Richard Coords, “Compatibilism”

, posted by Martin Glynn

Compatibilism is a Calvinist doctrine which attempts to harmonize divine determinism and human free-will. Calvinists often use this term to claim that they, too, believe in free-will, that is, “compatibilistic free-will.” Unfortunately, though, it is a non-free, free-will and hence nothing more than camouflaged determinism.

Compatibilists teach that people will do what is “natural” for them, that is, whatever is consistent with their nature. However, what they often fail to disclose is that they also believe a person’s nature comes completely determined, meaning that it is subject to exhaustive, meticulous determinism. Hence, compatibilistic free-will is the antithesis of freedom. Genuine free-will must include autonomy of reason. Only then can a person’s choices be uniquely and independently their own.

What do Calvinists believe?

Compatibilism is God being God, and man being man.

Our reply:

Compatibilism is God being God, and then also God playing man by exhaustively decreeing every man’s nature, from which springs allthoughts and intentions. Even by the Compatibilist’s own admission, “Compatibilism is no less deterministic than hard determinism.”96 Within the compatibilist’s framework, there is no such thing as what the human really wants to do in a given situation, considered somehow apart from God’s desire in the matter (i.e., God’s desire as to what the human agent will desire). In the compatibilist scheme, human desire is wholly derived from and wholly bound to the divine desire. God’s decree encompasses everything, even the desires that underlie human choices.

This is a critical point because it undercuts the plausibility of the Compatibilist’s argument that desire can be considered the basis for human culpability. Ascribing culpability to humanity simply because they are ‘doing what they want to do,’ appears plausible only because it subtly evokes a sense of independence or ownership on the part of the human agent for his or her choices.

But once we recognize (as we must within the larger deterministic framework encompassing Compatibilism) that those very desires of the agent are equally part of the environment that God causally determines, then the line between environment and agent becomes blurred, if not completely lost. The human agent no longer can be seen as owning his own choices. For the desires determining those choices are in no significant sense independent of God’s decree.

For this reason, we feel human desire within the compatibilist framework forms an insufficient basis on which to establish the autonomy of human freedom and from this the legitimacy of human culpability for sin. Even John Calvin recognized this problem within the claims of his systematic:

John Calvin: “How it was ordained by the foreknowledge and decree of God what man’s future was without God being implicated as associate in the fault as the author or approver of transgression, is clearly a secret so much excelling the insight of the human mind, that I am not ashamed to confess ignorance…. I daily so meditate on these mysteries of his judgments that curiosity to know anything more does not attract me.”

As a disclaimer, philosophical Compatibilism should not be confused with the fact that Scripture shows God working compatibly with the intentions of others. For example, in Genesis 37:28 (as it relates to 50:20), God may have steered the Midianite traders nearby to Joseph’s brothers because He knew that utilizing them as an alternative to murdering their brother would be “compatible” with their intentions and interests, with which God would then facilitate Joseph’s rescue, apart from having to use more obvious, supernatural intervention. In other words, saying that two things are compatible is not to say that this makes philosophical Compatibilism true. That would be an equivocation fallacy.

For instance, just because a husband and wife’s wills are compatible in accomplishing something doesn’t mean “Compatibilism” is true.


96 John Hendryx, How can God be Sovereign and Man still be Free? Web site: in which this article was endorsed by Phil Johnson of Grace to You.