Friday, April 26, 2013

Compatible, Schmatible…

There is an objection commonly leveled against Calvinism's doctrine of Unconditional Election, and the objection generally goes something like this:

    "If God chooses us, then how can we say we have chosen God? If God determines first that we will choose Him, then how is our choice meaningful, and is it really a choice at all?"
What I intend to do next is demonstrate why this objection is actually valid, understanding that the Calvinist will likely try to evade the objection by invoking a particular concept of "free will" known as "Compatibilism." To follow the discussion from here, however, we need to zoom in on the terms "Compatibilist Freedom," "Determinism," and "Libertarian Freedom."

Determinism is the idea that a person's actions are determined for them by some external causal entity. It might mean divine determinism, but the term is broad enough that it could also be a naturalistic kind of determinism, a view that would be held by naturalists like Richard Dawkins. Dawkins rejects free will, he sees our actions as purely determined by chemistry and genetics. Divine Determinism would be the idea that God, because He is sovereign and "in control of all things," actually determines every choice we make ahead of time, and this determination is causal. On this rather extreme view, you really don't make any choices. God makes every choice for you. This would be Divine Determinism.

It's important to understand that if determinism were false, and our actions are not determined by any external causal entity, then it must be the case that a person's actions are actually the result of a choice that person makes, a choice which originates within and is entirely unpredictable and inexplicable, and if the choice was to turn left, it could just as easily have been to turn right. This is Libertarian Freedom, determinism's polar opposite. I should point out that Libertarian choices certainly can be influenced by external conditions, but an "influence" is not a cause. The decisions we make are oriented toward the goals we have, so there are "reasons" behind the decisions we make, but those "reasons" don't actually cause the decisions.

The diagram below makes the distinction very clear.

Under Determinism, the source of a decision is external to the person, while under Libertarian Freedom, the source of a decision is internal.
Intuitively we can see a problem with Determinism: If our decisions are determined for us from the outside, then there's no basis on which to hold us responsible for those decisions. And yet, Calvinists clearly see that God does seem to hold us accountable for our decisions. But, the Calvinist doesn't want to make us responsible for our decisions because, in their minds, to suggest such a thing compromises God's sovereignty.

For the Calvinist, the solution is different conception of freedom called "Compatibilism." The name "Compatibilism" comes from its central claim which is that free will and Determinism are actually "compatible" with each other. Notice, however, that to say free will is "compatible" with Determinism is to actually affirm Determinism. And just to be fair, it also affirms free will. If that seems counterintuitive to you, well there's a good reason for that. In logic it's called the "Law of the Excluded Middle" and it appears to render Compatibilism Dead On Arrival. Either our decisions originate within ourselves (internally), or they do not originate within ourselves. And if the source of the decisions I make is not internal, then that source has to be external. There are no other options. In or out, there is nothing inbetween. If the source is external, then Determinism is true.

What's perplexing is that Compatibilists like Jim Wallace, whom I referred to in an earlier post, end up locating the source of those decisions internally… but how is this "compatible" with Determinism? Wallace has adopted different lingo to refer to Libertarian Freedom and Compatibilist Freedom, which should illustrate the problem sufficiently. Wallace refers to Libertarian Freedom as "Unfettered Free Will," and he refers to Compatibilist Freedom as "Self-Fettered Free Will." Well, if the self is fettering or restricting choices, then the decisions are still coming from within the person. A person's nature--which Wallace believes limits a person's choices--is internal. It's not external. But for Determinism to be true, the decisions have to originate externally, not internally.

In a podcast by Jim Wallace which focuses on these issues, he defines Compatibilist or "Self-Fettered Free Will" in these terms:

    "Humans have the ability to choose something, …but they always are restrained by their pre-existing nature… You are limited in your choices because you're not going to choose [those things which are contrary to your nature]. You only choose WITHIN YOUR NATURE."
So, your nature determines your choices by limiting what you will choose. According to Wallace, if something is contrary to your nature, then you will not choose it. But again… where is the person's nature? Is it not within the person?

The difficulty here can be clearly seen in the diagram below.

Compatibilism makes decisions a product of our nature… but is a person's nature internal or external?
Compatibilism claims "compatibility" with free will. But as you study this diagram, where is this compatibility? The only thing that's different is that Compatibilism invokes the person's "nature"--an entity which cannot be separated from the person and is therefore inside the person. But it's not as though the Libertarian denies that a human nature exists… the only thing we would deny is that the human nature dictates in any absolute, mechanical fashion the choices that a person makes.

