Martin Glynn, “A Critique of ‘Do We Have Free Will?’ by Geoff Ashley, Part II: Considering the Considerations of the Objections”

, posted by Martin Glynn

In part 1, I looked at a short essay written by a Geoff Ashley that has apparently been making the rounds through Calvinist circles as an explanation of the Calvinist perspective of the will.

I agree that the essay was quite articulate, and in that, it clarified to me why Calvinists don’t seem to get it. So much of the discussion seemed redundant or off-topic in terms of what we are actually talking about when discussing libertarian free will and determinism.

However, I did not go over the last section where Geoff attempts to anticipate, and therein defend against, objections to his view. Let us look at those now.

Do we have a choice?

We do indeed have a choice and are free to choose as we wish, but the reality of our depravity reveals that we all choose poorly. Not one fallen man in a trillion will trust God unless God first overcomes his natural resistance. This God mercifully and graciously does for the elect.

I quote this section only in part because I feel the above segment is representative of his argument. Now here I have to ask the question if the objection being voiced is an “Arminian” objection or something else. I cannot assume that he is addressing me and my perspective here. I suppose that some postmoderns may be concerned about whether or not we get to act on our desires.

However, like I said in part 1, I doubt that is the case. I don’t think anyone is truly asking whether or not I am capable of acting on my desires. Indeed, it seems self evident that I am, at least some of the time. Therefore, we get this redundancy that we got last time. If we are addressing whether or not free will exists, that means that we must be comparing it to what the world would look like if it did not exist. And I don’t think any advocates of LFW are saying that if free will weren’t real, then I would want to do something, but end up doing something else entirely (and I mean in a more blatent and concrete sense than Romans 7).

What we are talking about is causation, not the actualization of desire. Free will is usually defined by the capacity to have chosen differently than one actually had. When we ask, “did I have a choice” what we mean is, “could I have done something else?”  And I think the answer to this question must be “no” from a Calvinist perspective. But since the author chooses to address a different question than the one really being asked of him, one can only speculate about what he would say.

Another way of looking at this is from the question of human contingency. Is a particular event contingent on what a human chooses, or do all events happen necessarily? This is asking the question more from the divine perspective than the human perspective. And again the Calvinst must say the latter, meaning that we don’t have choice, at least not in the sense that LFW talks about it.

Is this unfair?

If all man has known is sin and if it is universally inherited from Adam, how can one be considered culpable for sin? By nature man cannot not sin. If he cannot do otherwise, how can God judge him and hold him responsible?

Finally it seems the author has stumbled upon the topic. Let us see how he addresses it.

Jonathan Edwards provided a helpful approach to answering this in his distinction between natural and moral inability. According to Edwards, natural inability would be like a man who has been knocked unconscious and tied to a chair. He cannot stand up and should not be held responsible for not doing so since he is prevented from standing up by virtue of the ropes which bind him. Though he wants and wills to stand, he cannot do so.

This is not the type of inability that we possess. We possess a moral inability. Though we are truly bound, our bondage is a result of our own desires. We are responsible because we have willfully rebelled. We reject Christ not because we are restrained by rope, but because we are hindered by our hatred of God. We are shackled only by our own selfish loves.

OK, so he phrases the problem now in two ways, and than circumvents the problems instead of directly dealing with it. For instance, let us look at the analogy from Edwards. In the analogy he affirms the fundamental problem: a person tied to a chair is not culpable for his actions. The implication is that he wanted to do one thing, but had to do another. However, this isn’t entirally the reason why the person isn’t culpable. It is also tied to the idea that it is the person who tied him to the chair that is culpable.

And ultimately the response fails because it doesn’t go deeper into the incompatibilist’s thoughts. After all, where does the person’s desire come from? On divine determinism, it comes from God. This is true of the fallen man and any other state that man finds himself in. It is the origin of that desire to sin that is culpable, and that origin is God.

This is why his second way of going after this doesn’t work. He says that we are willfully rebellious. Well, yes, but God made us that way. God made us rebellious. That is the problem. It makes God culpable, even if it is only equally culpable (though I would say more so).

Furthermore we don’t have to go back to Adam to make this charge as he later states. With every sin we commit, we evidence God’s decree of us casting our vote for Adam’s sin. You cannot complain about each sin we make as if God has no part of it if you are a compatibilist. God is giving you your desires, your selfish loves, and your sin nature. Focusing on the positive side of Calvinism like this ignores the complaint rather than answering it.

Conclusion

As I read this, it became very clear that Geoff simply doesn’t understand what is being talked about when others talk about “free will”. It is certainly true that one can come up with a new definition of the word that coincides with Calvinism, but that is hardly impressive. What isn’t preserved is any reason to think that sin has its origin in mankind. Rather, on Calvinism, sin must have its origin in God. That is the issue, not the self-evident assertion that we don’t “feel” forced.

Therefore, we can conclude that while Calvinism can affirm the existance of the will, they cannot affirm the existance of a “free will” without redefining it. Calvinists make a habit of only talking about one side of an issue, and this essay is no different. When God told us to walk the narrow path, He didn’t mean that we walk through life with blinders on, only paying attention to those aspect of theology which affirm our current beliefs. You cannot offer a defense of your position when you are apparently ignorant of the very complaint you are trying to defend against.

[See original post here.]