Sunday, April 28, 2013

Critiquing a Defense of Compatibilism

What follows is my analysis of a discussion which took place on Greg Koukl's "Stand To Reason" radio program on November 19, 2012.

The discussion began with the caller, who described himself as "non-calvinist," and noted that libertarian free will is inconsistent with the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election, a notion that the host, Greg Koukl, was quick to affirm. But the caller also brought precisely the challenge that I just highlighted in "Compatible, Schmatible." He said,  "…if God sovereignly chooses, then I feel like I didn't legitimately choose.' And it is here where Koukl expressed disagreement and attempted to make a case for Compatibilist Freedom.

I found myself nodding enthusiastically at the caller's point: If God chooses for us, then how can we say that we choose anything?

Now, I've heard Koukl defend the elect's choice to believe as a "free choice" by saying that, well, God reaches down and 're-inclines our will' and then we choose, but because our will, our nature, has been altered, the choice we make to trust in Christ is a "free" choice. But this raises a question, seems to me:

Did we choose to have our will re-inclined in this way?

The answer must be "No." So even under Koukl's scenario, the choice is a direct (and, under the principle of Irresistible Grace, inevitable) result of this 're-inclining of our will' which itself was not our choice. The sum total of that is that our choice to trust in Christ does not reflect our own intentions or desires, it reflects God's. In other words, it wasn't our choice.  The caller's instincts are right on.

So all of that might help see what's going on with the rest of this call, where the host tries to defend the idea of Compatibilism, and explain why (though he never actually gets there) a Compatibilist choice can still be thought of as a genuine, meaningful choice. Here's how it goes:

Koukl: I do think you are right in suggesting that libertarian freedom on the salvation question is inconsistent with sovereign grace and election in the Calvinist or Reformed sense. …I think you are mistaken in saying that if God makes a choice for me, that somehow that choice also can't- uh, I can't make a choice for God that is a meaningful choice. … and I think I have a way of explaining that, did you want to hear it?

Caller: Yeah, I'll listen.

Koukl: Okay. When you make a decision to sin, are you making--broadly speaking--a decision here that you could have done otherwise? That is, as a fallen person can you live a sinless life if you choose to?

Caller: No.

Koukl: No, [Koukl agrees] you end up choosing sin, but the reason you're choosing sin is that your nature is fallen… is that a fair way of putting it?

Caller: Yes.

Koukl: Yes. And so the choice to sin is an inevitable result of our fallen nature.

That question about "when you make a decision to sin" is where the host pulls a bait and switch. The caller didn't realize it, but the question was actually two different questions with two different answers. The first half of the question was this:

"When you make a decision to sin, are you making …a decision here that you could have done otherwise?"

This question is about Libertarian Freedom, and notice that he's asking about in individual decision to commit a particular sin. Koukl wants the caller to give a "No" answer, because that would support Compatibilism. But even Koukl knows the answer to that part of the question is "Yes." How do I know? Because I've heard him say that even the unregenerate man doesn't sin at every opportunity he's given. This means that on occasion the unregenerate person is making a choice not to sin. And that means that whenever a, unregenerate person is presented with the opportunity to sin, that person could go either way. He could give in to that opportunity, or he can resist that opportunity. So, the answer to the first half of the question is actually "Yes."

So the first part of Koukl's question was about an individual decision to sin at a point in time. But then Koukl cleverly--and quickly--repackages the question:

"That is, as a fallen person can you live a sinless life if you choose to?"

Well now wait just a darned minute. That is a different question altogether! We were talking about an individual decision to sin, but now, suddenly, we're talking about an aggregate of all the decisions a person has made throughout their life. And he leads into it with "That is…" which dresses it up like a rephrase of the first question. But it's really a very different question with a very different answer. The answer to this question is "No" while the answer to the first was "Yes." Koukl has pulled a bait-and-switch on the caller.

So then Koukl says "No, you end up choosing sin."

Well, compatibilism isn't about how things "end up." Again, it's not about the aggregate. Compatibilism is about individual choices (the choice to believe in Christ, for example). And the answer to the first half of Koukl's question is "Yes" and this falsifies Compatibilism.

So then Koukl says that the choice to sin is the "inevitable result" of your fallen nature. Well, not so fast. First of all, notice now that Koukl seems to have switched back now to talking about a single choice to commit a particular sin at a moment in time… isn't that interesting? Again, consider Koukl's acknowledgment that even the unregenerate man doesn't necessarily sin at every opportunity he's given. In other words, sin isn't really "inevitable" for the unregenerate man on a moment-to-moment basis. It is only "inevitable" in the aggregate… but it turns out that's true whether you're regenerate or not. When viewed in its totality, everyone's life "ends up" being tainted by sin. Nobody lives a sinless life, saved or otherwise. And yet by the same token, a look back through the pages of anyone's life would reveal individual decisions not to commit particular sins, even when the opportunity to sin was there. And that brings us to the topic of "Total Depravity."

Here we can find some interesting doublespeak within the Calvinist paradigm. In his book "The Five Dilemmas of Calvinism," Craig Brown uses a quote from Steele and Thomas to explain the Calvinist concept of Total Depravity:

"The sinner is dead, blind and deaf to the things of God. His heart is deceitful and desperately corrupt. His will is not free, (an allusion to compatibilism) it is in bondage to his evil nature, therefore he will not--indeed he cannot--choose good over evil."

Later in the same chapter, Brown writes:

"All of man's nature is corrupted by sin, but he is not as evil as he could be."

R.C. Sproul says it this way:

"Total depravity is not utter depravity. We are not as wicked as we possibly could be."

Well, it finally struck me just how self-contradictory this notion is, and it becomes, then, easy to see why Koukl had to bait-and-switch his caller the way he did. Compatibilism is shown to be false by the fact that humans with corrupt, evil and rebellious natures are capable of choosing against sin on an individual, choice-by-choice basis, even if they are unable to avoid sin over the course of an entire lifetime. One central claim of Compatibilism is that it is impossible to choose contrary to one's nature. Well, all that is needed to falsify this is one example of an unregenerate person choosing not to commit a particular sin on a particular day. And I don't even need to find a specific example, because no 5-point Calvinist appears to want to deny it! It would be absurd to suggest that an unregenerate person will sin at every opportunity given them. Imagine what the world would be like if that were true. And yet, thinking back to the quote from Thomas and Steele, wouldn't that have to be the case if the unregenerate man was truly "in bondage to his evil nature?" What does "in bondage to his evil nature" mean if it doesn't mean that the unregenerate man must sin at every opportunity given him?

Compatibilism is also falsified by the fact that genuinely regenerate persons do choose to commit sin. And again, I don't need to provide examples, Calvinists do not deny that this is the case. But since the regenerate person supposedly has a new nature, then the Christian's choice to commit a sin runs contrary to that "new" nature. Therefore, Compatibilist Freedom (in this life) is false. In other words, unregenerate people choose against their nature when they choose not to sin, while regenerate people choose against their nature when they choose to sin. In either of those realms we find exactly what we would expect to find if a person's nature isn't quite the slave master that Compatibilists make it out to be. In other words, for human life this side of Heaven, Libertarian Freedom is true. We can and do choose contrary to our natures.

What we see, in reality, is exactly the kind of world we would expect to see if Libertarian Freedom were true and people aren't enslaved in an absolute fashion by their natures. That is, unregenerate people can choose to not commit a particular sin in a moment of time--which clearly goes against their fallen nature--while regenerate people can choose to commit sins, which also goes against their new natures. Compatibilist Freedom is at best fiction and, at worst, a fraud.

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