Begging the Question
Special Pleading [given that God has power of contrary choice]
If all men are neutral in prevenient grace was it by chance that one believed and not another? – [A Prayer That a Synergist Won’t Pray (An Open Challenge to All Synergists) – yet another winner by John Hendryx]
This is another particularly odd assertion from Calvinist apologetics. Since free will is a mechanism that we can’t just model out with complete precision or fully explain the inner workings of, some Calvinists make the inference that choices in the libertarian view must be completely random! This argument in and of itself has logical difficulties, but we’ll hold off exploring those until we first account for the coherence of free will within Christian theology. Many Calvinists object to the idea of libertarian free will on philosophical grounds, claiming that it’s illogical or impossible. Such philosophical objections might hold water in a materialist or non-theistic paradigm, but don’t fare so well when compared to the Christian view, as most all of them run aground of the attributes of God Himself.
Problems With This Logic
In my first post on Calvinistic fallacies, I cited the fact that God possesses free will as evidence that such a concept as contrary choice is indeed logically tenable; I’ll elaborate on that concept some here. If God Himself truly serves as the primary example of contrary choice, then this demonstrates that libertarian free will/power of contrary choice, when properly defined, is a logically sound concept. The second key concept is whether it’s possible that God has endowed men with a similar power of contrary choice. My goal here is not so much to quantify exactly how free will works, but to demonstrate that it’s not unreasonable to believe that God has granted men some degree of it.
The two main questions then are:
1. Does God have power of contrary choice?
2. Is God capable of creating creatures endowed with an even remotely similar capability?
If these two questions can be answered affirmatively, then no logical objections against the concept of libertarian free will can effectively be made. The answer to the first question is fairly obvious, consider just a few of the ramifications if God has no power of contrary choice:
* God could not have chosen to create anything differently than He has; meaning that He was, by some principle or another, compelled (could not have chosen anything but) to create each of us.
* God electing, saving, and glorifying certain people occurred of necessity that He Himself was subject to; He could not truly have chosen to do otherwise, meaning that He effectively had to save specific individuals.
How flattering a philosophy would that be? It was absolutely necessary for God Himself to not only create me, but He really had no other choice but to elect, save and glorify me? Such a belief is not only a dreadful offense to the sovereignty and independence of God, but an unbelievably man-centered view of salvation, and therefore untenable as Christian doctrine. If God chose to save us, yet was entirely capable of choosing otherwise, then it inevitably follows that God does have power of contrary choice of some kind.
As to the second question, beyond conceptual absurdities (e.g. another like Himself, rocks too big for Him to lift), there’s really no legitimate basis to conclude that God is limited in what He can create.
Given the ramifications above, since God must have power of contrary choice in some capacity, there are no sound logical reasons for concluding that contrary choice itself is such a conceptual absurdity. And since we (in the Christian view of free will) weren’t created as invincibly autonomous gods, but as free agents still subordinated to God’s own divine will, there are then no apparent logical difficulties with the idea of Him endowing His creations with similar capability, and hence it’s no leap of logic to conclude that God is capable of creating creatures who possess some degree of contrary choice as well.
Going back to the ‘choices by chance’ fallacy, some Monergists such as Hendryx suggest that if free will choices aren’t necessitated by factors outside of the will, then our self-determination must have been by ‘chance’ (or randomness/luck/chaos/etc). Again applying this assertion to the case of God’s will to see whether it holds up consistently, the question must be asked: Given that God has power of contrary choice, and nothing compelled Him to choose one way or another, are we then to conclude that God’s choices (such as election) are by ‘chance’ as well? If so, this would make salvation ultimately due to some bizarre metaphysical lottery, and even worse, it would subordinate the sovereign God’s will (and hence God Himself) to this mystical ‘chance’ force.
Of course Calvinists would be quick to correct such a sentiment, insisting that there is nothing chaotic or random about God’s choices — with which I would wholly agree. But if nothing necessitated God’s decisions, and they are at the same time not chaotic, then per the argument above, why exactly couldn’t God allow people the capability to freely make decisions in similar fashion? To argue that the concept of contrary choice that isn’t random is logically coherent when it comes to God, but suddenly becomes incoherent when we’re talking about human beings is no more than the fallacy of special pleading (unwarranted selective application of the rules).
To point out yet another glaring error undergirding this line of reasoning, to argue that libertarian decisions would have to be derived from chance is to again beg the question of determinist necessitation, it simply shifts the external determining factor from divinity to chaos. Thus this particular Calvinist oddity effectively states,
“Chance must necessitate choices if they’re not necessitated!”
Which is again, utterly absurd.
In short, free will is neither Turing machine nor tempest. It’s a category unto itself that we would be mistaken to assume must fit into either of these molds. God’s will is certainly not an unstructured whirlpool of directionless or unintelligent chaos, but nor is it a mere finite-state automaton. It’s something wonderfully different that simply isn’t comparable to such paltry, lifeless phenomena; and it’s a hopelessly befuddled and mendicant philosophy that concludes that those He created in His image can only be either robots or random number machines.
[Link to original post and comments at the Arminian Perspectives blog. This post is part of a 14-part series that was previously posted here on our website, but is being republished. The old posts are being replaced by updated versions (though the content is the same) to bring extra attention to this excellent series.]