Another way to visualize the ideas of Compatibilism versus Libertarianism is to picture yourself driving down a street, and the street you're driving on ends in a 'T' where you have the option to turn right or left. Either option is open to you. This is a picture of Libertarian Freedom.

On the other hand, under Compatibilist Freedom you arrive at the same intersection but your nature has closed off the possibility of turning right. So, you turn left instead, but you do so "freely."

So under Libertarian Freedom, the choices you make may or may not align with your nature. You may have natural inclination to eat chocolate, but maybe for health reasons you've decided to stop eating chocolate. You have the ability to act contrary to your own nature.

But under Compatibilism, the choices you make are governed absolutely by your nature. Every choice you make is in alignment with your nature, you do not have the ability to act contrary to your own nature.

But I've not yet validated the challenge against Calvinism that I said I wanted to validate in this post. That challenge is this:

    "If God chooses us, then how can we say we have chosen God? If God determines first that we will choose Him, then how is our choice meaningful, and is it really a choice at all?"

Well, here we have a problem, because there is doublespeak within this concept of Compatibilism. On the one hand, our decisions are determined by our internal nature. But, with the Calvinist doctrine of Unconditional Election, a person's decision to trust in Christ results from God's determination, His election, of that individual. So what gives? Now we're back to an external source of a decision?

Not exactly. What the Calvinist wants to claim is that we choose to trust in Christ freely because that choice is compatible with a new nature which God has given us in His act of regenerating us. Absent this regeneration, our nature is (according to the Calvinist) in rebellion against God and would never choose Him.

So, the Calvinist says, God doesn't make up our minds for us. We freely choose Him because God has changed our nature and now our nature can choose God. But wait… did we choose to have our nature changed? No, we didn't. God changed our nature quite against our will. (even according to the Calvinist) And because this change in our nature makes our 'free' choice of God inevitable (according to the Calvinist) then we really don't have any choice. The word "inevitable" means "unavoidable."

Back to our question, and back to the intersection diagram to illustrate why a choice determined from the outside is not meaningful:

Suppose on Monday you're driving your usual route to work. There is one intersection you pass which, if you turned right, you would also end up at your work same as if you went straight. Your usual route is to go straight through the intersection, but you could turn right and still get where you're going.

But suppose on Tuesday you're driving to work again but there's road construction along your preferred route. At the intersection described above, there is a barrier across the road with a "Detour" sign directing you to turn right. And so you do turn right.

This raises a question: Was this choice a "free" choice? Well, in a sense I think we could say that it is a "free" choice. But even so, there's something unique about your choice to turn right in this circumstance: Your choice to turn right doesn't actually reflect your own intentions. If you had your druthers, you'd have gone straight. Your choice to turn right really reflects the intentions of the person who erected the barrier. The construction crew is acting under authority of the local government, and must keep traffic flowing, while keeping it away from the construction zone. So the construction crew intended for you to turn right. They are taking responsibility for the route you take. Why did you turn right? Because that was the only route available to you; you had no other choice.

Well another day has gone by and so now it's Wednesday and the road construction is complete and you're driving to work… But this time when you come to the intersection you turn right EVEN THOUGH there is no barrier. In this instance, both options were available to you; you could have gone either way. But your turned right same as you did the day before when you had no choice. But this time your decision to turn right was truly your own. Since there was no barricade, no detour, no one else's intentions were in play but your own, which means that you and you alone are responsible for your decision to turn right.

The Tuesday scenario relates to the Calvinist's view of total depravity, unconditional election and irresistible grace in that an outside entity has acted to eliminate a possible route that would otherwise be available to the person… the route which has been eliminated is the route which leads to eternal separation from God. The only route remaining is the route that leads to eternal life with God. But it is God who really bears the responsibility for your choice because He is the one who eliminated the other route, leaving only one route available. Therefore the person's choice to turn down that road doesn't reflect their own intentions, but rather God's intentions and for that reason this choice isn't meaningful and the person can't really be held responsible for that choice.

In the next post, I will analyze Stand To Reason host Greg Koukl's response to a caller who brought the very challenge I'm affirming here. Koul's response is telling, as you will see.

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