberation and soul searching, I choose A, believing that I could've chosen B".

In the debate between compatibilism and libertarian free will, it seems that Arminians are in the same boat as Calvinists. The Arminian God has foreknowledge of who is going to end up in heaven or hell, so you could make similar uncharitable parodies:

Arminian God: "You may choose between heaven and hell. Your choice will be free. I happen to know that you will end up in hell. I am omnipotent, but will not prevent this outcome".
Person: "OK, I guess I choose hell".

Richard Coords said...

If I understood correctly, your point was that this was a misrepresentation of Compatibilism because God never says that He offers two identical choices, (a) and (a), as it were, but that God explicitly says to man, “Choose you this day….,” indicating an (a) and (b) set of choices, and even much more. But that’s not where I was going with this. The point was to illustrate choice-principles, and how they relate to Determinism, Compatibilism and Free Agency, and to show that Determinism & Compatibilism does not offer real choices, such that a choice is not a *real* choice without also having the “power of contrary choice,” which I tried to demonstrate in the frustration of the Costello character, who kept trying to get that point across, but which the Abbott character refused to ever acknowledge. The perspective of the Abbott character is that he (as God) made a choice (for that person to choose series-A, and for a very specific purpose) and that man (in this case, Costello) also makes a choice, which although never deviates from the predetermined, divinely purpose-driven course, nevertheless, still constitutes an actual choice. So the Costello character’s perspective is, ‘But what choice is that? I’m given a predetermined path (a), and yet it’s presented to me as something that I have a choice in, but which cannot be a *real* choice, because real choices involve real options, such that I can choose contrary to someone else’s predetermined script (i.e. power of contrary choice). My point was to show that Compatibilism doesn’t adequately present itself as something that demonstrates the power of self-determination, because if a person has the power of self-determination, then there can be no cradle-to-grave script. Restated, if Determinism is real, then there are no *real* choices other than the divine choice for a person to execute, and without deviation. Compatibilism presents itself as something within the logical framework of Determinism, in which man merely acts according to that which is compatible with his nature, but if God decrees with a purpose, and that purpose must be achieved, then the person’s nature must fall within the scope of the predeterminations, and thus man is not so much acting in compatibility with his nature, as he is in acting in compatibility with the predeterminations. In this sense, the free agency of Compatibilism becomes a mere illusion of Determinism. One thing that really struck me with James White, is that he essentially made the point, ‘Look at all that sin. According to Arminianism, none of it has any purpose. It’s just meaningless, purposeless sin. Sin, therefore, being in existence and tolerated by God, must have a purpose, in order to avoid being random and meaningless.’ So if sin has a purpose, and its certainty must come about, then in order to for its purpose to be achieved, only a set of very specific sins must come about, in exclusion to all other sins, and hence to exclude the possibility of other sins committed, the motivation for those other sins must be eliminated, so that only the motivation exists to commit a very specific, divinely purpose-driven series of actions take place. This means that one absolutely, positively cannot, have any freedom to commit sins (b) through (z), or else they would conflict with the divinely purpose-driven sins comprising series (a). In this sense, man would not only be acting within his nature, but also acting strictly within a course that can have no alteration, no deviation, or else *purpose* is thwarted. Therefore, any independent though, whatsoever, to do good or bad, cannot co-exist with Determinism, and Compatibilism can do nothing to soften the blow. That’s really the perspective that I had in this.

Richard Coords said...

