Joshua Thibodaux, “The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics – Fallacy #5: Choices Apart From Intent?”

, posted by Steven Wolf

Related Fallacies:
Begging the Question

“While libertarians uphold the philosophy that “choice without sufficient cause” is what makes one responsible, the compatibilist, on the other hand, looks to Scripture which testifies that it is because our choices have motives and desires that moral responsibility is actually established. Responsibility requires that our acts, of necessity, be intentional….” (Eleven (11) Reasons to Reject Libertarian Free Will, John Hendryx)

“And so if you ask the question, “Why did you pull the trigger?” [When] a murder is committed. Why did you pull the trigger? Well any reason you give for why the trigger is pulled, or any set of reasons you give for why the trigger is pulled is the identical reason or set of reasons for why if you hadn’t pulled the trigger you didn’t pull the trigger. So how is that an explanation for how an action is performed? This will not hold up in a court of law -people look for motives! They look for the reason why actions are performed.” (Dr. Bruce Ware, arguing against libertarian free will)

This one is quite the caricature. Libertarian free will is generally defined as ‘contrary choice’ or ‘ability to choose otherwise.’ Determinists, in response, employ a rather lame and preposterous absurdity to discredit it by trying to separate such acts of will from our intentions.

Problems With This Logic

To the assertion that ‘we choose according to our intentions,’ I can only reply: Of course we choose according to what we intend. It would be quite a feat to make deliberate choices that we don’t intend to make. To understand the logical flaw in the Calvinist argument, we first must understand their ideas about motives and intents:

In the Determinist view, our motives and intentions are not of our own independent making, but are conferred upon us or irresistibly raised within us by some stimuli; in such a scheme, we don’t really have any autonomous control over what we intend. If we can’t control what we intend, then it naturally follows that we can’t control what we choose. The Calvinist case here essentially states,

We can’t choose otherwise since we can’t intend otherwise.

Which is why Dr. Ware’s argument borders on incoherence: it amounts to stating, “if you do or don’t pull the trigger, it must be for the exact same reason.” Such a statement only makes sense if one already assumes that people have no control over their intents/reasons for how they act.

Arguing that we can’t choose differently by asserting that we can’t intend differently is nothing more than begging the question of the human will’s operation being completely predetermined. Such an argument hinges upon removing contrary choice from one of its necessary implications, namely, freedom in our intentions. The term ‘contrary choice’ describes the net effect without stating every detail (as do many concise descriptions), freedom to intend differently being a fairly obvious inference, despite the overly simplistic attempts of Calvinist apologists to divorce them. For a choice to be a deliberate or ‘willful’ choice, it must by definition be an intentional choice. Conscious choices aren’t made apart from intentions; intentions are integral and inseparable components of deliberate choices! Power to choose otherwise then necessarily entails power to intend otherwise.

The whole ‘choice apart from intention’ canard is nothing more than a rather poorly constructed strawman that doesn’t accurately reflect the biblical view of libertarian free will at all. The Bible doesn’t portray our intents as something irresistibly thrust upon us, but rather instructs us to act with good intention in our hearts rather than impure motives.

Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart…. (1 Peter 1:22)

Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men…. (Ephesians 6:5-7)

“So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:22)

It doesn’t state, “God will cause you to give willingly,” but rather commands us to give out of a willing heart. By His grace, God frees us to act in good intent towards Him.

To conclude, upon examination, these arguments that Calvinists offer against the reality of free will amount to no more than nonsensical attempts at showing how ridiculous libertarian freedom seems if one assumes determinism with regards to our intents. Such an assumption is unfounded, since a doctrine dependent upon the idea that we can’t control what we intend strains one’s sense of credulity when the scriptures plainly propose that very thing.

[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.]