Compatibilism (Part Two)

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Monergism.com admitted, “It should be noted that this position [that of Compatibilism] is no less deterministic than hard determinism ~ be clear that neither soft nor hard determinism believes man has a free will.” So, the Arminian is not misrepresenting the view of Compatibilists in admitting the same.

For the Compatibilist, the major contention for a libertarian view of human freedom is reduced to a matter of genuine choices. If God foreknew what a person would choose (and we are not speaking of choosing Christ at this point), and only what God foreknows is actually going to happen, then how can one admit that the human being has any real choices? What happens, happens necessarily.

I think that is the Compatibilists’ mistake. The Compatibilist believes that God’s foreknowledge hinders real freedom. But let me ask this question. At that moment in time when a person is deciding what to do, are there not real choices to make? Are there not genuine options available? It matters not what God knows. What matters is that a person can choose between one or more options. This is libertarian free will.

Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell, concerning Compatibilism, notes, “First, this view accepts the principle of universal causality and therefore holds that all things are determined. Indeed, the soft determinist is no less committed to determinism than the hard determinist is.

“It’s important to underscore this point because the term ‘soft determinism’ can be misleading to readers unfamiliar with it. The term suggests to them a partial or halfhearted determinism, a sort of quasi-determinism. These impressions need to be put aside so the reader can clearly understand that all things are rigorously determined according to this view.

“So what is the difference between soft and hard determinism? The difference is in the second motivation that drives soft determinism. In addition to affirming universal causality, soft determinists also believe that we are responsible for our actions, and they agree we must be free in some sense if this is the case. In other words, soft determinists want to affirm both complete determinism and freedom.”1

If people, then, must be free in some sense, then, in what sense are they free? For me, this is where Compatibilism fails the test of authenticity. What happens is that there is no real sense of freedom for human beings whatsoever. It tends to tout a hypothetical sense of freedom.

Does the Compatibilist redefine the word freedom? Calvin appears to be a Compatibilist, but note his use of human freedom. Bruce Reichenbach states, “Calvin argues that although our debilitated nature enslaves us to do nothing but evil and although God has preordained that those not elect do nothing but evil and causally governs the world to this end, we are still morally accountable for the evil we do . . . We must, he argues, distinguish between an act that is done out of necessity and one that is done under constraint or compulsion (2.3.5; 2.5.1).

“On the one hand, acting out of necessity (or its opposite, free will) refers to the causal structure of our acts. An act that is necessary has a sufficient causal antecedent, either in terms of a specific set of causal conditions or, more relevant for our purposes, in terms of God’s foreordination and continuing omnipotent intervention, whereas an act that is done out of free will has the power to discern good and evil and is undetermined, so as to be able to choose either.

“On the other hand, acting under constraint (or its opposite, acting voluntarily) refers to whether we are able to do what we want. If someone holds a pistol to my head and tells me to remove money from another person’s pocket, and if I do so, I am acting under constraint. If I am acting against what I want to do, I am acting involuntarily. For Calvin, the freedom presupposed by moral accountability does not refer to the necessitating conditions of our actions. It is not the ability to do otherwise than we do, given a certain set of causal conditions.”2

To this discussion Picirilli adds, “Calvinists affirm that all events, including future ones, are certain and foreknown because God has predetermined all events. In that case, there is no problem with absolute foreknowledge, or with divine control; the question is whether there is any real freedom and moral responsibility for humans. To this Calvinists verbalize a positive answer, even though it seems to us who are Arminian that they are hedging.

“Sometimes Calvinists make a distinction between the primary and secondary causes of an event, and represent human decisions as the latter. In this case, however, human agency is reduced to being God’s instrumentality. This seems no different from a ‘hard determinism’ that finally makes all freedom an illusion and traces all events to prior, necessitating causes.

“Many Calvinists profess a ‘compatiblism’ that attempts to combine determinism with human freedom by redefining ‘freedom’ to mean the freedom to do as one desires, rather than the freedom to do something different from what one does . . .

“The classic Arminian view affirms that the future is perfectly foreknown by God and yet is, in principle and practice, ‘open’ and ‘undetermined.’ That is, future free decisions are certain but not necessary. In other words, the person who makes a moral choice is free either to make that choice or to make a different choice.”3

1 Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell, Why I am not a Calvinist (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 107-108.

2 Bruce R. Reichenbach, “Freedom, Justice, and Moral Responsibility,” in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark Pinnock (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1989), 281.

3 Robert E. Picirilli, Grace, Faith, and Free Will (Nashville: Randall House, 2002), 59-60.