In terms of the same-boat issue, A’s do not believe that foreknowledge causes anything, and that what God actually knows about the future, is not via a crystal ball of looking ahead (as James White suggested to Dave Hunt), but as God being omnipresent in all time & space (“eternal now” perspective). But more to your point, what’s really interesting is when God actually *does* tell people their future, though I think that in these cases, it may be better stated as a possible, potential or probable future, if a person stays on the same course. For instance, Jesus said to Peter, “Truly I say to you that this very night, before a cock crows, you shall deny Me three times.” (Matthew 26:34) Peter, even knowing this, still believed that he had a choice, and if he had changed his course, could have. Consider a time when that actually happened. God said to Hezekiah. “Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live.” (2Kings 20:1) That’s a positive statement, comparable to what Jesus said to Peter, and Hezekiah could have said then, “Ok, I chose then to die (knowing that I don’t really have a choice).” But he changed course, and took to prayer, and God answered, and gave him a new future, by adding 14 years to his lifespan. Now that’s interesting. If God tells you your future, I believe, from this, that it’s an implied probable future, based upon a current course of behavior and action, such that if altered, a new course could unfold, such as what Hezekiah did. Prayer changes things. So there is the “potential future” (perhaps in the case of Peter and certainly in the case of Hezekiah) in contrast to the “actual future” (something we read about in Revelation 20:7-10), and God knows both. Potential future would actual comprise what Arminians often describe as “Middle Knowledge,” indicative of Matthew 11:20-24.

JSA said...

Calvinists will (unconvincingly) protest that God is never the author of evil under compatibilism. And I agree that in the case of Arminianism, God's foreknowledge doesn't cause anything. But it feels like a semantic quibble to me.

The issue with the Hezekiah story, and other warning prophesies, is that God knows whether the person will heed the warning or not. To the person, it appears that he is being given a warning, and altering his future based on that warning. But God knew that Hezekiah would heed the warning, before Hezekiah was even born.

Richard Coords said...

I'm not sure whether to consider the Hezekiah passage as a "warning" per se, although I do believe that God was relaying the future on course, and of course, I agree that God knew the impact of His statement, and the resulting actual future, that is, the future in which God dwells, indepenent of time, and that actually raises another question. You had mentioned the semantics part, and I'd like to get your take on Matthew 11:20-24. What is your assessment of God's knowledge, in regard to what Jesus knows what "would have" occurred? I have to imagine that it is more than just divine speculation, because speculation is not admissable evidence, and yet that testimony will be declared admissable evidence in Heaven on Judgment Day. What are your thoughts on that? I see it as a stark contrast to the C view of omniscience, which would otherwise hold that such knowledge of an undetermined future is logically impossible for God to know. Thoughts?

JSA said...

"and yet that testimony will be declared admissable evidence in Heaven on Judgment Day."

I think you're exactly right about this. I think God knew whether or not those cities would repent and turn around. When Christ spoke the words in Matthew 11:20-24, he knew whether the cities would become simply a cautionary tale to future people, or whether they would actually turn around and find grace.

IMO, the only advantage of Arminianism is that it's easier to say, "Well, even if they ended up being a cautionary tale, Christ was sincere and *wanted* them to take heed". That sort of protects the character of God, but is cold comfort to anyone who ends up condemned anyway. If you're the one who ends up being condemned, hearing "But God sincerely wanted to save you", doesn't help. To those people, Calvinism versus Arminianism is completely a moot point.

To an atheist, the difference between libertarian free will and compatibilism is probably more meaningful. For those of us who believe in an omnipotent God and a hell, however, it's mainly a semantic quibble about God's character or sovereignty. At least, that's how it seems to me.

Richard Coords said...

Often in debates, Determinists like James White will defer to Compatibilism as a "defense" of sorts, but A's do not see what it ultimately achieves in favor of the Determinist. To an A, it is mere smoke & mirrors, or camoflauged Determinism, in order to give the mere appearance of Free Agency, which otherwise in a Deterministic paradigm does not seem to have a basis (and hence would forfeit any mitigation from the familiar "author of sin" charge), but to your point about "cold comfort." I think that was from the standpoint of mitigating the damage at Judgment. The Bible does speak of degrees of punishment, though at most, gives only a hint of it. Luke 12:47-48states: "And that slave who knew his master's will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more." Exactly what that means, I'm not sure. But Jesus came in a different time period from the Matt. 11:20-24 cities, but Jesus did not leave them without a witness. After all, God sent Jonah to the Gentile Assyrians. Daniel was in Babylon. I'm sure that there are many more examples of that, since the Jews were supposed to be a witness nation. The perspective of Abraham was that the living have the "Law and the Prophets." Based upon Romans 1 and the sermon of Acts 17, I don't think that God's perspective, there, is that they couldn't have been saved, at least to the extent that someone in the OT could.

