Compatibilism (Part One)

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It is no secret that the majority of Arminians hold to what is known as libertarian free will. We believe in such a thing because we see evidence for it throughout the Bible. God gives men and women options from which to choose and calls for them to choose wisely. Many times rewards and punishments, respectively, are distributed according to the choice one makes.

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Compatibilism offers a solution to the free will problem.” The Arminian, however, is unaware of any problem. But I digress. “This philosophical problem concerns a disputed incompatibility between free will and determinism. Compatibilism is the thesis that free will is compatible with determinism. Because free will is taken to be a necessary condition of moral responsibility, compatibilism is sometimes expressed in terms of a compatibility between moral responsibility and determinism.”

I have elsewhere pointed out the problem with hyper-Calvinism’s views on the freedom of the will. Since the Compatibilist recognizes (for which Arminians are grateful) that human beings are morally responsible before a holy and just God, a measure of freedom must necessarily be admitted to them. But the Hard Determinist denies moral responsibility and can therefore confess that free will is a farce. (However, note that admits that compatibilism is “no less deterministic than hard determinism.”)

Stanford noted the Compatibilist’s syllogism as:
1. Some person (qua agent), at some time, could have acted otherwise than she did.
2. Actions are events.
3. Every event has a cause.
4. If an event is caused, then it is causally determined.
5. If an event is an act that is causally determined, then the agent of the act could not have acted otherwise than in the way that she did.

By the time one gets to point #4 there is already a departure from any semblance of libertarian free will. “If a event is caused, then it is causally determined.” Question: Who causes the initial event? I think that is an important question for our discussion. If I trip over my own foot, an event occurred — the tripping over my own foot. Who caused me to trip over my own foot? Most likely, I was not paying proper attention and I caused myself to accidentally (for I did not want or will to) trip over my own foot.

Did God know that I would trip over my own foot? Yes, for God has exhaustive foreknowledge of all events. Could God have prevented me from tripping over my own foot? Yes, for God can do all things within the boundaries of His nature. I would not presume to know why God allowed me to trip over my own foot (or why He allows anything to happen, whether good or bad); my main concern is causality.

If I say that my own inattention caused the event to happen, then who is responsible for the event — God, or me? Well, the obvious answer is that I am responsible for the event because of inattention; it was not caused by God. In what sense, then, was this event determined by God? And if it was determined by God to happen, then was it not inevitable? Was it possible for that event to have not occurred?

The Arminian would answer that if I had paid attention (as I should have), then the event could have been avoided. Actually, I made the choice to not pay attention. Have you ever done that? Have you ever caught yourself not paying attention but continued to do so anyway? I have.

But, did God not already know (and has always known) the event? And as such, is it not already predetermined to occur, so that each and every event has to occur just as it does, without granting a person any option of doing or choosing otherwise?

A-ha! That is the real question. Because God already knows the future exhaustively, events are necessary and causally determined by God (even if we admit to secondary causes). But it is at this point that I believe libertarian free will has an advantage to the other options.

It is one thing to say that God allows something to happen. But it is completely another thing entirely to admit that God causes things to happen (and, of course, I mean primary causes).

When it comes to choices which human beings make, or events which human beings cause, no one should blame God for “causally determining” anything. In those cases, it is only because of God’s exhaustive foreknowledge of all events and choices that they are determined in any fashion, and not because God is allegedly the one causing choices or events themselves. notes, “Compatibilism (also known as soft determinism) is the belief that God’s predetermination and meticulous providence is ‘compatible’ with voluntary choice. In light of Scripture, human choices are believed to be exercised voluntarily, but the desires and circumstances that bring about these choices occur through divine determinism (see Acts 2:23 & 4:27-28). It should be noted that this position is no less deterministic [emphasis mine] than hard determinism — be clear that neither soft nor hard determinism believes man has a free will.

“Our choices are only our choices because they are voluntary, not coerced. We do not make choices contrary to our desires or natures. Compatibilism is directly contrary to libertarian free will. Therefore voluntary choice is not the freedom to choose otherwise, that is, without any influence, prior prejudice, inclination, or disposition.

“Voluntary does mean, however, the ability to choose what we want or desire most. The former view is known as contrary choice, the latter free agency. (Note: compatibilism denies that the will is free to choose otherwise, that is, free from the bondage of the corrupt nature, for the unregenerate, and denies that the will is free from God’s eternal decree.)”

There is so much more which needs to be said, so I will continue this in Part Two.