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Predestination or Free Will? (Post 15)

Last week I suggested our common experience of character formation is incompatible with the soft determinist view of freedom. Since Calvinism depends on soft determinism being true, this is another external conceptual problem for Calvinism. Yet the Calvinist may object on theological grounds. I’ll explore this response today. 

Objection One: Sin Limits Our Ability to Choose 

The Calvinist may object that biblically we are all fallen, and as a result, we are predisposed to sin. Therefore, we do not really have the ability to choose between two “live” options. The Fall has removed that option from us.

The problem with this objection is that it confuses being predisposed and being determined. The two are not synonymous. If they were, then anytime we have a predisposition, we are determined to choose according to this desire. But this is not the case. Thisis not the case biblically or in our everyday experiences.

Biblical Response

Throughout Scripture there is the assumption that people, even after the Fall, still retain the ability to make right choices. This might be expected if referring only to those who are God’s people. However, we have cases of non-believers who are also expected to know and choose to do what is right. 

For instance, in Amos chapters 1 and 2 we find the prophet Amos speaking to pagan nations. These are groups of people who disavow Yahweh and follow other gods. Yet Amos still holds them accountable for wrong choices. His assumption is that, even though fallen and unrepentant, they still had the ability to choose to do the right thing, but didn’t. Therefore, they are held morally responsible.

Romans 1 reinforces the point that all people, after the Fall, still have the ability to make right choices, and are held responsible when they do not do so:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20)

Those who are not followers of Christ suppress the truth, which is evident to them. In other words, they choose to not accept the “plain truth” seen in creation concerning God’s existence and nature. Therefore, due to this choice, they are “without excuse”–that is, morally responsible. This results in God’s judgment.

Experiential Response

Our everyday experience reinforces this fact. We are all aware of instances in which we had an inclination to choose one way, but we overruled this predisposition and decided otherwise. Choosing against our current predisposition is sometimes the moral thing to do, and what we are expected to do in such circumstances. 

Movies, reflecting life, often illustrate such moral dilemmas, and our ability to choose against our inclinations and do the right thing. For instance, in Minority Report, Tom Cruise’s character has a strong inclination to take justice into his own hands when face to face with the guy who kidnapped and killed his son. Yet he chooses against this inclination. In the same way, Daniel Craig’s character at the end of Spectre desperately desires to kill the villain who had wreaked such havoc in his life for many years. But he makes the right choice and doesn’t kill him, but instead turns him over to the authorities. 

We resonate with these situations because we know how hard such choices are, but that people still have the power to do what is right and choose against their inclinations. This further supports the fact that predispositions are not deterministic. We still have the ability to choose between two live options (to do the right thing or the wrong thing), even though we are all marred by sin due to the Fall. So this objection fails.

Objection Two: Sin Limits Our Ability to Choose Christ 

There is a bit more focused objection the Calvinist may make at this point. He may grant all which I have already argued concerning the vast majority of choices we make. In other words, he may grant we have libertarian freedom in almost all of our choices. 

However, there is one choice, he will argue, that is not libertarian–the choice to accept Christ. Because of the Fall, even if we still have the ability to make right choices otherwise, we can no longer make a right choice and believe in Christ for our salvation. Therefore, the rest of TULIP follows (as outlined in Post #2), and our election must be unconditional. 

Yet this objection seems to beg the question. It assumes that the effect of the Fall was both extensive (affecting every dimension of our being–intellect, emotion, and will) and intensive (affecting these dimensions so fully that a person is not able to understand any truths about God, have any desire to know God, or choose to believe in God until God regenerates the person). Once assumed, the argument is made that, since a person cannot make a libertarian free choice for Christ due to the (intensive) extent of sin, this decision cannot be free in the libertarian sense, but only in the soft determinist sense.

But this assumption– that the Calvinist view of salvation (TULIP) is correct– is precisely the question we are trying to answer. In Post #3, I’ve shown that Scripture is unclear on this point, and it is possible to come to different conclusions based on the biblical text alone. 

That is why, as I outline in Post #7, we must ask additional questions–questions which ultimately surface internal and external conceptual problems for the Calvinist interpretation of the biblical text. Therefore, at this point simply reasserting the Calvinist understanding of these texts is a clear case of assuming what is to be proven (question-begging). As such, this objection fails.

Conclusion

In Post #14, I argued that our common experience of character formation is a fourth external conceptual problem for soft determinism and, therefore, Calvinism. 

In this post, I’ve engaged two objections Calvinists might bring to this point on biblical grounds. I tried to show why these objections fail. If they do, our experience of character formation remains as a further external conceptual problem for soft determinism, and therefore for Calvinism. 

Next week I’ll discuss two final external conceptual problems for Calvinism. Until then, grace and peace.

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