Kevin Jackson said...

Very nice example.

Byroniac said...

Richard, this is an excellent post. But I am still left with a question. I'm not Christian anymore, but an ex-Calvinist. And it seems to me you can't ultimately escape determinism because God in His perfect omniscience still chose to create those He knew would never choose Him and therefore never be saved. It seems to me the only way to escape this is to embrace Open Theism (which isn't bad, but I lose all respect for such a God and could not worship Him without serious reservations, personally, if at all). Sorry for a simplistic question which you've probably answered a dozen times, already, but it's something that I wanted to ask.

Richard Coords said...

Hello Byron,

I agree that Open Theism would do more to exonerate God in permitting evil to enter this world. But I believe in divine omniscience. So where does that leave me? Alright, there is a parable of Jesus at Matthew 13:29-which states: "The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, `Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?' And he said to them, 'An enemy has done this!' The slaves said to him, 'Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?' But he said, 'No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, "First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn."'" Now obviously an omniscient God would know beforehand when an enemy is poluting His field, but the larger point, is that lives are interconnected. You see, God could have prevented Satan from ever existing. God could have prevented the 1/3 of the fallen angels from ever existing. But what impact might that have on the other 2/3's which were faithful? Lives are interconnected. One person falls, and becomes a warning to others, and another turns back as a result. This is the story of my Mom and my sister. My mom went off the deepend, and my sister was scarred straight. I believe that Norm Geisler addresses your question in virtually the same way.

Byroniac said...

Richard, thank you for your response. That explanation would fit rather well in situations where there could be a good mix of saved versus unsaved, but I personally would not see how it could apply to evil and suffering where there is no interaction with saved people. The suffering and evil present in this world just seems to lack sufficient explanation for me. What good purpose could anything possibly serve by a African starving to death, or for those killed by the tsunami of 2004, or etc., and how, even if there is somehow connectedness in the lives of those who will be saved, could that justify the horror of what the others experienced? I see a lot of theological explanations for these things, but they almost invariably strike me as general rationalizations of what possibly occurred spiritually to justify the outward appearances of the things we witness. I guess it can be sufficient for believers, but for me personally I am not sure what would (or could) satisfy me. But anyways, what you said is fair and I can at least accept that it's sufficient for you.

If you don't mind me asking, what happened with your mom?

Richard Coords said...

She is still a professing Christian, but there was an issue of immorality, in a couple of areas, followed by bitter self-justification and denial. She surrounded herself with some really bad influences, and she let it wreck her life. *She* doesn't think she's wrecked her life, but there is no question that the new mom is absolutely not the prior mom that we grew up with. The prior mom was somewhat disgusted that her kids did not walk out of the moview, Top Gun, back in the 80's. She was a dedicated 700 Club mom, and for a while, had some really great influences, but when they sort of left the picture, the bad influences really turned her mind in the wrong direction. Like I said, the transformation literally horrified by sister into turning her life around.

As I read your explanation, I couldn't help but recall the issue of Jonah, where God takes your approach. God, rather than Jonah, was the one who felt compassion for the heathen people, including the animals too. Unfortunately, the Ninevites repentance was short lived, and they returned to their prior ways, and were eventually judged and destroyed, as recorded in the book of Nahum. Based upon what God said to Jonah, you'd have to think that He is not happy with the plight of Africa. I don't have all of the answers there. God doesn't owe me an explanation, but I do owe Him an explanation for my own dealings. I guess that's the best way that I could put it.

Richard Coords said...

I want to add that an interesting contrast is building, between 1) the world that man wanted, in rejection of God, which God, as I previously mentioned, permitted (Acts 14:16: "In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways"), and in which God stands willing to intercede, for those who wish to call upon Him, vs. 2) a future in which Jesus is on the throne, and God's will is done on earth, "as it is in Heaven." In the latter case, God is not going to wait to be asked to intercede, but rather, He will impose His own will, and mold the world as He sees fit, and I think what will result, will be a fascinating contrast: a world WITH God vs. a world WITHOUT God.

Chad said...

I found your post very interesting. I took the liberty to I post your dialogue on YouTube with only a minor change or two. I hope you don't mind. (I fully credited you.)

FX Turk said...

Well, at some point you'll have to engage calvinism and not fatalism.

Until then, good luck.

k1banjo said...

"The point was to illustrate choice-principles, and how they relate to Determinism, Compatibilism and Free Agency, and to show that Determinism & Compatibilism does not offer real choices, such that a choice is not a *real* choice without also having the “power of contrary choice,”

Richard, I appreciate your stated love for Christ. I am a compatibilist because I understand Scripture to teach that God has both foreordained all things to accomplish the will of His Holy Counsel for the praise of His Glory and within His plan, He has created moral agents who are creatures bearing responsibility for their choices and actions, which are all very real. I reject Geisler's argument that choices are about decisions not desires because it is absolutely impossible to divorce the two. I believe that decisions are made by what we desire the most. And all of our decisions/choices are going to be limited by our nature. I understand Scripture to teach only two kinds of human nature: In Adam (a desire to live life apart from God) or In Christ (a desire to live life with God).

What I love the most is going to determine the decisions/choices that I make. By your definition above, it appears that even God has the inability to make "real" choices as Scripture indicates He is limited by His Divine Nature. For example, God cannot "choose" to lie. Does this mean His choice not to lie is not a "real choice?"

So man's biggest problem pertaining to affections is his heart. He needs a new heart. God is the Action Figure of both the New Covenant Promise (Ez 36) and the New Covenant Power (Ez 37). Thus, regardless of what we call ourselves (A or C), we would both heartily and desperately agree our greatest need is Jesus Christ. And whomever believes in Him shall be saved!

k1banjo said...

Bryon, I truly appreciate your honesty and concur with your assessment (not conclusion) that Christians cannot have it both ways. If God is truly Almighty God (Omnipotent, Omniscient, Creator, infinitely Perfect), I fail to see how we can remove or excuse God from the Conversation when it comes to suffering and evil. I am not sure that anyone can come up with a completely satisfactory answer to theodicy, especially apart from faith based on the clear revelation of Who God is and What God is doing and What God's final purpose is - To exalt the Name of Christ before all creation vindicating the suffering and travail of His soul. Thus, I do understand Scripture to teach that God has ordained whatsoever to come to pass...So even evil can be a divine agent as God overrules evil to accomplish His eternal redemptive plans (i.e. The Cross of Christ). For many this is no more easier to accept than the notion that God loves His Glory above all things. I can only reconcile this by my faith in a good and perfect Heavenly Father, Who gave His only Son to die for sinners and to redeem creation from the curse of sin. Bottomline for me: It appears that God freely and sovereignly chose to exalt the Name of Christ by creating a world that exhibits both judgment and mercy and not on the basis of "trying" to get the most people into heaven.

In regards to evil, I understand evil to evidence of life apart from God. Even natural evil (tsunamis, cancer, tornadoes, etc) testifies of the need of a Sustainer to hold all things together. I think the most severe form of punishment by God in this present age and the age to come is to give an unbeliever what he wants the most - life apart from Him and His grace. So the evil in this age is a constant reminder and call to repent and believe.

Byron, you are right indeed to recognize the enormity of pain and suffering in this present age. Because I believe that we are indeed created in the Image of God and not by mere natural selection, we are moved to compassion for those in duress and seek to relieve their pain. Yet, the Christian faith acknowledges that pain and suffering will fill this world until Christ comes again to establish His kingdom upon the New Earth. I cannot answer all questions and protests about suffering, pain and death that is going on in our lifetime. But I can say that we ALL deserve much worse for our rebellion against the Creator Who sent His Son to reconcile us with Him and makes us objects of His affection for all eternity. So as a believer, I will continue to mourn for those who are suffering, pray for them, try to relieve their pain if I can, but most importantly I will continue to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ - the only hope and Good News for sinners such as me.